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Guys and Dolls Premieres

guysanddollsOn November 24, 1950, the musical Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre. The musical was based on two short stories by Damon Runyon - ”The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure.” It ran for 1,200 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was the fifth longest running musical in New York City in the 1950s.

Damon Runyon was well-known for his stories highlighting the culture of Broadway in New York during the 1920s and 1930s. He often wrote humorous fiction pieces about gangsters, gamblers, and hustlers and used a mixture of formal language and colorful slang in his written dialogue. Realizing that the characters Runyon created and the tales he spun were the perfect basis for a musical comedy, a team of New York creatives banded together to bring the musical to life.  Songwriter Frank Loesser, producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, book writer Abe Burrows, and choreographer Michael Kidd were all native New Yorkers who related to the characters of Runyon’s stories and knew other New Yorkers would as well if they brought his stories to life.

The story followed the blossoming romance between gambler Sky Masterson and Salvation Army-esque missionary Sarah Brown. Nathan Detroit, another gambler, strikes up a wager with Sky, betting Sky that he won’t be able coax a “doll” of Nathan’s choice to go to dinner with him in Havana. The doll Nathan chooses is the very pious Sarah. Nathan’s side story involves the tricky set up of a floating craps game and his rocky love life with his fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide, who is determined to marry Nathan. Other lively characters from sassy showgirls to avid gamblers fill in the missing pieces of the musical to round out an ostentatious and timeless show.

Guys and Dolls was met with immediate approval and success, and has been reprised both on the big screen in 1955 featuring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra and in productions all over the world, including some more recent Broadway revivals.

Sources: Wikipedia, PBS

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Johannes Kepler Dies

Johannes Kepler Kopie eines verlorengegangenen Originals von 1610On November 15, 1630, German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer Johannes Kepler died in Regensburg, Germany. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion which influenced Isaac Newton‘s theory of universal gravitation.

Kepler was born in Weil der Stadt, Württemberg on December 27, 1571. His father was a mercenary who left his family when Kepler was five years old. His mother was an herbalist and healer who was tried for witchcraft later in her life. Kepler took an interest in mathematics and astronomy as a child, and these interests stuck with him throughout the rest of his life. In 1589, he received a scholarship to study theology at the University of Tübingen. While attending school, he studied under Michael Maestlin who was an advocate of the Copernican Theory, which stated that the sun was the center of the solar system rather than Earth. Nearly all scholars at this time still believed the rest of the solar system revolved around Earth. Though he had originally intended to be a minister, at the end of his studies, he was offered a position as a mathematics and astronomy teacher at Graz.

While teaching at Graz, Kepler wrote Mysterium Cosmographicum, an outspoken astronomical defense of the Copernican System and heliocentrism. During the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Kepler, who was Lutheran, was forced to leave. He moved to Prague where he began to work with renowned astronomer Tycho Brahe. Brahe had both the most exact measuring instruments and the most exact empiric data of his time, and from this data Kepler discovered that the orbit of Mars was an ellipse. He noted his discoveries in Astronomia Nova, which details his first two laws of planetary motion. This work was also the first time a scientist documented how to form an extremely accurate theory using imperfect data. This is known today as the scientific method.

In 1612, Kepler moved to Linz where he again became a teacher and astrological and astronomical adviser. He published Harmonice Mundi in 1619 in which he explained the astronomical and astrological proportions of the natural world in terms of music. He also explained what would come to be known as the third law of planetary motion.

During his lifetime, Kepler was never famous, but his articulations of the astrological and astronomical world led to many other great scientific discoveries that better allow us to understand the way the universe works. Suffering a fever, he died in Regensburg, Germany on November 15, 1630.

Sources: Wikipedia, Famous Scientists, kepler.nasa.gov, einstein-website.de

 

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Holland Tunnel Opens

HollandTunnelOpenOn November 13, 1927, the Holland Tunnel, which goes under the Hudson River and connects Manhattan with Jersey City, New Jersey, was opened to the public. As the first vehicular crossing across the Hudson River, it is considered an outstanding engineering achievement.

Most American public works projects are named after a historical figure, government official, or local hero, but because the Holland Tunnel was such an amazing engineering feat, the tunnel was named for its first chief engineer, Clifford Holland. He unfortunately died before the tunnel’s completion. For centuries, the only way to cross the lower Hudson River was by ferry. In the first decade of the 20th century, several tunnels were constructed under the Hudson River for trains to connect major stations in Manhattan in New Jersey. Because of the completion of these tunnels and the rise in automobile usage, interest began to peak in making a tunnel for vehicular passage across the Hudson. Originally, a bridge was going to be built over the river, but this idea was abandoned in favor of a tunnel for cost reasons.

The biggest challenge in building a tunnel for automobiles under the river was how to properly ventilate it. Underwater tunnels were already a well-developed part of civil engineering, but since this was a tunnel for automobiles, carbon monoxide emissions produced by cars could be deadly to drivers if there was not proper ventilation in the tunnel. One of the tunnel’s chief engineers, Ole Singstad proposed building a circular tunnel with automatic ventilation buildings on both sides. The completed tunnel contained four ventilation buildings with 84 fans providing a change of air every 90 seconds. This revolutionary engineering feat made the Holland Tunnel the first underwater tunnel for automobiles with a ventilation system. Some members of the press proclaimed that the quality of air in the tunnel was better than air on some New York City streets. Engineering techniques used in the building of the Holland Tunnel are still the basis for building underwater tunnels all over the world today.

In 1984, the Holland Tunnel was made a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil and Mechanical Engineers. And in 1993, the U.S. Department of the Interior made the tunnel a National Historic Landmark.

Sources: Wikipedia, Port Authority of NY & NJ History

 

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Song of the South Released

song-of-the-south-poster-sizedOn November 12, 1946, Disney movie Song of the South premiered at Fox Theater in Atlanta. The film features Uncle Remus, an African American former slave, recounting the misadventures of Br’er Rabbit and his friends to a group of children. The film has been controversial since its release because of its depiction of race relations. Because of this, it has never been released in its entirety on home video in the United States.

The Disney company was suffering after disappointing box office returns from Pinocchio and Fantasia (both released in 1940), so Walt Disney began to brainstorm something that would be technically innovative and inexpensive to make. In 1939, Disney had negotiated the rights to the plantation-set Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. The film revolves around Johnny, a young white boy, who moves to his grandparents’ plantation after his parents split up and becomes enthralled by the fables told by Uncle Remus, an African-American servant who also lives on the plantation. His fables follow the adventures of Br’er Rabbit who constantly outwits Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear.

At the movie’s premiere in Atlanta, Walt Disney introduced the film and the cast, but retreated to his hotel room across the street because he did not want to hear any unexpected reactions from the audience. It is rumored that James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus, did not attend the premiere because Atlanta was still racially segregated at this point.

Although the movie made a small profit in the box offices, it has become revered as the black sheep of the Disney family of movies for its handling of race and the critical response it received after its release. Many critics praised it for being artistically beautiful for combining animation with live action, but thought the depiction of African American plantation life was cliched, offensive, and Uncle TomishThe New York Times‘ Bosley Crowther wrote that the movie was a “travesty on the antebellum South.”

Despite its critical response, the film received an Academy Award from the wildly popular song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” and the story’s characters still live on in the Disney theme park ride Splash Mountain which features Br’er Rabbit and company as well as music from the film.

Petitions and fan sites have been created supporting the re-release of Song of the South, but Disney representatives have stated on several occasions that the movie is antiquated and fairly offensive so this is not likely. Clips from the movie have been released on Disney compilations, but the full movie has never been released on video in the United States. Out-of-print international versions of the movie have sold online for as much as $100.

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB, Slate.com

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John Milton Dies

johnmiltonOn November 8, 1674, English poet, scholar, and civil servant John Milton died. Milton is best known for writing the epic poem Paradise Lost and for his defense of uncensored publication.

Born in London in 1608, Milton was devoted to his studies and took an interest in poetry at a young age. His father, who was a legal scrivener and an amateur composer influenced Milton’s poetry style by helping him develop a love for music. Milton’s family’s financial status allowed him to be taught classical languages by private tutors and he became fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and obtained a familiarity with Old English and Dutch as well. He was admitted into Christ’s College in Cambridge at the age of 15, with aspirations of becoming a member of the clergy. He was expelled during his first year after having a dispute with his tutor, and upon his return decided he no longer wanted to pursue religious studies and received his M.A. in 1632.

Upon finishing school, Milton returned to one of his family’s homes in Buckinghamshire where he dedicated himself to six years of self-implemented private study. He composed sonnets, lyrics, and various other pieces of poetry during this time. In 1638, he went on a 13-month tour of France and Italy, in which he is suspected to have met many great minds and important people of the time including Galileo, Giovanni Batista, and the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Barberini. He returned to England when he learned of the religious and political turmoil taking place.

