Good News in History, February 14

90 years ago today, the horror film Dracula starring Bela Lugosi was released. Adapted from the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, it’s a tale of Count Dracula, a vampire who emigrates from Transylvania to England and preys upon the blood of living victims.

Directed and co-produced by Tod Browning, Dracula was a commercial and critical success upon release, and led to endless sequels and knock-offs. Lugosi’s performance solidified the character as a cultural icon—the archetypal vampire, and “one of the most unique and powerful roles of the screen,” said one film critic. WATCH his reaction to being shown a crucifix… (1931)

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia opening U.S.-Saudi diplomatic relations (1945)
  • After U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy spent a year restoring the White House with historical furnishings that were missing when she arrived, 80 million people tuned in on television to watch her give a tour featuring her restorations—and the changes became wildly popular (1962)
  • Aretha Franklin recorded the award-winning version of Otis Redding’s, Respect, the iconic hit that was rated by Rolling Stone magazine as #5 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (1967)
  • The Who performed at Leeds University in England and the resulting recording, Live At Leeds, has been cited as the most important live rock album of all time—and the school’s dining hall was commemorated with a plaque as a UK national landmark. (1970)
  • CNN reporter Jeremy Levin was freed from captivity in Lebanon (1985)
  • The first of 24 satellites of the Global Positioning System (GPS) were placed into orbit (1989)
  • The spacecraft NEAR Shoemaker entered orbit around asteroid 433 Eros, the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid (2000)
  • YouTube was launched by three former Paypal employees as a video sharing website; it soon became the second largest search engine in the world, and the main source viral videos on the Web (2005)

And, 203 years ago day, Frederick Douglass, the former slave who became an abolitionist author, dazzling orator, and statesman, was born. 

Born in Maryland sometime around this date in 1818 (which is the one he chose to celebrate as his birthday), Douglass grew to stand as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. He was an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln on issues like African-Americans in the military, and detailed his remarkable life in the 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. WATCH a mini-bio… (1818)

 

101 years ago today, the League of Women Voters was founded as a nonpartisan organization to advocate for U.S. voters, ensure inclusive access to polls, activate the electorate though voter registration drives, and educate the public through sponsoring debates.

Women didn’t have representation in the U.S. government a century ago, but the League was founded in Chicago, six months before the 19th amendment was ratified and women won the vote. They set out to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.

In the 70s and 80s, the League regularly sponsored presidential debates, which focused on nonpartisan issues that would inform voters. As candidates increasingly demanded partisan conditions, however, the League withdrew its sponsorship of national debates in 1988. But the League’s 1000 offices around the country still organize many debates or forums for local and state elections today.

In 1993, the group’s campaign for national legislation to reform voter registration resulted in passage of the National Voter Registration Act. Known as the “motor-voter” bill, it enabled citizens to register at motor vehicle agencies automatically, as well as by mail.

After the 2000 election exposed the many problems (like ‘hanging chads’) facing the election system, the League began to work on reforms. Working closely with a civil rights coalition, LWV helped draft and pass the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which established provisional balloting, requirements for updating voting systems, and the Election Assistance Commission. Join a group or learn more at their website, LWV.org. (1920)

And, on this day in 1894, comedian Jack Benny was born in Chicago. A leading 20th-century entertainer of stage and screen, Benny portrayed himself as stingy and vain, and played his violin tenderly and sometimes badly. He was known for his comic timing and the ability to cause laughter with a silent pause or a single expression—like his signature move, an exasperated “Well!” His popular radio and TV programs from 1932 until his death in 1974 were a major influence on the sitcom genre.

Mary Livingstone, his wife and radio partner, played a wisecracking secretary who made fun of Benny in their act and proved to be a talented comedian. WATCH a video tribute…

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