1949 — Doris Day becomes a star of the screen

Doris Day was already a successful singer, and had been since her first hit (1945’s “Sentimental Journey”), when she decided to make the transition to film. After a bumpy start in 1948’s “Romance on the High Seas”, she got decent reviews for her performance in the otherwise largely unexceptional “My Dream is Yours” (which opened on April 16, 1949) and really started to gain attention later in the same year, with “It’s a Great Feeling” (opened August 1).

From there, Day rarely looked back, starring in a string of comedies, romances and even a Hitchcock thriller (1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”). But she never forgot her roots, either, and almost all of her acting roles included at least one song sung by her (like that damned inescapable “Que Sera Sera” in the aforementioned “The Man Who Knew Too Much”). She would star in a total of 39 films during her career.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1949 — “South Pacific” opens on Broadway

“South Pacific” was a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, based on James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”, an anthology of short stories. The musical has a single coherent narrative drawing on some of those short stories while also including what was, for its time, a progressive social message about race.

The musical was a hit, running for 1925 performances on Broadway (at that time, the second most of any Broadway production) and winning a Pullitzer prize for drama in 1950. It has been filmed several times, and remains a perennial favourite for revivals.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1951 — “The King and I” premieres on Broadway

Based on a 1944 novel, “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, “The King and I” was the fourth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (usually just called Rodgers and Hammerstein). The novel is largely a series of vignettes, so the musical adapted the plot of the 1946 film of the novel instead.

On the opening night, Yul Brynner, as the King of Siam, gave a standout performance – one he would later reprise in the 1956 adaptation of the musical. Despite Rodgers and Hammerstein’s worries about the show, nearly everyone else expected a hit – which duly happened, thanks to the strength of the performances and the music and script of the creators.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1957 — Arturo Toscanini dies

At the time of his death in 1957, Arturo Toscanini was a few weeks short of 90 years old, and probably the single best known and most celebrated orchestral conductor in the world. He was a remarkable musical talent, possessed of a photographic memory and an extremely sensitive ear – both of which drove a level of perfectionism and intensity that was exceptional, even for a conductor.

After his emigration to the United States in the 1930s, Toscanini frequently made appearances as a conductor of orchestral works on television and radio – the stereotypical conductor character in many films, cartoons and so on made between 1940 and 1970 is usually based on him, so completely was he associated with the role. Toscanini also conducted the world premieres of such operas as Pagliacci, La bohème, La fanciulla del West and Turandot.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1952 – “The Liberace Show” is first broadcast

Liberace was one of the first of a new breed of entertainer in post war America. He saw that television would displace radio as the dominant medium, and that his own act, with its intensely visual aspects, would be well-suited to it. But his initial efforts to find success on the box did less well than he had hoped – guest spots on variety shows didn’t seem to help that much.

On July 1, 1952, he screened a fifteen minute first episode of “The Liberace Show”, which soon went on to become a syndicated series – and to net Liberace a small fortune (he got as much as 80% of the residuals in some markets). Soon, Władziu Valentino Liberace was a household name – or at least, his surname was, and he became one of the best known entertainers of his era, a legend in his own time.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1963 — Giovani Montini becomes Pope Paul VI

Cardinal Montini of Milan has been considered by some as a potential papal candidate in 1958, but as a non-member of the College of Cardinals was not eligible for selection. Pope John XXIII was chosen instead, seen as something of a non-entity and a safe choice by those who voted for him. He turned out to be the greatest reformer the Papacy had seen in centuries, calling the epochal Vatican Council II that changed the dogma and practices of the Catholic Church more than any single event since the Council of Nicea 1600 years earlier.

John died in office, and Giovani Montini became Pope Paul VI, inheriting the still going on Vatican Council II, which he saw completed and its reforms implemented over the course of his 15 year reign. Paul’s particular focus was restoring relations with the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe who had split from the Catholic Church centuries earlier, but he excluded no one in his reaching out to all Christians, other faiths and even atheists. He was also the first Pope to visit six continents.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start the Fire — Billy Joel

1950 – Joe McCarthy claims there are Communists in the State Department

Joe McCarthy was a shameless political hack who hitched his wagon to that never-failing engine of conservative vote winning: the United States’ phobic response to the word Communism. It all began with one speech, given before the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950. It hit all the notes he’d later become famous for: unsubstantiated accusations, specific numbers of people without anything resembling names, and the constant insistence that Communists in the USA (who numbered somewhere around 1% of 1% of the population) were imminently about to overthrow the government.

