Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Jim Croce, September 30 1973; Buddy Clark, October 1, 1949

Jim Croce
The Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches features two runways.  One is 5,100 feet long and designed to accommodate corporate jets.  The other is 4,000 feet long, 100 feet wide, and handles most of the private and recreational aviation.  On September 20, 1973, a chartered Beechcraft E18S was prepared for an evening flight. Pilot Robert Elliot was ferrying touring rock singer Jim Croce and accompanying performer Maurice (Maury) Muehleisen and comedian George Stevens to Sherman, Texas, for another performance.  Also on board were road manager Dennis Rast and publicist Kenny Cortese. The craft failed to gain sufficient altitude and struck a tree at the end of the runway.  All on board perished in the crash.

Friday, September 25, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Stephen Canaday, September 25 1999

Stephen Canady had, for several years, performed with the Missouri-originated Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  OMD was best known for its early 70’s hits “Jackie Blue” and “So You Wanna Get to Heaven,” both recorded before Canady had joined the band on drums and guitar.  The Daredevils had many iterations, usually centered around founders Steve Cash, John Dillon, and Mike Granda.  Canady had left the Daredevils long before the remake album Jackie Blue debuted, spending time as tour manager for Lee Roy Parnall and Marshall Chapman.  By 1999 he was long out of music, and was working in a camera shop in Nashville.
              On the morning of September 25, 1999, Canady and his friend, Nashville software developer Charles Loudermilk, took off on a scenic flight around Nashville in Loudermilk’s T-6.  Loudermilk was flying with Canady in the jump-seat.  They took of from Nashville International Airport at 10:50 in the morning.  Loudermilk had requested permission for a low-level flight over downtown Nashville, which was granted.  Ten minutes after takeoff, the two had completed one orbit of Nashville; then, the T-6 disappeared from radar scopes, and did not acknowledge efforts at radio contact. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Larry Shue, September 23, 1985

Larry Shue, 39, was an American playwright best known for his farcical humor.  While enjoying a limited film and television career in the 1970s, he is best known for his plays The Nerd, The Foreigner, Grandma Duck is Dead, My Emperor's New Clothes, and Wenceslas Square.  His plays largely revolved around “fish out of water” concepts – the disastrous uninvited dinner party guest “Rick” from The Nerd, for example, or the character “Charlie” in The Foreigner who pretends to not speak English in order to be left in peace at a vacation resort (thereby  only making himself the object of curiosity).  The Nerd started in London’s West End and ended up on Broadway. Shue’s life was cut tragically short in 1985, when the commuter Beechcraft 99 he was traveling in crashed into a mountain on initial approach for landing at Grottoes Grove, Virginia.  Flying under instrument conditions, the plane struck a mountain at an elevation of 2,400’, killing both pilots and all twelve passengers.

#CollisionWithFame: October 18 1925 -- Marv Goodwin

Marvin Mardo (Marv) Goodwin was one of a select breed of major league pitchers: he was a legal spitball thrower. He would also become the first major league baseball player to be killed in a plane crash and the first active player killed.
In the early days of baseball, balls remained in play despite damage or despoliation, and pitchers would take advantage of the wear on balls to achieve breaking fastball pitches.  Some pitchers were especially skilled at doctoring the ball to achieve fabulous breaking stuff.   The grip on a spitball was similar to that of a split-fingered fastball, where the pitch breaks down and away from the batter. In 1920, as part of the effort to recover from the controversy surrounding the fix of the 1919 World Series, the major leagues sought to get rid of outlaw elements, banning spitballing.  However, a group of seventeen pitchers were designated as “legal spitballers” and were exempted from the rules banning pitch doctoring.  Marv Goodwin was one of the fraternity of spitters.
Goodwin came up out Gordonsville, Virginia, and played a total of fifteen seasons of organized ball with the Senators, Cardinals and Reds. Large for a player of the era (5’11”, 170lb) Marv hit and threw righty.  He broke into the majors  in 1916 with the Washington

Friday, September 18, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: June 2 1943: Nile Kinnick

