This Day In History


Hitchcock Born

August 13, 1899

Alfred Hitchcock, the macabre master of moviemaking, is born in London on August 13, 1899. His innovative directing techniques and mastery of suspense made him one of the most popular and influential filmmakers of the 20th century.

Born the son of a grocer, Hitchcock attended St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit school in London where he studied engineering, and took art courses at the University of London. In 1920, he began to work in the silent-film industry, writing and illustrating title cards. Determined to become a filmmaker himself, he rose to the positions of art director, scriptwriter, and assistant director. In 1925, he directed his first film, The Pleasure Garden. With The Lodger (1926), the story of a man wrongly suspected of being Jack the Ripper, Hitchcock began making the suspense dramas with which he was to become identified.

His Blackmail (1929) was Britain’s first widely successful talking feature, and Hitchcock used sound effectively and imaginatively. During the 1930s, he gained international fame with immensely popular thrillers such as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938). In 1939, he left England for Hollywood, lured by its superior technical facilities. His first American film was Rebecca (1940), a drama starring Laurence Olivier that won an Academy Award for Best Picture and further cemented Hitchcock’s reputation.

Hitchcock remained in Hollywood and directed a string of memorable thrillers in the 1940s, including Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Notorious (1946). By the 1940s, he was serving as his own producer, thereby ensuring greater artistic control over his films. The psychologically complex and technically innovative films that followed are regarded as his most brilliant. These masterpieces of moviemaking, which starred some of the leading actors and actresses of Hollywood, include Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1954), Vertigo(1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963). In these meticulously orchestrated films, protagonists descend out of everyday life into tense and nightmarish situations where nothing is as it seems. To build and maintain suspense, Hitchcock employed unusual camera angles, elaborate editing techniques, dynamic soundtrack music, and touches of wry humor and the macabre.

With his courtly manner, pear-shaped figure, and farcical drawl, Hitchcock became a celebrity in his own right, and in the 1950s and 1960s he produced and hosted two mystery series on television, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” He also made cameos in most of his films, and movie fans stayed alert to catch his fleeting, often humorous appearances on the screen.

Although he never won an Oscar for his film direction, he received the prestigious Irving Thalberg Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1967. In 1980, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of his native Britain, even though he had long been a naturalized U.S. citizen. Hitchcock died later that year, having directed nearly 60 films in his long career.


“Hound Dog” Is Recorded for the First Time by Big Mama Thornton

August 13, 1952

Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” (1956) is one of the biggest and most instantly recognizable pop songs in history. It’s a song so closely associated with the King of Rock and Roll, in fact, that many may mistakenly assume that it was a Presley original. In fact, the story of the song that gave Elvis his longest-running #1 hit (11 weeks) in the summer of 1956 began four years earlier, when “Hound Dog” was recorded for the very first time by the rhythm-and-blues singer Ellie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in Los Angeles, California.

Cryin’ all the time” and “You ain’t never caught a rabbit.” During his first Las Vegas engagement in the spring of 1956, Elvis Presley heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys performing the reworked “Hound Dog” and added it to his repertoire almost immediately.


Berlin Is Divided

August 13, 1961

Shortly after midnight on this day in 1961, East German soldiers begin laying down barbed wire and bricks as a barrier between Soviet-controlled East Berlin and the democratic western section of the city.

After World War II, defeated Germany was divided into Soviet, American, British and French zones of occupation. The city of Berlin, though technically part of the Soviet zone, was also split, with the Soviets taking the eastern part of the city. After a massive Allied airlift in June 1948 foiled a Soviet attempt to blockade West Berlin, the eastern section was drawn even more tightly into the Soviet fold. Over the next 12 years, cut off from its western counterpart and basically reduced to a Soviet satellite, East Germany saw between 2.5 million and 3 million of its citizens head to West Germany in search of better opportunities. By 1961, some 1,000 East Germans–including many skilled laborers, professionals and intellectuals–were leaving every day.

