Monday, December 12, 2011

This Week in Television History: December 2011 Part II

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As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

December 15, 1966
Walt Disney dies. 
Born on a Missouri farm, Walt Disney sold his first sketches to neighbors when he was just seven, and he attended the Kansas City Art Institute at night while he was in high school. At age 16, during World War I, Disney went overseas with the Red Cross and drove an ambulance that he decorated with cartoon characters.
Back in Kansas City, Disney started working as an advertising cartoonist. He founded a company called Laugh-O-Gram with his older brother, Roy, but the company went bankrupt and the brothers left Kansas City for Hollywood with $40 and some art supplies. The brothers built a camera stand in their uncle's garage and started their company in the back of a Hollywood real estate office.
Walt Disney began making a series of animated short films called Alice in Cartoonland and began developing various animated characters. In 1928, he introduced Mickey Mouse in two silent movies. Mickey debuted on the big screen in Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon ever made. Walt Disney provided Mickey's squeaky voice himself. The company went on to produce a series of sound cartoons, such as the "Silly Symphony" series, which included The Three Little Pigs (1933) and introduced characters like Donald Duck and Goofy. Meanwhile, the company developed increasingly sophisticated animation technology.
When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937, it was the first fully animated movie to date and grossed $8 million, an incredible success during the Depression. During World War II, Disney devoted most of his company's resources to the production of training and propaganda films for the military. In 1965, he designed the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), which he envisioned as an aid toward improving the quality of life in American cities. He also helped establish the California Institute of the Arts in 1961. His 43-year career earned him nearly 1,000 honors and citations from throughout the world, including 48 Academy Awards and seven Emmys. Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California, and UCLA all bestowed him with honorary degrees. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, France's Legion of Honor and Officer d'Academie decorations, Thailand's Order of the Crown, Brazil's Order of the Southern Cross, Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle, and the Showman of the World Award from the National Association of Theatre Owners. In addition to his films, his legend lives on through Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and EPCOT Center, and generations of children have experienced the joy and magic of The Happiest Place on Earth. Walt Disney was 65 years old when he died.

December 16, 1951
Detective series Dragnet appears on television for the first time, as a sneak preview on the anthology show Chesterfield Sound-Off Time.  

Dragnet had been a popular radio drama since 1949, created by actor-director Jack Webb (who starred in both the radio and the TV series as Sgt. Joe Friday). The TV show debuted as a regular series in January 1952 and ran until 1959.

December 18, 1946
Director Steven Spielberg is born in Cincinnati. 
As a boy, Spielberg moved to New Jersey and then Arizona with his parents, an electrical engineer and a concert pianist. Spielberg was a shy youngster and expressed himself by making home movies. By age 12, he was making scripted movies with actors. He won a contest with a 40-minute home movie at age 13 and made a feature-length amateur film at age 17.
Spielberg studied filmmaking at California State College. In 1969, the Atlanta Film Festival screened his short film Amblin', which landed him a job at Universal Studios. He directed his first feature, The Sugarland Express, in 1974. The following year, he helped make movie history with Jaws, a blockbuster that grossed $260 million (the film cost $8.5 million to make).
Spielberg followed Jaws with a succession of megahits, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which grossed $128 million; Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), grossing $242 million; and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which took in nearly $400 million.
Spielberg formed an independent company, Amblin Entertainment, in 1984 and began producing such films as Gremlins (1984) and Back to the Future (1985). He took a turn toward more serious subject matter in 1985, directing the critically acclaimed The Color Purple. In 1987, he won the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award, which recognized his body of work, at the Academy Awards. However, he didn't win the Oscar for Best Director until 1993, for Schindler's List, a black-and-white drama about Jews working in a Polish factory during World War II. In 1998, Spielberg won another Best Director Oscar® for Saving Private Ryan, which also won Best Picture. Band of Brothers, an HBO miniseries produced by Spielberg, won an Emmy® Award for Best Miniseries in 2002.
In 1994, Spielberg teamed up with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to form Dreamworks SKG. He has been married twice, first to Amy Irving and then to Kate Capshaw, who starred with Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was". 

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Tony Figueroa
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