On March 31, 1999, the writing and directing sibling team of Lana and Lilly Wachowski release their second film, the mind-blowing science-fiction blockbuster The Matrix.
Born and raised in Chicago, the Wachowskis both dropped out of college and started a house-painting and construction business before they got into the film industry. They collaborated on two screenplays, the second of which was made into the action movie Assassins (1995), starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas. A year later, the Wachowskis wrote, directed and executive-produced their debut film, Bound. Critics praised the relatively low-budget crime thriller, about lesbian lovers who steal from the mob, and it became a cult hit.
The siblings’ next project, however, brought them to a whole new level. Filmed for $70 million, The Matrix was a stylish, innovative and visually spectacular take on a familiar premise–that humans are unknowing inhabitants of a world controlled by machines–central to films such as Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Matrix starred Keanu Reeves as a computer hacker who learns that human-like computers have created a fake world, the Matrix, to enslave the remaining humans while keeping them in the dark about their dire fate. Guided by the sleek, mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), the hacker is dubbed Neo and told he alone can play the crucial role in deciding the fate of the world. Packed with slow-motion camera tricks and references from a myriad of sources–including comic books, the Bible, Lewis Carroll, Eastern philosophy and film noir—The Matrix also stunned viewers with its Hong Kong-style fight scenes, choreographed by the martial-arts master Yuen Wo Ping and performed with the help of invisible wires allowing the characters to fly through the air. Greeted with enthusiasm by computer-gaming fanatics and mainstream audiences alike, The Matrix earned a staggering $470 million worldwide and won four Academy Awards, for Best Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound.
The Wachowskis had always envisioned The Matrix as a trilogy, and they shot back-to-back sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, in Australia. Released six months apart in 2003, they were generally agreed to be less successful than the original film. All in all, however, the franchise–including a best-selling video game, Enter the Matrix–earned the production company, Warner Brothers, more than $1 billion. The Wachowskis, meanwhile, became famously reclusive, refusing to promote the Matrix sequels or give interviews.
As a follow-up to their phenomenal success, the Wachowskis wrote and produced for Animatrix, a series of short films based on The Matrix, and wrote and produced the provocative action thriller V for Vendetta (2006). In 2008, the Wachowskis returned to directing (as well as writing and producing) with Speed Racer, a film adaptation of the Japanese anime series by the same name. Later films include Cloud Atlas (2012) and Jupiter Ascending (2015).
The financial risk of mounting a Broadway musical is so great that few productions ever make it to the Great White Way without a period of tryouts and revisions outside of New York City. This was as true in the 1940s as it is today, and especially so during the war years, when the producers of an innovative little musical called Away We Go had real concerns about their show’s commercial viability. Even with lyrics and music by two of theater’s leading lights, Away We Go was believed by many to be a flop in the making. Indeed, an assistant to the famous gossip columnist Walter Winchell captured the prevailing wisdom in a telegram sent from New Haven, Connecticut, during the show’s out-of-town tryout. His message read: “No girls. No legs. No chance.” This would prove to be one of the most off-base predictions in theater history when the slightly retooled show opened on Broadway on March 31, 1943 under a new title—Oklahoma!—and went on to set a Broadway record of 2,212 performances before finally closing 5 years later.
What was it that made Oklahoma! seem so risky? For one, it was the first show undertaken by the already legendary composer Richard Rodgers without his longtime partner, Lorenz Hart. Hart’s drinking and other personal problems had rendered him unable to work by 1942, so Rodgers would undertake his next project with a new partner, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. While Rodgers and Hammerstein almost instantly clicked as a songwriting duo, the creative chances they were taking with Oklahoma! were significant. The show had no big-name stars involved in it, it was based on relatively obscure source material and it was an ambitious experiment in integrating music and dance in service of storytelling rather than spectacle. At a time when Broadway musicals always opened with a “bang,” Oklahoma! would open with a lone cowboy singing a gentle idyll about corn and meadows.
