1950s

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

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 22, 1957 – “Maverick” Blazes a New Trail

Bret and Bart Maverick

On September 22, 1957, ABC aired the first episode of a new-fangled Western series, Maverick, starring James Garner as card-playing, bullet-dodging, but good-with-his-fists Bret Maverick, and Jack Kelly as his more conservative brother, Bart Maverick.  Dressed up in fancy black attire, avoiding trouble whenever possible, Bret and Bart represented a new type of hero (some called them anti-heroes) who preferred to outsmart the bad guys rather than risk life and limb.  Venturing into harm’s way also usually required a good chance of financial gain, according to Bret and Bart.  Their consciences, however, led them to virtuous, courageous action and their scrupulous honesty clearly marked them as morally right.

Roy Huggins created the highly popular series which ran from 1957 to 1962, adding two more Maverick brothers along the way.  Smooth Scot Sean Connery was offered and turned down a role; it was Brit Roger Moore, pre-Bond days, who joined the show in 1960 after Garner left due to a contract dispute.  Moore starred as previously disgraced brother Beau, who had been banished to England for accepting a Civil War service medal.  Fourth brother Brent, played by Garner-esque Robert Colbert, was also added to offset declining ratings after James’/Bret’s departure.  Objecting to being cast as purely a Bret clone, Colbert reportedly pleaded with production company Warner Brothers to “put me in a dress and call me Brenda but don’t do this to me!”

Maverick developed such a following that the Kaiser (“quilted” foil) Aluminum-sponsored show often drew a larger audience than time-slot competition behemoths The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show.  A large part of the show’s popularity depended on its quirky humor, its strong slate of supporting actors and actresses, and cameo appearances by other well-known stars.  The comedic aspect of the show was eventually expanded with storylines created to lampoon other prime-time television programming from Gunsmoke to Dragnet.  Big names appearing on the series included Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Joel Grey, Robert Redford, Stacy Keach, Sr., Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Adam West (Batman), Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), Ellen Burstyn, Louise Fletcher, and Connie Stevens.

Image Credit: Warner Brothers Television

September 21, 1957 – Perry Mason’s First Case

Hamilton Burger, Arthur Tragg, Della Street, Perry Mason, Paul Drake

On September 21, 1957, defense attorney Perry Mason tried – and won – the first of many cases in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, as one of television’s most successful and longest-running legal series premiered on CBS.  Broadcast from September 1957 until May of 1966,  Perry Mason featured Raymond Burr as cool, brilliant, masterful Mason, Barbara Hale as his attractive, husky-voiced, confidential secretary, William Hopper as blond, handsome, semi-playboy private detective Paul Drake, William Talman as hapless, clownish District Attorney Hamilton Burger, and Ray Collins as smug, thick-skulled police Lt. Arthur Tragg.

Each episode title began with the familiar phrase “The Case of the . . .” and the show progressed following a formula, as well.  The first part of the show set up the audience for the murder of a disagreeable, deserving victim and the presence on, or near the scene, of a likable, innocent, soon-to-be defendant to the crime.  Perry would take on the case, Drake would investigate (dropping into the office through his private back entrance and calling Della “Beautiful”), and soon the courtroom drama would begin.  Over-confident DA Burger would present his case, with evidence from gloating Lt. Tragg, Perry would call witnesses, examine and cross-examine, the real killer would get uncomfortable, Drake would arrive at the courtroom in the nick of time with an important envelope, and all of a sudden Perry would force an anguished or angry, emotional confession from the real murderer.

It was formulaic, but it worked.  Perry Mason was highly popular.  Most everyone could hum the show’s theme song, “Park Avenue Beat”.  Many famous actors and actresses appeared as guest stars over the years, including (just to name a few) Robert Redford, Bette Davis, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Angie Dickenson, Louise Fletcher, Burt Reynolds, Barbara Eden, Ryan O’Neal, Diane Ladd, Fay Wray, Cloris Leachman, Lee Meriwether, Dick Clark, Jackie Coogan, De Forest Kelley, Werner Klemperer, Harvey Korman, June Lockhart, and Marion Ross.  Erle Stanley Gardner, the detective fiction author who originally created the story’s characters, played a judge in the final series episode on May 22, 1966.  From 1985 to 1995, 30 made-for-television movies aired on NBC, most starring Burr and Street, with other actors filling in the main roles.  The original episodes are in syndication to this day.

KPTV in Portland, Oregon – where I was born – continuously carried reruns of Perry Mason from its final episode in 1966 until September 4, 2012, when Perry adjourned to another local Portland station, KPDX. Alas, KPDX retired Mason in September of 2014. Diehard fans can now find Perry weekdays on Me TV, at 9:00 AM and 11:30 PM Pacific time.

Appearing at noon on KPTV (except for a brief period in the mid-70s when it was moved to 12:30 PM), Perry was a daily lunchtime staple for faithful fans in the Rose City. For many years, I was one of those faithful fans. As a young adolescent, I found much to love about Perry, a strong, mature man who could always be counted on to protect the good and the innocent. I have to admit that Paul Drake added his own special, erotic thrill.

Image Credit: CBS Corporation

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 19, 1957 – Bathyscaphe Treiste Reaches Record Depth

Bathyscaphe Trieste

 

On September 19, 1957, a curious creature containing iron pellets, gasoline, oxygen, and two humanoids visited the aquatic denizens of the deep, two miles below the gentle waves and warm breezes of the Mediterranean Sea.  The mysterious mechanical interloper was the bathyscaphe Trieste, a deep-submergence vehicle originally conceived, designed, and constructed by Swiss physicist and inventor August Piccard, on a successful voyage to set a new diving depth record.  Piccard coined the term “bathyscaphe” from two Greek words: “bathos”, meaning “deep”; and “scaphos”, meaning “ship”.  The bathyscaphe consisted of a float chamber filled with gasoline for buoyancy (gasoline is less dense than water, and naturally wants to rise to the water’s surface) and a pressure chamber for two crew members.  Piccard’s first bathyscaphe, the FNRS-2 had been constructed in 1947.  Using what he learned from his early explorations, Piccard then designed the Trieste, which was built in 1952 in the town of Trieste, Italy, with the support of many local individuals, companies and institutions.

Between 1953 and October of 1957, the Trieste completed 48 dives in the Mediterranean.  Its success attracted the interest of the United States Office of Naval Research, which purchased the Trieste and assigned it to the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego, California.

Trieste Diagram by Ralph Sutherland

The Trieste’s float chambers were more than 50 feet long and contained 22,500 gallons of gasoline.  Water ballast tanks were added at each end of the float section.  The crew’s pressure chamber was slightly over 7 feet long and contained completely independent life-support systems, including a rebreather system with oxygen tanks and a carbon dioxide scrubber.  The bathyscaphe was battery-powered and operated by the French Navy during its Mediterranean adventures.  Nine tons of magnetic iron pellets in ballast silos, and an electromagnetic control system, allowed the Trieste to descend and ascend.  Crew members observed the underwater scenery by one cone-shaped window of acrylic glass with illumination by quartz arc-light bulbs outside the ship.  Everything on the Trieste had to be designed to withstand the over 1000 atmospheres of pressure found at the extreme depths Piccard wanted to explore.

Image Credit: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons