This Day in History (7-Feb-1914) – Charlie Chaplin debuts “The Tramp” in “Kid Auto Races at Venice”

Kid Auto Races at Venice is a 1914 American film starring Charles Chaplin in which his “Little Tramp” character makes his first appearance in a film exhibited before the public. The movie portrays Chaplin as a spectator at a ‘baby-cart race’ in Venice, Los Angeles. The spectator keeps getting in the way of the camera and interferes with the race, causing great frustration to the public and participants. This film was shot in 45 minutes at a go-cart race. It was Charlie Chaplin’s second ever appearance on film. Although it was the first film released involving the Tramp, Chaplin had actually devised the outfit for the film Mabel’s Strange Predicament produced a few days earlier but released a couple days after Kid Auto Races at Venice.

Mabel’s director Mack Sennett had requested that Chaplin “get into a comedy make-up”. As Chaplin recalled in his autobiography: – I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter [in Making a Living]. However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.

The Little Tramp, also known as The Tramp  was a recognized icon of world cinema most dominant during the silent film era and was considered an international character; when the sound era began in the late 1920s, Chaplin refused to make a talkie featuring the character. The 1931 production City Lights featured no dialogue. Chaplin officially retired the character in the film Modern Times (released in 1936), which appropriately ended with the Tramp walking down an endless highway toward the horizon. The film was only a partial talkie and is often called the last silent film.



This Day in History (17-Jan-1929) – Popeye makes 1st appearance, in comic strip “Thimble Theater”

Popeye made his first public appearance on Jan. 17, 1929, in Elzie Segar’s then nine-year-old comic strip, THIMBLE THEATRE, which originally revolved around Olive Oyl’s family. From the minute he walked into the comic strip, THIMBLE THEATER, and muttered his famous “D’ja think I’m a cowboy” line, Popeye the Sailor Man captured the hearts of millions of fans around the world. Popeye was just a sailor then without any heroic shade. Later the character of Popeye became so popular that the entire comic strip started to revolve around this sailor-man. Then ‘Thimble Theater’ changed into the comics of Popeye where Olive Oyl became Popeye‘s sweetheart. After Elzie Segar’s death in 1938, a number of writers continued the comic strips of Popeye.

Popeye made the jump to the silver screen in a 1933 in a Betty Boop cartoon entitled POPEYE THE SAILOR from the Fleischer Studios. Popeye’s theme song, titled “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man”, composed by Sammy Lerner in 1933 for Fleischer’s first Popeye the Sailor cartoon, has become forever associated with the sailor. In 1937, spinach capital Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue to honor Elzie Segar and Popeye for their positive influence on America’s eating habits, making Popeye the first cartoon character ever immortalized in public sculpture. Interestingly, Popeye’s spinach obsession began in THIMBLE THEATRE but became an indispensable plot device in his later animated adventures. The spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach consumption and saving the spinach industry in the 1930s.

The controversy of Spinach remained for decades. The most popular concept is it was actually the forbidden wide ‘marijuana’. However recent research also reveals that Spinach may be an herb with somewhat muscle boosting qualities, obviously not like the incredible strength of Popeye. However, whatever be the spinach is, the concept of eating spinach and then beating the villains away has managed to retain its popularity for over 80 years. Many consider Popeye a precursor to the superheroes who would eventually come to dominate comic books.


This Day in History (13-Jan-1930) – “Mickey Mouse” comic strip 1st appears

Before there was Mickey, Walt Disney had created a character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, for film producer Charles Mintz. Oswald’s ears were longer than Mickey’s (as befitting a rabbit), as was his nose, and his feet were black and shoeless, but his face bore an unmistakable resemblance to what would become the Walt Disney Company’s most iconic image. While Oswald was Disney’s creation, Universal legally owned him. When the Disney Brothers Studio asked for more money, Mintz refused and took ownership of the character.

