by Larry Belling
When I moved to England in 1968, I quickly found a job with United Artists as a unit publicist on the movie "The Battle of Britain." I was assigned to the second unit based at Duxford near Cambridge, where they flew and filmed the antique World War II aircraft - Spitfires, Messerschmitts, Heinkels and other planes. The aerial ballet would become the high point of the movie.
The job of a unit publicist is to create a buzz around the making of the film, and prepare written materials about the filmmakers, actors, locations, and history that are useful fodder when the film is eventually released, trying to make it all sound glamorous and exciting. A unit publicist also tries to attract journalists to watch the filmmaking and sets up interviews with the participants. My task was to get US reporters to a windy, dusty, cold airfield in the middle of nowhere to interview a group of guys who called themselves the Confederate Air Force. They were pilots from a club in Texas who were flying both the English and German planes.
I was able to attract some American journalists to visit the set (including Roger Ebert who took the hospitality but never wrote a word), but most of them really wanted to go to Pinewood Studios to see stars such as Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Occasionally I would get a call from Prince Charles' equerry - the Prince was attending Cambridge at that time - saying his Royal Highness wished to watch airplanes and could I please remove any loitering press people. I had a lot of time on my hands.
Near to Cambridge there was a village called Ugley. I wrote a snippet for the Hollywood Reporter claiming that during the location filming producer Harry Saltzman was invited to speak at the Ugley Women's Institute. (Many of my best column items were inventions, and this one hit the front page of that gossip rag). Ironically one of the Battle of Britain ace pilots, who was an advisor on the film, did ask me to help him write a speech for a Rotary Group to take place on July 10.
I did a little research and discovered that July 10 in 1940 was actually the first day of the Battle of Britain when 70 German bombers attacked the docks in South Wales. This gave me a terrific opening for the speech, which was quite a success. It convinced me that making history current brought it to life and made it more vibrant and interesting. Having historical information organized by days could be very useful for publicity writing.
I bought a Ryman's Datebook with a page for every day of the year and started collecting not only historical events, but famous people born or died on each date, feast days of the saints, and holidays around the world. I collected dates like other people collect postage stamps, faithfully entering a couple of things every day. They mounted up. Every time I read a book that mentioned a historical date, down it went into the Ryman's Datebook.
The Times of London published a daily chronicle, and I borrowed from it, not realizing that there were frequent errors. Often an historical event that happened in California on one day was listed by the Times as happening on the following day due to the time difference. Similarly events that happened in the Far East, especially New Zealand or Australia dates, were sometimes listed as occurring the day before due to the international dateline. Likewise there was much confusion over Julian and Gregorian calendars. And some famous people have multiple birthdays because of mis-reporting by one publication or another. One actress was listed as having three birthdays; she had deliberately told lies about the big day in order to attract more presents from her fans. Over the years, I think I've corrected many of the errors, but if you find something wrong, please let us know!
When HyperCard came out for the Macintosh computer, I saw it as the ideal receptacle for this data. I dumped all the information from the dog-eared Ryman's Datebook into the program and continually added material to keep it up to date. I still do.
What do you do with it?
How can this collection be used to a writer's advantage? I find it invaluable as an idea generator. It is particularly useful for students who wish to convince their teachers that they are smarter than they really are. A student user of Writer's Dreamtools got an A+ for an essay on the Hungarian uprising in 1956. He started his essay:
Of all the battles in history that started on October 23, from the Battle of Philippi in 42BC to the battle of Caporetto in World War 1, and the Battles of El Alamein and Leyte Gulf in World War II, the Hungarian uprising was the least bloody. Only ten Hungarians actually died that day in 1956. Compare this to the same day in 1983 when 241 US Marines died in a terrorist attack in Beirut. Yes, October 23 is one warlike day in history.
How many times has someone thrust a book or greeting card in front of you and suggested that you write something clever - for Evelyn's birthday, or Harold's going away party? Events Day-by-Day is ideal for such situations. Just turn to the day and scan it for anything that seems appropriate - a coincidence in a name, an event that the recipient can relate to, or some famous people born or died on that day.
