Saturday, October 23, 2010

NBC News Digest with Jessica Savitch

Legendary newswoman Jessica Savitch was apparently high on drugs - slurring and stumbling over words - the night she read the NBC News Digest that appeared during commercial breaks on October 3rd, 1983, which may have gotten her in trouble with the network.

In any event, that Monday night would be her last television appearance; 20 days later she drowned in a car accident.
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The Death of Jessica Savitch

As one of the first women in the all-male news business, Jessica Savitch had a difficult time; to be too acquiescent might mean losing respect from those who mattered most to her career, and to be too tough meant risking being labeled a bitch*. Additionally, there was pressure on her to always look good, which is not something David Brinkley or Eric Sevareid ever had to worry about.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough Savitch herself penned a memoir called Anchorwoman in 1982, the biography of record on Savitch's life is still Gwenda Blair's Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News, published in 1988, five years after the tragic accident that took Savitch's life.

On this day in 1983 Savitch had dinner with her boyfriend Martin Fischbein, vice-president of the New York Post, at a restaurant called Odette's in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Driving home in a heavy rainstorm, Fischbein lost control of the vehicle, whereupon it skidded into the Pennsylvania Canal and landed upside down in about 15 feet of water. There is evidence that Fischbein may have been knocked unconscious in the accident, but it was obvious to rescuers that Savitch had tried and failed to escape the flooding vehicle. Along with the two humans, Savitch's dog Chewy also drowned. Savitch was 36.

I had been quite a fan of Savitch's, and still am; I remember being deeply shocked when I'd heard what had happened. In the wake of the accident there were all sorts of dark rumours, as there usually are unless someone dies of old age. Savitch's battles with NBC were already legendary, and her cocaine use was well-known; in fact, her colleague Linda Ellerbee was to have held an intervention, except that Savitch died before she could.

*Oh no!  Anything but that...
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Happy Birthday Ned Rorem

In the interest of full disclosure I am compelled to say: I don't know much about opera, and I know even less about classical music, aside from the names of the great composers.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThis is not, I should add, out of a lack of interest; my profile sentiment is sincere: 'I am interested in everything, especially stuff I've never heard of'. Unfortunately, people who know a lot about opera and classical music love to sneer at people who don't know anything about the subject, and I can't abide being sneered at, so I've found it challenging to learn.

Most of what I know about Ned Rorem, then, composer of numerous operas, symphonies, and concerti - indeed, a man often described as America's greatest living composer - is of his private life.

When I made my first tentative steps out of the closet in 1988 (blowing the doors off it and making a crater on the west side of the house in the process) there weren't all these gay guys running around like there are now. Ned Rorem's 1969 Paris Diary instantly became one of my favourite books, as well as one which directed me to further discover my community. For that alone I am grateful enough to include him in this great running commentary I call a blog.

Yet I have still, after all these years, never heard any piece of Ned Rorem's music. And even if I had, I wouldn't know anything about it except whether or not I'd liked it. Maybe I'll go back and read Paris Diary again; it might inspire me to further explorations, and help to brighten one of the darker corners of my understanding.
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Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent

Probably the most beloved on Johnny Carson's recurring characters, Carnac the Magnificent, delights and disgusts the audience with an array of corny jokes, aided and abetted by his trusty sidekick Ed McMahon.
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In Memoriam: Johnny Carson

In a parallel universe, Johnny Carson could have become a beloved sitcom star; had Sheldon Leonard not gotten his way, Carl Reiner would have cast Carson opposite Mary Tyler Moore in a little sitcom about a comedy writer, which Carson actually was at that time.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFortunately, Leonard got his way, and Dick Van Dyke was cast instead. Head of the Family became The Dick Van Dyke Show, TV history was made, and by way of a consolation, Carson took over after Jack Paar quit The Tonight Show in October 1962.

Alongside his old chum Ed McMahon (whom he'd met while working on Who Do You Trust?) Carson went on to make some TV history of his own, hosting The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 incredible years, first from New York City and then, after 1972, from the NBC Studios in Burbank.

Carson's extraordinary run finally ended in May 1992, when he retired from show business to play tennis and spend more time at his Malibu home with his fourth wife, Alexis. He made one more high-profile appearance, in May 1994, during one of protege David Letterman's week-long trips to LA; born on this day in 1925, Carson died in January 2005 from a heart attack worsened by emphysema, complications arising from his lifelong cigarette habit.
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Happy Smurfday!


On this day in 1958 The Smurfs - a fictional race of blue dwarves later popularized in Hanna-Barbera's animated series The Smurfs - appeared for the first time, in the story Le flute à six schtroumpfs, a Johan and Peewit adventure by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo which was serialized in the weekly comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

The well-being of Smurfs has always been at the forefront of the Pop Culture Institute's charitable work; currently, we operate a Home For Wayward Smurfettes under the wardenship of Papa Smurf. Living in a village made of mushrooms with one female means more than those adorable faces of theirs are blue, and as a result those poor Smurfettes get worn out pretty quickly...

