Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Greatest of All Time Turns 65 - January 17, 2007

Have you ever done something that made you want to kick yourself? Or, more specifically, not done something? 

Today is Muhammad Ali's 65th birthday, an occasion that sent this writer strolling down Memory Lane. In the mid-1980s, at a Burger King on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, what did I see but a gold convertible Rolls-Royce

Behind the wheel was none other than the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali. The Champ was greeting fans, shaking hands, and generally basking in his fame. Your obedient servant was certainly a fan, but I decided to forego the chance to meet Ali -- a decision that haunts to this day. 


The lesson to be learned? Never turn down an opportunity to
thank someone you admire, whether famous, infamous, or unknown. Mr. Ali, if you happen to be reading this today, Happy Birthday -- and I'd still love to shake your hand.

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Life and Times of Al Capone - January 16, 2009

Of all the mobsters in the history of crime, none is as famous as Al Capone. His infamy is mostly due to the fact that he was an extremely violent individual (despite his occupation of "used furniture dealer").

At 14, he was kicked out of Catholic school for punching his teacher (a nun, perhaps?). It was inevitable that, spending his days on the streets, he took to a life of crime.

It's no surprise why his story has been told in so many movies or why he's America's favorite gangster. His life writes itself:

1899: On January 17, Alphonse Gabriel Capone is born in Brooklyn, New York.

1913-1917: Is a member of the Junior Forty Thieves, the Five Points Juniors, the James Street Gang, and the notorious Five Points Gang. Earns the nickname "Scarface" when local gangster Frank Galluccio slashes his face in a bar fight after Capone makes a crack about Galluccio's sister. Later, mob boss Frankie Yale takes Capone under his wing.

1918, December 4: Mary "Mae" Coughlin gives birth to Capone's first son, Albert Francis (nicknamed "Sonny"). To celebrate, Al and Mae get married on December 30. 

1920: Moves to Chicago to lie low during a murder investigation; soon becomes Johnny Torrio's right-hand man.

1923: Capone and Torrio move their mob, The Chicago Outfit, to Cicero.

1924: On one of the most corrupt election days in history, Al's older brother Frank is shot and killed by policemen. On November 10, rival gang leader Dion O'Banion is murdered by The Outfit, sparking a war between the gangs for the next several years.

1925, January 24: An attempt on Torrio's life forces him to retire and appoint Capone head of The Outfit.

1928: Capone moves his headquarters to the Lexington Hotel, occupying two full floors.

1929, February 14: Seven members of George "Bugs" Moran's gang (Capone's rivals), are gunned down in what would become known as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." "Scarface Al" later bludgeons three of his men to death with a baseball bat. In August, Special Agent Eliot Ness of the U.S. Department of the Treasury forms a task force that will become known as "The Untouchables" to shut down Capone's breweries and gather evidence against him for violating the Volstead Act.

1930: Capone sets up Chicago's first free soup kitchen, providing thousands of meals daily to unemployed Americans.

1931, October: Capone is found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

1934, August: Transferred from the Atlanta federal penitentiary to Alcatraz.

1938: The syphilis Capone contracted decades earlier escalates to neurosyphilis, causing him to often be confused and disoriented. He spends his last year on Alcatraz in the prison's hospital.

1939, November: Released from prison early for good behavior and bad health.

1947, January 25: Dies in his Palm Island estate in Florida, just days after suffering a stroke and contracting pneumonia, combined with his long battle with syphilis. During his final years, his doctors conclude he has the mentality of a twelve-year-old.

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Friday, January 15, 2021

This Week in the Yahoo! Directory - January 15, 2009

Hello, Directory fans! Once more, it’s time to take a look at all the exciting happenings in the Yahoo! Directory -- the world’s favorite source for aggregated and categorized Internet information for more than a tenth of a century.

Today, though, we’re changing our focus a little. In
past installments of this feature, we’ve focused on the past; that is to say, things we’ve recently added. But, just for a change of pace, we’re going to put on our swami hats and predict the things you’ll be looking at in the future. We may not be Kreskins or Criswells, but we think our crystal ball is pretty accurate.

Of immediate interest is next week’s
inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. We’re always on the lookout for information about inaugural activities, as well as what to do in Washington D.C. once the dust has settled, and you’ll find it all here.