Recently presented with a similar request for a friend's birthday we wrote: "What do Sam Shorr, Charles Darwin, and Abraham Lincoln have in common? Darwin and Lincoln were both born on February 12th in 1809. Sam is just a little slightly younger." Having Events Day-by-Day made a lot of brain-racking unnecessary.
Events Day-by-Day helps bring history to life. There is something about knowing a particular date which makes people believe the speaker is pretty darned smart. One of the smartest people we know is a California attorney named Manny Klausner. He carries a printout of each day's events with him everywhere, and claims that he has often scored points with judges and juries based on that data.
The program can be useful for planning travel to foreign shores. Check out what major anniversaries will occur in the near future. The 100th anniversary of events can be exciting days in various countries. Some upcoming major events and travel ideas gleaned from a cursory glance at the program are as follows:
June 16, 2004 - Let's go to Dublin to commemorate the centenary of the day in which events of the novel "Ulysses" by James Joyce occurred.
July 4, 2004 - They'll be celebrating the centenary of the construction of the Panama Canal.
July 31, 2004 - Fancy a trip to Siberia to observe the centenary of the completion of the Trans-Siberian railroad stretching 4,607 miles?
October 27, 2004 - If you're in New York, take a ride on the IRT. The first rapid transit subway opened to the public at 7:00 p.m. exactly one hundred years ago.
May 26, 2005 - How about a trip to Telluride to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's expedition first sighting the Rocky Mountains?
June 7, 2005 - Norway might be a good destination on this day as they will be toasting the 100th anniversary of the dissolution of their union with Sweden.
June 21, 2005 - Bohemia could be an interesting place to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of King Wenceslas II.
September 1, 2005 - You must go to Canada where they will be partying to commemorate the formation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan one hundred years earlier.
November 4, 2005 - We're going to be in London for the biggest fireworks celebration of all time. Exactly four hundred years ago today Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Britain's Houses of Parliament. He was caught and stopped at 11:55 p.m. (The holiday is usually celebrated November 5th.)
Of course you don't need a centenary to decide to travel. Independence Day celebrations are usually days of great feasting. When is a good time to go to Mexico? How about May 15 for San Ysidro Day? Or Brazil on September 7, or Singapore on August 9th? Most of them are listed in the program.
The Julian/Gregorian problem is confusing. We have listed dates according to the calendar that was in force in the particular country at the time. Consequently William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes are both listed as having died on April 23, 1616, but they really died 13 days apart. England didn't embrace the Gregorian calendar until September 3, 1752. There was no September 3, 1752. It became September 14th. (The Gregorian was introduced in Spain and Portugal on October 15, 1582.)
Are you stuck for a name for a new baby? Check out the Feast Day of the Saints and famous people who were born on the same day for inspiration. And for a lot more names consult the Collection of Lists!
Speaking of birthdays, several years ago my wife and I were lunching at the famous Colombe D'or in St. Paul de Vence in the south of France. At the table next to us was the actor Robert Stack with a party of Beverly Hills types. I looked up his birthday on my Palm Pilot. He looked pretty well-preserved for his age - 83. I stopped him on his way out and confirmed that he was born on January 13, 1919. He spent about 20 minutes talking to us about his early life - surprisingly, he had been born in the South of France - and never once asked me how I knew the date of his birth. The ego of an actor! I guess he thought all his fans knew. (He died, alas, on May 14, 2003.)
Advertising copywriters find Events Day-by-Day useful as well. I was asked to create radio ads for Oreo Cookies a few years ago when they first went on sale in Britain. It was useful to glance at the program and learn that Nabisco announced their intention to market the new type of black and white sandwich cookie on April 2, 1912, which I incorporated into the commercial. "How did you know that?!" exclaimed the creative director. I shrugged modestly. "Doesn't everyone?"
We sincerely hope you enjoy using this resource. Please let us know if has helped your writing, and how. Certainly let us know if you find any errors or note an important event that is missing!
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