Good News in History, January 11

81 years ago, Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet premiered in its full version in Leningrad. Originally the music was conceived with a happy ending, and his modernist approach to Shakespeare’s classic tragedy provoked controversy among Soviet cultural officials, who criticized him and other modernists (like Shostakovich) as degenerates.

But they did approve of how the ballet followed the precepts of ‘drambalet’, an innovative dramatized dance form, promoted by the Kirov dance company. The 1940 production at the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theatre received international acclaim and was awarded the Stalin Prize.

The composer (who also wrote Peter and The Wolf) uniquely used the tenor saxophone, as well as mandolins to add an Italian flavor, which contributed to Romeo and Juliet becoming one of the most popular ballets of the twentieth century. The happy (at least, less tragic) ending reflected Prokofiev’s devout faith in New Thought, particularly Christian Science, in its “life-affirming” celebration of the perfection of life on its own terms. In 1955, the film version of this production was nominated as Palme d’Or in the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. WATCH the brilliant balcony scene by Angel Corella and Alessandra Ferri, choreographed by Macmillan… (1940)

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • Popular Mechanics magazine was published for the first time (1902)
  • Insulin was first used to treat diabetes in a human patient. (1922)
  • Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California (1935)
  • The Beatles released their first single in the United States, a 45-rpm record featuring Please, Please Me (1963)
  • English chess player Nigel Short at age 14 became the youngest ever International Chess Master, four years before becoming the youngest grandmaster in the world (1980)
  • 300,000 marched in favor of Lithuanian independence (1990)
  • Illinois Governor Ryan said he would grant clemency to all death row inmates due to his belief that the death penalty could not be administered fairly and with certainty (2003)
  • Sean Penn threw an annual gala that raised $6 million from celebrity friends for his J/P Haitian Relief Organization (2014)
National Park Service photo

And on this day in 1908, a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River for two billion years was established as the Grand Canyon National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt after he visited the awe-inspiring site seven years earlier. 277 miles long (446 km), and over a mile deep (1,857 m), the Grand Canyon in Arizona, exposes layer after layer of geological history. The Pueblo people considered the canyon a holy site, and it was viewed by the first European in 1540— García López de Cárdenas.

And, 57 years ago today, the Surgeon General of the U.S. released a landmark report which concluded that smoking likely caused lung cancer and other diseases. The announcement shifted attitudes toward tobacco and led to a 50 percent drop in the number of American smokers. One year later, prominent health warning labels were required on all cigarette packaging and advertising.

Surgeon General Luther Terry, a doctor from Alabama serving under President Kennedy, organized and chaired a panel of medical doctors and researchers to make recommendations in the United States, following an alarming 1962 UK report that clearly described smoking as a cause of bronchitis, cancer, and likely cardiovascular disease. (1964)

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