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Orson Welles

Arts Days: October 30, 1938: Fright Night
Horrified people all over the East Coast huddled by their radios and listened fearfully to the newscast of a Martian invasion of Earth. In Grover’s Mills, New Jersey, where the Martians had supposedly landed, people took to the streets with weapons, intent on repelling the invading army.

Soon a mob had assembled, and police were called to subdue the panicked crowd. But there were no Martians, only acting impresario Orson Welles’ overheated imagination. The entire "news broadcast" was only an adaptation of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre and airing on CBS. Radio announcers were more careful to insert disclaimers during fictional programs after the War of the Worlds fiasco.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Theater, Popular Culture

Metallica

Arts Days: October 28, 1981: Rock’s Heavy Hitters
Ten years after Black Sabbath invented heavy metal in the 1970s, Metallica adopted the sound and redefined it. When drummer Lars Ulrich placed an ad in the newspaper in 1981 looking for others to jam with, James Hetfield—who sings and plays guitar—was among those who answered.

Ulrich, Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bass player Robert Trujillo comprise the current lineup of the band, whose mission is to rock hard and heavy. With recordings like “…And Justice for All” and “St. Anger,” Metallica writes songs on subjects from political strife to love gone wrong, all with a thrashing, uncompromising sound. Make no mistake, Metallica’s music is loud, pounding, and intense—just like the guys in the band.
Rock & Roll, Music, America, Popular Culture

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Arts Days: October 05, 1969: Big Top Laughs
Sprung from the delightfully demented minds of British comedy troupe Monty Python, this TV show pushed the boundaries of humor every which way. The men at the heart of the program—including John Cleese and Eric Idle—used a mixture of bizarre animation, silly skits, innuendo, and deadpan British humor to bring a new form of absurdist comedy to the small screen.

The men dressed as women, broke the fourth wall, bopped each other over the head with fish, and stopped at nothing to wring new laughs out of their rabid fans. This “Circus” ran for 45 episodes, going off the air in 1974. But among those who like to imagine a “Ministry of Silly Walks,” as one popular skit did, its popularity has never waned.
Comedy, Television, Popular Culture

The Jazz Singer

Arts Days: October 06, 1927: You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!
Goodbye silent film, hello talkie. This movie became the first feature-length film with a soundtrack synchronized to what was happening onscreen. In short, it was the first bona fide “talkie,” the movie that heralded the beginning of the end of the silent film. Al Jolson played Jakie Rabinowitz, a man who yearns to be a jazz singer but whose strict Jewish family disapproves of his creative goals.

Jolson performed some of the songs in the movie in blackface, a tradition left over from minstrelsy. While the practice is considered shameful and improper now, scholars have lauded the movie as “the only film where blackface is central to the narrative development.” For all these reasons, The Jazz Singer continues to be a landmark movie all these years later.
Movies & Movie Stars, Controversial, America, Popular Culture

cd player

Arts Days: October 01, 1982: A Shiny New Music Maker
At $900, the first home CD player had a pretty steep price tag. Still, the sound quality of music on Compact Disc (CD for short) was far superior to that of the cassettes and LPs that had dominated consumers’ stereo systems for years.

CDs hold more minutes of music than any record ever did, and store music in digital format, which helps create that crystal-clear sound quality. They are also relatively hard to scratch or damage, unlike tapes and records. It wasn’t long before the CD player became a must-have stereo component for any serious music buff. Oh, by the way, the first album to be released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Japan, Popular Culture

peanuts comic

Arts Days: October 02, 1950: Nuts About Peanuts
Charles M. Schultz was the first cartoonist to use his pen to delve into the insecurities and uncertainties of modern life.

Schultz’s questioning of the human condition might not have been so welcome had he not filtered it through his young illustrated characters, who deeply resonated with readers: Charlie Brown, the “every-man” figure, the hapless hero, determined not to give up; Snoopy, the adorable dog-dreamer, who sees things the way they should be, not as they are; plus pals Linus and Schroeder, sister Sally, and, of course, Lucy, the domineering realist, always quick to put Charlie Brown in his place.