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Augusten Burroughs: Memoir and Peace

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Augusten Burroughs, who was born this day in 1965, became something of an overnight sensation when he published his memoirs, Running With Scissors, in 2002 - at the tender age of 37. It took his foster family, who were the subjects of the book, a bit longer than overnight to be outraged; in fact, it took them a couple of years to enter litigation against their former charge. Presumably they were waiting to see how well the sales went.

In 2005 the family who raised Burroughs took him to court, claiming defamation and invasion of privacy in addition to all sorts of other malfeasance on the part of the man who'd lived with them from for half a dozen years from the age of twelve. Feh! Go live with a writer. The case was settled in August 2007.

Fortunately, unlike Burroughs, I won't need to have truth on my side when I get around to publishing my memoirs; since I only have one family member left, and she's already admitted she's got a terrible memory, when the time comes I can pretty much say whatever I like.
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POPnews - October 23rd


42 BCE - During Rome's Republican civil wars, following the Second Battle of Philippi, Brutus's army was decisively defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian, following which Brutus committed suicide.

425 CE - Valentinian III became the Emperor of Rome at the age of 6.

1086 - During the Reconquista, at the Battle of az-Zallaqah, the army of Yusuf ibn Tashfin defeated the forces of Castile's King Alfonso VI.

1157 - When Denmark's King Sweyn III was killed at the Battle of Grathe Heath his death ended the civil war in that country and enabled his rival to assume the throne as Valdemar I.

1295 - The first treaty forming the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France against England was signed in Paris.

1641 - The Irish Rebellion of 1641 broke out - an anniversary commemorated by Irish Protestants for the next 200 years.

1642 - The Battle of Edgehill, the first major battle of the First English Civil War, pitted King Charles I and Prince Rupert of the Rhine against the Earl of Essex.

1707 - The Parliament of Great Britain - that is, England and Scotland combined, under the terms of the Acts of Union - met for the first time at the Palace of Westminster at the behest of Queen Anne.

1739 - British Prime Minister Robert Walpole reluctantly declared the War of Jenkins' Ear against Spain.

1812 - Claude François de Malet, a French general, undertook a conspiracy to overthrow Napoleon Bonaparte, claiming that the Emperor died in Russia and claiming he himself had been made the commandant of Paris. For his impertinence, De Malet would be executed on October 29th.

1935 - Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard 'Lulu' Rosencrantz were all fatally shot at about 10:15 pm in the Palace Chophouse in Newark, New Jersey. Charles 'The Bug' Workman and Emanuel 'Mendy' Weiss, two hitmen working for Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter's Murder, Inc. carried out the deed. Berman died first, some four hours after the shooting; Landau died four hours after that. Schultz lingered, delirious, for 22 hours, having his last words taken down by a stenographer, while Rosencrantz died 7 hours later. Workman eventually served 23 years in prison for his part in the killings, while Weiss was executed for another murder he committed in 1944.

1942 - All 12 passengers and crewmen aboard an American Airlines DC-3 airliner were killed when it was struck by a US Army Air Forces bomber over Palm Springs, California; amongst the victims was award-winning composer and songwriter Ralph Rainger, responsible for such songs as Thanks for the Memory, Love in Bloom, and Blue Hawaii.

1956 - Hungarians rose up in revolt against their Communist overlords; the Hungarian Revolution lasted until November 4th, at which time a large Soviet army arrived and occupied Budapest.

1958 - An underground earthquake - since dubbed The Springhill Mine Bump - trapped 174 miners in the No. 2 colliery at Springhill, Nova Scotia, which at the time was North America's deepest coal mine. This disaster was the third to occur at the location, following a fire in 1891 and an explosion in 1956. It took rescuers from around the world nine days to dig out 100 survivors, making the death toll 74.

1983 - The US Marines barracks in Beirut was hit by a truck bomb, killing 241 US Marines; a French army barracks in Lebanon was also hit that same morning, killing 58 troops, marking one of the bloodiest days in the Lebanese Civil War for the Multinational Force in Lebanon.

1989 - The Hungarian Republic was officially declared by president Mátyás Szűrös, replacing the communist Hungarian People's Republic; the day is celebrated in Hungary as a national holiday.

1992 - Emperor Akihito of Japan became the first head of state from that country to visit China.

2001 - Apple released the iPod.

2002 - Chechen terrorists seized a theatre in the Dubrovka neighbourhood of Moscow, holding more than 850 hostages; the event was handled as disastrously as a later one in Beslan in 2004, and remains a blot on the already heavily blotted leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. As many as 200 people died, most from a mysterious gas meant to neutralize the Chechens - a gas which Putin's government still refuses to identify.
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