DECEMBER 31: Introducing the Beach Boys

BeachBoys_studioABOVE: The Beach Boys during an early recording session. Brian Wilson, the group’s leader, is the middle.

ON THIS DATE in 1961, the Beach Boys played their first paying gig at the Long Beach Municipal Stadium, earning $300. The band consisted of four teenagers — Brian Wilson (nineteen), Dennis Wilson (seventeen), Carl Wilson (fifteen),  and Al Jardine (nineteen) — plus twenty-year-old Mike Love.

Formed in Hawthorne, California, the Beach Boys made their chart debut a month and a half later with a single called “Surfin.” “Surfin” peaked at number 75 and set the theme for the group’s next three chart-climbers: “Surfin’ Safari” (peaked at number 14 in 1962), “Surfin’ USA” (number 3 in 1963), and “Surfer Girl” (number 7 in 1963).

The Beach Boys weren’t all about surfing. They would top the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with “I Get Around” (1964), “Help Me, Rhonda” (1965), “Good Vibrations” (1966), and “Kokomo” (1988). Other top-five Beach Boys classics include “Fun, Fun, Fun” (1964), “California Girls” and “Barbara Ann” (1965), and “Sloop John B” (1966). In the 1960s, only the Beatles made a bigger splash on top-40 radio.

The Beach boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

For more about this legendary band, check out

DECEMBER 30: Teen saves lives in epic theater fire

panic1ABOVE: Patrons try to flee the Iroquois Theater fire.

IN THIS DATE in 1903, eighteen-year-old Will McLaughlin saved 17 to 20 people from certain death in a Chicago theater fire.

 Billed as “Absolutely Fireproof” in advertisements, the Iroquois Theater ignited during a matinee attended by 1,900 people, mostly women and children. Outside the building, McLaughlin saw the flames, rushed inside, and scaled two flights of stairs to the balcony. Opening the door to a fire escape, he found that workmen had installed no stairs, so he found a long plank that extended from the fire escape landing to the law library across the alley.

McLaughlin then helped 17 to 20 women and children cross the plank and reach safety in a nearby building.

McLaughlin tried to join them, but flames had weakened the plank and it couldn’t bear his weight. While trying to cross, he plunged to the pavement below and died the next day, one of 600-some casualties of the deadliest theater fire in U.S. history.

DECEMBER 29: Show-biz legends and Miss America’s rescuer

Deadly_FireABOVE: William Fielden and 1964 Miss America, Donna Axum.

THERE IS NO VIDEO of sixteen-year-old Milton Berle’s solo comedy debut, but there is a recording of thirteen-year-old Barbra Streisand’s singing on a record. The most dramatic teenage tale tied to December 29 occurred in 1963, when a nineteen-year-old student saved three people from a hotel fire — including the reigning Miss America.

DEC. 29, 1924: MILTON BERLE, sixteen, makes his solo debut at Loew’s State Theater in Times Square, performing a 12-minute comedy routine at the cinema’s vaudeville house. The showbiz legend would earn the nickname “Mr. Television” by starring on NBC’s “Texaco Star Theater from 1948 to 1954.

DEC. 29, 1955: BARBRA STREISAND, thirteen, makes her first-ever musical recording. The song is “You’ll Never Know,” and you can hear it at …

DEC. 29, 1963: WILLIAM FIELDEN, nineteen, rescues three people, including the reigning Miss America, Donna Axum, from a hotel fire in Jacksonville, Florida. Fielden breaks into Axum’s suite, pulling the beauty queen and two others from the blaze, which would claim 22 lives. Although this took place in 1963, Axum had already been crowned Miss America for 1964.

DECEMBER 28: The kid gets the picture

New York Giants vs Baltimore Colts, 1958 NFL ChampionshipTHE GREATEST IMAGE from the “The Greatest Game Ever Played” wouldn’t have been half so good if the photographer, sixteen-year-old Neil Leifer, “had any money and any decent equipment.”

That’s what Leifer concluded 46 years after photographing Baltimore’s Alan Ameche scoring the winning overtime touchdown in the NFL championship game against the New York Giants. On the evening of December 28, 1958, Leifer snapped a wide shot that caught the Colts fullback bowling into the end zone in the bottom half of the frame with a large swath of Yankee Stadium and a darkening sky above.

Leifer said in 2002 that with more experience and top-flight equipment he “would have tried to fill the frame with Ameche going in for the winning touchdown.” The photographer said his shot, which he quickly sold to Sports Illustrated, was “so much better than any picture I would have taken years later when I was an established pro.”

