Five People Born on April 16

Today is April 16, 2010 and the 106th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar.  There are 259 days left in the year 2010.  According the Mayan calendar, there are 980 days till the end of the current cycle.  On this date, in 1941, Bob Feller, of the Cleveland Indians, threw the only opening day no hitter in the history of Major League Baseball.  Here are five people born on this day.

Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)
One of two Americans who are generally credit with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.  The brothers’ fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium.  This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds.  From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer “the flying problem”, rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did. Their careful wind tunnel tests produced better aeronautical data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before.  Their U.S. patent 821,393 claims the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine’s surfaces. They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice.  From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers. The Wright brothers’ status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators.    Wilbur never graduated from high school.  While not educated, Wilbur read constantly from his father’s extensive library and tended to his mother, who was dying from tuberculosis.  In 1889, he worked for his older brother’s printing business.  The two had built a printing press and Wilbur acted as the editor of their Dayton newspaper, The West Side News.  Capitalizing on the national bicycle craze, the brothers opened a repair and sales shop in 1892 (the Wright Cycle Exchange, later the Wright Cycle Company) and began manufacturing their own brand in 1896.  They used the money from the bicycle company to fund their growing fascination with flight.  Aeronautics was a big thing at the turn of the century and the Wright Brothers were determined to make a full-scale flying machine.  While the brothers took equal credit for its invention, biographers note that early papers show that Wilbur was the brains behind the invention.  After trying with gliders and many, MANY failures, the first manned flight with an engine-powered airplane took off at Kitty Hawk, South Carolina on December 17, 1903 with Orville piloting the plane.  It stayed in the air only 12 seconds and went only 120 feet, but it was good enough to put them into the History books.  For the remaining years of his life, Wilbur would be involved with improving their design and with legal battles and skepticism over the originality of their designs.  He would die of typhoid at the age of 45.

Henry Mancini (1924-1994)
This beloved composer was born in Cleveland, Ohio as Enrico Nicola Mancini.  While serving in the army air force during World War II, he met Glenn Miller, and after the war he joined Miller’s band as an arranger and pianist. He first gained wide attention with his jazz-inflected music for the television series Peter Gunn (1958), but he is perhaps best known for his humorous scores for Blake Edwards’s Pink Panther movies. He worked extensively with Edwards throughout his career. He wrote scores for more than 80 films and won four Academy Awards for two songs—“Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses”—and for the film scores for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Victor/Victoria (1982). He also won 20 Grammy Awards and 2 Emmys.

