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10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in April

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Some of our favorite historical figures were born in April—including three dancers who ended up famous for something else. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a handful of lives we'll be celebrating.

1. WASHINGTON IRVING: APRIL 3, 1783

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Washington Irving is best known for writing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, but his body of work is quite extensive—which only makes sense since he was named after a prolific and accomplished Founding Father. Irving got his moniker from George Washington and even attended Washington's inauguration as a child. He later got a degree in law, served as the U.S. minister to Spain in the 1840s, and deserves some props from Batman: Irving was the first person to refer to New York City as "Gotham." He also worked to strengthen copyright laws to protect the work of American writers.

2. MAYA ANGELOU: APRIL 4, 1928

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Maya Angelou was an author, poet, and Civil Rights activist, but her life included periods in which she was a singer, dancer, composer, educator, and even movie director. Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson, was seven years old when her mother's boyfriend raped her and was then killed by her uncles. The experience was so traumatizing that Angelou didn't speak for years. Later she trained as a dancer and actress and earned money performing with touring shows. Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, the first of which was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. The book was banned in many high schools because of its depiction of sexual violence, but became a hit and often even required reading on college campuses. It was the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman.

3. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: APRIL 5, 1856

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Born a slave in Virginia, Booker T. Washington grew up during Reconstruction and the beginning of the Jim Crow era. He worked his way through school after the Civil War and became a teacher. In 1888, General Samuel C. Armstrong, who was Washington's mentor, recruited him to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, now Tuskegee University. Washington built the school into a successful institution and became a national advocate for the education of black Americans. He was an "accommodationist," believing that equal rights for African-Americans could be put on the back burner while they made educational and economic progress. Washington's views drew criticism from equal rights advocates, but those views also allowed him access to national leaders, particularly Teddy Roosevelt. As a result, Washington was one of the most famous black advocates of the early 20th century.

4. BILLIE HOLIDAY: APRIL 7, 1915

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Legendary singer Billie Holiday had a rough start in life. She was born into poverty to a teenage mother, began working as a child, dropped out of school in fifth grade, spent time at a reformatory, and was arrested for prostitution at the age of 15. Soon after, she went to Harlem (Holiday was born in Philadelphia and spent much of her childhood in Baltimore) to break into the entertainment field as a dancer. She wasn't great—but her singing enchanted audiences. Producer John Hammond discovered her singing in a bar in 1933 and signed her to a record contract, and she went on to make hundreds of recordings in the 1930s. Her 1939 song "Strange Fruit" was a protest against lynching, and since her record company refused to release it, she turned to a smaller jazz label to record it. During the 1940s, Holiday added opium use to her drinking problem, and eventually turned to heroin. She continued performing, but during her final years her personal struggles began to cloud her public persona. Holiday died from complication of drug and alcohol addiction in 1959. She became more famous than ever after her death, as her records were re-released and her life was chronicled in the 1972 movie Lady Sings the Blues. In 1999, her recording of "Strange Fruit" was named the "song of the century" by Time magazine.

5. CHARLIE CHAPLIN: APRIL 16, 1889

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Charlie Chaplin was born to parents who were both music hall performers in England, and young Chaplin made his stage debut at age five. He worked in vaudeville until moving to California in 1913, where he brought his physical comedy to the silver screen—making 35 movies in rapid succession with Mack Sennett of Keystone Studios in a matter of years. His output was almost as fast at other studios, and in 1919, he launched United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith. Chaplin's pacifist bent showed in his films, and drew the suspicion of J. Edgar Hoover, who considered him a communist sympathizer. Chaplin's offscreen activities got him in trouble, too. He lost a paternity suit in 1944, despite that fact that a blood test showed he was not the father of actress Joan Barry's child. The case led to a change in paternity laws, and afterward, blood tests became admissible in court. Hoover got his wish to rid America of Charlie Chaplin when the actor went to England for a film premiere in 1952, and was denied a re-entry visa. Chaplin settled in Switzerland with wife Oona O'Neill and children, and did not return to America until 1972 to receive an Honorary Academy Award.

