September 18, 1946: Billy Drago Born

On this day in 1946, William Eugene Burrows was born in Hugoton, Kansas. Under his stage name, he has been the most recognizable portrayer of villains in movies and television today.

Billy DragoOn this day in 1946, William Eugene Burrows was born in Hugoton, Kansas. Under his stage name, he has been the most recognizable portrayer of villains in movies and television today.

If an actor was ever born to play bad guys, it was Drago. He is quoted as saying, “I’m never going to be the boy next door. That’s not who I want to be. So I try to put a little of the dark side into my good guys and a bit of gentleness into my heavies.”

After finishing college at the University of Kansas, he took up acting full-time. To avoid being confused with another actor, he took his grandmother’s maiden name to create one of the most memorable stage names.

Drago has played numerous villains throughout his career. Here are a few performances worth seeing.

  • The Untouchables (1987): Numerous actors from Sylvester Stallone to Anthony LaPaglia to Stanley Tucci have played Al Capone’s enforcer, Frank Nitti. None have been more chilling or menacing than Drago.
  • Delta Force 2 (1990): The script ain’t so hot, but it’s fun as can be watching Drago play a Latin American drug lord.
  • Charmed (1999): Drago signed on for one episode as Barbas, but was so popular that he became one of the few recurring villains on the show.
  • You Rock My World (2001): Michael Jackson’s last great video was a homage to tough guy movies that featured Marlon Brando, Michael Madsen and Chris Tucker. However, it was Drago that gave it street cred.

September 16, 1984: E/R Premieres

On this day in 1984, “E/R” premiered on CBS. This short-lived sitcom, which was not to be confused with the more famous series on NBC, also featured George Clooney.

E-R LogoOn this day in 1984, “E/R” premiered on CBS. This short-lived sitcom, which was not to be confused with the more famous series on NBC, also featured George Clooney.

The show’s plot centered on Dr. Howard Sheinfeld (Elliot Gould), a physician who is recently divorced and takes a position in the emergency room of a Chicago hospital. The show mixed situational humor with crises in the E/R.

It’s tough to successfully mix those two elements and the show only lasted one season. However, it did feature Clooney, Jason Alexander and Mary McDonnell in its cast. Below are clips from the show featuring Clooney.

September 7, 1979: ESPN Launches

On this day in 1979, ESPN (originally known as the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) launched with its signature program, “Sportscenter.” Today, it is hard to imagine life without ESPN.

ESPN LogoOn this day in 1979, ESPN (originally known as the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) launched with its signature program, “Sportscenter.” Today, it is hard to imagine life without ESPN.

If it weren’t for ESPN showing there was a market for it, we wouldn’t be able to watch any NFL, NBA, MLB, or college football or basketball game that we wanted to see. It basically took sports fans from being at the mercy of the three networks and gave them options for watching additional games and receiving more sports news.

When you move in with a sports fan, and you discuss the cable package, a typical response is: “I don’t really care what we get, the only thing I want to make sure we have is ESPN.” That’s a testament to how much it resonates in this day and age.

September 4, 1995: WCW Monday Nitro Premieres

On this day in 1995, “WCW Monday Nitro” premiered on TNT. This show led to ratings wars between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and began the most exciting period in wrestling.

WCW Nitro LogoOn this day in 1995, “WCW Monday Nitro” premiered on TNT. This show led to ratings wars between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and began the most exciting period in wrestling.

After a very exciting run in the 1980s, wrestling’s popularity had waned. WWE was still number one and “Raw,” its taped weekly show, aired on the USA Network every Monday night. Meanwhile, the Ted Turner-owned WCW remained a low-budget alternative that ran on Saturdays on TBS.

Then Turner brought in promoter Eric Bischoff, who pushed for a live, weekly show that provided an anything-can-happen atmosphere. Turner agreed and “Nitro” was born.

The first show was broadcast from the Mall of America in Minneapolis and shocked fans when Lex Luger emerged from the crowd and announced that he was joining WCW (video below). Luger had wrestled the final match of his WWE contract the day before and signed with WCW the next morning.

WCW then waged war with WWE, stealing its superstars with big-money contracts and announcing the results of the pre-taped “Raw” on “Nitro.” When Bischoff convinced Hulk Hogan (who had signed with WCW in 1994) to become a villain, “Nitro” overtook “Raw” in the ratings and dominated for the next 84 weeks.

The launch of “Nitro” kicked off four of the best years in wrestling, not just because WCW caught lightning in a bottle, but because WWE upped its game as well. Owner Vince McMahon gave WWE a greater edge that ushered in the characters like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and Mankind.

WCW expanded but could not compete with McMahon on the creative front. In 1999, “Raw” overtook “Nitro” in the ratings and by 2001, WWE was once again the dominant league, while “Nitro” was three-hour bloated whale carcass.  In March of that year, McMahon purchased the league that had pushed WWE to the greatest heights it had ever reached.

July 27, 1981: Adam Walsh Kidnapped

On this day in 1981, Adam Walsh was kidnapped outside a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida. His kidnapping and murder influenced a generation more than any other missing person case probably ever has.

Adam WalshOn this day in 1981, Adam Walsh was kidnapped outside a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida. His kidnapping and murder influenced a generation more than any other missing person case probably ever has.

Adam’s mother left him alone for about seven minutes to watch a few older kids play video games, while she shopped a few aisles away. When she returned, Adam was gone. Two fishermen found his head on August 10, but the rest of his body was never recovered. Convicted serial killer Otis Toole confessed to the murder in 1983, and on his deathbed to his niece in 1996, but he was never charged because he recanted his first confession and was already on death row for other murders. Florida police declared in 2008 that he was the killer and the case was closed.

The story of Adam’s murder and his parents’, John and Reve’, advocacy to pass child protection laws was retold in “Adam,” one of the most influential TV movies ever made. The first broadcast was seen by 38 million people and the movie was re-broadcast two more times.  John Walsh, of course, went on to host America’s Most Wanted.

The lasting legacy of the case is that it changed an entire generation’s manner of thinking. When faced with the idea of leaving your kid alone in a public place or talking to a stranger, you just didn’t think of safety… you thought of Adam.

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.

July 17, 2009: Walter Cronkite Dies

On this day in 2009, legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite passed away. He was 92.

Walter Cronkite Reporting JFK DeathOn this day in 2009, legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite passed away. He was 92.

My mother told me years ago that on Dan Rather’s first night as anchor of the CBS Evening News, I turned to her and asked, “What happened to Walter Cronkite?” I was two at the time and have no memory of asking such a question or seeing Cronkite anchor. I guess it says more about the significance of Cronkite.

Of the many wonderful statements about Cronkite, the fact that he was once considered the “most trusted man in America” means the most to me. It is a distinction that no other news anchor will ever hold, regardless of how much integrity he or she brings to the desk. That’s not just a testament of the changing times, but to Cronkite as well.

June 10, 2007: The Sopranos Goes Black

On this day in 2007, “The Sopranos” ended with one of the most provocative endings in history. As time as gone on and I have watched “The Sopranos” over and over a few times, I have decided that this frustrating ending was actually brilliant.

The Sopranos Ending

On this day in 2007, “The Sopranos” ended with one of the most provocative endings in history. As time as gone on and I have watched “The Sopranos” over and over a few times, I have decided that this frustrating ending was actually brilliant.

(Caution: Major Spoilers Ahead)

It’s been six years since the show closed with the harsh cut-to-black as the Soprano family sat down to dinner at Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionary in New Jersey and left fans with a multitude of questions: Did Tony die? Would he go to jail? Did the Sopranos just sit down for dinner? It also left a number of fans angry because of the lack of closure. I suppose it was because of the eight years invested in the show. For instance, I don’t know anyone who was upset with the equally ambiguous ending of “The Wrestler.”

I saw the ending live when it happened and followed the series through its first run. Since then, I have re-watched the series quite a few times. Call it a strange, but I am somehow able to relax through the catharsis of watching the actions of these really bad and often funny people. For the first two years after the show ended, I thought the ending was a cheap way to show that Tony kept his family but his paranoia makes him unable to even enjoy a nice dinner with them. Now I believe that series creator David Chase is too meticulous and too great a writer to leave viewers with such a lame ending.

