After three years of running “unofficially” for president, JFK made it official on January 2nd, 1960, announcing his candidacy for President of the United States.
Since 1957, Senator John F. Kennedy had been running “unofficially” for his party’s presidential nomination. For three years he had traveled the country, making speeches, helping other Democrats in their election fights, and building his own campaign organization as he went. Journalist and presidential campaign historian Teddy White would later observe: “No Democrat, not even Adlai Stevenson, spoke in more states, addressed more Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, participated in more local and mayoralty campaigns of deserving Democrats than did John F. Kennedy.”
By White’s count Kennedy had not only visited every state of the union, but had done something even more important: “[H]is intelligence files bulged with what was possibly the most complete index ever made of the power structure of any national party.” Now, in January 1960, JFK was ready to make it official.
In Washington, on January 2nd in the U.S. Senate Caucus Room, amid a crowd of more than 300 friends, family, Senate colleagues, Democratic party officials and national press, Kennedy made clear his intent to run for and win both the Democratic Presidential Nomination and that fall’s national election.
January 4, 1960: The Herald Republican of Springfield, MA, announces JFK’s formal entry into Presidential race.
It was a Saturday morning when JFK made his announcement, insuring he would get good newspaper coverage in the Sunday editions. In making his announcement, Kennedy laid down the gauntlet of the Democratic primary elections as the true testing ground, saying those seeking to compete with him should do so in the primaries. He specifically mentioned senators Lyndon Johnson of Texas and Stuart Symington of Missouri, suggesting that if such rivals couldn’t beat him in the primaries they wouldn’t be able to beat Richard Nixon in the fall. For starters, he would enter the March 8th New Hampshire primary and would announce his plans for other state primaries in the weeks that followed. Kennedy also made clear to Democratic leaders that he was running for the Presidential nomination of his party, and under no circumstances would he be a candidate for Vice President, as some had suggested. Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was also an announced candidate, having made his announcement in late December 1959. Many of the old school Democrats still believed Kennedy was too young, too Catholic, and too inexperienced to receive his party’s nomination. At age 42, he was the youngest presidential candidate in U.S. history.
Jan 1960: JFK being interviewed shortly after announc-ing his candidacy with Jackie by his side, U.S. Senate Caucus room, Wash., D.C. Photo, Hank Walker, Life.
As Kennedy campaigned in 1960, he would be buffeted by events of the day. In early February, four black students staged a sit-in at a lunch counter at Greensboro, North Carolina to protest a “whites only serving policy,” a civil rights action that was one of many in the South that had begun in the mid- and late-1950s, and would continue through the 1960s.
In May, an American U-2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down over Russia with Powers taken prisoner. In late June, a ten nation disarmament conference closed after failing to reach agreement on nuclear arms control. In July, the U.S. cut its sugar imports from Cuba by 95 percent, prompting rebel leader, Fidel Castro to begin confiscating U.S. assets and property there.
In the “space race” that year, the U.S. launched its first weather satellite, Tiros I; the first experimental communications satellite, Echo I; and the first spy satellite, Corona. The Soviets, meanwhile, put another of their Sputnik series into orbit, this one with two dogs on board, returning them safely to earth. In sports, the Summer Olympics were held in Rome where a young boxer from Louisville, Kentucky named Cassius Clay won the light heavyweight gold medal.
“The Remarkable Kennedys,” by Joe McCarthy, published in Feb 1960, was billed as “the dramatic, inside story” of JFK “and his remarkable family.”
Among best-selling books that year were: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; Rabbit, Run, by John Updike; and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer. The first oral contraceptives came into use in 1960 and Elvis Presley had three No. 1 hits that year: “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” It was also 1960 when the famous dance tune, “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker was first released. Other popular songs that year included: “Theme From Summer Place” by Percy Faith; “Cathy’s Clown” by the Everly Brothers; “Stay” by Maurice Williams; “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin; “Georgia on My Mind” by Ray Charles; and “Last Date,” a piano tune by Floyd Cramer.
At the box office that year, Spartacus, Psycho, Exodus, Oceans 11, and Butterfield 8 were among the top grossing films. And several of the actors and actresses appearing in those films would become active JFK supporters, including Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
As the early 1960 race began, the first notable contests for Kennedy and the Democrats came in the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries – April 5th and May 10th, repectively – both of which Kennedy would win, but not without controversy and considerable effort. Kennedy’s victory over Humphrey in Wisconsin was helped by Catholic voters in some districts, yet his margin of victory was not strong enough in other districts where there were no Catholics. That meant the next primary in West Virginia – a state that was 95 percent Protestant – would be a more telling test of Kennedy’s non-Catholic appeal, watched closely by party bosses.
April 1960: JFK campaigning in the tiny hamlet of Ona, West Virginia prior to that state’s May 10th primary.
Kennedy scored a solid victory in West Virginia, knocking Humphrey out of the race. The win in West Virginia, plus Wisconsin, gave Kennedy two early primary victories, and also gave his campaign momentum, helping him to win a string of primaries through May and June while wooing important governors and party insiders along the way.
Heading into the July Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Kennedy was the odds-on favorite for the nomination, but there were still vestiges of the old “brokered convention” in play, where back-room wheeling and dealing could still generate surprises and dark-horse candidates. Kennedy very definitely had momentum, but he didn’t have a lock on the nomination.
In July 1960, as Democrats gathered at the year-old Sports Arena in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention, there were still a number of other candidates who could alter the nomination process, including: Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas, the powerful majority leader of the U.S. Senate, who claimed to have 500 or more delegates committed to his candidacy; Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri, a candidate backed by former president, Harry S. Truman; Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, and a favorite of liberals; and Senators Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Wayne Morse of Oregon, JFK primary opponents. There was also California Gov. Pat Brown, regarded a “favorite son” possibility.
25 July 1960: Life magazine features happy convention delegates on its cover, with tagline, “The Demonstration for Jack Kennedy.”
Life magazine’s July 25th edition, covering the DNC, featured celebrating JFK conventioneers on its cover with the tagline, “The Demonstration for Jack Kennedy.” But the magazine also reported on the convention’s inside politics and how “the Kennedy organization” was showing itself as something of new political phenomenon.
Life’s writers noted that Kennedy was a formidable figure and not merely some Harvard pretty boy. In fact, Kennedy and his 34-year-old brother and campaign manager, Robert, were, according to Life’s reporters, “steam-rolling the crafty old pros of the party with ruthless efficiency….” They were bringing “a new era of American politics” to the Democratic party and delivering “a brand-new and youthful set of owners and operators….” And of course, there was also something else Life’s writers noted: “Kennedy had the magic essential for a candidate, the ability to get votes.”
On July 13, 1960, JFK secured the Democratic nomination on the first ballot. The next day, over the objection of his brother Bobby, organized labor and others, he selected Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate, and the Convention approved. Kennedy would need Texas to win, and that fact above all else, meant Johnson was the best choice. Closing out the convention at the Los Angeles Coliseum with his “New Frontier” speech before TV cameras and a live stadium audience of 50,000 plus, Kennedy and his party went forward, energized for the fall campaign ahead.
July 15, 1960: JFK at the Los Angeles Coliseum speaking before some 52,000 and another 35 million on television. “Today our concern must be with [the] future.... The old era is ending. The old ways will not do…. We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier… ”
Once on the campaign trail, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket covered the entire country, with LBJ barnstorming the South, and Kennedy focusing on a core of some 17 Northeast, industrial, and West Coast states crucial in the electoral arithmetic.
For Kennedy, 1960 was the final stretch in an odyssey that had begun at the 1956 DNC, where he almost won the VP slot. Campaigning as his own man from 1957 on, Kennedy had traveled far and wide, and he had grown as a speaker and campaigner. He had also learned a great deal about the American people and his party. According to aides Kenny O’Donnell and Dave Powers, from late August 1960 until the first Tuesday in November, JFK traveled to speaking appearances and rallies in 237 cities. Nixon, by their count, went to 168 cities.
By Labor Day 1960, when Kennedy formally kicked off his fall campaign in Michigan, his oratory skills had risen to peak form, hitting themes of universal appeal with new and vivid language, inspiring thousands with calls for a better America. By late October, Russell Baker of the New York Times would observe: “…[I]n the last month he has flowered into a magnificent campaigner with a Pied Piper magic over the street crowds, and especially the ladies,“…[Kennedy] has flowered into a magnificent cam- paigner with a Pied Piper magic over the street crowds, and especially the ladies…” - R. Baker, NY Times and with a considerable talent for what is ungraciously called rabble-rousing.” That JFK was appealing to women of all ages was no surprise, some calling out their affections for him from the crowds. Life magazine would report in its last issue before the November 8th election: “The blissful fog of feminine adoration surrounding Jack Kennedy — the great phenomenon of the 1960 campaign — grew even thicker in the last days of his tour.” Teddy White would later recount one Southern Senator’s observation that JFK embodied “the best qualities of Elvis and Franklin D. Roosevelt.” But Kennedy’s campaign also garnered the respect of the journalists who followed him.“The consensus of newspapermen who are watching his performance,” wrote syndicated columnist Roscoe Drummond, “‘[is] that he is more articulate than either President Eisenhower or former President Truman, more direct and understandable than Adlai Stevenson, and has much of the charm of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
JFK’s on-screen appearance during the first Presidential TV debate of Sept 26th, 1960 was believed by some to have been a decisive factor.
The key momentum for the Kennedy campaign, however, did not come from the meet-the-folks retail politics of personal handshakes and Rotary Club speeches – of which there were plenty. Rather, it came in a television studio at station WBBM in Chicago on September 26, 1960. For that was the evening when Kennedy’s movie-star good looks and confident style stole the show from Dick Nixon and got the attention of a nation looking for something new.
“I think the most important moment was in that first television debate with Richard Nixon,” noted Kennedy historian Robert Dallek in a November 2013 National Public Radio interview, “when Kennedy came across as presidential. As someone who was poised, who was witty, charming, handsome and deserved to be president of the United States.”
The 1960 election was a time when television gained as the medium of politics; when image began to play an outsize role in modern culture, and JFK was among the first beneficiaries. There were 85 million television sets in America by then, nearly one set for every two Americans. “When that [first] debate was over,” CBS producer Don Hewitt would later say, “I realized that we didn’t have to wait for an election day. We just elected a president. It all happened on television.” Still, there four TV debates in all, and Nixon regained some ground in the later debates. However, old-fashioned politics were still very much alive in 1960 – when strategic, well-timed, or accidental events could figure into the electoral calculus. And Kennedy’s organization was attuned to such possibilities, if only by the help of perceptive staffers.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being interviewed by WSB-TV reporter upon leaving the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, Oct 27, 1960. Civil Rights Digital Library.
One of those moments came in October 1960, after civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) was jailed in a Georgia prison for a trumped-up parole violation following his participation in a student sit-in. Harrison Wofford, then a campaign aide working in the lower bowels of the JFK campaign in Sargent Shriver’s department, but who years later would become a U.S. Senator, learned about the King situation. Wooford advised that Kennedy should become involved. His idea worked its way up the chain of command, first to Shriver, and eventually to JFK, who made a brief call to King’s wife, Coretta Scott King. Bobby Kennedy, however, was furious about the call, believing word of JFK’s action would alienate southern Democrats. Bobby later calmed down and helped secure King’s release after Jack did some back-channel calling to state officials. Meanwhile, Martin Luther King’s father, who some called “Daddy King,” a prominent Baptist minister,After the Kennedys helped MLK get out of jail, “Daddy King,” a Baptist preacher planning to vote for Nixon, promised “a whole suit- case full of votes” for JFK. was quite thankful for the Kennedy involvement and said as much in a public statement to the press a few days later, noting at one point that he had “a whole suitcase full of votes” he would send JFK’s way. Daddy King, a registered Republican, had endorsed Richard Nixon, and previously opposed Kennedy because he was a Catholic. But now the tide had turned, and the Kennedy campaign made the most of it. According to Evan Thomas, writing in his book, Robert Kennedy, A Life, JFK’s campaign, in its final days, published hundreds of thousands of leaflets and handbills that were distributed at black churches and bars. Included was one flyer that read on one side: “Jack Kennedy called Mrs. King,” and on the other side — “Richard Nixon did not.” Many political analysts believe that JFK’s phone call and Bobby’s intercession on behalf of MLK – and the resulting notice these actions received in the black community – figured into the election’s outcome, as black voters shifted to Kennedy in several states and key urban areas. MLK himself, however, never endorsed either candidate.
JFK in a private moment aboard his campaign plane, The Caroline, which logged thousands of miles during the primary and general election campaigns.