6. CHARLOTTE BRONTE: APRIL 21, 1816

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As an aspiring poet in the 19th century, young Charlotte Bronte was told that her writing showed talent, but she shouldn't pursue it because after all, she was a woman. Despite that, Charlotte—and her sisters Emily and Anne—all went on to became famous authors after publishing their stories and poetry under men's names. Charlotte, the oldest of the three, was listed as author Currer Bell on her first book of poetry, a collaboration with her sisters. It was also the name on the novel Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, published in 1847. Even her publishers didn't know Currer Bell was a woman until a year later, long after the book proved to be a bestseller. Charlotte Bronte wrote four novels before she died at age 38.

7. JOHN MUIR: APRIL 21, 1838

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After an industrial accident blinded him for six weeks, John Muir left his job behind and began a pilgrimage to explore the United States on foot. He set off in September of 1867 on a 1000-mile walk from Kentucky to Florida, studying plants along the way. Muir traveled light, and relied on the kindness of strangers for his sustenance. The diary of his two-month journey was published as A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Muir continued his wandering, falling more and more in love with the natural world. He founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and lobbied to have the Yosemite area preserved as a national park. That was after he and President Teddy Roosevelt spent three days camping in the wilderness in 1903. Muir is credited with inspiring the president to form an entire system of national parks—earning him the nickname, the "Father of the National Parks."

8. ELLA FITZGERALD: APRIL 25, 1917

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When Ella Fitzgerald was 17, she won the chance to compete at amateur night at the Apollo Theater. She had planned to dance, but after seeing the competition, she decided at the last minute to sing instead. Fitzgerald won first prize and set out on a career that spanned the rest of the 20th century. Fitzgerald toured and recorded with Chick Webb's band until he died in 1939, and it became her band. She added scat singing to her repertoire in the 1940s. Fitzgerald fan Marilyn Monroe used her influence to get the singer booked at the Mocambo Club in Hollywood in 1955, which cemented her superstar status. Fitzgerald sang in numerous movies, on television variety shows, and with elite musicians through the '80s. Along the way, she won 13 Grammys and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other awards. Fitzgerald continued to perform as her health declined, giving her last concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991, five years before she died of complications from diabetes in 1996.

9. HARPER LEE: APRIL 28, 1926

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For most of her life, Harper Lee was known to have written only one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, where her father was a prominent lawyer. As a kid, Lee had a close relationship with Truman Capote (who was two years older). He later introduced her to the literary world of New York City after she dropped out of law school. In 1956, her new friends Joy and Michael Brown were so impressed with her writing that they gave her enough money to support her for a year, giving her time to write a novel. Published 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became a hit, earning Lee a Pulitzer Prize. It also became a movie that garnered eight Academy Award nominations (and three wins). Lee never finished another book, but over 50 years later it was discovered that she had written a novel before To Kill a Mockingbird. That book, Go Set a Watchman, had been rejected for publication in 1957. It featured an older Atticus Finch and Scout, and was published in 2015. Harper Lee died in 2016 at age 89.

10. DUKE ELLINGTON: APRIL 29, 1899

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Jazz legend Duke Ellington earned many of the combined accolades of others in this list: 13 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Medal of Freedom, and more. A piano prodigy, Ellington first started writing music in his teens. He took his band The Washingtonians to New York in 1923 where they played the hot nightspots in Harlem, including three years as the house band at the Cotton Club. The band also played for Broadway and on radio, which turned a nation on to jazz. Ellington took the show on the road, and eventually logged over 20,000 performances. He also wrote over 3000 songs. As if all that wasn't interesting enough, Ellington also experienced chromesthesia, a type of synesthesia that meant he saw colors and textures in musical notes. The Duke performed up until his death in 1974, after which his son Mercer and then his grandson Paul took over the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

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15 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Julie Andrews Quotes
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With her saccharine movies and sugary voice, it would be easy for Julie Andrews to cross the line from sweet to cloying. Yet for more than 60 years, the Oscar-winning actress/singer/author has managed to enchant audiences of all ages with her iconic roles in everything from Mary Poppins to The Sound of Music to The Princess Diaries.

