Rich Or Famous

September 1957 – The Edsel

1958 Edsel 2-door Citation Convertible

In September, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel.  Named for founder Henry Ford’s son, Edsel B. Ford, the Edsel started life as the E-car, which stood for “experimental car”.  The Edsel, placed between the Ford and Mercury brands, was intended to compete with intermediate General Motors lines, such as the Oldsmobile, while the company took the Lincoln brand upmarket.  But it was not to be.  The Edsel, after years of development, was manufactured for only three years, never appealed to the buying and driving public, lost millions of dollars for Ford Motors, and has since become a catchword for failure.

Edsels were produced for the 1958, 1959, and 1960 model years.  The 1958 models introduced in September 1957 included the Citation and Corsair, based on Mercury designs and manufactured in Mercury plants, and the smaller, Ford-based Pacer and Ranger models, manufactured in Ford plants.  All models were available as two-door or four-door hardtops.  The Citation and the Pacer also had two-door convertible versions.  Edsel innovations included its “rolling dome” speedometer and center-of-the-steering-wheel, Push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system.  Ergonomically-designed driver controls and self-adjusting brakes (earlier pioneered by Studebaker) were other special features.

1958 Edsel Pacer 2-door Hardtop

The first model year for Edsel sold 63,110 cars in the United States; the second-year sales topped out at 44,891; for the 1960 model year only 2,846 units were produced.

Why did the Edsel fail?  Speculators cite primary problems with marketing philosophy and strategy, quality control, design appeal, and competition within a car market heading into recession.  Marketing failed to sufficiently research and place the Edsel within the Ford Motor product line for the buying public; switching from Ford or Mercury to Edsel (and back) on the same assembly lines led to manufacturing mistakes; the “horsecollar” (or toilet seat!) grille and confusing rear taillights and steering wheel buttons were unattractive to buyers; and increasing consumer interest in fuel-efficient vehicles also added to Edsel’s demise.  Robert McNamara, part of upper-level management at Ford in 1957 and later the first non-Ford family member to serve as company president until President John F. Kennedy recruited him to be Secretary of Defense, never liked having separate brands within the Ford line.  He progressively reduced and then eliminated the Edsel advertising budget and finally convinced fellow managers to shut down production in the fall of 1959.

Image Credit: Carpedia

September 11, 1957 – Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” Sends Many

Sam Cooke: Sharply-dressed and on his way to the top

 

On September 11, 1957, the latest buzz was all about a new song getting plenty of airplay on the radio.  “You Send Me“, the B side of a new single released by newcomer to the pop scene, Sam Cooke, was catching everyone’s attention (unlike Side A, a reworking of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”).

At the time, Cooke was a member of the gospel quartet, the Soul Stirrers.  As one of eight children of a Baptist minister, Cooke began his career singing church songs with his brothers and sisters in a group they called The Singing Children.  He joined the Soul Stirrers in 1950 at age 19.  In 1957, crossing over to pop or R & B alienated a gospel vocalist’s fan base.  The success of “You Send Me” precipitated Sam’s leaving the Soul Stirrers and heading out on his own.

“You Send Me” went to the top of Billboard’s pop and R&B charts.  It established Cooke as a mainstream R&B singer and achieved legendary status as part of the foundation of soul music, a genre which Sam helped create.  Cooke has been called the King of Soul for his talent and influence on other vocalists, including Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.  He had 29 Top 40 pop hits in the United States between 1957 and his death in 1964, and even more of his singles hit the Top 40 R&B charts.  Cooke later started his own recording label, SAR Records, a publishing imprint, and a management firm.  He took an active role in the civil rights movement.

Sadly, the man who in September 1957 had everyone joining in on “whooooa—–oh—oh-oh-oh-oh” was shot and killed by a hotel clerk in Los Angeles, California in December of 1964.  The controversial ending to a stellar career – which included the hits “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, “Bring it on Home to Me”, “Cupid”, “Twisting the Night Away”, “Another Saturday Night”, and “A Change is Gonna Come” – was ruled a justifiable homicide.

September 10, 1957 – Jerry Lewis Solos at Ben Maksik’s Town and Country Club

Jerry Lewis (Not Nutty Yet)

On September 10, 1957, singer, dancer, and comedian extraordinaire Jerry Lewis gave a powerhouse solo performance at Ben Maksik’s Town and Country Club in Brooklyn, New York.  After years of second-billing behind Dean Martin doing successful comedy nightclub acts, radio and television programs, and films, Jerry was on his own before a live audience with his unique brand of slapstick comedy.  The duo’s breakup in July of 1956 ended a relationship that had become increasingly strained by Lewis’ dominance in popularity.  Each went on to success as solo performers.  Neither would ever comment on the split or consider a reunion.

In the Paramount film released in June of 1957, The Delicate Delinquent, Jerry became a major comedy star in his first solo role playing a juvenile delinquent mistaken for a gang member.  Officer Darren McGavin put Lewis through police training – compete with amusing “mishaps” – and young Jerry finally “reformed” and redeemed himself by graduating from the academy.

Later that summer, reviewer Robert W. Dana of the New York World Telegram and Sun covered Lewis’ act at the Town and Country Club for his column, “Tips on Tables”.  Dana admitted “I haven’t always been an ardent Lewis fan.  I am now after this performance.”  He continued, “Given the keynote at the outset by Ned Harvey’s crack band, the man with the shorty  haircut never let up.  He’s Mr. Rhythm with a voice.  He’s Mr. Hoofer, with a loose-jointed grace of a true showman.  And he’s Mr. Clown, who makes each line count for a laugh.”

