Monthly Archives: March 2020

"The Matrix" released in theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-matrix-released

On March 31, 1999, the writing and directing sibling team of Lana and Lilly Wachowski release their second film, the mind-blowing science-fiction blockbuster The Matrix.

Born and raised in Chicago, the Wachowskis both dropped out of college and started a house-painting and construction business before they got into the film industry. They collaborated on two screenplays, the second of which was made into the action movie Assassins (1995), starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas. A year later, the Wachowskis wrote, directed and executive-produced their debut film, Bound. Critics praised the relatively low-budget crime thriller, about lesbian lovers who steal from the mob, and it became a cult hit.

The siblings’ next project, however, brought them to a whole new level. Filmed for $70 million, The Matrix was a stylish, innovative and visually spectacular take on a familiar premise–that humans are unknowing inhabitants of a world controlled by machines–central to films such as Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Matrix starred Keanu Reeves as a computer hacker who learns that human-like computers have created a fake world, the Matrix, to enslave the remaining humans while keeping them in the dark about their dire fate. Guided by the sleek, mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), the hacker is dubbed Neo and told he alone can play the crucial role in deciding the fate of the world. Packed with slow-motion camera tricks and references from a myriad of sources–including comic books, the Bible, Lewis Carroll, Eastern philosophy and film noir—The Matrix also stunned viewers with its Hong Kong-style fight scenes, choreographed by the martial-arts master Yuen Wo Ping and performed with the help of invisible wires allowing the characters to fly through the air. Greeted with enthusiasm by computer-gaming fanatics and mainstream audiences alike, The Matrix earned a staggering $470 million worldwide and won four Academy Awards, for Best Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound.

The Wachowskis had always envisioned The Matrix as a trilogy, and they shot back-to-back sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, in Australia. Released six months apart in 2003, they were generally agreed to be less successful than the original film. All in all, however, the franchise–including a best-selling video game, Enter the Matrix–earned the production company, Warner Brothers, more than $1 billion. The Wachowskis, meanwhile, became famously reclusive, refusing to promote the Matrix sequels or give interviews. 

As a follow-up to their phenomenal success, the Wachowskis wrote and produced for Animatrix, a series of short films based on The Matrix, and wrote and produced the provocative action thriller V for Vendetta (2006). In 2008, the Wachowskis returned to directing (as well as writing and producing) with Speed Racer, a film adaptation of the Japanese anime series by the same name. Later films include Cloud Atlas (2012) and Jupiter Ascending (2015). 

"Oklahoma!" premieres on Broadway

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/oklahoma-premieres-on-broadway

The financial risk of mounting a Broadway musical is so great that few productions ever make it to the Great White Way without a period of tryouts and revisions outside of New York City. This was as true in the 1940s as it is today, and especially so during the war years, when the producers of an innovative little musical called Away We Go had real concerns about their show’s commercial viability. Even with lyrics and music by two of theater’s leading lights, Away We Go was believed by many to be a flop in the making. Indeed, an assistant to the famous gossip columnist Walter Winchell captured the prevailing wisdom in a telegram sent from New Haven, Connecticut, during the show’s out-of-town tryout. His message read: “No girls. No legs. No chance.” This would prove to be one of the most off-base predictions in theater history when the slightly retooled show opened on Broadway on March 31, 1943 under a new title—Oklahoma!—and went on to set a Broadway record of 2,212 performances before finally closing 5 years later.

What was it that made Oklahoma! seem so risky? For one, it was the first show undertaken by the already legendary composer Richard Rodgers without his longtime partner, Lorenz Hart. Hart’s drinking and other personal problems had rendered him unable to work by 1942, so Rodgers would undertake his next project with a new partner, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. While Rodgers and Hammerstein almost instantly clicked as a songwriting duo, the creative chances they were taking with Oklahoma! were significant. The show had no big-name stars involved in it, it was based on relatively obscure source material and it was an ambitious experiment in integrating music and dance in service of storytelling rather than spectacle. At a time when Broadway musicals always opened with a “bang,” Oklahoma! would open with a lone cowboy singing a gentle idyll about corn and meadows.

