(Pictured: the Boston Celtics celebrate winning the NBA championship on April 9, 1959.)
April 9, 1959, was a Thursday. NASA names seven military test pilots as the first group of astronauts for its Mercury program: Air Force pilots Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton, Navy men Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, and Wally Schirra, and Marine John Glenn. Over 500 names were originally submitted from all four branches of the service. The number was eventually winnowed to 25 finalists; of the 18 who didn’t make the final cut, three will eventually join the astronaut corps: Pete Conrad, Jim Lovell, and Edward Givens. Tonight, Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy speaks at the Gridiron Club dinner in Milwaukee. He tells the audience that brainpower is more important than atomic, military, or industrial power. “The dinosaur was bigger and stronger than anyone else . . . but he was also dumber. And look what happened to him.” Speaking to a religious group in Washington, Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey says, “It is impossible to win a war with the Communists by military and economic means—it has to be won by spiritual zeal.” CIA director Allen Dulles gives a speech in Lubbock, Texas, titled “Alert to the Communist Challenge.” Architect Frank Lloyd Wright dies at age 91.
The Boston Celtics win the NBA championship, completing a four-game sweep of the Minneapolis Lakers with a 118-103 win. It’s the second title in the last three seasons for Boston. They will win the next seven in a row. The National Hockey League Stanley Cup final opens tonight; Montreal beats Toronto 5-3. The Canadiens will take the series in five games to claim their fourth straight championship. In baseball, it’s Opening Day. At Crosley Field in Cincinnati, the Reds win the traditional National League opener 4-1 over Pittsburgh. Bob Purkey gets the complete-game win; Frank Robinson goes 2-for-4 with a home run and three runs batted in. In the American League, the Washington Senators beat Baltimore 9-2 on the strength of a four-run fourth inning that includes home runs by Harmon Killebrew and Reno Bertoia. In the bottom of the fifth, the Orioles turn a triple play. Game-time temperature in Washington is 89 degrees. For the first time since taking office in 1953, President Eisenhower does not throw out the first pitch at the Senators’ home opener. Vice President Nixon substitutes for him.
On TV tonight, ABC’s lineup includes Leave It to Beaver, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, The Real McCoys, and Zorro. The CBS lineup includes December Bride, Playhouse 90, Yancey Derringer, and Zane Grey Theater. NBC’s offerings tonight include The Ford Show (sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and hosted by Tennessee Ernie Ford) and You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. The Ford Show is broadcast in color. Opening tonight at the Shoals Theater in Florence, Alabama, are The Party Crashers starring Connie Stevens, “Prying the lid off the TEENAGE problem!” and As Young As We Are, starring Robert Harland and Pippa Scott, “TEEN-AGE shocker with a DIFFERENT TWIST!”
In Mason City, Iowa, a pair of eyeglasses is found in the cornfield where Buddy Holly’s airplane crashed in February. It’s determined that the glasses belonged to Holly, and they’re given to the county sheriff. On the new Cash Box Top 100 that will come out on Saturday, Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is at #30, up from #31 last week. “Come Softly to Me” by the Fleetwoods is the new #1 song, ending the five-week run of Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” at #1. “Venus” is #2 this week, ahead of “Pink Shoe Laces” by Dodie Stevens, “It’s Just a Matter of Time” by Brook Benton, and “A Fool Such as I” by Elvis Presley. Elvis has a second hit in the Top 10: “I Need Your Love Tonight” is #8 in its third week on the chart. Ricky Nelson also has two hits high on the chart: “Never Be Anyone Else” at #6 and “It’s Late” at #11. “It’s Late” is one of three songs to drop out of the Top 10 this week; the other two are “Tragedy” by Thomas Wayne, now at #12, and “Alvin’s Harmonica” by David Seville and the Chipmunks, now at #16. Eight songs are new in the Top 40 including two by the Everly Brothers, “Poor Jenny” and “Take a Message to Mary,” at #35 and #38 respectively.
Perspective From the Present: The name of astronaut Edward Givens is not familiar to you because he died in a 1967 traffic accident before he could fly in space. Buddy Holly’s glasses remained in the files of the Cerro Gordo county sheriff’s department in Iowa until 1980, when they were returned to Holly’s widow. The Fleetwoods, atop the chart on this day, would hit the Top 10 with a version of “Tragedy” in 1961.