Today, a teenage photographer with no credentials would never get close to the action of a conference championship or Super Bowl Game, but security officials at the Colts-Giants game had other issues to deal with. “There were so many Colts fans (mainly drunken Colts fans) on the field that the security had their hands full just making sure that they could keep those people off the field,” said Leifer, who had been shooting Giants home games all year. “So I ended up exactly ten yards in front of Ameche as he scored the winning touchdown. He came right at me and I got that picture.”

Leifer's most celebrated adult photograph: Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout in 1965.

Leifer’s most celebrated adult photograph: Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout in 1965.

Many have called the 1958 championship game “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The 23-17 Colts victory marked the first use of the NFL’s sudden-death overtime rule, and the game is credited with sparking an enthusiasm for professional football that helped the NFL overtake baseball as America’s favorite sport.

A much-admired sports photographer, Leifer is most noted for his boxing images, which include dozens featuring Muhammad Ali. He was a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated from 1972 to 1978 and later worked for TIME and LIFE.

DECEMBER 28: The indigo girl

ON THIS DATE in 1722, Eliza Lucas was born in the British West Indies. At 16 in 1739, she began trying to grow indigo in South Carolina. The eventual success of the blue-dye-producing plant would provide a huge boost to the state’s economy.

An indigo plant and the blue dye it produces.

An indigo plant and the blue dye it produces.

It took Lucas five years to harvest her first successful indigo crop, but her determined efforts resulted in a product that proved a much-needed moneymaker for South Carolina growers. The area’s economy had slumped after tobacco, the previous leading cash crop, drained the soil of nutrients. The success of indigo harvesting, and the high demand for the blue dye extracted from the plants, put many plantations back in the pink.

Lucas’ accomplishments were all the more remarkable considering she was overseeing the family plantation and looking after three younger siblings by herself. Her mother was dead and her father, a British army officer, had been sent back to the West Indies. With all her responsibilities, Lucas never stopped believing in her stubborn crop. “I make no doubt indigo will prove a very valuable commodity in time,” she wrote in 1741.

She was right. According to historian Edward McCrady, “indigo proved more really beneficial to Carolina than the mines of Mexico or Peru were to Spain.” In the years before cotton became king, indigo was South Carolina’s second-most-profitable crop, after rice. This, said McCrady, “was the result of an experiment by a mere girl.”

DECEMBER 26: U.S. private captures 13 Germans

Hendrix receives the Medal of Honor from President Truman.

SEVENTY YEARS AGO today, nineteen-year-old James R. Hendrix single-handedly captured 13 German soldiers during the World War II Battle of the Bulge.

The 5-foot-6-inch private snuck up on two enemy foxholes on the evening of December 26, 1944, shouting “kommen heraus,” or “come out” in German. When one German stuck his head out, Hendrix “let him have it.” He struck a second German soldier, hitting him over the head with the butt of his rifle, and shouted “kommen heraus” a second time. Thirteen Germans emerged from their foxholes and surrendered.

‘I wasn’t being brave, and if I had ever heard of the Medal of Honor, I didn’t pay it no mind,” Hendrix told The Saturday Evening Post in 1945. “A feller just figures if it’s his time, it’s his time, and that’s all there is to it.”

Hendrix, a native of Northeast Arkansas, received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman at the White House on Aug. 23, 1945. His citation praised the private’s “superb courage and heroism.”


the-exorcistDEC. 26, 1973: LINDA BLAIR, fourteen, appears in The Exorcist, released this day. She will receive an Academy Award nomination for her performance as a possessed child. Blair emerges as the teen-problem-of-the-week actress of the mid-1970s, first by appearing in 1974’s “Born Innocent,” a TV movie with a rape scene so graphic and disturbing that the network had to slice it from future viewings. She also stars in 1975’s “Sarah T: Portrait of an Alcoholic.”

“Frail-looking little woman” brings landlords to their knees

pauline.newmanABOVE: Frail? Pauline Newman was one tough labor activist.

ON THIS DATE in 1907, The New York Times reported on a “frail-looking little woman” who had gathered 400 females in what a sub-headline called a “crusade against grasping landlords.”

Led by sixteen-year-old Pauline Newman, the New York strikers sought a reduction of 18 to 20 percent in rents due to a depression that had thrust more than 100,000 people out of work. After 15 days, the strike ended with 2,000 families receiving lowered rents The strike also introduced the concept of rent control, which would be implemented in the 1930s.

Two years later, Newman helped organize the Uprising of the 20,000, an 11-week general strike in New York’s shirtwaist industry.

She worked for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union  for more than 70 years and was also active in the women’s suffrage movement.