On this day, March 31st, in 1945, Tennessee Williams's play, the Glass Menagerie opened at the Playhouse Theatre. The play initially opened in Chicago, IL in 1944, where Chicago critics enthusiasm with the play helped build audiences, and thus revenue for the show to be moved to Broadway. In 1945, the play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
James Cagney Dies
On this day, March 30, in 1986, James Cagney died.
James Francis Cagney, Jr. Was born July 17th, 1899 on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Cagney graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1918, and attended Columbia College of Columbia University, but dropped out after one semester.
He started working in Vaudeville in 1919, initially dancing dressed as a woman in the chorus line.
In September of 1922, Cagney married Frances Willard “Billie” Vernon.
He continued as a hoofer and comedian, and eventually obtained his first major acting part in 1925. After rave reviews in the 1929 play Penny Arcade, Warner Bros. Signed him for a $500 per week, three week contract, which was soon extended to a seven year contract.
Cagney, made many significant movies, including The Public Enemy, an influential gangster movie, with its famous grapefruit scene. This movie ushered Cagney into the spotlight, and made him one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Cagney’s film credits included Angels with Dirty Faces, and his Oscar winning portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Cagney was one of the first actors to win a law-suit against a major movie studio, and Jack Warner called him “The Professional Againster” due to Cagney’s unwillingness to be pushed around.
In 1961, Cagney retired for 20 years, returning to the Screen in 1981 for a small role in Ragtime. He then made a few other small appearances on TV and on the stage.
In 1986, on Easter Sunday, Cagney died at his Stanfordville, NY farm in Dutchess County. He had suffered a few strokes, and at least two years before his death was confined to a wheelchair. He was interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, NY. His eulogy was given by the then incumbent President Ronald Reagan, a close friend of Cagney.
Cagney was survived by his wife, and an adopted daughter. His adopted son died two years before Cagney.
It should be noted, he never actually said, “You dirty rat!” in any of his movies, though in 1974, at his American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement award ceremony, he noted to a noted impressionist, Frank Gorshin, “Oh, Frank, just in passing, I never said ‘MMmmm, you dirty rat!’ What I actually did say was ‘Judy, Judy, Judy!” A reference to another trademark quote that was never said by Cary Grant.
John Jacob Astor dies.
On this day, March 29th, 1848, John Jacob Astor died in Manhattan.
Astor, remembered as the first multi-millionaire of the United states, and by some calculations the fourth richest person in American history. At the time of his death, he was by far the wealthiest person in the United States, with an estate of more than $20 million.
Astor was born on July 17, 1763, in Walldorf, near Heidelberg, Baden, In What is new Germany. His father was a butcher, and Astor initially started working as an assistant to his father as a dairy salesman. At the age of 16, Astor emigrated to London, learning English while working with his brother George producing musical instruments.
In 1784, Astor came to the newly formed United States of America. He initially traded furs with the Native Americans, and a few years after his arrival opened a fur goods shop in New York. He also continued to represent his brother’s musical instrument business in New York.
Astor married Sarah Todd, who possessed a business acumen, that he declared better than that of most merchants. She assisted Astor in practical details of his business.
In 1794, The Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the US, opened new markets in Canada and the Great Lakes. He started importing furs from Montreal to New York, after negotiating a contract with the Northwest Company of Montreal and Quebec, while in London.
By 1800, Astor had amassed almost $250,000, and was a leading figure in the fur trade. He then started trading furs, teas and sandalwood in China, and his wealth continued to grow.
In 1807, the US Embargo Act threatened to disrupt his import/export business. Ever looking for new ways to make money, he obtained the permission of President Jefferson to establish the American Fur Company, with a number of subsidiaries to control fur trading in the Columbia River, and Great Lakes area.
In April, 1811, he established a trading post at Fort Astoria, the first US community on the Pacific Coast. Around the same time he financed the Astor Expedition, which discovered the South Pass, through the Rocky Mountains.
The war of 1812, again disrupted his fur trading, when the British captured his trading posts.
Ever diversifying, in 1816, Astor purchased ten tons of Turkish opium, and smuggled it to Canton, China. He eventually left the China opium trade, and sold exclusively to England.
Astor finally benefited from politics in 1817, when the US Congress prohibited foreign traders from US Territories.
While his trading business was growing, in 1804, Astor also expanded into real estate. He purchased the remainder of a 99 year lease in Manhattan from then Vice President, Aaron Burr. Astor subdivided the property into 250+ lots, and sub-leased them.
