Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, to a family of sharecroppers. Growing up, he excelled at sports and attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was the first athlete to letter in four varsity sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. After financial difficulties forced Robinson to drop out of UCLA, he joined the army in 1942 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After protesting instances of racial discrimination during his military service, Robinson was court-martialed in 1944. Ultimately, though, he was honorably discharged. After the army, Robinson played for a season in the Negro American League. In 1945, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, recruited Robinson, who was known for his integrity and intelligence as well as his talent, to join one of the club’s farm teams. In 1947, Robinson was called up to the Majors and soon became a star infielder and outfielder for the Dodgers, as well as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In 1949, the right-hander was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player and league batting champ. Robinson played on the National League All-Star team from 1949 through 1954 and led the Dodgers to six National League pennants and one World Series, in 1955. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. Despite his talent and success as a player, Robinson faced tremendous racial discrimination throughout his career, from baseball fans and some fellow players. Additionally, Jim Crow laws prevented Robinson from using the same hotels and restaurants as his teammates while playing in the South. After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson became a businessman and civil rights activist. He died October 24, 1972, at age 53, in Stamford, Connecticut. 1912 Molly Brown avoids sinking with the Titanic A 20th century version of the strong and resourceful women of the Wild West, Molly Brown wins lasting fame by surviving the sinking of the Titanic. Molly Brown was an unlikely candidate for fame and fortune. Born Margaret Tobin in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, she was the daughter of an impoverished ditch-digger. When she was a teenager, she went west and joined her brother, who was working in the booming silver mining town of Leadville, Colorado. She caught the eye of James J. Brown, the manager of a local silver mine, and the couple married in 1886. Not long after the marriage, James J. Brown discovered a fabulously profitable deposit of gold. Almost overnight, the Browns became enormously rich. The couple moved to Denver, bought a beautiful mansion, and tried unsuccessfully to become a part of the exclusive high society of the city. A flamboyant woman with a forceful personality, Molly appears to have been too much for Denver’s bluebloods to handle. Apparently, she was also more than her husband could handle, and the couple soon separated. Supported by a sizeable income from her estranged husband, Brown abandoned the narrow social life of Denver to travel the world. Whereas the Denver elite had dismissed her as a coarse upstart, socially prominent eastern families like the Astors and Vanderbilts prized her frank western manners and her thrilling stories of frontier life. Brown’s rise to national fame began on this night in 1912, while she was aboard the Titanic, returning from a European trip. After the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, Brown was tossed into a lifeboat. She took command of the little boat and helped rescue a drowning sailor and other victims. To keep spirits up, she regaled the anxious survivors with stories of her life in the Old West. When newspapers later learned of Brown’s courageous actions, they promptly dubbed her “the unsinkable Mrs. Brown” and she became an international heroine. Eventually, Brown’s money ran out and she faded from the public view, dying in modest circumstances in New York City in 1932. However, the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown revived her fame for a new generation in 1960. 1990 Film star Greta Garbo dies On this day in 1990, the beautiful, enigmatic Swedish film star Greta Garbo dies at the age of 84, in New York City. Born Greta Gustaffson, Garbo grew up in poverty in Stockholm, working in a barber shop and later in a department store to help support her family after her father died. From 1922 to 1924, Garbo studied on scholarship at the Stockholm Royal Dramatic Theater’s acting school. She was discovered by the director Mauritz Stiller, who cast her in his epic film The Legend of Gosta Berling and gave her the stage name Garbo. When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered Stiller a film contract, he took Garbo with him to Hollywood. She made her American film debut in 1926’s The Torrent, and quickly became a sensation. By the end of the 1920s, Garbo was playing the leading lady–on- and off-screen–opposite John Gilbert, the preeminent silent film actor of the day, in Flesh and the Devil and Love, among other films. Garbo made her sound debut in 1930’s Anna Christie; the film’s tagline was “Garbo Talks!” Her husky voice and thick accent only increased her exotic, mysterious appeal, and Garbo would reign supreme among Hollywood’s A-list actresses throughout the 1930s. She stood out in a star-studded cast in Grand Hotel (1932), the film in which she famously declared “I want to be alone,” as well as in a reunion with Gilbert (whose career in the era of sound did not fare so well) in Queen Christina (1933). Two later performances, in Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936), both won her Best Actress honors from the New York Film Critics. Garbo’s first comedy–marketed as “Garbo Laughs!”–was the acclaimed Ninotchka (1939), directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The coming of World War II cut off the European market, where Garbo’s films had always been more popular than in the United States, and when MGM refused to meet her salary demands, Garbo announced her retirement. Though she intended to return to work in Hollywood after the war ended, the planned projects never came to fruition. Despite three nominations, Garbo never won an Academy Award for Best Actress. She was given an honorary Oscar in 1955, however, for what the Academy called “a series of luminous and unforgettable performances.” Known as the “Swedish Sphinx” for her unreadable image onscreen and her legendary aloofness, Garbo did no interviews after the early years of her career and declined to participate in the autograph-signing, public appearances and other trappings of the movie star life. She was never known to have married, but her love affairs–with Gilbert and others–inspired endless speculation. Having become an American citizen in 1951, she spent much of her post-Hollywood life living in New York, though she traveled frequently to Europe.