Monday, April 21, 2014

Observation – 1956, No One Was Bigger Than Elvis

If you turned on the TV, you found Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Milton Berle and all over the radio.  Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis split. It was also the year Morocco freed itself from French and Spanish rule. The Eiffel Tower caught fire. The Soviets were busy crushing Poland and Hungary.  The U.S. tested the H-Bomb and we first observed the neutrino. Heavy-weight boxer Rocky Marciano retired undefeated.  Nat “King” Cole was attacked on stage in Alabama. Dick Clark hosted “American Bandstand “for the first time. Little Richard released ‘Tutti Frutti.” Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their play, The Diary of Anne Frank. The scandalous Peyton Place by Grace Metallious first appeared in book form. Among the year’s most influential fiction were The Floating Opera by John Barth, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Howl by Allen Ginsberg. The Mystery Writers of America announced that Margaret Millar won best mystery for Beast In View. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith was on the short list.  Marty won the Academy Award for best picture.  The movie houses showed Seventh Seal, Giant, The Searchers, Around the World in 80 Days and The King and I.  Elvis had the top two on Billboard’s chart, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”  “Lisbon Antigua” by Nelson Riddle was third followed by “My Prayer” by The Platters.  Gogi Grant had a hit with “The Wayward Wind,” and Les Baxter did ‘The Poor People of Paris.”  It was the end of the line for Bertolt Brecht, Jackson Pollack, Tommy Dorsey and Bela Lugosi. On the other side of the birth-death continuum were Geena Davis, Larry Byrd, Tom Hanks and Sugar Ray Leonard, who made their first appearances on earth. If you were around, where were you during this year of the fire monkey?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Observation — 1979, Disco Definitely Not Over

Andy Warhol''s Magazine With Capote Cover
In 1979, The Shah of Iran yielded to demands that he turn over power to the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Mother Teresa. Margaret Thatcher became the British P.M. The Soviets foolishly invaded Afghanistan. The good news was that Cambodian insurgents, backed by the Vietnamese, overthrew the evil Pol Pot. The Three-Mile Island incident didn’t help nuclear power proponents. The scandal of the year was Nelson Rockefeller’s death.  Heir to a legendary family fortune, former governor of New York and Gerald Ford’s first vice president, Rockefeller died during an intimate interlude with his assistant. Rockefeller was 70.  His assistant was 25.  An attempted cover-up — “just a business meeting “ — failed.  Shoes on the wrong feet didn’t help. The event prompted many stories and many bad jokes. “Rockefeller thought he was coming, but he was going,” for example. 1979 also saw the deaths of Jean Renoir, John Wayne, Arthur Fiedler and a number of once leading ladies — Merle Oberon, Mary Pickford, Joan Blondell and Jean Seberg.   ’79 births included Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson. Sam Shepard was awarded a Pulitzer for his drama, Buried Child, and John Cheever was honored with the same prize for literature for the Stories of John Cheever.  Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, Good as Gold by Joseph Heller, Overload by Arthur Hailey and The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum did well at the bookstores. Ken Follett won the Mystery Writers of America’s top prize — The Edgar — for The Eye of the Needle. Apocalypse Now, All That Jazz, Kramer vs. Kramer and Breaking Away were the year’s big movies.  The Deer Hunter won the Academy’s Best Picture Award.  However, the glitter ball kept turning, and the world succumbed to happy feet.  Billboard said our favorites were: “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer, “Chic” by Le Freak, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by Rod Stewart, “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “YMCA” by The Village People.  If you were around, what were you doing in this year of the earth sheep?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Observation — 1960, Eyes In The Sky Began

