Since I don’t feel like writing about politics or this or that nerdy pursuit today, and since I’m too lazy to work on the comics for my forthcoming Now That’s Quality Cheese entry on MacGyver, I thought I’d take a gander at the Wikipedia page for today and see what jumped out at me. Turns out there were some interesting people born on this date in history. Here’s a little about three of them.
Today would have been the 121st birthday of Bartolomeo Vanzetti. He was born this date in 1888, in Villafalletto, Cuneo, Italy. Most of us know his name because we dimly remember hearing it in high school, always preceded by “Sacco and”. Both men came to the United States in 1908. In April 1920 they allegedly murdered two men during a robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts. In 1927 they were both executed for the crime. Today, over eighty years since their execution, whether or not Sacco and Vanzetti actually committed the crimes for which they were executed is almost beside the point. They were not only immigrants, they were members of a group of militant anarchists who had committed several acts of terrorism and advocated violence as a legitimate means of resisting an unjust government. The juries for their two trials were highly prejudiced, their lawyers apparently weren’t that great, and as a result we still have no idea whether Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty or not. Books have been written arguing both sides. One thing we do know: guilty or innocent, the justice system failed Sacco and Vanzetti. Their executions sparked worldwide protests, and fifty years later Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis officially apologized, for all the good that did.
Today is the 50th birthday of former pro wrestler Magnum T.A., real name Terry Allen. Before a car accident ended his career in 1986, he was on his way to being a pretty big deal. He made his name working for Jim Crockett Promotions, the most nationally visible territory of the NWA in the 1980s, the home territory of Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, the Road Warriors, the Midnight Express, you get the idea. Besides being a decent wrestler, he was also good buddies with Dusty Rhodes, who booked the territory. Were it not for the car accident, Magnum would have been one of the brightest stars in the 1980s wrestling boom. As it happened, he still had a pretty great career. His feuds with Nikita Koloff and Ric Flair are well regarded today, and his “I Quit” steel cage match with Tully Blanchard at Starrcade ‘85 is as brutal a bloodbath as you’d ever want to watch. It ends with Magnum busting apart a wooden chair and spiking one of the broken legs into Tully’s bleeding forehead, while Tully shrieks in agony at the top of his lungs. Pretty sadistic, and enough to make even the most jaded CZW mark turn his head.
Finally, today’s also the 50th birthday of Hugh Laurie, the best actor on television. Why he has not been buried in Emmys for his lead role in House these last five years I do not know. Before starring as Dr. House, he was writing and acting in British comedy alongside such luminaries as Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane, and his old buddy from Cambridge, Stephen Fry. And, as all of us who saw his episode of Inside the Actors Studio know, he plays a mean piano and ain’t such a bad singer, either. And he was this close (you should see my fingers, they’re, like, almost touching) to playing Perry White in Superman Returns. He had to bow out because of his shooting schedule on House, which is too bad, ‘cause he’d make an awesome Mr. White (though Frank Langella did just fine, thank you very much). Is there anything about Hugh Laurie not to like? Yes; he’s a motorcycle enthusiast. But shit, nobody’s perfect.
There were also two deaths on this date that caught my attention. The first is John Wayne, one of the great stars in the history of cinema (and generally underrated as an actor, I think), who died thirty years ago today. Roger Ebert wrote a nice remembrance of the Duke a few days ago on his blog. You should give it a read.
The second is DeForest Kelley, the best actor in the cast of the original Star Trek. He died ten years ago today. Before landing the role of Dr. Leonard McCoy, Kelley worked steadily on TV and in the movies, including as an Earp brother in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Of the members of the original Trek cast, he seems to have been the most beloved by his colleagues. I think he would have liked Karl Urban’s take on Dr. McCoy in this year’s Star Trek film. Urban’s performance was the most obvious homage to his predecessor, and so deft that at times it was like having DeForest Kelley with us again. No wonder I liked the movie so much.