November 15 is George Spelvin Day

George Spelvin DayToday is George Spelvin Day. Who is he, and why does he have his own day? He was “born” on November 15, 1886, and is still going strong. How is that possible?

George Spelvin began as a pseudonym used in theatrical playbills to hide the fact that a performer was “doubling“—playing two roles in a play or musical. Actors changed costumes and makeup, sometimes adding a second, disguised photo to the program, all to (hopefully) fool theatergoers. Listing a player’s name twice would ruin the effect.

Sometimes a playwright or director added a fictitious actor and role to the cast list to trick audience members into thinking the character would appear. This misdirection could make a plot twist or other device harder to figure out and thus more effective and entertaining.

George Spelvin first appeared on a Broadway Playbill on November 15, 1886, opening night of Karl the Peddler, a play by Charles A. Gardiner. In 1906, Winchell Smith “cast” him in Brewster’s Millions. After the show’s success, Smith considered Spelvin a good luck charm and added him to many other shows.

Spelvin appeared in the credits of films such as D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) and the Academy Award-winning From Here to Eternity (1953). He showed up on television and soap operas, including The Guiding Light and Edge of Night. He called himself George Spelvinsky, Georges SpelvinetGiorgio Spelvino or Gregor Spelvanovich for European roles.

Over time, the Spelvin family expanded. George Spelvin, Jr. shared billing with his “father” in the 1929 play Kibitzer. Georgette Spelvin debuted in the short-lived Broadway production of Love Girl (1922). The clan had a “black sheep” as well: Georgina Spelvin, used by porn actress Chele Welsh as her screen name in adult films such as The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) and mainstream fare like Police Academy (1984).

Although doubling has lost its stigma, pseudonyms remain popular. Actors’ Equity Association members wishing to work under a non-union contract may use alternate names to avoid fines and possible revocation of union membership. Performers who become unhappy while shooting a movie may try to substitute a false name in the credits, to disassociate themselves from a potential box office bomb.

The Spelvin name has grown so well-known that it has become an in-joke for sophisticated audiences. (Alan Smithee, used by disgruntled directors, enjoys a similar status among moviegoers.) Spelvin’s British counterparts are Mr. F. AnneyMr. Bart and Walter Plinge, who has his own holiday on December 2nd.

Have a happy George Spelvin Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 14 is National American Teddy Bear Day

Today is National American Teddy Bear Day, whereas September 9th is National Teddy Bear Day. Why? We think it’s because one holiday isn’t enough to contain the cuddly stuffed animal’s cuteness.

Here’s what we do know: teddy bears got their name from Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.  The date coincides with a hunting trip in November 1902.

The governor of Mississippi invited President Roosevelt to a bear hunt, but after three days, Roosevelt hadn’t spotted one. To keep the president’s trip from ending in failure, the guides set the dogs loose; they tracked down an old black bear and attacked it.

The guides brought the wounded bear back to camp and tied it to a tree for the president. When Roosevelt saw the old bear he refused to shoot it because to do so would be unsportsmanlike. However, since it was injured, Roosevelt directed the men to put the bear down to end its suffering.

Word traveled quickly across the country. The Washington Post ran this headline on November 15, 1902:

PRESIDENT CALLED AFTER THE BEAST HAD BEEN LASSOED,
BUT HE REFUSED TO MAKE AN UNSPORTSMANLIKE SHOT

Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew a single panel that appeared in the Post the next day. In it, the president stands in the foreground, a guide and bear behind him. Berryman depicted the bear as a cub trembling with fear. He began to include the cub in other drawings of Roosevelt, forever linking him to bears.

national american teddy bear day

Morris Michtom, a Brooklyn candy shop owner,  saw Berryman’s cartoons and was inspired to make a stuffed bear. Michtom wrote to Roosevelt and asked his permission to call the toy “Teddy’s Bear.” Although the president agreed to lend his name to the new invention, he is said to have doubted it would ever amount to much in the toy business.

The runaway popularity of the cuddly bears led Michtom to mass-produce them, forming the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company in 1903. It soon became a multimillion-dollar business.  By 1908, the toy had become so popular that a preacher in Michigan warned that replacing dolls with toy bears would destroy the maternal instincts of little girls. If that were true, there would be no one left to read (or write) this.

A Teddy’s Bear made in 1903 is owned by The National Museum of American History. It’s in perfect condition.

national american teddy bear day

Happy National American Teddy Bear Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

Chaos Never Dies Day: Part Two

In Which I Inadvertently Prove that Chaos Never Dies

Chaos Never Dies Day proved all too true for me today, November 9, 2017,  when I was briefly interviewed by Michael S. Robinson on Microbin Radio. I had been invited to be a guest on the radio show only the day before so I dutifully spent a day cramming the online equivalent of Chaos Theory for Dummies to prepare.

I’d been told I’d be quizzed on how I came to write about weird holidays and asked about holidays taking place before the end of the year. I gathered information on two of the wackiest: Start Your Own Country Day and Tió de Nadal, which involves a Christmas log that craps out presents. I’ve never been on the radio before and was wargaming it all out until three minutes before I went on-air.

What I didn’t know ahead of time was that the guests on the docket before me were scheduled to talk about the mass shooting in Texas and the difficulties of parenting. The theme for the day was “Are we Stuck in a Bad News Hell?”

The Michael S Robinson Show banner

When Mr. Robinson introduced me, I launched into a description of the beauty of the order that dwells in chaos even though we can’t perceive it.

I gave the example of football, which can’t be predicted in strictly linear terms by the sum of the players’ and team’s rankings because of variables like team chemistry, whether it’s a home or away game, the quarterback’s attitude, etc. Since I’m confident that you’ll never hear this, I’m going to say it was brilliant.

