Today in History: May 8

In the United States and many other nations, today is Mother’s Day. Like many people, I have a mom (waves to the camera), and I love my mom very much. In much of the world, Mother’s Day is celebrated with the spring equinox or at the end of Lent.

As I have gotten older, I have involuntarily started saying “Mommy” when saying so long on a phone call or good night to her. And I am not 8.

To all the moms out there: you have my love and respect and admiration.

* * * *
Don Rickles is 90 today. He is still performing and even has an appearance scheduled for this week. His stand-up act is remarkable, for someone his age or any age, really: it’s unscripted. Yes, he knows what “insults” he will deploy “against” audience members, and he knows that somehow he will convey that he is on the audience member’s side and not punching down at them. “If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny. There is a difference between an actual insult” and doing that, he often states.

It is politically incorrect to say one does not like Don Rickles; so I am politically incorrect: I love Don Rickles.

It is forgotten that Rickles wanted to be a serious actor, that he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after his two-year tour of duty in the U.S. Navy in World War II. (He graduated from the Academy in 1948 in the same class with Jason Robards and Charles Durning.) When acting jobs remained scarce, he started doing stand-up, and even though the jobs were steady, they weren’t big.

At some point, he took his frustration at being one of life’s perpetually unnoticed, and he made it his act: he noticed that he got bigger laughs during the shows in which he got heckled and in which he came back at the heckler (and every stand-up gets heckled: I saw Robert Klein get heckled playing a small club in the 1990s, a club he could have bought just to close it). That became his act: bait the audience, heckle it before it could harass him. And the shows became love-fests, even with his insults. Because of his “insults.”

His own web site points out that for all his success, “his grandchildren are much more impressed by his role as ‘Mr. Potato Head’ than by any of his other achievements.” Hence:

 
* * * *
Sir David Attenborough is 90 today. As a broadcaster and naturalist, his work is deservedly celebrated; “Life on Earth” is still shown. He made his mark in another remarkable way: he helped start BBC Two in the mid-1960s and it was under his adventurous programming that that channel presented “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” Sir Kenneth Clark as the presenter of his own ideas about “Civilisation,” the brilliant Jacob Bronowski presenting his history of man and science in “The Ascent of Man,” and “Alistair Cooke’s America.”

He thought more highly of television audiences than we television viewers probably thought of ourselves.

And he remains active: He filmed a show last year about the Great Barrier Reef that aired in the United Kingdom this January:

 
* * * *
“All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European Time on May 8, 1945.” With that sentence, World War II ended in Europe 70 years ago today. Nazi Germany signed an unconditional surrender and ceased to exist.

In the European theater, about 50,000,000 individuals, both military personnel and civilians, perished in the conflict. Some countries lost 10% of their population; it is estimated that the USSR lost an estimated 13.7% of its 1939 population in military deaths and civilian deaths during the five-and-a-half years of war.

* * * *
President Harry Truman was born on this date in 1884. Edmund Wilson was born on this date in 1895. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (now styled as “Venerable,” as his name is in the process of being canonized) was born on this date in 1895. It is believed that Robert Johnson was born on this date in 1911. “Sweet Home Chicago,” recorded 80 years ago this November:

 
Sonny Liston was born on this date in 1932. Both Ricky Nelson and Peter Benchley would be 76 today.

* * * *
Gary Snyder is 86. Thomas Pynchon is 79 today. Toni Tennille is 76. Chris Frantz is 65. Philip Bailey is 65. Beth Henley is 64. Alex Van Halen is 63. Stephen Furst is 61. Melissa Gilbert is 52. Enrique Iglesias is 41.

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