WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN OCTOBER 1949
 
 

The soundtrack to the Broadway play South Pacific is in the middle of twenty-nine consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard album charts.

After then being knocked from its perch by a Bing Crosby Christmas album over the holidays at the end of December, South Pacific resumed its place at #1 in January for another sixteen weeks, taking it to the end of April. From June through mid-August it’d spend yet another nine weeks at the top and would return to the #1 position again for most of the first half of 1951 as well, giving it a total of 69 weeks as the biggest album in the nation, a record in longevity which it holds to this day.

The Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein play was groundbreaking for attacking racism, something which was a minor plot in the James Michener book on which it was based, but Rodgers and Hammerstein brought to the forefront of the stage play as the driving force of the drama. Despite strong opposition from Southerners the play enjoyed the second longest Broadway run in history to that point, behind the pair’s earlier Oklahoma!. The play was crafted specifically for the chosen lead actors, opera star Ezio Pinza and rising Broadway star Mary Martin, who’d win the first of three career Tony Awards for her performance. Martin’s reluctance to have to compete with Pinza’s powerful voice led to Rodgers and Hammerstein writing no duets for them, something of a rarity in theater.

The play introduced many of the most popular songs of the era to the popular lexicon, including Some Enchanted Evening, which was covered by half the pop singers in America, with Perry Como scoring the biggest hit single with it. Other songs which would become standards include I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy and the production’s most memorable song, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair.

For much of the American population of the late 1940’s and early ’50’s this was the first 33 1/3 RPM album they ever owned, maybe even convincing them buy a new phonograph player to begin with and the runaway popularity of the record was a sign that the long playing album introduced just a year earlier was here to stay.
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

Former middleweight boxing champ Marcel Cerdan dies when his plane crashes en route to America for his rematch with Jake LaMotta, who’d defeated him in June for the title.

Cerdan was born in Algeria, then a French territory in Northern Africa, and rose to fame fighting in Casablanca, Morocco, another French possession and in Paris throughout the late 1930’s, winning the French Welterweight title in 1938 and adding the European title the following year. After his Naval unit in World War Two was disbanded by the victorious Germans as they overthrew France, Cerdan resumed boxing in occupied Paris the culmination of which was his bout with Spanish Middleweight Champion Jose Ferrer. Cerdan knocked him out in a round, infuriating the Nazis since Spain was a German ally during the war, and Cerdan had to slip out of the country using forged documents after which he re-enlisted in the Free French Navy and fought in Northern Africa again after it had been retaken by the Allies.

Following the war Cerdan added the French Middleweight title to his collection in 1945 and the European Middleweight crown in early 1948. Already one of the most famous men in Europe and a national idol in France, he began began taking fights in America in late 1947 where his style was widely admired and his popularity soared even higher. He began a torrid affair with legendary singer Edith Piaf in 1948, leading to her writing one of her defining songs, Hymne à l’amour, for him. In September 1948 Cerdan faced World Middleweight Champion Tony Zale in New Jersey, knocking him down in the 11th round and winning the title by TKO when Zale could not come out for the 12th round in what Ring magazine named its Fight Of The Year.

In June of 1949 he fought Jake LaMotta in a brutal match in Detroit in which LaMotta wrestled him to the ground in the first round, severely injuring Cerdan’s shoulder. In spite of this Cerdan continued on for ten rounds with one arm as LaMotta battered him until the fight was stopped and the championship changed hands. Cerdan immediately signed for a rematch but on a flight from France to America before training camp to visit Piaf who was performing in New York, Cerdan’s plane crashed in the Azores, killing all 48 people on board. Cerdan was 33 years old.

With a professional record of 106 wins and only four losses Cerdan was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1991.
 
 
 
 

The iconic HOLLYWOOD sign undergoes a dramatic transformation, following years of neglect and then further battles over its ultimate fate.

The unusual sign was erected in 1923 as a larger than life advertisement for the Hollywoodland housing development that was being built below. The sign cost more than $23,500 and at the time it was lit at night making it the world’s largest illuminated sign.

