Cover of hardback edition of “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis published by W.W. Norton, NY, March 2014.
Every once in a while a book comes along that articulates a little known practice so clearly that the mainstream audience “gets it.” And in the discovery, an uproar ensues, especially when there is an unfairness involved. In early April 2014, such as a book was Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, written by well-known author, Michael Lewis.
Flash Boys’ premise – and its central exposé – is really quite simple. A bunch of stock traders on Wall Street have been making tons of money with computer-aided trades that exploit and run ahead of the rest of the market. This advantage comes thanks to some special fiber optic cable that connect their computers and give them a “first look” advantage. The practice, not currently illegal, may amount to a kind of insider trading that results in a “rigged market.” The beneficiaries – principally the “high-frequency traders”at the center of the process – make millions with a milliseconds heads-up based on who is buying what, how much, and at what price. All of this, of course, is programmed into the whirring computers, as the money flows directly into the traders’ accounts, millisecond-by-millisecond. While the practice of high-frequency trading – or HFT as insiders call it – varies depending on firm and location, the traders’ super- fast computers are able to post and cancel orders at astonishing rates, even millionths of a second, and in the process, capture price discrepancies on more than 50 public and private trading exchanges that make up the American stock market. Everyone who owns equities is victimized by the practice, Lewis believes. The stock exchanges, in his view, have become “unfair places” for average investors – and that includes average investors whose pension funds and IRAs are handled by institutional investors.
As Lewis’s book hit the streets in early April 2014, it created a bit of pandemonium, not only among the high-frequency traders, but also in the financial press and throughout the business media. Lewis and his publisher had kicked things off with an appearance by Lewis on the popular CBS-TV show, 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 30, 2014. During the interview, Steve Kroft and Lewis moved right to the heart of the issue:
March 30, 2014: Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” is shown introducing segment on Michael Lewis &“Flash Boys.”
Kroft: What’s the headline here?
Lewis: The stock market’s rigged. The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism, is rigged.
Kroft: By whom?
Lewis: By a combination of the stock exchanges, the big Wall Street banks, and high frequency traders. . .
Lewis: …The insiders are able to move faster than you, they’re able to see your order, and play it against other orders in ways that you don’t understand. They’re able to front-run your order.
Kroft: What do you mean, front run?
Lewis: …It means they’re able to identify your desire to buy shares of Microsoft, and buy them in front of you, and sell them back to you at a higher price. It all happens in infinitesimally small periods of time. The speed advantage that the faster traders have is milliseconds; some of it is fractions of milliseconds. But it’s enough for them to identify what you’re gonna do, and do it before you do it, and do it at your expense.
Kroft: So it drives the price up.
Lewis: So it drives the price up, and in turn, you pay a higher price.
Brad Katsuyama, founder of IEX exchange, and one of the heros in Michael Lewis book, “Flash Boys.”
ButFlash Boys is not only about the nefarious “flash traders” skimming off the market volume of all those individual and institutional investors who are buying and selling shares. It is also about market repair and honest “flash boys” who are trying to build a very fast but also very fair stock exchange.
These are the flash boys who have learned what’s really going on. They are the heroes in Lewis’s story; the ones causing the “Wall Street revolt” in Flash Boys’ subtitle.
Among them is a Canadian trader named Brad Katsuyama. He’s the guy who educated Lewis on the whole business of HFT skimming to begin with. Katsuyama, in Lewis’ view, is one of the few people alive who actually understands how the stock market works.
Irish telecom expert, Ronan Ryan, during “60 Minutes” explains how fiber optic connections impact stock prices.
Katsuyama, in turn, had help from others, including an Irish telecom expert named Ronan Ryan, who knew how the stock market is wired together – and most importantly – the details about high-speed fiber optic networks that serviced certain trading centers, which cables connected which data centers, and how quickly.
“Of course you’re arriving there at different time intervals,” Ryan revealed to Katsuyama. And that’s when the “a ha” light bulb clicked on for Katsuyama – why the stock orders that he and other traders were trying to fill were always vanishing or bumping up in price. Ryan is also one of the “flash heroes” in Lewis’ story. To help remedy the unfairness Katsuyama founded IEX, the Investor’s Exchange, and he and his employees — now including Ronan Ryan — are the hopeful part of Lewis’s book.
Michael Lewis during March 2014 interview on “60 Minutes.”
Lewis, meanwhile, is shining his light on some very powerful players and affiliated institutions. High-frequency traders account for about half of share volume in the U.S. stock market. And the exchanges themselves rely on these trades for profits as well as liquidity. This powerful new electronic marketplace has all but eliminated the old system of human floor traders. In fact, Lewis has talked about the official market as a “stale market” and also a “slow market” vs. a “fast market.” To show how lucrative the tactics are in the new flash market, Lewis writes of a technology firm that spent $300 million to build a [fiber optic] line that would shave three milliseconds off the time it takes to communicate between New Jersey and Chicago. This firm then leased access to the line to securities companies for $10 million each. In his book Lewis writes of “haves and have nots” based on trading speeds and who can afford what: “The haves paid for nanoseconds; the have-nots had no idea that nanoseconds had value.”
The Today Show’s Matt Lauer interviewing Michael Lewis about his book, “Flash Boys,” April 1, 2014.
Brad Katsuyama and William O’Brien trade verbal jabs during a CNBC show debating HFT and “Flash Boys,” April 1st, 2014.
Following the 60 Minutes story on March 30, 2014, the web and blogosphere lit up with Michael Lewis and Flash Boys stories. Lewis was quickly booked on other TV talk shows. He did interviews on The Today Show, The Charlie Rose Show, The PBS Newshour, Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and others. He also appeared on business talk shows including CNBC and Bloomberg Television.
On the April 1st, 2014 CNBC show, Power Lunch – a live business and stock market news show – the conversation became quite heated as CNBC’s Sue Herera and Bob Pisani interviewed Brad Katsuyama and William O’Brien, president of BATS Global Markets.
On the show, Katsuyama and Lewis were criticized by O’Brien for their assertions that the market was unfair to ordinary investors: “Shame on both of you for falsely accusing literally thousands of people and possibly scaring millions of investors in an effort to promote a business model,” meaning Katsuyama’s IEX exchange. O’Brien also pressed Katsuyama on his claims in Lewis’ book that the market was rigged.
“I believe the markets are rigged,” Katsuyama said in response to O’Brien, “and I also think you’re part of the rigging.” Lewis later joined the CNBC debate and more accusations flew from both sides, as a shouting match ensued over the book’s indictment of HFT. CNBC later reported that the 20-minute debate had stopped activity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as traders watched the debate. The “twitterverse” also fired up with reaction to the show.
Michael Lewis with Jon Stewart during his April 2014 appearance on the Daily Show to discuss “Flash Boys.”
That Katsuyama, Lewis, and Flash Boys received a heated response from the business community is not surprising given the core of what is being exposed – along with the interrelated involvements of banking and the exchanges. High-frequency traders themselves – through an advocacy group, Modern Markets Initiative, “went on a tweeting rampage” after the Lewis story broke, according to once source, arguing that HFT actually makes markets more fair. The financial press, too – right and left – did a bit of piling on as well. Charles Gasparino, the Fox Business Network’s senior correspondent, in a New York Post opinion piece, called the book Lewis’ “high frequency bull.” Yet some in the business community welcomed it. Clive Williams, head of global trading at T. Rowe Price, told the New York Times he was “pleased to see Michael Lewis call further attention” to high-frequency trading
The New York Times Magazine of April 5th, 2014 ran a Michael Lewis excerpt from “Flash Boys” and put Brad Katsuyama on the cover.
On Tuesday, April 1st, 2014, the day Flash Boys went on sale, it rose to No. 1 on Amazon.com. Lewis, meanwhile, continued making the media rounds through the week following his book’s release and into the weekend, appearing on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program; C-SPAN’s Book TV program, where he took calls from viewers about his book on Saturday morning. The next day he also appeared on the NBC’s Sunday morning news show, Meet The Press. Also on Sunday, The New York Times Magazine made the book its cover story, running a photo of Brad Katsuyama on the cover with the tagline: “Meet Brad: He’s a humble Canadian stock trader who happened to figure out exactly how the stock market was rigged. Now, Wall Street may never be the same.”
Within a few days of Flash Boys’ release, the Washington Post and the New York Times were reporting that the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission were either launching new investigations or had existing probes underway. The FBI, for one, announced it would investigate HFT for possible frontrunning, market manipulation, and insider trading. So, with his latest book, Lewis succeed in bringing fresh attention to stock market technology and a major new issue. As Lev Grossman put it in a short review of Flash Boys for Time magazine. “More than ever, the economic injustices of the world are made possible by the unequal distribution of information. Lewis is doing his part to smooth out those differences.”
But there’s more to Michael Lewis than his recent excursion into the HFT fray. Turns out he’s something of a literary “flash boy” – meant in the best sense of that term – here referring to his copious output as a business and financial writer over the last 25 years or so. During that time Lewis has become one of the nation’s most engaging interpreters of “business culture” in its many forms, facets, impacts, and personalities.
Michael Lewis with some of his best-selling books. Photo, Mark Costantini/Chronicle.
Flash Boy Lewis
Michael Lewis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in October 1960. His father was a lawyer and his mother a community activist – also a descendant of James Monroe. On his father’s side there is reported “Lewis & Clark” lineage. His grandfather was the first Supreme Court justice in Louisiana. Young Michael attended Isidore Newman prep school in New Orleans, graduated from Princeton in Art History in 1982, worked briefly with New York art dealer Daniel Wildenstein, and then went to the London School of Economics where in 1985 he received an MA in Economics.
At age 24, he went to work at Salomon Brothers, first in New York for training and then to London as a bond salesman. At Salomon he was also schooled in derivatives. But while he was at Salomon in London, he also began testing his writing wings by offering anonymous perspectives from the trading floor. These pieces were published in The Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph, and when Lewis saw traders passing around photocopies of his pieces, he knew this might be something he could do. A few years later, in 1988, he left Salomon to begin a writing career focusing on financial issues. In 1989 he published Liar’s Poker, a book about Wall Street in the go-go 1980s that became a best seller, sending Lewis into the business/financial literary world in a big way.
Since then he has published 14 more books on a range of topics, from Silicon Valley and presidential politics, to baseball, football, and fatherhood. Yet in most of these books there is typically a thread of technology and/or business running through the storyline. In addition to the books, he has also written extensively for newspapers and magazines. He is currently, as of April 2014, a columnist for Bloomberg News and a contributing writer for Vanity Fair. A 2012 piece he did for Vanity Fair on President Obama, gave Lewis direct access to the President – including playing in one of Obama’s pick-up basketball games (photos below in Sources). His articles have also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Slate, Sports Illustrated, Foreign Affairs, and Poetry Magazine. He has served as editor and columnist for the British weekly The Spectator. But it has been his best-selling books that have established him as a talented writer with something to say.
Cover of Michael Lewis’s 1989 book “Liar’s Poker.”
Lewis’s first breakthrough book was Liar’s Poker, an era-defining work on Wall Street greed. The book is part autobiography and part no-holds-barred exposé. In it, Lewis describes his own experiences as a Salomon Brothers’ bond salesman during the 1980s, where he made millions for the firm during those go-go years. Lewis’s account offers a behind-the-scenes look at what was then going on. Says publisher W.W. Norton – “from the frat-boy camaraderie of the forty-first-floor trading room to the killer instinct that made ambitious young men gamble everything on a high-stakes game of bluffing and deception.” The book’s name is taken from liar’s poker, a high-stakes gambling game popular with the bond traders in the book.
The Sunday Times of London wrote in one review: “If you thought Gordon Gekko of the Wall Street movie was an implausibly corrupt piece of fiction, see how you like the real thing. This rip-the-lid-off account of the bond-dealing brouhaha is the work of a real-life bond salesman… Read all about it: headlong greed, inarticulate obscenity, Animal House horse-play…”
Published in 1989, Liar’s Poker became one of the books that captured Wall Street during that particular “wild west” era of the 1980s when big deals and big money flowed unencumbered by government regulators. Along with Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar and The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, Liar’s Poker became one of “must reads” for understanding Wall Street culture in the 1980s.
"Pacific Rift" by Michael Lewis.
The late 1980s were a time when Japan was cleaning America’s clock economically; an ascendant global power whose automobile and electronics industries had phenomenal growth. Lewis’s Pacific Rift – a 1990 book on U.S.-Japanese business and cultural differences – arrived just as U.S.-Japanese relations became the topic of the day. First published by Whittle Direct Books in Knoxville, Tennessee, the book used the subtitle, “Adventures in the Fault Zone Between the U.S. and Japan.” W.W. Norton, the house that would become Lewis’s main publisher, later did the book with a new cover and subtitle shown at left. In Pacific Rift, Lewis follows and features two businessmen – an American in Japan and a Japanese in America – to explore each other’s culture to point up why Americans and Japanese don’t understand each other. “Lewis’s take is often comic, but his message is serious,” wrote William J. Holstein of Business Week in one review. “He sees Japan as it is and sums up the challenge: ‘How can our capitalism beat their capitalism?’ By keeping his eyes open and asking the right questions, this newcomer [Lewis] comes up with penetrating insights.” Publisher’s Weekly also said of the book, “There is more tough sinew here than in a stack of more weightier tomes.” Japan’s bubble eventually burst, but Lewis at the time had his hand on the economic pulse of the moment.
1991: “The Money Culture.”
In October 1991, Lewis published The Money Culture, a collection of his essays and magazine pieces that returned to his favorite Wall Street haunts and the excesses of the 1980s. His stories featured the various business-related personalities and predicaments of that time – Donald Trump, Michael Milken, T. Boone Pickens, the RJR Nabisco takeover, Louis Rukeyser, the Savings & Loan crisis, the Japanese, and other topics.
“There is not much in the way of true revelation here,” observed one reviewer from Library Journal, “but with Lewis’s puckish humor and inimitable writing style, the stories are entertaining and thought-provoking. …[H]e proves that ‘the raw itch for money is still with us as surely as ever . . . and the money on Wall Street is better than elsewhere’.”
OneAmazon.com reviewer found the book “consistently funny, insightful, and a good primer on several financial issues that dominated the 1980′s…” Another suggested that chapters such as “Leveraged Rip-Off” and “How Wall Street Took the S&Ls for a Ride” ought to be required reading for undergraduate business majors. Some believe The Money Culture is one of Lewis’s most underrated and least appreciated titles. It was reissued with new cover art in January 2011.
“Trail Fever,” a May 1997 book by Michael Lewis covers the 1996 presidential campaign.
In 1996, Lewis took leave of Wall Street and finance for a time and focused instead on politics and the presidential election cycle. His book, titled Trail Fever and published by Knopf in May 1997, chronicled the world of presidential candidates, campaign workers (“rented strangers”), spin doctors, and more, focusing primarily on the Republican Party. Lewis came to the campaign a political neophyte, and that worked to his advantage in making fresh observations – many hilarious, but quite on point.
The full parade of Republican candidates is covered, among them: Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm, Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes, and Alan Keyes. John McCain is also covered as is Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Principal contestants Bob Dole and Bill Clinton are included as well, but don’t get the ink the others do. Dole is seen “as a man who set out to prove he would never be president” and Clinton described by some as “the big snow goose.”
Once Lewis discovers that the major candidates all practice risk avoidance in their public speeches and really don’t have much to say, he turns more of his attention to the minority candidates. Chief among these is the least known candidate of all, successful businessman Morry Taylor, CEO of Titan International, a tire and wheel manufacturer. Nicknamed “the Grizz” for his bear-like gruffness, Taylor ran in all the primaries but gathered about 1 percent of the vote. Still, Lewis found that Taylor and the other minority candidates often had more to say.
The paperback edition of “Trial Fever” was renamed “Losers” and given new cover art.
“Hilarious, genuinely funny, and insightful,” said the Wall Street Journal of Trail Fever — “the work of a truly gifted writer.” Several reviewers at Amazon.com also gave the book high marks, citing it as some of Lewis’s best writing, calling it even poignant at turns.
When the book came out in paperback, Lewis renamed it Losers, and publisher W.W. Norton added new cover art, as shown at right. Norton’s synopsis on the back cover of that edition notes in part:
“…As he follows the men who aspire to the Oval Office, Lewis discovered an absurd mix of bravery and backpedalling, heroic possibility and mealy-mouthed sound bytes, and a process so ridiculous and unsavory that it leaves him wondering if everyone involved – from the journalists to the candidates to the people who voted – isn’t ultimately a loser… Losers is a wickedly funny, unflinching look at how America really goes about choosing a president.”
“It isn’t anything like traditional political journalism,” notes another reviewer. Yet Lewis’s well-turned prose make the story lively and engaging. The book also serves as something of an American time capsule for 1996.
October 1999: W. W. Norton published Michael Lewis’s 6th book, “The New New Thing.”
After his excursion into presidential politics, Lewis turned to Silicon Valley and high-tech entrepreneurs for his next book. In October 1999, he published The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story – capturing a bit of the tech mania before the bubble burst. In this book, Lewis tells his story through Jim Clark, founder of three billion-dollar high-tech companies – Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon. One reviewer at Wired magazine noted: “Michael Lewis takes readers inside the now-familiar world of Silicon Valley excess, the frantic deal making, the absurdly hyped expectations, the phenomenal wealth….”
In the book, Lewis gives readers the inside story of the battle between Netscape and Microsoft, and also shows Clark trying to persuade some investment bankers on the worth of Healtheon. And as he goes about his story-telling, Lewis maps out the changing future of business and markets, showing how the new high-tech guys are forcing a reassessment of traditional Wall Street business models. In the book, Jim Clark is also revealed to be the creator of Hyperion, the world’s largest single-mast sailboat, a machine more complex than a 747. Clark claims he will be able to sail it via computer from his desk in San Francisco, perhaps the basis of another new company.
“Next: The Future Just Happened,” by Michael Lewis, was published in July 2001.
Continuing in the high-tech vein, Lewis published Next: The Future Just Happened, in July 2001, a book about the then emerging power of the internet. A year earlier, the stock market had its high-tech meltdown, with internet stocks in particular taking a major drubbing, leading some to believe the internet was just another passing technology. Lewis’s book, however, helped dispel that notion, by serving up some examples of the internet’s “power-toppling” abilities. Lewis profiles three teenagers empowered by the net: Jonathan Lebed, a 15-year-old New Jersey high school student who made headlines when he netted $800,000 as a day trader; Markus Arnold, the 15-year-old son of immigrants from Belize who became a top-ranked legal expert on AskMe.com dispensing lawyer-level advice; and Daniel Sheldon, a 14-year-old Brit who helped propel the music file-sharing movement.
These stories help Lewis present his book’s main point: that established power centers and professions – be they lawyers, the stock market, or the music industry —are no longer the presumptive ruling kings or set centers of business. Power and prestige are up for grabs in the new world of the internet; the technology is revolutionary, and is changing the way people live and work. Lewis argues this rapidly evolving technology will upend the power structure of society; no entrenched interest or established profession is safe. The amateur and/or individual can be king. The old maxim “information is power” is given new meaning and new reach, as the internet is wielded by new participants. In his internet travels, Lewis also finds that internet democratization typically leads to some form of commercialization, and so should be embraced by business, which at the time was skeptical of the technology. Business Week noted: “His book is a wake-up call at a time when many believe the net was a flash in the pan.” A BBC television spin-off was produced by way of this book, titled “The Future Just Happened,” which was hosted and narrated by Lewis.
In 2003, Michael Lewis published his best-selling book, “Moneyball:The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.”
In 2003, Lewis moved on to some new territory publishing a book on professional baseball. Yet this wasn’t a typical sports book. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, is a book about the power of statistics in baseball, and namely, a new kind of statistics called “sabermetrics” developed in the 1990s. The term was coined by baseball writer and statistician Bill James – “saber” from the Society for American Baseball Research, plus “metrics” for measures. Sabermetrics brought a whole new array of measures, challenging conventional wisdom about, and reliance upon, traditional baseball statistics. Sabermetrics finds, for example, that on-base percentage is a better measure than batting average. Or as David Kripen in one San Francisco Chronicle review of Moneyball put it:
“[E]verything you know about baseball is wrong. Sacrifice bunts? Waste of an out. Stolen bases? Not worth the risk of making an out. Pitching? Overrated. Fielding? Overrated. What’s underrated, according to Lewis and his central figure, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, is ‘the ability to control the strike zone.’ This means, in short, swing only at pitches one can hit well…”
InMoneyball, Lewis focuses on how Billy Beane uses sabermetrics to build a winning team and business. Using the new approach, Beane’s Athletics improve their baseball performance and also bring new undervalued players to the team. The A’s couldn’t afford to sign high school standouts or free agents seeking big paydays, so they went after college players and overlooked has-beens that had hidden statistical value.‘Moneyball’ soon became shorthand for data-driven innovation in any field. In fact, using this approach, the 2002 Oakland Athletics, with a lowly $41 million payroll for player salaries, became competitive with larger market teams such as the New York Yankees, who spent over $125 million in payroll that same season. Beane’s new statistical approach ends up taking the A’s to the playoffs in 2002 and 2003. According to New York Magazine: “The book, which sold over a million copies, changed the way baseball was played, made ‘Moneyball’ a shorthand term for data-driven innovation in any field, and turned Beane himself into a savant legend well outside of baseball circles.” The book would also help propel Lewis to a new level of celebrity as a hit Hollywood film would be produced based on the book starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane. Yet the film had some screenplay and production snags and would not appear until 2011. More on the film and Lewis’s books in Hollywood a bit later.
2005: Michael Lewis book, “Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life.”
Coincidentally, another baseball book from Lewis came out in 2005 – a short book about his high school baseball coach, Billy Fitzgerald, coach “Fitz.” The book – titled, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life – grew out of a March 2004 New York Times Magazine piece Lewis had published when he learned that some parents wanted to throw out his old coach for his tough-love manner. Other alumni were leading an effort to remodel the old school gym and have it named after Fitz. So Lewis waded in with an ode to his old coach based on his own experiences playing baseball for him as a teenager when Lewis attended Isidore Newman prep school in New Orleans. Lewis at the time, wasn’t exactly a model student-athlete, describing himself as “racking up C-minuses, picking fights with teachers, and thinking up new ways to waste my time.” But Coach Fitz, who had been critical and demanding of the young Lewis, turned to him at a crucial moment. Lewis, one of the team’s pitchers, was called upon for a key game, given the ball by Coach Fitz, thereby conveying great confidence in Lewis’s ability. Lewis rose to the occasion in the game and the confidence he won as a result soon spread to his classroom work and beyond. But Coach Fitz could also be intimidating at times, leveling harsh critiques and stinging judgements, which is why some parents wanted to show him the door. But as Lewis would write on behalf of his coach, Fitz did not sugarcoat; he taught perseverance and how to fight through adversity. His message wasn’t simply about winning, but rather, lessons on how self-respect is earned by hard knocks, discipline, failures and successes. These were lessons that served Lewis well, and by raising them in his story, he believed they might work for others as well.
September 2006: First edition hardback of “The Blind Side” by Michael Lewis, W.W. Norton, NY.
Lewis’s next book, The Blind Side, emerged in something of a round about way. Lewis was then working on his story about coach Fitz while visiting long-time friend Sean Tuohy, also a former high school classmate and baseball catcher under coach Fitz at the Isidore Newman school. Lewis and Touhy were comparing notes about Fitz and other things. Touhy by then was married with two high school age kids living in a comfortable home in Memphis, Tennessee. During the visit, Lewis noticed Sean’s two kids coming in and out of the house with a very large, six-foot-four, 350- pound black kid, prompting Lewis to ask about the kid. He soon discovered that Sean’s wife, Leigh Anne Touhy, had discovered the giant kid to be homeless and took him in, and also helped him in school and in playing high school football. That’s when the seeds for The Blind Side were planted, a book that would include not only the story of the Touhy’s relationship with the young gentle giant, Michael Oher, but also would include a Lewis exploration of the evolution and importance of professional football’s left tackle offensive line position (then the second-highest paid position on most teams, which further peaked Lewis’s interest) – a position Michael Oher was destined to play in later years at the University of Mississippi and at the professional level.
As the story is told by Lewis, and described by publisher W.W. Norton: “…Michael Oher is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or how to read or write. He takes up football, and school, after a rich, white, Evangelical family plucks him from the streets….” The book follows Micheal Oher through his years at Briarcrest Christian School, his adoption by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, and on to his position as one of the most highly sought prospects in college football. The book’s title “blind side” has multiple meanings – but refers to a specific term of art in football” – the left tackle position protects the “blind side” of a right-handed quarterback who typically does not see defenders coming at him from that left side, and thus is “blind-sided” when tackled or sacked from that direction. Yet “blind side” in this story can also refer to racial blindness of the Touhys or the “blindness” of society in not seeing its homeless people.
Sean Touhy, Michael Oher & Leigh Anne Touhy at University of Mississippi football game.
The Blind Side was published in September 2006. With the book’s release, Lewis also published that month, on Sunday September 26th “The Ballad of Big Mike” in The New York Times Magazine. However, The Blind Side did not take off on the best-sellers list. Hollywood would change that a few years later. But when the book first came out, it did not do well. As Lewis explained to Emma Brockes at The Guardian newspaper in April 2014: “The problem is that people who like football do not read. And if they read, they don’t want an emotional chick flick buried in their book. It was not a good business idea.” Still, the book was generally well received by reviewers. “The Blind Side works on three levels,” wrote Wes Lukowsky of Booklist. “First as a shrewd analysis of the NFL; second, as an exposé of the insanity of big-time college football recruiting; and, third, as a moving portrait of the positive effect that love, family, and education can have in reversing the path of a life that was destined to be lived unhappily and, most likely, end badly.” Washington Post, columnist George Will, writing in the New York Times Book Review, credited Lewis with “advancing a new genre of journalism.” Sandra Bullock would star as Leigh Anne Tuohy in the movie adaptation of The Blind Side, but the film would not appear until late 2009. More on the film later (see sidebar below).
‘Real Price of Everything,’ ‘08.
‘Home Game,’ May 2009.
In the meantime, Lewis published three more books, The Real Price of Everything: Rediscovering the Six Classics of Economics in January 2008; Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood in May 2009; and Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, November 2009. In Real Price, Lewis gathered together the classic economic works of Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Thorstein Veblen and John Maynard Keynes – along with his own editorial commentary on these works. The book serves as a weighty reference (1,472 pages) for any student of economics who may want to understand the market forces and government policies that have shaped the modern world. Home Game, adapted from a series of essays Lewis wrote for Slate magazine, attempts to capture the triumphs, failures, humor, frustration and exhilaration of being a new father during the first year of each of his three children’s lives. “It’s an engaging journal that selectively details how Dad grew up as well….,” said Kirkus Reviews. “His failings amuse . . . and he captures serious moments with a warmth that shows he’s a pretty good dad after all,”wrote the Los Angeles Times. And Panic is about the most important and severe upheavals in past financial history, which Lewis wrote, in an effort “to recreate the more recent financial panics, in an attempt to show how financial markets now operate.”
“The Hollywood Effect”
W.W. Norton’s movie tie-in edition of Michael Lewis book “The Blind Side” released in November 2009, using movie poster as cover.
Although some of Michael Lewis’s books were optioned for film as early as 1989, the first one to come to the big screen was The Blind Side, released to theaters November 20, 2009.
Sandra Bullock starred in the lead role as Leigh Anne Tuohy. Quinton Aaron played Michael Oher, Tim McGraw appeared as Sean Tuohy, and Kathy Bates played Miss Sue. The film was well received by critics, who praised Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy. Bullock went on to win three “best actress” awards for the role – an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award. The film also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
The Blind Side was a box-office success, grossing over $300 million. As the film was running, book publisher W.W. Norton put out a tie-in paperback version of the book shown at right, using the film poster as the book’s cover. That version of the book became a million seller.
The Blind Side film ended its domestic theater run on June 4, 2010, nearly seven months after it opened. In addition, as of July 2013, more than 8.4 million DVD copies of the film have been sold, bringing another $107 million to the film’s total gross.
Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Touhy instructing Michael Oher’s character on the finer art of football aggression.
ButThe Blind Side almost didn’t make it to film. It was first bought by Fox Studios with Julia Roberts in mind to play Tuohy, but when Roberts turned down the role, Fox lost interest. The script then floundered for a time with no takers.
According to Michael Lewis, “The only reason The Blind Side got made was because Fred Smith, who runs Federal Express, lives around the corner from the Tuohy family and has a son who dates Tuohy’s daughter, and he said, ‘Man, that’s a good story. I’ll make it.’ And he paid for it to be made.”
Movie poster for “Moneyball” featuring Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s Billy Beane.
The next Michael Lewis book to become a film was Moneyball, released late September 2011. This film, however, had something of rocky road in getting to an acceptable script, and remained in production for number of years. Columbia Pictures bought the rights to Lewis’s book in 2004, but filming on the final version didn’t begin until 2010. Michael Lewis, in fact, thought there was no way that Moneyball could be made into a film. Given its statistical focus, he thought it was too complicated for the big screen, with too many numbers. Yet one person who became a believer in the film version was Brad Pitt, who also played the lead character, Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane. Other key cast members were Jonah Hill as assistant general manager and Philip Seymour Hoffman as players’ manager Art Howe. The film was directed by Bennett Miller with screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.
As the film story unfolds, the Oakland A’s are financially pressed, and turn to a sophisticated statistical approach (i.e., “sabermetrics”) in building their baseball team and how they analyze prospective players. Among some of the off beat players they acquire is a “submarine” pitcher Chad Bradford, played by Casey Bond, and former catcher Scott Hatteberg, played by Chris Pratt. With Beane’s new statistics, and their “undervalued” players and cast-off veterans, the A’s proceed to amaze and astound the baseball world, winning 20 consecutive games, and setting an American League record.
2011: W.W. Norton’s movie tie-in edition of Michael Lewis book, “Moneyball.”
The film was released on September 23, 2011 and became a major box-office success, with more than $110 million in revenue as of February 2012. Moneyball was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Pitt for best actor, and Jonah Hill for best supporting actor. The film received Top Ten ratings from a dozen or more newspaper and magazine critics in their “best-films-of-2011″ picks. As with The Blind Side, publisher W.W. Norton put out a tie-in paperback version of Moneyball during the film’s run, noting on the cover: “Now a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt.”
Following the success of the films, The Blind Side and Moneyball, Michael Lewis became something of hot commodity in Hollywood. His first book, Liar’s Poker, received renewed interest from Warner Brothers where it had been in development since the early 1990s. But the project picked up momentum in 2011 as Lewis’s star rose and the economic crisis brought Wall Street practices more into public consciousness. As of late September 2011, Lewis was recruited to help write the Liar’s Poker screenplay. Another Lewis book, The Big Short, a 2010 book about the 2008 financial meltdown (see description below), is also being developed for a film at Paramount studios — with Moneyball star Brad Pitt and his film company, Plan B, taking on the project as producer. In fact, Pitt had purchased the film rights to The Big Short even before the book was published. And Disney is reportedly involved in a project related to Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life. Lewis has also scripted film and/or TV material for HBO, Universal, Fox, CBS and TNT. All together, Michael Lewis film adaptations have been nominated for eight Academy Awards. And beyond the films that Lewis’s books have inspired, there is also what some call “the Michael Lewis effect,” which is a kind of “Midas-touch” extending to those characters he highlights in his stories, making them mini-celebrities, or otherwise setting them on a course to wealth and/or fame with their own books, TV appearances, or speaking tours.
March 2010: “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis focused on Wall Street’s 2008 financial collapse.
In early 2010, in between the films The Blind Side and Moneyball, Michael Lewis published his 13th book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. This book focused on Wall Street’s 2008 financial meltdown.
With the repercussions of the market crash then still reverberating throughout the U.S. and the global economy, The Big Short made a well-timed arrival. It was published in March 2010 and spent six weeks at No. 1 on The New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list, remaining on that list for 28 weeks. According to Nielsen BookScan data, during one week in March 2010, Lewis sold 60,000 hardcover copies of The Big Short, followed by 40,000 more then next week.
Michael Lewis set out to tell the story of Wall Street’s collapse from a somewhat different perspective. He would not use the “usual suspects” — i.e., the big banks, investment house CEOs, or federal regulators. Rather, Lewis chose maverick individuals who saw what was coming. These were folks who stood apart from the herd, and by Lewis’s count, there were damn few of them at the time who really understood what was happening. They were the ones who, in some cases, made tons of money on the “smart guys’” failure to understand their own financial wizardry. They saw that the bubble was about to burst, and some of them made enormous sums of money by “shorting” the sub-prime mortgage market in 2005-2008 – i.e., anticipating its drop in value. Everybody else, meanwhile, watched their portfolios evaporate.
Michael Burry, one of the mavericks featured in “The Big Short” who found calamity hidden away in sub-prime mortgage bundles – and opportunity.
Among those Lewis follows in The Big Short are: Meredith Whitney, a market analyst who predicted the demise of Citigroup and Bear Stearns; Steve Eisman, a hedge fund manager; Greg Lippmann, a Deutsche Bank trader; and Eugene Xu, a quantitative analyst, and others. Covered as well are some of those who suffered huge losses, such as Howie Hubler, credited with losing $9 billion in one trade, and AIG Financial Products, which suffered over $99 billion in losses.
Lewis also features Dr. Michael Burry in The Big Short. Burry, a thirty-something ex-neurologist suffering from blindness in one eye and Asperger’s syndrome, was also a diligent investor who burrowed into the details of the sub-prime mortgage market. Burry had formerly made a name for himself while a neurology resident at Stanford University posting investment insight and stock picks online during the dot-com stock market boom. His astoundingly accurate picks drew the attention of some well-known investors who invested in him, later spawning his hedge fund, Scion Capital, which made tens of millions for Burry and his investors betting on the sub-prime mortgage collapse.
Steve Croft of “60 Minutes” spent two days with Michael Lewis at his Berkeley, CA home for “The Big Short” story.
Burry, Lewis, and The Big Short were all featured on a 60 Minutes CBS-TV segment with correspondent Steve Kroft, in March 2010 – a broadcast which helped launch the book into best-seller stardom.
“If you had to pick someone to write the autopsy report on the Wall Street financial collapse 18 months ago,” Kroft explained in the introduction, “you couldn’t do any better than Michael Lewis. He is one of the country’s preeminent non-fiction writers with a knack for turning complicated, mind numbing material into fascinating yarns.
“His new book, called The Big Short…, comes out later this week and it explains how some of Wall Street’s finest minds managed to destroy $1.75 trillion of wealth in the subprime mortgage markets.” Kroft would spend two days with Lewis at his home in Berkeley, California to do the piece for 60 Minutes.
During the 60 Minutes segment, Kroft and Lewis wander about Lewis’s hillside compound in Berkeley, California which consists of a main house and three cottages as the interview takes place. At one point Lewis is asked which book produced the money to buy the home. He replies, “This would’ve been The New, New Thing, that bought this place,” referring to his earlier book on Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.Lewis estimates he has sold “some millions” of books. “I don’t know how many millions. Not John Grisham millions, but millions.” Also in the segment, Lewis estimates as of that time he had sold “some millions” of books. “I don’t know how many millions. Not John Grisham millions,” he told Kroft, “but millions.”
The Big Short received lots of attention beyond 60 Minutes, and the book was generally well received by critics. Two writers touting the book at The Oxonian Review noted: “Michael Lewis has managed to tell the story of the subprime collapse by combining history, finance, and biography into what is surely one of this year’s most entertaining books.” Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair added: “It is the work of our greatest financial journalist, at the top of his game..” And Andrew Leonard of Salon.com also praised The Big Short: “Superb: Michael Lewis doing what he does best, illuminating the idiocy, madness and greed of modern finance. . . . Lewis achieves what I previously imagined impossible: He makes subprime sexy all over again.” The Big Short received the Los Angeles Times Book Award and it also received the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights 2011 Book Award, given annually to a novelist who “most faithfully and forcefully reflects Robert Kennedy’s purposes…” And as noted earlier, The Big Short was optioned for possible film production by Brad Pitt even before its publication.
“Boomerang,” a Michael Lewis book on economic troubles in Europe, was published in October 2011.
Another Michael Lewis book that became something of companion to The Big Short, was Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. This book followed the trail of cheap credit that moved around the world between 2002 and 2008, infecting Europe with it’s own economic crisis. Boomerang offers a collection of satirical essays that Lewis had written previously for Vanity Fair as he traveled through Europe. The book prompted New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani to observe:
“Michael Lewis possesses the rare storyteller’s ability to make virtually any subject both lucid and compelling. . . . Combining his easy familiarity with finance and the talents of a travel writer, Mr. Lewis sets off in these pages to give the reader a guided tour through some of the disparate places hard hit by the fiscal tsunami of 2008, like Greece, Iceland and Ireland, tracing how very different people for very different reasons gorged on the cheap credit available in the prelude to that disaster….”
The essays in Boomerang did not endear Lewis to European leaders trying to convince the world of their solvency. “Iceland won’t let him go back,” said his old friend, Sean Tuohy, and in Greece, he was persona non grata as well.
Flash Boys’ Fire
Meanwhile, Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys, will likely continue to stir the pot for a time, moving both politicians and populist sentiment. Observed one Forbes writer, James Poulos in a late March 2014 piece titled “Michael Lewis Is About To Disrupt The Politics Of High Speed Trading”:
…Not only is Lewis about to hit a nerve with America’s most powerful financiers — he’s poised to strike a painful, divisive chord with everyday Americans. High-speed trading epitomizes a whole sequence of contemporary fears about an economy that’s out of control for all but an elite few of players, and sometimes for them, too.
Once we worried that robots would take over planet Earth; now, we’re worried that our algorithms will slip our grasp, whirling away with no master at all…
Flash Boys, meanwhile sold 130,000 copies in the U.S, in its first week of publication. That’s more that twice the rate of The Big Short. And in early April 2014, Sony Pictures was reportedly near a deal on purchasing the film rights for Flash Boys with Scott Rudin and Eli Bush producing. Sony had also produced Moneyball.
“The Lewis Effect”
Two of the “stars” in Michael Lewis’s latest book, Flash Boys, are Ronan Ryan and Brad Katsuyama, noted earlier at the top of this story. In January 2013, before the book idea was hatched, they received a dinner invitation from Michael Lewis. At the time, Lewis was working on a story about a former Goldman Sachs trader who was convicted of stealing computer code and he wanted to talk with Ryan and Katsuyama to get their take on what was happening. Ryan and Katsuyama by then had set up their own trading start-up company, the IEX Group, and were only a few months into the effort. Here’s some of an April 2014 exchange that occurred between Ryan and New York Magazine reporter Kevin Roose on the meeting with Lewis and subsequent events.
Ronan Ryan of the IEX Group.
Q: What was your reaction when Michael Lewis asked if he could interview you?
We were probably 15 people at that time, we’d just raised our first round of funding. And, you know, market structure is not that… interesting to laymen. But as a start-up, if Michael Lewis wants to write about you, I’m guessing 100 out of 100 would say yes to that. So it wasn’t a real discussion.
Q: How much time did he spend with you and Brad?
He probably stayed for five hours that day, and then he said he’d be back for a few weeks later. When he came back, we spent the day with him. He wanted to see our operations – see some of the data centers in New Jersey. And then he came back and sat with our team in May. He came by and spent a couple of days in our offices. And that’s when he told us, “I think there’s a book in this.”
At the time, we didn’t know we were opening ourselves up to a book. We’d been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and we really thought this was going to be an article in Vanity Fair. A book is the holy grail!…
Q: Did he give you any warnings? Like, By the way, this is going to be crazy?
He didn’t really have to, to be honest. I can remember when I read The Big Short and I knew some of the traders in it. Those guys became — and trust me, I’m a humble guy — they sort of became mini-celebrities in the industry. I knew it would be pretty crazy.
It’s been nuts. We’re getting a lot of positive calls.
IEX Guys: Rob Park, Brad Katsuyama, Ronan Ryan, and John Schwall.
Q: Who’s been calling? People who want to invest in IEX? Friends from back home?
Oh God, it’s everyone. We’re getting a surprising amount of people who want to invest in IEX. We’ve had people who want to list their companies on IEX. It’s been incredibly humbling. And not just emails – like, people are picking up the phone and leaving voice messages to thank us for what we’re doing. One lady said, “I’ve got money in a shoebox, how do I invest that?”
Q: What’s the most memorable call you’ve gotten so far today?
We had a voice message from a guy from Kentucky, strong accent, he was a vet. He was thanking us for doing right on Wall Street.
It’s funny, you have all this excitement with the television, your wives are telling you you’re so great, and your parents are proud of you, and you come here at 6:30 in the morning and some guy from Kentucky…dialed a phone, and left a voice message saying something like that. You’re like, ‘Holy shit, you’re really touching Americans!’ There were chills. We played it over the speaker. I was really amazed.
Source: Kevin Roose, “What It’s Like to Star in a Michael Lewis Book,” New York Magazine, April 1, 2014.
Most of the action on Wall Street these days is not with the floor traders, but with the fiber optic cable feeding super-fast computers.
One thing is for sure: Lewis’s latest book has spurred some needed probing on Wall Street, especially of the relationship between technology and markets – fair markets, stable markets, markets that raise capital for productive ends. While all of the points that Lewis has raised in Flash Boys may not be as problematic as he has made them out to be, the issue of runaway technology – and unaccountable pirating of technology for elite gains only – are certainly matters worth investigating, as apparently the Justice Dept., the SEC, and some members of Congress believe they are. As for Lewis the writer, we are lucky to have him around, whatever the subject. Stay tuned to “flash boy Lewis” for more intriguing topics that are surely ahead.
James Poulos, “Michael Lewis Is About To Disrupt The Politics Of High Speed Trading,” Forbes, March 29, 2014.
Steve Kroft, reporter; Draggan Mihailovich, producer, “Is the U.S. Stock Market Rigged? A New Book from Michael Lewis Reveals How Some High-Speed Traders Work the Stock Market to Their Advantage,” 60 Minutes/CBS.com, March 30, 2014.
Nick Baker and Sam Mamudi, “High-Speed Traders Rip Investors Off, Michael Lewis Says,” Bloomberg News, March 31, 2014.
“Author Michael Lewis: US Stock Market Is Rigged,” MoneyNews.com, Monday, March 31, 2014.
Michael J. De La Merced and William Alden, “Scrutiny for Wall Street’s Warp Speed,”Deal Book, New York Times, March 31, 2014.
Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Fault Runs Deep in Ultrafast Trading,” New York Times, March 31, 2014.
“Michael Lewis Discusses His Latest Book: ‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt’,” Charlie Rose Show, March 31, 2014.
“Katsuyama vs. O’Brien – Who Won The fight?,” CNBC.com, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Eric Levenson, Dashiell Bennett, “Is High-Frequency Trading as Bad as Michael Lewis Wants You to Think?,” TheWire.com, April 1, 2014.
“On A ‘Rigged’ Wall Street, Milliseconds Make All The Difference,” NPR/Fresh Air, April 1, 2014.
Kevin Roose, “What It’s Like to Star in a Michael Lewis Book,” New York Magazine, April 1, 2014.
Felix Gillette, “The Fame-Ready Cast of the Michael Lewis Publicity Blitz,” BusinessWeek.com, April 2, 2014.
Diane Brady, “Lewis Calls Flash Boys Blowback ‘Thoughtless’,” BusinessWeek.com, April 2, 2014.
C. Thompson, “Lewis-Katsuyama-O’Brien Rumble Just the Beginning: Opening Line,” Bloomberg.com, April 2, 2014.
“Watch Michael Lewis Explain ‘Flash Boys’ with Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’,” WSJ.com, April 2, 2014.
Rachel Nolan, “Behind the Cover Story: Michael Lewis on Complexity and the Rigging of Wall Street,” New York Times, April 3, 2014.
‘Flash Boys’ Investigates How High-frequency Traders Anticipate Wall Street’s Next Move Faster,”(Michael Lewis Interview w/ Judy Woodruff), The PBS NewsHour, April 4, 2014.
Derek Wallbank, “Lawmakers Spurred by Lewis Book Try to Slow Flash Traders,” Bloomberg.com, April 4, 2014.
Book-TV, “Author Michael Lewis Takes Viewers’ Questions on His New Book “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,” C-Span.org, April 5, 2014.
Michael Lewis, “The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street: How a Band of Outsiders Discovered That the Stock Market Was Rigged — And Set Out to Change it,” New York Times Magazine, Sunday, April 6, 2014.
Felix Salmon, “The Lewis Effect: Michael Lewis’ New Best-Seller Focuses the Public’s Attention on High-Frequency Trading. What Will Change as a Result?,” Slate.com, April 7, 2014.
Felix Salmon, “Michael Lewis’s High-speed Journalism,” Reuters.com, April 7, 2014.
Dave McNary, “Sony Nearing Movie Deal on Michael Lewis’ ‘Flash Boys’,” Variety.com, April 8, 2014.
Steven Pearlstein, “‘Flash Boys’: Michael Lewis Does it Again,” Washington Post, Sunday, April 13, 2014, p. G-1.
Carrie Hojnicki, “The Amazing Life And Career Of Wall Street’s Favourite Writer, Michael Lewis” Business Insider (Austrailia), April 15, 2014.
Emma Brockes, “Michael Lewis: ‘Wall Street Has Gone Insane’,” The Guardian, April 16, 2014.
“Barack Obama to Michael Lewis on a Presidential Loss of Freedom: ‘You Don’t Get Used to It — At Least, I Don’t’,” VanityFair .com, September 5, 2012.
Jacob Goldstein, “Putting a Speed Limit on the Stock Market,” New York Times, October 8, 2013.
Michael Lewis, “Obama’s Way,” Vanity Fair, October 2012.
Scott Ross, “Brad Pitt Keeps Making Michael Lewis Richer and Richer,” NBCBayArea.com, May 30, 2012
Jessica Pressler, “It’s Good to Be Michael Lewis: He Could Have Made a Fortune in Business. Instead, He Made a Fortune Writing About It. Plus—a Fortune for Everyone He Writes About,” New York Magazine, October 2, 2011.
Susanna Kim, “10 Economic Lessons From Michael Lewis’ Boomerang,” ABC News, September 28, 2011.
Andy Lewis, Gregg Kilday, “ ‘Moneyball’ Author Michael Lewis on Oscar Hopes, Working With Brad Pitt and His New ‘Liar’s Poker’ Screenplay (Q&A),” The Hollywood Reporter, September 27, 2011.
Andy Lewis, Matthew Belloni, “‘Moneyball’ Author Michael Lewis to Script ‘Liar’s Poker’ for Warner Bros.,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 26, 2011
Christopher Rosen, “Author Michael Lewis on ‘Moneyball,’ His Critics, and What Hollywood Can Learn From Sabermetrics,” Moviefone.com, September 22, 2011.
Joel Krupa and Braden MacDonald, “Shorting our Future”(Review of the Big Short), The Oxonian Review (Oxford, England), Issue 14.1 / Politics & Society / October 18, 2010.
Claude Brodesser-Akner, “Brad Pitt Moving Quickly on Adapting Michael Lewis’s The Big Short,” Vulture.com, June 24, 2010.
Michael Lewis, Author, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” Q&A/C-Span, April 4, 2010.
Frances Dinkelspiel, “Michael Lewis: I Don’t Make $$ When My Books Become Movies,” BerkeleySide.com, March 17, 2010.
Steve Croft, Reporter, “Author Michael Lewis On Wall St’s Delusion: Author Tells “60 Minutes” What Led to Wall Street Collapse and Who Predicted It,” 60 Minutes/CBS, March 12, 2010.
One of the endearing charms of John F. Kennedy was the “free spirit” side of him that surfaced every so often, even as President. Throughout his life, Kennedy often battled with, and acquiesced to, his “inner boy,” with some of those moments proving more reckless and confounding than others. And yes, his much written-about sexual escapades were, for some, a little too much “free spirit,” thank you. But Kennedy, as we now know, compartmentalized, and he managed to function at an extraordinarily high level while doing so. The public, however, mostly did not know about his more reckless or darker moments while he was President. But he did have his public moments of more innocent and harmless fun; where he could be a bit devilish, a bit adolescent, traveling “outside the lines” as it were; bending protocol, and taking the public along as he went. His press conferences come to mind on this score, when his humor and joking with the media could take the edge off more
Surprised beachgoers in Los Angeles are astounded to find President John F. Kennedy swimming on their public beach.. So were ten secret service agents charged with protecting him. Photo, Bill Beebe / Los Angeles Times.
serious matters while presenting himself as the very human person he was. Cavorting with a brood of Kennedy kids on a golf cart one summer at Hyannis Port is another of those “inner boy” moments where he appeared to be really having fun despite the weighty matters of state he bore. And certainly the moment captured above is part of that gallery too – where his face and smile say it all – i.e., being very pleased with himself for what he has just done. It was August 1962, while he was President, then staying at his sister and brother-in-law’s home by the sea in Santa Monica, California, escaping his presidential mantle and Secret Service agents for a dip in the Pacific Ocean.
Kenny O’Donnell, the narrator and writer of the 1971 book, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, which he wrote with Dave Powers, another close JFK aide – a book about Kennedy’s run for the White House and his presidency – describes JFK’s “Pacific moment” in Los Angeles as follows:
…One Sunday on a trip to California, he spent the afternoon at the beach home of Pat and Peter Lawford at Santa Monica, sitting in his swimming trunks beside the pool, reading a book, but glancing from time to time at the ocean surf. “Dave, look at that surf out there,” he said to [Dave] Powers, who was stretched out beside him. The president returned to the lounge chair beside the pool, picked up his sunglasses and book, and said contentedly, “That was the best swim I’ve had in months.”Dave was silently hoping that the President would be able to resist the urge to plunge into the surf, because the beach was open to the public and crowded with Sunday visitors who would rush upon Kennedy if they spied him heading toward the water.
But after an hour or so the dark classes came off, the book was put down, and he was waling across the public beach toward the waves. Dave [Powers] jumped up and hurried after him, wondering if he should summon the Secret Service guards from the front of the Lawford house for protection. He heard one sunbather saying, He looks like President Kennedy, but President Kennedy isn’t that big and powerful looking.” the President plunged into the heavy surf and swam out beyond it while a crowd gathered, shouting and staring at his bobbing head. One woman dropped to her knees and prayed. “He’s out so far!” she cried. “Please, God, don’t lit him drown!” Another woman fully dressed, followed him into the surf before she turned back.
He swam in the ocean, about a hundred yards offshore, for ten minutes while a crowd of almost a thousand people gathered on the beach. When he was coming out of the water, a photographer in street clothes waded out to his waist to take pictures. Kennedy glanced at the photographer and said, “Oh, no, I can’t believe it,” The ten Secret Service men who were guarding him splashed into the water int heir business suits, forming a protecting wedge around him with Dave [Powers] and Peter Lawford to hold back the crowd that struggled to touch him and shake his hand while he made his way back across the sand to the house. The president returned to the lounge chair beside the pool, picked up his sunglasses and his book, and said contentedly, “That was the best swim I’ve had in months.”
