John’s Believe It Or Not… February 26th

* 1942 – National Film Board wins its first Oscar with Churchill’s Island. * 1993 World Trade Center bombed * 1949 Lucky Lady II begins nonstop global flight * 1928 Fats Domino is born in New Orleans * 1919 Two national parks preserved – 10 years apart

Fats Domino

It’s Monday! Did You Know…

* 1942 – National Film Board wins its first Oscar with Churchill’s Island.

On February 26, 1942, National Film Board of Canada Commissioner John Grierson accepted the Academy Award for documentary short for the film Churchill’s Island. Originally produced for a Canadian audience as part of the Canada Carries On series of newsreels, the film would make a huge splash in the USA and help launch a new series produced specifically for our American neighbors.

Churchill’s Island was produced and directed for the NFB by Englishman Stuart Legg, working out of Fox Movietone studios in New York. It was scheduled as the June 1941 installment of the monthly Canada Carries On series, which was designed to show Canada’s achievements in a wide variety of fields, including the war effort both at home and on the fighting fronts. The films in this series were shown in some 800 cinemas throughout Canada every month.

While many of the films in the series focused on the domestic war effort, some attempted to show a broader, more international view of the war. Legg was asked to produce a film that would highlight the Battle of Britain as well as how Britons were coping with the Nazi threat.

He assembled footage from a variety of sources: American film libraries, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau archives, army training footage, newsreels and confiscated enemy footage (Allied forces would regularly confiscate Nazi propaganda films found on enemy ships and send them to Ottawa). Once the rough editing was done, he sent the film to the Associated Screen News (ASN) studios in Montreal, where the music and narration were recorded. Lorne Greene provided the booming “Voice of God” narration as he had done for all the films in the series. ASN processed the release prints and the film was released by Columbia Pictures throughout Canada on June 27, 1941. The film was a smash hit, and a French version was also released (by France Films) under the title La Forteresse de Churchill, playing to 60 theatres throughout Quebec and New Brunswick.

Feeling that this film would be of interest to an American audience, Grierson shopped it around in New York. Paramount showed some interest but did not buy it. Grierson found out that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was going to add a Documentary category for the first time ever, for films produced in 1941. He submitted Churchill’s Island to the Academy as well as Warclouds in the Pacific, another film from Canada Carries On which had been released in the US after the attack on Pearl Harbour. (Warclouds, which warned of an imminent Japanese attack, had hit Canadian theatres a week before Pearl Harbour. Consequently, Grierson had no trouble selling it to United Artists [UA], who distributed it throughout the USA to an appreciative audience eager to find out as much as they could about their new enemy, Japan.)

When the Academy Award nominations were announced in early 1942, the two films were included in a list of 11 documentaries. Grierson traveled to Hollywood to attend the awards ceremony and meet with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford of United Artists. He proposed to them a new series of newsreels, to be called The World in Action, that would present a more global view of the war and be produced for an American and international audience. Chaplin and Pickford agreed to distribute the first dozen films in the series throughout the USA, Canada, and Great Britain.

When Churchill’s Island was announced as the winner of the first-ever Oscar for a documentary, UA added it to the World in Action films they were to distribute. It was released in the USA on March 6, 1942, to phenomenal response. Variety called it “Socko war stuff, realistic and punchy….” The New York Post added, “This is an exceptionally fine documentary, one you should make a special effort to see.” “The war as it really is,” proclaimed The New Republic. Audiences were very impressed as well and flocked to see the film in large numbers. The Academy was very happy to have Grierson present at the awards. They felt his speech added a touch of class to the proceedings. As a result, a close relationship developed between Grierson and the attending directors, and many Academy members routinely sent him film prints they received from different sources for use in NFB films.

Churchill’s Island will always have its place in film history as the first documentary winner of an Academy Award (as well as the first NFB and Canadian Oscar winner). It became what it is thanks to terrific narration and incredible images of the resilience and defiance of the British people. Seventy years later, it still resonates with viewers. 

* 1993 World Trade Center bombed

At 12:18 p.m., a terrorist bomb explodes in a parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City, leaving a crater 60 feet wide and causing the collapse of several steel-reinforced concrete floors in the vicinity of the blast. Although the terrorist bomb failed to critically damage the main structure of the skyscrapers, six people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. The World Trade Center itself suffered more than $500 million in damage. After the attack, authorities evacuated 50,000 people from the buildings, hundreds of whom were suffering from smoke inhalation. The evacuation lasted the whole afternoon.

City authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) undertook a massive manhunt for suspects, and within days several radical Islamic fundamentalists were arrested. In March 1994, Mohammed Salameh, Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad, and Mahmoud Abouhalima were convicted by a federal jury for their role in the bombing, and each was sentenced to life in prison. Salameh, a Palestinian, was arrested when he went to retrieve the $400 deposit he had left for the Ryder rental van used in the attack. Ajaj and Ayyad, who both played a role in the construction of the bomb, were arrested soon after. Abouhalima, who helped buy and mix the explosives, fled to Saudi Arabia but was caught in Egypt two weeks later.

The mastermind of the attack–Ramzi Ahmed Yousef–remained at large until February 1995, when he was arrested in Pakistan. He had previously been in the Philippines, and in a computer he left there were found terrorist plans that included a plot to kill Pope John Paul II and a plan to bomb 15 American airliners in 48 hours. On the flight back to the United States, Yousef reportedly admitted to a Secret Service agent that he had directed the Trade Center attack from the beginning and even claimed to have set the fuse that exploded the 1,200-pound bomb. His only regret, the agent quoted Yousef saying, was that the 110-story tower did not collapse into its twin as planned–a catastrophe that would have caused thousands of deaths.

Eyad Ismoil, who drove the Ryder van into the parking garage below the World Trade Center, was captured in Jordan that year and taken back to New York. All the men implicated had ties to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical Egyptian religious leader who operated out of Jersey City, New Jersey, located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. In 1995, Rahman and 10 followers were convicted of conspiring to blow up the United Nations headquarters and other New York landmarks. Prosecutors argued that the World Trade Center attack was part of that conspiracy, though little clear evidence of this charge was presented.

In November 1997, Yousef and Ismoil were convicted in a courtroom only a few blocks away from the twin towers and subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Only one other man believed to be directly involved in the attack, Iraqi Abdul Rahman Yasin, remains at large.

After the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. investigators began to suspect that Yousef had ties to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the head of the anti-U.S. al Qaeda terrorist network. Whether bin Laden was in fact involved in the 1993 twin tower attacks has not been determined, but on September 11, 2001, two groups of al Qaeda terrorists finished the job begun by Yousef, crashing two hijacked airliners into the north and south tower of the World Trade Center. The structural steel of the skyscrapers could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel, and both collapsed within two hours of being struck. Close to 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center and its vicinity, including a staggering 343 firefighters and 23 policemen who were struggling to complete the evacuation and save the office workers trapped on higher floors. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their collapse survived. Almost 10,000 other people were treated for injuries, many severe.

Blast: A massive crater lies underneath the World Trade Centre (Image: Reuters)
Blast: A massive crater lies underneath the World Trade Centre (Image: Reuters)

* 1949 Lucky Lady II begins nonstop global flight

From Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, the Lucky Lady II, a B-50 Superfortress, takes off on the first nonstop round-the-world flight. Under the command of Captain James Gallagher, and featuring a crew of 14 men, the aircraft averaged 249 miles per hour on its 23,452-mile trek. The Lucky Lady II was refueled four times in the air by B-29 tanker planes and on March 2 returned to the United States after 94 hours in the air.

In December 1986, Voyager, a lightweight propeller plane constructed mainly of plastic, landed at Edwards Air Force Base in Muroc, California, having completed the first global flight without refueling.

USAF Lucky Lady II
USAF Lucky Lady II (Wikipedia)

* 1928 Fats Domino is born in New Orleans

“I’m worried about all the people in New Orleans. Tell them I love them, and I wish I was home with them. I hope we’ll see them soon.” That was the message that Fats Domino most wanted to be broadcast to the rest of the world when he the press first caught up with him in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Reported missing and feared dead, the blues, R&B, and rock-and-roll legend had in fact been rescued from the rising waters around his home in Lower Ninth Ward the night after the levees broke. His reluctance to evacuate and his eagerness to return to New Orleans were typical of the man so closely identified with the city of his birth. Antoine Dominique Domino was born in New Orleans on this day in 1928.

Antoine Domino was the youngest of eight children born into a Creole family that spoke French as its first language. Domino’s father was a fiddle player, but it was his much older brother-in-law, Harrison Verrett, who taught young Antoine the piano. By age 10, Antoine was playing professionally in New Orleans honky-tonks, where he earned the nickname “Fats” from bandleader Bill Diamond. In 1949, he caught the eye and ears of trumpeter, bandleader, and Imperial Records talent scout Dave Bartholomew, and a legendary partnership was born.

The first record Fats Domino put out with Bartholomew as his producer/collaborator was 1949’s “The Fat Man,” a big, foot-stomping boogie-woogie that established Domino’s signature sound. Over the next half-decade, Domino’s backbeat-heavy, rolling piano played a vital role in defining the shape of rock and roll. “Ain’t That A Shame” needed a boost from Pat Boone’s white-bread cover version before finding its way to the pop charts in 1955, but that breakthrough paved the way for two more top-five pop hits in “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin’” in 1956 and 1957, respectively.