Toward the end of October 1960, Kennedy was drawing very large and energized crowds, especially in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state that held 32 electoral votes – as many as California and second only to New York. Between October 28th and October 31st, Kennedy and his team made a blitz of cities and towns in the eastern half of Pennsylvania.
Beginning with three morning speeches in Allentown on October 28th, a 20-car Kennedy motorcade then headed north visiting a string of towns, including: Pottsville, McAdoo, Hazleton, Ashley, Sugar Notch, Nanticoke, Plymouth, and finally Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. In Hazleton, thousands jammed Main Street to hear Kennedy, standing shoulder-to-shoulder. In Wilkes-Barre, also on the 28th, an estimated crowd of 30,000 converged on Public Square to hear the senator. These were substantial crowds for small and medium-sized towns. The New York Times, reporting on Kennedy’s campaigning in the region on October 29, 1960, headlined its story, “Kennedy Cheered in Pennsylvania; 500,000 Acclaim Senator as He Motors Through Area of High Unemployment.”
October 28, 1960: JFK – on platform, lower left -- speaks to an overflow crowd jamming the downtown area of Hazelton, Pennsylvania (streets to Kennedy's left, not shown, were equally jammed). The Hazelton stop was among at least a dozen other Pennsylvania towns he visited that day.
On the evening of October 28th, it was back to the Philadelphia area for a fundraising dinner and speech, followed the next day by visits throughout the Philadelphia metro area at eight more stops – from Chester and Upper Darby to Roosevelt Field in Norristown and Snellenburg’s Shopping Center in Willow Grove. More Philadelphia area campaigning followed on October 30th and 31st, including stops at a bonds-for-Israel rally, the Raymond Rose apartments, Rayburn Plaza, and Temple University. Thousands had come out for these rallies, as they did in the rain in Philadelphia, Chester, and at the town square in Valley Forge where they heard JFK summon Revolutionary War history: “Men here knew the deadly meaning of danger, but they also preserved the bright hope of opportunity.” In the end, Kennedy’s Pennsylvania blitz paid off: he carried the state and won its 32 electoral votes.
Nov 4, 1960: JFK rides in car with Chicago Mayor, Richard J. Daley, right, during torchlight parade through city.
“The Irish Prince”
On November 4, 1960, with only five days left until the election, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley orchestrated a huge torchlight parade for Kennedy through the city, culminating at a Chicago Stadium event that was broadcast over national television (NBC). An estimated 1.5 million came out for the Chicago parade and the rally. At the stadium, Mayor Daley introduced John F. Kennedy to a sold-out audience, as “the Irish Prince.”
In the final week of the race, JFK’s schedule was truly punishing, traveling the breadth of the country, with non-stop campaigning. As aide Kenny O’Donnell would later write, ticking off the stops and how little sleep Kennedy had: “During the closing week of the campaign – Sunday and Monday in Philadelphia, Tuesday in Los Angeles, Wednesday in San Francisco, Thursday in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Wichita Falls and Oklahoma City, Friday in Virginia, Ohio and Chicago, Saturday in New York, Sunday in Connecticut, Long Island, New Jersey and Maine, and… Monday in New England and Boston – he had never gotten four hours of sleep on any night.” But there were some sights to behold in those final days, as O’Donnell would also recount in two episodes, one in Connecticut, late Saturday night November 5th, and the other in Maine, late Sunday night, November 6th:
…We landed in the Caroline [campaign plane] at Bridgeport after midnight and drove from there in a motorcade along Route 8 in the Naugatuck River Valley to Waterbury. All along the road, for more than twenty-seven miles, there were crowds of cheering people, waving torches and red lights, most of them wearing coats over their pajamas and nightgowns, and at the firehouses in every town the fire engines were lines up beside the road with their lights flashing, bells ringing, and sirens wailing.“…All along the road, for more than twenty-seven miles, there were crowds of cheering people, waving torches and red lights, most of them wearing coats over their pajamas and nightgowns…” Although it was almost three o’clock in the morning when we reached Waterbury, there was a roaring crowd of more than forty thousand people in the city square outside the Roger Smith Hotel where Kennedy was to spend the night…
…Then [late Sunday] he flew at night to Lewiston, Maine, arriving there at one-thirty. Lewiston was cold and the airport was dark and empty. The advance man and the few local party leaders who met us at the plane hurried Kennedy into a car and drove him in the the city without saying anything about where he was going. The streets were quiet and empty. He glanced at me questioningly, wondering what he was doing in a freezing cold Maine factory town in the middle of the night when everybody seemed to be in bed. Then we drove into a park where a crowd of more than twenty thousand people were waiting, carrying torchlights. Coming from the cold darkness and stillness of the drive from the airport to the sudden glare of torchlighted area, filled with warmth and excited people, Kennedy was stunned. “My God, isn’t this unbelievable?” he said. Then the crowd recognized him, there was a roar of cheering that could be heard for miles away.
Still, the early November election polls had Nixon and Kennedy pretty much in a dead heat.
JFK and Jackie both voted in Boston on election day then traveled to Hyannis Port to join family, friends, and key campaign staff to await election returns. AP photo.
On election day, Tuesday November 8th JFK and Jackie voted in Boston then traveled to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts to join family, friends, and core campaign staff to monitor the election returns. As the early vote came in from large cities in the East and Midwest – Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago – Kennedy had a large lead in the popular and electoral vote. It appeared he was headed for certain victory. However, after some premature TV declarations of Kennedy wins in selected states – and some retractions – an hours-long “too-close-to-call” contest set in, stretching late into the night and next day. As later election returns came in during the early a.m hours of November 9th – especially from the rural and suburban Midwest, Western states, and Pacific Coast states – Nixon began to catch up. Some newspapers, including the New York Times, had already prepared “Kennedy Elected” headline copy. But the election was still too close to call.
Nov 8, 1960: Election-night coverage by NBC-TV team of Chet Huntley & David Brinkley at desk, with posted election returns.
By 3 a.m, Eastern Time, Kennedy’s popular vote lead – which had been about 2.3 million votes at midnight – had nearly evaporated, and some commentators were saying he might win the presidency with the electoral vote, but lose the popular vote. When Nixon appeared with his wife at the podium in the Ambassador Hotel at 12:30 a.m. Pacific Time (3:30 a.m. EST), four key states were still undecided — California, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Only if Kennedy lost all four of these states could Nixon win. As journalist Teddy White put it: “[T]hough Nixon had almost certainly lost, Kennedy had yet not definitely won.” In a televised address from the Ambassador Hotel that night, with a tearful Pat by his side, Nixon told the crowd, “[A]s I look at the board here; while there are still some results to come in,…if the present trend continues, Senator Kennedy will be the next President of the United States.” This wasn’t a Nixon concession, however – as one of his aids, Herb Klein, followed Nixon to say just that. On the East coast, Kennedy’s people, watching the telecast, were furious. But JFK himself, also watching, said: “Why should he concede? I wouldn’t.” And with that, at nearly 4. a.m., JFK went to bed to await the outcome.
Nov 9, 1960 a.m. edition of Los Angeles Times has JFK “nearing victory” amid Nixon’s conditional concession.
By 6:30 a.m. EST the next morning, at NBC-TV in New York, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, having covered the returns for12 straight hours, were still on the air, but had no official final result to broadcast. At around 11:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday morning, November 9th, Nixon still hadn’t conceded. JFK at that point was believed to be 11 electoral votes short of victory, even though at least one TV network had called the election for Kennedy earlier that morning. At about 12:30 EST, Minnesota was added to JFK’s column, which then put him over the top. Within 10 minutes or so of that announcement on TV, a telegram for JFK arrived at Hyannis Port from Nixon: “I want to repeat through this wire congratulations and best wishes I extended to you on television last night. I know that you have united support of all Americans as you lead this nation in the cause of peace and freedom during the next four years.” The Nixon telegram was also read about the same time before TV cameras by Nixon aide Herb Klein. Kennedy had defeated Nixon in one of the closest presidential elections of the twentieth century. In the national popular vote Kennedy led Nixon by just two-tenths of one percent (49.7% to 49.5%), while in the electoral vote – with 269 needed to win – Kennedy received 303 and Nixon 219.
Nov 9th, 1960: Famous photo of JFK with daughter Caroline awaiting final election results at Hyannis Port.
The 1960 Kennedy campaign, in many ways, was a watershed in modern political campaigning. Kennedy and his team broke the mold of what had gone before and set a new style that blended both old and new, tapped into popular culture (e.g., Sinatra’s Rat Pack), and made the most of television. Historian Robert Dallek has stated that no one has yet created a new template the way Kennedy did.
What follows below is an abbreviated timeline of JFK’s campaigning in 1960 – from the primaries of early 1960, through the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in July, to the final fall campaign, September through election day. The left hand column includes a shorthand listing of known campaign stops, speech titles or general topics, meetings, endorsements, and related press and other activities during 1960. The right hand column includes related photos, magazine covers, newspaper clips and other items from the 1960 campaign. Additional photos and campaign information appear below the timeline, 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, 1958, and 1959, as well as other related stories such as, “The Jack Pack, 1958-1960.” Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle(Note: For best viewing below, do not use Explorer. -j.d.)
Jan 2, 1960: Newsreel title screen for story about JFK’s announcement. Newsreels were then used in theaters.
Jan 14, 1960: JFK outlines his strategy for the presidency at the National Press Club in Wash., D.C. Photo, UPI.
Jan 1960: JFK & Jackie campaigning in New Hampshire.
Jan 25, 1960: Nashua Telegraph headlines suggest a favorable showing in New Hampshire after JFK and wife Jackie visited the state in January.
Feb 6, 1960: JFK makes a quick trip to Charleston, WV to file for the state’s May 10th primary election where he will face Sen. Hubert Humphrey. Kennedy, at the desk of State Secretary Joe Burdette, is talking with the press. At left is Neil Boggs of WSAZ. Photo, WV State Archives.
Feb 8, 1960: Frank Sinatra with JFK outside The Sands hotel in Las Vegas where Kennedy stayed during a campaign swing. Sinatra would go “all out” for JFK in 1960. Click for Sinatra & “Jack Pack” story.
Feb 8, 1960: JFK arriving in Roseburg, Oregon, where he is met by a local delegation that includes Edward Murphy (c), his Douglas County campaign manager, and State Rep. W.O. Kelsey (r). Photo, The Oregonian.
Feb 17, 1960: JFK, at the Hotel Retlaw in Fond du Lac, WI, where a large photo of his likeness was mounted behind him, spoke on the topic of “Water Pollution,” noting that in 1959 the beaches of Milwaukee had been closed because the water was unsafe and unhealthy.
JFK, on a winter visit to Manchester, NH, greets student supporters at St. Anselm’s College who have brought along a donkey, symbol of the Democratic Party.
Los Angeles Times headline announces JFK and Nixon victories in the March 8, 1960 New Hampshire primary.
Vying presidential hopefuls in the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary, Humphrey & Kennedy, shown on the March 28, 1960 cover of ‘Life’ magazine as they compete for, among other interests, the dairy farm vote.
March 30, 1960: Campaigning early a.m. at the Manitowoc Shipyards in Wisconsin, JFK greets arriving workers and brothers, Ralph and Berlin Schroeder.
April 3rd, 1960: JFK watching a TV playback of an earlier TV appearance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin leading up to the April 5th Wisconsin primary. AP photo.
April 5, 1960: JFK & team working the phones on WI primary night. Behind JFK from left: Pierre Salinger, Kennedy O’Donnell and Larry O’Brien. RFK is on the extreme right.
April 5th, 1960: CBS newsman Walter Cronkite interviews JFK during the Wisconsin primary vote.
April 1960: As JFK stepped off his campaign plane at the Tucson Arizona Municipal Airport, he was greeted by about 150 supporters, some waving “Viva! Kennedy” placards. He was also given a sombrero and a cowboy hat. Photo, Tucson Citizen.
April 9th, 1960: JFK, Rep. Stewart Udall, and guest enjoy a light moment during a Democratic luncheon in Tucson, AZ. Udall would later become Kennedy’s Sec. of the Interior. Tucson Citizen photo.
April 1960: JFK campaigning in rural West Virginia in advance of the state's May 10th primary.
April 1960: JFK meeting with a group of coal miners near Mullens, West Virginia during a shift change while campaigning in Logan County during the West Virginia primary race.
May 1960: Part of the JFK story being disseminated during the election was Kennedy’s WWII heroics, put forward here in a “Man’s Magazine” cover story.
May 15th: JFK threw opening day baseball for Little League teams at Riverside ballpark in Portland, OR. Mike Gefroh caught ball and asked JFK to autograph it.
June 3, 1960: In Michigan, Mackinac Islanders welcome JFK, awarding him a key to the island. Gov. Williams introduced JFK to the crowd. Photo, Detroit News
June 16, 1960: JFK makes guest appearance on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show. Click for video.
June 19, 1960: U.S. Rep. George McGovern, right, joins JFK on the campaign trail in Sioux Falls, S.D.
July 2, 1960: A week before the DNC, former President, Harry Truman said Kennedy was “too young” & “not ready” and charged the DNC was “rigged” in his favor.
July 9, 1960: JFK arriving in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention, where he is the front- runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
July 13th: North Carolina delegates and LBJ supporters, Gov. Luther Hodges (holding paper) and Senator Sam Ervin Jr., right, at the DNC. Rumor had it that Kennedy was slipping in his bid for the nomination, as Southern delegates battled over civil rights and other issues.
July 14th, 1960: Los Angeles Times banner news head-line announcing JFK’s nomination victory at the DNC.
July 1960: Classic photo of LBJ, RFK & JFK during Johnson’s VP selection. Photo, Jacques Lowe
Aug 14,1960: JFK speaks at FDR Historic Home Site on 25th Anniversary of Social Security Act. Photo, NPS
Aug 14, 1960: JFK admiring bust of FDR while touring the FDR Library during his visit to Hyde Park, NY.
Aug 20, 1960: Cover for major farm conference in Des Moines, IA, with JFK& LBJ attending. JFK pledges Democratic action to raise farm income to “full parity” and “preserve family farming as a way of life.”
Aug 26, 1960: JFK waves to crowd as he leaves Cobo Hall in Detroit following speech to the VFW National Conven-tion. Photo, Tony Spina/Walter Reuther Library
Sept 6, 1960: JFK in Spokane, WA reading about his proposed “wheat plan” in the Spokane Daily Chronicle.
Sept 8-9, 1960: JFK speaking from back of train during two-day California whistlestop tour. Photo, C. Capa
Sept 13: JFK campaigning with LBJ, in Dallas, Texas.
Sept 16th: Crowd fills Penn Square, Lancaster, PA, to hear JFK speak. He also stopped at nearby Columbia, PA, as well as Reading, York and Lebanon, PA that day.
Poster announcing visit of JFK to the York Fair, in York, PA on September 16, 1960.
September 22, 1960: JFK, in backseat of Pontiac convertible, talks with farmer James Cox during a visit to his farm in Fort Dodge, Iowa. AP photo.
Sept 26, 1960: JFK and Richard Nixon appear in the first nationally-televised presidential debate, which many believe Kennedy won. With some 70 million viewers, that debate gave an enormous boost to Kennedy’s campaign. Up to 20 million fewer viewers watched the remaining 3 debates, in which Nixon fared better.
Sept 28, 1960: Erie, PA “Daily Times” headline: “40,000 Greet Kennedy in Erie,” with photo of JFK & crowd.
Sept 29: Female voter in Schenectady, NY makes her preference known. Jackie’s campaigning was limited by her pregnancy, though she made early and late campaign appearances, and was a popular and valued campaigner.
Campaign poster for JFK appearances on Oct 10th, 1960 at Gateway Center & Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, PA.
Oct. 10, 1960: JFK addressing crowd at the LaGrange-Callaway Airport in Georgia, and would later visit Warm Springs, GA, former FDR retreat. Photo, Atlanta Journal
October 10th, 1960 edition of Newsweek features JFK-Nixon TV debates on its cover along with “stormy K,” a reference to Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev.
October 19th, 1960: JFK & Jackie riding in motorcade during tickertape parade in New York City.
October 24th edition of “Rockford Register-Republic” chronicles JFK Illinois campaign visit, mentioning plans for a 5th national TV debate that never came about.
Oct 31: JFK campaigns in downtown Philadelphia, PA near Citizens for Kennedy-Johnson hdqtrs, 1431 Chestnut St. Photo, Evening Bulletin/Temple Univ.
Nov 1, 1960: JFK in blizzard of confetti in downtown Los Angeles during motorcade up Broadway, where it took more than 1 hour to travel 20 blocks. AP photo
Nov 4, 1960: Headline from ‘Chicago Daily News’ touting big Mayor Daley-backed torchlight parade and stadium rally for JFK that would draw 1.5 million.
Nov 7, 1960: JFK coming into Boston with a police escort after days of campaigning throughout New England. He would make a final campaign speech at the Boston Garden and another on national TV, ending his campaign.
November 9, 1960: A beaming Jackie Kennedy and a happy JFK, during his acceptance speech at the Hyannis Armory in Massachusetts following the long election night.
Jan 2: Wash., DC, Announces Candidacy
Jan 2: Universal-International Newsreel
Jan 2: Waltham, MA, Eleanore Roosevelt
Jan 3: Boston, MA, w/Advisory Group
Jan 3: Wash., DC, NBC’s Meet The Press
Jan 4: New York, NY
Jan 4: Wash. DC, Dinner w/ Joe Alsop
Jan 5: Wash., Dinner w/Ben & Toni Bradlee
Jan 5-6: Ohio Gov. Mike DiSalle for JFK
Jan 5: NH Campaign Office Opens
Jan 6: Wash., Dave Garroway TV filming
Jan 6: Wash., Women’s Nat’l Press Club
Jan 7: Parkersburg, WV, Campaign Mtg
Jan 7: Pres. Eisenhower, State of the Union
Jan 8: New York, Lunch w/ Look Editors
Jan 8: Wash, DC, Foreign Press Assoc.
Jan 8: ‘Kansans for Kennedy’ in Topeka
Jan 9: Nixon Announces Candidacy
Jan 9: Wash., DC, AFL-CIO Reception
Jan 11: Wash., DC, Board of Overseers
Jan 12: Wash., Walter Reuther Mtg.
Jan 12: Wash., Mass. Labor Leaders
Jan 13: Wash., Rep. Torbert MacDonald
Jan 14: Wash., DC, National Press Club
Jan 15: Louisville, KY
Jan 15-18: Palm Beach, FL, R&R
Jan 19: CA Gov. Pat Brown is Candidate
Jan 19: Wash., Lunch w/Joe Alsop
Jan 19: Wash., Bill Gillrick, Life
Jan 19: Wash., Franklin Roosevelt Jr.
Jan 20: Wash., John Oakes, NY Times
Jan 21: Milwaukee, WI with Jackie
Jan 21: Milwaukee Press Conference
Jan 22: Milwaukee, Pfister Hotel
Jan 22: Wash., DC, Gov. M. Williams
Jan 22: Wash., DC, Gov. Pat Brown
Jan 22: Wash., DC, Fundraising
Jan 23: Wash., National Committee
Jan 23: Wash., Pres. Kick-Off Dinner
Jan 24: Cambridge, MA, Harvard Club
Jan 24: Boston, MA, Jeff-Jackson Dinner
Jan 24: Nashua, NH, City Hall
Jan 24: Nashua, NH, Rotary Club
Jan 25: Manchester, NH
Jan 26: Baltimore, MD, Gov. Tawes
Jan 27: Omaha, NE, Labor Recep/Rally
Jan 28: Wash, DC, AP Photographers
Jan 28: Wash., Radio Interview/NY
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, UT, Luncheon
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, Press Conference
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, Later Day Saints
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, KCFX-TV Show
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, Labor Leaders
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, Dem Reception
Jan 30: Salt Lake City, Roosevelt Ball
Jan 31: Reno, NV, Gov’s Reception
Jan 31: Carson City, NV
Feb 1: Carson City, NV, State Legislature
Feb 2: Annapolis, Enters MD Primary
Feb 4: Indianapolis, Enters IN Primary
Feb 4: Gary, IN, Hotel Gary Reception
Feb 4: Gary, Int’l Institute, Benefit Dinner
Feb 5: Gary, Lake County Women’s Club
Feb 5: Gary, Hotel Gary, Press Conf.
Feb 5: E. Chicago, IN, Dem. Luncheon
Feb 5: Gary, IN, U.S. Steel Tour
Feb 5: Terre Haute, IN, Dem Reception
Feb 5: Terre Haute, WTBI-TV
Feb 5: Terre Haute, State Teacher’s Col.
Feb 6: Charleston, WV, Primary filing
Feb 6: Bismark, ND, Hotel Patterson
Feb 6: Bismark, KYFR-TV Interview
Feb 6: Bismark, ND, Young Dems Lunch
Feb 6: Jamestown, ND, Press Conf.
Feb 6: Stutsman County (ND) Dems
Feb 7: Albuquerque, NM, Western Conf.
Feb 7: Albuquerque, New Mexico Univ.
Feb 7: Albuquerque, Dem. Luncheon
Feb 7: Albuquerque, Civic Auditorium
Feb 7: Las Vegas, Sands Hotel, Press
Feb 8: Las Vegas, Conv. Center Spch
Feb 8: Conv. Center Gold Room Recep.
Feb 8: Las Vegas, Sands Hotel
Feb 9: Roseburg, OR, Dem. Committee
Feb 9: Roseburg, Visit Lumber Mill
Feb 9: Roseburg, ‘Better Housing’ Spch
Feb 9: Corvallis, OR, Dem. Committee
Feb 9: Corvallis, Dem. Women
Feb 9: Corvallis, Benton Hotel Spch
Feb 9: Albany, OR, St. Mary’s Hall
Feb 9: Portland, OR, Multnomah Hotel
Feb 10: Portland, Press Conference
Feb 10: Portland, Chamber of Commerce
Feb 10: Newport, OR, Yaquina Harbor
Feb 10: Newport, Georgia Pacific Mill
Feb 10: Newport, Dem. Dinner
Feb 10: Corvallis, OR, Oregon St. Univ.
Feb 10: Portland Airport Reception
Feb 10: Portland-to-Pullman, WA
Feb 10: Pullman, Wash. State Univ.
Feb 11: Spokane, WA, Gonzaga Univ.
Feb 11: Spokane, Whitworth College
Feb 11: Spokane, Labor Council
Feb 11: Spokane, WA, Dem Club Dinner
Feb 12: Palo Alto, CA, Stanford Univ.
Feb 12: Fresno, CA, Dem Clubs Convnt.
Feb 12: Fresno, Hotel Fresno Reception
Feb 13: NY, NY, Dem. State Com. Dinner
Feb 16: Ft Atkinson, Wisconsin
Feb 16: Ft Atkinson, Whitewater College
Feb 16: Lake Geneva, WI. Town Tour
Feb 16: Kenosha, WI, ‘Senior Citizens’
Feb 16: Kenosha, Campaign Song Aired
Feb 16: Madison, WI, Press Conference
Feb 17: Port Washington, WI
Feb 17: West Bend, WI
Feb 17: Mayville, WI, City Hall
Feb 17: Beaver Dam, WI, ‘Dairy Program’
Feb 17: Fond Du Lac, ‘Water Pollution’
Feb 18: Oshkosh, WI, Wisconsin Axle
Feb 18: Oshkosh, Oshkosh Overall plant
Feb 18: Oshkosh, WI, Oshkosh St. College
Feb 18: DePere, WI, St. Norbert’s College
Feb 18: Appleton, WI, Town Center
Feb 18: Green Bay, WI, Champion Paper
Feb 18: Green Bay, WI, ‘Minimum Wage’
Feb 19: Berlin, New Hampshire
Feb 19: Berlin, White Mnt Lumber Co.
Feb 19: Berlin, Burgess Mill
Feb 19: Berlin, Cascade Plant
Feb 19: Berlin, Granite State Lumber Co,
Feb 19: Hannover, NH, Dartmouth College
Feb 19: Lebanon, NH
Feb 19: Claremont, NH, Hotel Moody
Feb 19: Claremont, City Hall Reception
Feb 20: Hartford, CT, Gov’s Mansion
Feb 20: Hartford, Jeff-Jackson Dinner
Feb 24: Madison, WI, ‘Natural Resources’
Feb 24: Madison, WI, East Side Optimists
Feb 24: Portage, WI, ‘Forest Research’
Feb 25: Wausau, WI, ‘Unshared Abundance’
Feb 25: Antigo, WI, ‘Rural Elec Co-ops’
Feb 25: Medford, WI, ‘Natural Resources’
Feb 25: Abbotsford, WI, ‘Social Security’
Feb 26: Eau Claire, WI, ‘…Tight Money’
Feb 26: Chippewa Falls, WI, ‘Ag Research’
Feb 26: Bloomer, WI, ‘REA Co-ops’
Feb 26: Durand, WI, ‘Dairy Program’
Feb 29: U.S. Senate, ‘Investment for Peace’
Mar 4: Indianapolis, IN, File for Primary
Mar 4: Indianapolis, Press Conference
Mar 4: Indianapolis, Visit Campaign Hqtrs
Mar 4: Hutchinson, KS, Democratic Dinner
Mar 4: Gallup Poll: JFK 50%, Nixon 50%
Mar 5: Laconia, NH, Tavern Hotel Brk’fst
Mar 5: Franklin, NH, Reception
Mar 5: Concord, NH, Highway Hotel Recep.
