This Day In History


Lorne Greene Is Born

February 12, 1915

Lorne Greene, the actor who played Ben Cartwright on the immensely popular television Western Bonanza, is born in Ontario, Canada. An only child, Greene later said he based his portrayal of Ben Cartwright on his own father, Daniel Greene.

Greene’s rise to national stardom in Bonanza did not come until relatively late in his career. He first began acting as a student at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, where he abandoned his major in chemical engineering to follow the more exciting lure of the stage. For several years he worked in the theater in New York City, but he won his first major position in 1939 as an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His deep, warm voice soon earned Greene the title, “The Voice of Canada.” During World War II, he served as a flying officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. When he returned to Canada, Greene began to win more acting roles in the fledgling Canadian television industry. In 1954, he made his big screen debut as the Apostle Peter in The Silver Chalice.

Greene’s big break came in 1959. The American TV producer David Dortot spotted Greene playing a small role in the Western Wagon Train. Dortot was in the midst of creating a new TV Western based on the adventures of a rancher father and his three sons. He thought Greene would be perfect for the role of “Pa”-Ben Cartwright. Greene agreed to take the role. His three TV sons (each by a different wife) were the thoughtful and mature Adam (Pernell Roberts), the gentle giant Hoss (Dan Blocker), and the hot-blooded young romantic Little Joe (Michael Landon).

Bonanza debuted on NBC in 1959 and remained on the air until 1973, making it one of the longest running TV Westerns ever. Somewhat unique among the many other TV Westerns of the time that emphasized solitary cowboys and gunmen, Bonanza focused on the strong familial bonds between Ben Cartwright and his three sons. The silver-haired Greene created a Ben Cartwright who was an ideal father. Strong, compassionate, and understanding, “Pa” shepherded his sons through tough times with a grace and wisdom that won him the affection of millions of viewers. Besides offering appealing characters and interesting story lines, Bonanza was also popular because it was the first network Western to be televised in color.

After Bonanza was canceled in 1973, Greene acted in several other short-lived TV shows, including Battlestar Galactica. He died in 1987 at the age of 72, still best remembered by millions as “Pa” Cartwright.


Basketball Great Bill Russell Born

February 12, 1934

Bill Russell, the legendary center for the Boston Celtics during the 1960s, is born in Monroe, Louisiana. During his 13-year career with the Celtics, Russell helped the team to 11 NBA championships.

As a child, Russell’s family moved from Louisiana to California to escape racism in the South. He played center for McClymonds High School in Oakland, California, and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of San Francisco. There, he became known for his strong defense and shot-blocking skills and helped lead the team to two NCAA championships, in 1955 and 1956. Despite his success, Russell experienced racial abuse from spectators and others during his playing career. After college, he captained the U.S. basketball team that won gold by defeating the Soviet Union at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Following the Olympics, the 6’9” Russell joined the Boston Celtics in December 1956.

Before Russell’s arrival, the Celtics had never won an NBA championship. The team captured their first title in 1957 under the direction of coach Red Auerbach, and Russell and the Celtics were on their way to becoming a basketball dynasty. Russell was named the league’s MVP five times and played in 12 All-Star games during his career. His biggest rival was 7’1” center Wilt Chamberlain, who joined the NBA in 1959. Russell’s career record of 21,620 rebounds was bested only by Chamberlain’s 23,924 rebounds. Outside of basketball, the two became close friends. Russell was known as a strong team player, but off the court, the media considered him aloof and he refused to sign autographs for fans.

When Red Auerbach retired before the 1966-67 season, Russell was named player-coach, making him the first black head coach in all of American professional sports. In the final two seasons of his career, 1967-68 and 1968-69, Russell won his 10th and 11th NBA championships with the Celtics. After ending his career as a player, Russell coached the Seattle SuperSonics (1973-1979) and Sacramento Kings (1988-1989), wrote books and worked as a sports commentator. Russell, who experienced persistent racism throughout his playing career, both at home in Boston and on the road, wasn’t in attendance at the Boston Garden when his Number 6 Celtics jersey number was retired in 1972, nor when he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.


Release of U.S. POWs Begins

February 12, 1973

The release of U.S. POWs begins in Hanoi as part of the Paris peace settlement. The return of U.S. POWs began when North Vietnam released 142 of 591 U.S. prisoners at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport. Part of what was called Operation Homecoming, the first 20 POWs arrived to a hero’s welcome at Travis Air Force Base in California on February 14. Operation Homecoming was completed on March 29, 1973, when the last of 591 U.S. prisoners were released and returned to the United States.


Writers’ Strike Ends after 100 Days

February 12, 2008

Hollywood’s longest work stoppage since 1988 ends on this day in 2008, when members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) vote by a margin of more than 90 percent to go back to work after a walkout that began the previous November 5.

The writers’ strike began during the negotiation of the WGA’s latest contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents over 300 production companies. Negotiations stalled after WGA members demanded a share of the revenues generated by movies, television shows and other works distributed on the Internet and viewed on computers, cell phones and other new-media devices.

Heavily covered by the press, the walkout proved to be much more damaging to the entertainment industry than expected. More than 60 TV shows had to be shut down, causing a drop in ratings and the loss of tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue for the networks. By the end, the strike was estimated to have cost the local L.A. economy more than $3 billion, taking into account lost wages for writers and crew members, lost business for service industries such as catering and equipment rental and reduced consumer spending. For the duration of the strike, TV viewers at home were forced to go without new episodes of their favorite shows, as networks dealt with the shutdown of production by loading the schedule with reruns and increased amounts of reality programming (such as a revamped version of the 1990s hit American Gladiators).

Negotiators reached a tentative agreement on February 8, and both the East Coast and West Coast branches of the WGA ratified the deal on February 10. Two days later, the writers themselves approved the truce, and a new contract with the AMPTP was signed February 25. Based in part on a deal signed the previous month between production companies and the Directors Guild of America, the new contract gave WGA members residual payments for programs streamed online (at a much higher rate than that paid for DVDs) and formalized union jurisdiction over programming created for the Web. Writers would be paid for shows streamed on advertising-supported Web sites and WGA members hired to write original content for the Web would be covered under a union contract.

Though labor experts and WGA supporters heralded the outcome as an important victory for the striking writers, the contract included several key concessions. Studios could hire non-union writers to work on low-budget Internet shows, for example, and no residuals would be paid to writers for repeat shows viewed online within a few weeks after the original show aired on television. The strike also failed to win the union jurisdiction over the ever-more-important realms of reality programming and animation.

Still, in an email message to East and West Coast writers groups quoted in the New York Times, Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, and Michael Winship, his East Coast counterpart, stressed the positive ending to the 2007-08 writers’ strike: “Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.”