Nile Kinnick, one of the greatest football players in collegiate history, set six school records at Iowa and was involved in nearly every scoring play of the Hawkeyes in 1939.  Kinnick won the 1939 Heisman trophy, the Iowa Hawkeye to win the award, and was the first collegian to be named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year Award.  He attended law school but left to join the Naval reserve, and was activated three days before Pearl Harbor. 
        Assigned to the USS Lexington (CV-16) during her shakedown cruise, on June 2, 1943 Kinnick was on a training flight off the coast of Venezuela when his fighter developed a severe oil leak; he followed procedure and ditched in the sea. A legend grew up that he decided to forego landing on the crowded deck of the carrier and risk fire, but Kinnick ditched four miles short of the Lexington.  He is best remembered for his December 6, 1939 Heisman trophy acceptance speech:

Thank you very, very kindly, Mr. Holcomb. It seems to me that everyone is letting their superlatives run away with them this evening, but nonetheless, I want you to know that I'm mighty, mighty happy to accept this trophy this evening.
Every football player in these United States dreams about winning that trophy, and of this fine trip to New York. Every player considers that trophy the acme in recognition of this kind. And the fact that I am actually receiving this trophy tonight almost overwhelms me, and I know that all those boys who have gone before me must have felt somewhat the same way.
From my own personal viewpoint, I consider my winning this award as indirectly a great tribute to the new coaching staff at the University of Iowa, headed by Dr. Eddie Anderson, and to my teammates sitting back in Iowa City. A finer man and a better coach never hit these United States, and a finer bunch of boys and a more courageous bunch of boys never graced the gridirons of the Midwest than that Iowa team in 1939. I wish that they might all be with me tonight to receive this trophy. They certainly deserve it.
I want to take this grand opportunity to thank collectively all the sportswriters, and all the sportscasters, and all those who have seen fit, have seen their way clear to cast a ballot in my favor for this trophy. And I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Prince and his committee, the Heisman award committee, and all those connected with the Downtown Athletic Club for this trophy, and for the fine time that they're showing me. And not only for that, but for making this fine and worthy trophy available to the football players of this country.
Finally, if you will permit me, I'd like to make a comment which in my mind, is indicative, perhaps, of the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country, and that is, I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather, struggle and fight to win the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre.

Thank you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: The Cursed US Senate Seat In Missouri

August 3 1976: Jerry Litton
October 16 2000: Mel Carnahan

Missouri, the Summer of ’76: Jerry Litton was campaigning for the seat vacated by Stuart Symington, the longtime incumbent.  As is often the case when such vacancies occurred, political ambitions were unleashed all around, and Litton had fought it out against two equally-well-known opponents in the Democratic primary.  In what was the most expensive political campaign ever in Missouri, Jerry Litton spent nearly a million dollars in the primary to best former governor Warren Hearnes and the congressman-son of the incumbent senator, taking 45% of the vote in the three-cornered contest.  Early returns indicated a big Litton win in the August 3, 1976 primary, and Litton and his wife Sharon and children Linda and Scott piled into a Beechcraft with long-time friend and pilot Paul Rupp and Rupp’s son, for the twenty-minute flight to Kansas City.
They never made it. Litton’s last words, via telephone to a campaign worker before he left his home were "we're going to win it big." As Time Magazine reported the accident:

