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Tag Archive: The Spirit of St Louis


Apollo 13 and President Nixon

Ask anyone who was alive in 1969 what their most vivid memory of a world event was and they’ll likely come up with word of President Kennedy’s assassination or the Apollo 11 moon landing.  To go back in time and replay the mission events that led up to Michael Collins dropping Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface would be nothing but exciting.  This weekend we remember that moon mission that did not result in a lunar landing, Apollo 13, a mission that has been called NASA’s “most successful failure” for the achievement of NASA scientists and three other astronauts:  Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell.

Forty-five years ago the world waited to find out whether these astronauts would make it back to Earth, as chronicled in documentaries like the History Channel’s Man, Moment, Machine: Apollo 13 – Triumph on the Dark Side of the Moon and Ron Howard’s modern classic blockbuster Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon.  But what if Apollo 11 had encountered a similar fate?

In the summer of 1969 the Nixon administration contemplated that outcome.  If something, anything happened to the astronauts on Apollo 11, how would America respond to such a disaster?  Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote a speech for Nixon to be broadcast if Apollo 11 didn’t make it back–specifically if astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were somehow stranded on the Moon.

Apollo 11 mission control

To promote a news series on famous letters on the BBC, actor Benedict Cumberbatch read Nixon’s speech–a “what if?” that we’re fortunate never was actually read by the President.  Here’s Cumberbatch (affecting an American accent) performing the reading:

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Jimmy Stewart Lindbergh Spirit of St Louis

It’s the second time TCM and auction house Bonhams have teamed up to offer screen-used and production-made costumes, props, and other relics from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  A November auction, TCM Presents: There’s No Place Like Hollywood, will feature a large private collection of rare items from Casablanca, including the piano featured prominently in the film where Sam plays “As Time Goes By.”  A lesser seen piano from another scene in the film sold in 2012 for more than $600,000.

One lot features a mannequin display with costume components worn by Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, said to have been used in several scenes in the film.  Many of the costumes and props appear to be the same lots that have been featured in other auctions in the last few years, including various dresses from the Debbie Reynolds collection of items offered by auction house Profiles in History.

Casablanca piano

Costumes from several classic films are on the auction block, including a Clark Gable jacket from Gone With the Wind, Marilyn Monroe’s saloon gown from River of No Return, Jimmy Stewart’s Charles Lindbergh flight suit from The Spirit of St. Louis, Faye Dunaway’s dress from The Towering Inferno, a Jane Russell costume from The Outlaw, and a John Wayne Union Army coat from Rio Lobo and The Undefeated.  Sci-fi and fantasy fans aren’t forgotten in the TCM auction, as there will be costumes worn by Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall in Planet of the Apes, a background crewmember astronaut jumpsuit from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a test dress for Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and a Saruman staff and Aragorn sword from The Lord of the Rings films, both from Sir Christopher Lee’s personal collection.

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