Today in History: September 9

“Had Mao died in 1956, his achievements would have been immortal. Had he died in 1966, he would still have been a great man but flawed. But he died in 1976. Alas, what can one say?”—a quote attributed toChen Yun

With his death 40 years ago today, Mao Zedong’s three decades in power in China came to an end. He was 82, had cardiopulmonary issues and probably had ALS along with Parkinson’s. His final appearance in public had come in May 1976. In photos from the event, a meeting with Pakistan’s leader, Mao appears already mummified. (His preserved body has been on public display in a glass coffin since 1976.)

The fact that Mao Zedong existed was one that dominated life in his nation from the 1930s until his death, when he joined the 50 million individual lives he sent to 50 million individual deaths. Theirs were the lives worth mourning.

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Although he had already appeared on several national television broadcasts, on September 9, 1956, Elvis Presley broke every popularity record he had yet set when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It is estimated the more than eighty percent of the television sets that were powered on that night were tuned to the CBS broadcast.

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John Lennon’s solo album Imagine was released in the United States on this date 45 years ago. Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, appeared on ABC’s late-night talk show, The Dick Cavett Show that very night:

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Charles Durant became America’s first aeronaut—the pilot of a lighter-than-air craft—on this date in 1830. He flew a balloon from New York City to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Long before, in 1793, François Blanchard ascended in a balloon and drifted from Philadelphia to New Jersey, but this achievement was where the history of ballooning sat in this country for several decades, until Mr. Durant’s flight.

Durant also became the first person to distribute leaflets from the air: He dropped copies of a poem he had composed for the occasion, thus establishing the tradition of using balloons to advertise the existence of balloons to advertise the services of balloons.

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The Hank McCune Show made its national network television debut on NBC on this date in 1950. The show only lasted until December and its star is long-forgotten: his IMDb page does not report a date of death, so unless he is 99 years of age, he has vanished.

The show is noteworthy for one reason: it was recorded in a studio without an audience, and the producers used a recording of an audience’s laughter to pretend that there was an audience. A reviewer for Variety wrote about the “canned laughter”: “Although the show is lensed on film without a studio audience, there are chuckles and yocks dubbed in. Whether this induces a jovial mood in home viewers is still to be determined, but the practice may have unlimited possibilities if it’s spread to include canned peals of hilarity, thunderous ovations and gasps of sympathy.”

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Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched his fourth career no-hitter on this date in 1965, a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers won, 1-0, on an unearned run; the game remains the only nine-inning game in which only one hit was recorded, total.

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Bill Monroe died 20 years ago today. The inventor of bluegrass music wrote many songs, including “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” written and recorded in 1946:

“Mule Skinner” with Dolly Parton:

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Count Leo Tolstoy was born on this date in 1928. Colonel Sanders was born on this date in 1890. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was born on this date in 1918. Cliff Robertson was born in 1923 on this date. Otis Redding was born 75 years ago today.

Chaim Topol is 81 today. Joe Theismann is 67. Tom Wopat is 65. Angela Cartwright is 64. David A. Stewart is 64. John Kricfalusi is 61. Adam Sandler is 50 today. Michael Bublé is 41. Michelle Williams is 36.

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