Johnny Carson started entertaining audiences at 14 with magic tricks as the Great Carsoni. We remember Carson’s remarkable life today as well as other notable people who were born this day in history.
Johnny Carson started entertaining audiences at 14 with magic tricks as the Great Carsoni. He would go on to serve in the Navy during World War II, where he performed a magic trick for the U.S. secretary of the Navy, before starting a career in radio and television. As a television host, Carson made real magic, bringing an effortless, casual charm as host to a string of game shows and his own failed variety show before finally landing on NBC’s late-night talk show, “Tonight.” Today we know it as “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and for 30 years he embodied late-night television. His influence still can be felt in the industry and all of the hosts who have followed in his footsteps. We remember Carson’s remarkable life today as well as other notable people who were born this day in history.
1960: Katoucha, Guinean model who was popular in France and then became an activist, is born in Guinea.
The Guinean-born model told The Associated Press in 1994 that she ran away to Europe at 17 aiming to be a model. Her big break came when Jules-Francois Crahay, then the designer at Lanvin, spotted her in a lineup. The label hired her as a fitting model. Her first catwalk modeling was for Thierry Mugler at the start of the 1980s. After quitting the runway, she turned to speaking out actively against female circumcision, describing her own experience at age 9 in a book, “Katoucha, In My Flesh,” which was published in 2007, the year before her death. Read more
1949: Wurzel, English musician who was the guitarist in the heavy metal band Motorhead, is born in Cheltenham, England.
1942: Anita Roddick, English businesswoman and human rights activist who founded the cosmetics company The Body Shop, is born in Littlehampton, England.
In recognition of her contribution to business and charity, Queen Elizabeth II made Roddick a dame, the female equivalent of knighthood, in 2003, according to her 2007 obituary by The Associated Press. Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauven called Roddick an “incredible woman” who would be “sorely missed.” “She was so ahead of her time when it came to issues of how business could be done in different ways, not just profit-motivated but taking into account environmental issues,” Sauven said. “When you look at it today, and how every company claims to be green, she was living this decades ago.” Read more
1942: Michael Crichton, U.S. author, screenwriter, and medical doctor well-known for his books such as “Jurassic Park” and “Disclosure,” is born in Chicago, Illinois.
Crichton’s status as a pop-culture phenomenon may have hurt his credibility among the literati, John J. Miller noted in The Wall Street Journal in an article published after Crichton’s death. Critics did not take Crichton’s novels seriously, and “when they bothered to read them at all, they complained about cardboard characters and preposterous plots,” Miller wrote. Yet others acknowledged that Crichton was a skillful storyteller, a hard worker, and an incredibly intelligent writer with a questioning mind. Read more
1940: Ellie Greenwich, U.S. singer-songwriter and producer who wrote or co-wrote “Be My Baby,” “Leader of the Pack,” and “River Deep, Mountain High,” is born in Brooklyn, New York.
Greenwich, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was considered one of pop’s most successful songwriters. She had a rich musical partnership with the legendary Phil Spector, whose “wall of sound” technique changed rock music, according to her 2009 obituary by The Associated Press. With Spector, she wrote some of pop’s most memorable songs, including “Da Doo Ron Ron.” But Spector wasn’t her only collaborator. She also had key hits with ex-husband Jeff Barry, including the dynamic song “Leader of the Pack.” (Years later, Broadway would stage a Tony-nominated musical with the same name based on her life.) Read more
1928: Bella Darvi, Polish actress who starred in the movie “The Egyptian” with Victor Mature, is born in Sosnowiec, Poland.
1925: Johnny Carson, U.S. host of the “Tonight Show” for 30 years, is born in Corning, Iowa.
“The Tonight Show” (then called simply “Tonight”) existed before Carson took the reins, of course – Steve Allen was its first host, and then Jack Paar ran the show. When Paar left (not long after his famous walk-off, which probably destroyed any chance he had to achieve the longevity Carson would see), several others were approached for the position – Jackie Gleason, Bob Newhart, Groucho Marx, Joey Bishop – but they all declined, leaving the stage open for Carson to begin his reign over late night. Read more
1923: Frank Sutton, U.S. actor remembered best for his starring role as Sergeant Vince Carter on the TV sitcom “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” is born in Clarksville, Tennessee.
As Sergeant Carter, Pyle’s gruff but caring drill instructor, Sutton put a positive face on the Marine Corps from 1964 to 1969, during a time when thousands of young recruits and draftees were training and shipping out to fight in Vietnam. While it is unlikely that many Marines had a drill instructor like Carter, Sutton’s character helped to create a kinder, gentler version of the armed forces for American audiences. Read more
1922: Coleen Gray, U.S. actress known best for roles in noir films including “Red River” and “The Killing,” is born in Staplehurst, Nebraska.
Film noir launched Gray’s career, with her first substantial roles coming in 1947’s “Kiss of Death” and “Nightmare Alley,” and she continued playing noir roles throughout the years of the genre’s great popularity. According to Gray’s obituary in The New York Times, she dreamed of playing femmes fatales like other great ladies of noir, but her girl-next-door looks made her a tough sell as a hard-boiled dame or a Mata Hari type. She ended up playing love interests, sweet girls who contrasted with the scheming women played by Claire Trevor and the like. Gray was frustrated about not getting her dream roles, but she was also a good sport, bringing her love of film noir to her parts regardless of her casting. That love showed, and she became as much a star of noir as the femmes fatales were.
1918: Peggy Moran, U.S. actress who starred in B movies including “The Mummy’s Hand,” is born in Clinton, Iowa.
1918: James Daly, U.S. actor known best for his starring role as Dr. Paul Lochner on the hospital drama series “Medical Center,” is born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
1910: Hayden Rorke, U.S. actor known best for his regular role as Colonel Alfred E. Bellows on the TV sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie,” is born in Brooklyn, New York.
1904: Harvey Penick, U.S. professional golf coach who coached many Hall of Fame players including Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, is born in Austin, Texas.
1893: Gummo Marx, U.S. actor and theatrical agent who represented his brother Groucho Marx, is born in New York, New York.
1869: John Heisman, U.S. college football coach who won a national title at Georgia Tech and who is the namesake of the trophy that is awarded annually to the most outstanding college football player in the U.S., is born in Cleveland, Ohio.