December 11, 1951 — Joe Di Maggio retires from professional baseball

One of the game’s true greats, Joe Di Maggio played his entire pro baseball career with a single team, the New York Yankees. A center fielder, Di Maggio’s greatest achievement came at bat: his record hitting streak of 56 consecutive games remains unequaled more than seventy years on.

Di Maggio’s retirement came at the end of his thirteenth season, one of the worst he had ever played due to age (Joltin’ Joe was now 37, old for a pro baller) and injuries catching up to him – he later stated that even had he had a much better season, he would still have retired, as he felt that he was getting too slow (and enduring too much pain) to keep playing.

November 30, 1951 — “When Worlds Collide” premieres

George Pal was the producer of some of the most famous science fiction movies of the Fifties – Destination Moon, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and, of course, When Worlds Collide.

Based on a Philip Wylie novel from 1933, When Worlds Collide has a ludicrous plot involving the evacuation of the planet Earth when another planet is on a collision course with it. The ludicrous part is that the citizenry is evacuated to the world on the collision course, which always seemed to me to be kinda frying pan to the other side of the frying pan.

Still, the film won an Oscar for its special effects, and remains a classic of Fifties sci fi, and considering that genre, the silliness of the plot is probably a good part of the reason why.

October 16, 1951 — Johnnie Ray and the Four Lads release “Cry”

Although it took nearly six months to reach #1 on the charts, reach that storied number it did, and made Johnnie Ray a star. The nature of the song, and the quality of his voice, saw Ray given many nicknames, such as “Mr. Emotion”, “The Nabob of Sob”, and “The Prince of Wails.”

In the years that followed, he would have several more hits, some with the Four Lads, some without. These included “Please Mr. Sun”, “Such a Night”, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”, “A Sinner Am I”, “Yes Tonight Josephine”, “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” (which was the 1956 Christmas #1 in the UK) and “You Don’t Owe Me a Thing”.

But no other song ever matched “Cry” in chart performance, or its place in the hearts of his fans.

September 28, 1951 — “The Day The Earth Stood Still” is released

The Day The Earth Stood Still” was a milestone in the history of the cinema. It was perhaps the first truly serious science fiction movie, and certainly the first such film to achieve mainstream success. Before it, and for the most part, after it, science fiction films were b-movies. “The Day The Earth Stood Still” changed that.

Its combination of serious social critique with the tropes of science fiction cinema was a shocking break from the previously accepted notions of filmic science fiction cinema. It remains one of the most influential films ever made, and not merely within its own genre or medium – when Ronald Reagan was President, he made references to the warring nations of Earth uniting against an extra-terrestrial threat, apparently inspired by his viewings of “The Day The Earth Stood Still“. More recently, 2009’s “District 9” has shown that the science fiction film as social commentary is alive and well.

July 17, 1951 — The Bantu Authorities Act comes into force in South Africa

The Bantu Authorities Act was one of the major foundations of apartheid in South Africa. It permitted the forced removal of black Africans to government-designated “homelands” (or bantustans). There were a total of twenty such areas, located across South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) – usually in the less desirable parts of the nation.

The South African government liked to pretend that these were independent states – this made it easy to justify spending very little on them, with the result that the black populations living in them lived in squalor and poverty. Those who had work had to travel to and from South Africa proper each day, for work that was poorly paid, and often unsafe and degrading.

The bantustans were abolished in 1994, when the era of apartheid finally ended.

July 16, 1951 — “The Catcher in the Rye” is published

On this day, in 1951, one of the all-time great classics of teen angst was published. J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” is a coming of age tale in which the protagonist, Holden Caulfield – who is surely one of the least likable and self-aware characters ever to find his home on the page – comprehensively fails to come of age over the course of a weekend spent in New York City.

That hasn’t stopped a million English teachers from setting this book as required reading in the decades since then, and its place in the canon of popular literature has long since been assured, if only by the book’s role in the death of John Lennon. As one of the poor bastard students who was required to read this book in high school, I may not be an unbiased judge, and I apologise for that – but all these years on, I still loathe the damn thing, albeit not as entertainingly as John Scalzi does.

May 8, 1951 — Du Pont Chemical publicly releases Dacron

One of the wonder-fabrics of the Fifties, Dacron was the trade name of a particular polyester sold by Du Pont Chemical – the first from that company and the second overall (after Terylene). Its actual chemical name is Polyethylene terephthalate. It was first sold in New York, where it was used to make a variety of garments, most prominently men’s suits. Although a fashion sensation at the time, it has dropped out of favour since the technophiliac Fifties, and is no longer used as much in clothing.

Modern applications for Dacron include ropes (especially for nautical use) and artificial organs, especially hearts – both applications where Dacron’s lack of biodegradability is desirable.

April 21, 1951 — Codename Easy, an A-bomb, is tested at the Enewetak Atoll

The nuclear tests at Enewetak were part of a series called Operation Greenhouse. The bombs in the Greenhouse series were smaller in size, weight and amount of fissile material used. At the time they were made, the US had already begun creating a stockpile of such weapons in advance of testing.

Operation Greenhouse was not the first test of the Eisenhower administration, but it was the first to take place at the Pacific Proving Grounds (which were, technically, not even US territory, being instead land held under a United Nations mandate). The aggressive testing schedule of 1951 was largely in response to Soviet Union’s first successful nuclear test in August 1949.

Greenhouse George

As mentioned in:

Dr Jeep — Sisters of Mercy

March 29, 1951 — “The King and I” premieres on Broadway

Based on a 1944 novel, “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, “The King and I” was the fourth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (usually just called Rodgers and Hammerstein). The novel is largely a series of vignettes, so the musical adapted the plot of the 1946 film of the novel instead.

On the opening night, Yul Brynner, as the King of Siam, gave a standout performance – one he would later reprise in the 1956 adaptation of the musical. Despite Rodgers and Hammerstein’s worries about the show, nearly everyone else expected a hit – which duly happened, thanks to the strength of the performances and the music and script of the creators.

February 1951 — Ray Bradbury publishes “The Illustrated Man”

First published in February of 1951 (the exact day is, alas, lost to history), ‘The Illustrated Man’ is a volume of some eighteen short stories, loosely connected by a framing device: the title character. The Illustrated Man is a carny worker, and each of the stories in the book is represented by one of his tattoos.

Only one of the stories was original to the book, although several of them were revised by Bradbury to better fit the frame concept.