Determined not to make the mistake of giving up the rights to one of his creations again, Walt and his animator, Ub Iwerks, went back to the drawing board, and transformed their rabbit into a mouse. Iwerks said he was inspired to create a mouse that had the spirit of Charlie Chaplin. They produced a few shorts that didn’t get much attention, but that changed when Steamboat Willie premièred in 1928. It was the first cartoon with synchronized sound, and became an instant hit. With Disney’s genius for marketing, Mickey became a national fad by the end of the year, with his own line of merchandise. Interestingly, Mickey didn’t actually speak until 1929’s The Karnival Kid. His first words were, “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” and his voice was provided by Carl Stalling, the composer and arranger now known for his work on the legendary Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. After that, Walt Disney himself provided Mickey’s voice, up until 1946 when he could no longer squeeze it into his schedule.

American Disney comics began in 1930 when Walt Disney himself began writing a Mickey Mouse daily comic strip for newspapers with Ub Iwerks handling the art. When control of this strip shifted to the talented Floyd Gottfredson later in the year, its ensuing popularity led to the growth of an entire comic strip department within the Walt Disney studio and the production of such additional strips as Silly Symphonies and Donald Duck (the latter, and initially the former, drawn by the great Al Taliaferro). Mickey Mouse is one of the most well-known characters around the globe, surpassing even Santa Claus. Walt Disney was given a special Oscar in 1932 for the creation of Mickey Mouse where the Press tagged Mickey as the “first non-human to win an Oscar.”


This Day in History (21-Dec-1937) – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuts at the Carthay Circle Theater, the world’s first full-length animated movie

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is the first full-length animated feature (83 minutes in length) in color and with sound, one of Disney’s greatest films, and a pioneering classic tale in film history. It was financed due in part to the success of Disney’s earlier animated short, The Three Little Pigs (1933). Although dubbed “Disney’s Folly” during the three-four year production of the musical animation, Disney realized that he had to expand and alter the format of cartoons.

It was the first commercially successful film of its kind and a technically brilliant, innovative example of Disney animation. It was premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937, followed by a nationwide release on February 4, 1938, and with international earnings of $8 million during its initial release briefly assumed the record of highest grossing sound film at the time. Adjusted for inflation, this movie is the tenth highest-grossing film of all time. This historical moment in motion picture history changed the medium of animation. Before 1937, there was no such thing as an animated feature. The only animated films back then were short cartoons. It was the first film with an official soundtrack and the first film to release a motion picture soundtrack album. The story was adapted from the original Brothers Grimms’ Fairy Tales, but in a bowdlerized or sanitized version, without overt sexual references or violent content. Disney’s version of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale was the second of its kind – the first was a five-minute Snow White (1933).

In late 1994, Snow White was finally released on VHS home video (and laser disc) and sold 10 million copies in its first week of sale. After three weeks of availability, it sold over 17 million copies, and would soon surpass the all-time champ, Disney’s Aladdin (with 24 million copies sold since its late-1993 release). It eventually sold 50 million copies worldwide, the best-selling cassette of all time. Snow White was later released for the first time on DVD, in late 2001.


This Day in History (15-Dec-1939) – Gone with the Wind Premieres in Atlanta

Gone With The Wind (1939) is often considered the most beloved, enduring and popular film of all time. Sidney Howard’s script was derived from Margaret Mitchell’s first and only published, best-selling Civil War and Reconstruction Period novel of 1,037 pages that first appeared in 1936, but was mostly written in the late 1920s. Producer David O. Selznick had acquired the film rights to Mitchell’s novel in July, 1936 for $50,000 – a record amount at the time to an unknown author for her first novel, causing some to label the film “Selznick’s Folly.” At the time of the film’s release, the fictional book had surpassed 1.5 million copies sold.

The famous film, shot in three-strip Technicolor, is cinema’s greatest, star-studded, historical epic film of the Old US South during wartime that boasts an immortal cast in a timeless, classic tale of a love-hate romance. Authenticity is enhanced by the costuming, sets, and variations on Stephen Foster songs and other excerpts from Civil War martial airs. Its opening, only a few months after WWII began in Europe, helped American audiences to identify with the war story and its theme of survival.