Mar 5: Suncook, NH, Legion Sq. Reception
Mar 5: Manchester, NH, Champagne Mkt.
Mar 5: Manchester, St. Anselm’s College
Mar 5: Nashua, NH, Democratic Dinner
Mar 6: Berlin, NH, City Hall
Mar 6: Hanover, NH, Dartmouth College
Mar 6: Lebanon, NH, City Hall
Mar 6: Dartmouth College Speech
Mar 6: Claremont, NH, City Hall Recep.
Mar 7: Rochester, NH
Mar 7: Rochester, Hubbard Shoe Co.
Mar 7: Somersworth, NH
Mar 7: Somersworth, G.E. Meter Plant
Mar 7: Durham, NH, Lunch, Univ. of NH
Mar 7: Durham, New Hampshire Hall
Mar 7: Durham, Radio Q&A, WNDR
Mar 7: Newington, NH, Simplex Wire Co.
Mar 7: Portsmouth, NH, Press Conference
Mar 7: Dover, NH, City Hall Reception Mar 8: JFK Wins NH Primary
Mar 9: Madison, WI, Press Conference
Mar 9: Baraboo, WI, ‘Forest Products’
Mar 9: Reedsburg, WI, ‘Dairy Income’
Mar 9: Mauston, WI, ‘National Defense’
Mar 9: Sparta, WI
Mar 9: La Crosse, WI, ‘Distressed Areas’
Mar 10: Black Falls, WI
Mar 10: Fairchild, WI, Neillsville H.S.
Mar 10: Marshfield, WI
Mar 10: Stevens Pt., WI, ‘Farm Credit’
Mar 11: Manawa, WI, Coffee Hour
Mar 11: Clintonville, WI
Mar 11: Shawano, WI, ‘Dairy Industry’
Mar 11: New London, WI
Mar 11: Neemah, WI
Mar 11: Meesha, WI
Mar 11: Appleton, WI, Nat. Resources
Mar 12: Wash, DC, Gridiron Dinner
Mar 14: Wash., Building Trades Conf.
Mar 15: Nat’l Veterans For Kennedy
Mar 16: Charleston, WV, Press Conf.
Mar 16: Madison, WI, ‘Disarmament’
Mar 16: Madison, Univ of Wisconsin
Mar 16: Madison, Businessmen’s Club
Mar 17: Cornell, WI, ‘REA Co-ops’
Mar 17: Ladysmith, WI
Mar 17: Park Falls, WI
Mar 17: Mellen, WI
Mar 17: Montreal, WI
Mar 17: Hurley, WI
Mar 17: Ashland, WI
Mar 18: Washburn, WI,
Mar 18: Hayward. WI
Mar 18: Shall Lake, WI
Mar 18: Minong, WI
Mar 18: Gordon, WI
Mar 18: Superior, WI. ‘The Unemployed’
Mar 19: Milwaukee, WI, Press Conf.
Mar 19: Mukwonago, WI, Coffee Hour
Mar 19: Burlington, WI
Mar 19: Racine, WI, Young Democrats
Mar 19: Hayward, WI
Mar 19: Delavan, WI, ‘Small Business’
Mar 19: Janesville, WI, ‘Ag Research’
Mar 20: Milwaukee, WI, ‘Right to Vote’
Mar 20: Marionette, WI, ‘Farm Credit’
Mar 21: Indianapolis, IN, Primary Cert.
Mar 23: Milwaukee, NW Mutual Co.
Mar 23: Milwaukee, G.E. Plant Tour
Mar 23: Milwaukee, Schlitz Plant
Mar 23: Milwaukee, American Motors
Mar 23: Milwaukee, Jewish Com. Center
Mar 24: Sen. Symington Enters Race
Mar 24: Milwaukee, Telephone Co.
Mar 24: Milwaukee, Univ of WI / ‘Berlin’
Mar 24: Milwaukee, Miller Brewing
Mar 24: Kenosha, WI, Am. Motors Plant
Mar 24: Racine, WI, Reception
Mar 25: Hillsboro, WI, High School Spch
Mar 25: Gays Mills, WI
Mar 25: Muscoda, WI
Mar 25: Lancaster, WI, REA County Mtg.
Mar 25: Milwaukee, Univ of WI / ‘Cuba’
Mar 26: Detroit, MI, Dem Midwest Conf.
Mar 26: Cadillac, MI, Press Conference
Mar 27: Detroit, UAW Rally /‘Forand Bill’
Mar 28: Life cover story, WI Primary
Mar 29: Milwaukee, WI
Mar 29: Hudson, WI, ‘Ag Research’
Mar 30: Manitowoc, WI, ‘Farm Co-ops’
Mar 30: Manitowoc, Shipyard Workers
Mar 31: Oconomowoc, WI, ‘Nat’l Forests’
Apr 1: Dodgeville, WI, ‘Fighting Crime’
Apr 1: Beloit, WI, ‘Social Security’
Apr 2: Milwaukee, WI, ‘This Campaign’
Apr 2: Milwaukee, Assoc Student Councils
Apr 3: Milwaukee, ‘American Labor’
Apr 4: Milwaukee, Univ of WI, ‘Berlin’ Apr 5: JFK Wins Wisconsin Primary
Apr 5-6: Kennedy team gathers in WV
Apr 6: JFK at home, Georgetown/D.C.
Apr 7: Alexandria, IN, Farm Forum
Apr 7: Muncie, IN, Ball State University
Apr 7: Muncie, Luncheon /Press Conf
Apr 7: Muncie, Borg Warner /shift change
Apr 7: Lafayette, IN, Am Legion Reception
Apr 7: Lafayette, IN, Jeff-Jackson Dinner
Apr 8: South Bend, IN, Studebaker workers
Apr 8: Plymouth, IN, Marshall Co. Schools
Apr 8: Michawaka, IN, Bal Band plant
Apr 8: South Bend, IN, St. Mary’s College
Apr 8: South Bend, IN, Democratic Dinner
Apr 9: Flagstaff, AZ, Dem Breakfast
Apr 9: Tucson, AZ, ‘Nat Resource Devlpmnt’
Apr 9: Yuma, AZ, ‘High Interest Rates…’
Apr 9: Phoenix, AZ, ‘Natural Resources’
Apr 9: Phoenix, Democratic Reception
Apr 11: “Stop Kennedy” in WV reported
Apr 11: Parkersburg, WV, Elks Club Coffee
Apr 11: Charleston, Morris Harvey College
Apr 11: “ “, Kanawha Co. Court House
Apr 11: Charleston, Kanawha Hotel Lunch
Apr 11: Ona, WV, JFK/Post Office photo
Apr 11: Huntington, WV, Connors Steel
Apr 11: Huntington, Marshall College
Apr 11: Raleigh Co., WV, Airport Rally
Apr 11: Raleigh Co. Courthouse, Press
Apr 11: Beckley, WV, Slab Fork Coal Co.
Apr 11: Beckley, WV, ‘New Deal for WV’
Apr 12: N. Vincent Peale hits JFK religion Apr 12: JFK Wins Illinois Primary
Apr 14: Palm Beach, FL, JFK R&R
Apr 17: Clarksburg, WV, with Jackie
Apr 18: Clarksburg, WBOY-TV
Apr 18: Clarksburg, Jackson Hotel Coffee
Apr 18: Clarksburg, Hazel Atlas plant
Apr 18: Clarksburg, ‘The Unemployed’
Apr 18: Fairmont, WV
Apr 18: Fairmont, ‘Program for Coal’
Apr 18: Fairmont, Lunch/Palace Restaurant
Apr 18: Fairmont, Owens-Illinois Glass
Apr 18: Morgantown, WV, Sterling Faucet
Apr 18: Pursglove, WV, Miners’ Mem. Cntr
Apr 18: Morgantown, Hotel Morgan Recep.
Apr 18: Morgantown, WV, ‘Coal By Wire…’
Apr 19: Bethany, WV, Bethany College
Apr 19: Bethany, W. Liberty St. College
Apr 19: Wheeling, WV, TV Interview
Apr 19: JFK & others, NBC-TV Startime
Apr 19: Wheeling, Sylvania Plant
Apr 19: Wheeling, Press Conference
Apr 19: Wheeling, WV, ‘WV & Pentagon’
Apr 19: Beckley, WV, Arival
Apr 20: Beckley, Beckley Manufacturing
Apr 20: Mt Hope, WV, ‘Food For WV’
Apr 20: Oak Hill, WV, Collins H.S.
Apr 20: Fayetteville, WV
Apr 20: Gauley Bridge, WV, High School
Apr 20: Montgomery, WV, High School
Apr 20: Cedar Grove, WV
Apr 20: Cabin Creek, WV, Jack’s Supmkt.
Apr 20: Charleston, Owens-Illinois plant
Apr 20: Charleston, ‘Program For WV’
Apr 20: Huntington, Depressed Area Aid
Apr 21: Wash., DC, Newspaper Editors
Apr 22: Portland, OR, Arrival/Press Conf
Apr 22: Portland, Omark Industries plant
Apr 22: N. Clackamas, OR, High School
Apr 22: N. Clackamas, Chamber of Com.
Apr 22: Milwaukie, OR, Milwaukie H.S.
Apr 22: Beaverton, OR, First Methodist
Apr 22: Beaverton, Pendleton Mills
Apr 22: S. Eugene, OR, ‘Disarmament’
Apr 23: Medford, OR, Pear Blossom Parade
Apr 23: Medford, Lunch, Hotel Medford
Apr 23: Portland, OR, ‘Social Security’
Apr 23: Ashland, OR
Apr 23: Portland, Cleveland High School
Apr 25: Huntington, WV, Press Conf
Apr 25: Huntington, TV Address
Apr 25: Huntington, Huntington Mfg. Co.
Apr 25: Lavalette, WV, Veterans Hospital
Apr 25: Lavalette, Wayne Co. Courthouse
Apr 25, Crum, WV, Railroad Workers
Apr 25: Kermit, WV
Apr 25: Williamson, WV, ‘Older Citizens’
Apr 25: Omar, WV
Apr 25: Rossmore, WV, Courthouse
Apr 25: Logan, WV, ‘Coal’
Apr 26: Welsh, WV
Apr 26: Amherstdale, WV, with FDR, Jr.
Apr 26: Amherstdale, Nat’l Fuels Policy
Apr 26: Pineville, WV, Court House Spch
Apr 26: Oceana, WV
Apr 26: Man, WV, Bluefield Nat’l Guard
Apr 26: Glenwood, WV
Apr 26: Mullens, WV, ‘Natural Resources…’
Apr 26: Near Mullens, Itmann coal mine
Apr 26: Welsh, Municipal Bldg. Spch
Apr 26: Kimball, WV
Apr 26: Keystone, WV
Apr 26: Northfork, WV
Apr 26: Maybeury, WV
Apr 26: Bramwell, WV
Apr 26: Glenwood Pk, WV, ‘Food For WV’ Apr 26: JFK Wins MA Primary Apr 26: JFK Wins PA Primary
Apr 27: Athens, WV, ‘Teacher College Grads’
Apr 27: Bluefield, WV, Bluefield St. College
Apr 27: Bluefield, Jackie on WHIS-TV
Apr 27: Princeton, WV, Maidenform plant
Apr 27: Charles Town, WV, Dem. Rally
Apr 27: Kimball, WV
Apr 27: Near Eckman, Eureka Hollow
Apr 27: Bramwell, WV
Apr 27: Montcalm, WV
Apr 27: Goodwill Hollow, WV
Apr 27: Hinton, WV, (Ted Kennedy sub)
Apr 27: Alderson, WV, Alderson H.S.