“Peanuts” was an enormous success and remains a favorite today; its offshoots include multiple iconic television specials, plays, and ice shows.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America, Visual Arts, Popular Culture

Mickey Mouse Club

Arts Days: October 03, 1955: It’s Time To Say Hello
Created by Walt Disney, this long-running variety show entertained kids daily with songs, dance numbers, and that special Mouseketeer Roll Call, where the show’s young stars introduced themselves on-camera. These popular young performers, like Annette Funicello and Cubby O’Brien, were among dozens of kids who were cast to perform routines and skits around weekday themes.

For example, Monday was “Fun with Music” day, while Wednesday was “Anything Can Happen” day. The host and lone adult on the show, Jimmie Dodd, was famous for his lessons to viewers about the importance of being kind to others and other moral messages.
Young Artists, Television, Popular Culture

Winnie the Pooh

Arts Days: October 14, 1926: Pooh Power!
The legend of a golden bear named Winnie the Pooh, a boy named Christopher Robin, and an assortment of animal pals has charmed generations of children. Author A.A. Milne based dozens of Pooh tales on his own son and his beloved stuffed bear Winnie.

The first set of these stories, published on this day in 1926, introduced readers to other characters, including Tigger, Kanga, Roo, and Eeyore. Readers were immediately taken by the animals and their shenanigans in the Hundred Acre Wood, catapulting Milne to international fame. The now famous honey-loving Pooh character can be found in countless cartoons, movies, and books.
Literature, Animals, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Popular Culture

Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy

Arts Days: October 15, 1951: Everybody Loves Lucy!
This classic sitcom made household names out of comedienne Lucille Ball, with her flaming red hair and incredibly funny facial expressions, and real-life husband, singer/bandleader Desi Arnaz. I Love Lucy broke television ground in several ways, including its use of multiple cameras to film in front of a live studio audience and its feature of a then uncommon interracial marriage between lead actors (Arnaz being of Cuban descent, Ball being Scottish).

But in the end, it’s Lucy's crazy schemes, from stomping grapes, to selling vitamins, to working on a candy assembly line, that fans embraced and remember best. And, not only did Lucy and Desi star in the most popular TV show of its day, they were shrewd business people, too. Together they launched Desilu Productions and later Desilu Studios, producing and syndicating their various shows.
Comedy, Television, Popular Culture

Cannes Film Festival

Arts Days: September 20, 1946: Stars, Paparazzi, and Cinéma
For 12 days in May, this annual event, set in the luxurious seaside resort of Cannes, France, is a showcase for new movies. While it’s an opportunity to watch films and spot celebrities, the festival began for political reasons. In 1939, Jean Renoir's film The Grand Illusion was passed over at the Venice Film Festival; top honors went to films made by Germany's Ministry of Propaganda and by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's son.

French, British, and American filmmakers withdrew from the competition to protest what they considered an overtly political decision, and the French government agreed to underwrite the cost of a rival film festival that would be free of political bias. At Cannes, films have always been judged on their artistic merits alone.
Art Venues, Europe, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Chuck Jones and Bugs Bunny

Arts Days: September 21, 1912: What’s Up, Chuck?
Here’s a pretty neat line of work: Imagine being the cartoonist who brings characters like Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck to life. That was Chuck Jones’ job. During his career, he worked as a cartoonist, screenwriter, and director of animated movies, often “shorts” that appeared before a feature film.

Jones worked on Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, including “What’s Opera, Doc?” In this hilarious animated classic, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd perform in snippets of famous operas by 19th century composer Richard Wagner. Jones also helped turn the Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas into a TV show. Jones’ innovative use of humor and characterization helped elevate animation from amusement to art.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars, Comedy, Popular Culture, Television

Conway Twitty, Chubby Checker and Dick Clark doing

Arts Days: September 19, 1960: The Dance Craze Is On
Chubby Checker’s version of this song started a dance revolution. Kids everywhere were dancing the Twist’s signature moves: swiveling hips, stretching out arms, lifting one foot off the floor every now and then. Though the dance was considered fairly provocative, the song’s ascent drove the popularity of the Twist and made it mainstream.

