Five People Born on March 24

Today is March 24, 2010 and the 83rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar.  There are 281 days left in the year 2010. According the Mayan calendar, there are 1003 days till the end of the current cycle.  On this date, in 1944, 76 prisoners escape from Stalag Luft III.  This event was later dramatized in the movie, The Great Escape.   Here are five people that share a birthday on this day:

Clyde Barrow (1909-1934)
Clyde Chestnut Barrow was an American outlaw and criminal born in Ellis County, Texas.  He is most famous for being the leader of the Bonnie and Clyde gang.   A career criminal, Clyde and his brother, Buck, started out as petty thieves.  When Clyde met Bonnie Parker in January 1930, he was 21 and single. Soon after their meeting, he was sent to jail for burglary, and Bonnie smuggled him a gun and aided his escape. Upon his re-capture, he was jailed for two years. He was eventually paroled in February 1932 and reacquainted himself with Bonnie.  Over a two-year period from 1932 to 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde evolved from their small crimes to nationally known bank robbers and murderers. Their robbery of banks and store owners in a rural America ravaged by farm foreclosures and bankruptcies, led to their exploits and relationship being romanticized by a burgeoning ‘yellow’ press. In reality, at the time of their death, their gang was believed responsible for at least 13 murders – including 2 policemen – several robberies and burglaries and assorted kidnappings, abductions and injuries.  The gang’s evasion from the authorities didn’t last long. Their cold-hearted killing, particularly of civil servants, toughened the authority’s view of bringing the gang to justice, dead or alive. On April 1, 1934, Clyde Barrow’s reputation for ruthlessness was cemented when he and fellow gang member Henry Methvin turned their guns on two highway patrolmen in Grapevine, Texas.  On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were driving down a back road near their hideout at Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Unbeknownst to them, a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers led by ranger captain Frank Hamer were laying low, waiting. Within seconds the rangers opened fire, delivering more than 100 bullets into the notorious pair.  In 1967, the movie, Bonnie and Clyde, was made starring Warren Beatty as Clyde and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie.  The movie was extremely successful and won two Oscar Awards.

Harry Houdini (1915-1999)
The most famous magician of all time was born Erich Wiesz in Budapest, Hungary.  He moved with his family as a child to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he later claimed he was born.  In 1894, Erich launched his career as a professional magician and renamed himself Harry Houdini, the first name being a derivative of his childhood nickname, “Ehrie,” and the last an homage to the great French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Though his magic met with little success, he soon drew attention for his feats of escape using handcuffs. In 1893, he married fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, who would serve as Houdini’s lifelong stage assistant.  In 1899, Houdini’s act caught the attention of Martin Beck, an entertainment manager who soon got him booked at some of the best vaudeville venues in the country, followed by a tour of Europe. Houdini’s feats would involve the local police, who would strip search him, place him in shackles, and lock him in their jails. The show was a huge sensation, and he soon became the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville.  Houdini continued his act in the United States in the early 1900s, constantly upping the ante from handcuffs and straightjackets to locked, water-filled tanks and nailed packing crates. In 1912, his act reached its pinnacle, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, which would be the hallmark of his career. In it, Houdini was suspended by his feet and lowered upside-down in a locked glass cabinet filled with water, requiring him to hold his breath for more than three minutes to escape. The performance was so daring and such a crowd-pleaser that it remained in his act until his death in 1926.  Houdini’s wealth allowed him to indulge in other passions, such as aviation and film. He purchased his first plane in 1909 and became the first person to man a controlled power flight over Australia in 1910. He also launched a movie career, releasing his first film in 1901, Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini Paris, which documented his escapes. He starred in several subsequent films, including The Master Mystery, The Grim Game and Terror Island. In New York, he started his own production company, Houdini Picture Corporation, and a film lab called The Film Development Corporation, but neither was a success. In 1923, Houdini became president of Martinka & Co., America’s oldest magic company. As president of the Society of American Magicians, Harry Houdini was a vigorous campaigner against fraudulent psychic mediums. Most notably, he debunked renowned medium Mina Crandon, better known as Margery. This act turned him against former friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed deeply in Spiritualism and Margery’s sight.  Though there are mixed reports as to the cause of Henry Houdini’s death, it is certain that he suffered from acute appendicitis. Whether his demise was caused by a McGill University student who was testing his will by punching him in the stomach (with permission) or by poison from a band of angry Spiritualists, it is unknown. What is known is that he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926 at age 52.  After his death, Houdini’s props and effects were used by his brother Theodore Hardeen, who eventually sold them to magician and collector Sidney H. Radner. Much of the collection could be see at the Houdini Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin, until Radner auctioned it off in 2004. Most of the prized pieces, including the Water Torture Cell, went to magician David Copperfield.