Apr 27: Ronceverte, WV, High School
Apr 27: Lewisburg, WV, High School
Apr 27: White Sulfur Springs, WV
Apr 27: Martinsburg, WV, WEPM Radio
Apr 27: Charles Town, WV, Ractrack
Apr 28: Charleston, WV
Apr 28: Princeton, WV, Courthouse Spch
Apr 29: Albany, IN, U.S. Steel Plant
Apr 29: Seymour, IN, Freeman Field
Apr 29: Kokomo, Howard Co. Ct. Hse
Apr 29: Richmond, IN, Earlham College
Apr 29: Richmond, Holy Family School
Apr 29: Richmond, Jeff-Jackson Dinner
Apr 30: Esdale, WV, JFK sub/sore throat
Apr 30: Park, WV, Kroger’s Store
Apr 30: Kanawha City, WV
Apr 30: South Charleston, WV
Apr 30: Dunbar, WV
Apr 30: Madison, WV, Co. Courthouse
Apr 30: Marmet, WV, Ted Sorenson sub
Apr 30: Chesapeake, WV,
Apr 30: St. Albans, WV, Democratic Rally
Apr 30: Charleston, ‘Industry for WV’
May 1: Parkersburg, WV, ‘WV Primary’
May 1: Weirton, WV, ‘Small Business’
May 3: Welch, WV, ‘Poverty in WV’ May 3: JFK Wins Indiana Primary
May 4: Charleston: JFK/HHH TV-Debate
May 4: Athens, WV, ‘Crisis in Education’
May 4: White Sulphur Springs, WV
May 4: Alderson, WV, ‘Indust. Devel.’
May 4: Ronceverte, WV, ‘Indust. Devel.’
May 4: Lewisburg, WV, ‘Youth Cons. Corps’
May 4: Charleston, ‘American Economy’
May 6: Huntington, WV, Economic Issues
May 7: Omaha, NE, ‘The Pres. Primary’
May 8: Elkins, WV, ‘Indust. Devel.’
May 8: Clarksburg, ‘Indust. Devel.’
May 8: Charleston, WV radio address
May 10: Wash, D.C., Dem Women’s Lunch May 10: JFK Wins WV Primary
May 11: Chestertown, MD, Wash. College
May 12: Rockville, MD, Dem. Women
May 12: NY, NY, Bronx Dem. Dinner
May 13: Hagerstown, MD, ‘Indust. Devel.’
May 13: Frederick MD, Hood College Spch.
May 13: Baltimore, ‘American Economy’
May 14: Elkton, MD, ‘Ed. of Am. Politician’
May 14: Easton, MD, ‘Federal Farm Policy’
May 14: College Pk, Univ of MD Rally
May 14: Salisbury, MD, ‘Older Citizens’
May 14: Cambridge, MD, ‘Water Pollution’
May 14: MD, Alben Barkley Club Banquet
May 15: Portland, OR, Kennedy Rally
May 15: Portland, Riverside Little League
May 15: The Dalles, OR, ‘Oregon Primary’
May 16: Portland, Lewis & Clark College
May 16: Astoria, OR, Democratic Lunch
May 17: Portland, Hillsboro High School
May 17: Eugene, OR, Weyerhaeuser Co. May 17: JFK Wins MD Primary
May 18: St. Helens, OR, Breakfast Spch.
May 18: Portland, OR, Benson H.S. Rally May 20: JFK Wins Oregon Primary
May 27: Spokane, WA, ‘Democratic Party’
May 29: Libertyville, IL, w/Adlai Stevenson
May 31: L.A., CA, Dinner for Gov. Brown
May 31: L.A., CA, Democratic Dinner
May 31: Scripps-Howard papers for LBJ
Jun 1: San Francisco, Gov. Brown Dinner
Jun 2: Chicago, IL, Textile Workers Union
Jun 2: Chicago, JFK: “National Decline”
Jun 3: Mackinac Island, MI
Jun 4: JFK/LBJ Split NM Dem Delegates
Jun 4: Minneapolis, MN, Jeff-Jack Dinner
Jun 7: Grand Rapids, MI, AFL-CIO Convnt.
Jun 7: Gov. Pat Brown Wins CA Primary
Jun 7: Sen. Humphrey, Wins SD Primary
Jun 10: E. Roosevelt Endorses Stevenson
Jun 11: St. Louis Post for Stevenson
Jun 16: JFK on TV’s Jack Paar Show
Jun 17: NY, NY, Nat’l Dem. Luncheon
Jun 18: Aberdeen, SD, ‘Ag Bill of Rights’
Jun 18: Durango, CO, Nat. Resource Cons.
Jun 19: Sioux Falls, SD, Am. Legion Convnt.
Jun 19: Fargo, ND, Fargo Airport Spch
Jun 19: Fargo, ND, Fairgrounds
Jun 19: Fargo, ND, Quentin Burdick Dinner
Jun 22: Dover, DE, Dover Air Force Base
Jun 22: Dover, DE, Dover Hotel
Jun 22: Camden, NJ, John Healey Dinner
Jun 22: Spring Lake., NJ, Dem Dinner
Jun 22: Camden, 1st Cong. Dist. Dinner
Jun 22: Speech before NY Liberal Party
Jun 22: Pittsburgh Press interview
Jun 23: NY, NY, Mtg. w/Martin L. King
Jun 24: Wash., African Diplomatic Corps
Jun 25: Hyannis, MA
Jun 26: Iowa Campaigning, ‘Farm Policy’
Jun 27: Helena, MT
Jun 27: Helena, Montana Legislature.
Jun 27: Helena, Marlow Theater
Jun 27: Helena, Dem State Convention
Jun 27: Helena, Placer Hotel/Dem Mtg
Jun 29: JFK: Mtg w Jackie Robinson.
Jun 30: NYPost: Stevenson-JFK ticket.
Jul 1: A. Clayton Powell for Symington
Jul 1: JFK Meets w/ Sen. Symington
Jul 1: JFK Reply to Jackie Robinson
Jul 2: Harry Truman: “JFK Too Young”
Jul 4: CBS TV: JFK Rebuts Truman
Jul 4: JFK’s Health Raised
Jul 4: Newsweek: Who Can Stop JFK?
Jul 5: LBJ Announces Candidacy
Jul 6: JFK to Harlem, NY/J.R. Jones
Jul 8: NY, JFK Predicts DNC Win
Democratic National Convention
Los Angeles, California
Jul 9: JFK Arrives at DNC
Jul 10: JFK: Meet the Press
Jul 10: JFK Speech at NAACP
Jul 10: Illinois – 59 ½ votes to JFK
Jul 10: Gov. Brown Endorses JFK
Jul 10: E. Roosevelt Arrives at DNC
Jul 10: Dem Nat’l Committee Dinner
Jul 10: Celebrity Gala: Sinatra, et. al.,
Jul 11: DNC Formally Opens
Jul 11: Sammy Davis Booed at DNC
Jul 11: Gov. Lawrence: PA For JFK
Jul 12: JFK/LBJ Showdown Debate
Jul 12: Stevenson Floor Demonstration Jul 13: JFK Nominated/1st Ballot
Jul 14: JFK Picks LBJ For V.P. Slot
Jul 15: JFK Formally Nominated
Jul 16: L.A. Coliseum: ‘New Frontier’
Jul 16: L.A., JFK Press Conference
Jul 16: Dem Nat’l Convention Close
Jul 16: Private Dinner, Romanoff’s
Jul 17: Depart for Boston/Hyannis, MA
Jul-Aug 1960 – Post DNC
Jul 19: Hyannis, Campaign Planning
Jul 19: Look, ‘Kennedys: Pol Machine’
Jul 20: Hyannis, 3 Top Aides Named
Jul 23: Hyannis: Allen Dulles Briefs JFK
Jul 25-28:Republican Nat’l Convention
Jul 26: JFK Praise for Gov. Rockefeller
Jul 28: JFK Accepts TV Debate Prop.
Jul 28: Hyannis: JFK Press Conference
Jul 29: Hyannis: JFK/Stevenson Confer
Jul 29: Hyannis: JFK/LBJ Confer
Jul 29: JFK Accepts 2 More TV Debates
Jul 30: JFK-LBJ Joint Press Conference
Aug 1: Hyannis: Dems on Farm Policy
Aug 2: Hyannis: Civil Rights & Campaign
Aug 4: Gov Meyner Heads NJ Campaign
Aug 5: NY, NY, Overseas Press Club
Aug 6: Hyannis, MA, Lithuanian Leaders
Aug 6: Hyannis, Policy-American Leaders
Aug 6: Hyannis, Chinese-Americans
Aug 6: Hyannis, Immigration Statement
Aug 8: U.S. Senate Reconvenes
Aug 8: Wash., DC, ‘Civil Rights’
Aug 9: Wash., ‘Republicans & Civil Rights’
Aug 10: Truman to Campaign for JFK-LBJ
Aug 10: U.S. Senate, ‘Minimum Wage Bill’
Aug 11: 3 Rail Unions Back JFK-LBJ
Aug 13: Wash., ‘Medical Care of Aged’
Aug 14: Hyde Park, NY w/ E. Roosevelt
Aug 14: Hyde Pk, FDR Home/S.S.Act 25th
Aug 17: Nat’l Assn. County Officials (tel)
Aug 17: U.S. Senate, ‘Airlift Africa’
Aug 18: Wash., ‘Minimum Wage Bill’
Aug 19: ‘Farmers for Kennedy & Johnson’
Aug 20: Omaha, NE, Offutt Air Force Base
Aug 20: Independence, Missouri
Aug 20: Missouri Mtg. w/Harry Truman
Aug 20: Independence, MO, Press Conf.
Aug 20-21: Des Moines, IA, Farm Conf.
Aug 21: Des Moines, LBJ & JFK
Aug 21: Des Moines, LBJ & JFK Press
Aug 21: Des Moines, JFK Farm Spch
Aug 21: “Farmers for JFK-LBJ” Press
Aug 22: Life Magazine Article by JFK
Aug 24: Alexandria, VA, Dem. Rally
Aug 26: NY, NY, Zionists of America
Aug 26: Detroit, MI, VFW Convention
Aug 26: Miami, AMVET Cnvnt. (tel)
Aug 26: AFL-CIO Endorses Kennedy
Aug 30: NY State AFL-CIO (tel)
Aug 30: Wash., DC, Press Conf.
Aug 31: Nat’l Bar Assn., ‘Negro Judges’
Sept 2: Portland, ME, Press Conference
Sept 2: Manchester, NH, Airport Rally
Sept 2: Presque Isle, ME, Airport Rally
Sept 2: Bangor, ME, ‘1960 Election’
Sept 2: Portland, ME, ‘1960 Election’
Sept 3: San Francisco, A-port / Press
Sept 3: Anchorage, AK, A-port / Press
Sept 3: Palmer, Alaska, State Fair
Sept 3: Anchorage, TV/Radio Spot
Sept 4: Detroit, MI, Airport Reception.
Sept 5: Detroit, Labor Day kick-off
Sept 5: Detroit, State Fair/Labor
Sept 5: Pontiac, MI, Labor Day picnic
Sept 5: Flint, MI, Atwood Stadium
Sept 5: Muskegon, MI, Lab. Day Picnic
Sept 5: Muskegon, Doo Drop Inn
Sept 6: Alaska Newspapers by Phone
Sept 6: Pocatello, Idaho, Press Interview
Sept 6: Pocatello, ‘Mining Legislation’
Sept 6: Pocatello, Radio Interview
Sept 6: Spokane, WA, Parade & Speech
Sept 6: Seattle, WA, Public Rally
Sept 6: Seattle, ‘National Defense’
Sept 7: Seattle, WA, Press Conference
Sept 7: Eugene, OR, Public Rally
Sept 7: Eugene, ‘American Prestige’
Sept 7: Salem, OR, Public Rally
Sept 7: Portland, OR, TV Appearance
Sept 7: Portland, Multnomah Hotel
Sept 7: N. V. Peale: Catholic President
California Whistlestop Tour
September 8-9, 1960
Sept 8: Redding, CA
Sept 8: Red Bluff, CA
Sept 8: Chico, CA
Sept 8: Marysville, CA
Sept 8: Sacramento, CA
Sept 8: Davis, CA
Sept 8: Fairfield, CA
Sept 8: Martinez, CA
Sept 8: Richmond, CA
Sept 8: Oakland, CA,
Sept 9: Stockton, CA
Sept 9: Modesto, CA
Sept 9: Turlock, CA
Sept 9: Merced, CA
Sept 9: Madera, CA
Sept 9: Fresno, CA
Sept 9: Tulare, CA
Sept 9: Bakersfield, CA
September 1960 (cont’d)
Sept 9: Burbank, CA, A-port Press
Sept 9: Burbank, Shopping Centery
Sept 9: L.A., Shrine Aud/‘Civil Rights’
Sept 11: San Diego, Linbergh Field
Sept 11: San Diego, Grant Hotel
Sept 11: San Diego, ‘Defense’
Sept 11: El Paso, TX, Arrival
Sept 12: El Paso, ‘Democratic Party’
Sept 12: Lubbock, TX, Airport speech
Sept 12: San Antonio, TX, Motorcade
Sept 12: San Antonio, Alamo Speech
Sept 12: Houston, Coliseum Speech
Sept 12: Houston Ministers Speech
Sept 12: Austin, TX, Arrival
Sept 13: Austin, Spch on Capitol Steps
Sept 13: Ft. Worth, TX, Arrival
Sept 13: Arlington, TX, Motorcade
Sept 13: Dallas, Memorial Aud. Speech
Sept 13: Dallas, Chance Vought Aircraft
Sept 13: Texarkana, TX, Courthouse Square
Sept 13: NY Liberal Party for JFK
Sept 14: St. Louis, I. A.M. Convention
Sept 14: NYC, Dem. Women’s Luncheon
Sept 14: NYC, Fundraising
Sept 14: NYC, Kennedy Workers Rally
Sept 14: NYC, Senior Citizens Rally
Sept 14: NYC, Liberal Party Nomination
Sept 15: Jersey City, NJ, Dem Party Spch
Sept 15: Bergen, NJ, Bergen Mall Rally
Sept 15: Paterson, NJ, City Hall Rally
Sept 15: Newark, NJ, City Hall Rally
Sept 15: Elizabeth, NJ, City Hall Rally
Sept 15: N. Brunswick, Hall of Records
Sept 15: Trenton, NJ, State Office Bldg.
