It’s Friday! TGIF! Did You Know…
* 2000 – Remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier – who died at Vimy Ridge – are brought back to Canada and buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beside the National War Memorial.
Canada repatriated the remains of an Unknown Soldier from France in May 2000 and laid them to rest at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The idea originated as a millennium project of the Royal Canadian Legion and was coordinated through the government by Veterans Affairs Canada.
The Unknown Soldier was originally intended to represent all war dead whose remains had not been identified, a common problem along static First World War battlefields frequently churned by artillery and subsumed in mud. Since 1920, a single Unknown Soldier in London’s Westminster Abbey had represented the unidentified war dead of Canada and other Commonwealth states. The original ceremony presided over by King George V, had included many of the British Empire’s Victoria Cross winners, and a group of 100 women, each of whom had lost their husband and all their sons during the war. France and the United States followed Great Britain’s example in 1921, as did numerous other countries in subsequent years. These tombs and memorials gradually assumed broader significance, becoming sites of memory and mourning for all war dead, and for civil ceremonies of broadly based remembrance instead of simple military commemoration.
In 1993, Australia marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the First World War by repatriating from France the remains of its own Unknown Soldier, the first Commonwealth country to have done so since 1920. He was buried in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory in Canberra.
Canada followed the Australian example in 2000 at the suggestion of the Royal Canadian Legion and other groups. A single set of remains was selected from among Canada’s 6,846 unknown soldiers of the First World War for return to Canada and re-interment at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The Unknown Soldier ultimately came from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge and was flown home to lie in state in the Hall of Honour in the Centre Block of Parliament from 25 May to 28 May 2000, where tens of thousands filed past to pay their respects.
The Unknown Soldier was buried on the afternoon of 28 May 2000 in a nationally televised ceremony. The site has become an important focus of commemoration, especially in the national Remembrance Day service held at the National War Memorial on 11 November.
* 1977 Star Wars opens
On this day in 1977, Memorial Day weekend opens with an intergalactic bang as the first of George Lucas’ blockbuster Star Wars movies hits American theaters.
The incredible success of Star Wars–it received seven Oscars, and earned $461 million in U.S. ticket sales and a gross of close to $800 million worldwide–began with an extensive, coordinated marketing push by Lucas and his studio, 20th Century Fox, months before the movie’s release date. “It wasn’t like a movie opening,” actress Carrie Fisher, who played rebel leader Princess Leia, later told Time magazine. “It was like an earthquake.” Beginning with–in Fisher’s words–“a new order of geeks, enthusiastic young people with sleeping bags,” the anticipation of a revolutionary movie-watching experience spread like wildfire, causing long lines in front of movie theaters across the country and around the world.
With its groundbreaking special effects, Star Wars leaped off screens and immersed audiences in “a galaxy far, far away.” By now everyone knows the story, which followed the baby-faced Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he enlisted a team of allies–including hunky Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the robots C3PO and R2D2–on his mission to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia from an Evil Empire governed by Darth Vader. The film made all three of its lead actors overnight stars, turning Fisher into an object of adoration for millions of young male fans and launching Ford’s now-legendary career as an action-hero heartthrob.
Star Wars was soon a bonafide pop culture phenomenon. Over the years it has spawned five more feature films, five TV series and an entire industry’s worth of comic books, toys, video games and other products. Two big-screen sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983), featured much of the original cast and enjoyed the same success–both critical and commercial–as the first film. In 1999, Lucas stretched back in time for the fourth installment, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, chronologically a prequel to the original movie. Two other prequels, Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) followed.
The latter Star Wars movies featured a new cast–including Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen–and have generally failed to earn the same amount of critical praise as the first three films. They continue to score at the box office, however, with Revenge of the Sith becoming the top-grossing film of 2005 in the United States and the second worldwide.
* 1977 Chinese government removes ban on Shakespeare
A new sign of political liberalization appears in China when the communist government lifts its decade-old ban on the writings of William Shakespeare. The action by the Chinese government was additional evidence that the Cultural Revolution was over.
In 1966, Mao Tse-Tung, the leader of the People’s Republic of China, announced a “Cultural Revolution,” which was designed to restore communist revolutionary fervor and vigor to Chinese society. His wife, Chiang Ching, was made the unofficial secretary of culture for China. What the revolution meant in practice, however, was the assassination of officials deemed to have lost their dedication to the communist cause and the arrest and detention of thousands of other officials and citizens for vaguely defined “crimes against the state.” It also meant the banning of any cultural work–music, literature, film, or theater–that did not have the required ideological content.