Known as the U-2 Incident, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s only real scandal was lying about a U.S. spy plane that was shot down over Russia. Nikita Khrushchev boycotted a Paris summit in protest. However another dirty little secret is that Eisenhower sent 900 military advisors to Vietnam in what would become Lyndon’s War.  Space started to get crowded with a multitude of satellites. Nazi Adolf Eichmann was found hiding in Argentina by the Israelis. He was executed two years later.  Fidel Castro nationalized oil companies and banks.  John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon participated in the first televised debate by presidential nominees. Nixon won the debate according to radio listeners. Kennedy was the choice for TV viewers and, in the end, voters. Ted Williams hit his final home run. Laser technology was realized. Lillian Hellman’s play, Toys in The Attic, opened on Broadway. The Pulitzer Prize for literature was given to Allen Drury for Advise and Consent.  The Mystery Writers of America chose Celia Fremlin’s The Hours Before Dawn as Best Mystery. Other notable books included To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Rabbit by John Updike, Set The House on Fire by William Styron.  Best movies?  Psycho, The Apartment, The Sundowners, Sons and Lovers, Spartacus, La Dolce Vita and The Magnificent Seven. What we listened to was “Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith, "He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves, “Cathy’s Clown” by the Everly Brothers and “I’m Sorry” by Brenda Lee.  Johnny Cash gave the first of many concerts behind bars. 1960 saw the births of RuPaul, Hugh Grant, Kenneth Branagh, Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton and Jean Michel Basquiat and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” and the twist itself.  Departures included Albert Camus, Zora Neale Hurston, Oscar Hammerstein II, Boris Pasternak and Clark Gable. If you were around, what were you doing during the year of the metal rat?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Observation — 1952, Kings Beware

Photograph By Cecil Beaton
King George VI of England died.  The world watched as early TV covered Elizabeth II’s coronation. King Farouk of Egypt was deposed. Vladimir Putin was born. Dwight Eisenhower wins presidential race, defeating Adlai Stevenson. In the Have You No Shame Department, Richard Nixon used his dog to rehabilitate his tainted reputation.  The “Checkers Speech” worked.  The first artificial heart valve was produced. The U.S. exploded its first thermonuclear device. Merce Cunningham formed his dance troupe. The Pulitzer for fiction went to The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. The Nobel Prize for literature went to Francoise Mauriac. The Academy Award for best picture was won by American in Paris. Other notable films of the year were Singin’ In The Rain, High Noon, Moulin Rouge and The Greatest Show On Earth.  TV’s first morning show, ”Today,” debuted with Dave Garroway at the desk. “The Honeymooners” and “Dragnet” also debuted in 1952. Top books included The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway, The Natural by Bernard Malamud and Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. The radio was playing “Blue Tango” by Leroy Anderson, “Wheel of Fortune’ by Kay Starr, “Cry” by Johnnie Ray “You Belong To Me” by Jo Stafford and “Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart” by Vera Lynn.  Also in 1952, the first Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, died. Eve Peron, John Dewey and John Garfield also passed.  Liam Neeson, Roseanne and Paul Herman Reuben (Pee Wee Herman) exited their respective wombs.  If you were around, what were you doing this year of the water dragon?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Observation — 1984, The Year That Wasn’t

This wasn’t the year George Orwell described in his famous 1984. The first woman to run for vice president, Geraldine Ferraro, and her running mate Walter Mondale lost big time to Ronald Reagan. The former actor received nearly 60 percent of the vote. Even so, the Senate condemned him and the CIA for mining Nicaraguan harbors. Reagan also vetoed sanctions against South Africa and its apartheid government.  The government shut down because of budget problems.  U.S. Marines left Beirut. The Chinese invaded Vietnam.  Union Carbide’s gas leak killed 1,000 in India The Soviets boycotted the Summer Olympics.  Teachers at the McMartin Pre-School in NYC were charged with orchestrating satanic rituals that included sexual abuse. It was later determined to be mass hysteria. Syria released a captured U.S. pilot at Jesse Jackson’s urging. Britain agreed to turn over Hong Kong to China. Apple brought out its first personal computer. Vanessa Williams became Miss America. Scarlett Johansson also made her first appearance in the world. Those making their last included Indira Gandhi, Francois Truffaut, Truman Capote, Count Basie, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, William Powell, James Mason, Ethel Merman, Walter Pidgeon, Marvin Gaye, Lillian Hellman Jackie Cooper, Diana Dors, and Johnny Weissmuller. David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross picked up the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Ironweed by William Kennedy won the Pulitzer for Literature. Elmore Leonard received The Mystery Writers Of America’s best mystery award — the Edgar — for La Brava. Among the year’s other notable books were: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The War At The End Of The World by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Haj by Leon Uris, The Talisman by Stephen King, The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth, The Sicilian by Mario Puzo, and The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum. Many great films were released in 1984. Among the most popular were Footloose, The Terminator, Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid. Top Five Tunes on Billboard were “When Doves Cry,” by Prince, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” by Tina Turner, “Say Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, “Footloose “by Kenny Loggins and “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. All in all, though, it was Michael Jackson’s year with his Emmy-winning “Beat It” and Thriller album. If you were around, what were you doing in this year of the wood rat?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rant — The Life, Death And Fog Lifetime Achievement Awards

When I first came upon Esquire magazine, the monthly was both a bawdy and sophisticated men’s magazine, just respectable enough to occupy a space on the cocktail table.  Playboy, more often hidden a way in the sock drawer, still managed to disrupt, perhaps overwhelm Esquire’s prestigious spot as the ultimate in men’s magazines. In my opinion Esquire was the original. In its attempt to compete with this surprisingly successful upstart, Esquire tried all sorts of things and in doing so they came up with some innovative ideas.  My favorite was the annual “Dubious Achievement Awards.”  With a nod toward Esquire, during Playboy’s 60th anniversary, here are some special award categories and my top two nominees for each award offered in the same spirit.


Vladimir Putin vs Chris Christie:.  My vote goes to the Russian dictator only because he can actually kill a lot people and invade a lot of land. Christie may want to, but he’d have to keep it quiet.  Another reason Putin gets the prize is that anyone who would buckle under in a Diane Sawyer interview as Christie did can no longer be feared.  The man deserves to spend the rest of his life in a cartoon. Christie may have his own border battles, but Putin is trying to recreate the old USSR. There are a number of former Soviet puppet states that legitimately fear a Crimean fate and sadly a number of folks in those states seem to prefer a country run by a Stalin wannabe.


Justice Antonin Scalia vs. Dick Cheney:  It’s a difficult choice between these two hunting buddies. Both are cigar-smoking, small-game hunters.  Both are skilled speakers and debaters. Cheney has that unemotional, matter-of-fact delivery that lulls the listener into thinking he’s spewing “the-facts, just-the-facts, ma’am.” Scalia’s technique is equally interesting. He uses theatre. He sets a regal “how-dare you-question me tone.” He knows everything.  And you are a fool. He’s a kind of male chauvinist Judge Judy, though I’d take Judge Judy for her consistent application of the law as she sees it. Scalia is all over the place.  However, his bitter edge, which he can’t hide as well as Cheney is similarly based.   Cheney, though he ran things during Bush’s first term, was always number two in the eyes of the world. Scalia runs things on the court, but he knows he will never be Chief Justice. Forced to choose, I pick Scalia as the most arrogant and currently the most dangerous. He was appointed for life.  He’s also continually pissed off. At this point, Cheney doesn’t mind being unpopular. He’s the most likely to say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


George W. Bush vs. Donald Rumsfeld:  Unlike Rumsfeld, there is some indication that Bush the younger finally understood what happened under his watch and decided to take up painting. (Anyone, to pick up on Andy Borowitz’ suggestion, want to take up a collection for a beginner’s paint set for Jeb?) Rumsfeld gets my vote. One of the best-known known knowns is that the man had no idea what he was doing in Iraq and to this day doesn’t know that he didn’t know it. He seems happy, which is further evidence that “ignorance is bliss.”  Actually he also disproves the Peter Principle. He rose well beyond occupying a job for which he was merely incompetent. He would do it all again, he said.  One more time: What’s the popular definition of crazy?


George W. Bush vs. Kim Jong-un: I might have given this award to Bush the Younger, but he was smart enough to go into hiding. I can’t imagine anything worse than being stupid and mean. One would think KIM II was a born-again Texas Republican — Perry and Cruz, for example. (Not all Texans, mind you. Molly Ivins was my hero.) However the current Kim Jong wins this contest hands down because he is still in the seat of power where his narcissistic stupidity is a danger not only to his own people, but also to the world. Worse, he really is in a position to improve the lives of millions and chooses instead to keep them starving, in prison and isolated from the world.  We shouldn’t be surprised. (Look at his haircut). On the other hand, I suspect a dark fate awaits him, sooner rather than later. Perhaps it will be his uncle’s revenge from the grave.