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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

November 6, 1967

It’s time for another look back through time in another installment of the Tuesday Timeline.

Today is November 6, and I will warn you ahead of time...this will not be a story that has a happy ending.  You’ll soon figure out why that is the case as we proceed.

For now, let’s have a look at some of the events that have taken place on November 6th throughout history.

On this day in...

1528 – Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca becomes the first known European to set foot on the land mass that would come to be known as the state of Texas

1789 – Pope Pius the VI appoints Father John Carroll as the first Catholic bishop in the United States

1844 – The first constitution of the Dominican Republic is adopted

1854 – Composer John Philip Sousa is born in Washington D.C.

1856 – The first work of fiction by author George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, is submitted for publication

1861 – Jefferson Davis is elected president of the Confederate States of America on the same day that James Naismith, inventor of basketball is born

1865 – CSS Shenandoah is the last Confederate combat unit to surrender towards the end of the American Civil War

1869 – The first intercollegiate football game is held with Rutgers defeating the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton)

1913 – Mohandas Gandhi is arrested while leading a march of Indian miners in South Africa

1917 – The Third Battle of Ypres ends in Belgium

1934 – Memphis, Tennessee becomes the first major city to join the Tennessee Valley Authority

1935 – Parker Brothers acquires the patent for the board game Monopoly from Elizabeth Magie

1941 – Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader, addresses the Soviet Union for only the second time in his whole reign during World War II

1943 – The city of Kiev is recaptured by the Soviet Red Army during World War II

1944 – The element of plutonium is first produced at the Hanford Atomic Facility

1947 – Meet the Press debuts on television

1962 – The United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution condemning South Africa’s racist apartheid policies and calls forth the measure for all UN states to cease military and economic relations with the nation

1963 – Duong Van Minh takes over leadership of South Vietnam following the coup of November 1 which lead to the death of previous leader Ngo Dinh Diem

1965 – Cuba and the United States reach an agreement to begin airlifting Cubans who wish to go to the United States

1971 – The United States Atomic Energy Commission tests the largest American underground hydrogen bomb on Amchitka Island

1977 – The Kelly Barnes Dam fails, killing 39 people in Toccoa, Georgia

1986 – A British International Helicopters Boeing 234LR Chinook crashes east of Sumburgh Airport killing 45 people

1995 – Art Modell announces that he signed a deal that would relocate the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and the team name would change to the Baltimore Ravens

2012 – Barack Obama is re-elected President of the United States

(That last one I added in...and once we know who won, I’ll update that last fact accordingly).

There are also a slew of celebrity birthdays on this Election Day Tuesday.  Happy birthday to Mike Nichols, Stonewall Jackson, Johnny Giles, Guy Clark, Sally Field, Fred Penner, Sidney Blumenthal, Glenn Frey, Nigel Havers, Michael Cunningham, Catherine Crier, Maria Shriver, Cam Clarke, Siobhan McCarthy, Lori Singer, Trace Beaulieu, Bruce Holland Rogers, Michael Cerveris, Craig Goldy (Dio), Kerry Conran, Paul Gilbert, Peter DeLuise, Caesar Meadows, Kelly Rutherford, Alfred Williams, Ethan Hawke, Thandie Newton, Rebecca Romijn, Zoe McLellan, Taryn Manning, Zak Morioka, Adam LaRoche, Lamar Odom, and Emma Stone.

Today’s featured subject is of a woman who had she lived would be celebrating her 45th birthday right now.

She was born on November 6, 1967.

Tragically, she never saw her twenty-second birthday.  She was cut down in the prime of her life by a man who was so obsessed with her that he would do anything in order to be near her.  When the affection was rebuffed, it was the beginning of the end.

This is the tragic story of Rebecca Schaeffer.

To be completely honest with most of you, I didn’t really hear of Rebecca until after she died.  I was a bit too young to really remember her from any of her film or television projects.  It wasn’t until after I saw some clips of her in action that I really began to understand who she was, and why her death was so tragic.

Anyway, as I mentioned before, Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer was born on November 6, 1967 in the city of Eugene, Oregon.  She was the only child of a writer and a child psychologist.  She attended Lincoln High School (graduating in 1985), and initially she had plans to become a rabbi.

However, those plans were soon placed on the backburner permanently as Rebecca developed another love...the love of performance art.

When Rebecca was still in high school, she began to do some modelling for various magazines and advertisements, and was even cast in a few television commercials.  She also landed a role as an extra in a made for television movie.  After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City in an attempt to make it big as an actress.  It didn’t take her too long to get work.  She played a small role in the television soap opera “One Life to Live” as Annie Barnes in 1985, followed by an appearance on the cover of Seventeen magazine.

The following year, Rebecca Schaeffer tested for a role in a brand new sitcom that was set to air on Monday nights for the 1986-1987 television season.

That show was “My Sister Sam”.

On the show, Rebecca played the role of Patti Russell, a teenage girl who moves in with her sister, Sam (Pam Dawber) in San Francisco, California.  The series also starred Jenny O’Hara, Joel Brooks, and David Naughton.  It debuted on CBS on October 6, 1986.

The show’s first year was a moderate success, airing on Monday nights.  But during the period between the show’s first and second seasons, CBS made the decision to move the show to Saturday nights.  Given that at the time, NBC was airing “The Facts of Life” and “The Golden Girls” on Saturdays, “My Sister Sam” could not compete against the huge ratings that the NBC Saturday Night line-up of comedies, and it was cancelled in April 1988, with half of the episodes of the second season unaired.