In 1642, after returning to England with a 16-year-old bride, Milton joined forces with Oliver Cromwell, an independent puritan political and military leader, as the English Civil War raged on. Milton began political pamphleteering, writing about his support of a variety of controversial topics like the freedom of the press, the morality of divorce, populism, and the judicial execution of King Charles I. He also composed official statements on behalf of the Commonwealth of England while serving as secretary of foreign languages in Cromwell’s government.

When Charles II regained power of the throne, Milton was imprisoned for his support of the downfall of the monarchy and many of his books were burned. He was released a short time later under a general pardon, and secluded himself in the English countryside, focusing on his writing. It was at this time that he composed his epic poem, Paradise Lost. He was completely blind at this point, and was forced to remember things he wanted to write and dictate them to hired aides. Paradise Lost chronicles the Biblical story of Creation, Satan’s rebellion against God and fall from heaven, and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their eventual expulsion from paradise. It is considered Milton’s magnum opus and one of the greatest epic poems ever written. It is hailed for its theological themes, political commentary, and depiction of Satan as the story’s protagonist.

In 1674, Milton died peacefully from natural causes in a small house near Bunhill Fields in England. His work has inspired many other famous writers including Alexander Pope, John Keats, William Blake, and many more.

Sources: Encyclopedia of World Biography, Wikipedia, Poets.org, Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature, Adnax.com, Biography.com

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First Woman Elected to Congress

Jeannette Rankin at a rally in Union Square, NY. (Photo from Getty Images.)

Jeannette Rankin at a rally in Union Square, NY. (Photo from Getty Images.)

On November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin was elected as the first female member of the United States Congress.

Jeannette Rankin was born near Missoula, Montana on June 11, 1880 to a schoolteacher and a rancher. She graduated with a degree in Biology from the University of Montana in 1902 and later attended the New York School of Philanthropy.  After working as a teacher, seamstress, and social worker, Rankin became involved in the women’s suffrage movement while attending the University of Washington. She lobbied for women’s rights as part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in both Washington and Montana and helped facilitate women’s right to vote in both states. She attributed the dysfunction and corruption in the United States government to a lack of female participation.

These feelings led Rankin to begin campaigning for the 1916 Congressional Election with the help of her brother, who was a major power in the Montana Republican Party. She campaigned across the state, traveling far distances to reach the state’s dispersed population. Rankin won Montana’s at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by 7,500 votes, securing her as the first woman to become a member of Congress. This was a major feat not only because she was the first female congressional member, but also because only 12 states allowed women to vote at the time. After she was elected, she said, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”

During her first congressional term she became known for her pacifist position on issues. She voted against the United States entering World War I at the beginning of her term and fought for the rights of women working in the war effort. She also created legislation to help pass the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. After her term ended she continued her pacifist work by serving as a delegate to the Women’s International Conference for Peace in Switzerland and becoming an active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She was also a lobbyist and propagandist for the National Council for the Prevention of War.

She was elected as a U.S. House Representative again in 1939, just after the beginning of World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the United States entering the war. Other members tried to dissuade her from her pacifist stance so that the vote would be unanimous, and she was quoted with saying, “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” An angry mob followed her afterward, and she was forced to hide in a telephone booth and call the congressional police to assist her.

Rankin’s second congressional term ended in 1943 and she spent many years after traveling the world and studying teachings of famous pacifists like Mahatma Ghandi. Before her death in 1973, Rankin actively protested America’s involvement in Vietnam and a new wave of pacifists, civil rights activists, and feminists idolized Rankin for her life’s work.

She set the stage for women’s involvement in politics. The Center for American Women and Politics reported that 184 women ran for Congress in 2012, which was a record breaker for women in politics. Her legacy also lives on through scholarship funds set up in her name and statues constructed in her honor. A play called A Single Woman based on Rankin’s life was written and performed over 200 times in two years, with proceeds benefiting peace organizations and movements.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives, Architect of the Capitol

 

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First iPod Released

The original iPod, released October 23, 2001.

The original iPod, released October 23, 2001.

The first line of the groundbreaking Apple iPods were released on October 23, 2001, approximately 8.5 months after iTunes was released. The unexpected announcement of the portable music player was a major turning point for the world of digital music and Apple as a company.

When Steve Jobs, Apple’s now deceased CEO, was given the first prototype of the iPod, he told the engineers who had worked on it that it was too large. He was told that with all of the technology that was packed into it, it could not be made any smaller. Upon hearing these words, as the story goes, Jobs dropped the prototype in a fish tank. As air bubbles rose out of the drowning iPod, Jobs told engineers that if there was air, there was space, and insisted that they make it smaller. This perfectionism started a revolution in digital music technology.