By the early 1970s, however, China was desperate to open new and improved relations with the West, particularly the United States, partially because of its desire for new sources of trade but also because of its increasing fear of confrontation with the Soviet Union. President Richard Nixon’s 1973 trip to China was part of this campaign. In October 1976, the Cultural Revolution was officially declared ended, and the May 1977 announcement of the end of the ban on the works of William Shakespeare was clear evidence of this. It was a move that cost little but was sure to reap public relations benefits with Western society that often looked askance at China’s puritanical and repressive cultural life.
Together with the announcement that the ban was lifted, the Chinese government also stated that a Chinese-language edition of the Bard’s works would soon be available.
* 1895 Oscar Wilde is sent to prison for indecency
Playwright Oscar Wilde is taken to Reading Gaol in London after being convicted of sodomy. The famed writer of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest brought attention to his private life in a feud with Sir John Sholto Douglas, whose son was intimately involved with Wilde.
Homosexuality was a criminal offense and serious societal taboo at this time in Britain. Wilde had gone back and forth between hiding his sexual orientation and attempting to gain some measure of public acceptance. After Douglas, a furious homophobe, began spouting his objections to Wilde’s behavior to the public, Wilde felt compelled to sue him for libel.
In his defense, Douglas argued that Wilde had solicited 12 boys to commit sodomy between 1892 and 1894. On the third day of the proceedings, Wilde’s lawyer withdrew the suit, since there was abundant evidence of his client’s guilt. After that, the Crown issued a warrant for Wilde’s arrest on indecency charges. Rather than flee to France, Wilde decided to remain and stand trial. At a preliminary bail hearing, chambermaids testified that they had seen young men in Wilde’s bed and a hotel housekeeper stated that there were fecal stains on his bed sheets. Wilde was denied bail.
At Wilde’s first criminal trial, he was cross-examined extensively on the “love that dare not speak its name.” Wilde managed to secure a mistrial when a lone juror refused to vote to convict. The second trial began on May 21. Although many of the potential witnesses refused to betray Wilde by testifying, he was convicted. The judge remarked at his sentencing, “It is the worst case I have ever tried. I shall pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment, it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.”
Wilde served his two years and then spent the last three years of his life in exile. He died at the age of 45 and was buried in Paris.
* 1927 International best-selling thriller writer Robert Ludlum is born
On this day in 1927, Robert Ludlum, the author of more than 20 thrillers, including the Jason Bourne spy novels, is born in New York City. Ludlum, who published his first novel when he was in his 40s, sold more than 200 million books by the time of his death in 2001. Known for complex plots featuring conspiracies, corruption and world takeovers inspired by diabolical forces, Ludlum has been credited as one of the pioneers of the type of fast-paced, engaging and easy-to-read book that came to be dubbed an airport novel.
Growing up in New Jersey, Ludlum acted in school plays and as a teenager landed roles in professional theatrical productions. Following a stint in the U.S. Marines in the 1940s, he attended Wesleyan University, graduating in 1951. Afterward, he appeared in minor roles on Broadway and in television then began working as a theater producer. Ludlum eventually turned to writing and published his first novel, “The Scarlatti Inheritance,” in 1971. The book, about a group of business executives who fund Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich, was a commercial success.
Ludlum went on to turn out a long string of novels that made the best-seller lists, including “The Chancellor Manuscript” (1977), “The Icarus Agenda” (1988), “The Apocalypse Watch” (1995) and “The Prometheus Deception” (2000). Although he never earned a reputation as a masterful prose stylist, his suspenseful stories gripped a wide readership. As a critic for The Washington Post noted about one Ludlum novel: “It’s a lousy book. So I stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish it.”
In 1980, Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity,” about a spy with amnesia who must discover why various people are trying to kill him, was released. It was followed by 1986’s “The Bourne Supremacy” and 1990’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.” All three novels were adapted for the big screen—with Matt Damon starring as Jason Bourne–and became box-office hits, with the first film debuting in 2002.
Ludlum died of a heart attack at age 73 on March 12, 2001, in Florida; however, his publishing empire continues to thrive. Some Ludlum novels have been released posthumously, while his Bourne and Covert-One series (about a top-secret U.S. agency that combats corruption and other threats) have carried on under the stewardship of other writers.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/