September 30, 1957 – Havana Gunfire Threatens Batista Loyalist

Members of Batista’s Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM) security forces

On September 30, 1957, violence struck close to home for Cuba’s embattled President Fulgencio Batista as the New York Times reported that Luis Manuel Martinez, a leader in President Fulgencio Batista’s Progressive party youth movement, was the target of a shooting incident in downtown Havana.  Unidentified assailants opened fire on a crowded street, killing a merchant named Sixto Careiro and wounding Martinez and two unnamed victims – a woman and a youth.  The youth was arrested when a revolver was found in his possession.

Martinez worked as an assistant editor of the newspaper Tiempo, owned by Batista supporter Senator Rolando Masferrer.  According to the Times, he was one of the most active propagandists of the current regime.

Batista, in an NBC interview with Martin Agronsky broadcast on the day of the shooting, reaffirmed for the American viewing audience that he would honor the provisions of Cuba’s constitution by stepping down the following summer, when free elections would be held.

Image Credit: Jim Hale/Arlequin’s World

September 29, 1957 – The Kyshtym Disaster

Map of the Mayak and Kyshtym area, USSR

On September 29, 1957, an explosion in a steel storage tank containing liquid nuclear waste led to the release of a massive 2 MCi of radioactive material in the eastern Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.  Spent nuclear waste generates heat, and when tank cooling systems failed, containment of the material failed and a non-nuclear explosion occurred on the order of 70-100 tons of TNT.  The Kyshtym Disaster, as it came to be called, was the third worst nuclear disaster in history, dwarfed only by the Chernobyl reactor explosions and fire in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi multiple reactor meltdowns in 2011.

The incident occurred at Mayak, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant sequestered in the closed city of Ozyorsk, near the town of Kyshtym.  Within ten hours of the release, the radioactive cloud traveled 300-350 kilometers in a northeast direction.  Fallout contaminated an area of approximately 800 square kilometers later called the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).  Secrecy surrounding Mayak and its operations led to the suppression of information about the danger to the local population; it was a full week before people began to be evacuated, without explanation.  According to an article in Critical Mass Journal by Richard Pollock, people “grew hysterical with fear with the incidence of unknown ‘mysterious’ diseases breaking out.  Victims were seen with skin ‘sloughing off’ their faces, hands, and other exposed parts of their bodies.”

Knowledge about the event could only be gathered indirectly.  An estimated 200 people died from cancer as a direct result of the explosion and release; massive amounts of contaminated soil apparently were excavated and stockpiled; and an off-limits “nature reserve” was created in the EURT to isolate the affected region.  Studies of the effects of radioactivity on plants, animals, and ecosystems later conducted and published by faculty members of the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow eventually confirmed the rumors of a major radioactive release.

At the time, the Soviets were hurrying to catch up with American nuclear weapons researchers.  In their desire to produce sufficient quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, they proceeded without full understanding of the safety measures necessary to protect citizens and the environment.  Their lack of concern led to open dumping of highly radioactive waste into rivers and lakes.  The level of radioactivity in the town of Ozyorsk is currently claimed to be within safe limits, but the “East-Ural Nature Reserve”, as the EURT was deceptively renamed in 1968, is still heavily contaminated.

Image Credit: Jan Rieke/NASA World Wind Screenshot

September 28, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957

On September 28, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show aired the second half of a two-part interview with visionary architect and iconoclast Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mike introduced Wright as “perhaps the greatest architect of the twentieth century . . . and in the opinion of some, America’s foremost social rebel.  Fellow architects have called him everything, from a great poet to an insupportable windbag.  The clergy has deplored his morals, creditors have deplored his financial habits, politicians, his opinions.”  Wallace’s questions ranged over a variety of topics – from politics, to religion, to morality, to architecture – seeking Wright’s opinions and at the same time hoping to provoke him into outrageous statements.  Wright displayed a witty, canny intelligence.  He was well up to the task of  handling “fishing” questions, revealing just as much as he wanted to and no more, while actually getting Mike to laugh at himself once or twice.  The following are some gems from an entertaining interview which may have intrigued, irritated, and amused the American viewing audience.

Wallace: “I’d like to chart your attitudes specifically . . . first of all, organized religion.”
Wright: “Why organize it?  Christianity doesn’t need organizing according to the Master of it, the great master poet of all time didn’t want it organized, did he?  Didn’t Jesus say that wherever a few are gathered in my name, there is my Church?  I’ve always considered myself deeply religious.”

Wallace: “Do you go to any specific church?”
Wright: “Yes, I go occasionally to this one, and then sometimes to that one, but my church I put a capital N on nature and go there.  You spell God with a capital G, don’t you?  I spell Nature with an N, capital.”

