December 27, 1986: Les Miserables Opens at Kennedy Center

On this day in 1986, the musical “Les Miserables” opened at the John F. Kennedy Perform for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The eight-week run was the U.S. debut of the most popular musical of all time.

Les Miserables LogoOn this day in 1986, the musical “Les Miserables” opened at the John F. Kennedy Perform for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The eight-week run was the U.S. debut of the most popular musical of all time.

The initial French concept version of the musical ran in Paris in 1980. It was then expanded and reworked for English-language audiences and opened in London in October of 1985. By the end of the 1986, the musical was ready for its U.S. debut.

To ensure that it would work on Broadway, the show was “tried out” at the Kennedy Center. The production ended there on February 14, 1987, and opened at The Broadway Theatre in New York on March 12.  The show won the Tony Award that year for Best Musical.

Les Miserables” played on Broadway for 17 years and through touring companies, has played in every major city in the world. Its popularity amongst theater and non-theater aficionados is unprecedented.

October 30, 1949: Leon Rippy Born

On this day in 1949, Leon Rippy was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He has become one of the more recognizable character actors working today.

Leon RippyOn this day in 1949, Leon Rippy was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He has become one of the more recognizable character actors working today.

Rippy has acted in more than 60 movies and television shows and more than 70 plays. He has not had his career-defining role, and here’s hoping a television show creator with HBO, FX or AMC will give him that opportunity. In the meantime, here are some of his most memorable performances.

  • Chiefs (1983): In his acting debut, Rippy has no trouble being convincing as a Southern Klansman in this CBS miniseries based on the Stuart Woods’ novel.
  • Young Guns II (1990): “Best $1.80 I’ve ever spent.”
  • Kuffs (1991): It’s hard to make a villain disgustingly foul, but Rippy seems to do it with ease.
  • Beyond the Law (1993): In this underrated B-movie, an FBI agent (Charlie Sheen) infiltrates a biker gang with the guidance of an old pro played by Rippy.
  • Saving Grace (2007): The Lord works in mysterious ways and in this series, he answers the title character’s (Holly Hunter) prayers in the form of a scruffy Rippy.

July 23, 1984: Vanessa Williams Resigns as Miss America

On this day in 1984, Vanessa Williams resigned as Miss America. The first African-American woman to receive the crown was forced to do so before nude pictures of her were published in Penthouse magazine.

Vanessa Williams Penthouse CoverOn this day in 1984, Vanessa Williams resigned as Miss America. The first African-American woman to receive the crown was forced to do so before nude pictures of her were published in Penthouse magazine.

Williams was 10 months into her tenure as Miss America 1984 when it was revealed that nude photos she had taken with other women while working as an assistant make-up artist in 1982 would be published. She posed for the photos when she was either 18 or 19 and they were to run without her consent.

On July 23, facing pressure from the Miss America Organization, who in turn was experiencing backlash from sponsors from advertisers, Williams resigned her crown. The runner-up Suzette Charles, who was also African-American, served the last seven weeks of Williams’ reign. The Miss America Organization allowed Williams to keep her crown and scholarship money and she is listed as “Miss America 1984.” Charles is listed as “Miss America 1984-b.”

Since then Williams has had one of the most successful careers of any former Miss America, becoming a star in music, movies, television and theater. Meanwhile, the Miss America Pageant has continued to roll along while local and state pageant scandals and shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” have allowed Williams’ poor choice in her teens to fade into history.

June 29, 1974: Mikhail Baryshnikov Defects

On this day in 1974, Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union after a performance in Toronto. The dance virtuoso had been performing a series of shows at the O’Keefe Centre (now Sony Centre) with the USSR’s Bolshoi group.

Mikhail BaryshnikovOn this day in 1974, Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union after a performance in Toronto.  The dance virtuoso had been performing a series of shows at the O’Keefe Centre (now Sony Centre) with the USSR’s Bolshoi group.

Baryshnikov had already become an international name in the dance community in Russia’s legendary Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet.  However, the Soviet system did not allow for him to fully realize his creative ambitions, as he would be able to in the U.S.

Defecting from the Soviet Union seems like it would simply require walking into the U.S. Embassy while in a western country and saying, “I want to defect.” Of course, it was much more complicated than that, as all Soviet entertainment groups traveled with escorts/guards. Baryshnikov later stated that he had been plotting to defect since 1970 and seized his chance in Toronto.

He was one of two Kirov dancers added to the Bolshoi tour to give it a boost in talent and they performed their first show on June 24. On June 29, the night of the last show, Baryshnikov eluded his escorts long enough to sneak out the O’Keefe’s back door to a waiting vehicle. He was whisked away to a country house north of Toronto while the necessary papers for his defection were prepared.

On July 27, Baryshnikov made his post-defection debut with the American Ballet Theatre and has since become the most recognizable face of ballet in the world.

In 1985, he starred in “White Nights,” a movie about a defecting Russian dancer whose plane has to make an emergency landing in the Soviet Union.