The iPod was not completely embraced by the general public at first because of it’s “Mac only” status (iTunes was not yet available for Windows users) and its high price tag of $399. Since it was also not the only MP3 player on the market at the time, many were skeptical of its effect on the industry. A New York Times article from the day of the iPod launch said, “It’s a nice feature for Macintosh users, but to the rest of the Windows world, it doesn’t make any difference.” Aside from the skepticism, the iPod began to garner attention because it was able to hold 1,000 songs and boasted 10 hours of battery life – something no other MP3 player at the time could do. These factors, along with its ability to transfer songs quickly from your computer and it’s small size made the iPod turn into a mass market product, selling 125,000 units by that Christmas.

In the summer of 2002, the iPod phenomenon began to take off when they made a Windows compatible version of the device which held up to 4,000 songs. Apple launched the iTunes music store with over 200,000 songs for just 99¢ in April of 2003 along with their third generation iPod which was their lightest version yet and capable of holding 7,500 songs. By June 2003, Apple sold it’s one millionth iPod. By the end of 2003, that number doubled. Sales began to skyrocket and by the end of 2004, Apple had sold 10 million iPods. By 2010, a staggering 275 million iPods had been sold. The iPod Touch with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities was introduced in 2007, and the most recent version of the Touch introduced in 2012 has 16, 32, or 64 GB worth of storage space, and has an audio battery life of up to 40 hours.

In recent years, the iPad and iPhone have overtaken sales of the iPod, with iPod sales only making up 8 percent of Apple’s revenue. While the future of the iPod is uncertain, its legacy is something that will go down in history.

Sources: Apple.com, PCMAG.com, The Telegraph, Wikipedia

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Nobel Prize for DNA Discovery

Watson and Crick with their model of DNA.

Watson and Crick with their model of DNA.

On October 18, 1962, molecular biologists and geneticists James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The prize was awarded “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,” also known as the structure of DNA.

James Watson, a 23-year-old American research fellow, went to work at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in England in the 1950s, and it was here that he met Francis Crick, a 35-year-old graduate student. The two both had a fascination with learning how genetic information was stored in molecular form and began to entertain the idea that they could figure out a molecular model of  DNA’s structure. These ideas were not far fetched – in 1943 medical researcher Oswald Avery suspected that DNA carried genetic information, and that it may actually be a gene. Most thought the gene might be a protein, not a nucleic acid, but still no one knew exactly how it worked or it’s molecular structure. Linus Pauling found that most proteins were alpha helix shaped in 1948, spiraling like a spring coil. A few years later, Erwin Chargaff, a biochemist, deduced that certain nitrogen bases in DNA always occurred in a one-to-one ratio. All of these hypotheses about DNA helped in the discovery of DNA’s structure.

Watson and Crick were not the only people actively trying to break ground on the subject of DNA’s structure in the early ’50s. Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College in London were also studying DNA, using X-ray diffraction to beam X-rays through the molecule, creating a shadow picture of the molecule’s structure. Feeling patronized by most men in her field, Franklin often worked alone, and discovered using the X-ray diffraction images that DNA in its higher humidity form had a helical shape, however, she was not ready to make this announcement until she gathered evidence on its shape in its other form too.

Frustrated with Franklin, Wilkins traveled to Cambridge in January of 1953 and shared these findings with Watson and Crick, unbeknownst to Franklin. Shortly after Wilkins shared this data, Watson and Crick made a model consisting of two chains of nucleotides in a helix shape, one going up and one going down like a spiral staircase. They also used the findings Chargaff had deduced about matching base pairs to interlock the middle of the double helix and keep the distance between the two chains consistent.

Watson and Crick wrote about their findings in the April 1953 issue of Nature and explained that because each strand of DNA is a template for another, DNA molecules can reproduce themselves during cell division which allows organisms to accurately reproduce themselves with the exception of incidental errors, or mutations.

In 1962, when Watson, Crick, and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize, Franklin had already died, and the Nobel Prize cannot be given posthumously. Some wonder if Franklin would have been given the award for her findings if she had been alive.

This discovery is known as one of the most important in biological work in the last 100 years, and it opened up a whole new world of scientific discovery.

Sources: wellcometrust: The Human Genome, PBS.org, PBS Evolution Library, Wikipedia

 

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Marie Antoinette Beheaded

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette, who was the Queen of France from 1774-1792, was beheaded at the Place de la Révolution in Paris, France.

The future Queen of France was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna in 1755 in Austria to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa. As part of a plan to “unite” Austria and France after the Seven Years’ War, and due to the fact that several of Maria Antonia’s female relatives died during a smallpox outbreak, it was decided that she would marry Louis XVI, Dauphin of France. At the age of 14, Maria Antonia married Louis XVI by proxy and was renamed Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France.

