WD Fyfe

A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society

History, Bitter & Twisted October 11

Arrivals:

1844 – Henry Heinz, who founded F & J Heinz Company in 1876.  He processed and preserved vegetables in tins and jars and was soon selling lots more than the ’57 Varieties’ he claimed on his label.  From the beginning, however, he specialized in ketchup and now controls over half the market in the world.  Actually, this was the second company Heinz started.  The first one, Heinz Noble, made horseradish, but it went broke.  Live and learn, and a good thing, too.  Otherwise, we’d all be putting horseradish on our fries.  Bonus trivia question: What’s the difference between ketchup and catsup?  Answer: the spelling.

1884 – Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1932-45.  She was the first, First Lady, since Dolly Madison, who wasn’t shuffled off into the background.  She took an active interest in politics.  She campaigned with her husband and, more importantly had an opinion of her own.  She made her opinion known to the world six times a week from 1936 to 1962 in a syndicated column called My DayMy Day was not a typical women’s column of the age.  It didn’t have recipes, or helpful hints or cleaning tips, but it did talk about issues that were relevant to women.  It showed American women, who a generation earlier couldn’t even vote, that they were part of the political spectrum.  It dealt with a wide range of issues of particular concern to women of the time: unemployment, education and health care.  Just like her husband’s “fireside chats,” Eleanor’s newspaper column established a connection between ordinary women and the power of the White House.  It gave women a stake in the game more than any amount of rhetoric could do.  Actually, it was Eleanor Roosevelt’s blog. 

1975 – “Live from New York, It`s Saturday Night.”  George Carlin hosted the first Saturday Night Live broadcast on NBC.  The original cast of “Not Ready For Prime Time” players was Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, George Coe, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O`Donoghue and Gilda Radner.  Thirty-five years ago, the show was cutting edge, funny and cool.  It’s had its ups and downs over the years, and now its part of the established format of network TV.  It’s still kinda funny, but remember it’s been on television longer than Gunsmoke and Bonanza combined.

1986 – President Ronald Reagan and Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev met in a hastily thrown together Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.  The situation was dire. Since Jimmy Carter had publicly ended detente with the Soviets after their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Americans had been super funding their military.  The Soviet Union, getting their asses handed to them in the mountains of central Asia, were having trouble finding the matching funds.  The Soviet economy was on a ten year slide, and things were getting worse.  Essentially, Russia was going to go bankrupt, long before they ever lost the Cold War.  Meanwhile, Reagan, an old ‘Cold Warrior’ from the 50s, was putting extra pressure on the Soviets by running around talking about SDI, the Strategic Defence Initiative.  `”Star Wars,” as it was affectionately called, was going to cost more money than even God had.  Gorbachev`s problem was simple: he either had to negotiate an end to the arms race and SDI — or surrender.  The summit failed.  Gorbachev returned to the Soviet Union empty-handed and began instituting various reforms to save Russia from humiliation and financial ruin.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, Perestroika and Glasnost soon discovered they had a life of their own, and, within 5 years, the Soviet Union was gone.

Departures:

1779 – Casimir Pulaski is a name you probably only just barely remember, if you remember it at all.  Here’s a hint: along with Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa, he is one of only 7 Honorary Citizens of the United States.  Pulaski was a Polish nobleman who came to fight in the American Revolution as a soldier of fortune (read “mercenary”) and was so taken with the cause of freedom that, instead of getting paid for his services, he started using his own money to outfit his men.  He served with Washington and organized the Continental Army’s cavalry, which he led in several engagements before he was fatally wounded in the Battle of Savannah.  Two hundred and thirty years later, Congress finally decided to honour him with more than a plaque and a statue and made him an Honorary Citizen by Act of Congress, signed by President Obama in 2009.

1963 – Edith Piaf, a wild and crazy French girl who could sing like nobody else.  Piaf, which means “sparrow” in French, began her career singing in the streets of the Pigalle district of Paris.  In the 1930s, Pigalle was not a very pleasant part of the world.  Her first manager was a pimp she paid off so he wouldn’t force her into prostitution.  In 1935, she was discovered by Louis Leplee, who hired her to sing at his club, Le Gemy .  In those days the difference between “nightclub” and “brothel” was minimal and mainly had to do with the address.  Le Gemy was just off the Champs-Elysees, a couple of kilometres and several worlds away from Pigalle.  Piaf was discovered again and started making records.  Throughout her life, however, Piaf was haunted by the shadows of her upbringing.  For example, Leplee was found murdered, just as Piaf’s career began to take off (his death nullified her contract with him).  She had several lovers and 3 or 4 or 5 husbands.  There were numerous car wrecks and repeated treatment for alcohol and drug addiction.  But even as the scandal and gossip mounted, nobody cared because Mon Dieu she could sing!  When she died, she was denied a funeral mass by the church, but over 100,000 people came to the ceremony anyway.

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