But Mr. Robinson wanted to talk about the chaos we deal with every day. Of course. I have a lot to say about the unprecedented amount of chaos we’re experiencing nowadays, but I ended up being woefully unprepared. I should have known that was what he would want to discuss.

How did I make such a mistake and overshoot what should have been an interesting and informative conversation? I didn’t just strike out. I left my bat in the dugout and brought a cello to the plate. I’d like to credit chaos in some artful way, say it created a perfect trajectory I can’t identify. That’s hogwash, of course—or is it? (It is.)

Also, I had feedback blasting my words back at me, making it almost impossible to speak normally. There’s nothing worse than hearing your own voice faltering in near-real time. Again, chaos. I don’t think I’ll get invited back. It’s probably just as well that they spelled my name Kathlene Zaya.

$99,000 Answer The Honeymooners Ralph KramdenAll this reminds me of the $99,000 Answer, an episode of The Honeymooners in which Ralph Kramden prepares to go on a game show where he’ll be required to identify songs by the first few bars.

He rents a piano and has Ed Norton play musical selections all week to prepare for the event. Ed always warms up by playing the first few bars of “Swanee River,” which never fails to annoy Ralph.

The night of the show, the first tune played is “Swanee River,” which he can’t name. He loses in spite of all his preparation. I laughed but felt bad for Ralph, perpetual loser.

It also reminds me of every Curb Your Enthusiasm episode when Larry David does something stupid or thoughtless by misunderstanding the context of a situation—or just because he’s a jerk. (That’s every episode.)

Fictional chaos theorist David Malcom said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” So do laughs but not always the ones you want or on the schedule you’d prefer.

CHAOS NEVER DIES, PART THREE:

November 9. 2018: I have not been invited for a return engagement by Michael S. Robinson. Perhaps my invitation was lost in the (e)mail. There certainly is quite a bit of chaos to discuss: the midterm elections, Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions, the discovery that the Mayans invented television. (In honor of Chaos Never Dies Day, I invite you to Google that last one.)

Correction: In Part Two, I misidentified fictional character Ian Malcolm as fictional character David Malcom. I regret the error and know that my use of flawed web research one year ago has introduced another tiny bit of chaos to the Internet. So, I guess you could say I’m doing my part.

Copyright © 2018 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 6 is National Nachos Day

Today is National Nachos Day and should not be confused with International Day of the Nacho (October 21) or with the International Nacho Festival (October 13-15). To be honest, we’re a bit confused ourselves. To get to the bottom of this delicious mystery, let’s dig in (sorry).

Although we’re not sure why it’s celebrated on November 6th, the origin of National Nachos Day is this: In 1943,  Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya inadvertently invented nachos at a restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico. (To pinpoint the exact date it happened would strain credulity, wouldn’t it?)

A group of officers’ wives whose husbands were stationed in Fort Duncan Airbase in Texas crossed the border to have dinner at the famed Victory Club. The women were more than fashionably late: the restaurant had closed and the cook had gone home. The ladies were hungry.

Anaya’s son related the legend in an interview on the History Channel.

“My father was maître d’ and he said ‘Let me go quick and fix something for you.’ He went into the kitchen, picked up tostadas, grated some cheese on them – Wisconsin cheese, the round one – and put them under the Salamander [a broiling unit that quickly browns the top of foods]. He pulled them out after a couple minutes, all melted, and put on a slice of jalapeno.”

Whether Mamie Finan, one of the wives, or Anaya himself christened the dish Nacho’s Especiales is a matter of debate among snack historians. This much is certain: the dish was a hit. Somewhere along the way, the name was shortened to nachos. Anaya’s original recipe appeared in St. Anne’s Cookbook in 1954.

national nachos day

Ignacio Anaya went on to work at the Moderno Restaurant in Piedras Negras, which still uses his original recipe. He later opened his own establishment called, appropriately, Nacho’s Restaurant, also in Piedras Negras.

By 1960, when he sought to claim ownership of the nacho, it had already been around for seventeen years and was in the public domain. To honor Anaya’s creation, Piedras Negras hosts the International Nacho Festival every year.

The snack’s popularity grew in 1976 when businessman Frank Liberto began selling a modified version at sporting events in Arlington Stadium, home of the Texas Rangers. That first year, sales totaled $800,000.

Liberto’s secret? He altered one ingredient, creating a pourable processed cheese product with a long shelf life that didn’t need to be heated. We can’t tell you the formula’s secret proprietary ingredients; just that, by the standard of the Food and Drug Administration, it legally can’t be called cheese. But that’s never stopped anyone from tucking into a bowl of nachos. Better snacking through modern chemistry, right?

In 1978, the treat became available at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, where iconic sports announcer Howard Cosell was covering Monday Night Football with Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. At some point, a plate of nachos was brought up to the booth.

national nachos day nachos

The broadcasters needed to fill some dead air time, so Cosell decided to riff on the snack’s name. “‘They brought us this new snack—what do they call them? knock-o’s or nachos?’” recalls Liberto. “He started using the word ‘nachos’ in the description of plays: ‘Did you see that run? That was a nacho run!’”

Cosell and others used the word for weeks afterward, helping Liberto’s nachos branch out from their Texas birthplace. Ignacio Anaya invented the original nacho. Frank Liberto modernized them, turning them into a concession snack and a profit machine.

Ignacio Anaya died in 1975. A bronze plaque erected in Piedras Negras honors his memory and October 21 was declared the International Day of the NachoWhy was that date chosen? Was it his birthday? The date he died? We don’t know.

So there you have it, folks. Hungry yet?

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays