10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in December

Joshua Moore // Getty Images
Joshua Moore // Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in the month of December. We couldn't possibly name them all, but here are just a handful whose lives we'll be celebrating.

1. Walt Disney: December 5, 1901


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Walter Elias Disney was a sketch artist from an early age, and his cartoons from the 1920s were so successful that he eventually opened his own studio, where Mickey Mouse was born. Always looking for bigger and better things, Disney produced the first full-length animated feature in 1937 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), was an early adopter of television, and opened Disneyland in 1955. But to build an empire, you have to exert some serious control—even over unlikely things. Case in point: For 43 years, employees at Disney theme parks were forbidden from growing facial hair. That all changed in 2000 (four years after Disney's death) when the company decided to let male employees sport mustaches, a logical choice since Disney himself wore one throughout his life. There is a catch though: Employees must already have one when they get hired or grow it out on vacation. The trash 'stache look is not allowed.

2. Sammy Davis Jr.: December 8, 1925


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Sammy Davis, Jr. was destined for show business. Born to two vaudevillians, he began performing on stage at age four, and you can watch his film debut at the age of seven in the short Rufus Jones For President (1933). Davis's career included vaudeville, standup comedy, singing, dancing, Broadway musicals, movies, and TV. He was a member of the infamous Rat Pack, along with Frank Sinatra, whose birthday is also this month. He was also particularly known for his celebrity impressions, which you can see here, including an impressive Michael Jackson mimic.

3. Emily Dickinson: December 10, 1830

Renowned poet Emily Dickinson spent most of her life at home in Amherst, Massachusetts, surrounded by family. While she's often remembered as a recluse, Dickinson did have a noteworthy social life—even to the point of scandal. We can only speculate how her many rumored paramours may have contributed to the passion in her romantic poems.

4. Ada Lovelace: December 10, 1815


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Augusta Ada King-Noel died at the age of 36, but she managed to make a serious mark on humanity in her short life. As a young woman, Lovelace worked for professor Charles Babbage, who developed a theoretical computer in the 1830s. He assigned young Ada with figuring out how to input data to make the computer, well, compute. A brilliant mathematician, she was up to the task, and developed the world's first computer software, a century before there was an actual computer to use it. Take that, modern coders.

5. Frank Sinatra: December 12, 1915


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Frank Sinatra might have had an air of ease about him, but began his life the hard way. The forceps used to bring him into the world left a lifelong scar on his left jaw and mangled his ear. And while he was always self-conscious about his looks, it didn't stop him from becoming an icon. "Ol' Blue Eyes" started his singing career with the big bands of the 1930s, effortlessly moved into the role of a teen heartthrob in the '40s, and began appearing in movies, where he proved to be a natural. In the 1950s, Sinatra had his own TV show, and won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (not to mention his many Grammy Awards). When his record sales flagged, Sinatra became a record company executive, but ultimately made comebacks with his music in both the '60s and the '70s, while constantly adding to his acting credits.

6. Shirley Jackson: December 14, 1916

In the 1940s, Shirley Jackson was a housewife and mother of four with serious literary chops (and aspirations). One day in 1948, she sat down to write about an idea she'd been mulling over. In just two hours she produced the short story "The Lottery" [PDF], about a small town where every year, residents draw slips of paper, and one unlucky "winner" is stoned to death. Published in The New Yorker, it was an immediate sensation—because readers were horrified. The magazine was flooded with calls and letters, people canceled their subscriptions and others still, believing it was nonfiction, inquired as to how they could witness the ritual in the story. Jackson said nothing, preferring her work to speak on its own. She went on to write several more well-received novels, mostly horror and some humor. "The Lottery" has since become a classic think piece, and required reading in many schools.

7. Jane Austen: December 16, 1775

Jane Austen wrote her heart out from an early age, but did not publish her first novel until 1811, when she was 36 years old. Sense and Sensibility sold well, so Austen published Pride and Prejudice in 1813, a novel she completed when she was only 21. Two more novels followed, all published anonymously. It was only after Austen's death at age 41 that her true identity was revealed to the literary world. Two more of her novels were published posthumously.

8. Ludwig Van Beethoven: December 16, 1770


Joseph Karl Stieler via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was in the right place at the right time to fill the void left by the death of Mozart. Beethoven became a rock star in the royal courts and concert halls of Europe, and had an ego to match his fame. When his hearing began to fail at around age 30, he stopped performing and dedicated his life to composing. Beethoven made his comeback in 1824 when he debuted his Symphony No. 9, which became his most famous work ever.

9. Clara Barton: December 25, 1821

Clarissa Harlowe Barton (who preferred to be called Clara) was working as a clerk in Washington D.C. when the Civil War began. She saw a need and went to work supporting Union troops with food, supplies, and medical care. Barton sought permission to bring food and medical supplies to front line clinics, where she was considered an "Angel of the Battlefield." Barton also searched for missing soldiers and worked to identify those in graveyards. She learned about the International Red Cross during a visit to Europe in 1869, and volunteered with the organization during the Franco-Prussian War. Her service impressed Red Cross officials in Europe, and Barton spent the next several years lobbying for the United States to open a chapter—the American Red Cross—which was established in 1881.

10. Henri Matisse: December 31, 1869


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Henri Matisse was the leading artist of the Fauvist movement, though his art evolved during his more than half a century of work. Best known for his paintings, Matisse was also a sculptor and printmaker, but before all of that, he pursued a more practical career path: law. Matisse earned a legal degree and was working as a clerk in a law office when he came down with appendicitis in 1899. His mother brought him paints to use while he was recuperating, and the rest was history.

It’s National Cookie Day! Here’s Where to Score Some Free Treats

UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images
UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images

If you plan on eating as many baked goods as possible this December, now's your chance to get a head start. Today—December 4—is National Cookie Day, and chains across the country are celebrating by handing out free cookies. Here are the best places to snag a treat before the day is over.

    • Great American Cookies, a chain that's concentrated in the southeastern U.S., is marking the day by rewarding members of its loyalty program. If you already have the loyalty app, you can swing by a participating location any time today and pick up your free original chocolate chip cookie without making any additional purchases. The promotion only applies to customers who signed up for the program before midnight on December 3, so you aren't eligible for the free snack if you download the app on your way to the store.
    • The cookie giant Mrs. Fields is also participating in the holiday. Buy anything from one of the chain's stores on December 4 and you'll get a free cookie with your purchase. If you spring for the Nutcracker Sweet Tower, which is made from five festive containers of baked goods, you can send a Mrs. Fields Peace, Love & Cookies 30 Nibbler Tin to a friend for free.
    • But what if you're looking for a free cookie with no strings attached? Surprisingly, a hotel chain may be offering the best deal for National Cookie Day. Throughout December 4, you can stop by a DoubleTree by Hilton and ask for a free cookie at the front desk. DoubleTree provides complimentary cookies to guests at check-in all year round, and every year on National Cookie Day, the hotel chain extends that offer to everyone.

There's no shortage of great cookies across the U.S. If you're willing to travel to satisfy your sweet tooth, here are the best chocolate chip cookies in all 50 states.

License to Bird: Meet the Real James Bond

American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.
American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.

On January 4, 1900, a child was born in Philadelphia. His name was Bond. James Bond. He would not grow up to be a globe-trotting, license-to-kill-carrying playboy spy like the other James Bond. Instead, he became an ornithologist, and lived a fairly quiet, normal life—until someone borrowed his name.  

Bond lived in New Hampshire and England while growing up, and developed an accent that a colleague described [PDF] as an “amalgam of New England, British, and upper-class Philadelphian.” After graduating from Cambridge, Bond returned to the U.S. to work as a banker, but his childhood interests in science and natural history spurred him to quit soon after and join an expedition to the Amazon to collect biological specimens for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

After that, and with no formal training in the field, he started working as an ornithologist at the Academy, and was “among the last of a traditional museum breed, the independently wealthy, nonsalaried curator, who lacked advanced university degrees.” Working at the museum, Bond became an authority on the bird species of the Caribbean, and his 1936 book, Birds of the West Indies, was considered the definitive guide to the region’s birds at the time. 

Despite his many scientific accomplishments—which included dozens of papers about Caribbean and New England birds, more books and field guides, numerous medals and awards and other researchers using the term “Bond’s Line” to refer to the boundary that separates Caribbean fauna by their origin—that book would be what catapulted Bond, or at least his name, to international fame.

In 1961, Bond was reading a London newspaper’s review of the latest edition of his book and found eyebrow-raising references to handguns, kinky sex, and other elements of a life that sounded very unlike his. He and his wife Mary quickly learned that another James Bond was the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, which were popular in the UK but just gaining notice in the U.S. Mary wrote to Fleming to jokingly chastise him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. 

Fleming replied to explain himself: He was a birdwatcher and when he was living in Jamaica beginning work on his first spy novel, Birds of the West Indies was one of his bird “bibles.” He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming wrote to Mary. (Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”)

Fleming told Mary that he understood if they were angry at the theft of Bond’s name, and suggested a trade. “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit,” he wrote. “Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” 

He also invited the Bonds to his home in Jamaica, which they took him up on a few years later. During the Bonds’ visit, Fleming gave James a copy of his latest novel, You Only Live Twice, inscribed with the message “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

For the next few decades, until his death at the age of 89, Bond’s famous namesake caused the ornithologist a few minor annoyances. Once, he was supposedly stopped at the airport because officials thought his passport was a fake, and the occasional bank teller would likewise think the same of his checks and refuse to cash them.

Young women would often prank call the Bond house late at night asking to speak to 007, to which Mary would reply: “Yes, James is here. But this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

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