In the 1830s, seeing that New York was about to emerge as one of the world’s greatest cities, he withdrew from his various ventures, and bought and developed large tracts of Manhattan real estate, buying large tracts beyond the current city limits.
Upon retirement from business, he spent most of his time as a patron. He supported Audubon, Edgar A. Poe, and the presidential campaign of Henry Clay.
One of Astor’s greatest legacies was a portion of his will, $400,000 that was used to build the Astor Library for the public. This library, when consolidated with a number of other libraries formed the basis for the New York Public Library.
Astor was buried in the Trinity Churchyard.
W. C. Handy Dies
On this day, March 28th, 1958, William Christopher Handy died at Sydenham Hospital in New York, NY of bronchial pneumonia.
Handy, better known as W.C. Handy, is widely considered the "Father of the Blues."
Handy was born on November 16, 1873 in the family log cabin Florence, Alabama. (The Log cabin has been saved and preserved)
As a youth, he worked odd jobs, and saved money to buy a Guitar without his parents' permission. HIs father was noted as asking Handy, "What possessed you to bring a sinful thing like that into our Christian home?," and ordered Handy to take it back. He was then quickly enrolled in organ lessons, which did not last long. He went on to learn the cornet, and as a teenager joined a local band, of course keeping it secret from his parents.
While working as a laborer, he was exposed to the music made by workers as they beat shovels, noting that "With a dozen men participating, the effect was sometimes remarkable... It was better to us than the music of a martial drum corps, and our rhythms were far more complicated." He also noted that the "Southern Negroes sang about everything." These various inspirations helped him combine them into what we now call the blues.
Handy, travelled around, in September 1892, Handy took a teaching exam in Birmingham, and handily passed, however the job paid poorly, and he continued to do more physical work. Outside of work he organized a variety of musical groups, and taught the musicians to read music. He even played cornet in the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.
In 1896, Handy Married, and in 1900 Handy, his wife, and his six children, settled in Florence.
In 1902, Handy travelled Mississippi, listening to the various black musical styles.
In 1909, Handy moved with his band to Memphis, playing the clubs and bars of Beale Street. His music was influenced by his travels in Mississippi, and he started using the “Three-chord basic harmonic structure” that was already in use by the “underprivledged but undaunted class.”
Handy was groundbreaking as he was among the first blacks to achieve economic success from music publishing. In 1912, Handy met Harry H. Pace, a businessman, and student of W.E.B. Du Bois, who had earned a reputation for recreating failing businesses. Handy and Pace founded Pace and Handy Sheet Music.
In 1917, Handy, and his publishing business moved to New York City. In 1920, Pace left the business, and started his own Pace Phonograph Company, issuing Black Swan Records. In the same year, Handy started the Handy Record Company.
Handy lived on Strivers’ Row in Harlem. After an accidental fall from a subway platform in 1943, Handy became blind. In 1954, Handy remarried, after the death of his first wife. A year later in 1955, Handy suffered a stroke, and was forced to use a wheelchair.
For his 84th birthday, a party of over 800 attendees was held at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Over 25,000 people attended his funeral in Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, and over 150,000 people gathered in the streets near the church to honor his memory. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetary in the Bronx.
On this day, March 27th, in 1860, M.L. Byrn of New York was granted a patent for a very handy device. Wine enthusiasts rejoice, it was a corkscrew!
Although corkscrews, in some form or another had been used as far back as the 17th century and for uncorking many different contents, they were not purpose built. The most common devise that doubled as corkscrews were gun wormes. Gun wormes have a similar shape to the modern corkscrew and were primarily used to clean musket barrels. As we have since learned, guns and uncorked bottles usually don’t mix well.
In all fairness though, wine bottles were not the first bottles to be corked. Until bottle tops and cans became common after WWII, corked containers were commonly used for cosmetics and food, as well as medicine.
Othmar Hermann Ammann born
On this day, March 26th, 1879, Swiss-American Othmar Hermann Ammann was born.
He served as the New York Port Authority's Chief Engineer in 1929 and is the designer of
many suspension bridges in New York City.
The first bridge that Ammann designed for New York City was the George Washington Bridge, completed in 1931, costing $59 million dollars. Another record breaking bridge he designed is The Narrows-Verrazano Bridge, which was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion, in 1965.
These passages in to, and out of, New York City "bridged the gap" between conventional designs and modern technology. His structural engineering skills also led to the creation of the Throgs Neck Bridge, Bronx Whitestone Bridge, and the Bayonne Bridge. Ammann enjoyed an industrious career and a long life. He died the same year the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was completed on September 22nd, 1965 in Rye, New York.