And, hey, the
NFL playoffs are proceeding apace, and you can find everything you want about all the teams, players, and odds. (Personally, we’re rooting for the Steelers, but you can learn about the other teams, too.) With the Super Bowl around the corner, you’ll be wanting to know about the ads -- and what to cook for your parties, won’t you?

And it’s almost prom season, isn’t it? Now, our own prom was more than a few years ago, but we know the gals will be trying to find the latest and hottest
fashions and hairstyles, won’t they? And fellas, don’t forget, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner -- you’d better have tips on gifts and things to do -- if you know what’s good for you, that is. (And for guys without a Valentine’s date, well, there’s always the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue …)

Awards season is in full swing, and with the
Oscars, Grammys, and even the Westminster Dog Show -- coming up, you’ll want to have all that information about nominees and winners at your virtual fingers, won’t you?

So, come on into the Yahoo! Directory; the info’s fine -- and you’ll be proud to be the most informed surfer on the block.

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Here She Is, Boys! Here She Is, World! Here's Ethel! - January 15, 2010


She had a huge, bombastic voice that could strip paint off the walls and flay velvet from the seats at the back of the largest theater. What she lacked in subtlety and nuance, she copiously made up for with sheer power and fortitude. Her unmistakable brassy timbre and brilliant comedic timing made her one of musical theater's most enduring and celebrated stars. Naturally, with that big voice came a big ego, but that only lent fodder to the legend that was the late, great Ethel Merman.

She was born Ethel Zimmerman on January 16, 1908 in Queens, New York, and one can only imagine the cradle-shaking stridency of those first hungry cries. As a girl, Ethel's parents frequently took her into Manhattan to see such vaudeville stars as Sophie Tucker, Nora Bayes, and Fanny Brice, all of whom would prove to be tremendously influential on the young performer. By the time Ethel was in her late teens, she was spending her days working as a stenographer and personal secretary. Her evenings, though, were spent singing in Manhattan nightclubs under the shortened moniker Ethel Merman.

It didn't take long for that singular voice to find fame. George and Ira Gershwin saw her and instantly hired her for their next Broadway show, Girl Crazy. To say she made a sensation is the half of it. On the evening of October 14, 1930, she blew the roof off the Alvin Theatre, with not one, but two show-stoppers: "Sam and Delilah" and the iconic "I Got Rhythm," in which she held a high C for sixteen bars. At intermission, George Gershwin rushed backstage to ask Merman, "Do you know what you're doing out there?" An apprehensive Merman replied "No." Gershwin replied, "Well, just keep doing it!" and forbade her from ever taking a voice lesson.

Hit after hit after hit followed, from Cole Porter's Anything Goes to Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun and Call Me Madam and beyond. She concurrently made a splash in Hollywood, starring in films such as Alexander's Ragtime Band, Stage Door Canteen, There's No Business Like Show Business, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

But it was her unforgettable turn as the indomitable Madame Rose in Gypsy that would forever cement Merman's reputation as the musical theater's grandest of dames. Merman was perfectly suited to play the larger-than-life Rose, and one can imagine that her teeth marks still mar the stage at the Broadway Theatre, where she chewed her way through 702 sold-out performances.

Ethel Merman passed away in 1984, leaving in her wake four ex-husbands, two children, a string of brilliantly memorable performances on the stage and screen, an unfortunate disco recording, and any number of shattered eardrums. Not a bad record for a woman who took that advice and never had a single vocal lesson.

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Everything You Know Is Wrong - January 14, 2008


When
Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) married Mary Jane Watson in 1987, comic fans wondered if the marriage would last, since Spidey's luck was notoriously bad. The marriage finally did end a couple weeks ago, but it wasn't through death or divorce; it was via a retcon. "Retcon?" we hear you ask. "What's that?" Retcon is shorthand for retroactive continuity, a device used to make changes to a character's past, whether or not they make any sense in -- or flat-out contradict -- the present.

Comics suffer the most from this
syndrome (characters like Captain America are alive, then dead, then alive again, then dead again), but it can happen any time a writer gets stuck. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes back, the detective's death was simply retconned away. The Wicked Witch of the West becoming a heroine? Retcon. Richie Cunningham's older brother who suddenly never existed? Guess.

The most notorious of all retcons came in 1986 when
Bobby Ewing stepped out of his shower to reveal that everything that had happened on Dallas that season had been a dream. Many consider that to be the moment the show jumped the shark -- but that's a whole other can of worms.

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