Alex Haley was known best for the one novel he completed: “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The epic tale follows a black family from Africa, through slavery, emancipation, and beyond. The novel was a massive, best-selling success, and it was adapted into a TV miniseries that set viewing records and is still remembered as a classic. Haley also wrote “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” in collaboration with the book’s subject, and he left an unfinished novel upon his death, “Queen,” which was completed by David Stevens at Haley’s request. The huge popularity of his small body of work has made Haley the best-selling African-American author in the U.S. We remember Haley’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who were born this day in history.
1950: Erik Brann, U.S. guitarist with Iron Butterfly, who played on their well-known song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” is born in Pekin, Illinois.
1943: Denis Payton, English saxophonist with British Invasion band the Dave Clark Five, is born in London, England.
1933: Jerry Falwell, U.S. televangelist who founded Liberty University and co-founded Moral Majority, is born in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Driven into politics by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established the right to an abortion, Falwell founded Moral Majority in 1979. One of the conservative lobbying group’s greatest triumphs came just a year later, when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Falwell credited Moral Majority with getting millions of conservative voters registered, aiding in Reagan’s victory and giving Republicans control of the Senate. “I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved,” he said when he stepped down as Moral Majority president in 1987. Read more
1927: Stuart Rosenberg, U.S. film director whose movies include “Cool Hand Luke” and “The Amityville Horror,” is born in Brooklyn, New York.
Rosenberg’s first film was “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 drama starring Paul Newman as an inmate on a chain gang who becomes an unlikely hero. “He was as good as anybody I ever worked with,” Newman said in a statement. “Cool Hand Luke” was nominated for four Academy awards, with George Kennedy taking home a statue for best supporting actor. The film also spawned the famous line delivered by Strother Martin as a guard captain: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Read more
1920: Mike Douglas, U.S. singer and talk show host whose “The Mike Douglas Show” helped launch the careers of performers including Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin, is born in Chicago, Illinois.
Douglas’ afternoon show, which aired from 1961 to 1982, featured his ballad and big-band singing style, other musicians, comedians, sports figures, and political personalities, including seven former, sitting, or future presidents. “People still believe ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ was a talk show, and I never correct them, but I don’t think so,” Douglas said in his 1999 memoir, “I’ll Be Right Back: Memories of TV’s Greatest Talk Show.” “It was really a music show, with a whole lot of talk and laughter in between numbers.” Read more
1921: Alex Haley, U.S. author known best for his novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” is born in Ithaca, New York.
Haley grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories of life as the daughter of an emancipated slave, woven through with family history. As an adult, his memories of these tales inspired him to challenge the notion that African-Americans couldn’t trace their ancestries beyond a few generations. The complexities of slavery certainly made it difficult: forcible name changes, separation of families, bad or nonexistent recordkeeping. But Haley believed he could learn more from the powerful medium of oral history. He embarked on a research journey that started with his grandmother’s stories and eventually took him to Africa, to a village he believed to be the home of his ancestor Kunta Kinte before he was sold into slavery and transported to America. Read more
1897: Enid Blyton, English author of hundreds of children’s books including the “Noddy” and “Famous Five” series, is born in London, England.
1897: Louise Bogan, U.S. poet who was the fourth poet laureate to the Library of Congress, is born in Livermore Falls, Maine.