Wright: “I’m against war.  Always have been, always will be.  And everything connected with it, is anathema to me.  I have never considered it necessary.  And I think that one war only breeds another.”

Wright: “I think the common man is responsible for the drift toward conformity now.  It’s going to ruin our democracy, and is not according to our democratic faith.  I believe our democracy was Thomas Jefferson’s idea.  I mean I think Thomas Jefferson’s idea was the right idea, but we were headed for a genuine aristocracy.  An aristocracy that was innate, on the man, not of him, not his by privilege, but his by virtue of his own virtue, his own conscience, his own quality, and that by that we were going to have the rule of the bravest and the best.  But now that common man is becoming a little jealous of the uncommon man . . . .  He’s a block to progress.”

Wallace: “I understand that last week in all seriousness you said, ‘If I had another fifteen years to work I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation.”
Wright: “I did say that.  And it’s true.  Having had now the experience of going with the building of seven hundred and sixty-nine buildings, it’s quite easy for me to shake them out of my sleeve, and it’s amazing what I could do for this country. . . . I don’t think the mob knows anything about architecture, cares anything about it.”

Wallace: “Is the nation’s youth a mob?”
Wright: “No.  I believe that a teenager is a teenager, and I think that with him lies the hope of the future.  Now architecture with us is a matter of the future.”

Wright’s sharp humor came out regarding his recently published book (which Wallace had a copy of and Wright claimed not to have seen), self-exiled Charlie Chaplin, intellectuals, his voting record in the last Presidential election, and Marilyn Monroe’s acting ability.  He waxed eloquent on the role of architecture to “grace the landscape” and change the character of individual lives.  He lamented that American culture had become “drenched” in sex “from the bottom up”.  He loved the “Russian spirit” of the Soviet people but hated their communist government.  He felt strongly about the principles enumerated in our Declaration of Independence.

Wallace asked Wright to share the “something” he lived by. Wright replied, “The answer is within yourself . . . . And Jesus said it, I think, when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ . . . . That’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything it’s there now, and all we have to do is develop it.”

Brandes Residence, by Frank Lloyd Wright; Sammamish, Washington

Image Credit: Ed Ford/New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection; Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

September 27, 1957 – The New York Giants Rent San Francisco’s Seals Stadium

Seals Stadium, San Francisco

On September 27, 1957, New York Giants majority owner Horace Stoneham signed an agreement to rent San Francisco’s Seals Stadium for the 1958 and 1959 seasons, during construction of their new home field, Candlestick Park.  The New York Giants would be no more.  After their last home game at the Polo Grounds on September 29, 1957, the team which began as the Gothams in 1883 would thereafter be known as the San Francisco Giants.  Walter O’Malley’s Dodgers were making the move to Los Angeles; O’Malley’s encouragement, and the welcome mat set out by the second of the two major venues in California, sealed the deal.

San Francisco Mayor George Christopher spearheaded the transition from East to West Coast for Stoneham and his team.  New York city officials had been less than helpful to the Giants organization in finding a new home to replace their crumbling old stadium.  After winning the World Series in 1954 – as underdogs sweeping the Cleveland Indians in four straight games, including “The Catch” by Willie Mays in Game 1 – the Giants had slipped in the rankings and attendance fell off significantly over the next three years.

Seals Stadium had a long history as a minor league ballpark.  The San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, a Boston Red Sox minor league affiliate, made it their home from 1931 until 1957.  After the Giant’s 1959 season, the stadium was demolished and its location at 16th and Bryant Streets was developed for retail business.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

September 26, 1957 – West Side Story Opens on Broadway

The Winter Garden Theater, Broadway, New York City. Photo: Library of Congress, Leonard Bernstein Collection

The Winter Garden Theater, Broadway, New York City

On September 26, 1957, West Side Story, a modern musical take on Romeo and Juliet based on rivalries between white and Puerto Rican teenage street gangs, opened at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in New York City.  Arthur Laurents wrote the book, Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, newcomer Stephen Sondheim (with contributions from Bernstein) wrote the lyrics, Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the dancing, and Harold Prince and Robert Griffith produced the dark, revolutionary musical which became a critically-acclaimed hit and part of our American cultural legacy.

Originally conceived as a doomed love story between an Italian-American Roman Catholic boy and a Holocaust-surviving, Jewish Israeli immigrant girl on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (hence the first working title, East Side Story), the story morphed several times (including a Los Angeles-based version of a Chicano turf war) before finally settling on portraying the rivalry between West Side teenage gangs appearing increasingly in the city in 1957.  West Side Story’s songs were more complicated musically and the dancing far more extensive than most Broadway productions to date.  Adding to the producers’ challenges, most of the cast members needed to be both singers and dancers, and at the same time be (or at least appear to be) teenagers.