As the blue and white, twin-engine Beechcraft Baron lifted off the choppy runway in Chillicothe, Mo., one evening last week, its occupants had good cause for jubilation. Millionaire Congressman Jerry Litton had just scored a dramatic upset in Missouri's Democratic senatorial primary. Now, accompanied by family and friends, he was headed for a victory party with 1,500 campaign workers in Kansas City's Hilton Plaza Inn. Suddenly, less than 200 ft. off the ground, one of the Beechcraft's engines apparently went dead. The plane banked sharply to the left, then plunged to earth. It tore through a barbed-wire fence, crashed in a soybean field and burst into flames that shot 30 ft. high. Amid the ashes and wreckage, sheriffs deputies found the bodies of Litton, 39, his wife Sharon, 36, and their two children. With them were their longtime friend and pilot Paul Rupp Jr. and his 18-year-old son. It was a ghastly finale to what had been one of the greatest days of Litton's political career.
According to the NTSB’s accident investigation, the probable causes of the crash were structural.  The aircraft’s engine failed on initial climb, resulting in a stall; the likely source of the faulure was engine fatigue, specifically a crack in the #7 crankshaft.  However, the NTSB also noted that pilot Phil Rupp’s failure to retract the landing gear and maintain flying speed contributed to the crash, though how he was supposed to maintain flight speed absent a working engine defies us.
Jerry Litton had been on the fast-track to political stardom.  Coming from very poor roots in rural Daviess County, Missouri, he had made a fortune in cattle-breeding, and by the time he reached the US House in 1972 at the age of 35 he was worth millions.  Litton represented northwest Missouri, generally conservative country but also country that had sent right-leaning Democrats to Congress for years, even as it voted Republican for president.  He made headlines by working with Republican Lowell Weicker on reforms to address executive abuses of power after the Watergate scandal.  Along with youthful Arkansas attorney general candidate Bill Clinton, his name was circulated as a possible future president among national Democratic insiders.  Indeed, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter had readily observed during his own successful presidential campaign that Litton would one day be president. Of all the accidental deaths of rising political stars, this is among the most intriguing.
            The Republicans scored a rare political gain that fall, as state attorney general John Danforth picked up a seat in Democratic landslide of 1976; he was one of four Republicans to do so.  The Democrats had nominated the damaged Hearnes in Litton’s place, and Danforth buried the former governor in an avalanche of cash and charisma. The cash and charisma might not have been necessary; veteran political writer Michael Barone observed in 1977 that “Hearnes’ candidacy meant that the November contest was all but over” before it started. He had once been a good vote-getter, but had left office long ago under a cloud of scandal. 
Danforth was succeeded as attorney general by his assistant, Republican John Ashcroft, who would go on to become governor of Missouri in 1984.  When Danforth retired in 1994, Ashcroft won his seat in the US Senate and his lieutenant-governor, Mel Carnahan, succeeded to the office.  Six years later, in 2000, the two men would face each other for the same US Senate seat sought by Jerry Litton a quarter-century before.
            The national elections of 2000 were divisive, and Missouri was a critical seat for determining who would control the US Senate.  Carnahan was elected to the United States Senate, defeating incumbent senator John Ashcroft by a 48,000 vote margin.  His successor as governor, Lieutenant-Governor Roger Wilson (D), appointed Carnahan’s widow, Jean, to fill the term of office. Ashcroft, now ousted from the US Senate, was named US attorney general by newly-elected President George W. Bush. Ashcroft became the principal architect of the PATRIOT ACT, passed by the US Congress in the wake of the September 11 2001 terrorist attack on the United States. 
Conspiracy theorists contend that the crash was followed by a similar crash that killed notable liberal icon and antiwar Democrat, Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, in the closing days of the 2002 election campaign. These two crashes are used to feed a general conspiracy theory of liberal purge through undocumented and unsubstantiated sabotage.
Notable aside: On September 14, 2001, an ordained Episcopal priest presided at the memorial service at the National Cathedral for the victims of the September 11 suicide plane attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington.  The presiding Episcopal priest? Former US Senator John Danforth.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

#PresidentialDreamCourse Presents "Scarface" at OU Union 9/9/15, 7PM

#CollisionWithFame: The Crash of the Airship Norge, 1928

"Adventure is just bad planning." Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen

At the beginning of the 20th century, the polar regions represented foreboding, alien environments waiting to be explored by man.  Much as the skies captivated the world in the 1930s and the race to space and the Moon captured the imagination of those in the 1960s, it was polar exploration that owned the first part of the 20th century. The efforts of the great Arctic adventurers captured the imagination of the western public, and no man was more of a hero in the annals of polar exploration than Norwegian sailor Roald Engelbert Gravning Amundsen. 