From the very first moment on opening night, however, Oklahoma! hit a nerve. The show’s choreographer, the legendary Agnes DeMille, later recalled the audience reaction to that opening number, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’: “[It] produced a sigh from the entire house, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard in the theater. It was just, ‘aaaahh…’ It was perfectly lovely, and deeply felt.” Of the reaction to the title song, “Oklahoma!,” actress Joan Roberts, the original Laurey, said, “The applause was so deafening, and it continued and continued. We repeated two encores, and we stood there, until they stopped applauding! And I didn’t think they ever would!” That famous number had been changed from a solo to a full-cast showstopper only weeks earlier, during the show’s final tune-ups in Boston before the beginning of its history-making Broadway run on this day in 1943.

Evidence of murder is uncovered in New Mexico

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/evidence-of-murder-is-uncovered-in-new-mexico

Law enforcement officers in Elephant Butte, New Mexico, began digging for evidence near the mobile home of David Parker Ray and Cynthia Lea Hendy after more evidence came to light about the couple’s activities. On March 22, a twenty-two year old woman was found running naked, except for a padlocked metal collar around her neck, down an unpaved road near Elephant Butte State Park. She told police that Ray and Hendy had abducted her three days earlier in Albuquerque before bringing her to the mobile home where she was raped and tortured.

As police delved deeper into Ray and Hendy’s background they became convinced that the woman was not the only victim. Upon hearing initial news reports, another woman called New Mexico police with her own tale of sexual torture at the hands of the couple. Then, an acquaintance of Hendy told investigators that she had previously spoken about Ray burying people near their home.

The woman escaped when Ray was at his job at the State Park. She got into a scuffle with Hendy and hit her on the back of the head with an ice pick. Hendy pled guilty to being an accomplice and then even more was revealed. Soon David Ray’s daughter Jesse was also charged for her participation in a similar 1996 attack. And the Ray’s friend Dennis Yancy was charged with the murder of a young woman who disappeared from in 1997 from an Elephant Butte bar.

Spain announces it will expel all Jews

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/spain-announces-it-will-expel-all-jews

In 1492, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille conquered the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, finally freeing Spain from Muslim rule after nearly 800 years. Not long after, the monarchs, whose marriage and conquests cemented Spain as a unified kingdom, issued the Alhambra Decree, mandating that all Jews be expelled from the country.

In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella had instituted the Inquisition, an effort by Spanish clergy rid to the country of heretics. Pogroms, individual acts of violence against Jews, and anti-Semitic laws had been features of Catholic Spain for over a century before the Alhambra Order, causing deaths and conversions that greatly reduced Spain’s Jewish population. Having already forced much of Spain’s Jewish population to convert, the Church now set about rooting out those who suspected of practicing Judaism in secret, oftentimes by extremely violent methods. Tomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, is said to have petitioned the monarchs to expel all Jews for years before they finally issued the order on March 31, 1492.

The results were catastrophic. Jews were given until the end of July to leave the country, resulting in the hasty selling of much of their land and possessions to Catholics at artificially low prices. Many converted in order to remain in Spain, with some continuing to practice their religion in secret and others assimilating into Catholicism. Estimation is difficult, but modern historians now believe around 40,000 Jews emigrated, with older estimates putting the number at several hundred thousand. Many died trying to reach safety, and in some cases it is believed that refugees paid for passage to other countries only to be thrown overboard by Spanish captains. While the Ottoman Empire welcomed the influx of Spanish Jews, many other nations in Europe treated them as cruelly as the Spaniards—though Portugal was a popular destination, its rulers issued a similar decree five years later.

