HISTORY This Week
The Tragic Life of London’s Favorite Clown
March 17, 1828. The celebrated clown, Joseph Grimaldi, rises from his sickbed. Once London’s most energetic performer, he’s gradually been crippled by decades of pratfalls and acrobatics. He can barely manage the short walk to Sadler’s Wells theater, where he’s about to star in a final show. Grimaldi dresses backstage as if he’s in a daze, burdened by a lifetime of personal sorrows. And yet, when the curtain rises, he’ll summon the old strength. He’ll entertain this last of his countless audiences and send them home happy – unlike the clown himself. Who was Joseph Grimaldi? And how did he blend humor, irreverence, and humanity to fundamentally change comedy?
Special thanks to our guests, Andrew McConnell Stott, author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian, and Naomi Shafer, Executive Director of Clowns Without Borders USA.
Wondery & Bloomberg Present - Spellcaster: The Fall of Sam Bankman-Fried04:10When nerdy gamer Sam Bankman-Fried rocketed to fame as the world’s richest 29-year-old, he pledged to donate his billions to good causes. But when Sam's crypto exchange FTX collapsed, billions of dollars went missing, and Sam was in handcuffs, those who knew him were left wondering — who was Sam really? A well-meaning billionaire who made a mistake? Or a calculated con man? From Wondery and Bloomberg, the makers of The Shrink Next Door, comes a new story of incredible wealth, betrayal, and what happens when “doing good” goes really, really bad.Listen to Spellcaster: Wondery.fm/SC_HTW
Mary Shelley Brings Frankenstein to Life27:35June 10, 1816. A storm settles over Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Stuck inside a romantic villa, five writers grow restless. Then one of them issues a challenge: Who among us can write the most terrifying ghost story? The group includes two of the most accomplished poets of the day – Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. But it’s Percy's lover, Mary, who creates an enduring masterpiece: the novel Frankenstein. How did Mary Shelley draw from her life to write this harrowing story? And why have we been talking about it for more than two hundred years?Special thanks to our guest, Charlotte Gordon, author of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley.
FDR Tries to Pack the Court26:14June 1, 1936. The Supreme Court hands down its last decision of the term. The justices have dealt blow after blow to President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, and today is no different: they rule against FDR again. It’s the last straw. Roosevelt is going to do something drastic – try to reshape the Supreme Court itself. Will FDR’s bold move get him what he wants? And how will the Court try to stop him?Special thanks to our guests: Laura Kalman, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of FDR’s Gambit: The Court Packing Fight and the Rise of Legal Liberalism; and Michael Nelson, political science professor at Rhodes College and author of Vaulting Ambition: FDR's Campaign to Pack the Supreme Court. Thanks also to Clare Cushman, resident historian at the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Bonnie and Clyde’s Final Ride31:38May 23, 1934. On a muggy Louisiana morning, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow speed toward the Texas border. They’ve been on the run for over a year—wanted for robbery and murder—and the lurid news accounts of their exploits have made them famous. But today, Bonnie and Clyde’s legendary crime spree comes to an end … in a hail of bullets. Why did some come to view these Depression Era outlaws as agents of chaos the country needed? And what was the real motivation behind their crimes?Special thanks to our guest, John Neal Phillips, author of Running With Bonnie and Clyde: The Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults.
A Teenage Girl Saves France30:43May 16, 1920. Tens of thousands of people surround St. Peter’s Basilica to honor Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl who died nearly five hundred years before. Joan’s feats in battle—and her visions of God—have become legendary since her heyday during The Hundred Years War. And today, the Catholic Church is making her a saint. But Joan was a real person – and while many supported her during her lifetime, many others wanted her dead. Who was this curious figure? And how did her faith turn the tides of a seemingly endless age of violence?Special thanks to our guests: Nancy Goldstone, author of The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc, and Charity Urbanski, associate history professor at the University of Washington.
The Spy Who Fooled the FBI30:51May 10, 2002. Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen is sentenced to life in prison without parole. His crime? Selling scads of top-secret information to the Soviets – and later, the Russians – over 22 years. How did Hanssen get away with his deception for so long, which led to the deaths of operatives working for the United States? Was he a criminal mastermind … or just a guy with incredible luck? Special thanks to our guests: Elaine Shannon, author of The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History, and Eric O'Neill, author of Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America's First Cyber Spy.
Bonus: The Coronation of King Charles III (feat. Katie Nicholl)17:58May 6, 2023. For the first time in 70 years, Great Britain will crown a new monarch. King Charles III will officially take the throne, and his wife will be named Queen Camilla. The coronation itself is brimming with history, the first at Westminster Abbey held nearly 1,000 years ago. Today, Sally speaks to Katie Nicholl (royal correspondent for Vanity Fair and host of the Dynasty podcast) to unpack how this coronation came to be and what it signifies in the modern world.
The World’s First Budget Airline Takes Off29:18May 6, 1949. On the runway at Lindbergh Field in San Diego, a scrappy upstart called Pacific Southwest Airlines, PSA, is about to take its first flight. PSA is a budget airline—the world’s first. Other jet age carriers will offer luxury in the sky, but PSA does not. It’s exploiting a loophole in the American flight system to do things very differently. How did PSA manage to offer flying to ordinary people at prices they could afford? And how did it force an entire industry to reimagine itself?Special thanks to our guests: Mary Boies, former fellow on the Senate Commerce Committee, White House staffer, and general counsel to the Civil Aeronautics Board; Jim Patterson, early PSA employee, and eventually its vice president of operations; and Michael Roach, former lawyer at the Civil Aeronautics Board.
A Concubine Rises to Rule China35:24April 27, 1856. In Beijing’s Forbidden City, one of the emperor’s consorts, a woman named Cixi, has given birth to a son – the emperor’s first heir. This landmark event is met with mass celebration. But in just five years time, the emperor will be dead and Cixi will be planning a coup to take power for herself. How will she ever succeed? Special thanks to our guests: Jung Chang, author of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China and Professor Ying-chen Peng, author of Artful Subversion: Empress Dowager Cixi's Image Making in Art.