AUGUST 21

pflueger-joan-1122111ON THIS DATE in 1950, eighteen-year-old Joan Pflueger became the first woman to win the Champion of Champions event at Grand American Trapshoot at Vandalia, Ohio. She smashed 100 out of 100 clay pigeons to tie four men, and then smashed 74 out of 75 to win the shoot-off.

 Around 1,500 marksmen from 36 countries and Cuba competed in the 1950 Grand American Trapshoot, an annual event that began in 1900.

AUGUST 20

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ON THIS DATE in 1929, MGM’s musical drama Hallelujah hit theaters. The film starred seventeen-year-old Nina Mae McKinney, the first African-American actress to hold a principal role in a mainstream film.

McKinney had caught the eye of Hollywood director King Vidor with her performance as a chorus girl in the Broadway play Blackbirds. In Hallelujah, she played a big-city temptress who helps con a sharecropper named Zeke. This was the first all-black sound picture and it resulted in an Oscar nomination for Vidor. Film critic Leonard Maltin called it an “early talkie triumph.”

Hollywood roles for African-American actresses were scarce, and in 1935 McKinney shipped to Europe, where she appeared in theater and cabaret and earned the nickname “The Black Garbo.” McKinney had success in Greece after World War II, and then returned to the U.S. in 1960. She died in 1967.

AUGUST 18

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ON THIS DATE in 1977, fourteen-year-old Theodore Livingston, aka Grand Wizard (sometimes spelled “Wizzard”) Theodore, rubbed a record back and forth during a set at the Sparkle club in the Bronx. Some consider this the birth of scratching.

And some don’t.

“I guess maybe me and Theodore have to sit down some day and figure this out,” Grandmaster Flash told Angus Batey of The Guardian in 2002. “I came up with my style; Theodore was my first student; and before me there was no one. So who taught him how to play? But I’m not gonna argue: I love him and I do credit him for making the style believable.”

Grand Wizard Theodore has said that he accidentally invented scratching at home in the mid-1970s. It happened day when his mother told him to turn his music down. Theodore slapped his hand on a record to make it stop, and liked the sound it made.

AUGUST 17

East German guards carry the dead body of Peter Fechter.

East German guards carry the dead body of Peter Fechter.

ON THIS DATE in 1962, two eighteen-year-old East Germans tried to scale the Berlin Wall near an Allied checkpoint. Through a hail of gunfire from East German patrol guards, Helmet Kulbeik made it over the wall and into West Berlin, but Peter Fechter took a bullet in the pelvis and fell.

Although he dropped on the east side of the wall, Fechter could be seen and his screams of anguish heard by hundreds of people on the western side. West German police officers threw first-aid kits over the wall but were helpless to assist him any more. Many shouted “murderers, murderers” at the East German patrol guards, who offered no medical aid as Fechter bled to death.

Fechter’s killing became a highly publicized symbol of the East German border regime’s Cold War inhumanity.

In 1997, two Eastern border guards stood trial for Fechter’s murder. Prosecutors asserted that one of the guards, Erich Schreiber, fired 17 shots from his machine gun at the victim. The other guard, Rolf Friedrich, said, “I was assigned to do my duty at the border, and the only thing I can say is that I am sorry about it all.” Both were convicted of manslaughter. Friedrich was sentenced to 21 months’ probation, and Schreiber received 20 months’ probation.

AUGUST 16

ON THIS DATE in 1902, Georgette Heyer was born in Wimbledon. At seventeen, the future doyenne of Regency romances began her career by writing The Black Moth for her sickly brother.

Georgette Heyer at twenty-one.

Georgette Heyer at twenty-one.

The daughter of a schoolmaster in England, Heyer wrote tales of dukes and duels and elopements that were, novelist Kate Fenton said, “stylish, witty and consummately literate.” She started with The Black Moth, initially written to entertain her sickly brother Boris, who suffered from a form of hemophilia. The melodrama tells of a disgraced but decent (he took the fall for a younger brother) son of an earl who clashes with a dastardly abductor of virgins known as The Black Moth.

Published in 1921, The Black Moth received decent reviews, with The Saturday Evening Post calling it “quite a respectable story.”

Heyer’s romances, placed in the years between 1775 and 1825, are noted for their historical accuracy and the preciseness of her portrayal of the characters’ clothing, customs, and dialect. Influenced by Jane Austen, the author is credited with introducing the subgenre of Regency (a period that lasted between 1811 and 1820) romances, beginning with A Regency Buck, published in 1935.

AUGUST 15

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ON THIS DATE  in 1946, Jimmy Webb was born in Elk City, Oklahoma. In his late teens, Webb wrote a series of songs for other artists that became classics, including “Up, Up and Away” for the Fifth Dimension and “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” for Glen Campbell.

“Son, this songwriting thing is going to break your heart,” Webb’s father, a Baptist minister, told the eighteen-year-old in 1964. The teenage Webb left Oklahoma for L.A. with a couple of songs already written, including “Up, Up and Away.” Webb has said he was seventeen or eighteen when he wrote “By The Time I Get to Phoenix,” and nineteen when he wrote “MacArthur Park.”

In 1968 ,“Up, Up and Away” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” combined for eight Grammy awards, Richard Harris reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “MacArthur Park” (Donna Summer would have a number-one hit with the song in 1978) and Glen Campbell had a number-three hit with “Wichita Lineman.” 

One year later, Brooklyn Bridge reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Worst That Could Happen” and Campbell reached number four with “Galveston.” 

TIME magazine in 1968 credited Webb’s success to his “gift for strong, varied rhythms, inventive structures, and rich, sometimes surprising harmonies.”

AUGUST 14

Layout 1ON THIS DATE in 2008, seventeen-year-old Olga Kharlan led her three-woman Ukrainian fencing team to a dramatic victory over China to win a gold medal.

The Ukrainian team fell behind 25-15 before coming back to tie it at 44-44 (the first to 45 points wins in team sabre fencing). Kharlan, who had scored half of her team’s points, made a winning strike against China’s Tan Xue to give Ukraine the victory.

Kharlan was named Ukraine’s athlete of the year for 2008 and 2009.