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Trending that caught Doug's eye: Famous babies

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By all accounts, Prince George of Cambridge's first birthday party was a low-key affair.

The little prince was quietly feted at the family home in Kensington Palace as his parents, William and Kate, do their best to shield their son, dubbed "Gorgeous George" in newspaper headlines, from the media glare.

We hope the cherubic royal infant, the most famous baby in the world and third in line to the British throne, enjoyed himself because, in his first 12 months on the job, the diaper-clad goodwill ambassador has charmed onlookers around the world and given the House of Windsor a massive public relations bump.

In addition to gracing the covers of magazines such as People and Vanity Fair, he's a burgeoning fashion icon, with parents worldwide snapping up copies of whatever ensemble he's spotted wearing in rare public outings.

Which makes this the perfect time to gush over some of the most famous babies in history. There are a couple not on our list, namely (1) Baby Jesus, because there's nothing we can say that hasn't already been said; and (2) your baby, because that would just make all those other parents jealous.

That said, here's a handful of newsworthy babies who have crawled into our headlines and our hearts:

5) The Dionne Quintuplets

The big, bouncing deal: To ensure you get the biggest bang for your buck, we're kicking off with not just one baby, but five. In this country, you won't find many infants with a bigger media pedigree than the legendary Dionne Quintuplets. On May 28, 1934, on a small farm just outside North Bay, Ont., near the Quebec border, Elzire Dionne gave birth to five identical girls -- Annette, Cecile, Yvonne, Marie and Emilie. Born two months premature, the babies -- each reportedly small enough to be held in one hand -- became the first quintuplets known to have survived infancy. Fearing private exploitation, the Ontario government seized them from their parents, Elzire and Oliva, and placed them in a specially built hospital that was open to tourists and dubbed "Quintland," where they remained until the age of nine. Under the government's watch they were turned into Canada's biggest tourist attraction, outdrawing even Niagara Falls. Between 1934 and 1943, an estimated three million people paid to watch the quints play behind a one-way screen. Their images appeared on all manner of goods and in ads for everything from war bonds to toothpaste, but the girls saw little of that money. At age 9, they were returned to their parents after a bitter custody battle. By all accounts, their home life was unhappy and, at age 18, the sisters left home. The two surviving quints, Annette and Cecile, celebrated their 80th birthdays in May.


4)  Baby Jessica McClure Morales

The big, bouncing deal: In 1987, 18-month-old Jessica became the most famous baby in the world. It came at a huge price -- while playing in the backyard of her aunt's home daycare centre in Midland, Texas, the toddler somehow slipped into an abandoned well shaft. How it happened remains a mystery. At the time, the eight-inch opening was allegedly covered by a heavy rock or a flowerpot. Regardless, it was the beginning of a 58-hour ordeal that was broadcast live around the clock on CNN, then a fledgling cable news outlet. Trapped alone and seven metres below ground, the child dubbed "everybody's baby" kept her spirits up by singing about Winnie the Pooh. When she was finally brought to the surface on Oct. 16, 1987, she was covered with dirt and bruises. The image, burned into the memories of viewers around the world, won a Pulitzer Prize for news photographer Scott Shaw. At the time, then-president Ronald Reagan said "everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on." She endured 15 surgeries, lost a toe to gangrene and has a permanent scar where her head rubbed against the well casing, but no memory of the ordeal. Now a mother of two, she plans to put a trust fund of $800,000 donated by strangers toward the college education of her children.


3) The Lindbergh baby

The big, bouncing deal: In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was on top of the world, famous for making the world's first solo transatlantic flight. At about 9 p.m., on March 1, 1932, that world came toppling down. That was the night Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the famous aviator's 20-month-old son, was kidnapped from the nursery of the family home in Hopewell, N.J. It was one of the most highly publicized crimes of the 20th century. The baby's absence was discovered by nanny Betty Gow and a search uncovered a ransom note demanding $50,000 on the nursery windowsill, the first of 13 notes from the kidnapper. The FBI's website recounts that on May 12, the body of the kidnapped baby was found, partly buried and badly decomposed, about seven kilometres southeast of the Lindbergh home. A coroner determined Charles Jr. had been dead for about two months and was killed by a blow to the head. After a massive investigation lasting more than two years, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and charged with the kidnapping. Handwriting on the ransom notes matched samples of his writing. Proclaiming his innocence to the end, he was executed in the electric chair at New Jersey State Prison on April 3, 1936.

4) The Gerber Baby

The big bouncing deal: What we are talking about here is arguably the most famous baby face in history. In 1928, the nice folks at Gerber held a contest to find a cherubic mug for their new baby-food campaign. Artist Dorothy Hope Smith submitted an unfinished charcoal sketch, which she promised to finish if she won. And she did win, but the judges loved the drawing of the baby with big eyes and pursed lips just the way it was. Three years later, the image was trademarked and has been used on every Gerber product since. Whose face was it? That was a mystery for decades, with guesses ranging from Elizabeth Taylor to Humphrey Bogart. Gerber didn't want consumers to know if the baby was a girl or a boy. In 1978, retired English teacher, mystery novelist and mother of four Ann Turner Cook spilled the beans. Smith had been a family friend and used Cook as the model. "I had four of my own," Cook told reporters recently. "There's nothing I'd rather be than associated with babies. I've become a symbol worldwide for babies."

 

1) The first test-tube baby

The big bouncing deal: When she came into the world on July 25, 1978 at Oldham General Hospital in Britain, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Louise Joy Brown wasn't just a bouncing bundle of joy for her parents -- she was a beacon of hope for childless couples everywhere. Brown was the world's first successful "test-tube baby," born to parents who had been unable to conceive for nine years. The doctors behind the miracle, Dr. Patrick Steptoe and Dr. Robert Edwards (who won the Nobel Prize in 2010), had spent 12 years -- suffering more than 100 failed attempts along the way -- developing a process called in vitro fertilization, a way to fertilize a woman's egg outside her uterus and implant it back into her body. Brown's mom, Lesley, underwent the procedure after learning her fallopian tubes were blocked and she could not conceive naturally. Despite being dubbed a "test-tube" baby, her conception actually occurred in a petri dish. What was once a miracle is now commonplace, with the procedure used by infertile couples worldwide. Millions have now conceived through in vitro. Says this pioneering baby: "When I was born, they all said it shouldn't be done and that it was messing with God and nature. But it worked, and obviously it was meant to be."

We're out of space today and it's time to put our list of famous babies to sleep. Hopefully, one day, a doctor will look at you and announce: "By George, it's... a media sensation!"

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 D2

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