Books

October 7, 1957 – Time’s People in the News

On October 7, 1957, the weekly installment of Time magazine included their regular feature on the doings of famous movers-and-shakers, the People column.  During a week which included continuing reports of the forced integration of – and military presence at –  Little Rock Central High School, and the announcement of the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the American public probably enjoyed a lighter moment catching up on high-society and high-celebrity.  Some of the high-points:

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Ernest and Mary Hemingway in Venice, 1954.

“With plenty of works in progress but no finished manuscript under his arm, Novelist Ernest Hemingway arrived incognito with wife Mary at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a quiet holiday far from his Cuban finca.  Meanwhile, two short stories, the first new Hemingway fiction to be published since The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, were being put to bed for the centennial issue of the Atlantic, which will be out at the end of October.  Apparently stemming from the experience Hemingway underwent when he was temporarily blinded after his plane crash in Africa in 1954, the stories are paired under the title “Two Tales of Darkness”.

“Following the long antarctic night, the sun rose over the U.S. base at the South Pole last week, and Polar Explorer Paul Siple (Time cover, Dec. 31, 1956) led 17 scientists and servicemen into the open for the reveille that comes there technically only once every six months.  With the temperature at a numbing  minus 88°F and an 18-knot wind blowing across the polar wastes, the ceremonial hoisting of Old Glory turned out to be about the most frenzied since the famed planting of the flag under fire at Iwo Jima.”

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LOS ANGELES – OCTOBER 10: Singer Frank Sinatra and actress Lauren Bacall attend a party for the musical ‘Pal Joey’ on October 10, 1957 in Los Angeles, California.

“In seclusion since the death last January of Cinemactor Humphrey Bogart, his widow, Cinemactress Lauren Bacall, was stepping out with an old family friend, Cinemactor Frank Sinatra.  Lauren was recently draped on Frankie’s arm for the Las Vegas premiere of his new movie The Joker is Wild, last week went along with him to a closed-circuit telecast of the Sugar-Ray Robinson – Carmello Basilio fight in a Hollywood theater from which they emerged looking as happy as if they had bet on Winner Basilio.  But though Hollywood gossips buzzed, both Lauren and Frankie denied a wedding is in the wind.”

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959.

“Describing the Russian people as ‘wonderful’, Globetrotter Eleanor Roosevelt, 72, climaxed her first trip to the Soviet Union by interviewing Communist Boss Nikita S. Khrushchev for almost three hours at his summer villa on the Black Sea near Yalta.  ‘War is unthinkable,’ Khrushchev told Mrs. Roosevelt, who called the hard-drinking, explosive Soviet leader ‘a cordial, simple, outspoken man who got angry at certain spots and emphasized the things he believed.’  But when Khrushchev accused her of hating Communists, Mrs. Roosevelt quickly replied: ‘Oh no, I don’t.  I don’t hate anybody.  I don’t believe in Communism as an ideological way of life.'”

Image Credit (Eleanor Roosevelt): US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

October 3, 1957 – “Howl” Ruled Not Obscene

Beat Museum Poster

On October 3, 1957, Judge Clayton W. Horn cleared “Howl“, Allen Ginsberg’s poetic paean to the Beat Generation, of obscenity charges.  Ginsberg and “Howl” publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books were out of the legal doghouse and, as far as the United States government was concerned, “Howl” was art, not pornography.  The buying public, however, may have begged to differ.

Ginsberg wrote “Howl” in 1955 and Ferlinghetti had featured it in a collected edition of Ginsberg’s work, published under the title, Howl and Other Poems.  Written in paratactic style, “Howl” chronicled Ginsberg’s life with other poets, radicals, jazz musicians, drug addicts, and psychiatric patients in thinly-veiled, almost hallucinatory language.  Paratactic form uses phrases which follow one on another without defined connection or relationship – something of stream-of-consciousness and with minimal authorial disclosure of pattern or meaning.  The content of “Howl” included Ginsberg’s rants on industrial civilization, glorification of peyote use, frank references both to heterosexuality and homosexuality, and proclamations that cultural nonconformists and drop-outs were the “best minds of my generation”.  Ginsberg cited poet William Carlos Williams and fellow Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac as his inspirations.

