Newspapers & Magazines

Mid-Century Modern – Vogue Magazine’s September Issue

Suzy Parker in Vogue Magazine, September 1957. Photo source: Vogue

Suzy Parker in Vogue Magazine, September 1957.

The September 1957 issue of Vogue Magazine was probably not the iconic behemoth that currently arrives at the newsstand with a thud each fall to profile and advertise the season’s couture. But the Conde Nast bible of style, then under the editorial directorship of Jessica Daves, had much to do with guiding the taste and flair of 1950s closets. With mid-century modern bringing back a neo-50s vibe, this editorial image of Suzy Parker from September, 1957 feels right at home with the trends of today (possibly minus the green fuzzy hat).

Texan redhead Suzy Parker was one of the first very-supermodels. In addition to her editorial work for fashion magazines, Parker frequently appeared in advertisements for cosmetics and other consumer products. She was the first model to earn over $100,000 per year. Suzy was also one of the first in a long line of fashion models who made the crossover to movies. Two films released in 1957 slated Suzy for small roles: Kiss Them for Me, with Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield; and Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Fashion photography legends Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst, and Irving Penn were inspired by Parker and their images, in turn, inspired 1950s women to pursue elegance with a flash of Texas sizzle. John, Paul, George, and Ringo – raging adolescents in 1957 – collectively wrote and recorded a tribute to Suzy in 1969, which was included in the soundtrack of the 1970 documentary, Let it Be.

Image Credit: Vogue Magazine

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 22, 1957 – Two Americans Tried in Cuban Court

Who was Russell Masker?

On August 22, 1957, two American men were put on trial in Cuba for carrying unlicensed arms, resisting arrest, and attempting to join the resistance movement of Fidel Castro.  The proceedings were held in the Urgency Court in Santiago, created in the 1930s to try terrorists.  Russell F. Masker and Thomas M. Miller of Miami, Florida had been arrested on August 9th in the town of San Luis, about thirty miles from Santiago in Cuba’s southeastern Oriente Province, the locus of Castro’s M-26-7 activities.  Masker and Miller denied the charges, asserting they had come to Cuba as tourists, had carried no weapons and had not resisted arrest.  The New York Times reported that the Urgency Court could sentence the Americans to as much as five years in prison, with no guaranteed right of appeal.

Little is known about Russell Masker and Thomas Miller, either before or after their arrest and trial.  Russell Masker makes an intriguing appearance in a Cuban Secret Service (G-2 MINFAR) document dated January 12, 1961.  In a report to the secret service department chief, Commander Ramiro Valdes Menedez, about “yanki” (United States) mercenary camps in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Florida, the following statement appears on page 25:

“Last November 22, the ‘Diario de las Americas’ reported the death of North American Russell F. Masker, victim of a stray shot from Cuban Rolando Martinez Capaneria during military instruction in a camp located in ‘Cayo Sin Nombre’, thirty miles from Cayo Hueso [Key West].”

The American-led Bay of Pigs Invasion against the Castro regime took place in April of 1961.  Whose side was Masker on?

August 19, 1957 – Dr. David Simons Sets New Altitude Record

On August 19, 1957, Air Force physician and space flight researcher Dr. David Simons reached a record altitude of 102,000 feet (over 19 miles) above the earth in a telephone-booth-sized, air-conditioned capsule suspended from a helium balloon.  Dr. Simons had conducted earlier experiments with monkeys, mice, guinea pigs, and human volunteers to investigate reactions to weightlessness and the hazards of exposure to primary cosmic radiation.  But in August of 1957, as part of the Air Force’s Man High Project, it was Simons’ turn to experience the world from a vantage point beyond 99% of the earth’s atmosphere.  Life published an article about the historic flight, “A Journey No Man Had Taken,” during which Dr. Simons conducted  25 experiments armed with cameras, a 5-inch telescope, a tape recorder, a microphone taped to his chest, and photographic cosmic ray bombardment track plates taped to his arms and chest.  He observed the moon and Venus, aurora borealis and cloud formations.  He stated that his most important finding was that with the right equipment, humans could survive at the very edge of space.

Simons took off from a deep, open-pit iron mine in Crosby, Minnesota and landed, 32 hours and 10 minutes later, in a field in South Dakota.  In his Life article, Dr. Simons described seeing a “purplish-black” sky, etched with thin bands of blue.  Thin shells of dust “hovered over the Earth like a succession of halos.”  He later wrote a book, with Don A. Schanche, about his experiences, titled “Man High.”  A sign he posted on the inside of his capsule warned, “Have all the fun you want, but don’t jump up and down.”