Dance crazes were nothing new: for example, in the 15th century, noblemen and women went crazy for the minuet, while in the 1930s, everybody was doing the jitterbug. Basically, anytime people gather to dance, a new fad could be spawned. Think about that next time you’re dancing with your pals—maybe you will invent the next Mashed Potato or Moonwalk!
Choreographers, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Dance, Music

Star Search

Arts Days: September 17, 1983: Make Me a Star Tonight
Searching for tomorrow’s superstar singers and dancers? Before there was American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, there was Star Search. Ordinary contestants sang, danced, and performed comedy skits on national TV, with judges and a studio audience voting for a winner.

Lots of artists who made it big competed on Star Search, including Christina Aguilera and Rosie O’Donnell. Interestingly, few of the actual winners are household names today. The original show ran until 1995. A new version launched in 2002, but lasted for only two years. American Idol, which also began in 2002, pretty much ate Star Search for lunch.
Art Venues, Comedy, Dance, Music, Popular Culture, Television, Young Artists

Nintendo

Arts Days: September 23, 1889: Game Winners
The company launched over a century ago in Kyoto, Japan, is known today as a pioneer in video games and other home entertainment. Nintendo initially, however, made its mark selling other kinds of products before it found its niche in the gaming industry. At its inception, Nintendo made and marketed playing cards called hanafuda; it soon went on to offer cab services, sell instant rice and other foods, and dabble in other products.

But there’s no doubt the company found its sweet spot when it started selling it's first home video game console, the Famicom (called the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US). Since then, Nintendo has released more than 20 consoles, turning Nintendo into the home-entertainment giant it is today.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Japan

Crayola Crayons

Arts Days: September 30, 1902: Color My World
Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith were a couple of enterprising cousins who took over Binney’s dad’s company, Peekskill Chemical Works, back in 1885. While Peekskill initially made charcoal and other products, the cousins expanded the product line to include black crayons at first, and eventually a whole rainbow’s worth.

Introduced in 1903, the first box of crayons cost a nickel and included red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and of course, black. It was Binney’s wife who coined the name: “craie” the French word for stick of color, plus “ola,” from oleaginous, a term describing the consistency of the petroleum used in the crayons. Today, the company once known as Binney & Smith is officially Crayola, LLC.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, Popular Culture

Jim Henson with Muppets

Arts Days: September 24, 1936: TV’s Muppet Man
Perhaps the most famous puppeteer of all, Jim Henson turned the piles of fabric and fur known as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie (as in Bert and Ernie) into loveable characters. In Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Henson’s wonderful, wisecracking animal and people puppets educated and entertained children.

It was important to Henson to create work that would appeal to people of every age. His puppets might have been teaching youngsters to count, but he also made sure they threw out a few asides to amuse their parents, too. Nothing gave the modest Mississippi native more pleasure than making people laugh and enjoying the magic of puppetry.
Puppets, Television, Innovators & Pioneers, Comedy, America, Popular Culture

Will Smith

Arts Days: September 25, 1968: Will Power
Will Smith’s many talents, from rapping to acting and producing, have enabled his rise as one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. As part of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Smith and childhood pal Jeff Townes hit big with the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in the 1980s. They even won the very first Grammy® awarded to a rap act.

The folks at NBC liked Smith’s appealing persona enough to build a TV show around him; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran from 1990–96 and cemented Smith’s reputation as a natural comic. The show served as Smith’s platform to transform himself from hip-hop artist to accredited actor with starring roles in Hollywood blockbusters like Men in Black and Independence Day.
America, Hip-Hop, Music, Popular Culture, Movies & Movie Stars, Young Artists

West Side Story

Arts Days: September 26, 1957: Tonight, Tonight
Behind the hit musical about the rival white “Jets” and the Puerto Rican “Sharks” is an updated, urban retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The inspiration and innovation was provided by a boatload of talent; Stephen Sondheim wrote the sophisticated lyrics, Leonard Bernstein the historic music.

Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the revolutionary dance sequences like the Shark Girls’ exuberant “America” and the Jets’ “Cool.” Audiences saw how violent gang warfare shattered the dreams of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony. The musical drew big crowds, shocking them all with the death of two young men at the end of Act One and of Tony at the close of the play. As stunned viewers exited the theater, few doubted the universality of Shakespeare’s love story.
Broadway, Musicals, America, Choreographers, Composers, Controversial, Playwrights & Plays, Shakespeare, Popular Culture

Buddy Holly

Arts Days: September 07, 1937: Rock’s Best Buddy
Buddy Holly started singing and playing instruments as a child. At 18, he heard Elvis Presley perform; later that year, he was opening for Elvis and generating buzz for his rockabilly music, which combined elements of bop, country, and rock.

