April 3, 2015

It Happened on April 3rd

Leslie Howard

Leslie Howard's Birthday, 1893

Most of us know of Leslie Howard from his role as the mild-mannered Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. In real life, he was a much more energetic person, and may have even been a British spy.

Howard served briefly in World War I, but resigned his commission after suffering from shell shock. As part of his therapy, he got involved in acting, and ultimately became a well-known and successful actor, both on the stage and in films. He was also a producer, director, and playwright on Broadway, and he founded Minerva Films in 1920.

During World War II, Howard became involved with propaganda work for the UK, and was rumored to also have been involved in espionage. He died when the commercial flight in which he was flying from Lisbon to Bristol was shot down by a Luftwaffe aircraft over the Bay of Biscay. Numerous theories exist as to why Howard was killed. Some believe that the Germans may have believed that Winston Churchill was on the flight. Others believe that Howard was the actual target, either for his work in propaganda or for intelligence work. There are even claims that Churchill knew in advance that the plane would be shot down, but was unable to do anything about it without revealing that the British had broken the Engima code.

Calvin Graham

Calvin Graham's Birthday, 1930

They called him the "Baby Vet." He was the youngest U.S. serviceman to serve in World War II. He was only 12 when he enlisted in the Navy, and it was a scant 5 months later that he was injured at the Battle of Guadalcanal. Although injured, he helped pull other men to safety, and he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

It was Graham's mother who told the Navy how old he was. He spent several months in the brig, and was only released when his sister threatened to tell the newspapers. He was then dishonorably discharged for lying about his age and stripped of his medals and his disability benefits.

Later, when he was 17, he joined the Marines, and served about three years before he broke his back falling from a pier. He should have qualified for disability benefits from his Marine service, but he spent the rest of his life trying to get them. Finally, in 1978, he was granted an honorable discharge and all his medals except for the Purple Heart were reinstated. It was 1988 before he received disability benefits and back pay. He Purple Heart was awarded posthumously to his widow in 1994.

Sally Rand in 1937

Sally Rand's Birthday, 1904

Cecil B. DeMille gave her the name, inspired by a Rand McNally road atlas. She was born Helen Harriet Beck, and she wanted to become a dancer like Anna Pavlova. Before she was through dancing, she was nearly as well-known.

As a young woman, she ran off and joined the circus. She worked as a cigarette girl, a cafe dancer, and a circus performer. She also acted in a number of silent films, but when the talkies came, her lisp put an end to her career. That was when she returned to her first love -- dancing.

As an exotic dancer at the Paramount Club in the 1930's, she invented and perfected the fan dance. She performed at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, and was arrested four times in one day for perceived indecent exposure. (She portrayed Lady Godiva on a white horse, but her nudity was only an illusion.) She was also responsible for inventing the bubble dance, which was created as an alternative to the fan dance, which could be performed outdoors. The wind didn't interfere with the bubbles as much.

Sally Rand is quoted as having said, "I haven't been out of work since the day I took my pants off."

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