Photographer Bill Beebe, at home with the famous 1962 JFK beach photo he snapped, during an interview in 2011.
The photographer who captured the JFK moment on that August afternoon in 1962 was Bill Beebe. He was on assignment for the Los Angeles Times, staking out Kennedy during his visit at the Lawford’s beachfront home. “I tell you, that guy could really swim,” Beebe said in an interview about the Presidential swim some 50 years later. “He went about 200 yards north along the shoreline, and when he started to come out of the water, word got out along the beach. I could see what was going to happen, so I took off my shoes and went out into the water, clothes and camera and all.” But Beebe also noted that “the Secret Service and FBI there were beside themselves, but [Kennedy] made it seem like a natural thing to do.” Beebe’s photograph, however, soon got White House attention, as such a casual image of a sitting president was then “iffy” publication material. “I gave the film to a messenger, and within 15 minutes [then-White House Press Secretary] Pierre Salinger called the Times and tried to kill the photo. That was before [editors] even got the film.” But to no avail, as the Times knew they had quite a photograph. It ran the next day.
Eva Ban, the woman in the polka-dot swimsuit appearing with JFK in the 1962 beach photo, talks on the phone with friends reacting to the front-page story as her children look on.
Beebe’s photo appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, Monday, August 20th, 1962, with a giant headline, “Kennedy Caps Visit With Dip In Pacific.” Otis Chandler, the publisher of the Times, telephoned Beebe to congratulate him on getting the shot.
TheTimes also received a volume of mail about the photo from all over the world. Comment ranged from amazement that a national leader could mix so easily with the populace in such an informal way, to rebuke from more officious observers who felt no national leader should put himself in such a position. Sill others objected to the Times using the photo at all, believing the newspaper should have stood against running it.
However, Bill Beebe noted that the overwhelming number of letters to the Times were positive and supportive about the photo and its publication.
JFK at one of his numerous press conferences, where he would often joke with the press or use pointed humor – this one in November 1962 at State Dept. photo, Abbie Rowe.
The woman in the forefront of the photo with JFK in the polka-dot swimsuit, Eva Ban, a 43-year-old housewife and mother of two, had some momentary fame as a result of the front-page exposure, as the Los Angeles Times later ran a piece on her as well.
“It was only by chance that I happened to be there,” Mrs. Ban would later tell the Times. “The reason I was in the water and in the picture was because I was looking for my 13-year-old son, Peter. He ran into the water after the President and went out farther than he ever had before. I was worried.”
She also explained that the reason she was laughing in the picture “was because of what one woman [in the crowd] was yelling, ‘Mabel, I touched him.’ The President was laughing about this too.”
Famous photo by Stanley Tretick who captured JFK giving Lawford, Shriver & Kennedy kids the ride of their lives at Hyannis Port, MA one summer. This January 2nd, 1962 edition of Look magazine sold out on newsstands.
But for a brief moment in August 1962, the camera captured an all-too-human side of a sitting president being a boy, doing what he loved to do, if only for an unguarded moment.
The L.A. beach photo also captured the reaction of admiring bystanders – in some ways, surrogates for the larger nation – seeing their president mixing with the masses, doing what they normally did on a Sunday afternoon at the beach, and being one of them. It was, in a sense, a quintessential American moment.
But there is also poignancy in this photo as well, knowing what lies ahead for this bright young president only 15 months later – leaving that begging, lasting question: why did this promising light go out so soon?
For more on the history of JFK and his family at this website see “Kennedy History,” a topics page with ten additional stories on JFK and RFK. See also, the “Politics & Culture” page for other choices.
Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
Keira Knightley in an early frame of 2014 Chanel ad.
“She’s Not There”-The Zombies
Holding out a bottle of her perfume, she beckons the man who has spotted her from below.
Danila catches her perfume bottle, but she has moved...
...She’s joined the party, as Danila walks toward her...
...But then she vanishes as their paths are crossed...
Next day. Danila on a river bridge, sees a boat below...
..”It’s that Coco dame from the party last night”...
Bringing her boat to swirling turn, she glances back up at the man she left enchanted the previous evening...
In March 2014, English actress Keira Knightley and the 1960s’ British rockers, The Zombies, teamed up to do a bit of advertising for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume. The TV ad, seen during primetime telecasts, has Hollywood-quality production values with its own little 60-second story line. But the interesting attention-getter in this ad – apart from Knightley’s good looks and a smartly designed set – is how well the music works with the ad’s mini plot.
The song is “She’s Not There,” sampled at right. It was a top hit in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere 50 years ago. Still, in the Chanel TV spot, the Zombies’ sound is crisp and clear, the vocals airy and enticing, and the lyrics aptly suited to Ms. Knightley as she glides through the frames. It is also one of those songs that will catch the ear of those from an earlier time who unexpectedly hear it and are pleasantly astonished at its quality, reminded once again how good the music was from those years.
The new Coco Mademoiselle perfume ad, explains Chanel’s promo, “reveals Keira Knightley, full of mystery and fascination,” a woman “with a unique and carefree style.” In fact, she is cast as something of a high-class tease, being elusive and alluring as she enters a party setting, playing with her quarry, Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky. And the Zombies’ music helps set the stage:
Well no one told me about her;
The way she lied…
Well no one told me about her;
How many people cried.
The ad races by in 30 or 60 seconds, depending on the cut – as all things commercial these days go by faster and faster it seems, no thanks to quick-cut advertising. Nevertheless, the imagery in this ad works reasonably well, as a sampling of screenshots at right offer a look at some of the ad’s visuals and storyline.
Knightley, in a sexy white gown, is seen lounging early on in the ad, silhouetted behind a glass screen applying a drop of the magic potion. She then makes an appearance on a central staircase, catching the eye of her leading man, Danila, who is mesmerized by her beauty, gazing up at the staircase.
Knightley, whose recent film credits include Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina, has been the face of Chanel since 2007, starring as founder Coco Chanel in earlier spots. In this newest role, she is cast as the elusive and mysterious Coco, who typically lures the best-looking man in the house and then vanishes – or as the Zombies put it, “she’s not there.”
Descending the staircase into the cocktail party, she teases her new mark, holding out a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle Chanel perfume, which she drops as Danila lunges to retrieve it. When he looks up for her, she is gone, now on the other side of the room. As he strides across the room to meet her, another party guest crosses his path, and in a burst of cosmic sparkle, Keira vanishes. Again, the Zombie refrain:
Please don’t bother trying to find her;
She’s not there.
Cut to the next day, as Danila is walking across a bridge talking on his mobile phone when he spies the casually-attired Keira piloting a speedboat on the river below. As she passes beneath the bridge, he runs to other side to catch another look at her. Making a turn with her boat on the other side of the bridge, she glances back up at him – the man she left bedazzled and wanting at the party the previous evening.
The camera then cuts to a final close-up of Kiera’s beautiful face and inquiring brown eyes, as the Zombies add their final lyrics — no doubt with a sequel to come.
Let me tell you ’bout
the way she looked,
The way she acted, the color of hair;
Her voice was soft and cool;
Her eyes were clear and bright;
But she’s not there.
In the U.S., the ad ran in primetime, during shows such as Once Upon A Time, Blacklist, Parenthood, and others, and sometimes there was an “available at Macy’s” or other retail tag at the ad’s end, along with a concluding shot of the Coco Mademoiselle perfume bottle.
At the Chanel.com website, the perfume is described as “daring and bold, yet sensual and elegant….Inspired by the irrepressible spirit of the young Coco Chanel, the modern Oriental fragrance entices with an utterly feminine composition, expressing refined sensuality and incredible freshness.” The website also includes the video of the TV ad.
The entire mini production, as a piece of commercial persuasion designed mostly for female viewers, is nicely done, and the Zombies’ tune helps to make it work. What follows below is more about the Zombies, their music, and their history.
Cover for the 1965 vinyl U.S. album featuring The Zombies’ hit songs, “She’s Not There” & “Tell Her No.”
The Zombies formed in 1962 from a group of young musicians in St. Albans, England. Paul Atkinson, Rod Argent, and Hugh Grundy met at St. Albans School, and they soon linked up with Colin Blunstone and bassist Paul Arnold, although Arnold would be replaced by Chris White six months later.
After winning a music competition sponsored by the London Evening News, they signed with Decca records in 1964 and soon scored their first hit song, “She’s Not There.” The song was written by Rod Argent, only his second at that point, written for the group’s Decca recording session on June 12th, 1964 at Decca’s West Hampstead Studio. It was one of four songs recorded by the Zombies at that session. The Zombies’ lineup then included Argent on keyboard and vocals, Paul Atkinson on guitar and vocals, Chris White on bass and vocals, Hugh Grundy on drums, and Colin Blunstone singing lead vocals.
1960s: The young Zombies (l to r): Rod Argent, Chris White, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy.
“She’s Not There,” an electric-piano based tune, with Blunstone’s lead vocals, was released in July 1964. “This minor-key, jazz-tinged number, distinguished by its musicianship and Blunstone’s breathy vocal,” Rolling Stone would later write, “was unlike anything heard in British rock at the time.” The song peaked at No. 12 on the U.K. charts. It would become the group’s only Top 40 hit in the U.K.. In the U.S., however, it did better. It was first heard there in early August 1964 on New York City’s WINS radio station with Stan Burns, who debuted the song on his noontime “Hot Spot”segment. The song caught on that fall throughout the country and in early December 1964, climbed to No. 1 on the Cashbox chart and No.2 on Billboard Hot 100, remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. Wrote one book reviewer of the group and their first hit song some years later:
…In 1964 a practically unknown British beat group calling themselves The Zombies released a single on Decca Records bearing the title “She’s Not There.” Incredibly dynamic and built on driving, jazzy bass line over which drums, electric piano and voice were forming individual rhythms and pattern almost like in a piece of Baroque chamber music, this unusual record gave a glimpse of a future where musical styles could be merged freely and without prejudice. It was very much of its time, a charming little slice of pop vynil, easy to take, hard to let go…
Decca-issued 45 rpm for Zombies’ 1965 hit, “Tell Her No,” which rose to No. 6 in the U.S.
A second Zombies single missed the mark, but another, “Tell Her No,” released in December 1964 in the U.S., entered the Top 40 there in January 1965, rising to No. 6 in March and remaining in the the Top 40 for eight weeks. “Tell Her No” was only a minor hit for The Zombies in Britain, where it peaked at No.42 on the UK Singles Chart in February 1965.
“Tell Her No”-Zombies
Throughout 1965 and into 1966, the Zombies toured America and Europe. In 1965, they also became involved with the British film Bunny Lake Is Missing, a psychological thriller starring Laurence Olivier, directed and produced by Otto Preminger. The Zombies were featured on the film’s poster for three songs they did for the soundtrack: “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.” They also appeared in the film, prominently featured performing on television in a pub scene. They also recorded a two-minute radio ad set to the tune of “Just Out of Reach” to promote the film’s release. However, in 1966, no big, fresh hits came their way. By early 1967, at a time when their record career had almost ground to a halt in the UK, the Zombies played to crowds of over 30,000 in the Philippines. Yet, at that point, the group appeared to be at a crossroads of sorts.
1968: The Zombies’ “Odessey & Oracle” album cover.
With their Decca recording contract about to expire, the group decided that they would make a final album before calling it quits. In the spring of 1967, they signed with CBS Records to produce a studio album, only the second of their career. From these sessions would come the album Odessey and Oracle. They produced the music themselves on a shoestring budget.
They began working on the album in June 1967, and nine of the twelve songs were recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios. In August, when the Abbey Road studio became unavailable, they moved to Olympic Studios where three more songs were recorded. The following month they returned to Abbey Road, finishing in November with the album’s final track.
Along the way, and during some of the sessions, there had been a few testy exchanges among band members. By the end of the sessions, morale was at a low point. Two Zombies’ singles at the time had also been unsuccessful, and demand for their live appearances had declined. After a final stage performance in mid-December 1967, the band split up.
Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent from photo on CD cover, “As Far As I Can See,” 2004.
The album they produced for CBS, meanwhile, languished. Only after U.S. CBS staff producer Al Kooper fought to have it issued, was it released. “Without Al,” explained Rod Argent some years later in a DigBoston.com interview, Odessey and Oracle “wouldn’t have been known by anybody. He took it to Clive Davis and said, ‘Whoever’s got this album, you’ve got to buy it and release it.’ Clive Davis said, ‘Well we’ve got it, but we passed on it already.’ Al said, ‘Well you can’t. You have to put it out.’ So he had everything to do with that album coming out.” Kooper, having picked up an early copy of the album during a trip to London, loved it and believed it contained a few hit singles. CBS/Columbia released it in April 1968 on a subsidiary label, Date Records.
The Zombies – “Time of The Season”
Odessey and Oracle did not have soaring sales initially, but Kooper’s belief about some of the songs as singles was right on the money. CBS chose the song “Butcher’s Tale” as the first single to release in the States, feeling the song’s anti-war theme (based on World War I) would resonate with record-buyers due to the Vietnam War. However, it was another song that really hit paydirt – “Time of the Season.” This song was written by Rod Argent and recorded by the Zombies at Abbey Road in August of 1967. It was also released as a single with the album in April 1968, but did not receive much attention at the time. But after a few U.S. radio DJs discovered it 1969 and began playing it more frequently, it became a huge nationwide hit. By February 1969 it entered the U.S. Top 40, an din March rose to No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart. It also became a million seller, remaining in the Top 40 for eleven weeks. “Time of The Season” was also a No. 1 hit in Canada in March 1969.
Big Beat’s 2010 EP special featuring Zombies’ “Time of Season” & others. Click for Big Beat page & details.
With the success of “Time of the Season,” the band was urged to reform – and they were offered sizeable sums of money to do so, but they refused. Some of them were fed up with the music business and began other pursuits. Rod Argent was then moving ahead with plans for a another band he and others would form, called Argent. He would be joined there by Chris White, who came on as a non-performing songwriter. One of Argent’s hit songs, “Hold Your Head Up,” was written by Argent and White. Blunstone at first went back to work in insurance, but then returned to singing, putting out several LPs in the 1970s on his own, forming a group called Keats, and also singing with the Alan Parsons Project. Atkinson went into computer programming initially, but later did A&R work (Artists & Repertoire), first for Columbia in New York and later as a v. p. for A&R at RCA’s West Coast office. ["A&R" is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters. A&R people also serve as liaison between artists and record labels or publishing companies ]. Grundy also worked in Columbia’s A&R department, and in the 1980s also ran a horse transport business near London.
1997: Big Beat’s “Zombie Heaven” box set.
“I still have it indelibly framed in my mind that when we split, there was no interest in the band anywhere,” said Colin Blunstone, in a 1998 interview with New York Times pop music reporter, Neil Strauss. “That’s one of the reasons we all went our separate ways. And that stays with you. You have this feeling of not being particularly appreciated as you go off and do other things.” But time would change that.
Better With Time
The Zombies would prove to be one of those groups whose music would be belatedly discovered by some, and whose songs would grow in appreciation with time. Helping that process along has been the Big Beat record label of Ace Records in London. In late 1997, Big Beat issued Zombie Heaven, a four-CD box set that gathered up every vintage Zombies recording it could find and remastered them in one set. That set became one of the best-selling titles in the Ace Records catalogue. It even surprised some of the Zombies.
“Overall, the box set made a much better impression than I expected,” said Rod Argent to Neil Strauss of the New York Times in a 1998 review. “It’s strange, actually, because looking back on those early Zombies singles I don’t quite feel the same frustration now. Some of them sound excellent to me.” Argent also had words of praise for guitarist Chris White after listening to the box set. “In fact, I phoned him up after I listened to it and said, ‘I don’t want this to sound patronizing, Chris, but I’ve just got to tell you, your bass playing is great.’ It’s probably something I’ve never said to him before. So I said it 30 years too late.”
Cover of Claes Johansen’s 2001 biography of the Zombies, “Hung Up On A Dream.”
Neil Strauss of the Times also noted some of the Zombies’ work in his review: “Over the course of the ensuing decades, [The Zombies'] final album… Odessey and Oracle – a beautifully arranged, harmony drenched pristine pop paean to memory, the changing seasons, the passage of time and lost love – slowly began to be recognized as one of the greatest albums of the 1960s.” Others have also cited the album. In 2003, Odessey and Oracle was ranked at No. 100 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Several other music magazines have also ranked the album on various “greatest” and/ or “best ever” albums lists – including Stylus, Mojo, NME, and Q, as well as The Guardian. Some have also compared Odessey and Oracle to the Beatles’ Revolver album and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. Music critic Richie Unterberger has offered similar kudos: “Aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-’60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of the Zombies.” In addition, a variety of performing artists have also cited Odessey and Oracle as a favorite or an influence on their own work, including: Tom Petty, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Paul Weller of the punk band The Jam, and teenage UK indie band, The Vaccines. Rod Argent also belatedly discovered that Elvis Presley had Zombies singles on his personal play list, and that John Lennon wanted to produce the band. In 2001, a Zombies biography was published by Claes Johansen, Hung Up on A Dream, a title of a Zombies’ song. The book was penned with the co-operation of the five original members of the band who are interviewed extensively throughout the book.
Poster for 1999 film, “A Walk in the Moon” with Diane Lane & Viggo Mortensen – “It was the summer of Woodstock when she became the woman she always wanted to be.”
The original Zombies have reformed only twice in recent years: once for the launch party of the “Zombie Heaven” box set at London’s Jazz Café, and once for a benefit for Paul Atkinson in Los Angeles, shortly before he died from liver disease in 2004. In 2008, the remaining members came together for several special performances marking the 40th anniversary of Odessey & Oracle. Argent and Blunstone, however, have toured together in the U.S. and Europe, and continue to perform and record as of early 2014.
The Zombies’ music has also received airing in films and TV shows. “Time of The Season” has been used in films to represent the late 1960s or 1969, the year the song became popular, as in the films: 1969 (1988), Awakening (1990), A Walk on the Moon (1999) and Riding the Bullet (2004), all of which depict the year 1969. On TV, the NBC series American Dreams, which depicts the mid- and late-1960s in American society with some focus on the American Bandstand show (with the series produced by a Dick Clark company), “Time of The Season” was featured in the third season (2004). “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” were also used in the American Dreams series. Other TV shows that have used “Time of the Season” in various episodes include: Tour of Duty (1987-1990), the HBO series Big Love, Friends(in 1996), the NBC miniseries The ’60s (1999), and Will and Grace (in 2002). The song is also used in a few video games.
A 2005 Fidelity Investments TV ad used “Time of the Season” with its pitch. Click to view ad on YouTube.
In October 2005, a Fidelity Investments TV ad produced by Arnold Worldwide of Boston began appearing using the Zombies’ song, “Time Of The Season”. The ad – designed to reach aging baby boomers needing to beef up their retirements accounts – used a lava lamp motif, an iconic piece of psychedellic-era furniture from the 1960s. “Fidelity 401-K” and other financial terms are printed on the lava lamp’s slowing-moving forming and reforming green lava, with a voice over intoning the details.
In 2006, “Time of the Season” was also used in a U.K. ad for Bulmers Irish Cider. That ad was part of themed series following the changing seasons. “Spring II” depicted an apple orchard coming back to life in the spring with a segue to the rising social life in pubs and bars. The ad appeared on ITV, Channel Four and Five throughout the U.K. In America, during the 2006 Major League baseball playoffs, the song was played in Shea Stadium as the home-team New York Mets took the field.
The 2014 Keira Knightley TV spot for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume presented at the top of this article will likely bring new listeners to the music of the Zombies – music that is now 50 years young and counting! For additional stories at this website on music and/or advertising, please see the Annals of Music category page or the Madison Avenue page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
1950s dance-concert scene with Alan Freed (far right) as DJ & emcee. CD cover for collection of 1950s songs from Freed’s radio years. Famous Grove Records / 1997-98.
In America during the early 1950s, the music being broadcast on the radio was beginning to change – but not everywhere. The normal fare of the day was mostly a mixture of Big Band music, old standards, Frank Sinatra-style crooners, a few pop tunes, and some novelty songs. Among the No. 1 singles in 1950, for example, were: “I Can Dream, Can’t I,” by The Andrews Sisters; “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” by Red Foley; “Music! Music! Music!,” by Teresa Brewer; “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole; and “The Tennessee Waltz,”by Patti Page, among others. But this style of music – which would remain a standard genre for years – was making room for a new sound and a new kind of music. And one place where the new music was being broadcast on the radio was in Cleveland, Ohio by a late-night disc jockey named Alan Freed. Working at station WJW and using the on-air nickname “Moondog,” Freed in 1951 was playing a mixture of rhythm and blues (R&B) music; music performed by and listened to by mostly African Americans; music that was not widely played on mainstream radio. This was the music that would soon be known as “rock ’n roll” – a name that Freed would later be credited with advancing.
“Moondog” Alan Freed in 1951 at Cleveland radio station WJW where he called the new music he played, “rock ’n roll.”
The broadcasting business at that time was in the midst of major technological change, as the new medium of television had arrived. Radio drama programming – a big source of the radio broadcast business – was then shifting to television. That change was consuming the attention of broadcast executives and business mangers. Radio programming, as a result, had less of management’s attention. That gave radio producers and disc jockey’s more latitude and more opportunity to experiment with new kinds of music.
R&B music was then also known as “race music;” music that was played largely in the black community but rarely in white America. R&B music was racially-segregated, like much of American society then. But Alan Freed at WJW in Cleveland soon began using the music as a centerpiece of his broadcasts. Freed began his program of R&B music in July 1951 and he would later start calling it “rock ’n roll” music. He would also fashion a new kind of “DJ talk” during his broadcasts, ad-libbing and using part of the language he heard on the recordings he was offering. “Yeah, daddy,” he would say, “let’s rock and roll!” He was 29 years old at the time. His late-night show was called “The Moondog House” and it soon became popular with the young kids – black and white – of Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. In fact, Alan Freed would be credited as one of the early prime movers of “rock ’n roll” music and the early rock concert business. And Cleveland, the town where the rock `n roll broadcasts began, would later be honored with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum as tribute to Freed. But when Freed came to Cleveland in the early 1950s, he had not come with the idea of broadcasting R& B music.
Early 1950s print ad for Alan Freed’s radio show on Cleveland’s WJW, sponsored by the Record Rendezvous.
He was born Albert James Freed in December 1921 near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. By the time he was 13 or so, the future radio DJ had formed a band in high school, his family then living in Salem, Ohio. Freed’s band was called the Sultans of Swing and he played trombone. In 1942, by the time he was 21, Freed had started his radio broadcasting career at WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He then did a short sportscasting stint at WKBN radio in Youngstown, Ohio before moving to WAKR in Akron, Ohio where he became a local favorite in the mid-1940s playing hot jazz and pop recordings.
By 1949 Freed had moved to WXEL-TV in Cleveland. There, Freed would later meet record store owner Leo Mintz in early 1951 who urged him to emcee a program of R&B music over WJW radio. Mintz was the owner of the Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland’s largest record stores, and he had noticed young white kids buying what had been considered exclusively black music a few years earlier. Mintz believed that the R& B music was appealing to the white kids because of its beat, and that it could be danced to easily. He also proposed buying airtime on the station to help sponsor the R & B show. Record Rendevous would also appear in print ads promoting Freed’s shows, as illustrated in the ad above, which uses some radio lingo to pitch its ad slogans, such as: “He spins ‘em keed, he’s HEP, that Freed!”
Disc jockey Alan Freed shown in studio with 45 rpm recording in hand to play on his show.
On July 11, 1951, Freed went on the air at WJW and began playing R&B records. He didn’t make the move to R&B all at once, but gradually. And after listeners responded with repeated requests, he went full bore. He then began calling himself “Moondog” and his show “The Moondog House,” billing himself in radio banter as “The King of the Moondoggers.” He used an instrumental song, “Moondog Symphony,” as his show’s theme, a song by a New York street musician named Louis T. Hardin who also used the name “Moondog.” Others report that Freed used the song, “Blues for Moon Dog” as his radio theme, a song by Todd Rhodes.
On his show, Freed would later call the music he played, “rock `n roll,” a term found throughout R&B music. He wasn’t the first to use the term, but he became the first DJ to program R&B music for a much larger listening audience, helping to take the music business in a whole new direction. WJW at the time was a 50,000-watt clear channel station powerful enough to reach a giant market throughout the Midwest. David Halberstam, describing Freed’s rise in his book The Fifties, wrote:
Poster advertising Alan Freed’s “Moondog Coronation Ball,” March 21st, 1952, Cleveland, Ohio.
“…His success was immediate. It was as if an entire generation of young white kids in that area had been waiting for someone to catch up with them. For Freed it was what he had been waiting for; he seemed to come alive as a new hip personality. He was the Moondog, He kept the beat himself in his live chamber, adding to it by hitting on a Cleveland phone book. He became one of them, the kids, on their side as opposed to that of their parents, the first grown-up who understood them and what they wanted. By his choice of music alone, the Moondog has instantly earned their trust. Soon he was doing live rock shows. The response was remarkable. No one in the local music business had ever seen anything like it before. Two or three thousand kids would buy tickets …all for performers that adults had never even heard of.”
Freed’s dance concerts were advertised over his radio show and he would also emcee the live shows, appearing as the DJ, introducing guest acts, and playing records at the site. In March 1952, he promoted a dance concert to be held at the Cleveland Arena that he called the “Moondog Coronation Ball.” A number of live R& B acts were also billed as part of this concert, including Paul Williams & The Hucklebuckers, Tiny Grims & The Rockin’ Highlanders, The Dominoes, Danny Cobb, and Varetta Dillard.
March 21st 1952: Scene at the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Cleveland Arena, just before things got out of hand. Photo, Peter Hastings/Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Over 20,000 young teens showed up for the 10,000-person ice hockey facility. A riot ensued as the crowd broke into the rink. The police responded and the concert was shut down. Part of the problem was due to the fact that a second night of Moondog Ball entertainment was planned to follow the first night, but all of the tickets for both nights were printed with the first night’s date, March 21st. In any case, the riot that resulted became the talk of the town, as the community was outraged. But the incident only raised the visibility of Freed and his radio show, then becoming more popular among teens.
August 1954. Print ad for big R&B revue show in Cleveland with Alan Freed hosting.
On May 17 and 18th, 1952, Freed’s “Moondog Maytime Ball” was held at the Cleveland Arena, this time featuring three shows to handle the crowds. These shows had a number of acts including: The Dominoes, Todd Rhodes and his Orchestra, H-Bomb Ferguson, Freddie Mitchell and his Orchestra, Little Jimmy Scott, Al “Fats” Thomas, Joan Shaw, the Kalvin Brothers, and Morris Lane and his Great Orchestra. Additional “Moondog” dances and concerts were held in Akron, Youngstown, Canton, and Lorain, Ohio, and also Sharon, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, back at his radio show, he was making his own stylistic mark. Rolling Stone writer John Morthland would later observe:
“It is 1953, and Alan Freed is on the air again for his late night Moondog Show on WJW… Freed yips, moans and brays, gearing up for another evening hosting the hottest rhythm & blues show in the land. Slipping on a golf glove, he bangs on a phone book in time to the music – maybe ‘Money Honey’ by the Drifters, or ‘Shake a Hand’ by Faye Adams… [H]e spins the hits and continues his manic patter throughout the night, spewing forth rhymed jive with the speed and flections of a Holy Roller at the Pearly Gates.”
In 1953, when “The Biggest Rhythm and Blues Show” (run by the Gale Theatrical Agency) came to Cleveland on tour that summer, Freed was the featured emcee. On July 17,1953, thousands came out for that show at the Cleveland Arena, which also featured boxing star and celebrity Joe Louis for a brief appearance, as well as a full roster of performers including: Ruth Brown, Wynonie Harris, Leonard Reed, the tap dancing Edwards Sisters, Dusty Fletcher, Stuffy Bryant, and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra. That tour drew a largely black audience and became the largest grossing R&B revue of its day. In 1954, a similar tour again came to Cleveland in August, with Freed running that show as well.
These R&B revues, and Freed’s own stage shows and dances, drew tens of thousands of teens, black and white. Freed’s broadcasts from WJW in Cleveland, meanwhile, were being picked up by some radio stations in the East, on Newark, New Jersey station WNJR, for example, where the show found a receptive audience.Freed’s broadcasts were being picked up by radio stations in the East, and his on-air style was now spreading to other DJs who played a similar mix of music. Freed’s on air radio style was also spreading to other DJs, who played a similar mix of music. And by the early- and mid-1950s, the new rock ‘n roll music was also being listened to on small, hand-held transistorized radios, then selling for $25 to $50.
In May 1954, Freed traveled to Newark, New Jersey where he held the “Eastern Moondog Coronation Ball” at the Sussex Avenue Armory in Newark. It was Freed’s first personal appearance in the New York area. Among the R&B artists who appeared there were: Buddy Johnson and his orchestra and vocalist Ella Johnson; The Clovers, a vocal quartet; Roost Bonnemera and his Mambo Band; Nolan Lewis, Mercury recording star; Sam Butera, jazz saxophonist; Muddy Waters, blues guitar player; the Harptones; and Charles Brown. A crowd of some 11,000 came out for Freed’s Newark show. RCA Victor recorded the entire show for use on a special Moondog album. Our World magazine also covered the event in a featured pictorial story.
In September 1954, Alan Freed would move from WJW in Cleveland, Ohio to WINS in New York City.
Although still at Cleveland radio station WJW in 1954, by August of that year, Freed took his R&B revue show to New York. Around this time he had also begun talking with radio station WINS in New York about joining their station. On August 1, 1954, Freed’s “Moondog Jubilee Of Stars Under the Stars” was held at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field Ebbets, then still home of baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. On the bill at that concert were the Dominoes, the Clovers, the Orioles, Fats Domino, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Count Basie’s Orchestra, and Buddy Johnson’s Orchestra. A large, racially mixed crowd came out for this concert, like others Freed had helped organize or emcee. Back on his radio show, Freed had been forced to stop using his DJ name, “Moondog” in 1954 after a lawsuit was filed by the blind New York city street musician who had recorded the song “Moondog Symphony.” Freed renamed his show “Alan Freed’s Rock and Roll Party.” Freed had also tried to copyright the term “rock `n roll,” which wasn’t widely used at the time. He took out a copyright on the term in partnership with black musician Morris Levy, veteran promoter Lew Platt, and radio station WINS. But soon, the tidal wave of rock ’n roll music made the term common parlance, and Freed’s claim went for naught.
January 1955: “Billboard” magazine ad for Alan Freed’s shows on WINS radio, New York.
New York, NY
In September 1954 Freed was hired by WINS radio in New York. There he would receive a $75,000-a-year salary plus a percentage of syndication, as more than 40 radio stations would sign up to either simulcast or rebroadcast his show. Freed’s “Rock ’n Roll Party #1″ was broadcast Monday through Saturday in the 7:00-9:00 p.m. time slot. Another late night show, “Rock ’n Roll Party #2,” was broadcast Monday through Thursday in the 11:00 p.m.- 1:00 a.m. slot and Fridays and Saturdays, 11:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.
Freed’s live concert dance shows, meanwhile, soon became New York sensations. On January 14th and 15th, 1955 he held a landmark dance at the St Nicholas Ballroom in Manhattan, promoting black performers as rock ’n roll artists. Each night was a sellout, with some 12,000 jamming the hall. The gate for the two nights was $27,500, pretty good money in those days. Among the performers were Joe Turner and Fats Domino.
Freed also became known for his New York stage shows at the Brooklyn and New York Paramount Theaters. At one of Freed’s Brooklyn Paramount shows in September 1955, called his “First Anniversary Rock ‘n’ Roll Party,” he broke the all-time record gross take for both the Brooklyn and New York Paramount Theaters with a gate of $178,000 (for an eight day run). This topped the previous high that had been set by the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy team some years earlier when they reached the $147,000 mark at the New York Paramount. Among those performing at this show were: Red Prysock and his band, The Cardinals, The Rythmettes, Nappy Brown, The Four Voices, The Harptones, Chuck Berry (doing “Maybellene”), the Nutmegs, Al Hibber, Lillian Briggs and others.
Wrote one Cash Box reporter who covered the show:
1950s: The Brooklyn Paramount’s electric marquee at night announcing an Alan Freed show and star participants.
“…This reviewer has been through the teen age hysteria that existed from 1936 through 1945 when the kids danced in the aisles to the music of Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey and others, but never have these eyes seen fanatical exuberance such as the type displayed at Alan Freed’s sensational 1st Anniversary Rock ’n roll program…”
In December 1956, during an eight-day stretch over the Christmas holiday, Freed threw his “Rock ’n Roll Christmas Show” at the Brooklyn Paramount with a line-up that included: the Drifters, Fats Domino, Joe Turner, and others. All the musicians were black, but at least half the audience packing the arena was white.
Print ad for one of Alan Freed’s Christmas Shows running over 8 days at the Brooklyn Paramount, 1950s.
By 1956, Freed was making about $150,000 a year (1956 dollars) and had become a nationally-recognized DJ. He would also soon appear in a series of rock ’n roll films (see sidebar below) that would add to his national following. Not only was his radio show being heard nationally via CBS, but also internationally. Freed in 1956 began recording a weekly half-hour segment of his show for use on the European radio station known as Radio Luxembourg. Freed’s segment was used on a show called “Jamboree” which aired on Saturday nights throughout British Isles and much of Europe at 9:30 p.m., helped by the statio’s powerful AM nighttime signal. Radio Luxembourg, in fact, was the only commercial radio station heard in the U. K..until 1964. Freed’s show reached places like Liverpool, England and no doubt, the ears of four young lads who liked Little Richard and Chuck Berry and would later become the Beatles.
Back home, meanwhile, Freed’s radio show was also having an influence on emerging U.S. artists. Fred Bronson, writing in Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, offers the following account of how Freed’s show had an impact on the formation of one of the more successful “girl groups” of the late 1950s:
…Arlene Smith was the leader of the Chantels, and her inspiration for forming her girl group was a man – or rather, a teenage boy. “Alan Freed came on the radio and played Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers singing ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love,’” Smith told Charlotte Greig in [her book] Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? “It was a lovely high voice and a nice song. Then Freed announces that Frankie is just 13! Well I had to sit down. It was a big mystery, how to get into this radio stuff… It seemed so far removed, but I made a conscious decision to do the same.
October 1955 poster for an Alan Freed show at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
When Frankie Lymon played a theater in the Bronx, Arlene took her group to meet Richard Barrett, Lymon’s manager. Backstage, the Chantels sang one of Arlene’s songs, “The Plea.” Barrett liked them enough to tell record company owner George Goldner that he wanted to sign them. Their first release was “He’s Gone” on Goldner’s End label; it peaked at No. 71. Their next single, “Maybe,” went to No. 15.
Within the space of five years or so, Alan Freed had helped move the rhythm and blues sound to a more prominent presence in pop and mainstream music. By early 1956, the music industry was advertising “rock ’n roll” records in the trade papers. A quote attributed to Freed from February 1956, has him explaining the new music: “Rock ’n roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and features blues and rhythm. It’s the rhythm that gets to the kids – they’re starved of music they can dance to, after all those years of crooners.” Freed had also become a champion of teenage kids and their musical interests, and a kind of middleman in the fight against those who wanted to ban the music seeing it as an influence on “juvenile delinquency,” a worrisome social problem and political issue at the time.
In 1957, while working for WINS, Freed continued hosting his big revues in the New York area and elsewhere. In Calgary, Ontario, for example, Freed’s “The Biggest Show Of Stars For 1957″ played at the Stampede Corral venue. Performers included Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Clyde McPhatter, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Knox, Frankie Lymon, LaVern Baker, and The Drifters. Tickets were just $2.50. The show also played in the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Regina the next two nights.
By September 1957, Freed was a popular figure in the music industry, and during that month he hosted a big industry bash at his “Greycliffe” residence in Stamford, Connecticut. Among music label executives attending the gathering were: Bob Thiele of Coral Records; Sam Clark of ABC-Paramount; Morris Levy and Joe Kolsky of Roulette Records; and Jerry Wexler, Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic. Alan Freed by this time, wasn’t limiting his exposure to the music industry via radio and TV. He was also involved with bringing rock ’n roll music to film.
“Rock ’n Roll Films”
1956-1959: With Alan Freed
Poster for the 1956 film, “Rock Around The Clock,” billed as “The Screen’s First Great Rock ’n Roll Feature!”
When Bill Haley’s song “Rock Around The Clock” was played during the closing credits of the 1955 film, Blackboard Jungle, kids in some of the theaters began dancing in the aisles. And with that notice, the song soon shot to the top of the charts. But that early combination of rock ’n roll music with a movie also caught the attention of Hollywood promoters. And DJ Alan Freed soon saw the potential as well. Hollywood first came to Freed, seeing him and his radio platform as a marketing vehicle. “…Deejays out of town were picking up on whatever Freed did,” explained Paul Sherman, who worked with Freed in New York. “What Freed played, they played, what Freed hyped, they hyped…” So Freed agreed to take a part in a film called Rock Around the Clock. In making the deal, Freed at first wanted cash up front, but was persuaded to consider taking only a little money up front and a percentage of the box office. That turned out to be a good deal for Freed later on, or as Paul Sherman remembers: “They could have bought Freed for $15,000, and instead [with the percentage arrangement] he made a fortune.”
Scene from “Rock Around The Clock” with Bill Haley at center in plaid shirt & Alan Freed in upper right corner.
Rock Around the Clock, which starred Billy Haley and His Comets, was a fictionalized rendition of how rock ’n roll was discovered. The plot in this film – as for most of the rock ’n roll films of this era – was pretty thin and secondary to the music. It was released in March 1956.
In addition to Bill Haley, a number of performers appear, including the Platters, Tony Martinez and band, and Freddie Bell and His Bellboys. The film also marked the screen debut of Alan Freed, who plays a disc jockey who books the Haley group in a venue that gives them the exposure and notice they need to break through.
Alan Freed’s name appears on 1956 film poster for “Don’t Knock The Rock” with Bill Haley.
Rock Around The Clock – which became one of the major box office successes of 1956 – was shot primarily to capitalize on the popularity of Bill Haley’s multi-million-selling hit song, “Rock Around the Clock.” The Haley hit is heard on at least three occasions in the film, along with 17 other songs. The film was produced by B-movie king Sam Katzman, who would later produce several Elvis Presley films in the 1960s. It was directed by Fred F. Sears and distributed by Columbia Pictures. That same year, Katztman, Sears and Columbia teamed up for what they hoped would be an equally successful sequel, Don’t Knock the Rock, which also featured Bill Haley and Alan Freed. Rushed into production, the film premiered in December 1956 hoping to capitalize on Rock Around the Clock.
1957 film poster for “Rock, Rock, Rock!,” billing Alan Freed & Tuesday Weld.
The sequel’s storyline featured a rock star who returns to his hometown to rest up for the summer, but finds instead that rock ’n roll has been banned there by disapproving adults. Disc jockey Alan Freed and Bill Haley and his band, set about to show the adults that the music isn’t as bad as they think. The 85-minute film included 17 songs, several again from Haley, but also “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti-Frutti” from Little Richard. Don’t Knock the Rock failed to duplicate the earlier film’s success, though it did help popularize Little Richard.
The following year, two more rock ’n roll films were made involving Freed. Rock, Rock, Rock, was a black-and-white motion picture featuring performances from a number of early rock ’n roll stars, such as Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Teddy Randazzo, The Moonglows, The Flamingos, and The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon as lead singer. The film’s story line has teenager Dori Graham, played by then 13-year-old Tuesday Weld, who can’t convince her father to buy her a strapless gown for the prom and has to find the money herself in time for the big dance. The voice of Dori for her songs, was not Tuesday Weld’s, but that of singer Connie Francis. David Winters who would later appear in West Side Story, is also in the film. And Valerie Harper, later of Rhoda TV fame from a Mary Tyler Moore Show spin off, made her film debut in the prom scene of Rock, Rock, Rock.
1957 film poster for “Mister Rock and Roll” with Alan Freed & others.
Alan Freed makes an appearance as himself in the film, telling the audience that “rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat.”
Another film in this same genre that also came out in 1957, Mister Rock and Roll, features Freed, professional boxer Rocky Graziano, and a number of musical artists, including: Teddy Randazzo, Lionel Hampton, Ferlin Husky, Frankie Lymon, Little Richard, Brook Benton, Chuck Berry, Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
“Go, Johnny Go!”
Go, Johnny Go! was a 1959 rock ’n roll film in which Alan Freed played a talent scout searching for a future rock ’n roll star. Co-starring in the film were Jimmy Clanton, Sandy Stewart, Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Ritchie Valens, The Cadillacs, Jo-Ann Campbell, The Flamingos, Harvey Fuqua, and others.
1959 poster for “Go, Johnny Go!,” with Alan Freed & performing artists pictured.
The filming of Go, Johnny Go!, according to Chuck Berry, was completed in five days in early 1959 in Culver City, California at the Hal Roach Studio. The 75- minute film premiered in Los Angeles October 7, 1959. The film’s title was inspired by Jimmy Clanton’s popular single “Go, Jimmy Go” as well as the refrain from Chuck Berry’s hit song, “Johnny B. Goode,” which was listed as “Johnny Be Good” in the onscreen credits. The song is sung by Berry over the opening and closing credits.
In the film, as summarized by Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Freed, plays a kind of hipster father figure trying to give talented young people the musical exposure they need to become successful. Johnny Melody, played by Jimmy Clanton, is the troubled teen whose potential musical career Freed helps direct and save.
In this tale, Clanton/Melody rises from rags to riches via a demo disc played on Freed’s radio show. Freed plays himself in the film, as does Chuck Berry. Yet the plot, like most films in this genre, is thin, and puts a cleaned-up face on rock ‘n roll. Still, it does provide a look at the fledgling music industry of that time and its early hype.
Screen shot from "Go, Johnny Go!" shows Alan Freed on drums behind Chuck Berry on guitar.
And in its day, before music videos and the web, films like Go, Johnny Go! did provide music fans with a chance to see their favorite performers. (Although few of these films were ever issued in VHS or disc format. Only in recent years, since 2005 or so, have some of them been issued as DVDs). Ritchie Valens, at age 18, has a cameo singing appearance in the film. However, Valens would die in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper on February 3, 1959, several months before the film was released. Go, Johnny Go! also marked the final screen appearance of “rockabilly” performer Eddie Cochran, who died in an automobile crash on April 17, 1960.
Cover of LP sound track album for the film, “Go, Johnny Go!,” with 19 song from the film, issued in early 1959.
Jimmy Clanton and Sandy Stewart made their motion picture debuts in Go, Johnny Go! Chuck Berry, Clanton and Stewart are the only rock ’n roll stars to act as well as sing in the film. The others only sing, most in a stage performance setting. Other acts include: Harvey [Fuqua] of the Moonglows singing “Don’t Be Afraid to Love,” Jo-Ann Campbell’s “Mama, Can I Go Out?,” and The Cadillacs performing “Please Mr. Johnson” and “Jay Walker.” Sandy Stewart, cast as Clanton’s girlfriend and aspiring vocalist, performs an orchestra version of “Playmate.”
TCM’s reviewer, meanwhile, noting the film’s “crude fictionalizing and dreadful miming,” did find some redeeming value. Go, Johnny Go! “offers the only moving evidence of Ritchie Valens,” he observes, and also includes “a rare fragment of Eddie Cochran.” The film also shows the Cadillacs doing two “Coasters-like” numbers, and has Chuck Berry “struggling to be a nice guy in a ‘major acting role’.” This film might have been better, he concludes, if it merely undertook to be a concert film or a documentary. But the “pretense of plot” made it pretty superficial.
Go, Johnny Go!, in any case, was the final film foray of Alan Freed in those years, as not long after, Freed became embroiled in the radio “payola” scandal that ended his career.
In 1957, Alan Freed briefly had his own ABC-TV dance show. He is shown here at center, with Jackie Wilson, far left, and Jimmy Clanton, left of Freed, and others.
In July 1957 ABC-TV had given Alan Freed his own nationally-televised rock ’n roll dance show billed as “The Big Beat,” a Friday evening show in prime time that featured a mix of pop and R&B acts. This Alan Freed TV dance show pre-dated the national broadcast of American Bandstand with Dick Clark, the Philadelphia-based show that also went national that August with ABC. Freed’s show was running earlier that summer with the understanding that if there were enough viewers, it would continue into the 1957-58 TV season. Early reviews in June and July were positive, and ratings for the first episodes were strong. Freed and his show seemed to be on course for a long run. But unfortunately for Freed, his TV show came to an abrupt end after a televised episode broadcast one of the show’s black performers – Frankie Lymon, who had appeared with Freed in some of his films – dancing with a white girl. The biracial dance scene enraged ABC’s Southern affiliates and the network cancelled the show despite its growing popularity.
Headlines from a May 1958 Boston Globe story spell trouble for Alan Freed’s stage shows.
Other controversy followed Freed at one of his dance concerts. In early May 1958, some violence occurred outside the Boston Arena after a Freed stage show. Authorities there moved to indict Freed for inciting to riot. About a week later, Freed was in Hershey, Pennsylvania with another show when he learned he had to appear in court in Boston. The negative publicity about the Boston show, caused cancellations of other Freed shows then scheduled for Troy, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; and Newark, New Jersey. In New Haven on May 7, 1960, a common pleas court judge upheld a police-requested ban on Freed’s rock ’n roll show there despite a plea from Freed to allow the show to run. Some 100 teenagers showed up outside the packed courtroom in support of the show. The Boston charges against Freed, meanwhile, were eventually dropped, but the resulting cancellations and appeals took a toll on Freed for legal costs, as the fight had stretched out over some 17 months. Much of his show tour that year was cancelled. Back at his New York radio station, WINS, Freed quit his job there, according to a letter he wrote, after management failed to support him during the “riots” crisis. In addition, the Brooklyn Paramount – where Freed had staged a long run of successful shows – refused to host any further Alan Freed concerts. He then moved to WABC radio, also in New York, and he also hosted a locally-televised dance show — again called “The Big Beat” — on WABD, a DuMont station that later became WNEW-TV. But the biggest threat to Freed’s career was yet to come.
Nov 1959: Newspaper headline from story on payola hearings.
The late 1950s turned out to be treacherous time for some radio and television DJs and celebrities. TV quiz shows had become one of the most popular forms of entertainment – as contestants on these shows could win huge amounts of money for answering questions correctly. Unfortunately, it turned out that some of the shows were rigged. In 1959, a star contestant on the TV quiz show Twenty-One, named Charles Van Doren – who had become a national sensation for his assumed brilliance on the show – admitted later that he was given the correct answers beforehand.
Congress had a field day with the TV “quiz show” scandals, and then turned to the radio industry where a new kind raucous “rock ’n roll” music was shaking up the established order — and some thought, fueling juvenile delinquency as well. But the main focus of the Congressional interest in the music business was something called “pay for play,” where radio DJ’s were being paid cash or given other favors by music industry reps for repeated playing or “plugging” of songs to boost their appeal and sales. This practice was given the name “payola,” a contraction derived from the words “payment” and “Victrola.”
Alan Freed, center, going into closed-door hearings before a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating “payola” in the American radio business, April 25, 1960.
In early November 1959, the U.S. House of Representatives announced that a subcommittee led by Rep. Oren Harris would begin probing commercial bribery in the promotion of music, and with that, the “payola” scandal became national news. Both Freed and Dick Clark, who’s American Bandstand was a rising national TV dance show, were investigated, along with many others. In early 1960, hearing began, and some twenty-five witnesses would be called, including Clark and Freed, the presidents of several of the country’s larger radio stations, representatives from Billboard magazine, and others. Freed testified in a closed-door session before the Congressional committee in April 1960. But Freed had already made some public statements that did him little good as he stepped into the national spotlight: “What they call payola in the disc jockey business,” he is reported to have said at one point, “they call lobbying in Washington.” At the time of the hearings, however, payola wasn’t a crime in most states, and many in the industry seemed to regard it as an accepted practice. Before it was all over, the U.S. House Oversight Committee, in both closed-door and open sessions, heard from some 335 disc jockeys from around the country who admitted to having received over $263,000 in “consulting fees.” But that number was likely low, since one DJ, Phil Lind, from Chicago’s WAIT, indicated he once received $22,000 to play a single record.
NY Sunday News runs front page story about Alan Freed‘s firing by WABC radio over “payola,” September 1960.
Alan Freed and Dick Clark, meanwhile, were asked by ABC to sign affidavits that they had not accepted payola. Dick Clark did so, and was also required by ABC to divest some of his financial holdings in the music industry. Freed, however, claimed the money he received was for “consultation,” not payola. He refused to sign the ABC affidavit. ABC then fired him on September 21st, 1959. Freed would also lose his “Big Beat” TV show at WNEW and did his last program there on November 23rd, 1959. Other DJs and promoters who were involved in payola suffered similar results, but many made it through the proceedings with only minor damage. Freed’s rising prominence on the national scene, however, made him a prime target. And in the wake of the payola probes, there was also some impact on the music itself, if only temporary. “One of the results of the payola scandal was the change in radio,”explains John Jackson in his book, Big Beat Heat – Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock ’n Roll. “WINS radio in New York dropped rock ’n roll and played Frank Sinatra three days straight. Other stations dropped rock. Disc jockeys no longer could chose songs and play what they wanted. The station play list came in. And music became bland.”
Over the years, as Alan Freed’s fame rose, his income also soared, sometimes in ways not generally known at the time. One way to promote new songs, was to add a popular DJ’s name to the record’s label as a “song publisher,” which would give the DJ a share of the royalties from that song and also incentive to play the song. Alan Freed, although not a song author, became a co-publisher of several hit songs. Freed received writing credit, for example, on Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” a million-seller; on the Moonglows’ “Sincerely,” a No. 20 hit in 1955; and several others. Recording labels like Chess Records, would put DJs’ names on the songs to get airplay and this amounted to form of a payola. Still, author John Jackson, who has written about Freed and the 1950s music industry, says Freed pushed songs like “Maybellene” because he believed in them, and that he also pushed other Chuck Berry records – and those of many other artists – just as hard, even though he had no co-writing or publishing involvement in any of them. Alan Freed also did well with his rock ‘n roll stage shows, taking a piece of the gate for each show. And he sold record albums, had a recording label, and a band of his own for a time – each of which also provided him with income. Still, as the rock ’n roll “riots” and payola scandal both ensnared Freed around the same time, his legal costs soared, his fame sank, and his income dried up, leaving him in dire financial straits in his final years. Even after his death, the IRS attached royalty payments from Freed’s BMI records for 12 years to satisfy its income tax judgement against him.
Alan Freed, meanwhile, tried to pick up the pieces of his shattered career and move on. In 1960, after leaving New York, he was hired by Los Angeles radio station KDAY – a station owned, ironically, by the same company that owned WINS. But shortly after starting at KDAY, Freed was called back to New York when a grand jury there handed down commercial bribery charges against him that dated back some ten years. In May 1960, he and seven other radio DJs were arrested and booked in Manhattan, charged with receiving a total of $116,850 in payola. The final verdict in Freed’s case wouldn’t come for another few years.