Sept 15: Clifton, NJ, Dem Party Speech
Sept 15: Mercer, PA, Arrival
Sept 15: Harrisburg, PA, Band Greeting
Sept 15: Harrisburg, PA, Market Sq. Spch
Sept 15: Harrisburg, Zembo Mosque
Sept 15: Harrisburg, PA, Statewide TV
Sept 16: Lebanon, PA, ‘Republican Party’
Sept 16: Reading, PA, ‘Republican Party’
Sept 16: Lancaster, PA, Penn Square Spch
Sept 16: Columbia, PA, ‘Republican Party’
Sept 16: York, PA, Lincoln Woods Inn
Sept 16: York, PA, Fairgrounds Speech
Sept 16: Towson, MD, ‘Democratic Party’
Sept 16: Pikesville, MD, ‘Khrushchev Visit’
Sept 16: Washington, DC, Arrival/Home
Sept 17: Greenville, NC, Tobacco Auction
Sept 17: Greenville, E. Carolina Stadium
Sept 17: Greensboro, NC, Airport speech
Sept 17: Ashville, NC, via Phone Conf.
Sept 17: Charlotte, NC, Coliseum Speech
Sept 17: Raleigh, NC, Gov’s Mansion
Sept 17: Raleigh, Rally, Speech, Q&A
Sept 17: Washington, DC, Arrival/Home
Sept 18: Americans for Dem Action for JFK
Sept 19: Atlantic City, NJ, Chem Workers
Sept 19: Atlantic City, NJ, Steelworkers
Sept 19: Charleston, WV, Dan Boone House
Sept 19: Charleston, TV talk & Press Conf
Sept 19: CBS-TV: Cronkite/JFK Interview
Sept 19: CIA’s Allen Dulles Briefs JFK
Sept 19: Washington, DC, Arrival/Home
Sept 20: Wash., DC, Sheraton Hotel Spch
Sept 20: Person to Person TV w/Jackie
Sept 21: Tri Cities Airport, VA/TN, Rally
Sept 21: Knoxville, TN, Airport Rally
Sept 21: Nashville, TN, War Memorial Spch.
Sept 21: Nashville, State Fair, ‘Farm Policy’
Sept 21: Memphis, TN, TV Speech
Sept 21: Memphis, Riverside Drive Rally
Sept 21: Sioux City, IA, Municipal Aud. Spch
Sept 22: Sioux City, Fundraising Breakfast
Sept 22: Fort Dodge, IA, Parade
Sept 22: Fort Dodge, IA, Airport Speech
Sept 22: Sioux Falls, SD, Airport Speech
Sept 22: Sioux Falls, Nat’l Plowing Contest
Sept 22: Mitchell, SD, ‘Federal Farm Policy’
Sept 22: Fargo, ND, Airport Rally/Reception
Sept 22: Billings, MT, Shrine Auditorium
Sept 22: Cheyenne, WY, ‘Nat. Resources’
Sept 23: Cheyenne, Brkfst Spch, Frontier Pk
Sept 23: Cheyenne, Airport Rally
Sept 23: Denver, CO, Civic Center Rally
Sept 23: Denver, CO, Hilton Hotel Spch.
Sept 23: Salt Lake City, Mormon Tabernacle
Sept 23: Salt Lake City, Tabernacle TV Show
Sept 23: Salt Lake City, Hotel Utah Spch
Sept 24: Chicago, Arrival-1st TV debate
Sept 25: Cleveland, OH, Hotel Hollenden
Sept 26: Cleveland, Euclid Beach Pk.
Sept 26: Chicago, IL, Carpenters Union.
Sept 26: 1st Kennedy-Nixon TV Debate
Sept 27: Painesville, OH, ‘Dem. Party’
Sept 27: Lorain, OH, Stadium Rally
Sept 27: Mansfield, OH, ‘Foreign Policy’
Sept 27: Akron, OH, Armory Spch & Rally
Sept 27: Canton, OH, Municipal Aud.
Sept 27: Erie, PA, Airport Rally
Sept 28: Erie, Breakfast Speech
Sept 28: Erie, Lawrence Hotel Rally
Sept 28: Niagra Falls, Bell Aircraft Co.
Sept 28: Niagra Falls, Treadway Inn Spch.
Sept 28: Lockport, NY, ‘Pres. Election’
Sept 29: N. Tonawanda, ‘Pres. Election’
Sept 28: Rochester, NY, Business Leaders
Sept 28: Rochester, War Memorial Rally
Sept 28: Buffalo, NY, Senior Citizens Mtg
Sept 28: Buffalo, Memorial Aud. Speech
Sept 29: Albany, NY, State Capitol Rally
Sept 29: Troy, NY, Rally, ‘Pres. Election’
Sept 29: Schenectady, NY, Rally
Sept 29: Amsterdam, NY, ‘Am. Economy’
Sept 29: Little Falls, NY, Lunch Rally
Sept 29: Ilion, NY
Sept 29: Utica, NY, Rally
Sept 29: Rome, NY, Rally
Sept 29: Oneida, NY, Rally
Sept 29: Syracuse, NY, ‘Foreign Policy’
Sept 29: Syracuse, NY, TV Address
Sept 29: Charles Collingwood, CBS-TV
Sept 30: Hyannis, Huntley-Brinkley/NBC
Oct 1: Chicago, City Hall, ‘Eastern Europe’
Oct 1: Chicago, American Polish Congress
Oct 1: Chicago, Lake Meadow Shop. Cntr
Oct 1: Minneapolis, MN, TV Address
Oct 1: Minneapolis, Bean Feed
Oct 1: Minneapolis, Fundraising Spch
Oct 2: St. Paul, MN, Airport Rally
Oct 2: St. Paul, St. Paul Hotel Spch
Oct 2: St. Paul, GTA Convention
Oct 2: Duluth, MN, Univ of MN
Oct 2: Hibbing, MN, Mem. Arena Spch.
Oct 2: St. Louis, Arrival, Chase Hotel
Oct 3: Alton, IL, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 3: Granite City, IL, ‘Pres. Election’
Oct 3: E. St. Louis, 15th & Broadway
Oct 3: E. St. Louis, National Stockyards
Oct 3: Belleville, IL, Augustine’s
Oct 3: Belleville, ‘1960 Pres. Election’
Oct 3: Carbondale, IL, Stadium Speech
Oct 3: Marion, IL, Court House
Oct 3: Marion, Veterans’s Hospital
Oct 3: Marion Airport, ‘Dem Party’
Oct 3: Harrisburg, IL, ‘Farm Policy’
Oct 3: Venice, IL, ‘Republican Party’
Oct 3: Springfield, IL, Armory Spch.
Oct 3: Chicago. IL
Oct 4: Evansville, IN, Courthouse Rally
Oct 4: Indianapolis, IN, WTTV-TV
Oct 4: Indianapolis, Auditorium Spch
Oct 5: Pendleton, IN, ‘Am. Economy’
Oct 5: Anderson, IN, Courthouse Rally
Oct 5: Muncie, IN, Courthouse Rally
Oct 5: Muncie, Muncie Gear Works
Oct 5: Terre Haute, IN, Courthouse Rally
Oct 5: Louisville, KY, Jefferson Square
Oct 5: Louisville, Fairgrounds
Oct 5: Louisville, KY, TV Address
Oct 6: Cincinnati, OH, Gov’t Square
Oct 6: Cincinnati, Democratic Dinner
Oct 6: Washington, DC, Arrival Home
Oct 7: DC, Howard Univ, ‘Civil Rights’
Oct 7: Kennedy-Nixon, 2nd TV Debate
Oct 8: Lexington, KY, University of KY
Oct 8: Bowling Green, KY, Courthouse
Oct 8: Paducah, KY, Rally
Oct 8: Washington, DC, Arrival Home
Oct 9: Youngstown, OH, Rally
Oct 9: Girard, OH, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 9: Warren, OH, Courthouse Rally
Oct 9: Salem, OH, Rally
Oct 9: Louisville, KY, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 10: Columbus, GA, Airport Rally
Oct 10: Warm Springs, Little White Hse
Oct 10: La Grange, GA, Airport
Oct 10: Columbia, SC, State House Spch
Oct 10: Pittsburgh, PA, Gateway Center
Oct 10: Pittsburgh, Urban Affairs Conf.
Oct 10: Pittsburgh, Syria Mosque
Oct 10: NYC, Late night arrival
Oct 12: NYC, Breakfast w/Mrs Roosevelt
Oct 12: NYC, Columbus Day Parade
Oct 12: NYC, Associated Biz Pubs Conf.
Oct 12: NYC, Democratic Committees
Oct 12: NYC, Constitutional Rights Conf.
Oct 12: Mineola, NY, Long Island Fair
Oct 12: NYC, Hotel Theresa Rally
Oct 12: E. Harlem, Puerto Rican Rally
Oct 12: NYC, Nat’l Council of Women
Oct 13: Kennedy-Nixon, 3rd TV Debate
Oct 13: Los Angeles Times for Nixon
Oct 14: Ann Arbor, U. of Mich /early a.m.
Oct 14: Whistle stop /Southern Mich??
Oct 14: Jackson, MI, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 14: Albion, MI, Republican critique
Oct 14: Marshall, MI, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 14: Battle Creek, MI
Oct 14: Kalamazoo, MI, ‘Foreign Policy’
Oct 14: Grand Rapids, MI, Rally
Oct 14: E. Lansing, Mich. State University
Oct 14: Owasso, MI, ‘American Economy’
Oct 14: Lansing, MI, Capitol Steps Spch.
Oct 14: Bay County, MI
Oct 14: Saginaw, MI, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 14: Denver, CO, Adult Ed Assoc.
Oct 15: Sharon, PA, Rally
Oct 15: New Castle, PA, Rally
Oct 15: Beaver Falls, PA, Rally
Oct 15: Butler, PA, ‘American Economy’
Oct 15: Kittanning, PA, Rally
Oct 15: Indiana, PA, Rally
Oct 15: Johnstown, PA, Rally
Oct 15: Washington, DC, Arrive Home
Oct 16: Levittown, NJ, Shopping Cntr Rally
Oct 16: Wilmington, DE, Airport Rally
Oct 16: Wash., DC, Meet The Press TV
Oct 16: Silver Spring, MD, Blair H.S.
Oct 17: Dayton, OH, Courthouse Rally
Oct 17: Dayton, Biltmore Hotel Speech
Oct 17: Fairborn, OH, Rally
Oct 17: Springfield, OH, Wittenberg College
Oct 17: London, OH, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 17: Columbus, OH, Statehouse Rally
Oct 18: N. Miami Bch, FL, 163rd St. Rally
Oct 18: Miami, Am. Legion Convention/TV
Oct 18: Tampa, FL, Latin America speech
Oct 18: Jacksonville, FL. Hemming Park
Oct 18: Esquire’s N. Mailer JFK Story
Oct 19: NY City Hall steps, JFK speech
Oct 19: Motorcade through NY City
Oct 19: NYC: Rockefeller Plaza Rally
Oct 19: NYC: Union Hall Speech
Oct 19: Yonkers, NY, ‘Democratic Party’
Oct 19: NYC, Alfred E. Smith Dinner
Oct 20: Brooklyn, Fulton & Duffield Sts.
Oct 20: Brooklyn, Fulton & Nostrand Sts.
Oct 20: Brooklyn, Foster & Nostrand Sts.
Oct 20: Brooklyn, NY, Sears Roebuck
Oct 20: Brooklyn, Utica & Eastern
Oct 20: Brooklyn, Macy’s Dept Store
Oct 20: NYC, Pat Clancy Dinner, Astor
Oct 20: NYC: Madison Sq. Garden Spch
Oct 21: Kennedy-Nixon, 4th TV Debate
Oct 22: St. Louis, MO, Democratic Brkfst
Oct 22: Crestwood, MO, ‘1960 Election’
Oct 22: St. Louis, Northland Shop Cntr
Oct 22: Jennings, MO, ‘Dem. Party’
Oct 22: Joplin, MO, Airport Rally
Oct 22: Wichita, KS, Lawrence Stadium
Oct 22: K.C., MO, Richards-Gebaur AFB
Oct 22: Grandview, MO, Truman Shop Cntr
Oct 22: Kansas City, MO, Televised Spch
Oct 22: Kansas City, KS, Shawnee H.S.
Oct 22: Prairie Vlg., KS, Johnson Co. Dems
Oct 22: Green Bay, WI, Arrival, p.m.
Oct 23: Green Bay, Brown County Arena
Oct 23: La Crosse, WI, Airport Rally
Oct 23: Madison, WI, Field House Rally
Oct 23: Milwaukee, WI, Parade
Oct 23: Milwaukee, Arena Speech, TV
Oct 24: Champaign, IL, Willard Airport
Oct 24: Champaign-Urbana, Univ. of IL
Oct 24: Moline, IL, New Field House
Oct 24: Peoria, IL, Downtown Rally
Oct 24: Peoria, Live TV Program
Oct 24: E. Peoria, Caterpillar Plant
Oct 24: Rock Island, IL, ‘Nixon’s Record’
Oct 24: Rockford, IL, Coronado Theater
Oct 25: Chicago, O’Hare Inn
Oct 25: Libertyville, IL
Oct 25: Lake Zurich, IL
Oct 25: Barrington, IL, Barrington School
Oct 25: Carpentersville, IL,
Oct 25: Dundee, IL, Shopping Cntr Rally
Oct 25: Elgin, IL, Parade & Rally
Oct 25: Elgin, IL, Rally, Elgin Watch Co.
Oct 25: St. Charles, IL, Baker Park
Oct 25: Geneva, IL, Geneva Courthouse
Oct 25: Batavia, IL, ‘1960 Election’
Oct 25: Mooseheart, IL, Boys’ Home
Oct 25: Northgate, IL, Shopping Center
Oct 25: Aurora, IL, City Hall Rally
Oct 25: Elmhurst, IL, ‘Prestige Abroad’
Oct 25: Plainfield, IL
Oct 25: Hillcrest, IL, Shopping Center
Oct 25: Joliet, IL, Rally
Oct 25: York Township, IL, High School
Oct 26: Selfridge AFB, Michigan
Oct 26: Mt. Clemens, MI, Speech
Oct 26: Warren, MI, Republican. Critique
Oct 26: Rosedale, MI, ‘Education’
Oct 26: Hamtramck, MI
Oct 26: Macomb Co., MI. Shopping Cntr
Oct 26: Detroit, MI, Dem Party Workers
Oct 26: Detroit, Michigan State Fair
Oct 26: Detroit, Keyworth Stadium Speech
Oct 26: Detroit, Coliseum Speech (TV)
Oct 26: Newark, NJ, Governor’s Ball
Oct 26: Phone call to Coretta Scott King
Oct 27: NYC, ILGWU Speech (TV)
Oct 27: NYC, Liberal Party Rally
Oct 27: NYC, Stuyvesant Town Rally
Oct 27: NYC, Union Sq / Workers Rally
Oct 27: NYC, New York University
Oct 27: Brooklyn, NY, Motorcade
Oct 27: Brooklyn, Eastern Pkwy Arena
Oct 27: Queens, Sunnyside Gardens
Oct 27: Staten Island, NY
Oct 27: Bethlehem, PA, Arrival, p.m.
Oct 28: Bethlehem, Democratic Breakfast
Oct 28: Bethlehem, Moravian College
Oct 28: Allentown, PA, Center Sq Rally
Oct 28: Pottsville, PA, Rally
Oct 28: Hazleton, PA, Rally
Oct 28: Wilkes-Barre, PA, Rally
Oct 28: Scranton, PA, ‘Am. Economy’
Oct 28: Phila., PA, Aronomink CClub
Oct 29: Phila., PA, Lawrence Park
Oct 29: Chester, PA, Rally
Oct 29: Upper Darby, PA, Rally
Oct 29: Montgomery, PA, Lord & Taylor
Oct 29: Roosevelt Field, PA, Rally
Oct 29: Willow Grove, PA Snellenburg’s
Oct 29: Cheltenham, PA, Shopping Cntr
Oct 29: Philadelphia, PA, WFIL-TV
Oct 29: Valley Forge, PA, Rally
Oct 29: Valley Forge, Fundraising Din.
Oct 29: JFK cover, Saturday Eve. Post
Oct 30: Chicago Tribune endorses Nixon
Oct 30: Levittown, PA, Shopping Cntr
Oct 30: Phila., PA, Face The Nation TV
Oct 31: Phila., 6 Citizen Groups
Oct 31: Phila., Penn Fruit Shop Cntr
Oct 31: Phila., Bonds for Israel Dinner
Oct 31: Phila., Raymond Rosen Apts.
Oct 31: Phila., Rayburn Plaza Rally
Oct 31: Phila., TV studio
Oct 31: Phila., Temple University
Oct 31: Phila., Fundraising Dinner
Nov 1: Los Angeles, Univ of So Cal
Nov 1: L.A., Elks Auditorium
Nov 1: L.A., Negro Ministers Mtg
Nov 1: L.A., Garment Workers Rally
Nov 1: Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft
Nov 1: Redondo Bch, South Bay Cntr
Nov 1: East L.A. State College Rally
Nov 2: L. A., Dem Women Breakfast
Nov 2: San Diego, City Plaza Rally
Nov 2: San Diego, Linbergh Field
Nov 2: San Jose, Downtown Rally
Nov 2: Oakland, Defremery Park
Nov 2: San Francisco, Fundraising
Nov 2: San Francisco, Cow Palace/TV
Nov 2: Henry Fonda w/Jackie K./ TV
Nov 3: Phoenix, AZ, Arrival, a.m.
Nov 3: Phoenix, Party Workers Brkfst
Nov 3: Phoenix, Rally/Spch/Telecast
Nov 3: Albuquerque, NM, Airport
Nov 3: Albuquerque, Univ. Rally
Nov 3: Amarillo, TX, w/LBJ
Nov 3: Wichita Falls, Airport Rally
Nov 3: Oklahoma City, Rally /TV
Nov 3: Okla. City, Reding Shop Cntr
Nov 4: Wash., DC, Arrive, early a.m.
Nov 4: Roanoke, VA, Airport Rally
Nov 4: Norfolk, VA, Campaign Rally
Nov 4: Toledo, OH, Courthouse Rally
Nov 4: Chicago, Buffet w Mayor Daley
Nov 4: Chicago /Torchlight /1.5 million
Nov 4: Chicago Stadium / NBC-TV
Nov 5: NYC, Fundraising Breakfast
Nov 5: NYC, Bronx, Grand Concourse
Nov 5: NYC, Bronx Women/Lunch
Nov 5: NYC, Queens Women/Lunch
Nov 5: NYC, Queens, Blvd Restaurant
Nov 5: NYC, Columbus Circle Spch
Nov 5: Nassau Co, NY, Sunrise Ave.
Nov 5: Flushing, NY, Elchester Apts.
Nov 5: NYC, 90th Street Rally
Nov 5: NYC, State Dems Meeting
Nov 5: NYC, Coliseum (outside)
Nov 5: NY Coliseum, ‘Presidency’
Nov 5: Waterbury, CT, Arrival, p.m.
Nov 6: Waterbury, Street Rally
Nov 6: New Haven, CT. Street Rally
Nov 6: Bridgeport, Railroad Plaza
Nov 6: Lake Ronkonkoma, CT
Nov 6: Newark, NJ, Mosque Theater
Nov 6: Teterboro, Teaneck Armory
Nov 6: Jersey City, NJ, Journal Sq.
Nov 6: Lewiston, Maine
Nov 6: Nixon TV Program
Nov 6: NYC, JFK TV Program
Nov 6: Gallup: 49% JFK, 48% Nixon
Nov 7: Roper: 49% Nixon, 47% JFK
Nov 7: Time cvr, ‘Candidate Kennedy’
Nov 7: Providence, RI, Airport
Nov 7: Providence, City Hall
Nov 7: Springfield, MA, city Hall
Nov 7: Hartford, CT, ‘Am. Economy’
Nov 7: Burlington, VT
Nov 7: Manchester, NH, Park Rally
Nov 7: Nixon Celeb TV Telethon
Nov 7: Manchester, JFK TV Program
Nov 7: T. Dewey on TV, Rebuts JFK
Nov 7: Boston, MA, Boston Garden
Nov 7: Boston, Nat’l TV Address
Nov 8: Election Day Nov 9: JFK Elected President
Nov 9: Hyannis, Press Conference
Nov 9: Boston, ‘City Upon a Hill’
Post Election, Cabinet, etc.
Nov 10: Palm Beach, FL, R&R
Nov 12: L. Hodges: Commerce Sec
Nov 14: JFK & Nixon Meet/FL
Nov 16: Absentee Ballot Count
Nov 16: Nixon Wins California
Nov 18: A. Dulles Briefs JFK
Nov 21: Life cover, ‘Kennedys’
Nov 25: John F. Kennedy, Jr Born
Dec 1: Sen Ribbicoff: HEW Sec.
Dec 7: Rep Udall: Interior Sec.
Dec 12: Dean Rusk: Sec of State
Dec 13: R. McNamara, Defense Sec.
Dec 15: Final Election Vote Count
Dec 15: O. Freeman: Sec of Ag
Dec 15: A. Goldberg: Labor Sec.
Dec 16: RFK: Attorney General
Dec 16: D. Dillon, Treasury Sec.
Dec 17: J.E. Day, Postmaster Gen.
Dec 19: Electoral College Vote
Dec 19: Life: JFK, Jr Christening
Dec 25: Kennedys to Palm Beach
Jan 2: JFK to Orange Bowl
Jan 19: Wash., DC, Snow
Jan 19: Pre-Inaugural Gala Jan 20: JFK Inauguration
Jan 20: JFK: “Ask Not…”
Jan 20: 80 Million TV Viewers
Jan 21: JFK Meets w/Cabinet
Note: This listing provides a rough overview of JFK’s 1960 travel itinerary, speeches, and other activities at the listed locations. Some dates and events are “best approximations” given uncertain and/or conflicting sourcing information. Sources for many of these campaign stops are listed below along with additional photos. More detailed information on JFK’s activities at many of these locations is available at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “JFK’s 1960 Campaign: Primaries & General
Election,” PopHistoryDig.com, July 19, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
A Norman Rockwell portrait of JFK appeared on the cover of the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ of Oct 29, 1960 – the Post then being one of the nation’s largest circulation magazines, and Rockwell, one of America’s most famous illustrators and portrait artists. He also did Nixon's.
JFK greeting Ohio Democratic Gov. Mike DiSalle, who after some Kennedy-team pressure, announced in Jan-uary 1960 that Ohio’s delegates would be JFK’s at DNC.
Jan 3, 1960: JFK on ‘Meet the Press’ TV show a day after he announced his candidacy. At left is Ned Brooks, the show’s moderator. AP photo.
Jan 21, 1960: JFK at a press conference in Milwaukee, WI, where he announced he would run in the state’s April 5th, 1960 primary against Sen. Hubert Humphrey. Kennedy aide, Pierre Salinger, is seen in the back-ground, far right, reading from paper. Photo, UPI.
January 24, 1960: JFK & Jackie, campaigning in Nashua, N.H., sit at local lunch counter and chat with townsfolk.
March 28, 1960: A key early test for JFK came in the Wisconsin primary of April 5th, 1960, as Newsweek asked: “Who’ll Tumble?”– Humphrey or Kennedy?”
JFK addressing a breakfast or luncheon gathering in Wisconsin prior to that state’s April 5th, 1960 primary.
April 5th, 1960: Sen. Hubert Humphrey and JFK enjoy a moment of friendly banter during tabulation of the West Virginia primary election returns, which JFK would win.
April 25, 1960: JFK campaigns in rural Logan County, West Virginia looking for support for the May 10th primary, precariously perched on a high-chair to deliver his speech. Photo, Hank Walker.
April 1960: JFK shakes hands with a one-arm coal miner while campaigning in Mullens, WV. Photo/Hank Walker.
May 4th, 1960: During the West Virginia primary, JFK and Sen. Humphrey had a key televised debate over Channel 8, WCHS-TV, in Charleston, WV.
