January 26, 2020
Day 26 of 366
January 26th is the twenty-sixth day of the year. It is Australia Day in Australia, marking the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the British First Fleet Port Jackson, New South Wales. It also commemorates the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip.
Historical items of note:
- In 1564, the Council of Trent established an official distinction between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
- In 1837, Michigan was admitted as the twenty-sixth U.S. state.
- In 1880, American general and Medal of Honor recipient Douglas MacArthur was born.
- In 1911, Glenn Curtiss flew the first successful American seaplane.
- In 1915, the Rocky Mountain National Park was established by the United States Congress.
- In 1918, science fiction author Philip José Farmer was born.
- In 1946, film critic and journalist Gene Siskel was born.
- In 1954, groundbreaking commenced at the Disneyland park.
- In 1955, guitarist and songwriter Eddie Van Halen was born.
- In 1958, comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres was born.
- In 1961, John F. Kennedy appointed Janet G. Travell as Physician to the President, the first woman to hold the position.
- In 1998, President Bill Clinton, on American television, denied having had “sexual relations” with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
In 1979, The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on CBS. Running for seven seasons from 1979 to 1985, the show was inspired by (and mostly lifted from) the 1975 action comedy Moonrunners.
Both the film and television series were narrated by The Balladeer, played by Waylon Jennings. They focused on the antics and adventures of two cousins – Bo and Luke Duke in the series, Bobby Lee and Grady in the film – who are being raised by their Uncle Jesse, the widowed, overall-clad moonshiner patriarch of the backwoods Southern family.
The county boss – Hogg in the series, Jake Rainey in the film – maintains a stranglehold on the area and bribes local sheriff Roscoe Coltrane. Duke cousin Daisy, whose trademark shorts became an icon of the decade, was unique to the series.
The big icon from the series was The General Lee, an orange 1969 Dodge Charger with the Confederate Battle Flag painted on the roof, which the Duke boys used to run moonshine and escape the reach of the law. An estimated 309 Chargers were used during the course of the show.
In Moonrunners, the car was named Traveller after General Lee’s horse. The car became a major source of controversy due to the Confederate flag, resulting in the series being pulled from syndication in 2015. Merchandise based on the series was also frozen as a result.
(I considered this a bit of an overreach given how the series, more often than not, innocently parodied the stereotypes of the deep American South rather than celebrated the culture’s legacy.)
The big controversy in the show was the introduction of Coy and Vance Duke in the fifth season. The show was consistently among the top-rated shows on the air, second only to the Dallas juggernaut at one point. With that success came huge profits in merchandising, prompting stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider to be concerned over royalties and their salaries. In the spring of 1982, with no resolution in sight, Wopat and Schneider refused to report to work. After significant delays, their positions were hastily replaced by Coy and Vance with the excuse that Bo and Luke had joined the NASCAR circuit. Ratings plummeted, Warner Bros. renegotiated, and the original Duke boys returned at the end of the season.
Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke) considered leaving the show in solidarity, but Wopat and Schneider convinced her to stay in order to keep the show alive in their absence.
The show had two made-for-TV reunion movies (1997’s The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! and 2000’s The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood), two spinoff series (Enos and The Dukes), and at least four video games.
An attempt was made to revive the franchise in the early 2000s with a theatrical film starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, and Jessica Simpson. A direct-to-video prequel followed but flopped, killing the revival.
This show was a large part of my childhood, standing alongside car-centric series like Knight Rider, The A-Team, and The Fall Guy. Despite the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, the series maintains a cult following among fans.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
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