Back at KDAY, meanwhile, Freed had signed an agreement to steer clear of payola, and he jumped back into his DJ persona and musical passion, helping showcase new songs and artists, such as Kathy Young & the Innocents and their hit-to-be, “A Thousand Stars.” Freed was also planning to continue his live concerts in the L.A. area, this time eyeing the Hollywood Bowl as a choice venue for the live shows. KDAY, however, would not permit Freed to promote or stage his concerts, and with that, he quit the station and returned to New York. At the time, Chubby Checker’s hit song “The Twist” had caught on nationally spurring a new dance fad, and Freed hosted a live twist show for a time in New York. But as the twist rage faded, Freed left New York and began working at WQAM radio station in Miami, Florida, a job which lasted about two months.
By 1962, Freed was back in New York dealing with his commercial bribery trial. He was eventually charged with 26 counts of commercial bribery. In December 1962, he plead guilty to 2 counts, received a suspended sentence, and paid a fine of $300.00. Facing mounting legal bills for that fight, Freed then faced Federal charges of income tax evasion in 1964. By then, he was living in Palm Springs, California and drinking heavily. On New Year’s day 1965, he entered a Palm Springs hospital for gastrointestinal intestinal bleeding, resulting from cirrhosis of the liver. He died twenty days later of kidney failure. He was 43 years old.
Poster for the 1978 film about Alan Freed and early days of rock ’n roll, “American Hot Wax.”
American Hot Wax. Some years later, in 1978, Alan Freed was the subject of the biographical musical film, American Hot Wax, directed by Floyd Mutrux and starring Tim McIntire as Freed. The film includes appearances by Chuck Berry, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Frankie Ford and Jerry Lee Lewis, performing in recording studio scenes or concert sequences. Jay Leno and Fran Drescher also appear in the film. A two-disc soundtrack for the film released by A&M Records features Brooklyn Paramount performances on one disc, and original recordings used in the film on the other. The album hit No. 31 on the Billboard charts.
In 1986 Freed was among the original inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland – located there partly due to Freed’s influence on early rock ’n roll. In 1988, he was also posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. In 1991, a “star” was added in his name to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the same year John Jackson’s biography of Freed was published – Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll. In 1999, another attempted film on Freed, this one for TV, titled Mr. Rock N Roll: The Alan Freed Story, with Judd Gregg as Freed, received a lukewarm reception. Freed’s story is perhaps best told, however, by his surviving family, which due to his three marriages, and a number of children and grandchildren, is nicely assembled at the website, AlanFreed.com, which is highly recommended for those who want to see original news sources and other material. In addition to the other awards and inductions already mentioned, in February 2002, Freed was honored at the annual Grammy awards show with a Trustees Award, given to “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording.” And last but not least, the mascot of the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team is named “Moondog,” in honor of Freed.
For additional music related stories at this website see the Annals of Music category page, or visit the Home Page for other story choices. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
John Morthhland, “The Rise of Top Forty A.M.,” in Anthony DeCurtis, James Henke, Holly George-Warren, and Jim Miller (eds.), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, New York: Random House, 1992, pp.102-106.
David Halberstam, The Fifties, New York: Villard Books, 1993, pp. 466-467.
An Ohio Historical marker located just outside the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, commemorates Alan Freed’s contributions to rock ’n roll and also notes that he was a “charter inductee” at the Hall (1986).
Chuck Bednarik, age 37, handing in his spikes and jersey for team history after his final Eagles game, November 1962.
Chuck Bednarik, shown at right in 1962, was a Hall of Fame football player for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is regarded as one of the all-time great linebackers known for his ferocious tackles and rugged play. Bednarik and Frank Gifford, the Hall of Fame New York Giants running back, would meet in a famous collision during a key November 1960 football game between their two teams. More on that game and the Bednarik-Gifford incident a bit later. First, some background on these two college All-American and All-Pro football stars.
Charles Philip Bednarik was born in May 1925. His parents emigrated to the U.S. from eastern Slovakia in 1920 looking for a better life. They settled in the Pennsylvania town of Bethlehem, where Chuck’s father began working in the steel mills stoking the open hearth furnaces at the Bethlehem Steel Company.
As a boy, Bednarik attended a Slovak parochial school in Bethlehem where Slovak was the language of instruction. The second oldest of six children, Bednarik was raised three blocks from Lehigh University, where he attended football games and wrestling events.
At Bethlehem’s Liberty High School he began playing football, and in 1942, his junior year, Bednarik helped Liberty to an undefeated season and became an All-American high school center. In the classroom, Bednarik was a vocational-technical student studying electrical work, and had figured he’d follow his father to work in the Bethlehem Steel mills.
Chuck Bednarik, circled above and enlarged below, in WWII-era photo with his B-24 crew.
Chuck Bednarik was 19 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Oct. 27th, 1946: University of Pennsylvania's Chuck Bednarik named college Lineman of the Week in a poll of players by the Associated Press (Associated Press photo).
Following graduation, however, he entered the U. S. Army Air Force and served as a B-24 waist-gunner with the Eighth Air Force. During WWII, Bednarik flew on 30 combat missions over Germany, for which he was awarded four Oak Leaf Clusters, among other medals for his service. “How we survived, I don’t know,” he would often say in wonderment in later talks with reporters.
“The anti-aircraft fire would be all around us,” Bednarik recounted to Sports Illustrated’s John Schulian in a 1993 interview. “It was so thick you could walk on it. And you could hear it penetrating. Ping! Ping! Ping! Here you are, this wild, dumb kid, you didn’t think you were afraid of anything, and now, every time you take off, you’re convinced this is it, you’re gonna be ashes.”
After the war, Bednarik, who had previously thought of following his father into the steel mills, was instead encouraged by his high school football coach, John Butler, to go to college. Butler believed Bednarik could get an athletic scholarship, and after Butler arranged a meeting with the coach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Bednarik enrolled there.
At Penn, he became a three-time All-American football player, and a “two-way” man, excelling at both center on offense and linebacker on defense. He was also used occasionally as a punter. Beginning in 1946, Bednarik started at center and linebacker for Penn for three seasons.
In those years, Penn was a national football power, drawing crowds in excess of 70,000. For most of that time Penn was the second-best team in the East, behind the legendary Army teams with stars such as Glenn Davis and “Doc” Blanchard. Bednarik was named first team All-America his final two seasons at Penn. Bednarik has expressed found memories of his days at Penn. “I could relive Franklin Field forever” Bednarik would later say. “Every Saturday, 78,800 people. It was unbelievable, the crowds that we had.”
A collegiate All-American at center, he also excelled at linebacker, and proved to be a nimble defender. He intercepted seven passes in 1946 and six more the following year. In 1948, he was named the College Player of the Year by a number of organizations.
Bednarik won the Maxwell Award in 1948, given to the best collegiate player of the year. He also finished third in Heisman Trophy voting that year, just one of five offensive lineman in the history of the award to do so.
Chuck Bednarik strikes a linebacker pose in a early 1960s Philadelphia Eagles’ player photo.
Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, at linebacker going for the ball on a pass play to a Green Bay Packer receiver.
Drafted By Eagles
In 1949, he was the first player taken in the professional National Football League draft, selected by the Philadelphia Eagles. As a rookie with the Eagles, he alternated starting at linebacker and center. In that season, the Eagles won the 1949 league championship game, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-0.
Bednarik played 14 seasons with the Eagles, from 1949 through 1962. In those years he rose to mythic, “iron man” stature, noted for his durability as a two-way man, both a powerful blocker on offense and fierce tackler at linebacker. He missed only three games in his 14 years with the Eagles. He was named All-Pro eleven times, and was the last man to play both offense and defense for an entire game in the National Football League. Upon retirement, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility.
During the years he played with the Eagles, the club had its ups and downs. In 1952,1953 and 1954 the Eagles finished in the upper tier of their conference with season records of 7-5-0, 7-4-1, and 7-4-1. Bednarik’s play during these years was outstanding. In 1953, he intercepted a career-high six passes, then a high number for a middle linebacker. In the Pro Bowl that year, he was voted the player of the game.
But from 1955 through 1958 the Eagles failed to post a winning season. At the end of the 1958 season Bednarik announced he was quitting, but soon thought better of it and returned to the Eagles. With a family of four daughters by then, Bednarik needed the money.
By 1959, the Eagles went 7 and 5, and things were looking better heading into 1960, when Bednarik would have what some consider his best season. That year proved to be the magical season for the Eagles; they notched a 10 and 2 record and won the NFL championship, beating Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers with standouts Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor. In 1961, the Eagles continued their winning ways, going 10 and 4. But in 1962, they finished in 7th place with a dismal 3-10-1 record, and that’s when Bednarik retired – this time for good.
Nov 1962: Chuck Bednarik with family in Abington, PA. From left, twins Carol and Pamela 7, Donna 9, Jacquelyn 20 mos., wife Emma, and Charlene 12. AP photo.
Hugh Brown, a sports writer for The Philadelphia Bulletin, who covered the Eagles, once wrote that Bednarik was as tough as the concrete he sold, referring to a another job Bednarik held at the time, adding the nickname “Concrete Charlie.” It was not uncommon during the 1950s and early 1960s for pro football players to have a full-time job away from the sport, as football salaries were not then the lucrative millions they are today. Bednarik, like others, worked another job to help support his family. A routine day during the season back then called for a team meeting at 9 a.m., practice from 10:30 to about noon. After lunch, Bednarik would then begin his second job as a salesman for the Ready-Mix Concrete Co., which later became the Warner Company. But the nickname Brown had come up stuck, as some used it in the context of Bednarik’s bone-crushing tackles at his day job.
Chuck Bednarik at his Hall of Fame induction, August 1967.
Bednarik was an Associated Press All-Pro selection nearly every year he played throughout the 1950s. He was an All-Pro center in 1949 and 1950 and then an All-Pro linebacker every year from 1951 to 1957 and again in 1960. He also played in eight of the first 11 Pro Bowls (1951-55, ’57, ’58 and ’61).
As an Eagle linebacker, he was not only a stalwart in stopping the run, but a nimble pass defender as well, snagging 20 interceptions during his 14-year NFL career.
On August 5, 1967, Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the years following his Hall of Fame induction, Bednarik would collect other awards and honors. In 1969, he was named center on the all-time NFL team and was also added that year to the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1987, the Philadelphia Eagles retired his No. 60 numeral, one of only eight numbers retired in the history of the Eagles franchise. In 2010, Bednarik was ranked 35th on the NFL Network’s “Top 100″ greatest players.
Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, at his linebacker post in a game against the New York Giants.
Since his retirement, Bednarik at times has been outspoken, offering controversial and sometimes caustic comment about the current state of the game, certain players, and/or Philadelphia Eagles management and owners. Still, for the most part, he remains a revered figure among Philadelphia sports buffs, especially those of “old school” vintage.
During his tenure at linebacker, Chuck Bednarik faced many noteworthy and talented opponents – among them, some of the game’s all-time great running backs such as Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Paul Hornung. Frank Gifford, another among the all-time greats, was also one of Bednarik’s worthy adversaries, and the two had met in some memorable scrums, not the least of which was one on November 20th, 1960 at Yankee Stadium; a confrontation that is explored in more detail a bit later. But first, a look at Mr. Gifford’s football vitae.
Oct 1951: USC’s Frank Gifford making a big gain against the Univ of California Bears.
Francis Newton Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California in August 1930. His father, Weldon, was a “roughneck” oil worker who traveled to wherever oil drilling work could be found. While Frank was growing up, the Giffords lived in 47 different towns before he started high school. “I don’t remember completing a single grade in the same grammar school,” Gifford would later say.
It was in Bakersfield, California that Frank finally settled into high school and began to try his hand at football. He went out for the lightweight football team as a freshman, but he was just 5 foot 2 inches and 115 pounds and didn’t make it. As a sophomore, he tried for the varsity, but played on the lightweight team as a third-string end. And he wasn’t much of student then either. But between his sophomore and junior years, he filled out, and made the varsity team. When Bakersfield lost its starting quarterback to an automobile accident, Gifford replaced him. Along with friend and teammate, Bob Karpe, Gifford helped lead the 1947 Bakersfield “Drillers” to a Central Valley title. College scouts had come around by then, as well, but Gifford’s grades were terrible. With the help of high school coach Homer Beaty, Gifford headed to Bakersfield Junior College as a stepping stone to the University of Southern California (USC). He became a Junior College All-American football player at Bakersfield College and then went on to USC where he would become an All-American performer.
Frank Gifford was selected by the NY Giants in the first round of the 1952 draft.
In the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, Gifford was “Mr. Football” at Southern Cal, playing both offense and defense. He played three varsity years at USC, 1949-1951. In 1951, he alternated at quarterback, half-back, and fullback, punted, and place-kicked. That year he rushed for 841 yards, and rolled up 1,144 yards in total offense, also kicking field goals on occasion. In mid-October that year, Gifford and USC were nationally ranked at No. 11, as they came to play the University of California, then ranked No. 1. California got off to a 14-0 lead. But Gifford proved the difference in the final outcome. He scored on a 69-yard run, threw a touchdown pass, and with five minutes to play, led a drive that won the game 21-14. Gifford’s All American honors in 1951 came mostly for his offensive running and passing, but he also excelled on defense. In one the game against Navy he had two interceptions.
Gifford turned pro in 1952 when he was selected in the first round of the player draft by the New York Giants, where he would play his entire career. He also married that year, at the age of 22, to Maxine Ewart and the couple would have three children together. With the Giants, Gifford at first, like Bednarik, was a “two-way” man, playing both running back on offense and defensive back. In later years he would move primarily to offense as a flanker back/wide receiver. In the late 1950s, he was also considered briefly for the quarterback slot when the Giants were having some uncertainty at that position. But it was from his halfback position that Frank Gifford became something of triple threat, as he could run, throw, or catch. When the Giant’s offensive coordinator, Vince Lombardi, introduced the halfback option, Gifford was well suited to the role.
Frank Gifford was regarded as an explosive, open-field runner, capable of long gains and quick scores, both as a receiver and a through-the-line halfback.
At the Bleacher Report.com Gifford is listed as one of the “50 most explosive players in NFL history.” And as that report explains, he never posted 1,000 yards in a season as a runner or receiver. Nor did he ever post double-digit touchdown seasons or return a punt or kick-off for a score.
“But no defense ever wanted to see the former USC star carrying the ball in the open field,” says the Bleacher Report. For Gifford “turned short passes into 77-yard scores, turned quick hand-offs into 79-yard gains, and from the backfield [he] was a danger to throw his famous jump pass.” Gifford attempted just 63 passes in his career, but since 14 of his passes went for scores (including an 83-yard bomb to Eddie Price), he was, according to Bleacher Report, one of the most dangerous triple threats in NFL history.
Frank Gifford receiving the NFL’s MVP trophy for 1956.
In 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Gifford proved a versatile and valuable player. As a running back, he had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries. As a receiver he had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. And as noted earlier, Gifford was a halfback who could throw, and during his career, he completed 29 of the 63 passes he threw for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gifford still holds the Giants’ franchise record for touchdowns scored, with 78.
Gifford was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, named at three positions: running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He also had five trips to the NFL Championship Game. Gifford’s biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL, led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears. Gifford also played in the famous December 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, a game that many believe ushered in the modern era of big time, television-hyped, pro football. He would also write a book about that game many years later.
Frank Gifford in light New York Giants workout attire, 1963.
Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977, and in the year 2000, his New York Giants’ playing numeral, No. 16, was formally retired.
Gifford’s good looks and affable manner gained him entrée to radio and television, and as a sports celebrity sponsor for print and TV advertising. In the 1950s and 1960s during his active playing years he modeled Jantzen swimwear and clothing lines along with fellow pro athletes, appearing in a series of print ads. He also began sports broadcasting on radio and television while still an active player, first on CBS, then later after retirement, for ABC. In 1971 he became a regular on ABC-TV, with Monday Night Football and Wide World of Sports, as well as occasional specials and guest hosting appearances. He would also write, or co-author, several books on football. See “Celebrity Gifford” story at this website for more on Gifford’s film, TV, and sportscasting career.
Frank Gifford is also credited with a somewhat famous quote about the game: “Pro football is like nuclear warfare,” he is reported to have said, “There are no winners, only survivors” – attributed to him via Sports Illustrated, July 1960. That quote would have special meaning for Frank Gifford after one famous 1960 encounter with Chuck Bednarik and the Philadelphia Eagles.
November 1960 Eagles vs. Giants
Ticket stub: NYGiants - Phila. Eagles football game of Nov 20, 1960, Yankee Stadium.
It was a late season game in professional football’s 1960 season when the Eagles came to play the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium on November 20th. Coming into the game, the Giants were 5-1-1 while the Eagles were 6-1-0, each with five games remaining, and each with a possible shot at the NFL’s Eastern Conference Championship. So the outcome of this game would be important. Philadelphia that season had lost its opening-day game to the Cleveland Browns, 41–24. But after that, they were unbeatable, winning their next six games in a row. The Giants had lost only one game by then, as well.
Tommy McDonald, No. 25, of the Philadelphia Eagles, was one of the team's top players in 1960.
Nov. 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also on the team in 1960. Photo Dan Rubin.
The Eagles and Giants teams of 1960 had many high caliber players between them. In addition to Bednarik at center and linebacker, the Eagles’ offense included quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, Tommy McDonald at flanker back/wide receiver, Pete Retzlaff at end, defensive lineman Marion Campbell, linebacker Chuck Webber, and defensive backs Tom Brookshier, Don Burroughs, and Maxie Baughan.
The New York Giants’ roster that year included notable linebacker, Sam Huff, quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and George Shaw, halfback and receiver Kyle Rote, defensive linemen Andy Robustelli and Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, running backs Mel Triplett and Alex Webster, kicker, Pat Summerall, and offensive tackle Rosey Brown. Some of these Giants had also played on the 1956 team that won the NFL championship that year, as well as the 1958 and 1959 teams that had won the Eastern Conference.
But the November 20th, 1960 Giants-Eagles game would determine which team would hold first place in the Eastern Conference at that time.
In the early going, the Giants scored first with a Joe Morrison one-yard run in the first quarter, followed by a Pat Summerall point-after kick. Summerall added 3 more points with a 26-yard field goal in the 2nd quarter. The Giants led, 10-0. In the 3rd quarter, Eagles’s quarterback Norm Van Brocklin threw a 35-yard completion and touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald, followed by Bobby Walston kick. New York 10, Eagles 7. In the 4th quarter, the Eagles’ Bobby Walston kicked a 12-yard field goal, tying the score, 10-10. Then the Eagles took the lead after Eagles corner back Jimmy Carr scored on a 38-yard fumble return followed by Bobby Walston’s point-after kick. The Eagles now led, 17-10. But the fourth quarter could be decisive, and the Giants were versatile, capable of come-back play. And this is when the Bednarik-Gifford collision occurred.
Frank Meets Chuck
Frank Gifford, No. 16, has just taken a few steps after catching a pass over the middle, trying to avoid a downfield tackler, as No. 60, Chuck Bednarik, takes a bead on him.
Chuck Bednarik’s tackle of Frank Gifford, as the ball pops out far right, during Eagles-Giants game of Nov 20th, 1960.
Bednarik’s tackle of Gifford as seen from another angle, the near sideline, during Giants-Eagles game.
Chuck Bednarik continuing through his tackle of Frank Gifford as Gifford hits the ground.
With Gifford stretched out on the turf, Bednarik, No. 60, looks around as Chuck Webber goes for the loose ball.
Chuck Bednarik had jumped up after his tackle of Frank Gifford to celebrate the Eagles’ fumble recovery.
Iconic Photo. Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, standing over NY Giants running back, Frank Gifford after famous tackle, 20 Nov 1960. Photo/ John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated.
Chuck Bednairk continuing his celebration for his team’s near-certain victory while standing over Gifford.
Chuck Bednarik & Chuck Webber, No. 51, hover around the injured Frank Gifford as trainers attend to him on the field.
Frank Gifford of the New York Giants is carried off the field on a stretcher after Chuck Bednarik’s tackle.
As Frank Gifford is carried off the field near the end of the Giants-Eagles game, a press photographer snaps a photo.
Nov 22, 1960: The Eagles' Chuck Bednarik, in light work-out clothes in Philadelphia, looks at an Associated Press photo of Frank Gifford holding an ice pack to his head in the hospital.
As the Giants took the ball late in the fourth quarter with about two minutes remaining, they were on the move and looking for a potential game-tying touchdown. Frank Gifford at that point in the game had about 100 total yards rushing and receiving.
Giant’s quarterback George Shaw called the play in the huddle. At the snap of the ball, Gifford set out on his passing route, turning upfield, then cutting toward the middle of the field on a crossing pattern.
As he went, Gifford was surveying where the defenders were, later saying they he was eyeing Eagles’ safety Don Burroughs. As Gifford caught the pass from Shaw while crossing the middle of the field, he took a few steps to avoid an oncoming downfield defender. And that’s when Bednarik, No. 60, comes into the frame shown above right. Bednarik hit Gifford full on, forcing Gifford off his feet and into the air, legs flying. Bednarik, at 6-foot-3, 230-pounds, hit Gifford, 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, shoulder high, just under the chin. Gifford, expecting to find terra firma, instead, met something like a brick wall.
Following the hit, as shown on an NFL film clip, Gifford appears to go limp, as his arms splay out to his sides hitting the ground uncontrollably as he goes down.
When Bednarik hit Gifford, the ball popped out, causing a fumble, available for recovery by either team. Chuck Webber, No. 51 for the Eagles, is seen in the later photos below right recovering the fumble. A cloud of dust was still hanging in the air as Bednarik and other players looked around to get their bearings. Gifford was motionless, lying flat on his back on the field.
Bednarik later recounted the scene: “We were leading the game, and Gifford ran a down-and-in route. After he caught the ball he took two or three steps and I waffled him chest high. His head snapped back and the ball popped loose. It was retrieved by Chuck Weber [of the Eagles], and when I saw that, I turned around with a clenched fist and hollered, ‘This [...expletive ] game is over!’”
The fumble, coming in the fourth quarter with little time left and the Eagles in the lead, meant that Philadelphia had won the game. The win put the Eagles 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants and in a good position to win the Eastern Conference.
One of the classic photographs to emerge from that moment was a Sports Illustrated photo taken by John G, Zimmerman of Bednarik standing over the prone Gifford, appearing to be celebrating over Gifford’s misfortune. The photo has become one the iconic sports photos of all time. In some ways, the Bednarik pose and interpretation – rightly or wrongly – resembles the famous May 1965 photo of Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) standing over Sonny Liston after a knock down in the world heavyweight championship fight. Bednarik, however, has stated repeatedly that he wasn’t gloating or cerebrating about knocking Gifford out, but rather at his team’s now-certain victory with little time remaining. “I was celebrating,” Bednarik would later say. “But the reason wasn’t that he [Gifford] was down. The reason was that the hit [on Gifford] won the game.’ ”
Steve Sabol, the late president and founder of NFL Films, and the man behind the slow-motion highlight clips of NFL games that were popular for many years, had once called the Bednarik-Gifford hit, “the greatest tackle in pro football history.” Yet, for many who have seen the old black-and-white film footage of that tackle, it does not appear to be a particularly vicious hit. However, Sabol explained in a 1994 Philadelphia Daily News story that the camera work of that day did not adequately convey the force of the blow delivered by Bednarik. “The fact that the film is black-and-white and the camera is so far away really diffuses the impact,” Sabol explained to Daily News reporter Ray Didinger. “If the same play happened now, with all our field level cameras and the field microphones to pick up the live sound, it would be incredible.”
Others who were on the field at the time of the tackle, also describe it as particularly frightening. Tom Brookshier, a former Eagles cornerback who was on the field that day, along with others, say they had never heard anything like it. “It was not the usual thump of padded body hitting padded body. This was a sharp crack, like an axe splitting a piece of wood,” explained Ray Didinger of the Daily News, recounting what Brookshier and others had reported. “You could hear it all over the field,” said Brookshier. “As a player, it gave you a chill because it was so unusual. Then I saw Gifford on the ground, his eyes rolled up, his arms flat out. He looked like a corpse. I thought, ‘My God, this guy is dead. Charlie killed him.’ ”
Over the years, the 1960 Bednarik-Gifford collision took on a life of its own, becoming part of pro football lore. “Any other guy in any other city, it would have been just another vicious, clean play,” Bednarik said of his tackle on Gifford in a 2009 New York Daily News story. “But against Gifford in New York it took on, well, a religious air.” Gifford in later years had become a well-known New York and national sportscaster, including a long run on the Monday Night Football program. “If that was Kyle Rote or Alex Webster or any other Giant [I had tackeld], it would have been forgotten long ago. But Frank’s (TV) visibility kept it alive. (Howard) Cosell talked about it for 10 years on Monday Night Football. Every time there was a hard hit, Cosell would say, ‘Just like when Chuck Bednarik blindsided you, Giff, at Yankee Stadium.’ I’d sit there on my couch and say, ‘Blindside my fanny. It was a good shot, head on.’”
And on that score, Gifford agrees, more or less. “It was perfectly legal,” Gifford would later say of Bednarik’s tackle. “If I’d had the chance, I’d have done the same thing Chuck did.” And again, in a 2010 phone conversation with New York Times reporter Dave Anderson, Gifford reiterated that view: “Chuck hit me exactly the way I would have hit him, with his shoulder, a clean shot.”
“I sent a basket of flowers and a letter to Frank in the hospital,” Bednarik reportedly said in one interview. “I told him I’d pray for him. I’m a good Catholic, but I’m also a football player. When I was on the field, I knocked the hell out of people, but that’s the name of the game.”
Decades later, the two Hall of Famers were attending a banquet, and Bednarik greeted Gifford:
“Hey, Frank,” Bednarik said, “Good to see you. How are you doing?”
Gifford replied, “I made you famous, didn’t I, Chuck?”
“Yes, you did, Frank,” Bednarik said.
Over the years, the photo of Bednarik standing over Gifford lying on the turf has become something of collector’s item, and Bednarik has autographed a fair number of them for fans. Sports Illustrated has included the photo in its gallery, “The 100 Greatest Sports Photos of All Time.”
Back in the 1960s, meanwhile, Gifford did not play football in 1961, the years following Bednarik’s hit. He began doing more sportscasting work with CBS that year, and it appeared his playing days were over. However, the football bug soon got the best of Gifford, as he had stayed involved with the Giants during the year as a team scout and advisor. Each week he scouted the Giants’ upcoming opponents for strengths and weaknesses and would advise on game strategy. And sometimes during on-the-field practice sessions, Gifford would line up impersonating the next opponent. There was no contact for Gifford during these sessions. He would just run plays as a flanker. But during that time, as he ran those plays, Gifford was doing pretty well against the Giants best defensive backs. His speed was good, often beating them as he played the week’s coming opponent. That got him thinking about coming back. He was not happy with the exit he had made after the Bednarik hit and didn’t want to end his career that way. “I had been out for a year but I thought, what a terrible way to have gone out. And I thought if I don’t do it now, in 1962, I’ll never be able to.”
In 1962, Gifford would explain to Sports Illustrated reporter Tex Maule: “I made a lot of money in the year I stayed out. I didn’t stay out because of the head injury. I had personal reasons I don’t want to go into. But I missed pro football. I don’t know any kind of business you can go into where you can get as much excitement once a week as you can get playing pro ball. Nothing you can care about as much. If you are lucky enough to be able to do this for a living, I think you should do it as long as you can.”
Frank Gifford would return to play for the Giants as a flanker back, 1962-1964, shown here catching a pass over the middle in a 1963 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Dr. Francis Sweeney, team doctor for the Giants at the time, gave Gifford the go-ahead to resume playing in 1962. “He had a deep concussion,” Sweeney said in the 1962 Sports Illustrated article, adding this in his explanation: “…A severe shock [to the head ] may start a hemorrhage which can seep down into the lower parts of the brain and affect motor areas and be very serious. This is what Frank had. But once that heals, it’s completely healed and doesn’t have a carryover effect.”
In addition, the New York Times and other newspapers at the time of the Bednarik hit also reported that Gifford had suffered “a deep concussion.” However, Gifford, in later years, has a somewhat different account of the injury. In one interview at the Bluenatic blog with Mark Weinstein in August 2013, Gifford replies:
“…Can we get this right, please? I’ve tried to do it many, many times, but it keeps coming up. It wasn’t a head injury. It was a neck injury. I got hit by Chuck Bednarik on a crossing pattern. And I went back and snapped my head back on the field, which was kind of semi-frozen. And it stunned me. I wasn’t knocked unconscious or anything, but it did stun me. It wasn’t all that serious, really, but I was going to be out the rest of the season because the doctors didn’t know quite what to do. This was before they had CAT scans, you know, so I went to have my head X-rayed, and of course my head was all right. But I took some time off and then I came back and played three more years and made the Pro Bowl at a new position, wide receiver.”
Gifford, also explained in a November 2010 New York Times article by Dave Anderson:“When I had tingling in my fingers about seven or eight years ago, I had X-rays of my neck. The technician asked me if I had ever been in an automobile accident. I told him no, but he said the X-rays showed a fracture of a neck vertebra that had healed by itself. After the Bednarik play, they never X-rayed my neck. They just X-rayed my head.” But in 1962, after 18 months away from football, Gifford’s injuries apparently had time to heal, and by the time he went to training camp that year, he was cleared to play.
Early 1960s photo of New York Giants players in sideline dugout, believed to be, from left: Lane Howell (No. 78), Jimmy Patton (No. 20), Andy Robustelli (No. 81), Y.A. Tittle (No. 14), and Frank Gifford ( No. 16).
When Gifford came back in 1962, he was shifted to flanker back. By then, the Giants had a new quarterback, Y. A. Tittle, who had come from the San Francisco 49ers, and Tittle wasn’t sure about Gifford as a receiver. “Y. A. didn’t know me; he wasn’t throwing to me much,” Gifford explained to Dave Anderson of the New York Times. “But in our third game in Pittsburgh, Y. A. asked if I could beat defensive back Jack Butler on a fly. I dove and caught the pass for a touchdown. From that point on, he trusted me.”
1975 “Monday Night Football” broadcast team: from left, Alex Karras, Howard Cosell, and Frank Gifford.
Gifford continued catching passes and scoring touchdowns for the Giants for three more seasons. In 1962, he had his seventh Pro Bowl season, and the Giants went 12-2 to win their fifth Eastern Conference title in seven years. However, they lost the championship game to the Green Bay Packers that year, 16-7, in a frigid Yankee Stadium. The following year, the Giants finished at 11-3, but lost the title game again, this time to the Chicago Bears. The next year, 1964, was dismal for the Giants, finishing at 2-10-2, and that’s when Gifford retired. In retirement, Gifford continued his second career in sports broadcasting, including a 22-year run at Monday Night Football.
1976 book written w/ Charles Mangel, “Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports.”
Gifford also continued to appear in print and TV advertising, endorsing a variety of products. In addition, several sports books featured or included him as the principal subject or a featured player, among them: Don Smith’s book, The Frank Gifford Story (1960); William Wallace’s book, Frank Gifford: The Golden Year, 1956 (published 1969); Jack Cavanaugh’s Giants Among Men: How Robustelli, Huff, Gifford and the Giants Made New York a Football Town and Changed the NFL.(2008).
Gifford also wrote or co-authored three other books – Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports (1976, with Charles Mangel); The Whole Ten Yards, Gifford’s autobiography,(1993, with Newsweek’s Harry Waters ); and The Glory Game: How The 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever (2008, with Peter Richmond).
In the 1980s, Gifford met his third wife, Kathie Lee Johnson, a popular TV host, while he was a guest host on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America. The two were married in 1986 and would have two children together. More about Gifford’s broadcasting and advertising career is found at “Celebrity Gifford: 1950-2010s,” also at this website.
Bednarik, Pt. 2
Chuck Bednarik in a rare moment on the sidelines, as he was known for his “iron man” two-way performances.
Back in 1960, meanwhile, Chuck Bednarik and the New York Giants had another round yet to go. Due to some odd scheduling that season, the Giants and Eagles played back-to-back weeks, and on Nov 27th, 1960, they met again, this time at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. First place in the Eastern Conference was still at stake with the Giants needing a win to stay alive. New York took a 17-0 lead in that game, but the Eagles fought back behind quarterback Norm Van Brocklin to win, 31-23.
Gifford was still in the hospital from the previous week’s encounter with Bednarik, and there was some talk of possible “Giant payback” for Bednarik’s hit on Gifford. “They were rough and mean, like always,” Bednarik would later report, “but not dirty.” Sam Huff had a good hit on Bednarik in that game with a blind side block on one play. And the two traded some trash talk at the time, but nothing more.
Bednarik, in fact, made a difference in this game as he had in the November 20th game, forcing a key fumble. In the second half, the Gaints’ Charlie Conerly was at quarterback and Bednarik faked a blitz up the middle. Conerly, spooked a bit by Bednarik, pulled away from center too quickly and fumbled the snap. Bednarik’s biggest game that year, however, came in December.
Eagles coach Buck Shaw with Norm Van Brocklin & Chuck Bednarik after winning 1960 Championship.
On the day after Christmas 1960, the Eagles met Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers for the NFL championship game at Franklin Field, where Bednarik had played his college ball for the University of Pennsylvania. In that game, quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, playing his last game as an Eagle, threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald in the second quarter. And again, in the fourth quarter, Van Brocklin took the Eagles on a 39-yard drive to put the Eagles up by a 17-13 count, which would prove to be the winning score.
Bednarik in that game had knocked Packer’s running back Paul Hornung out of the game with a jarring third quarter tackle. But in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Bart Starr threw a screen pass to their powerful fullback, Jim Taylor.
Taylor caught the ball on Philadelphia’s 23 yard line and had the end zone in sight. The Eagles’s Maxey Baughan had the first shot at him, but Taylor cut back and broke Baughan’s tackle. Then Taylor ran through Eagles safety Don Burroughs.
The 1977 book, “Bednarik: Last of the Sixty-Minute Men,” written with Jack McCallum.
At the ten yard-line, it was only Bednarik who remained between Taylor, a touchdown, and a Green Bay victory. Bednarik stopped Taylor and wrestled him to the ground, holding him there until the clock ran out. The Eagles won the game and the 1960 NFL championship. Bednarik would later be seen walking off the field with his arm around Taylor and shaking Paul Hornung’s hand.
Bednarik played 58 minutes of that game, only sitting out kickoffs, making one fumble recovery and 12 tackles. In fact, during the 1960 season by one calculation, Bednarik was on the field for some 600 of a possible 720 minutes, or more then 83 percent of the playing time that year. He was the NFL’s last two-way player over a full season.
In retirement some years later, Bednarik teamed up with writer Jack McCallum to do a book titled, Bednarik: Last of The Sixty-Minute Men. In Philadelphia, meanwhile, a group of businessmen and sports fans raised some $100,000 in 2010 to commission a statue of Bednarik in his football regalia to be located at the University of Pennsylvania. Dedicated in November 2011 with the help of former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor, Ed Rendell, that statue today stands inside Gate 2 on the North side of Franklin Field, the stadium where Bednarik played his college ball and a number of pro games with the Eagles.
Statue of Chuck Bednarik in his football regalia stands at University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, dedicated there in November 2011.
Both Gifford and Bednarik have had their numerals retired by their respective teams, and both are also pro football Hall of Fame members. Between the two of them, they provided many memorable moments of play throughout their careers during the 1950s and 1960s.
The Changing Game
The Bednarik-Gifford history in some ways is also a story about one of those transition periods of old and new; when the game of football was played differently, without all the hype it has today. Bednarik, in many ways, represented the old school, the way the game was once played – when players of the 1950s weren’t paid a lot of money, worked other jobs to make ends meet, while delivering a workman-like performance on the field. This was the era before the Super Bowl; before the media glare and pop culture focus. Gifford, too, was of that era, but he was also one of the first, like Paul Hornug of the Green Bay Packers, on the cusp of something new, and pushing into the new era, as players who had media appeal and commercial value; players who would transition into a public personas with second careers in the sports media, advertising, and /or entertainment worlds. There is more about Gifford’s off-the-field career at “Celebrity Gifford,” a separate story at this website. For additional story choices at this website go to the Home Page or the Annals of Sport category page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website.
Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Bednarik-Gifford Lore – Football: 1950s-1960s,” PopHistoryDig.com, February 18, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
The July 21st, 1997 cover of Sports Illustrated uses a 1959 Frank Gifford photo by John Zimmerman to feature “A Gallery of Unforgettable Portraits” – a photo of Gifford that projects a certain “superman” aura about it.
November 8, 1962: Chuck Bednarik in the snow at Yankee Stadium during a 19-14 loss to the New York Giants , the Bronx, New York. NFL photo.
Frank Gifford of the NY Giants being pursued by Deacon Jones of the L.A. Rams during a game in 1962.
Bob Gordon’s book, “The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles: The Team That They Said Had Nothing But a Championship,” with Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, and Bobby Jackson, No. 28, on the cover. (Published August 2001).
In the late 1950s, the New York Giants considered using Frank Gifford at quarterback. (NY Daily News).
Gifford, like Bednarik, was a family man in the early 1960s, shown here with his then-wife Maxine, three children, and family pet. December 1963.
Dec. 26th, 1960: Chuck Bednarik, # 60 walking off the field with Jim Taylor #31 & Paul Hornung #5 of Green Bay Packers after Eagles won NFL Championship game.
Jan 31, 1949: Chuck Bednarik, left, and Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, far right, collecting trophies for their play from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. Jack Wilson center (AP photo).
“Rough Day in Berkeley: A Zany Season Reaches Climax As Southern Cal Tips California Off Top of Football Heap,” Life (with photo sequence of a Frank Gifford 69-yard run), October 29, November, 1951, pp. 22-27.
“Gifford at Quarterback For Giants in Workout,” New York Times, July 25, 1956.
“Conerly’s Pitch-Out to Gifford Rated as Key to Team’s Victory,” New York Times, October 29, 1956.
“Conference Lead Will Be at Stake; New York Will Try to Take First Place Away From Philadelphia Eleven,” New York Times, November 20, 1960.
Louis Effrat, “Run with Fumble Wins Game, 17-10; Carr of Eagles Catches Ball Dropped by Triplett and Goes for 38 Yards,” New York Times, November 21, 1960.
Robert L. Teague, “Gifford Suffers Deep Concussion; Katcavage Also Sent to Hospital, With a Shoulder Injury,” New York Times, November 21, 1960.
Louis Effrat, “Halfback Facing Stay in Hospital; Gifford Will Be Confined for Three Weeks — Katcavage Has Broken Clavicle,” New York Times, November 22, 1960.
“Giant Back Calls Consultant Who Gives Dim Report on Concussion a ‘Crepe Hanger’ — Bednarik Sends Gift,” New York Times, November 23, 1960.
Robert L. Teague, “Cowboys’ Plays Tested by Giants; Aerial Defense Is Stressed at Workout — Gifford Is Released From Hospital,” New York Times, December 2, 1960.
This Vitalis hair tonic ad featuring Frank Gifford ran in “Sports Illustrated” magazine, October 1959 – and likely other publications as well.
Athletes in modern times – especially as they become celebrity figures – are often recruited to do advertising for any number of commercial products. Some-times they are also sought out for political endorsements or as spokespersons for various social causes. A few also make their way into the media or Hollywood, extending their celebrity beyond their active sports careers.
Frank Gifford, a talented football player for the New York Giants in the 1950s and 1960s, became a popular figure in the New York city metro area and nationally both during and after his active playing career. Gifford not only became a familiar face in magazine and TV advertising, but also one of the first professional athletes to successfully venture into TV sports broadcasting. Well beyond his playing days, Frank Gifford would extend his celebrity for many years as a sports announcer, first for CBS on radio and TV, and later for ABC-TV’s popular Monday Night Football program.
Gifford’s notice as a public figure, in fact, would span nearly six decades, during which he became a pitchman for dozens of products – from shaving cream and hair tonic to clothing lines, as well as a celebrity draw for CBS Radio and ABC-TV.
Frank Gifford, No. 16, in action as New York Giants battle St. Louis Cardinals, 1960. Photo, George Silk/Life.
An All-American college player at the University of Southern California (USC), Gifford was drafted by the New York Giants in 1952 and excelled there for 12 seasons, becoming an All-Pro performer and a popular sports icon. In the 1959 hair tonic ad above, Gifford is shown in his Giants football attire, being subject to “the white glove test” for the “greasless Vitalis” hair product. Vitalis Hair Tonic, produced by Bristol-Meyers from the 1940s, became a popular hair treatment for men, and advertising using celebrities helped boost sales. Says the ad’s copy:
“…Frank Gifford, New York Giants, All Pro halfback, has dry, stubborn hair. Creams and cream-oils threw it for a loss… plastered it down, left greasy stains. Now Frank signals for Vitalis. No more grease-down hair, no more messy stains. Vitalis took the grease out of hair tonic. Put in V-7, the greasless grooming discovery. It keeps your hair neat all day, leaves no greasy stains as leading creams and cream-oils do. And Vitalis protects against dry hair and scalp, fights embarrassing dandruff… Try Vitalis yourself….today!
1996: Sportscaster celebrities Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Bob Costas appear in “milk mustache” ad campaign.
Flash forward forty years to the late 1990s and Frank Gifford is still found in commercial ads. Here, at right, he appears in a “milk mustache” magazine ad that ran in 1996 and 1997 – part of an ongoing campaign sponsored by the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board using celebrity figures to help sell milk. In the ad, Gifford is flanked by fellow TV celebrity sportscasters, Al Michaels left, and Bob Costas right. Gifford would share broadcasting time with these and other colleagues during his 27-year career in sports broadcasting. More on Gifford’s sportscasting history a bit later.
Even in his college days as a gridiron standout at the USC, Frank Gifford received national notice in general-circulation and sports magazines, including Life magazine which featured a photo sequence of one of Gifford’s touchdown runs against the University of California in a famous November 1951 game.
Magazine and newspaper coverage during his college and pro careers helped keep Frank Gifford in the public eye. And owing to his good looks and landing in the New York media market, Gifford would have continuing good fortune, not only in advertising, but also in TV and film. In his earlier years, as a student in California, Gifford landed some bit parts in Hollywood films, including appearances as a football player in That’s My Boy in 1951 and The All American, with Tony Curtis, released in 1953. He also appeared in Sally and St. Anne and Bonzo Goes to College, both in 1952, the latter a sequel to the Ronald Reagan film, Bedtime for Bonzo.
Dec. 1956: Frank Gifford with TV show host, John Daily, taking questions from celebrity panel trying to guess Gifford’s line of work on quiz show,“What’s My Line?”
In December 1956, after he had been with the Giants for a few seasons, Gifford appeared as a guest contestant on the then-popular TV quiz show, What’s My Line?, where a panel of four celebrities would ask a series of questions trying to determine the guest’s occupation. Broadcast out of New York, the show had a national following. When Gifford signed in on the chalk board as he came on stage that evening for What’s My Line — as was the usual procedure for that show – he used the name “F. Newton Gifford.”
After a few rounds of questions, and some excitement over Gifford’s youthful good looks by actress panelist Arlene Francis, the panel figured out he was Frank Gifford, football star of the New York Giants, who earlier that day in fact, had a banner performance with four touchdowns in a game against the Washington Redskins.
1950s: New York Giants star halfback, Frank Gifford, being interviewed in mock locker-room halftime scene in TV ad endorsing Florida orange juice.
Also in the mid-1950s, Gifford appeared in a TV commercial for Florida orange juice in his Giants uniform. In this appearance, the spot was set up with some newsreel footage of Gifford catching a pass for a touchdown. The scene then cut to the locker room, supposedly at “half time,” where star Frank Gifford was partaking in his half-time refreshment, a glass of Florida orange juice.
An announcer with microphone then appears, and begins interviewing Gifford, commending him on his first half play, then launching into the virtues of Florida orange juice, with Frank making a few comments before the scene cuts to the announcer making a final appeal for Florida orange juice.
Frank Gifford in a Vitalis Hair tonic ad that appeared in Life magazine, November 25, 1957.
An earlier Vitalis hair tonic ad from 1957 featured Gifford in “before and after” photos, as shown at right. “Frank Gifford’s hair looks like this after a New York Giants football game…” — says ad’s copy on the first photo, showing Gifford in his game face and roughed-up playing attire, hair tousled. Then comes the “after” photo showing a cleaned-up, well-groomed Gifford in coat and tie, as the caption adds – “…like this after Vitalis.” A headline running across the page beneath both photos continues the Vitalis pitch: “New greaseless way to keep your hair neat all day…and prevent dryness.”
The ad’s copy also quotes Gifford pitching the product as follows: “I don’t know which is worse for your hair – a hot helmut or a hot shower,” says halfback Frank Gifford. “I get plenty of both so I always use Vitalis. My hair stays neat, and Vitalis isn’t greasy.” Then the ad copy continues: “The secret is V-7. This new grooming discovery is greaseless, so you never have a too-slick, plastered-down look. Along with V-7, new Vitalis blends refreshing alcohol and other ingredients to give you superb protection against dry hair and scalp – whether they’re caused by wind, sun or you morning shower. Try new Vitalis with V-7 soon (Tomorrow, for instance.).” Then for the housewife contingent, two smaller photos show a lady holding a pillow, one soiled, the other clean, with appropriate captions: “Does your husband use a greasy tonic that stains pillowcases like this? Greaseless Vitalis leaves pillow cases clean – like this.”
1958: Gifford sweater ad.
1965: Jantzen swimwear ad.
1960s: Gifford, beach wear.
1962: Jantzen sweater ad.
Gifford also became a model for the Jantzen brand of clothing during the 1950s and 1960s. Jantzen, a company founded in Portland, Oregon from a small knitting business in the 1910s, grew to become a world wide operation by the 1930s, known mostly for women’s swimwear, but by the 1950s, had also established a mens’ line of clothing. From 1957 through the late 1960s – during his playing years and after – Frank Gifford appeared in dozens of clothing, sportswear, and swim wear ads for the Jantzen brand. In the early round of these ads, Gifford appeared by himself, usually donning sweaters. In other Jantzen ads, Gifford appeared with one or more fellow professional athletes, including: Bobby Hull, ice hockey player; Jerry West, basketball star; football competitor, Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers; and others. In the 1965 Jantzen swim wear ad, above right, Gifford appears in a beach scene with a surf board and three others – John Severson, a surfer and then publisher of Surfer magazine; Boston Celtics basketball star, Bob Cousy; and Terry Baker, then a famous former quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon State University. Other Jantzen swimwear and/or beachwear ads in this period also included Gifford with one or more other athletes, as seen in the 3rd photo here bottom left, with Gifford in the foreground and the others in the background. In the 1962 Jantzen sweater ad at bottom right, Gifford is seated reading a mock headline about his running back rival, Paul Hornung (who won the MVP award in 1961), while Bob Cousy and pro golfer Ken Venturi stand behind him.
September 1962: Frank Gifford of the New York Giants, featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Being a football star, Gifford remained in the public eye as newspaper and magazine stories were written about his play. In September 1962, as the New York Giants were having one of their best seasons with Gifford’s help, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. During his 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Gifford as a running back had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries. As a receiver he had 367 catches for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. And finally, throwing the ball, Gifford completed 29 of the 63 passes for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns, the most among any non-quarterback in NFL history. He made eight Pro Bowl appearances during his career and also played in five NFL Championship games. Gifford’s biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL, and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears. Gifford also played in the famous December 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts – a nationally-televised game that went into sudden death overtime, a game which many believe ushered in the modern era of big-time, television-hyped, pro football.
1966: Frank Gifford featured in CBS Radio ad.
After his playing days ended, Gifford became a full-time broadcast commentator for NFL games, first on CBS radio and later, CBS television. Gifford’s broadcasting career had actually started in 1957 while he was still playing halfback for the New York Giants. He was a commentator for CBS on the NFL pre-game show and joined the CBS staff in 1961 as a part-time sports reporter.
In 1964, Gifford retired from his successful football career with the Giants and remained well-known and well-regarded in the New York area and nationally.
In 1965, CBS hired him full time to cover pro football, college basketball and golf. Gifford stayed with CBS for six years – and as the CBS Radio ad at left shows, the network wasn’t shy about using his football celebrity to lure listeners and sponsors.
Another CBS Radio ad that ran in the 1960s had Gifford featured with three other CBS Radio personalities – Art Linkletter, Amy Van Buren of “Dear Abby” fame, and commentator Lowell Thomas – “Four Good Reasons to Turn to Your CBS Radio Station,” as the CBS ad tagline put it.
Film & TV
Frank Gifford, foreground, plays Ensign Cy Mount, shown here injured, in the 1959 James Garner film “Up Periscope.”
Earlier in his career, while still a prominent football star, Gifford landed a few minor film and TV acting roles. In the 1958 WWII film, Darby’s Rangers, which starred James Garner, he appeared as one of a number of young soldiers.
Gifford had a named role in another James Garner film, Up Periscope in 1959, a WWII submarine drama in which Gifford played Ensign Cy Mount, and is shown in one scene (at right) propped up on a stretcher, shirtless and wounded. In television, Gifford appeared in the Shirley Booth sitcom Hazel for a 1963 episode titled, “Hazel and the Halfback.”
1968: Alan Alda, left, visits with Maxine and Frank Gifford, right, in a scene from the film, “Paper Lion.”
In 1964, Gifford made a second appearance on the TV quiz show, What’s My Line?, this time as a celebrity panelist asking the questions. In 1965, Gifford was approached to play the lead role in a Tarzan film, but that role later went to Mike Henry.
In 1968, he and his then-wife Maxine appeared in the film, Paper Lion, based on the 1966 nonfiction book by American writer George Plimpton, who spends time as a player with the Detroit Lions to do an insider’s account of how an average American male might fare in professional football. In the film Alan Alda played Plimpton and Gifford and his wife appeared as themselves in one scene as shown at left.
As a CBS sportscaster, Frank Gifford landed some notable interviews, here with Mickey Mantle in 1966.
During Gifford’s broadcasting years with CBS Radio and TV, he interviewed a range of celebrity athletes and coaches, not only in football, but also in other sports. In June 1966, he interviewed New York Yankee great, Mickey Mantle, then nearing the end of his career.
Gifford, reportedly, did not think much of Mantle, though he did figure into a bit of early Mickey Mantle baseball lore. That story involves a long home run Mantle hit as a Yankee rookie when he was 19 years old – a home run rumored to have traveled 550 feet or so.
In a May 1951 spring training game played at the University of Southern California, Mantle hit two home runs – one of which cleared the fences there and kept on going, landing in the middle of an adjacent football field, according to Gifford, who was then in spring football training with his college team on that field.
Gifford & Vice Lombardi, pre-Superbowl I, January 1967.
In January 1967, Gifford landed a big pre-kickoff interview at the first Superbowl game between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. On the field, Gifford interviewed Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi for the nationally-televised game.