Maria (Carol Lawrence) and Tony (Larry Kert)

Tryouts in Washington, DC and Philadelphia in August of 1957 garnered positive reviews.  The 39-member cast included: Michael Calin as Riff, leader of the white Jets gang; Larry Kert as Tony, Riff’s friend (a role originally intended for James Dean); Ken Le Roy as Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks; Carol Lawrence as Maria (Bernardo’s sister, Juliet to Tony’s Romeo); Chita Rivera as Anita, Bernardo’s girl; William Bramley as Officer Krupke; and a young Elizabeth Taylor as Francisca (a Shark girl).

The production garnered several Tony nominations and two awards in 1958.  Jerome Robbins won Best Choreographer, Oliver Smith won Best Scenic Designer, Carol Lawrence was nominated for Best Featured Actress, Irene Sharaff was nominated for Best Costume Designer, Max Goberman was nominated for Best Conductor, and the entire production was nominated for Best Musical, the award for which went to Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

The original production of West Side Story ran for 732 performances on Broadway through June of 1959, considered a very successful run.  It then went on the road, returning to the Winter Garden Theatre in 1960 for an additional 253 performances.  Many productions and tours of the musical have been staged over the years in New York, London, and regional theaters.

From John Chapman’s review in the New York Daily News:

“The American theatre took a venturesome forward step when the firm of Griffith & Prince presented West Side Story at the Winter Garden last evening.  This is a bold new kind of musical theatre – a juke-box Manhattan opera.  It is, to me, extraordinarily exciting . . . the manner of telling the story is a provocative and artful blend of music, dance and plot – and the music and the dancing are superb.  In [the score], there is the drive, the bounce, the restlessness and the sweetness of our town.  It takes up the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died. It is fascinatingly tricky and melodically beguiling, and its marks the progression of an admirable composer . . .”.

Image Credit: Library of Congress, Leonard Bernstein Collection; Leo Friedman/Publicity Photo

September 25, 1957 – The First Day, a New Day, at Little Rock Central High

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort Little Rock Nine students into all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

On September 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nine – Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Beals – entered the halls of Little Rock Central High School for the first time.  The 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army had arrived in Little Rock the day before, at President Dwight Eisenhower’s order.  Early on the morning of the 25th, a Wednesday, the highly decorated and prestigious “Screaming Eagles”, who served valiantly on the beaches of Normandy, in the Battle of the Bulge, and in Vietnam, once again answered the call to serve their country in battle.  This day’s battle was for educational freedom and against racial prejudice.

With the first day of classes behind them, the Little Rock Nine and the 101st won the first skirmish in the long war for equal opportunity, against physical – or virtual – segregation.

101st Airborne escorts Little Rock Nine. Photo: US Army

101st Airborne escorts Little Rock Nine.

Image Credit: U.S. Army

September 24, 1957 – The Dodgers’ Last Game in Brooklyn

Ebbets Field. Photo: Major League Baseball

Ebbets Field

On September 24, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at beloved but decrepit Ebbets Field.  Originally founded in 1883 as the Brooklyn Athletics, the venerable team which signed the Major League’s first African-American player, Jackie Robinson, was also known over the years as the Grays, the Bridegrooms, the Grooms, the Trolley Dodgers, the Superbas, and the Robins before “Trolley Dodgers” was shortened to Dodgers in 1932.

After businessman Walter O’Malley acquired majority ownership of the team in 1950, he worked with the mayor and city planner of Brooklyn to get permission to build a much-needed, state-of-the-art stadium, but they refused to “play ball”.  O’Malley took the Dodgers on the road to New Jersey for several games in 1956 to signal the seriousness of his intent to move the team unless the situation changed.  Brooklyn’s Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. refused to budge.  Los Angeles, originally angling to acquire the Washington Senators, offered O’Malley land for a stadium, which he would own, and complete control over all revenues.  O’Malley took the Dodgers to LA, convincing New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham to bring his team (also suffering a home-field “disadvantage” in a crumbling stadium) to San Francisco, instead of the then-contemplated move to Minneapolis.  Stoneham agreed, and the Giants-Dodgers rivalry permanently moved west.

After having won the World Championship in 1955, only two years before, the Dodgers could be forgiven for being disappointed that only 6700 diehard fans showed up for their last Brooklyn game.  On this Tuesday in autumn, at 44-year-old Ebbets Field, O’Malley’s team won one last victory before going “Hollywood”, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0.

Image Credit: Major League Baseball