“Texas City Disaster”
BP Refinery: March 2005

On March 23rd, 2005 in Texas City, Texas, a horrendous explosion and fire at the British Petroleum (BP) oil refinery killed 15 workers and injured another 180. At the time, it was one of the worst industrial accidents to have occurred in the U.S. since the late 1980s. Pat Nickerson, a veteran of the Texas City BP refinery for 28 years, was on site the day of the explosion driving his truck inside the refinery to an office trailer. “I looked down the road. It looked like fumes, like on a real hot day, you see these heat waves coming up,” he explained, describing the scene during a 60 Minutes TV interview, “and then I saw an ignition and a blast. Then my windshield shattered. The roof of the vehicle I was driving caved in on me.”

Firefighting water canons are trained on the damaged BP oil refinery in Texas City, TX in the aftermath of March 23rd, 2005 explosion & fire. Fifteen workers were killed and another 180 injured in the disaster. Photo, Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle.
Firefighting water canons are trained on the damaged BP oil refinery in Texas City, TX in the aftermath of March 23rd, 2005 explosion & fire. Fifteen workers were killed and another 180 injured in the disaster. Photo, Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle.

After the blast, Nickerson was still alive and he began digging through the wreckage looking for survivors. “Out of the corner of my eye, there was somebody on the ground,” he later recalled in his 60 Minutes interview. “A guy named Ryan Rodriguez, and he was just kind of staring at me. He couldn’t move because his face was so, you know, deformed and everything from the blast. And some, you know, bones and stuff that were… protruding from his chin.” Rodriguez died in the ambulance.

The refinery that day was re-starting a unit that had been down for repairs. It was a tower processing unit being filled with gasoline. Due to malfunctioning equipment and sensors, the tower overflowed with excess gas then going into a back-up unit, which also overflowed, sending a geyser of gasoline into the air. Workers in the refinery reported seeing the cloud of vaporizing fuel shoot from the tall stack and then roll down to ground level, enlarging into a massive vapor cloud as it moved, still being fed by malfunctioning equipment.

March 23rd, 2005.  BP’s Texas City, TX oil refinery as it burned following the explosion there that killed 15 workers and injured 180 in one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history. Photo, Galveston County Daily News, Dwight Andrews.
March 23rd, 2005. BP’s Texas City, TX oil refinery as it burned following the explosion there that killed 15 workers and injured 180 in one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history. Photo, Galveston County Daily News, Dwight Andrews.

Some refinery workers that day remember hearing frantic voices calling over a handheld radio: “Stop all hot work! Stop all hot work!” They were trying to prevent the ignition of the escaped and creeping vapor cloud. If it found any open flame – furnace burner, welding work, or even a simple spark – it would explode violently. And in that section of the refinery, there was a lot of equipment running. But the vapor cloud soon found an ignition source – believed to have been a pick-up truck whose owner was trying to move it out of the area, but the flood of hydrocarbons prevented him from starting it. Still, he continued to crank the truck’s engine, not knowing what was happening, as co-workers frantically tried to stop him, but it was too late. A spark from the engine touched off the gas cloud and ignited a firestorm.

Map showing location of BP's Texas City, Texas refinery.
Map showing location of BP's Texas City, Texas refinery.
According to the experts, once a cloud of highly flammable material is ignited, two events or two waves of violent action occur; first, an initial flash takes all of the available oxygen out of the air, creating a giant vacuum; then, as the suction brings in fresh oxygen, the combustibles explode. At the BP refinery, a huge fire ball was created that consumed and pulverized the immediate area, setting off a series of five more explosions in the surrounding areas killing nearby workers. As the U.S. Chemical Safety Board would later note in its report:

“…Once ignited, the flame rapidly spread through the flammable vapor cloud, compressing the gas ahead of it to create a blast pressure wave. Furthermore, the flame accelerated each time a combination of congestion/confinement and flammable mix allowed, greatly intensifying the blast pressure in certain areas. These intense pressure regions, or sub explosions, produced heavy structural damage locally and left a pattern of structural deformation away from the blast center in all directions.”

Eva Rowe, 20 years old, was driving to Texas City on the day of the explosion to visit her parents, both of whom worked at the refinery. “I was at a gas station about 45 minutes away,” she would later recall during a 60 Minutes TV interview. “Some man inside said that the BP refinery had exploded. I called my mom. And my mom didn’t answer, and that’s not like my mom. She always answered.” Rowe later learned that both of her parents were among the 15 people killed that day.

March 23, 2005: BP’s Texas City, Texas oil refinery continues to burn in some areas following the explosion there, as water is trained on remaining fires and hot spots.  Note emergency response workers, yellow hats, lower right.
March 23, 2005: BP’s Texas City, Texas oil refinery continues to burn in some areas following the explosion there, as water is trained on remaining fires and hot spots. Note emergency response workers, yellow hats, lower right.

At the scene of the explosion that day, fire trucks, emergency vehicles, helicopters all descended on the site. Amid ongoing fires, blown-apart structures, and twisted steel, the search for the dead and injured at the devastated scene began. As recounted by the Houston Chronicle, David Leining, a BP employee, was inside the temporary double-wide office trailer when he heard a weird banging noise. He went to the door to look outside, and just as he did he was pushed to the ground by the force of the blast. The vapor cloud had seeped beneath the double wide office trailer. After the explosion, Leining was flat on his back beneath a pile of rubble. An unconscious co-worker was also in that same pile above him. Leining recalled that he was able to move his left hand and reach his communicator to send out a distress signal. Another worker, Ralph Dean, thrown off the seat of his forklift by the blast, but still alive, was one of the first workers in the explosion to begin digging out co-workers. He used the fork lift to dig through the rubble at the trailer site to locate Leining, but his feet were pinned by the wreckage. Dean continued using his forklift to pry away wreckage on the pile, and to haul off other dangerous debris, pushing burning vehicles, whose gas tanks were exploding, away from the remains of the trailer area.

Aerial view of blast & fire damage at BP’s Texas City, Texas refinery sometime after the March 2005 explosion and fires, showing severely damaged structure in the upper left and burnt-out hulks of several vehicles at center of photo.
Aerial view of blast & fire damage at BP’s Texas City, Texas refinery sometime after the March 2005 explosion and fires, showing severely damaged structure in the upper left and burnt-out hulks of several vehicles at center of photo.

As he worked clearing debris, Ralph Dean found the body of his father-in-law only a few feet from Leining. Dean later discovered his wife, Alisa, pinned under a metal bookshelf and barely alive. Also killed in the trailer that day were Morris King, who died only a few feet away from where Leining was pinned. Another colleague, Larry Thomas, who had been leaning against the trailer wall, was also killed. Leining ended up with multiple fractures in his ankles, knee problems, and permanent hearing damage. Linda Rowe, who also worked at the refinery, had come to the trailer office that day to deliver a pair of forgotten glasses to her husband, James. Both she and James were killed in the explosion.

Ground-level view of the debris field and twisted and charred piping in the aftermath of the March 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas oil refinery.
Ground-level view of the debris field and twisted and charred piping in the aftermath of the March 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas oil refinery.

BP had become the owner of the Texas City oil refinery, in the late 1990s when it acquired the facility from the Amoco Oil Company. The refinery, located on the outskirts of Galveston, about 35 miles southeast of Houston, extends for nearly two square miles. At the time of the explosion it was the third largest oil refinery in the U.S. When the blast occurred that day, the surrounding community was rocked; 43,000 people were told to “shelter in place,” emergency parlance for “stay in doors and pray that nothing worse happens.” Homes were damaged as far away as three-quarters of a mile from the refinery. Financial losses would later be totaled at more than $1.5 billion.

Prior to BP’s ownership, the refinery had suffered some years of neglect under Amoco. But the situation did not appear to improve much after BP became the owner in the late 1990s. Three months before the explosion, in January 2005, one report on the refinery by consulting firm Telos had examined conditions at the plant and found numerous safety issues, including “broken alarms, thinned pipe, chunks of concrete falling, bolts dropping 60 feet, and staff being overcome with fumes.” The report’s co-author reportedly stated later, “we have never seen a site where the notion ‘I could die today’ was so real.”

TV’s “60 Minutes” did an investigation of the Texas City disaster, aired on October 29th,2006.
TV’s “60 Minutes” did an investigation of the Texas City disaster, aired on October 29th,2006.
Prior to the March 2005 explosion, there had already been a couple of earlier incidents at the Texas City complex that caught the attention of federal regulators. In March 2004 there was a blast and fire at the refinery which forced the evacuation of the plant for several hours, but no one was injured. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined the refinery $63,000 for that incident, finding what it called “serious safety violations,” including problems with the emergency shutdown system and employee training. OSHA had also fined BP in September 2003 for previous safety violations after two employees were burned to death by superheated water trying to remove a valve from a high-pressure hot water line. Following the March 2005 explosion, several government and BP investigations of the accident were begun, but they would take months to complete.

Among the federal agencies investigating was the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which sent a team to the site early on. While the CSB’s final investigative report would not come until late 2006, the agency took other actions aimed at BP. On August 17, 2005, the CSB recommended that BP commission an independent panel to investigate the safety culture and management systems throughout its entire BP North America operation. This BP agreed to do, and a panel led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III was convened, but would not report until January 2007 (this “Baker report” is covered later below).

Meanwhile, the CBS-TV newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, spent three months investigating the explosion at Texas City. On its Sunday night edition of October 29th, 2006, the newsmagazine aired its findings with correspondent Ed Bradley’s interviews of company and government officials, workers and family survivors, including Pat Nickerson and Eva Rowe quoted earlier above. “What we found,” explained CBS of the show in an introductory summary, “was a failure by BP to protect the health and safety of its own workers, even though the company made a profit of $19 billion last year.”

Lesley Stahl introduced the “60 Minutes” Texas City story.
Lesley Stahl introduced the “60 Minutes” Texas City story.
Ed Bradley, CBS correspondent for the Texas City story.
Ed Bradley, CBS correspondent for the Texas City story.
Carolyn Merritt, head of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, offered key findings of BP failures at the Texas City refinery during ‘60 Minutes’ broadcast, Oct 29th, 2006.
Carolyn Merritt, head of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, offered key findings of BP failures at the Texas City refinery during ‘60 Minutes’ broadcast, Oct 29th, 2006.

As the program aired, Lesley Stahl introduced the segment,but Ed Bradley would be on camera for the interviews he conducted (Bradley, in fact was ill with leukemia at the time but was intent on completing his investigation).”60 Minutes” spent the last three months investigating the explosion at Texas City,” explained Stahl in her introduction. “Ed Bradley found evidence that BP ignored warning after warning that something terrible could happen there.”

During the 60 Minutes piece, Bradley interviewed Carolyn Merritt, the head of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, appointed by President George Bush. The 60 Minutes segment ran a few days before the CSB would hold a press conference on what they were finding in their investigation. So when Bradley interviewed Merritt, the CSB was well along in its investigation, and Merritt shared some of what they were finding – which was quite damning of BP. One of the issues was BP budget cuts, and if these had put the Texas City plant and its workers at risk – a question covered in one exchange during the broadcast:

Bradley: …[W]hen BP acquired the Texas City refinery from Amoco eight years ago, the plant already was in a state of disrepair. Instead of spending money to update the plant, BP executives in London told their refinery managers to cut their budgets.

Merritt: Twenty-five percent of their fixed costs were cut. And when you cut that much out of a budget in a facility, you lose people, you lose equipment, you lose maintenance, you lose trainers. Our investigation has shown that this was a drastic mistake.

Bradley: So, as the Texas refinery got older, and needed more maintenance, more attention to safety, BP cut the budget in those areas?

Merritt: Yes.

Bradley: Is there a direct relationship between the budget cut and the disaster at Texas City?

Merritt: We believe there is.

Cover of U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s final report on the BP Texas City, TX refinery explosion, March 2007.
Cover of U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s final report on the BP Texas City, TX refinery explosion, March 2007.
One of the best examples, Merritt explained in follow up, was on the very unit that caused the explosion. In the ten years leading up to the disaster, there had been eight major gasoline vapor releases on that same unit – any one of which could have been catastrophic. “Most refineries install safety devices, called flares, to burn off excess gasoline to avoid disasters,” said Merritt. “BP chose not to.” Nor did BP repair key instrument-reading devices for detecting and warning of safe levels of operation that would have signaled trouble at the plant, as Merritt also revealed.

“There were three pieces of key instrumentation that were actually supposed to be repaired that were not repaired and the management knew this,” Merritt said. But BP management authorized the operation on the very units with the faulty instrumentation, knowing the three pieces of equipment were not working properly.

A few days following the 60 Minutes broadcast, at an October 31st, 2006 press conference on the CSB investigation, Merritt singled out the history of unwise management decisions at the refinery: “Cost-cutting and failure to invest in the 1990s by Amoco and then BP left the Texas City refinery vulnerable to a catastrophe. BP targeted budget cuts of 25 percent in 1999 and another 25 percent in 2005, even though much of the refinery’s infrastructure and process equipment were in disrepair.” Operator training and staffing had also been downsized at the refinery. “What BP experienced,”“Cost-cutting and failure to invest in the 1990s by Amoco and then BP left the Texas City refinery vulnerable to a catastro-phe. . .”
– U.S. Chemical Safety Board
Merritt said, continuing her statement, “was the perfect storm where aging infrastructure, overzealous cost cutting, inadequate design, and risk blindness occurred. The result was the worst workplace catastrophe in more than a decade.” When the final CSB report was issues on March 2007 it also noted:

“The Texas City disaster was caused by organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation. Warning signs of a possible disaster were present for several years, but company officials did not intervene effectively to prevent it. The extent of the serious safety culture deficiencies was further revealed when the refinery experienced two additional serious incidents just a few months after the March 2005 disaster. In one, a pipe failure caused a reported $30 million in damage; the other resulted in a $2 million property loss. In each incident, community shelter-in-place orders were issued.”

James Baker delivering his panel’s findings on BP’s U.S. operations, Houston, Texas, 2007.
James Baker delivering his panel’s findings on BP’s U.S. operations, Houston, Texas, 2007.
Cover of the Baker Report: “The Report of The BP U.S. Refineries  Independent Safety Review Panel,” January 2007.
Cover of the Baker Report: “The Report of The BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel,” January 2007.


The Baker Report

As recommended by the CSB, a special panel was commissioned by BP and headed up by former Secretary of State James Baker to conduct a third-party review of BP corporate practices leading up to the Texas City explosion, including a review the company’s practices at five other U.S. BP refineries. The “Baker Report,” as it was called, released in January 2007, did not find much to commend in BP’s operations. Among other things, Baker’s group found that inspections on volatile process units at BP refineries often were long overdue. In other cases, near catastrophes went uninvestigated, and known equipment problems such as thinning pipes and vessels went unrepaired for up to ten years.

In a follow-up video news conference to the Baker Report with BP’s then CEO, John Browne, the CEO stated: “If I had to say one thing which I hope you will all hear today it is this: BP gets it. And I get it too…,” suggesting that the company would change its ways. But apparently, BP didn’t “get it,” as in the years following the Texas City disaster, the company continued to have spills, leaks and other incidents at its U.S. operations and those abroad, making BP one of the classic corporate recidivists (see sidebar below).

In fact, several years after the 2005 disaster, in September 2009, BP was fined $87.4 million by OSHA for unaddressed worker safety violations at the very same Texas City oil refinery where the explosion had occurred.

The fine was for failing to implement workplace safety improvements under a settlement made with OSHA following the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion. In a six-month investigation, OSHA found 270 uncorrected workplace safety violations and 439 new workplace safety violations at the refinery. OSHA noted that four more workers had died at the Texas City refinery since the 2005 explosion.

Jordan Barab, then acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said the agency had found “some serious systemic safety problems within the corporation” and at the Texas refinery. “The fact that there are so many still outstanding life-threatening problems at this plant,” said Barab, “indicates that they still have a systemic safety problem in this refinery.” And as would be revealed by subsequent events in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP apparently had yet to address its systemic problems found elsewhere in the corporation.


“BP’s Other Messes”
2006-2010

Texas City wasn’t the only place where BP had problems, and in subsequent years other incidents would occur – in pipelines, with other refining operations, controlling emissions, and with offshore operations. Here are a few of those reported in the 2006-2010 period:

Associated Press map shows the general location of a BP oil pipeline that leaked on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006.
Associated Press map shows the general location of a BP oil pipeline that leaked on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006.
March 2006. A corroded pipeline at BP’s Prudhoe Bay operation in Alaska leaked 267,000 gallons of crude oil. Five months after the incident, BP conceded that the leak was part of a widespread corrosion problem in its system that would force it to replace 16 miles of a 22-mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay. In 2007, BP pled guilty to the negligent discharge of oil under the federal Clean Water Act and was fined $20 million for the spill and admitted it “failed to take necessary actions to prevent the March 2006 pipeline spill.”

April 2006. BP was fined $2.4 million by OSHA for worker safety violations at the company’s Oregon, Ohio oil refinery – workplace safety violations, in fact, that were similar to those that contributed to the Texas City explosion. “It is extremely disappointing that BP Products failed to learn from the lessons of Texas City to assure their workers’ safety and health,” said Edwin Foulke, Jr., OSHA assistant secretary at the time of the fine, also citing BP as among those companies “who, despite our enforcement and outreach efforts, ignore their obligations under the law and continually place their employees at risk.”

June 2007. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality fined BP $869,150 for leaking underground gasoline storage tanks. The Michigan DEQ reported it was then monitoring over 200 former gasoline stations where BP had reported releases from underground tank systems.

The now-famous photo of BP’s burning Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig  in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and gushed  oil from a sea-bed well for nearly 3 months.
The now-famous photo of BP’s burning Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and gushed oil from a sea-bed well for nearly 3 months.
October 2007. BP paid a $6,350 fine for failing to perform adequate corrosion protection inspections for gasoline storage tanks at former gas station sites in Washington, D.C.

February 2009. BP agreed to pay nearly $180 million in fines to correct eight year-old air pollution violations at its Texas City oil refinery. BP agreed to pay the fine for failing to bring the refinery into compliance with air pollution rules under a 2001 consent decree to correct Clean Air Act violations.

March 2010. OSHA cited the BP-Husky oil refinery near Toledo, Ohio for workplace safety violations and proposed fines of more than $3 million. BP then operated and jointly owned the refinery with Canadian-based Husky Energy.

April 2010. BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on April 20th after a blowout, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others, as the rig sank two days later. A massive oil spill followed – the largest in U.S. history – threatening the entire Gulf Coast region, its wildlife, marshes and natural resources, and damaging its fishing and tourist-based economies. Millions of people throughout the region were directly and indirectly affected, from lost jobs to shuttered businesses and reduced local revenue. In November 2012, BP and the U.S. Department of Justice settled federal criminal charges with BP pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. As of February 2013, criminal and civil settlements and payments to a trust fund had cost the company $42.2 billion. In September 2014, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.


Eva Rowe on the October 2006 “60 Minutes” broadcast.
Eva Rowe on the October 2006 “60 Minutes” broadcast.

Eva Rowe’s Fight

Eva Rowe, the 20 year-old who lost both her parents in the Texas City explosion, cited at the top of this story, decided to take BP to court rather than accept a company settlement over the death of her parents.

The day of the explosion, Eva had gone through a harrowing experience, traveling that day from Hornbeck, Louisiana to what she thought was going to be a pleasant visit with her parents. But her life would never be the same again. After her frantic efforts trying to locate her parents following the explosion – calling the plant, hospitals, relatives, and visiting a neighboring worker – she was told unofficially at 4 am that her parents were presumed to be among those killed. Early the next day, televised BP information advised those with missing loved ones to go the Charles T. Doyle Convention Center in Texas City. There, next of kin were escorted to the coroner’ s office to view the deceased. But Eva Rowe was too upset to view her parents’ remains and instead began filling out paper work on her parents’ physical descriptions and medical records. By the end of the day, her parents had been identified through dental records and DNA. “That was the end of my life as I knew it,” Rowe would later say, describing her emptiness and hurt on losing her mother and her father.

Eva Rowe, holding a portrait photograph of her parents, James (44) and Linda (43) Rowe, killed in the BP explosion.
Eva Rowe, holding a portrait photograph of her parents, James (44) and Linda (43) Rowe, killed in the BP explosion.
Eva’s parents, James and Linda Rowe, had come to work at the Texas City refinery with BP contractor J.E. Merit Constructors. James was 44, and Linda 43. They had married when they were young and settled near James’s family, in Hornbeck, Louisiana, a tiny town with 500 or so residents not far from the Texas border. They lived in a trailer home on a dirt road on the outskirts of town. They had two children, Jeremy, the eldest, and Eva, the younger second child. Work was hard to find in Hornbeck, so James, and later Linda, came to work at Merit.

Eva too, had once worked briefly for a few months with her dad at another oil refinery in Corpus Christi, where he was a civil superintendent at the plant, overseeing general construction activities. He found Eva a job as a pipe fitter’s helper, but only for a brief time. Still, that experience was enough to have given Eva some idea of what a refinery environment was like. Eva had not had work after high school, and was living with her boyfriend back in Hornbeck. But she was still close to her mother, whom she would call her best friend. It was in October 2004 that Eva’s mother decided to join her husband, then working with Merit at the Texas City BP refinery. Linda soon had a job there working in the toolroom. And it was in the temporary office trailer at the Texas City refinery that was blown apart March 23rd, 2005 where both Linda and James Rowe were killed.

BP’s then CEO, Lord John Browne, visited Texas City the day after the explosion, stating the company would be assisting the injured and those who lost loved ones.
BP’s then CEO, Lord John Browne, visited Texas City the day after the explosion, stating the company would be assisting the injured and those who lost loved ones.
Back in Hornbeck, Eva arranged the double funeral for her parents, and there was also the matter of her parents’ modest estate, over which there came to be some differences and infighting. When Eva tried to become the sole administrator some family and local residents turned against her, telling “wild child” tales about her – as Eva had been no saint during her teen years. Lawyers were besieging her as well, knowing that potentially big settlements from BP were possible for those who lost loved ones. BP by this time had made public statements that it would be making restitution to those families. The head of the company from London, England, Lord John Browne, had come to Texas City the day after the explosion and held a news conference at city hall. “We have a very simple rule at BP that we are responsible for what happens inside the boundaries of our plant.” he said. “This is no exception. We will be doing everything we can to assist the families.” Later, Ross Pillari, president and CEO of BP America, was also reassuring, promising swift financial support and compensation to the families of those who died. “Our goal is to provide fair compensation without the need for lawsuits or lengthy court proceedings,” he said. BP in fact had set aside some $1.6 billion to settle lawsuits with victims and survivors.

Brent Coon, attorney, Beaumont, TX.
Brent Coon, attorney, Beaumont, TX.
Eva Rowe, still in a grieving state, losing weight, and having some sleepless nights, was hearing stories from survivors of the blast about lack of maintenance at the BP plant and malfunctioning alarms. Later, at the suggestion of a union worker, she hired a lawyer named Brent Coon from Beaumont, Texas. Coon also represented the Texas chapter of United Steelworkers of America whose members worked throughout the Texas oil industry. Coon became a personal adviser and helper to Eva. He not only became her lawyer, filing a $1.2 billion lawsuit against BP on her behalf, he would also help stabilize his client in her grief during a very troubling period of her life. He helped guide her through the family estate process back in Louisiana, and advised her to relocate to Beaumont, Texas, where he helped her find a new home, also offering members of his firm to assist her. But for Coon, he believed Eva Rowe was the right person to do battle with BP in court.

As Mimi Swartz, writing in Texas Monthly would observe: “Of all the death cases [in the BP Texas City disaster], Coon felt that Eva’s was the most compelling, because she had ‘driven into the chaos’ and because she had lost both parents. He also felt strongly that winning money would not be enough—for Eva, for him, or for that matter, for the United Steelworkers. … Coon understood the value of a public spectacle. He wanted to make an example of BP, and to do so would require a motivated plaintiff.”

By late June 2005, within a few months of the explosion, a number of families who had lost loved ones in the Texas City explosion settled with BP, some for amounts in the millions. “It’s the right price,” attorney Robert Kwok said at the time, then representing a spouse of one of the workers who had been killed. “They are basically erring on the side of generous,” he said of BP.“…They [BP] are offering money that is very hard for claimants and their lawyers to walk away from.”– Robert Kwok, Attorney “They are offering money that is very hard for claimants and their lawyers to walk away from.” Some of the settlements were reportedly “on the high end of tens of millions of dollars apiece.” Attorney Richard Mithoff, then representing several families of workers killed in the BP explosion said, “I think there is a clear recognition on the part of BP that they would be held accountable in a court of law.” And he also expressed some surprise at how quickly BP had settled the cases. “I’ve been involved in a lot of early negotiations but none have settled this early,” he said. Eva Rowe’s brother, Jeremy, would also settle with BP. But if every plaintiff settled and no court action occurred, many internal BP documents on the refinery’s operation and BP decision making would never see the light of day. Such documents would remain under court seal, as confidentiality of company information is customarily the practice in settlement agreements – a quid pro quo some might say. Eva Rowe would determine that she did not want that to occur in her case.

March 2006: Eva Rowe placing wreath at make-shift memorial outside BP’s Texas City plant on the one year anniversary of explosion that killed her parents. AP photo/ Melissa Phillip.
March 2006: Eva Rowe placing wreath at make-shift memorial outside BP’s Texas City plant on the one year anniversary of explosion that killed her parents. AP photo/ Melissa Phillip.
However, some suggested that her attorney, Brent Coon, was the driving force behind Eva’s stance and had undo influence on her. Still, when it came to exposing BP’s documents and decision making, they both wanted maximum disclosure. Eva appeared to be very much her own person on that count.

“I might be from the woods, but I’m street-smart,” she would later tell the Texas Monthly’s Mimi Swartz. “They tried to treat me like I was stupid. I wanted the public to know. They couldn’t pay me enough to be quiet.”

It took Eva a full year to view the autopsy photos of her parents given to her earlier by the county coroner. She had been unable to look at them before, with Coon’s office holding them for her. But when she finally did view them she saw “the charred remains of her decapitated mother” (struck by a falling object during the explosion and fire), and “what she believed were streams of tears on her father’s blood-stained face,” according to Texas Monthly. The photos motivated her more than ever to stand her ground with BP.

Brent Coon with his client, Eva Rowe, prepping with some model refinery apparatus.
Brent Coon with his client, Eva Rowe, prepping with some model refinery apparatus.
Brent Coon and his associates, meanwhile, were pouring through BP’s performance history. Time and time again, they found that BP had opted for revenue and profit rather than plant fixes and upgrades. In 2002, rising gas prices brought a windfall to BP and other oil companies, but BP plant managers were told to “bank the savings.” Again in 2004, there was a $2 billion profit at BP Texas City, but little investment in safety. In fact, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, from 1995 to 2005, BP led the refinery industry in deaths with 22 fatalities. BP was also the nation’s leader in refinery accidents, with 3,563 mishaps occurring between 1990 and 2003. The more Eva learned about BP’s record, the more determined she became about taking them to trial. A September 2006 court date was set. But it was the waiting, the drawn-out interim battles, and Eva’s personal demons, that would wear on her during the legal process.

BP’s legal team, meanwhile, played hard ball during negotiations and depositions, using tactics aimed at intimidating Rowe and any others who might challenge the company in court. In Rowe’s case, she was assured that even if she won in court, there could be large financial consequences. She was told by BP that she would be responsible for their court costs if the jury award was less than the settlement offer.…Eva would see strangers parked in a car near her home. During the day, she was constantly followed… A bodyguard was hired to be with Eva at all times… During her deposition, BP’s attorneys got personal, asking her about drinking and marijuana and cocaine use and an altercation at a gas station that ended with her being led away in handcuffs by the police. Eva pled youthful indiscretion and teenage experimentation. Still, BP’s attorneys had unnerved her, making her feel like she was the one at fault, not BP. However, BP’s lawyers made it clear that should Eva’s case go to trial, the jury would be “entitled to know who Eva Rowe is.” Beyond the deposition and courtroom tactics, there were other more troubling concerns. According to Coon, Eva would see strangers parked in a car near her home. During the day, she was constantly followed as she tried to live and rebuild her life. At the suggestion of Coon, a bodyguard was hired to be with her at all times. BP’s attorney’s, in one statement to the court, claimed the company “did not have people on surveillance.” Still, Rowe was so afraid for her safety on one occasion she called the police.

Brent Coon & Associates dug deep into the BP record preparing their case.
Brent Coon & Associates dug deep into the BP record preparing their case.
As part of their legal strategy, Brent Coon and associates sought to depose the company’s top man, CEO, Lord John Browne, arguing that he was likely uniquely inovled in BP budgeting and decision making on which plant investments were made or not made. The court initially gave the go ahead for the Browne deposition. BP appealed, and other oil companies, including ExxonMobil, filed an amicus brief in support of their effort, calling the deposition of Browne a form of harassment. But the Texas Court of Appeals ruled against BP and the stage was set for Browne to be deposed. Eva Rowe wanted the coroner’s photographs of her parents’ bodies shown to Browne during the deposition and questioning.

The negotiations and maneuvering over Eva’s case would drag on for months. The September 2006 trial date was also postponed. Eva meanwhile, was still in a state of some personal duress and bereavement, and during this time, roughly between September 2005 and August 2006, she had a string of misadventures and personal problems – troubles with a new boyfriend (“didn’t support my cause”); an auto accident; and some drug incidents (charges later dropped). All of this suggested to Coon, worried about the emotional state of his client, that bringing the case to some final resolution sooner rather than later would be in the best interests of all concerned. Meanwhile, a new trial date had been set for November 2006. Nor had John Browne’s deposition occurred. But by late October, both sides were girding for the jury selection process, as their legal teams had encamped to respective floors of Galveston hotels expecting a long court battle.

Ed Bradley, during the “60 Minutes” Texas City broadcast.
Ed Bradley, during the “60 Minutes” Texas City broadcast.
Eva Rowe during the “60 Minutes” broadcast, Oct 29th, 2006.
Eva Rowe during the “60 Minutes” broadcast, Oct 29th, 2006.

Then on Sunday evening, October 29th, 2006, the 60 Minutes broadcast aired, which had included segments with federal safety officials and others, as discussed earlier above. The broadcast was a searing indictment of BP management’s role in the Texas City disaster. The show had also included on-camera segments with Eva Rowe and Brent Coon. During the end of that broadcast, Ed Bradley had questioned Eva specifically about the BP settlement process:

Bradley: A lot of people who suffered terrible losses that day have already settled with B.P. Has B.P. offered to settle with you?

Rowe: Yes.

Bradley: And they’ve offered you, I assume, a substantial amount of money?

Rowe: I want everyone to know what they did, you know. If we settle and all, everything we know has to remain confidential. I don’t want that to happen.

Bradley: So you’re willing to go to trial?

Rowe: I’m ready. I’m ready to go to trial.

That TV broadcast, beyond being a searing indictment of BP’s management failures at the Texas City refinery, was also a nightmare for the BP legal team trying to prevent Eva Rowe from going to trial. For now, with Eva on camera making her case plain to millions of viewers all across the country, BP’s course of action was made all the more difficult. But following the broadcast, BP sent out thousands of “dear neighbor” letters throughout Texas City claiming it had made substantial safety improvements at the plant, and promising to spend $1 billion more on improvements in the next five years. Coon charged that BP was trying to influence the jury pool in advance of their November trial. Still, Coon kept talking with his BP counterpart, William Noble, the company’s chief litigator on the case. About two weeks before jurors were to be selected, the two sides appeared to be making some progress in their talks. Coon kept pushing for agreement on the public release of documents. Then on the morning of November 9th, 2006, when jury selection was about to begin, BP decided to settle and meet Eva Rowe’s terms.

Headlines of BP’s legal settlement with Eva Rowe in the final lawsuit in the Texas City, TX refinery explosion. Associated Press story appearing in various newspapers, here in ‘The Lakeland Ledger,’ Lakeland, FL, November 10th, 2006.
Headlines of BP’s legal settlement with Eva Rowe in the final lawsuit in the Texas City, TX refinery explosion. Associated Press story appearing in various newspapers, here in ‘The Lakeland Ledger,’ Lakeland, FL, November 10th, 2006.

BP agreed to release the documents Rowe and Coon wanted to be made public. In the end, nearly seven million pages of internal BP documents would be published, much of which is available through a public website. And in addition to a payment to Eva, BP also paid out millions to a group of schools and universities, hospitals and charities nominated by Rowe, including: $12.5 million to the Blocker Burn Unit at Galveston’s University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB); $12.5 million for the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M; $5 million to the College of the Mainland, in Texas City, for a safety program; $1 million to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital (James and Linda Rowe’s favorite charity); and $1 million to Hornbeck High, where Eva’s mom had been a teacher’s aide. BP also created a fund for victims of the explosion and pledged to match donations up to $6 million. In the end the total BP payout in the Rowe settlement – not counting Eva’s share – would come to $44 million.

March 2007: Eva Rowe, with portrait of her deceased parents, offering testimony at Congressional hearing on the BP Texas City disaster. Brent Coon is seated behind her at right.
March 2007: Eva Rowe, with portrait of her deceased parents, offering testimony at Congressional hearing on the BP Texas City disaster. Brent Coon is seated behind her at right.
March 2007: Eva Rowe, at the same Congressional hearing noted above, turning emotional listening to testimony.
March 2007: Eva Rowe, at the same Congressional hearing noted above, turning emotional listening to testimony.

When reporters asked Rowe in a news conference if she could ever forgive BP for what happened to her parents, she replied: “I’ll probably never say BP is a good company. They killed my parents to save money.”

Eva Rowe thereafter became an advocate for worker safety issues, having designated a portion of the settlement money to oil refinery workplace safety research and education.

She was also called to offer testimony in Washington, D.C. in March 2007 for a Congressional hearing on the Texas City explosion. She testified at that hearing – before the House Education and Labor Committee, and was also at the witness table for questions during that hearing along with Frank Bowman, a member of the Baker Report panel; Carolyn Merritt of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board; and Red Cavaney of the American Petroleum Institute – all of whom gave testimony that day as well.

Brent Coon’s law practice – thriving in 2007 when he had some 150 lawsuits pending against BP in the Texas City litigation – went on to even greater heights as he became noted for his role in the Eva Rowe case and others. By mid-2010, following BP’s Gulf of Mexico offshore blow-out, Brent Coon & Associates picked up additional business working with those suffering losses in that disaster. His firm now has some 20 offices around the country with 60 litigators representing clients on worker safety, environmental, public health, and personal injury cases.

As for BP Texas City, the company began the process of selling that refinery in 2011, as it needed capital to cover the costs and liabilities of its Deepwater Horizon disaster mentioned in the “other messes” sidebar above. In early 2013, BP completed the sale of the refinery to Marathon Petroleum Corporation for $2.5 billion.

“The Daily Damage”
An Occasional Series

This story is one of an occasional series at this website that will feature the ongoing environmental and societal impacts of industrial spills, fires and explosions; toxic chemical releases and waste issues; air and water pollution; and other “daily damage”.

These stories will cover both recent incidents and those from history that have left a mark either nationally or locally; have generated controversy in some way; have brought about governmental inquiries or political activity; and generally have taken a toll on the environment, workers, and/or public health and safety.

My purpose for including such stories at this website is simply to drive home the continuing and chronic nature of these occurrences through history, and hopefully contribute to public education about them so that improvements in law, regulation, and business practice will be made, yielding industries that are safe and clean.
– Jack Doyle

In terms of industry-wide safety, however, the record in the industry is still pretty atrocious – this according to an excellent bit of reporting by the Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune which looked at the industry’s record roughly between March 2005 and March 2015 (except where otherwise noted). Among their findings: at least 58 workers died at U.S. refineries in the 2005-2015 period (nearly the same number as the decade before); federal officials recorded nearly 350 fires at U.S. refineries in an eight-year span – about one every week; and that federal regulators lacked hard data to accurately track deaths and monitor safety trends within the industry. See the link above in this paragraph for more detail on their reporting.

At the 10th anniversary of the BP Texas City explosion, in March 2015, Eva Rowe was still troubled. “I thought if I helped people I would get better. I haven’t gotten better,” she told the Galveston County Daily Times. Now in her early 30s, she told the Times she didn’t care about the multi-millions she had received in her settlement. “I would rather live on welfare in a trailer in the woods in Louisiana with my parents than live in a mansion,” she said.

See also at this website, for example: “Burning Philadelphia,” a story about the 1975 Gulf Oil Co. refinery fire in that city; “Burn On, Big River,” about the historic pollution of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio; and, “Santa Barbara Oil Spill” about the 1969 Union Oil offshore oil well blow-out and pollution of California’s coastline. Additional environmental stories can be found at the “Environmental History” page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

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Date Posted: 28 April 2016
Last Update: 28 April 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Texas City Disaster: BP Refinery, March 2005,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 28, 2016.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Nov 9th, 2006: Eva Rowe and attorney Brent Coon talking with reporters after BP Texas City settlement.
Nov 9th, 2006: Eva Rowe and attorney Brent Coon talking with reporters after BP Texas City settlement.
Dec 2006: Eva Row and Brent Coon at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, TX, where the Truman G. Blocker Adult Burn Unit was one of the charities designated by Rowe in the BP settlement.
Dec 2006: Eva Row and Brent Coon at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, TX, where the Truman G. Blocker Adult Burn Unit was one of the charities designated by Rowe in the BP settlement.
March  2007: Eva Rowe in Washington, D.C., meeting U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman, House Education & Labor Committee, where Eva delivered testimony.
March 2007: Eva Rowe in Washington, D.C., meeting U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman, House Education & Labor Committee, where Eva delivered testimony.
April 2016: Full-page BP ad, Washington Post, “Safety Doesn’t Come in a Box,” touting BP’s commitment to safety.
April 2016: Full-page BP ad, Washington Post, “Safety Doesn’t Come in a Box,” touting BP’s commitment to safety.

Reuters, “Deadly Explosion Rocks BP Texas Refinery,” March 23, 2005.

Pam Easton, Associated Press (Texas City, TX), “Explosion at Texas City Oil Refinery Kills 14, Injures More Than 100,” March 24, 2005.

Kevin Moran, “15th Body Pulled from Rubble of BP’s Texas City Refinery,” Houston Chronicle, March 24, 2005.

Associated Press & NBC News, “15th Body Found After Texas Refinery Blast, NBC News.com,(with NBC news video), March 24, 2005.

“The Explosion at Texas City – 60 Minutes,” BP Texas City Explosion Resources Website.

Texas City Explosion Library.

“Texas City Refinery Explosion,” Wikipedia .org.

Ralph Blumenthal, “A Town Used to Danger Shifted Into Crisis Mode,” New York Times, March 25, 2005.

Michael Graczyk, Associated Press (Texas City, TX), “Refinery Explosion: The After- math; Despite Oil Disaster, Locals Say, Texas City A Fine Place To Live,” Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC), March 25, 2005, p. A-8.

U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Press Release, “BP AMOCO Plant Fined $63,000 Following Chemical Release and Fire in Texas City, Texas,” OSHA.gov, August 25, 2004.

Associated Press, “Explosion Third Fatal Accident at BP Refinery,” Lubbock Ava- lanche-Journal, Saturday, March 26, 2005.

Associated Press, “Woman Mourns Parents Killed in Plant Blast,” The Gainesville Sun (Gainesville, FL), March 26, 2005, p. 4-A.

Anjali Cordeiro and Jessica Resnick-Ault, Dow Jones Newswires, “BP: Employees Caused Deadly Blast; Oil Company Says Failures Led to Deaths of 15 People at Texas City, Texas, Refinery in March,” CNN.com, May 18, 2005.

Anne Belli, “BP to Pay Millions to Families in Blast; Settlements of Lawsuits Come as Allegations of Mismanagement Dog the Oil Giant,” Houston Chronicle, June 23, 2005.

“Prudhoe Bay Oil Spill,” Wikipedia.org.

Felicity Barringer, “Large Oil Spill in Alaska Went Undetected for Days,” New York Times, March 15, 2006.

Felicity Barringer, “Oil Spill Raises Concerns on Pipeline Maintenance,” New York Times, March 20, 2006.

Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press, “‘This Could Have Been Prevented; Daughter Grieves for Parents on the Anniversary of Plant Explosion,” The Victoria Advocate (Victoria, TX), March 23, 2006, p. 4-A.

U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Press Release, “OSHA Fines BP $2.4 Million for Safety and Health Violations,” OSHA.gov, April 25, 2006.

BP Press Release, “BP to Shutdown Prudhoe Bay Oil Field,” August 7, 2006.

“Oil Giant BP Already Under Scrutiny for Allowing Alaska Pipeline to Crumble,” USA Today, August 9, 2006.

Anne Belli, “BP Chiefs Face Depositions in Texas City Blast; Judge Tells BP Leaders to Give Depositions; Two Executives Will Appeal Order in Texas City Case,” Houston Chronicle, August 29, 2006.

“Anger at BP Adds to Daughter’s Grief; After Losing Both Parents, She Says the Oil Giant Ignored Some Safety Problems,” Houston Chronicle, October 20, 2006.

CBS News, Press Release, “Internal BP Documents Examined by ‘60 Minutes’ Confirm Top BP Executives Knew about Safety Issues That Led to a Deadly Refinery Explosion in Texas — Sunday on CBS,” October 26, 2006.

Mike McDaniel, “60 Minutes Confirms BP Knew Texas City Risk; TV Show Confirms Warnings Given BP; 60 Minutes Examines Blast in Texas City,” Houston Chronicle, October 27, 2006

Daniel Schorn, CBS News “The Explosion At Texas City: 2005 Refinery Explosion In Texas Killed 15, Injured 170,” 60 Minutes, October 29, 2006.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board, “BP America Refinery Explosion,” Main Page.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board, News Release and, “Statement of CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt,” October 31, 2006.

Steven Mufson, “Cost-Cutting Led to Blast At BP Plant, Probe Finds,” Washington Post, October 31, 2006.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board, BP Investigation, Animation Video, November 2005, YouTube.com, Uploaded on January 11, 2008. (Run time, 6:14).

U.S. Chemical Safety Board, “Investigation Report: Refinery Explosion and Fire (15 Killed, 180 Injured), BP Texas City, TX, March 23, 2005,” Final Report, March 2007 (PDF file), 341pp.

“Daughter of BP Disaster Victims Settles; Eva Rowe to Get Undisclosed Sum from Oil Giant after Her Parents Died in Texas Oil Plant Fire in March 2005,” CNN.com, November 9, 2006.

Juan Lozano, AP, “BP Settles Last Explosion Suit,” Lakeland Ledger (Lakeland, FL), November 10, 2006, p. E-1.

Anastasia Ustinova, “BP Settlement to Help Future Burn Victims; UtMB Will Use its $12.5 Million Share to Improve Treatment, Study Effects on Tissue,” Houston Chronicle, December 15, 2006.

The BP US Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel [i.e., James Baker Panel ], The Report of the BP US Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel, January 2007.

Caitlin Johnson, “Daughter of BP Victims Fights and Wins,” CBSnews.com, January 9, 2007, (includes CBS Early Show video on the Eva Rowe settlement).

Anne Belli, “BP Flaws Unattended for Years, Report Says; Baker Panel Says Safety Lapses Found at All Five U.S. Refineries,” Houston Chronicle, January 17, 2007.

Steven Mufson, “BP Failed on Safety, Report Says; Baker Panel Finds That Oil Company Skimped on Spending,” Washington Post, Wednesday, January 17, 2007.

Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press, “BP Report Skewers 5 for Texas Blast; the Findings, Released by Court Order, Said Four Officials Failed to Do Their Jobs and Should Be Fired,” Denver Post, May 4, 2007.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, “BP Penalized for Failing to Address Leaking Underground Storage Tanks,” Michigan.gov, June 1, 2007.

Mimi Swartz, “Eva vs. Goliath,” Texas Monthly, July 2007 (“Eva Rowe was a wild child from a mobile home in the Louisiana woods until March 23, 2005…”), July 2007.

“Eva’s Story,” BP Texas City Explosion Website.

Jennie Nash, “Rebel With a Cause: A Refinery Explosion Shook Eva Rowe to the Core, So She Brought An Industry to its Knees,” Ladies Home Journal, September 2007.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Press Release, “EPA and B.P. Products North America Resolve Underground Storage Tank Violations at Four Former D.C. Gas Stations,” EPA.gov, October 15, 2007.

BP Statement on Settlements, “BP America Announces Resolution of Texas City, Alaska, Propane Trading Law Enforcement Investigations,” October 25, 2007.

“BP Fined $20 Million for Pipeline Corrosion,” Anchorage Daily News, October 26, 2007.

Brent Coon & Associates, Beaumont, Texas.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “BP Products to Pay Nearly $180 Million to Settle Clean Air Violations at Texas City Refinery,” February 19, 2009.

Associated Press (Washington, D.C.), “BP Fined Record $87 Million By OSHA,” October 31, 2009.

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA.gov, “Fact Sheet on BP 2009 Monitoring Inspection,” October 29, 2009.

U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Press Release, “U.S. Labor Department’s OSHA Proposes More than $3 Million in Fines to BP-Husky Refinery Near Toledo, Ohio,” OSHA.gov, March 8, 2010.

Mark Warren, Brent Coon, “The Inside Story of BP’s Negligence on Oil Safety,” Esquire.com, June 28, 2010.

Tom Price, T.J. Aulds, “What Went Wrong: Oil Refinery Disaster; When Fuel Spewed from the Stack of a Gulf Coast Facility in March, It Went Looking for a Spark. It Found One,” Popular Mechanics.

Stanley Reed and Alison Fitzgerald, In Too Deep: BP and the Drilling Race That Took it Down,
John Wiley & Sons, December 2010, 256 pp.

Heather Nolan, “Beaumont Attorney Files Claims in BP Oil Spill Lawsuit,” BeaumontEnterprise.com, May 18, 2011.

“Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” Wikipedia.org.

Mark Collette, Lise Olsen and Jim Malewitz, “Ten Years After a Texas City Refinery Blast Killed 15 and Rattled a Community, Workers Keep Dying,” HoustonChronicle.com, March 21, 2015.

Mark Collette and Lise Olsen, “For Two Former BP Workers, the Disaster and its Aftermath Remain Vivid,” Houston Chronicle, March 21, 2015.

Lise Olsen, Jim Malewitz, Jolie McCullough and Ben Hasson, “Assembled Data Show How and Where Refinery Workers Continue to Die,” Houston Chronicle, March 22, 2015.

“BP Explosion: 10 Years After” (Special Edition/ 13 Stories), The Daily News (Galveston County, TX), March 2015.

T.J. Aulds, “Eva Rowe: ‘I Thought If I Helped People I Would Get Better. I Haven’t Gotten Better’.” The Daily News (Galveston County, TX), March 22, 2015.

______________________________








“Rhino Skin”
Tom Petty: 1999

This photo is actually from a Nutrient Systems Co. ad for a potassium silicate product used in hydroponics, but it also serves nicely as a visual aide for the 1999 Tom Petty & Heartbreakers’ song of that same name.
This photo is actually from a Nutrient Systems Co. ad for a potassium silicate product used in hydroponics, but it also serves nicely as a visual aide for the 1999 Tom Petty & Heartbreakers’ song of that same name.
“Rhino Skin” is the name of a song on Tom Petty and Heartbreakers’ tenth studio album, Echo. The album was produced in Los Angeles, California by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell with Rick Rubin. It was released in April 1999.

“Rhino Skin” is a song about the need to have “thick skin” in navigating through a tough, judgmental, and sometimes unforgiving world. And the tough old Rhinoceros of the African steppe is exquisitely equipped with the kind of body armor — here, in an emotional/ psychological sense — that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers suggest surviving souls may need. That is, you need the emotional equivalent of rhino skin to get through the unforgiving terrain of daily living.

Petty is also referring, generally, to the same “slings-and-arrows” territory that a bard named William Shakespeare raised centuries earlier, though in a somewhat different context.

Petty and the Heartbreakers do a fine job in their musical conveyance of this need for daily fortitude and more. They offer just enough attitude, empathy, and a touch of defiance in their performance and prescription. The male choral backing running with the instrumental ending adds a moving finish as well. The full song with lyrics is offered below (best with headphones).

Tom Petty & Co. offer survival skills with “Rhino Skin.”
Tom Petty & Co. offer survival skills with “Rhino Skin.”
“Rhino Skin” is the kind of song that can get overlooked, as in this case, it wasn’t released as a single or even for separate radio play. But it’s a perfectly good and even compelling tune, worthy of wider circulation – if only for its message. It appears Petty has woven some of his own hard knocks and life lessons into the lyrics here – and between the lines as well – offering warning and counsel for others going forward.

Life’s journey can be pretty treacherous, Petty seems to suggest at the outset, stating that you need to have Rhino skin at the start. You need to don this protection even to “begin to walk though this world.”

“Rhino Skin”
Tom Petty & Heartbreakers
1999

You need rhino skin
If you’re gonna begin
To walk
Through this world

You need elephant balls
If you don’t want to crawl
On your hands
Through this world

Oh my love if I reveal
Every secret I’ve concealed
How many thoughts would you steal
How much of my pain would you feel

You need eagles wings
To get over things
That make no sense
In this world

You need rhino skin
If you’re gonna pretend
You’re not hurt by this world

If you listen long enough
You can hear my skin grow tough
Love is painful to the touch
Must be made of stronger stuff

You need rhino skin
To get to the end
Of the maze through this world

You need rhino skin
Or you’re gonna give in
To the needles and pins
The arrows of sin
The evils of men
You need rhino skin…

And after that, you need variations of thick skin and fortitudinous-persevering courage to keep going. For the most part, it’s unfriendly territory out there – whether adolescence, workplace, or love. He suggests “elephant balls”as required equipment – or as a Mexican might counsel, “large cojones.” That is, you need a certain amount of gumption and “stand-upedness,” as all kinds of stuff is gonna` come your way – good, bad, ugly, crazy, indifferent, depressing, and all the rest.


Music Player
“Rhino Skin”-1999
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Love and trust – and their fraying and betrayal – are part of the territory Petty is talking about as well. They are consistent Petty themes throughout much of his music. In “Rhino Skin,” Petty allows that there is a certain interpersonal calculation that goes on in all relationships. Secrets abound. Doubt, fear, anger and other concoctions are all there. But sometimes it’s better that the loved one not know them, and that the bearer consider not revealing them. But should you choose to reveal, that’s when some rhino skin might come in handy.

Adding to the trove of wildlife powers one may need to survive the modern world are “eagles wings” – ideal for flight, avoidance, surmounting barriers, and generally getting away from things unkind or unpleasant – especially when confronting things that make no sense, of which too often there is a fair amount.

So generally, there’s really no avoiding the need for developing this dermatological-like psychological skill set. But you have to work at growing it – i.e., the rhino skin – especially for self defense in love relationships. Petty warns: “Love is [or can be] painful to the touch” so you have to be prepared – “must be made of stronger stuff.”

At the close, Petty reiterates the need for thick skin in dealing with the nonsense and getting through life’s maze – dealing with “the arrows of sin / the evils of men” — you name it. Whatever they throw at you, “you need rhino skin.”

“Echo,” the 10th album by Tom Petty and The Heart-breakers, released in April 1999, hit No. 10 on Billboard.
“Echo,” the 10th album by Tom Petty and The Heart-breakers, released in April 1999, hit No. 10 on Billboard.
In some ways, the lyrics for “Rhino Skin,” and a few other tracks on Echo, are the learned conclusions of a wounded soul.

Tom Petty was going through some tough times as this song and the Echo album were being crafted. His first marriage of 20 years was then ending and headed for divorce. And earlier, his adolescence wasn’t the best of times either. So there may be some personal history seeping through this tune’s suggested toughening up.

But “Rhino Skin” also suggests a kind of re-armament; a refortification for going forward. Tom Petty doesn’t give up. Throughout his musical ouvre there is a consistent theme of getting up off the mat for another day; of not being defeated.

Yes, the slings and arrows along life’s path can be pretty hurtful and humiliating. But they are bearable and instructive, especially with a little “rhino skin” growing tough for next steps and another day.

Rock `n Roll artist, Tom Petty, performing.
Rock `n Roll artist, Tom Petty, performing.
Echo was first released in April 1999, and it rose to No. 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It was certified Gold (500,000 copies sold) by the RIAA in July 1999. There were no singles released from the album for retail sale, but three of the 15 songs – “Free Girl Now,” “Swingin’” and “Room At The Top” – were released for radio play, hitting numbers 5, 17 and 19 respectively on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks in 1999. Elsewhere on the album, “About To Give Out” is a good old southern rocker, and “One More Day, One More Night” has a bluesy quality about it.

Among the Heartbreakers assisting Petty on Echo are: Mike Campbell, lead guitars, bass, lead vocals on “I Don’t Wanna Fight”; Benmont Tench, pianos, organ, chamberlin, clavinet; Howie Epstein, bass, harmony/ background vocals; Scott Thurston, acoustic and electric guitars, background vocals; Steve Ferrone, drums; and Lenny Castro, percussion.

USA Today’s review of Echo noted: “…Tom Petty continues his unwavering sanction of rock ‘n’ roll purity and simplicity, refusing to sully his smartly crafted songs with arty window dressing, hip-hop flourishes or electronic noodling. By rejecting such trends and remaining loyal to classic guitar rock, Petty emerges as one of the few real rebels in the ’90s…” Echo was nominated for 1999 year Grammy Award for Best Rock Album, while “Room At The Top” was nominated for Best Rock Song. Santana took the 1999 album prize with Supernatural, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers won the Best Song prize with “Scar Tissue.”

See also at this website, “I Won’t Back Down,” a story about the use of Tom Petty’s music in political campaigns, and visit the “Annals of Music” page for other story choices in that category. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 28 April 2016
Last Update: 28 April 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Rhino Skin: Tom Petty, 1999,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 25, 2014.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Tom Petty and his 2nd wife Dana York Epperson at the world premiere of the documentary film “'Runnin' Down a Dream,” Warner Bros. Studio, Burbank, CA 10-02-07.
Tom Petty and his 2nd wife Dana York Epperson at the world premiere of the documentary film “'Runnin' Down a Dream,” Warner Bros. Studio, Burbank, CA 10-02-07.

Album Notes, Echo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

“Echo (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album),” Wikipedia.org.

“Rebellious Ring to Petty’s ‘Echo’,” USA Today, April 13, 1999, p. D-4.

“Tom Petty,” Wikipedia.org.

Rajesh Kottamasu, “Album Review: Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” Harvard Crimson, April 23, 1999.

Greg Kot, “Echo / Tom Petty / Warner Bros.,” Rolling Stone, April 29, 1999.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “Album Review, Tom Petty / Echo,” AllMusic.com.

Jim Beviglia, “Songs 85-71: Tom Petty Explores Mischievous Preachers, Loose Women & Pain of Divorce as the Countdown Continues,” Houston.CultureMap.com, Au- gust 22, 2010.

Dennis Brault, “Freedom of Speech Trumps Concerns over Cyberbullying,” LaCrosse Tribune, November 14, 2012.

“Q Exclusive: Tom Petty Brings the Snarl Back on Hypnotic Eye,” CBC.ca, July 17, 2014.

_________________________________







“Point of View”
George & Guyasuta

The sculpture shown below – overlooking present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – captures an October 1770 campfire meeting between a young George Washington of colonial Virginia and a Native American leader named Guyasuta. Among other things, the two men, from vastly different cultures, were talking about the fate of the region’s land, both at Pittsburgh and what would become Western Pennsylvania and beyond. At the time, this region was the western edge of the North American colonies of Great Britain, essentially wilderness and a crossroads to an assortment of adventurers, militia men, traders, missionaries, slaves, and settlers. According to local historians, there were fewer than 200 whites living at the “forks of the Ohio River,” i.e., Pittsburgh at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. It was there that former frontier forts would be built – first, Ft. Duquesne for the French, followed by Ft. Pitt under the British. The French, British, native Americans, and American colonists would all do battle in the region. And it was in that context – during the 1750s-1770s – that Washington and Guyasuta would come to know one another.

The bronze sculpture, “Point of View,” of Seneca leader Guyasuta meeting George Washington, overlooks the Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh. It was installed in 2006. Sculptor, James West. (photo, Jim Judkis/Washington Post).
The bronze sculpture, “Point of View,” of Seneca leader Guyasuta meeting George Washington, overlooks the Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh. It was installed in 2006. Sculptor, James West. (photo, Jim Judkis/Washington Post).

Born in 1724, Guyasuta or Kiasutha (one of several historical spellings), was a member of the Seneca-Mingo tribe, one of six that made up the Iroquois Nation. Originally from Western New York, Guyasuta’s branch of the Seneca had migrated down the Allegheny River some decades earlier and settled in the Western Pennsylvania area and nearby “Ohio Country.” Early maps of the region, as the one below, show this area as being essentially Indian country. The British, French, and private interests all had designs on this region from the 1740s on. One British land company named The Ohio Company, was one of the private ventures – with George Washington’s father, Augustine, among its investors. The Ohio Co. was given 500,000 acres of British land grants in 1749 in the area between the Kanawha River and the Monongahela – 200,000 acres initially, and an additional 300,000 with the successful settlement of 100 families within seven years. Land grants, land ownership, and land speculation were foreign concepts to Native Americans, who generally regarded land as a shared commons. The British and the French both wanted the region, hoping to expand their new world holdings, and would soon go to war over the region. In any case, what would become Western Pennsylvania and part of Ohio would be in flux and conflict from the 1740s through the early 1800s. It was in this context of the region’s early contested settlement and wider Colonial wars that Guyasuta and Washington would come to know each other.

18th century map of some of the early British Colonies, showing the dark mustard-colored area (at left) with various forts in what is today Western Pennsylvania, then a frontier region populated by indigenous American Indians.
18th century map of some of the early British Colonies, showing the dark mustard-colored area (at left) with various forts in what is today Western Pennsylvania, then a frontier region populated by indigenous American Indians.

George Washington was born into the landed gentry of Virginia in 1732. He grew up in Mount Vernon, Virginia. In 1749, at the age 17, he was appointed official surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia, a well-paid position which enabled him to begin purchasing land in Virginia. By 1753, Washington had also been appointed to the rank of major in the Virginia militia by Virginia‘s governor. In that year, Guyasuta and Washington would meet for the first time, as Washington made his first visit to the rough frontier country of Western Pennsylvania. The French at the time – who had worked in the area for some years and built forts there – were trying to establish more permanent roots in the “Ohio Country” region, which the British then claimed for the Virginia and Pennsylvania colonies.

Statue at Waterford, PA depicting George Washington delivering letter to the French at Fort Le Boeuf.
Statue at Waterford, PA depicting George Washington delivering letter to the French at Fort Le Boeuf.
A portion of the John Buxton painting, “Washington's Crossing,” depicting Washington & Gist on the icy Allegheny, 1753.
A portion of the John Buxton painting, “Washington's Crossing,” depicting Washington & Gist on the icy Allegheny, 1753.
George Washington’s 1750s best-seller – his journal on his trip to meet the French at Fort Le Boeuf.
George Washington’s 1750s best-seller – his journal on his trip to meet the French at Fort Le Boeuf.

George Washington, then 21, was given orders by lieutenant governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, to undertake a diplomatic expedition to the region with a message for the French commandant of Fort Le Boeuf, a French outpost south of Lake Erie (now Waterford). Washington’s mission was to convince the French to abandon the string of forts they had constructed between Erie and Pittsburgh.

On his journey, Washington arrived at Logstown, a native American trading village. There, he was introduced to various local leaders and Indian chiefs, including Guyasuta. The Seneca chief, who would later use “Tall Hunter” as the name to describe the six-foot Washington, was recruited to help guide Washington and his party to Fort Le Boeuf. Guyasuta appears to have helped guide Washington along the Allegheny River portion of his journey. Other Iroquois were also assisting, according to some accounts, but it is not clear if Guyasuta stayed with the party for the entire trip. However, Washington’s mission to persuade the French to leave the region failed, and within a year, the French and Indian War had begun – so named as the Indians sided with the French against the British and the colonists.

On making the return trip from Fort Le Boeuf, Washington and his guide, Christopher Gist, nearly died that winter when their raft broke apart attempting to cross the icy Allegheny River – this according to excerpts from Washington’s own journal. In fact, Washington’s journal was such good frontier reading for the times that Virginia’s Governor Dinwiddie had it published both in Williamsburg, Virginia and in London, England. Washington’s published account was widely read, and his engaging tales of travel, diplomacy and adventure helped advance his career as an up-and-coming political leader. The book also elevated Washington as one of the country’s first frontier heroes. One of those who read and commented on Washington’s published account was none other than Britain’s King George II.

Washington’s journal also turned out to be of strategic importance to the British, as it included a map that illustrated the extent of the French threat and holdings in the Ohio Valley. It also contained one of the first references to the construction of a French fort at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, the site of present-day Pittsburgh. And as the French and Indian War commenced, Washington would also become involved in the military action, participating in an ambush of a French detachment in 1754.


Guyasuta With French

Guyasuta sided with the French in the war, and he and Washington would soon fight on opposite sides. In 1755, the British sent the Braddock Expedition with colonial troops under the command of Gen. Edward Braddock into the region. Major George Washington was part of that expedition. They were heading to do battle with the French and Indian forces at Fort Duquesne, located at the forks of the Ohio.

En route, the colonial and British troops under Braddock were surprised and soundly defeated by French and Indian forces from Ft. Duquesne who had learned they were coming. Guyasuta was among those who participated in this Battle of the Monongahela, which occurred near the present-day borough of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Washington and Guyasuta, however, did not engage in direct combat with one another. Washington, however, did exhibit some leadership in the fight, as British soldiers had panicked and retreated, but Washington reportedly rode back and forth across the battlefield, rallying British and Virginian forces into an organized retreat. In the process, Washington had two horses shot from beneath him while his coat was pierced with four bullets.

During the summer of 1758, a British detachment led by Major James Grant again advanced on Fort Duquesne ahead of a larger expedition, but this group too, was met by the French and Indians outside the fort in battle on what is now Grant Street. Guyasuta is believed to have fought in this battle, which ended in the defeat of Grant.

Close up of another Guyasuta statue, this one on Main St. in the Allegheny River town of Sharpsburg, PA, commemorating the Seneca chief’s history in that area.
Close up of another Guyasuta statue, this one on Main St. in the Allegheny River town of Sharpsburg, PA, commemorating the Seneca chief’s history in that area.
Later in the French and Indian War, the French decided to abandon Ft. Duquesne, apparently without a fight, which according to some accounts, angered Guyasuta, though he remained there to help burn the fort so the British could not use it. He then retreated down the Ohio River several hours before the British reached Fort Duquesne’s charred ruins. [ This was on or about November 24, 1758.?? ] Some accounts then indicate that Guyasuta then remained inactive for the remainder of the French and Indian War.

In October 1758, the Treaty of Easton was made with the British, in which the Indians ended their alliance with the French. In return, there was an understanding that the British would leave the area after their war with the French. Hostilities between the French and English declined significantly after 1760, followed by a final formal surrender of the French in 1763.

The British, however, had built their own new fort, Fort Pitt, in 1758 near the burnt ruins of Fort Duquesne. Guyasuta, for his part, was living peacefully in the area. But in the course of his travels, as he made occasional trading trips to Fort Pitt, and became familiar with the relative strength of the fortifications there. The British, meanwhile, had not lived up to their agreement to leave the area with the end of the French and Indian War.

Although professing his basic good will toward those at Fort Duquesne, Guyasuta was furious that British settlers were entering “Ohio Country” in great numbers, an abrogation of the earlier treaty as he saw it. So he reportedly became pleased when the Ottawa chieftain, Pontiac, began advocating an intertribal alliance against the British “intruders.” In implementing this plan, Pontiac was assisted by Guyasuta, who became a major player in Pontiac’s Rebellion or Pontiac’s War of 1763. Some historians, in fact, have referred to “Pontiac’s War” as the “Pontiac-Guyasuta War,” suggesting that Guyasuta was a major player. By July 1763, one of the targets in the uprising was Fort Pitt.

“The Conspiracy” by Robert Griffing, depicting part of the American Indian force that would become loosely allied in Pontiac’s Rebellion – these being Ojibwas at Fort Michilimackinac on the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula.
“The Conspiracy” by Robert Griffing, depicting part of the American Indian force that would become loosely allied in Pontiac’s Rebellion – these being Ojibwas at Fort Michilimackinac on the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Upon learning that a British relief column under Col. Henry Bouquet, was coming to Fort Pitt, marching west from Fort Bedford, Guyasuta led a large force to ambush them en route. Following two days of hard fighting in early August 1763, Bouquet’s troops beat back Guyasuta and his forces in the Battle of Bushy Run. Bouquet’s victory eventually forced Pontiac’s warriors to abandon their siege of Fort Pitt. With the ending of hostilities in Pontiac’s War in 1764, followed by two years of peace negotiations, Guyasuta lived quietly at various locales in Ohio. He also periodically occupied a small dwelling on the Allegheny River above Pittsburgh in the vicinity of present-day Fox Chapel.


“Point of View” sculpture with fuller profile of Guyasuta and only a partial view of Geo. Washington.
“Point of View” sculpture with fuller profile of Guyasuta and only a partial view of Geo. Washington.


Washington’s Visit

In 1770, George Washington’s undertook his fifth trip to the western Pennsylvania. This time he came not only as a soldier but also as a farmer and investor. He then owned real estate in the area, including some land near Canonsburg and what is now Perryopolis. On this trip, he stopped in Connellsville, visited Fort Pitt, dropped in on a friend at the town of Pine Creek (Etna today), and took a canoe ride down the Ohio. On this river trip, Washington and his associates Dr. James Craik and William Crawford were looking for land, and possible sites for what were called “bounty lands” – land grants awarded to soldiers and colonists who fought in the earlier wars.

It was on this trip down the Ohio River in October 1770, that Washington and Guyasuta would meet face to face for a second time – some 17 years after they had first met on Washington’s trek to the French Ft. Le Boeuf.

Both men by then had been seasoned by many battles and life in the frontier. And the country they both knew was changing around them. Washington was then 38 years old, Guyasuta, 45. Guyasuta was at his hunting camp when Washington met him, and according to reports, Guyasuta “held a perfect recollection” of Washington from their earlier meeting, despite the years that had passed.

Guyasuta extend a hunter’s hospitality, giving Washington and his associates a quarter of a buffalo, just killed (and yes, there were bison in Pennsylvania at that time). He invited them to camp together for the night. And so, it was here that Washington and Guyasuta held long talks around the council-fire that night – the meeting upon which the “Points of View” sculpture is based.

1770: Washington and Guyasuta discussed land settlement restrictions, which were then being violated by settlers.
1770: Washington and Guyasuta discussed land settlement restrictions, which were then being violated by settlers.
Washington by this time was also involved in land speculation which he would continue for much of his life. His will, in fact, indicated that he held something over 52,000 acres in the colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. He also owned land in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.

During their campfire discussions of that October 1770 meeting, land and its occupants were among the chief topics of conversation between Washington and Guyasuta. Both held differing views on settlement in the area, but reportedly, they parted on friendly terms. No one knows what was said, but tension surely arose over the apparent intentions of white settlers to violate the Proclamation of 1763, which was supposed to restrict white settlement west of the Alleghenies. Washington was in the area to survey in anticipation of such expansion and Guyasuta wanted the proclamation honored.

And again, in 1768, the treaty of Ft. Stanwix was supposed to have insured that all land west of the Ohio River was to remain native forever. But almost immediately, according to one account, Pennsylvania and Virginia vied for control of the new lands, sending settlers to stake claims in the Ohio country. The military, fur trading companies, and even some missionaries were all involved, ignoring the treaties. Some settlers instigated attacks on the Indians in hopes of precipitating another war that would help push the frontier further west. Following Pontiac’s War, many tribes were already disillusioned and had split into factions. Some resisted and raided white settlements, others wanted peace, and still others moved west. Additional pressure came from dislocated eastern tribes who had come to the region. “The Ohio country,” according to one historical account, “had become a bubbling cauldron of self-interest and greed.” By 1774, more surveying teams were in the region, followed by more settlement parties. It is no wonder that Guyasuta became dispirited about the fate of his homeland. (history continues below box & marker plaque).


The Sculpture
Idea & Dedication
2004-2006

The “Point of View” sculpture of the 1770 meeting between George Washington and Indian leader Guyasuta on Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, was installed in October 2006. It is the work of Pittsburgh-born Jim West, developer and sculptor. The idea for the project came about following a 2004 meeting between West and Lynne Squilla, then board president of the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC). At the time, Lynne Squilla was also researching the French and Indian War for a WQED/PBS documentary called “The War That Made America.”

Sculptor James West at positioning of his works, 2006.
Sculptor James West at positioning of his works, 2006.
Both Squilla and West were inspired by thinking about the meetings between Guyasuta and Washington, and the history of the two men in the region, as they both had an important impact on Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.

While Washington and Guyasuta did not meet on Mt. Washington per se, their sculpture would overlook the region where they had left their mark.

Squilla and West went to the city with their idea, and then-mayor Tom Murphy embraced it. The city donated a small amount of land to the MWCDC for a “parklet” at the site and the Department of Public Works committed stones and Belgian block it had in stock for the pedestal. The Heinz History Center contributed details to the story.

Sculpture featured on cover of “Western Pennsylvania History,” Summer 2007.
Sculpture featured on cover of “Western Pennsylvania History,” Summer 2007.
The statue and parklet were the first new landmark visitor attractions on the Grand View Scenic Byway, which is one of only a few such roadways in urban settings. On October 17th,2006, city councilman Dan Deasy offered a resolution commending artist Jim West, his historic consultants, and the board and staff of MWCDC for creating the public art work, “bringing to light the history and significance behind it and providing a worthy new landmark attraction for the city of Pittsburgh.” With Pittsburgh then approaching its 250th birthday in 2008, Lynne Squilla noted the sculpture was particularly appropriate and timely, since it portrayed “one of the first conversations about the region.” The sculpture was formally dedicated at a ceremony on October 25th 2006 that included Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Seneca leader, Warren Skye (HoinJaGwaGohn), MWCDC officials, members of the Seneca Nation, and others. “Let us hope this sculpture will encourage us to always examine our history – and to practice tolerance and diplomacy among all kinds of people with differing points of view,” said the mayor at the dedication.


Explanatory marker at the Guyasuta-George Washington sculpture on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This marker uses 'Points of View' to describe the Washington-Guyasuta meeting.
Explanatory marker at the Guyasuta-George Washington sculpture on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This marker uses 'Points of View' to describe the Washington-Guyasuta meeting.

1775-1799

Later History

In April 1775, as the American Revolutionary War began between the colonists and the British, Guyasuta was initially neutral. As a highly regarded leader in the Iroquois Confederation in the Ohio Valley, he met with envoys from both sides. At one point he was offered a military position with the Colonial army. But Guyasuta ultimately chose to ally with the British and against the colonists. During the next several years, he reportedly led raids from Ohio, as well as New York, into western Pennsylvania. In August 1779, the Fort Pitt commandant, Col. Daniel Brodhead, led an expedition up the Allegheny to destroy an enemy force. He encountered Guyasuta’s war parties in the process. Some reports indicate Guyasuta’s participation in raids as late as July 1782.

George Washington, meanwhile, was made commander of the Continental Army in June 1775, and for the next several years, would have his hands full trying to keep his army together while fighting the British throughout the colonies. The Colonists formally made their Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in July 1776. By 1777, the French had allied with the American colonists and Washington’s Continental Army. Washington’s troop of 11,000 soldiers, which had been engaged in a number of battles, went into winter quarters at Valley Forge north of Philadelphia in December 1777. The British, meanwhile, were sometimes aided in battle against the colonists and the Continental Army by American Indian allies, whose raiding parties took a toll on American settlements.

Reproduction of 1907 painting by John Ward Dunsmore, “Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge,” depicting the winter encampment of Washington's troops in 1777 ( Brown & Bigelow, St. Paul and Toronto).
Reproduction of 1907 painting by John Ward Dunsmore, “Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge,” depicting the winter encampment of Washington's troops in 1777 ( Brown & Bigelow, St. Paul and Toronto).

The Sullivan Expedition. In the summer of 1779, after suffering nearly two years from Iroquois raids on the Colonies’ northern frontier, George Washington and Congress decided to strike back. The Iroquois had used their New York villages as a base to attack American settlements across New England. In June 1779, for example, the warriors had joined the British to kill over 200 frontiersmen while laying waste to the Wyoming Valley in northern Pennsylvania. Washington then ordered what at the time would be he largest-ever campaign against the Indians in North America, an action that authorized the “total destruction and devastation” of the Iroquois settlements across upstate New York. The Sullivan Expedition then defeated the loyalist Iroquois army, burned 40 Iroquois villages to ashes, and left homeless many of the Indians, hundreds of whom died of exposure during the following winter. Indeed, some years later, [in 1790], the Seneca chief Cornplanter, nephew of Guyasuta, would tell President George Washington: “When your army entered the country of the Six Nations [i.e. New York state], we called you Town Destroyer.”

Engraving from “A Popular History of the United States” by William Cullen Bryant (1892) depicting a scene of the torching of an Indian village during the Sullivan Expeditions of 1779 aimed at vanquishing the Iroquois.
Engraving from “A Popular History of the United States” by William Cullen Bryant (1892) depicting a scene of the torching of an Indian village during the Sullivan Expeditions of 1779 aimed at vanquishing the Iroquois.

As the Revolutionary War continued, Washington’s army persevered in the fight. The surrender of the British at Yorktown October 19, 1781– with the help of the French – marked the end of major fighting in continental North America, though some smaller skirmishes would continue for some time. By September 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Washington disbanded his army not long thereafter, and would resign as commander-in-chief on December 23rd, 1783.

Cover of Brady J. Crytzer’s book, “Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America,” 2013.
Cover of Brady J. Crytzer’s book, “Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America,” 2013.
At the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, Guyasuta chose to reside near Pittsburgh, although most of his closest relatives had emigrated to western Ohio. With dismay, he watched as his native country changed before his eyes. After the signing of the second Fort Stanwix treaty of October 1784 in New York, large swaths of former Iroquois/Seneca hunting grounds west of the mountains and north of the Allegheny River were opened to white settlement. Financial inducements and public policies, including the Depreciation Lands Act of 1783, the Settler’s Act of 1992, and other measures, would help expedite settlement. It would soon no longer be the same country that a young Guyasuta had roamed and once called home.

George Washington, meanwhile, would be elected first president of the United States in 1789 and elected again for a second term in 1792. After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, tending to various projects on his estate. But one day in mid-December 1799, after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain, Washington delayed changing out of his wet clothes and became ill. He died two days later at home on December 14th, 1799. He was 67 years old.

Guyasuta, meanwhile, spent his final days in a log cabin on land in the vicinity of Sharpsburg – the gift of a former ally, General James O’Hara, a British officer. O’Hara owned land at Sharpsburg. One story has it that O’Hara once saved the life of Guyasuta, treating him after he had been bitten by a rattlesnake. Guyasuta is believed to have been around 70 years old at his death in 1794. According to one account, after not being seen for several days, O’Hara found him dead on his cabin floor. By then, alcohol had the better of him, having been despondent over the fate of the Indian lands. There are conflicting accounts as to where he is buried. One report contends he was buried on land granted to his nephew, Cornplanter. Another has it that O’Hara buried the old chief in the Indian mound on the estate, a grave site said to have been visible for much of the 19th Century. Later, the Pennsylvania Railroad created a track line near Guyasuta’s burial site and by 1900, created Guyasuta Station near Sharpsburg as a belated tribute to the Seneca warrior.

Close up of the “Point of View” sculpture on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA, looking out at the regional viewshed in a north-northeast direction along the Allegheny River.  Photo, James West, website, http://studiowildwest.com
Close up of the “Point of View” sculpture on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA, looking out at the regional viewshed in a north-northeast direction along the Allegheny River. Photo, James West, website, http://studiowildwest.com

The “Point of View” sculpture in any case, now overlooking the Pittsburgh metropolitan region, is a fitting tribute to Guyasuta’s concerns for his homeland and the fate of the country. It is also a good reminder of the clash of cultures and perspectives that occurred in America at its founding and settlement – and in some ways offers a parable of bucolic loss, at least from the Native American perspective. And as its namesake suggests, the sculpture also highlights the differing views on the use and ownership of land and resources at that time and how a new country would be developed — for good and for ill.From their campfire along the Ohio River of 1770, Washington and Guyasuta would surely be astonish- ed at the Pittsburgh region today. For in a relatively short span of time, the Pittsburgh region – as it is viewed today from the Mt. Washington vantage point, stretching out across the “forks of the Ohio” and beyond –– went from untamed wilderness to paved-over metropolis. It is now a region where today millions of people move around at all hours and the day and night in personal transportation vehicles traveling at speeds of 60 and 70 miles per hour, a truly unfathomable and unimaginable notion at the 1770 camp fire of George Washington and Guyasuta. Indeed, what will the Pittsburgh region look like 250 years from now?

Additional Pittsburgh-related stories at this website include, for example: “The Mazeroski Moment” (1960 World Series), “$2.8 Million Baseball Card” (Honus Wagner), and “Disaster at Pittsburgh”(1988 oil tank collapse and river pollution). For other story choices please visit the Home Page or the Archive. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 13 April 2016
Last Update: 11 May 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Point of View – George & Guyasuta,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 13, 2016.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Earlier photo of Guyasuta sculpture in Sharpsburg, PA.
Earlier photo of Guyasuta sculpture in Sharpsburg, PA.
George Washington shown in a Walter Haskell Hinton 1942 illustration, ‘The Young Surveyor, 1748.’
George Washington shown in a Walter Haskell Hinton 1942 illustration, ‘The Young Surveyor, 1748.’
On Mount Washington, for food & drink, visit the Shiloh Grill, 123 Shiloh Street, Pittsburgh, PA. (412) 431-4000.
On Mount Washington, for food & drink, visit the Shiloh Grill, 123 Shiloh Street, Pittsburgh, PA. (412) 431-4000.

“George Washington: Surveyor and Map- maker,” U.S. Library of Congress.

C. Hale Sipe, The Indian Chiefs of Pennsylvania, Ziegler Printing Co., Inc.,: Butler, Pennsylvania, 1927.

Miles Richards, “Exploring History: The Mighty Guyasuta,” TribLive.com, June 25, 2014.

Joel Achenbach, “The Smartest Route to Pittsburgh: The One with No Shortcuts,” Washington Post, July 16, 2015.

Al Lowe, “Washington Will Meet Guyasuta Once Again on Mt. Washington,” South Pittsburgh Reporter, October 17, 2006.

“George Washington,” Wikipedia.org.

Diana Nelson Jones, “In Sculpture, Seneca Leader Guyasuta Reunited with George Washington; The Site of a New Sculpture Affords a View of the Place Where the Historical Figures Met Near the Confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 20, 2006.

Brady J. Crytzer, Major Washington’s Pittsburgh and the Mission to Fort Le Boeuf, The History Press, April 2011, 128 pp.

Brady J. Crytzer, Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America, Westholme Publishing, June 2013, 352 pp.

“Guyasuta,” Wikipedia.org.

“Mt. Washington Has A New Point of View,” View Point (Mt. Washington newspaper), November 2006.

Edward A. Galloway, “Guyasuta: Warrior, Estate, and Home to Boy Scouts,” Western Pennsylvania History, Winter 2011-12, Volume 94, Number 4, pp. 18-31.

Rick Sebak, “George Washington’s 7 Trips to Pittsburgh Were Certainly Eventful; A Look Back at Our Nation’s First President’s Many Visits…,” Pittsburgh Magazine, January 29, 2014.

William M. Darlington, Christopher Gist’s Journals with Historical, Geographical and Ethnological Notes and Biographies of His Contemporaries, [Part 7] Pittsburgh, J. R. Weldin & Co., 1893, pp. 202-240.

“James A. West, Sculptor,” Website.

“Mount Washington (Pittsburgh),” Wikipedia .org.

History of the Borough of Sharpsburg.

Kristin Hopper, “President George Washing- ton,” WordPress.com, 2010.

Larry Pearce, “Meet Native American Guyasuta,” March 6, 2008.

Johannah Cornblatt, “‘Town Destroyer’ Versus the Iroquois Indians; Forty Indian Villages—and a Powerful Indigenous Nation—were Razed on the Orders of George Washington,” U.S. News & World Report, June 27, 2008

Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, Syracuse University Press, December 1975, 4th edition, 359 pp.

“Siege of Fort Pitt,” Wikipedia.org.

Paula W. Wallace, Indians in Pennsylvania (1st edition, 1961 ), Diane Publishing Inc., 2007, 200 pp.

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“Jack & Stan”
Kennedy/Musial: 1959-64

Presidents and presidential candidates often seek out popular film stars, notable musicians, sports figures and other celebrities to help them advance their policies and/or win their election campaigns. Such was the case with Jack Kennedy in his 1960 bid for the Whites House. Kennedy, of course, had the benefit of a wealthy father who was well connected in Hollywood and elsewhere. And JFK, on his own count, had high-powered support from notable friends like Frank Sinatra and his infamous “Rat Pack.” But Kennedy also sought out VIPs from other fields – one of whom was the famous St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball star, Stan Musial.

After he became president, JFK and St. Louis slugger Stan Musial, visit briefly before the July 1962 All-Star Game in Washington, where Kennedy threw out the ceremonial game ball. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick is at center.  Musial in the All Star game would have a base hit that led to a run.  That year he would compile a .330 average.
After he became president, JFK and St. Louis slugger Stan Musial, visit briefly before the July 1962 All-Star Game in Washington, where Kennedy threw out the ceremonial game ball. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick is at center. Musial in the All Star game would have a base hit that led to a run. That year he would compile a .330 average.

In September 1959, Kennedy was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the early days of his run for the White House. The Wisconsin Democratic primary – an important stepping stone to the nomination – was still months away, and the Democratic National Convention would not convene in Los Angeles until the summer of 1960. Still, Kennedy had already been working hard for the nomination, and was always looking for ways to improve his chances. That day in Milwaukee, Kennedy spotted Stan Musial standing in front of a hotel waiting for the team bus to take him to a game later that day with the Milwaukee Braves.

U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, 1959.
U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, 1959.
Kennedy approached Musial, no doubt, with hand outstretched in friendly greeting. And as Musial would later recall, it went something like this: “You’re Stan Musial and I’m glad to meet you,” said the candidate. “I’m Jack Kennedy.” Musial knew who he was. But then came Kennedy’s quip: “You’re too old to play ball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we’ll fool ‘em’.” Kennedy was 42 at the time, and Musial 38 – and neither lacked for skills in their respective professions. But Kennedy was then playing on some of the popular “ageist” banter then circulating about each of them to strike some common ground. His purpose, in any case, was to recruit Musial to help with some campaigning – which Musial eventually agreed to do.

Stan Musial was then in the later years of his baseball career, but showing no signs of failing ability. Having grown up and played his high school ball in Denora, Pennsylvania, Stan Musial — named Stanislaw Franciszek at birth by his immigrant Polish father — began his major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1941. And with the exception of two seasons for WW II military service, he continued with the Cardinals for 22 seasons, retiring in 1963. Musial is widely regarded as being one of the greatest and most consistent hitters in baseball history. He would win the National League batting title seven times, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player three times, and led his team to three World Series championships. Musial also shares – with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays – the major league record for the most All-Star Games played at 24. So when Jack Kennedy met him in 1959, “Stan The Man” as he was nicknamed, was already a baseball immortal, destined for the Hall of Fame and more.

Baseball star, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Baseball star, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Politically, Stan Musial had supported Republican president Dwight Eisenhower in previous elections, but he liked Kennedy personally. Musial was also Catholic like Kennedy, and Kennedy’s religion happened to be a major issue in the campaign.

On the campaign trail in October 1960, Musial joined a group of other notables who worked for Kennedy in nine Midwest and Western states; tough conservative states where Kennedy needed help. Joining Musial on the campaign trail in that fall tour were other VIPs: author James A. Michener; future Supreme Court judge Byron (Whizzer) White; historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; actress Angie Dickinson; actor Jeff Chandler, and JFK in-laws – Ethel Kennedy, wife of brother Robert Kennedy; and Joan Kennedy, wife of brother Ted Kennedy.

During what Michener would describe “as grueling a tour as could have been devised,” Musial was a leading attraction. “I was constantly astonished at how the men in the cities we stopped at would crowd the airports to see Stan Musial,” Michener would later write. “He seemed about 15 years younger than he was, and men who were [then] quite old remembered him as a beginner in the big leagues.” Angie Dickinson would echo Michener’s observations about the rigors of the tour, where some in the crowds “booed us and threw things at us.” But of Musial, Dickinson recalled him as being upbeat and full of good humor. And he apparently did quite well with some of the crowds, telling baseball tales and even getting Republicans to cheer him.

“Kennedy-for-President” campaign button.
“Kennedy-for-President” campaign button.
In late October 1960, Musial was also named as among the co-chairs of the “National Sportsmen for Kennedy Committee,” along with other sports greats such as Johnny Unitas, Willie Mays, Leo Durocher, Bob Cousy, Joe DiMaggio, and Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb. The full roster of this committee included a couple hundred or more sportsmen from all fields.

At election’s end, Musial would often joke that his campaigning “lost all nine states for the President,” or that he cost Kennedy votes in those states. Yet in reality, he may have actually helped provide JFK at least some of the margin he needed to win the two key states of Illinois and Michigan. But the Kennedy-Johnson ticket did lose seven of the nine states that Musial and the VIPs had stumped in – Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Utah. Still, Kennedy won the election overall, with a razor-thin victory over Republican Richard Nixon (more detail on the 1960 election campaign can be found at “JFK’s 1960 Campaign.”)


1962

All Star Game

Musial and JFK met again at the 1962 All-Star game in Washington, D.C., where Kennedy would throw out the game ball. At that time, JFK was 45 and Musial was 41. He was appearing in his 22nd All-Star Game. Before the game, JFK summoned Musial to come over and visit him in the box seat section of the ball park where he and his party were gathered. There, Musial reprised the line Kennedy had used with him back in 1959: “They say you’re too young to be president and I’m too old to be playing baseball, but here we are,” said Musial, suggesting they had indeed surprised their respective critics – JFK was a young, successful president and Stan Musial was an old successful All Star!

July 11th, 1962 sports page headlines from the Spartanburg, South Carolina “Herald-Journal” newspaper on the outcome of the Major League Baseball All-Star game played in Washington, D.C., where President John F. Kennedy and St Louis Cardinal stand out, Stan Musial, became part of the story.
July 11th, 1962 sports page headlines from the Spartanburg, South Carolina “Herald-Journal” newspaper on the outcome of the Major League Baseball All-Star game played in Washington, D.C., where President John F. Kennedy and St Louis Cardinal stand out, Stan Musial, became part of the story.

In the game, Musial delivered a line-drive single to right field as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. Maury Wills came in as a pinch runner for Musial, then stole second base. Wills then scored from second after Dick Groat hit a single. The National League All-Stars won, 3-1. But in some of the newspaper coverage the next day, both Kennedy and Musial garnered a share of the headlines. “JFK Part of Record Crowd As Musial Emerges A Hero,” read one, while another, picking up on Musial’s comments, noted: “JFK, Musial Both Doing All Right.”

St. Louis Cardinal baseball great, Stan Musial, connecting with one in the prime of his career.
St. Louis Cardinal baseball great, Stan Musial, connecting with one in the prime of his career.

On July 12th, 1962, following the All Star game, Musial and his family – wife Lillian and daughter Janet – were given a VIP tour of the White House, also meeting with President Kennedy. Musial and JFK traded some baseball talk that day, as Kennedy asked Musial about his home run total and whether he might surpass Ty Cobb for the all-time hits record. (Ty Cobb held the record then with 4,191 hits. Musial was closing in on him, but would not surpass him, ending his career in 1963 with 3,630 hits, which is still 4th highest all time. Pete Rose now holds the top spot at 4,256 hits. Musial would finish his career with 475 home runs, at the time, No. 2 in the National League, behind Mel Ott with 511. Today, Musial is ranked at No. 30 among all-time home run leaders).

July 12th, 1962: President Kennedy greets St. Louis Cardinal baseball slugger, San Musial and family – wife Lillian and daughter Janet – in the Oval Office during their VIP visit at the White House following the All-Star game.
July 12th, 1962: President Kennedy greets St. Louis Cardinal baseball slugger, San Musial and family – wife Lillian and daughter Janet – in the Oval Office during their VIP visit at the White House following the All-Star game.

At the White House, Musial, wife and daughter, and JFK posed for some photos, and the president presented Musial with a PT 109 tie pin (PT 109 was the famous Navy patrol boat under Kennedy’s command in WWII) and also an autographed picture. During the visit, Musial was congratulated by White House staffers for his single in the All-Star Game, but he noted, “I got a bigger kick out of the handshake with the President before the game.” Musial also noted that the President told the people in his party what a good job of campaigning Musial had done for him.

17 April 1964: Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Stan Musial on the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park ceremonies, opening day.  Photo, Boston Globe.
17 April 1964: Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Stan Musial on the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park ceremonies, opening day. Photo, Boston Globe.
17 April 1964: Robert F. Kennedy throws out the game ball at baseball’s opening day at Fenway Park with Ted Kennedy, Stan Musial and others looking on.
17 April 1964: Robert F. Kennedy throws out the game ball at baseball’s opening day at Fenway Park with Ted Kennedy, Stan Musial and others looking on.

Stan Musial would compile an outstanding.330 batting average in 1962. President Kennedy, meanwhile, had his hands full will all manner of tough decisions that only presidents deal with. Yet Kennedy would apparently place telephone calls to Musial on occasion. According to reports from Musial’s grandson, Brian Schwarze, a long-time secretary of Musial’s named Patty Anthony, “almost fell out of her desk a couple of times” when Kennedy called looking to talk with Musial. And on that bleak day in November 1963 when JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, Stan Musial pulled his daughters out of school and they spent the rest of the day praying at the Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End area of St. Louis.

Five months after the JFK tragedy, Stan Musial would appear on the baseball diamond at Boston’s Fenway Park with JFK’s brothers, Bobby and Ted in pre-game ceremonies on opening day, April 17th, 1964. It was the first baseball season following the president’s death. Also attending that day were JFK sisters, Jean Smith and Patricia Lawford and other VIPs. Robert Kennedy, who was then U.S. Attorney General, threw out the game ball that day in his brother’s memory. Stan Musial was officially representing President Lyndon Johnson and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Proceeds from the game went to the JFK Library Fund to honor the fallen president. And on that day as well, newly-minted JFK half dollars were given out to the first 6,000 ticket buyers.

Stan Musial would serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1964 to 1967. In 2011 he was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, who called him “an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.” Stan Musial died in January 2013 of natural causes; he was 92 years old. An inscription on his statue outside of Busch Stadium in St. Louis portraying him in his fabled batting stance states: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” Musial had a stellar reputation on and off the field, regarded as a model human being and sports icon.

Additional stories at this website on baseball can be found at the “Baseball Stories” topics page, and on the Kennedys, at the “Kennedy History” topics page. For politics-related history, see the “Politics & Culture” page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 25 March 2016
Last Update: 25 March 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Jack & Stan, Kennedy/Musial: 1959-64,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 25, 2016.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

John Falter’s “Stan The Man,” Saturday Evening Post, May 1st, 1954.  Click for story on Falter’s art.
John Falter’s “Stan The Man,” Saturday Evening Post, May 1st, 1954. Click for story on Falter’s art.
Sept 5, 1949: Time cover illustration of Stan Musial by artist Ernest Hamlin Baker, with cover caption, “Thirty Days Hath September,”referring to the show-down pennant race at the time between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Musial being a key player in that race.
Sept 5, 1949: Time cover illustration of Stan Musial by artist Ernest Hamlin Baker, with cover caption, “Thirty Days Hath September,”referring to the show-down pennant race at the time between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Musial being a key player in that race.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, JFKlibrary.org, Boston, MA.

Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1970.

George Vecsey, Stan Musial: An American Life, ESPN, 1st Edition, May 2011, 416 pp.

“Stan Musial,” Wikipedia.org.

“Musial Shared Special Bond with JFK,” RetroSimba.com, November 19, 2010.

Michael Quinlin, “Honey Fitz & Sweet Caroline: A Century of Fenway,” Irish America.com, June / July 2012.

David Cohen, “Stan Musial on The Campaign Trail,” Politico.com, January 19, 2013.

George Vecsey, “The Star Who Stood Out by Not Standing Out,” New York Times, January 20, 2013.

Pat McGonigle, “JFK and Stan the Man,” KSDK.com (NewsChannel/St. Louis/Gannet), November 22, 2013.

Michael Beschloss, History Source, “Base- ball’s Role in J.F.K.’s Life,” New York Times, May 23, 2014.

“Statement by Senator John F. Kennedy on National Sportsmen for Kennedy Com-mittee,” October 21, 1960, The American Presidency Project.

“Anniversaries: Junior Griffey/ Stan the Man/ JFK,” GeorgeVecsey.com, November 21, 2012.

John Kelly, “Author Seeks Help in Finding 2 Boys Who Were JFK’s Guests at 1962 All-Star Game,” Washington Post, August 1, 2011.

Topics Page, “Baseball Stories, 1900s-2000s,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 22, 2012 (includes thumbnail sketches & links to 14 baseball-related stories at this website).

Jack Doyle, “JFK’s 1960 Campaign, Primaries & Fall Election,” PopHistoryDig.com, July 20, 2014 (story includes introduction, summary & listing of city-by-city campaign itinerary with extensive photos of JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign).

Topics Page, “Kennedy History – 12 Stories: 1954-2013,” PopHistoryDig.com, November 10, 2013 (includes thumbnail sketches & links to 12 Kennedy-related stories at this website).

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JFK and Stan Musial greeting one another at the 1962 All-Star game, played at Washington, D.C.’s new Washington Stadium. Among those in the President’s party that day were: Speaker of the House, John  McCormack, Kennedy aide, Dave Powers, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lawrence O’Brien, Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick, and in the foreground, center, two young guests of the President from the Washington Boys Club.
JFK and Stan Musial greeting one another at the 1962 All-Star game, played at Washington, D.C.’s new Washington Stadium. Among those in the President’s party that day were: Speaker of the House, John McCormack, Kennedy aide, Dave Powers, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lawrence O’Brien, Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick, and in the foreground, center, two young guests of the President from the Washington Boys Club.


July 1962: After the president’s party shed their jackets and settled in for the All-Star game seated behind a dugout, JFK and his aide, Dave Powers, rise from their seats tracking a foul ball hit in their direction.
July 1962: After the president’s party shed their jackets and settled in for the All-Star game seated behind a dugout, JFK and his aide, Dave Powers, rise from their seats tracking a foul ball hit in their direction.







“Rock Around The Clock”
Bill Haley: 1951-1981

1950s: Bill Haley & some of his band performing.
1950s: Bill Haley & some of his band performing.
One of the first major rock ‘n roll songs of the 1950s – and still ranked among the world’s all-time Top Ten best-selling singles – is “Rock Around The Clock.” The song was made popular by the American group, Bill Haley and His Comets, initially a Country & Western band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that morphed into a rock `n roll leader after discovering new potential in rhythm & blues music.

“Rock Around the Clock” was also known by its somewhat longer title, “We’re Gonna‘ Rock Around The Clock.” It became one of the first American rock `n roll recordings to find major success and hit the top of the music charts, not only in America, but also around the world – which at the time was a much bigger deal than it is today. By today’s standards, of course, the song may seem unexceptional. Yet in its day it was a significant departure from the mostly staid fare of 1950s music, offering a sharp break with the status quo and setting popular music on a new course.

Although there were other songs at the time that were also part of the new, rising musical genre being called “rock `n roll” – including Haley’s own “Crazy Man, Crazy” of 1953, and Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” of 1954 – it would be Haley’s recording of “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954 that would become the break out tune for rock `n roll. In fact, “Rock Around The Clock” is widely considered the one song, more than any other, that brought rock `n roll into mainstream culture around the world. In its day, the song also became an anthem for mid-1950s youth. Yet when “Rock Around The Clock” was first released in May of 1954, it had modest success at best, and seemed headed for the rock `n roll dustbins.

Then, about a year later, in May of 1955, the song went to the top of the music charts after it was used as the opening music for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, Blackboard Jungle, a story about a high school teacher’s confrontation with juvenile delinquents.

1955: Sample of ad promoting film, “Blackboard Jungle.”
1955: Sample of ad promoting film, “Blackboard Jungle.”
It was the first time rock ’n roll music would be used in film, presaging a lucrative business relationship between rock ‘n roll and film that would grow to great levels in the decades that followed. But in the mid-1950s this was totally new territory – and the kids ate it up.

In fact, in some theaters where the film was shown, both in the U.S. and in Europe, there would be riots and near riots, as the kids would resort to dancing in the aisles when the song came on, while others resorted to more serious mischief coming out of theaters at some locations.

Rock musician and social critic Frank Zappa was among young teens who saw Blackboard Jungle in the spring of 1955 and was energized by the sound of “Rock Around the Clock,” as he would explain some years later: “I didn’t care if Bill Haley was white or sincere. He was playing the teenage National Anthem and it was loud. I was jumping up and down…. [Although the film] had the old people winning in the end, it represented an endorsement. ‘They have made a movie about us, therefore we exist’.”

And journalist Michael Hall, later writing a piece on Bill-Haley, describes his experience as a teenager hearing the same song nearly 20 years later in another film:

“…I’ve been a fan of [Haley] ever since I saw American Graffiti, in 1973, when I was fifteen. ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ the first song in the movie’s first scene, jumped out of the theater speakers: an exuberant 128 seconds of driving guitar and sax riffs, an amazing guitar solo, and Haley’s breathless vocal. It made me feel good; it made me want to move. And if it did that to me [in 1973], imagine what it did to teens in 1955. Kids—to say nothing of grown-ups—had never heard anything like it before….”

May 1954: Decca record label 45rpm version of “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and His Comets,
May 1954: Decca record label 45rpm version of “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and His Comets,
In 1955, “Rock Around The Clock” held the No. 1 spot on the music charts for about two months, and would repeat that showing in other countries. Bill Haley and His Comets had started something of a revolution; they had made the rock `n roll sound popular, and in the process became one of the first recording artists to advance rock `n roll music as both pop culture phenomenon and profitable enterprise.


Music Player
“Rock Around The Clock”

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Still today, in the annals of music history, “Rock Around The Clock” has held it own. The song is ranked at No. 158 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And in 2004, the American Film Institute ranked the song at No. 50 on its “100 Years…100 Songs” list of top tunes in American cinema. Turner Classic Movies also lists the Bill Haley/Blackboard Jungle soundtrack on its Top 15 Most Influential Movie Soundtracks of all time.

Bill Haley, in particular, was a bit of an inventor and synthesizer, taking from the music around him and creating something new. His early 1950s hits would prove to be something of a transition period from one musical era to the next. Michael Hall, writing a Texas Monthly piece on Bill Haley in 2011, noted: “…There’s a before ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and an after ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ The before is Glenn Miller, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby. The after is Elvis, the Beatles, and Lady Gaga.” Haley’s story provides some interesting rock `n roll history; it’s a story about changing music and changing culture – and also a story about how one person’s life unfurled in both good and troubling ways with the ebb and flow of rock `n roll popularity.

Bill Haley shown on album cover in his earlier country & western days as a young cowboy singer, late 1940s.
Bill Haley shown on album cover in his earlier country & western days as a young cowboy singer, late 1940s.


Country-to-R&B

William John Clifton “Bill” Haley, Jr. was born in Highland Park, Michigan on July 6, 1925. When he was four years old, during an operation on his ear, the vision in his left eye would become impaired when an optic nerve was accidentally severed. After that, Haley’s left eye was never quite right, looking off in an odd direction, contributing to a self-conscious shyness. Yet, one thing Bill Haley did have was a good ear for music. His father, from Firebrick, Kentucky, played banjo. His mother, an English emigree from Lancashire, had been classically trained and taught piano. The family later moved to the crossroads town of Booth’s Corner, Pennsylvania in the late 1940s, not far from Philadelphia. It was there that teenager Bill Haley began learning to play the guitar. He had idolized the singing cowboys of that era and dreamed of becoming a country and western singer. For a time, after he quit school, he tried his hand with a series of country and western bands. Then he came back to the Philadelphia area and did a stint as a radio disc jockey in Chester, Pennsylvania where he played a mix of tunes, including rhythm and blues (R & B) recordings, in those days sometimes called “race records.” Then he went back on the road with more country and western groups – among them, The Four Aces of Western Swing and Bill Haley and The Saddlemen. Haley and his bandmates also cut some country and western records.

But in 1951, Haley, prodded by the owner of Essex Records, began experimenting with a new sound. They cut a version of a song called “Rocket 88,” an R&B song written by black artist, Jackie Brenston ( and according to one account, although credited to “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats” on Chess Records, was actually performed by Ike Turner and Knights, later of Ike & Tina Turner fame). Haley’s version of “Rocket 88” in any case, on Essex Records, sold 10,000 copies, a modest result but enough to convince Haley that this new “high energy” sound – basically, black R& B music – would appeal to teenagers. ( In Cleveland, Ohio, meanwhile, a radio DJ named Alan Freed had come to the same conclusion about black R&B music, and by 1951 his on-air selections of these songs were becoming popular on his “Moondog Rock `n Roll Party” radio show).

Chess record label crediting “Rocket 88" to Jackie Brenston, though some say Ike Turner performed it.
Chess record label crediting “Rocket 88" to Jackie Brenston, though some say Ike Turner performed it.
Bill Haley & Comets version of “Rocket 88" recorded on the Essex recording label, June 1951.
Bill Haley & Comets version of “Rocket 88" recorded on the Essex recording label, June 1951.

Haley, by recording “Rocket 88,” was contributing to the founding rock `n roll, even if he didn’t know it at the time. This was the era before Dwight D. Eisenhower was even running for President. Elvis Presley was a 15 year-old tenth grader and the Beatles and Rolling Stones were still in grammar school. By 1952, Haley dropped the country and western style and re-named his group Bill Haley & His Comets. Their sound was unique at the time, coming out of a rockabilly mold, framed by slap-back bass, electric guitar, and pedal steel guitar. They also picked up on youth culture of their day by playing at high school dances for a time, with Haley especially attentive to the slang and talk of the kids.

Film poster for “Blackboard Jungle,” the 1955 film starring Glenn Ford that featured “Rock Around The Clock” song.
Film poster for “Blackboard Jungle,” the 1955 film starring Glenn Ford that featured “Rock Around The Clock” song.
In 1952, Haley & The Comets also cut a recording of another R&B tune, “Rock the Joint,” which sold 75,000 copies, a song picked up by Cleveland DJ, Alan Freed. Then Haley wrote “Crazy Man Crazy,” a 1953 song that became the first rock ’n roll record to appear on the Billboard pop chart. Of his developing song-writing and composing method, Haley would later say: “I thought, if I were to take a Dixieland melody and leave out the emphasis on the first and third beat, but emphasize the second and fourth, and add a beat to which the listeners can clap or even dance, that would serve [ the listener’s interest ]… The rest was easy – I took catchy phrases like `Crazy Man, Crazy’ and made songs out of them with the method I just explained.”

Next up for Haley, in the spring of 1954, was the first recording of “Rock Around the Clock,” now on the Decca record label. Then came “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” another successful black R&B tune by Big Joe Turner, an artist Haley admired. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” became a Top Ten hit for Haley, both in the U.S. and the U.K., selling a million copies by July 1954. But “Rock Around the Clock,” in its first release made earlier that year, had not done well.

In fact, “Rock Around The Clock” didn’t break big until the spring of 1955 after it was used in the soundtrack for the movie, Blackboard Jungle. The song, in somewhat altered version, is used four times in the film: during the film’s opening credits with a lengthy drum introduction, in the first scene, as an instrumental version in the middle of the film, and at the close of the movie. Given the wild reception the song received from the kids who saw the film, it wasn’t long before Haley and the Comets realized they had a giant hit on their hands, as Marshall Lytle, the original bass player for The Comets, recalled in one later interview:

“We were travelling on the New York Thruway from Buffalo to Boston to do a television show. I turned the radio on and ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was playing, [The car] was a new Cadillac that Bill had just bought. It had one of those Selectrix dials where you just push the bar and it goes to the next station. I pushed the bar and it was playing again on another radio station. I pushed the bar again and it was playing again. At one given moment, it was playing five times on the dial. Within five minutes, I must’ve heard it a dozen times. I said: ‘This is a monster hit.’ When you hear a song that many times on that many different radio stations, you know damn well that it was a monster hit.”

In March 1955 alone, “Rock Around The Clock” sold one million copies. Blackboard Jungle, meanwhile, continued to receive wide coverage in the press that summer, boosting Haley’s stock to the point that even Haley – then 30 years old – was thought of as a young rebel. “Rock Around The Clock” was steadily marching to the top of the Billboard chart; it would soon hit No. 1. Haley’s music was now getting much broader notice.

Oct 1955: Rock icons, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, around the time of their first meeting.
Oct 1955: Rock icons, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, around the time of their first meeting.
On May 31, 1955, in one of the earliest nationally-televised performances by a rock `n roll band, Bill Haley and the Comets performed “Rock Around the Clock” on the Texaco Star Theater hosted by Milton Berle. Haley and his band, said Berle at their performance, were “a group of entertainers who are going right to the top.” Blackboard Jungle by this time was continuing to play in theaters all around the country, though its “young hoodlum” content led to bans in few communities, including Atlanta. “Rock Around The Clock” hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart July 9th, 1955 — and it held that spot for 8 weeks, remaining on the charts for nearly six months. Bill Haley and band, meanwhile, continued to receive national attention. They became the first rock `n roll act to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show(CBS-TV) — on Sunday, August 7, 1955, two months after appearing on the Milton Berle show.

Haley and the Comets were also appearing all over the country through 1955, sharing the bill sometimes with well known and up-and-coming artists. During a Midwest tour with Hank Snowden (poster below), Elvis Presley and Bill Haley first met at a Brooklyn High School show in Cleveland, Ohio. It was late October 1955. Presley was just starting out, doing regional shows mostly in the south. He had cut and released a few songs by this time with Sun Studios of Memphis, Tennessee, including “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” of August 1955 (w/“Mystery Train” on its B side), which would make him a nationally-known country music star after it hit No. 1 on the Country & Western chart in February 1956. Presley then was still about a year away from his rising rock `n roll stardom. But on the Snowden two-week tour in the fall of 1955, Elvis rode with Haley in his car between shows, and the two rock `n rollers got to know each other, sharing views on their music and hopes for the future.

Portion of a 1955 poster with Elvis as a minor act to Haley.
Portion of a 1955 poster with Elvis as a minor act to Haley.
1955 poster for Bill Haley & Comets in Oklahoma City.
1955 poster for Bill Haley & Comets in Oklahoma City.

During 1955 and early 1956, Haley and the Comets were also busy turning out new top 40 hits. Among those released in the U.S., for example, were: “Dim, Dim The Lights” in January (No.10); “Birth Of The Boogie” in April (No.17); “Mambo Rock,” also in April (No.17); re-release of “Rock Around the Clock” in June (No.1); “Two Hound Dogs” in September (No.15); “Burn That Candle” in November (No.9); “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie” in November (No.23); and Top Ten hit, “See You Later, Alligator” in February 1956 (No.6). And by this time as well, the first in a series of the rock `n roll films would appear, titled Rock Around the Clock, starring Haley and his band.

Poster for 1956 film “Rock Around The Clock,” starring Bill Haley & His Comets and their music, among others.
Poster for 1956 film “Rock Around The Clock,” starring Bill Haley & His Comets and their music, among others.
Poster for follow-up film released in December 1956, “Don’t Knock The Rock,” also featuring Haley & others.
Poster for follow-up film released in December 1956, “Don’t Knock The Rock,” also featuring Haley & others.

At The Movies

Rock Around the Clock, produced by Columbia Pictures, was released in March 1956. It was followed by another not long thereafter, Don’t Knock the Rock, released in December that year, again starring Haley. These films were the first of what would later be called “the rock exploitation genre.” They all had a relatively simple formula: round up as many pop music stars as you could afford, and use a story line that showcased the music. In Rock Around the Clock, Haley’s hit song of that name is used at least three times, along with songs from a dozen or more other artists. Rock Around the Clock cost an estimated $200,000 to produce, but it grossed $1 million in the U.S. alone. It also had a good run in Europe. The sequel, Don’t Knock the Rock, which also featured Bill Haley as well as radio DJ Alan Freed (who appeared in several of these period “rock films” beyond those with Haley), was rushed into production for a December 1956 release primarily to capitalize on the first film and Haley’s music. Six Haley songs are performed in the film, including “Don’t Knock The Rock.” This film, however, which also hit the global market, did not do as well as the first. Still, other rock films followed without Haley featuring other stars. Among those titles, for example, were: Rock, Rock, Rock; Mister Rock and Roll; and Shake, Rattle and Rock. (See the Alan Freed story for more detail on these.)

One news account in the October 14th, 1956 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, reporting on some of the raucous behavior that followed the first film, Rock Around The Clock, also noted the film’s success and financial returns – for Haley’s songs as well – as film and music made their way around the world:

…Youth riots have sprouted from showings of [the film] Rock Around the Clock throughout America, in England, Norway, Australia and other such lands…
…A Columbia Pictures spokesman said the 76-minute film, featuring Bill Haley and other rock exponents, is doing ‘fantastic business.’ Made for less than $200,000 the film reportedly may gross up in the ranks of historic money makers.
Decca Records has pressed and sold more than two million copies of the song [‘Rock Around the Clock’] which was used both in the film, Blackboard Jungle, and as the tune for the later movie [i.e.,Rock Around the Clock]. Other records, like ‘See You Later Alligator,’ have sold almost as well.
By the beginning of this year [1956], a Decca official in overseas sales reported, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ seemed to be ‘the biggest Decca record since the ‘third Man Theme’.’ Highest sales overseas were in England, Germany, and Australia, followed by Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Japan.