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)
Also known as Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, this British comedian, producer, director, writer, and composer was one of the earliest superstars to come out of motion pictures.  Named after his father, a British music hall entertainer, Chaplin spent his early childhood with his mother, the singer Hannah Hall. He made his own stage debut at age five, filling in when his mother lost her voice in mid-song. The mentally unstable Hall was later confined to an asylum, whereupon Charlie and his half-brother Sydney were sent to a series of bleak workhouses and residential schools. Using his mother’s show-business contacts, Charlie became a professional entertainer in 1897 when he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog-dancing act. His subsequent stage credits included a small role in William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes and a stint with the vaudeville act Casey’s Court Circus. In 1908 he joined the Fred Karno pantomime troupe, quickly rising to star status as The Drunk in the ensemble sketch A Night in an English Music Hall.  While touring America with the Karno company in 1913, Chaplin was signed to appear in Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy films. Though his first Keystone one-reeler, Making a Living (1914), was not the failure that historians have claimed, Chaplin’s initial screen character, a mercenary dandy, did not show him to best advantage. Ordered by Sennett to come up with a more workable screen image, Chaplin improvised an outfit consisting of a too-small coat, too-large pants, floppy shoes, and a battered derby. As a finishing touch, he pasted on a postage-stamp mustache and adopted a cane as an all-purpose prop. It was in his second Keystone film, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), that Chaplin’s immortal screen alter ego, “the Little Tramp,” was born.  In truth, Chaplin did not always portray a tramp; in many of his films his character was employed as a waiter, store clerk, stagehand, fireman, and the like. His character might be better described as the quintessential misfit: shunned by polite society, unlucky in love, jack-of-all-trades but master of none. He was also a survivor, forever leaving past sorrows behind, jauntily shuffling off to new adventures.  His 35 Keystone comedies can be regarded as the Tramp’s gestation period, during which a caricature became a character. The films improved steadily once Chaplin became his own director. In 1915 he left Sennett to accept a $1,250-weekly contract at Essanay Studios. It was there that he began to inject elements of pathos in his comedy, notably in such shorts as The Tramp (1915) and Burlesque on Carmen (1916). He moved on to an even more lucrative job ($670,000 per year) at the Mutual Company Film Corporation.  A painstaking perfectionist, he began spending more and more time on the preparation and production of each film. From 1923 through 1929 he issued only three features: A Woman of Paris (1923), which he directed but did not star in; The Gold Rush (1925), widely regarded as his masterpiece; and The Circus (1928), an underrated film that may rank as his funniest. All three were released by United Artists, the company cofounded in 1919 by Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith.  As the Little Tramp, Chaplin had mastered the subtle art of pantomime, and the advent of sound gave him cause for alarm. After much hesitation, he released his 1931 feature City Lights as a silent, despite the ubiquity of talkies after 1928; his gamble paid off, and the film was a success. His next film, Modern Times (1936), was a hybrid, essentially a silent with music, sound effects, and brief passages of dialogue. In this film Chaplin gave his Little Tramp a voice, as he performed a gibberish song; perhaps significantly, it was the character’s farewell to the screen. Chaplin’s first full talkie was The Great Dictator (1940), a devastating lampoon of Adolf Hitler that proved to be the comedian’s most profitable film.  Chaplin made one of his final public appearances in 1975, when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Several months after his death, his body was briefly kidnapped from a Swiss cemetery by a pair of bungling thieves—a macabre coda that Chaplin might have concocted for one of his own two-reelers.

Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
British actor, director, author, and playwright. He made his professional stage debut at age 17, in which he displayed his talents for vocal mimicry and age affectation, and landed his first major screen role in The Goose Steps Out (1942). His film appearances include Lola Montès (1955), Spartacus (1960, Academy Award), Topkapi (1964, Academy Award), and a recurring role as Hercule Poirot in movies based on Agatha Christie’s mysteries, beginning with Death on the Nile (1978). He both starred in and directed Billy Budd (1962), among other films. Lady L (1965), with Sophia Loren and Paul Newman, was probably his best-received directorial effort. He wrote successful plays such as The Love of Four Colonels (1951) and Romanoff and Juliet (1956) and won Emmy Awards for his television performances in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1957), Barefoot in Athens (1966), and A Storm in Summer (1970). Ustinov also wrote several novels and the autobiographical works Dear Me (1977), Ustinov at Large (1993), and Ustinov Still at Large (1994). Noted for his humanitarian efforts, he served as ambassador at large for UNICEF from 1969 until his death. Ustinov was knighted in 1990.

Dusty Springfield (1939-1999)
This singer was born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien and it is no wonder she changed her name to something a bit shorter.  She is a British vocalist who made her mark as a female hitmaker and icon during the 1960s beat boom that resulted in the British Invasion.  Springfield grew up in prosperous Hampstead in North London. After success in the early 1960s with her brother Tom in the British country-music trio the Springfields, she went solo and made her way into the heart of “Swinging London.” Part cartoon, part irresolvable desire, part bruised despair, she peered through heavy mascara and a stack of peroxided hair while singing with breathy sensuality. Bringing a fragile uncertainty to her cover versions of songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David that had been hits in the United States for Dionne Warwick, Springfield had a string of British hits. The high point of her career, though, was the ballad “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (1966), which reached number four on the American charts.  In the late 1960s she began to take herself seriously as a soul diva, signing with Atlantic Records and cutting her Dusty in Memphis (1969) album in the famed American Sound Studios with producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin. It brought her an international hit with “Son of a Preacher Man,” but her career trailed off into a slurry of drug and alcohol abuse. By the mid-1970s she was a session singer in Los Angeles. Repeated comebacks failed until she teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys in 1987 on “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and the soundtrack for Scandal (1988), a film set in the pre-Swinging London of her earliest success. By the 1990s she was a camp icon. Resettling in England, she battled cancer and in 1998 received the Order of the British Empire. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.