There was quite a bit more than just 12 years and a few extra pounds separating the Elvis Presley of 1968 from the Elvis that set the world on fire in 1956. With a nearly decade-long string of forgettable movies and inconsistent recordings behind him, Elvis had drifted so far from his glorious, youthful incarnation that he’d turned himself into a historical artifact without any help from the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Stones. And then something amazing happened: A television special for NBC that Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker envisioned as an Andy Williams-like sequence of Christmas carol performances instead became a thrilling turning point in Elvis’s legendary career. Elvis began taping his legendary “Comeback Special” on this day in 1968.
Much of the credit for the Comeback Special goes to the young director NBC turned to on the project. Only 26 years old but with a strong background in televised music, Steve Binder had the skills and creativity to put together a more interesting program than the one originally planned, but he’d also had the youthful confidence to tell Elvis that a successful show was an absolute necessity if he wanted to regain his relevance. “Basically, I told him I thought his career was in the toilet,” Binder recalled in an interview almost four decades later. From the beginning, Elvis embraced almost every suggestion Binder made, including what would turn out to be the best one, which came after Binder watched Elvis jamming with his friends and fellow musicians in his dressing room one night after rehearsals. “Wait a minute, this is history,” Binder recalls thinking. “I want to film this.” Binder sold Elvis on the idea that would become the most memorable segment of the show: an informal, “unplugged” session before a live audience.
Elvis went to Hawaii with his wife, Priscilla, and their infant daughter, Lisa Marie, in the weeks leading up to the taping, and when he returned, he was tanned, rested and thinner than he’d been at any time since leaving the Army. “He was totally keyed up now, on edge in a way he had rarely been since abandoning live performing a decade before,” writes Peter Guralnick in Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, the second volume of his Elvis biography. “His professionalism continued to be noted by the entire crew…but there was something else now, too. For the first time in a long time he didn’t bother to hide the fact that he really cared.”
When Elvis took to the stage on this night in 1968 to record the “jam session” portion of the Comeback Special, he did so only after Binder talked him out of a last-minute case of stage fright. After a nervous start, Elvis Presley gave the legendary performance that would reinvigorate his flagging career.
Truman announces development of H-bomb
U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.
Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.
On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.
Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, is assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu extremist.
Born the son of an Indian official in 1869, Gandhi’s Vaishnava mother was deeply religious and early on exposed her son to Jainism, a morally rigorous Indian religion that advocated nonviolence. Gandhi was an unremarkable student but in 1888 was given an opportunity to study law in England. In 1891, he returned to India, but failing to find regular legal work he accepted in 1893 a one-year contract in South Africa.
Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man. When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launched a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South African government.
In 1914, Gandhi returned to India and lived a life of abstinence and spirituality on the periphery of Indian politics. He supported Britain in the First World War but in 1919 launched a new satyagraha in protest of Britain’s mandatory military draft of Indians. Hundreds of thousands answered his call to protest, and by 1920 he was leader of the Indian movement for independence. He reorganized the Indian National Congress as a political force and launched a massive boycott of British goods, services, and institutions in India. Then, in 1922, he abruptly called off the satyagraha when violence erupted. One month later, he was arrested by the British authorities for sedition, found guilty, and imprisoned.
U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects first members
On January 29, 1936, the U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects its first members in Cooperstown, New York: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson.
The Hall of Fame actually had its beginnings in 1935, when plans were made to build a museum devoted to baseball and its 100-year history. A private organization based in Cooperstown called the Clark Foundation thought that establishing the Baseball Hall of Fame in their city would help to reinvigorate the area’s Depression-ravaged economy by attracting tourists. To help sell the idea, the foundation advanced the idea that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story proved to be phony, but baseball officials, eager to capitalize on the marketing and publicity potential of a museum to honor the game’s greats, gave their support to the project anyway.
In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939—thought by many to be the centennial of baseball—the Baseball Writers’ Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted: Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history; Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game; Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion; Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history; and Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers to ever have taken the mound.
Today, with approximately 350,000 visitors per year, the Hall of Fame continues to be the hub of all things baseball.
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