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100 Years Ago in Pop Culture for the Highbrow, Middlebrow, and Lowbrow

California or bust! Photo from: California Historical Society, San Francisco, CA.

Halloween is in a few days, and everyone knows what that means.  We’ll soon be raking leaves, if we haven’t started already, eating too much on Thanksgiving, shoveling more snow, putting the Christmas decorations up, and ringing in the New Year.  Before 2011 slips away, it seems to be a good time to look back and reflect on “the more things change…”

Here is my top ten hit list of people, places, and pop culture from 1911 that continue to resonate today.

10.  The first Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was held. It became an annual event, except for America’s involvement during World Wars I and II.  Ray Harroun, the winner, averaged 74.602 miles per hour.  This year’s winner, Dan Wheldon, averaged 170.265 miles per hour.   He died several months later in a fiery fifteen-car pileup at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

9.  Can you name that tune?  Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, his first great success, was the most popular song of the year.   Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Down By the Old Mill Stream were runners-up.  Whose songs will we be singing in another one hundred years?

8.  And whose books will we be reading?  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton were published, as were books by Frank L. Baum, Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Beatrix Potter, Bram Stoker, and H.G. Wells.

7.  The New York Pubic Library opened.  More than one million books were set in place for the official dedication, and up to 50,000 visitors streamed through the building on opening day.  The library’s collections now total nearly 53 million items (books, videotapes, maps, etc.), surpassed only by the Library of Congress and the British Library.

6.  The silent French film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released.  Charles Laughton starred as Quasimodo in the 1939 talkie.  Disney made an animated version in 1996.  The 1831 novel by Victor Hugo on which the story is based remains in print.

5.  After a hard-fought campaign women in California won the right to vote.  They soon began running for and being elected to public office and never stopped.   Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are from the great state.

4.  Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.  As Governor of California, he signed the Family Law Act, which took the blame game out of divorce proceedings.  As President, he advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth and reducing government spending, the hot button campaign issues of the moment.

3.  Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady for her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was born in Monroeville, Alabama.  Although passing away five years ago, she has her own Wikipedia page, 220 “likes” on Facebook (come on, people, we can do better than that!), and many, many YouTube clips.

2.  Others born in 1911 whose accomplishments we continue to admire include: Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers, and Will Rogers, Jr., none of whom were related.  There’s also comedian Lucille Ball, actress Jean Harlow, novelist William Golding, playwright Tennessee Williams, librettist W. S. Gilbert, and baseball player Hank Greenberg.  Milton Bradley, creator of Life, reached the end of the game, as did toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz.  Producer of sour mash Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel died of an infection, and newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, who filled the pages of his papers with exposés and scandals, quietly succumbed on his yacht.

1.  Photoplay and Motion Picture Story, two of the first American fan magazines, began in response to the ever increasing interest in the private lives of celebrities.  Today celebrities take nude photos of themselves on their cell phones and tweet their fans.

Is there anything from a hundred years ago that you’d like to add?  Drop me a line.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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