Though his life ended at age 22 in a plane crash, he had an outsized influence on early rock and roll. For example, along with his band, the Crickets, Holly helped make the standard rock band lineup that has stuck to this day: two guitars, one bass, and drums. He also was one of the first rock-and-rollers to write, produce, sing, AND play on his own songs. And oh boy, did he crank out a lot of rock standards: “Every Day,” “That’ll Be The Day,” and “Peggy Sue” are just a few.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Kelly Clarkson

Arts Days: September 04, 2002: Idol Maker
Something like 50 million people were watching the night Kelly Clarkson was chosen the winner of the first season of American Idol. This wildly successful, interactive singing competition counts on viewers calling or texting in votes for their favorite singers to help determine who will make it to the next round.

The popular show helped launch Clarkson’s career, just as it has with other winners in subsequent years. The show’s judges—originally Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul—helped shape viewers’ voting with their blunt feedback on the performances, which can range from pathetic to magnificent.
Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists, Music, America

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Arts Days: September 02, 1995: Rock Solid
With exhibits looking at, say, the life and music of Elvis Presley or the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame aims to celebrate rock music in all its forms. Founded by Jann Wenner, longtime editor of Rolling Stone magazine, the site also collects and preserves rock music through its educational programs and archives.

For years before the actual museum existed, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation nominated musicians to be part of the Hall of Fame. One qualification: artists are only eligible for induction 26 years after their first recording. Those fortunate enough to be inducted have their names added to a spire inside the spectacular glass pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei.
Art Venues, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music, Architecture

Star Trek

Arts Days: September 03, 1969: Kirk Out
The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, had Gulliver’s Travels in mind when he pitched his idea for a new science-fiction TV show to television executives. Featuring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, the show earned loyal followers; some of whom wrote angry letters when the network put the show in an unpopular time slot.

After it was cancelled the following year, market research showed that in fact Star Trek had been profitable for advertisers, but it was too late to revive it. Still, tons of spin-off shows, from reruns of the original episodes to new programs like Voyager, have capitalized on the public’s early fascination with Roddenberry’s original concept.
Television, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Popular Culture

Roald Dahl

Arts Days: September 13, 1913: What a Dahl
It may come as no surprise to learn that one of young Roald Dahl’s schools was situated near a chocolate factory, and some lucky students got to take part in candy-bar tasting. Yes, the popular children’s writer who authored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and dreamed up its chocolate bars wrapped in golden tickets clearly drew some of his fantastically inventive tales from his own life experiences.

Dahl also wrote plenty of books and short stories for adults, but his children’s works stand out for their dark humor, startling plot twists, and outrageous characters like greedy Augustus Gloop in Charlie and mean Miss Trunchbull in Matilda—characters who almost always get their come-uppance in the end.
Literature, Popular Culture

Marilyn Monroe

Arts Days: September 15, 1954: The Blonde Bombshell
Standing over a subway grate with a train rushing by below, Marilyn Monroe titillated moviegoers when her skirt blew up in the wind.

The director of The Seven-Year Itch, Billy Wilder, had ordered this scene to be filmed repeatedly. The shooting was taking place at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City, and as he ordered more takes, more people gathered around to ogle Monroe. She was one of a long line of movie blondes dating back to Jean Harlow, who appeared in the 1933 film, Bombshell. Movie fans have idolized these golden-haired beauties of film and television. Monroe may well be the most famous of them all.
Controversial, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Oh Susanna

Arts Days: September 11, 1847: America’s First Pop Hit
This American folk tune starts with lines that make absolutely no sense: “The sun so hot I froze to death/Susanna don’t you cry.” Yet Stephen Foster, the songwriter, was probably most concerned with just creating a hummable tune. And that he did. The song tells the story of a man going to New Orleans to see his beloved Susanna.

Filled with desire and longing, the man sings of dreaming of his love at night. Foster intended the song to be sung in minstrel shows, during which white performers often performed in blackface makeup. Traditionally the song is sung with only the accompaniment of a guitar and harmonica.
America, Controversial, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

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