Communities established by Spanish Jews, known as Sephardim in Hebrew, formed the foundation of the Sephardic communities that now make up a significant percentage of the world’s Jewish population. The year of the Alhambra Decree was also the year that Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, “discovered” the Americas, and thus it marks the beginning of two centuries of Spanish efforts to force its Catholicism on its substantial colonial holdings. Spain has never had a significant Jewish population since; current estimates put the Jewish population of Spain at lower than .2 percent. Spain formally revoked the Alhambra decree in 1968, and in the early 2000s both Spain and Portugal granted Sephardic Jews the right to claim citizenship of the countries that expelled their ancestors 500 years before.

King George endorses New England Restraining Act

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/king-george-endorses-new-england-restraining-act

Hoping to keep the New England colonies dependent on the British, King George III formally endorses the New England Restraining Act on March 30, 1775. The New England Restraining Act required New England colonies to trade exclusively with Great Britain as of July 1. An additional rule would come into effect on July 20, banning colonists from fishing in the North Atlantic.

The British prime minister, Frederick, Lord North, introduced the Restraining Act and the Conciliatory Proposition to Parliament on the same day. The Conciliatory Proposition promised that no colony that met its share of imperial defenses and paid royal officials’ salaries of their own accord would be taxed. The act conceded to the colonists’ demand that they be allowed to provide the crown with needed funds on a voluntary basis. In other words, Parliament would ask for money through requisitions, not demand it through taxes. The Restraining Act was meant to appease Parliamentary hardliners, who would otherwise have impeded passage of the pacifying proposition.

Unfortunately for North and prospects for peace, he had already sent General Thomas Gage orders to march on Concord, Massachusetts, to destroy the armaments stockpiled in the town, and take Patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams into custody. The orders were given in January 1775 and arrived in Boston before the Conciliatory Proposition. Thus, on April 18, 700 Redcoats marched towards Concord Bridge. The military action led to the Revolutionary War, the birth of the United States as a new nation, the temporary downfall of Lord North and the near abdication of King George III. The Treaty of Paris marking the conflict’s end guaranteed New Englanders the right to fish off Newfoundland—the right denied them by the New England Restraining Act.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

President Obama announces auto industry shakeup

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-obama-announces-auto-industry-shakeup

On March 30, 2009, then-U.S. President Barack Obama issues an ultimatum to struggling American automakers General Motors (GM) and Chrysler: In order to receive additional bailout loans from the government, he says, the companies need to make dramatic changes in the way they run their businesses. The president also announced a set of initiatives intended to assist the struggling U.S. auto industry and boost consumer confidence, including government backing of GM and Chrysler warranties, even if both automakers went out of business. In December 2008, GM (the world’s largest automaker from the early 1930s to 2008) and Chrysler (then America’s third-biggest car company) accepted $17.4 billion in federal aid in order to stay afloat. At that time, the two companies had been hit hard by the global economic crisis and slumping auto sales; however, critics charged that their problems had begun several decades earlier and included failures to innovate in the face of foreign competition and issues with labor unions, among other factors.

President Obama’s auto task force determined that Chrysler was too focused on its sport utility vehicle (SUV) lines and was too small a company to survive on its own. In his March 30 announcement, Obama gave Chrysler a month to complete a merger with Italian car maker Fiat or another partner. Shortly before its April 30 deadline, Chrysler said it had reached agreements with the United Auto Workers union as well as its major creditors; however, on April 30, Obama announced that Chrysler, after failing to come to an agreement with some of its smaller creditors, would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, then form a partnership with Fiat. The merger was complete in 2014.

As for General Motors, according to the conditions Obama announced on March 30, the auto giant had 60 days to undergo a major restructuring, including cutting costs sharply and getting rid of unprofitable product lines and dealerships. Over the next two months, GM said it would shutter thousands of dealerships and a number of plants, as well as phase out such brands as Pontiac. Nevertheless, on June 1, 2009, GM, which was founded in 1908, declared bankruptcy. At the time, the company reported liabilities of $172.8 billion and assets of $82.3 billion, making it the fourth-biggest U.S. bankruptcy in history. GM returned to profitability in 2010. 

