A passel of those born in 1912, when vaudeville was at its height, would shape American entertainment through the movies and television,, including the mold-breaking actor John Garfield (The Postman Always Rings Twice), actor Karl Malden, and dancer/actor Gene Kelly. They were joined by actress Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks and, for later viewers, Grease) and comedians Morey Amsterdam (Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show), Phil Silvers (Sgt. Bilko), and radio and television host Art Linkletter. Chef Julia Child also belongs on this list of media personalities.
Entertainment of a different sort was provided by sports greats such as the skater Sonja Henie, golf legends Ben Hogan and Sam Snead (all three of whom would play unseen roles in the comic strip Peanuts in later years), and baseball legends Babe Dahlgren, Arky Vaughan, and Birdie Tebbets.
The 20th century saw perhaps the greatest advances in the history of science, thanks to the endeavors of ’12 babies Glenn T. Seaborg, Nobel-winning chemist; German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun; cryptanalyst and father of computer science and artificial intelligence Alan Turing; along with electronics pioneer David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard fame). The dismal science of economics would never be the same after the birth of Nobel Prize winner and champion of free enterprise Milton Friedman.
Political power brokers in the “American Century” included Democrats such as former speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and moderate senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, along with Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nor can we discount the importance of first ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon, who lived through tumultuous times in Washington, D.C. Among the Americans sent off to fight the wars the politicians voted for were U.S. Marine fighter pilot Pappy Boyington, an ace over the Pacific, and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who became one of the first black Americans to become a general (in the U.S. Air Force).
Finally, 1912 saw the births of those who fought for individual freedom and dignity, including Pope John Paul I; the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during World War II; and civil- and women’s-rights activist Dorothy Height, who passed away, at the age of 98, in 2010.
One hopes that 2013 will welcome into the world babies who will be as accomplished as these, making a better future for all. Happy New Year.
— Michael Auslin is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.