Happy 70th Birthday to Yakov Smirnoff, a Russian-American stand-up comedian who immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, and went on to further success as an actor, writer, and painter—and becoming a U.S. citizen.
He reached his biggest success in the mid-to-late 1980s, appearing in several films and a TV sitcom What a Country! His on-stage persona was that of a naive immigrant from the Soviet Union who was perpetually confused and delighted by life in America. He takes humorous jabs at life under communism, as well as American consumerism—and is often mixing-up the meanings of U.S. phrases in funny ways, and using his catchphrase, “What a country!”
In 1993, he left Los Angeles and moved to Branson, Missouri, to open a theater where he would perform year-round until 2015—and still occasionally appears.
Smirnoff earned a master’s degree in psychology and went on to earn a doctorate in psychology and global leadership in 2019 from Pepperdine University—and he has written his own advice column, answering letters in the AARP Magazine column called Happily Ever Laughter. WATCH his classic comedy routine, ‘Just Off the Boat,’ about being a Russian immigrant in New York City… (1951)
MORE Good News on this Date:
- The University of Calcutta was founded, the first full-fledged university in south Asia (1857)
- Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts (1908)
- The first Apple Macintosh computer with mouse went on sale (1984)
- NASA landed Opportunity, a robotic rover, on Mars three weeks after its identical twin, Spirit (2004)
- Lady Gaga played a concert in New York City and donated all the money from ticket sales and merchandise sold—a half million dollars—to earthquake relief in Haiti. Gaga also launched a nonprofit with her mother, the Born This Way Foundation, to help youth rise above bullying and build community. (2010)
On this day in 1848, a gold nugget was found at Sutter’s Mill in northern California by James Marshall, sparking the gold rush of ’49.
The news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of immigration and gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy.
Happy 53rd Birthday to Mary Lou Retton, the pioneering gymnast who became the first American woman to win the sport’s individual all-around gold medal at the Olympics—the only one to do so for 20 years.
At the ’84 Los Angeles games, she won the gold, after scoring a perfect 10 on the vault. Her performances, which also won her 2 silver medals and two bronze, made her one of the most popular athletes in America—and an inspiration to the four gymnasts who have since equaled her feat on the U.S. team. WATCH the plucky powerhouse at the Olympics and hear her thoughts. The author of Mary Lou Retton’s Gateways to Happiness: 7 Ways to a More Peaceful, More Prosperous, More Satisfying Life, she was also the first female athlete to be pictured on the front of a Wheaties cereal box. (1968)
And, on this day in 1949, John Belushi was born in Chicago to Albanian-American parents. An original cast member on Saturday Night Live, the comedian-actor was beloved for his colorful characters which included the Samurai hotel clerk, the diner cook (“cheeseburger, cheeseburger”) and Jake in The Blues Brothers, alongside fellow SNL star Dan Aykroyd.
After his breakout film role as John “Bluto” Blutarsky in National Lampoon’s Animal House, Belushi and Aykroyd recorded a chart-topping album and starred together in The Blues Brothers film. Belushi passed away of a drug overdose when he was 33. WATCH the cheeseburger sketch to honor the day…
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