This Week in Movie History is Atom Insider’s column looking back at all the important events, biggest moments, and weird, fun trivia that happened in Hollywood history every week.
1917 – U.S. officially enters WWI; a number of Golden Age Hollywood stars fought
When the First World War broke out in August 1914, film and the entertainment industry as we know it were relatively new things in America. But plenty of Golden Age Hollywood stars signed up for the war or became stars after leaving the service, and some of the men who fought shaped the nature of Hollywood for the next decade.
- Fritz Lang – The Austrian-German-American filmmaker had quite the time in World War I: Between October 1915-March 1916, he exposed himself to enemy fire on numerous occasions while serving with the Imperial Landwehr Field Gun Division No.13 in order to report on Russian fortifications in Galicia. He was wounded twice in eight days in June 1916 while fighting in the battles of Cholopieczy and Zaturcy – one of those occasions saw him getting shot in the face after his own horse was shot out from under him. After earning a number of medals on the Italian front, Lang was finally discharged for nervous exhaustion in the spring of 1918 – today, we know that as PTSD.
Notable films: Metropolis, M, Fury, You Only Live Once, The Big Heat
- Bela Lugosi – The Hungarian actor was already a star of the stage in his native Hungary when war broke out. He waived his exemption and joined up with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry and was wounded multiple times on various and escaped death in a forest ambush when he moved out from behind a tree to aid a wounded comrade only to return and find his hiding spot had been obliterated.
Notable films: Dracula in various Universal movies, White Zombie, The Black Cat
- Claude Rains – Rains lost 90% of the sight in his right eye after being gassed at Vimy Ridge in November 1916 while serving with the London Scottish Regiment. But that curse turned into a blessing as the chemical attack also damaged his vocal cords and lent Rains the trademark husky voice that later made him one of Hollywood’s most established villainous actors.
Notable films: Various Universal monster movies including The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Phantom of the Opera; The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lawrence of Arabia
- Humphrey Bogart – Bogart signed up for the U.S. Navy in 1918 and was reportedly a model sailor, helping to ferry troops back from Europe.
Notable films: Casablanca, High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, Sabrina
Birthdays: Billy Dee Williams (1937), Paul Rudd (1969), Zach Braff (1975)
1906 – World’s first animated cartoon is released
“Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” by J. Stuart Blackton is considered by most film historians to be the first animated film released on film stock. It’s a relatively simple cartoon but employs a number of animation techniques including hand-drawn animation, stop-motion, and cutout animation. In the short, various animated scenes decorate a chalkboard, such as a dog jumping through a hoop and a clown with a hat. It starts off with hand-drawn animation, showing Blackton’s hands as he draws before moving into the stop-motion technique that takes over and makes it appear as if the drawings are finishing themselves and moving on screen under their own power.
The U.S. Library of Congress has since selected it for preservation in the National Archive.
Birthdays: Francis Ford Coppola (1939), Jackie Chan (1954), Russell Crowe (1964)
1968 – 40th Academy Awards postponed out of respect for Martin Luther King Jr.’s death
The famed civil rights leader was a powerful force for good in the 1960s. His death on April 4th after being assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee profoundly impacted America in ways both good and bad. Race riots broke out around the country in the days that followed. Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of John F. Kennedy, gave an impassioned speech on the campaign trail urging nonviolence. And President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning from that point forward.
The Academy, correctly feeling it would have been in poor taste to hold the Academy Awards just a day after King’s funeral when the nation was still in mourning, opted to move the Oscars to a few days later in order to give people the chance to grieve.
1986 – Clint Eastwood becomes a mayor
Did you know Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California? You do now. The former Republican is now registered Libertarian but has supported Democrats in the past and he was sworn in as the town’s nonpartisan mayor in April 1986. The town, situated on the Monterey Peninsula, has a rich history of being populated with artists, writers and poets, and other creative types. A number of its mayors have been actors, not just Eastwood – though he’s certainly the most famous.
Birthdays: Mary Pickford (1892), Kane Hodder (1955), Robin Wright (1966), Patricia Arquette (1968), Katee Sackhoff (1980), Isaac Hempstead Wright (1999)
1976 – Seminal movie All the President’s Men is released
In 1976, Alan J. Pakula’s film, based on the novel by Watergate investigators Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, was released. The adaptation starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein with a screenplay by the legendary William Goldman (who also wrote Redford’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). It was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, winning four for Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Direction and Best Sound, as well as being nominated for a number of Golden Globes and BAFTAs. In 2010, it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It was also commercially successful, grossing $70.6 million at the box office on a budget of just $8.5 million.
To this day, it’s largely considered to be the best and most detailed depiction of the life of a working journalist that has ever been put to film. Not too idealistic and not glossing over the mistakes Woodward and Bernstein made in their investigation, the book, and especially the movie, inspired a generation of young journalists to become investigative reporters. The film is still as relevant today as it was in 1976.
Birthdays: Jean-Paul Belmondo (1933), Dennis Quaid (1954), Mark Pellegrino (1965), Cynthia Nixon (1966), Jay Baruchel (1982), Kristen Stewart (1990), Elle Fanning (1998)
1953 – House of Wax, the first color 3-D movie, premieres in NYC
The 1950s saw a wave of new innovation in film technology, including the earliest form of 3-D. House of Wax, the remake of Warner Bros.’ 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, was regarded as the first feature release from a major American studio to be color 3-D. Oddly enough, it premiered just two days after Columbia Pictures’ Man in the Dark, which was the first major black & white 3-D film. House of Wax also innovated sound, being the first stereophonic film to play in a normal movie theater.
Warner Bros. greenlit the project as an answer to the previous fall’s surprise hit Bwana Devil, which was also 3-D and in color but written, directed, and produced by indie producer Arch Oboler through his small company. Seeing the promise in 3-D, WB quickly commissioned the Vincent Price-led horror-thriller House of Wax. Ironically, the director they hired for the project, Andre DeToth, was blind in one eye and thus lacked the stereovision necessary to see 3-D effects.
In 2014, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Birthdays: Harry Morgan (1915), Max Von Sydow (1929), Omar Sharif (1932), Orlando Jones (1968), David Harbour (1975), Charlie Hunnam (1980), Haley Joel Osment (1988), Daisy Ridley (1992)
2012 – Marvel’s The Avengers premieres in Los Angeles
This event might not date back as far as others on the list, but it’s nonetheless one of historical cultural significance. The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe was an incredibly risky venture. Even with the success of the first two Iron Man films and the launch of the Thor and Captain America franchises, no one knew if Marvel’s gamble – bringing those heroes and a few more together in a crossover movie that touched upon all three storylines – would work.
They needn’t have worried. The Avengers grossed $1.52 million worldwide on a $220 million budget. More than that, it created the concept of the modern cinematic universe. More than a singular crossover movie, which has been happening in Hollywood for a century, it involved intertwining plotlines that carried through the main Avengers Infinity Gauntlet story arc and the individual character movies. Other studios have valiantly tried to copy their formula since then, but none have even come close to what Marvel has accomplished.
Birthdays: Michael Shea (1952), Jennifer Esposito (1973), Tricia Helfer (1974)
1991 – 2,500th episode of Entertainment Tonight airs
The long-running program aired its first episode on September 14, 1981.
Birthdays: Ed O’Neill (1946), David Letterman (1947), Andy Garcia (1956), Shannen Doherty (1971), Claire Danes (1979), Saoirse Ronan (1994)