118 People, Events and Things Name-Checked in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Complete With Comic Book Connections
As supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower led the massive invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that began on D-Day (June 6) in 1944.
In 1952, leading Republicans convinced Eisenhower — then in command of NATO forces in Europe — to run for president. Under the slogan “I Like Ike” and with Richard Nixon as his running mate, he won a convincing victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson and would go on to serve two terms in the White House.
During his presidency, Eisenhower managed Cold War-era tensions with the Soviet Union under the looming threat of nuclear weapons, ended the war in Korea in 1953 and authorized a number of covert anti-communist operations by the CIA around the world.
On the homefront, where Americans enjoyed a period of relative prosperity, Eisenhower strengthened Social Security, increased the minimum wage, authorized construction of the Interstate Highway System, and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He also sent federal troops to Little Rock in 1957 to enforce integration of a high school and signed legislation providing federal protection for black voters — the first such legislation passed in the U.S. since Reconstruction.
After leaving office, Eisenhower retired to his farm in Gettysburg, PA, where he published his memoirs. He died March 28, 1969; among the many eulogies and tributes to his life that appeared after his death was this biographical comic from Dell with art by Jose Delbo.
On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced he had successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus behind the crippling childhood disease known as polio.
It’s almost impossible for us today to understand the impact this news had on the world. Just the year before, there were 58,000 new cases of polio in the U.S. and 3,000 people (mostly children) who died from the disease. In the first decades of the 20th century, treatments were limited to quarantines and the “iron lung,” a metal coffin-like contraption that aided respiration.
Dr. Salk first conducted research on viruses in the 1930s when he was a medical student at New York University. In 1947, he became head of a research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh and the next year was awarded a grant to study the polio virus.
In 1954, clinical trials using the Salk vaccine began on nearly two million American schoolchildren. The vaccine was announced safe in April 1955, and a nationwide inoculation campaign began almost immediately. New polio cases in the U.S. dropped to under 6,000 in 1957; today, only a handful of cases are reported worldwide every year.
Early issues of Wonder Woman featured “wonder women of history” — the eighth issue in 1944 profiled Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an early 20th-century Australian nurse who developed a breakthrough treatment for “infantile paralysis” (polio) and whose principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physiotherapy.
From the irony department: Shortly after this issue was published, Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston would contract polio himself and was confined to his bed by the end of the war. He died of cancer in 1947.
23. England’s Got a New Queen
On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was formally crowned the new monarch of the United Kingdom at London’s Westminster Abbey. After the coronation, millions of rain-drenched spectators cheered the 27-year-old queen and her 30-year-old husband, Prince Philip, as they passed along a five-mile procession route in a gilded horse-drawn carriage.
Born in 1926, Elizabeth was the first-born daughter of Prince George, the second son of King George V. When her grandfather died in 1936, her uncle was proclaimed King Edward VIII. He abdicated later that year to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, and Elizabeth’s father was proclaimed King George VI in his place.
On the queen’s 90th birthday in 2016, a poll found the monarchy remained popular with the British public, with 76% of those polled preferring the current monarchy compared to 17% favoring a republic, and 70% believing she should not retire. (Attitudes are different in other parts of the former British Empire; for instance, only a slight majority of Canadians polled — 55% — favored continuing ties with the British monarchy after the Queen’s reign ends.)
This ad from the Garcelon Stamp Co. of Calais, ME, appeared in Eastern Color’s Personal Love #30 (1954); it offered free Elizabeth II Empire Stamps (“All genuine! All different!”) from all corners of the world: Seychelles, Ceylon, Falkland Islands, Australia, Tristan da Cunha, South Africa…. um.
Kind of missing one corner of the world, aren’t we, stamp guys? Mounties, moose, poutine, ketchup chips, singers singing about ironic things that aren’t really all that ironic… any of this ringing a bell?
Born Rocco Marchegiano in 1923, Rocky Marciano was the oldest of six children raised in an Italian neighborhood in Brockton, Mass. Marciano played football and baseball in his hometown, but he never boxed until he was drafted into the Army in 1943. After failing to join the Chicago Cubs, Marciano decided to fight professionally. Under the watch of his trainer, Charley Goldman, he rose steadily through the heavyweight division, winning 24 straight fights between 1948 and 1949.
On September 23, 1952, Marciano faced World Heavyweight Champion Jersey Joe Walcott. In the 13th round, Walcott used his trademark feint to set up his right hand, but Marciano’s “Suzie Q” (his devastating right hook) landed first, causing Walcott to slump to his knees with his arm draped over the ropes. He lay motionless long after he had been counted out and Marciano became the new World Heavyweight Champion.
Marciano retired undefeated, with a 49-0 record (with 43 KOs), in 1956 at age 31, telling the world he wanted to spend more time with his family. He died in a small-plane crash in 1969.
In this “Sports Highlights of the Century” feature, Lev Gleason’s Boy Comics #90 (1953) recounts the fight between Marciano and Joe Louis that took place Oct. 26, 1951, at Madison Square Garden. It was Louis’s last career bout.
Born to Polish and Italian immigrants in 1919, pianist and singer Wladziu Valentino Liberace — just “Liberace” to his fans — at the height of his career was the world’s highest-paid entertainer, performing in Las Vegas and touring internationally to sold-out venues.
He was so famous by the early 1950s that he was name-checked in the Chordettes’ 1954 smash single “Mr. Sandman” (“Give him a lonely heart like Pagliacci/And lots of wavy hair like Liberace”). His appearances on early television shows — including his own 15-minute The Liberace Show, which debuted July 1, 1952 — only added to his fame.
When he wasn’t appearing in Vegas or coming up with even more outrageous costumes and props for his act, “Mr. Showmanship” would go on to appear on several other TV shows in the 1960s and ’70s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, The Monkees, The Muppet Show, Kojak, Saturday Night Live…
…and Batman, where he appeared in two Season 2 episodes as both concert pianist Chandell and his gangster twin brother Harry. According to Joel Eisner’s The Official Batman Batbook, the two episodes guest-starring Liberace were the highest-rated of all the show’s episodes. In Back to the Batcave, Adam West recalled that Liberace was liked very much backstage: “At lunch periods, he would sit at the piano and say, ‘What do you want me to play?’ He would play anything.”
26. Santayana Good-Bye
Born in Madrid in 1863, Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás — better known to English readers as George Santayana — died in Rome Sept. 26, 1952. A philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, Santayana is mostly known today for his aphorisms like his often-quoted “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
His work was also hugely influential on 20th-century philosophers and thinkers, not least the many students who studied under him at Harvard (including T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein and W.E.B. Du Bois).
Chuck Jones did not go to Harvard. However, the man behind many of the greatest animated shorts ever made once used Santayana’s description of fanaticism — “redoubling your effort after you’ve forgotten your aim” — to describe his cartoons starring Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.