Henry Wallace criticizes Truman’s Cold War policies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/henry-wallace-criticizes-trumans-cold-war-policies

Henry Wallace, former vice president and Progressive Party presidential candidate, lashes out at the Cold War policies of President Harry S. Truman. Wallace and his supporters were among the few Americans who actively voiced criticisms of America’s Cold War mindset during the late-1940s and 1950s.

Widely admired for his intelligence and integrity, Henry Wallace had served as vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1941 to 1945. After Harry S. Truman succeeded to the presidency upon Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Wallace was named secretary of commerce, but Wallace did not get along with Truman. A true liberal, Wallace was harshly critical of what he perceived as Truman’s backtracking from the social welfare legislation of the New Deal era. Wallace was also disturbed about U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. During World War II, he came to admire the Soviet people for their tenacity and sacrifice. Like Roosevelt, he believed that the United States could work with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the postwar world.

After Roosevelt’s death, the new Truman administration adopted a much tougher stance toward the Russians. In March 1948, Wallace appeared as a witness before the Senate Armed Services Committee to criticize Truman’s call for universal military training, a program designed to provide military training for all American males of draft age. Dismissing Truman’s alarming statements about meeting the communist threat as part of a “deliberately created crisis,” Wallace denounced the universal military training program as one that would lead to “death and taxes for the many and very handsome profits for the few.” He implored the Senate and U.S. government to strive for a “peaceful foreign policy.” “If we are to compete with communism,” he declared, “we had better get on the side of the people.”

Wallace’s arguments found only a limited audience in the Cold War America of the late-1940s. In the 1948 presidential election, running as the Progressive Party candidate, he garnered less than 3 percent of the vote. Two years later, Wallace left the Progressive Party after it condemned his statement in support of the United States and United Nations intervention in Korea. In 1952, he wrote an article, “Why I Was Wrong,” in which he declared that his earlier stance in defense of Soviet policies had been mistaken. Nevertheless, his criticism of American Cold War policies kept the spirit of debate and dissent alive in the oppressive atmosphere of Red Scare America. In fact, many of his arguments—particularly the point that America’s massive military spending was crippling its social welfare programs—were raised with renewed vigor during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Oil workers drown in North Sea

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/oil-workers-drown-in-north-sea

A floating apartment for oil workers in the North Sea collapses, killing 123 people, on March 30, 1980.

The Alexander Kielland platform housed 208 men who worked on the nearby Edda oil rig in the Ekofisk field, 235 miles east of Dundee, Scotland. Most of the Phillips Petroleum workers were from Norway, although a few were American and British. The platform, held up by two large pontoons, had bedrooms, kitchens and lounges and provided a place for workers to spend their time when not working. At about 6:30 p.m. on March 30, most of the residents were in the platform’s small theater watching a movie. Although there were gale conditions in the North Sea that evening, no one was expecting that a large wave would collapse and capsize the platform.

The capsizing happened very quickly, within 15 minutes of the collapse, so that many of the workers were unable to make it to the lifeboats. The Royal Air Force of Great Britain and Norwegian military both immediately sent rescue helicopters, but the poor weather made it impossible for them to help. Most of the 123 victims drowned. A subsequent investigation revealed that a previously undetected crack in one of main legs of the platform caused the structure’s collapse. The Alexander Kielland sat in the water for three years before it was salvaged.

Eight years later, a fire and explosion on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea killed 167 workers.

Bomb explodes outside U.S. Embassy in Saigon

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bomb-explodes-outside-u-s-embassy-in-saigon

A bomb explodes in a car parked in front of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, virtually destroying the building and killing 19 Vietnamese, 2 Americans, and 1 Filipino; 183 others were injured. Congress quickly appropriated $1 million to reconstruct the embassy. Although some U.S. military leaders advocated special retaliatory raids on North Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson refused.