At first, Marie Antoinette was considered to be very popular with the people of France. Her first official appearance at the Tuileries in Paris was reported to have 50,000 people crying out to see her. The general public at this time was swooned by her beauty and personality. The French Court had a different opinion of her due to the long-time tensions between France and Austria.

Since the beginning of her marriage and her move to Versailles, the Dauphine received letters from her mother which were often filled with criticism. These criticisms included how Marie Antoinette could not “inspire passion” in her husband who occupied himself with his hobbies, or that she was no longer pretty and had lost her grace. Because of the lack of attention she received from her husband and the incessant criticism of her mother, Marie Antoinette began to spend money extravagantly on clothing and gambling. This extravagant spending would later work against her and how the people of France viewed her.

Marie continued to perform her wifely duties and finally began to bear children with her husband after they were married for seven years. Her spending habits did not cease, and she became known for her over-the-top fashions in the French court. Louis XVI sent large amounts of money to America to aid the American Revolution, which pushed France into further debt and raised taxes, even further negatively affecting the poorer people of France. This combined with increasing unemployment across France and poor crops caused the French people to be filled with resentment for the French monarchy by the late 1780s. Marie became an obvious target for hatred because of her Austrian heritage and her spending habits while the people of France were starving.

On July 14, 1789, revolutionaries stormed the French prison of Bastille, marking a turning point in the French Revolution. That October, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their surviving two children were taken from the Palace of Versailles and put under house arrest at the Tuileries of Paris. In September of 1792, it was officially declared that the French monarchy had fallen. Louis XVI was separated from his family and was executed by guillotine in January of 1793.

Mourning the loss of her husband, Marie Antoinette became severely depressed, refused to eat, and suffered from tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer. She was charged with treason on the morning of October 16, 1793 after two days of court proceedings and was paraded around Paris for several hours in an open cart with her hair cut off. She was beheaded around noon that same day and her last words were, “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it,” after she stepped on her executioner’s foot.

Sources: Wikipedia, MentalFloss.com

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I Love Lucy Day

I Love Lucy DayOctober 15 is I Love Lucy Day!

I Love Lucy, an award-winning sitcom starring quirky husband and wife duo Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, premiered on American television on this day in 1951. The show’s premise revolved around Desi, a Cuban-born singer and bandleader, and Lucy, a housewife with the uncanny ability to get her husband or herself in trouble whenever she tried to break into show business (which was quite often).

The show’s concept was based off of a radio show Ball starred in for two years which was mildly popular called “My Favorite Husband.” Taking this concept to the new media of television and bringing her real-life husband with her, I Love Lucy was born. The show skyrocketed Lucille Ball into stardom after spending years as a B movie actor because of her knack for slapstick physical comedy, and her creation of a character America simply could not live without. I Love Lucy was the first scripted TV show to be shot in front of a live studio audience on 35 mm film. Rather than just shooting with one camera, the show was shot with three, so that the director would not have to retake the same scene several times to get all the different shots needed. Scenes were often not re-shot even if the actors made mistakes with their lines. Instead, they would improvise to get extra laughs from the live audience.

During the show’s run, Desi and Lucy created their own production company called “Desilu” to produce the show themselves and thus have greater control over their own work. Part of Desilu’s legacy in television was the creation of the rerun. When Lucy gave birth to her and Desi’s two children, she needed time to recover, so older episodes of the show were rerun much to America’s approval.

I Love Lucy DayAfter an incredibly successful 10 years, Lucy and Desi decided to cancel the show. The overwhelming pressures of the industry and living a life in the spotlight became too much for the couple, and they were soon after divorced. Ball became the president of Desilu and shortly after made a return to television with The Lucy Showonce again portraying the well-loved character she created and featuring one of her I Love Lucy co-stars, Vivian Vance. Though it never reached the status that I Love Lucy did in sitcom history, The Lucy Show (later called Here’s Lucy) enjoyed a successful combined twelve-year run.

I Love Lucy won five Emmy awards including “Best Situation Comedy” and “Best Comedienne” (Lucille Ball) plus several other nominations. The show was ranked #2 on TV Guide‘s “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time” in 2002, second only to Seinfeld, and was also listed on Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME” in 2007.  Reruns of I Love Lucy are still broadcast all over the world, and it has an American audience of 40 million each year.

Watch a montage of some of the most hilarious moments of I Love Lucy here!

Sources: Every Day is SpecialWikipedia, PBS.org

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