Good News in History, January 20

15 years ago today, Breaking Bad premiered on AMC. Created by Vince Gilligan and starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, the show became for basic cable television what the Sopranos had become for premium cable—a smash hit crime drama that created a massive following and several spinoff series. Since its conclusion, the show has been lauded by critics as one of the greatest television series of all time. READ more… (2008)

In the show, a rather unassuming high school chemistry professor is diagnosed with cancer, and after a period of facing the possibility of leaving his wife and his cerebral-palsy-stricken son without him, turns to “cooking” methamphetamines. Over the course of the show, he enters organized crime syndicates in New Mexico, and slips slowly into an antihero leader of a drug empire.

The show received numerous awards, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two Peabody Awards, two Critics’ Choice Awards, and four Television Critics Association Awards. Cranston won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series four times, while Aaron Paul won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series three times; Anna Gunn won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series twice. In 2013, Breaking Bad entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed TV show of all time.

A sequel film, El Camino: a Breaking Bad Movie and television spinoff Better Call Saul were released in the years after the show’s rapturous conclusion.

MORE Good News on this Date:

The English parliament met for the first time in the Palace of Westminster, now the Houses of Parliament (1265)
Happy 67th Birthday to Bill Maher, comedian and host of “Real Time” on HBO, formerly “Politically Incorrect” (1956)
Capitol Records released their first album by The Beatles in the U.S. and called it Meet The Beatles!, which featured “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that topped the charts for 11 weeks (1964)
A farmer accidently digs up the grave of the creator of Japan’s oldest historical record and mythical text, the Kojiki, finished in 712 CE. (1979)
Barack Obama became the first multi-racial president of the U.S., taking the oath of office before millions of hopeful citizens in Washington, DC. (2009)

52 years ago today, Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On. The song not only marked Gaye’s departure from the Motown Sound towards more personal material, but one of the most significant self-reinventions of any musical artist. It later topped the Hot Soul Singles chart for five weeks and crossed over to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, selling over two million copies and becoming Gaye’s second-most successful Motown song to date. It was ranked at number 4 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time in 2004 and 2010.

Originally inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Motown group Four Tops who was saw the May 15th, “Bloody Thursday” student protests in People’s Park in Berkeley, the song was composed by Benson and his songwriter friend Al Cleveland.

After the Four Tops said they didn’t want to record the “protest song” Benson offered it to Gaye, who added his own lyrics, and changed the melody. Benson would later say “we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.”

The significantly laid-back atmosphere of the song, coupled with the free dialogue in the beginning and middle, prevent it from becoming what several people warned both Benson and Gaye it could be: a protest song. The mournful melodies, though in major key, get the point across without needing to rely on the simple rhymes. Seeing the massive success of the song, Motown Records gave Gaye the freedom he wanted to produce the rest of the album of the same name, which also included messages about the Vietnam War, the condition of the air, the rat race, and the food system in America at the time. (1971)

And, 9 years ago today, the widow of McDonald’s franchise founder Ray Kroc, bequeathed $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army. It was the largest charitable gift in US history. Mrs. Kroc instructed that the money be spent on the construction of new community centers to provide cultural, artistic, educational, athletic, and social programs in neighborhoods that would otherwise go without.

Kroc’s first location in Illinois—by Bruce Marlin, CC license

Today, twenty-six “Kroc Corps Centers” operate in formerly underserved communities across the US and Puerto Rico with nearly 800 full time and 2,200 part-time staff serving kids and their families. Learn more in the book Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away. (2004)

Photo by Scott Feldstein, CC license

And, 103 years ago today, the American Civil Liberties Union was founded with the mission “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Bonded by anti-war activism during World War I, the group’s founding mother Crystal Eastman and its founding father Roger Baldwin inspired the early nonprofit. The group became quite nonpartisan—supported and criticized over the years by both liberal and conservative organizations alike.

The ACLU, which has over 1.5 million members active in all 50 states—and hundreds of volunteer attorneys—works toward its ends through litigation, providing legal assistance, and lobbying. One of the biggest successes in its 100 years was a legal case they actually lost: In 1925, they defended John Scopes against the state of Tennessee’s anti-evolution law. Attorney Clarence Darrow, a member of the ACLU led Mr. Scopes’ legal team arguing the teacher should have the right to expound on evolution in schools. Though they lost in court, the publicity became a phenomenal public relations success.

Supreme Court rally by Ted Eytan, CC license

In 1954, the group shared a major victory with the NAACP when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racially segregated schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment—leading to the desegregation of public schools. READ a great quote from the Scopes trial… (1920)

“If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy…” – Clarence Darrow (during the Scopes defense)

And, 127 years ago today, George Burns, the comedian, actor, singer, and writer, was born. Reaching 100 years old, he was one of the few entertainers whose career successfully spanned vaudeville, radio, film, and television. Burns had a sudden career revival after playing a beloved comic elder statesman in the 1975 film The Sunshine Boys (opposite Walter Matthau), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at age 80.

He and his wife, Gracie Allen, appeared on radio and film as an endearing comedy duo, and hosted their own TV show for nearly a decade, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.

In 1977, Burns starred in another hit film, Oh, God!, playing God, who chooses at random an earnest but befuddled supermarket manager (John Denver) to help revive his message on Earth.

Burns wrote fun books about his wife and show biz friends, and did regular nightclub stand-up acts in his later years—always smoking a cigar onstage. A prolific cigar smoker, Burns remained in good health for most of his life, in part thanks to a daily exercise regimen of swimming, walks, sit-ups, and push-ups. His long career included a stage set of one-liners such as… (1896)

“First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull your zipper up and finally, you forget to pull it down.”

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”

“I’m very pleased to be here. Let’s face it, at my age I’m very pleased to be anywhere.”

“When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick.”

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