As a former New York Giants running back, Gifford had played under Lombardi when Lombardi was the Giants’ offensive coordinator under head coach Jim Lee Howell, helping lead the Giants to their 1956 championship.
Howell was from an earlier football era and used the single-wing formation. Lombardi helped modernize the Giants’ attack by introducing the T-formation.
1970: Frank Gifford interviewing Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson following Superbowl IV.
Gifford also had a notable post-game interview following the famous 1967 NFL championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, the game leading up to Superbowl II. Played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin under frigid conditions — a game known as the “ice bowl” — the Packers won the game with a famous running play behind the blocking of famed Packer lineman Jerry Kramer.
At the game’s conclusion, CBS announcer Gifford got the go ahead to go into the losing Cowboys’ locker room for on-air post-game interview – a practice unheard of in that era. Gifford sought out Dallas quarterback Don Meredith, who Gifford knew, for his thoughts on the game. The Meredith interview, emotional but thoughtful, received considerable attention, and would later become a factor in Meredith’s own broadcasting career. In the photo at right, Gifford is shown interviewing quarterback Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs following Superbowl IV.
A Frank Gifford pro football guide book, from 1968.
By the late 1960s, Gifford’s name also began appearing on annual football guide books – Frank Gifford’s NFL-AFL Football Guide For 1968 (shown at left), and a similar volume for 1969, were published by Signet Books. The guides featured rosters, schedules, and forecasts for the upcoming pro seasons, with team summaries, description of the playoff system, and other football information.
Also in 1969, there was a book about Gifford written by William Wallace – Frank Gifford: His Golden Year, 1956 – the year Gifford won the most valuable player award, then known as the Jim Thorpe Memorial Trophy. The Wallace book included an introduction by Gifford’s former Giants’ coach and then famous Green Bay Packer leader, Vince Lombardi.
The book came at a time when Gifford – then retired from the game since 1962 – was building a following as “one of the better sportscasters on WCBS-TV,” as Kirkus Reviews described Gifford in a short summary of the Wallace book (see “Sources” section at end of story for cover photo of this book).
Ads, Film, TV, Books, Etc.
1970s: Frank Gifford appearing in a Dry Sack sherry ad.
Screenshot from a Planters Nuts TV ad featuring Frank Gifford.
1979: Dry Sack from Spain
1979: Planters Mixed Nuts
1982: TV Ads: Planters Nuts
1984: GQ, Cover
1984: Nabisco Brands, w/Bobby Orr
1984: Nabisco Brands, w/D. Meredith
1991: Buick “Super Drivers” Sales Brochure
1993: Book: The Whole Ten Yards
1993: TV: Carnival Cruise w Kathie Lee
1996: “Milk Mustache”w/Michaels & Costas
1996: Film: Jerry Maguire, bit part, himself
2008: Book: The Glory Game _______________________
Not a complete list.
Monday Night Football
Frank Gifford, right, joined “Monday Nigh Football” broad-casters Howard Cosell, center, and Don Meredith in 1971.
In the 1970s, Frank Gifford’s media star began to shine a lot brighter when he became a member of ABC-TV’s Monday Night Football broadcast team. But before exploring Gifford’s role there, a little history on the origins of the Monday night program.
The idea for televising professional football games on Monday night had first started with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Rozelle had experimented with one non-televised Monday night game in September 1964 when the Green Bay Packers played the Detroit Lions in a game that drew a sellout crowd of 59,203 to Tiger Stadium, the largest crowd ever to watch a professional football game in Detroit up to that point. Rozelle then followed up with a few televised Monday night games in prime time over the next four years – two NFL games on CBS for the 1966 and 1967 seasons, followed by two AFL Monday night games on NBC in 1968 and 1969. But neither CBS or NBC would sign a contract for a full season of televised Monday night games, as they feared a disruption of existing programming.
Roone Arledge is credited with helping make “Monday Night Football” an entertainment spectacle and a financial success.
ABC, then the lowest rated of the three broadcast networks, and also not entirely enthusiastic about the idea, nevertheless agreed to a contract after Rozelle threatened to go to the Hughes Sports Network, a move that would have caused some ABC affiliates to abandoned ABC on game nights.
After the ABC deal was made, ABC producer Roone Arledge – who had already created ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1961 – began to see big potential for the Monday Night Football program. Arledge is credited with turning the program into an entertainment and sports broadcast “spectacle” – expanding the regular two-man broadcasting team to three members; using twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game; using shots of the crowd, cheerleaders and coaches as well as closeups of the players; and instituting lots of graphics and technical innovations such as “instant replay.”
The first ABC Monday Night Football game – between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland – aired on Sept. 21, 1970. Advertisers were charged $65,000 per minute (a fraction of what they now pay ). The broadcast was a smashing success, collecting an eye-popping 33 percent of the viewing audience. Those numbers pleased the program’s early sponsors, such as the Ford Motor Company. Monday Night Football was on its way.
1971: “Monday Night Football” broadcast team of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford.
The first broadcast trio for Monday Night Football included Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and Don Meredith. Frank Gifford had been Roone Arledge’s original choice for the third member of the broadcast team, but Gifford was then still working with CBS. But Arledge was a friend of Gifford’s and a golfing buddy. Gifford suggested that Arledge offer Meredith the job, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
By 1971, however, Gifford replaced Keith Jackson as the play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football (this trio is shown on the TV Guide cover at left). Thus began a nationally prominent role for Gifford that would last more than two decades in one role or another at Monday Night Football. Gifford, in fact, would become the longest-serving member of an ever-changing cast of characters on the Monday Night Football broadcast team – ranging from Alex Karas and Fran Tarkenton for periods in the 1970s, to O. J. Simpson, Joe Namath, Dan Dierdorf, and Michaels in the 1980s. In 1987, Gifford and Al Michaels – who had done the show as a twosome for two seasons – were joined by Dan Dierdorf. This Monday Night Football trio would last for 11 seasons, through the end of the 1997 season.
There were some memorable moments in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, as on December 9, 1974, when the unlikely pair of former Beatle John Lennon and California governor Ronald Reagan entered the booth. Lennon was interviewed by Howard Cosell and Gifford was talking with Reagan, who later proceeded to explain the rules of American football to Lennon as the game went along, though off camera. Six years later on December 8th, 1980, during the Monday night game between Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, it would be Howard Cosell who announced a news bulletin to a stunned nation that John Lennon had been assassinated that night in New York city by gunman Mark David Chapman.
Frank Gifford, circa 1970s.
August 1988: Gifford on the field prior to a Miami Dolphins - Washington Redskins game.
In later years, there was some probing of the Monday Night Football empire, as a book by Marc Gunther and Bill Carter titled Monday Night Mayhem, reported that with Roone Arledge in control, the show was making lots of money for ABC, and its principals were treated well, with parties, limousines, and more. But by 1985, Monday Night Football was sliding in the ratings, beaten on occasion by Farrah Fawcett movies on NBC and other shows. Roone Arledge by then had moved on, and in the following year in the wake of the Cap Cities takeover of ABC, new management arrived. Gifford was moved out of his play-by-play role, replaced by Al Michaels.
But through it all, Gifford had a loyal following of viewers who liked him because of his low-keyed style, projecting a straight-arrow kind of guy, honest and sincere. Still, Gifford had his share of critics, some charging that he wasn’t critical enough of the players. “I don’t pay attention to the critics,” he said in a 1987 Los Angeles Times interview. “I have to please the audience… I know what I am. That’s more important than reading what others think. I know this game. I’ve always studied it, and I continue to do my homework.” Gifford added that he probably spent more time preparing to televise a game than he did preparing as a player. But the critics persisted, some calling his style boring or that he was too much of a company man. “I’ve been accused of being everything from [plain] vanilla to being a shill for the National Football League,” he said in a 1994 interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “Some people think that you can’t be doing a good job unless you are bombastic and critical…. I don’t know where that concept ever came up in journalism.” As for the “star” quality that may have come to the Monday Night Football broadcasters, Gifford sought to disabuse viewers of that notion. In a September 1994 interview with Mark Kram of Knight-Ridder newspapers, Gifford explained that “the success of Monday Night Football has little to do with the announcers in the booth.” Rather, as Gifford then put it: “We are a success because football is the No. 1 sport in America, and that Monday evenings give people a chance to extend the weekend. I, as an announcer, can only reflect what has been placed on the stage, so to speak. We do not create it.”
Feb 1984 “GQ” cover featured Frank Gifford with story: “Gifford Keeps His Balance.”
Gifford also appeared on other ABC sports programs, including Olympic Games coverage from 1972 to 1988, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and he also did various sports personality profiles and TV specials. Gifford also put out another book in 1976 – Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports – written with Charles Mangel. This book included profiles of sports figures, among them: Herb Score, Rocky Bleier, Charley Boswell, Don Klosterman, Floyd Layne, Charley Conerly, Y.A. Tittle, Dan Gable, Willis Reed, and Ken Venturi.
Gifford continued to be of interest as a sports celebrity and television personality, occasionally featured in magazines, such as the February 1984 GQ cover story shown at left (GQ, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, is a publication of the Newhouse family-owned Condé Naste publications). The GQ story was written by Frederick Exley, who had been following Gifford’s career since the days when both were students at USC. In television, Gifford sometimes appeared as a guest or a guest host on non-sports TV shows, including ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, where he met his third wife, Kathie Lee Johnson, a popular TV host. The two were married in 1986 and would have two children together. Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, millions of morning-TV viewers who watched ABC’s Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, would often hear Kathie Lee Gifford’s descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband and their two children. Gifford and his wife also appeared together on TV occasionally, as they did when hosting the nightly wrap-up segments on ABC during the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Frank Gifford’s 1993 auto- biography.
In 1993, Gifford published his autobiography, The Whole Ten Yards, with help from Newsweek’s Harry Waters. Kirkus Reviews called the book “a measured, straightforward, good-natured piece of work…”
In the book, Gifford includes profiles of his former Monday Night Football colleagues Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Dan Dierdorf and Al Michaels, calling Michaels at one point “the best play-by-play man in the business.” There are also profiles of Vince Lombardi, Paul Brown, and former teammates Sam Huff, Y.A. Tittle, Charlie Conerly, and Kyle Rote, as well as opponents such as Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, Chicago Bears tight end, Mike Ditka, and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, Chuck Bednarik.
The book also covers Gifford’s reminiscences of late 1950′s New York nightlife – all of which help to paint an engaging portrayal of New York football and its related social profile during that era.
June 1997: People magazine featured the Giffords on its cover following the affair.
In 1995, Frank Gifford was given the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his NFL television work. But two years later, in May 1997, some of the luster of Gifford’s career and celebrity became tarnished after it was revealed that he had an affair with a former airline stewardess, Suzen Johnson. A round of negative press followed, with magazine and tabloid front-page coverage, including a June 1997 People magazine cover story shown at left with photo and headline that read, “Kathie Lee’s Crisis, Will She Stand By Her Man?”
A November 1997 Playboy story also ran with Suzen Johnson on the cover. And some New York media talk shows and radio programs — including Howard Stern’s radio show, which had engaged in a running critique of Kathie Lee Gifford for years – also covered the story. Stern at one point threatened to air tapes of the tryst until the move was blocked in court. It was later revealed that The Globe, the North American supermarket tabloid that originally broke the story, had arranged to have Gifford secretly videotaped being seduced by the former flight attendant in a New York City hotel room.
Tagline for ABC’s 20/20 show on the Gifford affair: “Love. Fidelity. Broken Promises. Staying together, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford talk about it all for the first time. Exclusively with Diane Sawyer.”
In follow-up stories, ESPN and others reported that The Globe tabloid had paid Johnson $75,000 to lure Gifford to the room, while The Atlantic placed the amount at $125,000. There was also an appearance by Gifford and Kathie Lee on ABC-TV’s 20/20 show in May 2000 when the couple was interviewed by Diane Sawyer, with Frank admitting the tryst was “stupid” and Kathie Lee offering grudging forgiveness. The Giffords had faced controversy before, in 1996 when a clothing line sold by Kathie Lee was accused of using sweatshop labor. Kathie Lee Gifford subsequently worked with government regulators to investigate the situation and she also worked to support and enact laws to protect children against sweatshop conditions.
Such incidents aside, however, the Giffords, throughout their careers, have been involved with various charities and social causes. Frank Gifford had served as chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New York and in 1984 the society established a $100,000 research grant in his name. And Kathie Lee Gifford regularly makes appearances at fund raisers and events for the non-profit organization ChildHelp, which works for the prevention and treatment of child abuse.
Still, the 1997 stewardess affair was a major blow to the Giffords and to Frank Gifford’s image. In 1998, following the incident, Gifford was given a reduced role on the Monday Night Football pre-game show. Boomer Esiason, 36, then the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback, quit active play to join the show. After that, and with 22 years of serving as a sportscaster there, Gifford left Monday Night Football, though he would continue to have other TV work. And on other projects, he focused on football history.
In 2008, Frank Gifford, with Peter Richmond, published “The Glory Game,” about famous 1958 game.
In 2008, Gifford published with Peter Richmond, The Glory Game: How The 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever. Gifford’s account of the famous sudden-death overtime game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts in which he and 14 other later-elected Hall of Fame players and coaches did battle. Gifford acknowledged that he had two costly fumbles in that game, but he also caught a pass for a key touchdown that had put the Giant’s in the lead, 17-14. Gifford was at the center of a crucial 3rd down play with less than three minutes remaining in that game. The Giants, then at their own 40 yard-line, needed four yards for a first down, which would have given them the game, as with a new set of downs they could have run out the clock. But on the 3rd down play, Gifford got the call, running the ball outside for a gain before he was tackled, though sure he made enough yardage for the first down. In the play, there was some added commotion and distraction, as Colts lineman, Gino Marchetti, was calling out in pain after he had broken his ankle. Referee Ron Gibbs, who spotted the ball amid the concern over Marchetti, placed it short of the first down marker, and the Giants were forced to punt. That gave the Colts a chance to tie, and ultimately win, the game, which went into sudden death overtime. But in his book, Gifford writes: “I still feel to this day, and will always feel, that I got the first down that would have let us run out the clock. And given us the title.” Gifford would later learn that the referee involved also believed he likely had made a bad spot.
See also at this website, “Bednarik-Gifford Lore,” a story which tracks the football backgrounds of the two pro players who met in a famous gridiron collision in November 1960 that changed both their lives. For other sports stories at this website see the Annals of Sport category page, or for other story choices, see the Celebrity & Icons page or the Madison Avenue page. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Celebrity Gifford: 1950s-2000s,” PopHistoryDig.com, January 5, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Cover photo from Don Smith’s 1960 book on Frank Gifford, published by New York’s G. P. Putnam's Sons.
CBS Radio ad of the mid-1960s featuring Frank Gifford as one of the network’s notable on-air personalities.
1969: Cover of William Wallace’s book on Frank Gifford’s “Golden Year” of 1956; paperback edition.
June 1969: Sportscasters Pat Summerall & Frank Gifford (c), listen as Joe Namath (r) announces his retirement from pro football at his Bachelors III nightclub due to dispute with the NFL over his ownership of the club. On July 18, he announced he sold the bar and was coming back out of retirement. Click photo to visit Namath story.
June 1983: Christopher Reeve, Frank Gifford & President Ronald Reagan at White House reception & picnic for Special Olympics program, Diplomatic Reception Room.
July 1985: Joe Namath, left, Roone Arledge, center, with Frank Gifford at news conference announcing Namath’s joining "Monday Night Football." AP / M. Lederhandler.
Nov 29, 1990: Kathie Lee & Frank Gifford with former Vice President Dan Quayle at ASA Hall of Fame dinner.
Frank & Kathie Lee Gifford with their son, early 1990s.
Jack Cavanaugh's 2008 book, "Giants Among Men."
13 Oct 1963: Frank Gifford of the New York Giants about to catch a pass from quarterback Y. A. Tittle in game against the Cleveland Browns played in New York.
“Rough Day in Berkeley: A Zany Season Reaches Climax As Southern Cal Tips California Off Top of Football Heap,” Life (with photo sequence of Frank Gifford’s 69-yard run), October 29, November, 1951, pp. 22-27.
“Landry, Gifford and Rote to Pass For Giants in Game With Redskins,” New York Times, Sports, December 3, 1952.
“Revamped Giants to Face Steelers; Gifford Shifted From Defense to Offense for Contest at Polo Grounds Today,” New York Times, November 15, 1953.
“Gifford Drills 2 Ways; Giants’ Back Again May Play Dual Role Against Redskins,” New York Times, November 19, 1953
“Gifford at Quarterback For Giants in Workout,” New York Times, July 25, 1956.
“Conerly’s Pitch-Out to Gifford Rated as Key to Team’s Victory,” New York Times, October 29, 1956.
Louis Effrat/Ernest Sisto, “Giants Beat Eagles and Move into a First-Place Tie… Strong Defense Helps Giants Win …Conerly Passes Click; Gifford Makes Catch…,” New York Times, October 29, 1956.
Gay Talese, “Gifford Sandwiches Football Between Sidelines; Giants’ Top Ground Gainer Also Is a Movie Bit Player,” New York Times, November 4, 1956.
Louis Effrat, “Gifford Scores Three Touchdowns as Giants Beat Redskins Before 46,351; New Yorkers Win at Stadium, 28-14 Giants Avenge Earlier Loss to Redskins and Virtually Clinch Conference Title,” New York Times, December 3, 1956
Louis Effrat, “Giants Gain Title in East, Checking Eagle Team, 21-7; Capture Division Honors for First Time in 10 Years as Gifford Paces Attack ..,” New York Times, December 16, 1956.
“7 Giants Chosen on All-Star Club; Conerly and Gifford Among Players Named for Bowl Football Game Jan. 13,” New York Times, December 18, 1956.
“Gifford Named in Poll; Back Is Voted Pro Football’s Most Valuable Player,” New York Times, January 8, 1957.
William J. Briordy, “Gifford Receives a Rise in Salary; Football Giants’ Star Back Accepts $20,000 – Grier Is Inducted Into Army,” New York Times, January 29, 1957
“Giant Eleven Sends Lions to Their First Shutout Defeat in Five Seasons; Patton, Gifford Pace 17-0 Success; They Get Giant Touchdowns on Long Runs as Lions Lose Third Straight; Lions Fail to Threaten; Conerly Passes Click,” New York Times, September 23, 1957
Frederick Exley, “The Natural” (article on Frank Gifford), GQ, February 1984.
Michael Goodwin, “Sports People; Gifford Stays in Lineup,” New York Times, May 14,1986.
Martie Zad, “Frank Gifford: Monday Night Football’s Long-Distance Runner,” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1987.
Steve Nidetz, “Gifford Goes Long In The Monday Game,” Chicago Tribune, October 23, 1988.
Frank Gifford and Harry Waters, Jr., The Whole Ten Yards, New York: Random House, 1993,
Tom Stieghorst, “Men Are Targets Of Carnival Cruise Lines Advertisements,” Sun Sentinel, April 10, 1993.
Steve Nidetz, “Gifford Book Serves Up Vanilla – But With Lumps,” Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1993.
Bill Fleischman, “Gifford’s Book Perfectly Frank,” Daily News (Philadelphia, PA) December 6, 1993.
Mark Kram, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, “They Were Giants During Their Playing Days And . . . They’re Still Giants In The TV Booth; Frank Gifford’s `Silver Spoon’ Image Belies His Childhood Out Of `The Grapes Of Wrath’,” Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1994.
Samuel Barber, in his later years, shown in sheet music cover photo for his Adagio from String Quartet No. 1.
The music sample below – “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber from 1936 – might also be called “Adagio for Tears” since it is known for evoking very powerful emotion and sadness among its listeners. In fact, a 2010 book by Thomas Larson on this classical piece is titled, The Saddest Music Ever Written. More on the book and its claim a bit later.
“Adagio for Strings” was reportedly one of President John F. Kennedy’s favorite pieces of music. In November 1963, on the Monday following his assassination, Jackie Kennedy had the National Symphony Orchestra perform the piece in his honor in a nationally broadcast radio concert, though performed to an empty hall.
In recent years, “Adagio” has received more popular notice as many film goers have been moved to tears by the piece, used as powerful soundtrack music in productions such as: David Lynch’s Elephant Man of 1980, Gregory Nava’s El Norte of 1983, Oliver Stone’s Platoon of 1986, and George Miller’s Lorenzo’s Oil of 1992.
“Adagio for Strings” – Samuel Barber
In 2004, “Adagio for Strings” was voted the world’s “saddest piece of music” in one survey of listeners by BBC radio. The piece was also widely played in connection with events following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In earlier decades, at the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945, the song was played extensively. In the current digital era, “Adagio for Stings” is among the most downloaded pieces of classical music. In 2006 a recorded performance of “Adagio” by the London Symphony Orchestra was the highest selling piece of classical music on iTunes. There have even been some disco, re-mix, electronic dance, and synthesizer versions of “Adagio” – which perhaps were not what Samuel Barber had in mind in 1936, but have nonetheless helped broaden the audience for this music. More on these later.
Poster for the 1986 Oliver Stone film, “Platoon,” showing the Vietnam death scene of Sgt. Elias.
One of the most powerful and memorable uses of “Adagio for Strings” in a contemporary film score, comes in a scene from Oliver Stone’s Academy Award winning 1986 Vietnam War film, Platoon – a film sequence that seems to have had a particularly strong effect on a number of viewers. That scene is set in the jungles of Viet Nam, as U.S. Army Sergeant Elias, played by Willem Dafoe, who is wounded and running to catch a departing helicopter during a firefight with the enemy. In this case, however, Elias – the “good Marine in Vietnam”– has been betrayed by his arch nemesis, Sergeant Bob Barnes, played by Tom Berenger – the “bad Marine in Vietnam.”
Elias and Barnes have been feuding throughout the story, and now in this jungle fire fight, Barnes shoots Elias believing he has killed him. But Elias is only wounded. Meanwhile, Barnes tells the others that Elias was killed in the NVA fire fight.
“Adagio for Strings” plays during the ensuing scene as the wounded Elias emerges from the jungle, running for his life from the pursuing NVA, trying to reach the helicopter. But he is too late, as the helicopter has already lifted off. As “Adagio” swells, the scene is viewed from both ground level and from above in the departing helicopter, as Elias’ platoon mates look down on the horrific scene. There alone, is Elias in a clearing, being pursued by a dozen or more NVA, then shot repeatedly, falling to his knees in a brutal death. “Adagio” continues playing throughout the ensuing slaughter and as the helicopter rises farther and farther away from the scene.
Actor Willem Dafoe plays Sgt. Elias in the 1986 Vietnam War film, “Platoon.”
Actor Tom Berenger plays “bad guy” Sergeant Bob Barnes in “Platoon.”
One comment in an online forum at the website Oscar.net by film viewer Tim Anderson, describes his reaction to hearing “Adagio” in Platoon. He explains first that Stone had used the music earlier in the film – less noticeably and unnecessarily in Anderson’s view. But it is the Elias death scene with “Adagio” that really moves Anderson:
…When I first saw Platoon, I thought the use of Barber’s melancholic ode a bit overdone at the beginning. Indeed, I really don’t think it is necessary as an accompaniment to the new recruits getting off the airplane and entering “The Nam.” Perhaps Stone was attempting to depict the Vietnam conflict as a tragedy from the outset of the film. However, the use of the heavy strings of Barber, for me, overdid [it] …almost to the point of sentimentalizing the harsh reality of the war.
This changed later on, however. I am referring to the scene of Elias’ death. As he charges out of the jungle with virtually the entire NVA behind him, once again, the Barber Adagio is heard, swelling, till it is all we hear. No gunshots, screams, or helicopter blades; just the mounting intensity of this extremely spiritual work. The effect, to me, is completely unforgettable. Barber’s opus is already a completely emotional work, but to combine its sound with the image of goodness, of sanity in “The Nam” [i.e. Elias] being helplessly gunned down, is…well, indescribable. All I can say is, one must have no sensitivity at all not to find themselves emotionally weak during this sequence.
To be honest, I was never a huge fan of the Barber Adagio before seeing Platoon. That has changed; for me, the work is a virtual soundtrack to the tragedy of war…Vietnam, or any other. It has such a gripping, intense, spiritual feel to it…which is what makes it work so well for the moment of Elias’ death. To me, this scene is one of the most powerful sequences in any film I’ve ever seen. Mr. Stone deserves to be acknowledged for this brilliant teaming of sight and sound, one of the greatest in cinema history.
True, the Platoon sequence has especially powerful imagery, along with a compelling back story attached to specific characters, all of which make the music during the scene even more powerful. Yet even without the benefit of Hollywood imagery and story line, Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” historically, has had “stand alone” emotive impact on listeners from its earliest airings. So, how did this music come about?
Samuel Barber in 1938. Photo, Library of Congress.
Samuel Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1910. At the age of seven he reportedly wrote his first music. As a 9-year-old he wrote a letter to his mother informing her that he did not want to play football or be an athlete, predicting that he “was meant to be a composer” — and adding that he was sure he would become one. When he was 10, Barber attempted to write his first opera, “The Rose Tree.”
At age 14, Barber entered the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia where he studied composition, voice, and piano, excelling in all three. Barber was one of the first students at Curtis in 1924, and it was there that he met his life-long friend, partner, and collaborator, Gian Carlo Menotti. The two friends became partners, bought a house together in New York state where they lived and worked for 40 years, although years later, they split apart. At 18, Barber won the Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University for his violin sonata, “Fortune’s Favorite Child,” since believed to have been lost or destroyed by Barber. In 1931, he wrote his first orchestral work, an overture to The School for Scandal, which premiered successfully in 1933 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Alexander Smallens. A number of other commissioned compositions followed. In 1935, at the age of 25, he received a Pulitzer traveling scholarship which allowed him to study abroad.
Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber, circa 1930s.
Barber was only 26 years old when he wrote “Adagio for Strings” in 1936. He composed it during a summer in Europe with Gian Carlo Menotti, as the two were then living together in a cottage near Salzburg, Austria. Barber knew he had succeeded in writing a good piece of music, noting in a letter to one friend: “I have just finished the slow movement and it’s a knockout!” The music was not originally intended by Barber to be a stand-alone piece, but rather was the 2nd movement of his 1936 String Quartet No. 1, Opus 11. But when “Adagio,” at its premiere, resulted in a mid-composition standing ovation from the audience, Barber decided to adapt the piece for orchestral treatment.
April 1934: Arturo Tocanini, Time cover
In those years, one of the most popular showcases for classical music was the weekly NBC classical music radio show from New York featuring the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The conductor for those performances dating from about 1937 was the famous Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini, who had recently fled Mussolini’s fascism during World War II. Barber submitted his orchestral version of “Adagio for Strings” to Toscanini in January of 1938.
But when Toscanini returned the score to Barber without comment, Barber was annoyed and avoided the conductor, believing his work had been snubbed. But Toscanini sent word through a friend that he was planning to perform the piece and had only returned the score because he had already memorized it.
Toscanini, in fact, was impressed with Barber’s piece. “Simplice e bella”—simple and beautiful—were the words Toscanini used upon hearing his orchestra’s first rehearsal of Barber’s composition. This was high praise from a man who had become the single most important figure in classical music in America, but who rarely performed works by American composers. In fact, Barber’s “Adagio” would be the first American piece he performed on the NBC radio show.
Arturo Toscanini, the famous Italian conductor, at work.
On November 5th, 1938, the orchestral arrangement of Barber’s “Adagio” was given its world premiere by Toscanini, broadcast from Studio 8-H in New York’s Rockefeller Center with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The performance was heard by an invited studio audience, as well as millions of radio listeners. Radio, in those days, was the primary entertainment media, as there was no television. Barber’s music — at its airing by Toscanini in 1938 — fit the times in a kind of macabre way, both as lamentation and musical commentary on a world at war. “The world situation at the time, put simply, was that the world was falling apart…,” said Mortimer Frank, author of Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years, during a 2006 National Public Radio show on Barber’s “Adagio” and Toscanini. “Hitler had been elected chancellor in 1933. Mussolini, who had been elected earlier in Italy, became a tyrannical fascist. War was about to break out. Racism and anti-Semitism was rampant…”.
CD cover for the 1938 premiere of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” by Toscanini.
But musically, by some accounts, Toscanini was exactly the right maestro to air Barber’s “Adagio,” giving it just the right touch. As Mortimer Frank explained during the National Public Radio discussion: “[O]n the one hand [Toscanini] is often considered the most dynamic, the most intense, the most powerful, overwhelmingly arresting conductor of his time. And overlooked in all of these reasonably accurate assertions is the fact that for all of the drama, for all of the power, for all of the intensity, he was also capable of wonderful delicacy and tenderness and gentleness. And he knew how to deal with a piece like this, which essentially is a very lyrical, gentle piece in so many ways, and present it directly and without – and this is the most important quality – without sentimentality, without excess, without making it sound overly sweet and cloying.” Toscanini also chose Barber’s “Adagio” for his first recording of American music.
Samuel Barber, center, with Aaron Copland, left, and Gian Carlo Menotti, right.
A New York Times review of Barber’s piece as performed by Toscanini in 1938, written by Olin Downes praised the work. Other critics, however, felt Downes had overrated it. Still, Barber’s “Adagio” went on to other performances, including a series of public performances, also on the radio, from Carnegie Hall in April 1942 by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Both the Toscanini premiere performance of “Adagio for Strings,” and the Ormandy performance were captured on RCA Victor phonograph recordings.
Through the years, Barber’s “Adagio” has received the admiration and sometimes wonderment of other notable composers. Steve Schwartz, writing on Barber’s “Adagio” for Classical.net, has noted:
Composers like Aaron Copland, William Schuman, Roy Harris, and Ned Rorem – not all of them sympathetic to Barber’s music in general – look at this work and shake their heads, wondering how he pulled it off. They fall back on phrases like “finely felt,” “poetic,” “nothing phoney,” “a love affair.” There’s no real complication to the Adagio, no technique or unusual turn of harmony that holds the secret of its success. One cannot even pick one passage over another, any more than you can say one point makes the beauty of an arch. This is a masterpiece.
April 13, 1945: New York Times front page at the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1945, when President Franklin Roosevelt died, radio stations of that day sought out appropriate music to use for national grieving, as all regular programming had stopped. According to author Thomas Larson, radio producers began playing Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” over and over again, catapulting Barber to fame at a time when few knew him by name. “They knew Beethoven and Brahms but not Barber,” notes Larson.
Still, the playing of Barber’s “Adagio’ during the Roosevelt mourning period, says Larson, “began the piece’s long trek…[to]… cultural appropriation.” In fact, “Adagio for Strings” would become something approaching official mourning music for fallen national leaders and other notable public figures – or as one account put it, a kind of “icon of the national soul.”
1945: Funeral cortege of President Franklin. D. Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.
“Adagio for Strings” was also played at the April 1955 funeral of Albert Einstein, and at Grace Kelly’s funeral in September 1982. Einstein was a lover of classical music, and Kelly, an American Hollywood actress before becoming Princess of Monaco, had a tragic death in an automobile accident at age 52. Her televised funeral was attended by Hollywood stars and royalty from around the world. “Adagio for Strings” was also played several times over BBC radio in 1997 at the death of Princess Diana. Mary Travers, of the 1960s’ folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, had requested that “Adagio” be played at her memorial service. She died in September 2009 of leukemia. “Adagio” appears on the group’s final album, Peter Paul and Mary, With Symphony Orchestra. Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, explaining in his 2007 book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, that classical music in America “has not lost its binding power,” has also noted: “Whenever the American dream suffers a catastrophic setback, Barber’s Adagio plays on the radio.”
1941 photograph of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during WWII blitz bombing; an image used with You Tube videos airing Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei.”
In 1966-67, Samuel Barber arranged his famous adagio for eight-part choir, in Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), a one-movement a cappella choral composition set to the Latin words of the latter part of the Mass. Agnes Dei was written for mixed chorus with optional organ or piano. The music, in B-flat minor, has a duration of about eight minutes. Among those recording the choral version have been, for example: The Corydon Singers in 1986; The New College Choir of Oxford, in 1997; the choir of Ormond College in 2000; the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in 2003, and others. The version in the Music Player below is by The Dale Warland Singers from their 1995 album Cathedral Classics.
“Agnus Dei” - Samuel Barber
Over the years, “Adagio for Strings” has become a fairly well-known piece, especially by those who follow classical music. And its trademark, even for the casual listener, is its emotional power. “You have to be a rock in the middle of nowhere not to have your gut wrenched out by this music,” said Ida Kavafian, a violinist and a Curtis Institute faculty member to New York Times reporter Johanna Keller in a March 2010 story on Samuel Barber’s centenary. Keller herself added: “…If any music can come close to conveying the effect of a sigh, or courage in the face of tragedy, or hope, or abiding love, it is this.”
Alexander Morin, author of Classical Music: Third Ear: The Essential Listening Companion, has noted that Adagio for Strings is “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye.” Others find the piece to be reflective, soothing, introspective and/or meditative. A few even find it celebratory at its climax. Tom Moon, writing in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, finds “Adagio for Strings” to be “a singularly moving eight minute journey suited to any introspective occasion.” Moon also observes that Barber’s Adagio is “alternately stormy and tranquil, with brooding counterlines that rise from the cellos and bases answered by hovering sustained notes from the violins…” Barber’s piece, he says, “creates its own atmosphere.”
“Elephant Man Scene”
DVD cover for “The Elephant Man” film of 1980, starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Treves.
Film director David Lynch used “Adagio for Strings” in the final scene of his 1980 film, The Elephant Man. In comments to New York Times reporter Johanna Keller, Lynch described the music as “pure magic,” calling it “deeply spiritual and simply beautiful.”
In The Elephant Man film, the story focuses on the life and struggles of John Merrick, who is so deformed he wears a hood in public to hide his face. Merrick, played by John Hurt, is exhibited as an “elephant man” circus curiosity, beaten by hooligans, and otherwise abused by society and assumed to be stupid and ignorant. A London Hospital surgeon, Frederick Treves, played by Anthony Hopkins, finds Merrick in the freak show where he is brutishly managed. Treves is curious about Merrick’s medical condition, and eventually pays off the freak show manager for Merrick, and brings him to his hospital for research purposes. Still assumed to be ignorant, and viewed as repulsive by hospital staff, Merrick at one point astonishes Treves and the hospital administrator by reciting the 23rd Psalm from memory. Turns out that Merrick is quite articulate and intelligent. Although bound mostly to his hospital room, Merrick occasionally dines with Treves and his family and later receives high society guests, including the famed actress Madge Kendal, played by Anne Bancroft. At one point, Merrick is kidnapped by his former side show manager and put back in the freak show business in Europe, before he is rescued by Dr. Treves and returned to his hospital room. There he mostly reads and works on building a scale-model of a cathedral he can see from his hospital window.
“Elephant Man” John Merrick at right receiving audience ovation during night at the theater before his final “sleep” scene when Barber’s “Adagio” is movingly used.
Near the end of the film Mrs. Kendal has arranged a special evening for Merrick – an evening at the musical theater, attending in white tie and seated in the Royal Box. At the conclusion of the production that evening, Mrs. Kendal takes to the stage after the final curtain and announces to the entire audience that she and the musical company have dedicated the evening to a lover of the theater, Mr. John Merrick, motioning to him in the Royal Box. And with that, the entire house breaks into applause. As Merrick stands to acknowledge the recognition, the house audience then rises in a standing ovation for Merrick. Later that night, back at his room, Merrick thanks Dr. Treves for all he has done, and then prepares to retire. Merrick then puts the final touches on his exquisitely done cathedral scale model, signing his name to the model’s base. He then begins to prepare himself for bed, though this time, removing the pillows that have allowed him to sleep in an upright position so he will not die from the weight of his head. He lies down on his bed, knowing he will die, consoled by a nearby photograph of his mother, recalling her quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Nothing Will Die.” Barber’s “Adagio” plays quietly in the background during the final bedroom scenes as Merrick prepares to lay down to die.
Cover of Thomas Larson’s 2010 book, “The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber's ‘Adagio for Strings’,” showing Barber at a piano in the 1930s.
Thomas Larson, whose 2010 book, The Saddest Music Ever Written, is devoted to the Barber Adagio, calls the piece “the Pietá of music,” comparing it to the famous Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding her crucified son, Jesus Christ, in her lap. “It captures the sorrow and the pity of tragic death…,” Larson says. He continues describing the music’s structure, movement and its emotive effect:
The Adagio is a sound shrine to music’s power to evoke emotion. Its elegiac descent is among the most moving expressions of grief in any art. The snail-like tempo, the constrained melodic line, its rise and fall, the periodic rests, the harmonic repetition, the harmonic color, the uphill slog, the climactic moment of its peaked eruption – all are crafted together into one magnificent effect: listeners, weeping in anguish, bear the glory and gravity of their grief. No sadder music has ever been written.
In an interview with New York radio station WQRX after his book came out, Larson explained: “…To me, Barber did something as a composer in the composition of sorrow that really tops the list… I myself don’t hear anything but the purifying of this emotion in this piece of music. There’s no other thing to call this piece but sad. It’s a lament and an elegy.”
In addition to Larson’s book, others have written extensively about Barber and his work, and a number of academic analysts have also dissected Barber’s “Adagio” from one perspective or another, several probing the music’s uses and reception in popular culture. Among books on Barber’s music and his life are: Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music by Barbara B. Heyman (1993); Benjamin Britten & Samuel Barber: Their Lives and Their Music by Daniel Felsenfeld (2005); Samuel Barber Remembered: A Centenary Tribute, by Peter Dickinson (2010); and, Samuel Barber: A Research and Information Guide, by Wayne Wentzel(2010). See also “Sources” below for additional works and references.
William Orbit’s 2000 album, “Pieces in a Modern Style,” includes a version of “Adagio.”
In 1999-2000, the popularity of “Adagio for Strings” received something of a boost from a rather unexpected quarter: electronic, new age, and electronic dance and trance music. William Orbit – an English musician, composer and record producer known in part for his Grammy winning production work on Madonna’s multi-platinum “Ray of Light” of 1998 – released Barber’s “Adagio” as a single and included it on his album, Pieces in a Modern Style.
The album, which hit No. 2 on the British pop charts and sold a half-million copies worldwide, consisted of classical works played on a synthesizer. Orbit’s cover of “Adagio” is the “straightest” of various electronic versions that have since come out. His version uses a bass pedal and takes the music an octave lower.
In one interview, Orbit recalled playing the track on a morning radio show in Los Angeles: “When we aired it for the first time, the switchboard just lit up.”
Cover art for Tiesto’s “Adagio for Strings” single from his album “Just Be,” July 2010.
Ferry Corsten, a Dutch electronic dance DJ and producer, had remixed Orbit’s version of “Adagio for Strings” and that version climbed the British singles chart to No. 4 at the close of 1999. Since then, “Adagio,” in one form or another, has become quite popular in the electronic dance world, and has been covered by other electronic dance DJs, producers, and remixers. Armin van Buuren, a Dutch trance music producer and DJ, has released a version.
DJ Tiësto, another Dutch electronic dance DJ and music producer, released a version in April 2005 as the fourth single from the album Just Be. In 2009, a New Age music group named “eRa,” headed by French composer Eric Lévi, released the album Classics that includes a version of “Adagio for Strings.” eRa’s music mixes Gregorian chants and sometimes world music with contemporary electronic arrangements. In other uses, Barber’s choral version, Agnus Dei, was used in the soundtrack to the 1999 PC video game Homeworld.
Samuel Barber at ease, in a relaxed moment, undated.
Still, among all the genres in which Barber’s “Adagio” has been heard, it is the classical listening community that still holds the work in the most high regard. In 2004, the radio program, BBC Today, began a listener survey to find the saddest music in the world. After receiving more than four hundred nominations, they listed the top five on a website for voting. The audience preferred Barber’s Adagio more than two-to-one over the second place vote-getter and four-to-one over number three. Here’s how the voting turned out in percentage terms:
Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (52.1%)
Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” (20.6%)
Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto, from 5th Symphony (12.3%) Billie Holiday’s “Gloomy Sunday,” by Rezsô Seress (9.8 %)
Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphosen” (5.1 %)
In addition to the“saddest music” candidates above, others also mentioned elsewhere include: Chopin’s Funeral March, Maurice Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, Rachmaninoff C#-minor Prelude, Albinoni’s “Adagio,” Arvo Pärt’s “A Far Cry,” Benjamin Britten’s “Cantus in Memoriam,” Vaughan Williams’ “Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and the slow movement in F-minor of Mozart’s F-major piano sonata, K.280. Still, “Adagio for Strings” – at least by popular count and sentiment in this radio survey – appears to be the “winner” in the saddest music category.
Samuel Barber U.S. postage stamp issued in 1997.
Samuel Barber often lamented the fact that his only popularly known work was “Adagio for Strings.” However, during his career he wrote an array of compositions that were either commissioned or debuted by major performers such as Vladamir Horowitz and Leontyne Price. In 1947 he composed “Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24,” a work for voice and orchestra with text from a 1938 short prose piece by famous writer, James Agee. Barber also won Pulitzer Prizes for both his opera “Vanessa” (1956-57), and what some regard as an incredible piano concerto — his “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” (1962). His “Antony and Cleopatra” was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966.
Barber died of cancer at the age of 71 in 1981 in New York and is buried in West Chester, Pennsylvania next to his parents and sister. For additional stories at this website on music and popular culture see the Annals of Music category page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “The Saddest Song: 1936-2103,” PopHistoryDig.com, December 12, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Barbara Heyman’s 1992 book, “Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music.”
Samuel Barber at age 28 in 1938, the year “Adagio for Strings” was featured by Toscanini on NBC Radio.
On this 2012 recording – “Samuel Barber: An American Romantic”– conductor Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare, the choral ensemble of Austin, Texas, offer a selection of Barber’s choral works.
On this 2003 CD, Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with works from Samuel Barber and others, including “Adagio for Strings.”
This Library of Congress recording features 26 year-old soprano Leontyne Price, accompanied by Samuel Barber on piano in 1953, as well as a 1938 recording of the 28 year-old baritone Barber singing 12 songs with piano.
“U. S. Composer Gets Toscanini’s Approval,” New York Times, October 27, 1938.
“This Day in History – November 5, 1938: Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Receives its World Premiere on NBC Radio,” History.com, 2012.
Olin Downes, “Toscanini Plays Two New Works; Two by Barber, American Composer, ‘Adagio for Strings’ and ‘Essay for Orchestra’ Third by Paul Graener Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony, and Debussy’s ‘Iberia’…,” New York Times, November 6, 1938, p. 48.
Nathan Broder, “The Music of Samuel Barber,” The Musical Quarterly (Oxford University Press), Vol. 34, No. 3, July 1948, pp. 325-335.
Nathan Broder, Samuel Barber, New York: G. Schirmer, Publisher, 1954, 111pp.
Barbara B. Heyman, Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music, Oxford University Press, 1st Edition, 1992, 608 pp.
Steve Schwartz, “Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings, Op. 11,” Classical.net, 1995.
“Vote for the World’s Saddest Music,” BBC Radio 4, last update, May 2004.
Jack Fishman/San Antonio Symphony, “Barber Sneaks Up on You,” MySanAntonio .com, November 12, 2010.
“Barber, S: Agnus Dei,” PrestoClassical (list of recordings with Barber’s “Agnus Dei”).
Composers' Row: From left, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Lukas Foss, Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions – all assembled, it is believed, in honor of Stravinsky at New York City’s Town Hall on December 20, 1959.
August 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy during session with the press in Omaha, Nebraska. Photo, Jacques Lowe.
Senator John F. Kennedy would not officially announce his presidential candidacy until January 1960. In 1959, however, he continued his “informal campaign” for president, then in its third year. In his travels, Kennedy had made a practice of issuing denials of a presidential bid as he went. Still, he was running, and running hard, and most Democratic party insiders knew that well by 1959. Back in Washington, meanwhile, by mid February 1959, a “stop Kennedy” movement had begun forming among his rivals.
During the year, he would spar with critics and challengers attempting to derail his bid to win the Democratic nomination. In early March 1959, his Catholic faith surfaced in the media after Look magazine ran an interview that quoted him at length on the issue. That brought both pro- and anti-Catholic voices into the fray. Kennedy’s Catholicism, in fact – no matter how many times he would seek to explain his firm belief in separation of church and state, that his sole allegiance would be to his oath as president, that he would not be “controlled by the Pope,” etc., etc. – would dog him until election day.
March 6, 1959: JFK, 41, and Jacqueline Kennedy, 29, arriving at airport, Salt Lake City, Utah. Deseret News.
But throughout 1959, Kennedy traveled the length and breadth of the land, with a full schedule of speeches and public appearances. In August, for example, Kennedy was the main attraction at a gathering in Omaha, Nebraska at the home of Bernard Boyle, a Democratic national committeeman.
At the event, known locally as “Bernie’s Barbeque,” Kennedy gave a brief speech and signed some copies of his book Profiles in Courage. He also told the 400 or so people and press assembled there that the May 10th,1960 Nebraska primary would be key to his election plan. Photographer Jacques Lowe had traveled with Kennedy to the Omaha event, and he snapped one of his iconic photos of Kennedy, displayed in the first photo above, with JFK projecting a relaxed, confident demeanor as press and visitors gathered around him.
On October 16th, 1959 in Crowley, LA, at the Int’l Rice Festival, Senator Kennedy did the honors of crowning the new Rice Queen, Judith Ann Haydel. E. Reggie Archive.
Kennedy’s travels in 1959 took him to a variety of venues – from the International Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana where, among other things, he crowned that year’s Rice Queen, to Duluth, Minnesota where he appeared in a live broadcast on a local TV show. Kennedy also visited the Midwest in 1959, including Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. He also toured California and Oregon; met with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley at a World Series baseball game at Comiskey Park; and at one stop in Wisconisn, spotted a St. Louis Cardinals baseball team bus and sought out the famous star, Stan Musial, to campaign for him. There were also stops at a U.S. Steel Co. coal cleaning plant in West Virginia; a talk before a lady garment workers conference in Miami Beach; Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner speeches in various cities; and appearances before some state legislatures, including those in Tennessee and Montana. And as he had done for Democrats in the new state of Alaska in 1958, campaigning for state candidates as Alaska held its first elections, Kennedy visited Hawaii in July 1959 to stump for Democratic candidates there as Hawaii held its first elections later that month. But during his political travels of 1959, Kennedy had some difficult moments too, especially when he faced meager turnouts, as he was still unknown in many locations. “In Oregon,” recalled photographer Jacques Lowe who traveled with JFK for part of 1959, “Kennedy walked into a union hall to find eleven men waiting to hear him.” Undeterred, according to Lowe, JFK didn’t miss a step. “Without hesitation, he launched into his speech.”
October 1959: Sparse greeting committee on hand as JFK, Jackie, & Pierre Salinger arrive in Portland, Oregon. Photo, Jacques Lowe.
In presidential polling that year, Kennedy wasn’t always the top choice of voters, or even considered at the top of the ticket. One Gallup poll of July 22, 1959 had JFK running as Adlai Stevenson’s V.P., with that ticket beating a Nixon- Rockefeller slate by 53%-to- 42%, with 5% undecided. Other polls could and did vary widely, depending on who was making them and the audience being polled. In August 1959, a Congressional Quarterly survey of Democrats in Congress had Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) as the top choice with 32 percent, followed by Sen. Stuart Symington (D-MO) and Adlai Stevenson (D-IL), each with 18 percent. JFK was fourth in that poll with 17 percent. But a Gallup Poll of August 14, 1959 had Kennedy and Stevenson tied for the lead, each at 26 percent, with others far behind. The Chicago Sun Times, a paper with Republican leanings, offered an editorial on the two August polls, stating the Democrats were “a party in search of a candidate.”
Sept 1959: JFK featured on the cover of a Duluth, MN TV Guide booklet for week of Sept 26-Oct 2, as Kennedy was then slated to appear on KDAL-TV, Sept 26, before a live audience. Also shown on the cover are local newsmen, Dick Anthony and Mundo DeYoannes.
During 1959, Kennedy was also still forming his campaign team. On September 1, 1959, Pierre Salinger joined JFK’s campaign staff. Already working for Kennedy in Washington and elsewhere was a core group of insiders including Ted Sorensen, Larry O’Brien, Kenny O’Donnell, Lou Harris, and others. JFK’s younger brother, Bobby, who had formally resigned his Senate Committee position, joined the campaign full-time in September 1959 and would become campaign manager.
Stephen Smith, JFK’s brother-in-law, married to Jean Kennedy, had opened up a Kennedy campaign headquarters in January 1959 at the Esso building in Washington, DC. Smith and other members of Kennedy’s staff and family would also travel with JFK in various combinations as he toured the country in 1959. But Jackie Kennedy, in particular, traveled with him frequently that year, and was with him on some of his lonliest and most difficult campaign stops — including those where JFK was still an unknown quantity, playing second fiddle to local politicians or given ”less-than-spotlight” positions in farm shows, high school assemblies, and union hall meetings.
By September 1959, Kennedy and his team began using their own private plane for campaign travel — a Convair 240 series – which helped smooth some of the logistics and hassles of campaigning. The 1948 airplane was purchased by JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, retrofitted for campaign use, and leased to the campaign though a Kennedy company. The plane, named The Caroline after JFK’s daughter, was a twin-engine craft with Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines. As the campaigning intensified through the following year, The Caroline would provide great travel range and flexibility, and thereby, some advantage to Kennedy over his competitors.
Back in the Senate, meanwhile, JFK kept up with his responsibilities there, attending hearings and working on range of issues, including labor reform legislation, which did not emerge to Kennedy’s liking or labor’s, but did manage to make some improvements. In his Senate capacity, Kennedy was also involved in national defense issues, civil rights matters, aid to cities, foreign affairs issues, and education, among others. He also continued to write articles that would occasionally appear in the popular press, publishing, for example, a TV Guide article on November 14, 1959 on the role of television in politics, billed on the cover as, “How TV Revolutionized Politics by Sen. John F. Kennedy.”
Nov 12, 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy visiting with townspeople in River Falls, Wisconsin.
Other Democratic candidates also began entering the presidential sweepstakes in 1959, either directly or through surrogates. On July 14, 1959 Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy and Governor Orville Freeman announced that Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, would be a candidate for president. In October 1959, U.S. Rep. Sam Rayburn (D-TX), then Speaker of the House, announced the creation of a Johnson-for-President Committee signaling the candidacy of Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, Senate Majority leader. And in late December, Senator Wayne Morse entered the Oregon primary as a favorite son. On December 30th, 1959, Senator Humphrey made his candidacy official. A few days earlier on the Republican side, presidential candidate, New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, withdrew from his party’s race. Vice President Richard Nixon now had clear sailing to the Republican nomination.