In the days after the “high point” of his career, as his commanding officer Col. John Paul Stapp jokingly put it, Dr. David Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  He continued to conduct research, including studies on radio telemetry for in-flight medical monitoring.  After his retirement, he became fascinated with and researched pain and myofascial trigger points, co-authoring in 1983 a still-standard text on the subject.

Image Credit: Life magazine

August 18, 1957 – “The Next World War Will Be Decided in a Matter of Hours”

 

On August 18, 1957, the New York Times ran a commentary by military editor Hanson W. Baldwin covering the recent military budget negotiations in Congress. In his article, Hanson extensively quoted the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Clarence Cannon, D-Missouri. Cannon, a fiscal conservative, argued for defense budget cuts:

“The next world war will be decided in a matter of hours. There will be a period of mopping up and taking over but the war will be decisively fought on one afternoon or less. . . . The Army is no longer of any use in war except in occupying territory taken from the air and in enforcing martial law. . . . Could the Navy protect us? Ridiculous! . . . The imminence of war is receding. An age of nuclear stalemate is dawning.”

Baldwin had his response ready, measured and authoritative. A Pulitzer prize-winning reporter and author of scores of books on military and defense issues, Baldwin graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, reported from the South Pacific, North Africa and Europe during World War II, and was now in his twentieth year as the Times’ military editor.

“The picture drawn by Mr. Cannon is black-and-white and hence fallacious. Nuclear weapons alone are not sufficient. We cannot provide security solely by big bombers and bigger bombs. . . . The threat of nuclear bombardment may deter world wars but it obviously has not deterred small wars. . . .

“The problem of United States – or world – security in the nuclear age is as complex as the technology that is supposed to be its servant. It is, in the first place, a political and psychological problem, the problem of the nature of man; it is only secondarily a military problem. As long as men want things that other men have, as long as men quarrel, as long as they are aggressive, just so long will there be conflict in all the broad interpretations of the word.”

Image Credit: Library of Congress, U.S. Army

August 12, 1957 -The Return of Ringling Brothers

Ringling Brothers Life

Ringling Brothers’ aerial ballet in Washington, DC’s Griffith Stadium

On August 12, 1957, Life magazine reported that new technology was saving an old tradition – the circus! The unfortunate demise of Ringling Brothers had been reported by Life a little over a year earlier. “Beset by skyrocketing costs,” the July 30, 1956 issue explained, “President John Ringling North folded the big top and publicly called it quits.”

“But this year the circus has confounded its mourners by springing back to life – out of doors instead of under canvas. On tour for 11 months, it is playing at ball parks and fair grounds in the clear light of day, thanks to a new 35-ton system of aluminum rigging which can also be set up in covered arenas.”

Operating costs for the canvas “big top” had been running at about $21,000. The new rigging would add only $9,000 a day to the Ringling Brothers’ bottom line.

So let’s go! And how do they get all those clowns into that little car?

Image Credit: Life/Google Books

August 9, 1957 – The Chicago College All Star Game

On August 9, 1957, the Chicago College All Star Game was held at Soldier Field in Chicago.  Originated by the Chicago Tribune in the 1930s, the All Star Game pitted a team of the year’s most talented graduated-senior college football players against the previous season’s NFL championship team.  The game was held as a showcase for the best of both the college and professional football worlds, and as a fundraiser for local charities.

Player selections for the college stars – the incoming rookies for the next professional season – were made by public ballot.  In the thirties, college players were generally better than their pro counterparts, but the pro teams quickly established themselves as powerhouses to be dealt with.  The public loved the competition between the college stars and the pros and the all star game drew great crowds – in 1947, a whopping 105,840 people turned out at Soldier Field to watch the college all stars defeat the Chicago Bears 16-0.

The 1957 game featured the college all stars, including John Brodie of Stanford, Jim Brown of Syracuse, and Paul Hornung of Notre Dame, against the 1956 NFL Champions, the New York Giants.  As rain fell on Soldier Field, almost 75,000 fans watched an exciting game in which the lead changed several times.  Giants quarterback Chuck Conerly and Brodie both demonstrated their strong passing skills, but in the end the Giants defeated the all stars, 22-12.

Image Credit: The Chicago Tribune Charities