The poem began as a performance piece, debuting at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955.  Ferlinghetti published “Howl” shortly thereafter.  The legal machinery leading to the obscenity trial was set in motion when 520 copies of the London-printed poem were seized by customs officials on March 25, 1957.  The American Civil Liberties Union supported Ferlinghetti’s trial defense, and details of the case and Judge Horn’s ruling that “Howl” was of “redeeming social importance” were widely publicized.  Articles appeared in both Time and Life magazines, and Jake Ehrlich, Ferlinghetti’s lead attorney, published an account of the trial, titled Howl of the Censor.

Ginsberg called “Howl” his experiment with the “long line”.  Each line of the poem was a single breath unit, “one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath”.  He also referred to the lines as “built on bop – you might think of them as a bop refrain – chorus after chorus after chorus”.  The frequently-quoted opening lines read:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”

Image Credit: Coloribus, Grey, San Francisco Ad Agency

September 23, 1957 – “The Three Faces of Eve” Fascinates Movie Audiences


On September 23, 1957, The Three Faces of Eve opened in American movie theaters, starring newcomer Joanne Woodward as multiple personality-possessing Eve White.  Based on a book by Corbett Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, the movie related the story of real-life Chris Costner Sizemore, who revealed her identity as Eve in her 1977 book, I’m Eve.

Personality #1 Eve White is a mild-mannered housewife who suffers from blinding headaches and occasional blackouts.  She consults psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Luther (Lee J. Cobb; On the Waterfront, Twelve Angry Men), who meets Personality #2, wild trouble-maker Eve Black, when he puts Eve #1 under hypnosis.  Eve #2 knows about Eve #1, but unfortunately Eve #1 doesn’t know about Eve #2.  Both Eves are institutionalized when Eve #2 tries to kill their daughter, Bonnie.

Dr. Luther continues to treat the Eves, and helps #1 to remember a deeply traumatic childhood event which led to her personality split (revealed in a spoiler review by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times).  During this work, a stable Personality #3 emerges and takes the name of Jane.  Jane is able to remember everything about Eve #1 and Eve #2, the Eves merge into Jane, and the happy ending sees Jane remarried and reunited with Bonnie.

Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role(s) as Eve, Eve, and Jane.  Two other actresses were rumored to be considered for the part: Judy Garland (director Nunally Johnson’s preference, but deemed too “unreliable”); and June Allyson (who let herself be talked out of it by husband Dick Powell, advising her she’d be “miscast”).  Orson Welles was reportedly offered the role of Dr. Luther, but declined in order to direct Touch of Evil.  David Wayne (How to Marry a Millionaire) appeared as Eve #1 & #2’s husband, Ralph; Nancy Kulp (The Bob Cummings Show, The Beverly Hillbillies) played the role of Mrs. Black; and Alistair Cooke (PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, America) warmed up his voiceover chops as the narrator, lending a British flavor of authenticity and reliability to the tale.  Nunally Johnson both directed and wrote the screenplay for the Twentieth Century Fox production.

Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

September 16, 1957 – Emma Gatewood Walks on the “Wild” Side

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail.

Before there was Cheryl Strayed, there was Emma Gatewood.

On September 16, 1957, Ohio native Emma Gatewood, aged 69, arrived at the 5,270-foot peak of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,050-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Back on April 27, “Grandma” Gatewood had started out from Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia – at the trail’s southern end – equipped with a handsewn denim bag of hiking supplies and a determination to repeat her record-setting trek of 1955. Two years earlier, over the course of five months, Emma had become the first woman to solo thru-hike (travel from start to finish without interruption) the scenic Appalachian Trail.

Grandma Gatewood and Cheryl Strayed – recent thru-hiker of the western-states Pacific Coast Trail and author of the best-selling memoir Wild – had something in common. They were both on a quest. Both took somewhat radical risks to complete their journeys. Both found something on the trail that changed their lives.

Emma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Caldwell on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, one of 15 siblings. She did her share of chores, including hoeing, planting, worming tobacco, milking, washing, and cooking. When persuasive P.C. Gatewood insisted on marriage, she consented and went on to birth her own farming family of 11 children. P.C. was not the husband young Emma had hoped for. They had a stormy relationship, witnessed by the children, in which P.C. physically abused Emma.

Sometime in the early 1950s, her family grown and gone, Emma read an article in National Geographic about Earl V. Shaffer, the first man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Emma found this an irresistible challenge. She, a woman, could do that, too! And – in spite of her bad knees, bunions, false teeth, and feeling blind without her glasses – she did.

An abortive but instructive attempt in 1954 was followed by her successful traverse in the summer of 1955. Emma enjoyed meeting residents along the way from Georgia to Maine, often hiking out for food, temporary shelter, and the finer things like a shower and bug spray. She traveled light, carrying no more than 15 pounds of trail basics stuffed in a bag thrown over her shoulder. Emma tried to avoid predators like bears and rattlesnakes, and pesky critters like mice, black flies, mosquitos, and reporters. She was constitutionally no-nonsense and tended to believe that people could do a whole lot more than they thought. “The hardest part of hiking the Appalachian Trail,” like so many other challenges in life, she told her son Nelson, “was simply making up your mind to do it.” If Emma had worn a button, it might have read, “No Pantywaists!”

Acclaim came Emma’s way during and after her 1955 adventure. She appeared on NBC’s “Today” with Dave Garroway, “The Art Linkletter Show,” and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” Reporters for countless newspapers and magazines dogged her steps and lauded her achievements. What led her to the 1957 repeat? The quiet trail, nature, the sense of a spiritual connection beckoned. “The petty entanglements of life are brushed aside like cobwebs,” Emma wrote in her trail journal. Plus, no woman had ever done it twice!

Cheryl Strayed went “wild” on the PCT in an attempt to recover from her mother’s death. Stuck in protracted grief, she found herself unable to move on in life. She was young, had many years ahead of her, and needed to find a new normal. Emma Gatewood walked into AT history as a woman of age and maturity, after her immediate responsibilities to her family were over. The limitations of an abusive husband and small children to raise, and the cultural expectations imposed on women of her generation may have sat too heavily and fit too closely on her small but sturdy frame. When she could set them aside, she did, and set out to discover in the most basic sense what she was capable of.

How capable was she? After her AT thru-hikes in 1955 and 1957, Emma walked 2000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon (my birthplace!) in 95 days during the Trail’s centennial year celebration in 1959. She attempted a third AT passage in 1960, but heavy-weather damage to the trail diverted her course through other trails in Pennsylvania, New York  Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada. She climbed several peaks in the Adirondack Range, and successfully completed a third traverse of the AT in 1964. She was personally instrumental in creating several sections of Ohio’s treasured Buckeye Trail.

Emma died in 1973, but her memory lives on as an inspiration to all that, in the words of (fellow Mount Katahdin-climber) Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of [her] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [she] has imagined, [she] will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Fox Searchlight Pictures brought Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to the big screen, starring Reese Witherspoon, om 2014. Trail Magic: The Emma Gatewood Story, a documentary of Emma Gatewood’s life created by FilmAffects and WGTE/PBS Toledo, was released in 2015 and nominated for an Emmy in 2017. Bette Lou Higgins and Kelly Boyer Sagert of Eden Valley Enterprises were instrumental in bringing Grandma Gatewood her moment in digital-celluloid history.

Image Credit: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

September 5, 1957 – “On the Road” is In the Bookstore

On September 5, 1957, a story recorded on a 120-foot-long scroll of cut-and-taped typing paper was published as a  320-page book.  On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, was an autobiographically-based testament to the emerging Beat Generation, fueled by jazz, poetry, and notes taken during seven years of (probably) drug-laced road trips.  Kerouac maintained that coffee was the only stimulant he used during the three weeks in New York City in April of 1951 that he spent typing the single-spaced, sans-paragraphs, sans-margins manuscript.

According to who you asked, On the Road was either “timeless,” “elusive and precious,” “a cultural event,” “the saga of a solitary seeker,” “a historic occasion,” “a major novel,” “passe and at times corny,” “an authentic work of art,” “life-changing,” or “not writing, that’s typing.”  Thinly-veiled friends and acquaintances populated the novel as the narrator, Sal Paradise, traveled west across America and into a series of experiences he hoped would help him make sense of the world around him.  He searched for life’s meaning in music, drugs, women, odd jobs, and fellow road-travelers high and low: “holy con-men” and “poetic con-men,” migrant workers, heroic ex-prisoners, prostitutes, down-and-outers, and failures.  In the end, Sal returns to New York City believing that “nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old.”

In 2007, Viking Press released a less-edited version of Kerouac’s manuscript titled On the Road: The Original Scroll. The fiftieth-anniversary edition restored several deleted sections, including some sexual passages deemed pornographic in 1957, and substituted the real names of the people in Jack’s life for the fictional names of the novel’s characters.

Image Credit: Signet Books

Vintage 1957 – A Comedy Revolution

 

In the 1950s, stand-up comedy went through something of a revolution. In broad outline, comedy of the 1930s most often took the form of physical slapstick in the movies – think the Marx Brothers, Abbot & Costello, etc. In the 1940s, the rising popularity of radio broadcasts ushered in less physical and more verbal comedy. Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns & Gracie Allen, and Henny Youngman all perfected the art of one-liners, story gags, and “groaners” (“I just flew in from St. Louis . . . and boy are my arms tired!” or “Take my wife . . . please!”).

Comedy in the 1950s turned topical. Journalist and author Gerald Nachman, who covered entertainment news for the New York Post, the Oakland Tribune, the New York Daily News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, shines a light on the shift in his 2009 book, Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Nachman provides detailed biographies of 26 comedians, including Woody Allen, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, and Steve Allen. Politics, sex, race relations, drugs, self-angst, pop media and celebrity, all were suddenly fair game for public airing, often in satirical or cynical ways.

How does comedy work? What makes us laugh?

Laughter can be cathartic. It can lighten our spirits in difficult times. The Great Depression and World War II of the 1930s and 1940s were dark times. People looked to comedy for relief from anxiety and despair.

But laughter also serves as a leveler. It can burst bubbles and open eyes, providing a wake-up call for others or for ourselves. It can be a subtle instrument or sharp weapon against complacency, pretension, self-absorption, mindless conformity, and attitudes of superiority and arrogance. It can slip in “under the radar” to powerfully say, “Take a look at yourself and your culture.”

The comedians of the 1950s – subtle or blunt – had new, sometimes uncomfortable things to say. And they were heard.

Image Credits: ABC Films; NBC Television; New York World-Telegram & Sun; Towpilot; Rollins & Joffe; Allan Warren; AP; Concord Jazz

August 26, 1957 – Paul Anka’s Crush on “Diana”

 

On August 26, 1957, Paul Anka’s “Diana” ranked #1 on WMGM-New York City’s Top 40 Survey. In My Way: An Autobiography, Anka revealed that Diana Ayoub was the inspiration for the song he wrote in the fall of 1956, at age 15. “When I was fifteen, I developed a crush on a nineteen-year-old girl who worked as a secretary in the offices of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa . . . . I saw her in church and at community events – and I was smitten.

“Diana was my first infatuation. I had such a serious crush on her. I made my advances as a youngster and failed dismally. She wanted nothing to do with me. Diana was my inspiration, the fantasy girlfriend – and imagined problem (“I’m so young and you’re so old, this my darling, I’ve been told”). In truth it never got anywhere near that. I think she just thought it was funny someone so much younger than her – three years! – wanted to date her. That’s where songs come from: out of stories you tell yourself in your mind.”

“Diana” reached the top of both the Billboard  and R&B Best Sellers charts, and the second slot on Billboards’ Top 100. Sixteen-year-old Anka was on his way to a long, successful career.