From the very first moment on opening night, however, Oklahoma! hit a nerve. The show’s choreographer, the legendary Agnes DeMille, later recalled the audience reaction to that opening number, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’: “[It] produced a sigh from the entire house, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard in the theater. It was just, ‘aaaahh…’ It was perfectly lovely, and deeply felt.” Of the reaction to the title song, “Oklahoma!,” actress Joan Roberts, the original Laurey, said, “The applause was so deafening, and it continued and continued. We repeated two encores, and we stood there, until they stopped applauding! And I didn’t think they ever would!” That famous number had been changed from a solo to a full-cast showstopper only weeks earlier, during the show’s final tune-ups in Boston before the beginning of its history-making Broadway run on this day in 1943.
On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower is dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers.
In 1889, to honor of the centenary of the French Revolution, the French government planned an international exposition and announced a design competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. Out of more than 100 designs submitted, the Centennial Committee chose Eiffel’s plan of an open-lattice wrought-iron tower that would reach almost 1,000 feet above Paris and be the world’s tallest man-made structure. Eiffel, a noted bridge builder, was a master of metal construction and designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty that had recently been erected in New York Harbor.
Eiffel’s tower was greeted with skepticism from critics who argued that it would be structurally unsound, and indignation from others who thought it would be an eyesore in the heart of Paris. Unperturbed, Eiffel completed his great tower under budget in just two years. Only one worker lost his life during construction, which at the time was a remarkably low casualty number for a project of that magnitude. The light, airy structure was by all accounts a technological wonder and within a few decades came to be regarded as an architectural masterpiece.
The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall and consists of an iron framework supported on four masonry piers, from which rise four columns that unite to form a single vertical tower. Platforms, each with an observation deck, are at three levels. Elevators ascend the piers on a curve, and Eiffel contracted the Otis Elevator Company of the United States to design the tower’s famous glass-cage elevators.
READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Eiffel Tower
The elevators were not completed by March 31, 1889, however, so Gustave Eiffel ascended the tower’s stairs with a few hardy companions and raised an enormous French tricolor on the structure’s flagpole. Fireworks were then set off from the second platform. Eiffel and his party descended, and the architect addressed the guests and about 200 workers. In early May, the Paris International Exposition opened, and the tower served as the entrance gateway to the giant fair.
The Eiffel Tower remained the world’s tallest man-made structure until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930. Incredibly, the Eiffel Tower was almost demolished when the International Exposition’s 20-year lease on the land expired in 1909, but its value as an antenna for radio transmission saved it. It remains largely unchanged today and is one of the world’s premier tourist attractions.
The Dalai Lama, fleeing the Chinese suppression of a national uprising in Tibet, crosses the border into India, where he is granted political asylum.
Born in Taktser, China, as Tensin Gyatso, he was designated the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, a position that eventually made him the religious and political leader of Tibet. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tibet increasingly came under Chinese control, and in 1950 communist China invaded the country. One year later, a Tibetan-Chinese agreement was signed in which the nation became a “national autonomous region” of China, supposedly under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama but actually under the control of a Chinese communist commission. The highly religious people of Tibet, who practice a unique form of Buddhism, suffered under communist China’s anti-religious legislation.
After years of scattered protests, a full-scale revolt broke out in March 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee as the uprising was crushed by Chinese troops. On March 31, 1959, he began a permanent exile in India, settling at Dharamsala, where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government. Back in Tibet, the Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures against the Tibetans, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. With the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Chinese suppression of Tibetan Buddhism escalated, and practice of the religion was banned and thousands of monasteries were destroyed.
Although the ban was lifted in 1976, protests in Tibet continued, and the exiled Dalai Lama won widespread international support for the Tibetan independence movement. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.
In Tokyo, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, representing the U.S. government, signs the Treaty of Kanagawa with the Japanese government, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade and permitting the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Japan.
In July 1853, Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with a squadron of four U.S. vessels. For a time, Japanese officials refused to speak with Perry, but eventually they accepted letters from U.S. President Millard Fillmore, making the United States the first Western nation to establish relations with Japan since it was declared closed to foreigners in 1683.
After giving Japan time to consider the establishment of external relations, Perry returned to Tokyo in March 1854, and on March 31 signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, which opened Japan to trade with the United States, and thus the West. In April 1860, the first Japanese diplomats to visit a foreign power reached Washington, D.C., and remained in the U.S. capital for several weeks discussing expansion of trade with the United States.