The blog, Master of Sopranos, has put together the most detailed and definitive explanation of the ending on the web that bolsters the same conclusion I have finally accepted. There will be no movie because Tony Soprano is, in fact, dead.

When you watched the first five seasons, you found yourself rooting for Tony because you believed his line that he was a conflicted man who found himself in the mob business and was just trying to provide for his family. Even a book by Chris Seay, “The Gospel According to Tony Soprano,” which came out after season three, predicted there was redemption for the show’s protagonist. However, there were always little moments that reminded you how awful he was; whipping the Assemblyman with the belt; goading Janice into losing it at Sunday dinner when she’s trying to turn a new page; beating Georgie every time he was in a bad mood.

By season six, you knew there was no redemption for Tony and that he was going to spend the rest of his life being charismatic, charming and vicious, even to those he said he “loved.” The last 20 episodes also spent a great deal of time alluding to the fact that one doesn’t actually hear the gunshot before it happens, hence the jarring cut to black.

If you’re a geek like me, I encourage you to read the Master of Sopranos to see the level of detail Chase put in to constructing this ending, which is below in its entirety.

June 5, 1956: Elvis Presley’s Pelvis Debuts on National TV

On this day in 1956, Elvis Presley performed “Hound Dog” for a nationwide audience for the first time on “The Milton Berle Show.” The performance marked the first time Elvis’ famous pelvic gyrations were fully shown on national television.

On this day in 1956, Elvis Presley performed “Hound Dog” for a nationwide audience for the first time on “The Milton Berle Show.” The performance marked the first time Elvis’ famous pelvic gyrations were fully shown on national television.

Presley had been touring non-stop for 18 months performing hits that straddled rock and roll and country and western music. While he had an audience, Presley was not a superstar the night he stepped on Berle’s stage. However, he was when he walked off of it thanks to a performance that is still impressive 57 years later.

But he was also the subject of controversy. Ben Gross with New York Daily News wrote that Presley’s performance was “tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.” America, a Catholic weekly paper’s headline simply said “Beware of Elvis Presley.”

The eventual King of Rock and Roll would be filmed from the waist up when he made his first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” three months later. Sullivan had been hesitant to have him on his show because of the gyrations, but Presley had become too big of a draw since the Berle performance for Sullivan to keep him off of his show (Note: Although the camera shots were close-ups during Presley’s first performance, they panned out for the second performance of that night and audiences were able to see Presley’s moves.).

Were Sullivan and the critics right? Who knows? Maybe Presley’s pelvic thrusts did tempt girls to burn their hope chests and stop saving themselves for marriage. Ask your mother, I guess. For aspiring musicians and both men and women, it was refreshing to see musical performance turned into an athletic event and all music was better for it. Without Presley’s gyrations, Michael Jackson would never have Moonwalked, Axl Rose would not have performed the Snake Dance and Mick Jagger would not be doing whatever the hell it is he does during concerts. Then again, Prince would never have humped the stage either.

With the good and bad, here is the performance that started it all.

June 2, 2004: Ken Jennings Jeopardy Win Streak Begins

On this day in 2004, Ken Jennings first appearance on Jeopardy aired. Jennings would go on to win that contest en route to a 74-game Jeopardy win streak.

Ken Jennings

On this day in 2004, Ken Jennings first appearance on Jeopardy aired. Jennings would go on to win that contest en route to a 74-game Jeopardy win streak. During that run, Jennings amassed $2.52 million. His streak and earnings are both game show records.

Jennings run came to an end on the November 30, 2004, broadcast when he answered the Final Jeopardy clue of “Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year,” with “What is FedEx?” His opponent, Nancy Zerg, had the correct answer of “What is H&R Block?”

Jennings has his own website and blow and as a fellow aggregator of often useless information, I thoroughly enjoy it. You can check it out at: http://ken-jennings.com/blog/.