In August, Walter Ulbricht, the Communist leader of East Germany, got the go-ahead from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to begin the sealing off of all access between East and West Berlin. Soldiers began the work over the night of August 12-13, laying more than 100 miles of barbed wire slightly inside the East Berlin border. The wire was soon replaced by a six-foot-high, 96-mile-long wall of concrete blocks, complete with guard towers, machine gun posts and searchlights. East German officers known as Volkspolizei (“Volpos”) patrolled the Berlin Wall day and night.

Many Berlin residents on that first morning found themselves suddenly cut off from friends or family members in the other half of the city. Led by their mayor, Willi Brandt, West Berliners demonstrated against the wall, as Brandt criticized Western democracies, particularly the United States, for failing to take a stand against it. President John F. Kennedy had earlier said publicly that the United States could only really help West Berliners and West Germans, and that any kind of action on behalf of East Germans would only result in failure.

The Berlin Wall was one of the most powerful and iconic symbols of the Cold War. In June 1963, Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”) speech in front of the Wall, celebrating the city as a symbol of freedom and democracy in its resistance to tyranny and oppression. The height of the Wall was raised to 10 feet in 1970 in an effort to stop escape attempts, which at that time came almost daily. From 1961 to 1989, a total of 5,000 East Germans escaped; many more tried and failed. High profile shootings of some would-be defectors only intensified the Western world’s hatred of the Wall.

Finally, in the late 1980s, East Germany, fueled by the decline of the Soviet Union, began to implement a number of liberal reforms. On November 9, 1989, masses of East and West Germans alike gathered at the Berlin Wall and began to climb over and dismantle it. As this symbol of Cold War repression was destroyed, East and West Germany became one nation again, signing a formal treaty of unification on October 3, 1990.


Yankee Legend Dies

August 13, 1995

Former New York Yankees star Mickey Mantle dies of liver cancer at the age of 63. While “The Mick” patrolled center field and batted clean-up between 1951 and 1968, the Yankees won 12 American League pennants and seven World Series championships.

Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, on October 20, 1931. He grew up in nearby Commerce, and played baseball and football as a youth. With the help of his father, Mutt, and grandfather, Charlie, Mantle developed into a switch-hitter. Mutt pitched to Mantle right-handed and Charlie pitched to him left-handed every day after school. With the family’s tin barn as a backstop, Mantle perfected his swing, which his father helped model so it would be identical from either side of the plate. Mantle had natural speed and athleticism and gained strength working summers with his father in Oklahoma’s lead mines. “The Commerce Comet” eventually won a scholarship to play football for the University of Oklahoma. However, baseball was Mantle’s first love, so when the New York Yankees came calling, Mantle moved to the big city.

Mantle made his debut for the Yankees in 1951 at age 19, playing right field alongside aging center fielder Joe DiMaggio. That year, in Game 2 of the World Series, Willie Mays of the New York Giants hit a pop fly to short center, and Mantle sprinted toward the ball. DiMaggio called him off, and while slowing down, Mantle’s right shoe caught the rubber cover of a sprinkler head. “There was a sound like a tire blowing out, and my right knee collapsed,” Mantle remembered in his memoir, All My Octobers. Mantle returned the next season, but by then his blazing speed had begun to deteriorate, and he ran the bases with a limp for the rest of his career.

Still, Mantle dominated the American League for more than a decade. In 1956, he won the Triple Crown, leading his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. His output was so great that he led both leagues in 1956, hitting .353 with 52 home runs and 130 runs batted in. He was also voted American League MVP that year, and again in 1957 and 1962. After years of brilliance, Mantle’s career began to decline by 1967, and he was forced to move to first base. The next season would be his last. Mantle was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 in his first year of eligibility.

Mantle’s father and son both died in their 30s, the result of Hodgkin’s disease. Mantle was sure the same fate would befall him, and joked he would have taken better care of himself if he knew he would live. In 1994, after years of alcoholism, Mantle was diagnosed with liver cancer, and urged his fans to take care of their health, saying “Don’t be like me.” Although he received a liver transplant, by then the cancer had spread to his lungs, and he died at just after 2 a.m. on August 13, 1995, at the Baylor University Cancer Center in Dallas.

At the time of his death Mantle held many of the records for World Series play, including most home runs (18), most RBIs (40) and most runs (42).