March 22, 2015

It Happened on March 22nd

Chico Marx's Birthday, 1887
Chico Marx
He was born Leonard Marx, and he was the oldest of the famous Marx brothers. His persona was that of a somewhat dim-witted Italian in a Tyrolean hat. 

He wasn't Italian, of course. His parents were Jewish immigrants from France and Germany. He was a talented piano player, and often played the piano in his films, utilizing the unique straight-fingered keyboard technique for which he was famous. 

All the Marx Brothers looked a lot alike, but Chico and Harpo resembled each other remarkably. In their younger days, Chico would sometimes get himself a job playing the piano, and after he'd been playing there for awhile Harpo would step in for him while Chico worked another job. The deception didn't always work out too well -- Harpo only knew two songs on the piano, so he frequently got both brothers fired. 

On one occasion, Chico appeared in Harpo's wig and costume on the TV show I've Got a Secret. His secret was that he wasn't really Harpo. He fooled the panel -- including his own brother, Groucho. 

The Marx Brothers in later life. Left to right: Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, Groucho and Gummo.

Marcel Marceau's Birthday, 1923
Marcel Marceau as Bip
When you think of mimes, you undoubtedly think of Marcel Marceau. (Either that or you think about the scary anonymous ones who accost you in the park.) Marceau decided on his life's work when he was five years old and his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin movie. 

Marceau's real name was Marcel Mangel. He was brought up in Strasbourg and Lille, France. His father was a kosher butcher who died at Auschwitz, and Marcel and his brother took on the name Marceau to disguise their Jewish roots. Both brothers were active in the French Underground, where they helped children escape to Switzerland. Marcel found his mime talents useful in keeping the children quiet as they escaped. 

After the war, Marceau enrolled in the Charles Dullin School of Dramatic Art, and then joined the Barrault company. He was a huge hit in France, and then toured the United States to acclaim here, as well. His first television appearance won him an Emmy. 

Death of Karl Wallenda, 1905
The Flying Wallendas, circa 1965
Karl Wallenda was the founder of the famous high-wire act, The Flying Wallendas.
The Wallenda family had been a similar line of work since the 1780's. In the Austro-Hungarian empire they had been a traveling circus act that performed as acrobats, jugglers, and animal trainers. Karl developed a complicated high-wire act, and took it on a world-wide tour. John Ringling saw the act in Cuba, and signed them to perform with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. When they performed their first show at Madison Square Garden, they found that their net had been lost in shipping, so they performed without it. Thereafter they would become famous for performing without a net. 
Tragedy struck the Wallenda family in 1962. They were performing their 7-person chair pyramid at the Shrine Circus in Detroit when the pyramid collapsed. Two men were killed, another was paralyzed from the waist down, and a girl suffered a concussion. Karl himself suffered a cracked rib and a double hernia. The act has been repeated twice since then: once in 1963, to prove that life goes on; and again in 1977 by Karl's grandchildren for a movie. 

After the 1962 tragedy Karl chiefly worked solo or with smaller groups. In 1978, Karl Wallenda fell to his death while attempting to walk between two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 73 years old. 

McMartin Preschool Employees Charged with Child Abuse, 1984
When it was all over in 1990, it would prove to be the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history. There were no convictions. 

It all started in 1983, when Judy Johnson reported to the police that her son had been molested by a teacher at McMartin Preschool in California, and an investigation began. As it turned out, Johnson was alcoholic and a paranoid schizophrenic, but this didn't seem to have been known at the time. You would have thought that there would have been some eyebrows raised at some of Johnson's other allegations. She also claimed that the teacher could fly through the air, and that the daycare staff had "drilled [children] under the arms."
The police investigated the claim by sending a "confidential" memo to 200 parents, stating the allegations, and asking parents to question their children about similar incidents. There were plenty of suggestions of examples of sexual abuse to question them about. 

Next, a local abuse therapy clinic interviewed several hundred children. Their questions were extremely leading, and the children were invited to pretend or speculate about events. One of the children interviewed said (later, as an adult) that whenever he gave an answer that was not to their liking, they asked again, until they got an answer that suited them. Among the things that the children claimed took place at the preschool were: witches flying, travel in hot-air balloons, underground tunnels, orgies at car washes, and children being flushed down toilets, abused, and then cleaned up and returned to their parents. One child also identified a photograph of Chuck Norris as someone who had been present. 

On March 22, 1984, when the case came to trial, there were 115 counts of child abuse charged against seven teachers. It was later expanded to 321 counts. Eventually, charges were dropped against all but two individuals: school administrator Peggy McMartin Buckey and her son Ray Buckey. Peggy McMartin Buckey was acquitted in 1990. Her son was cleared on 52 out of 65 counts, the remaining 13 counts resulting in a hung jury. He was retried on 6 of the 13 counts, resulting in another hung jury. At that point the prosecution opted to not pursue the case further. 

In all, the trial lasted seven years and cost $15 million. Ray Buckey spent five years in jail for a crime for which he was never convicted.

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