Today in History: August 19

Eight hard-line members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union declared themselves the “State Committee on the State of Emergency” and pronounced themselves the new government of the USSR twenty-five years ago today. The “Gang of 8” staged a coup d’état in which they ordered the nation’s president, Mikhail Gorbachev, to be prevented from returning to Moscow from his holiday retreat and then took over the country’s airwaves and held a press conference in Moscow.

At the press conference, the members of the self-declared provisional government looked somewhere between fear and tears. The coup lasted two days but appeared near collapse through the entire ordeal. The event was the Soviet Communist party’s last gasping claw for power as it felt power slip away. And it was Boris Yeltsin’s debut on the international stage. (In the photo above, he is the figure on the left with papers in hand.)

Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, rushed to Moscow. During the trial held after the coup, the plotters revealed that they realized too late that they had made a fatal error in not ordering Yeltsin to be detained from returning to Moscow in the same way that they ordered Gorbachev to be held up. He arrived at the “White House,” the USSR’s parliament building, climbed a tank that the military had stationed there, and ordered the military to reject the coup demands and stand down. It did.

The Soviet Union and the Communist Party were both closed for business within months, in December of that unforgettable year.

* * * *
It is believed that August 19 is the date on which the poet Federico García Lorca was assassinated by Nationalist forces in Spain. The killing was 80 years ago today. The poet was 38.

* * * *
Yip Yip Yaphank, a musical revue by Irving Berlin, premiered at the Century Theatre on this date in 1918. The production was created as a fundraiser for Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, where Sgt. Berlin was stationed.

Two songs that Berlin wrote for the revue met different fates: “Oh! How I Hate to Get up in the Morning” made it through tryouts and became a hit, but another song was cut because Berlin thought it was too heavy-handed. He replaced it with “We’re on Our Way to France,” which closed the show in a rousing way. The song he cut from the revue: “God Bless America.” He re-visited the song twenty years later.

* * * *
Alastair Sim died 40 years ago today. Groucho Marx died on this date in 1977.

* * * *
Orville Wright was born on this date in 1871. Coco Chanel was born on this date in 1883. Ogden Nash was born in 1902 on this date. Gene Roddenberry was born on this date in 1921.

* * * *
Dr. Renée Richards is 82. Bobby Richardson is 81. Diana Muldaur is 78. Ginger Baker is 77. Cream re-visits “Toad” in 2005:

Jill St. John is 76. President Bill Clinton is 70. Gerald McRaney is 69. Tipper Gore is 68. John Deacon is 65. Jonathan Frakes is 64. Mary Matalin is 63. Peter Gallagher is 61. Ron Darling is 56. Kyra Sedgwick is 51. Lilian Garcia is 50. Tabitha Soren is 49. Matthew Perry is 47.

* * * *
In the Star Trek universe, William Riker will be born on this date in 2335. (See Gene Roddenberry and Jonathan Frakes, above.)

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