Steve McQueen (1908-1977)
American movie star of the 1960s and 1970s, McQueen, born Terrence Stephen McQueen made his screen debut with a bit part in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). His first starring role was in the camp horror classic The Blob (1958), and that same year he earned the lead role of a bounty hunter on the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive, which ran until 1961.  In the early 1960s, McQueen attained stardom when he appeared in two action films directed by John Sturges. The first of these was the western The Magnificent Seven (1960), in which he starred with Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson as defenders of a Mexican village. The second action film to refine McQueen’s image was The Great Escape (1963), in which he portrayed an allied captive in a World War II German prison camp who makes a daring motorcycle escape.  McQueen starred in several films of quality during the 1960s, including The War Lover (1962), Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), Soldier in the Rain (1963), Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1965), and The Cincinnati Kid (1965). He received his only Oscar nomination for another war epic, The Sand Pebbles (1966), but his definitive role came as a world-weary detective solving a mob murder case in Bullitt (1968). In this film, McQueen’s real-life enthusiasm for racing came into play in a celebrated extended car chase through the streets of San Francisco for which McQueen himself acted as stunt driver. The stylish caper The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) cast McQueen against type as a wealthy and elegant thief, yet it proved to be one of his most memorable performances.  Many more hit movies followed in the 1970s, such as The Getaway (1972), Papillon (1973), and The Towering Inferno (1974), but McQueen did little to develop as an actor. He took a three-year hiatus to star in and produce a screen adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s stage play An Enemy of the People (1977), a drama about a scientist’s efforts to expose his community’s polluted water system. The film was decidedly a labour of love for the actor, but it was poorly received and barely released theatrically.  In 1980 McQueen twice played a bounty hunter, in the western Tom Horn and in the contemporary action film The Hunter, his final film.  An avid race car and motorcycle driver, McQueen often performed his own stunts in his films.  He designed and patented a bucket seat and the transbrake for race cars.   McQueen died at the age of 50 from cancer.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933)
Fatty Arbuckle had it all.  He was a silent film star, comedian, director, and screen writer.  He was the mentor of Charlie Chaplin and discovered actors, Buster Keaton and Bob Hope.  He was one of the first actors to ever sign a contract (through Keystone pictures) to make $1 million a year.  However, Fatty Arbuckle’s life came crashing down around him.  In 1921, he threw a huge Labor Day party.  During the party, a struggling actress by the name of Virginia Rappe became ill and died a few days later.  Arbuckle was accused of raping and accidently killing the actress.  After three trials on the case, of which he was acquitted of any wrongdoing and a publicly written apology was given, Arbuckle found that he couldn’t return to the spotlight.  The scandal destroyed his career.  His films were banned by the studios and the public.  Even though he was proven not guilty, the public did not see his innocence.  Finally, in the early 1930s, Arbuckle was allowed to return to the silver screen, although he died of a heart attack soon after.

Gorgeous George (1915-1963)
George Raymond Wagner was an American professional wrestler best known for his ring name, Gorgeous George.  He made his name during the first Golden Age of Professional Wrestling in the 1940s-1950s.  He was considered flamboyant and charismatic in the ring.  The WWE is inducting him into their Hall of Fame in 2010.  For a professional wrestler, Gorgeous George wasn’t very big.  He stood 5’9” and weighed 215 pounds.  He grew up in a tough neighborhood in Houston, Texas, where he found himself fighting quite a bit.  He dropped out of school when he was 14 and started wrestling at carnivals for 35 cents a match.  By the time he was 17, he was being promoted as a professional wrestler and winning titles.  It was about this time that George started letting his hair grow long and dying it a platinum blonde. He wore sequined outfits.  His entrance into the ring became a spectacle and people loved him for it.  When the fight started, George would cheat in every possible way. He became the industry’s first villain of the ring.  When he moved onto television, his fame became nationwide.  The early networks were looking for cheap forms of entertainment in this new medium and they found it in Gorgeous George and the wrestling phenomenon.  His fame was so great, he was able to command 50% of the gate (the money taken in for the event) and he was earning more than $100,000 a year – making him the highest paid athlete of his time.  He died of heart attack at the age of 48.