With three years advance publicity and Hollywood myth-making, three and one-half hours running time (with one intermission), a gala premiere in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, highest-grossing film status (eventually reaching $200 million), and Max Steiner’s sweeping musical score, the exquisitely-photographed, Technicolor film was a blockbuster in its own time. A budgeted investment of over $4 million in production costs was required – an enormous, record-breaking sum. The film (originally rough-cut at 6 hours in length) was challenging in its making, due to its controversial subject matter (including rape, drunkenness, moral dissipation and adultery) and its epic qualities, with more than 50 speaking roles and 2,400 extras.

When the Oscars rolled around the following year, Gone with the Wind received a record ten Academy Awards — a mark that would stand for 20 years. Marked for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1989, when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation, it remains the highest-grossing movie to hit theaters in history.


This Day in History (16-Aug-1958) – Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, wins the Top Five Awards at the Vancouver Film Festival

Pather Panchali, which means “Song of the Little Road”, is a Bengali film directed by legendary Indian film maker, Satyajit Ray. The film is based on a Bengali novel by the same name written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Since Ray was tight on funds, he roped in relatively inexperienced cast and crew, some of the actors  had no previous acting experience. Due to financial challanges, it took Ray three years to complete the film. After the film was made, Ray maintained that three miracles saved the film, the first that Apu’s voice did not break, Durga did not grow older and Indir Thakrun (who played the character of an elderly aunt) did not die. This film marked the debut of the film’s technical team, cinematographer Subrata Mitra had never used a movie camera before and Ray had never directed a film before this. The music of the film was composed by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was at the early stages of his career then.

Pather Panchali was part one of the Apu Triology and was followed by two more films, Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) which follow Apu’s life as an adult. These three films are today among the greatest films of all times and is considered one of the best film trilogies ever to be made. Pather Panchali won the National Film Award for Best Film and the National Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali in India in 1955,  the Vatican Award in Rome in 1956, the Golden Carbao Award in Manila in 1956,  the Golden Gate for Best Director and Golden Gate for Best Picture at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1957, the Best Film and Feature Length Motion Picture at the Vancouver Film Festival and also the Critics’ award for Best Film at the Stratford Film Festival in Canada in 1958 & awards for Best Foreign Film in the United States and Japan in 1958 and 1966 respectively. In the USA, Pather Panchali played at the 5th Avenue Playhouse for a record 36 weeks  in 1958, breaking the previous record. In 1992, twenty-four days before his death, Ray was awarded an Honourary Oscar, which he accepted while being bedridden in a seriously ill condition. Ray was the first Indian to be honoured with such an award.



This Day in History (5-Aug-1962) – Marilyn Monroe is found dead

Norma Jean Mortenson took up modeling in 1944 while she was 18. In 1946, she signed a short-term contract with 20th Century Fox, taking as her screen name Marilyn Monroe (derived from her mother’s family name Monroe and Marilyn, a musical performer of 20s). She had a few bit parts and then returned to modeling, famously posing nude for a calendar in 1949. She began to attract attention as an actress in 1950 after appearing in minor roles in the The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. Her acting career took off in the early 1950s with performances in Love Nest (1951), Monkey Business (1952), and Niagara (1953). Celebrated for her voluptuousness and wide-eyed charm, she won international fame for her sex-symbol roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954). The Seven-Year Itch (1955) showcased her comedic talents and features the classic scene where she stands over a subway grating and has her white skirt billowed up by the wind from a passing train.

In 1955, she gave a strong performance as a hapless entertainer in Bus Stop (1956). She made The Prince and the Showgirl–a critical and commercial failure–with Laurence Olivier in 1957 but in 1959 gave an acclaimed performance in the hit comedy Some Like It Hot. Her last role, in The Misfits (1961), was directed by John Huston and written by Miller, whom she divorced just one week before the film’s opening. There have been a number of conspiracy theories about her death, most of which contend that she was murdered by John and/or Robert Kennedy, with whom she allegedly had love affairs. These theories claim that the Kennedys killed her (or had her killed) because they feared she would make public their love affairs and other government secrets she was gathering. Two decades after the fact, Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, announced for the first time that the attorney general had visited Marilyn on the night of her death and quarreled with her, but the reliability of these and other statements made by Murray are questionable. An autopsy found a fatal amount of sedatives in her system, and her death was ruled probable suicide.