September 1956: Theater crowd scene in Amsterdam at the screening of the film, “Rock Around The Clock,” featuring pioneering rock ‘n roll act, Bill Haley and His Comets and their hit song “Rock Around The Clock.”
September 1956: Theater crowd scene in Amsterdam at the screening of the film, “Rock Around The Clock,” featuring pioneering rock ‘n roll act, Bill Haley and His Comets and their hit song “Rock Around The Clock.”

In the U.S., during 1956, Haley and his band signed on with a touring show under the banner, “The Biggest Rock & Roll Show of 1956” (tour dates listed below). Haley and band were one of about a dozen other acts, including: the Platters, the Drifters, Bo Diddley, Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. Haley and the Comets, however, were the only white act on a bill, but were the headliners, followed in billing by the Platters, Lavern Baker, Clyde McPhatter and Big Joe Turner. Haley and his band typically finished the second half of the show.

_____________________________________________________

“Biggest Rock ’n Roll Show of 1956″

Starring Bill Haley, Lavern Baker, The Platters, et. al,

Cover of tour booklet for “Biggest Rock n Roll Show of ‘56" with Bill Haley, Lavern Baker, The Platters, & others.
Cover of tour booklet for “Biggest Rock n Roll Show of ‘56" with Bill Haley, Lavern Baker, The Platters, & others.
April 28, 1956: Sample poster from the touring “Biggest Rock `n Roll Show of 1956,” in Syracuse, New York.
April 28, 1956: Sample poster from the touring “Biggest Rock `n Roll Show of 1956,” in Syracuse, New York.

April 1956

Apr 20: Hersheypark Arena, Hershey,PA
Apr 21: Warner Theatre, Atlantic City, NJ
Apr 22: Mosque, Richmond, VA
Apr 23: Municipal Aud., Norfolk,VA
Apr 24: Catholic Youth Cntr, Scranton, PA
Apr 25: Arena, Philadelphia, PA
Apr 26: Westchester Co.,White Plains, NY
Apr 27: Mosque Theater, Newark, NJ
Apr 28: War Mem. Aud., Syracuse, NY
Apr 29: The Forum, Montreal, Canada
Apr 30: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto

May 1956

May 1: Aud. Theatre, Rochester, NY
May 2: Memorial Aud, Buffalo, NY
May 3: Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh, PA
May 4: Vet. Mem Aud., Columbus, OH
May 5: Memorial Aud., Canton, OH
May 6: Olympia Arena, Detroit, MI
May 7: Univ. Fieldhouse, Dayton, OH
May 8: Arena, Cleveland, OH
May 9: Gardens, Cincinnati, OH
May 10: Indiana Theater, Indianapolis, IN
May 11: Int’l Amphitheatre, Chicago, IL
May 12: Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO
May 13: Music Hall, Kansas City, MO
May 14: Civic Auditorium, Omaha, NE
May 15: Coliseum, Denver, CO
May 16: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 17: Mun. Aud., San Antonio, TX
May 18: Civic Auditorium, Houston, TX
May 19: Loyola Univ., Baton Rouge, LA
May 20: Mun. Aud., Birmingham, AL
May 21: Chattanooga, TN
May 22: Greensville, SC
May 23: Memorial Aud., Raleigh, NC
May 24: Ponce De Leon Stad., Atlanta
May 25: Baseball Park, Jacksonville, FL
May 26: Ft. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
May 27: Dinner Key Aud., Miami Beach
May 28: Sports Arena, Savannah, GA
May 29: Charlotte, NC
May 30: Mem. Coliseum, Winston-Salem
May 31: Township Aud., Columbia, SC

June 1956

June 1: The Mosque, Richmond, VA
June 2: Mun. Aud., Norfolk, VA
June 3: Nat’l Guard Armory, Wash., DC
June 4: Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh, PA
June 5: Mun. Aud., Charleston, WVA
___________________

Sources: “The Biggest Rock`n Roll Show
of 1956,” A Rock `n Roll Historian (web-
site), February 1, 2016, and Otto Fuchs,
Bill Haley: Father of Rock ‘n Roll, Wagner,
2014.

_____________________________________________________

At the opening of the 1956 tour, a reporter/photographer team from Look magazine attended the Hershey, Pennsylvania show and a few of the other early shows, taking photos and doing interviews. Look later published a story on the tour with a photo of Haley and band performing before the large crowd at Hershey (below). At the time, Haley was reportedly paid $1,430 each night he performed during the tour, sometimes performing two shows a night. The venues were typically municipal auditoriums and other arena-type settings with as many as 16,000 fans attending per show, though typically in the 5,000-to-10,000 range.

April 1956, Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Look magazine photographer, traveling with the 1956 rock `n roll tour for their first few shows, captured this view of Bill Haley (left) and his bandmates performing. The Comets could become quite active on stage, jumping around and playing their instruments in crazy ways.
April 1956, Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, Pennsylvania. Look magazine photographer, traveling with the 1956 rock `n roll tour for their first few shows, captured this view of Bill Haley (left) and his bandmates performing. The Comets could become quite active on stage, jumping around and playing their instruments in crazy ways.

At some locations on the 1956 tour, thousands were turned away as the venues were often modest in size. And sometimes the going got rough at the shows, as rowdy fans would assault performers. Haley was accosted and punched by fans on a few occasions during the tour – at the Catholic Youth Center, Scranton, PA and the Westchester County Center, White Plains, NY, to name two. At the Auditorium Theater in Rochester, NY Haley was nearly pulled off the stage during his performance.

Bill Haley, Top 40
Chart Peak (any U.S. chart*)
1953-1974

“Crazy Man, Crazy”
June 1953 / #11
“Fractured”
August 1953 / #24
“Live It Up”
October 1953 / #25
“Shake, Rattle & Roll”
April 1954 / #7
“Rock Around the Clock”
May 1954 / #23 (1st release)
“Dim, Dim The Lights”
January 1955 / #10
“Birth Of The Boogie”
April 1955 / #17
“Mambo Rock”
April 1955 / #17
“Rock Around the Clock”
June 1955 / #1 (2nd release)
“Two Hound Dogs”
September 1955 / #15
“Burn That Candle”
November 1955 / #9
“Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie”
November 1955 / #23
“See You Later, Alligator”
February 1956 / #6
“The Saints Rock ‘n’ Roll”
April 1956 / #18
“R-O-C-K”
April 1956 / #29
“Hot Dog Buddy Buddy”
June 1956 / #36
“Rip It Up”
August 1956 / #25
“Razzle-Dazzle”
September 1956 / #15
“Rudy’s Rock”
November 1956 / #34
“Skinny Minnie”
May 1958 / #22
“Joey’s Song”
November 1959 / #35
“Rock Around the Clock”
May 1974 / #39
___________________
*Highest chart position on
any U.S. music chart.

The touring schedule could be an unyielding grind for the performers, traveling nightly sometimes for hours and hundreds of miles after their last show in order to make it to the next scheduled city. On May 18, 1956, after playing two shows at the Civic Auditorium, Houston, TX, the tour group hit the road at 1 a.m. and traveled 400 miles to their next scheduled show the following day in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Loyola University. They arrived at 9:30 a.m., had some time to sleep, then performed later that evening. At the end of that show, they set out again at 1 a.m., on to the next city. That was a typical cycle of travel-rest-perform-travel, sometimes repeated day after day. In Louisiana, prior to the Baton Rouge show, Bill Haley met Fats Domino for the first time – Domino was then a rising R&B artist who had also cut some early rock `n roll songs. His “Ain’t It a Shame?” of 1955 had hit No. 10 on the Billboard chart in August that year and was also a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart.

Back on tour, meanwhile, at some locations, and also on the road at rest stops, the tour group dealt with segregation and racial tensions. At their scheduled performance for the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama, they faced pickets outside the auditorium as the White Citizen’s Council (Ku Klux Klan) had also urged whites to stay away from the show, which by Haley’s estimate, cut attendance by half when they did perform. In one case on the tour, the black artists refused to perform and the show was cancelled.

There was also a packaged tour for the second half of 1956 – this one, a 40-date tour under the name, “The Biggest In Person Show of 1956.” In addition to Haley, other acts on that tour included: The Platters, Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon & Teenagers, The Clovers, Ella Johnson, Chuck Berry, Shirley & Lee, Shirley Gunter, The Flairs, Buddy Johnson Orchestra, and the Vic Lewis Orchestra. Although Haley and the Comets were once again the headlining act, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers was the ascending group at the time, so Haley and band were not in the limelight as much. Still, Haley was considered enough of a rousing presence that he and his band were banned from performing at several locations. For the October 22nd, 1956 show, for example, at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, PA, Haley and the Comets were banned from performing by police order.

Earlier that summer, after a riot at a rock `n roll show in Asbury Park, New Jersey sent 25 teens to the hospital, the mayor there placed a rock-`n-roll ban on all city dance halls. Around the same time, Jersey City, NJ canceled a planned outdoor rock ‘n roll show with Haley and others planned for some 24,000 fans at Roosevelt Stadium. As rock `n roll shows met with some civic disapproval, one of Haley’s recordings offered a line of mild protest, noting: “Teenager’s mother, are you so right? Did you forget so soon? How much you like to do the Charleston.” Yet, for the most part, the rock `n roll shows that did go on, went off without major problems. However, Haley did have some of his songs banned, for no other reason than being identified as part of a raucous “rock `n roll.” In Shenandoah, Iowa, KMA radio station, in their “Crusade for Better Disks,” banned his “Dim, Dim the Lights,” for one. And in St. Paul, Minnesota, other Haley songs were banned as well.

Still, during 1955 and 1956, Haley and his band had at least 12 U.S. Top 40 records. But as it turned out, this would be the peak for Bill Haley in the U.S., as then, a new rocker named Elvis Presley, who had opened a time or two for Haley back in 1954, was now on the rise in the American rock `n roll scene. Elvis had nine No. 1 hits by the end of 1957. In addition to Presley, other new performers, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, were also rising on the record charts. And Haley, by virtue of his starring roles in the various rock `n roll films then circulating, was revealed to his largely teen audience as something of an older figure, then in his early 30s, and not offering the kind of stage presence and sexuality that Elvis Presley and other younger performers were delivering. Yet, during his peak years, Haley’s performances, and that of the Comets – and their rollicking stage act – had plenty of energy, and their music conveyed that to their audiences and eager teen dancers, as seen in the film clip below. (Haley & Comets shown here in a scene from the 1956 film Don’t Knock the Rock, performing their hit song, “Rip it Up,” which would become a Top 40 hit (#25 Billboard, #4 U.K.) in August 1956. Haley adapted this song from the original R&B version by Little Richard, which earlier that year had been a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart).

Although the new rising group of younger rock stars would soon eclipse Bill Haley in the rock `n roll firmament, fortunately, as it turned out for Haley, there was a great big world out there that had yet to see rock `n roll close-up in performance. Most other countries at the time did not have comparable rock `n roll acts like Bill Haley & His Comets. Consequently, they would become, in effect, the first global rock `n roll touring act – and for a time, very big international rock `n roll stars.


Australian Tour

Cover of tour booklet for January 1957 rock ’n roll tour  of Australia by Bill Haley and others acts.
Cover of tour booklet for January 1957 rock ’n roll tour of Australia by Bill Haley and others acts.
Bill Haley and the Comets first traveled to Australia in January 1957, where their show dates were all sold out in advance, with thousands more fans turned away. Other acts on the tour included LaVern Baker, Joe Turner, and Freddie Bell & the Bellboys.

Among the various Australian cities where Haley and the tour performed – with multiple show dates over serval days at some locations – were: Newcastle Stadium, Newcastle, New South Wales; Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane, Queensland; The Tivoli Theater in Adelaide; West Melbourne Stadium, Melbourne; and the Sydney Stadium in Sydney. Before it was all over, Haley, Comets and tour had played before some 330,000 Australians. And Haley and the Comets were well received along the way, greeted at some locations with signs that read, “The King Is Here!” The tour was the very first rock `n roll tour in Australia, and it proved to be an huge success, paving the way for many others to follow.

However, near the end of the tour, Chicago businessman and tour promoter Lee Gordon had a problem. The next scheduled act he had booked in Australia following Haley was supposed to be Frank Sinatra, who had unexpectedly cancelled. Gordon then offered $100,000 to Haley if he would extend his tour, which Haley declined, then anxious to return home and rest before their next tour – this one to Great Britain.


Brits Wild for Haley

On February 5th,1957, when Bill Haley and the Comets arrived in England, the screaming and excited crowds that greeted them would remind some of the wild commotion that would greet the Beatles’s arrival in the U.S. seven years later. Haley arrived in England via the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, as he was not a fan of air travel, so he an his considerable entourage made the five-day voyage by sea, first arriving in France, then finally docking at Southampton.“I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957 —my first-ever con-cert…”
– Graham Nash
Haley would note in his diary: “Docked at Cherbourg, France at 7 am. Picked up newspaper reporters and photographers and publicity women and sailed for England. Docked at Southampton, England at 2 pm and all hell broker loose. 5,000 people almost killed us.” From Southampton it was on to London’s Waterloo Station by train, where they were again greeted by a throng of thousands of fans and press. Britain’s baby boomers were about to have their first chance to see a real, live rock-and-roll show. Haley was bringing rock ‘n’ roll to Europe for the first time. And attending Haley’s British performance, were some of Britain’s own future rock `n roll stars. “The birth of rock `n roll ”– in the view of Pete Townshend of the Who – was “seeing Bill Haley and The Comets” when they came to England. And he wasn’t the only up-and-coming British rocker then impressed. “I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957—my first-ever concert,” said singer songwriter Graham Nash, famous for his singing with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Feb 1957: U.K. fans mob Bill Haley and 2nd wife (bottom center) on train to Waterloo Station.
Feb 1957: U.K. fans mob Bill Haley and 2nd wife (bottom center) on train to Waterloo Station.
Cover of souvenir booklet for Bill Haley’s first tour of England, February 1957.
Cover of souvenir booklet for Bill Haley’s first tour of England, February 1957.

Paul McCartney, too, came to see Bill Haley: “The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly…Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it….I knew there was something going on here.” Another British rocker influenced by Haley was David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, who has stated: “It’s very hard to tell what made me first decide to play the guitar. ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley came out when I was ten, and that probably had something to do with it.”

But in February 1957, Haley and the Comets were riding high. “We are receiving ovations and publicity like royalty here,” Haley would note in his diary of the February 7th, 1957 London show date. And on February 9th, he wrote: “…Shows all sold out. Best publicity we ever had.” Haley would subsequently tour England eight more times between 1964 and 1979 – but perhaps no more memorably than that first 1957 visit. And his songs would do especially well in Great Britain. “Rock Around the Clock” had charted there before it did in the U.S., in January 1955. In December of that year, it charted again when Blackboard Jungle hit British movie houses. In fact, “Rock Around the Clock” would reenter the U.K. pop charts seven times between then and 1974.

1956: Bill Haley and His Comets receive top billing at the London Pavilion for the film, “Rock Around The Clock,” which produced enthusiastic teen audiences throughout England and beyond – and some rioting as well.
1956: Bill Haley and His Comets receive top billing at the London Pavilion for the film, “Rock Around The Clock,” which produced enthusiastic teen audiences throughout England and beyond – and some rioting as well.

U.K. Tours
Bill Haley & Comets
1957-1979

1957: Feb / March
1964: Sept / Oct
1968: April / June
1969: July / Aug
1972: August
1974: Feb / May
1976: December
1979: March
1979: November

British Charts. In 1956, the year before their first visit to England, Haley & The Comets practically dominated the British charts, with as many as five songs appearing in the Top 20. In January, “Rock Around the Clock” was No. 1 on the New Musical Express (NME) Best-Selling Chart. “Rock A Beatin‘ Boogie” was also on that chart that January, followed by “See You Later Alligator” in March, and “Saints Rock `n Roll” in May. The film, Rock Around The Clock came out in England in August 1956, which helped put more Haley tunes on the Hit Parade – “Rocking Through the Rye” and “Razzle Dazzle” – giving them the distinction of landing five separate hits that fall in the British Top 20Twenty. In November, “Rip it Up” and “Rudy’s Rock” hit the charts. In England at that time, Haley and the Comets were guaranteed advance sales of 100,000 copies on every recording released there.

Sullivan Show & Bandstand. Back in the States later that year, Haley and band made their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, April 28, 1957 performing the songs “Rudy’s Rock” and “Forty Cups of Coffee.” They also appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand ( ABC-TV) in 1957, once on the prime time show, October 28th, 1957, and once on the regular daytime show, November 27th, 1957. There were also two later appearances on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show, a primetime show – on March 22, 1958, during the first season, and February 20th, 1960, performing three songs: “Rock Around the Clock,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” and “Tamiami.” Haley had also appeared on Bandstand before Dick Clark was the DJ – in 1953, when it was known as just “Bandstand” and the DJ was Bob Horn.

November 1958: Some of the fans at Strasbourg, France who came out to rave and dance to the rock `n roll music of  Bill Haley and His Comets during their European tour.
November 1958: Some of the fans at Strasbourg, France who came out to rave and dance to the rock `n roll music of Bill Haley and His Comets during their European tour.
Bill Haley and Elvis Presley meeting backstage in Stuttgart, Germany in Oct 1958. Presley was stationed in Germany.
Bill Haley and Elvis Presley meeting backstage in Stuttgart, Germany in Oct 1958. Presley was stationed in Germany.


More Touring

Bill Haley and band continued touring in both the U.S. and abroad during 1957 and 1958, also cutting new recordings. In the spring of 1958, April and May, they toured the South American countries of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay with dates in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Rio de Janeiro. The South American tour took place at a time when Haley’s last hit on the U.S. charts, “Skinny Minnie.” Facing some financial difficulty due in part to poor management, lavish spending, and not getting the hits they had earlier, Haley and The Comets undertook a tour in late 1958 of mainland Europe that was designed in part to help make a financial recovery.

In early October 1958 they began in Italy, playing a few dates there until the Pope died, causing the rest of their Italian dates to be cancelled. Then in Spain, after one performance before 3,000, where some of the crowd got out of hand, their music was outlawed and concerts cancelled. In France some shows were curtailed. In Germany they were well received, but had trouble in two cities, Berlin and Essen, where riots broke out. In Stuttgart, Germany, Haley and Elvis Presley had some impromptu meetings. Presley, who had been drafted into the U.S. Army, was then stationed in Germany, and he visited with Haley backstage at one show date.

During the early 1960s, in the fall of 1962, Haley and the Comets also had a successful stint at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, where they played around the time the Beatles were there as the house band in their early years. According to one of the Comets, Al Rappa, they had met the Beatles in Germany and were friendly with the group.


Mexico & The Twist

1960s: Bill Haley and Comets featured on a Dimsa album cover for one of their Mexican “twist” recordings.
1960s: Bill Haley and Comets featured on a Dimsa album cover for one of their Mexican “twist” recordings.
In 1961, Bill Haley was looking for a new venue. His second marriage was ending and the IRS was after him. So about that time he decided to move to Mexico City. A small record company there named Orfeón signed him up to a nonexclusive deal, allowing him to continue recording with other U.S. labels. In Mexico, under the Spanish name, “Bill Haley y sus Cometas” as they were known throughout Latin America, Haley and his band released several singles and albums and became popular there. Haley, who was fluent in Spanish, recorded a number of songs in the language on the Orfeón label and their subsidiary label, Dimsa. Over a five year period with Orfeón he and the Comets would record more than 100 titles. In particular, Haley extended the U.S. twist dance craze to Mexico, scoring there with two unexpected hits – “Twist Español” and “Florida Twist,” the latter of which for a time became the biggest-selling single in Mexican history. Haley and the Comets became something like the “Chubby Checker of Latin America.” They hosted a television series, Orfeón a Go-Go, and made instrumental recordings using Mexican trumpet musicians. They also made three movies in Mexico, recorded in Spanish. In 1966, Haley also reportedly used his influence with Orfeón to help his idol, Big Joe Turner, then in a recording slump, to have a recording session there using Comet musicians as session players. It was also in Mexico, when Haley and The Comets were playing Mexican clubs, that Haley would meet his third wife-to-be, Martha Velasco, a Mexican singer and dancer who he married in 1963.

1969: Poster for one of Richard Nader’s “Rock & Roll Revival” shows at Madison Square Garden with Bill Haley & His Comets.
1969: Poster for one of Richard Nader’s “Rock & Roll Revival” shows at Madison Square Garden with Bill Haley & His Comets.


Rock Revivals

In the late 1960s, Haley had a bit of comeback and touring success with a series of rock `n roll revival shows, including dates in the U.S. and Europe. Haley and band played The Royal Albert Hall in London in May 1968. Also that year in Sweden, Haley was contacted by Sonet Records and signed a contract with them, later releasing a number of albums and singles on the Sonet label – songs that never charted in the U.S., though some were hits in other countries. Sonet recorded a new version of “Rock Around the Clock” in 1968, which again hit the European charts.

Back in the States, rock promoter Richard Nader had booked Haley for a series of 1950’s rock `n roll revival shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. At one of these, on October 18th, 1969, when Bill Haley stepped on stage at the Garden’s Felt Forum, he received an eight-and-a-half minute standing ovation even before he played a single song. A live album, Bill Haley’s Scrapbook, was recorded a few weeks later at New York’s Bitter End club. Haley would appear in at least three of the Nader revival shows into the early 1970s.

By the early 1970s, however, Haley was losing interest in performing. His Mexican wife, Martha Velasco, had given birth to their second child, Pedro, in 1971 (all told, Haley had 10 children in 3 marriages). He and family moved to Vera Cruz, where he bought a boat and an old hotel, and teamed up with some locals there to learn fishing by hand. Still, there was some recording now and then, and other events in U.S. culture also pulled him back into the music scene.


Graffiti & Happy Days

Also helping revive interest in 1950s rock `n roll music – and Bill Haley’s songs in particular – was the 1973 film American Graffiti and the 1974 TV show, Happy Days. American Graffiti was the first film by a new director named George Lucas, who would later go on to Star Wars fame and much more. American Grafitti, released in August 1973, introduced a bevy of future film and TV stars, including: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers and Harrison Ford. It focused on the post-WWII teenage culture of baby boomers – cars, girls and rock `n roll culture of the 1950s essentially – and generated the third highest Hollywood film box office that year. It was also one of the first films to use original rock `n roll music throughout the movie’s soundtrack – with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” as the first song on the soundtrack album.

Soundtrack from the 1973 film, “American Graffiti”.
Soundtrack from the 1973 film, “American Graffiti”.
Promo art for the 1970s TV show, “Happy Days.”
Promo art for the 1970s TV show, “Happy Days.”

In the year following the film, a new television series, Happy Days, also using a story line from the 1950s-1960s, and starring Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and others, used “Rock Around the Clock” as the opening theme song for the 1974-75 season, helping to boost the Haley song one again. “Rock Around The Clock” was subsequently re-issued on MCA records and peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard singles chart in March 1974. The revived interest in Haley’s music helped give Haley a few more years of touring and playing rock `n roll revival shows. During a 1974 tour of the U.K., Haley was presented with an award in London by singer Olivia Newton John from MCA Records for “Rock Around the Clock’s” distinguished performance on the British charts, having re-entered those charts seven times between 1954 and 1974.


Texas & Final Days

In 1976, Bill Haley & family moved to Harlingen, TX, on the “toe” of Texas, just north of the Mexican border with access to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1976, Bill Haley & family moved to Harlingen, TX, on the “toe” of Texas, just north of the Mexican border with access to the Gulf of Mexico.
In February 1976, Haley’s long-time friend and Comet musician, Rudy Pompilli, died of cancer, and that appeared to take something out of Haley. He became less and less inclined to perform. He, Martha, and family, meanwhile, moved just north of the Mexican border, settling in Harlingen, Texas, where they bought a big old house with yard, swimming pool, and pool house.

There, the family settled into a more or less normal family life, with Haley declining further press and turning his attention to family and his children’s activities, ball games, and occasional get-togethers with neighbors. During this time, Haley also bought as an investment a trailer park in the area – the Val Verde Trailer Park — once a luxury country club and enclave for America celebrities, with cottages, pool, and other facilities, still used as a winter retreat for Texans when Haley bought it. He became the on-site manager there, hoping to make it pay off.

But Haley by this time had drifted into heavy drinking and erratic behavior. He would sometimes go off on long drives in his Lincoln Continental automobile, returning home drunk or not coming back for days. Between 1976 and 1981 he was arrested four times for DWI and drunkenness.

Nov 1979: Bill Haley greeting Queen Elizabeth II in London after his role in the Royal Variety Performance.
Nov 1979: Bill Haley greeting Queen Elizabeth II in London after his role in the Royal Variety Performance.
For a time in 1978, some months after Elvis Presley died in August 1977, Bill Haley began thinking about a possible comeback. As recounted in Michael Hall’s 2011 Texas Monthly piece, “Falling Comet,” Haley in 1979, along with his wife Martha, drove to the famous Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama. With Martha to help keep him sober and focused, Haley recorded his last album: Everyone Can Rock and Roll, a mix of classic rock and country released on the Sonet label. Then Haley, through Sonet’s London office, requested that a couple of European tours be set up. About a week before each tour, according to Hall, Haley “retreated to the pool house with his guitar to practice.” On one of his U.K. tours, in November 1979, he played in the Royal Variety Performance in front of Queen Elizabeth. As Michael Hall notes of that visit: “…Haley wore a gold tux, and his curl was longer and thicker than ever. He looked thicker too. But ‘Rock Around the Clock’ sounded like it used to, and afterward, Haley shook hands with the queen, who smiled and made small talk with him. It was one of the highlights of his life.” Haley then returned to Texas. There, he began working on his autobiography and a screenplay for a movie to be called The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll.

Then in May 1980, Haley set off to tour once again, this time to South Africa for three weeks of shows. But there, according to his wife Martha who traveled with him, he had some bizarre moments on stage, telling stories to his audience rather than singing. Back in Texas, in the fall of 1980, family members noticed more odd behavior, including his son Jack, who had come for a brief visit that proved troubling. Old friends and former business associates were getting rambling, late night phone calls as well. At this point, he appears to have begun living in the pool house, while the family stayed in the main house. In the fall of 1980, Haley was picked up by the police and detained, then bailed out by Martha, who had him see a psychiatrist, who gave him some medication. Some believe Haley may have had an underlying anxiety disorder, leading to a chemical imbalance in the brain, with Haley then self-medicating with alcohol. In any case, there were more episodes of Haley’s odd behavior, some paranoia, and becoming almost a Jekyll-and-Hyde type character. There had also been news reports of Haley having a brain tumor, but these appear to have been fabrications, or false stories used to keep him from further touring.


Sad Ending

February 10th 1981: AP story appearing in some American newspapers, here from the front page of ‘The Spokesman-Review,’ Spokane, WA.
February 10th 1981: AP story appearing in some American newspapers, here from the front page of ‘The Spokesman-Review,’ Spokane, WA.
One evening in February 1981, Haley’s youngest daughter, Martha Maria, living in the main house in Texas, had brought her father some food in his pool house. She has recalled being very sad at the experience, as he gave her “the biggest hug” that evening. Crying as she relayed the story of seeing her father, she described the scene: “I wanted to get out of there. It was so painful to see him in that condition. He was lonely and wanted to feel loved.” Bill Haley died the next day. He was 55 years old. News reports listed “natural causes” in Haley’s death, likely a heart attack. He was found fully clothed on his bed in the pool house after the mailman came by.

In the end, Bill Haley at the time of his death was an unheralded music pioneer overlooked and neglected for his contributions to the rise of rock `n roll. And Bill Haley clearly felt that neglect while he was alive – especially in his later years. He had been overshadowed by Elvis, and he felt that keenly too. In some ways, no doubt, the lack of recognition contributed to his sad ending, breaking his spirit. True, Haley had his demons and insecurities, not least was his life-long impaired vision in one eye. Others suggest that he may not have had the personality for the life he chose and was just not a good fit for the high-exposure world of pop music celebrity. His bandmates and others noticed that he wasn’t always comfortable in the role of rock star, sometimes retreating to his room when on the road. He wasn’t always the “party animal” type, and had acknowledged on several occasions a preference for family and spending time at home. Still, he met his celebrity obligations in good form; he performed thousands of times and engaged with the press and public the best he could. In the end, Bill Haley was a musician, with an irresistible itch to scratch – to record, to write, to create something new. Which he did in some profusion.

Album cover, “The Best of Bill Haley & His Comets,” in the 20 Century Masters series, MCA Records, 1999.
Album cover, “The Best of Bill Haley & His Comets,” in the 20 Century Masters series, MCA Records, 1999.
Yet Haley himself may share at least some of the blame for the American anonymity and neglect he would later suffer – not updating and modernizing his act, for one. And much of his troubles in the 1960s and 1970s – a time when he survived as a popular act in the Latin America and Europe – might have been solved by better financial management, as millions of dollars were apparently spent as fast as they were made, leaving Haley on the lamb from the IRS for six-figure sums. Had Haley updated his image and act and installed better financial management, the American rock `n roll fates may have been kinder to him.

Still, as it turned out, he was mostly forgotten and overlooked – at least at the time of his death and for some years thereafter. In 1986, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named 16 individuals to be inducted into its first class of honorees, Bill Haley was not among them. In that first year of inductions, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly were among those included, but not Bill Haley. However, he was posthumously inducted in 1987.

Cover of “Bill Haley: Father of Rock `n Roll,” the mammoth book on Haley by fan Otto Fuchs.
Cover of “Bill Haley: Father of Rock `n Roll,” the mammoth book on Haley by fan Otto Fuchs.
Bill Haley and His Comets had 37 hit records. Overall, Haley & Co. figure into more than 400 titles that were recorded and released over a period of forty years. Haley also recorded over a hundred titles on at least four different Latin American labels. At the time of his death, Bill Haley had sold an estimated 60 million records – half of which, by some counts, were “Rock Around The Clock.”

Since Bill Haley’s death in 1981 there have been several books written about him, including one co-authored by his first son John “Jack” W. Haley and John von Hoelle, titled, Sound and Glory, published in 1990. To mark the 30th anniversary of Haley’s death in 2011, a mammoth tribute volume by Otto Fuchs, an Austrian Bill Haley fan, was published. First issued as an earlier German-language edition, Fuchs’ Bill Haley: Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll, runs 900 pages or more, depending on edition. The most recent edition has been revised and updated, incorporating a number of many interviews, some with former Comet band members. There is also Jim Dawson’s book, Rock Around the Clock, published in July 2005 at the 50th anniversary of Haley’s song, ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ Haley’s music, meanwhile, has been issued in new compilations, including obscure session cuts and others that only die-hard fans may appreciate. In 1999, Bear Family Records released two boxed sets covering his career from 1954 through 1969, and Roller Coaster Records issued Haley’s Essex recordings from 1951-54 material in 1995.


Cover of 6-CD set of Bill Haley’s music issued by Bear Family Records in 1999, also showing street scene and club banner from the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany when Haley & The Comets appeared there in 1962.
Cover of 6-CD set of Bill Haley’s music issued by Bear Family Records in 1999, also showing street scene and club banner from the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany when Haley & The Comets appeared there in 1962.

Haley’s Legacy

In his performing years, Bill Haley was often humble about his contribution to the emergence of rock `n roll, and was quick to offer perspective about the times and his music. “People associate the beginning of rock ‘n roll with 1954,” Haley once said. “Actually, it had been gathering momentum and when we made ‘Rock Around the Clock’ it just exploded. . . . That’s when the mob scene started — thousands of kids at the stage door . . . It wasn’t because we were so great. The hysteria wasn’t for us. It was for the music. This was a new music for kids who hadn’t had any of their own…” True enough – to a point.

Yet musicians like Haley clearly helped craft a new sound. Some regard Haley as among the key musical alchemists of that era who blended bits and pieces of other musical genres to come up with something new. Though in Haley’s case, he did make some singular contributions, as Bob Stanley observed in The Guardian of London in May 2014:

“…No one had blended country and R&B on a single before the Comets’ ‘Rock the Joint’ in 1952. No one had scored an American Top 20 hit with anything that could really qualify as rock`n roll before their single ‘Crazy Man Crazy’ in 1953. And ‘Rock Around the Clock’s’ international success in 1955 …opened the door for modern pop.”

Cover of Jim Dawson's 2005 book, ‘Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution,”  published at the 50th anniversary of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ hitting No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Cover of Jim Dawson's 2005 book, ‘Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution,” published at the 50th anniversary of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ hitting No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
And while Haley did use the music of R&B artists to advance his own sound and style, as did others of that day, unlike some of those artists who “diluted every rhythm..,” Haley was different, according to Tom Moon writing in 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die:

“…Haley and his hard-charging crew understood the music well enough to execute it respectfully, right down to the careening solos and whomping stop-time breaks. Some credit for this goes to producer [Milt] Gabler, who… communicated to the Comets the fine points of the danceable backbeat. They obviously learned quickly, burning this high-spirited jump blues – recorded before Elvis Presley ever registered a chart hit – into the very source code of rock and roll.”

Along with the early bluesmen like Robert Johnson and anonymous R&B artists who were laying the groundwork for rock `n roll in the 1940s and earlier, as well as those who took it forward the 1950s – including Big Joe Turner, Ike Turner, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others – Bill Haley is rightfully there beside them in that pantheon of rock `n roll founders, where he should have been all along.

Additional stories at this website on the history of popular music, its artists, and the music industry can be found at the “Annals of Music” category page. Annual listings for all published stories at this website, with titles and links, can be found at the PopHistoryDig’s Facebook page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you.
– Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 17 March 2016
Last Update: 17 March 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley:
1951-1981,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 17, 2016.

____________________________________



Sources, Links & Additional Information

1955: Bill Haley / Decca: “Shake, Rattle & Roll” album.
1955: Bill Haley / Decca: “Shake, Rattle & Roll” album.
Oct 1958: Bill Haley & Comets being welcomed to Berlin, Germany by a throng of happy fans.  AP photo.
Oct 1958: Bill Haley & Comets being welcomed to Berlin, Germany by a throng of happy fans. AP photo.
U.K./MCA  record sleeve for Bill Haley’s “Rip it Up!”
U.K./MCA record sleeve for Bill Haley’s “Rip it Up!”
Bill Haley and Big Joe Turner in performance together during a 1966 episode of the Mexican TV show, “Orfeón a Go-Go.”
Bill Haley and Big Joe Turner in performance together during a 1966 episode of the Mexican TV show, “Orfeón a Go-Go.”
Record jacket cover for Bill Haley’s “See You Later Alligator” & 3 others on the CID label, France, 1957.
Record jacket cover for Bill Haley’s “See You Later Alligator” & 3 others on the CID label, France, 1957.
This poster – “What This Country Needs Is... Bill Haley & The Comets” –  appeared in the UK music press in Feb 1974 as Haley & the Comets were on tour there. The politicians shown at the top of the bill were: Jeremy Thorpe (Liberal), Harold Wilson (Labour) and Edward Heath (Conservative).
This poster – “What This Country Needs Is... Bill Haley & The Comets” – appeared in the UK music press in Feb 1974 as Haley & the Comets were on tour there. The politicians shown at the top of the bill were: Jeremy Thorpe (Liberal), Harold Wilson (Labour) and Edward Heath (Conservative).
Roller Coaster’s  “Rock The Joint” collection includes the original Bill Haley / Essex recordings, 1951-1954.
Roller Coaster’s “Rock The Joint” collection includes the original Bill Haley / Essex recordings, 1951-1954.

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“Oldies and Revival Shows Fill A Void for ‘Rough, Direct Music,” Billboard, July 22, 1972, p. 52.

“Richard Nader’s Rock & Roll Revival Celebrates 5th Year,” Billboard, October 19, 1974.

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John Swenson, Bill Haley, London: W.H. Allen, 1982, 174pp.

“Entertainment by the Numbers: 10 Greatest Jukebox Hits of All Time,” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1990.

John W. Haley (Haley’s eldest son), with John W. von Hoëlle, Sound and Glory, Wilming-ton, DE: Dyne-American, 1990.

Robert Hilburn, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Films Set Market on Fire,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1991.

Linda Martin, Kerry Segrave, Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Da Capo Press, 1993, 374pp.

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Michael Hall, “Falling Comet,” Texas Month-ly, June 2011.

“Bill Haley and His Comets ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in Strasbourg, France, 1958,” Stars and Stripes, April 22, 2014.

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“Songwriter Struck Gold as the Clock Struck Twelve O’ Rock” (obituary for James Meyer, co-author, “Rock Around The Clock”), The Times (undated).

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Todd Leopold, “The 50-Year-Old Song That Started it All; ‘Rock Around the Clock’ Made Bill Haley the First Rock Star,” CNN.com, July 8, 2005.

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“Bill Haley, 1925-1981,” BillHaley.co.UK.

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“Santa Barbara Oil Spill”
1969: California

Feb. 6, 1969:  Front-page headlines from the Los Angeles Times on about the 10th day of the Santa Barbara oil spill.
Feb. 6, 1969: Front-page headlines from the Los Angeles Times on about the 10th day of the Santa Barbara oil spill.
On January 28th, 1969, an oil well blow-out at Union Oil’s offshore platform in the Santa Barbara Channel six miles off the California coast, began one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. A capping action at the well head on the platform shortly after the blow out, appeared to have staunched the worst of the problem. However, complications down the well shaft due to insufficient well casings, led to oil and gas escaping through the sides of well bore and oil and gas eruptions from the sea bed at several nearby locations.

The worst of the spill would continue for 11 days, with lesser leaks continuing for months thereafter. Sea birds, seals, dolphins, kelp beds, and miles of beaches were coated with black crude. In the end, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil were spilled and some 30-to-35 miles of California coastline tarred.

As the crude escaped during the blowout and from sub-surface releases it was spread over hundreds of square miles of open water by winds and swells. After a few days at sea, incoming tides brought the thick tar to beaches and towns along Santa Barbara County’s spectacular coastline, including: Goleta, home of University of California at Santa Barbara; the harbor at Santa Barbara; the coastline at Carpinteria; Rincon Point, the famous surfing beach; and Ventura. The farthest effects of the spill extended to Pismo Beach north of Santa Barbara, and south to the Silver Strand Beach at San Diego. Some beaches were spared the worst, as offshore kelp forests kept much of the crude from coming ashore. But a considerable length of California coastline, as well as coves and offshore islands, were hit by the spill. Frenchy’s Cove on Anacapa Island was hit, as well as beaches on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands.

Map showing the extent of the Santa Barbara Oil spill’s surface oil and initial coastal impact as of February 5th, 1969, and later, the spill’s longer reach north to near San Luis Obispo, and as far south as San Diego.
Map showing the extent of the Santa Barbara Oil spill’s surface oil and initial coastal impact as of February 5th, 1969, and later, the spill’s longer reach north to near San Luis Obispo, and as far south as San Diego.

As of this writing, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill ranks as the third worst U.S. spill, with only the 2010 BP/ Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico blowout, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill off Alaska, ahead of it, ranking respectively as the nation’s No.1 and No. 2 spills. But for California’s offshore waters, the 1969 Santa Barbara spill remains the largest oil spill to date. (Recently, another oil spill near Santa Barbara occurred in May 2015 at Refugio State Beach, this one from a corroded pipeline, releasing 3,400 barrels of crude oil into the area, with impacts on several marine protection areas).

Dec 1968: President-elect Richard Nixon meeting with Walter Hickel, Nixon’s choice for Secretary of the Interior.
Dec 1968: President-elect Richard Nixon meeting with Walter Hickel, Nixon’s choice for Secretary of the Interior.
The 1969 Santa Barbara spill, however, because of where it occurred and when it occurred, became an especially important and galvanizing event in environmental political history.

At the time of the spill, Republican Richard M. Nixon had just taken office as President of the United States following a tumultuous year and a fractious national election. Nixon, however, was not a politician predisposed to environmental protection – especially if costs to business were involved. But he knew how to deftly exploit what was served up to him. And in this case, the events of the day, plus the prospect of Democratic presidential rivals in the Congress seizing the environmental moment, made him an unlikely “environmental president” of sorts, signing laws and creating agencies that would be among the federal government’s first meaningful actions on environmental protection. More on these later. Still, no incident would figure more prominently in whipping up the media and popular environmental sentiment than would the Santa Barbara oil spill. And it would be these tides of popular sentiment and political pressure that would sweep Nixon and others along, moving them to action.


Spill Events

2006. Platform A, shown some years later in the Santa Barbara Channel. Note small boat of fisherman at right.
2006. Platform A, shown some years later in the Santa Barbara Channel. Note small boat of fisherman at right.
On the morning of January 28, 1969, drilling of the A-21 well on the Union Oil platform had reached nearly 3,500 feet at about its final depth. This had been achieved in about 14 days. But suddenly, as the drill bit was being pulled out of the well shaft, the blow-out occurred with an enormous burst of oil, gas, and drilling mud spewed into the air, splattering workers and equipment all around.

Although some of the men tried to screw down a blowout-preventer, the pressure of more than 1,000 pounds per square inch was too overwhelming. Most of the workers were then evacuated from the platform due to the danger of explosion from the blow out’s natural gas.

A few workers remaining behind tried to close the well from the top by forcing the a very long piece of drill pipe back down into the well shaft and crushing it closed at the top with what are called “blind rams,” enormous steel blocks slammed together at the top of the well to stop any further blow out – at least at the platform level. This occurred at about thirteen minutes from the time of the initial blowout.

After the well was plugged on the rig, the high-pressure oil and gas then began escaping below the water, through the sides of the well bore, forcing ruptures in the sea floor 200 feet below, seen here as surface bubbling. During the spill, a slick of some 800 square miles would form on the water.
After the well was plugged on the rig, the high-pressure oil and gas then began escaping below the water, through the sides of the well bore, forcing ruptures in the sea floor 200 feet below, seen here as surface bubbling. During the spill, a slick of some 800 square miles would form on the water.
But that’s about when workers on the rig and in nearby boats began to notice bubbling on the ocean surface near the rig. Plugging the well at its top on the platform, had failed to stop the blowout, which was now forced down the well shaft and beyond. Oil and gas were being forced out the sides of the well shaft below the sea bed, and the pressure was also tearing through the ocean floor in several places. These “boil ups,” as the escaping oil and gas was described at the surface, would occur in several places during the next 24 hours. Investigators would later determine there were five separate rips on the ocean floor through which oil and gas escaped during the Santa Barbara spill.

The first report on the spill from Union Oil came into the U.S. Coast Guard about two and a half hours after the blowout, with the Union Oil official saying that no oil was escaping and also at that time declining an offer of help. But on the next morning, via reconnaissance by a Coast Guard helicopter, a huge slick was revealed, extending several miles from the rig, with an estimated 75 square miles of ocean then covered by the oil. After early local news reports of the spill surfaced, Union Oil was besieged with calls. Company officials confirmed the spill, but vice president John Fraser assured reporters and local officials that the spill was small, with a diameter of 1,000 to 3,000 feet, and would be quickly controlled. He also estimated the spill rate was then 5,000 gallons per day, which later reports estimated was actually more like 210,000 gallons per day in the first days of the spill.

Jan-Feb 1969: Union Oil offshore platform in the Santa Barbara Channel off California shows oil & gas eruptions, or “boil ups” during blow out, polluting ocean and Channel, and later, California harbors and beaches.
Jan-Feb 1969: Union Oil offshore platform in the Santa Barbara Channel off California shows oil & gas eruptions, or “boil ups” during blow out, polluting ocean and Channel, and later, California harbors and beaches.

At this point, the growing slick was still offshore, and local weather and winds would prevail to keep the oil at sea for several days. Back on the Union Oil’s Platform A, work continued on the rig to further plug the well and the sea floor fissures that had developed with the blow out. More drilling muds were used in hopes of dealing with both problems. Additional sea floor eruptions had also occurred in the vicinity of the Union Oil rig. Famous oil disaster man, Red Adair, had been brought in to help with the blow out. A drilling barge from Los Angeles had also arrived to start boring a “relief hole” to a point near the bottom of the well shaft, such channel to be used to apply drilling muds to the well and sea-bed eruptions. The Santa Barbara community meanwhile, having been quite involved in the earlier debates on oil leasing in the Santa Barbara Channel, and fearful about the impact of increased oil drilling there, was taking something of a “we-told-you-so” posture, and angered to the core.


Santa Barbara

In 1969, Santa Barbara, with a population of about 70,000, was a town filled with artists, university students, surfers, and attentive citizens. It was also a tourist destination, and was known in part for its Spanish heritage and Mission-style architecture. With a Mediterranean climate and the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, it was sometimes called the “American Riviera” – an idyllic coastal enclave. However, Santa Barbara was no stranger to oil development. Oil drilling had occurred in neighboring Summerland dating to the 1890s, on land, and also from about 1902, extending just offshore from land-based piers. Most of this activity, however, had ceased by the 1940s.

Santa Barbara, California, set between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, is truly one of the most beautiful areas of the United States.
Santa Barbara, California, set between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, is truly one of the most beautiful areas of the United States.

Following WWII, new oil exploration occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel, with oil companies using explosives in seismic exploration, angering local fisherman. The first offshore rigs appeared in the Channel in 1958. However, ten years later, in 1968, a major expansion occurred. The administration of Lyndon Johnson, then seeking a way to finance a costly Vietnam War without raising taxes, invited oil companies to bid for leases on more than 450,000 acres of oil and gas tracts in the Santa Barbara Channel. The industry paid $624 million for 70 leases. Many in the community had objected to the government’s auction of oil-drilling rights off Santa Barbara, fearing the worst. They predicted oil spills and warned that drilling in the area would mar the beauty of their coastal community and threaten its economy. At the time, as today, both federal and state governments had jurisdiction in offshore waters – states extending to three miles out, and federal jurisdiction beyond that. In 1969, the Union Oil platform was on a federal lease administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior. And within a few days of the blow out, Richard Nixon’s new Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel, would make a visit to Santa Barbara.


Hickel’s Visit

Feb 4th, 1969: Fresno Bee front page – “5 Firms Halt Sea Drilling After Request By Hickel” – also has photo of Hickel holding in-flight press conference w/ reporters.
Feb 4th, 1969: Fresno Bee front page – “5 Firms Halt Sea Drilling After Request By Hickel” – also has photo of Hickel holding in-flight press conference w/ reporters.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel had only been in office a few days when the Union Oil blowout occurred. He had received a telegram from the Coast Guard on January 29th notifying him of the blow out in the Santa Barbara Channel. Hickel decided to visit the site a few days later, and on February 3rd, he had an airborne tour of the spill area and drilling rig in the Channel. “The pollution is much more severe than I anticipated,” Hickel said after surveying the scene from the Coast Guard plane. After seeing the spill, Hickel had made comments to the effect that he felt “stricter regulations” were needed for offshore operations under Federal leases. “It’s as much the fault of the Federal Government as anything else,” he had said of the leakage in the Santa Barbara Channel, also noting that federal regulations hadn’t been overhauled in 15 years. At a noontime press conference the day of his site visit, Hickel gave the impression, according to reporters with him at that time, that he was thinking about some kind of moratorium that might be put in place until more stringent federal rules could be adopted. It was also reported that he had asked oil companies in the area to voluntarily suspend their operations.“It has become increasing-ly clear that there is a lack of sufficient knowledge of this particular geological area.”
– Walter J. Hickel, Feb 1969
Union Oil’s platform by then was shut down by the company, save for actions taken to control the spill.

But later that day, at the Santa Barbara Biltmore hotel, Hickel met with executives of six oil companies and a spokesman for California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Several of the companies also had operations in the area. But Hickel left for Washington that day without issuing a formal order to shut down of operations in the Channel, leaving open voluntary actions by the companies. Hickel at the time was uncertain of his legal authority to order a shut down and would seek further guidance from the Justice Department when he returned to Washington. Still, with his visit, Hickel appeared troubled by the oil and gas escaping from the sea bed eruptions he saw earlier that day. “It has become increasingly clear,” he said, at one point, “that there is a lack of sufficient knowledge of this particular geological area.” But Hickel would return to Washington to consider what to do next. It was February 4th, 1969, and the vast slick of oil floating out on the sea – now some 800 square miles in dimension – had not yet hit the Santa Barbara coastline. But the weather had changed and a storm was brewing. Very soon, the full impact of the spill would become shockingly apparent on the beaches of Santa Barbara.

Rough, generalized sketch of subsurface geology beneath Union Oil’s drilling platform illustrating how underground pressure forced into bore hole without casing allowed for escaping oil and gas, sea-bed ruptures, and “boil ups” of  pollution on the water’s surface. Source: Dick Smith photo collection, UCSB, 1969-1971.
Rough, generalized sketch of subsurface geology beneath Union Oil’s drilling platform illustrating how underground pressure forced into bore hole without casing allowed for escaping oil and gas, sea-bed ruptures, and “boil ups” of pollution on the water’s surface. Source: Dick Smith photo collection, UCSB, 1969-1971.


Oil Comes Ashore

With a storm of February 4th, the oil spill that had been offshore, began moving toward the coastline. Oil containment booms had been placed in some locations to protect harbors and beaches. Yet behind these booms, oil from the spill was up to 8 inches deep. With the storm’s arrival, the booms failed. By the next morning at Santa Barbara, the stink of crude oil was thick in the air and the sight of blackened beaches with dead and dying birds was part of the scene. Oil had accumulated on shore in some places to a depth of six inches. Some reports described oiled seagulls, flopping helplessly in the muck. Others noted hearing a muffled surf sound, unlike the normal crashing of regular surf, as a thick-as-molasses oil tide washed in. Santa Barbara harbor was several inches deep in crude oil, as most of its 800 moored boats became blackened by the incoming tide. Some residents were evacuated due to the risk of explosion from hydrocarbon vapors. Oil workers and clean-up crews in two-man skiffs with waste barrels between them, were soon at work trying to skim and soak up the spill using hay and pitchforks.

Feb 1969: Clean-up crews working in Santa Barbara Harbor trying to soak up thick deposits of oil with straw thrown on the pollution after oil arrived there and 35 miles of coastline from the blow-out at Union Oil’s offshore rig.
Feb 1969: Clean-up crews working in Santa Barbara Harbor trying to soak up thick deposits of oil with straw thrown on the pollution after oil arrived there and 35 miles of coastline from the blow-out at Union Oil’s offshore rig.

Skimmers worked at sea trying to scoop oil from the water’s surface; Union Oil activated a skimming boat with a V-shaped collector at one point, dumping the collected oil into barges. In the air, planes dumped chemical dispersants and detergent on the oil-covered ocean in an attempt to break up larger slicks. On the beaches and in the harbors, straw was spread on oily patches in an attempt to soak up the pollution. Bulldozers were also at work on the beaches pushing polluted sand and oil-soaked straw into haul-away piles. Over the course of the clean up, more than 5,200 large dumptruck loads of oil wastes, oiled beach sand, and other oiled debris were hauled to landfill sites. Oiled rocks in some locations were steamed cleaned, with the unhappy effect of “cooking” limpets, mussels and other marine life that attach to coastal rocks.

February 1969: Cleanup scene in Santa Barbara, California following oiled beaches there from Union Oil blowout.  Note black oil stain on jetty rocks at the top right portion of this photo. Bob Duncan, photo, via Flickr.com.
February 1969: Cleanup scene in Santa Barbara, California following oiled beaches there from Union Oil blowout. Note black oil stain on jetty rocks at the top right portion of this photo. Bob Duncan, photo, via Flickr.com.

In Washington on February 5th, 1969, the U.S. Senate Public Works Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, under the direction of Senator Edmund S. Muskie (D Maine), then working on water pollution legislation, held one day of hearings on the Santa Barbara oil spill. Among those testifying was George Clyde, a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and Fred Hartley, president of Union Oil. “I am always tremendously impressed at the publicity that the death of birds receives vs. the loss of people in our country in this day and age,” Hartley said during the hearing, noting there had been no loss of human life from the Santa Barbara blowout. “Relative to the number of deaths that have occurred in this fair city [Washington DC] due to crime … it does seem that we should give this thing a little perspective.” Hartley also rejected calls to halt offshore drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, suggesting such strategy extreme and not necessary. Secretary Hickel by this time had been assured by U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell that he did have authority to order a shut down of oil operations in the Santa Barbara Channel. Late on February 6th, President Richard Nixon announced a complete cessation of drilling in the federal waters of the Santa Barbara Channel, excepting the relief well then being drilled.

1969: Oil-stained coastal rocks in the Santa Barbara area following the January 1969 blow out  at Union Oil’s offshore oil rig vividly show resulting oil pollution left behind once the tide has receded.  Marvin Moore photo.
1969: Oil-stained coastal rocks in the Santa Barbara area following the January 1969 blow out at Union Oil’s offshore oil rig vividly show resulting oil pollution left behind once the tide has receded. Marvin Moore photo.

The cleanup of beaches and coastline that began in February 1969 became an ongoing project, running for months. As some areas were cleaned, huge waves of newly spilled oil would foul them again. And despite attempts by Union Oil workers to cap and cement the cracks on the ocean floor, leaks would continue from these fissures at varying rates at least into 1970. At one point, Union Oil, joined by Mobil, Texaco and Gulf – companies which also had wells on platform A – embarked on a $50,000 public relations effort, funding TV advertising by the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce aimed at showing the public that the town, its beaches, and its resort facilities were as attractive as ever. Still, there was no denying that the spill had been an environmental and ecological travesty.


This Associated Press photo of two oil-coated grebes (poor photocopy used here) ran with wire stories on the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that appeared across the country.
This Associated Press photo of two oil-coated grebes (poor photocopy used here) ran with wire stories on the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that appeared across the country.
Birds & Wildlife

During the spill, the toll taken on birds and other wildlife was considerable. Animals that depended on the sea were hard hit. Incoming tides brought the corpses of dead seals and birds. Oil had clogged the blowholes of some dolphins, which caused their lungs to hemorrhage. Other animals that ingested the oil were poisoned. Wildlife rescuers at one point counted some 3,600 dead ocean-feeding seabirds. A number of poisoned seals (or sea lions) and some dolphins were also removed from the shoreline. The spill also killed innumerable fish and intertidal invertebrates, ruined kelp forests and also displaced many populations of endangered birds. Lobster and crab fishermen retrieving their pots from the channel found their catch alive, but completely covered with oil.

John McKinney, who would later become a Californian nature writer, was a teenager in 1969 when the spill occurred, and had gone to the site to help rescue oiled birds. “Right here and everywhere else on the coast it was black tar,” McKinney said in an interview some years later, then gesturing to a swath of beach that was then impacted. “It was thick, black tar covering everything.” McKinney was a 16-year-old high school student and boy scout living in Los Angeles then. When he heard the first reports of the spill, he jumped into his 1963 Dodge Dart and headed north to Santa Barbara. Thousands of others would also volunteer to help clean up the spill. “It was my job to wander through the muck on these beaches and pull screaming birds from the tar,” he explained in his interview. “I pulled out some birds alive, but many more were dead. Muirs, grebes, gulls, pelicans – all dead or dying.” An estimated 10,000 ?? birds were killed by the toxic mess, along with unknown and uncounted numbers of seals, sea lions, otters and dolphins.

May 1969: Sea lion pup stained by the oil spill on San Miguel Island, off Santa Barbara.  Photo, Harry Benson, Life magazine.
May 1969: Sea lion pup stained by the oil spill on San Miguel Island, off Santa Barbara. Photo, Harry Benson, Life magazine.
The imagery of dead and dying birds sent out to the nation via newspaper, magazine and television coverage of the Santa Barbara spill became a major factor arousing environmental concern across the nation. Of the imagery captured and reported by the media during the Santa Barbara ordeal, Kathryn Morse, in an academic article for the Journal of American History, would summarize as follows:

…The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Time ran photographs of the rig, the slick, the makeshift oil booms, the beaches, and volunteers and workers bathing oily grebes (diving birds that spend almost all of their time in water). Newsweek included a dying cormorant (a coastal seabird), along with workers raking up oil-absorbent straw. Life published images of two grebes, one dead, one being bathed. Reports and images emphasized a sense of tragic, heartbreaking helplessness. Volunteers watched, the Los Angeles Times reported, as cormorants “tried vainly to clean one another off with their beaks,” and then died from ingested oil. Fleeing well-intentioned rescuers, birds headed into the surf. “Falling into the black liquid,” the report read, “they lay in the ooze, crying weakly.” In June Life covered the spill’s effects with photographs from San Miguel Island off the coast. Pictures included an oil-drenched seal pup stranded in slippery rocks. The island, the reporter wrote, provided “the black vision of the dead world which may come.”

27 Feb 1969: As oil pollution from the Union Oil blow out continued by way of the sea-floor releases, the Los Angeles Times reported on “more oil ashore.”
27 Feb 1969: As oil pollution from the Union Oil blow out continued by way of the sea-floor releases, the Los Angeles Times reported on “more oil ashore.”
Some later reports were made that large sea mammals were mostly unaffected by the spill. These reports were flatly contradicted by a story in Life magazine, published on June 9, 1969. Reporters and photographers from the magazine, along with a few others visited uninhabited San Miguel Island, the westernmost of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, in late May 1969. San Miguel is famous for its colonies of elephant seals and sea lions. The Life magazine team and their party counted over one hundred dead animals in the stretch of beach they visited that day, which was still black with oil, four months after the blow out.

On the issue of oil spills generally, there had been earlier media coverage of the 1967 Torrey Canyon oil tanker spill in the Atlantic Ocean off France and England. The Torrey Canyon was a super tanker type vessel that ran aground between France and England, fouling miles of shoreline in both countries as the ship broke apart. In the wake of that spill, the Johnson Administration had asked for a review of U.S. spill contingency preparedness, leading to a joint report from the U.S. departments of Interior and Transportation, which concluded: “This country is not fully prepared to deal effectively with spills of oil or other hazardous materials – large or small – and much less with a Torrey Canyon type disaster.” And that conclusion became apparent on the coastline of California.


Protest & Politics

On February 7th, 1969, U.S. Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME), author of a then pending water pollution bill in Congress, was scheduled to make an aerial inspection of the slick. A large group of local citizens had gathered at the local airport with protest signs to greet Muskie and seek his help on arrival. It so happened that day that Union Oil’s Fred Hartley had also arrived at the airport, where he was met by the gathered citizens and a local news reporter and camera crew trying to interview him on his company’s oil spill.

Feb 7th, 1969: Union Oil president Fred Hartley, foreground, backs away from a TV reporter after having words with him in Santa Barbara, CA. Hartley, on arrival at the airport, unexpectedly ran into crowd of hostile pickets angry about the oil spill. Pickets were then waiting for Sen. Edmund Muskie. Harold Filan / AP photo.
Feb 7th, 1969: Union Oil president Fred Hartley, foreground, backs away from a TV reporter after having words with him in Santa Barbara, CA. Hartley, on arrival at the airport, unexpectedly ran into crowd of hostile pickets angry about the oil spill. Pickets were then waiting for Sen. Edmund Muskie. Harold Filan / AP photo.

Well before the 1969 spill, Santa Barbara residents had been active in raising objections to continued leasing in the Santa Barbara Channel. And as oil began washing up on their once-pristine beaches and killing wildlife, they became outraged. But their anger was well-organized and sophisticated. Santa Barbara was not your average American community. Of its then 70,000 residents, a disproportionate number were upper class and upper middle class – later described by one writer, Harvey Molotch of the University of California, as “worldly, rich, well-educated persons—individuals with resources, spare time, and contacts with national and international elites…”

1969: A portion of a Santa Barbara crowd rallying to protest offshore oil during the time of the Union Oil blowout and resulting coastline and harbor damage. Bob Duncan photo, via Flickr.com.
1969: A portion of a Santa Barbara crowd rallying to protest offshore oil during the time of the Union Oil blowout and resulting coastline and harbor damage. Bob Duncan photo, via Flickr.com.

Faced with an assault on their lovely seaside town and way of life, these Santa Barbarans set out to make things right. And in short order they became active and political. They held protests, signed petitions, and demanded a ban on offshore drilling. They rallied supporters by staging plays and singing protest songs. Some mailed vials of oil to lawmakers. They formed new environmental groups – one named “Get Oil Out!” or “GOO” for short, and another under the banner of Santa Barbara Citizens for Environmental Defense. Their local newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, with reporters such as Robert Sollen, became an incessant and prominent voice in the Santa Barbara fight to rid their community of oil. During the spill, hundreds of letters-to-the-editor appeared, offering reaction, opinion and recommendations. In Congress, legislation to ban drilling was introduced by their U.S. politicians, Senator Alan Cranston, Democrat, and Rep. Charles Teague, Republican. Lawsuits were also filed the city and County of Santa Barbara against the oil companies and the federal government seeking $1 billion in damages.

But beyond this Santa Barbara fight, there was a much bigger audience and a much bigger national issue. And just down the road from the fouled beaches and struggling wildlife was the Los Angeles news community, which gave the disaster an instant national conduit – soon appearing on nightly news TV broadcasts in every American living room. The Santa Barbara oil spill was soon fueling a growing national environmental sentiment that was already on the rise. In 1962, for example, Rachel Carson’s book on the dangers of chemical pesticides, Silent Spring, also became a primer on ecology. By the mid-1960s, a number of major cities had increasing auto-induced urban smog and air pollution problems, while others were battling a highway building frenzy that cleared away housing, parks and urban landmarks at will. Severe water pollution of lakes, rivers and harbors was also found all across the country. In fact, six months after the Santa Barbara spill, in June 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire, due in large part to oil and chemical pollution. Events beyond the U.S. – such as the 1967 Torrey Canyon oil spill off France and England previously mentioned – also figured into a new environmental calculus.

1969, The Sacramento Bee: During the Santa Barbara oil spill, editorial cartoons such as this one by Newton Pratt, citing a need for offshore oil drilling regulations, would appear in various newspapers across the nation.
1969, The Sacramento Bee: During the Santa Barbara oil spill, editorial cartoons such as this one by Newton Pratt, citing a need for offshore oil drilling regulations, would appear in various newspapers across the nation.
But the Santa Barbara spill provided an important spark. U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, after seeing the spill, suggested the idea of a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That idea would morph into the first Earth Day of April 1970 when millions of people demonstrated across the U.S. for action on the environment. Back in Santa Barbara at the spill, meanwhile, it was offshore drilling policy that began to get some attention.


Offshore Regs

In the immediate aftermath of the spill, the Nixon Administration and Interior Secretary Hickel did take some steps to address shortcomings in offshore oil policy. On February 6th, the Administration pledged to develop stringent new regulations for offshore oil drilling and also announced a moratorium on new Federal oil leases in California’s Santa Barbara channel. An order by Hickel on February 7th, shut down all oil operations on federally-owned leases in the Channel.

On February 11, 1969, Nixon requested that his science advisor, Dr. Lee DuBridge, appoint a panel to study the Union Oil blow-out and the spill. Then on February 17th, in something of surprise move, Secretary Hickel made oil companies on Federally leased offshore lands liable for all pollution cleanup costs and damages resulting from drilling operations. Hickel’s action amended existing regulations. In late February 1969, Hickel reiterated that stand when he testified on water pollution control legislation then pending in Congress, also urging the Senate subcommittee to remove the limit then in the bill on oil spill liability.

A few weeks later, on March 10, 1969, former Secretary of the Interior under Lyndon Johnson, Stewart L. Udall, also testified before Ed Muskie’s U.S. Senate subcommittee then considering water pollution legislation. Udall stated that he bore responsibility for authorizing drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, having made the decision under pressure from the Bureau of the Budget to obtain more tax revenues from oil companies. Udall called the decision a “sort of conservation Bay of Pigs,” drawing a parallel to the U.S. fiasco of 1961 when an American-backed invasion force seeking to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro was humiliated in battle and mostly captured at the Bay of Pigs invasion site in southern Cuba. As for Santa Barbara lease, Udall said, the possibility of a blowout occurring there was never raised as a major issue. “As I look back,” he told the committee, also offering his support for tighter offshore regulation, “we were overconfident concerning the risk involved.”

By late March 1969, as Hickel and Interior continued working on updating offshore oil regulations, President Nixon decided to visit Santa Barbara.

March 21, 1969: President Richard Nixon (hands in pocket, center) walks on Santa Barbara beach with reporters.
March 21, 1969: President Richard Nixon (hands in pocket, center) walks on Santa Barbara beach with reporters.
Headlines from the “Santa Barbara Press-News” on Nixon’s visit and that he would consider a permanent ban on drilling.
Headlines from the “Santa Barbara Press-News” on Nixon’s visit and that he would consider a permanent ban on drilling.
March 21, 1969: President Richard Nixon greeting oil spill workers cleaning up the beaches in Santa Barbara.
March 21, 1969: President Richard Nixon greeting oil spill workers cleaning up the beaches in Santa Barbara.


Nixon Visit

On March 21st, nearly two months after the blow out, President Richard Nixon came to Santa Barbara as cleanup efforts were underway. He arrived at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station earlier that day, then took a helicopter tour of the Santa Barbara Channel and the spill area. The helicopter transporting Nixon dipped close to the water so the President could see patches of spilled oil still on the water. They also flew near oil-stained Anacopa and Santa Cruz islands, as well as Union Oil’s Platform platform six miles offshore where residual bubbling was still visible

After the helicopter tour, he visited a mostly cleaned-up beach in Santa Barbara along with an entourage of reporters. “This problem is bigger than just Santa Barbara, “ he said. “We need more effective control to protect out beauty and natural resources. I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to this” Nixon also noted he had visited “these beautiful beaches” as a boy, adding “I feel we must preserve these beaches… preserving beaches is more important than economic considerations.”

Nixon shook hands with some of the cleanup crew working there. As he did, some protest chanting could be heard from a small crowd about 100 yards away, saying, “Get oil out! Get oil out!…” Nixon said that he would consider a halt to all offshore drilling, and told assembled reporters that the Department of the Interior had expanded the former buffer zone in the Santa Barbara Channel by an additional 34,000 acres. The previous buffer zone there would be converted into a permanent ecological preserve.

As Nixon and his entourage moved toward the parking lot, he said, “I think the Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people. We’re going to do better job in the future than we have in the past.”

On the day Nixon visited Santa Barbara, March 21, Hickel, in Washington, issued more stringent regulations for oil drilling and production off the coast of California. The new regulations included: use of more casing, additional safety testing, weekly training drills by oil platform crews, safety and antipollution devices required on all platforms, and scheduled and unscheduled inspections by the Geological Survey. “The program we are developing in response to the Santa Barbara tragedy,” Hickel said as he announced the new regs, “will serve as a model for our future actions along the nation’s entire coastline.”

A few days later, on March 26 Secretary Hickel announced that some offshore oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel would be resumed within days if the new standards set by the Department on March 21 were met. Hickel said the Department was studying each oil lease on a “lease-by-lease basis.” On April 1st, Hickel completed a preliminary assessment of the leases affected by the moratorium and allowed drilling to resume under stricter oversight on five of the seventy-two leases. Local residents were not happy.


1969: Sample of the protest art appearing in Santa Barbara, California at the time of the spill.
1969: Sample of the protest art appearing in Santa Barbara, California at the time of the spill.
Petition to Nixon

In an effort to ban all drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel the local group, Get Oil Out!, had sponsored a petition which had amassed some 110,000 signatures by May 1969. The petition was sent to Nixon shortly thereafter, its message to the president, stated in part as follows:

. . . With the seabed filled with fissures in this area, similar disastrous oil operation accidents may be expected. And with one of the largest faults centered in the channel waters, one sizeable earthquake could mean possible disaster for the entire channel area . .
Therefore, we the undersigned do call upon the state of California and the Federal Government to promote conservation by:
1. Taking immediate action to have present offshore oil operations cease and desist at once.
2. Issuing no further leases in the Santa Barbara Channel.
3. Having all oil platforms and rigs removed from this area at the earliest possible date.

Although the Nixon Administration and Hickel were making changes in offshore regulations and limiting some future production there, they did not, in the immediate months following the spill, limit leasing and production that had already begun or was in the process of being approved. In addition, a scientific panel Nixon had appointed to come up with recommendations, had more bad news for those in Santa Barbara who wanted an end to drilling.


DuBridge Report

In early February 1969, following the Union Oil blowout, Richard Nixon had appointed his science adviser, Dr. Lee DuBridge, to form an investigating committee to determine the proper course of action with regard to leasing and drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. Nixon later amended this directive to also address what steps should be taken specifically regarding Union Oil’s operation there, as there had been some talk of abandoning that lease and removing the rig. The DuBridge Committee announced its recommendations on June 2, 1969 with a surprising declaration: The DuBridge Panel rec- ommended more drilling, not less. In order to control the oil pollution from the sea-bed fissures, more wells were recom- mended to drain the reservoir and relieve the pressure. more drilling should occur, not less. In order to control the oil seepage that was occurring from the Channel floor in the vicinity of the Union Oil operation – that is, to relieve the pressure in those underground reservoirs, according to the panel – more drilling was needed. Withdrawing the oil from structures under the platform “is a necessary part of any plan to stop the oil seep,” said the panel in its statement. “The situation which makes leaks possible,” DuBridge said, “is the fact there is oil down there. The only way to prevent future leaks is to get the oil out.”

Santa Barbara activists, meanwhile, were furious. They pointed to the fact that the panel only held two-days of hearings, with testimony from only government or oil industry representatives. The panel’s recommendations were issued on less than two pages. When citizens asked for the details, the Department of the Interior refused to make available the panel’s background data or Channel geological information used. Since it was based on industry data, it was proprietary and would not be released. On June 9, 1969, Interior authorized Union Oil to drill nine wells from Platforms A and B. These nine wells were drilled, completed, and, with one exception, were put into production during June and July 1969. Then came the Sun Oil project.


Sun Oil Platform

After a series of unsuccessful court battles in the summer 1969 to prevent further oil development in the Santa Barbara Channel, the Department of the Interior approved a plan by the Sun Oil Company to construct a new platform in the Channel – Platform Hillhouse – to be located about one mile east of Union’s Platform A. The go-ahead for that plan was given on August 15, 1969. Local activists, however, had vowed to stop the installation. Later that fall, as the drilling platform was being imported from its Oakland, California shipyard, and floated down the coast toward the Channel, the activists were nearby in their boats, reportedly harassing the convoy. At the platform site in the Santa Barbara Channel, protesters with Get Oil Out! (GOO) staged a “fish-in” in late November 1969 an attempt to stop the incoming rig. In fact, they refused to move until the Supreme Court responded to their appeal, which they soon lost. Then the crane lifting the rig from the barge began to have difficulty transferring Platform Hillhouse into position. In fact, it flopped over in the water, legs-up, not far from where the GOO protesters had set up their protest boats. Eventually, after some difficulty, Sun Oil’s Hillhouse Platform was installed correctly.

1969-1970: This photo of a boat being piloted by the Santa Barbara environmental group, Get Oil Out!, was taken by Los Angeles Times photographer Frank Q. Brown and was published on the front page of the January 29 1970 Los Angeles Times. The group at the time, on the first anniversary of the spill, was dropping a buoy in the Santa Barbara Channel to mark the area where the spill first occurred.  Get Oil Out! had also sponsored an August 1969 fleet of protest boats to stage a “fish-in” in a failed attempt to block the installation of a Sun Oil drilling platform.
1969-1970: This photo of a boat being piloted by the Santa Barbara environmental group, Get Oil Out!, was taken by Los Angeles Times photographer Frank Q. Brown and was published on the front page of the January 29 1970 Los Angeles Times. The group at the time, on the first anniversary of the spill, was dropping a buoy in the Santa Barbara Channel to mark the area where the spill first occurred. Get Oil Out! had also sponsored an August 1969 fleet of protest boats to stage a “fish-in” in a failed attempt to block the installation of a Sun Oil drilling platform.

On Jan. 20, 1970, Hickel rejected a request made by Get Oil Out! to suspend oil drilling in the channel to see if it would stop the seepage. The Department of the Interior, in refusing, again pointed to the recommendations of the DuBridge Panel, that pumping the underwater field dry was the only way to guarantee that leaks would not recur. Santa Barbara activists, however, persisted in their effort to challenge oil development in their community.

On January 28, 1970, on the first anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill, a sizable group of protesters, numbered at about 500 began moving toward the Santa Barbara municipal pier, also used to service offshore oil operations. City police, reinforced by sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolmen, initially delayed the demonstrators from moving onto the pier. There were a few brief scuffles but no arrests or injuries. And later, about 150 of the demonstrators were allowed to march onto the pier by the wharf operator. There, they started what they claimed would be an all-night sit-in. But after about 17 hours, the demonstrators dispersed after being threatened with tear gas and arrest by the police.

January 29th, 1970: Police move in behind protesters blocking the entrance to the Santa Barbara municipal pier on the first anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill. This photo was published in the January 30th, 1970, Los Angeles Times.  Photo, Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times.
January 29th, 1970: Police move in behind protesters blocking the entrance to the Santa Barbara municipal pier on the first anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill. This photo was published in the January 30th, 1970, Los Angeles Times. Photo, Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times.


National Politics

Although the activists in Santa Barbara may not have been successful in halting oil development in the Santa Barbara Channel in the immediate aftermath of the Union Oil blowout in 1969-1970, the larger environmental movement and policy changes touched off by the Santa Barbara spill left an enduring legacy. The Santa Barbara spill – with its photographic and televised imagery – gave visceral force to the larger “environmental crisis” then apparent across much of the nation. A receptive audience, already aware of Rachel’s Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and the Torrey Canyon tanker disaster of 1967, and further angered by the Cuyahoga River fire of June 1969, was ready for action. By the time of the first Earth Day of April 22, 1970, with thousands of demonstrations and millions of participants, a nationwide groundswell on behalf of environmental protection was clear. Congress and the White House – soon engaging in a bit of competitive politics on the issue – moved quickly to adopt new laws. In fact, looking back on that time, it was truly astonishing how much environmental protection law came on line in just a few short years, especially between 1969 and 1972.

Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME).
Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME).
Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA).
Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA).

By mid-year 1969, Congress and the Nixon White House were pushing and/or debating a number of new environmental measures. In Congress, bills on air and water pollution, land use, wilderness protection, national environmental policy and more were introduced by Republican and Democrat alike – some of the latter potential rivals to Nixon for the presidency in 1972. In fact, a noted leader on pollution legislation at the time, Senator Ed Muskie, the Democrat’s VP candidate in 1968, was a favorite for the party’s presidential nomination in 1972. Muskie already had major bills pending in the Senate on air and water pollution. Other members, including Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA), also a potential Democratic presidential candidate, would emerge as a leader on environmental legislation. In February 1969, Jackson introduced S.1075, the measure that would become the National Environmental Policy Act.

Richard Nixon, a president more interested in foreign policy than domestic matters, and not generally inclined to environmental protection, nonetheless became the president of record who signed a number of environmental laws in the early 1970s. He was also eyeing his potential Democratic rivals for president in 1972, which spurred Nixon’s “interest” in the environment.

January 22nd, 1970: President Richard Nixon’s “State of the Union” speech, stressing “battle to save the environment,” garners front-page headline in the New York Times.
January 22nd, 1970: President Richard Nixon’s “State of the Union” speech, stressing “battle to save the environment,” garners front-page headline in the New York Times.
First among the environmental laws that Nixon signed, however, was the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a key U.S. law that established national policy for promoting and protecting the environment. Passed by Congress in December 1969, NEPA was signed by Nixon on January 1, 1970.

That law put in place an important environmental review process for assessing the potential environmental impacts of all major federal actions and public works projects — reviews that required a detailed “environmental impact statement” (EIS) on the project with public hearings and comment period. NEPA also established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Meanwhile, Nixon, swept along by the rising environmental tide, would also use his State of the Union address of late January 1970 to demonstrate his proposed commitments for environmental protection. In reporting on Nixon’s address, the New York Times gave it the headline, “ Nixon, Stressing Quality of Life, Asks in State of Union Message For Battle to Save Environment.” The following month, Nixon would also send a special message to the Congress outlining his environment programs, in which he would say, in part: “Our current environmental situation calls for fundamentally new philosophies of land, air, and water use, for stricter regulation, for expanded government action, for greater citizen involvement, and for new programs.”

Official logo, U.S. EPA.
Official logo, U.S. EPA.
On December 2, 1970, Nixon signed an executive order creating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – a new independent federal agency with wide ranging jurisdiction over environmental media. The EPA executive order was ratified by Congressional hearings. Nixon appointed 38-year-old William Ruckelshaus, a former Justice Department Assistant Attorney General, as its first Administrator. Also in December 1970, Nixon signed the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act that had been pushed through Congress by Senator Muskie – a measure that Nixon had threatened to veto because of its tough automobile emissions standards and deadlines. Nixon did sign the measure, but Senator Muskie was not invited to the signing ceremony.

In February 1971, in submitting his “Special Message to the Congress Proposing the 1971 Environmental Program” – one of a series of environmental messages he sent to Congress during the years of his presidency – Nixon invoked a famous literary work at one point saying: “In his tragedy, ‘Murder in the Cathedral,’ T. S. Eliot wrote, ‘Clear the air! Clean the sky! Wash the wind!’ I have proposed to the Congress a sweeping and comprehensive program to do just that, and more–to end the plunder of America’s natural heritage… With your support, and with the help of the Congress, we can reclaim and preserve the natural beauty of America unto all the generations that come after us.”

“Wally Hickel”
Helped Make Change

October 1969: U.S. Interior Secretary, Walter Hickel, shown at press conference as filmed by KPIX-TV Eyewitness News, San Francisco, CA.
October 1969: U.S. Interior Secretary, Walter Hickel, shown at press conference as filmed by KPIX-TV Eyewitness News, San Francisco, CA.
One of the Nixon Administration’s more interesting players during the time of the Santa Barbara oil spill, and the government’s point man in dealing with that crisis, was Walter J. “Wally” Hickel. Hickel had been governor of Alaska before becoming Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior, and was then a supporter of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline proposal. But Hickel would prove something of a surprise on the environment.

The eldest of nine children, Wally Hickel had grown up in Kansas, where he became a scrappy boxer, winning some championship bouts. Later, as a construction worker who became a successful businessman and politician, he would rise to play a role influencing the Republican Party to support Alaskan statehood in 1958. As that state’s second governor, he presided over the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay, yet was a moderate on its development. When it came to dealing with the Santa Barbara oil spill, after being in office as Secretary of the Interior for only a few days, he surprised his critics by moving quickly to tighten offshore oil regulations. He placed unlimited liability on an offshore operators to clean up any oil spill and bear the full cost, whether the operator’s fault or not. He also authorized Interior officials to shut down any operation polluting or threatening to pollute the ocean from a federal lease—with a verbal order, if necessary. But with the Santa Barbara blowout, Hickel apparently faced some White House pressures to “downplay” the spill, as he would later explain in a May 2008 interview with Timothy Naftali at the Nixon Library in California:

Timothy Naftali:…What do you remember of the oil spill off of Santa Barbara?

Walter Hickel: Well, we had to get the government involved in that. …I didn’t realize how massive an oil spill that was until I went out there and took a look. My God, that was a disaster. But they were trying to cover it up, cover it up, cover it up. I said, “Face it, we’re going to clean this thing up.” And it was a battle, even with the White House.

Timothy Naftali: With the White House? Tell us about that.

Walter Hickel: Well, they didn’t want to…make it look like too big an event, you know, and I said, “Just tell the truth about that. That’s the biggest disaster I’ve ever seen happen by the private sector.” And that oil was just …all over that place. … Oh boy, that was a disaster…

Yet there really could be no downplaying of that spill, as the media – and Nixon’s competitors in Congress – were all over it. So, as Hickel stated, they had to face up to it, which they did. Still, that the White House intention was there initially to try to minimize the spill is consistent with other Nixon Administration behavior.

In addition to the Santa Barbara spill, Hickel would also face two other offshore disasters – blowouts and infernos in the Gulf of Mexico – one at a Shell rig and another at a Chevron rig. But in these cases, too, Hickel did not go easy on the oil companies. In the Chevron case, he pushed the Justice Department to file a lawsuit charging 900 violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953. Hickel was active in other environmental areas as well, filing lawsuits against 10 companies accused of discharging mercury into interstate waters. He was also involved in helping stop a giant jetport slated for the Florida Everglades.

1969: U.S. Interior Secretary, Walter Hickel, as filmed by KPIX-TV Eyewitness News, San Francisco, at press conference, October 1962. Click for 2 minute clip.
1969: U.S. Interior Secretary, Walter Hickel, as filmed by KPIX-TV Eyewitness News, San Francisco, at press conference, October 1962. Click for 2 minute clip.
But in late 1970, Hickel became persona non grata at the Nixon White House after he made a public statement criticizing the president. In 1970, following the shooting of college students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard, Hickel wrote a letter critical of Nixon’s Vietnam War policy, urging him to give more respect to the views of young people critical of the war.

“I believe this administration finds itself today embracing a philosophy which appears to lack appropriate concern for the attitude of a great mass of Americans – our young people,” Hickel wrote, in part.

That letter garnered worldwide media attention, and on November 25, 1970, Hickel was fired. He would again become Governor of Alaska in 1990-94 and would figure in other oil and political controversies in that state. Walter J. Hickel died of natural causes in May 2010. He was 90 years old.


By late October 1972 additional environmental laws were adopted, among them: the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972; the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (amending the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act); the “Ocean Dumping Act,” formally titled the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, for regulating ocean dumping and creating marine sanctuaries; and the Coastal Zone Management Act, for land use planning and resource protection within the coastal zone.

Lee Dye's 1971 book, "Blowout at Platform A: The Crisis That Awakened a Nation" (Doubleday).
Lee Dye's 1971 book, "Blowout at Platform A: The Crisis That Awakened a Nation" (Doubleday).
So it was that the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill – one of several motivating currents in play at the time – did help ignite an important period of environmental law-making in Washington, with more laws to come in subsequent years. As for the Santa Barbara spill itself, there would be years of continuing review and accounting to determine its full impact.

Among books that appeared in the years immediately following the spill were these two (covers shown here at right and below): Lee Dye’s Blowout At Platform A: The Crisis That Awakened a Nation (Doubleday, 1971); and Robert Easton’s Black Tide: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill and Its Consequences (Delacorte, 1972).


Spill Post Mortem

Investigations of the Santa Barbara blowout would later reveal that the spill was preventable. Union Oil had obtained approval of the U.S. Geological Survey to use a shorter length of casing pipe. Though federal standards at the time required well bores to be outfitted with well casing – a steel lining that helps prevent blowouts to at least 300 feet below the ocean floor – Union Oil was given a waiver that allowed it to install casing that was 61 feet shorter. As the drilling proceeded into a highly pressurized zone of oil and gas, it caused an explosion so powerful that it cracked the ocean floor in five places and prompted the mass spill. Drilling muds used reportedly fell below safety margins as well. But in the wake of the spill, offshore drilling regs were tightened for all federal offshore oil and gas leasing.

By the late summer 1969, the Department of Interior issued completely new regulations for all Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leasing and operations – the first update since the program’s start fifteen years earlier. The regulations tightened safety rules and other precautions to prevent future blowouts and oil pollution from offshore rigs; gave the U.S. Geological Survey greater access to drilling logs and other information; and generally required a much greater consideration of environmental effects than previously. These were the first rules under which the Department could prohibit leasing in areas of the continental shelf where environmental risks were too high. Although a small amount of drilling continued off the coast of California, the Santa Barbara accident furthered an existing trend of almost exclusive reliance on the Gulf of Mexico for U.S. offshore oil production.

Robert Easton's 1972 book, “Black Tide: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill and Its Consequences,” (Delacorte).
Robert Easton's 1972 book, “Black Tide: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill and Its Consequences,” (Delacorte).
Total cleanup time for most of the beaches hit by the initial spill was about 45 days, although globs of tar continued to wash ashore due to the high rate from the sea-bed fissures, and bigger patches came ashore during subsequent spills. Most beaches were open to the public by June 1, although some of the rocky areas on the shore were not cleaned until around August 15. Still, oil continued to pool and wash up on shore. On August 26th, 1969, the harbor was so full of oil that once again it had to be closed, with cleanup crews spreading straw from boats to bunch the oil up again, just as they had six months earlier. And in December 1969, another spill occurred at the Union Oil lease – this one from a underwater pipeline serving Platform A. A 50-square-mile slick formed before the break in the pipeline was detected. The pipeline was equipped with automatic pressure-reduction devices and shut-off systems supposed to guard against such failures. But none of those safeguards functioned at time. The second spill was most conspicuous at Carpinteria State Beach and Hobson County Park. Generally out in the Channel and ocean, oil from the main spill would persist into 1970, with large areas of crude still being observed at that time.

Economic losses resulting from the spill were difficult to estimate, but some figures did become available. In 1969, the tourist industry suffered considerably, but did recover in subsequent years. A class-action lawsuit awarded nearly $6.5 million to owners of beachfront homes, apartments, hotels, and motels. Commercial and recreational boat owners and nautical suppliers were awarded $1.3 million for property damage and loss of revenue. Commercial fishers lost access to some fisheries temporarily. Union Oil also settled a lawsuit filed by the State of California, County of Santa Barbara, and the towns of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria in the amount of $9.5 million for loss of property.


New Kind of “Due Process”

Still, in the years following the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, as state and federal authorities put into practice environmental protection policies, a new kind of “environmental due process” began to take hold. Major projects and decision making by government and business that could affect the environment were now dealt with differently. Impacts and possible alternatives were weighed and considered before approvals could be given – with all decisions made after public hearings and comment. The Santa Barbara Channel wasn’t the immediate beneficiary of these fundamental changes in environmental consideration. Indeed, more drilling rigs went in. In the years following the Santa Barbara oil spill, as the new laws kicked in, an “environmental due proc- ess” began to take hold… In Santa Barbara and elsewhere, it took time for the machinery of “environmental due process” to begin working. But gradually it did take hold – and it was a major change in thinking and foresight. New leases and/or drilling rig proposals had to be evaluated for their total environmental impact and some could be prohibited. Highway builders could no longer level urban communities for a freeway; untreated sewage or chemicals could not longer be discharged into rivers and streams; automakers had to equip cars with catalytic converters to clean up smog-causing exhausts; more wilderness areas, marine mammals, and wildlife were given protection. The environment was accorded new “standing,” both in the legal and lay sense of that term; it was not longer a “free” medium for polluters or exploiters; it was given a higher value and put on a more even footing with purely economic decisions and/or government dictums. And before long, environmental values and environmental protection would work their way into the earliest R&D stages of product development and even factory design and plant location siting. Even at the earliest stages of product invention and capital goods planning, protecting the environment became a consideration. Still, to this day, there are too many products, projects, and technologies that do not have before-the-fact environmental protection and life-cycle analysis built into them. All the more reason to push ahead with the fights that began in 1969 and 1970 at Santa Barbara, along the Cuyahoga River, and in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

See also at this website, “Environmental History,” a topics page with links to additional stories covering environmental issues. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 22 February 2016
Last Update: 11 March 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Santa Barbara Oil Spill: California, 1969,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 22, 2016.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

1969: Close up of Union Oil rig and the roiling surface waters from escaping oil & gas on the sea-bed below.
1969: Close up of Union Oil rig and the roiling surface waters from escaping oil & gas on the sea-bed below.
Feb 11th, 1969: Part of the daily coverage the Los Angeles Times newspaper ran during the Santa Barbara oil spill.
Feb 11th, 1969: Part of the daily coverage the Los Angeles Times newspaper ran during the Santa Barbara oil spill.
1969: Aerial photo of Union Oil rig after the blowout. Eventually, an 800-square-mile slick formed.
1969: Aerial photo of Union Oil rig after the blowout. Eventually, an 800-square-mile slick formed.
Feb 6th, 1969:  The Telegram-Tribune of San Luis Obispo reporting on the "miles of black ooze" that hit the beaches.
Feb 6th, 1969: The Telegram-Tribune of San Luis Obispo reporting on the "miles of black ooze" that hit the beaches.
1969: Associated Press photo of workers raking up straw used to absorb some of the crude oil that came ashore from the Union Oil blowout.
1969: Associated Press photo of workers raking up straw used to absorb some of the crude oil that came ashore from the Union Oil blowout.
1969: Life magazine photo of workers steam-cleaning oil stained rocks at Carpinteria, CA.
1969: Life magazine photo of workers steam-cleaning oil stained rocks at Carpinteria, CA.
1969: Volunteers working to save oiled sea bird following Santa Barbara spill. Telegram-Tribune, San Luis Obispo.
1969: Volunteers working to save oiled sea bird following Santa Barbara spill. Telegram-Tribune, San Luis Obispo.
1969: Life magazine photo of oil-splotched sea lion and cub on San Miguel Island off coast. Photo, Harry Benson.
1969: Life magazine photo of oil-splotched sea lion and cub on San Miguel Island off coast. Photo, Harry Benson.
Feb 7, 1969: Sample of newspaper headlines used across the country during the Santa Barbara oil spill-- this one from the La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin.
Feb 7, 1969: Sample of newspaper headlines used across the country during the Santa Barbara oil spill-- this one from the La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin.
July 1969: Study of the Santa Barbara oil spill commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration. Click for PDF file.
July 1969: Study of the Santa Barbara oil spill commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration. Click for PDF file.
1969: Santa Barbara citizen displays his "dead sea" placard during oil spill protest gathering.
1969: Santa Barbara citizen displays his "dead sea" placard during oil spill protest gathering.
Various lawsuits were filed over the Santa Barbara spill in 1969, but most were not settled until several years later. This Associated Press story of July 1974 reports on one of those outcomes.
Various lawsuits were filed over the Santa Barbara spill in 1969, but most were not settled until several years later. This Associated Press story of July 1974 reports on one of those outcomes.
One of a number of studies on the Santa Barbara oil spill that would appear in the years following the spill, this one published in 1972 by the Institute on Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
One of a number of studies on the Santa Barbara oil spill that would appear in the years following the spill, this one published in 1972 by the Institute on Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
1969: Early attempts to corral the Santa Barbara oil spill using boats and oil booms.
1969: Early attempts to corral the Santa Barbara oil spill using boats and oil booms.
1969: Santa Barbara clean-up crews “pitchforking” oil-soaked hay from corralled oil spill in harbor area. Photo, Bob Duncan.
1969: Santa Barbara clean-up crews “pitchforking” oil-soaked hay from corralled oil spill in harbor area. Photo, Bob Duncan.
1969: Bulldozers formed piles of oil-soaked sand and cleanup wastes on the beaches in Santa Barbara  that were hauled away to landfills by large trucks.
1969: Bulldozers formed piles of oil-soaked sand and cleanup wastes on the beaches in Santa Barbara that were hauled away to landfills by large trucks.
1969: During oil spill cleanup in Montecito, a worker appears to be trying to retrieve something mired in the muck, possibly an oiled bird.
1969: During oil spill cleanup in Montecito, a worker appears to be trying to retrieve something mired in the muck, possibly an oiled bird.
1969: Life magazine photo of oil-stained boulders with oil rig on the far horizon. Boulders located at Santa Claus, south of Santa Barbara. Photo, Harry Benson.
1969: Life magazine photo of oil-stained boulders with oil rig on the far horizon. Boulders located at Santa Claus, south of Santa Barbara. Photo, Harry Benson.

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“Dutchman’s Big Day”
Football Passing Record

Norm Van Brocklin played nine season with the Los Angeles Rams, 1949-1957, as quarterback and punter.
Norm Van Brocklin played nine season with the Los Angeles Rams, 1949-1957, as quarterback and punter.
On September 28th, 1951, Norm Van Brocklin, quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams professional football team, did what no other quarterback had done before or since: completing passes to his receivers for a game high total of 554 yards. More on this notable feat, and the game that day a bit later. First, some background on Van Brocklin, also known as “the Dutchman”.

Born in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, Norman Van Brocklin was one of nine children. His father was a watchmaker. The family later moved to northern California, where young Norm became a three-sport standout at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California. He was the high school’s quarterback during his sophomore (5-3 record) and junior (4-2-2 record) years, but joined the U.S. Navy in his senior year during WWII, serving from 1943 through 1945.

After the war, Van Brocklin, attended the University of Oregon where he became the school’s first All-American quarterback. He led Oregon to the Pacific Coast Conference title in 1948 and a Cotton Bowl appearance. In 1949, he graduated from the University of Oregon in three years, where he still had a year’s eligibility remaining, but decided to enter the pro football draft.


Rams Tandem QBs

Van Brocklin was selected 37th overall in the fourth round of the 1949 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He signed with the Rams in July that year, a team that already had a star quarterback in Bob Waterfield, who rose from UCLA fame and was also married to film star, Jane Russell. However, in 1950, the Rams new coach, Joe Stydahar, began platooning his two quarterbacks, Waterfield and Van Brocklin, each averaging about two quarters’ worth of playing time per game. The Rams that year also had talented receivers, including Mexican-American Tom Fears at split end, and flanker back Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. The team that year – playing a 12-game schedule – proved to be an offensive powerhouse, setting a scoring record of 466 points for the year, or 38.8 points per game average, which still stands today as the NFL record for seasonal points-per-game. Van Brocklin and Waterfield finished 1st and 2nd respectively in 1950 passer rating, and Fears led the league and set a new NFL record with 84 receptions. The Rams won their division but lost the 1950 title game to the Cleveland Browns, 30-28.

Headlines from a later 1952 newspaper story featuring the Los Angles Rams “tandem QB” team of Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, in this case, prior to a game with the Green Bay Packers.
Headlines from a later 1952 newspaper story featuring the Los Angles Rams “tandem QB” team of Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, in this case, prior to a game with the Green Bay Packers.

Entering the 1951 season, Van Brocklin and Waterfield were again slated to split quarterbacking duties. However, by the time of opening day, September 28, 1951, Waterfield was injured, so Van Brocklin had the helm all to himself – and he would proceed to make the most of it. The opponents that day in 1951 were the New York Yanks, a new team that had its origins as the Boston Yanks, then as the New York Bulldogs, and finally, the New York Yanks in 1950. That year they moved to Yankee Stadium as their home field. However, this team would fold after two seasons. Still, in 1950 they had posted a winning record of 7 and 5. Then came their first game of the 1951 season in September with the Rams in Los Angeles. There, the Yanks would suffer a terrible trouncing, the first of 10 losses that year.


Van Brocklin Solo

Sept 1951: New York Times headlines report on Norm Van Brocklin’s passing feat.
Sept 1951: New York Times headlines report on Norm Van Brocklin’s passing feat.
Van Brocklin played the entire game that day and completed 27 of 41 pass attempts, setting the NFL single game passing record at 554 yards. He broke Johnny Lujack’s previous single-game record of 468 yards, which had been set two years earlier.

Van Brocklin threw five touchdown passes – four to “Crazy Legs” Hirch, and one to Verda Thomas “Vitamin T” Smith. He nearly had six TD passes, completing a late fourth-quarter toss to Tommy Kalmanir, who was stopped just short of the goal line. Van Brocklin also scored one touchdown himself in a one-yard plunge, capping a 97-yard drive.

The final score was 54-14, with the Yanks’ scores coming on a 79-yard punt return by Buddy Young and a 30-yard run by Art Tait after he intercepted a Van Brocklin pitchout. In the game the Rams also set league records for total yards at 735 and first downs at 34.

The Rams that year again won their division with their high-powered offense. And this time, the Rams won the title rematch against the Cleveland Browns, 24-17, with Waterfield and Van Brocklin splitting the QB duties, though Van Brocklin threw the game-winning 73-yard touchdown pass to Tom Fears.

Norm Van Brocklin in action with the Rams, 1951.
Norm Van Brocklin in action with the Rams, 1951.
The Rams’ teams of 1950 and 1951 were all-star performers and they set several long-standing records. The 38.8 points-a-game average by the 1950 team is an NFL record that has stood for 64 years.

Hirsch also set an NFL record in 1950 with 1,495 receiving yards and tied the record for touchdown receptions with 17. Tom Fears set a record in 1950 too, with 18 catches in one game, a record that stood for a half-century.

But Van Brocklin’s single-game 554 passing yards of September 1951, as of this writing, still stands today and remains unbroken – which is quite surprising given the amount of passing in the today’s modern game. Plus the fact that NFL teams now play a 16- game schedule, compared to 12 games-per-season in the 1950s.

Van Brocklin also won the NFL passing title in both 1950 and 1952, even though he was playing only half of the time.

Following the 1952 season Waterfield retired leaving Van Brocklin alone to continue quarterbacking the Rams. He would win a third passing championship with the Rams in 1954 and would also lead them to another title game in 1955, though losing that game to the Browns, 38-14, with Van Brocklin having a sub-par performance, throwing six interceptions.


Joins The Eagles

Dec 1960: Norm Van Brocklin on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ahead of championship game vs. Green Bay.
Dec 1960: Norm Van Brocklin on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ahead of championship game vs. Green Bay.
After a few more seasons with the Rams, Van Brocklin announced his retirement in early January 1958, with plans to enter private business in Portland, Oregon. Less than five months later, however, he changed his mind and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for two players and a first round draft pick.

It was later disclosed that Van Brocklin did not want to play another season for the Rams under head coach Sid Gillman’s offense, though he did not have personality issues with Gillman. Van Brocklin was very much his own man at the QB spot, and he was not happy with head-coach play-calling during a game or plays sent in from the sidelines.

In Philadelphia, Van Brocklin found the independence he wanted, and his fortunes rose. Under famed head coach Buck Shaw, Van Brocklin in 1958 was given total control of the Philadelphia offense and he steadily improved the Eagles’ attack. Early in the 1959 season, Sports Illustrated wrote: “Norm Van Brocklin is still the most accomplished passer in pro football. He throws long, short, hard or soft with equal facility. He could use more protection, but he unloads so quickly that he can get by with what he has….”

In his third and final season with the Eagles in 1960, the team had the best regular season record in the league at 10-2, and hosted the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Game at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field.

This was an Eagles team also famous for its fearsome two-way man, center/linebacker Chuck Bednarik, and other players, including, running backs Clarence Peaks, Billy Ray Barnes and Ted Dean, receivers Tommy MacDonald and Pete Retzlaff, linebacker Maxie Baughan, and defensive back, Tom Brookshier.

Eagles coach Buck Shaw with Norm Van Brocklin & Chuck Bednarik after winning 1960 Championship.
Eagles coach Buck Shaw with Norm Van Brocklin & Chuck Bednarik after winning 1960 Championship.
The Packers, meanwhile, had their own considerable stable of stellar performers such as: running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, quarterback Bart Starr, wide receiver Max McGee, linebacker Ray Nitschke, and legendary coach, Vince Lombardi.

Prior to the game, Sports Illustrated, in a December 19th, 1960 article titled “Dutch is The Difference,” cited Van Brocklin as one of the two or three best quarterbacks in all football, “who studies and probes defenses with great patience” and when he finds the flaw he is looking for “he attacks it with vigor, intelligence and, usually, wonderful success.” The magazine predicted that with Van Brocklin, the Eagles might just win their first football championship in 11 years. But at kick-off time, the odds-makers had the Eagles as 2-point underdogs.

At Franklin Field on the day after Christmas, Van Brocklin did throw to Tommy MacDonald for one score, but the championship game proved to be primarily a defensive battle. In the fourth quarter, with the Packers ahead 13-10, Van Brocklin took the Eagles on a 39-yard scoring drive following a 58-yard kick-off return by Ted Dean to put the Eagles up, 17-13, which proved to be the winning margin. Thus, the “Dutchman” added another distinction to his career – becoming the only QB to defeat a Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay team in championship play. Van Brocklin also won MVP honors in that game.

Coach Norm Van Brocklin of the Minnesota Vikings conferring with his quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, 1961, L.A. Coliseum.
Coach Norm Van Brocklin of the Minnesota Vikings conferring with his quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, 1961, L.A. Coliseum.
1970: Norm Van Brocklin, during his time as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons football team.
1970: Norm Van Brocklin, during his time as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons football team.

Coach Van Brocklin

After his championship season with the Eagles, Norm Van Brocklin retired from active play and became the first head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, then an expansion team. There, between 1961 and 1966, he coached players such a quarterback Fran Tarkenton and wide receiver Paul Flatley, bringing the Vikings to a 2nd place finish in 1964 at 8-5-1. Overall, Van Brocklin compiled a 29-51-4 mark with Minnesota through 1967, when he resigned.

A year later, he became head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in midseason, a team that had won only three games in more than two seasons. Van Brocklin posted a 37-49-3 record with the Falcons, leading them to their first winning seasons, 7-6-1 in 1971, and 9-5 in 1973. In 1974, with the team 2-6, he was let go. Van Brocklin by this time had settled into a local area about 35 miles east of Atlanta, owning a pecan farm there, where he began to spend more time. He was also a sports analyst for a time on Ted Turner’s WTBS “SuperStation” in Atlanta. His last football job was as an assistant coach at Georgia Tech under Pepper Rodgers in 1979, working with running backs. That year, he also underwent brain surgery twice to correct an oxygen shortage and remove a blood clot.

Norm Van Brocklin died of a heart attack in May of 1983. He was 57 years old. ”He was a fierce competitor, a no-nonsense guy on the field,” said Marion Campbell, who had played with Van Brocklin. Tommy McDonald, his favorite receiver on the Philadelphia Eagles team, said of Van Brocklin: ”His play calling was absolutely fantastic..” Norm Van Brocklin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. He played 12 seasons, had 23,611 yards passing, 1,553 completions and 173 touchdown passes. He was also named to the Pro Bowl nine times.


1971: Norm Van Brocklin with his hall of Fame bust at induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1971: Norm Van Brocklin with his hall of Fame bust at induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Record Still Stands

Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 yards passing performance from September 1951 still stands today as the NFL single-game passing record.

In pro football history, quarterbacks achieving 500 yards or more passing in a single game is quite rare, occurring only 17 times during the last 65 years. Fifteen quarterbacks have thrown one game each of 500 yards or more, including: Y.A. Tittle (1962), Vince Ferragamo (1982), Phil Simms (1985), Dan Marino (1988), Warren Moon (1990), Boomer Esiason (1996), Elvis Grbac (2000), Tom Brady (2011), Matthew Stafford (2012), Eli Manning (2012), Matt Schaub (2012), Tony Romo (2013), and Philip Rivers (2015). Two players have done so twice – Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints (2006 and 2015) and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers (2009 and 2014). Although none of these QBs have yet eclipsed Van Brocklin’s 554 yards (Warren Moon and Matt Schaub have come closest, each with 527-yard performances), given the nature of the modern passing game, it is no doubt just a matter of time before the 554-yard record is surpassed.

Additional football-related stories at this website include: “I Guarantee It” (a profile of Joe Namath, his famous prediction for Super Bowl III, his bio & pro career, and his off-the-filed activities); “Bednarik-Gifford Lore” (the respective playing careers of Chuck Bednarik and Frank Gifford, and one famous on–the-field meeting between the two ); “Slingin` Sammy” (career of quarterback Sammy Baugh and Washington Redskins history, 1930s-1950s); and “Celebrity Gifford” (a detailed look at the advertising, sports broadcasting, and TV/film/radio career of Frank Gifford ). See also the Annals of Sport category page for other sports stories. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please help support the research and writing at this website by making a donation. Thank you – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:   30 January 2016
Last Update:   30 January 2016
Comments to:   jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Dutchman’s Big Day: Football Passing
Record,” PopHistoryDig.com, January 30, 2016.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Best Passing Yardage
Top Ten: 1950s

1- Johnny Unitas, 1959 Baltimore Colts
2899 yds, 193-367, 52.6%, 32 TD, 14 INT

2- Bill Wade, 1958 Los Angeles Rams
2875 yards, 181-341, 53.1%, 18 TD, 22 INT

3- Otto Graham, 1952 Cleveland Browns
2816 yards, 181-364, 49.7%, 20 TD, 24 INT

4- Otto Graham, 1953 Cleveland Browns
2722 yards, 167-258, 64.7%, 11 TD, 9 INT

5- Norm Van Brocklin, 1954 L. A. Rams
2637 yards, 139-260, 53.5%, 13 TD, 21 INT

6- Norm Van Brocklin, 1959 Phila. Eagles
2617 yards, 191-340, 56.2%, 16 TD, 14 INT

7- Johnny Unitas, 1957 Baltimore Colts
2550 yards, 172-301, 57.1%, 24 TD, 17 INT

8- Bobby Layne, 1958 Dt. Lions/Pt. Steelers
2510 yards, 145-294, 49.3%, 14 TD, 12 INT

9- Bobby Thomason, 1953 Phila. Eagles
2462 yards, 162-304, 53.3%, 21 TD, 20 INT

10-Norm Van Brocklin, 1958 Phila. Eagles
2409 yards, 198-374, 52.9%, 15 TD, 20 INT

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Source: “List of the Day: Best Passing Yardage Seasons, 1950s NFL,” Today in Pro Football History, March 30, 2010

Note: In the 1950s, the best quarterbacks threw for 2,500-2,800 yards for an entire season. Now, NFL quarterbacks throw for 4,000 -5,000 yards a season. Teams also play 16 games a season as opposed to 12 in the 1950s, and there’s a lot more passing in today’s offensive strategies.

“Rams Easily Beat Yanks by 54 to 14; Van Brocklin Passes for 554 Yards, New League Record–Tosses for Five Touchdowns,” New York Times, September 29, 1951, p. 12.

Tex Maule, “The Eagles Have Gone Dutch; Norman Van Brocklin, A Quarterback With a Mind of His Own and The Best Arm in the League, May Bring Philadelphia Back into the NFL Championship Picture,” Sports Illustrated, October 13, 1958.

“Dutch Is the Difference,” Sports Illustrated, December 19, 1960.

“Norm Van Brocklin,” Wikipedia.org.

“Norm Van Brocklin: NFL’s Outspoken Coach; Wherever the Young Chief of the Minnesota Vikings Goes, The Fur Flies,” Saturday Evening Post, 1962.

“Norm Van Brocklin,” Pro Football Hall of Fame (inducted 1971).

AP, “Norm Van Brocklin Is Dead at 57; Star Quarterback in Hall of Fame,” New York Times, May 3, 1983.

Ron Fimrite, “Mr. Hollywood and The Dutchman: Two Legends, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, Shared a Job at Quarterback for the Great Postwar Ram Teams,” Sports Illustrated, October 6, 1995.

Fred Bowen, “Best Single-game Passer in NFL? It’s No One You’ve Seen Play; L.A. Rams’ Norm Van Brocklin Still Owns the Record – From 1951,” WashingtonPost.com, October 21, 2015.

“List of NFL Quarterbacks Who Have Passed for 400 or More Yards in a Game,” Wikipedia.org.

“List of the Day: Best Passing Yardage Seasons, 1950s NFL,” Today in Pro Football History, March 30, 2010.

Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer, “Remember When: Van Brocklin’s 554-Yard Day Has Lasted 6 Decades,” CBSsports.com, September 6, 2013.

Chase Stuart, “Norm Van Brocklin and Otto Graham: Who Was Better?, FootballPerspective.com, February 22, 2015.

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“Mary Tyler Moore”
1950s-2010s

Statue of the fictional Mary Richards, the liberated TV producer of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970s) depicted tossing her tam into the air, a symbol of independence. Minneapolis, MN, 2002.
Statue of the fictional Mary Richards, the liberated TV producer of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970s) depicted tossing her tam into the air, a symbol of independence. Minneapolis, MN, 2002.
In September 1970, CBS began running The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a 30-minute sitcom that aired in prime time on Saturday nights. The show featured actress Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, an independent, professional woman in her early 30s working at a struggling Minneapolis, Minnesota TV station. The show soon had a following of millions and became, in many ways, a statement of the times; a weekly story about women coming into their own, asserting their place in the male-dominated work world. The show ran for seven years, won a host of awards, and stirred the pot on women’s rights and other issues.

The statue at right, first installed on the streets of Minneapolis in May 2002, shows Mary Richards tossing her “tam” hat into the air. The scene – known as the “tam toss” and run in the opening credits of every episode – had become iconic; a symbol of Mary Richards’ independence. It was burnished in the minds of millions of fans and viewers who watched the show, both in the 1970s and later years in syndication. More on the show and the Minneapolis statue a bit later. First, a bit of biography on the lady at the center of this TV history, and also some focus on MTM Enterprises, a TV production company created in part by Moore and her then husband, Grant Tinker.


Brooklyn Girl

Mary Tyler Moore was born in Brooklyn, New York but her family moved to Los Angeles, California when she was a young girl of eight years old or so. She had attended Catholic school in Brooklyn and continued with Catholic schools through high school in California. While in high school she had aspired to be a dancer and began her career as a dancing elf in Hotpoint appliance TV commercials broadcast on the 1950s’ Ozzie and Harriet TV show.

Moore then did some anonymous modeling for record album covers. Trying her hand at TV acting, she was turned down for the role of the older daughter in The Danny Thomas Show.

Through the 1950s, she landed parts in a number of TV shows: Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Johnny Staccato a NBC detective series; two episodes of Overland Trail, an NBC western; and the first episode of NBC’s The Tab Hunter Show, a sitcom about a bachelor cartoonist. By 1961, she also had parts in other TV shows, among them: Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six, Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Hawaiian Eye.

Mary Tyler Moore became popular as “Laura Petrie” in the 1960s’ “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Mary Tyler Moore became popular as “Laura Petrie” in the 1960s’ “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Her big break-out role, however, came in 1961 – as Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing the energetic and comic wife of Rob Petri, played by Dick Van Dyke. The show’s sketches were built around the work and home life of Rob Petrie, a TV comedy writer. The show aired on CBS from October 1961 until June 1966. Mary Tyler Moore was 23 when the show began.

Although some 60 actresses auditioned for the part, Moore got the role after an interview with Carl Reiner, the creator of the show, who also became her mentor. With no experience in comedy, she nonetheless learned quickly, and soon proved to have a natural ability for comedic timing and related acting skills.

Dick Van Dyke, 11 years her senior when she began on the show, thought at first she would be too young. But later, he became one of her biggest fans.

The role of Laura Petri made her extremely popular and she became internationally famous. She would win Emmy awards for her acting on the Dick Van Dyke Show in 1964 and 1966, and a Golden Globe award in 1965.

Moore had been married when she was 18, giving birth in that marriage to her son, Richie, but was divorced in 1961. Not long after, she met Grant Tinker, then an executive with Benton & Bowles, the ad agency that represented The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s sponsor. In 1962, she and Tinker married.

May 1964: Mary Tyler Moore of the Dick Van Dyke Show on TV Guide cover.
May 1964: Mary Tyler Moore of the Dick Van Dyke Show on TV Guide cover.
After her successful run with The Dick Van Dyke Show, Moore would co-star in a series of films, then under contract with Universal Pictures. Among these were: 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews; two films in 1968, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? with George Peppard, and Don’t Just Stand There! with Robert Wagner; and two in 1969, a TV movie, Run a Crooked Mile, which cast Moore in a dramatic role, and a Hollywood film with Elvis Presley, Change of Habit, which had disappointing reviews and a poor box office.

Moore by then was also trying to return to television, doing an April 1969 TV special with Dick Van Dyke that helped convince CBS brass to consider her for a new TV role. That’s when she and husband Grant Tinker pitched a new TV sitcom to CBS with Moore in the lead role. The show was offered as a half-hour newsroom sitcom featuring Ed Asner as Moore’s gruff boss, Lou Grant, with assorted other characters. That show became The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Moore and Tinker by then had formed MTM Enterprises, an independent TV production company, initially to produce The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but would become a TV powerhouse in its own right (see sidebar later below). Tinker, who was then programming VP at Twentieth Century Fox’s television division, quit his job to launch and head up MTM Enterprises.

In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the main character, Mary Richards, is a single, 30-something career woman who has come to Minneapolis after breaking up with a man she had been dating for several years.

Mary is competent and ambitious in her profession and is looking for new friends. She moves into one of the upstairs apartment units in an older Minneapolis home and begins work as an assistant news producer at local TV station, WJM.

One title banner for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
One title banner for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
The original cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” 1970. Top: Valerie Harper (Rhoda), Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Cloris Leachman (Phyllis). Bottom: Gavin MacLeod (Murray), Mary Tyler Moore (Mary), Ted Knight (Ted Baxter).
The original cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” 1970. Top: Valerie Harper (Rhoda), Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Cloris Leachman (Phyllis). Bottom: Gavin MacLeod (Murray), Mary Tyler Moore (Mary), Ted Knight (Ted Baxter).

Mary works for chief news producer Lou Grant, an irascible kind of guy, seemingly harsh and gruff but actually a Mr. Softie, and a kind and gentle soul at heart.

Also among the newsroom characters in the show is Ted Baxter, projecting a self-importance and media aura about his role that is so far off the mark that he becomes a key comedic focus of the show, known for his on- and off-air gaffes.

In addition to Mary’s life at the office, the show also included sketches and story lines revolving around her home life and two other single woman and friends at her apartment. Among the latter, are Rhoda Morgenstern, upstairs neighbor played by Valerie Harper, and the downstairs landlady and friend, Phyllis Lindstrom, played by Cloris Leachman.

Among other subsequent characters who would appear in the show as it evolved were the station’s “Happy Homemaker Show” host, Sue Ann Nivens, played by Betty White, and Gordy, Gordon Howard, the weatherman, played by African American actor, John Amos. Gordy would appear roughly a dozen times over the course of the show’s first three seasons, and he eventually lands a job in New York City as a talk show host.

But it was Mary Richards who was the central character of the show, having a wide-ranging appeal to both sexes. In a 1974 interview with People magazine, Valery Harper, who played Rhoda, described Mary as follows:

“I want to tell you about my friend Mary Richards. She’s bouncy, she’s pretty, she weighs 11 pounds, and is a totally adorable human being. Despite that, I find it impossible to dislike her. Mary’s wholesome, but she’s not too wholesome. I mean, for example, she likes a great big glass of cold milk…to wash down her birth control pill. She’s the kind of person who gives WASPs a good name….”

Mary Richards character at her desk at TV station WJM on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Mary Richards character at her desk at TV station WJM on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Ms. Richards here appears to be searching for an answer to a question from her boss, Lou Grant.
Ms. Richards here appears to be searching for an answer to a question from her boss, Lou Grant.
Mary Richards in the newsroom with Ted Baxter on the phone and weatherman Gordy Howard in the background.
Mary Richards in the newsroom with Ted Baxter on the phone and weatherman Gordy Howard in the background.
Newswriter Murray Slaughter listening to comment by Happy Homemaker show host, Sue Ann Nivens.
Newswriter Murray Slaughter listening to comment by Happy Homemaker show host, Sue Ann Nivens.
Ted Baxter boasting to Mary about  his Emmy awards.
Ted Baxter boasting to Mary about his Emmy awards.
Mary Richards, who in later seasons of the show becomes a producer, in conversation with Lou Grant.
Mary Richards, who in later seasons of the show becomes a producer, in conversation with Lou Grant.

The sketches on the show included various newsroom stories and the chronicles of Mary and her friends meeting men, or other escapades. Mary was interested in finding a man and raising a family, but not desperately so. In the show, she was cast as warm, loving, and vulnerable, and as one reviewer put it – but never specifically stated in the show as such – “a person who could spend the night with a man she was not madly in love with.”

The focus, however, wasn’t only on Mary, as viewers would get to know all the characters, as their situations developed throughout the series. Observes Geoff Hammill at the Museum of Broadcast Communications about the Lou Grant character:

“…Never static, each character changed in ways previously unseen in the [sitcom] genre. One of the best examples occurred when Lou divorced his wife of many years. His adjustment to the transition from married to divorced middle-aged man provided rich comic moments but also allowed viewers see new depths in the character, to see behind the gruff facade into Lou’s vulnerability, to grow closer to him. This type of evolution occurred with all the cast members, providing writers with constantly shifting perspective on the characters. From those perspectives new story lines could be developed and these fresh approaches helped renew a genre grown weary with repetition and familiar techniques. ..”

Initially, however, some of the early reviews of The Mary Tyler Moore Show were not good. Several well-known publications panned the pilot when it aired. A reviewer for Time magazine wrote that Mary’s “bosses, a drunken clown of a news director and a narcissistic nincompoop of an anchorman, do an injustice to even the worst of local TV news.” The New York Times called the show “preposterous,” while TV Guide said Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper (who would later be spun off in her own working woman show), was a “man-crazy klutz.” Despite the poor start, the show soon found its footing. In fact, a very loyal viewing audience followed that would keep the show in the top tier of the Neilsen ratings for the next six years.

By 1972, one reviewer from Time magazine wrote of the show:

“Someone should write an ode to Mary Tyler Moore, whose show seems to get better with every passing week. Now in its third year, the series has taken the brass of the usual situation comedy formula and transmuted it into something resembling gold.

…[T]he series has taken on a new and more interesting dimension. Still pretty, single and thirtyish, Mary is no longer the Doris Day-Julie Andrews brand of antiseptic woman. This year’s Mary is even a little naughty. On one recent show she kissed a boy friend rather soulfully while in the newsroom. On another she spent the night at some fellow’s pad, to the vocal dismay of her mother. Judging from this season’s shows, the new chemistry may provide just the pick-me-up a weary viewer needs.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a hit for most of its seven-year run, rated in the top 20 for six straight seasons. In its 7th year, however, the show slipped to No. 39.

The final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired in September 1977 to the dismay of its viewers. In the farewell episode, new management had taken over the station in the face of falling ratings, and everybody was fired, except anchorman Ted Baxter, the likely cause of the poor ratings. At the show’s end, there were tearful farewells with Mary the last one out, closing the door after a final look back.

For 25 years, the show held the record for most Emmys won.

Yet, for millions of fans, there was a second life to come for The Mary Tyler Moore Show – in syndication and reruns. In the New York region, for example, the show began a seven-year run in various time slots from 1977 through 1984 on the Nickelodeon channel. The reruns acquired a devoted nightly following of 75,000 viewers on New York’s WNBC-TV during those years. In that market, Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes aired at least 4,450 times during the 1977-1984 period. In 1992, Nick at Nite began evening broadcasts of the series and it became the network’s top-rated series. By 1993 The Mary Tyler Moore Show was still airing three times daily on the Nickelodeon cable network. In November 1995, one Chicago Tribune TV critic was recommending reruns of The Mary Tyler More Show on Nickelodeon over a then new Mary Tyler Moore sitcom, New York News, which the critic called a “less good” TV show. In fact, after setting the sit-com gold standard with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore herself would have some difficulty in hitting that mark again with subsequent TV shows.


Impact & Legacy

Mary Richards and her friends and colleagues at WJM, came along at just the right time. The women’s movement by then was on the rise. A landmark book, The Feminine Mystique of 1963 by Betty Freidan, had already urged women to envision work outside the home. By 1972, the birth control pill had become available to all women, regardless of martial status. Also by then, the first issues of Ms. Magazine published by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes were on newsstands. And throughout the 1970s, women were on the march to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, passed by both houses of Congress in 1972, only to fall short of the 38 states needed for ratification during a decade-long fight.

Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), at Mary’s apartment in a scene from the 1970s TV sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), at Mary’s apartment in a scene from the 1970s TV sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

But prior to the fall of 1970, there was no woman quite like Mary Richards on television — no single, 30-year old woman who had just broken off a live-in relationship with her boyfriend, then heading off on her own to a new town and new job. At the time, it was new territory, and at least half of the viewing audience was paying attention. Oprah Winfrey, for one, became a big fan, citing Moore’s portrayal of a woman in the workplace as inspirational. Winfrey, in fact, began her own on-air career at a local news station in Nashville during the initial run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

March 1977: TV Guide cover bidding farewell to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
March 1977: TV Guide cover bidding farewell to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
While Moore herself was not a feminist in the Gloria Steinem mold, she and the show did advance the cause of women’s rights, and other social issues. The show itself, as an employer, made inroads on the number of women in production. By 1973, 25 out of 75 writers on the show were women, which was revolutionary at the time.

In the show’s storyline, meanwhile, when Mary discovers she was making less than the man who had the job before her, she argues for equal pay and eventually ends up with a raise, though the amount doesn’t totally make up the difference. And other issues also received an airing in the show’s comedic plots.

In the third season, pre-marital sex and homosexuality were among those included. In the fourth season, marital infidelity and divorce were explored. In the fifth season, Mary was jailed for contempt of court when she refused to reveal a news source. In the final seasons, other issues, including juvenile delinquency, intimate marital problems, infertility, and adoption were raised. Mary also becomes addicted to sleeping pills at one point, with her battle to break the addiction becoming part of the storyline.

During the heyday of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and others from the show frequently appeared on the covers of popular mainstream magazines, including Time, People, TV Guide, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, McCall’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. Time’s October 28th, 1974 edition featured Moore and Valerie Harper on the cover with the tagline, “TV’s Funny Girls,” offering a glowing review of both actors, and coming at a time when a separate Rhoda show had already spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, with both shows then doing quite well, with nearly 30 million viewers between them.

TV Guide, December 8-14, 1973.
TV Guide, December 8-14, 1973.
Time, October 28, 1974.
Time, October 28, 1974.
 People,  February 1976.
People, February 1976.
Esquire, February 1977.
Esquire, February 1977.

“One of these leading ladies is sweet, the other spicy,” offered Time in its October 1974 cover story describing Mary and Rhoda. “One is conservative, the other radlib. One is tranquil, the other seems to have been born with sand under her skin. Doublehanded, they are bringing a new sophistication back to television entertainment.” Such prominent magazine and print coverage helped keep The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its characters at the center of that day’s popular culture. And even as the show moved toward signing off in 1977, there was more good press. Esquire magazine gave Mary and the show a February 1977 feature story with Mary on the cover holding a Valentine heart with the tagline: “Farewell To the Funniest Show on Television: Robert Redford, Barbara Walters, Roger Staubach, And Other Send Valentines to Mary Tyler Moore.”

The Mary Tyler Moore Show also had an influence on television programming that followed, spinning off several new shows built around its characters – namely, Rhoda, as already mentioned, but also Phyllis and Lou Grant. It also influenced the content and structure of other TV programs. Tina Fey, creator and lead actress of the 2006 sitcom, 30 Rock, explained that Moore’s show helped inspire 30 Rock‘s emphasis on office relationships. “Our goal is to try to be like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where it’s not about doing the news,” said Fey. Entertainment Weekly has also noted similarities between 30 Rock characters and those of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The show also collected numerous honors and kudos during its run and for years after. Even through the 1990s, the show continued to collect praiseworthy notice. In 1997, TV Guide selected a Mary Tyler Moore Show episode as the best TV episode ever, and in 1999, Entertainment Weekly picked Mary’s hat toss in the opening credits as television’s second greatest moment. More recently, in the 2002-2013 period, The Mary Tyler Moore Show has been rated variously as among the best TV shows ever by TV Guide, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Time magazine and the Writers Guild of America.

“MTM: The Business”
1970s-1980s

The MTM “roaring kitten” logo that ran at the end of shows.
The MTM “roaring kitten” logo that ran at the end of shows.
In 1969-1970, Mary Tyler More and Grant Tinker formed the independent television production company MTM Enterprises, which was initially created to produce The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The name for the production company was taken from Mary Tyler Moore’s initials. In addition to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MTM would proceed to produce a number of popular American sitcoms and dramatic television series through the 1970s and 1980s. The MTM logo – a meowing “Mimsie the Cat” in a take off of the MGM Lion – would appear at the end of the credits roll for each new show created. Among MTM shows produced in the mid-1970s and early 1980s were three shows spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, each of which aired on CBS – Rhoda (1974–78) and Phyllis (1975–77), two sitcoms, and Lou Grant (1977–82), a one-hour drama. Some of these shows were also Top 20 performers during their runs.

Feb 1975: TV Guide features Rhoda, Bob Newhart & Mary Tyler Moore – with shows developed by “The MTM Comedy Machine.”
Feb 1975: TV Guide features Rhoda, Bob Newhart & Mary Tyler Moore – with shows developed by “The MTM Comedy Machine.”
In addition, MTM also turned out a number of other shows, including: The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978); The Texas Wheelers (1974); The Betty White Show (1977-1978); WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982); Hill Street Blues (1981-1987); Remington Steele (1982- 1987); St. Elsewhere (1982-1988); and Bay Cities Blues (Oct-Nov. 1983).

A TV Guide cover story of February 1975, featuring Rhoda, Bob Newhart, and Mary Tyler Moore, was titled, “Greasing The Wheels of The MTM Comedy Machine,” and by this time, the company was well on its way to respectability.

By the mid 1970s, MTM Enterprises had become a major force in the industry, was grossing more than $20 million a year, with Mary and husband Grant Tinker holding most of the stock. People magazine of September 30th, 1974 featured Mary on the cover with the tagline, “TV’s Newest Tycoon.” The MTM payroll by then included nearly 500 people, and in that year the company had at least eight TV shows then in preparation or on the air – more primetime series in fact than any of the “majors,” except for Universal. And there was more to come.

Under Grant Tinker’s leadership, the company became known for developing some of television’s best shows, using a cadre of the industry’s brightest writers and producers. Tinker’s philosophy was essentially to hire talented people and give them the room and discretion to operate as they saw fit, while he kept studio brass from meddling with content and program development.

May 1973: Mary Tyler Moore at the 25th Annual Emmy Awards in Hollywood with husband Grant Tinker.
May 1973: Mary Tyler Moore at the 25th Annual Emmy Awards in Hollywood with husband Grant Tinker.
In its heyday, MTM had a good reputation; described by some who worked there as “a Camelot for writers” and an “all-pro” operation. Pat Williams, who did the music score for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and orchestral work for other MTM productions, would say of the MTM record: “It was a phenomenon. That whole period of time where Mary’s show went into The Bob Newhart Show and so forth, the way Grant Tinker ran that place was with such class.” Adds Geoff Hammill of the American Museum of Television: “MTM Productions developed a reputation, begun in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for creating what became known as ‘quality television,’ television readily identifiable by its textured, humane and contemporary themes and characters.” As a result, TV historians credit Tinker and MTM with stoking a “golden age” of television, delivering high-quality content in dozens of TV shows well into the 1980s – some stretching beyond the direct hand of MTM, crafted by writers who had worked there, influenced by the MTM method and style.

Along the way, MTM won more Emmy awards for its own shows than any other independent company — 80 in all, including 28 for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 21 for Hill Street Blues, and 16 for Lou Grant. In 1981, MTM productions accounted for two of the three winning scripts and four of the nine finalists for the Humanities Prizes, awarded yearly to the primetime television programs judged to “most fully communicate human values.”

September 30, 1974 People magazine with cover story: “Mary Tyler Moore: TV’s Newest Tycoon.”
September 30, 1974 People magazine with cover story: “Mary Tyler Moore: TV’s Newest Tycoon.”
Tinker headed up MTM until leaving the company in 1981, when he became chairman and chief executive of NBC. With Tinker’s departure from MTM, however, the fortunes of that studio turned down somewhat, not scoring the hits it had previously. Even before he left, there were troubles with new shows for Mary Tyler Moore – Mary, a variety show in 1978, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour in 1979, and the situation comedy, Mary in 1985, all of which fared less well than previous MTM products.

Still, revenues for MTM were $137.2 million in 1986 and $163.1 million in 1987, with after-tax profits for those years, respectively at, $30.6 million and $26.1 million. By then the company also owned some 17 production studios.

By August, 1987, MTM had announced plans to issue a public stock offering, with a proposed sale of about 4 million of its 18 million shares, roughly 22 percent. At the time, this offering valued the company at about $450 million (i.e., in the range of $25-to-$28 a share). However, following the stock market crash of October 1987, MTM withdrew its offering. But in 1988, MTM was sold to a small British television production firm called Television South (TVS) for about $325 million. Four years later, in late 1992, Television South was in turn acquired by Pat Robertson’s International Family Entertainment (IFE). And five years after that, in 1997, Robertson’s IFE, along with MTM, was sold to Fox Family Worldwide. MTM then ceased operation, with its library and assets folded into 20th Century Fox Television. So today, all of MTM’s shows are owned by 21st Century Fox under 20th Century Fox Television – a Rupert Murdoch company.

In 1988, at the first sale of MTM to TVS, Mary Tyler Moore, as one of company’s partners, gained an estimated $113 million in cash and stock. By 1993, Moore then in her third marriage to Dr. Robert Levine, was dividing her time between two homes: a 14-room duplex apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park and a 29-acre Tudor-style estate in upstate New York.


People magazine of October 30th 1995, touting exclusive excerpt from Mary Tyler Moore’s book, “After All.”
People magazine of October 30th 1995, touting exclusive excerpt from Mary Tyler Moore’s book, “After All.”
Mary Tyler Moore had a happy on-screen life for much of her career. Off screen, however, she had her share of personal trials and tragedies, much of which was revealed in her 1995 book, After All. In that book, she wrote about here life’s difficulties – two failed marriages, alcoholism, diabetes, adultery, her son’s accidental death, an attempted euthanasia of her brother, her sister’s drug overdose, and being stalked by an obsessed fan who was arrested in 1980.

Her marriage to Grant Tinker, her second, had begun to go bad in the mid -1970s, this while she was still doing The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And her son from her first marriage, Richie, then still in high school, was having drug problems. By the mid-1970s as well, she was also drifting into alcoholism, a problem for which she would later seek treatment at the Betty Ford Center in 1984.

“I took to making margaritas in the blender,” she would write in her book. “My recipe was a quarter of a blender of bottled mix, one quarter of ice, one half of tequila and shake it up, baby! It had the consistency of a milk shake and the effect of morphine.” Of her new found single life upon separating from Grant Tinker, she would write: “I had never experienced any of the situations around which The Mary Tyler Moore Show had been based—an independent woman carving out a career, finding her way in a strange city, making new friends, doing exactly what I wanted – alone! So what if I was now 43 years old. I rented a house on East 64th Street, where I could experiment with my impression of that hard-to-beat gal Mary Richards.” But a crushing blow came in October 1980 with the death of her son, Richie, shot accidentally when a “hair trigger” shotgun he was holding went off.

Moore has been diabetic for some 30 years – first diagnosed during The Mary Tyler Moore Show – and she became chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, devoting a share of her time to fund-raising and education. In 2005, in her capacity with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, she went to Capitol Hill to testify in support of expanding federal policy and increased funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Politics. Politically, during the 1960s and 1970s, Moore had been something of moderate liberal. In 1980, she endorsed President Jimmy Carter for re-election in a TV campaign ad (see video at left). And in 1988, she contributed more than $10,000 to Democratic candidates. By the 2000s, however, she had become more conservative. In a March 2009 Parade magazine article, Moore called herself a “libertarian centrist.” By then she was also lamenting the state of television, finding few shows of personal interest. “I do watch a lot of Fox News,” she told Parade. “I like Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly… If McCain [U.S. Senator John McCain, Republican Presidential candidate in 2008] had asked me to campaign for him, I would have.” On the 2013 PBS TV series, Pioneers of Television, Moore said that she was “recruited” to join the feminist movement of the 1970s by Gloria Steinem, but did not agree with all of Steinem’s views. Moore believed women have an important role in raising children and that she did not believe in Steinem’s view that “women owe it to themselves to have a career.”

"After All," paperback edition.
"After All," paperback edition.
Civil War. Moore has also been active in Civil War preservation, influenced by her father’s interest in Civil War history. In 1995, she donated funds to acquire an historic building in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to be used as a center for Civil War studies at Shepherd University. The Conrad Shindler House, which is named in honor of her great-great-great-grandfather, who owned the structure in the 1800s, is now the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War in affiliation with Shepherd University. The house was used as a Confederate headquarters during 1861–62 by General “Stonewall Jackson. Moore’s great-grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Tilghman Moore, was a commander in the Virginia infantry and offered Jackson the use of the home. Moore has also worked on behalf of animal rights issues, helping to raise awareness about the treatment of animals in agriculture and factory farms. She has also advocated the adoption of animals from shelters as opposed to killing them, and has worked with fellow actress Bernadette Peters to have New York City adopt a no-kill policy for its shelter animals.

Book Tour. In 1996, when Moore was doing a book tour for the paperback version of After All, she made a stop in Minneapolis, where The Mary Tyler Moore Show had been set. At a book signing at the Mall of America, an adoring crowd of about 5,000 people came out to see her, with cheers and calls of “we love you Mary”. State Rep. Bill Luther came to the book-signing to read Gov. Arne Carlson’s proclamation that the appointed day that Saturday was to be “Mary Tyler Moore Day” because of the positive recognition Moore brought to the state. A letter from then First Lady, Hillary Clinton, was also read at the book signing, which stated in part that Mary was a “pioneer for women in television. Her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the first in which we recognized the positive influence a woman can have on her profession.”

TV Land Statue
2002: Mary Richards

Mary Richards statue at the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, MN, early 2000s, commemorating The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Mary Richards statue at the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, MN, early 2000s, commemorating The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The statue of Mary Richards in Minneapolis came about as part of a series of statues honoring fictional TV stars, sponsored by the cable channel, TV Land, owned by media giant, Viacom, currently the world’s sixth largest broadcasting and cable company.

The first TV Land statue honoring a fictional TV star was that for Jackie Gleason’s bus driver character, Ralph Kramden, of the popular 1950s’ Honeymooners TV show (which TV Land was then running in syndication). The Kramden statue was placed outside New York City’s Port Authority Bus Station in midtown Manhattan in August 2000. The second statue in the series was the Mary Richards character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The eight-foot Mary Richards statue was created by Milwaukee, Wisconsin sculptor Gwendolyn Gillen. Built and installed for a cost of $150,000. The statue was initially located in downtown Minneapolis in front of then Dayton’s department store (now Macy’s), near the corner of 7th Street and Nicollet Mall. It depicts the iconic moment in the show’s opening credits where Moore tosses her Tam o’ Shanter into the air.

But in early 2001, as the proposal for the Richards statue was presented to the community, it met with some disapproval. In late March 2001, Marisa Helms of Minnesota Public Radio did a story on the forthcoming statue and she found that not everyone in Minneapolis was excited about having a bronzed Mary Richards installed in their fair city. “Why is TV Land putting up this statue?,” asked Tim Connolly of Minneapolis-Issues.

TV Land promotional advertising for the May 2002 unveiling of the Mary Richards statue.
TV Land promotional advertising for the May 2002 unveiling of the Mary Richards statue.
“Is it marketing?,” he asked. “If it’s marketing and the mayor is buying into it, then we are complicit in marketing the TV Land network.” Clay Steinman, a communication studies professor at Macalester College in St. Paul took another tack as the city was weighing the pros and cons of the statue: “It’s like honoring a unicorn,” Steinman said, alluding to the fictional nature of the character being represented. “It’s honoring something that doesn’t exist.” Yet for millions who watched the show religiously over its seven year run, Mary Richards was the next best thing to being real. So despite the difference of opinion in the city, the statue went forward.

On a Wednesday morning of May 8th, 2002 at 7:00 a.m., the official installation of the Mary Richards statue took place. Some advanced advertising of the ceremony had occurred in the local media and from TV Land promotional material. A crowd of about 3,000 came out on a chilly, 43 degree morning. On hand for the ceremony were: Larry W. Jones, the General Manager of the TV Land cable channel; Minneapolis mayor, Raymond Thomas “R.T.” Rybak; Lisa Goodman, a member of the Minneapolis city council; and Mary Tyler Moore.

At the May 2002 unveiling in Minneapolis, Mary Tyler Moore tosses her tam near the statue featuring the famous TV show opening. (Pioneer Press /Joe Rossi)
At the May 2002 unveiling in Minneapolis, Mary Tyler Moore tosses her tam near the statue featuring the famous TV show opening. (Pioneer Press /Joe Rossi)
During the ceremony, councilwoman Lisa Goodman unveiled the eight-foot bronze statue as composer Sonny Curtis performed a special rendition of the series theme song, “Love is All Around.” A metal placard at the base of the statue reads: “Mary Tyler Moore – Who Can Turn The World On With A Smile? Presented by the people of TV Land.” Thereafter, the statue occupied its position at the Nicollet Mall for many years. At on point, there was a proposal to temporarily move the statue inside the IDS Center’s Crystal Court, a familiar location to fans of the 1970s sitcom. That move, however, never occurred.

In 2015, the Richards sculpture was removed, along with other public art along the mall, during the street’s $50 million renovation project. Moore’s statue now stands at the city’s visitor center pending the completion of mall renovations.

Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said residents notice and miss the statue when it’s not in its usual spot at the Nicollet Mall. “It’s not a unilateral decision that can be made here,” he said of re-installing the TV Land statue. “We love it, the city loves it. It’s a popular destination, so we want it back.”

TV Land’s vice president of corporate communications, Jennifer Zaldivar-Clark, has stated that she expected the figure to be returned to its Nicollet Mall location once the project is completed in the summer of 2017.


Later Career

The Mary Tyler Moore Hour of 1979 featured Mary as a TV star putting on a variety show and ran briefly on CBS.
The Mary Tyler Moore Hour of 1979 featured Mary as a TV star putting on a variety show and ran briefly on CBS.
Following the success of her sitcoms in the 1960s and 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore tried to score again with new TV shows. And while she kept at it over the next two decades making several new shows, she could not again duplicate the TV magic that had worked so well for her in The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In 1978 there was Mary, a variety show which ran briefly on CBS and included supporting roles by then unknown actors David Letterman and Michael Keaton. In 1979, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour featured Mary portraying a TV star putting on a variety show which also ran briefly for a few months on CBS. Through the 1980s and 1990s there were a number of other TV shows and films, including the sitcom Mary (a second use of this title) in 1985-86, in which she played a 40-ish divorcée newspaper reporter working at a second rate tabloid, The Chicago Eagle. It ran for 13 episodes but was criticized as being a clone of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Some years later, in the fall of 1995, another CBS newsroom type show was tried – New York News, about a fictional tabloid newspaper in New York City with Moore playing a “dragon lady” style editor-in-chief riding herd on her news staff. That show was cancelled after low ratings.

November 13th,1980: Rolling Stone cover with tagline: “America’s Sweetheart Plays Rough in Ordinary People.”
November 13th,1980: Rolling Stone cover with tagline: “America’s Sweetheart Plays Rough in Ordinary People.”
Outside of the TV arena, there were a number of projects for Moore on Broadway and in feature films – including several stage plays through her own production company. In 1980 on Broadway, she won a Tony Award for her performance as a paralyzed sculptor in Whose Life Is It Anyway? That same year she received a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for Ordinary People, the Robert Redford-directed film in which she played the wife of Donald Sutherland and mother of two sons, the much-loved number one son killed in boating accident, and the surviving and less-loved troubled son, played by Timothy Hutton. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture and Best Director. For Moore, it marked a notable statement of her dramatic acting abilities. Rolling Stone magazine put her on the cover of it November 13th, 1980 issue with the tagline, “Mary Tyler Moore: America’s Sweetheart Plays Rough in Ordinary People.” In 1985, as a producer through her stage company, Moore won a Tony Award for Best Reproduction of a Play for Joe Egg, about a British couple struggling to save their marriage while raising their only child, a small girl with cerebral palsy.

Back in the TV arena, in Finnegan Begin Again of 1985, she played a middle-aged widow who finds love. In the 1988 TV miniseries, Lincoln, she played Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s troubled wife. In 1993 she won a Emmy for her role as best supporting actress in the TV film, Stolen Babies, a 1940s story about a Tennessee welfare worker played by Lea Thompson who learns that Moore’s character, Georgia Tann, a much respected head of a local adoption agency, is actually running a black-market baby ring.

2003: Mary Tyler Moore in TV film as elderly recluse who helps raise an abandoned baby.
2003: Mary Tyler Moore in TV film as elderly recluse who helps raise an abandoned baby.
Still, try as she might, the Mary Richards legacy never really faded for Moore. In 2000, she and Valerie Harper reprised their sit-com characters – though now in older life circumstances set in New York city – in a two-hour ABC-TV movie, Mary and Rhoda. But Moore also continued to take on other dramatic roles, as in the 2003 TV film, Blessings, in which she played an 82 year-old reclusive heiress who, with Liam Waitem playing her live-in handyman, care for an abandoned baby.

Mary Tyler Moore Show retrospectives and reunions also figured into Moore’s later TV career. In February 1991, CBS aired Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Show, which was a huge Nielsen ratings winner, receiving a 17.4 rating (16.2 million households). Another reunion show followed in 2002. Then in May 2008, the surviving cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show reunited on The Oprah Winfrey Show to reminisce about the series. Winfrey, a longtime admirer of Moore and the show, had her staff recreate the sets of the WJM-TV newsroom and Mary’s apartment for the reunion. In April 2009 Moore published her second memoir, Growing Up Again, which focused her living with type 1 diabetes. In May 2011, she underwent elective surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

On the occasion of her 2012 SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, TV Guide took a look back at her career.
On the occasion of her 2012 SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, TV Guide took a look back at her career.
In January 2012, Mary Tyler Moore was honored with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Lifetime Achievement Award. The week of the award, TV Guide.com featured her in a full page spread, with Mary commenting on some of her favorite TV Guide covers, of which there were 27 during her career. The SAG award provided an opportunity to sum up her career achievements: an Oscar nomination for Ordinary People; a Tony for Whose Life is It Anyway?; six Emmys for her TV work on the The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; three Golden Globes; induction into the Television Hall of Fame; and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In September 2013, the women of The Mary Tyler Moore Show – Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper, Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, and Georgia Engel – were reunited on the TV Land sitcom, Hot In Cleveland. It was the first time in more than 30 years they had all been together. And in October 2015, PBS aired Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration, featuring a retrospective of Moore’s career with laudatory comment throughout by a number of her former colleagues. Carl Reiner said she was “the Grace Kelly of comedians.” Others during the show described her as the “whole package” – the girl next store, a looker, a dancer, and a natural on stage. Dick Van Dyke noted she simply “got it” when it came to the providing the needed line or reaction in a comedic moment. And legend Lucille Ball, who once quietly watched Moore perform from a nearby soundstage, later told her, “you know, you’re really very good.” Still, some reviewers of the Moore PBS special found it a bit too hagiographic, looking for a fuller treatment of her life and career. No doubt, such works will come. Yet without question, Mary Tyler Moore helped change the direction of American television for the better, leaving a lasting impression on millions of television viewers.

See also at this website, “Noteworthy Ladies,” a topics page that includes links to 40 stories on other famous and notable women, including others who have worked in television such as, Lucille Ball, Dinah Shore, and Barbra Streisand. See also the “TV & Culture” page for additional stories in that category. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 30 January 2016
Last Update: 30 January 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Mary Tyler Moore: 1950s-2010s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 30, 2016.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Dec 1961: Mary Tyler Moore & Dick Van Dyke on TV Guide cover for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Dec 1961: Mary Tyler Moore & Dick Van Dyke on TV Guide cover for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
April 1969: TV Guide features Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore for a TV special that helped Mary win her CBS contract that led to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
April 1969: TV Guide features Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore for a TV special that helped Mary win her CBS contract that led to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Sept 19, 1970: TV Guide cover features Mary Tyler Moore & canine friend at the start of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Sept 19, 1970: TV Guide cover features Mary Tyler Moore & canine friend at the start of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Feb 1972: TV Guide cover story: “Backstage at The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Feb 1972: TV Guide cover story: “Backstage at The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
June 1976: TV Guide with Mary Tyler Moore in Moscow's Red Square for a TV special.
June 1976: TV Guide with Mary Tyler Moore in Moscow's Red Square for a TV special.
March 1978: Mary Tyler Moore with CBS newsman, Walter Cronkite, hosts of “CBS Turns 50" anniversary special.
March 1978: Mary Tyler Moore with CBS newsman, Walter Cronkite, hosts of “CBS Turns 50" anniversary special.
Sept 1984: TV Guide cover with Mary Tyler Moore & James Garner, featuring TV film “Heartsounds,” for which both were Emmy-nominated.
Sept 1984: TV Guide cover with Mary Tyler Moore & James Garner, featuring TV film “Heartsounds,” for which both were Emmy-nominated.
March 1993: TV Guide cover story, Mary Tyler Moore “opens up.”
March 1993: TV Guide cover story, Mary Tyler Moore “opens up.”
Feb 1998: A TV Guide “Valentines” cover with Mary Tyler Moore “...and the 11 other TV women we love most.”
Feb 1998: A TV Guide “Valentines” cover with Mary Tyler Moore “...and the 11 other TV women we love most.”
Feb 2000: TV Guide cover story on “Mary & Rhoda” TV film featuring famous characters from the 1970s “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Feb 2000: TV Guide cover story on “Mary & Rhoda” TV film featuring famous characters from the 1970s “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
May 2004: TV Guide features Mary Tyler Moore & Dick Van Dyke in a “new” episode from the 1960s “Dick Van Dyke Show.”
May 2004: TV Guide features Mary Tyler Moore & Dick Van Dyke in a “new” episode from the 1960s “Dick Van Dyke Show.”

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“White Rabbit”
Grace Slick: 1960s-2010s

From one of Grace Slick’s Alice-in-Wonderland themed paintings, titled 'Trust,' giclee art on canvas, Area Arts, Santa Rosa, CA.
From one of Grace Slick’s Alice-in-Wonderland themed paintings, titled 'Trust,' giclee art on canvas, Area Arts, Santa Rosa, CA.
At the peak of the psychedelic rock music era in the summer of 1967, a song named “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane, a San Francisco rock group, was a big part of that summer’s soundtrack.

The song was written by a woman named Grace Slick who also sings the lead vocals on the Jefferson Airplane song with a very strong, distinctive and penetrating voice.

“White Rabbit” was recorded by Jefferson Airplane for their 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. The song was also released as a single and became a Top Ten hit and a million seller, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1967.

The song, however, would become controversial and a lightning rod for some social critics and politicians who charged it encouraged drug use among the nation’s youth. More on that a bit later.

The inspiration for “White Rabbit” and its lyrics came in part from a famous work of literature, Alice’s Adventures in Wonder-land, written by Lewis Carroll in 1865, and its sequel of 1871, Through the Looking-Glass.

Jefferson Airplane, 1967. Top row from left: Jack Casady, Grace Slick, Marty Balin; bottom row from left: Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden.
Jefferson Airplane, 1967. Top row from left: Jack Casady, Grace Slick, Marty Balin; bottom row from left: Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden.
The Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane song draws on some of the imagery in these stories, and mentions several of the stories’ characters by name. In addition to the White Rabbit, the song also includes Alice, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse (lyrics appear later below).


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“White Rabbit”-1967
Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane

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In the Lewis Carroll story, as well as popularized film versions — there were more than a dozen of these films by the time of the 1967 song, including a popular 1951 Walt Disney film — the White Rabbit character appears at the very beginning.

At the opening of Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice and her sister are sitting along a river bank one summer day reading when a rabbit happens by. However, this was no ordinary rabbit. He was attired in a waistcoat, talking to himself, and looking at his pocket watch. Curiosity got the better of Alice and she followed him down a rabbit hole, where her other-worldly adventures soon began.

Cover of an older book featuring Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Cover of an older book featuring Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
It was here that Alice would encounter a range of strange creatures and also have a number of experiences that would alter her size and perception.

At one point in the story, for example, there is a caterpillar who tells Alice that eating from one side of the mushroom will make her taller and, from the other side, will make her shorter. Alice eats from the mushroom and partakes of other substances during her adventures, meeting lots of interesting characters along the way.

Grace Slick, like others raised in the 1940s and 1950s, was very familiar with the “Alice in Wonderland” story, having had it read to her many times as a child. But for Slick, the story’s imagery and descriptions remained vivid into her young adult years, having an influence on her as she began writing songs.

Grace Slick was born “Grace Barnett Wing” in 1939 in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Her father was an investment banker and her mother had briefly been an actress and singer. In the late 1950s, after graduating from an all girls school in Palo Alto, California, Grace attended Finch College, a New York finishing school for girls located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Grace Slick in a recording studio, circa 1960s.
Grace Slick in a recording studio, circa 1960s.
Later, at the University of Miami in 1958-1959, Slick majored in art. A series of odd jobs followed, and then a stint at modeling from 1960-1963 for I. Magnin’s department store.

In 1961, Grace married Jerry Slick, a film student and later successful cinematographer. Some of her first songwriting came during work with Jerry’s film projects.

In 1965, Grace and Jerry also formed a rock band named the Great Society (a play on Lyndon Johnson’s social program of the same name), which performed for a time in San Francisco’s North Beach area. The group also opened for other acts, including a band named Jefferson Airplane.

Although the Great Society group did cut some recordings and played various venues in San Francisco, the band’s fortunes did not soar and soon dissolved.

Grace Slick, however, was asked to join the Jefferson Airplane, bringing with her two songs she had used with her former group – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” (the latter written by brother-in-law Darby Slick at Great Society). These songs would appear on the Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, Surrealist Pillow, each becoming Top Ten hits.

“White Rabbit”
Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane
1967

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small

When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head

In addition to the Alice in Wonderland elements of the “White Rabbit” song, another influence on its construction was the music of jazz musicians Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and in particular, their 1960 album Sketches of Spain.

Prior to Slick’s writing “White Rabbitt,” she had listened to the Davis / Evans album for hours, later saying that the bolero they used in parts of their music – a form of slow, crescendo-building Latin/Spanish dance music – was especially appealing.

Another influence on Slick’s composition was LSD. While composing her song, she had taken LSD – a “mind-expanding” drug then popular among musicians and the youth counterculture in San Francisco.

In fact, when Slick wrote “White Rabbit” in 1965, the music scene in San Francisco had become something of an epicenter of cultural change. A major youth movement and counterculture was underway, with music and drugs at its center, including experimentation with “magic mushrooms” and hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD.

This was the era when ex-Harvard University faculty member, Dr. Timothy Leary, had become a prominent proponent of LSD and “mind expanding” drug experimentation. Cultural norms and authority figures were being challenged as well. And Grace Slick was no shrinking violet (no Alice pun intended), an independent soul who spoke her mind. In fact, Slick would revel in her anti-authority role with the Jefferson Airplane, made larger by the fame that arrived with the success of the group’s music.

1967 magazine ad touting Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” album and the new single, “White Rabbit.”
1967 magazine ad touting Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” album and the new single, “White Rabbit.”
In February 1967, the group released their Surrealistic Pillow album in the U.S. Two singles from the album followed. “Somebody to Love” was released in April 1967, and “White Rabbit” in June 1967.


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“Somebody To Love”-1967
Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane

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“Somebody to Love,” although not written by Slick, also has a couple of zingers in its lyrics, including its opening lines — “When the truth is found to be lies / And all the joy within you dies.” Slick’s delivery of lines like these proved forceful and riveting, distinguishing her as one of the era’s lead female voices. And as the group’s songs rose on the charts, Jefferson Airplane’s fortunes began to soar. It didn’t hurt that in May 1967, Look magazine, then a widely read national bi-weekly, did a feature piece on the band, titled, “Jefferson Airplane Loves You,” which included five pages about the group and a lead photo of Slick on the contents page with a glowing review, as follows:

Grace Slick gets top billing on Look's contents page, May 1967.
Grace Slick gets top billing on Look's contents page, May 1967.

“Look into those blue-gray eyes. Hear that voice, that intent, wailing, uninhibiting, grabbing voice. You will rock, you will forget who you are. Six young people built Jefferson Airplane, but this girl, Grace Slick, is the one who makes it fly. And when it soars on her airborne voice, something electric suffuses you, traps your mind, jerks you into feeling. Call what happens Love Rock, the San Francisco Sound, and know that it cannot exist without you. To find out why, take off on a flight to remember, Jefferson Airplane Loves You, page 58.”

The Look magazine piece helped send Jefferson Airplane to the front of San Francisco music scene. There, they became a lead group among those offering the “love-rock-psychedelic” sound. Also that month, the group appeared as musical guests on CBS-TV’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Meanwhile, “White Rabbit” and the group’s album were being touted in trade magazine ads. “Millions read about it in ‘LOOK,” explained RCA in its ad copy (above left). “Their Surrealistic Pillow” album is now Top 10… ‘Pillow’ features their current Top 10 single, ‘Somebody to Love.’ Now, a second great single from the same sensational album: ‘White Rabbit’.”

June 1968: Grace Slick & mates from rock group, Jefferson Airplane, featured on Life magazine cover.
June 1968: Grace Slick & mates from rock group, Jefferson Airplane, featured on Life magazine cover.
In June 1967, Jefferson Airplane played on the second evening of the “Monterey Pop Festival” in Monterey, California. That month, they also performed on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand TV show, then located in California. By July, “White Rabbit” had climbed into the Top Ten on the music charts. In September Surrealistic Pillow was released in the UK in a somewhat different form, as the group’s fortunes continued to rise.

By June 1968, Slick and Jefferson Airplane had also appeared on the cover of Life magazine, one of seven rock groups featured in a multi-page spread on “The New Rock.” Robin Richman, the Life reporter who wrote the story, would observe of the group generally, and Slick in particular: “…They all share a compassion for people and they’re reaching out directly with their music. The difference is mainly in their style, they will use whatever device seems appropriate. Any musical or literary form from the oldest to the newest is possible. So Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane has a way of commenting on society, using metaphor and allusion – like Joyce – to get her ideas across…” Slick at the time, along with Janis Joplin, was marking new territory in the rock world’s male-dominated hierarchy, where very few women had become leaders of rock bands.


Sept 24, 1969: Time magazine features “Drugs and the Young” as its cover story and an emerging national issue.
Sept 24, 1969: Time magazine features “Drugs and the Young” as its cover story and an emerging national issue.

Music, Drugs & Politics

On the national political scene, meanwhile, the convulsive year of 1968 produced a series of shocking developments – a year in which Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy had been assassinated; sitting president Lyndon Johnson, mired in the Vietnam War, shocked his party by refusing to seek a second term; and the nation watched a riotous Democratic convention in Chicago as protesters and police clashed in prime time. Amid the tumult, Republican Richard Nixon, was elected President that November. Nixon had campaigned as a law-and-order candidate, also blaming the Democrats for a reign of permissiveness in the 1960s – or as some characterized it, an explosion of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

In his first few months as president in 1969, Nixon proposed toughening drug enforcement laws, with legislation sent to Congress for review and hearings. The baby boomer counterculture by this time was exploding, and with it drug use. In August 1969 the giant Woodstock musical festival was held in upstate New York, where many famous rock musicians performed, including Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and dozens of others.

August 1969: Grace Slick at Woodstock.
August 1969: Grace Slick at Woodstock.
In September 1969, Time magazine featured “Drugs and the Young” as its cover story, with a long piece inside the magazine titled, “Pop Drugs: The High as a Way of Life.” In that article, the writers noted varying statistics about youth drug use, pointing out, for example, that at the August 1969 Woodstock music festival in upstate New York, “some 90% of the 400,000 participants openly smoked marijuana [bringing] the youthful drug culture to a new apogee.” Time also noted that cultural references to drugs and drug use were cropping up everywhere. “Rock musicians use drugs frequently and openly,” said Time, “and their compositions are riddled with references to drugs, from the Beatles’ ‘I get high with a little help from my friends’ to the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (‘Remember what the dormouse said: Feed your head’)….” It would not be the last time that the Beatles’ music, “White Rabbit,” and other rock music would be singled out for its purported influence on the rising drug culture.

The Nixon Administration, meanwhile, initiated “Operation Intercept,” a surprise anti-drug measure announced by the President on September 21, 1969 aimed at disrupting the flow of Mexican marijuana coming into the U.S. The program resulted in a near shutdown of border crossings between Mexico and the U.S., as brief inspections were conducted on every vehicle crossing into the U.S. After a few weeks of complaints from Mexican officials and travelers, the inspections were abandoned as the Nixon Administration declared it had achieved its objective. Some months later, in May 1970, the Jefferson Airplane would release a song titled “Mexico,” written and sung by Grace Slick, that was essentially a rant against the Nixon border operation. The song received little radio air play, and was banned in some states, but it did manage to reach No. #102 on the music charts, just under the Billboard Hot 100.


A ‘Mickey’ for Nixon
Aborted White House Plot

In April 1970, Grace Slick had designs on “slipping a mickey” into Dick Nixon’s tea at a White House reception – the mickey, in this case, a tiny pill of LSD. But the plan never hatched. The President’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, had planned a tea party for alumni of Finch College, the New York girls’ finishing school she had attended. Grace Slick, too, had attended Finch some 10 years earlier. But when Slick went to Finch, she was enrolled under her maiden name, Grace Wing. Tricia had invited all of the Finch alumni to the White House tea party, and Grace Slick received an invitation.

April 24, 1970: Grace Slick & Abbie Hoffman on line at the White House for Tricia Nixon’s Finch College alumni tea.  AP Photo/Bob Daugherty
April 24, 1970: Grace Slick & Abbie Hoffman on line at the White House for Tricia Nixon’s Finch College alumni tea. AP Photo/Bob Daugherty
“Her people didn’t know that Grace Wing was Grace Slick,” explained Slick some years later to a Wall Street Journal reporter. “So I called Abbie Hoffman [1960s activist and famous defendant in the Chicago Seven trial of disruptive protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention] and said, ‘Guess where we’re going’.” Slick had planned to spike Richard Nixon’s tea with acid, but she and Abbie never made it through the gates.

Hoffman had been cleaned up a bit, dressed in a respectable suit and tie with well groomed hair. Grace too, appeared reasonably dressed, though sporting a see-through fish net blouse beneath her coat. The tea party, however, was billed as an “all ladies” event, which made Hoffman, waiting on line that day, immediately suspect. When guards approached, he claimed to be Slick’s bodyguard, which didn’t work. He created a bit of flurry thereafter, shifting into his activist mode. Grace Slick, meanwhile, declined to attend once her “bodyguard” was refused entry. Dick Nixon, in any event, was not at the tea that day, and had gone to Camp David. Some 600 Finch ladies did attend the tea that day.

But had Grace Slick shown up that day by herself, she just might have made it into the White House. Getting close enough to the President’s tea, however, even if he had been there, was another matter altogether. She was carrying some 600 micrograms of LSD that day. In any case, her intent, it appears, was not to “poison the guy,” she would later say, but rather, to send him into a bit of embarrassing trippy behavior.
___________________
Sources: “Abbie Hoffman Barred From White House Tea,” New York Times, April 25, 1970; Sally Quinn, “Abbie Left at The Gate,” Washington Post/Times Herald, April 25, 1970, pp. E-1-E-2; and Marc Myers, “She Went Chasing Rabbits,” Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2011.


Oct 23, 1969: President Richard Nixon at left talks with TV personality Art Linkletter during White House meetings where Linkletter urged adoption of an educational program to publicize the evils of dangerous drugs. AP photo.
Oct 23, 1969: President Richard Nixon at left talks with TV personality Art Linkletter during White House meetings where Linkletter urged adoption of an educational program to publicize the evils of dangerous drugs. AP photo.
In 1969, the Nixon Administration was also convening private briefings and strategy sessions on the nation’s drug problem.

One of these sessions was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House in late October 1969, where President Nixon invited a group of congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Speaker of the House John McCormick, and several others.

At this session, Art Linkletter – a popular TV personality known throughout the nation for his “Kids Say Anything” TV shows and a staunch Nixon campaign supporter – was one of those addressing the group.

The drug problem, in fact, had become quite personal for Linkletter by that time. His 20-year-old daughter, Diane, had committed suicide only weeks before this session, having jumped to her death from the sixth floor of her West Hollywood apartment on October 4, 1969.

Linkletter blamed LSD as the cause of his daughter’s death, and he would become something of national anti-drug campaigner thereafter. During the Cabinet Room session, Linkletter told the group:

…You gentlemen may not realize it but almost every time a “top 40” record is played on the radio, it is an ad for “acid,” marihuana, and trips. The lyrics of the popular songs and the jackets on the albums of the popular songs are all a complete, total campaign for the fun and thrills of trips. If you don’t believe it, you ought to take a good, long look at some of the lyrics and some of the albums with the hidden symbols, with the language that the kids know that you don’t even realize they are talking about…

May 8, 1970: Spiro Agnew on the cover of Life magazine prior to his “drug music” speech. By this time he was also the Nixon Administration’s chief media critic and more.
May 8, 1970: Spiro Agnew on the cover of Life magazine prior to his “drug music” speech. By this time he was also the Nixon Administration’s chief media critic and more.
In December 1969, Nixon convened a Governors’ Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Forty of the nation’s governors attended the gathering at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Nixon addressed the group and so did Art Linkletter, who in his remarks condemned Dr. Timothy Leary, a former Harvard University lecturer, as “that poisonous evil man” who was then a well known promoter of marijuana and LSD.

The Nixon Administration would continue its anti-drug program over the next several years and Art Linkletter would head up a national advisory council on drugs.

Also playing a key role in the Nixon Administration’s anti-drug crusade, its anti-media battles, and generally serving as point man on the “social permissiveness” front, was Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Historians Mary Beth Norton, Carol Sheriff, David W. Blight, and Howard Chudacoff, writing in the book A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, note, for example:

…As president, Nixon worked to equate the Republican Party with law and order and the Democrats with permissiveness, crime, drugs, radicalism, and the “hippie lifestyle.” To capitalize on the backlash against the 1960s movements for social change, and consolidate support of those he called “the silent majority,” Nixon fostered divisions, using his outspoken vice president, Spiro Agnew, to attack war protesters and critics as “naughty children,” “effete…snobs,” and “ideological eunuchs….”

Agnew would also become one of the Administration’s “music-and-drugs” messengers. In a September 1970 speech before Republicans in Las Vegas, Agnew echoed the concerns of Linkletter and other drug critics, and took special aim at the music and film industries, charging them with encouraging drug use. Agnew stated that certain rock songs and their lyrics, along with some Hollywood films, books, and underground newspapers, were among the chief culprits in the rising national drug problem.

September 18, 1970: Headline from the Deseret News (Las Vegas)  for Associated Press story reporting on Vice President Spiro Agnew’s speech before 1,200 Republicans at fundraising dinner at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
September 18, 1970: Headline from the Deseret News (Las Vegas) for Associated Press story reporting on Vice President Spiro Agnew’s speech before 1,200 Republicans at fundraising dinner at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In one mid-September 1970 speech before 1,200 Republicans at a $100-a-plate fundraising dinner at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada — a speech carried over radio and TV throughout the state — Agnew singled out the lyrics of several songs he claimed were part of a cultural “brainwashing” then taking place, leading youth into drug use. From the Beatles, he quoted the lines: “I get by with a little help from friends / I get high with a little help from my friends.” Of the song, Agnew said, “it’s a catchy tune, but until it was pointed out to me, I never realized that the ‘friends’ were assorted drugs.” He also mentioned several other songs, including “White Rabbit,” quoting the lines: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small / And the ones that mother givers you don’t do anything at all.” Other songs Agnew mentioned in his speech were “Eight Miles High” by the Byrds, “The Acid Queen” by The Who, and “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam,” by Steppenwolf.

The Reading Eagle, Reading, PA.
The Reading Eagle, Reading, PA.
“These songs present the use of drugs in such an attractive light,” Agnew said, “that for the impressionable, turning on becomes the natural and even approved thing to do.” He called it a form of “brainwashing.” In too many of the songs, he said, “the message of the drug culture is purveyed… [A]t its worst, it is blatant drug culture propaganda…” Agnew also mentioned the plot line of one popular film at the time without mentioning the title (“Easy Rider”), in which the film’s two heroes were, according to Agnew, “able to live a carefree life off the illegal proceeds of drugs.”

Agnew’s critique brought a swift reaction from many in the entertainment industry and even a few public officials. One retort to Agnew came from Nicholas Johnson, a minority Democrat at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Johnson cited a number of rock songs that had negative messages on drug use, including songs by Steppenwolf (“The Pusher”), Canned Heat (“Amphetamine Annie”), The Rolling Stones (“Mothers Little Helper”) and others. Other rock music, Johnson noted, lamented the problems of war or environmental degradation. On the other hand, some advertising from establishment pillars such as the Ford Motor Co., used drug-evocative expressions in their TV pitches, as in Ford cars that would “blow your mind.” Johnson argued that more attention be paid to the constant barrage of drug and pharmaceutical TV advertising — i.e., pills to sleep, to wake up, to feel calm, to feel excited, to conquer anxieties, etc. Others believed that trying to interpret musical lyrics for their meaning was something of a fool’s errand, a highly subjective enterprise, with varying outcomes. Exactly what was it that Perry Como had in mind when he sang “climb aboard the butterfly” in the 1949 song “A Dreamer’s Holiday?”

“White Rabbit”
An Anti-Drug Interpretation

At least one writer has offered the view that “White Rabbit” could be interpreted as a song that discouraged drug use. Here’s that view from Terence Towles Canote, writing at the blog, A Shroud of Thoughts:

“…On the surface, ‘White Rabbit’ would appear to be a song advocating drug use. Indeed, in making the comparison between Lewis Carroll’s works and the effects of psychoactive drugs, it would seem to be encouraging their use. That having been said, I have often thought the song could also be interpreted as discouraging the use of psychoactive drugs, whether Grace Slick meant it as such or not. From the very beginning the song emphasizes the mind altering effects of such drugs, “One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small.” These effects become more extreme as the song proceeds. From growing and shrinking to encounters with white rabbits and hookah-smoking caterpillars, the song moves to chessmen telling one where to go. By the last stanza it would almost seem to be describing a bum trip. Logic and proportion have lost all meaning. The White Knight is talking backwards, perhaps indicating reality has lost all coherence. And worst yet, the Red Queen is apparently demanding decapitations. The growing sense of menace in the song is only amplified by its music, which is a gradually rising crescendo. As the song progresses, the music’s volume grows and with it so does this impending sense of things gone awry, particularly when combined with the lyrics. Given that the lyrics seem to grow darker and more menacing with each stanza, as does the music, I would think that in the end the song would in the end cause people to stay as far away from psychoactive drugs as possible!…”

Still, the Agnew-Linkletter-Nixon attack on rock music had a bit of a chilling effect on the airing of songs perceived to be lauding drug use. In fact, the FCC would later send a public notice memorandum to broadcasters urging them to become aware of music “tending to promote or glorify the use of illegal drugs.” And Nixon himself would speak to a group of some 70 radio broadcasters who attended a day long “White House Conference on Drugs For the Radio Industry” in October 1970.

In his remarks to the broadcasters, Nixon assured them he had no intention of telling them what songs to play or not play, or how to program their broadcasts, but he would “appreciate” their cooperation on the matter of songs that promoted drugs. Dean Burch of the FCC also addressed the group, and noted the commission would look favorably on stations that aired anti-dug messages.

Some of what the Nixon Administration was advocating in terms screening songs for drug messaging appears to have resulted in broadcasters and program managers pulling music off the air and/or preventing it from airing.

In June 1970, after 600 people petitioned the WFAA radio station in Dallas, Texas to quit playing songs with drug lyrics or face a boycott of their sponsors, Charlie Van, director of programming, withdrew any songs with pro-drug lyrics. Elsewhere, Rick Sklar, program director of WABC radio in New York city, stated that his station would not play songs dealing with drugs, “because even if the song is supposedly anti-drug, it tends to glorify the subject.”

In December 1970, the Illinois Crime Commission issued a list of “drug-oriented” rock songs. Among those on the Illinois list were: “White Rabbit,” for “extolling the kicks provided by LSD and other psychedelics;” “Hi-De-Ho” by Blood Sweat & Tears, for the “joys of smoking marijuana;” “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum, for lyrics related to the “mind-bending characteristics of the psychedelics;” and The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” since the initial letters of this song’s title formed the word “LSD,” and the song itself “depicts the pleasure of LSD.” But the real kicker in the list was “Puff The Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul & Mary – the song that mentions little Jackie Paper and his imaginary Dragon friend and playmate, Puff. Yes, that song was listed by the Illinois commission with regard to “smoking marijuana and hashish”.

In other cases, artists were dropped from record labels. Billboard magazine reported in November 1970 that “MGM Records president Mike Curb has dropped 18 acts who, in his opinion, promote and exploit hard drugs through music.” At the time, Curb was reportedly alarmed by the drug-related deaths of several rock stars.

Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane in recording studio.
Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane in recording studio.
And yes, around the time of the Nixon Administration’s “drugs-and-rock-music” crusade, there were untimely deaths of prominent rock musicians in which drugs were implicated as the known or suspected cause. Among the departed were: Alan Wilson, lead singer and composer for the group Canned Heat, died September 3, 1970 of a barbiturate overdose; rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, died September 18, 1970 of suspected heroin overdose; blues/rock singer Janis Joplin, died on October 4, 1970 of suspected heroin overdose; and in the following year, on July 3, 1971, Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, died in Paris of a an accidental heroin overdose. Meanwhile, Grace Slick, for her part, had made some effort to offer a word of caution to her listeners, if only in a small way. She wrote some alternative “White Rabbit” lyrics for a public service radio commercial for Do It Now, a California organization sponsoring the message, designed to prevent drug abuse. The alternate wording Slick used for a “White Rabbit” ad were: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small / But if you shoot speed, you won’t get there at all, because you’ll be dead.”


Cover of Grace Slick’s 1998 rock-and- roll memoir, "Somebody To Love?" w/ Andrea Cagan.
Cover of Grace Slick’s 1998 rock-and- roll memoir, "Somebody To Love?" w/ Andrea Cagan.
Linkletter Names Slick

Some years later, on a 1977 TV show, when drug guru Timothy Leary appeared as an interview guest, Art Linkletter, who happened to be in the viewing audience, made a long telephone call-in comment on that show attacking Leary and also naming Grace Slick. Leary took the brunt of Linkletter’s excoriating remarks about leading young people into drugs, but he also blamed others, including Grace Slick, poet Alan Ginsburg, and Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception – “all of whom,” Linkletter said during his call, “were promoting the glories of drug abuse in what was a drug world.”

Grace Slick also happened to see the show, and as she would later say in her 1998 book, Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir:

“…When I heard Linkletter accuse me, I tried to call the station. I wondered how many celebrities who’d been paid to pitch alcohol had been accused of the millions of traffic deaths attributable to alcohol over the years. Probably none. I wanted to talk to the man, to remind him of the more serious alcohol situation and the hypocrisy associated with it, but the lines [phone lines to the TV show] were jammed with other people who had their own opinions. I suppose Linkletter’s grief would have prevented him from really listening to me anyway…”

Cover art for a “White Rabbit” single.
Cover art for a “White Rabbit” single.
The song, “White Rabbit,” however, would continue to meet with occasional controversy even some years after the Nixon/Linkletter drug wars. In one community in Missouri, for example, a high school marching band in the late 1990s was ordered to stop playing ‘White Rabbit,’ the action upheld by a federal district court. Fort Zummwalt school superintendent, Bernard J DuBray ordered the song removed from the band’s halftime program in September 1998 saying “it’s almost an anthem for the drug culture.” A group os 14 students from Fort Zumwalt North High School in O’Fallon, Missouri had filed a lawsuit asking the district court to restore the song to its playlist, but were turned down.In 1998, one Missouri high school ordered “White Rabbit” removed from the school’s marching band halftime program, citing the song as “almost an anthem for the drug culture.” What made this a curious case, in part, was the fact that the marching band did not use the lyrics of the song, and only played it as an instrumental.

Grace Slick, meanwhile, has stood her ground over the years on why she wrote the song. In a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal, she was asked if “White Rabbit” was metaphor for drugs. “Not exactly,” she replied. “It’s about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity. Alice follows him wherever he goes. He leads her to drugs, though, and that’s why the song was written…” But then, as something of a defense on her writing the song, Slick adds: “…Hey, all major children’s books do this. In “Peter Pan,” sparkle dust lets you fly. In the “Wizard of Oz,” they awaken in a poppy field to see the beautiful Emerald City. Our parents read us stories about chemicals that make it possible to have a good time.” Slick would also say that part of her intended audience for “White Rabbit” were the parents who read those stories to their kids – parents who at the time, wondered why their adolescent children were then using drugs.

Unknown artist (not Grace Slick?) offering some characters and expressions from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Unknown artist (not Grace Slick?) offering some characters and expressions from “Alice in Wonderland.”
However, on the matter of LSD, Slick seems to have mellowed a bit on that front. In her 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal, and answering the question: “What was Jefferson Airplane’s obsession with LSD?,” Slick explained: “LSD was new then. It opened up our heads and gave us new insight into the fact that reality isn’t just one thing. That excited us. But it’s also terrifying if your head isn’t in the right place. So in hindsight, our advocating for LSD was kind of dangerous.”

Slick’s career with the Jefferson Airplane continued through the 1970s and 1980s, as the group changed its name twice – to Jefferson Starship and then Starship – and also went through several changes in personnel and musical style (Slick also left for a time between June 1978 and January 1981).

Still, during these years, the group had another 17 songs that charted in the Top 40, including two Top Ten hits – “Miracles” (#3, 1975) and “Count on Me” (#8, 1978) – and two No. 1 hits – “We Built This City” (November 1985), and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (April 1987).

During these years, however, Grace Slick had her personal demons, with alcohol becoming a particular problem for her, leading to DUI arrests, blown concert dates, abusive behavior toward fans, and periods in alcohol rehab. In recent years, she has conquered her alcohol problem, remaining sober for nearly two decades.

Artist Grace Slick at work, circa 2006 or so.
Artist Grace Slick at work, circa 2006 or so.
After retiring from the rock scene in 1989, Grace Slick began something of a second career drawing and painting. Among her works are Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired paintings, a number of which feature white rabbits in various settings, with and without Alice. Some of her work appears in the pages of her 1998 autobiography, Somebody to Love? In recent years, she has joined forces with Area Arts of Santa Rosa, California to help market her work, and she had her first exhibition in 2000. Her work has appeared in shows all across the U.S. In 2006, the popularity of her “Alice in Wonderland” works led to a partnership with Dark Horse Comics, Inc. that resulted in the release of stationery and journals with the “Wonderland” motif. She has also done some album art as well as portraits of Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Pete Townsend, Sting, and other musicians. Samples of her work can be viewed at the Area Arts website.

Poster announcing art works of Grace Slick.
Poster announcing art works of Grace Slick.
Still, for Grace Slick the lead singer of the 1960s Jefferson Airplane, it is the two hit songs of that era which remain the prominent musical milestones. “Somebody to Love” is ranked No. 274 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” while “White Rabbit” is ranked No. 478 on that same list. Both songs have also been used in soundtracks for several Hollywood films and TV movies. “White Rabbit” has been used in more than two dozen TV and Hollywood films, including Vietnam War-era films Platoon (1986), and Coming Home (1978), the latter starring Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern. It is also used in The Game (1997), starring Michael Douglas and in The Soprano’s TV series. “Somebody to Love” is heard in the 1998 film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and also in the prologue of the 1998 TV film, A Bright Shining Lie, about the Vietnam War.

See also at this website, “Joplin’s Shooting Star: 1966-1970,” a profile of Janis Joplin’s life and music career; “Joni’s Music: 1962-2000s,” a profile of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell; and, “Legend of a Mind: Timothy Leary & LSD,” a story that uses a Moody Blues song as an introductory segue into a short history of Leary’s travels from Harvard to the San Francisco drug scene and the counterculture history of that era.

Additional stories profiling songs, musicians, and songwriters can be found at the “Annals of Music” page, and see also the “Politics & Culture” page for more stories in that category. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please help support the research and writing at this website with a donation. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 31 December 2015
Last Update: 30 January 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “White Rabbit: Grace Slick: 1960s-1970s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, December 31, 2015.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Grace Slick and David Miner from The Great Society group in an early recording session, 1965–1966.
Grace Slick and David Miner from The Great Society group in an early recording session, 1965–1966.
Dick Clark interviewing Grace Slick after Jefferson Airplane performance, American Bandstand, June 5, 1967.
Dick Clark interviewing Grace Slick after Jefferson Airplane performance, American Bandstand, June 5, 1967.
Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick on cover of Rolling Stone, 12 November 1970, featured in interview.
Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick on cover of Rolling Stone, 12 November 1970, featured in interview.
Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, possibly 1969-1970.
Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, possibly 1969-1970.
Grace Slick & Janis Joplin clowning.
Grace Slick & Janis Joplin clowning.
Rolling Stone, January 1st, 1976 cover story: “Kantner, Slick & Balin of Jefferson Starship: The Miracle Rockers Who Turn Old Airplane Parts into Gold.”
Rolling Stone, January 1st, 1976 cover story: “Kantner, Slick & Balin of Jefferson Starship: The Miracle Rockers Who Turn Old Airplane Parts into Gold.”
Undated, unattributed photo of Grace Slick, possibly late 1960s-early 1970s.
Undated, unattributed photo of Grace Slick, possibly late 1960s-early 1970s.
Book cover for “ Grace Slick, The Biography,” by Barbara Rowes, Doubleday, 1980, 215 pp.
Book cover for “ Grace Slick, The Biography,” by Barbara Rowes, Doubleday, 1980, 215 pp.
March 1980: Grace Slick during interview with John Roszak for San Francisco PBS-TV “Evening Edition” at station KQED.  Click for outtakes video.
March 1980: Grace Slick during interview with John Roszak for San Francisco PBS-TV “Evening Edition” at station KQED. Click for outtakes video.

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AP, “TV, Radio Stations Told They Must Mute the Drug Music Beat,” Gadsden Times (Gasden, Alabama), March 6, 1971, p. 1

Michael J. Reilly, “Stations Warned About Drug Songs; Licenses Threatened,” Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), March 8, 1971, p. 7-A.

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Ben Fong-Torres, “Radio: One Toke Behind the Line,” Rolling Stone, April 15, 1971.

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Richard Nixon, “Campaign Statement About Crime and Drug Abuse,” October 28, 1972, at: Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

“They Called Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship the Acid Queen, But Her Real Battle Is With the Bottle,” People, August 28, 1978, Vol. 10 No. 9

Barbara Rowes, Grace Slick: The Biography, Doubleday, 1980, 215pp.

“John Roszak Interviews Grace Slick” (for Evening Edition, KQED-PBS-TV), March 1980 (KQED 16mm film outtakes featuring scenes of John Roszak interviewing singer and songwriter Grace Slick).

Susan C. Boyd, Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the U.S., Routledge, December 2007, 262 pp.

Linda Martin, Kerry Segrave, Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Da Capo Press, 1993, 374pp.

Grace Slick with Andrea Cagan, Somebody to Love? A Rock-and-Roll Memoir, New York: Warner Books, 1998, 370 pp.

Alex Kuczynski, “White Rabbit: Grace Slick Recounts Her Life Before, During and After Jefferson Airplane,” New York Times (Review of Somebody to Love), September 20, 1998.

Associated Press (St. Louis), “Marching Band Loses Halftime Appeal,” The Southeast Missourian, (Cape Girardeau, MO), October 25, 1998, p. 13-A.

Associated Press (AP), Missouri Today, “School Can Order Marching Band To Stop Playing ‘White Rabbit’,” The Nevada Daily Mail (Missouri), April 29, 1999.

Ken Tucker, Knight Ridder Newspapers, “Slick’s Career Spans 20 Years,” Lewiston Herald, April 13, 1987.

Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times News Service, “‘Platoon’ is a Hit at The Record Stores,” Gainesville Sun (Florida), April 24, 1987.

Sue Kovach Shuman, “At 67, Grace Is Still Slick,” Washington Post, January 28, 2007.

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“Somebody to Love,” Jim Marshall Photo-graphy, September 22, 2011.

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David Browne, “Grace Slick’s Festival Memories: Fearing Orgies and Getting Lit; Jefferson Airplane Singer Recalls Her First Experiences Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont,” Rolling Stone, May 23, 2014.

Dave Swanson “45 Years Ago: Grace Slick Plans to Dose President Richard Nixon With LSD,” UltimateClassicRock.com, April 24, 2015.

_________________________________________






“Sinatra Stories”
1940s-1980s

Teen Idol Years

“The Sinatra Riots”

1942-1944

Bobbysoxer hysteria
provides career boost
for teen sensation.

Annals of Music

“Summer Wind”

1966

Profile of a classic
Sinatra song & a Gay
Talese Esquire piece.

Politics & Celebrity

“The Jack Pack”

Pt.1: 1958-60

Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack”
cavort with & campaign for
JFK in his White House bid.

Politics & Celebrity

“The Jack Pack”

Pt. 2: 1961-64

Good times JFK Inaugural
is followed by some falling
out and tragic endings.

Frank & Mia

“Mia’s Metamorphoses”

1966-2010

Mia Farrow’s story
includes a marriage
to Frank Sinatra.

Sport & Celebrity

“Ali, Frazier, Sinatra…”

Boxing & Culture

“Photographer Frank”
hovers at ringside for
1971 Ali-Frazier bout.

Frank & Ava

“Ava Gardner”

1940s-1950s

Feisty Hollywood beauty
became the love
of Frank’s life.

Hard Knocks Music

“Sinatra: Cycles”

1968

The ‘Chairman’ brings his
wee-hours style to
a “that’s life” song.

 

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Date Posted: 2 December 2015
Last Update: 2 December 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Sinatra Stories: 1940s-1980s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, December 2, 2015.

_______________________________________________

 






“Magazine History”
Topics Page: 18 Stories

Cover Art & Politics

“FDR & Vanity Fair”

1930s

Magazine cover art &
caricature during Franklin
Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Magazines & Civil Rights

“Rockwell & Race”

1963-1968

Norman Rockwell’s art
went well beyond The
Saturday Evening Post
.

Magazines & Culture

“Ali, Frazier, Sinatra…”

Boxing & Culture

Magazines fed the hype
around the Ali-Frazier
match of March 1971.

Magazines & Culture

“American Bandstand”

1956-2007

TV Guide’s owner also
owned Bandstand’s TV
station & Seventeen.

Magazine History

Newsweek Sold!”

1961-2012

Newsweek as a Washington
Post
property, subsequent
sale, and its final years.

Sports Magazines

“All Sports All the Time”

1978-2008

ESPN Magazine is
part of the “all-sports”
network story.

Magazine Ads & Art

“Remington’s West”

1959

A John Hancock Co.
“history series” ad page:
Frederic Remington, artist.

Magazine Ads & Art

“Christy Mathewson”

Hancock Ad: 1958

Baseball star of 1900s
appears in “historic
figures” ad campaign.

Cultural Powerhouse

“Empire Newhouse”

1920s-2012

From Vanity Fair to The
New Yorker
, Newhouse
is a magazine power.

The TV Magazine

“Lucy & TV Guide”

1953-2013

“I Love Lucy” and
TV Guide helped each
other & TV culture.

Magazine Cover Art

“Rosie The Riveter”

1942-1945

Norman Rockwell’s Saturday
Evening Post cover
becomes iconic symbol.

Magazine Cover Art

“One Good Shot…”

Gisele’s Covers

A Gisele Bündchen cover
photo has repeated use
around the world.

Magazine Mogul, Too

“Murdoch’s NY Deals”

1976-1977

New York Magazine
was a key property in
Murdoch’s NY raid.

Magazine Illustrator

“Falter’s Art, Rising”

1940s-1960s

John Falter’s art work
for The Sat Eve Post
included 129 covers.

Photoplay & Hollywood

“Pearl White”

1910s-1920s

A daredevil heroine
of the silent screen
becomes a big star.

Photoplay & Hollywood

“Talkie Terror”

Late 1920s

Silent film stars & all of Hollywood faced the perils
of a new technology.

Magazine Supermodel

“The Most Beautiful Girl”

1993-2012

Gisele Bündchen becomes
modeling sensation &
sought-after cover girl.

Magazine Art & Culture

“U.S. Post Office”

1950s-2011

Magazine art from the
1950s helps frame today’s
“postal values” fight.


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this Website

Donate Now

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Date Posted: 14 November 2015
Last Update: 14 November 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Magazine History — Topics Page: 18 Stories,”
PopHistoryDig.com, November 14, 2015.

_______________________________________________







“Ali, Frazier, Sinatra, et al.”
Boxing & Culture: 1970s

March 16th, 1971 edition of Life magazine with cover photo and feature story on the historic Joe Frazier (L) -Muhammad Ali (R) fight. Photo taken by Frank Sinatra.
March 16th, 1971 edition of Life magazine with cover photo and feature story on the historic Joe Frazier (L) -Muhammad Ali (R) fight. Photo taken by Frank Sinatra.
It was another one of those “fights of the century,” as boxing promoters and the media so like to hype the big showdown battles between heavyweight contenders. In this case though, there was some basis for the hype as two titanic powers were about to square off: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

But this fight was more than just a major boxing match for the world title. No, this match was also freighted with the social and political angst then eating at the nation — namely, civil rights and the Vietnam War.

The year was 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The No. 1 songs in January and February that year were “My Sweet Lord” / “Isn’t It a Pity” by former Beatle George Harrison; “Knock Three Times” by Dawn; and “One Bad Apple” by The Osmonds. At the box office, the Hollywood film, “Love Story,” starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, was setting sales records as the No. 1 film through early March that year. On television, the landmark sitcom “All in the Family,” starring Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, made its debut on CBS. In the Super Bowl that year, played on January 17th, Baltimore beat Dallas,16-13.

But the big event in sports in the early part of 1971 was the scheduled 15 round heavyweight boxing championship match between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. That bout was set for March 8th at New York city’s Madison Square Garden. Joe Frazier, with a record of 26–0, was the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. The challenger that night was Muhammad Ali with a record of 31–0.

Poster for the March 1971 World Heavyweight Champion-ship fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
Poster for the March 1971 World Heavyweight Champion-ship fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
But the backstory leading up to this fight fed into the much anticipated showdown, truly making it one of the most significant bouts in boxing history. Ali had actually won the title seven years earlier, in February 1964, when he beat Sonny Liston in Miami Beach. Thereafter, he successfully defended the title for the next three years.

However, in March 1967, Ali had his championship title stripped away by boxing authorities for his refusal to be inducted for U.S. military service. Ali had claimed it was against his religion to participate in war. He had also made earlier public statements in 1966 on the war and why he would not go:

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied human rights? No, I am not going…to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over…”

Then Cassius Clay, before his title was stripped,  in his 2nd victory over Sonny Liston, 1965.
Then Cassius Clay, before his title was stripped, in his 2nd victory over Sonny Liston, 1965.
In June 1967 Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000. He paid a bond and remained free while the verdict was appealed. But Ali, then 25, was effectively a champ without a ring, losing his license to fight in many states, and in effect, forced into a three-year layoff during the prime of his career while he battled the federal government and state boxing commissions.

Ali did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970, with two exceptions – an October 1970 bout against Jerry Quarry which he won in three rounds, that fight made possible by an Atlanta, Georgia judge’s grant of a licence, and a December 1970 bout with Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden which he also won in 15 rounds having regained his New York boxing license after a federal court ordered it reinstated. With the December 1970 win over Bonavena, Ali was then the prime contender to meet Frazier in a championship bout.

Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali feuding for the cameras (and for real), separated by NY State Athletic Commission’s Edwin Dooley at Dec 30 1970 news conference. AP photo.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali feuding for the cameras (and for real), separated by NY State Athletic Commission’s Edwin Dooley at Dec 30 1970 news conference. AP photo.
Joe Frazier, the gritty boxer from Philadelphia known as “Smokin’ Joe,” had, in Ali’s absence from the ring, gained the heavyweight championship title with victories over Jimmy Ellis (Feb 1970) and Buster Mathis (Nov 1970).

Frazier was known as a ferocious fighter with a powerful left hook. According to one account of Frazier’s decisive win over Ellis, he delivered “a frightening display of power and tenacity.” Frazier by then was recognized by boxing authorities as the World Champion. So, in the months between the scheduling of the March 1971 match with Ali – agreed to in December 1970 – and during the run up to that fight in early 1971, there was a tremendous amount of hype and anticipation as to who was the true heavyweight champ. Both Frazier and Ali were then undefeated.

Frank Sinatra 1, Ali-Frazier fight, 8 March 1971.
Frank Sinatra 1, Ali-Frazier fight, 8 March 1971.
Frank Sinatra 2, Ali-Frazier fight, 8 March 1971.
Frank Sinatra 2, Ali-Frazier fight, 8 March 1971.
Frank Sinatra 3, Ali-Frazier fight, 8 March 1971.
Frank Sinatra 3, Ali-Frazier fight, 8 March 1971.

Celebrity Frank

Frank Sinatra figures into this story as a boxing fan and amateur photographer – and also, of course, by his own high powered celebrity. The famous singer and Hollywood actor — whose last hit song at the time, “My Way,” reached the Top 40 in 1969 – had stated earlier in 1971 that he was planning to retire that year, possibly by June, after he completed a charity event. But that March, Sinatra was keen to get a ringside seat for the Ali-Frazier fight, but few were available. One report had it that he made a deal with Life magazine to do some photography for them at the Ali-Frazier fight, which would give him more or less free license to roam around up close to the action. But in the introduction to Life’s March 16th, 1971 edition reporting on the fight, managing editor Ralph Graves explained in an “editor’s note” column how the magazine came to use both Sinatra and writer Norman Mailer beyond its own reporters and photographers. On Sinatra’s role, contrary to some other stories at the time, here’s how Graves described it:

…For our pictures of the action, we were relying on the magazine pool photographers at ringside, especially Sport’s Illustrated’s Neil Leifer and Tony Triolo, who delivered outstanding pictures. But it never hurts to have a horseshoe in your glove. Six years ago staff writer Tommy Thompson and photographer John Dominis were doing a story on Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was fascinated by Dominis’ equipment and admitted he had been interested in taking pictures for 20 years. Shortly before the fight Tommy learned that Sinatra had wangled himself a ringside seat and was going to take pictures with a battery of cameras. Tommy went to work wangling Sinatra into letting us have a look at his film. We didn’t expect to get anything the professional photographers didn’t have, but it might be worth inspecting. Indeed, Sinatra wound up getting the cover, a memorable full-spread picture [inside the magazine] (yes, he held his camera at that angle on purpose), and two other shots in our story. We are offering him a job…

On the cover of the March 16th, 1971 edition, shown at the top of this article, there was a special credit line at the very bottom which read: “Cover Photograph By Frank Sinatra.” So, not only did this edition of Life magazine have the value of the Ali-Frazier sports celebrity as a selling point, it also had the added cache of Sinatra’s involvement and Norman Mailer’s prose. Sinatra took photos throughout the night, as others took photos of him doing his work. He became as much a diversion for some fans and news photographers as did the main contenders. Or as one observer would later put it, “Frank Sinatra was the third most photographed person that night.” Mailer’s reporting and Sinatra’s photos – at least four of the latter– would appear together in Life magazine’s nine-page spread on the fight.

March 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden, NY, NY: Frank Sinatra, on assignment with Life magazine to cover the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali World Heavyweight Championship fight, is a popular subject himself, as others snap away.
March 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden, NY, NY: Frank Sinatra, on assignment with Life magazine to cover the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali World Heavyweight Championship fight, is a popular subject himself, as others snap away.


Backstory: The Fighters

Before Muhammad Ali was Muhammad Ali, he was known as Cassius Clay, a young boxer from Louisville, Kentucky who developed a dazzling style in the ring. In 1960, as an 18 year-old, he had won the Olympic light heavyweight title. That fall, he turned pro at 18 with the backing of some Louisville businessmen. From October 1960 to June 1963, Cassius Clay won all 19 bouts he entered, a few with some difficulty, notably Doug Jones and Henry Cooper, the latter of whom knocked him down once with a left hook. And it was during these years that Ali became something of a non-stop talker, self-promoter, and boxing poet, proclaiming himself “the greatest” and often predicting in rhyme the round he would beat opponents. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” was a favorite line he used to define his light-of-foot /quick punching style, mocking all comers. The boxing world and the sports media hadn’t seen anything like him.

March 22, 1963: Time cover depicting boxer Cassius Clay also as something of a playful street poet.
March 22, 1963: Time cover depicting boxer Cassius Clay also as something of a playful street poet.
June 1963: Then Cassius Clay, tagged the “Louisville Lip” in this piece, on his way to fight Henry Cooper.
June 1963: Then Cassius Clay, tagged the “Louisville Lip” in this piece, on his way to fight Henry Cooper.

Yet this “Cassius Clay” fellow was attracting wide attention wherever he went, for himself and boxing.

By March 1963, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine in a rendition by artist Boris Chaliapin who sought to capture Clay’s “playful mischievousness,” portraying him as part boxing poet. Inside the magazine, Clay was profiled in a favorable five-page story.

That was followed by a June 10th, 1963 Sports Illustrated cover of the young boxer tagged, “Cassius Invades Britain.” Clay was then on his way to fight Great Britain’s Henry Cooper in London.

These stories included Clay’s self-boasting quips, with Sports Illustrated tagging him “The Louisville Lip.” It was a style that would bring him media attention and endear him to many of his fans, while at the same time repulsing the conservative boxing world and his opponents, as well as many sportswriters and boxing fans.

But along with his boasts and bravado, there was real athletic ability and boxing talent. “He had incredibly fast hands and cat-like reflexes,” noted sportswriter Michael Silver. “His handsome face was rarely hit” – a point of pride he would often repeat in press conferences.

Cassius Clay also had a serious side, and was a early follower and friend of Malcolm X, then a Black Muslim. A big turning point for Clay came when he beat Sonny Liston in February 1964 to win the world heavyweight boxing crown.

After his victory over Liston, Cassius Clay denounced his “slave name” and became a Black Muslim, a little known black separatist movement that practiced the religion of Islam, advocating self help for African Americans. He soon began using his new Muslim name — Muhammad Ali. He made clear at the time he would not be treated the way that other black heavyweight champs had been treated. Some of his black opponents, including Joe Frazier, refused to call him by his new name, while the boxing establishment hoped his stay at the top of boxing would be brief.

But Clay – now Muhammad Ali – became a boxing superstar following the Liston fight, as a new round of publicity elevated him to international celebrity. Life magazine put him on the cover of their magazine – not only for its domestic issue of March 6, 1964, with six pages of coverage from the Liston fight, but also in later issues using the same photo and some of the same content. Life’s international issue of May 30th, 1966, circulating in dozens of countries, ran him on the cover, as did some Life special national issues, such as its Spanish edition of July 1966.

March 1964: Sport magazine.
March 1964: Sport magazine.
May 1965: Ali and Liston.
May 1965: Ali and Liston.
May 1966: Life Int’l edition.
May 1966: Life Int’l edition.
August 1966: Patterson & Ali.
August 1966: Patterson & Ali.

Meanwhile, from 1965 to 1967 Ali defended his title against all comers – winning nine bouts, including a rematch with Liston in 1965, a fight that yielded the famous photo of Ali standing defiantly over a knocked down Liston.

Ali’s views on the Vietnam war, his religion and the black race were part of the territory he covered in public – and he received a degree of scorn for speaking out.

But one fighter, Floyd Patterson, who Ali had fought and beaten in November 1965 — a fighter who did not agree with Ali’s views — but nonetheless lent his name and image and support on behalf of Ali’s right to free speech in an August 1966 Esquire magazine cover and feature story. That piece was written with Gay Talese and entitled, “In Defense of Cassius Clay.” Ali’s press coverage by this time went well beyond the usual sports venues.

In the ring during these years, Ali was in a class by himself, few could touch him. But by the time he refused the call of Uncle Sam to serve in the military, the country was split right down the middle over the Vietnam War, and he became part of the controversy and polarization. In 1967, when he refused the draft, hundreds of thousands of Americans were doing service in the jungles of Vietnam. Nearly 30,000 had been killed by then. The champ was denounced as a draft dodger; congressmen vilified him, others questioned his patriotism and his motives.

Racial issues were also coming to the fore in new ways while Ali was making his stand. Racial unrest had broken out in Los Angeles in 1965; in Newark, New Jersey, Detroit, Michigan, and a dozen other cities in 1967; and in April 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, protest and unrest occurred in more than 100 cities. The Black Power movement had begun by then as well. African American athletes at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City in 1968 had given the black power salute from the medals podium, and also that summer, the James Brown song, “Say It Loud, Say it Proud,” hit No. 1 on the R& B music chart.

April 1968: Cover of Esquire.
April 1968: Cover of Esquire.
May 1969: Sports Illustrated.
May 1969: Sports Illustrated.
Nov 9th, 1970: “...He’s Back.”
Nov 9th, 1970: “...He’s Back.”
Nov 9th, 1970: Newsweek.
Nov 9th, 1970: Newsweek.

Ali, meanwhile, continued to be featured on magazine covers – for Esquire in 1968 and Sports Illustrated in May 1969. Esquire, courtesy of its art director George Lois, did a classic cover for its April 1968 issue, featuring Ali in a Saint Sebastian pose with puncturing arrows in his body, with head thrown back as if in great pain ( St. Sebastian was a early Christian martyr shown in some classic paintings tied to a post and shot with multiple arrows). As George Lois would in fact explain to Ali while lobbying him for the photo shoot as an arrow-riddled martyr – “…And what I am saying is that you are a martyr to your race, you are a martyr because of the war. It’s a combination of race, religion, and war in one image, you’re symbolizing it in one image.” For the May 5, 1969 issue of Sports Illustrated Ali was depicted in a cover shot draped in royal garb complete with kingly crown as the tagline asked, “Clay-Ali: Once and Future King?.” The feature story pondered the future of the 27 year-old boxing champion, then in a kind of limbo while he appealed his conviction. Then, in 1970, when an Atlanta judge allowed him to face Jerry Quarry in his first return to the ring, his fans were ecstatic. Life and Newsweek put him on November 1970 covers. And after his fight with Quarry, he was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Medal and Mrs. Coretta King said that he was not just a champion of boxing but “a champion of truth, peace and unity.” For his fans and admirers, Ali was carrying a lot of hopes and expectations. And this too, figured into the background leading up to the Frazier-Ali fight in March 1971.

Joe Frazier, for his part, was almost the complete opposite of Ali, quiet and hard working, not inclined toward social statement. Nor did he have the celebrity cache and media notice that Ali had accumulated. Born into a poor family on a farm in rural South Carolina, Joe Frazier was the youngest of 12 children. As a married 16 year-old in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he worked in a slaughterhouse. That was about when he took up boxing for exercise, as he had begun to gain weight. He was discovered trying to lose weight boxing at a Philadelphia Police Athletic League gym. He soon became a recognized amateur, winning three Golden Gloves titles. In 1964, he added the Olympic heavyweight championship gold medal. Upon his return from the Olympics, however, there was no money, and he took a job as a janitor in a Baptist church of North Philadelphia. There, the pastor happened to have some wealthy friends, among them F. Bruce Baldwin, executive of the Horn & Hardart restaurant chain who helped set up financing for Frazier’s boxing career. He was 21.

Heavyweight boxing champ, Joe Frazier, in 1971. By this time he had a 26-0 record, with 23 KOs; shown here posing by “victory party” poster after final public workout in Philadelphia, March 6, 1971.  AP photo/Bill Ingraham.
Heavyweight boxing champ, Joe Frazier, in 1971. By this time he had a 26-0 record, with 23 KOs; shown here posing by “victory party” poster after final public workout in Philadelphia, March 6, 1971. AP photo/Bill Ingraham.

Over the next five years, he compiled a fearsome record or 26 and 0, winning 23 of his bouts by knockout. In the ring Frazier developed a reputation for his devastating left hook. Boxing analysts called him “a pure puncher.” He would come at opponents relentlessly, in a low and forward moving crouch. His bobbing and weaving could sometimes disguise his left hook, that could catch opponents by surprise. Outside of the ring, Frazier was described by sportswriter Michael Silver as “a decent, hardworking, law abiding, church going family man, who was too busy trying to support his growing family to get involved in any causes.” But ahead of the famous March 1971 fight, Frazier was also drawn into the soci-political currents of the times.


January 28, 1971: Muhammad Ali, with a small crowd behind him, appears outside Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia, PA to taunt him. Photo, Associated Press.
January 28, 1971: Muhammad Ali, with a small crowd behind him, appears outside Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia, PA to taunt him. Photo, Associated Press.

The Backdrop

Ali, as he had done with other opponents and part of his stage act and clowning for the media, would taunt Frazier incessantly. He called Frazier names – some of which cut Frazier to the quick, and for which he could never quite forgive Ali. Frazier was ignorant, said Ali at one point, and he likened him to a gorilla. He also used “chump,” “impostor,” “amateur” and “tramp” to describe him from time to time. Ali also said Frazier’s black supporters – and Frazier himself – were “Uncle Toms,” black code for being subservient and/or sucking up to the white man.

Yet, before all the name calling, Frazier had done what he could to help Ali, reportedly lending him some money during his suspension, testifying in Congress, and petitioning President Richard Nixon to have Ali’s boxing license reinstated. Ali, in fact, had come to Frazier, seeking help to get his license back. Among other things, he told Frazier that once reinstated, an Ali-Frazier match would make them both rich. As Frazier would later recount to Sports Illustrated: “He’d come to the gym and call me on the telephone. He just wanted to work with me for the publicity so he could get his license back. One time, after the Ellis fight [i.e., after Feb 1970], I drove him from Philadelphia to New York City in my car. Me and him. We talked about how much we were going to make out of our fight. We were laughin’ and havin’ fun. We were friends, we were great friends. I said, ‘Why not? Come on, man, let’s do it!’ He was a brother. He called me Joe, ‘Hey, Smokin’ Joe!’ In New York we were gonna put on this commotion.”

March 1st, 1971. Colorful pre-fight edition of Sports Illustrated, with Ali-Frazier cover art by artist Robert Handville.
March 1st, 1971. Colorful pre-fight edition of Sports Illustrated, with Ali-Frazier cover art by artist Robert Handville.
But Frazier soon became astonished at how quickly Ali pirouetted into something less than a friend once he got his license back, then going into his full media act, demeaning Frazier in the run up to their fight. By then, Frazier was boiling inside over the indignities. And beyond the personal matters, Frazier and Ali also became symbols of the larger societal issues of the day – namely, the Vietnam War and the ongoing civil rights struggle. These issues became part of the backdrop for the fight and a kind of national referendum, with folks taking sides whether they were boxing fans or not. As Michael Arkush, author of The Fight of the Century (2007) would later put it:

…The fight was about much more than two men dueling for the undisputed world heavyweight crown. It was about two men representing vastly different versions of our nation in turmoil. With American troops still waging a lost war in Southeast Asia, Ali symbolized a strong challenge to the status quo while Frazier was seen by many as the embodiment of those who were clinging to the past. No doubt these perceptions were way too simplistic, and unfair, especially to Frazier, but they were another example of how much the country was looking for a way to define itself, and its future.

In the boxing world too, the anti-Ali crowd had found their man in Frazier, even though he was not keen on being anyone’s symbol or cause célèbre. Frazier was content to be himself and nothing more. “I often felt bad for Joe,” photographer John Shearer would tell Life.com in later years, recalling the weeks and months he spent with both fighters before the March 1971 bout. “He was completely miscast as the bad guy in the fight. In so many of the pictures I made of him that winter, when he’s with friends and relaxed, there’s something genuinely charming there — but something in his face suggests that if you scratched the surface, you’d find a world of other feelings.”

Meanwhile, breathing fire into the upcoming March 1971 showdown between the two fighters was the media coverage and the hype of fight promoters.

Life magazine’s March 5th, 1971 edition, ahead of historic first Ali-Frazier fight in NY.
Life magazine’s March 5th, 1971 edition, ahead of historic first Ali-Frazier fight in NY.
Time magazine’s March 8th, 1971 pre-fight edition, “The ,000,000 Fighters.”
Time magazine’s March 8th, 1971 pre-fight edition, “The ,000,000 Fighters.”

Mainstream magazines such as Life and Time had run cover stories featuring the fighters the week prior to the bout. Life ran its feature story on March 5th with the cover tagline, “Battle of the Champs,” with the fighters shown on the cover decked out in handsome formal wear. Life’s ten-page feature story by Thomas Thompson, “The Battle of the Undefeated Giants,” included photos of both the fighters by Life photographer John Shearer showing them in training and other contexts.

Thompson’s piece included background on, and quotes from, each fighter. Ali, in keeping with his loquacious ways, did not disappoint, telling Thompson at one point: “There’s not a man alive who can whup me. I’m too fast… I’m too smart… I ‘m too pretty…I am the greatest. I am the king.”

Of Frazier, Thompson wrote: “There is a confidence bordering on serenity about Frazier.” His article noted that Frazier was a religious man, read the Bible regularly, and showed him in one photo at a church service with his son Marvis. Another showed him on his daily 6 a.m., six-mile training run with his dog at his training camp, and also noted Frazier’s stage presence and more friendly nature working with his soul and R&B singing group, “Joe Frazier & The Knockouts.”

Time magazine’s pre-fight edition of March 8th, 1971 included an artist’s rendering of the two fighters’ faces on the cover beneath the tagline, “The $5,000,000 Fighters,” alluding to the $2.5 million guaranteed each fighter for their meeting at Madison Square Garden (at the time, the most money ever paid to anyone for a few hours of work). Even though Ali and Frazier were highlighted for the money they would make, the promoter of the fight, then 40 year-old Jerry Perenchio, a California theatrical agent whose clients included Richard Burton, Any Williams, Johnny Mathis, and Henry Mancini, would wind up with even more money – something on the order of $20 million to $30 million. Closed-circuit TV venues were set for 350 locations in the U.S. accommodating some 1.7 million viewers at $10 to $30 per seat. (Still, given Ali’s conviction on draft evasion charges, there were more than 20 venues that opted out of the closed-circuit offering). More viewers would come from overseas locations. Perenchio also had the rights to the souvenir fight program, commercials, poster, and post-fight film. And finally, he also had plans to acquire for auction the trunks and boxing gloves used by Ali and Frazier during the fight. “If they can sell Judy Garland’s red Oz shoes [worn in the classic 19 __Wizard of Oz film] for $15,000,” Perenchio told Life magazine in March 1971, “then we should get at least as much for these.”

Joe Frazier during a break in training prior to the March 1971 title bout with Muhammad Ali.
Joe Frazier during a break in training prior to the March 1971 title bout with Muhammad Ali.
Time also quoted Ali offering some perspective on his larger motivations: “…My mission is to bring freedom to 30 million black people. I’ll win this fight because I’ve got a cause. Frazier has no cause. He’s in it for the money alone.” Yet Frazier might have proven to have been the more prescient of the fight’s outcome, summarizing how his attack on Ali might go, always calling him “Clay”:

…Clay can keep that pretty head, I don’t want it. What I’m going to do is try to pull them kidneys out. I’m going to be at where he lives—in the body. Then I’ll be in business, when I get smoking around the body. Watch him—he’ll be snatching his pretty head back and I’ll let him keep it. Until about the third or fourth round, and then there’ll be a difference. He won’t be able to take it to the body no more. Now he’ll start snatching his sore body away, and then the head will be leaning in. That’s when I’ll take his head, but then it won’t be pretty, or maybe he just won’t care.

One tidbit of political history that occurred on the night of the Ali-Frazier fight, though little-noticed at the time, was a most-significant break-in at FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania (and in fact, the nation’s preoccupation with the fight that night proved a helpful diversion to the burglers). A small group of independent activists known as The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, would remove suitcases-full of FBI files later distributed to selected press revealing the agency’s spying on American citizens and a lot more. Back in New York, meanwhile, in the main arena of Madison Square Garden, the big show was about to begin.


Garden Glitterati

On fight night, Madison Square Garden was full of the rich, famous and fashionable. Professional championship boxing matches in those years were still something of big social events where the literati and glitterati of all stripes came out to be part of the scene. African-American boxing fans attended the event wearing the latest fashions of the day, including long fur coats and top hats for some of the guys, and the latest mini fashion for the ladies.

Photograph by famous New York photojournalist Jean-Pierre Laffont, capturing the style and high fashion of some of those attending the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali championship fight at Madison Square Garden, NY, March 8, 1971.
Photograph by famous New York photojournalist Jean-Pierre Laffont, capturing the style and high fashion of some of those attending the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali championship fight at Madison Square Garden, NY, March 8, 1971.

Among notables in attendance at the Garden that night were: jazz musician Miles Davis, comedian Bill Cosby, singer Diana Ross, and actors Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. Bob Dylan was there too, and so were U.S. Senators Ted Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Artist LeRoy Neiman was there; he painted Ali and Frazier as they fought. Actor Burt Lancaster was positioned at ringside, serving as a commentator on the closed circuit TV coverage. Barbi Benton and Hugh Hefner came together. Eunice Shriver was there, and so was Hollywood dancer, Gene Kelly. Bert Sugar, boxing historian and commentator was there, as was future contender George Foreman, who would later fight both Frazier and Ali.

March 1971: Actors Paul Newman and Glenn Ford viewed the fight via closed-circuit TV in Beverly Hills, CA.
March 1971: Actors Paul Newman and Glenn Ford viewed the fight via closed-circuit TV in Beverly Hills, CA.
A sellout crowd of 20,455 packed the Garden. The overflow crowd – including some big names like Bing Crosby who couldn’t get into the main arena – were seated at closed circuit television locations like Radio City Music Hall. In fact, 6,500 seats there had sold out three weeks earlier. Virtually every other closed circuit location was also filled to capacity. Millions more – celebrities among them – watched on closed-circuit screens across the U.S. and around the world. Actors Paul Newman and Glen Ford (pictured at right) viewed the fight at a closed circuit screening in Beverly Hills. Elvis and Priscilla Presley did the same at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee. It was estimated that 300 million people around the globe had watched the fight. It was the largest audience ever for a television broadcast up to that time. More people had tuned into the fight than had watched the moon landing two years before.

In the lead up to the fight, Sports Illustrated had a featured cover story on its pre-fight edition titled, “The Slugger and The Boxer” (shown earlier above), which included some famous bouts from history, but for the current fight, described Ali as “a superb boxer” who was also “a mighty good puncher.” And in Joe Frazier, the magazine found “the very model of the relentlessly oncoming slugger.” The fight, said Sports Illustrated’s Martin Kane, “will surely rank with the classics.” At the time of the fight, Frazier was 27 years old and at his boxing peak, Ali was 29, emerging from his legal battles, with two recent bouts under his belt. The odds makers had given Frazier a slight edge.


March 1971: Joe Frazier (green trunks) and  Muhammad Ali (red trunks), square off in the big fight.
March 1971: Joe Frazier (green trunks) and Muhammad Ali (red trunks), square off in the big fight.

The Fight

At the opening bell of the scheduled 15-round fight, it was Ali who came out on the attack, dominating much of the first three rounds. He came at Frazier with a series of repeated short jabs to the face, which took their toll on Frazier over the course of the bout. Frazier’s face had visible welts by the time Round 3 ended. However, in the closing seconds of round three, Frazier hit Ali hard with hook to the jaw, as some photos caught Ali’s head snapping back.

In round four, Frazier began to dominate, again catching Ali with several left hooks. He also had Ali up against the ropes, where he went to work on Ali’s body, causing him to cover up. “Frazier didn’t fight by going for the head, the way a lot of other boxers did against Ali,” Life photographer John Shearer would later note. “He went after Ali’s body the whole fight, pounding away, taking terrible blows to the head himself.”

Frank Sinatra, roaming near ringside as he took his photographs, noticed Frazier getting hit repeatedly by Ali’s jabs. “…I kept watching Frazier putting his head too far out for Ali to punch it,” he would say in a conversation with Bill Gallo, a sportswriter with The New York Daily News. “He was defying Ali, and I said to the newspaper guy next to me: ‘He may win, but if he keeps that up, he’s going to the hospital, taking all those punches’.” Still, Frazier seemed to have his plan and was sticking with it.

March 1971: Frazier hits Ali with a left during fight.
March 1971: Frazier hits Ali with a left during fight.
Life photo showing Ali working his jabs on Frazier, which throughout the night took a toll on Frazier’s head & face.
Life photo showing Ali working his jabs on Frazier, which throughout the night took a toll on Frazier’s head & face.
Round 15: Frazier after landing knock-down punch on Ali.
Round 15: Frazier after landing knock-down punch on Ali.
Round 15: Ali falling to the canvass after punch by Frazier.
Round 15: Ali falling to the canvass after punch by Frazier.
Round 15: Joe Frazier escorted to his corner as Muhammad Ali gets to his feet quickly following knock-down punch.
Round 15: Joe Frazier escorted to his corner as Muhammad Ali gets to his feet quickly following knock-down punch.
March 1971. Joe Frazier, celebrating his victory over Muhammad Ali with his corner crew. AP photo.
March 1971. Joe Frazier, celebrating his victory over Muhammad Ali with his corner crew. AP photo.

“Frazier moved in with the snarl of a wolf,” Norman Mailer wrote of the middle rounds in his Life magazine piece. “His teeth seemed to show through his mouthpiece … Ali looked tired and a little depressed … At the beginning of the fifth round, he got up slowly from his stool, very slowly. Frazier was beginning to feel that the fight was his. He moved in on Ali, his hands at his side in mimicry of Ali, a street fighter mocking his opponent, and Ali tapped him with long light jabs to which Frazier stuck out his mouthpiece, a jeer of derision as if to suggest that the mouthpiece was all Ali would reach all night.”

The fight had a “grudge match” air about it; each man fighting as if he had something to prove. The verbal slurs and taunts continued back-and-forth between both fighters throughout the contest.

The sixth round came and went – the round Ali had predicted he would knock out Frazier. By this round and the next, Ali was visibly tired. The pace he had set in the earlier rounds had slowed, though he still had flurries of punches for Frazier and his speed and punch combinations kept him roughly even with Frazier,

By round eight, however, at about two minutes in, Frazier landed a clean left hook to Ali’s right jaw. At one point, as Ali tried to take refuge or on the ropes, Frazier grabbed Ali’s wrists and swung him into the center of the ring. Ali then went into a clinch with Frazier until separated by referee Mercante.

In the ninth, Frazier began to work on Ali’s body again, as Ali fended them off the best he could. But then Ali bounced back with a flurry of sharp punches and some good foot work. In the tenth Ali did well again, and it appeared the fight might be turning his way. Yet overall the fight was still very close. Then came round 11.

At about nine seconds into the round, Frazier caught Ali with a left hook, and Ali fell to the canvas with both gloves and his right knee on the canvas. As the referee stepped in, Ali rose from the canvas. The referee wiped Ali’s gloves, but did not signal a knockdown, as the two fighters resumed battle.

Near the end of round 11 Frazier again staggered Ali with a left hook as Ali stumbled and grabbed at Frazier to keep his balance. He then stumbled to the ropes, bounced forward into a clinch with Frazier until the two were separated by the referee. As the round closed, Ali clowned his way back to his corner, with Frazier appearing in control.

Sports Illustrated’s William Nack would later write of the fight some years later: “…It was soon clear that this was not the Ali of old, the butterfly who had floated through his championship years, and that the long absence from the ring had stolen his legs and left him vulnerable. He had always been a technically unsound fighter: He threw punches going backward, fought with his arms too low and avoided sweeping punches by leaning back instead of ducking. He could get away with that when he had the speed and reflexes of his youth, but he no longer had them, and Frazier was punishing him.”

For the next three rounds, to the end of round 14, according to the judges’ scorecards, Frazier had the advantage on points for those rounds by all three judges. However, in the 14th Ali had pounded Frazier with some of his best punches of the fight.

In the final round, round 15, Ali’s legs appeared leaden, and Frazier wasted no time moving in on him. After a minute or so into the round, Frazier landed a powerful left hook – described in one account as “an absolutely titanic left hook” – that put Ali on his back. Some photos show Ali going down hard, with legs in the air and the red tassels on his shoes flying. It was only the third time in Ali’s career that he had been floored.

With Ali on the canvas, referee Arthur Mercante escorted Frazier to his corner. Ali got up quickly from Frazier’s blow, as Norman Mailer wrote his Life magazine piece:

…[Y]et Ali got up, Ali came sliding through the last two minutes and thirty five seconds of this heathen holocaust in some last exercise of the will, some iron fundament of the ego not to be knocked out… something held him up before the arm-weary triumphant near-crazy Frazier who had just hit him the hardest punch ever thrown in his life… and they went down to the last few seconds of a great fight, Ali still standing…

As he rose from the canvas, Ali’s jaw was now visibly swollen from earlier hits. He managed to stay on his feet as the fight resumed, but Frazier continued to land several more solid hits on Ali as the round ended. A few minutes later the judges made it official: Frazier had retained the title with a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss.

As the post-mortems of the fight came in among fans and commentators, there seemed to be some consensus that Ali wasn’t prepared for the fight; that he was not in his best physical shape; and that he failed do the proper amount of training. Frazier, on the other hand was in top form.

Life photographer John Shearer, had spent weeks with both fighters before the bout, had taken lots of photos of Ali and Frazier during their respective training camps. “When I see the pictures I made of Joe running by himself, for example,” Shearer would later say, “the one thing that strikes me, maybe even more now than when I was making the photos, is his discipline. He was training, training, training. He was driven. And in many ways, he was a man alone.”

Following the fight that night, there was a party for Frazier. But both fighters would spend some time in the hospital getting checked out. Sports news headlines the next day across the country announced the Frazier victory. Sports Illustrated put Frazier’s 15th round knock down punch of Ali on the cover with the headline, “End of the Ali Legend.” But that assessment would prove way premature.

And even before the fight had ended with Frazier the victor, there was talk of a rematch between the two. And indeed there would be a rematch – in fact, two more celebrated bouts between these two phenomenal boxers, a series of battles that would entwine their names forever as a pair in the annals of boxing history. More on those in a moment.

With his victory and prize money, Joe Frazier was able to leave his mark on his native state of South Carolina, where he spent his dirt-poor farm days as a boy. In 1971 he bought a 368-acre estate called Brewton Plantation near his boyhood home. He also became the first black man since Reconstruction to address the South Carolina Legislature.

NY Daily News, March 1971: “Joe Wins By Decision.”
NY Daily News, March 1971: “Joe Wins By Decision.”
15 March 1971: Sports Illustrated post-fight edition,, “End of the Ali Legend,” though Ali would rise again.
15 March 1971: Sports Illustrated post-fight edition,, “End of the Ali Legend,” though Ali would rise again.
30 Sept 1996: Ali vs. Frazier – “25 years later...still slugging it out,” over their bouts & personal matters.
30 Sept 1996: Ali vs. Frazier – “25 years later...still slugging it out,” over their bouts & personal matters.

Ali, too, had a good outcome in 1971. On June 27, 1971, by a vote of 8-0 (with Justice Thurgood Marshall abstaining) the United States Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction for draft evasion and cleared him of all charges.

Following the 1971 Ali-Frazier fight, Frazier defended his title in two 1972 bouts – one against Terry Daniels and the other with Ron Stander, beating both by knockout, Daniels in the fourth round and Stander in the fifth. In another defense of his title in January 1973 he lost the championship to George Foreman. But six months later, he rebounded with a July 1973 victory over Joe Bugner in London, on his way to becoming a contender again.

After Ali’s loss to Frazier in 1971, he went on a tear, winning six fights the following year – beating Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson (for the second time), Bob Foster, and three others. In 1973, Ali suffered the second loss of his career at the hands of Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw during the fight. After initially seeking retirement, Ali went back into the ring and won a controversial decision against Norton in their second bout.

Ali and Frazier, meanwhile, would meet in the ring two more times, creating one of boxing’s most notable rivalries. In January 1974, Ali scored a 12-round decision over Frazier at Madison Square Garden in a non-title bout. Then in October 1975, came the “Thrilla in Manila” championship bout, regarded as one of the greatest fights in boxing history. It ended after 14 grueling rounds when a battered Frazier, one eye swollen shut, did not come out to face Ali for the 15th round. Ali too, was exhausted in his corner, later calling the battle a near death experience. But Ali never let up on Frazier over the years during their bouts. In the build-up to “The Thrilla in Manila,” Ali called Frazier “the other type of negro,” “ugly,” “dumb,” and “gorilla,” while waving around a hand-held toy gorilla he used with the media when taunting Frazier.

As for Ali and his name-calling of Frazier, some believed it tarnished Ali’s own standing among some of his supporters. Author David Halberstam would later write that Ali was able to manipulate and deal with the media in ways that Frazier could not. But that in demeaning Frazier – “in letting the game become too cruel, Ali [was] diminished in the eyes of those of us who admired him and wanted him in every way to be worthy of his own greatness.”

“The truth was,” wrote Halberstam, “that Joe Frazier was never a Tom, and he was not a white man’s fighter, nor in any way was he political… Frazier’s only politics were his fists. Fighting was his only ticket out of the cruelest kind of poverty.”

After a few more fights, Joe Frazier retired in 1976. He staged an unsuccessful one-fight comeback attempt in 1981. He then retired again and began operating a training gym in Philadelphia.

One testament to the famous standing of the 1971 Ali-Frazier bout came in a special Sports Illustrated issue at the fight’s 25th anniversary in 1996 which featured the two titans once again opposite each other on the cover, with the tag line: “25 Years After the First of Their Epic Fights, They’re Still Slugging it Out.” But this piece, as of 1996, also recounted the long-standing personal bitterness between the two over Ali’s name-calling and demeaning of Frazier.

Frazier, in fact, had been scarred more deeply by what Ali said about him over the years than the actual physical blows suffered in the ring. And some of Frazier’s bitterness toward Ali surfaced in his 1995 book, Smokin` Joe: The Autobiography of A Heavyweight Champion of the World (with Phil Berger), and also in statements he made demeaning Ali after Ali’s 1984 Parkinson’s diagnosis. By that time, even some of Frazier’s closest aides felt he was carrying the bitterness too long and too deeply for his own good.

At the 30th anniversary of the first Ali-Frazier bout, in March 2001, Ali wrote in the New York Times: “Joe is right (to be bitter). I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Called him names I shouldn’t have called him. I apologize for that. I’m sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight.” Yet many believe the part about selling tickets and promoting the fights was bogus, since there was plenty of that going on elsewhere.

July10th, 2002: Frazier and Ali pose together as they arrive at the 10th annual ESPY Awards in Hollywood. Reuters/Fred Prouser
July10th, 2002: Frazier and Ali pose together as they arrive at the 10th annual ESPY Awards in Hollywood. Reuters/Fred Prouser
Privately, however, Frazier had said for years that he wanted a personal, face-to-face apology from Ali. Still, when Frazier, arriving late at the 30th anniversary gathering, was told of Ali’s statement which Ali had also made to the press there, Frazier was reported to have said: “We have to embrace each other. It’s time to talk and get together. Life’s too short.” Frazier was also reported to have told Sports Illustrated in May 2009 that he no longer held hard feelings towards Ali.

In late September 2011, Joe Frazier was diagnosed with liver cancer and admitted to hospice care. He died on November 7th, 2011. Among those attending his funeral were Muhammad Ali, Don King, Larry Holmes, Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, and others. Joe Frazier’s professional record, compiled between August 1965 and December 1981, was 32 wins (27 knockouts, 5 decisions), 4 losses (3 knockouts, 1 decision), and 1 draw. Frazier remains one of only two boxers to beat Muhammad Ali in his prime years, the other being Ken Norton.

In retirement, Joe Frazier often felt overshadowed by Ali’s various awards and notices, and he seemed to be left out of the historic recognition traditionally accorded professional boxers of his standing. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the fictional Rocky Balboa character from the Sylvester Stallone /Rocky film series had a statue in Philadelphia, while the city’s most renowned real boxer of recent years did not. This was not unnoticed by Jesse Jackson, who, while eulogizing Frazier at his funeral, made prominent mention of the slight. A few years later, however, in mid-September 2015, a 12-foot bronze statue of Joe Frazier in his boxing stance was dedicated in front of the NBC Universal Sports Arena at the Xfinitiy Live site in south Philadelphia. Statue artist Stephen Layne said he modeled his work on the famous knock-down punch Frazier leveled on Ali in the 15th round of their March 1971 fight. “I found my inspiration in that photo,” Layne said.

September 2015: A 12-foot bronze statue of Joe Frazier in his boxing stance was dedicated  in front of the NBC Sports Arena at the Xfinitiy Live site in south Philadelphia.
September 2015: A 12-foot bronze statue of Joe Frazier in his boxing stance was dedicated in front of the NBC Sports Arena at the Xfinitiy Live site in south Philadelphia.
Muhammad Ali, meanwhile, remains one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, and also one of the most recognized sports celebrities in the world. Since retiring from boxing in 1981, he has received all manner of sports and other awards and recognition, and he has met with presidents and heads of state, served on various national and international committees, and has lent is name to various causes. In 1991 he traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War and met with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to negotiate the release of American hostages. In 1996, he bore the Olympic Torch to light the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Although Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, he remained active for a number of years after his diagnosis. In 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush during ceremonies at the White House.

Ali’s professional boxing record between 1960 and 1981 is: 56 wins (37 knockouts, 19 decisions), 5 losses (4 decisions, 1 knockout).

For other sports-related stories at this website, see for example: the “Annals of Sport” category page; “Baseball Stories, 1900s-2000s,” a topics page with 14 baseball stories; “The Rocky Statue, 1980-2009,” story on the 20-year controversy over the location of a Rocky Balboa statue at the Philadelphia Art Museum; and “Dempsey vs Carpenteir,” a recounting of the famous 1921 fight between Jack Dempsey and George Carpenteir and the role radio played in making that fight one of the first “mega sports events” with mass audience involvement. Additional civil rights history can be found at “Civil Rights Topics,” a category page with 14 additional stories. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please help support this website with a donation. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 9 November 2015
Last Update: 18 January 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Ali, Frazier, Sinatra, et al.,– Boxing & Culture,
1960s-70s,” PopHistoryDig.com, November 9, 2015.

________________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Official program from Ali-Frazier fight, March 8, 1971, with cover art by LeRoy Neiman, famous painter of athletes.
Official program from Ali-Frazier fight, March 8, 1971, with cover art by LeRoy Neiman, famous painter of athletes.
July 24, 1971: Muhammad Ali  – shown here on the eve of Jerry Ellis fight -- appeared on Sports Illustrated  covers 39 times, more than anyone except Michael Jordan.
July 24, 1971: Muhammad Ali – shown here on the eve of Jerry Ellis fight -- appeared on Sports Illustrated covers 39 times, more than anyone except Michael Jordan.
Cover of 2013 DVD about Joe Frazier using photo by John Shearer taken of Frazier doing road work in 1971.
Cover of 2013 DVD about Joe Frazier using photo by John Shearer taken of Frazier doing road work in 1971.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali as young boxers.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali as young boxers.
2003: Muhammad Ali & Joe Frazier pictured in their 1971 robes at Joe Frazier’s Philadelphia Gym; Frazier shown here in a forgiving pose. (Walter Iooss Jr./SI).
2003: Muhammad Ali & Joe Frazier pictured in their 1971 robes at Joe Frazier’s Philadelphia Gym; Frazier shown here in a forgiving pose. (Walter Iooss Jr./SI).

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___________________________________________________





“They Go To Graceland”
Elvis Home a Big Draw

On Saturday morning, July 1st, 2006, a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary front-page photograph greeted readers of The Washington Post. President George Bush and Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, had visited the former home of rock `n roll legend Elvis Presley. Known today as Graceland, the Elvis home had recently been designated a National Historic Landmark. In the Washington Post front-page photograph, Koizumi, a known Elvis fan, was shown demonstrating some of his Elvis moves at Graceland while President Bush, Elvis’s former wife Priscilla, and Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, looked on.

July 1st, 2006 edition of The Washington Post with photo of Japanese  Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi doing his Elvis imitation at Graceland as President Bush, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley looked on during tour.
July 1st, 2006 edition of The Washington Post with photo of Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi doing his Elvis imitation at Graceland as President Bush, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley looked on during tour.

A few months earlier, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, declared the Graceland estate to be a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest U.S. recognition accorded historic properties. Fewer than 2,500 such places share the honor, among them, Mount Vernon and Monticello, Virginia, the former homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Graceland is also the first, and to date, the only home of a rock `n roll star to be so designated.

March 2006: Graceland a National Historic Landmark; with, L-to-R, Jack Soden of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Priscilla Presley, and U.S. Interior Secretary, Gale Norton.
March 2006: Graceland a National Historic Landmark; with, L-to-R, Jack Soden of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Priscilla Presley, and U.S. Interior Secretary, Gale Norton.
“In recognition of Elvis Presley’s achievements and contributions to American culture and musical history, we designate his home, Graceland, as a National Historic Landmark,” Secretary Norton said during the March 27th, 2006 dedication ceremony.

“American culture and music changed irreversibly because of Elvis,” Secretary Norton said during her remarks. “It would be difficult to tell the story of the 20th century without discussing the many contributions made by this legendary, iconic artist.”

Former wife of Elvis, Priscilla Presley, and Jack Soden of Elvis Presley Enterprises were on hand to receive the formal certification. Less than three months later, Bush and Koizumi would make their visit to Graceland.

Prime Minister Koizumi, it turned out, was a big Elvis fan, not uncommon in Japan, where at least two Elvis fan clubs thrive with thousands of members. Prior to the Bush-Koizumi visit to Graceland, the two heads of state had conducted earlier business in Washington over two days. They had a series of talks on world and bilateral issues, ranging from Iraq and North Korea to U.S. beef exports. But following a black-tie dinner at the White House, the next day’s itinerary was devoted to Graceland.

July 2006: President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in the awards section of Elvis Presley home at Graceland where various Presley costumes and recording awards are displayed.
July 2006: President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in the awards section of Elvis Presley home at Graceland where various Presley costumes and recording awards are displayed.

On the Air Force One plane ride to Graceland, it was also “all Elvis” as White House staff and traveling press joined in the festivities. “Love Me Tender” and “Don’t Be Cruel” and other Elvis songs were played over the Air Force One public address system. DVDs of Elvis movies were available for viewing. Even fried peanut butter-banana sandwiches – an Elvis specialty – were offered to those willing to indulge.

July 2006: Prime Minister Koizumi is excited to try on a pair of Elvis sunglasses as Priscilla & Lisa Marie Presley look on.
July 2006: Prime Minister Koizumi is excited to try on a pair of Elvis sunglasses as Priscilla & Lisa Marie Presley look on.
July 2006: Prime Minister Koizumi with Elvis sunglasses outside Graceland mansion as President Bush looks on.
July 2006: Prime Minister Koizumi with Elvis sunglasses outside Graceland mansion as President Bush looks on.
July 2006: Prime Minister Koizumi outside of Graceland, in front of an Elvis pink Cadillac.
July 2006: Prime Minister Koizumi outside of Graceland, in front of an Elvis pink Cadillac.

Arriving at Graceland, which was closed to the general public while the heads of state were there, Koizumi and Bush saw what most visitors see. In the museum portion of the home, there were displays of the King’s extravagant concert costumes, his guitars, wall after wall of gold records.

In the living areas of the Graceland mansion they saw a glossy black baby-grand piano and a 15-foot-long white sofa. There was also the billiard room with multicolored fabric covering the walls and ceiling and a yellow-and-blue basement entertainment room with mirrored ceiling and triple televisions embedded in the walls.

And not least on the tour was the famously furnished Jungle Room, with its shag carpet, reportedly decorated from Elvis’s memory of a Hawaiian visit.

It was in the Jungle Room where Koizumi was treated to a pair of Elvis’s gold-rimmed sunglasses, which inspired him to offer what appeared to be a brief display of some Elvis air guitar while singing, “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” Press photos, such as that at the top of this story, captured the moment and appeared in news outlets around the world. Outside, just off the drive way and parked on the lawn was one of Elvis’s prize cars – a pink Cadillac.

Some 300 journalists came out to document and report on the trip. In fact, a separate press center was set up in the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, a separate building where the Cadillac and an MG used in the Elvis movie “Blue Hawaii” were on display, along with other Elvis cars, reported at one time to have numbered more than 30.

While at Graceland, Bush and Koizumi shared some private time for official business in the Meditation Garden – an area where Elvis and his parents are buried next to an eternal flame.

President Bush had decided that a Graceland visit for Koizumi would be the perfect way to honor his friend and fellow world leader. The two had apparently hit it off on a personal level since their first meeting. In fact, at a 2005 birthday party for President Bush, Koizumi sang a few bars of Presley’s, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,”( also appropriate at the time regarding the U.S.-Japan relationship).

Cover of 2001 CD: “Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs,” which was marketed for charity purposes in Japan.
Cover of 2001 CD: “Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs,” which was marketed for charity purposes in Japan.
In addition to the July 2006 Graceland visit, and as a parting gift to Koizumi for his then forthcoming retirement from office that September, Bush also arranged for a jukebox loaded with Elvis hits to be given to his friend.

Although Elvis never performed outside of the U.S., he continued to have fans around the world, including thousands in Japan. Koizumi, who shares a birth date with Elvis, January 8th, was also an active Elvis fan back home. His brother once ran Presley’s fan club in Yokohama.

In 1987, Koizumi also played a key role in erecting a bronze statue of Presley in Tokyo. And in 2001, he personally selected 25 Elvis songs for a limited-edition charity CD released in Japan under the title, “Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs,” a CD that quickly sold out. (In 2009, after he retired, Koizumi attended an unveiling of another Elvis Presley statue, this one in Kobe, Japan.)

Near the end of the July 2006 visit to Graceland, President Bush, reflecting on the tour and satisfied that he helped provide a good time for Koizumi, noted: “I knew he loved Elvis,” he said of the Japanese prime minister, “I didn’t realize how much he loved Elvis.”


600,000 Visitors

Graceland sign outside the former home of Elvis Presley.
Graceland sign outside the former home of Elvis Presley.
Graceland, it turns out, is not only a nice diversion for a visiting head of state. In fact, for nearly 35 years now the Elvis homestead has become big business. Tens of thousands come there every year – as paying visitors. Forbes magazine reported that Presley’s estate – including Graceland visitors, licencing fees, and merchandise – earned an estimated $55 million in 2013, placing Elvis among the top-earning deceased celebrities for that year and a number of years past.

Elvis Presley died at Graceland in August 1977 at the age of 42. Since his death, Graceland has become essentially a memorial to Presley and national monument of a kind. The site was opened to the public on June 7, 1982. It was first listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991, becoming a National Historic Landmark in March 2006. Since its opening to the public it has become, after the White House, one of the most-visited private homes in America with more than 600,000 visitors in recent years.

1957: Elvis at front entrance of Graceland mansion.
1957: Elvis at front entrance of Graceland mansion.
Graceland includes the mansion house, located on nearly 14 acres. There are 23 rooms, in the mansion, including 8 bedrooms and bathrooms. There is also a full stable on the grounds. The estate is located just under 10 miles from downtown Memphis, Tennessee and less than four miles north of the Mississippi state line. Elvis was born in Tupelo, MS. Presley, his parents Gladys and Vernon Presley, and his grandmother, are buried in the Meditation Garden at Graceland. A memorial gravestone for Presley’s stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, is also at the site. When Presley died in 1977 he was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. But after attempts were made to steal his body that August, Presley’s father, Vernon, had the bodies of Elvis and his mother both reburied at Graceland.

Graceland also includes a museum across the street where various Elvis artifacts are on display, including some of his famous Las Vegas jumpsuits, gold records, guitars he used, and other material. Elvis’ extensive collection of automobiles, including his pink Cadillac, are also housed there. And although they were put up for sale in 2015, two of Presley’s specially-outfitted airplanes were also on the grounds, exhibited there for tourists by a separate company.

Elvis originally purchased Graceland on March 19, 1957 for the amount of $102,500. In those days, the property was located in a mostly rural area, which in subsequent years filled in with residential and commercial growth expanding from Memphis. After purchasing the property Elvis spent more than $500,000 making modifications, including a low-lying stone wall of Alabama fieldstone surrounding the grounds; a wrought-iron front gate shaped as a page of sheet music with musical notes with a silhouetted guitar player o each side; a kidney shaped swimming pool; a racquetball court; the “jungle room” mentioned earlier, with indoor waterfall and recording studio; and other additions. Although his performances kept him away from home a good deal, and he also had other homes, Elvis regarded Graceland as his homeplace for 20 years, from 1957-1977, during which, off and on, an assortment of family members lived there as well.

1957: Elvis Presley stands at the wrought iron gates he had made for the entrance drive at Graceland,  made to resemble a page of sheet music with musical notes and guitar players depicted.
1957: Elvis Presley stands at the wrought iron gates he had made for the entrance drive at Graceland, made to resemble a page of sheet music with musical notes and guitar players depicted.

After Elvis’s death in 1977, the executor of his estate initially was his father, Vernon, who then passed it on to Elvis’ former wife, Priscilla, until daughter Lisa Marie came of age. The estate, meanwhile, faced $500,000 a year in upkeep costs and considerable taxes. There was some worry that Graceland might have to be sold in order to avoid bankruptcy. Priscilla then set about examining how historic homes and museums operated and she hired business executive Jack Soden to help turn Graceland into a tourist destination.

Headlines from an August 2002 Associated Press story on Graceland: “Presley’s Home Earns Millions...”
Headlines from an August 2002 Associated Press story on Graceland: “Presley’s Home Earns Millions...”
On June 7, 1982. Graceland was opened to the public under the management of Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) with Soden at the helm and Priscilla as chairwoman and president. At first, there was uncertainty that Graceland could sustain itself as a tourist location, but after the first few months of visitation the estate recouped its upgrade investment and began turning a profit. There had also been some litigation and court-ordered investigations of the handling of Elvis’s past business affairs by former manager Colonel Tom Parker. Favorable resolution of these and other legal issues helped put the estate on better financial footing. EPE, meanwhile, became more aggressive in securing rights to Elvis’s image and related intellectual property, even helping push through new copyright and trademark legislation in the U.S. Congress. EPE also had a hand in a new Tennessee law that guaranteed that commercial rights to the name and image of a deceased celebrity would pass to his or her heirs.

A Reuters news graphic outlining the Graceland-area businesses and properties of Elvis Presley Enterprises at that time, August 2002.
A Reuters news graphic outlining the Graceland-area businesses and properties of Elvis Presley Enterprises at that time, August 2002.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Elvis Presley Enterprises also bought up some of the properties and businesses around Graceland. And over the years EPE also filed more than a hundred lawsuits to assert and protect the estate’s exclusive right to Elvis’s name and image. Licensing fees were also bolstered to help produce income for the Presley estate. Any business selling Elvis memorabilia in the U.S. pays EPE both a licensing fee and an advance royalty based on expected sales. In terms of Elvis’s music, however, Colonel Parker sold those rights long ago to RCA for a song. But in the 1990s, EPE negotiated a new deal with RCA for royalties from newly packaged anthologies of old Elvis tunes. Among these, for example, was a five-CD boxed set released in 1993 that topped a million in sales. More new releases have followed.

At Graceland, meanwhile, tourist visitation continued to do well through the 1990s. On the 20th Anniversary of Elvis’ death in 1997, throngs of fans descended on Graceland, including several hundred media, whose coverage of the event brought more public notice to Graceland, helping spur more visitation. Each August now, at the anniversary of Elvis’ death, thousands come to Graceland for a range of activities during “Elvis Week.” At the 25th anniversary in 2002 as estimated 40,000 people came to Graceland during Elvis Week. And Elvis’s music, even in 2002, still had popular currency. When RCA rereleased some of his singles that year to promote a greatest-hits compilation, more than a dozen of them became top five hits in Britain.

In the early 2000s, however, visitation at Graceland hit a plateau in the 500,000-to-600,000 range. Priscilla, Lisa Marie, and Jack Soden at EPE had watched visitors from the U.S. and all over the world express their enthusiasm, and open their wallets, for all things Elvis. They suspected there was more potential upside at Graceland and the Elvis Presley legacy. But they did not have the experience to take it to the next level. That’s about when some bigger players entered the picture.


Sillerman/CKX Deal

Lisa Marie Presley, 2004.
Lisa Marie Presley, 2004.
In December 2004, Lisa Marie Presley made a business deal with CKX, Inc. and its chairman, Robert Sillerman, a notable player in the entertainment business and celebrity rights management. In a $114 million deal with CKX, she sold some 85 percent of the business side of her father’s estate, along with some Elvis Presley rights. She kept the home and the Graceland property, as well as the bulk of the possessions there. But she turned over the management of Graceland and EPE to CKX.

“For the past few years, I’ve been looking for someone to join forces with to expand the many facets of (Elvis Presley Enterprises), to take it to new levels internationally and to make it an even greater force in the entertainment industry,” said Lisa Marie Presley at the time of the deal.

Lisa Marie received $50 million from the sale plus stock in CKX. Priscilla Presley got $6.5 million and a 10-year consulting contract with CKX at $560,000 a year. She also received a seat on the CKX board of directors.

Sillerman and CKX got the rights to the Elvis name, image, likeness, and trademark, then used in 100 or so merchandising and licensing deals. CKX also got the publishing rights to 650 songs, royalty rights to fewer Elvis songs recorded after 1973, and royalty rights to 24 Elvis movies.

Robert Sillerman in a 2009 photograph.
Robert Sillerman in a 2009 photograph.
Robert Sillerman, the chairman of CKX, had become a billionaire in the 1990s after collecting and selling off a network of radio properties, and concert and entertainment venues. Sillerman was known as something of wheeler dealer in the entertainment management world. In fact, shortly after the Graceland deal, his company also acquired 19 Entertainment, the company that owned the American Idol TV show. That deal was valued at $190 million.

Sillerman, a friend of Mel Brooks who years earlier had invested in Brooks’ Broadway production, The Producers, also came to own Muhammed Ali rights as well as the firm that managed Woody Allen, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. In April 2006, Sillerman paid $50 million for an 80 percent stake in Muhammed Ali’s name, image and likeness. “When we created CKX and came up with the idea for it,” Mr. Sillerman said in an April 2006 interview, “we came up with three things that we thought had the greatest impact on American culture,” then naming the three: Elvis Presley, American Idol, and Muhammed Ali.

Sillerman had big plans for the future – including those built upon the licensing rights of baby boomer cultural icons like Elvis. He even had hoped to land some Beatles’ rights, but that did not happen. Still, with Graceland and the Elvis Presley legacy, Sillerman saw new business opportunities ahead. “Does it make sense to invest in Elvis Presley enterprises in Japan? Does it make sense in Germany?,” he asked at the time of the Elvis deal. “Are there things that can be done in other jurisdictions in the United States? The answer to some of the questions is obviously yes,’ he said., “we just don’t know which ones.”

Elvis Week at Graceland has evolved into an annual mid-August celebration of  the music and legacy of Elvis Presley.
Elvis Week at Graceland has evolved into an annual mid-August celebration of the music and legacy of Elvis Presley.
There was thinking at the time of possible Elvis-themed venues around the world, prehaps something similar similar to a Hard Rock Café type design. Some observers believed that taking the Elvis brand into foreign markets could dwarf U.S. opportunities. “Put a casino in Macau or Dubai, put a replica of Graceland in Tokyo—the opportunities are huge,” offered one business analyst. EPE’s Jack Soden had also been eyeing the international potential, and he offered one anecdote as an indication that foreign visitors were just as crazy about Elvis as Americans. “The Bolshoi Ballet came en masse to Graceland,” Soden told Fortune magazine in 2005. “All these ballet dancers from Russia were huge Elvis fans, and [their handlers] were asking for our help to get them out of here and back to rehearsal. They had a per diem, and they were missing meals and saving money so they could buy more stuff at the shop.”

In February 2006, Robert Sillerman announced plans to turn Graceland into a much improved tourist destination that would also draw international visitors. What Sillerman had in mind was something on a par with the Disney or Universal theme parks. Graceland and the immediate area would be made over to accommodate a doubling or even tripling of annual visitors, possibly to around 2 million a year. CKX began working with Disney Imagineering based in Orlando, Florida, to improve the tourist area around Graceland. While keeping the historic home intact, the make-over would include a three-mile Elvis Presley Boulevard as an entertainment district near the estate. Elvis Presley Enterprises, meanwhile, had already bought up over 120 acres of land, apartments and existing shops that would make way for the expansion.

2015: Although it took time to advance from the earlier property acquisitions of Elvis Presley Enterprises and the vision  Robert Sillerman’s CKX in 2005, expansion plans for the Graceland area, with a new hotel – “Guesthouse at Graceland” (lower left) – and an “Entertainment Complex,” have moved forward, collecting state and local approvals.
2015: Although it took time to advance from the earlier property acquisitions of Elvis Presley Enterprises and the vision Robert Sillerman’s CKX in 2005, expansion plans for the Graceland area, with a new hotel – “Guesthouse at Graceland” (lower left) – and an “Entertainment Complex,” have moved forward, collecting state and local approvals.

There was also some potential for Elvis/Graceland cross-promotion between Sillerman properties and Elvis venues. In May 2006, Sillerman’s American Idol show featured some of its contestants visiting Graceland. Not long thereafter, attendance at Graceland in July 2006 was up six percent over July 2005, which some attributed to the American Idol linkage. And in September 2006, Memphis was one of seven cities where American Idol held auditions. American Idol contestants doing Elvis songs on that show in the future was another distinct possibility.

“Viva Elvis” debuted December 2009.
“Viva Elvis” debuted December 2009.
Sillerman was also working on an Elvis venue to be built in Las Vegas. And his firm was helping Cirque du Soleil develop a high-concept production about Elvis that would launch later in Las Vegas and potentially tour the world. That production was planning to use Elvis imagery, music, and artifacts in an artistically-colored act with Cirque du Soleil dancers and trapeze artists.

After some time in development, that show, billed as a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley and titled “Viva Elvis,” debuted with preview performances in December 2009 at the Aria Resort & Casino.

However, Sillerman’s bigger plans for Elvis and CKX began to fall apart after he invested in Las Vegas property with the idea of creating an Elvis Presley-themed casino. That occurred not long after the economy turned bad in 2008-2010, as stocks and real estate values plummeted, when Sillerman and CKX got into financial trouble. In May 2010, Sillerman stepped down as chairman and CEO of CKX. About a year later, in May 2011, CKX was sold to Apollo Management for $512 million, and Apollo changed the name of CKX to CORE Media Group. Not long thereafter, Apollo began to sell off some of what it has acquired, though keeping American Idol, at least for the time being.

Authentic Brands Group logo.
Authentic Brands Group logo.
On November 19, 2013, Apollo sold its stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises and Muhammad Ali Enterprises to Authentic Brands Group(ABG), a New York-based intellectual property corporation that already managed Marilyn Monroe rights, among others. In this deal, ABG would then own Elvis Presley’s intellectual property rights and Elvis Presley Enterprises. ABG was believed to have paid something north of $130 million for the Presley and Ali rights. In the deal, ABG assumed the global rights to a vast library of Elvis Presley photographic imagery, including artwork, album covers and movie posters; video and audio assets, including television appearances and music specials; Elvis’ name and likeness; and other assets, including the rights to major Elvis-themed events such as Elvis Week.

With the ABG deal, Priscilla Presley noted in a statement: “We look forward to working with the ABG team to further promote the legacy of Elvis. This is the opportunity the family has been envisioning to expand the Graceland experience and enhance Elvis’ image all over the world.” Lisa Marie Presley added: “While I will continue to own Graceland and Elvis’ original artifacts, we are looking forward to working with our new partners to continue the growth and expansion we have been working towards. The licensing and merchandising aspect of this business is not to be confused with the fact that the property will always remain with me and my family. However, this is a great partnership for our family and Elvis fans worldwide.”

“Direct From Graceland: Elvis” – for ABG’s London exhibit.
“Direct From Graceland: Elvis” – for ABG’s London exhibit.
ABG soon put its Elvis properties to work, taking their new Graceland brand on the road for the first time with a nine-month exhibition of Elvis Presley artifacts displayed at London’s O2 arena.

And in February 2015, ABG announced it would establish a second permanent Elvis home in Las Vegas, at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, on the site where Elvis had performed in earlier years.

In 1969, Elvis had played a record 58 consecutive, sold-out shows at that location at the former International Hotel. He would eventually play some 837 performances in Las Vegas.

The London and Las Vegas venues, according to ABG, demonstrated the potential for using the million or so Graceland-Elvis artifacts that often remain in storage. “Once you give someone a taste of this,” said ABG managing partner Joel Weinshanker of the Elvis exhibits and other artifacts, “they’ll want more.”

Back at Graceland proper, meanwhile, Authentic Brands was also at work. By August 2014, they introduced an interactive iPad tour guide and the Graceland Archive, in which curators exhibit and discuss material not on permanent display. ABG and EPE were also moving ahead with the planned Graceland expansion. A 450-room hotel and conference center – dubbed the Guest House at Graceland (noted on map earlier), is scheduled to open in 2016. It will be Memphis’s largest new hotel and will also include a 500-seat theater. In conjunction with the larger Graceland area development plan, EPE is also seeking to designate the area a “tourist development zone.” It also wants state and local tax breaks – as much as $40 million according to one report – noting that the projected expansion will generate jobs and business income.

The July 2008 Tennessee Business magazine raised the question of how long the Elvis economic magic and appeal might last.
The July 2008 Tennessee Business magazine raised the question of how long the Elvis economic magic and appeal might last.
Still, there have been some “doubting Thomases” out there who wonder just how long the Elvis magic can last. Elvis followers and fans are mostly older, and some analysts have called the Elvis enterprise a “boomer play,” expecting a downturn as this cohort dies off. But there are signs that the Elvis story and his music can have legs with new followers and new markets. In recent years, new compilations of Presley’s music, and rediscovered or never released material, have resonated with younger listeners and buyers. Elvis’s appeal musically also cuts across the rock, gospel and blues genres, and that will also help broaden and sustain his fan base going forward.

So stay tuned. Elvis hasn’t quite left the building yet – and if the investors and entertainment moguls have anything to do with it, he never will.

For additional stories on Elvis Presley at this website, see for example: “Elvis on the Road, 1955-1956” (the travels and town-by-town concert itinerary of early Elvis and his band); “Elvis Riles Florida, 1955-1956” (Elvis & band come to perform at the Florida Theater in Jacksonville, but face arrest warrants there if he “gyrates” too suggestively on stage); and “Drew Pearson on Elvis, 1956,” (a video commentary on Elvis Presley’s rapid rise to stardom by a famous syndicated newspaper columnist of that era). See also the “Annals of Music” category page for additional stories on the history of popular music, artist profiles, and selected song analysis. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

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____________________________________

Date Posted: 17 September 2015
Last Update: 17 September 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “They Go To Graceland, Elvis Home a Big Draw,”
PopHistoryDig.com, September 17, 2015.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

“Celebrity Visitors”
…At Graceland

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi weren’t the only high-profile visitors to tour Graceland in recent years. Since their July 2006 visit to Graceland, other heads of state and/or related royalty have also gone to Graceland. On August 6, 2010, Prince Albert II, Monaco’s Head of State, and his fiancée, Charlene Wittstock, on a U.S. vacation, toured Graceland. Prince William and Prince Harry of the U.K., while in Memphis for a friend’s wedding, visited Graceland on May 2, 2014, where they were joined by Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie for a private tour. Rock `n roll “royalty,” as well, have also had some interaction with Graceland. American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, visited Graceland in the early 1980s and wrote a song which became the title track of his 1986 world music hit album, Graceland, suggesting some homage to Elvis and his home place (Simon has also mentioned Sun Records recordings of country rhythms as an influence on the album). On May 26, 2013, Sir Paul McCartney visited Graceland, leaving a guitar pick on Elvis’s grave “so Elvis can play in heaven.” And of course, in prior years, a long list of celebrities, aspiring musicians, and other notables – from conservative columnist William F. Buckley to world famous architect, I.M. Pei – have visited Graceland. A few years after he left the White House, President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Roslyn Carter visited Graceland.

Sept/Oct 2010 sample edition of “Graceland” magazine, published by German fans since 1979, one indication of Presley’s continuing appeal abroad.
Sept/Oct 2010 sample edition of “Graceland” magazine, published by German fans since 1979, one indication of Presley’s continuing appeal abroad.
One of the exhibits of Elvis Presley gold records and other artifacts at Graceland in Memphis, TN.
One of the exhibits of Elvis Presley gold records and other artifacts at Graceland in Memphis, TN.
Elvis Week logo, August 2012, 35th anniversary, Graceland.
Elvis Week logo, August 2012, 35th anniversary, Graceland.

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, “From the White House to Graceland,” Washington Post, June 14, 2006, p. C-3.

“Bush, Japan’s Koizumi Tour Graceland,” USA Today, June 30, 2006.

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, “Bush and Koizumi, Walking in Blue Suede Footprints,” Washington Post, June 30, 2006, p. C-3

Peter Baker, “Bush Takes Koizumi for Tour of Graceland,” Washington Post, Saturday, July 1, 2006.

Stephen Kaufman, “Bush, Koizumi Tour of Graceland Highlights Elvis’ Enduring Legacy; Rock Icon’s Home Attracts More than 600,000 Visitors Each Year,” U.S. Department of State, June 27, 2006.

Graceland, Official Website.

“Graceland,” Wikipedia.org.

“Elvis Presley Enterprises,” Wikipedia.org.

Woody Baird, AP, “Public Tours Of Graceland Bring High Profits,” Kentucky New Era, June 8, 1983, p. 12.

Craig Horowitz and others, “The Presley Inheritance: Elvis Squandered It, Priscilla Restored It; Now Lisa Marie Is in Charge of It,” People, Vol. 39, No. 8, March 1, 1993,

Sidebar (Presley inheritance story above), “Taking Care of (the King’s) Business,” People, Vol. 39, No. 8, March 1, 1993.

Woody Baird, Associated Press, “Graceland: Presley’s Home Earns Millions For Estate,” The Daily Courier (Prescott, Arizona), August 16, 2002, p. 15-A.

Associated Press, “Lisa Marie Presley Selling Elvis Estate,” USA Today, December 16, 2004.

Andy Serwer, “The Man Who Bought Elvis; Investor Robert Sillerman Is Combining the King, American Idol, and Other Enter- tainment Assets to Build His Next Media Conglomerate,” Fortune, December 12, 2005.

Woody Baird, Associated Press, “All Shook Up Over Graceland Deal; Now That Outsiders Run the Elvis Presley Mansion, Those Who Flock to Memphis Every Year Worry That it Won’t Be Quite So Homey,” Los Angles Times, August 11, 2005.

Associated Press, “Media Mogul Wants To Improve Graceland,” The Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas), March 5, 2006.

Associated Press, “Elvis’ Graceland Becomes a National Landmark; Home of ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ White House Receive Rare Distinction,” NBCtoday.com (includes video clip with Campbell Brown and Priscilla Presley), March 27, 2006.

Julie Bosman, “$50 Million Puts Ali in Ring With Elvis and ‘American Idol’,” New York Times, April 12, 2006.

Woody Baird, AP, “Lisa Marie Worries Elvis Fans By Selling Piece of Graceland,” The Victoria Advocate (Victoria, TX), August 6, 2006, p. 6-D.

David Lieberman, “Master of the Fame Game” (Robert Sillerman), USA Today, October 17, 2006.

Donnie Snow, “A Little More Action” Busi- nessTN, July 2, 2008.

Anthony Effinger and Daniel Taub, “American Idol Sillerman Dealt Elvis Default Heartbreak in Vegas,” Bloomberg.com, June 1, 2009.

“Robert F. X. Sillerman,” Wikipedia.org.

David Lieberman, “’American Idol’ Owner CKX Sells To Financial Firm, Ending Robert F.X. Sillerman’s Dream,” Deadline Holly- wood, May 10, 2011.

Adrian Sainz, “How Priscilla Presley Turned Elvis’ Graceland Into Big Business 30 Years Ago,” Billboard, June 13, 2012.

Alan Hanson, “Elvis Presley Enterprises …Who Owns It Now?,” Elvis History Blog, February 2013.

Associated Press, “Elvis Presley’s Intellectual Property Rights Sold to Authentic Brands,” Billboard, November 19, 2013.

“First Look at Planned 450-Room Hotel at Elvis’ Graceland,” Memphis Business Journal, May 16, 2014.

“Elvis Estate Seeks Tax Breaks for Graceland Expansion,” Don’t Mess With Taxes, August 17, 2014.

“Elvis Presley Enterprises Sold! Management of Graceland and EPE in Corporate Hands,” Elvis Information Network, 2004-2015.

Kevin McKenzie, “Years of Acquisition, Demolition Prepared for Graceland Expansion in Memphis,” The Commercial Appeal, January 7, 2015.

Stuart Miller, “Graceland Is Taking Its Show on the Road to Las Vegas,” New York Times, February 4, 2015.

“Elvis Presley,” Authentic Brands.com.

________________________________________





“Barge Explodes in NY”
ExxonMobil Depot: 2003

On a clear, quiet Friday morning, February 21st, 2003, around 10 a.m., a tanker barge owned by the Bouchard Transportation Co. was off-loading its cargo of 100,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline at ExxonMobil’s oil depot at Staten Island, New York. Suddenly, an explosion of tremendous force erupted, shaking businesses and homes for miles around (see video at 4th image below). Black smoke from the blaze drifted through the boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens and rattled terrorist-sensitive city residents, many of whom thought of the 9/11 attack. “I was convinced that there had been a terrorist attack…,” said one woman from Tottenville, Staten Island, three miles south of the blast. “It was so violent. I was in a total panic. You could actually taste the gasoline in your mouth.”

February 2003. A Bouchard Transportation Co. barge exploded & burned while unloading gasoline at the ExxonMobil docks at Port Mobil, Staten Island, NY, on the Arthur Kill waterway. Two workers were killed.
February 2003. A Bouchard Transportation Co. barge exploded & burned while unloading gasoline at the ExxonMobil docks at Port Mobil, Staten Island, NY, on the Arthur Kill waterway. Two workers were killed.

On Wall Street, when traders first heard the news of the explosion, also thinking it was terrorist-related, there was a stock sell-off. But once they learned it was “only a refinery fire,” it was back to business as usual. New York’s mayor at the time, Michael Bloomberg, moved to reassure his city and the nation that there was no reason to believe terrorists were involved.

Burning wreckage of Bouchard Barge 125 after Feb 2003 explosion at ExxonMobil oil depot.
Burning wreckage of Bouchard Barge 125 after Feb 2003 explosion at ExxonMobil oil depot.
Map showing location of February 2003 barge explosion & fire in the NY City-NJ area.
Map showing location of February 2003 barge explosion & fire in the NY City-NJ area.

At the accident scene, meanwhile, it was like a war zone. “I looked up at the sky, and I saw pieces of metal flying all over,” said worker Jaime Villa, who was repairing a pump at the depot when the barge exploded. “I ran as fast as I could go…”

Electrical contractor Ernie Camerlingo also described the scene: “It sounded like a bomb going off. I could feel the debris hitting the top of my car….”

Large chunks of the exploding barge – some “as big as a small bus” by one account – flew hundreds of feet away from where the barge was berthed. One New York Times report noted: “Witnesses told of metal chunks flying in the air, of searing heat waves and blast forces that knocked people down, shattered windows and unhinged doors miles away…”

Another account described “chips of burnt material the size of quarters rained down upon the roofs and patios” in residential areas sending “thousands of panicked residents into the streets.”

Bouchard Barge 125 had unloaded about half its cargo of 100,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline before it exploded. It burned ferociously at its depot berth following the explosion, sending flames 100 feet or more into the air. A NASA satellite image later showed the smoke plume stretching about 94 miles from the site of the fire.

Divers who examined the remains of the barge underwater following the incident, found that the explosion had created a tunneling effect, ripping through the vessel and destroying all 12 of its cargo tanks. A malfunctioning pump aboard the barge was later suspected as the culprit, possibly discharging sparks that ignited the explosion (play silent video below briefly to see size of initial explosion).

As the barge burned that day the New York City Fire Department sent fire boats and fire trucks to the scene. The boats battled the blaze from the Arthur Kill side of the incident, while fire trucks went to the depot side to fight the fire from land.

At one point another tanker barge, Bouchard Barge 35, also loaded with 8,000 barrels of gasoline, began burning. That fire was put out before it could ignite another explosion, but the barge was still near the blazing inferno. Heroically, one tug crew went in there and pulled the threatened barge away from the blast area. It was then doused with water by the fire boats to keep it cool.

The 200-acre storage depot, meanwhile, which included eight loading berths and 39 large storage tanks, was also a major concern. Residents living near the industrial area were evacuated after the explosion. The depot’s storage tanks could hold up to 2.5 million barrels of gasoline, low-sulfur diesel and jet fuel. But at the time, less than 500,000 gallons of product were then in storage at the depot.

After being pulled from near the explosion area, fire boats proceeded to douse Bouchard Barge 35 with cool water, at it was also loaded with gasoline and fire officials feared it too would explode.
After being pulled from near the explosion area, fire boats proceeded to douse Bouchard Barge 35 with cool water, at it was also loaded with gasoline and fire officials feared it too would explode.

At the time of the explosion, there were about 30 ExxonMobil employees on the job at the depot. One ExxonMobil worker at the dock was severely burned and hospitalized, while the bodies of two Bouchard barge crewman who were killed in the explosion were later pulled from the water. Firefighters had contained the barge blaze by the afternoon of the explosion, but flickering flames could still be seen at the site the following morning.Another Bouchard barge spill of 98,000 gallons of oil in Buzzards Bay, Mass. killed hundreds of loons, sea ducks and other birds. The Coast Guard closed the Arthur Kill waterway to shipping between Staten Island and New Jersey. The barge remained partially submerged, and eventually sunk.

The Bouchard Transportation Co., meanwhile, had some previous New York spills, one East River spill in March 2002 in which a Bouchard employee was found legally drunk. The cleanup for that spill lasted several weeks and cost $1.3 million. Bouchard would also have another spill a few months following the Staten Island barge explosion, when one of its barges in April 2003 ran aground outside a shipping lane at Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. In that spill, 98,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil took a considerable toll on birds and other wildlife. Hundreds of loons, sea ducks and other birds were killed. Beaches there, which serve as key habitats for birds such as piping plovers, were also oiled. Bouchard would pay a $10 million fine as part of a criminal plea deal in that case, the government charging the company had negligently piloted the barge, resulting in the death of migratory birds in violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Act. In November 2010, Bouchard also agreed to pay another $6 million penalty in that case to settle claims for water pollution.

Smoldering remains and aftermath of the Bouchard Barge 125 explosion at ExxonMobil’s Staten Island depot. Half-sunken remains of the barge visible in the foreground, as large portions of it were blown out into the depot.
Smoldering remains and aftermath of the Bouchard Barge 125 explosion at ExxonMobil’s Staten Island depot. Half-sunken remains of the barge visible in the foreground, as large portions of it were blown out into the depot.

“The Daily Damage”
An Occasional Series

This article is one in an occasional series of stories at this website that feature the ongoing environmental and societal impacts of industrial spills & explosions, fires & toxic releases, air & water pollution, and other such occurrences.

These stories will cover both recent incidents and those from history that have left a mark either nationally or locally; have generated controversy in some way; have brought about governmental inquiries or political activity; and generally have taken a toll on the environment, worker health and safety, and/or local communities.

My purpose for including such stories at this website is simply to drive home the continuing and chronic nature of these occurrences through history, and hopefully contribute to public education about them so that improvements in law, regulation, and industry practice will be made, yielding safer alternatives in the future.
— Jack Doyle

Back in New York, in November 2008, three years after the Staten Island barge explosion, the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn asked a federal judge for a judgment against Bouchard of up to $61.6 million under the Clean Water Act. Some 3.2 million gallons of gasoline spilled into the Arthur Kill waterway at the time of the incident, much of which was assumed to have been burned off in the fire that followed. Still, under the Clean Water Act penalties of up to $1,100 per barrel of spilled oil can be sought. “Shipping companies that spill large quantities of gasoline into the environment and navigable waters must be penalized and made to contribute to the cost of future cleanups,” said U.S. attorney, Benton J. Campbell, in a statement at the filing.

The final outcome of that case, however, did not come until February 2011, eight years after the explosion, when Bouchard agreed to pay $4 million to settle the Clean Water Act lawsuit for the 50,000 barrels of gasoline it allegedly spilled near Staten Island, N.Y. The civil penalty was then the largest ever collected by the Coast Guard in a federal Clean Water Act case, according to Loretta Lynch, U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and Admiral Daniel Neptun, Commander of the First Coast Guard District. Still, the Coast Guard, had originally sought a penalty of up to $1,100 per each barrel of oil spilled, which would have amounted to more than $50 million.

See also at this website, for example: “Burning Philadelphia,” a story about the 1975 Gulf Oil Co. refinery fire in that city; “Burn On, Big River,” about the historic pollution of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio; or “Inferno at Whiting,” about the Standard Oil refinery explosion and fire of August 1955 near Chicago that burned for eight days. Additional environmental stories can be found at the “Environmental History” topics page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please consider making a donation to help support this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 17 September 2015
Last Update: 17 September 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Barge Explodes in NY, ExxonMobil Depot: 2003”
PopHistoryDig.com, September 17, 2015.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

One fear at the time of the February 2003 barge explosion was the possibility of a storage-tank chain reaction at the depot.
One fear at the time of the February 2003 barge explosion was the possibility of a storage-tank chain reaction at the depot.
“Vehicle-size” piece of the exploding Bouchard Barge 125 that was hurled into the depot on February 21, 2003.
“Vehicle-size” piece of the exploding Bouchard Barge 125 that was hurled into the depot on February 21, 2003.
Part of the “depot side” firefighting contingent that fought the 2003 Staten Island barge explosion & fire.
Part of the “depot side” firefighting contingent that fought the 2003 Staten Island barge explosion & fire.

CNN, New York, “Two Bodies Recovered after Barge Explosion; Flames Shoot Hundreds of Feet Over Staten Island,” CNN.com, Friday, February 21, 2003

Brooke A. Masters, “Explosion Rocks Staten Island Oil Facility; No Indication of Terrorism, Authorities Say,” Wash- ington Post, Friday, February 21, 2003.

Robert D. Mcfadden, “Oil Barge Blast in Staten Island Leaves 2 Dead,” New York Times, February 22, 2003.

Robert D. McFadden, “The Barge Blast: The Overview,” New York Times, February 22, 2003, p. B-1.

Andrew Jacobs, “The Barge Blast: Jitters,” New York Times, February 22, 2003, p. B-7.

Elissa Gootman, “2 Who Died in Barge Blast Understood Job Risks, But Liked the Benefits,” New York Times, February 24, 2003

“Two Killed in Explosion of Gasoline Barge in New York Harbor,” Pro- fessional Mariner (Journal of The Maritime Industry), June/July 2003.

“Oil Spill Closes Bay To Shellfishing; Wildlife Officials Trying To Save Birds,” TheBostonChannel.com (re: Bouchard grounding & spill in Buzzards Bay, MA), April 29, 2003.

Andy Newman, “U.S. Sues Barge Operator in Fatal 2003 Explosion,” New York Times, November 6, 2008.

Bill Brucato, “Explosion at Port Mobil Staten Island NY, 10:00 am February 21, 2003. The Bouchard 125,” YouTube.com (run time, 9:15), uploaded on February 4, 2009.

captbbrucato, “The Bouchard 125, Port Mobil Explosion,” NY Tugmaster’s Weblog, February 5, 2009.

Richard Vanderford, “Bouchard To Pay $4M Over NY Gas Spill,” Law360.com, February 8, 2011.

“Environmental Enforcement: $4 Million Penalty Imposed in 2003 Staten Island Barge Explosion,” EnvironmentalLeader .com, February 10, 2011.

“Assault on America: A Decade of Petroleum Company Disaster, Pollution, and Profit,” National Wildlife Feder- ation, Washington, D.C., June 2010, 32pp.

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“Eleanor Rigby”
The Beatles: 1966

The 1966 song by the Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby,” not only became something of an important departure for pop music in its time, it also inspired at least one piece of sculpture in the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, England. The bronze statue, shown below, is displayed at Stanley Street in Liverpool not far from the Cavern Club where the young Beatles performed. It depicts a woman seated on a bench in coat and head scarf with a handbag on her lap and a shopping bag on her right. Also on the bench is a discarded newspaper where a sparrow is pecking at a piece of bread likely provided by the woman as she looks down at the bird. The woman subject is cast here as of one of the “lonely people,” described in the Lennon-McCartney song, “Eleanor Rigby.”

Sculpture in Liverpool, England offered in 1982 in homage to the Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby” and the lyric therein, 'All the lonely people / Where do they all come from.' Sculptor, Tommy Steele.
Sculpture in Liverpool, England offered in 1982 in homage to the Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby” and the lyric therein, 'All the lonely people / Where do they all come from.' Sculptor, Tommy Steele.

The statue was designed and sculpted by Tommy Steele, a famous rock musician himself (and sometime sculptor) who rose in the 1950s as Britain’s first teen idol, then dubbed as the U.K.’s answer to Elvis Presley. He is known for his 1957 No. 1 hit, “Singing the Blues.” In 1981, on a visit to Liverpool where he performed, Steele made an offer to city officials to create the sculpture as a tribute to the Beatles, donating his labor. The city fathers approved the idea and also helped fund the project. The cost of casting the figure was met by The Liverpool Echo newspaper. Steele completed the piece in December 1982 when the sculpture was unveiled.

On the wall behind the figure is an inscribed plaque which reads in part, “Eleanor Rigby, Dedicated to ‘All the Lonely People…’ This statue was sculpted and donated to the City of Liverpool by Tommy Steele as a tribute to the Beatles…”

“Eleanor Rigby”
The Beatles
1966

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from
his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby,” credited as a Lennon-McCartney creation, was released on the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver and as also as single. It appears to be one of those songs, fashioned at least partially, by a group process during the give and take of songwriting. In addition to Lennon and McCartney, where the division of labor was 80 percent McCartney and 20 percent Lennon, according to McCartney, several others also contributed suggestions for phrasing and composition that figured into the final song.


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“Eleanor Rigby”-The Beatles
1966

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The idea for the song began with McCartney, who initially had been working with earlier lyrics that he set aside, most of which would be abandoned. But when he hit upon the phrase, “…picks up the rice in a church where a wedding had been,” it became a pathway to the song’s story. McCartney imagined this woman picking up the rice as odd, since others would leave it on the ground. He envisioned her “as a lonely spinster type of this parish,” not likely to have her own wedding, and that’s when he decided the song would be about lonely people. In particular, the song was structured around the spinster and a priest, who also cross paths at the woman’s funeral.

The name Eleanor Rigby came over time as well, with “Eleanor” first borrowed from Eleanor Bron who had appeared with McCartney and the Beatles in the 1965 film Help!. “Rigby” came about from a business sign McCartney had seen – Rigby & Evans Wine & Spirit Shippers. But there is also something earlier from when young Lennon and McCartney first met in 1957, which was near a cemetery at St Peter’s Church in Woolton, a hang-out spot at the time. In that cemetery one tombstone’s engraving includes an “Eleanor Rigby” entry. As McCartney has stated about the name: “It was either complete coincidence or in my subconscious” from his earlier years.

Other lyrics for the song came together after McCartney gathered his mates – Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Lennon friend, Pete Shotton – at Lennon’s home to help finish the lyrics. George came up with the opening phrase, “Ah, look at all the lonely people.” Ringo contributed “darning his socks,” and Shotton offered that the song should end with a funeral, bringing all the story’s characters together.

The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” EP, Portugal, Parlophone.
The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” EP, Portugal, Parlophone.
In the studio, meanwhile, it was George Martin’s idea to add strings to the composition, which Paul at first did not like, as he thought it would sound too syrupy. But apparently he grew comfortable with the idea. In fact, according to Lennon, McCartney at the time was listening to and liking Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, introduced to him by way of his then girlfriend, Jane Asher.

In any case, two string quartets – comprised of four violins, two cellos, and two violas, scored by George Martin – would become central to the song. However, McCartney did ask that the strings have a “biting” sound in the arrangement. And this was met through the work of engineer Geoff Emerick who, according to Rolling Stone, “was determined to capture the sound of bows striking strings with an immediacy previously unheard on any recording, classical or rock…” In order to achieve this, Emerick miked the instruments separately. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, as the strings stand out in “Eleanor Rigby” – clearly audible, dominant, and not syrupy at all.

The Beatles, however, do not play any instruments on “Eleanor Rigby.” McCartney provides the lead vocal, double-tracked, with Lennon and Harrison adding harmonies. But the message in “Eleanor Rigby” is as important as the music.

Cover art on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine / Eleanor Rigby single as released in Brazil.
Cover art on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine / Eleanor Rigby single as released in Brazil.
The song was among those that took the Beatles – and for that matter, a portion of contemporary music – away from simple pop-styled rock `n roll to more sophisticated studio productions and songs that had something to say.

“Eleanor Rigby” is described by Rolling Stone as “a meditation on solitude and aging that sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time.” AllMusic critic and reviewer Richie Unterberger has noted that “singing about the neglected concerns and fates of the elderly” on “Eleanor Regby” is one example “of why the Beatles’ appeal reached so far beyond the traditional rock audience”.

After Paul McCartney heard the final track, his perception of his own songwriting changed, according to Rolling Stone, seeing the song as something of breakthrough, moving him away from pop styles toward more serious possibilities in the future.

Still, on the popular music charts of 1966, “Eleanor Rigby” did quite well, especially in the U.K. It was released in early August 1966 as a single and also on the album Revolver. It was the second track on that album, following George Harrison’s “Taxman.” Ringo Starr’s “Yellow Submarine,” which would be paired with “Eleanor Rigby” on the single, is also on Revolver.

Revolver was the Beatles’ 7th studio album and their second following Rubber Soul, which marked a progression in their new “studio phase” of music making, where they began experimenting with new sounds and new techniques, evolving a more sophisticated body of work (see also at this website a separate story on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” also from Revolver).

Beatles on the cover of the 1966 Swedish edition of the “Yellow Submarine” / “Eleanor Rigby” single, 1966.
Beatles on the cover of the 1966 Swedish edition of the “Yellow Submarine” / “Eleanor Rigby” single, 1966.
In the U.K, the “Eleanor Rigby” single on the Parlophone label went to No. 1, staying there for four weeks. In the U.S., on the Capitol label, it hit No. 11. The song was also nominated for three Grammys, with McCartney winning the 1966 Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance. Rolling Stone magazine rated “Eleanor Rigby” at No. 138 on its 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Beatles song historian, Ian MacDonald, author of Revolution in the Head (1994), has noted that “Eleanor Rigby” – while certainly not the first popular song to deal with death and loneliness – “came as quite a shock to pop listeners in 1966.”

The song, as others have noted, despite its bleak message of depression and isolation with funeral trappings, went right to the top of the pop music charts. Prior Beatles material, for the most part, had been focused on love songs in one form or another.

By 1966, they had released a few songs such as “Nowhere Man” and “Paperback Writer.” But “Eleanor Rigby” marked an even sharper departure from their earlier years. Adds AllMusic.com reviewer Richie Unterberger:

… In a broader sense, the Beatles could be commenting here on the alienation of people in the modern world as a whole, with a pessimism that is rare in a Beatles track (and rarer still in a McCartney-dominated one). What are these characters doing their small tasks for, and what is the point: those are the questions asked by the song, albeit in an understated tone. Pessimism about the worth of organized religion is implied in the desolate portrait of Father McKenzie and the finality of the phrase ‘no one was saved.’…

In any case, the musicians and producers of that day were listening, and they heard something new. Pete Townshend of the rock group The Who noted in one 1967 interview: “I think ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a very important musical move forward. It certainly inspired me to write and listen to things in that vein.” And American songwriter Jerry Leiber has stated: “The Beatles are second to none in all departments. I don’t think there has ever been a better song written than ‘Eleanor Rigby’.” Howard Goodall, an English composer of musicals, choral, and theatrical music has remarked on the song as being an urban version of a tragic ballad with classical Greek influences.

Cover of a 1968 Ray Charles single featuring his version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” song.
Cover of a 1968 Ray Charles single featuring his version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” song.
The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” has also been covered by a long list of contemporary artists, at least 62 of whom have recorded it on albums. Among those covering the song vocally have been Joan Baez, Aretha Franklin, John Denver, Bobbie Gentry, and Sarah Vaughn, to mention a few. Instrumental versions include those by Booker T and the MGs and The Percy Faith Strings.


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“Eleanor Rigby”-Ray Charles
1968

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However, one cover version of “Eleanor Rigby,” offered by Ray Charles and his Raelettes, provides a strong and vibrant interpretation – adding a touch of soul and R & B from the master, along with a little call-and-response action from the Raelettes. The Ray Charles version, in fact, cracked the U.S. Top 40 in July-August 1968, reaching No. 35.

Cover art for the May 2012 digitally-restored edition of the 1968 “Yellow Submarine” film, which includes the “Eleanor Rigby” song.
Cover art for the May 2012 digitally-restored edition of the 1968 “Yellow Submarine” film, which includes the “Eleanor Rigby” song.
The Beatles, meanwhile, would also issue the song on a number of their albums. In addition to Revolver in 1966, it also appears as the second song in the Beatles’ 1968 animated film, Yellow Submarine, but is not on the original Yellow Submarine soundtrack album. In 1984, a re-interpretation of the song was included in the film and album Give My Regards to Broad Street, written by and starring Paul McCartney. The song in that production segues into a symphonic extension titled, “Eleanor’s Dream.”

A fully remixed stereo version of the original “Eleanor Rigby” was issued in 1999 on the Yellow Submarine Songtrack for the re-release of the 1968 film. It also appears on several other Beatles collections, anthologies, and box sets issued since the 1990s.

See also at this website “Beatles History” a topics page which includes ten additional story choices focused on the Beatles, 1962-2015. The “Annals of Music” category page includes other story choices as well. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 31 August 2015
Last Update: 29 March 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles: 1966,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 31, 2015.

____________________________________



Source, Links & Additional Information

EMI ad on the release of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” single, appearing in the Friday, August 5th, 1966 edition of the U.K’s “New Musical Express” magazine, which also includes a photo of the Beatles behind a wire mesh fence.
EMI ad on the release of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” single, appearing in the Friday, August 5th, 1966 edition of the U.K’s “New Musical Express” magazine, which also includes a photo of the Beatles behind a wire mesh fence.
1966: Capitol Records’ 45rpm disc for the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” single.
1966: Capitol Records’ 45rpm disc for the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” single.

“The Beatles,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 56-59.

“Eleanor Rigby (statue),” Wikipedia.org.

“Tommy Steele,” Wikipedia.org.

“The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs: Eleanor Rigby, No. 22,” Rolling Stone, Special Collectors Edition (print), November 2010, p. 53.

Song Review by Richie Unterberger, “Eleanor Rigby- The Beatles,” AllMusic.com.

“Eleanor Rigby,” Wikipedia.org.

Greil Marcus, “The Beatles,” in Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, with Holly George-Warren (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, New York: Random House, revised edition, 1992, pp. 209-222.

“No 138, Eleanor Rigby, 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” Rolling Stone, 2011.

Terry Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997.

Bill Harry, The Beatles Encyclopedia: Revised and Updated, London: Virgin Publishing, 2000.

Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties (3rd ed.), Chicago Review Press, 2005.

Dave Rybaczewski, “Eleanor Rigby History,” BeatlesBooks.com.

“Document with Clues to Beatles Song Eleanor Rigby Could Raise £500,000,” The Telegraph, November 12, 2008.

“Revolver (Beatles album),” Wikipedia.org.

Miriam Coleman “Sculpture of Eleanor Rigby Made of £1 Million in Bank Notes Unveiled in Liverpool; Life-Sze Statue Is on Display at the Museum of Liverpool,” Rolling Stone, September 21, 2014.

__________________________________




“The Babe Ruth Story”
Book & Film: 1948

Book jacket cover for 1948 first edition of “The Babe Ruth Story” as told to Bob Considine, published by E.P. Dutton.
Book jacket cover for 1948 first edition of “The Babe Ruth Story” as told to Bob Considine, published by E.P. Dutton.
Babe Ruth, the famous New York Yankee baseball slugger of the 1920s and 1930s, had retired from baseball in June 1935 after playing professionally for more than 20 years. In April and June of 1948, before adoring fans, he was honored on two occasions at Yankee Stadium. But by this time, Ruth was also battling throat cancer, first diagnosed in November 1946, though he was never told he had cancer.

In 1947, Ruth had also authorized a biography about his life and times — The Babe Ruth Story (cover at right) — which would be published in 1948. Written in the first person, Ruth’s story was “told to Bob Considine,” then a famous author and Hearst syndicated newspaper columnist. Considine’s name appears on the book’s cover along with Ruth’s — as well as a hand-written note at the top, supposedly from Ruth, calling the book “my only authorized story.”

The Babe Ruth Story, however, was not written by Considine – or at least a good portion of it came from another source. Considine did meet with Ruth several times in attempts to interview him for the book. Another sports writer, Fred Lieb, who worked for the New York Telegram newspaper, became the real ghostwriter for the book. Lieb later recounted his role to other writers, including Lawrence Ritter and Leigh Montville:

“The Babe Ruth book is under Considine’s name, but I gave him most of his information. I dictated that book for about a week before the 1947 World Series. I told everything I knew or could recall about the Babe – well, everything that could be printed, anyway.”

According to Lieb, Considine didn’t know enough about Ruth to do his biography, and hadn’t covered him as extensively as Lieb had. “I was with Ruth [as a sportswriter] from 1920 to 1934. Considine didn’t come to New York until around 1933.”

Back cover of 1948 book, “The Babe Ruth Story.”
Back cover of 1948 book, “The Babe Ruth Story.”
In 1947, when Considine sought to work with Ruth, he found it hard for Ruth to sit still long enough to have any serious interviewing – as Ruth was then on the rebound from what was thought to be a successful round of drug treatments (false, it turned out) for his diagnosed throat cancer. Ruth would become too sick for Considine to interview for the book, and without the interviews, he only had partial knowledge of Ruth’s full career. And that’s when Considine turned to Fred Lieb for help. But Lieb, Considine, and Ruth did work on various parts of the book during the closing months of 1947.

When the book came out in May 1948, it was Bob Considine’s name on the cover, plus a photo of he and Ruth on the back cover, along with Considine’s biography and considerable author credits.

Considine was born in Washington D.C., grew up there and graduated from George Washington University with a journalism degree. However, he had also worked at the state department while in college, and might have had a career overseas if it weren’t for a Washington Post job offer as a sports writer. He covered the sports beat there and at the Washington Herald between 1930 and 1933. Thereafter, Considine served as a war correspondent for the William Randolph Hearst-owned International News Service (a predecessor of United Press International).

From 1937 to 1975 Considine’s “On The Line” column was syndicated nationally. He also authored some 25 books, including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a 1943 collaboration with Captain Ted Lawson. His “On the Line” column was also the basis for radio commentaries.

Young Babe Ruth in action with the Boston Red Sox. Click for story with more of his career statistics and the batting records he set.
Young Babe Ruth in action with the Boston Red Sox. Click for story with more of his career statistics and the batting records he set.
A Time magazine profile of him would note: “Ghostwriter Considine dashes off his fast-moving autobiographies while their heroes still rate Page One, takes one-third of the ‘author’s’ royalties as his cut. His General Wainwright’s Story was in print before Wainwright was out of the hospital. While Ted Lawson was still recovering from wounds suffered in Doolittle’s Tokyo raid, Considine finished Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” In his prime, Considine was making an estimated $100,000 annually. He also wrote several Hollywood movie scripts. By the time he was tapped to write the Babe Ruth book, his national column covered the general news topics of the day. On the back of the Ruth book, Considine offered his Babe Ruth bona fides:

“Babe and I have known each other since 1933, when I started covering big league ball for the Washington Herald. When I was a kid, he was, of course, my No. 1 baseball hero. He pitched the first big league game I ever saw – during the summer of 1918. He beat Washington [then the Senators] 1-0, and the 1 was one of the 11 home runs he hit that season to tie for the America league homerun championship. I was the first sportswriter Babe was able to see after he returned home from the hospital [during his cancer treatments]. I took Hank Greenberg [famous Detroit Tigers slugger] up there one Sunday afternoon early last year [1947] and the story of the two of them, incidentally, hit a lot of front pages throughout the country.”

The 250-page book on Ruth was published by E.P. Dutton & Co. in New York, in May of 1948. Below are the internal book jacket fly leafs offering the publisher’s description of the book – which Ruth claimed was his only authorized story, a line used on the cover and in marketing.

Inside front book flap for “The Babe Ruth Story,” which also repeats “my only authorized story” note.
Inside front book flap for “The Babe Ruth Story,” which also repeats “my only authorized story” note.
Inside back book flap for “The Babe Ruth Story” also mentioned the forthcoming film & paperback edition.
Inside back book flap for “The Babe Ruth Story” also mentioned the forthcoming film & paperback edition.

In his treatments for cancer, Ruth had received, in different stages, both radiation and some newer drug treatments. During this time, he was in and out of the hospital, a period when he had also lost quite a bit of weight and had difficulty speaking and swallowing.

An 8-part series of the Babe Ruth book ran in the Saturday Evening Post. The top of the Feb 14th edition ran a feature box for part 1.
An 8-part series of the Babe Ruth book ran in the Saturday Evening Post. The top of the Feb 14th edition ran a feature box for part 1.
In early 1948, Ruth returned to New York after some convalescing in Florida, but his cancer was not much better. He agreed, however, to attend a book signing party for The Babe Ruth Story being held at the offices of E.P. Dutton. Bob Considine, who attended the book signing, would later recall:

“A lot of publishers were there because it was obvious that Babe’s days were numbered. Bennet Cerf [a founder of Random House] stood in line to get the Babe’s autograph. Ernest Hemingway was there. The books were just about running out, the end of the line near, and I said, ‘Jeez, I’d like to have one, too.’ Babe opened the book and wrote, in his marvelous Spencerian handwriting, ‘To my pal Bob…’ And he looked up and said, ‘What the hell is your last name?’ I’d spent two months with him.”

Excerpts from the Ruth-Considine book appeared in an eight-part series in The Saturday Evening Post, then a popular weekly magazine read by millions. The series appeared under the by-line “Babe Ruth with Bob Considine” and ran under the title: “My Hits – And My Errors.” (sample page below).

Sample page from the Saturday Evening Post series on “The Babe Ruth Story,” showing a young Ruth sprinting from the batters’ box on the occasion of his 21st Yankee home run in 1920, a year he hit 54 HRs, changing the game thereafter.
Sample page from the Saturday Evening Post series on “The Babe Ruth Story,” showing a young Ruth sprinting from the batters’ box on the occasion of his 21st Yankee home run in 1920, a year he hit 54 HRs, changing the game thereafter.

The serialization of The Babe Ruth Story in The Saturday Evening Post ran in editions that appeared between February 14th, 1948 and April 3rd, 1948. That exposure no doubt helped bring notice to the book and helped increase its sales. A New York Times book review covering both the Ruth book and another on pitching star Walter Johnson, appeared in May of 1948.

Pocket Books edition of “The Babe Ruth Story” - by Babe Ruth as told to Bob Considine, 1948.
Pocket Books edition of “The Babe Ruth Story” - by Babe Ruth as told to Bob Considine, 1948.
Paperback publishers at the time, also released Babe Ruth books. Bantam had a Babe Ruth book out in 1948, and Pocket Books (then owned by Marshall Field III who also owned the Chicago Sun newspaper) apparently had the rights and/or an agreement with Dutton, to publish The Babe Ruth Story under its name in paperback form. The Pocket Books edition of The Babe Ruth Story shown at right featured Ruth on the cover in his distinctive home-run swing.

The Babe Ruth Story was also the first baseball book to crack the New York Times bestsellers list, then in its 13th year. Sales of the book were spurred in part by the Babe’s passing, as the book had only been out a few months before his death. The Babe Ruth Story was on the New York Times bestsellers list for three weeks.

Today, copies of The Babe Ruth Story, especially autographed hardback editions, are highly valued by collectors. A Babe Ruth autographed 1948 hardback edition of The Babe Ruth Story sold for $6,462.50 at Robert Edwards Auctions in 2008 – billed by the auction house as “one of the most desirable of all baseball books.” Ruth-autographed copies of this book are especially rare since he was quite ill at the time and only singed a limited number of copies.

As the Robert Edwards auction house has stated: “Thus, signed copies of this book are not only rare but also represent one of the most important and final items ever penned by the legendary ‘Sultan of Swat.’ For that reason they are highly prized by collectors today.” At least one other copy of a signed hardback edition of The Babe Ruth Story sold at Robert Edwards Actions for $4,740.00 in 2013.


One of the movie posters for 1948 film, “The Babe Ruth Story,” this one also promoting Louisville Slugger bats.
One of the movie posters for 1948 film, “The Babe Ruth Story,” this one also promoting Louisville Slugger bats.

Babe Ruth Film

As the book was being written, plans for a Hollywood film on Ruth using the same title – “The Babe Ruth Story” – were also underway, with the film to be based on the Bob Considine book. Considine, in fact, was hired to help with the screenplay.

Starring in the film would be: William Bendix as Ruth; Claire Trevor as Ruth’s wife, Claire; Charles Bickford as Brother Matthias, and William Frawley (later famous for his I Love Lucy TV role as Fred Mertz) as Jack Dunn, Ruth’s manager during his years with the minor league Baltimore Orioles. The film would be produced by Roy Del Ruth (no relation), who had directed a number of actors in the 1930s, including, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers and others. Allied Studios would distribute the film.

The idea for a film on Ruth and his life had been kicking around in Hollywood since 1941 or so. But with the outbreak of WWII, the project was shelved for a time, and then the film was on again – off again while trying to find the right lead actor. But in 1947, with Ruth’s health in decline, it became the intent of Allied Artists studio to quickly produce the film and get it into theaters while Ruth was still alive.

Ruth had been signed by the studio as a consultant to help prepare Bendix for the role, and in late-April-early-May 1948, Ruth and Claire went to Hollywood.

On June 13, 1948, when the New York Yankees celebrated the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium, there was a also a ceremony retiring Ruth’s No. 3 jersey. It was the last time Ruth would appear at the stadium. Following that outing, and over the next week or so, Ruth traveled on behalf of an American Legion Baseball project with Ford Motor Co., visiting three cities in the Midwest. Not long thereafter, he was back in the hospital, as by this time the cancer had spread throughout his body.

Babe Ruth giving actor William Bendix a few pointers on the art of hitting, May 1948. Ruth was then battling cancer.
Babe Ruth giving actor William Bendix a few pointers on the art of hitting, May 1948. Ruth was then battling cancer.
Still, in late July 1948, July 26th, he was taken from his hospital room – apparently with the approval of his then wife, Claire – to make an appearance at the film premiere of The Babe Ruth Story at the Astor Theater. A number of those around him at the time thought he was really too sick to have been there, and half way though the film, he was taken back to the hospital. About ten days later, Ruth died of cancer on August 16th, 1948, just before the film’s general release. He was 53 years old.

As for the film’s reception, Leigh Montville would note in his own book on Ruth, The Big Bam:

“…The movie was so bad, so cliche filled and unbelievable, that people [attending the premiere] said they wished they also could have left [as Ruth did]. ‘The Babe Ruth Story’ was killed across the board by the critics.
“ ‘No home run,’ Wanda Hale of the Daily News said, ‘It’s more than a scratch single, a feeble blooper back of second base.’”

1948 film poster for “The Babe Ruth Story.”
1948 film poster for “The Babe Ruth Story.”
The New York Times review stated that the film “has much more the tone of low-grade fiction than it has of biography.” American film critic and historian Leonard Michael Maltin, author of several mainstream books on cinema, called it a “perfectly dreadful bio of the Sultan of Swat that is sugar-coated beyond recognition…” A number of others put it on their “worst movies” list.

Still, one bad film wasn’t going to tarnish the legend of Babe Ruth, which remains intact today, warts and all. And although the 1992 biopic, The Babe, was made with John Goodman in the lead role, there may yet be room for other films to come on this giant personality and how he changed the game. Certainly in the book department, Ruth is well covered. According to Leigh Montville and others at least 27 books have been written on Ruth, but that mysteries about his life still remain.

For additional stories on Babe Ruth at this website see: “Babe Ruth Days, 1947 & 1948” (covers special days honoring Ruth at Yankee Stadium and reviews his career); “Ruth at Oriole Park” (about a statue of Ruth at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, his early baseball youth, and years in Baltimore); and “Babe Ruth & Tobacco” (Ruth’s endorsements of various cigar, cigarette, and chewing tobacco products, as well as appearances at a tobacco shop in Boston). See also “Baseball Stories,” a topics page at this website with additional baseball history. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please consider making a donation to help support this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

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Date Posted: 28 August 2015
Last Update: 28 August 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “The Babe Ruth Story: Book & Film, 1948,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 28, 2015.

____________________________________



Sources, Links & Additional Information

1910s: Young Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox. As a pitcher his record was 94-46, with an ERA of 2.88.
1910s: Young Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox. As a pitcher his record was 94-46, with an ERA of 2.88.
Aug 17th, 1948: When Babe Ruth died, he was treated like a national hero and his passing was front-page news across the country; here with The Detroit Free Press.
Aug 17th, 1948: When Babe Ruth died, he was treated like a national hero and his passing was front-page news across the country; here with The Detroit Free Press.

“Babe Ruth Homers Again; Life Film Story $100,000,” New York Times, September 13, 1946.

“Republic Planning Film on Babe Ruth,” New York Times, April 3, 1947.

“Babe Ruth Film Set; Allied Artists to Produce Movie Based on Considine Book,” New York Times, July 18, 1947.

Gladwin Hill, “Bendix Steps Up to the Plate as Babe Ruth,” New York Times, April 4, 1948.

Arthur Daley, “Sports of the Times; The Babe’s Own Story,” New York Times, April 26, 1948.

Rex Lardner, Book Reviews, “For the Baseball Lover’s Library,” New York Times, May 2, 1948.

“People Who Read and Write” (On Dutton Book Party, Ruth Book), New York Times, May 9, 1948.

“‘Babe Ruth’ Premiere Set; Film Story of Famed Bambino Opens at Astor,” New York Times, July 26,” July 8, 1948.

“Ruth Sees Premiere of Film on His Life,” New York Times, July 27, 1948.

“Babe Ruth,” Wikipedia.org.

Robert Creamer, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, 1976.

“The Babe Ruth Story,” Turner Classic Movies.

“Bob Considine,” Wikipedia.org.

Lawrence Ritter, The Babe: The Game That Ruth Built, 1997.

Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: The Life & Times of Babe Ruth, New York: Doubleday, 2006.

Tom Bartsch, “Baseball’s Best-Sellers: An Updated List of Baseball Books that Landed on the N.Y. Times Best-Seller List,” SportsCollectorsDigest.com, October 8, 2012.

Frank Jackson, “Bombing in the Bronx: The Babe Ruth Story,” HardBallTimes.com, October 28, 2014.

Lot # 1002: “1948 First Edition of The Babe Ruth Story Signed by Babe Ruth” (starting bid – $1,500.00; Sold For – $4,740.00), 2013 Auction, Robert Edward Auctions, LLC, Watchung, NJ,.

“U.S. Mourns For ‘Babe’ Ruth, Baseball Hero,” Gloucester Citizen (England, U.K.), Tuesday 17 August 1948.

“The Babe Ruth Story” (film), Wikipedia.org.

“The Babe Ruth Story,” American Film Institute.

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“Inferno at Whiting”
Standard Oil: 1955

Circa 1910: Postcard rendition of oil storage tanks at southern tip of Lake Michigan where the sprawling Standard Oil refinery at Whiting, Indiana would become one the world’s largest.
Circa 1910: Postcard rendition of oil storage tanks at southern tip of Lake Michigan where the sprawling Standard Oil refinery at Whiting, Indiana would become one the world’s largest.
Late 1930s billboard, along a row of storage tanks (behind sign), touting the Whiting refinery as “the world’s largest.”
Late 1930s billboard, along a row of storage tanks (behind sign), touting the Whiting refinery as “the world’s largest.”
Aerial view of refinery grounds, processing equipment and storage tanks covering some 1,600 acres at Whiting, Indiana.
Aerial view of refinery grounds, processing equipment and storage tanks covering some 1,600 acres at Whiting, Indiana.

In 1955, the Standard Oil refinery at Whiting, Indiana was one of the largest oil processing centers in the world. The refinery became a centerpiece of John D. Rockefeller’s Midwest oil empire in 1889, part of his larger Standard Oil Trust that came to dominate the oil industry through the early 1900s.

Initially, the Whiting oil refinery processed high-sulfur, “sour crude” from the oilfields of Lima, Ohio, imported via Rockefeller-controlled railroads. The principal product was then kerosene for lamp lighting. But by the 1910s, with the rise of the automobile, gasoline became the primary product. In fact, at Whiting, some of Rockefeller’s scientists helped develop a refining process that would produce more gasoline from a barrel of oil.

Rockefeller’s company, Standard of Indiana, later became “Amoco” after Standard absorbed the American Oil Company in the 1920s. Amoco and the Whiting refinery, were later acquired by British Petroleum in 1998, the current owner.

But at the beginning, in 1889, the Whiting oil refinery rose in what was then a mostly rural area on the southern shores of Lake Michigan – a time when sand dunes were the most prominent feature in the area.

The town of Whiting – born of a railroad stop named “Pop Whiting’s Siding” after a rail engineer — grew with the refinery. Located about 16 miles from downtown Chicago, by the mid-1930s about 7,000 people were employed at the Whiting plant and the company’s Chicago offices.

By the early 1950s, Standard of Indiana ranked as the second-largest American oil company with annual gross sales of $1.5 billion. The refinery by this time had grown to encompass more than 1,600 acres, with many acres of storage tanks, refining towers, and processing equipment.

Standard of Indiana, like all oil companies of that era, had its growing pains and also had its share of spills, fires, and explosions. But on Saturday morning, August 27, 1955, an incident of historic proportion erupted there.


“Like The Sun Exploded”

It was early dawn that Saturday morning. A brand new hydroformer at the Whiting refinery was cranking up. It was also known by some as a “cat cracker,” as catalysts were used with naphtha and hydrogen under high pressure and heat to make higher-octane fuel. The hydroformer stood 260 feet high, or more than twenty-five stories tall. It was a giant piece of equipment, made of steel plate and concrete, designed to withstand the rigors of heavy operating pressures. In it’s production of high octane fuel, it would process 30,000 gallons of highly flammable naphtha every day. This hydroformer was one of the heaviest vessels ever made for oil refining at that time, then believed to be state of the art. But something went terribly wrong that Saturday morning.

Aerial photograph of the spreading August 1955 oil refinery fire at Standard Oil’s Whiting, Indiana complex. The 8-day fire, set by a processing tower explosion, would consume at least 45 acres of storage tanks and damage nearby homes and businesses. Two people were killed, another 40 injured, and 1,500 evacuated.
Aerial photograph of the spreading August 1955 oil refinery fire at Standard Oil’s Whiting, Indiana complex. The 8-day fire, set by a processing tower explosion, would consume at least 45 acres of storage tanks and damage nearby homes and businesses. Two people were killed, another 40 injured, and 1,500 evacuated.

Without warning, at about 6:15 a.m., several explosions occurred at the giant hydroformer, and shortly thereafter – as some who were at the refinery that day would later recount – “all hell broke loose.” The initial blast tore apart the huge processing unit, hurling 30-foot long chunks of two-inch steel and countless smaller shards in all directions. “I thought the sun had exploded and that this was the end of the world,” said one woman, quoted in The Times newspaper of northwest Indiana. “There was a terrible noise and a big red flash.” The force of the initial blast broke almost every window in a three-mile radius. Smoke could be seen in Chicago and from 30 miles away.

Aug 28, 1955: In the town of Whiting, Indiana, looking south along Indianapolis Blvd, the Standard Oil refinery grounds to the left is where the initial explosion occurred, as the rising fireball shows. But there were also acres of storage tanks and more refinery stretching away from this area with additional storage tanks and refinery on the other side of this road.
Aug 28, 1955: In the town of Whiting, Indiana, looking south along Indianapolis Blvd, the Standard Oil refinery grounds to the left is where the initial explosion occurred, as the rising fireball shows. But there were also acres of storage tanks and more refinery stretching away from this area with additional storage tanks and refinery on the other side of this road.

Fiery debris from the exploding cat cracker rained down on the refinery grounds and nearby residential areas. Within the refinery, some of the flying metal and concrete landed on and punctured other oil storage tanks, igniting them in the process, touching off subsequent explosions. The Times and Chicago Tribune newspapers, among others, reported on the scene at the time, described “a flood of burning oil and naphtha” that washed over the refinery grounds and into Whiting streets and sewers. Residents were later warned about the risks of smoking and other open flames from home appliances that might ignite fumes backing up from the sewers. Some utility poles in the area also caught fire. (A short British Pathé newsreel film from 1955, shown below left, complete with dramatic music, captured some of the blaze that swept through the refinery and the Whiting community).

In residential areas near the refinery, flying projectiles damaged several homes, terrifying residents. A 3-year-old boy in one nearby home was killed in his sleep as a 10-foot steel pipe torpedoed through the roof of his bedroom.

In another instance, a 180-ton chunk of steel “as big as a five bedroom house,” according to The Times was hurled two blocks. That huge projectile, leveled a home and a grocery store on 129th Street, where the homeowner had left only minutes before the blast. Businesses, homes, garages and automobiles within a three mile radius of the refinery sustained substantial damage. Six miles from the explosion, some residents reported being knocked from their beds.

One family that barely escaped was that of Harvey Hunter and his wife Beverly and their two young children, Bonnie and Dennis. Harvey, a crane operator at Inland Steel in his day job, recounted the family’s horror to a Chicago Tribune reporter after he and his family had reached the Whiting Community Center for shelter:

August 1955: Onlookers watching the refinery blaze from a distance were surprised by a subsequent explosion and ran for their cars. Life magazine, Sept 5, 1955, Wallace Kirkland.
August 1955: Onlookers watching the refinery blaze from a distance were surprised by a subsequent explosion and ran for their cars. Life magazine, Sept 5, 1955, Wallace Kirkland.

“We were thrown out of bed by the explosion. Chunks of steel pipe came thru the building, the windows and screens blew inwards, and the plaster fell from the ceiling.

“I picked myself off the floor and started looking for the children. Dennis’ bed was upside down and he was under it – covered with broken glass and plaster. Something had hit me on the head…

“I found my wife and daughter and the four of us got out of there in a hurry. We got into our station wagon and started down the alley but the way was blocked by a metal casting – it must have weighed 100 tons – that had been hurled there from the refinery. We turned back and got out at the other end of the alley and got here [community center shelter]…”

In addition to the boy killed in his home, one Standard Oil workman died of a heart attack, and more than 40 others were injured and sent to hospitals.

About 1,500 residents from some 600 homes were evacuated from the area to avoid further casualties as armed National Guard units patrolled the streets helping local police maintain order. Following the initial explosions, fire began consuming other parts of the refinery. By night fall on the first day, 60 million barrels of oil in storage tanks had gone up in flames.

For the next two days, the fire continued to spread, marching through the refinery’s tank farm acre-by-acre touching off further explosions, more refinery spillage, and additional fire. Spreading flames sometimes rose to heights of 300-to-400 feet.

Aug 28, 1955 Chicago Tribune headlines on the Standard Oil refinery fire indicate huge losses and “oil blaze out of control.”
Aug 28, 1955 Chicago Tribune headlines on the Standard Oil refinery fire indicate huge losses and “oil blaze out of control.”
Aug 29, 1955 Chicago Tribune headlines indicate Standard Oil fire in check, but still burning, with residents kept from their homes.
Aug 29, 1955 Chicago Tribune headlines indicate Standard Oil fire in check, but still burning, with residents kept from their homes.

In the end, at least 67 storage tanks over some 45 acres had been completely destroyed. Oil and naphtha from ruptured tanks had also flowed into the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.

Newspaper photos from inside the refinery told a story of the fire’s awesome heat and destructive power — railroad rails that “resembled strands of spaghetti, bent by the extreme heat and force of the explosion,” according to one report. Some freight and tank cars were melted by the intense heat generated.

In battling the inferno, numerous Standard Oil workers were enlisted to fight the blaze and fire departments from Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Calumet City, Dolton and Chicago rushed to help – more than 6,000 in all joined the fight.

As the days went by, the firefighters realized their task was to contain rather than extinguish the blaze. They began building large sand barricades at the perimeter of the fire in an attempt to keep burning oil from spreading to other areas of the refinery. At times, however, there was fear the blaze would spread to the nearby Sinclair Oil refinery, creating an even greater catastrophe. But on the second day of the blaze, the fire was said to be “under control,” although sill burning.

A YouTube viewer commenting on one of the Whiting fire films found on the web, offered an eye-witness account of the 1955 blaze with the following: “I lived two streets in front of this [fire] on White Oak Ave. When the explosion happened we thought it was the Atom Bomb. Everyone ran from their homes, some people were moving their furniture out. By the time we got to the corner of Indianapolis Blvd., the entire block at Standard was on fire and oil tanks were exploding. I was 11 years old. We left for East Chicago and spent a week at my grandmother’s home. Sand trucks were brought in from the Dunes to help contain [the refinery fire]. The tanks were exploding and we could feel the heat by just standing in the front yard of my grandmother’s home miles and miles away. We left everything, including the dog and our bird…”.

Aug 1955: Life magazine photo of Standard Oil workers at Whiting trying to contain burning oil and sequential tank explosions by building sand barricades to keep the oil & fire from spreading to other parts of the 1,660-acre refinery.
Aug 1955: Life magazine photo of Standard Oil workers at Whiting trying to contain burning oil and sequential tank explosions by building sand barricades to keep the oil & fire from spreading to other parts of the 1,660-acre refinery.

When the last of the fires were finally put out on September 4, 1955, the area was declared a National Disaster. The company’s own internal publication, The Standard Torch of October 1955, offered an initial accounting: “Eight days and five hours later, the last flame was extinguished. By then, 45 acres of the refinery lay in ruins. Seventy tanks were crumbled and burned out. Three process units were destroyed. Twisted, fire-blackened steel lay about as grim reminders.. .. Damage was estimated to be in excess of $10 million dollars, all but one million of which was insured.” Other estimates put the figure at $30 million (or roughly between $87 million and $273 million in 2015 dollars).

Two men at center survey the damage in a portion of the burnt-out Standard Oil refinery, then still smoldering, with the remains of two crumpled and distorted giant storage tanks to the left. Whiting oil refinery, Aug 1955, Chicago Tribune photo.
Two men at center survey the damage in a portion of the burnt-out Standard Oil refinery, then still smoldering, with the remains of two crumpled and distorted giant storage tanks to the left. Whiting oil refinery, Aug 1955, Chicago Tribune photo.

A year after the fire, Standard Oil was back to business as usual, having rebuilt the damaged parts of the refinery and soon operating at 100 percent capacity again. But the terror the incident created among workers and in the community was very real. One resident, Gayle Kosalko, would later note, “that explosion caused Whiting’s population to go from 10,000 people to 5,000.” And indeed, after the incident, Amoco/Standard took the opportunity to buy up land near the refinery, and many homes and businesses that were destroyed or damaged by that fire or abandoned were leveled and never rebuilt.

Boiling fire on top of large tank at left, with twisted metal thrown from explosion in the foreground. Whiting refinery fire, Aug 1955.
Boiling fire on top of large tank at left, with twisted metal thrown from explosion in the foreground. Whiting refinery fire, Aug 1955.
Photo of some of the large debris thrown by the explosion into residential areas. Whiting refinery fire, Aug 1955.
Photo of some of the large debris thrown by the explosion into residential areas. Whiting refinery fire, Aug 1955.

In August 2005, at the 50th anniversary year of the big blaze at the Whiting refinery, a couple of survivors from the incident spoke with reporter Oliva Clarke of The Times, recalling its effects. Norb Dudzik, 62, of Whiting noted: “You could just feel the heat off of it. …[W]e drove through some of the neighborhoods. It was almost like you’d seen a tornado with cars flipped upside down and houses — some destroyed and some moved off their foundation.”

George Orr, 89, of Hessville, Indiana and an instrument technician supervisor at the time of the blaze who was also recruited to fight the fire for several days, explained:

“The flames were as high as telephone poles on both sides of us and the heat was unbearable…I wore ordinary work clothes, and of course we had to wear hard hats and hard-toed shoes. …If you refused to fight the fire, you didn’t have a job at Standard Oil in the morning.”

At the fire’s 60th anniversary, in August 2015, the Historical Society of Whiting/Robertsdale sponsored a screening of a new documentary on the fire titled, “One Minute After Sunrise.” The half hour film was the result of a year’s worth of research and personal interviews aimed at preserving and documenting this episode of Whiting and Standard Oil history.

Other Incidents. The 1955 fire and explosion at the Whiting refinery was not the first such incident there, nor wold it be the last. In September 1941, a nine hour conflagration at the refinery killed one man and injured 20 others. That blaze also destroyed more than 30 oil storage tanks and half a dozen buildings with a loss estimated at $100,000 (1941 dollars). Another fire and explosion in July 1946 ripped through the refinery, this time with only one worker injured. In the years following the 1955 inferno, there continued to be more incidents at the Whiting refinery of one kind or another – fires, leaks, spills, explosions, and or pollution. These occurred more or less on a regular basis, both large and small, some years worse than others, but continuing to the present day under the auspices of BP, the refinery owner since 1998-99.


Whiting Refinery Incidents
Standard Oil/Amoco
1957-1991

Over the years, the Whiting oil refinery has had its share of incidents, large and small, including numerous fires and explosions, many of the smaller variety, some not always reported. Included below is a sampling of some of the documented incidents occurring at the Whiting oil refinery under Standard/Amoco management in the 1957-1991 period:

23 Nov 1957++2 workers killed in refinery fire.
27 Feb 1977++oil tanks at the refinery overflow.
2 Mar 1977++fish kill is tracked to leaking underground tanks at the Whiting refinery.
29 Mar 1977++oil blows into the air from tank field onto nearby homes in “a rain of oil.”
18 Aug 1978++Amoco is cited by EPA for excessive hydrocarbon emissions.
13 Feb 1978++explosions at night rock refinery area; residents evacuated.
14 Feb 1978++1,000 area residents are barred from returning home as a second series of explosions occur at refinery after pipeline leak.
2 Mar 1979++fumes described as “85 percent explosive” rout families from homes in refinery area.
20 Apr 1979++Residents find crude oil 3 feet beneath the ground; complain of fumes in their homes.
30 Apr 1979++crude oil overflows from tanks.
3 May 1979++chlorine gas leak; fumes drop five workers at refinery.
24 Aug 1980++a dust-like cloud escapes from catalytic cracking unit in repair; Amoco keeps unit running during repair to avoid start-up costs.
3 Nov 1980++residents of Whiting & Robertsdale discover oil spurting two feet into air from manhole; oil also found in wiring tunnel to Calumet College
14 Jun 1981++pipeline leak at Optimist Park, Kennedy Ave. sends unknown amount of diesel fuel into Optimist Lake.
7 July 1983++fire at Whiting refinery.
10 Jan 1984++worker dies in fire at refinery.
26 Dec 1984++residents evacuated during refinery blast & fire threat.
31 Oct 1985++residents complain about refinery fumes.
24 Jul 1986++Amoco notifies officials of chemical leak.
19 Feb 1988++second fire in two weeks at refinery.
16 Apr 1988++16 hurt in explosion at refinery.
6 Oct 1988++explosion & fire at refinery injures two workers.
31 Oct 1988++3 workers killed, 1 seriously injured in asphalt plant explosion & fire.
16 Nov1989++1,800 lbs of hydrogen sulfide gas escapes along w/naphtha, butane and other flammable gases; reaches Valparaiso; 3 to hospital & evacuation.
16 Dec 1989++two injured in refinery blast.
20 Feb 1990++explosion at liquid petroleum loading dock kills 2 workers, injures 3 truck drivers; Amoco fails to notify Hammond.
25 Dec 1990++500 lbs. of hydrogen sulfide gas & 25,000 lbs of propane hydrocarbon gas escapes from over-pressurized relief valve.
28 Dec 1990++150 lbs. of hydrogen sulfide gas escapes from same relief valve.
24 Sep 1991++unknown quantity of propylene gas escapes from Amoco rail tank car.
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Sources: Don Jordan, “Amoco Shutdown is Part of Firm’s History,” The Times (of Northwest Indiana), April 13, 1990; Rebecca Vick, “Amoco Toxic Gas Leak Is Second This Week,” The Times, December 29, 1990, p. B-1; Susan Erler and Phil Wieland, “OSHA Orders Shutdown of Reactor,” The Times, April 12, 1990; Rebecca Vick, “Leak Forces Amoco Employees to Move,” The Times, September 25, 1991, p. B-1.


1988-1990

By the late 1980s, incidents at the Whiting refinery had the attention of state and federal safety officials. On October 30, 1988, an explosion and fire killed three workers and injured another. The explosion occurred in the oxidizer unit, a vessel 70 foot high with a 32-foot diameter. When the explosion occurred, the entire unit rose 40 to 50 feet off the ground.By 1988-1990, Indiana officials were calling the Whiting refinery the most dangerous workplace in the state. It also coated workers with 500-degree asphalt. The unit had begun to malfunction several days earlier, but the company kept it running in order to maintain production. Two previous explosions in the same unit in 1988 had injured 18 workers. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Amoco for a wide variety of violations and fined the company $300,000 for the infractions. In fact, for the 1988-1990 period, Indiana officials were calling the Whiting facility the most dangerous workplace in the state. “No one else has that kind of safety record,” said Kenneth Zeller, Indiana Commissioner of Labor at the time. In April 1990, the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration — citing “imminent danger” and “a strong possibility of catastrophe” — ordered Amoco to shut down a chemical reactor in one of the refinery’s key Ultraformer processing units. Officials ordered the shut down after inspecting the unit following an anonymous complaint from a worker at the plant who reported “hot spots” in the reactor. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, at least two more people were killed at the Whiting refinery and several others injured in at least five other incidents.


Artist’s rendering of oil storage tanks at Whiting, circa 1940s or so.
Artist’s rendering of oil storage tanks at Whiting, circa 1940s or so.


Leaking Oil

In January 1991, after conducting a two-year, in-house investigation, Amoco officials revealed a 16.8 million-gallon leaked underground plume of petroleum products beneath the Whiting refinery. The company reported that 150 ground-water monitoring wells defined a plume of lubricating oils and gasoline components, including benzene, of between four and 18 inches floating on groundwater beneath much of the plant. Amoco sent 500 information packets to residents in a 12-block area in Whiting and the Robertsdale section of Hammond notifying them of the findings and offering free testing for benzene and combustible vapors. At the time, Amoco officials said the situation did not present an immediate safety or health hazard” for people living near the plant. The plume, they said, was formed over the plant’s 102 years of operation, a time when wooden and metal storage tanks leaked oil products into the ground. At least two class action suits were brought against Amoco in the 1990s claiming the company was negligent for allowing oil to leak into city sewers and beneath the community.


BP Acquires Amoco

One artist’s rendering of the “merging” of Amoco & BP.
One artist’s rendering of the “merging” of Amoco & BP.
In August 1998, Amoco was acquired by British Petroleum (BP) in a nearly $54 billion deal that at the time created the world’s third-largest publicly traded energy company, behind Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon.

Over the years since, BP has had a mixed record at the Whiting refinery. For example, in May 2009, EPA issued a notice of violation to BP for toxic air pollution at the refinery.

According to EPA, for nearly six years, under BP’s watch, the refinery emitted cancer-causing benzene at its wastewater treatment plant without proper air pollution control equipment.

BP stated at the time there was no evidence that humans or the environment were harmed. The violations occurred between 2003 and 2008. In 2008, the BP plant totaled just over 100 tons of benzene waste – nearly 16 times the amount allowed, according to the EPA. Similar violations for benzene waste also occurred between 2003 and 2008.

By 2013, BP stated that it had invested $3.8 billion to modernize the Whiting refinery, primarily to make it capable of processing of heavier crudes – i.e. tar sands from Canada and other crude. BP stated that its “modernization” was essential to the long-term viability of the refinery, and included $1.4 billion for “environmental enhancements” such as wastewater improvements, emissions reductions, and systems to remove sulfur from gasoline and diesel.

Yet today, one of BP’s by-products in refining the sludgy tar sands crude is an unwelcome substance called petroleum coke, or “pet coke.” Refining heavy crudes produces significantly more pet coke than conventional crude oil. And BP’s refinery at Whiting has tripled its yield of pet coke since expanding the refinery to process more of the unconventional tar sands oil. Whiting now yields about 6,000 tons of pet coke every day, or about 2.2 million tons annually.

“The Daily Damage”
An Occasional Series

This article is one in an occasional series of stories at this website that feature the ongoing environmental and societal impacts of industrial spills & explosions, fires & toxic releases, air & water pollution, and other such occurrences.

These stories will cover both recent incidents and those from history that have left a mark either nationally or locally; have generated controversy in some way; have brought about governmental inquiries or political activity; and generally have taken a toll on the environment, worker health and safety, and/or local communities.

My purpose for including such stories at this website is simply to drive home the continuing and chronic nature of these occurrences through history, and hopefully contribute to public education about them so that improvements in law, regulation, and industry practice will be made, yielding safer alternatives in the future.
— Jack Doyle

While petroleum coke can be used as a heating fuel in some instances, or as a raw material in manufacturing, piles of the stuff from the Whiting plant and other U.S. refineries have produced swirling dust storms in areas where it’s stockpiled, raising public health concerns and angering nearby communities.

EPA has noted that significant quantities of fugitive dust from pet coke storage and handling can present a health risk. Particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller are of special concern to EPA, as these particles can pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, and once inhaled, can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.

Residents and community activists in the Whiting area have also raised concerns about the health effects of increased air pollution that comes with the use of flaring at the refinery – stack “flares” being a kind of safety valve feature found in all refineries, yet still a process that can sometimes be abused or used to compensate for more serious systemic shortcomings within the refinery. Others have also expressed worries about tar sands-induced pipeline leaks near the refinery, given that tar sands have a more corrosive effect on pipelines.

Additional stories at this website on oil and the environment include, for example, “Burning Philadelphia,” a story about the 1975 Gulf Oil Co. refinery fire in that city, and “Burn On, Big River…,” about the historic pollution of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Other environmental stories can be found at the “Environmental History” topics page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please consider making a donation to help support this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 21 August 2015
Last Update: 27 August 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Inferno at Whiting – Standard Oil: 1955,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2015.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Aug 27, 1955: Explosion at the Whiting refinery as seen looking north on Berry Ave. from 129th St.  Original Chicago Tribune caption noted: “A dark mushroom cloud, 8,000 feet high and visible for 30 miles, obscured the sun, effectively turning day into night.” Photo,  John Austad
Aug 27, 1955: Explosion at the Whiting refinery as seen looking north on Berry Ave. from 129th St. Original Chicago Tribune caption noted: “A dark mushroom cloud, 8,000 feet high and visible for 30 miles, obscured the sun, effectively turning day into night.” Photo, John Austad
Part of the destruction from the 1955 Whiting oil refinery explosion & fire. Investigative worker in foreground is inside large piece of structural metal thrown there from explosion.
Part of the destruction from the 1955 Whiting oil refinery explosion & fire. Investigative worker in foreground is inside large piece of structural metal thrown there from explosion.
Another aerial photo of the August 1955 Standard Oil refinery fire at Whiting, Indiana taken from a different perspective.
Another aerial photo of the August 1955 Standard Oil refinery fire at Whiting, Indiana taken from a different perspective.
August 1955: Photo of Whiting fire taken from inside the refinery, it appears, by a firefighting unit, according to photo's notation.
August 1955: Photo of Whiting fire taken from inside the refinery, it appears, by a firefighting unit, according to photo's notation.

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“Summer Wind”
Frank Sinatra: 1966

1966: Frank Sinatra performing at The Sands nightclub, lost in a moment of song -- perhaps grieving over that lost summer love...
1966: Frank Sinatra performing at The Sands nightclub, lost in a moment of song -- perhaps grieving over that lost summer love...
For those Frank Sinatra fans who have heard the song “Summer Wind” at least once or twice, the musical give-away is that light, airy, Nelson Riddle orchestral lead. It offers a kind of instant recognition for that song – and anticipation. You know Frank is coming behind that lead, and he doesn’t disappoint. The topical matter suits him perfectly, as well.

“Summer Wind” has a poignancy about it that only Sinatra can give voice to. It’s a story about a summer love, once held, but now – wistfully and longingly – remembered by its crooning narrator.

The song’s musical treatment, plus Sinatra’s delivery, give it a presence in the mind’s eye; transporting the listener to a summer place, summoning the very elements of that season.

One guest writer on the Sinatra Family Forum website page – “Melissa” – put it aptly in her 2006 comment: “Summer Wind was meant for Frank Sinatra. No one has ever done it better. I can almost feel the breeze blow when he sings it.” Indeed, the “summery-by-the-ocean” feel is there through and through.

Anonymous couple enjoying a summer beach stroll.
Anonymous couple enjoying a summer beach stroll.
“Summer Wind” was written in 1965 by Johnny Mercer and set to music by Henry Mayer. Although this song was first recorded in the U.S. by Wayne Newton in 1965, it is the 1966 version by Sinatra that has become the classic.


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Summer Wind – 1966
Frank Sinatra

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Sinatra recorded his version in mid-May 1966 with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra. The song was released later that same month on the album, Strangers In The Night. It also appeared as a Reprise single backed by “You Make Me Feel So Young” on the B-side. By the week of August 30th, WABC radio of New York had “Summer Wind” as a top hit prospect. Beginning in early September 1966 the song would have a seven-week run on the Billboard pop singles chart, peaking at No. 25. “Summer Wind” also hit No. 1 on the Easy Listening chart in October that year.

Although “Summer Wind” is classic Sinatra in style and content, he didn’t start performing it regularly at his concerts until some twenty years later. But by 1986, “Summer Wind” had become a part of Sinatra’s performances.

“Summer Wind”
H. Mayer, J. Mercer
1965

The summer wind, came blowin’ in,
from across the sea
It lingered there, to touch your hair,
and walk with me
All summer long, we sang a song,
and then we strolled that golden sand
Two sweethearts, and the summer wind

Like painted kites, those days and nights,
they went flyin’ by
The world was new, beneath a blue,
umbrella sky
Then softer than, a piper man,
one day it called to you
I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind

The autumn wind, and the winter winds,
they have come and gone
And still the days, those lonely days,
they go on and on
And guess who sighs his lullabies,
through nights that never end
My fickle friend, the summer wind

The summer wind; warm summer wind
Mmm… the summer wind.

The male narrator of “Summer Wind” remembers a happy time – a brief time, with his summer love. He sings of strolling on the beach, and glorious days and nights, shared between the two. The listener can imagine all of the good summertime activity that a couple in love could share – from dinner at a seaside café and evening walks along the shore, to the deeper intimacy and personal discovery that come with romantic relationships.

“The world was new,” the narrator sings, clearly taken with his lady and seeing only good things ahead. He was feeling like a million bucks, and more. Anything was possible!

But then, suddenly, it all ends.

Turns out, the summer wind can cut both ways.

One day it called to the lady of this lyrical tale, sending her off for parts unknown; no explanation offered. The narrator simply croons, “I lost you to the summer wind.” Was it another love? A rooted and committed life somewhere else? Or perhaps it was personal: some fundamental differences? No details provided.

In any case, those formerly happy days and warm summer nights were now just a memory. Closing his eyes, our narrator is there again, back in that moment, remembering how it was, though heartsick in the losing. Going forward, he nurses his hurt through the “autumn wind” and the “winter wind” – harsher times, and lonely times — longing for a return to that earlier time, left only with “my fickle friend, the summer wind.”

Millions of music listeners have had their own “summer wind” experiences, good and bad, and Frank takes them along for the ride in this song. It’s just good, old-fashioned “memory music,” tinged with a touch of the blues made perfect by the master.

The song and lyrics of “Summer Wind,” however, are flexible enough that the song has been used in other contexts, some commercial. “Summer Wind” was used in the opening scene of the 1984 film, The Pope of Greenwich Village, starring Mickey Rourke and Darryl Hannah. It was also used in the 2003 film Matchstick Men with Nicolas Cage and Alison Lohman.

Frame from MasterCard TV ad, "Family of Four - Summer Wind," depicting a family at an L.A. Dodgers baseball game away from modern distractions. Click to view ad.
Frame from MasterCard TV ad, "Family of Four - Summer Wind," depicting a family at an L.A. Dodgers baseball game away from modern distractions. Click to view ad.
In 2006, MasterCard used the song in a baseball-themed TV ad depicting a family outing at a big league game. The ad was part of MasterCard’s “priceless” commercials, and was shot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

The ad features a family of four taking in a night game in the grandstands at Chavez Ravine. The sentimental spot plays up the family relaxing and bonding during the game at the ballpark, away from all the modern gadgets and distractions.

As Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” plays in the background, the voice-over in the ad states: “Program in the first: $4. Snacks in the fourth: $25. Soda at the end of the seventh: $3. No runs, hits, errors, TVs, meetings or video games — priceless.” Sinatra’s cool message, between the lines in this case, is actually saying: “Hey, relax. Chill out. Enjoy the game. Enjoy your family. Feel the breeze.” In this ad, “Summer Wind,” sets the tone, and puts the viewer in that frame.


Sinatra’s 1966

Frank Sinatra, likely in California, mid-1960s or so.
Frank Sinatra, likely in California, mid-1960s or so.
In 1966, Frank Sinatra had already had a pretty good year, even before recording “Summer Wind” that April. His first live album, Sinatra at the Sands, was recorded during January and February at The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. A Sinatra single, “It Was a Very Good Year,” was also in the Top 40 of the Billboard 100 during January and February that year — and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary or “Easy Listening” chart for the week of February 5th.

In March 1966, Moonlight Sinatra, a studio album recorded the previous November was released by Sinatra on the Reprise label. All of its songs reference the moon in some way, and it was arranged and backed by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra. The album’s title is a play on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. In May 1966, Sinatra released Strangers in the Night, the album that included the No. 1 hit single of that name, along with “Summer Wind” and a mix of show tunes, standards and big band music.

In his personal life, meanwhile, in mid-July 1966, Sinatra married Mia Farrow. She was 21, he 50. She was then the star of TV soap opera Peyton Place. By late July 1966, the album Strangers in the Night had reached No. 1. on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The single version of “Strangers…” hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts in June 1966, and also on the Billboard pop and easy listening charts in July. Early that fall, as Sinatra and Farrow settled into their first months of marriage, “Summer Wind” was also in the Top 40 on the radio. Another Sinatra album, That’s Life, was released in October 1966, with its title song, “That’s Life,” hitting the No. 4 spot in December 1966 — this and other Sinatra hits coming at a time when the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, and other rock groups were all the rage.

Cover of the April 1966 issue of Esquire magazine, featuring Gay Talese’s classic article on Frank Sinatra.
Cover of the April 1966 issue of Esquire magazine, featuring Gay Talese’s classic article on Frank Sinatra.
On other fronts, earlier in 1966, Gay Talese had published a legendary piece of writing for Esquire magazine, titled “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” The Talese profile of Sinatra – published in the April 1966 issue — would become one of the most famous pieces of magazine journalism ever written, often considered one of the best pieces on Sinatra as well as one of the best celebrity profiles ever. Vanity Fair called it “the greatest literary-nonfiction story of the 20th century.”

As for the title of the Gay Talese piece, the article opens in 1965 with Sinatra in a bad mood at a private Hollywood club. He is stressed about all the events in his life he is then dealing with, and on top of it all he has a common cold, which has restricted his singing.

Talese, meanwhile, proceeds to write about Sinatra mostly in 1965, the year he turned 50, when he was in the news regarding his involvement with Mia Farrow. It was also the year when he was the subject of a CBS television documentary that had pried into his personal life and speculated about possible ties to mafia leaders. Sinatra’s various business ventures in real estate, film, recording label were also probed. At the time, Talese also wrote that Sinatra maintained a personal staff of 75. Over time, however, the Talese Sinatra profile became more about Talese’s writing style and the “new journalism” methodology he employed than it was about Sinatra per se – although the subject was well covered, to be sure.

Anonymous couple catching the seaside’s summer wind.
Anonymous couple catching the seaside’s summer wind.
Sinatra, in any case, would survive the glare of the Talese piece in 1966, and in fact thrive through the remainder of the decade. At the 9th Annual Grammy Awards in March 1967, for example, honoring musical accomplishment for 1966, Sinatra scored major awards: Record of the Year; “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Bowen); Album of the Year, Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Bowen); and, Best Male Pop Performer, “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra). Yet some things begun in 1966 would not survive. The Sinatra-Farrow union, for one, would end in divorce a few years later. They separated after 16 months. The “summer wind,” in any case, would continue to beguile and intoxicate star-struck couples wherever they may wander.

For other Sinatra-related stories at this website, see, for example: “The Sinatra Riots, 1942-1944” (his teen idol phase at NY Paramount); “Ava Gardner, 1940s-1950s” (includes section on their relationship); “Sinatra: Cycles, 1968” (Sinatra song profile); and “The Jack Pack, 1958-1960” (Frank’s Rat Pack & John F. Kennedy). Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please consider making a donation to help support this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 5 August 2015
Last Update: 5 August 2015
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Summer Wind, Frank Sinatra: 1966,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 5, 2015.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Cover art for Reprise single of Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind," as released in some European countries, 1967.
Cover art for Reprise single of Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind," as released in some European countries, 1967.
“Frank Sinatra,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 889-890.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Album Review, “Strangers in The Night,” AllMusic.com.

Guest Comment, Melissa, at “The Origins of “Summer Wind,” SinatraFamily.com, May 19-20, 2006.

Mark R. Gould, “Great Songs: ‘Summer Wind’ and Songwriter Johnny Mercer.”

Geoff Edgers, “Why Frank Sinatra Still Matters,” WashingtonPost.com, May 29, 2015.

“Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra album),” Wikipedia.org.

“Sinatra at the Sands,” Wikipedia.org.

“Moonlight Sinatra,” Wikipedia.org.

MasterCard, “Family of Four – Summer Wind,” AdWeek.com, December 19, 2007.

Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Esquire, April 1966.

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