After three decades as a major international star—a star who sold an estimated 65 million records worldwide—Domino went into semi-retirement in the 1980s, announcing that he would no longer travel outside his native New Orleans. A man of his word, Domino was not enticed to travel even to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, a National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton or induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Domino remained a neighborhood fixture in the Ninth Ward, however, living in his colorful double-shotgun mansion and making occasional forays out to local clubs in his enormous, bright-pink Cadillac. Not surprisingly, Fats Domino returned to New Orleans as soon as he could following Hurricane Katrina.

Music legend Fats Domino helped shape rock and roll music as we know it
Music legend Fats Domino helped shape rock and roll music as we know it (Cashbox Canada)

* 1919 Two national parks preserved – 10 years apart

On this day in history, two national parks were established in the United States 10 years apart–the Grand Canyon in 1919 and the Grand Tetons in 1929.

Located in northwestern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is the product of millions of years of excavation by the mighty Colorado River. The chasm is exceptionally deep, dropping more than a mile into the earth, and is 15 miles across at its widest point.The canyon is home to more than 1,500 plant species and over 500 animal species, many of them endangered or unique to the area, and it’s steep, multi-colored walls tell the story of 2 billion years of Earth’s history.

In 1540, members of an expedition sent by the Spanish explorer Coronado became the first Europeans to discover the canyon, though because of its remoteness the area was not further explored until 300 years later. American geologist John Wesley Powell, who popularized the term “Grand Canyon” in the 1870s, became the first person to journey the entire length of the gorge in 1869. The harrowing voyage was made in four rowboats.

In January 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt designated more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon a national monument; it was designated a national park under President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919.

Ten years later to the day, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law a bill passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress establishing the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Home to some of the most stunning alpine scenery in the United States, the territory in and around Grand Teton National Park also has a colorful human history. The first Anglo-American to see the saw-edged Teton peaks is believed to be John Colter. After traveling with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter left the expedition during its return trip down the Missouri in 1807 to join two fur trappers headed back into the wilderness. He spent the next three years wandering through the northern Rocky Mountains, eventually finding his way into the valley at the base of the Tetons, which would later be called Jackson Hole.

Other adventurers followed in Colter’s footsteps, including the French-Canadian trappers who gave the mountain range the bawdy name of “Grand Tetons,” meaning “big breasts” in French. For decades trappers, outlaws, traders, and Indians passed through Jackson Hole, but it was not until 1887 that settlers established the first permanent habitation. The high northern valley with its short growing season was ill-suited to farming, but the early settlers found it ideal for grazing cattle.

Tourists started coming to Jackson Hole not long after the first cattle ranches. Some of the ranchers supplemented their income by catering to “dudes,” eastern tenderfoots yearning to experience a little slice of the Old West in the shadow of the stunning Tetons. The tourists began to raise the first concerns about preserving the natural beauty of the region.

In 1916, Horace M. Albright, the director of the National Park Service, was the first to seriously suggest that the region be incorporated into Yellowstone National Park. The ranchers and businesses catering to tourists, however, strongly resisted the suggestion that they be pushed off their lands to make a “museum” of the Old West for eastern tourists.

Finally, after more than a decade of political maneuvering, Grand Teton National Park was created on February 26, 1929. As a concession to the ranchers and tourist operators, the park only encompassed the mountains and a narrow strip at their base. Jackson Hole itself was excluded from the park and designated merely as a scenic preserve. Albright, though, had persuaded the wealthy John D. Rockefeller to begin buying up land in the Jackson Hole area for possible future incorporation into the park. In 1949, Rockefeller donated his land holdings in Jackson Hole to the federal government that then incorporated them into the national park. Today, Grand Teton National Park encompasses 309,993 acres. Working ranches still exist in Jackson Hole, but the local economy is increasingly dependent on services provided to tourists and the wealthy owners of vacation homes.

Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park (National Parks Conservation Association)
Fall Colors At Oxbow Bend In Grand Teton National Park Photograph by Sam Antonio Photography
Fall Colors At Oxbow Bend In Grand Teton National Park Photograph by Sam Antonio Photography (www.history.com)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* National Film Board / Blog                                                http://blog.nfb.ca/blog/2012/02/06/churchills-island-the-nfbs-first-oscar-winner/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                           

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

12 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 26th”

            1. I thought the same thing, John. He was born in 1915 – so he was 27 when the film won the Oscar – might have been 26 when he narrated it. Just a kid, eh!

              Liked by 1 person

  1. When we step back and look at our accomplishments as a people, perhaps the greatest achievement is the preservation of our beautiful land and heritage through our national parks. Thank you for this reminder today, John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that these park preservations have been tremendous acts of wisdom, we still have miles to go in preserving Mother Earth. Thanks, Gwen!

      Like

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