Over the next few years, McCarthy would go after the Reds under America’s beds, no matter where those beds might be. When he decided to take on the Red threat in the US military, he went too far. His meteoric career came to a screaming halt, and he died a pathetic alcoholic in 1957. But between 1950 and 1954, he changed the world – unfortunately, not for the better.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1960 — The NAB announces fines for DJs found accepting payola

While there had been rumours about payola in the music industry for years, the practice became more prevalent in the 1950s as radio overtook jukeboxes as the primary way music was listened to. In 1959, the US Senate began to investigate these claims, dragging the whole sordid practice of pay for play into the light. DJs testified to taking payments of as much as $22,000 to play songs, and careers were ruined and reputations tarnished.

In an effort to combat the public reaction to the scandal, the National Association of Broadcasters announced heavy fines for DJs caught accepting such bribes. Later, they restructured the industry to make programme directors at each station instead responsible for deciding what to play – a decision that actually made payola easier for the record labels. It is widely believed that the practice of payola continues to this day with little change other than that the DJs no longer see a dime from it.

Referenced in:
Payola Blues — Neil Young
Pull My Strings — Dead Kennedys
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1949 — Harry S. Truman is inaugurated as President

Late breaking spoiler: the Chicago Tribune got it wrong. Truman defeated Dewey, and quite handily, at that. He received 303 votes in the Electoral College to Dewey’s 189 (the remaining 39 votes were won by Strom Thurmond). Harry Truman’s Inauguration was the first one ever to be televised live across the nation.

Truman’s second term as President would largely be concerned with foreign affairs, particularly the newly nuclear bomb enabled Soviet Union and the Korean War. Truman did not contest the 1952 election, having become increasingly unpopular with voters during his second term.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

circa 530,000,000 BCE — The first animals leave the ocean

The earliest known fossil footprints on land actually predate the earliest definitively land-based animals fossils by a considerable margin: 170 million years. It appears that our early ancestors may have explored the land before they moved there permanently. In fact, fossil records suggest that this exploration began before there were even terrestrial (as opposed to aquatic) plants – which may account for this peculiarity: no plants would have meant no food.

The first known animals to leave the ocean for good were members of the superclass Tetrapoda, a large group that includes all amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, living and extinct. Including us.

1950 – The Korean War begins

The Korean War was caused by the conditions holding since the end of World War Two. Korea had been split in half along the 38th parallel, with the USSR holding the north and the USA holding the south. As each sponsor state helped its occupied area to set up their own government, the two Koreas moved in increasingly different directions. Although negotiations for reunification continued almost up to the outbreak of war, tensions rose throughout the period especially from 1948 onwards.

On June 25th, 1950, North Korean forces poured over the border into South Korea, and the war began. The South Koreans were swiftly joined by a US-led coalition backed by the United Nations (the USSR was boycotting the UN Security Council at this point, and was thus unable to veto this action). The would last into 1953, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, until a ceasfire was negotiated, with the border still set roughly at the 38th parallel with little change to its pre-war location.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1956 – Gamal Abdel Nasser becomes President of Egypt

Gamal Abdel Nasser was a colonel in the Egyptian army who wasn’t satisfied with the status quo of post-colonial Egypt. He had formed highly critical opinions of his political masters, especially King Farouk, as a result of his experiences in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Returning to Egypt, and drawing some inspiration from the contemporary coup d’etat in Syria, he began plotting revolution.

In 1952, the revolution began in earnest. Nasser and his allies eventually triumphed, with Muhammad Naguib becoming the first Egyptian President on June 18, 1953. But tensions between the factions of Nasser and Naguib were not eased by victory or the new responsibilities of government. After an assassination attempt that Nasser was able to blame on Naguib’s faction, which found its power greatly diminished by Nasser’s crackdown on them. Finally, in 1956, Nasser became the President de jure – he had had the de facto power of the title for a year or so by that point.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

circa 580,000,000 years ago — The first animals evolve

The Proterozoic Eon, which began some 2.5 billion years ago and ended about 542 million years ago, was traditionally regarded as the last era before the evolution of what we would recognise as animals. But more recent fossil discoveries have repainted this picture, and it now appears that animals roughly midway through the Ediacaran Period.

The earliest animals were very simple creatures- small invertebrate multi-cellular forms like the earliest worms and such. Arthropods evolved shortly thereafter, and would go on to become the most dominant type of animal on the planet – just think how many insects and spiders and such you see each day if you don’t believe that.