August 3, 1979: Completely Freaked Out

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(Pictured: Yaphet Kotto, Sigourney Weaver, and Ian Holm in Alien, 1979.)

August 3, 1979, was a Friday. Headlines on the morning papers include a government report that blames operator error for the Three Mile Island nuclear accident last spring. Investigators say that operators interfered with automated safety procedures that would have minimized the accident if left alone. Also in today’s headlines: New York Yankees catcher, team captain, and 1976 American League Most Valuable Player Thurman Munson died in a private plane crash yesterday in Ohio. He was 32. Today’s Yankees game against the Baltimore Orioles goes on as scheduled at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles win 1-0. Also today, President Jimmy Carter swears in Patricia Harris as his new Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Harris moves over from the top position in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Harris move is part of the cabinet shakeup Carter launched on July 18. Provincial elections are held in Iran to select members for a new national council to advise Ayatollah Khomeini and other leaders. Many major parties and candidates have dropped out, calling the elections “undemocratic and unlawful.”

On Navy Pier at Chicago’s lakefront, Chicagofest opens its 10-day run. The second edition of the annual festival was in jeopardy for a while earlier this year after cost overruns in 1978, but Mayor Jane Byrne was forced to back down from her proposal to replace the fest with a series of smaller neighborhood festivals. There are eight stages, each representing a different genre. Tonight, the rock stage is headlined by Jay Ferguson, the jazz stage by McCoy Tyner, the folk stage by Tom Paxton, and the country stage by the Dirt Band. Muddy Waters plays the blues stage, and he is joined by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers. Main stage headliners during the fest include Bobby Vinton, a triple bill of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Fats Domino, the Charlie Daniels Band with Dr. Hook, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on separate nights, Shaun Cassidy, Helen Reddy with Jim Stafford, and Chicago with Orleans. Several Chicago radio stations will broadcast from the festival, and The Mike Douglas Show will be taped at Chicagofest on weekdays. Over 100,000 advance tickets have been sold at $3.50 each. Admission at the gate will be $5.

Future actress Evangeline Lilly is born. The Muppet Movie, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and North Dallas Forty, starring Nick Nolte, open in theaters this weekend. So do The Amityville Horror and The Wanderers, which is advertised with a pull quote from a Newsweek review calling it “Grease with brass knuckles.” During the day, the three broadcast networks air 11 soaps and 10 game shows along with repeats of Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, and M*A*S*H. Shows on TV tonight include Diff’rent Strokes, Hello Larry, The Rockford Files, and Welcome Back Kotter. Following the late local news, ABC shows 15 minutes of highlights from the PGA Championship golf tournament. (Ben Crenshaw holds a one-shot lead after the second round; he will lose a three-hole playoff to Australian David Graham on Sunday.) ABC follows the golf with a repeat of highlights from California Jam II, a rock concert held in March 1978, starring Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Foreigner, and others.

At WLS in Chicago, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward and “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer hold at #1 and #2 on the survey that will come out tomorrow. At #3, Cheap Trick swaps positions with Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” now at #4. No song among the station’s top 12 moves more than one position up or down. The biggest mover within the survey is “My Sharona” by the Knack, up 15 spots to #16. (The debut album from the Knack is new at #1, knocking Cheap Trick at Budokan to #3; Supertramp’s Breakfast in America holds at #2.) Barbra Streisand’s “The Main Event/Fight,” the title song from her current movie with Ryan O’Neal, is up to #24 from #38. “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” by Dr. Hook is up to #30 from #41.

Perspective From the Present: I have written elsewhere that in the summer of 1979 I worked Saturdays and Sundays at KDTH in Dubuque and bunked with a couple of college friends on Saturday nights. One weekend—and we might as well call it the weekend that started on Friday, August 3—we went to see Alien, which had been in theaters all summer. It was the first movie we’d ever seen with a soundtrack in stereo. When the alien sneaked up on somebody from behind and we heard the sound behind us before we saw it, we were completely freaked out. Moviegoers take such effects for granted now, but when they were new, well, damn.

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