Though never meant to be permanent it remained in place for years despite nature related damage. In 1936 a struggling actress committed suicide by leaping to her death from the H even though the sign was in no way a symbol of the movie industry as it would later become.

By the mid-1940’s the sign was in disrepair as the H was knocked down in a windstorm in March 1944. It had fallen before and had been reinstalled quickly but this time nobody bothered and the letter remained on the ground for nearly six full years during which time the sign became seen as an eyesore by most. The city voted to take it down in 1947 but the residents of the Hollywoodland houses, for whom it was originally built to attract, protested.

The solution came when the President of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce offered to pay for the H to be replaced (for five thousand dollars) in exchange for the removal of the last four letters, changing the meaning of the sign entirely from advertising a housing development to acting as a tourist ad for Hollywood itself and by extension the movie industry that thrived there.

The refurbished sign was completed in mid-October and proved to be an ingenious plan, one that is still paying dividends today as it quickly became one of the country’s most indelible landmarks and the word Hollywood has come to represent showmanship, glamour and stardom the world over.

 
 
 
 
 

President Harry Truman nominates William H. Hastie to a seat on the Third Circuit Court Of Appeals, making him the first African-American named to the federal bench.

Hastie who had finished first in his class at Amherst College and later got his Doctorate from Harvard broke new ground throughout his career, having been the first African-American Federal Judge when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the District Court for Haiti in 1937, feeling that by doing so outside the Continental United States it would be less likely to face widespread opposition, though of course it was still highly controversial and many lawmakers decried it.

Following stints as Dean of Howard University Law School and as a Civilian Aide to Secretary Of War Henry Stimson in World War Two, a post he resigned in protest due to the unequal treatment of black soldiers, President Truman named Hastie as Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the first Negro to oversee an American territory, serving in that position from 1946 to 1949 when he left that position upon his appointment to the federal bench.

Though strongly considered by President John F. Kennedy to become the first African-American on The Supreme Court he was passed over due to the expected opposition from powerful Southern Senators on the Judiciary Committee. By 1967 however Hastie had been elevated to Chief Justice Of The Third Circuit Court Of Appeals. He died in 1976 at seventy-one years of age.
 
 
 
 

Jackie Gleason, a struggling comedian who’d appeared in minor roles in a variety of movies throughout the 1940’s while working as a nightclub act, gets his first major break in show business when he’s cast as Chester Riley on the TV version of The Life Of Riley, a popular radio program starring William Bendix.

The highly rated radio show had elevated Bendix from a minor film actor to a full-fledged star as the perpetually flummoxed Chester A. Riley, a family man and aircraft assembly line worker whose catchphrase “What a revoltin’ development this is!” became one of the more widely used terms to express frustration in life in the 20th Century.

With so many radio programs heading to television upon the latter’s arrival in the late 1940’s the program seemed ideal for the new medium and with Bendix a veteran of film – with prominent roles in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat and three all-time noirs The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia both with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and The Big Steal starring alongside Robert Mitchum – the transition to the screen would be far easier for him to make than it was proving to be for those who’d only appeared as anonymous voices over the radio airwaves. But due to film commitments – ironically including the movie version of The Life Of Riley – Bendix was unable to play the role on television that he’d made famous, thereby opening the door for Gleason.

Because of the public’s association with Bendix in the part Gleason’s TV show wasn’t the hit NBC had expected it to be, even though it was highly acclaimed and won the first Emmy Award given out for Best Story, but the show failed to survive the full season going off the air after just 26 episodes. The role gave Gleason his first widespread exposure however and soon led to him to be tabbed to host Cavalcade Of Stars on the DuMont network in 1950, the show which launched Gleason to stardom.

The Riley television series got revived in 1953 with Bendix back in the role he’d originated and became a hit, lasting five years on the air and showing why the network should have simply waited for him to become available in the first place. But had they done so Jackie Gleason’s wildly successful career across multiple mediums may have never gotten off the ground.
 


 
 
 

WERD in Atlanta, Georgia becomes the first black owned radio station in America.

Purchased for $50,000 by Jesse Blayton Sr., a college professor and bank president, he programmed the station to target the widely neglected African-American community. It wasn’t the first radio station to do so, as Memphis’s WDIA had the previous year as had a few others, but they had all been white owned.