At age 25, Amundsen was first mate on the Belgica, which transported the Belgian Antarctic expedition of 1897-99.  This expedition, the first-ever winter expedition to the southern continent, was very nearly a tragedy.  The lessons learned by Amundsen, especially from the heroic effort of the expedition’s physician Frederick Cook, would inform his subsequent, successful career as a polar explorer. His 1903 expedition to the Northwest Passage exposed him to the survival skills and practices of the Netsilik and Inuit peoples.  All these lessons were applied in his successful 1910-12 expedition to the South Pole, reached by Amundsen using dogsled teams and Eskimo parkas.  By 1925 Amundsen turned to aircraft, flying north in a plane to a latitude of 87 degrees, 44 minutes, and in 1926 he flew across the Arctic aboard Umberto Nobile’s airship Norge. 

Amundsen’s good fortune failed him under the worst and most noble possible circumstances – a voyage of good intentions to save a rival.  Subsequent to the Norge expedition Nobile and Amundsen had fallen out. On May 23, 1928, Umberto Nobile departed on the N-Class airship Italia on another polar expedition.  The Italia reached the pole on the 24th, and turned to return south on the 25th when it encountered stormy weather north of Spitsbergen.  The craft crashed, and ten of sixteen crewmen fell onto the ice and died.  The remaining six men survived the crash including an injured Nobile, but the Italia blew away unmanned, leaving the crew stranded with some supplies and a radio transmitter.

An international rescue effort was initiated, and Amundsen threw in with the rescuers.  He joined pilots Leif Dietrichson and Rene Guilbaud in a fixed wing craft, a French Latham 47 seaplane, to join the search. The rescue team was assembled on June 6, and on June 18 they departed north in search of Nobile.  The craft and crew were never heard from again.  The craft evidently crashed in severe weather, though all hands were not initially lost – a pontoon from the plane was found, rigged as a lifeboat at the end of August that same year. 

                  A Swedish Fokker ski plane piloted by Finnish pilot Lieutenant Einar Lundborg found the marooned Italia survivors, and evacuated Nobile.  He would live into his 90s, dying in 1978 some fifty years after the demise of his rival and would-be rescuer Amundsen.

Friday, September 4, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Randy Rhoads, March 19 1982

Great guitarists are rare, but once established their talents endure forever.  Randy Rhoads was headed for greatness when he had his collision with fame. Emerging on the rock scene as one of the founding members of Quiet Riot, Rhoads had gone on to join Ozzy Osbourne when Osbourne left Black Sabbath in 1979. By 1982, Rhoads had emerged as a true great at age 25.  Then he signed on with a Darwin Award-worthy pilot for a one-way flight.  
            March 18 1982: Ozzy Osbourne and the Blizzard of Ozz played the Knoxville Civic Coliseum near the campus of the University of Tennessee.  Their next gig was a music festival in Orlando.  Driving south all night through Georgia on I-75, the tour bus stopped in Leesburg at the mansion of Jerry Calhoun, owner of the company that provided the tour bus.  Bus driver Andrew Aycock (who had been doing cocaine lines) took off from the bus accompanied by Rhoads and a member of the crew. The rest of the band and road crew stayed on the bus to sleep. 


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: KAL 007 -- The Crash Of The Right Wing Urologist

September 1 1983: Rep. Larry McDonald

Larry McDonald won his seat in Congress as part of the tidal wave of Democrats elected in the 1974 midterm elections.  McDonald, a urologist and prominent member of the John Birch Society, battled former POW and retired Air Force Colonel Quincy Collins-R for a seat that extended from suburban Atlanta to the Tennessee border. The final margin was under 600 votes, after a week-long recount of the vote in several rural Georgia counties.
            McDonald was a Democrat, but McDonald was no liberal.  His voting record in Congress was one of the most conservative of the 1970s, and he was one of only two Democrats to have a “perfect” Christian voting score according to a predecessor to the evangelical organizations that would dominate politics in the 1990s. He testified against the naming of fellow Georgia congressman Andrew Young as UN ambassador in 1977.  In 1978, he publicly opposed fellow Georgia Democrat, President Jimmy Carter, over Carter’s decision to return the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. Sounding ever the Southern Democrat, McDonald decried the proposed Panama Canal stating that “this treaty is backed by the unholy alliance of Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor.” His John Birch Society ties kept him close to controversy, such as in 1976 when JBS members were indicted on drug smuggling charges by federal authorities,  as did his controversial use of laetrile to treat cancer patients in his urology practice.