Lewis, the son of a vaudeville entertainer father and a radio-station-piano-playing mother, spent part of his opening night kidding around with a Spanish dancer act, poking fun at rock and roll, crooning a “Danny Boy” spoof, and giving a side-splitting portrayal of “Tokyo’s foremost singing star”.  After initially bumbling about, he “caught on” and joined in a tap dance number.  And he gave serious and skillful renditions of “Shine on Your Shoes”, his top forty hit “Rock a Bye, My Baby”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, and closed the evening with the somewhat poignant “I’ll Go My Way By Myself”, which Dana described as “a touching, straightforward conclusion”.  Lewis deeply appreciated Dana’s column, sending him a signed note on September 12th “to express my heartfelt thanks to you for your very, very nice column.  I more than appreciate your kind words, and my only hope is that I can live up to them.”

Jerry Lewis went on to great fortune and fame all over the world.  He received numerous rewards for his film and television work.  In spite of suffering nagging health concerns through much of his adult life, he maintained a full work schedule. Until stepping down in 2011, Lewis dedicated himself to his yearly Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, raising 2.6 billion dollars over the years for research and treatment of the crippling disease.

Image Credit: Public Domain Publicity Photo

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

September 3, 1957 – How Bobby Fischer Spent His Summer Vacation

Bobby Fischer in 1957

On September 3, 1957, 14-year-old chess prodigy Bobby Fischer woke up with a new championship title and an extra $125 dollars in his bank account.  Bobby started his summer by winning the United States Junior Chess Championship in July, then went on to defeat Arthur Bisguier  at the prestigious US Open Chess Championships in August.  On September 2nd, Fischer defeated James T. Sherwin in the seventh and final round of the New Jersey Open, played at the Independent Chess Club in East Orange, New Jersey.

The final game between Fischer and Sherwin, a King’s Indian Reversed variation, is well-known and studied in the rarefied air of international chess competition.  Annotated versions of the game can be found in several sources, the first one appearing in the October 1957 edition of Chess ReviewAnnotation is a kind of chess “code” that specifies all the moves of a game in order, including which piece was moved, where it was moved to, whether it captured another piece, and the  individual annotator’s editorial comments in the form of punctuation or other symbols (! – good move, !! – excellent move, ? – mistake, ?? – blunder, and ?! or !? – that was either brilliant, weird, or stupid, not everyone agrees).  Bill Wall of Palm Bay, Florida, retired Air Force officer, former NASA engineer, chess journalist and author of over 600 chess-related articles, considers the September 2nd Fischer-Sherwin game “number one in My 60 Memorable Games by Fischer.”

The son of a German biophysicist, Robert James Fischer was born in Switzerland and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and Brooklyn, New York.  He started picking up the game at age 6, and began formal training at the Brooklyn Chess club at age 8.  After winning his first US Junior championship in 1956, he never looked back.  He won every United States Chess Championship he entered, starting in 1957-1958, and in 1963-1964 won by a perfect 11-0 score, the only chess player ever to do so.  He achieved Grandmaster ranking at the youngest age to that date – 15 1/2 – and won a Cold-War “Match of the Century” against Boris Spassky in 1972 to become the World Chess Champion.  Publicity surrounding the televised championship and Bobby’s achievement spurred wide-spread interest among all ages in learning the game.  Membership in the United States Chess Federation skyrocketed.  Fischer’s career had been virtually unstoppable and his withdrawal from the chess scene shortly after the 21-game event against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, surprised the nation and chess players everywhere.  It would be twenty years before he re-emerged to play Spassky in “The Revenge Match of the Twentieth Century”.

Brilliant, enigmatic, vitriolically anti-Semitic and a Holocaust-denier, Bobby lived a nomadic, unsettled life as a fugitive from the American legal system in Hungary, the Philippines, Japan and Iceland before his death in 2008.  He has been called a “genius”, “mad”, a “mythologically-shrouded figure”, a “revolutionary”, a “legend in his own time”, and “the greatest player who ever lived.”

Image Credit: Sam Falk/New York Times

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

September 2, 1957 – The Final Rally of Billy Graham’s New York City Summer Crusade

On September 2, 1957, the Reverend Billy Graham concluded his summer crusade in New York City with a massive rally in Times Square.  Crowds in excess of one hundred thousand jammed the streets to hear Graham on the final night of an outreach for Christ that began in Madison Square Garden on May 15th.  Hundreds of thousands of people heard Billy at the Garden through the summer.  He packed Yankee Stadium on July 20th with an overflow crowd of one hundred thousand-plus which included Vice President Richard Nixon, who brought greetings from President Eisenhower.  Graham also invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him on stage the night of July 18th, acknowledging Dr. King as a leader of the “great social revolution going on in the United States today.”

Newspapers in New York City gave the crusade a lot of coverage.  ABC decided to sell air time to broadcast crusade services, inaugurating a new approach to evangelism.  More people were able to hear and watch Graham’s appeal over the airwaves than in person.  Letters and money from viewers across the nation poured in supporting Graham’s cause.  Support also came from local Protestant churches and prayer teams formed by Billy’s organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  The association claimed at its conclusion that the revival had drawn over 2 million attendees and received over 1.5 million letters.

Image Credit: American Broadcasting Company