By contrast WERD was proudly located in the heart of Atlanta’s wealthiest black neighborhood, a symbol of achievement that was hard to come by during this day and age, though it was just one of Blayton’s notable achievements. In 1928 he had become Georgia’s first black Certified Public Accountant and only the fourth African-American in the country to become a CPA.

Upon buying WERD he installed all black announcers and featured news geared towards the African-American community as well as offering black viewpoints on mainstream stories. In the coming decade the station, with such legendary dee-jays as Jockey Jack Gibson, was the most powerful voice in the community and was vital in publicizing the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headed by Dr. Martin Luther King whose offices were directly below the station.

Blayton died in 1977 but in 1995 was elected to The Radio Hall of Fame for his contributions to the medium.
 
 
 
 
 
It’s shopping time at Rexall, the most popular drugstore chain in America thanks to their innovative franchising arrangement which took the company, which had started in Boston in 1903, nationwide and thanks to innovative publicity stunts and sponsoring popular radio shows like Amos & Andy and Phil Harris And Alice Faye’s program, the brand took off.

Eventually having more than 11,000 stores across the country they controlled a fifth of the market share and it’s easy to see why with these prices in their 1 cent sale, wherein you get two for the price of one… plus a penny: Twenty six cents will get you either a pair of combs, toothache drops or surgical powder! Just sixteen cents in your pocket? You’ll still be able to get two jumbo pencils, toothbrushes for both you and your sweetheart, or 8 ounces of Epsom Salt. Even if you dropped a nickel down the sewer grate on your way in the store you can still afford hair nets… just eleven cents!

But if you’re a Mr. Moneybags you can go crazy and get two hot water bottles for $1.90, two shaving bowls (for two-faced people apparently) for $1.01 and saving the best for last for just $1.76 you’ll get two bottles of Cod Liver Oil.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RECORDS REVIEWED FOR OCTOBER 1949:

RENÉ HALL: Chitling Switch
RENÉ HALL: Blue Creek Hop
EDDIE CHAMBLEE: Dureop
JIMMY LIGGINS: Nite Life Boogie
JIMMY LIGGINS: Don’t Put Me Down
THE ORIOLES: Forgive And Forget
THE ORIOLES: So Much
JOE LUTCHER: Foothill Drive
SONNY THOMPSON: Dreaming Again
SONNY THOMPSON: Backyard Affair
BIG JAY McNEELY: Cherry Smash
BIG JAY McNEELY: Man Eater
GOREE CARTER: She’s My Best Bet
GOREE CARTER: What A Friend Will Do
AMOS MILBURN: Bow-Wow!
AMOS MILBURN: Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby
JIMMY “BABY FACE” LEWIS: All Night Lover Blues
JIMMY “BABY FACE” LEWIS: How Long Baby
LONNIE LYONS: Sneaky Joe
LONNIE LYONS: Betrayed
FREDDIE MITCHELL: Jingle Bell Boogie
FREDDIE MITCHELL: Auld Lang Syne Boogie
ROY BROWN: Boogie At Midnight
ROY BROWN: The Blues Has Got Me
JOE MORRIS: Chuck-A-Boogie
EARL BOSTIC: Who Snuck The Wine In The Gravy
EARL BOSTIC: Platter Poppa
TINY GRIMES: Jealousy
THE BLENDERS: Come Back Baby Blues
LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD: Farewell
LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD: Drinkin’ Hadacol
MAXWELL DAVIS: Hung Out
MAXWELL DAVIS: Th’ Bop Hop
RUTH BROWN: I’ll Get Along Somehow (Part 1 & 2)
RUTH BROWN: Rocking Blues
L. C. WILLIAMS: Jelly Roll
JOE THOMAS: My Baby Done Left Me
JOE THOMAS: Tearing Hair
LARRY DARNELL: For You My Love
LARRY DARNELL: Lost My Baby
TODD RHODES: Moonlight Blues
ANDREW TIBBS: I Know
ANDREW TIBBS: How Long
 
 
 
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NEXT: NOVEMBER 1949