Yet just because she sings about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens doesn’t mean that Andrews doesn’t have an edge. “I hate the word wholesome,” she once declared. In celebration of the beloved movie star’s 82nd birthday, we’ve assembled some of Andrews’s most memorable quotes on everything from being typecast to Mary Poppins's personal habits.

1. ON MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM STAGE TO SCREEN

Mary Poppins was the first movie I made and The Sound of Music was the third. I was as raw as I could be. God knows I did not have the right or the ability in those days to say anything like a mentor. The only thing I did feel was that I could contribute to helping the kids feel natural, making them laugh off the set so that they were easy with me on the set. We had some good times." — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

2. ON THE FRIGHTFUL NATURE OF SUCCESS

“Success is terrifying. Like happiness, it is often appreciated in retrospect. It’s only later that you place it in perspective. Years from now, I’ll look back and say, ‘God, wasn’t it wonderful?” — From a 1966 interview with This Week

3. ON SMILING THROUGH CHALLENGING TIMES

“I was raised never to carp about things and never to moan, because in vaudeville, which is my background, you just got on with it through all kinds of adversities.” — From a 2010 interview with The Telegraph

4. ON AVOIDING TYPECASTING

“I think the hardest thing in a career even as lovely as I’ve had is not to go on being typecast, to keep trying new things. As much as possible, I do try to do that.” — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

5. ON BEING A BADASS

“I’ve got a good right hook.” — From Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography, by Richard Stirling

6. ON BEING GRATEFUL

“A lot of my life happened in great, wonderful bursts of good fortune, and then I would race to be worthy of it.” — From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

7. ON THE CHANGING DEFINITION OF “SUCCESS”

“You never set out to make a bad movie. You always hope that you’re making a good one. We’re sad about them, inasmuch as they damage the career. In those days it was important, but not as important as it is today, to keep making success after success after success. It’s terrifying today. You can maybe have one so-so movie but you’ve got to come back with another that’s huge, if possible, and that must be very, very difficult for young talent.” — From a 2004 interview with the Academy of Achievement

8. ON THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF FILMMAKING

“It is a collaborative medium. If you’re lucky, everyone wants to do just that. You never set out to make a failure; you want a success. In the case of The Sound of Music, everyone was willing to bond and make it work. That is the best kind of working conditions. You don’t want to go in feeling that something’s wrong or that you’re not connecting. Thus far I’ve been really blessed.” — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

9. ON HOW THE PROS DO IT

“Remember: the amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he cannot go wrong.” — From Julie Andrews’s autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years

10. ON BELIEVING IN MIRACLES

“I do think that’s true [that miracles are happening every day]. If you can take the time to look. It took me a while to learn that, though some children know it instinctively and they do have wonder when they are kids. But the trouble is, as we grow older, we lose it.” — Interview with American Libraries Magazine

11. ON LOSING CONTROL

“I can’t drink too much without getting absolutely silly. And drugs have, mercifully, never worked, so I think I’m far more frightened of being out of control.” — From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

12. ON FINDING INSPIRATION

"It comes from anyplace. Truthfully, once the antennae are kind of up I’m always thinking or looking or feeling." — From an interview with American Libraries Magazine

13. ON THE REALITY OF “HAPPILY EVERY AFTER”

"As you become older, you become less judgmental and take offense less. But marriage is hard work; the illusion that you get married and live happily ever after is absolute rubbish." — From a 1982 interview with The New York Times

14. ON LUCK AND LONGEVITY

“When careers last as long as mine—and it’s been a lot of years now—I’m very fortunate that I’m still around. All careers go up and down like friendships, like marriages, like anything else, and you can’t bat a thousand all the time. So I think I’ve been very, very lucky.” — From a 2010 interview with The Telegraph