Senator Kennedy and his team, meanwhile, in late October 1959, began preparing for the official presidential race the following year, 1960 – a tough year ahead with Democratic Primary battles in the spring leading up to the National Democratic Convention in July.…At the meeting, JFK shone forth as his own brilliant strategist, giving a three-hour presentation that was essentially a detailed political survey of the entire country, with- out notes… On October 28, 1959, a core group of a dozen or more key advisors and staff assembled with Kennedy and his brother Bobby at Hyannis Port, MA. This group had come together to plan political and election-year strategy, primarily for entering and winning a selection of Democratic primaries and winning the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. At the meeting, JFK shone forth as his own brilliant strategist, giving a three-hour presentation that was essentially a detailed political survey of the entire country, without notes, amazing all those assembled. “What I remember,” said Lawrence O’Brien, recounting JFK’s performance to journalist Theodore White, “was his remarkable knowledge of every state, not just the Party leaders, not just the Senators in Washington, but he knew all the factions and key people in all the factions.” Ted Sorensen added that JFK was not only the best candidate, but “the best campaign manager too,” a guy who had an incredible capacity for names, dates and places, and a solid grasp of where he was liked and not liked and why.
1959: JFK captured by photographer Gene Barnes as he addressed a California women’s group in Pomona.
Toward the end of 1959, Senator Kennedy began picking up larger crowds in his campaigning. Still, after three years on the road, the grind of it all no doubt took its toll. Yet those who watched Kennedy up close during this time had mostly good reviews, especially in how JFK treated his audience, as photographer Jacques Lowe later observed:
“If there was anything truly impressive about the Kennedy of the 1959 ‘undercover’ campaign it was this: He never talked down to an audience. If he was addressing a farm group, he didn’t play the cornball or insert small-talk in his speech. He spoke about man’s higher aspirations – simply and never too distantly. His listeners went away occasionally uplifted, occasionally unimpressed, but never patronized.”
What follows below is an abbreviated listing of some of JFK’s travel and speaking itinerary for the year 1959, highlighted with photographs and a few magazine covers from that year. A number of his speeches from 1959 are also listed below in “Sources, Links & Additional Information” at the bottom of this article. See also at this website additional stories on JFK’s “road to the White House,” including separate stories on his campaigning in 1957 and 1958, as well as other stories such as, “The Jack Pack, 1958-1960.” Stay tuned to this website for additional JFK stories in the future. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
One of JFK’s visits in 1959 was the Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, TN, where he visited in February along with wife Jacqueline. DOE photo.
Feb 1959: Jackie & JFK at Oak Ridge Nat’l Labs, Oak Ridge, TN, with Alvin Weinberg and Sen. Al Gore, Sr.
ORNL Director, Alvin Weinberg briefing JFK at the Oak Ridge Graphite Reactor, 1959. DOE photos.
May 9, 1959: Senator Kennedy (left) with Senator Jennings Randolph (white hat) and coal miners, U. S. Steel Cleaning Plant, Gary, WV. WV state archives.
June 1, 1959: JFK on the cover of Newsweek magazine, as the religion issue gets top billing in an early survey for the 1960 race.
Portion of front page from “The Ohio State Morning Lantern” newspaper, Columbus, Ohio, July 2, 1959 reporting on JFK visit to the state in late June 1959.
Sept 19, 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy giving speech at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. Photo, JFK Presidential Library.
Sept. 27 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy and Cleveland Mayor Anthony Celebrezze are featured speakers at the Cuyahoga County Democratic Steer Roast.
Oct 1959: JFK courting Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley at Comiskey Park during Dodgers-White Sox World Series game, along with baseball commissioner "Happy" Chandler (with hat) and Daley’s son, Richard M., then a state senator, in foreground. Chicago Sun-Times.
Oct 5, 1959: Ticket for local dinner at the Hotel Clark in Hastings, NE, featuring Senator John F. Kennedy.
Oct 1959: JFK speaking at the Int’l Rice Festival in Crowley, LA where he and Jackie were hosted by Judge Edmund Reggie, at left, dark suit. E. Reggie Archive.
Oct 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy addressing a crowd of some 130,000 at the Louisiana Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana. Photo, Edmund Reggie archive.
Nov. 2, 1959: Senator Kennedy giving an address at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), CA.
Nov. 1959: JFK with California Gov. Pat Brown on Kennedy’s visit to So. California. Brown was a likely “favorite son” candidate in California’s June 1960 primary, which JFK would not enter. (L.A. Mirror-News).
Fall 1959: A Jacques Lowe photo of JFK, Jackie and brother-in-law Steve Smith (back to camera) at an Oregon diner. JFK then was still unknown in many locations.
November 12, 1959: JFK with students at River Falls State College, River Falls, WI. JFK did not appear bothered by the signmaker’s difficulty in spelling his name.
Nov. 1959: JFK in a quiet moment gazing into a tug boat’s wake during a tour of Coos Bay, Oregon. (Jacques Lowe).
Nov 30, 1959: JFK in Denver, CO where he gave an address to the American Municipal Assoc. Cleveland mayor Anthony J. Celebrezze is seated and Jackson, MS mayor Allen C. Thompson is greeting Kennedy.
Jan 15: Charlotte, NC, Chamber of Com
Jan 31: Phila., PA, Roosevelt Day Dinner
Feb 2: Boston, Harvard /Neiman Fellows
Feb 11: Wash., DC, Rural Electric Co-ops
Feb 15: CBS-TV, Face the Nation
Feb 24: Oak Ridge, TN, Rotary Club Speech
Feb 24: Oak Ridge National Labs Tour
Feb 24: Nashville, TN, Democratic Dinner
Feb 25: Nashville, Tennessee Legislature
Mar 2: Wash., D.C., AFL-CIO Speech
Mar 3: Look magazine, JFK interview
Mar 6: Medford, OR, Roosevelt Day Dinner
Mar 6: Salt Lake City, UT, Roosevelt Dinner
Mar 7: Boise, ID, Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Mar 8: Butte, MT, Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Mar 8: Helena, MT, Montana Legislature
Mar 17: Providence, RI, St. Patrick’s Dinner
Mar 21: Wash., DC, No. Carolina Dem Club
Mar 25: Wash., DC, Nat’l Grain Co-ops
Apr 1: Palm Beach, FL, Strategy Mtg.
Apr 4: Akron, OH, Sheraton-Mayflower
Apr 4: Akron, Beacon-Journal interview
Apr 4: Akron, Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Apr 5: Canton, OH
Apr 5: Cleveland, OH
Apr 5: Newark , NJ
Apr 5: NY City, Lunch, Brook Club
Apr 5: NY City, Adolph Toigo
Apr 9: Milwaukee, WI, Gridiron Dinner
Apr 10: Beloit, WI, Beloit College
Apr 10: Janesville, WI, Union Hall
Apr 12: Indianapolis, Negro College Fund
Apr 13: Indianapolis, Nat’l Library Week
Apr 13: Lafayette, Indiana
Apr 15: Wash., DC, Methodist Bishops
Apr 16: Wash., DC, Civil Liberties Conf
Apr 16: Cleveland, OH, Cleveland Press
Apr 27: College Pk., Univ. of Maryland
Apr 30: NY, NY, Women in Radio & TV
May 1: Sacramento, CA, State Legislature
May 1: Los Angeles, Press Club of L.A.
May 4: Wash., DC, Int’l Conf. India/U.S.
May 8: Boston, MA, LBJ & Truman Dinner
May 9: Gary, WV, US Steel Cleaning Plant
May 9: Welch, WV, Fundraising /Coal Spch
May 15: Miami Bch, Lady Garment Workers
May 19: Portland, OR, Dinner
May 21: Buffalo, NY, Grv. Cleveland Dinner
May 23: Detroit, MI, Jeff-Jack Dinner
May 24: Chicago, Daily News Youth Awards
June 1: Cover story, Newsweek magazine
June 3: NY City, Cap & Millinery Workers
June 6: Garden City, NY, Dem. Dinner
June 8: Boston, MA, J.F. Chapman
June 11: Harvard Commencement
June 15: Bethesda, MD, Chevy Chase H.S.
June 16: Ocean City, Leag. of Municipalities
June 19: Seattle, WA, Press Conference
June 19: Seattle, KIRO Radio (Jackie)
June 19: Seattle, JFK- KING TV taping
June 19: Seattle, WA, Post-Intelligencer June 19: Seattle, Jackie – Dem. Women
June 20: Seattle, Jackie – Women’s Clubs
June 20: Seattle, Eagles Convention
June 20: Seattle, Seattle Times visit
June 20: Seattle, KIRO-TV panel
June 20: Seattle, KIRO-Radio
June 20: Seattle, Jeff-Jack Day Dinner
June 20: Seattle, Democrats /Olympic Hotel
June 21: Seattle, Morning Mass
June 21: Tacoma, WA, Breakfast meeting
June 21: Yakima, WA, Press Conference
June 21: Yakima, Democratic Dinner
June 22: Flight to Chicago-Washington, DC
June 27: Columbus, OH, Press Conference
June 27: Bellaire, OH, Jeff-Jack Day Dinner
June 28: NY, NY, Society of African Culture
July 2: Dallas, TX, State Junior Bar
July 3-4-5: Hawaii Tour & Dem. Candidates
July 13: Spring Lake, NJ, Gov’s Day Picnic
July 30: Milwaukee, TV Taping, WTTI
July 30: Milwaukee, WTNJ, Open Qs
July 30-31: Milwaukee, D.A.’s Convention
Aug 1: Portland, OR, Press Conference
Aug 1: Portland, Broiler Restaurant Mtg.
Aug 1: Portland, Portland Journal Aug 1: Portland, Portland Oregonian Aug 1: Portland, Dave Epps Mem. Dinner
Aug 2: Portland, Church/Mass
Aug 2: Portland, Young Dems Coffee Hour
Aug 2: Portland, Conference
Aug 2: Portland, TV/Bob Holmes/KOIN
Aug 2: Portland, TV/Viewpoint/McCall
Aug 2: Portland, Edith Green Reception
Aug 3: Seaside, OR, AFL-CIO Speech/TV
Aug 3: Seaside, OR, Dinner/G. Brown
Aug 3: Portland, TV/Fennel Program
Aug 9: Omaha, NE, Picnic & Press Conf.
Aug 29: Jackie Kennedy, Life cover story
Sep 1: Pierre Salinger joins JFK
Sep 11: San Francisco, AFL-CIO
Sep 15: Columbus, OH, Arrival
Sep 16: Columbus, OH, Bankers Assoc.
Sep 16: Columbus, Ohio Academy G.P.
Sep 17: Oxford, OH, Miami University
Sep 17: Cincinnati, Campaign Hdqtrs
Sep 17: Cincinnati, Dem. Luncheon
Sep 17: Cincinnati, TV/Radio Press Conf
Sep 17: Cincinnati, High School Editors
Sep 17: Dayton, OH, Press Conference
Sep 17: Dayton, OH, County Bar Assn.
Sep 18: Akron, OH, Press Conference
Sep 18: Akron, League of Municipalities
Sep 18: Athens, OH, Ohio University
Sep 18: Athens, Ohio University Rally
Sep 19: Bowling Green Univ. Reception
Sep 19: Toledo, OH, Dem. Luncheon
Sep 19: Toledo, Press Conf, Perry Hotel
Sep 19: Toledo, Lucas Co. Dem. Picnic
Sep 19: Youngstown, OH, Dem. Dinner
Sep 20: Newport News, VA
Sep 20: Pt. Comfort, Va. Municipalities
Sep 20: Washington, D.C.
Sep 24: Madison, WI, Labor Leaders
Sep 24: Madison, Press /Park Hotel
Sep 24: Madison, Capital Times Sep 24: Darlington, WI, Luncheon spch
Sep 24: Flatteville, WI, State College spch
Sep 24: Lancaster, WI, Court House spch
Sep 24: Prairie du Chein, WI, private mtgs
Sep 24: Prairie du Chein, Dinner w/Dems
Sep 24: Prairie du…, Checkerboard Aud.
Sep 25: Richland Center, WI, Highland Cntr.
Sep 25: Virogua, WI, Griole Café lunch
Sep 25: Sparta, WI, City Aud/Reception
Sep 25: LaCrosse, WI, State College speech
Sep 25: LaCrosse, TV appearance/taping
Sep 25: LaCrosse, Sawyer Aud. speech
Sep 26: Eau Claire, WI
Sep 26: Rice Lake, WI, Land of Lakes Hotel
Sep 26: Rhinelander, WI, A-port Press Conf
Sep 26: Rhinelander, Eagle Hall Temple
Sep 26: Duluth, MN, KDAL-TV, Live
Sep 26: Superior, MN, Central High School
Sep 27: Cleveland, OH, Dem Leaders Lunch
Sep 27: Cleveland, Euclid Beach Pk /Roast
Oct 1: Rochester, NY, Temple B’rith Kodesh
Oct 2: Indianapolis, Mayor Boswell Dinner
Oct 4: Omaha, NE, evening arrival
Oct 5: Fremont, NE, Farm Policy
Oct 5: Columbus, NE, Farm Policy
Oct 5: Norfolk, NE, Farm Policy
Oct 5: Hastings, NE, Farm Policy & Dinner
Oct 9: Fayette City, PA, County Dem Dinner
Oct 10: Wheeling, WV, Airport Press Conf.
Oct 10: Wellsburg, WV w/ Sen. J. Randolph
Oct 10: Charleston, WV, w/Sen. J. Randolph
Oct 11: Westchester, NY, Dem Picnic
Oct 11: Westchester Country Club
Oct 11: New Haven, CT, Negro Reception
Oct 11: New Haven, Cocktail Party
Oct 11: New Haven, Democratic Women
Oct 12: Atlantic City, NJ, UAW Convention
Oct 12: Atlantic City, Small World taping
Oct 12: Washington, DC, Arrive Home
Oct 13: Lincoln, NE, Brkfst, Gov’s Mansion
Oct 13: Lincoln, Press Conference
Oct 13: Lincoln, Nebraskan Wesleyan Univ.
Oct 13: Lincoln, Service Clubs of Lincoln
Oct 13: Lincoln, Mtg w/ Nebraska Friends
Oct 13: Lincoln, Dem Recep / KETV Tape
Oct 13: Lincoln, NE, AFL-CIO St. Convnt’n
Oct 14: Kearney, NE, Teachers College
Oct 14: Kearney, Press Conference
Oct 14: Kearney, Reception
Oct 14: Grand Island, NE, Chamber of Com
Oct 14: North Platte, NE, Dem Reception
Oct 14: Scotts Bluff, NE, Dem Dinner
Oct 15: Baton Rouge, LA, Capitol Hse Hotel
Oct 15: New Orleans, Press Conference
Oct 15: New Orleans, Radio/TV News group
Oct 15: New Orleans, Candidates Reception
Oct 16: New Orleans, Negro Dem Leaders
Oct 16: Lafayette, LA, E. Reggie Reception
Oct 16: Lafayette, LA, Old Bourne C. Club
Oct 16: Crowley, LA, Int’l Rice Festival
Oct 16: Lake Charles, LA
Oct 17: Milwaukee, WI. Airport Press Conf.
Oct 17: Milwaukee, Pulaski Day / Poland
Oct 17: Waukesha, WI, Luncheon
Oct 17: Milwaukee, WISN-TV
Oct 17: Milwaukee, Schroeder Hotel Recep
Oct 18: San Francisco, CA, Press Conf
Oct 18: San Francisco, League of Calif Cities
Oct 18: San Francisco, Dem. Reception
Oct 18: Salem, OR, Arrival
Oct 20: Salem, Committee at Berg Home
Oct 20: Salem, Willamette University
Oct 20: Portland, OR, Municipalities Lunch
Oct 20: Portland, Coffee, YMCA
Oct 20: Portland, Clakamas County Dinner
Oct 21, Portland, Democratic Roundtable
Oct 21: Portland, Portland Realty Board
Oct 21: Portland, Portland State College
Oct 22: New York, NY, Al Smith Dinner
Oct 24: Bloomington, IL, Dem. Reception
Oct 24: Springfield, IL, Press Luncheon
Oct 24: Springfield, Midwest Farm Conf.
Oct 24: Joliet, IL, Local Dems
Oct 24: Joliet, IL, Democratic Dinner
Oct 24: Joliet, IL, American Legion Hall
Oct 25: Rockford, IL, Dem Breakfast
Oct 25: Rockford, IL, Tebala Shrine Temple
Oct 25: DeKalb, IL, County Chairmen
Oct 25: DeKalb, IL, Elk’s Club Luncheon
Oct 25: DeKalb, IL, Egyptian Theater
Oct 25: Rock Island/Moline, IL
Oct 25: Rock Island, IL, Dem Reception
Oct 25: Moline, IL, Le Claire Theatre Rally
Oct 26: Quincy, IL, TV Press Conference
Oct 26: Quincy, IL, Dem Reception
Oct 26: Quincy, IL, Quincy College
Oct 26: Peoria, IL, Democratic Luncheon
Oct 26: Peoria, IL, Press Conference
Oct 26: Decatur, IL, Reception
Oct 26: Decatur, Masonic Temple, Press
Oct 26: Decatur, Masonic Temple Dinner
Oct 26: Decatur, Masonic Temple TV Spch
Oct 28: Hyannis Port, MA, Strategy Mtg
Oct 30: Oakland, CA, Mills College speech
Oct 31: Bakersfield, CA, Press Conference
Oct 31: Santa Monica, CA, Airport Recep.
Oct 31: Lompoc, CA, La Purisma Inn Lunch
Oct 31: Lompoc High School
Oct 31: San Diego, CA, Press Conference
Oct 31: San Diego, John A. Vietor Reception
Oct 31: San Diego County Dems Dinner
Nov 1: San Diego, CA
Nov 1: Burbank, CA, Lockheed Terminal
Nov 1: Hollywood, CBS-Taping, Inquiry Nov 1: Riverside, CA, Press Conf
Nov 1: Riverside, Arnold Heights School
Nov 1: Anaheim, CA, Disneyland by Rail
Nov 1: Anaheim, Orange Co. Democrats
Nov 1: Los Angeles, CA, Reception
Nov 1: Los Angeles, Ambassador of Ceylon
Nov 2: Los Angeles, Press Conference
Nov 2: Los Angeles, UCLA Reception
Nov 2: Los Angeles, UCLA /Royce Hall
Nov 2: Los Angeles, U of So. Cal Reception
Nov 2: U of So. Cal, Address Student Rally
Nov 2: Los Angeles, Jeff-Jack Day Dinner
Nov 5: Klamath Falls, OR
Nov 6: Klamath Falls, OR, Democrats
Nov 6: Coos Bay, OR, Lions Club Luncheon
Nov 6: Coos Bay, Barge Trip of Harbor
Nov 6: Coos Bay, Democratic Dinner
Nov 7: Bend, OR, Jr. Chamber Luncheon
Nov 7: North Bend, OR, No. Bend H. S.
Nov 7: Pendleton, OR, Press Conference
Nov 7: Umatilla Co Dem Party Dinner
Nov 8: Milton-Freewater, OR, Reception
Nov 8: Walla Walla, Reception
Nov 8: Baker, OR, Democratic Dinner
Nov 8: Baker, OR, KBKR Radio
Nov 9: La Grande, Luncheon
Nov 9: La Grande, E. Oregon College
Nov 9: Portland, OR, Mtg. w/ Labor
Nov 12: Minneapolis, A-port Press Conf.
Nov 12: River Falls, WI, RF State College
Nov 12: Eau Claire, Elks Club Luncheon
Nov 12: Eau Claire, WI, EC State College
Nov 12: Eau Claire, WEAU-TV
Nov 12: Marshfield, WI, Hotel Charles
Nov 13: Portage, WI, Portage High School
Nov 13: Watertown, WI, Dem. Luncheon
Nov 13: Milwaukee, Marquette University
Nov 13: Kenosha, WI, Labor Leaders
Nov 13: Kenosha, WI, Dem State Convntn
Nov 13: Kenosha, Hotel Wisconsin Recep.
Nov 14: TV Guide, JFK on TV & Politics
Nov 14: Oklahoma City, OK, Press Conf
Nov 14: Norman, OK, OU-v-Army game
Nov 14: Oklahoma City, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Nov 15: Hyannis Port, MA
Nov 15: Augusta, ME, Gov. Clauson
Nov 15: Augusta, Dem. Party Dinner
Nov 16: Wash., DC, Nat’l Milk Producers
Nov 17: Wilmington, DE, DuPont/Hercules
Nov 17: Wilmington, Bldg. Trades Union
Nov 17: Wilmington, Press Conference
Nov 17: Wilm., DE, Brandywine 100 Dinner
Nov 19: Kansas City, MO, Arrival
Nov 19: Independence, MO, Harry Truman
Nov 19: Kansas City, Nat’l Guard Armory
Nov 19: Kansas City, Dem Luncheon
Nov 19: Kansas City, Local Labor Leaders
Nov 19: Wichita, KS, Labor Meeting
Nov 19: Wichita, Hotel Allis, Press Conf
Nov 19: Wichita, Democratic Reception
Nov 19: Wichita, Democratic Dinner
Nov 20: Wichita, Cerebral Palsy Home
Nov 20: Wichita, Wichita University
Nov 20: Dodge City, KS, Dem Reception
Nov 20: Hays, KS, Press Conference
Nov 20: Hays, KS, Democratic Dinner
Nov 21: Iowa City, IA, State Committee
Nov 21: Iowa City, Iowa Memorial Union
Nov 21: Iowa City, Speak at Reception
Nov 21: Iowa City, Univ. Club Luncheon
Nov 21: Iowa City, Iowa vs. Notre Dame
Nov 21: Des Moines, IA
Nov 21: Carroll, IA
Nov 28: Denver, CO, Democratic Dinner
Nov 28: Boulder, CO, Dem. Reception
Nov 29: Pueblo, CO, Democratic Dinner
Nov 30: Grand Junction, CO, Dem. Dinner
Nov 30: Denver, American Municipal Assn.
Dec 2: Durham, NC, Duke University
Dec 7: NY City: Pres. Truman Reception
Dec 7: NY City, Eleanor Roosevelt Tribute
Dec 8: NY City
Dec 9: Nebraskans for Kennedy opens
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, PA, Bishop Wright
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, PA, Press Conf.
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, Univ of Pittsburgh
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, Dem. Luncheon
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, KDKA, “Sound Off”
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, WIIC-TV
Dec 10: Pittsburgh, Allegheny Bar Assn.
Dec 11: Gary, IN, Hotel Gary Reception
Dec 11: Gary, IN, Benefit Banquet
Dec 17: Washington Post: JFK to Announce
Note: This listing provides a rough overview of JFK’s 1959 travel itinerary, speeches, and other activities at the listed locations. Some dates and events are “best approximations” given uncertain and/or conflicting sourcing information. More detailed information on JFK’s activities at some of the these locations is available at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. The full titles of a number of his major speeches in 1959 are included below, in the second half of “Sources.” More photos also follow below.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Early Campaign: 1959,” PopHistoryDig.com, September 10, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
August 24, 1959: Life magazine cover story: “Jackie Kennedy, A Front Runner’s Appealing Wife.”
October 1959: Jackie Kennedy looking out on the scene at the Int’l Rice Festival in Crowley, LA, where JFK addressed a crowd of more than 130,000. Edmund Reggie archive.
January 1959: Senator Kennedy and wife Jacqueline at reception of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.
May 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy being briefed by local officials in West Virginia in early May.
1959: JFK spoke at a sold out Democratic party banquet at the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville, TN, late winter. Mayor Ben West, right, acted as toastmaster for the event. Nashville Archives.
1959: U.S. Senator Al Gore, Sr.(D-TN), left, Nashville Mayor’s wife, Mrs. Ben West, sit with Senator John F. Kennedy at Democratic Party dinner. Nashville Archives.
1959: Local dignitaries greet Senator John F. Kennedy at Tillamook Naval Air Station, Tillamook, Oregon.
September 25, 1959: Cover of Dinner Program for the Democratic Party of La Crosse County, Wisconsin, featuring guest speaker, U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy.
Nov 13, 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy addressing an audience at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI.
October 1959: JFK being interviewed by Rev. Rawley Meyers, a reporter for the “Southern Nebraska Register,” a Catholic newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Oct 1959: JFK, who generally avoided donning gift hats of any kind, shown here in a “rice hat” awarded him at the Int’l Rice Festival in Crowley, LA. Edwin Edwards, later governor, shown at far right. Edmund Reggie archive.
Historical marker in Crowley, LA, commemorating the date and location of JFK’s October 16th, 1960 speech before “an enthusiastic crown of thousands of Louisianans” at 23rd International Rice Festival.
November 19, 1959: Former President Harry S. Truman greeting Senator John F. Kennedy at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
John F. Kennedy marker at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, commemorating JFK’s visit there, September 18, 1959, quoting from his speech: "With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love..."
Dec 2, 1959: JFK before his address at Page Auditorium, Duke University. Kennedy is standing in the Music Room of the Flowers Building. Photo, Duke University.
Headline from a Los Angeles Times newspaper story describing a speech Senator John F. Kennedy had given on November 1, 1959 at a Democratic dinner in L.A.
April 10, 1959: Senator John F. Kennedy photographed from balcony as he spoke to a capacity crowd in the Eaton Chapel of Beloit College, Beloit, WI.
1959: JFK attends Harvard commencement as a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers. He is talking with Harvard Treasurer, Paul C. Cabot (in top hat) and Sidney Weinberg, senior partner at Goldman Sachs, who received an honorary degree that day.
1959: JFK and Jackie in parade during campaign trip to Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo, Mark Shaw.
1959: Jackie Kennedy saying a few words on campaign trail with JFK in West Virginia. Photo, Mark Shaw.
Oct 31, 1959: Cover of dinner program honoring Senator John F. Kennedy who would deliver a speech that evening before the sponsoring Democratic Committee of San Diego County, California.
March 1959: JFK and Jackie being greeted by local delegation upon their arrival in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sept 18, 1959: JFK in candid moment with Ohio University officials during his visit there.
Feb 1959: JFK with Oak Ridge Nat’l Labs Director Alvin Weinberg, Sen. Al Gore Sr (D-TN), and wife Jacqueline Kennedy, Oak Ridge, TN. DOE photo.
Feb 1959: JFK, Jackie & Senator Gore being briefed by ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg (scene later made into mural, as shown below). DOE photo.
Oak Ridge National Labs Visitor Center mural of February 1959 visit to ORNL by Sen. John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, and Sen. Al Gore, Sr., then being briefed by ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg.
1959: JFK talking with his sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford and her husband, Peter Lawford, at unidentified restaurant.
Aug 21, 1959: JFK with family sailing off Hyannis, MA.
August 21, 1959: Jackie, JFK, and family members returning to shore after sailing off Hyannis, MA.
1959: JFK, daughter Caroline, and Jackie near the shoreline at Hyannis Port, MA. Photo, Mark Shaw.
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.
Jacques Lowe, Portrait: The Emergence of John F. Kennedy, New York: Bramhall House / McGraw-Hill, 1961.
The New York Times, with photographs by Jacques Lowe, The Kennedy Years, New York: Viking Press, 1964.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Chamber of Commerce Dinner, Charlotte, North Carolina, “Labor Racketeering,” January 15, 1959, 43pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Roosevelt Day Dinner, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “Liberalism,” January 31,1959, 34pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, National Rural Electrification Cooperative Association, Washington, D.C., “Power Policy,” February 11, 1959, 6pp.
Remarks in the United States Senate by Senator Kennedy, “The Economic Gap,” February 19, 1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Tennessee Rotary Club, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, “Nuclear Weapons,” February 24, 1959, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Nashville, Tennessee, “The Democratic Party,” February 24, 1959, 35pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Joint Session of the Tennessee Legislature, Nashville, Tennessee, “Leadership,” February 25, 1959, 13pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Dept., National Legislative Conference, Wash., D.C., “Labor Legislation,” March 2, 1959, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Roosevelt Day Dinner, Medford, Oregon, “Water Resource Development,” March 6, 1959, 2pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Roosevelt Day Dinner, Salt Lake City, Utah, “The Democratic Party,” March 6, 1959, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Boise, Idaho, “Water Resource Development; The Democratic Party,” March 7, 1959, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Butte, Montana, “Unemployment Compensation,” March 8, 1959, 4pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Montana Legislature, Helena, Montana, “Leadership,” March 8, 1959, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s Dinner, Providence, Rhode Island, “Irish History,” March 17, 1959, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, North Carolina Democratic Club Annual Dinner, Washington, D.C., “National Security,” March 21, 1959, 32pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, National Federation of Grain Cooperatives Annual Spring Conference, Washington, D.C., “Federal Farm Policy,” March 25, 1959, 22pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Milwaukee Gridiron Dinner, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “Free Press,” April 9, 1959, 18pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, United Negro College Fund Convocation, Indianapolis, Indiana, “American Education,” April 12, 1959, 20pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Meeting Opening National Library Week, Indianapolis, Indiana, “The Public Library,” April 13, 1959, 4pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, National Civil Liberties Clearing House Annual Conference, Washington, D.C., “Civil Liberties,” April 16, 1959, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Cleveland Press Book and Author Luncheon, Cleveland, Ohio, “The Public Library,” April 16, 1959, 25pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the American Women in Radio and TV, New York, New York, “Women in Professions; Labor Racketeering,” April 30, 1959, 51pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the California Legislature, Sacramento, CA, “Leadership,” May 1, 1959, 13pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Press Club of Greater Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, “Labor Racketeering,” May 1,1959, 29pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Committee for International Economic Growth Conference on India and the United States, Washington, D.C., “The Bases of U.S. Interest in India-Its New Dimensions,” May 4, 1959, 43pp.
Introduction by Senator Kennedy of Lyndon B. Johnson, Truman Dinner, Boston, Massachusetts. May 8, 1959, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Fund-Raising Dinner, Welch, West Virginia, “Depressed Areas Legislation; Coal,” May 9, 1959, 25pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, International Ladies Garment Workers Union Annual Convention, Miami Beach, Florida, “Labor Racketeering,” May 15,1959, 39pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Grover Cleveland Dinner, Buffalo, New York. “Labor Racketeering; The Democratic Party,” May 21, 1959, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Detroit, Michigan, “Ten Revolutions of Our Time,” May 23,1959, 33pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Chicago Daily News Youth Achievement Awards Program, Chicago, Illinois, “Careers in Politics,” May 24, 1959, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers Convention, New York, New York, “Labor Racketeering; Immigration,” June 3, 1959, 41 pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Garden City, New York, “The Democratic Party,” June 6, 1959, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda, Maryland, “Careers in Politics,” June 15, 1959, 17pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy Before the League of Municipalities, Ocean City, Maryland, “Urban Problems,” June 16, 1959, 25pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Fraternal Order of Eagles Convention, Seattle, WA, “Unemployment Compensation; Social Security,” June 20, 1959, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Seattle, Washington, “The Democratic Party,” June 20, 1959, 28pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Yakima, Washington, “The Democratic Party; Water Resource Development,” June 21, 1959, 29pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Bellaire, Ohio, “The Democratic Party,” June 27,1959, 26pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, American Society of African Culture Annual Conference, New York, New York, “Africa,” June 28, 1959, 44pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Hawaii Tour, Hawaii, “The U.S. and Hawaii and Our Future in Asia; The Democratic Party,” July 3-July 5, 1959, 39pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Essex County Democratic Governor’s Day Annual Picnic, Spring Lake, New Jersey, “Urban Overpopulation,” July 13, 1959, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, District Attorneys’ Convention, Milwaukee, WI, “Labor and Business Racketeering,” July 31, 1959, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Dave Epps Memorial Dinner, Portland, Oregon, “Geneva Conference on Atomic Testing and Surprise Attack,” August 1, 1959, 21 pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AFL-CIO Convention, Seaside, OR, “Labor Racketeer-ing; Unemployment Compensation; Care of the Aged,” August 3,1959, 11 pp.
Remarks in the United States Senate by Senator Kennedy, “The Power of Labor for the Good of America,” September 10,1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AFL-CIO Convention of Building Trades, San Francisco, California, “Labor Legislation,” September 11, 1959, 111pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Montgomery County Bar Association Dinner, Dayton, Ohio, “Labor Racketeering; The Steel Strike and the Taft-Hartley Law,” September 17,1959, 27pp.
Speech Introductions by Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Athens, Ohio; Lucas County Democratic Picnic, Toledo, Ohio, September 18, 1959-September 19, 1959, 3pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Temple B’rith Kodesh Temple Club, Rochester, New York, “Israel–A Land of Paradoxes,” October 1, 1959, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Mayor Charles Boswell Dinner, Indianapolis, Indiana. “National Security,” October 2, 1959, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Washington County Democratic Dinner, Fayette City, Pennsylvania, “The Steel Strike and the Taft-Hartley Law,” October 9, 1959, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, UAW Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, “Economic Development,” October 12, 1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AFL-CIO State Convention, Lincoln, Nebraska, “Labor Racketeering,” October 13, 1959, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Radio and Television News Directors Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, The Role of the Media,” October 15, 1959, 7pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Pulaski Day, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “U.S. Policy Toward Poland and Other Captive Nations,” October 17, 1959, 11 pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Portland Realty Board Luncheon, Portland, Oregon, “The Future of Housing and Real Estate,” October 21, 1959, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AI Smith Dinner, New York, New York, “A Tribute to AI Smith,” October 22, 1959, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Midwest Farm Conference, Springfield, Illinois, “Federal Farm Policy,” October 24, 1959, 7pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Mills College, Oakland, California, “Mills College and the Loyalty Oath,” October 30, 1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, UCLA Student Convocation, Los Angeles, California, “The Control of Nuclear Weapons,” November 2, 1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, “The Future of America; Depletion Tax Allowances,” November 14,1959, 11pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Annual Convention, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “U.S.-Soviet Competition,” November 14, 1959, 10pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Maine Democratic Party Issues Conference Banquet, Augusta, Maine. “Electrical Energy in Maine,” November 15, 1959, 4pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the National Milk Producers Federation, Washington, D.C., “Federal Farm Policy; The Dairy Farmer: The Challenge Ahead,” November 16,1959, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Luncheon, Kansas City, Kansas, “U.S.-Soviet Competition,” November 19, 1959, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Wichita, Kansas, “The 1960 Election-and 1968,” November 19, 1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Reception, Dodge City, Kansas, “Federal Farm Policy,” November 20, 1959, 7pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Denver, Colorado. “U.S.-Soviet Competition; Water and Power Development Memorandum,” November 28, 1959, 13pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Reception, Boulder, Colorado, “Loyalty Oath,” November 28, 1959, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Reception, Pueblo, Colorado, “Labor Legislation,” November 29, 1959, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Grand Junction, Colorado, “Water Resource Development,” November 30, 1959, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the American Municipal Association, Denver, Colorado, “Urban Problems,” November 30, 1959, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Allegheny County Bar Association, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “Administrative Justice and Delay,” December 10, 1959, 9pp.
March 1958: Senator John F. Kennedy and wife, Jacqueline, campaigning for his Senate re-election in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He won his Senate race with more than 73% of the vote, boosting his presidential profile for 1960.
In 1958, the second year of Senator John F. Kennedy’s “unofficial” campaign for president, the junior senator from Massachusetts also faced a re-election campaign at home for his senate seat. But Kennedy’s Senate race in Massachusetts also figured into his presidential calculus, as he set out to win re-election by a wide margin, believing this would improve his visibility in the party and nationally. Kennedy figured correctly, as he did receive increased attention after winning 73.6 percent of votes cast in that race, the largest popular margin ever received by a candidate in the state. A poll of Democratic chairmen in Massachusetts not long after the election put Kennedy at the top of their list for the 1960 presidential nomination. So, even with his Senate re-election campaign, JFK was eying the bigger prize. And throughout 1958, in addition to campaigning in Massachusetts, he also traveled extensively across the U.S., meeting with party officials, the media, and giving speeches. It was all part of his presidential and Democratic Party ground game.
Feb 24, 1958: JFK at the Sunday Evening Forum in Tucson, Arizona where he was asked if a man his age could be president. Kennedy, 42 at the time, responded: "I don't know about a 42-year-old man, but I think a 43-year-old man can." Photo, Tucson Citizen.
His speeches and appearances ranged from his denunciation of “venal and irresponsible” labor lawyers in a Fordham Law School speech in February 1958 – then referring to lawyers he had observed during his time on the Senate Rackets Committee – to an appearance and speech at the Annual National Corn Picking Contest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in October 1958 where he spoke about federal farm policy. During 1958, a few notable Democrats were beginning to endorse JFK for the 1960 presidential nomination – not least of whom was Gov. Abraham A. Ribicoff of Connecticut, who announced in mid-May 1958 at the Governors Conference in Miami his backing of Kennedy for president. In June, Kennedy was on the cover of Newsweek, offered as a contender. In July, Cabell Phillips of the New York Times, wrote that Senator John F. Kennedy – “the handsome, well-endowed young author-statesman from Massachusetts” – was the man “many Democrats regard as their surest bet in the campaign to ‘Stop Nixon in ’60’.” By late September that year, a gathering at the Southern Governors Conference also indicated that Kennedy appeared to be the favorite Democratic presidential candidate.
Nov. 1958: JFK posing for portrait photo at the home of Peter and Patricia Lawford, Santa Monica, CA. Los Angeles Times photographer William S. Murphy took the photo for a story on JFK that appeared the next day.
In 1958, Kennedy was also stumping for his party, boosting Democratic candidates across the U.S. for the mid-term elections that year. On one trip he made into West Virginia to support local candidates, New York Times reporter James Reston, then traveling with Kennedy, noted that JFK was “quietly but diligently building support these days for the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination.” Kennedy was in the state, Reston reported, “helping the West Virginia Democrats candidates in the hope that they will in turn help him two years from now.” Nor was this a “new adventure” for the senator, as Reston explained: “Ever since his strong bid for the Democratic Vic Presidential nomination in 1956, he has been methodically going from one state to another, meeting party leaders, speaking at party rallies and getting himself known.”
Kennedy also made a trip to Alaska on November 11th and 12th, 1958, then helping to boost Democratic candidates there for a special November 25th election, as Alaska was becoming a new state. Following his Alaska visit, Kennedy headed south to California for a brief rest and visit at his sister and brother-in-law’s home – Patricia and Peter Lawford – in Santa Monica. Kennedy was also there to serve as godfather at the baptism of the Lawford’s third child, Victoria. While at the Lawfords, Kennedy did an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter on November 13th. It was the week following the 1958 mid-term elections, and Kennedy spoke about the election and the Democrats. During th einterview, he was also asked about his candidacy for president in 1960, to which he replied: “It’s too early. The wheels spin around pretty fast. A year from now I’ll have an answer to that one. All I want to do now is thaw out. It was 4 below when I left Fairbanks Wednesday morning.”
1958: JFK & Jackie riding in car during campaign event & parade in Boston. Photo, Carl Mydans.
What follows below is an abbreviated listing of some of JFK’s travel and speaking itinerary for the year 1958, highlighted with a few photographs and a couple of magazine covers also from that year. A number of his speeches from 1958 are also listed below in “Sources, Links & Additional Information” at the bottom of this article. See also at this website, “JFK Early Campaign, 1957” and “The Jack Pack, 1958-1960.” Additional stories on JFK’s road to the White House in 1960 will be posted in future weeks. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you.
– Jack Doyle
1958: JFK campaigning in Massachusetts for re-election, with campaign aide handing out bumper stickers.
Feb. 1958, NY: Laurence J. McGinley, president of Fordham University, presents Senator Kennedy with honorary degree at Fordham Law Association luncheon.
1958: Sen. Kennedy shaking hands with Massachusetts shipyard workers during his re-election campaign.
June 1958: Newsweek magazine put JFK on the cover of its June 23rd issue with taglines: “Jack Kennedy - Shadows of ’60" / “Out in Front? Out on a Limb?”
1958: Senator Kennedy visiting with former president Herbert Hoover in Washington, D.C.
1958: Senator John F. Kennedy in New Bedford, MA during his 1958 senate re-election campaign.
Nov. 24th, 1958, Time magazine, featuring seven "Democratic Hopefuls" in the early bidding for the 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left: Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Sen. Stuart Symington (MO), Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Gov. Robert Meyner, Sen. John F. Kennedy (MA) and then California Gov.-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.
Jan 12: Boston, MA, Knights of Columbus
Jan 16: NY, NY, Boy Scouts of America
Jan 20: Richmond, VA, Women’s Club
Feb 4: Latrobe, PA, St. Vincents College
Feb 7: Lynn, MA, Hotel Edison Spch
Feb 8: Maiden, MA, Torbert MacDonald
Feb 9: NY, NY, B’nai Zion Banquet
Feb 11: Philadelphia, PA, La Salle College
Feb 13: Wash., DC, John Carroll Society
Feb 15: NY, NY, Fordham Law Alumni
Feb 18: Baltimore, MD, Loyola College
Feb 20: Cleveland, OH, Book & Authors
Feb 22: Tucson, AZ, Democratic Dinner
Feb 23: Tucson, AZ, Democratic Forum
Feb 24: Denver, CO, Denver University
Feb 26: Wash., DC, Conf on Int’l Aid
Feb 27: Baltimore, MD, U.N. Assoc.
Mar 1: Los Angeles, CA, FDR Dinner
Mar 2: Chicago, IL, Polish Daily News Mar 6: Baltimore, MD, WBC Conf.
Mar 7: Bristol, VA, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Mar 8: Charlottesville, VA, Univ of VA
Mar 10: Boston, Harvard Bd of Overseers
Mar 12: Wash., DC, AFL-CIO Conference
Mar 13: Wash., DC, Women’s Dem Club
Mar 13: ABC-TV, Navy Log: PT 109 Mar 15: Wash., DC, Gridiron Club Dinner
Mar 16: Boston Univ /Newman Breakfast
Mar 16: Holyoke, MA, Holyoke Parade
Mar 16: Maiden, MA, John Volpe Co.
Mar 16: Everett, MA, Sons of St. Patrick
Mar 17: Boston, St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Mar 17: Lawrence, MA, St. Patrick’s Dance
Mar 19: Wash., DC, YMCA Dinner Spch
Mar 21: Boston, MA, Harvard Club Spch
Mar 22: Des Moines, IA, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Mar 23: Roxbury, MA, Freedom House
Mar 25: U.S. Senate, Development in India
Mar 29: Indianapolis, IN, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Mar 30: Boston, MA, Greek Celebration
May 1: Haverhill, MA, Chamb of Commerce
May 3: W. Springfield, MA, Industry Spch
May 3: Wallingford, CT, Choate Alum Day
May 4: Fall River, MA, Daugthers of Isabella
May 8: Senate spch, “Unemployment Comp”
May 10: Fitchburgh, MA, JFK spch read
May 11: Wash., DC, “The State of Israel”
May 12: Boston, Harvard Bd of Overseers
May 13:Wilkes-Barre, PA, Chamb of Com.
May 14: Atlantic City, NJ, Clothing Workers
May 14: Boston, “The Diocese of Boston”
May 15: Lawrence, MA, “Unemployment”
May 15: Chestnut Hill, MA, Boston College
May 16: Madison, WI, Univ. of Wisconsin
May 17: Milwaukee, WI, Jeff-Jack Dinner
May 18: Eugene, OR, Jeff-Jack Day Dinner
May 19: Gov. Ribbicoff (CT), Endorses JFK
May 30: Dorchester, MA, Memorial Day
May 31: New Hampshire, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Jun 1: Boston, State of Israel Celebration
Jun 2: Wash., DC, Trinity College
Jun 4: Wash., DC, Freedman Hospital
Jun 7: Boston, N.E. College of Pharmacy
Jun 7: Manchester, NH, “Democratic Party”
Jun 8: Northampton, MA, Smith College
Jun 9: Quincy, IL, Quincy College
Jun 11: Morgantown, WV Jeff-Jack Dinner
Jun 14: Casper, WY, Democratic Dinner
Jun 15: Billings, MT, Democratic Dinner
Jun 20: Salem, MA, Homecoming/Salem
Jun 23:White Sulph Sprgs, Tobacco Assoc.
Jun 27: Harford, CT, State Dems Conv’tn
Aug 14: Senate Remarks, “Military Gap”
Aug 20: Boston, Am. Hellenic Educators
Sep 10: Atlantic City, NJ, Bakery Workers
Sep 11: Miami Beach, U.S. Mayors Conf.
Sep 18: Atlantic City, NJ, Steelworkers
Sep 24: Gloucester, MA, Senate Campaign
Sep 24: Danvers, MA, Hunt Mem Hospital
Sep 24: Swampscott, MA, Lady Elks Spch
Sep 25: Newburyport, MA, Mtg w Reporters
Sep 25: Andover, MA, Tyre Rubber Co.
Sep 26: Burlington, VT, Rural Co-ops
Sep 27: Greenfield, MA, Greenfield H.S.
Sep 27: Northhampton, MA, City Hall
Sep 28: Pittsfield / North Adams, MA
Sep 28: Holyoke, MA, War Mem Bldg
Sep 29: Springfield, MA, Milton Bradley Co
Sep 29: Westfield, MA, H.B. Smith Co.
Sep 29: Agawan, MA, Shopping Center
Sep 29: W. Springfield, Pub Square Mtg
Sep 29: Chicopee, MA, United Fund Dinner
Oct 2: Worcester, MA, Assumption College
Oct 3: Boston, Massachusetts Realtors
Oct 4: Concord, NH, Ed for Pub Service
Oct 8: Dover, DE, Rally at State Capitol
Oct 10: Parkersburg, WV, for Mid-Terms
Oct 17: Cedar Rapids, IA, “Farm Policy”
Oct 21: WHYN-TV, Sen. Kennedy Story Oct 24: Frank Sinatra endorses JFK
Oct 25: Boston, Samuel Gompers Mem.
Nov 5: JFK re-elected U.S. Senator
Nov 10: Juneau, AK, Alaska Dem Party
Nov 11: Alaska Tour / Democratic Party
Nov 12: Fairbanks, AK
Nov 13: Santa Monica, CA, R&R
Nov 14: Los Angeles Times story/profile
Nov 15: Puerto Rico, Democratic Dinner
Dec 16: St. Thomas, V.I., Dem. Party
Dec 19: Lou Harris hired as JFK pollster
Note: The above listing of Sen. Kennedy’s travels and speeches in 1958 may not include all of his activities during that year, especially in Massa- chusetts where he had many multiple-town stops during his Senate re-election campaign. The full titles of a number of his major speeches are included below, in the second half of “Sources.” More photos also follow below.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Early Campaign: 1958,” PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
October 2, 1958: Senator John F. Kennedy speaking at Assumption College, Worcester, MA.
October 2, 1958: Senator Kennedy unveiling a portrait of his brother at dedication of Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Science Hall, Assumption College.
March 15, 1958: Kennedy brothers, from left, Teddy, Jack and Bobby, at Gridiron Club in Washington, DC, where JFK delivered a speech.
March 1958: Jacqueline Kennedy and JFK during a reception at the University of Southern California.
March 1958: Senator Kennedy holding baby daughter, Caroline, with Jackie at his side, photographed in their Georgetown /Wash., DC home by Life magazine photo-grapher Ed Clark for magazine issue below.
The April 21st1958 edition of Life magazine featured the young Kennedy family on its cover, with the tagline, “Jacqueline, Caroline and Jack Kennedy.”
June 2, 1958, Wash., DC: JFK at Trinity College greeting graduate Barbara Bailey and her father, John Bailey, who became a key operative & strategist in JFK’s 1960 victory. Barbara Bailey Kennelly later won a seat in the U.S. Congress (D-CT) and also ran for governor.
1958: Senator John F. Kennedy & Jackie greeting Boston police officer on Chelsea Street in south Boston.
Feb 11, 1958: Sen. Kennedy with La Salle College officials in Phila., PA, where he received an honorary degree and delivered a speech, “Careers in Politics.”
March 1958: Jacqueline Kennedy with the three Kennedy brothers at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, where Teddy (left) was then a student, Bobby (right) a law school graduate, and JFK (center), there to give a speech at the Law School’s first Law Day.
October 26th, 1958: Senator Kennedy campaigning for re-election and visiting with textile workers at the Charlton Woolen Co. plant in Charlton, MA.
Cover of “A Nation of Immigrants,” a book begun by JFK in 1958 when he was a U.S. Senator and published after his death in 1964.
Martin Sandler’s 2013 compilation of JFK’s letters range from those sent to Martin Luther King and Clare Booth Luce, to John Wayne and Nikita Khrushchev, among others.
Maureen Harris and Steve Gilbert have complied 30 of JFK’s speeches in their 2013 “Word For Word” book.
Edward Claflin’s 1991 book, “JFK Wants to Know: Memos From the President's Office, 1961-1963,” includes a preface by JFK insider, Pierre Salinger.
An October 2013 New York Times book, “The Kennedy Years,” includes NYT news stories and columns of that era, special essays, and some 125 photos.
John Newman’s 1992 book, “JFK and Vietnam.”
Cover photo from John Logsdon’s 2010 book, “John F. Kennedy and The Race to the Moon.”
Jeff Greenfield’s October 2013 book, “If Kennedy Lived,” poses a “what if” historical scenario.
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.
Jacques Lowe, Portrait: The Emergence of John F. Kennedy, New York: Bramhall House/McGraw-Hill, 1961.
The New York Times, with photographs by Jacques Lowe, The Kennedy Years, New York: Viking Press, 1964.
“Senator John F. Kennedy, Alaskan Tour Papers, 1958,” Alaska State Library, Historical Collections. In November 1958, the Democratic Party held a speaking tour in Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks to promote its candidates for Alaskan offices. The keynote speaker of this tour was John F. Kennedy, accompanied by former Governor Ernest Gruening of Alaska, E.L. Bartlett, and Governor William Egan.
“Archive Photos: Kennedy and Johnson in Tucson,”AzStarNet.com, July 27, 2012.
“John F. Kennedy – 1958 Campaigning for Senator in New Bedford, MA,” Whaling City.net.
