Did you realize that Marshal Josef Pilsudski, the Polish patriot, died 50 years ago?
Were you aware that Alcoholics Anonymous is 50 years old?
Also the American Go Association, the National Council of Negro Women, the Flying Fortress, "The 39 Steps" and Bugs Bunny?
Hardly a week went by this year that someone didn't reminisce about something that happened in 1935. Social Security started. The beer can was invented. So was Partisan Review. The Apollo Theater in Harlem opened, as did the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Touchdown Club and the dance career of Erick Hawkins.
And Benny Goodman, winding up a disastrous tour of the East, brought his band to the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles and -- in one thrilling, thoroughly publicized performance that brought the dancers clustering open-mouthed around the bandstand -- officially inaugurated the Swing Era.
Elvis Presley was born 50 years ago. So were Woody Allen, Julie Andrews, Diahann Carroll, Bob Denver (Bob Denver?), Phil Donahue, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Mathis, Luciano Pavarotti, Bobby Vinton and Gene Wilder.
None of them got much publicity at the time. The ones who died that year got rather more. Like Alfred Dreyfus, whose spy trial had torn Europe apart for a generation over the issue of anti-Semitism. He was 75. And Col. T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, killed in a motorcycle accident at 46. And Will Rogers, lost in a plane crash at 56. And Auguste Escoffier, the genius cook, at 88. And the luckless silver heiress Baby Doe Tabor, found frozen to death in her shack outside the Matchless Mine. And painter Childe Hassam. And Ma Barker, gunned down by the FBI in her Florida hideout; Huey Long, gunned down in the Louisiana capitol; Dutch Schultz, gunned down in a Newark restaurant men's room. Evangelist Billy Sunday died in bed, as did Oliver Wendell Holmes, at 94, the great jurist who once sighed, "Oh, to be 70 again!"
Actually, if you sit down and think about 1935, not a great deal comes to mind. It's not one of those red-letter years like, say, 1914, or 1492 or 1066. It sort of loses itself in that gray period we dismiss as "the '30s," Prohibition and gangsters, bread lines, bitter strikes and the New Deal. Yet, looked at more closely, the year definitely has a flavor.
It was the year that Persia became Iran, the Saar region voted to return to Germany and Mussolini's troops invaded Ethiopia to preview World War II and expose the impotence of the League of Nations. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was killed, inspiring President Roosevelt to try to pack the Supreme Court, which had just moved into its new $10 million building.
Mary Pickford divorced Douglas Fairbanks that year. Adm. Byrd returned from the Antarctic. The Moscow subway opened. George V celebrated his 25th anniversary. The Scottsboro Boys won a new trial, and Bruno Richard Hauptmann, in what everybody confidently labeled "The Trial of the Century," was convicted of kidnaping and killing the Lindbergh baby. Barbara Hutton, the dime-store heiress, married Count Haugwitz-Reventlow. Jim Braddock beat Max Baer and Joe Louis destroyed both Baer and Primo Carnera.
And Bronco Charlie Miller, the last Pony Express rider, ceremonially delivered an airmail package to a waiting plane.
It was the year of "Porgy and Bess" and John O'Hara's "Butterfield 8." Maxwell Perkins managed to harness the volcanic word flow of Thomas Wolfe enough to publish "Of Time and the River." The Federal Theatre Project started. It was the year of the frightening Nuremberg Rally, the "Triumph of the Will" rally, 100,000 Nazis parading under the swastika that had just been proclaimed the official flag of Germany. It was the year Manuel Quezon was inaugurated as president of the newly independent Philippines. It was a year of headlines for Father Coughlin, the hate-monger; and Alvin Karpis, the gunman; and Eliot Ness, the G-man who nailed Al Capone. And publicity mills, still themselves in their infancy, followed the China Clipper on its seven-day trip from Alameda, Calif., to Manila, the first commercial flight across the Pacific.
A month later, in December, the prototype Douglas DC3 first took to the air.
For Robert H. Goddard it was a nothing year of failure and obscurity, as the government finally and formally rejected his rocket designs. He was to die a decade later, even as Wernher von Braun and other German scientists were telling U.S. Army debriefers that Goddard's pioneering work had taught them everything they knew about rockets.
So much for 1935, a year remembered today mainly through our mania for anniversarizing. The things we memorialize tell more about us, perhaps, than about the time itself. The biggest headlines went to the 50th birthday of Warner Brothers' cartoons: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweetie Pie and Sylvester. The Silly Symphonies of Walt Disney had had their day. The era of Looney Tunes had begun.