15. ON HOW MARY POPPINS IS JUST LIKE US

“Does Mary Poppins have an orgasm? Does she go to the bathroom? I assure you, she does." — From a 1982 interview with The New York Times

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6 Memorable Letters From Neil Armstrong
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Neil Armstrong, who would have turned 87 years old today, is remembered as both a "reluctant American hero" and "the spiritual repository of spacefaring dreams and ambitions." He was a man of few words, but those he chose to share were significant and, occasionally, tongue-in-cheek. Here are some notable letters and notes written by the first man on the moon.

1. ITS TRUE BEAUTY, HOWEVER, WAS THAT IT WORKED.

There was little certainty about what to expect once Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the relative safety of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. This was not lost on Armstrong, who sent a letter of thanks to the crew who designed his spacesuit.

2. AMERICA MUST DECIDE IF IT WISHES TO REMAIN A LEADER IN SPACE.

It's no secret that NASA's budget has all but disappeared in recent years. Neil, along with James Lovell and Eugene Cernan, had a few things to say about that. The three wrote an open letter to President Obama, urging him not to forfeit the United States' progress in space exploration and technology. It ends with a sobering prediction, and some advice:

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President’s plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.

Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.

(Here's the letter in full.)

3. ALL OF THIS KNOWLEDGE IS YOURS FOR THE TAKING.

In 1971, the children's librarian of Troy, Michigan's new public library wrote dozens of letters to notable figures across the globe, asking them to address the children of Troy and speak about the importance of libraries, books, and reading. Among the replies was this note from Armstrong:

Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking… Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.

4. I FIND THAT MYSTIFYING.

After NPR's Robert Krulwich wondered aloud on-air why the astronauts stayed so close to the landing site (less than 100 yards from their lander), a helpful Armstrong sent over a lengthy letter of explanation, which ended with a little insight about the importance of space exploration (emphasis added):

Later Apollo flights were able to do more and move further in order to cover larger areas, particularly when the Lunar Rover vehicle became available in 1971. But in KRULWICH WONDERS, you make an important point, which I emphasized to the House Science and Technology Committee. During my testimony in May I said, "Some question why Americans should return to the Moon. "After all," they say "we have already been there." I find that mystifying. It would be as if 16th century monarchs proclaimed that "we need not go to the New World, we have already been there." Or as if President Thomas Jefferson announced in 1803 that Americans "need not go west of the Mississippi, the Lewis and Clark Expedition has already been there." Americans have visited and examined 6 locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.

I have tried to give a small insight into your question “Who knew?”

I hope it is helpful.

(Read the full transcript here.)

5. IT CERTAINLY WAS EXCITING FOR ME.

On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo landing, Armstrong wrote a personal letter of tribute to the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, which provided the communications between Apollo 11 and mission control. In part, it reads:

We were involved in doing what many thought to be impossible, putting humans on Earth’s moon.

Science fiction writers thought it would be possible. H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and other authors found ways to get people to the moon. But none of those writers foresaw any possibility of the lunar explorers being able to communicate with Earth, transmit data, position information, or transmit moving pictures of what they saw back to Earth. The authors foresaw my part of the adventure, but your part was beyond their comprehension.

All the Apollo people were working hard, working long hours, and were dedicated to making certain everything they did, they were doing to the very best of their ability. And I am confident that those of you who were working with us forty years ago, were working at least that hard. It would be impossible to overstate the appreciation that we on the crew feel for your dedication and the quality of your work.

The full text is available on the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station website.

6. NEXT TIME, BUTT OUT OF OUR BUSINESS!

After a surprise appearance in "Mystery On the Moon," issue #98 of The Fantastic Four, wherein our intrepid explorers are saved by four mutants in space, this brief note arrived in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's mailbox. Was it real? Who knows. But the sentiment remains: We don't need your superheroes to get to the moon—we have science

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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