JFK Speeches & Remarks: 1958
Address of Senator Kennedy, Pere Marquette Council of Knights of Columbus 60th Anniversary Banquet, Boston, Massachusetts, “Can We Compete With the Russians?,” January 12, 1958, 10pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Annual Boy Scouts of America Luncheon, New York, New York, “Foreign Policy,” January 16, 1958, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Women’s Club of Richmond, Virginia. “Can We Compete With the Russians?,” January 20, 1958, 17pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy upon Receipt of Honorary Degree from Saint Vincents College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, “Careers in Politics,” February 4, 1958, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Testimonial Dinner Honoring Congressman Torbert H. MacDonald, Maiden, Massachusetts, “The Need for Political Leadership,” February 8, 1958.19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, B’nai Zion Golden Jubilee Banquet, New York, New York. “Israel: A Miracle of Progress,” February 9, 1958, 21 pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy upon Receipt of Honorary Degree from La Salle College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “Careers in Politics,” February 11, 1958, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the John Carroll Society, Washington, D.C., “Foreign Policy,” February 13, 1958, 38pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Fordham Law Alumni Association Luncheon, New York, New York, “Labor Racketeering,” February 15, 1958, 34pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Loyola College Annual Alumni Banquet, Baltimore, Maryland, “Education in the U.S. and USSR,” February 18, 1958, 13pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Book and Authors Club Luncheon, Cleveland, Ohio, “Intellectuals and Politicians,” February 20, 1958, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Tucson, Arizona, “The Democratic Party; U.S. Economic Problems,” February 22, 1958, 29pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Social Science Foundation Lecture, Denver University, Denver, Colorado, “The Global Challenge We Face,” February 24,1958, 44pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Fifth National Conference on International Economic Aid and Social Development, Washington, D.C., “U.S. Policy Toward India,” February 26, 1958, 18pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, United Nations Association of Maryland Dinner, Baltimore, Maryland, “The United Nations,” February 27, 1958, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at FDR Memorial Dinner, Los Angeles, California. “The Democratic Party,” March 1, 1958, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy upon Receipt of Man of the Year Award by the Polish Daily News, Chicago, Illinois, “U.S. Policy Toward Poland,” March 2, 1958, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, WBC Second Conference in Public Service Programming, Baltimore, Maryland, “The Challenge of Public Broadcasting,” March 6, 1958, 29pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Bristol, Virginia, “The Democratic Party,” March 7, 1958, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AFL-CIO Unemployment Conference, Washington, D.C., “Unemployment Compensation,” March 12, 1958, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Women’s Democratic Club Luncheon, Washington, D.C., “The Democratic Party; Foreign Policy,” March 13, 1958, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy Before the Gridiron Club, Washington, D.C., “Leadership,” March 15, 1958, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, YMCA Annual Branch Dinner, Washington, D.C., “Juvenile Delinquency,” March 19, 1958, 11pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Harvard Club, Boston, Massachusetts, “Leadership,” March 21, 1958, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Des Moines, Iowa, “The Democratic Party; Federal Farm Policy,” March 22, 1958, 53pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Freedom House, Roxbury, Massachusetts, “Education in America; Freedom House,” March 23, 1958, 19pp.
Remarks in the United States Senate by Senator Kennedy, “The Choice in Asia-Democratic Development in India,” March 25, 1958, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Indianapolis, Indiana, “The Democratic Party; Federal Farm Policy,” March 29, 1958, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Bismarck, North Dakota, “The Democratic Party; Federal Farm Policy,” April 11, 1958, 26pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Huron, South Dakota, “The Democratic Party; George McGovern; Federal Farm Policy,” April 12, 1958, 36pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt Centennial Lecture, Dickinson, North Dakota, “Theodore Roosevelt; Careers in Politics,” April 12, 1958, 24pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Mississippi Economic Council Dinner, Jackson, Mississippi, “Recession and Inflation,” April 16, 1958, 42pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Eighth Annual Pittsburgh World Affairs Forum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “The Global Challenge We Face,” April 18, 1958, 25pp.
Senator John F. Kennedy, Introduction of Senator Mike Monroney, Boston, Massachusetts, April 19, 1958, 9pp.
Remarks of Senator Kennedy, North Atlantic Regional Meeting of the National Citizens Council for Better Schools, Washington, D.C., “The Role of the Federal Government in Public Education,” April 21-April 22, 1958, 36pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Mississippi Valley Historical Association Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, Minnesota, “The Role of Politicians in History,” April 25, 1958, 21pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Dinner, Eugene, Oregon. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” April 27,1958, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Retail Workers, Washington, D.C., “Unemployment Compensation; Minimum Wage,” April 29, 1958, 7pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Rockefeller Public Service Awards, Washington, D.C., “Continued Career Training,” April 30, 1958, 3pp.
Remarks in the United States Senate by Senator Kennedy, “Unemployment Comp- ensation,” May 8, 1958, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy to Be Read by Congressman MacDonald, Fitchburgh, Massachusetts, “The Democratic Party,” May 10, 1958,10pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Greater Washington Observance of Israel’s Tenth Anniversary, Washington, D.C., “The State of Israel,” May 11, 1958, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, “Recession and Unemployment Compensation,” May 13, 1958, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, “Labor Racketeering,” May 14, 1958, 30pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, 150th Anniversary of Archbishopric of Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, “The Diocese of Boston,” May 14, 1958, 60pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Luncheon, Lawrence, Massachusetts, “Unemployment Compensation,” May 15, 1958, 4pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Boston College Seminar, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, “Air Travel Facilities in Boston,” May 15, 1958, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “The Democratic Party; Liberalism,” May 17, 1958, 41pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Eugene, Oregon, “The Democratic Party; Liberalism,” May 18, 1958, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Trinity College Commencement, Washington, D.C., “Careers in Politics,” June 2, 1958, 27pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Association of Former Residents, Freedman Hospital, Howard University Banquet, Washington, D.C., “Medical Facilities and Research,” June 4,1958, 20pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Manchester, New Hampshire, “The Democratic Party,” June 7,1958, 46pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Smith College Commencement, Northampton, Massachu- setts, “Careers in Politics,” June 8, 1958, 29pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Morgantown, West Virginia, “The Democratic Party,” June 11, 1958, 43pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Casper, Wyoming, “The Democratic Party; Development of Water Power,” June 14,1958, 54pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Billings, Montana, “The Democratic Party; Federal Farm Policy,” June 15,1958, 52pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Salem Homecoming Celebration, Salem, Massa- chusetts, “History of Salem,” June 20, 1958, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Tobacco Association of the United States and Leaf Tobacco Association Joint Meeting, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, “Reciprocal Trade,” June 23, 1958, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Connecticut Democratic State Convention, Hartford, Connecticut, “The Democratic Party,” June 27, 1958, 27pp.
Remarks in the United States Senate by Senator Kennedy, “United States Military and Diplomatic Policies-Preparing for the Gap,” August 14, 1958, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, American Bakery and Confectionary Workers Inter- national Union, AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, “Labor Racketeering,” September 10, 1958, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, U.S. Mayors Conference Luncheon, Miami Beach, Florida, “Time for an Urban Magna Carta,” September 11, 1958, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, United Steelworkers of America Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, “Labor Racketeering,” September 18, 1958, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Region One Conference, Burlington, Vermont, “Rural Electrification,” September 26, 1958, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Dedication of Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Science Hall, Assumption College, Wor- cester, MA, October 2, 1958.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Massachusetts Real Estate Association Banquet, Boston, Massachusetts, “Housing and Real Estate Legislation,” October 3, 1958, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Annual National Corn Picking Contest, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Federal Farm Policy,” October 17, 1958, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Massachusetts Federation of Labor Annual Samuel Gompers Memorial Dinner, Boston, Massachusetts, “Unemployment Compen- sation; Social Security; Labor Racketeer- ing,” October 25, 1958, 13pp.
Senator John F. Kennedy, Speeches, Alaska Tour, November 10, 1958-November 11, 1958, 27pp., Major Subjects: Water resource development; the Democratic Party.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic Dinner, Puerto Rico. “U.S.-Latin American Relations,” November 15, 1958, 31pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, “The Democratic Party,” December 16, 1958, 21pp.
CD cover for the 1984 U2 single, “Pride (In The Name of Love),” a song in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.
Back cover of U2's “Pride” single, with photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, and on some versions, a quotation excerpted from King’s 1963 book, “The Strength to Love.”
In 1984, the Irish rock group U2 included two songs in homage to Martin Luther King on their album, The Unforgettable Fire. The first song, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” is a song about Martin Luther King’s non-violent activism in the U.S. civil rights movement. This song was released as the album’s lead single in September 1984 and became a top hit and one of the group’s most popular songs. The second song, “MLK,” which closes the album, is a brief lullaby; a pensive piece with simple lyrics.
U2 frontman Bono (Paul Hewson) and his bandmates came to the first of these songs in a somewhat round about way with some odd political beginnings.
The music and melody for the song came before the lyrics, as it was late 1983 when some of the music for the song had been worked up and recorded. But the lyrics and the song’s subject matter were a different story. Initially, the song was intended to focus on Ronald Reagan’s pride in America’s military power as a possible theme – as a critique, no doubt. But Bono soon had another idea based on some reading he was doing at the time. Bono was influenced by two books, a biography of Malcolm X, and another book – Let The Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. , written by Stephen B. Oates. These books appear to have set Bono thinking about the different approaches to achieving civil rights in the U.S. – the violent and the non-violent – each, respectively represented by their leaders, Malcom X, calling for revolution, and MLK, advocating peaceful, nonviolent protest in the mold of Mahatma Gandhi. Thus, a couple of the lines from the resulting song could be taken to reflect these contrasting approaches – “One man come here to justify/ One man to overthrow.” But in any case, the general thrust of the song came to honor MLK’s peaceful approach – “in the name of love.”
“Pride (In the Name of Love)”
One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come here to justify
One man to overthrow
In the name of love!
One man in the name of love
In the name of love!
What more? In the name of love!
One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resists
One man washed on an empty beach
One man betrayed with a kiss
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more? In the name of love!
…Nobody like you
…There’s nobody like you…
Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love…
Still, not all of Bono’s bandmates thought that using Martin Luther King as a focus for the song would be a good idea – at least at first. The Edge (David Howell Evans) would later recount of the song some years later: “Because of the situation in our country [i.e., Ireland] non-violent struggle was such an inspiring concept. Even so, when Bono told me he wanted to write about King at first I said, ‘Woah, that’s not what we’re about.’ Then he came in and sang the song and it felt right, it was great. When that happens there’s no argument. It just was.”
“Pride (In The Name of Love)”
In the U.S., “Pride” became U2′s first top 40 hit, reaching No. 33. In the U.K. it rose to No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart and also cracked the Top Ten in other European markets. The song also hit No. 1 in New Zealand. U2 at the time was continuing their commercial breakout, following the success of their 1983 album War, their firt No. 1 U.K. album.
“Pride (In The Name of Love)” would become one of U2′s most popular songs through the years, often played at their many concerts around the world. Clips from Martin Luther King speeches were often shown on video screens during the song’s airing at concert performances.
In the 1980s, Bono described “Pride” as “the most successful pop song we’ve ever written. Pop for me is an easily understood thing, you listen to it and you comprehend it almost immediately. You relate to it instinctively….” Not all critics agreed, however. Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder for one wrote that “‘Pride’ gets over only on the strength of its resounding beat and big, droning bass line, not on the nobility of its lyrics, which are unremarkable.” And a few others felt that “pride” was not quite the right word for King. The song also contains one historical mistake setting King’s shooting as “early morning, April 4″, when it actually occurred after 6 pm. Bono has acknowledged the error and in live performances he often replaces the lyric with “early evening…”.
CD cover art from a later, deluxe edition of “The Unforgettable Fire Collection.” The 1980s photo shows U2 band members, from left: The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr., and Bono.
In later years, Bono would agree that the lyrics for this song weren’t the best, though at the time he and bandmates agreed to leave it as a simple sketch – as with the experimental nature of several other tracks on the album, which were intended to be more impressionistic than literal. Still, Bono’s earlier point about the instinctiveness of the song is generally correct; the lyrics effectively make the association with King and the power of the music drives home the underlying moral of the story. Would that more rock artists ventured into social and moral messaging of this nature, however brief or tenuous the connection.
On the back cover of the “Pride” single shown at the top of this article is a photograph of Dr. King, which on some versions included a quotation from King’s 1963 book, The Strength to Love, printed below the photo as follows: “Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” In January 2009, at the “We Are One” celebration of musicians and public speakers during the first inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, DC., U2 performed “Pride (In The Name of Love)” before some 400,000 people assembled near the Lincoln Memorial. At the end of the performance Bono remarked to the audience that King’s dream was “not just an American dream” but also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream, and more, as he began his next song, “City of Blinding Lights.”
And may your dreams
If the thundercloud
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be
And may your dreams
If the thundercloud
So let it rain
Let it rain
Rain on him
MLK Song. U2′s other song in tribute to Martin Luther King – titled “MLK” – is also on The Unforgettable Fire album. It was written, some say, as an elegy to King. The song has a dreamy, lullaby quality to it which seems to be suggesting, as if speaking to a generation of children and saying, “though the road ahead may have thunderclouds and rain, this too will pass, and your dreams can still be realized. But sleep now, my child, sleep.”
The Unforgettable Fire album, meanwhile – which includes the two MLK songs – peaked at No.1 on both the U.K. and Australian album charts in 1984. In the U.S., it peaked at No.12 on the album charts and was certified multi-platinum by the RIAA with 3 million units sold. The album overall was something of a departure from what U2 had been doing and was also experimental in part as they were looking for something that was “a bit more serious, more arty,” as one description noted. The Edge, for one, had been drawn to the work of Brian Eno and his engineer Daniel Lanois, who produced the album.
King Center Award. In January 2004, nearly twenty years after The Unforgettable Fire had first appeared, Bono and U2 would be recognized by Coretta Scott King and the King Center in Atlana, Georgia for the MLK tribute songs in the album. Bono traveled to Atlanta to receive the honor at the annual “Salute to Greatness” Awards Dinner and he also attended a number of related events there to honor what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 75th birthday.
January 17, 2004: Bono of U2 with Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at news conference in Atlanta. GA where Bono received a King Center award for U2's MLK tribute music. Photo /W.A. Harewood/AP.
Prior to receiving the award, Bono explained that growing up as a teenager in Ireland, when violence had escalated in northern Ireland, the warring factions needed a voice of reason like Martin Luther King.
“We despaired for the lack of vision of the kind Dr. King gave to people in the [American] South,” Bono explained, accepting the award from King’s widow, Coretta Scott King. A year earlier, Bono had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to relieve third world debt and promote AIDS awareness.
At the King Center, Coretta Scott King said in making the award: “We are fortunate this year to … honor Bono for exemplifying many of the qualities that my husband, Martin, indicated were imperative to moving our society into the beloved community of which he so often spoke.”
Other stories at this website with civil rights-related content include “Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday history) and “Reese & Robbie” (Jackie Robinson & Pee Wee Reese). Another U2 story at this website profiles the history of their 1992 song, “One,” and U2 and Bono are also included in the “iPod Silhouettes” story. Additional story choices can also be made at the Annals of Music category page or on the Home Page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
Geoffrey Himes “Ireland’s U2, Rocking the Conscience,” Washington Post, December 5, 1984, p. C-1.
Stephen Holden, “Rock: The Irish Quartet U2 at Radio City Music Hall,” New York Times, December 6, 1984.
Robert Palmer, “U2 Starts National Tour on a Political Note,” New York Times, April 4, 1987.
Robert Hilburn, “Pop Music: U2′s Pride (In the Name of Songs) : Achtung, Babies: Bono and Edge Evaluate One Critic’s Choices for the Group’s 10 Best Recordings, from ‘I Will Follow’ to ‘One’,” Los Angles Times, Septem- ber 12, 1993.
Stephen M. Silverman, “Bono Likened to Martin Luther King,” People.com, January 20, 2004.
Associated Press, “Bono Accepts King Center’s High Honor,” Houston Chronicle, January 19, 2004.
Jillian Mapes, “10 Songs Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Billboard, January 13, 2013.
1956 campaign button – part of the hastily-assembled material used to boost JFK for the VP slot at the DNC.
When Jack Kennedy set out to run for President of the United States, he decided to begin early and run hard. Kennedy had been surprised by nearly winning the 1956 Democratic nomination for Vice President at the party’s national convention in Chicago. Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ presidential nominee that year, had thrown open the VP selection to the full convention, and JFK and Senator Estes Kefauver became the principal contestants. The ensuing race proved to be very close, providing Americans with some dramatic television that summer.
Kennedy, who earlier in 1956 published the book, Profiles in Courage, led in the balloting at one point. But with some arm-twisting and delegate switching, Kefauver prevailed after two rounds of roll-call voting. Yet Kennedy would later remark to his inner circle, that if he came that close to the VP nomination after only “four hours of work and a handful of supporters,” a more concerted effort over the next several years might well give him the big prize: the presidential nomination and a shot at the White House. And so he began in 1957 – well in advance of the 1960 Democratic National Convention – making targeted visits and traveling the U.S., all with the aim of building his candidacy from that point on through the fall 1960 presidential election campaign.
Aug. 29, 1957: Senator John F. Kennedy, far left, with other fellow senators, from left: George Smathers (D-FL), Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) and William Proxmire (D-WI), all listening to Majority Leader, Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX).
Kennedy in 1957 was a junior U.S. Senator nearing the end of his first six-year term, also mounting a senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts. But even then, JFK was more than just a U.S. Senator and had begun vying for leadership within his party. In 1957 he would win a seat on the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee and also join the Senate Rackets Committee then investigating organized crime and labor — the same committee where his younger brother Bobby was serving as committee counsel. In early May 1957, JFK would win the Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage. Meanwhile, the media had already discovered the young handsome senator, who would grace the covers of a few magazines that year as well.
1956: JFK shown in publicity photo for his book, “Profiles in Courage,” which helped him gain notice in 1957 and beyond.
The year 1957 had its share of notable events. In late September, President Eisenhower had to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce court-ordered desegregation of public schools and to keep the peace. In October, the first earth-orbiting satellite was sent into space, Sputnik, launched by the Russians. Among movies that year were Peyton Place and Twelve Angry Men; in literature, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road was popular; on Broadway, West Side Story was playing; and on television, Leave it To Beaver made its premiere. In the 1957 World Series, the Milwaukee Braves beat the New York Yankees in a seven-game series.
1957: RFK & JFK during Senate Racketts hearings, then investigating crime infiltration of labor unions.
Senator Kennedy that year received more than 2,500 speaking invitations from across the nation, and he would accept more than 140 of them. Still, out in the country, Kennedy was not well known, and in those early campaign days – referred to by his inner circle as the “undercover presidential campaign” – there would often be small turnouts and empty seats in the local venues where he appeared. But Kennedy was also doing the important spade work of political organizing on these trips; getting to know which local politicians and organizers were the most effective and who could help him win the nomination and beyond. What follows below is an abbreviated listing of some of JFK’s travel and speaking itinerary for the year 1957, highlighted with a few photographs and magazine covers also from that year. A number of his speeches from 1957 are also listed below in “Sources, Links & Additional Information” at the bottom of this article. See also at this website, “The Jack Pack, 1958-1960.” Additional stories on JFK’s road to the White House in 1960 will be posted in future weeks. Thanks for visiting. - Jack Doyle
JFK’s Early Campaign
Speeches, Dinners, Media, Democratic Party Activity, Etc,.
January 1957: JFK with University of Illinois officials in Champaign where he gave a commencement address.
March 11, 1957: JFK on the cover of Life magazine, and author of, “Where Democrats Should Go From Here.”
May 31, 1957: JFK at the University of South Carolina with university president Donald Russell.
June 3, 1957: Sen. Kennedy delivering commencement address at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.
Nov. 1957: Nevada state Senator E. L. Cord shaking hands with JFK during a Young Democrats tour in Reno, NV. On the left is U.S. Senator Alan Bible (D-NV).
Jan 12: New York, NY, Irish Institute
Jan 16: NY, NY, Armed Forces Mgmt Assoc
Jan 27: Champaign, IL, University of Illinois
Feb 4: Wash., DC, Herbert Hoover Dinner
Feb 7: Albany, GA, Chamber of Commerce
Feb 12: ABC-TV: “Omnibus: Call it Courage”
Feb 19: Atlantic City, NJ, Nat’l School Board
Feb 22: So. Bend, IN, Univ. of Notre Dame
Feb 23: Springfield, MO, Jackson Day
Feb 24: Cleve., OH, Cnf Christians & Jews
Mar 11: JFK on cover of Life magazine
Mar 17: Baltimore, MD, St. Patrick’s Dinner
Mar 21: Birmingham, AL, Municipalities
Mar 23: NY, NY Tribune/H School Forum
Mar 29: Albuquerque, NM, Dem. Dinner
Apr 4: Lynchburg, VA, Democratic Dinner
Apr 10: Wash.,DC, Machine Products Assn.
Apr 14: NYTimes magazine article by JFK
Apr 29: Wash., DC, Notre Dame Night
Apr 29: Wash., DC, Nat’l Chamber of Com
May 1: Wash., DC, U.S. Senate Portraits
May 3: Wash., DC, Assoc. Harvard Clubs
May 6: NY, NY, Overseas Press Club Speech
May 7: Pulitzer Prize, Profiles in Courage May 9: Wilm., DE, Jeff-Jack Day Dinner
May 11: Boston, MA, Democratic Club Mtg
May 17: Omaha, NE, Jeff-Jack Day Dinner
May 18: Lincoln, University of Nebraska
May 21: Boston, New England Publishers
May 23: Chicago, IL, Cook County Dems
May 31: Columbia, SC, Univ. of So. Carolina
Jun 3: Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University
Jun 7: Hot Springs, AR, Arkansas Bar Assoc.
Jun 10: Atlanta, GA, S.E. Peanut Assoc.
Jun 10: Atlanta, Univ of GA Commencement
Jun 13: Detroit, Relief for Poland Dinner
Jun 15: Plymouth, MA, Mass. Bar Assoc.
Jun 15: Rockland, ME, Jeff-Jackson Dinner
July 1: ABC-TV’s “Press Conference” Show
July 2: U.S. Senate Spch, France & Algeria
Aug 22: Madison, WI, Wis. Dem Dinner
Sept 1: Milton, MA, Milton Seminary
Sept 11: NY, NY, U.S. Conf. of Mayors
Sept 19: New Rochelle, NY, Iona College
Sept 19: Albany, NY, State Dem Dinner
Oct 8: Fredericton, New Brunswick Univ.
Oct 9: Chicago, Economic Club Dinner
Oct 9: Swampscott, MA, Teachers’ Convn
Oct 10: Baltimore, MD, Teachers’ Convn
Oct 10: Great Barrington, MA, Town Clerks
Oct 13: New Bedford, MA, United Givers
Oct 14: Boston, Nat’l Assoc Ag Agents
Oct 15: Chicago, Inland Daily Press Assoc
Oct 17: Jackson, MS, Young Democrats
Oct 18: Gainesville, FL, Univ. of Florida
Oct 19: Gainesville, U of FL/Phi Alpha Delta
Oct 23: NY, NY, Hungarian Fighters
Oct 23: ABC-TV(drama), Navy Log: PT 109 Oct 24: Boston, Assoc Industries of MA
Oct 27: NY, NY, Yeshiva University
Oct 30: Easton, PA, Democratic Dinner
Oct 31: Wash., DC, AFL-CIO /Indust. Dept.
Nov 1: Philadelphia, PA, University of PA
Nov 6: Topeka, KS, Kansas Dem Club
Nov 7: Oklahoma City, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Nov 7: Oklahoma, “Farm Policy”
Nov 7: Lawrence, KS, University of KS
Nov 8: Reno, NV, Young Dem Clubs
Nov 17: NY, NY, Am. Jewish Congress
Nov 18: Daytona Bch, FL, Municipalities
Nov 19: NY, NY, Temple Emmanuel
Nov 24: NBC-TV: “Look Here”
Nov 27: Birth of Caroline Kennedy
Nov 28: Dallas, TX, Texas Teachers
Dec 2: JFK on cover of Time magazine
Dec 3: Chicago, Conf of Christians & Jews
Note: The above listing of Sen. Kennedy’s travels
and speeches in 1957 may not include all of his activities during that year. The full titles of his speeches are included below, in the second half
of “Sources.” More photos also follow below.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Early Campaign: 1957,” PopHistoryDig.com, August 7, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
December 2, 1957: Sen. John F. Kennedy appears on the cover of Time magazine with a feature story titled, “Democrat’s Man Out Front.”
February 22, 1957: Sen. Kennedy being honored with the 1957 Patriotism Award, Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana. Photo, Notre Dame archives.
Oct 1957: JFK receiving honorary degree from Lord Beaverbrook at University of New Brunswick in Canada, where JFK gave speech, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors" at the fall convocation.
Nov 7, 1957: Sen. Kennedy visits with Kansas University students while in Lawrence, KS to give the 1957 convocation speech. Journal-World file photo.
1957: Robert F. Kennedy (center left) and Senator John F. Kennedy (center right) during the McClellan Rackets hearings, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
1957: Robert F. Kennedy and Senator John F. Kennedy during McClellan Rackets hearings, Washington, D.C.
1957: Robert and John F. Kennedy (center) questioning witness at Senate Rackets Committee hearings.
“Navy Log,” a TV series of the 1950s, included a show broadcast 23 Oct 1957 – “PT 109" – a dramatization of a WWII incident, in which Naval Lieutenant Commander John F. Kennedy helped save crew members after their PT 109 boat was struck by a Japanese destroyer. Show was rerun, March 13,1958.
JFK visiting with two of Boston’s finest while campaigning in Massachusetts sometime in 1957.
June 1957: JFK and wife Jacqueline at family gathering at Hickory Hill house in McLean, VA, home of RFK.
July 1957: Jack and Jackie (then pregnant) at Tiffany benefit ball at Marble House in Newport, RI. JFK is greeting socialite Mrs. John Drexel III. Photo, Life / Ralph Morse.
November 27, 1957: JFK and Jacqueline at the christening of their daughter, Caroline, with then Archbishop Richard Cushing of Boston.
Cover of hardback edition, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” written by two of JFK’s closest aides, Kenny O’Donnell and Dave Powers, and published in 1970.
Back cover of “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye,” showing JFK at an airport with his close aides, Dave Powers (center) and Kenny O’Donnell (right), who traveled with JFK across the U.S. during his earliest campaigning.
Photographer Jacques Lowe’s 1961 book on JFK includes history of JFK’s early campaigning.
First edition of Theodore White’s classic political campaign book covering the 1960 presidential election.
Robert Dallek’s 2003 book on John F. Kennedy, “An Unfinished Life” (hardback edition ).
Chris Matthews’ 2011 book, “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.”
1965 hardback edition of “A Thousand Days,” Arthur Schlesinger’s monumental, Pulitzer Prize -winning history of JFK’s time in office as President.
2003 book, “Remembering Jack,” featuring some 600 photos of JFK and the Kennedy family by the late photographer, Jacques Lowe.
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.
Jacques Lowe, Portrait: The Emergence of John F. Kennedy, New York: Bramhall House/McGraw-Hill, 1961.
The New York Times, with photographs by Jacques Lowe, The Kennedy Years, New York: Viking Press, 1964.
Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960, New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1962.
David Pietrusza, 1960–LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, New York: Union Square Press, 2008.
W. H. Lawrence, “…Kefauver Is Nominated for Vice President, Defeating Kennedy on the Second Ballot; Tennessean Wins after Close Race…,” New York Times, August 18, 1956.
C. P. Trussell, “Kennedy Gets Post Sought by Kefauver; High Senate Spot Goes to Kennedy Other Assignments Listed,” New York Times, January 9, 1957
“Mideast Plan Scouted; Senator Kennedy Warns Policy Is Not Cure-All for Area,” New York Times, January 17, 1957.
Joseph A. Loftus, “Senators Agreed on Rackets Panel; Tentative Plan Puts 4 From Each Party on Special Labor Inquiry Group,” New York Times, January 26, 1957.
“Politics: Our Most Neglected Profession,” John F. Kennedy, January 27, 1957, Record Series # 39/1/5, University of Illinois Archives.
Benjamin Fine, “School Officials Urge Integration; Administrators’ Convention Adopts Strong Resolution Against Segregation; Local Action Is Asked; U. S. Building Aid Favored; Kennedy Sees Backing by Congress This Year; Federal Aid Urged,” New York Times, February 21, 1957.
John D. Morris, “7 Democrats Aid G.O.P. on Mideast; Kennedy Leads Senate Fight for Eisenhower Doctrine Without Any Revisions; Vote on Tuesday Likely…,” New York Times, March 2, 1957.
“Kennedy Warns His Party on ’60; Democrat Says ‘New Ideas’ Would Be Needed to Beat Nixon for Presidency,” New York Times, The Week In Review, March 7, 1957.
“Nixon Hails Kennedy; Praises Speech Supporting the President on Mideast,” New York Times, March 11, 1957.
John F. Kennedy, “Search For the Five Greatest Senators; a Senator Describes the Problems in Choosing the Best Men from the Senate’s 168 Years.” The New York Times Magazine, April 14, 1957.
Bill Becker, “Kennedy Favors Aid to Satellites; Urges Formulation of New U.S. Policy at Overseas Press Club Dinner,” New York Times, May 7, 1957.
“Kennedy Aids Negroes; Senator Presents $500 Pulitzer Check to College Fund,” New York Times, May 12, 1957.
Donald Janson, (Omaha, NE), “Senator Kennedy Urges ‘Bold’ U.S. Move To Grant Poland $200,000,000 in Aid.,” New York Times, May 18, 1957.
Bob Ackerman, “Kennedy Urges Graduates to Enter Politics; Says US Needs Talents,” The State (Columbia, South Carolina), June 1, 1957.
United Press (Hot Springs, Arkansas), “Kennedy Disclaims Bid; Won’t Seek Presidency in ’60 –Suggests McClellan,” The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 1957.
“Convention to Be TV Show Audience” (JFK interviewed by ABC’s Martha Rountree on “Press Conference” show), New York Times, June 25, 1957.
“Kennedy Says He’d Run If Offered’ 60 Nomination,” Washington Post/Times Herald, July 1, 1957, p. A-12.
Arthur Krock, “Five Political Figures with a Single Thought; Three Democrats, Two Republicans Are Already in the Running For A Presidential Nomination…,” New York Times, July 7, 1957.
“Kennedy in ’60 Backed; Seen by McClellan as Possible Nominee of Democrats,” New York Times, August 5, 1957.
“Senator Kennedy To Advise For TV; He Will Oversee a ‘Navy Log’ Story of Own War Exploit…,” New York Times, August 6, 1957.
Joseph A. Loftus, “Senator Scores Inquiry Lawyers; Kennedy Says They Do More Than Advise Labor Clients…,” New York Times, August 8, 1957.
Associated Press, (Gainsville, FL), “Senator Kennedy Calls on Bar Groups To Check Unethical Practices in Field,” New York Times, Week in Review, October 20, 1957.
Navy Log: PT 109 (TV dramatization of the PT-109 incident, in which the heroism of Naval Lieutenant Commander John F. Kennedy helps save crew members when their PT boat is struck by a Japanese destroyer), Original broadcast, ABC TV October 23, 1957 (rerun March 13,1958).
Irving Spiegel, “Senator Defends Minority Causes; Kennedy Backs Principle of ‘Multiple Loyalties’– He Gets Yeshiva Award American Loyalty Concept,” New York Times, October 28, 1957.
Roger Creene, “Not Too Reluctant Is the Coy Kennedy,” Washington Post /Times Herald, November 10, 1957, p, E-3.
“Catholic President Upheld by Kennedy,” New York Times Book Review, November 25, 1957.
Sean Kirst, “Amid Election Day Fatigue, JFK’s Syracuse Reminder of the Nobility of Elected Office,” The Post-Standard, Nov. 6, 2012.
JFK Speeches & Remarks: 1957
Address of Senator Kennedy Before the Irish Institute, New York, New York, “Irish History,” January 12, 1957, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at the University of Illinois Senior Convocation, Champaign, Illinois, “Politics: Our Most Neglected Profession,” January 27, 1957, 25pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Dinner Honoring Herbert Hoover, Washington, D.C., “The Second Hoover Commission,” February 4,1957, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Annual Chamber of Commerce Dinner, Albany, Georgia, “Foreign Policy,” February 7, 1957, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at the Annual Convention of American Association of School Administrators and National School Board Association, Atlantic City, New Jersey, “The Education of an American Politician,” February 19,1957, 21pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy upon Receipt of the 1957 Patriotism Award, Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana. “Careers in Politics,” February 22, 1957, 33pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at 34th Annual Jackson Day Banquet, Springfield, Missouri, “The Democratic Party; Foreign Policy,” February 23, 1957, 37pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at the 1957 Brotherhood Year Observance-The National Conference of Christians and Jews, Cleveland, Ohio, “Comity and Common Sense in the Middle East,” February 24, 1957, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, Baltimore, Maryland, “Irish History; Labor Racketeering,” March 17, 1957, 22pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Alabama League of Municipalities Banquet, Birmingham, Alabama, “Labor Racke- teering,” March 21, 1957, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the New York Herald Tribune Forum for High Schools, New York, New York, “Foreign Policy in a Democracy,” March 23, 1957, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Democratic Dinner, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Democratic Party; Foreign Policy,” March 29, 1957, 26pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Chamber of Commerce Dinner, Lynchburg, Virginia. “Labor Racketeering; Foreign Policy,” April 4, 1957, 22pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the National Screw Machine Products Association, Washington, D.C., “Small Business Tax Relief,” April 10, 1957, 3pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Universal Notre Dame Night Celebration, Washington, D.C., “Labor Racketeering,” April 29, 1957, 18pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at the First General Session of the 45th Annual Meeting of the National Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., “America’s International Responsibilities,” April 29, 1957, 21pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy from the Special Committee on the Senate Reception Room, “Choice of Five Senators Whose Portraits Are to Be Placed in the Senate Reception Room,” May 1, 1957, 82pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Symposium of the Associated Harvard Clubs, Washington, D.C., “The Role of the University in Government,” May 3, 1957, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at the Annual Awards Dinner of the Overseas Press Club, New York, New York, “U.S. Policy Towards Poland,” May 6, 1957, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Delaware State Jefferson-Jackson Day Democratic Dinner, Wilmington, Delaware, “The Democratic Party,” May 9, 1957, 28pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Democratic Club Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, “Participation of Women in Politics,” May 11,1957, 6pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Omaha, Nebraska, “The Democratic Party; U.S. Policy Towards Poland,” May 17, 1957, 29pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy at University of Nebraska Convocation, Lincoln, Nebraska, “Careers in Politics,” May 18, 1957, 20pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, New England Publishers Association Luncheon, Boston, Massachusetts, “Labor Racketeering,” May 21, 1957, 21 pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Annual Dinner and Reception, Democratic Party of Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, The Democratic Party; U.S. Policy Towards Poland,” May 23, 1957, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, University of South Carolina Commencement, Columbia, South Carolina, “Careers in Politics,” May 31, 1957, 19pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Syracuse University Commencement, Syracuse, New York, “Careers in Politics,” June 3, 1957, 20pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Arkansas Bar Association Annual Convention, Hot Springs, Arkansas,” Labor Racketeering,” June 7, 1957, 23pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Southeastern Peanut Association, Atlanta, Georgia, “Farm Policy,” June 10, 1957, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, University of Georgia Commencement, Athens, Georgia, “Careers in Politics,” June 10, 1957, 20pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, American Relief for Poland Dinner, Detroit, Michigan, “U.S. Policy Toward Poland,” June 13, 1957, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Massachusetts Bar Association Luncheon, Plymouth, Massachusetts, “Labor Racketeering,” June 15, 1957, 13pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Rockland, Maine, “The Democratic Party,” June 15, 1957, 19pp.
Remarks of Senator Kennedy on the Senate Floor, “The Struggle Against Imperialism-Part II: Poland and Eastern Europe,” August 21, 1957, 58pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Wisconsin Democratic Dinner, Wisconsin, “The Democratic Party,” August 22, 1957, 23pp.
Remarks of Senator Kennedy in the United States Senate. “Proposed Amendment of Constitution Relating to Election of President and Vice President,” August 30, 1957, 3pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Milton Seminary Benefactor’s Day, Milton, Massachusetts, “Christian Missionaries,” September 1,1957, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, U.S. Conference of Mayors, New York, New York, “Our American Cities and Their Second Class Citizens,” September 11, 1957, 40pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, lona College Convocation, New Rochelle, New York, “Honorary Degrees,” September 19, 1957, 5pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, University of New Brunswick Convocation, Fredericton, New Brunswick, “U.S.-Canada Relations,” October 8, 1957, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Economic Club Dinner, Chicago, Illinois, “Foreign Policy,” October 9, 1957, 26pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Teachers’ Association Convention, Swampscott, Massachusetts, “Education in America,” October 9, 1957, 11pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Teachers’ Association Convention, Baltimore, Maryland, “Education in America,” October 10, 1957, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Massachusetts Town Clerks’ Association Convention, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, “Urban Politics,” October 10, 1957, 10pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, United Givers Fund Kick-Off Dinner, New Bedford, Massachusetts, “Philanthropy,” October 13, 1957, 15pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, National Association of County Agricultural Agents Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, “Farm Policy,” October 14, 1957, 25pp.
Address of Robert F. Kennedy before the Inland Daily Press Association, Chicago, Illinois,” Labor Racketeering,” October 15, 1957, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Young Democrats Dinner, Jackson, Mississippi, “The Democratic Party,” October 17, 1957, 18pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, University of Florida Blue Key Banquet, Gainesville, Florida, “Can We Compete with the Russians?,” October 18, 1957, 15pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, University of Florida Phi Alpha Delta Legal Fraternity Breakfast, Gainesville, Florida, “Labor Racketeering,” October 19, 1957, 18pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Annual Freedom Award to the Hungarian Freedom Fighters, New York, New York, “Foreign Policy; Hungary,” October 23, 1957, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Associated Industries of Massachusetts Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, “Labor Racketeering,” October 24, 1957, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy upon Receipt of Yeshiva University’s Charter Day Award of 1957, New York, New York, “Tribute to James J. Lyons; Background of Yeshiva University,” October 27, 1957, 8pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Democratic City Committee Annual Pre-Election Dinner, Easton, Pennsylvania, “The Democratic Party; Leadership in Foreign Affairs,” October 30, 1957, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department Second Constitutional Convention, Washington, D.C., “Labor Legislation,” October 31,1957, 25pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Oklahoma, “Farm Policy,” November 1957, 7pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Howard Crawley Memorial Lecture, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “The New Dimensions of American Foreign Policy.” November 1, 1957, 20pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Kansas Democratic Club Banquet, Topeka, Kansas, “The Democratic Party,” November 6, 1957, 3pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Oklahoma Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, “Science and Security,” November 7, 1957, 12pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, University of Kansas Convocation, Lawrence, Kansas, “Careers in Politics,” November 7, 1957, 10pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Young Democratic Clubs of America Convention, Reno, Nevada, “The Democratic Party,” November 1957, 10pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, American Jewish Congress National Congress Week, New York, New York, “U.S. Domestic Problems,” November 17, 1957, 16pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy before the Florida League of Municipalities, Daytona Beach, Florida, “Urban Politics; Labor Racketeering,” November 18, 1957, 18pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Temple Emmanuel, New York, New York, “Foreign Policy,” November 19, 1957, 9pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, Texas State Teachers Association Convention, Dallas, Texas, “American Education,” November 28, 1957, 14pp.
Address of Senator Kennedy, National Conference of Christians and Jews Dinner, Chicago, Illinois, “Foreign Policy,” December 3, 1957, 14pp.
In 1963-64, The Chiffons put four songs on the Top 40 list, including “He’s So Fine,” a No.1 hit.
In the late 1950s and early 60s, one style of music that began to dominate the American music charts and permeate youth culture of that day came from the “girl groups.” Comprised mostly of three-to-four young females, typically teenagers themselves, the girl groups of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s were mostly African American, though some white groups scored hits, too. They were named The Crystals, The Shirelles, The Ronettes, and more. A few lone performers with and without female backup, also carried the “girl group” sound, and were considered a part this genre.
The distinctive sound of the girl group songs filled the air in those years, and seemed to be everywhere. The music spawned the sales of millions of records, creating a number of millionaires – though often not the performers themselves, who were frequently short-changed and manipulated in the process. More on that later.
Jacqueline Warwick’s 2007 book, “Girl Groups, Girl Culture,” with The Shirelles on its cover.
Still, the 1960s girl group phenomenon resulted in a compressed period of musical innovation with lasting results. The songs and performances pushed the bounds of the industry at the time and became a key source of innovative song writing and composition, as well as novel forms of instrumentation. But most of all, “the girl group sound” had a fresh and optimistic buoyancy to it, with lyrics that were mostly innocent and naive – of the “girl–dealing-with-boy” variety – though some songs also offered social commentary. There had been girl groups in previous decades, dating to The Andrew Sisters of the 1930s and 1940s, The McGuire Sisters of the 1940s and 1950s, and similar acts. But what distinguished the 1960s “girl group” phenomenon was its distinctive sound and the huge Baby Boomer market that sent the music to the top of the charts.
Music critic Greil Marcus, writing of the girl groups in 1992 for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, has noted: “The music was perhaps the most carefully, beautifully crafted in all of rock and roll – one reason why none of the twenty or so best records in the genre have dated in the years since they were made.” Now, more than 50 years old at this writing, the girl group music of the 1960s continues to have wide appeal and staying power.
According to some sources, there were over 1,500 girl groups that recorded in the 1960s. Of these, about two dozen or so went on to become significant hit makers. What follows here is an overview of some of the more prominent girl groups that emerged during the 1958-1966 period, along with a healthy sampling of songs from that era (more than a dozen), and some description of the songwriters, producers, and businesses involved in the music making.
Group photograph of The Chantels in the late 1950s.
Among the earliest of the girl groups were The Chantels with their powerful 1957-1958 hit, “Maybe,” featuring Arlene Smith singing lead. The group was established in the early 1950s by five girls, then students at St. Anthony of Padua school in The Bronx.
The original five members of The Chantels consisted of Arlene Smith (lead), Sonia Goring, Rene Minus, Jackie Landry Jackson, and Lois Harris. By the summer of 1957 The Chantels were signed by record producer George Goldner, owner of End Records. Their second single, “Maybe” was released in December 1957, and by January 1958 it became a top hit, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard chart and No.2 on the R & B chart. “Maybe” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. One profile of the group in liner notes for the PBS collection, The Doo Wop Box, noted: “Their records were not terribly sophisticated from a production standpoint, but then just listen to Arlene Smith’s voice and tell us if you really need anything else.” Smith was 16 years old when “Maybe” was recorded.
The Shirelles shown on a later 1992 Ace compilation album of their greatest hits.
However, The Shirelles, the girl group shown on the book cover above, and in later years on the album cover at left, are often regarded by rock historians as the opening act of the 1960s “girl group era,” and perhaps more representative of the girl group sound that followed in those years.
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”-1960-61
Although the Shirelles had recorded a few songs as early as 1958, their hits didn’t start coming until 1960. Among their first popular songs was “Tonight’s The Night,” co-written by lead singer, Shirley Owens, a song that entered the Top 40 in mid-October 1960. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was a Shirelles’ No. 1 hit of December 1960-January 1961 that remained in the Top 40 for 15 weeks. During 1961-1962, four more Top Ten hits followed for the Shirelles: “Dedicated to The One I Love,” a No. 3 hit in February 1961; “Mama Said,” a No. 4 hit in May 1961; “Baby It’s You,” a No. 8 hit in January 1962 written by Burt Bacharach, Hall David and Barney Williams; and “Soldier Boy,” a No. 1 hit in March-April 1962. In all, over a two-year span, The Shirelles would put 11 hits in the Top 40, and five in the Top Ten.
“Baby It’s You”-1962
The Shirelles ascendency came primarily in the early 1960s, during the “Kennedy years,” a time when America was riding high on the promise of a new young president named John F. Kennedy. And despite the Cold War clench and very serious civil rights issues then emerging, the popular music of the day, including the Shirelles’ songs and those of other girl groups, added a certain buoyancy and optimism to the soundtrack of that time.
The Shirelles began as four high school friends in Passaic, New Jersey – Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie “Micki” Harris, and Beverly Lee. They originally formed under another name in 1958 and were first signed by Florence Greenberg, who later ran the Scepter record label. Greenberg brought in producer Luther Dixon, who added string arrangements that improved the Shirelles’ sound, helping them produce the hit songs “Tonight’s the Night” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
Top 40 Hits
“Tonight’s the Night”
October 1960, #39 “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
December 1960, #1 “Dedicated to The One I Love”
February 1961, #3 “Mama Said”
May 1961, #4 “Baby It’s You”
January 1962,#8 “Soldier Boy”
March /April 1961, #1 “Foolish Little Girl”
April 1963, #4
Their big hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin – one of the famed Brill Building song-writing teams in New York city, where a steady stream of pop hits originated during the 1950s and 1960s (see sidebar later below). “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is sometimes credited as the first major girl group hit of the rock era and was also the first all-girl song to ever hit Billboard’s No.1 position. The song’s lyrics also ventured into new social territory raising the question all girls wanted answered after one night’s romance. Reviewing the song for AllMusic.com, Bill Janovitz has observed:
…The song is a masterpiece of pop songcraft… [King and Goffin] deftly handle controversial subject matter: the long-term concerns of a young woman involved in a physical consummation of love. Goffin’s lyrics address the issue in a direct manner, neither ham-fisted nor nudging with innuendo. The artful lyric is simply conversational; polite conversation — ladylike: “Is this a lasting treasure/ Or just a moment’s pleasure?” What a stunning couple of lines. Faced with the restrictions of early-’60s AM pop radio both in content and song length, King and Goffin squeeze an impressive amount of substance and significance from an economical, 14-syllable couplet. We realize that this very human need, this act of love, can be perceived as a meaningless satisfaction of physical desire, devastatingly disappointing to another who experiences the same moment as a consummation of a deep emotional commitment. These mere two lines sum up the impact that two people can have on each other’s feelings. “Tonight with words unspoken,” sings the narrator, ”You say that I’m the only one.” Words unspoken? She is vulnerable, perhaps kidding herself, and she knows it; she is wishing for the best…
Three of The Marvelettes, shown performing in the 1960s.
Also in the early 1960s came The Marvelettes, five girls from a Michigan high school glee club – Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Wanda Young, and Juanita Cowart (with some changing personnel). They signed a Motown Records contract on the Tamla label in 1961.
Motown was the black-owned record label founded by Detroit’s Berry Gordy. A former auto assembly-line worker, Gordy began Motown with a $700 loan in 1959 and built it into a recording empire using three adjoining Detroit row houses as his studio. By 1964, Motown was the nation’s largest independent producer of 45-rpm records, selling 12 million records a year, with Motown girl groups accounting for an important share of that total.
“Please Mr. Postman”-1961
The Marvelettes were the first girl group act of Motown Records, and the first Motown group with a No. 1 hit – “Please Mr Postman” — which hit the No. 1 spot on December 11, 1961. It stayed on the pop charts for nearly six months. “Mr Postman,” later covered by the Beatles, was followed by several other Marvelettes’ Top 40 hits, including three more in 1962 – “Twistin` Postman” at No. 34; “Playboy” at No. 7; and “Beachwood 4-5789″ at No. 17. “Too Many Fish in the Sea” was a No. 25 hit in 1964, and “Don’t Mess With Bill” cracked the Top Ten at No. 7 in 1966. Another Marvelettes song that received some attention on the R&B charts, reaching No. 24 in the spring of 1963, was “Forever,” with Wanda Young Rogers singing lead.
The Cookies of Brooklyn, NY had two Top 40 hits in 1962-63, including “Chains.”
Among other groups sometimes considered as part of the 1960s’ girl group era were The Exciters, The Sensations, The Cookies, and The Paris Sisters. In October 1961, Priscilla, Albeth, and Sherrell Paris of San Francisco had a No. 3 hit, “I Love How You Loved Me,” and another Top 40 hit in March 1962, “He Knows I Love Him Too Much.” In February 1962, The Sensations of Philadelphia had a No. 4 hit with “Let Me In” on Chess Records’ Argo label, with Yvonne Mills Baker singing lead.
In December 1962-January 1963, The Exciters, a three person group with one male, scored with a Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune, “Tell Him,” which rose to No.4 and two decades later was used on The Big Chill soundtrack. Carole King and Jerry Goffin wrote for The Cookies girl group, a Brooklyn, New York threesome of Dorothy Jones, Ethel McCrea, and Margaret Ross, helping them produce the No. 17 hit, “Chains,” in the fall of 1962. The Cookies also sang backup vocals on the 1962 Little Eva hit song, “The Loco-Motion” (also by King/Goffin). But in early 1963, the Cookies scored a Top Ten hit with another King/Goeffin tune, “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby,” which rose to No.7 on the Billboard chart.
Another of the early 1960s groups were the Orlons – first formed as an all girl group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1950s, but later added one male. Rosetta Hightower sang lead for the group, joined by Shirley Brickley, Marlena Davis and Stephen Caldwell. The Orlons had three Top Ten hits in 1962-63 – “The Wah-Watusi,” No. 2 in June 1962; “Don’t Hang Up,” No. 4 in the fall of 1962; and “South Street,” No. 3 in 1963.
Girl group record producer Phil Spector had his first million-dollar payday in the early 1960s with The Crystals.
Enter Phil Spector
During the 1960s, the “girl group sound” began to be influenced and molded by a young record producer named Phil Spector who had previously recorded in the late 1950s with his own short-lived group, The Teddy Bears. Spector would become famous in the 1960s for his lavish instrumentation of girl group and other pop recordings; a technique that came to be known as “the wall of sound.” He became a master at composing appealing orchestral-like treatments for rock songs, giving them a full, lush sound with little “empty” air. He would later call these productions “little symphonies for the kids.” Spector was also a control-room maestro who became skilled at multi-tracking which he used to craft his “wall-of-sound” productions. “Whenever you hear a ‘60s-era production with echoey voices, five or six guitar parts, nearly as many keyboards, and perfectly aligned maracas and other percussion shaking and rattling underneath, it’s safe to assume that the enigmatic Spector created it, or inspired it,” writes Tom Moon in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.
The Crystals were the hot girl group in 1961-62 with hits such as: "Uptown," “He’s A Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” which are sampled below.
In 1961, when he was just starting out with this own record label, Philles, Spector signed a group named the Crystals. There were actually two sets of personnel who recorded as the Crystals at Spector’s direction. More on that in a moment. The Crystals, in any case, came on strong in the 1961-1963 period with a series of hits, including: “There’s No Other Like My Baby” (1962, No. 20); “Uptown” (1962, No. 13); “He’s A Rebel”(1962, No.1); “Da Doo Ron Ron”(1963, No. 3); “Then He Kissed Me” (1963, No. 6); and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” (1963, No.11). The Crystals made Spector a millionaire; he was 21 years old.
Initially, the Crystals had formed in 1961 with five girls, most of them just graduating from high school – Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Dolores “Dee Dee” Kenniebrew, Myrna Girard and Patricia “Patsy” Wright. Their first hit was November 1961′s “There’s No Other Like My Baby,” co-written by Spector and Leroy Bates, with Barbara Alston on lead vocals. This song had been recorded on the evening of three of the girls’ high school prom, as they came to the studio still wearing their prom dresses. The Crystals’ next hit, “Uptown,” was written by Brill Building songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and it included a little attitude and some class issues woven into the lyrics. Spector added flamenco guitar and castanets. But “Uptown” was upbeat in sound, featuring Barbara Alston on lead, and it became a top hit. After “Uptown,” one of the group’s members, Myrna Girard became pregnant and was replaced by Dolores “LaLa” Brooks.
Darlene Love with Phil Spector, 1960s.
However, for the Crystals next song, “He’s A Rebel,” Spector recorded singer Darlene Love and her backing group, The Blossoms, as “The Crystals.”
“He’s A Rebel”-1962
Reportedly, the real Crystals were unable to travel from New York to Los Angeles fast enough to suit Spector, who was then racing to beat Vicki Carr to market with her version of the song. Since Darlene Love and the Blossoms were based in L.A., Spector used them to recorded “He’s A Rebel” as The Crystals. “He’s a Rebel” hit No. 1 in November 1962. The “Crystals” follow-up single –”He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” which hit No. 11 — also featured Love and The Blossoms.
Dolores “LaLa” Brooks with Phil Spector, 1960s.
In 1963, the real Crystals, with LaLa Brooks singing lead, then recorded “Da Doo Ron Ron,” a Top 10 hit in both the U.S. and the U.K. Upon hearing the final playback of “Da Doo Ron Ron” in the studio, Spector reportedly remarked to Sonny Bono, later of “Sonny & Cher” fame but then a production assistant: “That’s gold. That’s solid gold coming out of that speaker.”
“Da Doo Ron Ron”-1963
The follow-up Crystals’ single, “Then He Kissed Me,” also cracked the Top 10. Both of the 1963 hits – “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” – were co-written by Phil Spector with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. The lead vocals were sung by Lala Brooks.
The Crystals, however, weren’t the only girl group Spector was working with. He also produced songs for the earlier-mentioned San Francisco group, The Paris Sisters. And once performers were signed with Spector, he would sometimes use them interchangeably with other groups, or as background singers, or for specially-created groups to put out one or two songs. Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, for example – with Darlene Love, Fanita James and Bobby Sheen – had two Top 40 hits for Spector’s Philles label in 1962 and 1963 – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” No. 8 in December 1962, and “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart?,” No. 38 in March 1963.
The Ronettes of the 1960s at the top of their game, circa 1963-64. Click on photo for separate story.
But one girl group Phil Spector became especially attached to was a new group from New York’s Spanish Harlem named The Ronettes. The Ronettes story is covered separately at this website in more detail –including song samples, the group’s biography, an account of Spector’s stormy relationship and marriage with lead singer Ronnie Bennett, and some later legal battles.
“Be My Baby”-1963
Suffice it to say here that the Ronettes were one of the key girl groups of the 1963-1964 period, turning out a series of hit songs that helped define that era, including “Be My Baby” of October 1963, one of the key genre-defining girl group songs.
Girl Group Songs
“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”
Jan 1962 / The Crystals / #20 “Uptown”
Mar 1962 / The Crystals / #13 “He Knows I Love Him Too Much”
Mar 1962 / The Paris Sisters / #34 “He’s a Rebel”
Nov 1962 / The Crystals / #1 “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”
Jan 1963 / The Crystals, #11 “…The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”
May 1963 / Darlene Love, #39 “Da Doo Ron Ron”
June 1963 / The Crystals / #3 “Then He Kissed Me”
Aug 1963 / The Crystals / #6 “Wait ’Til My Bobby Gets Home”
Sept 1963 / Darlene Love / #26 “Be My Baby”
Oct 1963 /The Ronettes, #2 “A Fine, Fine Boy”
Nov 1963 / Darlene Love, #53 “Baby, I Love You”
Nov 1963 / The Ronettes, #24 “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”
May 1964 / The Ronettes, #39 “Do I Love You?”
Aug 1964 / The Ronettes, #34 “Walking in the Rain”
Dec 1964 / The Ronettes, #23
_______________________ Phil Spector produced songs; not a complete list.
Added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2006, “Be My Baby’s” description in that listing reads: “This single is often cited as the quintessence of the ‘girl group’ aesthetic of the early 1960s and is also one of the best examples of producer Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ style. Opening with Hal Blaine’s infectious and much imitated drumbeat, distinctive features of the song, all carefully organized by Spector, include castanets, a horn section, strings and the able vocals of Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett. Enhancing the already symphonic quality of the recording is Spector’s signature use of reverb.”
Phil Spector, in any case, became a dominant girl group producer, churning out hit after hit with The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and others. He also worked with non-girl groups during the same period, including the Righteous Brothers, and a few years later, Tina Turner.
But from 1962 through 1964, Spector’s girl group sound was all over the charts. He produced at least 15 Top 40 girl group hits in those two years, some of which are listed in the table at right.
Spector worked with other songwriters on many of these hits. The Brill Building team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, in particular, worked with Spector on a number of girl group hits. Among the songs they co-wrote with Spector were: “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” for the Crystals; “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You” for the Ronettes; and also Darlene Love’s “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Going To Marry.”
In addition, Spector also produced a Christmas album using the Ronettes, Darlene Love and others to record traditional Christmas favorites in the girl-group /wall-of-sound style – an album that is still popular to this day. Phil Spector the person, however, is quite another story, whose quirky and sometimes violent behavior has been widely written about elsewhere. In 2009, after two trials in Los Angeles, he was convicted of second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson and is presently serving a sentence of 19 years to life. But during his 1960s heyday, Spector had magical abilities in the recording studio.
Beyond the Phil Spector-produced girl group songs, there was additional activity in 1963 and 1964 with artists such as The Chiffons, Martha & The Vandellas, The Angels, The Jaynetts, and others. More on those groups in a moment. But first, some background on New York’s “Brill Building” writers and producers and their role in the girl group era.
“Brill Building Pop”
Brill Building entrance in New York city at 1619 Broadway.
Behind the success of a number of the 1960s girl groups were teams of songwriters and producers who worked out of New York City’s Brill Building and related offices north of Times Square. In the 1930s, after the Brill Brothers clothing store had successfully operated at that location for many years, a bigger building was completed, intended for stock brokers and bankers. However, with the Depression, it became a rental building instead, housing primarily music publishers and writers.
By 1962, the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses of one kind or another. In fact, it became a place where the complete music making process – from song idea to finished record demo –could be completed in a manner of days. At the Brill Building, a song and melody could be written, musicians hired, demo cut, record companies and publishers contacted, managers and promoters hired. By the early 1960s, the “Brill Building method” of song making exploded with a frenzy of pop music production, as hits soared to the top of he music charts. In the process, some of the Brill Building writers, producers and publishers became quite wealthy.
Brill Building songwriter Carole King at piano, along with husband and composing partner Gerry Goffin, far right, on song collection CD cover with other songwriters.
Songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin worked for a Brill Building music company just up the street, at 1650 Broadway. They were among more than a dozen young writers in their late teens and early twenties who came to work for Aldon Music, a company formed by music men Don Kirshner and Al Nevins in 1958. Aldon churned out pop lyrics and music for client record labels such as Columbia, Atlantic, RCA and ABC. The King/Goffin team, hired in 1960, would soon turn out some big girl-group hits such as: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles (#1, 1960), “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons (#5, 1963), and a string of others. But as a young married couple in their 20s, they also worked at other day jobs while they wrote music. Then came their first big hit and their lives changed, as Carole King has recalled: “When ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ sold a million [copies], we went, ‘bye-bye day job!’” Jerry Goffin remembered that day too, as he was then working for a chemical company: “Carole and [Don Kirshner of Aldon Music] arrived in Donny’s limousine at the chem factory and told me I didn’t have to work anymore. And he gave us a $10,000 advance and we got credit cards, and I’ve never had to do an honest day’s work since.”
Brill Building writers Barry Mann at the piano, with Cynthia Weil (left) and Carole Kind, 1965.
Phil Spector, famous for his “wall of sound” productions described earlier, also spent time at the Brill Building. He came in 1960 to learn the trade assisting the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had written a long list of hit songs in the 1950s for the likes of Elvis Presely, Lavern Baker, the Coasters, the Drifters, and others. Leiber and Stoller helped to blend rhythm & blues music into rock ‘n roll and pop recordings.
Another songwriting team – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – also worked for Aldon Music and wrote a number of girl group hits, including: “I Love How You Love Me” for the Paris Sisters (#5, 1961); two for The Cyrstals, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love”(#11, 1962) and “Uptown”(#13, 1962); and “Walking In The Rain” for The Ronettes (#23, 1964 w/Phil Spector).
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, another Brill Building team who also worked with producer Phil Spector, wrote several girl group hits, including two for the Crystals and one for Darlene Love described earlier. They also co-wrote several others with Spector including “Be My Baby” (#2, 1963) and “Baby I Love You”(#24, 1964) for The Ronettes, and “Chapel Of Love” for The Dixie Cups (#1, 1964). Barry and Greenwich also did two for the Shangri-Las – “Leader Of The Pack” (#1, 1964 w/Shadow Morton) and “Give Us Your Blessings”(#29, 1965).
1960s’ album cover for “The Raindrops” that featured Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry.
Sometimes the Brill Building writers would drift into releasing songs themselves. That happened in early 1963, when husband-and-wife team Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry recorded a demo titled “What a Guy,” a tune Barry had written for The Sensations. But Jubilee Records opted to have the Barry/Greenwich demo released as the single under the group name The Raindrops.
As a result, “What A Guy” hit No. 41 on the Billboard chart. A follow-up, “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” did even better, reaching No. 17.
The Raindrops sound was “girl-group” in style, with Greenwich singing lead with double-tracked harmony parts, and Barry providing bass vocals. Although they also released an album, the Barry/Greenwich excursion into recording as the Raindrops ended by 1965, around the time they became involved with writing songs for Red Bird Records.
The Dixie Cups recorded their No 1 hit, “Chapel of Love,” on the Red Bird record label in 1963.
Red Bird was a record label owned by another songwriting team, Leiber & Stoller, along with George Goldner, a producer. Red Bird recorded hits such as the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.” Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music also had a record label – Dimension – a label that produced girl-group and other hit songs.
As for Brill Building writers moving into recording themselves, Carole King proved to be rising star on that front, later producing a long line of her own hit songs and albums – including the Grammy-winning and best-selling 1971 album, Tapestry.
By 1965-1966, the talents of Brill Building writers and others like them were becoming less important as groups such as the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys were setting the tone for other upcoming artists who wrote their own material. For some, the girl-group era ended with The Supremes’ song “You Can’t Hurry Love,” released in the summer of 1966.
Cover of Rich Podolsky’s 2012 book on Don Kirshner & the pop music biz.
Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music, meanwhile, did quite well during the 1960s, making many millions, thanks in part to girl group hits. Between 1959 and 1966, Kirshner’s enterprise published some 500 songs, 400 of which had made the music charts. In April 1966, for example, he had 25 songs on the Billboard charts, including the reigning No. 1 song at the time by the Righteous Brothers, “You’re My Soul and Inspiration.” Kirshner’s songs by then had sold some 150 million recordings. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, meanwhile, who had written some of Kirchner’s hit songs – including the Righteous Brothers No. 1 hit, “You’re My Soul and Inspiration” — had just signed a five-year $1 million contract with Kirshner that April 1966. Since Aldon Music by then had been sold to Columbia Pictures-Screen Gems, and Kirshner named v. p. of publishing and recording, the talents of writers like Mann and Weil would be turned more toward music for television and film. King and Goffin, for example, had a No. 3 hit for the TV group The Monkees with “Pleasant Valley Sunday” in 1967.
Yet for a moment in time, the “Brill Building” methodology of churning out pop girl-group and other hits with teams of songwriters and producers, worked phenomenally well.
The Chiffons girl group of the 1960s shown on a album cover featuring their greatest hits.
The Chiffons were another group of teenage girls who began singing together in high school – in this case at James Monroe High School in The Bronx, New York. Originally formed in 1960 under earlier names, the group then included lead singer Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett, and Barbara Lee. Two years later they added Sylvia Peterson, and by 1963 adopted The Chiffons as their name.
“He’s So Fine”-1963
Their first hit, “He’s So Fine,” went to No.1 on the Billboard chart from March 30 – April 26, 1963. It sold over one million copies and is also known for its signature “doo-lang, doo-lang” refrain. The song was written by Ronald Mack and produced by The Tokens, who in 1961 had the No.1 hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
In 1963-64, The Chiffons would put three other songs on the Top 40 list: “One Fine Day, which rose to No. 5 in the summer of 1963; “A Love So Fine,” which hit No. 40 in October 1963; and “I Have a Boyfriend,” which charted at No. 36 in January 1964.
Cover of CD for “Billboard Top Hits of 1963,” lists three popular “girl group” songs from that year.
“One Fine Day,” was penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who had intended the song for Little Eva but decided The Chiffons were a better fit. The song also has a signature piano segment credited to King. The Chiffons would have another Top 10 hit a few years later, in May 1966, with “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” which rose to No. 10.
“One Fine Day”-1963
The year 1963 was among the most important and prolific years for the girl group sound, with hit after hit. Also in 1963, a young female singer from New Jersey, Lesley Gore, had a June No. 1 hit with “It’s My Party.” She followed that with three more Top Ten hits – “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” a No. 5 hit in July; “She’s a Fool,” another No. 5 hit in October; and “You Don’t Own Me,” a January 1964 No. 2 hit. Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is viewed as one of the era’s more female-assertive tracks and also signaling a new direction. The Angels, also from New Jersey – Phyllis and Barbara Allbut and Peggy Santiglia – had No. 1 hit in August and September of 1963 with “My Boyfriend’s Back.”
“Sally Go Round The Roses”-1963
Also in 1963, The Jaynettes girl group from the Bronx – Ethel Davis, Mary Sue Wells, Yvonne Bushnell and Ada Ray – had the infectious No. 2 hit with “Sally Go Round the Roses” in September/October. This song has a haunting, hypnotic quality for some listeners, due in part to studio production techniques utilizing reverb coupled with a layering of numerous female vocals. The song, a performance favorite of Grace Slick prior to her Jefferson Airplane days, is also said to have been an influence on singer Laura Nyro.
Martha and the Vandellas on a 1964 record sleeve cover. Click on photo to visit their story at this website.
In Detroit, Michigan, meanwhile, Berry Gordy’s Motown music center was churning out girl group hits as well. And one Motown group that broke big in 1963 was Martha & The Vandellas – a threesome consisting of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford.
Martha and her ladies scored three big hits in 1963 – “Come and Get These Memories,” a No. 29 hit in the spring; “Heat Wave,” a No. 3 hit in August; and “Quicksand,” a No. 8 hit in December. Martha & The Vandellas would turn out nine more Top 40 hits over the next three years – among them: “Dancing in the Street,” a No 2 hit in 1964; “Nowhere To Run,” a No. 8 hit in 1965; and “Jimmy Mack,” No. 10 in 1967. See “Motown’s Heat Wave” at this website for a separate story covering Martha and the Vandellas and their music. Next: a brief section on girl group difficulties in the record-making process.
“Girl Group Woes”
Rights, Royalties & Recognition
As buoyant and uplifting as girl group music may have been for millions of listeners, behind the scenes, in the production and management of that sound, there was a somewhat less happy scene unfolding. The girls themselves were often treated as pawns in the process. Though, to be sure, the top girl groups experienced elevated stardom and celebrity, traveled the world in some cases, and were certainly not deprived. Still, a number of the girl groups – especially those younger ladies in their teens and early twenties –“…I was fifteen years old, What do I know about conflict of interest and making a recording deal?” – Nona Hendryx / She’s A Rebel became dependent on the producers and the songwriters for their recordings and their careers. And because they were young, they lacked the experience and social skills to advance their concerns.
According to a conversation with Nona Hendryx of The Bluebells, as relayed in Gillian Gaar’s book, She’s A Rebel: “We would record songs, and listed on the [recording] as the writer would be his [the owner/producer’s] eight-month-old grandchild! It was just ridiculous. He owned the recording studio, he owned our contracts, we had his lawyers… I mean, talk about conflict of interest! But I didn’t know anything about conflict of interest. I was fifteen years old, What do I know about conflict of interest, and making a recording contract deal?” Hendryx also explained. “We got ripped off really badly over the years, especially from the Bluebells era… We ended up with nothing but our name – I don’t know who had the brains enough to ask for that at the time, but somehow we ended up with the name so we could work without any limitations. But we lost a lot of the money we were entitled to.”
When the Shirelles discovered in 1964 that their trust fund had evaporated, they went on strike.
Typically, when it came to contracts, the girl groups fared poorly. And because in many cases they were so flattered to be discovered and professionally recorded, and then became so involved in the music scene swirling around them, they didn’t always realize what was happening, or too often, simply trusted what they were told. So when it came to copyrights, publishing recognition, and compensation, the girl groups were often last in line.
In 1963, The Shirelles learned that a trust holding their royalties – money they were supposed to receive from their Scepter Record label on their 21st birthday – did not exist. The money, they were told, had been spent on production, promotion and touring. The Shirelles went on strike and would not record. After a lawsuit and countersuit in the mid-1960s, an agreement was reached, but the damage had been done. The Shirelles believed they were lied to and deceived. In an interview some years later, Shirley Owens of the Shirelles would explain that their manager and record label owner, Florence Greenberg, had put on a “mother routine” which the girls had fallen for completely.
Some of Motown’s Marvelettes in happier times.
In 1967, after Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, the Marvelettes stopped receiving their royalties. Some of the surviving members and families later sued Motown to get their royalties – which they then had to spilt with a New York company that helped them in the litigation.
The Shangri-Las were another short-changed girl group. As Gillian Garr reports in She’s A Rebel: “Despite their hits and frequent tours, the Shagri-Las saw little of the generated profits, which were eaten up in the black hole of management and studio costs.”
The Shangri-Las of the mid-1960s reportedly saw little of the profits generated by their hits.
In the 1980s, the royalties and rights battle began heating up after a former music agent named Chuck Rubin created Artists Rights Enforcement Corporation to provide legal referrals and support for artists seeking back royalties. Rubin, a researcher with skills in digging up old contracts and master tapes, had found that during the ’50s and ’60s many rock artists – male and female alike – were short changed. According to Rubin, “it was the exception to the rule if they were paid.” The Shirelles, Ronettes, and the Vandellas are among the girl groups who have worked with Rubin’s organization in seeking back royalties.
Phil Spector, for one, would be sued by at least three of the girl groups he worked with. The Crystals sued Spector for unpaid royalties, but lost their case, although they did salvage the rights to their group name, enabling them to continue working and use the name in performances. In 1993, Darlene Love sued Spector for back royalties, and a New York Supreme Court jury ruled in her favor in 1997, but because of the statute of limitations in New York State, awarded her $263,500 for royalties going back only to 1987. The Ronettes, who also sued Spector in later years, fared little better, and that case is covered in more detail in the “Be My Baby” story a this website.
Rosalie “Rosie” Hamlin waged a long battle over decades for her royalties.
Girl group members who wrote their own songs sometimes had to fight for years to get their music publishing rights as song authors. Rosalie “Rosie” Hamlin of Rosie and The Originals, who wrote the No. 5 hit “Angel Baby” in 1960 at age 15, was not listed as the song’s author on the record label at the time it was a hit. Hamlin also found in her contract that she was ineligible to collect record royalties for the song because she was not listed as the songwriter. And although Hamlin did manage to obtain the copyright to her music in 1961, there were decades of battles that followed over royalties.
Beyond the royalty wars and legal disadvantages the girl groups faced, there were also other issues, ranging from lack of media notice (female acts were not promoted or covered by the media and music press then as much as male artists, who in the industry’s words were “easier to sell”), to racism and sexism that were then much more prevalent. And due in part to the formula/production-line nature of song-making in those years, managers and producers did not always acknowledge the talents of their charges or treat them with professional respect in the recording process, sometime regarding them as interchangeable parts to be plugged into the pop music machine wherever they were needed.
Still, despite the woes and difficulties girl groups faced in their careers, most were generally happy to have been a part of the process and to have had the professional help that made their careers possible – inadequate, short lived, and poorly compensated as some of those careers surely were.
Sheet music cover for The Toys’ 1965 hit song, “A Lovers Concerto,” Stateside Records.
By 1964-65 the girl group sound was beginning to give way to other popular sounds. With the arrival of the Beatles in 1964, and the “British invasion” of other U.K. artists thereafter, the market began to shift to the newer music. The Beach Boys and the “surf sound” were ascending then as well. Still, there were girl group hits in the mid-and late 1960s. In addition to groups such as Martha & the Vandellas and The Supremes from Motown, who had hits through the mid- and late-1960s, there were other girl groups also reaching the charts.
From Los Angeles, Carol and Terry Fischer and Sally Gordon, 15 and 17 year-olds who comprised The Murmaids, had a No. 3 hit song with “Popsicles and Icicles” in January 1964. The Dixie Cups, three girls from New Orleans – sisters Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins and their cousin, Joan Marie Johnson – recorded “Chapel of Love” for Red Bird Records in 1963. By early June 1964, the Greenwich/Barry/ Spector song had soared to No. 1, remaining there for three weeks and selling more than a million copies. The Dixie Cups would have three more Top-40 hits in 1964 and 1965.
The Toys, a girl group from Queens, NY, had a major No. 2 hit in October 1965 with “A Lover’s Concerto,” which was based on the melody of Johann Sebastian Bach’s classical piece, “Minuet in G major.” The Toys’ song – whose early lyrics include: “How gentle is the rain / That falls softly on the meadow / Birds high up in the trees / Serenade the flowers with their melodies” – was a million seller in 1965.
Cover of 1995 CD from RPM Records, U.K., “The Shangri-Las: Myrmidons of Melodrama,” which includes 33 of their tracks with annotation.
In some cases, the look and lyrics of the girl groups that did emerge in the mid- and late-1960s, were different than what had gone before, losing a bit of the sweetness and “boy wonderment,” with a few groups adopting more of a tough girl look.
The Ronettes had started a change in look with their hairdos, tight skirts and Cleopatra style make-up. But in 1964, a Queens, New York group named The Shangri-Las took the look and sound in something of a new direction.
The Shangi-Las were a white group, formed in 1963 by two sets of sisters – Mary Weiss (lead singer) and Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss, and identical twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser. The girls were still 15-to-17 years of age when their parents signed their contract with George “Shadow” Morton of the Red Bird record label in April 1964. They produced a series of songs that were mini-melodramas covering topics such as lost love, forbidden love (“Leader of the Pack”), teenage angst, and related themes that became quite popular in the U.S. and U.K..
1965: The Shangri-Las, in boots & leather, at radio station WHK, Geauga Lake Park, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo, George Shuba.
“Remember (Walking in the Sand),” was The Shangri-Las’ first big hit, about a girl receiving a letter of rejection from her former love. Released in July 20, 1964, “…Walking in the Sand” shot up the charts quickly, reaching No. 5 by September 26th. In the U.K., the song also charted, reaching No. 14 that fall.
“Remember…Walking in The Sand”-1964
Next, with the help of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich at the Brill Building, Morton produced the Shangri-Las’ follow-up record, “Leader of the Pack,” which hit No.1 in the U.S. on November 28, 1964. It also hit No. 1 in Australia and No.11 in England. Although the group toured with other major rock acts and appeared on several TV shows, by 1966 their releases began to falter in the U.S., although they remained popular in England and Japan. They also influenced some 1970s punk rock-era acts such as the New York Dolls and Blondie, and later, the Go-Go’s. “Leader of the Pack” later recharted in the U.K in 1972 at No.3 and again in 1976 at No. 7, giving the Shangri-Las the distinction of being the only American vocal group to ever hit the upper reaches of the British Charts three times.
The Supremes in 1965: from left, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard
One girl group that emerged out of Detroit’s Motown music scene in the mid-1960s just as the Beatles and British invasion were coming on — and would go toe-to-toe with those groups on the music charts – was The Supremes.
In the late 1950s, the teenage threesome of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard had formed their singing group while living in Detroit’s Brewster housing project. Initially they used another name during their high school years, but by January 1961, after signing with Berry Gordy’s Motown they changed their name at Gordy’s suggestion. They became “The Supremes,” a name credited to Florence Ballard. However, their first recordings at Motown – in fact, more than nine in a row – fell flat and went nowhere.
The Supremes’ first No. 1 hit, “Where Did Our Love Go,” sold more than 2 million copies.
But then came “Where Did Our Love Go” in the summer of 1964 – a tune that had been rejected by the Marvelettes. But when that song went to No. 1 and sold over 2 million copies, The Supremes were on their way. It was quickly followed that same year by two more No. 1 hits: “Baby Love” in October and “Come See About Me” in December.
More top hits kept coming for the Supremes in 1965, 1966 and 1967. In fact between 1964 and 1967, the Supremes compiled one of the best all-time female recording track records in popular music history: releasing fifteen singles, all of which, except for one, made the Top Ten. In addition, ten of these songs were No. 1 hits. The Supremes’ success brought television exposure beyond what the other girl groups had received, as they appeared not only on teen shows such a Shindig and Hullabaloo, but also The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. “Unlike other so-called girl groups,” observed The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll in 2001, “the Supremes had a mature, glamorous demeanor that appealed equally to teens and adults. Beautiful, musically versatile, and unique, the original Supremes were America’s sweethearts, setting standards and records that no group has yet equaled.” They also became important symbols of black success, and as The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia noted, “they were often seen at Democratic political fundraisers, for President Lyndon Johnson, among others…”
Album featuring The Supremes singing their hit songs composed by Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland team.
The Supremes, and all of Motown had the benefit of a talented three-person team of writers/produces known as “Holland-Dozier- Holland,” or “H-D-H” – a team consisting of the two brothers, Brian and Edward Holland and Lamont Dozier. During their tenure at Motown, from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the composers and producers, while Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals.
“Come See About Me”-1964
H-D-H produced ten of The Supremes’ No. 1 singles, including: “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, ”You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and the 1964 hit sampled above, “Come See About Me.”
The Supremes were nurtured by Gordy’s Motown organization, and like other groups there, they were put through the “Motown finishing school” receiving professional guidance in dance, etiquette, and fashion. However, some of the other Motown groups charged that the Supremes were given special attention by Berry Gordy, given the best songs, and helped along with more spending. And as was later learned, Gordy and Diana Ross had become involved in the mid-1960s.
The Supremes performing "My World Is Empty Without You" on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1966: Diana Ross (right), Mary Wilson (center), Florence Ballard (left).
By August 1967, The Supremes were renamed “Diana Ross and The Supremes.” A few months earlier, Cindy Birdsong, a perfomer with another girl group from Philadelpia, Patti LaBelle and The Blue Belles, had replaced Florence Ballard, who had left The Supremes in April 1967. The new group continued to turn out hits, producing 19 Top 40 hits through 1977 – two of which were No. 1 one hits: “Love Child” in October 1968 and “Someday We’ll Be Together” in November 1969.
The Supremes — and Diana Ross later on her own — went on to separate careers, continuing to record and release songs beyond the 1970s, with reunion tours and some personnel changes in later years. Yet in terms of the classic 1960s’ girl group sound, The Supremes are often put in their own separate category, considered not typical of the teenage girl groups of that era, but rather, representing a somewhat more sophisticated and polished sound, with songs covering somewhat more adult themes. Still, the market reach of The Supremes for both teen and adult listeners was huge and stretched over several decades.
Other Girl Groups. Among groups and solo female artists not mentioned in this article that are sometimes included in girl group listings are: The Ad Libs, The Caravelles, Claudine Clark, Dee Dee Sharp, The Jelly Beans, The Pixies Three, Reparata and the Delrons, The Starlets, Mary Wells, and The Velvelettes. And beyond these, of course, there were hundreds of other girl groups that recorded during the 1960s, but for whatever reasons, did not achieve major notice.
The Crystals girl group of the early 1960s shown on the cover of a London Records EP recording.
Girl Group Legacy
The girl groups of the 1960s occupy something of unique niche in the history of rock `n roll music. They were singing groups that typically did not write their own songs nor play the musical instruments that powered those songs. Nor was the girl group sound a long-lasting genre. In fact, with the exception of The Supremes, it was a pretty compressed period; one that some historians mark as coming between Elvis Presley’s induction into the U.S. Army in 1958 and the Beatles’ rise in early 1964.
But that demarcation may be too simplistic, as “girl group music” of one form or another, as shown above, persisted well through the 1960s. And although the rise of the Beatles and the British invasion were factors, there was also something else: the way popular music began to be produced around that time. Groups such as the Beatles – but also extending to folk, surf, and solo female artists who began their rise in the mid-and late1960s – were artists who wrote and performed their own songs. That was an important change in the means of production, as it fundamentally altered and outdated the Brill Building and Motown methodologies – the “assemblers” who had previously brought all the moving parts of pop song-making together. Girl group music also leaned on a formula of similar and repeating types of sound, song titles, and lyrics which could only be sustained for a few years before listeners yearned for something new. Still, the girl group sound made its mark and had its impacts. In some ways the era marked a unique coming together of voices, producers and writers – a once-in-a-great-while crossing of paths and talents that briefly produced some beautiful and lasting music.
The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” was a No. 1 hit for 4 weeks, June 1965.
As for the audience of that era, the verdict was clear and unequivocal: it was simply good music. The Boomer kids, growing up with the girl group sound, voted for it overwhelmingly with their dollars, sending the pop music business to a place it had never been before. And beyond those crazy kids, even a few serious music critics years later would extend their kudos.
Greil Marcus, writing in 1992 for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, then enthusing over some memorable moments from the girl group oeuvre, mentioned, among others: “…the piano on ‘One Fine Day’…the unbelievably sexual syncopation of the Shirelles’ ‘Tonight’s The Night’; the pile-driving force of ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’; the good smile of the Crystals’ ‘He’s Sure The Boy I Love’ – a smile that stretched all across America in 1963.” Marcus also added in his commentary:
…It was utopian stuff – a utopia of love between a boy and a girl, a utopia of feeling, of sentiment, of desire most of all. That the crassest conditions the recording industry has been able to contrive led to emotionally rich music is a good chapter in a thesis on Art and Capitalism, but it happened. That utopian spirit has stayed with those who partook of it – the formal style of girl-group rock has passed, but the aesthetic is there to hear in Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Book of Love, Bette Miller….
And later, as historians dissecting the girl group era would acknowledge, there was something there worth saving. In the Library of Congress cultural preservation program, girl group songs are among those listed on the National Recording Registry, including, so far, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.” There will, no doubt, be others to come. More common kudos for girl group music comes in other forms, too – the use of their songs by other artists being a prominent one. A number of girl groups songs have been covered by other artists, some of which have become hits themselves, but usually in most cases, bringing the music to new listeners.
Cover photo of the Beatles on their March 1995 EP that included The Shirelles’ song, “Baby It’s You.”
Cover Versions. The Beatles, for one, have covered several of the girl group songs. Early on, The Beatles used the Shirelles’ song “Baby It’s You” as part of their stage act from 1961 until 1963. They also recorded the song in February 1963 for their first album, Please Please Me. A live Beatles’ version of “Baby It’s You” was later issued as a part of a four-song EP in 1995 that rose into the Top Ten in both the US and UK. Another Shirelles song, “Dedicated to the One I Love,” was given a boost by a 1967 cover version by The Mamas & the Papas with Michelle Phillips on lead. This version went to No. 2 in both the US and UK.
Mamas & Papas-Cover Version
The group Smith in 1969 and The Carpenters in 1970-71 also released versions of The Shirelles’ song ”Baby It’s You.” More than 20 other artists have also recorded the song. Similarly, The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” has been recorded by a long line of artists – from The Chiffons in 1963 and song co-author Carole King on her 1971 Tapestry album, to Amy Winehouse who recorded a slowed-down, jazzy version for the 2004 film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Record jacket for the April 1967 Beach Boys single, “Then I Kissed Her,” a cover of a Crystals song.
Some of The Crystals’ songs have also been widely covered. In 1965, the Beach Boys recorded “And Then He Kissed Me” with the re-worded title “Then I Kissed Her,” and included the song on their Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) album. Al Jardine sang lead on the song. Two years later, in April 1967, the Beach Boys released the song as a single in the UK where it charted at No. 4.
Singing duo Sonny & Cher also covered “And Then He Kissed Me,” issued on a French four-song EP in 1965.
And Bruce Springsteen covered the song in some of his live performances in 1975 under the title, “Then She Kissed Me.” He also used the same song in more recent years, opening a concert with it in August 2008 in St. Louis, and performing it by request in Sunrise, Florida during a September 2009 encore performance.
Linda Ronstadt’s “Heat Wave,” 1975.
“(Love is Like a) Heat Wave,” the 1963 hit song by Motown’s Martha and the Vandellas, has some interesting cover history as well. Linda Ronstadt had a No. 5 hit with the song in November 1975, and Phil Collins released a single version of “Heat Wave” in September 2010.
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian revealed in 2007 how he sped up the three-chord intro from “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” to come up with the intro for the Spoonful’s 1965 hit, “Do You Believe in Magic.” And in recent years, the song has been used by at least five contestants on American Idol.
Many other 1960s’ girl group songs have similar histories of cover-version recordings; only a sampling has been offered here.
The 1996 film, “One Fine Day,” used The Chiffons’s popular 1963 song of that name in the film score.
Film & TV Music. The 1960s girl group songs have also been used extensively in TV and film productions. The Shirelles “Soldier Boy” was used in the 1979 film The Wanderers as well as the 1989 film, Born on the Fourth of July. The Ronettes “Be My Baby” was used in the opening segments of films such as Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets of 1973 and Dirty Dancing of 1987. It was also used in episodes of TV’s Moonlighting show in 1987 and The Wonder Years in 1990, as well as an entertaining Levis’ jeans TV ad in 1989. The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” was used in the 1990 film Goodfellas and also during the opening credits of the 1987 film comedy Adventures in Babysitting, when Elisabeth Shue dances to and lip-syncs the song. It is also said that this Crystals song song inspired a famous front-page headline, “And Then He Kissed Her” which ran in London’s The Sun newspaper on July 30, 1981, the day after Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married.
Martha & the Vandellas’ song “Heat Wave” was sung by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 film Sister Act, and also featured in Backdraft of 1991 and More American Graffiti of 1979. “A Lover’s Concerto” by The Toys was used in the 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus, and “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons was used in the 1996 film by that name starring Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney. The Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You” is part of the soundtrack for the 1995 Hugh Grant-Julianne Moore film Nine Months, and the soundtrack for the 1999 film A Walk on the Moon featured a remake of the Jaynetts song, “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses.” And this is only a partial list.
Gillian Gaar’s “She’s A Rebel,” 1992.
Girl Group Books. Among books that cover or include 1960s’girl groups as a subject are, for example: Alan Betrock’s 1982 book, Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound; Gillian Gaar’s 1992 book, She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll; John Clemente’s 2000 book, Girl Groups: Fabulous Females That Rocked the World; and Jacqueline Warwick’s 2007 book, Girl Groups, Girl Culture. Laurie Stras, a senior lecturer in music at the University of Southampton in the U.K. has edited a 2011 anthology that explores 1960s girl singers and girl groups in the U.S. and the U.K. – She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music. Academic and trade journal articles have also delved into various aspects of the 1960s girl-group era, a few of which are listed below in “Sources.”
Girl group members themselves have taken up the pen to tell their own stories of their years in the music business, some of them turbulent tales. Among these books have been, for example: Mary Wilson’s 1986 book, Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme, written with Patricia Romanowski and Ahrgus Juilliard; Ronnie Spector’s 1990 book, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette; Martha Reeves 1994 autobiography with Mark Bego, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Pop Diva; and Darlene Love’s 1998 autobiography, My Name Is Love.
Peter Benjaminson’s book, “The Lost Supreme,” about Florence Ballard.
Added to these are girl group books written by outside authors, such as: Marc Taylor’s 2004 book, The Original Marvelettes: Motown’s Mystery Girl Group; J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2007 biography, Diana Ross; and Peter Benjaminson’s 2008 book, The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard. There have also been several books written about Phil Spector’s life and work, among them, Mark Ribowsky’s 1989 book, He’s a Rebel: The Truth About Phil Spector – Rock and Roll’s Legendary Madman, and Mick Brown’s 2007 book, Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. In 2005, Ken Emerson wrote a book about the Brill Building scene – Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era. Former Brill Building songwriter and singer Carole King has written a 2012 memoir titled, A Natural Woman. A number of books have also covered Motown’s history, including Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, and Peter Benjaminson’s 2012 book, Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar.
Broadhurst Theatre playbill for the 2011 play, “Baby It’s You.”
Stage & Screen. On Broadway and in Hollywood, girl group stories have been told, and more are in development. Perhaps the most famous of the stage productions so far has been Dreamgirls, a 1981 Broadway musical based in part on the rise of performers such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others. In the play, a young female singing trio from Chicago named “The Dreams” become music superstars. The musical was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and won six. Dreamgirls was also made into a successful Hollywood film in 2006, starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Danny Glover, and others. The film won three Golden Globes and two Oscars.
In April 2011, Baby It’s You!, another musical with girl group roots, debuted on Broadway. This production featured the music of The Shirelles and offered the story of their manager, Florence Greenberg and her Scepter Records, the recording label Greenberg started when she signed The Shirelles. This production ran for 148 performances, opening at the Broadhurst Theater in April 2011 and closing that year in September.
Years earlier, in 1985, a Broadway show titled Leader of the Pack, dedicated to songs co-written by Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich and based on her life, also ran on Broadway where it was nominated for a Best Musical Tony.
2013 playbill from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for the Broadway show, “Motown The Musical.”
Another Brill Building writer, Carol King, will be celebrated in a Broadway production scheduled to open in 2014 titled, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Sony/ATV Music Publishing is involved in the production and the musical score will include songs by Carole King and Gerry Goffin as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. And most recently on Broadway, opening in April 2013, has been Motown: The Musical,” which celebrates the musical legacy of Berry Gordy and the Motown music catalog, including Motown’s girl groups.
So the 1960s’ girl-group beat lives on – in various forms and venues – staying alive for the future. But for some who lived through that time and actually experienced the music making in those years, there’s no substitute for the real thing. LaLa Brooks who sang lead on several of The Crystals big hits in the 1960s, gave an October 2011 interview with Mindy Peterman of the Morton Report during which she reminisced about working in the studio with Phil Spector and the parade of live musicians and singers who came together back then to produce the songs. Similar scenes were common at Motown and the Brill Building. That era is gone now, and those recording sessions can never be repeated, but Brooks is sure that the sound they made back then was special and unique, and she was glad to have been a part of it:
“…I remember there were so many people in the studio. That was fascinating. Just to sit outside the studio in the seating area before I put on the vocals and seeing all the musicians just playing live, which they don’t do today. I think that was an experience. So many of the young artists now, they’re using all kinds of computers and some kind of technology. They lose that gift that I had in the studio with Phil [Spector] with all the musicians at one time playing.”
Still, the sound from that time – the music, the voices, the beat – much of it has been captured, etched, recorded, and digitized for all time. The legacy is there for the listening. And as more distance is put between that time and those songs, it does appear that the era, and the music made then, will stand out in a good way. And however accidental, serendipitous, and/or opportunistic that music making may have been, the “girl group sound” remains a gift for the ages.
For other stories at this website on the history of popular music please visit the Annals of Music category page or go to the Home Page for additional story choices. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
“Martha and the Vandellas/Martha Reeves,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 613-614.
“The Toys,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 1,000-1,001.
Mark Ribowsky’s 2007 book on Phil Spector.
Katy June-Friesen, “The Real Dreamgirls: How Girl Groups Changed American Music,” Smithsonian.com, February 1, 2007.
“The Shangri-Las,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 876.
“The Supremes/Diana Ross & the Supremes,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 960-963.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Sound of the Sixties,” Time, Friday, May 21, 1965.
Richard Williams, “Sweet Nothings; The Lyrics Are All about Boyfriends, the Melodies Only a Few Bars Long. Why Are the 1960s Girl Groups Still So Enchanting?,” The Guardian, Friday, January 20, 2006.
Laurie Stras (ed), University of Southampton, UK, She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music, Ashgate, September 2011, 284 pp.
Profile view of the JFK statue in downtown Fort Worth, Texas – installed in 2012 to commemorate the President’s visit there on November 22, 1963.
On the fateful day of November 22nd, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, some may not know that JFK also visited another Texas city earlier that same day – Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth is the twin city of Dallas, commonly known today as the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. But in 1963, Fort Worth would become the place where John F. Kennedy made his last two speeches.
The president had come to Texas as part of some early politicking for his planned 1964 re-election bid – Texas being a key state in the electoral math. Kennedy was then making a larger tour of western states, sounding out some possible campaign themes, including conservation, education, and national defense, among others. But in Texas at that time there was also a bit of a rift in the Democratic party. And JFK’s civil rights and foreign affairs policies were also not popular among Texas conservatives. A month earlier in Dallas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, had been roughed up by a crowd after making a speech there. So Kennedy had come to Texas, in part, to do some fence-mending and also to gin up popular support for his party prior to 1964.
Map shows JFK’s 2-day Nov `63 itinerary: San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, then back to D.C.
On the Texas trip – which had scheduled stops in five cities over two days – JFK was accompanied by his wife, Jackie, who was making her first public appearance since the August 9th death of their two-day-old baby, Patrick. The first stops on the trip were San Antonio and Houston on November 21st, 1963, where the president made a series of speeches. They then came to Fort Worth later that night. After a scheduled speech in Fort Worth the next morning, November 22nd, the president and his party would then take a short flight to Dallas for the day, then to Austin, the final stop. Following the Austin visit, they were scheduled to fly home that night to Washington, D.C. But the tragic events in Dallas that day intervened.
After their first two visits on November 21st, the Kennedy’s arrived at Ft. Worth’s Carswell Air Force Base at 11 pm. Despite the late hour, cheering crowds greeted them at the airport and all along their route to downtown Fort Worth, where the Kennedy’s would spend the night at the Texas Hotel. Local art patrons, knowing JFK and Jackie were both art lovers, assembled a sampling of art pieces from Fort Worth collectors and installed what amounted to a private exhibit in the President’s hotel suite. Sixteen original pieces of modern art and sculpture were installed, including works by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso and others. A special catalog, “An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. Kennedy,”listed the details on each piece and their owners.
The next morning, The Star-Telegram ran the front-page banner headline: “Welcome, Mr. President!” with sub-heads: “JFK Lands Amid Roar of Cheers” and “Crowd Lines Route to Town; 10,000 Welcome President.” That morning, the president was scheduled to speak at a breakfast gathering of civic leaders of the Forth Worth Chamber of Commerce. Despite an earlier rain and misty conditions, a huge crowd of Texans had gathered outside the hotel hoping to get a glimpse of the President. Against the advice of Secret Service, an impromptu speech was hastily arranged in the parking lot outside across the street from the Texas Hotel, using a truck bed for a speaker’s platform. Congressman Jim Wright of Texas, traveling with the president that day, had previously been pushing the White House to allow a short public speech in Fort Worth in addition to the President’s scheduled Chamber of Commerce speech later that morning.
Fort Worth, Texas: At approximately 8:45a.m. on the morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a short speech to thousands of Texans in downtown Fort Worth prior to his formal speech inside the Texas Hotel before the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Jim Wright is standing just beyond JFK.
Fort Worth: 1963
On his Texas trip, the president was traveling with a group of Texas dignitaries that included, in addition to Congressman Wright: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas Governor John Connally, U.S. Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough, Texas state senator Don Kennard, and others. These officials appear in the Fort Worth photo above and some of the other photos of the same speech below. The president was quite encouraged by the large crowd that turned out that morning, and he thanked them for coming out in what had been a rainy morning.
Nov 1963: JFK with Rep. Jim Wright in Fort Worth, Texas.
President John F. Kennedy addressing Fort Worth ,TX crowd on the morning of November 22, 1963 outside Hotel Texas.
JFK looking out over crowd and downtown Fort Worth, Texas during speech on the morning of November 22, 1963.
JFK in Fort Worth with Sen. Ralph Yarborough, Gov. John Connally and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson behind him.
After his Fort Worth speech, JFK plunged into the crowd.
At about 8:45 a.m., President Kennedy, with Congressman Jim Wright at his side, strode out of the hotel, also flanked by Vice President Johnson and Senator Ralph Yarborough, with Governor Connally a few steps behind. Johnson, Yarborough and Connally all wore raincoats, as the skies were still overcast. Kennedy and Wright were in their suit coats. Jackie Kennedy had remained behind in the hotel suite.
“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” President Kennedy began when he mounted the platform, “and I appreciate your being here this morning. Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes longer, but, of course, she looks better than we do when she does it. . . . We appreciate your welcome.” Then he continued with the rest of his speech, which follows:
“. . .This city’s been a great western city, the defense of the west, cattle, oil, and all the rest. It has believed in strength in this city, and strength in this state, and strength in this country.”
“What we’re trying to do in this country and what we’re trying to do around the world, I believe, is quite simple. And that is to build a military structure which will defend the vital interests of the United States. And in that great cause, Fort Worth – as it did in World War II, as it did in developing the best bomber system in the world, the B-58, and as it will now do in developing the best fighter system in the world, the TFX – Fort Worth will play its proper part.”
“And that is why we have placed so much emphasis in the last three years in building a defense system second to none. Until now the United States is stronger than it’s ever been in its history.”
“And secondly, we believe that the new environment – space, the new sea – is also an area where the United States should be second to none… And this state of Texas, and the United States, is now engaged in the most concentrated effort in history to provide leadership in this area, as it must here on Earth. And this is our 2nd great effort, and next December, next month, the United States will fire the largest booster in the history of the world, putting us ahead of the Soviet Union in that area, for the first time in our history.”
“And thirdly, for the United States to fulfill its obligations around the world, requires that the United States move forward economically; that the people of this country participate in rising prosperity… And it is a fact in 1962, and the first six months of 1963, the economy of the United States grew, not only faster than nearly every Western country – which had not been true in the 50’s – but also grew faster than the Soviet Union itself.”
“That’s the kind of strength the United States needs – economically, in space, militarily. And in the final analysis, that strength depends on the willingness of the citizens of the United States to assume the burdens of leadership. I know one place where they are – here in this rain, in Fort Worth, in Texas, in the United States, we’re going forward. Thank you.”
Kennedy received rousing cheers and prolonged applause throughout this speech, and was generally greeted enthusiastically by the large crowd. He then plunged into the crowd for a time, shaking hands and thanking folks for coming out.
President Kennedy greeting citizens of Fort Worth, Texas who just heard him make a brief speech in front of the Hotel Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963. Photo by White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton.
Next it was on to a more formal speech inside the Hotel Texas addressing an audience of about 2,000 civic, business, and labor leaders at a breakfast meeting of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Tickets for this event had vanished well in advance of Kennedy’s appearance, as demand for tickets had outstripped the capacity of the hotel’s ballroom. Among the political and business leaders in the room that morning were Vice President Johnson, Governor Connally, U.S. Senator Yarborough, and Rep. Jim Wright. Also attending were: Byron Tunnell, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives; Waggorier Cart, Texas Attorney General; Raymond Buck, president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; and Marion Hicks, a vice president of General Dynamics in Fort Worth and also vice president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
Jackie Kennedy, center, in light suit behind agent, making her entrance at the Hotel Texas to join JFK at the head table.
Jackie Kennedy at the head table between JFK and Lyndon Johnson, left, and official of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, at the podium.
President Kennedy during his speech to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Texas, Nov. 22, 1963.
As the guests at the head table were taking their seats, JFK, according to Jeb Byrne, Kennedy’s advance coordinator for the Fort Worth visit, called one of the Secret Service agents over to the head table and told him to ask Mrs. Kennedy to come down to the ballroom. He also instructed the agent to ask the orchestra to play “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You” when she made her entrance into the ballroom.
Jackie arrived, escorted by two agents, and she was dressed in a striking pink suit and matching pillbox hat – an outfit that would later become a painful symbol of one of the nation’s most horrible days. But at this moment, Jackie Kennedy was the center of attention and received a rousing welcome and audience ovation as she joined JFK at the head table.
After the perfunctory political “thank yous” and acknowledgments of local leaders, the president began his speech by praising his wife’s greater aura: “Two years ago, I introduced myself in Paris by saying that I was the man who had accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris. I am getting somewhat the same sensation as I travel around Texas. …Nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear.”
In his prepared remarks, Kennedy expanded on themes he had touched on earlier in his outdoor speech. Again, he touted Fort Worth’s contribution to national defense with its World War II bombers, combat helicopters, and a current project, the TFX aircraft. The focus was military preparedness and U.S. leadership. “We are still the keystone in the arch of freedom,” he said. “We will continue to do… our duty, and the people of Texas will be in the lead.”
It was a speech written for a Texas Chamber of Commerce audience, and they loved it. Following the speech, the President and Mrs. Kennedy walked down the main aisle shaking hands and engaging members of the audience for a few minutes before Secret Service agents guided them on a security-cleared route back to their hotel suite. There, with some time to catch their breath before departing for Dallas, the president made a few telephone calls, one to former Vice President, John Nance Garner, at his home in Ulvade, Texas, to wish him a happy 95th birthday. Garner had served as vice president in FDR’s first two terms in the 1930s. The Kennedys also took some time to view the original art works adorning their suite, placing a call to one of the of exhibit’s organizers, Ruth Carter Johnson, to thank her for her thoughtfulness.
Front page of the New York Times on November 23, 1963 includes photo of LBJ being sworn on Air Force One in with Mrs. Kennedy beside him.
The presidential party then left the hotel by motorcade to Carswell Air Force Base for the 13-minute flight to Dallas. A short time later, the national horror of a presidential assassination would plunge the nation into a period of shocked disbelief and prolonged national mourning, as assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president while he was riding in an open limousine along with Jackie and Governor Connally.
Arriving at Love Field in Dallas that morning, the President and Mrs. Kennedy engaged in some brief welcoming activities before entering their limousine. The JFK motorcade proceeded along a 10-mile route through downtown Dallas on its way to the Trade Mart, where the President was to speak at a luncheon. At approximately 12:30 p.m., the President was struck by two bullets. Shortly thereafter, at about 1:00 p.m., he was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One with Mrs. Kennedy beside him in her blood-stained pink outfit that only hours earlier had dazzled a Fort Worth breakfast audience. After that tragic day, America would never be quite the same, as a measure of innocence was lost with the President’s assassination. John F. Kennedy was 46 years old.
The Texas Statue
Earlier artist’s rendition of the JFK Tribute Site in downtown Fort Worth, Texas at General Worth Square Park.
JFK Tribute site in Fort Worth, TX as of November 2012.
Closer view of the JFK statue in Fort Worth, TX, with one of the large background photos from JFK’s 1963 visit.
After JFK’s assassination, cities and towns across the country sought ways to honor the fallen president, and a number of place-name designations followed bearing the JFK or Kennedy moniker. Schools, streets, parks, airports, public buildings and more were named for the fallen president. In Fort Worth, too, an effort to memorialize Kennedy began in early 1964, when a group of local women pushed to have the city acquire the parking lot where Kennedy spoke, name it for him, and turn it into a public square. However, that effort failed, but the women tried again after a local bond issue passed to build a new convention center downtown. This time some 10,000 signatures were gathered for a petition seeking to name the new convention center after JFK. The county commissioners rejected that idea too, but they later agreed to name the theater inside the convention center for Kennedy, installing a small bronze plaque near the box office with the title, The John F. Kennedy Theater. By the year 2000, however, that theater was razed in the construction for an expanded convention center. Meanwhile, the parking lot where Kennedy had given his November 1963 speech was turned into a public square, named for the city’s fortifier and founder, General William Jenkins Worth.
In 1999, plans were begun to include a Kennedy memorial on that site under the direction of the JFK Tribute Committee of Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc. By 2001, Texas sculptor Lawrence Ludtke had created an eight foot statue of JFK, which was cast in bronze in 2009. In that same year, the Fort Worth City Council authorized an agreement with Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc., for improvements to General Worth Square Park, including the JFK Tribute site, approving $250,000 in spending.
In January 2011, Taylor and Shirlee Gandy, co-chairs of the JFK Tribute Committee, with the backing of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., started a $2 million public fundraising effort. Dozens of prominent residents, foundations, and trusts contributed to the project, among them: the Gandys, Bob and Janice Simpson, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the Martha Sue Parr Trust, the Jane and John Justin Foundation, Tarrant Co. Commissioners Court, and the Ann L. and Carol Greene Rhodes Charitable Trust.
The tribute site was dedicated at a public ceremony in November 2012. The site is centered on the JFK statue and includes a 2,000 square foot granite plaza backed by large wall with 6-ft. x 8-ft. photographic panels depicting scenes from 1963, along with other panels with selected historic quotes. The JFK site also includes a water wall, night lighting, and extensive landscaping. Audio tours of the site are available as are downloadable transcripts of JFK’s 1963 Fort Worth speeches by mobile app or from the JFK Tribute website.
The Ludtke treatment of Kennedy in the statue presents the president in a gesturing, positive mode. “His posture is pressing forward,” explained Andy Taft, the president of Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives, “and Ludtke considered that a very optimistic pose for the president – moving forward, pressing with optimism into the future.” The Tribute site seeks to honor the positive ideals and themes of JFK’s final speeches. That is consistent with JFK’s message that day in his Forth Worth speeches, as he spoke about the importance of a strong U.S. economy, the space program, military preparedness, and U.S. leadership.
At the November 2012 ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony, a number of Texas politicians and local officials were on hand to lend their support for the site, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, former House Speaker Jim Wright, former Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolen, and various Fort Worth City Council members. The JFK Tribute site exists, according to the Tribute Committee, to honor the positive ideals and themes of the President’s historic final speeches. “President Kennedy’s vision and the impact of his leadership are as relevant today as they were in 1963,” said Taylor Gandy, JFK Tribute Co-Chair at the site’s dedication. The tribute is also about Fort Worth and its people, then and now.
“This isn’t about the tragedy in Dallas,” explained Mayor Betsy Price during the dedication ceremony. “This is about the [Kennedy] welcome here. . . . Fort Worth’s story has been almost forgotten.” But now, thanks to the persistence and generosity of Fort Worth citizens, both Kennedy’s ideals and Fort Worth’s enthusiasm for a nation’s young president are set in a worthy public display.
For additional stories at this website on Politics & Culture, or Icons & Celebrities, please visit those category pages, or go to the Home Page for other choices. Additional stories at this website related to Kennedy family history are listed below in Sources. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supportinig this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
1932 AP photo of Babe Didrikson vaulting high hurdle used as the model for the Sport Kings card above.
As a young teenager playing sandlot baseball in Beaumont, Texas during the late 1920s, Mildred Didrikson, daughter of Norwegian immigrants, could hit the ball farther than most of her male competitors. For this skill her sandlot associates nick-named her “Babe” after Babe Ruth, the immortal New York Yankee slugger who was then redefining baseball with his own home-run hitting. Young Mildred was also called “Bebe” at home by her mother.
But Babe Didrikson was much more than a good sandlot baseball player. In fact, when it came to athletics, there was little she couldn’t do. More on her career in a moment.
Mildred “Babe” Didrikson is shown at right on a 1933 Sports Kings chewing gum trading card, one of the few artistic renderings of her in action, in this case, jumping over a high hurdle.
The rendering is taken from a 1932 Associated Press photo shown later below. Unfortunately, her name is incorrectly spelled on the trading card, using a “c” in her family name where none is needed.
Young Texas hedge-jumper, Babe Didrikson.
Still, the Sports Kings card is quite rare and desirable among collectors. The Sport Kings series of trading cards was released by the Goudey Gum Co. of Boston, Massachusetts in 1933 and 1934. This particular series featured 48 athletes from a cross-section of sport, among them: swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, football star Red Grange, boxer Max Baer, hockey icon Howie Morenz, and baseball immortal Babe Ruth. Highly prized by modern sports card collectors, the original Sport Kings cards today are among the most popular sets of sports trading cards.
Babe Didrikson was born in June 1914, at Port Authur, Texas. She was the sixth of seven children born to Ole and Hanna Marie Didrikson. Ole Didrikson was a ship’s carpenter who had sailed the world’s oceans many times before settling down. He encouraged his young daughter to partake in sports. As a child, among other things, she spent time jumping hedges, a skill that would later come in handy in her track and field endeavors.
1932 AP photo of Babe Didrikson vaulting high hurdle used as the model for the Sport Kings card above.
In Texas as a teenager, Babe excelled in all kinds of sports. Bea Lytle, a phys ed teacher in the local high school who taught there for 50 years, remarked to Sports Illustrated some years later that Babe was unique. “I can still remember how her muscles flowed when she walked.” Lytle explained. “She had a neuromuscular coordination that is very, very rare—not one of the 12,000 girls I coached after that possessed it….” Babe led her high school basketball team, and also began to play golf around that time. But she first came to national attention when she played for a Dallas-based, industrial league basketball team that won the national Amateur Athletic Union championship. In 1929, she was named an All-American basketball player. But then came track and field.
Between 1930 and 1932, at 16-to-18 years old, Didrikson compiled records in five different track and field events. In one remarkable display of her athletic abilities, she won a 1932 national amateur track meet for women, a team event, all by herself. On July 16, 1932, at the AAU track and field championships in Evanston, Illinois., Babe was the lone representative of Employers Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas, where she worked as a typist. At the Illinois meet, which was also the tryout for the Olympic games, she was competing against company teams of 12, 15, and 20 or more women.
Babe Didrikson, second from right, in the hurdles race at the 1932 Olympics. AP photo.
Babe Didrikson won gold in the javelin event at the 1932 Olympics with a record-setting throw of 143' 4".
Babe Didrikson, 2nd from left at tape in hurdles race, ahead of Evelyne Hall, for gold medal, 1932 Olympics.
Babe Didrikson with photographer at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
According to one account, when Didrikson was introduced in Evanston, she ran onto the field by herself waving her arms wildly as the crowd gasped at the audacity of this “one-woman track team.” Still, Babe won five of the eight events she entered – shot put, baseball throw, long jump, javelin, and 80-meter hurdles. She tied for first in a sixth event, the high jump. In qualifying for three Olympic events, she amassed a total of 30 team points for Employers Casualty. In a single afternoon Didrikson had set four world records, taking first place overall in the meet and scoring more points than the next best finisher – an entire women’s athletic club – the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club, scored 22 points, with 22 athletes.
At the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles – which ran from July 30 to August 14th at the L.A. Coliseum – she qualified for five Olympic events, but women were then only allowed to compete in three. She won gold in the javelin, the first ever for a female in that event, making a throw of 143 feet 4 inches and setting a world record. She also took gold in in the 80-meter hurdles with a time of 11.7 seconds.
In the high jump, she won the silver medal behind Jean Smiley, though they each broke the world record. Babe, in fact, cleared the high-jump bar at a world-record height, and would have won that event too, except for her technique – clearing the bar headfirst– ruled ineligible (later known as the “Fosbury flop” and legal).
Newspapers of the day recognized Babe’s prodigious Olympic feats. One headline read: “Babe Gets Praise on Coast; Is Called the Greatest Woman Athlete of the World.” Sportswriter Grantland Rice, after her Olympic Games performance, was quite the admirer: “She is an incredible human being. She is beyond all belief until you see her perform…” Rice believed she was in a category all her own, with few rivals. Associated Press would name her Woman Athlete of the Year in 1932 – a distinction she would win five more times. In the press she was also called “Wonder Girl” and “super athlete.”
Yet in 1932, the participation of women in the Olympics was a hotly debated topic. In fact, many then believed that competitive athletics was strictly for men only. Still, in the summer and fall of 1932, following the Olympics, Babe Didrikson became famous throughout the land.
On August 11, 1932, at her return home from the Olympics, she arrived on the mail plane. Coming into Dallas, a crowd of thousands awaited to greet her. At her reception in the city she was introduced by a local official as “the Jim Thorpe of modern women athletes.” The crowd cheered. One of her hometown newspapers in Beaumont, Texas, The Enterprise, marked the occasion with these headlines: “World-Famous Babe Is Given Tumultuous Dallas Welcome Amid Ticker Tape Showers—She Tells of Having Picture Taken With Clark Gable.”
At one point, Babe met Amelia Earhart, who was then doing some of her less known long-distance flights and wanted Babe to join her believing that Didrikson’s name might bring notice to those attempts. Didrikson remained earth-bond, however, and after the Olympics hysteria wore off, Babe faced a harder reality. She found there was little money in her athletic fame, especially for those in amateur athletics – and doubly so for women. And the country at the time was also mired in the Great Depression.
Babe Didrikson, 19, in photo by Lusha Nelson that appeared in the January 1933 issue of ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine.
Within five months of her Olympic success, Didrikson, needing a job to maintain her amateur athlete status, continued working for Casualty Employers Co. of Dallas Texas, also her sponsor. But Babe was told that with her fame she could make good money – if she became a professional. Though skeptical, by December 1932 she decided to become a professional, but not exactly a professional athlete.
Not long thereafter, she helped the Chrysler Corporation promote its Dodge cars. Welcomed in Detroit by Mayor Murphy, Babe appeared at the Detroit Auto show and worked at the Chrysler display booth chatting with visitors and signing autographs. Chrysler also lined up an advertising man to organize bookings for her. He arranged some stage appearance for Babe on the RKO vaudeville circuit, one of which was at the Palace Theater in Chicago, where “Babe Didrikson” had top billing on the marquee and was given the top star’s dressing room.
On stage, Babe traded opening jokes with a companion comedian, did a track-star type skit, and played a few tunes on a harmonica. Audiences loved her act, and fans lined up for blocks to see her, not only in Chicago, but later in Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York.
Although making good money on stage – as much as $2,500 a week in New York, then a small fortune – Babe wanted to be outdoors. After a week or so on the Vaudeville circuit, she cancelled her remaining bookings and decided to look for some way to use her athletic skills.
She then turned to performing at various competitive exhibitions – from billiards to a few appearances with a professional women’s basketball team. She would also master tennis, and became an accomplished diver, a good swimmer, and a graceful ballroom dancer. She also excelled at sewing, and reportedly made some of her own clothes. But in the press, after her athletic fame emerged, she began to be criticized for her manly ways. A 1932 Vanity Fair article, had called her a “muscle moll” and other accounts cut even deeper.
By March 1933, however, she decided to take up golf, a sport she had dabbled in a few times and had played some in high school. But now she thought about golf more seriously, and went to California to take lessons from a young golf pro named Stan Kertes. She worked on developing her golf game for six months until she ran out of savings, then went back to her old $300-a month job at Employer’s Casualty in Dallas.
Young Babe Didrikson, 1930s.
In Dallas, she also played on a traveling basketball team called “Babe Didrikson’s All Americans.” The team included mostly men and one or two other women, and played some 90 games all around the country. Babe earned about $1,000 a month on the tour, which in those times was good money.
By spring of 1934, it was on to baseball in Florida during spring training – where Babe would pitch an exhibition inning or two working with professional teams such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, and other teams. In these contests, Babe was paid a certain amount of money per inning, as the teams were using her as a publicity stunt. But in these outings, Babe also met the famous players of that day, including Jimmie Fox, Dizzy Dean, and Babe Ruth — with whom she struck up a long standing friendship.
Babe Didrikson pitching for minor league New Orleans team in 1934. AP photo.
She also pitched for a touring Christian baseball team called the House of David, again in exhibition, and pitching an inning or two, but making decent money in the process – $1,500 a month or more. During this time, she also kept up her golf practice and returned when necessary to her job at Casualty Employers Co. The president of that company also bought her a membership in the Dallas Country Club and paid for her golf lessons there.
In 1934, Babe also made the next move in her athletic career: she entered the Texas Invitational Women’s Golf Tournament at Forth Worth. Babe didn’t win that tournament. But the following year, in the spring of 1935, she entered the Women’s Texas Amateur at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston, one of the state’s finer clubs. And it was here that she began to confront country club elitism. As Sports Illustrated writers William Oscar Johnson and Nancy Williamson would observe in 1975:
…Babe had to crack…Texas golf society. She had no pedigree, coming as she did from a dead-end neighborhood in Beaumont, no money and not much social grace. Her gold medals from the 1932 Olympics counted for little among the country-club set, and her fame had already faded. There was only her golf game, at that point strong but scarcely smooth. When she entered the Texas event, a member of the Texas Women’s Golf Association named Peggy Chandler declared, “We really don’t need any truck drivers’ daughters in our tournament.”
Babe Didrikson, in good golfing form, 1930s.
But Babe prevailed to win the tournament. Although Chandler had taken the lead in that outing, Babe mounted a fierce comeback, including a blistering a 250-yard drive, some impressive chip shots, and hitting out of a rain-soaked rut to eagle on the 17th to win the match. Peggy Chandler, however, had her revenge, successfuly petitioning the U.S. Golf Association to revoke Babe’s amatuer status since she had particpated in professional sport exhibitions. Still, there was a lot more exciting golf to come at the hand of Babe Didrikson.
By 1937 she was getting the attention of male golfers for the drives she was making during an exhibition tour of the Southeast. And at the Pinehurst Golf Course in New York where she was practicing for an exhibition match in November 1937, one reporter noted that she “astounded the critical Pinehurst Galleries by hitting the ball 260 yards off the tee on the championship courses.”
In January 1938, she decided to make a try for men’s competitive golf, aiming for the Los Angeles Open, a men’s Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) tournament. This was a feat no other woman would attempt until Annika Sörenstam, Suzy Whaley, and Michelle Wie took up the challenge some 60 years later. In the 1938 L.A. tournament, Babe was teamed up with George Zaharias, a former professional wrestler who she would later marry. In the PGA tournament, meanwhile, she shot 81 and 84, and missed the cut.
George Zaharias & Babe Didrikson, Normandie Golf Club, St. Louis, late 1930s.
In December that year, Babe Didrikson, then 25 years old, married George Zaharias, 29, who became her biggest supporter. Thereafter she was known as Babe Didrikson Zaharias or Babe Zaharias. George abandoned his own lucrative wresting career in order to manage and promote Babe’s career.
Babe won the Women’s Western Open in 1940, and after gaining back her amateur status in 1942, she won the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur – the first American to do so. She also won the Women’s Western Open in 1944 and 1945.
In July 1944, Time magazine wrote that Babe had “popped back into the sports pages by winning a major golf tournament,” trouncing a 20-year-old college girl in the finals of the Women’s Western Open at Chicago. “As usual,” wrote Time, “Babe’s booming drives were seldom in the fairway, but her recoveries were so phenomenal that she had 14 one-putt greens in 31 holes.” By then, her husband, George Zaharias, who often accompanied her to her golf matches, was running a custom tailoring establishment in Beverly Hills, California next door to Babe’s women’s sport clothing store.
Babe Didrikson with trophy at the Miami Biltmore Country Club, Feb. 1, 1947 for winning the Helen Lee Doherty Women's Invitational Tournament. AP photo.
In 1947, Babe won the Tampa Open and Titleholders Championship and became the first American to win the prestigious British Women’s Amateur Championship. In the previous year — from April 1946 to August 1947 – she won an unprecedented 17 consecutive tournament titles, a record that still stands?? By this time, 1947, she had once hit a golf ball over 400 yards and was averaging 240 yards on her drives. Asked how in the world a woman could possibly drive a golf ball 250 yards down the fairway, Babe explained, “You’ve got to loosen your girdle and let it rip.” In addition to her power off the tee, she was also known for having soft touch around the greens. She was also a favorite among fans in the gallery, gaining cheers for her play and laughter for her jokes and banter.
In 1948 and 1950s, she won the Women’s Open. In 1950, along with Patty Berg, she founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Few professional tournaments then existed for women, so Babe and several other women golfers set about establishing the LPGA to introduce more paying tournaments. Gradually, with sponsorship monies from sporting goods companies, the women’s tour increased its purses and credibility, with a growing number of women able to eke out a living in golf.
Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias congratulate each other after their respective victories in the World Championship Golf Tourney at Tam O' Shanter Country Club, near Chicago, IL, August 12, 1951. AP photo.
In 1950, Babe had one of her best years when she completed the Grand Slam of the three women’s majors: the U.S. Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Women’s Western Open. She also lead the money list that year and became the fastest LPGA golfer to reach 10 wins, doing so in one year and 20 days, a record that still stands as of 2013.
Later, in 1950, she was named AP’s Woman Athlete of the First Half of the Twentieth Century. In 1951, she won the Tampa Open and was also the leading money-winner that year. In 1952 she took another major with a Titleholders victory, but illness prevented her from playing a full schedule in 1952-53. Then in 1953, still at the top of her game, she was diagnosed with cancer, and for a time it was thought she might give up the game. She had surgery in April 1953.
Babe Didrikson in action during U.S. Women's Open Championship of 1954, which she would win. Photo: AP/Sports Illustrated.
Yet just three and a half months after an excruciating colostomy operation, she was back on a golf course again, competing in Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter All-American championship. She didn’t win, but it was a miracle she was even out there. Still, she kept on. Ten months after her operation, in early 1954, she won the Serbin Tournament in Florida, and that same year she won the U.S. Women’s Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts by an amazing 12 strokes.
Babe was on a mission by this time to give encouragement to others who were battling cancer. She used her celebrity to get the message out. She appeared as a guest on ABC’s TV show, The Comeback Story, explaining her attempts to battle colon cancer. But Babe had not been told the full extent of her own cancer, as she had believed she would beat the disease. Still, she became a spokesperson for fighting the disease, helping the American Cancer Society. In late 1955, however, her cancer reappeared and she was hospitalized again. With her, in the corner of the room, were her golf clubs, as they had been during her previous hospital stays.
Saturday Evening Post of June 25, 1955, with cover inset (upper r.) announcing excerpt of Babe Didrikson’s book, “This Life I’ve Led.”
By June 1955, her autobiography, titled This Life I’ve Led, as told to Harry Paxton, was published by A.S. Barnes & Co.,. That summer, the Saturday Evening Post began running parts of the book in installments. “The warmly human story of a valiant American woman,” said the Post in a top corner cover inset for its June 25, 1955 issue, featuring the book’s title along with a small photo of Babe with a golf club raised above her head.
Didrikson continued to crusade against cancer, and spoke openly about her illness in an era when most public figures preferred to keep their medical troubles private. She battled her cancer to the end, but succumbed to the disease in September 1956. She was 45 years old.
Eisenhower’s Praise. On the morning she died in a Galveston, Texas hospital, President Dwight D. Eisenhower began his news conference in Washington with this salute: “She was a woman who, in her athletic career, certainly won the admiration of every person in the United States, all sports people all over the world, and in her gallant fight against cancer, she put up one of the kind of fights that inspire us all.”
President Eisenhower getting golf tips from Babe Didrikson at the White House, April 1, 1954, as the president uses the American Cancer Society’s "Sword of Hope" for a substitute golf club. Babe had presented the Sword to the president after he opened the 1954 Cancer Crusade, then lighting a huge "Sword of Hope" in New York's Times Square by remote control. AP photo.
The sportswriter Grantland Rice once said of her, “The Babe is without any question the athletic phenomenon of all time, man or woman.” Charles McGrath, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, wrote in 1996: “She broke the mold of what a lady golfer was supposed to be. The ideal in the 20s and 30s was Joyce Wethered, a willowy Englishwoman with a picture-book swing that produced elegant shots but not especially long ones. [Didrikson] developed a grooved athletic swing reminiscent of Lee Trevino’s, and she was so strong off the tee that a fellow Texan, the great golfer Byron Nelson, once said that he knew of only eight men who could outdrive her.”
Mildred Babe Didrikson Zaharias, in any case, had an impressive athletic career, stretching from her All-American basketball designation in the early 1930s and her record-setting Olympic achievements of 1932, to a prolific amateur and professional golf career that ran into the mid-1950s. Totaling both her amateur and professional golf victories, Babe won some 82 tournaments. Associated Press named her “Female Athlete of the Year” in 1932, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, and 1954.
“Babe, The Money Machine”
As Babe Didrikson rose to fame – both following her 1932 Olympics’ performance and during her golf career through the mid-1950s – she became something of a hot property for business and product endorsements. For some of the promotions, exhibitions, and advertising in which she engaged, Babe appears to have been a willing participant. But in other respects, those around her and those profiting from her – including her husband, George Zaharias; her business manager, Fred Corcoran; and the emerging professional women’s golf circuit – all commanded her attention, and in her later years, drove her into quite a frenetic pace of activity.
Babe Didrikson offering an endorsement for Wheaties at the bottom of a 1935 magazine ad.
Early in her career, following her 1932 Olympics fame, Babe Dirdrikson did a few product endorsements and her image was also used in some advertising as well, as in the 1935 Wheaties ad at right. She had also done product endorsements for Chrysler automobiles in the 1930s, as noted earlier. In fact, Didrikson may well have been the first traditional female athlete sought out for product endorsements. Later in her career, as she became famous in golf, her endorsements appeared on a number of products and her name and/or image appeared in print ads for Wilson Sporting Goods, Timex watches, and other products. Even after her death, her image was used in a mid-1960s magazine ad for New England Life Insurance.
This 1950s Timex watch ad touted Babe’s golf stardom and her domestic/homemaker side.
With Wilson Sporting Goods, Babe received an annual fee of $8,000 to advise the company and help promote their products. She also had a contract with the Serbin dress company, which made golf clothes for women, and another to promote the Weathervane line of women’s clothes produced by Alvin Handmacher, for a $10,000-a-year fee. Babe, who had made some of her own clothes as a young woman, pushed for comfortable sporting attire, helping design or co-design golf dresses, shirts, and shoes. Her clothing sponsorships also helped put her in a more feminine light.
During the latter stages of her golf career it was estimated she was earning more than $100,000 a year for exhibitions, endorsements, and other activities connected with sports. Sometimes, Babe would hype the amount of money she was getting paid for various events or contracts, as she did once for a movie deal for a series of instructional golf films, saying she would be paid $300,000, which was untrue, but widely reported nonetheless, helping to inflate her value. She also authored instructional golf articles occasionally and at least one book, Championship Gold. And in 1952, she also had a bit part in the Spencer Tracy / Katharine Hepburn film, Pat and Mike.
1930s: Goldsmith & Sons sales literature touting "Babe Didrikson Coordinated Golf Equipment."
One of her earliest golf equipment business relationships came in the 1930s with the P. Goldsmith & Sons sporting goods company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Advertising and sales promotion copy from this company to sporting goods retailers and others, touted a giant new American business that could flow from the fame and name of Babe Didrikson. One Goldsmith pitch to its customers announcing a new line of “Babe Didrikson Coordinated Golf equipment,” claimed the new line was “your oppprtunity for increased sales.” The promo explained that 70% of the 280,000 women golfers then in the market were using hand-me down, cast-off clubs. “Why not cash in on this potential market?,” asked the sales pitch. Babe Didrikson, the promo explained, “will sell this unsold 70% for you.” The piece continued to elabroate on its coordinated line of products: “Babe Didrikson Irons… Babe Didrikson Woods … Babe Didrikson Colf Balls.” The Goldsmith piece also inlcuded a sample print ad promising their customers “real advertising support” built around Babe’s image and fame.
More promotional material from Goldsmith & Sons, displaying Babe's news clips, while touting “the powerful, sales-producing publicity surrounding Babe Didrikson...”
When Babe turned pro in 1947, there were few golf tournaments for women, and even when there were tournaments, the prize money was minimal. Her business manager, Fred Corcoran, booked her for golfing exhibitions at baseball parks in Boston, New York, Detroit, and elsewhere. Pre-game, Babe would put on a golfing clinic for the baseball crowds, where, according to one account, “she would drive balls out of sight.” And the fans loved it. She also participated in golf driving contests against celebrity male athletes, including one, for example, against Boston Red Sox star, Ted Williams in Sarasota, Florida. However, in her later years, between her work for sporting goods sponsors and attending events and exhibitions that her manager and husband booked for her, she was sometimes run ragged, even while playing a full golf schedule.
Babe Didrikson posing with two of her golf trophies in the 1950s.
Babe’s star power has also been credited with keeping the fledgling LPGA tour alive. She and Patty Berg were the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) , but from the beginning the LPGA consisted of only a handful of members. Babe became the drawing card that enabled the money to flow to the LPGA, helping the organization and its tournaments to flourish. It became the richest women’s sports organization of its day. Babe’s golfing peers, however, were not always keen on Babe’s manner, her boasting, and her sometimes poor sportsmanship. But they recognized they needed her to keep things going. She was elected twice as LPGA president. And behind the scenes, Babe did work hard to line up sponsors, sometimes pushing relentlessly on business CEOs to become key supporters or tournament sponsors.
In 1975, a TV biography about her life and times titled Babe, starred Susan Clark as Babe and Alex Karras as George Zaharias. A number of books have also been written about her life and athletic career, a few of which are mentioned or pictured below in “Sources.”
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, late 1940s.
Later accounts examining her life found a somewhat more complex person than earlier reports had rendered. Toward the end of her career, Babe became quite close to a younger golfer also from Texas named Betty Dodd, nearly 20 years her junior. Dodd, in fact, came to live in the Zaharias household and tended to Babe, along with George, in her final days battling cancer. Babe was also, according to various profiles, more of a self-promoter than was generally known, prone to boasting and exaggerating her feats – although some say this could be confused with her sense of humor taken the wrong way. Still, she could be an “in your face” competitor, sometimes compared in her boasting to a later practitioner of that art, Muhammad Ali. Sports Illustrated writers William O. Johnson and Nancy Williamson noted her braggadocio at the 1932 Olympics using that comparison:
…She was producing her own myth in Los Angeles. The remarkable thing about Babe was that, like Ali, her body was able to accomplish the fantastic tasks her big mouth set for it. She put incredible pressure on herself by bragging. She was a wing walker, a daredevil who risked humiliation every time she went into an event in that Olympics. Her own teammates wanted her to be beaten, as the just reward for her bullying…
On the golf circuit too, especially in her younger years, she is reported to have shown up at the clubhouse exclaiming to competitors: “The Babe’s here! Who is going to finish second?” But more often than not, Babe found a way to win. Yet her considerable talents were augmented by lots of practice, to which she would readily admit. The formula for success is simple, she would say: “practice and concentration, then more practice and concentration.” Dutiful practice was the key, as she advised – “in any case, practice more than you play.” In her early days, she was known to hit golf balls for hours on end, until her hands bled or had to be taped.
Aug. 4, 1950: Babe Didrikson Zaharias, displaying her playful side, urging the golf ball toward the cup on the 18th green during the All American Women’s Open at Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter Club. Photo, Ed Maloney /AP.
But Babe Didrikson above all, was a determined soul; a person who persevered through tough times as a female athlete. Following her phenomenal Olympic rise, she rode something of a “fame-to-bust” roller coaster, also confronted by judgmental societal attitudes and personal digs from the press. She managed, however, to keep herself afloat economically during a Great Depression using her athletic skills in a variety of exhibitions until she found her golf calling. And once there, after dealing with some country club elitism and prejudice, she proceeded to change and enliven the game for the better, while in later years, opening doors for and encouraging younger female golfers who followed. And all the while, among her most steadfast supporters, was her hometown of Beaumont, Texas, where today the Babe Didrikson Zaharais Museum is found alongside the Babe Didrikson Zaharais Park.
For other sports stories at this website, please visit the Annals of Sport category page or go to the Home Page for additional story choices. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
“Sport: Golfer Didrikson,” Time, Monday, May 6, 1935.
“Babe at 30,” Time, Monday, July 3, 1944.
“Mrs. Zaharias Ousts Miss Casey In Denver Golf Tourney,” New York Times, Friday, July 12, 1946, Sports, p. 23.
“Whatta Woman,” Time, Monday, March 10, 1947.
Gene Farmer, “What A Babe!, Texas Tomboy is First U.S. Woman To Win British Golf Championship,” Life, Jun 23, 1947, pp. 87-90.
“Mrs. Zaharias Advances; Defeats Mrs. Reidel in Texas Open – Gets 6 under Par 69,” New York Times, Wednesday, October 13, 1948, Sports, p. 34.
Associated Press, “Mrs. Zaharias’ Course-Record 70 Leads Field at Tam O’Shanter; Star 2 Strokes Under Men’s Par in First Round…,” New York Times, Friday, August 4, 1950, Sports, p. 16.
Babe Zaharias, “This Life I’ve Led,” part 2, Saturday Evening Post, July 2, 1955; part 3, Saturday Evening Post, July 9, 1955; part 4, Saturday Evening Post, July 16, 1955; and, part 5, Saturday Evening Post, July 23, 1955.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, This Life I’ve Led, New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1955.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, This Life I’ve Led – My Autobiography, Internet Archive.
Jimmy Jemail, “The Question: Is Babe Didrikson The Greatest All-Round Athlete Of All Time?,” Sports Illustrated, June 6, 1955.
Joan Flynn Dreyspool, “Subject: Babe and George Zaharias,” Sports Illustrated, May 14, 1956.
Obituary, “Babe Zaharias Dies; Athlete Had Cancer,” New York Times, September 28, 1956.
Ralph Nader and his “Raiders” – law, medical and engineering students – on the steps of U.S. Capitol in late summer 1969.
Among notable activist “inventions” of mid-twentieth century America, few were more effective in shaking up the federal establishment than Ralph Nader’s swat teams of bright young college and law school students. Loosed on official Washington in the 1960s and 1970s and dubbed “Nader’s Raiders” by Washington Post journalist William Greider, these teams of Ralph Nader acolytes churned out all manner of books, reports and investigative probes aimed at improving the law, making government work better, and/or holding corporate powers to account. A small cottage industry of publisher-worthy paperbacks resulted, some becoming bestsellers, and all with messages that stirred the public policy pot. In the process, official Washington was challenged and changed, investigative journalism was re-ignited, and public interest advocacy became part of the culture. What follows in this piece is a look back at some of that history, how the Nader teams and Nader reports came about, and what effect they had.
In the late 1960s, Ralph Nader was fresh from his own success with a best-selling book, Unsafe and Any Speed, which took the automobile industry and Congress to task about auto safety. In that fight, Nader also became embroiled in a battle with General Motors after the company hired private detectives to follow him and investigate his past, trying to discredit him as a Congressional witness and consumer spokesman. That incident, covered in a separate story, backfired on GM, with the company’s CEO apologizing to Nader during highly publicized U.S. Senate hearings. With his new national credential as a rising consumer advocate, Nader sought to expand the range of his activities beyond auto safety. By summer 1968, Nader began assembling teams of law school students to undertake investigative studies of government agencies. He had a bigger vision of what might be possible and a long list of issues that needed attention – from food safety and environmental pollution, to anti-trust enforcement and energy policy. What he needed was more Ralph Naders – though he never put it in exactly those terms. In fact, the idea may have risen by way of students themselves who wrote toNader after his auto safety notoriety. In January 1968, for example, Andrew Egendorf, a graduate of MIT who had entered Harvard Business School, wrote to Nader with a friend offering to work for him that summer if Nader would consider working with students. Whether this was the genesis of the plan, or was already something Nader was considering, is unclear. In any case, by the summer of 1968, Nader began assembling teams of law school students to undertake investigative studies of government agencies that dealt with consumer, environmental, food safety, and other issues. He would start with one agency and one team. Seven law school students were recruited to focus on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal agency charged with protecting consumers from shoddy products, fraudulent business practices, and deceptive advertising. The students Nader gathered to focus on the FTC were: Edward F. Cox, Yale Law School; Robert C. Fellmeth, Harvard; John E. Schulz, Yale; Judy Areen, Yale; Peter A. Bradford, Yale; Andrew Egendorf, MIT/Harvard; and William Taft IV, Harvard.
Paperback book cover for a later edition of the first “Nader’s Raiders” report on the Federal Trade Commission, Grove Press, 1970, 241pp.
Nader’s team went about the business of investigating the FTC full bore, burrowing in at the agency, interviewing its people, and digging up whatever they could find in Congress and the public record. In the summer of 1968, the Nader team gathered the material for their report, then returned to school. Later that year, during the December college break, they returned to Washington for a marathon session of writing. The full report would be released in January 1969.
But even before the official release, the Nader team had begun making waves with some of what they were finding. They had one dust up early on with FTC officials in the summer when they were conducting interviews and gathering data at the agency. In that incident, Nader team leader, John Schulz, had words with FTC chairman Paul Rand Dixon after some persistent questioning and was thrown out of Dixon’s office. Shulz had asked for a copy of a monthly FTC memo detailing complaints made to the agency. Dixon told him that the document was for FTC use only. Dixon also decreed by letter there would be no more Nader team interviews that summer, unless cleared with him.
However, Dixon’s letter made its way to Time magazine, where a story appeared on the incident in September 1968 titled, “Nader’s Neophytes.” Time also divulged some of what the Nader team was finding, indicating their study would show the FTC as a toothless watchdog, reluctant to go after big advertising offenders, and sometimes withholding reports from the public.
Edward Cox, a member of the Nader FTC team, helped generate a Wall Street Journal story in the summer of 1968 on some political dirt he discovered in his research – a purely patronage office in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which was manned by a friend of FTC Chairman Dixon. As Cox would later tell this tale, recalling his stint with Nader that summer:
…A memorable event for a Washington newcomer was the impact of a Wall Street Journal article.“…I began to see how our hard work and Nader’s guidance and contacts might have an impact after all.” - Edward T. Cox My research had identified a patronage office in in Oak Ridge, Tennessee manned by a friend of Chairman Dixon’s, Judge Castro C. Geer, Jr. Judge Geer’s patron in Congress was Joe Evins, a Tennessee representative and chairman of the House subcommittee which approved the FTC’s budget. Nader told me to take the information to Jerry Landauer, one of the premier muckraking reporters in the Journal’s DC office. I will never forget the scene: Landauer, cigarette in his mouth, calling various sources to confirm the information, pounding out the story on his typewriter, and muttering genuinely sympathetic noises about poor Judge Geer who was about to get skewered by his story. This was the first major story generated by our [Nader study team] work, and I began to see how our hard work and Nader’s guidance and contacts might have an impact after all.
As the “Nader Raider” study teams were assembling, Ralph Nader was receiving national press as a consumer advocate, as in this November 1968 ‘Newsweek’ story.
Though the FTC was charged with protecting American consumers from deceitful and deceptive advertising and harmful and dangerous products, Nader’s team uncovered an agency that failed to detect violations and was reluctant to even use the weak enforcement powers it had. The FTC then lacked some basic enforcement powers, including the use of temporary injunctions and the ability to levy criminal penalties – and it did not seek Congressional help to obtain the statutory authority it needed to improve its powers. In mid-November 1968, Bill Greider of the Washington Post did a story featuring Nader’s FTC team, headlined: “Law Students, FTC Tangle Over Apathy,” in which he invoked his famous “Nader’s raiders” tag for the first time. Greider’s opening line in that story: “The graying members of the Federal Trade Commission, an agency founded in 1914 to protect the little guy, were confronted yesterday by Nader’s raiders, a group of modish young law students who accused the FTC of having ‘tired blood’.” The Nader team’s report, initially titled, The Consumer and the Federal Trade Commission, ran about 185 pages and was issued in January 1969. It called for a total revamping of FTC practices and its personnel, describing it a failed agency due to a combination of “cronyism, institutionalized mediocrity, endemic inaction, delay, and secrecy,” and an “iceberg of incompetence and mismanagement.”
A 1970 edition of the Nader Raiders FTC book showed the three authors during testimony on Capitol Hill.
The Nader FTC study received extensive press coverage including that by Time magazine, New York Times, the Washington Post, and others. It also found support from a surprising source, as Advertising Age, a trade magazine for the industry, offered an editorial critical of the FTC’s weak enforcement. That editorial said in part: “No community is well served if its fire department habitually reaches the scene after the last spark has been extinguished.” The Nader FTC report was also published in the Congressional Record of January 22, 1969 and later that summer it was published as a book.
In Congress, during the spring and summer of 1969, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT), then chairman of the Government Reorganization Subcommittee of the Senate Government Operations Committee, was holding hearings on bills to establish an Office of Consumer Affairs. FTC issues were also covered at those hearings, with the Nader group offering testimony on their study. At one point during the hearings, Ribicoff praised the Nader FTC authors for their work, while leveling digs at the establishment press and the government: “Bureaucracy being what it is, I am fascinated by your ability to get in so deep, and get so much information. I am sure that you gentlemen are the envy of the large number of reporters here.”
FTC Chairman Paul Rand Dixon, however, described the Nader report for the Wall Street Journal as “a hysterical anti-business diatribe and a scurrilous, untruthful attack on the [FTC’s] career personnel and an arrogant demand for my resignation.” The report had indeed called for Dixon’s resignation and a complete overhaul of the agency. And by April 1969, the FTC had come to the attention of the new Nixon Administration. President Nixon urged the American Bar Association to undertake an independent investigation of the FTC, which they completed that September. The ABA’s report painted conclusions even more dismal than the Nader team had presented. Paul Rand Dixon resigned. When, under the new leadership of Casper W. Weinberger, reforms began taking place within the FTC, the New York Times announced the fact in a front-page headline on June 9, 1970: “FTC Maps Change to Aid Consumer; Major Reorganization Set by Chairman– Agency Was Nader Target.”
Ralph Nader meeting with several of his “raiders,” late 1960s.
While the FTC study was underway, plans were made to staff up several more Nader study teams to probe other agencies. On February 10, 1969, a small ad was placed in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts under the title, “Nader’s Raiders.” The text of the ad read: “Graduate students in medicine, biology, life sciences, engineering, and law are needed this summer to work with Ralph Nader in an investigation of various government programs. Call Robert Fellmeth, 868-1593.” An avalanche of responses resulted. By that summer, more than 100 students had been recruited from thousands of applicants. In short order, several more study areas were set, generally focusing on food, agriculture, air and water pollution, and interstate commerce. By this time, Nader had also founded his Center for the Study of Responsive Law based in Washington, which would serve as the operating base for the study teams and research.
Ralph Nader, back to the camera, meeting with “raiders” in 1969 – from left, Julian Houston, James Fallows, Marian Penn, and Robert Fellmeth, Photo, Life magazine.
Life Magazine Story. In early October 1969, a Life magazine story ran with the photograph that appears at the top of this article showing Nader on the steps of the Capitol with his legions of “Raiders.” The story, by Jack Newfield, was titled, “Nader’s Raiders: The Lone Ranger Gets a Posse.” In that piece, Nader explained to Newfield what he hoped to accomplish with his law-student swat teams, and specifically why some lawyers should work in the public interest:
“…Most lawyers are too hung up on clients. The most important thing a lawyer can do is become an advocate of powerless citizens. I am in favor of lawyers without clients. Lawyers should represent systems of justice. I want to create a new dimension to the legal profession. What we have now is democracy without citizens. No one is on the public’s side. All the lawyers are on the corporation’s side. And the bureaucrats… don’t think the government belongs to the people.
“For example, the industries, corporations and lobbyists manipulate the federal commissions and agencies. The Interstate Commerce Commission has always been a tool of the railroads, the bus lines and the trucking industry. The Department of the Interior has been easily influence by the oil and gas industries. The Department of Agriculture has been an instrument of the tobacco industry. No one represents the public interest. Lawyers are never where the needs are greatest. I hope a new generation of lawyers will begin to change that.”
During the 1969-72 period, more than a dozen “Naider Raider” study reports were launched, most of which became paperback books. Among the earliest of these were the five Nader reports that followed the FTC study: The Chemical Feast, Vanishing Air, The Interstate Commerce Omission,Water Wasteland, and Sowing the Wind. A brief look at each of these studies, as well as a few others, follows below.
1970, “The Chemical Feast,” 1st edition paperback, Grossman Publishers, 273pp.
The Chemical Feast
Work on the background reports that became a landmark “Nader’s Raiders” book on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began in the summer of 1968. James S. Turner, a law student at Ohio State University, would become the project director and principal author. But more than a dozen Nader-recruited researchers worked on the project over two summers, eventually distilling their findings into a 273-page book, The Chemical Feast, published as a paperback by Grossman Publishers in 1970.
As the title suggests, there was more to the nation’s food system than met the eye, and in fact, an onslaught of chemical food additives and pesticides was part of the equation, which Nader’s team uncovered in chapters with titles such as: “Cyclamates,” “Hidden Ingredients,” and “Food-Borne Disease.” The book exposed the FDA’s lax oversight of the food industry, its corruption, and its connections with big food and drug companies. FDA appeared more concerned with protecting industry profits at the expense of public health. “What they turned up was truly shocking,” reported Choice magazine of the study – “evasion of law enforcement, abdication of responsibilities, bureaucratic confusion, incompetence, favoritism, and even fraud… It should prove of interest to concerned citizens of all ages.”
Back cover of “The Chemical Feast,” 1970.
The major food safety laws – including the pesticide food additive and color additive laws – were sabotaged by the FDA, according to the study. “While the FDA clings to the claim that American food is better than ever,” explained The Chemical Feast’s back book cover, “the life expectancy of Americans is lower than ever and American food in general is filthier and less nutritious.”
A New York Times article in early April 1970 by reporter David E. Rosenbaum, used the following headline to describe the study: “F.D.A. Called Tool of Food Industry; Nader Unit Likens Its Rules to ‘Catalogue of Favors’.” Rosenbaum further wrote that the Nader FDA study revealed an agency “controlled by political pressures and unable and unwilling to protect the consumer.” The standards and regulations of the agency, Rosenbaum said of the report’s findings, “read like a catalog of favors to special interest groups.” Time magazine said The Chemical Feast “may well be the most devastating critique of a U.S. government agency ever issued.” The report was first published in book form by Grossman in 1970, then reprinted three times in 1971, 1972 and 1974. In 1976, Penguin Books also published it in paperback form.
Paperback edition of “The Interstate Commerce Omission” by Grossman Publishers, 1970, 423pp.
Another in the first batch of Nader reports was The Interstate Commerce Omission, a scathing review of the failings of the Interstate Commerce Commission, then a 83-year-old federal agency charged with regulating interstate commerce by rail, trucking, shipping and pipelines. The Nader study group undertaking this report was headed up by Robert Fellmeth, and his team delved deeply into the ICC’s record, sending out mail surveys, conducting more than 500 interviews, and doing detailed statistical analyses. In March 1970, they issued a 1,200-page draft report, which Time magazine called “devastating in detail.”
The essence of their report was that the ICC really didn’t regulate the 17,000 or so transport entities under its charge so much as operate a cartel on their behalf. The commission, they found, was in effect presiding over thousands of local transport monopolies, protecting inefficient carriers from competition at the expense of the public. They also found cozy relationship between the ICC and the industries they regulate, with industry trade groups also paying for meetings, food and hotel accommodations on junkets to “surface transportation meccas” such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
The Interstate Commerce Omission argued that the public good would best be served if the ICC were abolished altogether – and along with it, the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Federal Maritime Commission. All three of those entities could be replaced by a single agency, the Nader team charged, an agency that would then be able to set a coherent national transportation policy, relying less on regulation and more on markets to set rates. Doing so, they argued, would sharpen competition among companies in all forms of transport.
Cover of “Vanishing Air” in paperback edition by Grossman Publishers, July 1970.
The release of the Nader study group report on air pollution – titled Vanishing Air – was a well-timed report, coming exactly as the public and Congress were beginning to focus on environmental issues. On April 22,1970, the first Earth Day – the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) to organize students and other citizens with teach-ins and demonstrations on behalf of action to clean up the environment – was a huge success, with more than 20 million people becoming involved in events and demonstrations across the nation. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress and the Administration of Richard Nixon were then maneuvering with proposals for needed changes to an old and outdated Clean Air Act, as urban pollution episodes – fueled largely by automobile-generated smog – had raised national concerns about public health.
The Nader study group report on air pollution came right in the middle of the growing national outcry over environmental pollution. The work of the study group had begun in 1969 led by John C. Esposito, who held degrees from Long Island and Rutgers universities as well as a law degree from Harvard. He was assisted by Larry Silverman, associate director of the project, who was a graduate of St Johns College and held a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. This Nader task force included at least ten other members, including graduate students in medicine and engineering. They set about documenting air pollution health hazards around the nation, using case studies of various cities while also focusing on the role of Congress and the outdated National Air Pollution Control Administration (NAPCA), which operated under the very weak 1967 Clean Air Act.
Automobile pollution became a major concern in the late 1960s, and a topic for political cartoonists, illustrated by this sample from the “Washington Star” newspaper.
“…NAPCA bureaucrats never had a chance,” wrote Kirkus Reviews in its account of the Vanishing Air book in 1970. “The report piles on incriminating facts, figures, and failures and devastating dismissals of NAPCA,” which the report called “a disorganized band of government officials acting out a pollution control charade.” Among key chapters in Vanishing Air were two that skewered the auto industry – titled respectively, “Twenty Years in Low Gear” and “Nothing New Under The Hood,” a devastating critique of Detroit’s failure to innovate with pollution control technology.
Other polluters targeted in the Nader study included big manufacturing and the energy industry. Congress and the political process were also hit hard, including a presumed champion of clean air, Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME), whose subcommittee on pollution and federal environmental laws, the report charged, “resulted in a ‘business-as-usual’ license to pollute for countless companies across the country.” The report also charged that Senator Muskie had issued “politically expedient platitudes” rather than “real leadership.”
Borrowing a page from Rachel Carson and her landmark 1962 book Silent Spring, which used an opening fictional story on pesticide health threats to introduce the urgency of her message, the Nader Study Group on Air Pollution also used this devise in Vanishing Air, including a fictional account of an atmospheric inversion in a major city that trapped pollutants endangering public health. In fact, as the paperback version of Vanishing Air came out in July 1970, a mass of stagnant air lodged itself over the eastern seaboard of the U.S., putting a meteorological lid on the entire region for several days and trapping all manner of industrial and automotive pollutants. The episode got public attention, while provoking a few editorials (see sidebar below) and several U.S. Senate speeches.
“The Great Dirty Cloud” July 1970
In July 1970, as an atmospheric inversion trapped pollutants all along the East Coast, the incident became the main topic of discussion throughout the nation and the media –including the possiblity of banning cars from urban centers. In one editorial, The New York Times wrote:
“Through the polluted haze that for days has hung over the East Coast cities from New York to Atlanta, nothing is clear but a timely warning. Urban areas are getting perilously close to the point where they have to chose between the internal combustion engine and breathable air…”
“…[W]hat has up to now been regarded as personally hysterical and economically unthinkable may yet become a reality. Until the gasoline engine can be made pollution-free or a clean substitute for it developed — eventualities at least ten years in the future — the automobile may actually have to be banned from the centers of major American cities… In the present New York crisis a prohibition on all non-essential traffic may yet have to be invoked in certain areas… “
A 1970s’ episode of smog enveloping New York’s Manhattan. Photo from EPA Documerica gallery /National Archives.
The Washington Post also used the occasion to raise questions about the smog-control timetable that was then being considered by Congress for the auto industry – a ten-year timetable proposed by the Nixon Administration and supported by the automakers. Calling the East Coast pollution cloud a “dangerous cesspool of air that now hangs over this city,” the Post said the incident “raises the immediate question of whether the public can wait the 10 years the automobile industry has said it needs to produce clean cars.” The Post, in fact, wondered, “Has an independent group thoroughly looked into this timetable to see if 10 years really is needed? Or is it a comfortable pace the industry has set for itself?” On Capitol Hill, apparently, there were a few people listening to such appeals, among them Senator Edmund Muskie. President Nixon’s pollution control package – offering a ten year timetable – was essentially industry’s proposal. Muskie, however, would cut that in half, making the deadline for achieving auto emissions standards 1975, not 1980.
Vanishing Air and the Nader Study Group on Air Pollution, meanwhile, continued to have an impact that year, helping to create the pressure for enactment of the 1970 Clean Air Act. That law, in fact, was the toughest anti-pollution measure ever approved by Congress up to that point and was signed grudgingly by Richard Nixon in December 1970, as Senator Ed Muskie in the end had proved a clean air champion and leader in the fight, setting tough 1975 goals for the automakers.
The Ralph Nader report on water pollution, “Water Wasteland,” Grossman Publishers edition, 1971, 494 pp.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s water pollution, like air pollution, was a growing problem across the nation. In northeast Ohio, the Cuyahoga River was so polluted with oil and petrochemicals that is caught fire, and nearby Lake Erie was biologically dead. Added to these were any number of other lakes and rives across the nation that were severely polluted, among the worst rivers, for example were: the Buffalo, the Escambia, the Passaic, the Merrimack, the Rouge, the Ohio and the Houston Ship Canal. Ralph Nader had formed a student Study Group in 1969 to investigate these and other water pollution problems across the country.
David Zwick was a young Harvard law school student when Ralph Nader recruited him to begin work on water pollution. After nearly two years of study, with a team of 26 student researchers and Radcliffe co-author/editor Marcy Benstock, Zwick released the study group’s 700-page report in April 1971. The study was later published in paperback book form by Grossman Publishers under the title, Water Wasteland.
What the Nader team found was a federal water pollution control program that was “a miserable failure.” After 15 years of programs and $3.5 billion in spending dating to 1956, the level of pollution they found – except in isolated instances – had not been significantly reduced. In fact, it had grown worse. Industrial pollution , they found, was by far the major problem, eclipsing domestic sewage sources by 4-to-5 times the volume. More problematic were the 500 some new chemicals that industry was releasing into waterways, many of which were not being removed by water treatment systems.
Water pollution was a major problem in the 1970s.
At the time, the nation’s water pollution control system was administered by Federal Water Quality Control Administration (FWQA) in the U.S. Department of the Interior, an agency then in transition to the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). FWQA and the pollution laws had given the states primary responsibility for enforcing water pollution controls. But the states yielded to industry pressures to either put off setting standards or to set them as low as possible. The result was no surprise: thousands of industrial polluters and very little prosecution. The Nader team documented numerous cases of pollution, but only rare FWQA requests for Justice Department legal action against polluters. In some localities, there were no actions at all, despite thousands of identified polluters. Nor was the Nader team optimistic about new legislation then pending in Congress; bills submitted by both the Nixon Administration and Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME), calling those measures far short what was needed to clean up the nation’s waterways.
Ralph Nader meeting with some study team members in Washington, 1969.
David Zwick and his team had a long list of recommendations, including that individual citizens be given the right to sue industrial polluters, and that employees who inform on corporate polluters be rewarded by government and protected by law from reprisals by employers. Water Wasteland also had a key high-profile supporter: William Ruckelshaus, then administrator of the new Environmental Protection Agency. “I agree with Ralph Nader,” he said at one point. “We are in danger of creating a water wasteland if we permit to happen in the future what has happened in the past.” Ruckelshaus promised “radical changes” in water pollution law enforcement.
In October 1972, a revised Clean Water Act passed in Congress with a bipartisan majority overriding