TRIVIA:  When USA Network bought the syndication rights to the series, the unaired episodes aired for the first time on that network, and all 44 taped episodes were eventually shown.

With the show wrapping up production in 1988, Schaeffer found herself looking for work once more.  After having a role in “Radio Days” (which to Rebecca’s disappointment was mostly left on the cutting room floor), she won the role of Zandra in the film “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills”, directed by Paul Bartel.  The film role was Rebecca’s first in a major motion picture, and her performance was critically praised.  Many people deemed it to be Rebecca’s breakout role, and although her role was a minor one, she really seemed to shine in it.

The movie was released on June 3, 1989.  Little did Rebecca know that just weeks later, she would end up dead.

You see, when the movie was first released, a man by the name of Robert John Bardo watched her performance and was not happy with her adult performance, including scenes of her in bed with a male actor.  He was enraged that Schaeffer had become “another Hollywood whore”, and was determined to make her pay for shedding the wholesome image that Schaeffer had presented on the sitcom “My Sister Sam”.

The truth is that Robert John Bardo had begun stalking Rebecca shortly after “My Sister Sam” debuted in 1986.  The scary thing was that Schaeffer wasn’t his first obsession.  When Bardo was just in his teens, he developed an obsession with child peace activist Samantha Smith.  But when Smith was killed in a plane crash in 1985, his attention soon diverted towards the then 19-year-old Rebecca. 

Between 1986 and 1988, Bardo reportedly sent Schaeffer dozens of fan letters, each one showcasing his love for the young starlet.  And at least once, his letter got a response from an employee of Rebecca’s fan service, which fueled his obsession even further.

Bardo’s obsession with Schaeffer intensified in 1987 when he actually took a trip to the California studios where “My Sister Sam” was taped, hoping that he would end up meeting her in person.  He tried twice to get inside the studios, but both times he was stopped by security.  His second attempt was particularly alarming as he had arrived carrying a knife with him.  After his second attempt to meet Schaeffer, Bardo returned to his home state of Arizona and began to put all of his energies into other starlets, in particular the teenage breakout acts of 1987, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

But by 1989, Rebecca Schaeffer was back on the radar of Robert John Bardo, and not in the loving, caring, adoring way that he was three years earlier.  Bardo made plans to take care of Rebecca once and for all, and he did this by doing a little bit of detective work into trying to track down her whereabouts.

He consulted a private detective agency and paid the agents $250 to find out where Rebecca was living via the California Department of Motor Vehicles database.  Once he retrieved the most recent address listed for Schaeffer, he arrived back in California and made a beeline towards the apartment building where Rebecca was reportedly living.  The date was July 18, 1989.  After asking random people on the street if she really lived there, and certain that he was at the right spot, he rang the doorbell of Rebecca’s apartment.

When Rebecca opened the door, Bardo immediately showed her the autograph and letter that she had sent him, and tried to explain how much he idolized her and loved her, but Schaeffer was uncomfortable and asked Bardo to leave and not come back. 

Bardo left the apartment for about an hour and returned.  When Rebecca opened the door a second time and saw Bardo again, she gave him a really cold look (according to Bardo).  It was at that moment that Bardo pulled out a handgun (which had been purchased by his brother, as Bardo was too young at the time), aimed it towards Rebecca and shot her at point-blank range.

Bardo fled the scene after Rebecca screamed in pain.  A neighbour immediately called for help, and paramedics rushed her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, but it was too late.  Half an hour after she was shot, Rebecca Schaeffer passed away at the age of 21.

As for her killer, Robert John Bardo was arrested the next day in Tuscon, Arizona, on July 19, 1989.

In his trial, Bardo was tried by prosecutor Marcia Clark (who would make an even bigger splash during the O.J. Simpson murder trial of 1995), and was convicted of capital murder.  He now is serving a life sentence without any possibility of parole.

As for Rebecca Schaeffer, a promising career was cut short that warm July morning in 1989.  At the time of her death, she was reportedly planning on auditioning for the 1990 film “The Godfather III”.  Her last film appearance was a posthumous one, playing the role of Stephanie in the 1990 movie, aptly titled “The End of Innocence”. 

Her former “My Sister Sam” co-workers were shocked and saddened by the loss of their friend, and after Schaeffer’s murder, the four surviving members of the cast teamed up in a public service announcement about violence prevention, in memory of Schaeffer.  And film director Brad Silberling (who was dating Schaeffer at the time of her death) released the film “Moonlight Mile” in 2002, which was inspired by Schaeffer’s murder.

Although the death of Rebecca Schaeffer was a tragic loss, I should note that her death was not completely in vain.  There were some major changes to various laws that has helped contribute to saving and protecting the lives of other people (both famous people and regular civilians).  For one, after Schaeffer’s death, California laws were amended in 1994 with the passage of the “Driver’s Privacy Protection Act”, which forbade the DMV from releasing any personal information about anybody, especially private addresses.  Anti-stalking laws were also made tighter and consequences were made much more severe following Schaeffer’s death.

I suppose in some ways, Rebecca Schaeffer’s legacy does live on through the passage of these laws.  It’s just a shame that she had to lose her life at the hands of an obsessed fan for that to happen. 

Rebecca Schaeffer would have been 45 today.  I often wonder what her career would have been like had she lived.  Sadly, we’ll never know.

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