Howard Cosell Born
On this day, March 25th, 1918, sports commentator Howard Cosell (born Howard William Cohen) was born.
Best known for his attitude, which he described by saying "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. I have been called all of these. Of course, I am."
Cosell was born in Winston-Salem, NC, and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He obtained a Bachelor's Degree from NYU in English, and a law degree from NYU Law School. Cosell was admitted to the NY Bar in 1941. He entered the US Army during WWII, and rose to the rank of Major in the Transportation Corp.
After the war, he entered legal practice in NY. in 1953, he was asked by ABC to host a show about the Little League of NY, which he hosted for 3 years without pay. He went on to transform sports broadcasting, bringing a more intellectual approach rather than just plain reporting and color.
Thomas E. Dewey Born
On this day, March 24, in 1902, Thomas E. Dewey was born in Owosso, Michigan. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1923, and subsequently from Columbia Law School in 1925. While still in college, Dewey briefly considered a career as a professional singer, but decided against it when he determined that it was too risky of a career after suffering a temporary throat ailment.
In 1928 he married. He worked first as a federal prosecutor, and then he started a lucrative Wall Street practice, leaving it for an appointment as a special prosecutor with the title, "Chief Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. In 1935, he was appointed a special prosecutor in New York County. He was tasked to aggressively pursue the mob, organized racketeering, and political corruption, including Tammany Hall leaders known for ties to gangsters.
On multiple occasions he had the opportunity to bring notorious gangster Dutch Schultz to trial, after the second trial, Schultz proposed to assassinate Dewey. New York crime boss Lucky Luciano, and the "Mafia Commission" decided that this would cause an all-out crackdown on their activities, and instead had Schultz Killed. Dewey then turned his attention to Luciano, and eventually won the conviction of Luciano for a prostitution racket, obtaining a sentence of 30 to 50 years for Luciano.
in 1937, Dewey was elected District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan), and obtained national celebrity, being nicknamed, the "Gangbuster." He even served as an inspiration for a number of dramas, including radio serials and movies.
In 1938, Dewey ran for Governor of New York, and lost. He rang again in 1942, winning with a large plurality. As governor he cut taxes, doubled state aid to education, increased salaries for state employees, and reduced the state's debt by over $100 Million. He also signed the first state law that prohibited racial discrimination in employment.
In 1940, Dewey sought the Republican presidential nomination. He lost the nomination, being considered too young (at 38) and inexperienced to lead the nation in war time. He was also criticized for being against intervention in Europe. He ran again in 1944, gaining the republican nomination. His campaing was noted for crusading against inefficiencies, corruption and communist influences, but avoided military and foreign policy debates. He was the first candidate for president born in the 20th Century, and to date the youngest Republican Presidential nominee. Dewey lost the election by the narrowest margin of any candidate that had run against FDR.
In 1948, Dewey Ran for president for the last time, and was widely considered a shoe-in. It was so widely predicted that the Chicago Daily Tribune famously printed "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" as it's post-election headline, before the returns were conclusively in. Those returns showed that Harry S Truman had won.
Dewey remained Governor of New York until his 3rd term expired, retiring from public service, and returning to his law firm, Dewey Ballantine.
On March 16, 1971, Dewey died from a massive heart attack while on vacation in Miami. He and his wife are buried in the town cemetery of Pawling, New York, near his beloved Farm since 1938, Dapplemere, (now called Dewey Lane Farm).
Dewey is memorialised by the New York State Thruway having been renamed for him in 1964, and an award named for him by the New York City Bar Association, which was first awarded on November 29, 2005
On this day, March 23rd, 1857, Elisha Otis installed the first successful passenger elevator in the E. V. Haughwout Building at 488 Broadway, New York, NY. The elevator was a hydraulic lift, with a maximum speed of 0.67 feet per second. The elevator cost $300.
This day, March 22, in 1903, was a good day for Yankee fans! On This Day in Old New York, the New York Highlanders, now better known as the New York Yankees, had their first ticket sales. Originally named The Highlanders because of the location of their stadium at Hilltop Park and after the noted British military unit The Gordon Highlanders. (Joseph Gordon was president at the time and the name fit well) How did they become the New York Yankees? Much simpler. New York Press Sports Editor Jim Price routinely referred to the team as the New York Yankees or "Yanks", as early as 1904, in order to squeeze the name into headlines.
On this day in Old New York
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