June 27, 1960: JFK addressed the Montana State Democratic Convention in Helena, and attended other events at the Marlow Theater and Civic Center. Ted Kennedy and Sargent Shriver were with JFK on this visit.
July 10th: JFK chats with sister Pat during fundraising dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, with VIP guests such as Frank Sinatra (rt). Photo, L.A. Mirror-News.
Part of a 3-panel Kennedy-Johnson flyer on “human rights for every American” – to work, education, just compensation, live where he chooses, “security in sickness;” to vote, speak, read and worship as he pleases, and to be free from the terror of war – taken from a July 1960 JFK speech before the NAACP in L.A.
July 10, 1960: Hollywood star Judy Garland, center, flanked by Adlai Stevenson and JFK during fundraising event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in L.A. during the DNC.
July 15: At the close of the DNC, JFK delivers his “New Frontier” speech at the L.A. Coliseum to an audience of 80,000. VIPs Stevenson, Humphrey and Symington are behind him as some “Kennedy Girls” look on as well.
July 19, 1960: Look magazine's story: "The Kennedys: A Family Political Machine."
Aug 20th, Omaha, NE: JFK at Offutt AFB for briefing on SAC operations with Gen. Thomas S. Power (r), Strategic Air Command chief, and Gen. Curtis LeMay, Air Force vice chief of staff. AP photo.
Sept 6, 1960: JFK’s car in Spokane, WA is surrounded by crowds in downtown area as he campaigns with Gov. Albert D. Rosellini (L) and Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (waving), then DNC chairman.
Sept 12, 1960: In an attempt to quell questions about his Catholic religion and a Catholic becoming president, JFK gave an eloquent and convincing speech to the Ministers' Association of Greater Houston, addressing some 600 clergy and guests, taking their questions, and generally defusing a major issue that had dogged his campaign.
Oct 14, 1960: Just before 2:00 a.m., thousands of students at the Univ. of Michigan greet JFK on the steps of the Michigan Union to hear his call for a “Peace Corps.”
Oct 17, 1960: JFK beset by a group of female admirers at the Dayton, OH airport – Life magazine would call JFK’s rock-star treatment “the adoration phenomenon.”
Oct 24, 1960: JFK spoke before some 10,000 college students and faculty who packed the University of Illinois Quad at Urbana to hear him speak on foreign policy. It was the first political speech allowed on university property since the 1870s.
Spring 1960: During the primaries, and traveling aboard ‘The Caroline,” photographer Jacques Lowe caught Kennedy with one of his “calming props” – here holding a cigar. JFK used cigars, lit and unlit, during conversation and while working on strategy, but mostly in private. He preferred the narrower size, including one favorite, Cuba's Petit Upmann. Click for video vignette.
Nov 1960: A few days before the election, in early November, Kennedy’s campaign made a blitz of New England, bringing out tens of thousands. Here the Bridgeport, CT ‘Sunday Herald’ notes an expected turnout.
Nov 4: JFK campaigning at airport rally at Woodrum Field, Roanoke, VA, four days before the election.
Jan 20, 1961: Famous photo taken by AP’s Henry Burroughs of Jackie touching her husband’s face on Inauguration Day in the Capitol, a private moment in which she was expressing how proud she was; a moment she would later describe as “so much more emotional than any kiss because his eyes really did fill with tears.”
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, JFKlibrary.org, Boston, MA.
“Statement of Senator John F. Kennedy Announcing Candidacy for President of the United States, January 2, 1960,” Archives .gov.
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 and Jacques Lowe, The Kennedy Years, New York: Viking Press, 1964.
Chalmers M. Roberts, “Gov. DiSalle Gives Ohio To Kennedy; Will Head State’s Delegation Pledged To Bay Stater,” Washington Post/Times Herald, January 6, 1960, p. A-1.
“January 14, 1960 – Senator John F. Kennedy at National Press Club, Washington, D.C.,” YouTube.com (excerpts).
Chalmers M. Roberts, “Kennedy Displays His Humor and Seriousness,” Washington Post/Times Herald, January 15, 1960, p. A-9.
John D. Morris, “Kennedy Pledges Firm Presidency; Attacks Eisenhower Concept of the Office… Pledges a ‘Strong’ Presidency if Elected,” New York Times, January 15, 1960.
Marquis Childs, “Kennedy’s Engine Picking Up Steam,” Washington Post/Times Herald, January 15, 1960, p. A-12.
Russell Baker, “Nixon Criticizes Kennedy’s Views About Presidency; Says Senator Is Confusing ‘Table Pounding’ With Strong Leadership Eisenhower Defended He Gets Results by Using Persuasion, Vice President Asserts…,” New York Times, January 17, 1960, p. 1.
Russell Baker, “Kennedy Will Vie With Humphrey in Wisconsin Test; His Formal Entry Expected Tomorrow in Milwaukee — Fight Could Be Decisive,” New York Times, January 20, 1960, p. 1.
Austin O. Wehrwein, “Wisconsin’s Primary Could Narrow Field; Loss There Might Put Humphrey Or Kennedy Out of the Race,” New York Times, January 24, 1960, p. E-4.
“Kennedy Hits Johnson for Avoiding Primaries; Senator in New Mexico Bid for Support Raps Candidates Who Skip Popular Test,” Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1960, p. 1.
“Kennedy Says We Should Err On Side Of Safety In Spending For Defense,” Washington Post /Times Herald, February 21, 1960.
John H. Fenton, “Nixon Denies Kennedy Is Soft on Reds, Repudiating New Hampshire Governor; Angry Senator Asserts He Is Disgusted at ‘Smear’ — Primary Is Today; Powell Reiterates Stand in a Telegram Sent to the Vice-President…,” New York Times, March 8, 1960.
“Nixon, Kennedy Score Big Victories in N.H.,” Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1960, p. 1.
UPI, “Kennedy Enters Indiana Primary; Baptist Sect Demonstrators Challenge Him to Debate on Catholic President,” New York Times, March 22, 1960.
“Strategic Warpath in Wisconsin; Kennedy Bandwagon, Challenged By Humphrey, Heads For First Big Test,” Life, March 28, 1960, pp. 22-27.
Robert Ajemian, “Jack’s Campaign Aids: Hard Working Family, Enthusiastic Catholics,” Life, March 28, 1960, pp. 28-29.
Edward T. Folliard, “Triumph for Kennedy Not Up to Expectations” (re: Wisconsin victory), Washington Post / Times Herald, April 6, 1960, p. A-1.
W. H. Lawrence, “’Stop Kennedy’ Drive Led By Byrd of West Virginia; Coalition Being Formed to Support Humphrey in Primary…,” New York Times, April 11, 1960, p. 1.
Chalmers M. Roberts, “Supporters of 3 Absent Candidates Gang Up on Kennedy in West Virginia,” Washington Post/Times Herald, April 14, 1960, p. A-1.
Carroll Kilpatrick, “Kennedy Opens Fire On Bigotry; He Takes Offensive In W.Va; Charges Plot to Beat Him; Kennedy Strikes at Religious Issue, Charges ‘Gang-Up’; Sees Rival a Stalking-Horse, Points to State Problems,” Washington Post/Times Herald, April 19, 1960, p. A-1.
Harry McCracken, “My Kennedy Polaroids: Instant History”(Medford, Oregon, April 23, 1960),” Time.com (techland), January 14, 2013.
Carroll Kilpatrick, “Tour of West Virginia Planned by Johnson,” Washington Post/Times Herald, April 30, 1960, p. A-2.
“Kennedy-Humphrey Primary Debate” (West Virginia, TV Debate), OurCampaigns.com, May 4, 1960.
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A portion of the DVD cover for the 2011 PBS / American Experience film, “Freedom Riders,” by Stanley Nelson.
Extraordinary courage stepped up to bigotry in America during the summer of 1961. The acts of bravery came not from soldiers in battle or politicians taking a stand. No, in this case, the valor came from everyday Americans – civilians concerned about the state of their country. Eventually, there would be hundreds of them, acting over a five month period. They came from all over the U.S. They were black and white; liberal and conservative; Jew, Catholic, and Protestant. Many were college students; some from the seminary. They came to lend their presence and put their bodies on the line. Their actions were innocent and non-violent. All they set out to do was ride on a bus – or rather, insure that a person of any color could ride on a bus from one state to another. Before it was all over more than 60 “Freedom Rides,” as they were called, would criss-cross the South between May and November of 1961. At least 436 individuals would ride buses and trains to make their point. However, a number of these “freedom riders” were physically assaulted, chased, and/or threatened by white mobs, some beaten with pipes, chains and baseball bats. Many of the riders were also arrested and jailed, especially in Mississippi. Yet these arrests became part of the protest – and in this case, a badge of honor.
Mug shots of some of the more than 300 “freedom riders” who were arrested in Mississippi during the summer of 1961. More on this part of the story follows later.
For those arrested were not criminals. Far from it. They were among America’s finest heroes. Yes, America has a long line of heroes, and none more honorable than those who fought and died in military conflicts – from the Revolutionary War through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Those heroes occupy a special and honored place. Yet few heroes stand taller on the domestic front than those who came from the civilian population during the 1961 civil rights “freedom rides.” What follows here is part of their story, offered with photos and sidebars, culled from a much more detailed record that is referenced in “Sources” at the bottom of this story. This piece also adds a few more recent events and parts of the story that have not generally appeared together in the same profile.
The freedom rides of 1961, mostly bus rides, had a legal as well as a moral objective. They were testing two U.S. Supreme Court rulings – Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960) – rulings that found that segregated public buses and related facilities on interstate transportation routes were unconstitutional and illegal. That meant trains, buses, planes, ferries, and related terminals and waiting rooms. The first case dates to July 1944, when Irene Morgan was arrested in Virginia after refusing to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus while traveling home from Baltimore, Maryland.
Freedom Ride button issued by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Morgan’s case, with the Supreme Court ruling in her favor in June 1946, striking down racial segregation on interstate buses. The 1960, Boynton v. Virginia ruling expanded on the Morgan case, outlawing segregated waiting rooms, lunch counters, and restroom facilities for interstate passengers. However, both rulings were largely ignored in the Deep South; the status quo prevailed and black patrons had to use separate facilities. As Diane Nash, a young student activist and one of the Freedom Rider organizers would explain in a later interview: “Traveling the segregated South, for black people, was humiliating. The very fact that there were separate facilities was to say to black people and white people that blacks were so subhuman and so inferior that we could not even use public facilities that white people used…”
In 1961, segregated waiting rooms, fountains & restrooms were common in Southern bus & train terminals, despite Supreme Court rulings striking them down.
In early 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), headed by James Farmer, set about organizing interracial groups to ride interstate buses through the South to test the Supreme Court rulings.
Farmer and CORE were also testing the newly-elected Kennedy Administration in Washington – President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – to see if they would enforce laws banning segregation.
The plan for the first ride was to send volunteers on two buses – one group on a Trailways bus and another on a Greyhound bus – both departing from Washington, D.C. bound for New Orleans, Louisiana. Along the route, there would be stops at bus terminals throughout the south, with the passengers selectively testing the “white only” or designated “negro waiting” areas.
May 4, 1961 First Departure
May 5, 1961: Washington Post story (p. B-4) covers the Freedom Riders’ plan and departure for the first 13 riders.
The first group of 1961′s Freedom Riders consisted of 13 individuals – black, white, male and female. They boarded the two buses in Washington, D.C. and departed on May 4th.
TheWashington Post ran a story on the group’s intentions the following day, May 5th, 1961 on p. B-4 by reporter Elsie Carper. The story, headlined “Pilgrimage Off on Racial Test,” described the group’s trip along with an Associated Press photo of five of the participants looking over a map of their planned route of travel over the next two weeks.
Shown in the photo, from left, were: Edward Blankenheim from Tucson, Arizona; James Farmer, of New York city and director of CORE; Genevieve Hughes of Chevy Chase, Maryland; Rev. Benjamin Elton Cox of High Point, North Carolina; and Henry Thomas of St. Augustine, Florida.
The first leg of the Freedom Ride from Washington made stops in Virginia and North Carolina. Source: PBS / American Experience.
Among others in the first group of 13 – black and white, male and female – were: John Lewis, son of Georgia sharecroppers and student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary (and later member of the U.S. Congress); Albert Bigalow, 55, of Cos Cob, Connecticut, a former naval officer who had commanded battle ships in WWII; husband and wife, Walter and Frances Bergman; Robert G. Griffin, Herman K. Harris, Jimmy McDonald, Ivor (Jerry) Moore, Mae Frances Moultrie, Joseph Perkins, Charles Person, Isaac (Ike) Reynolds, and James Peck, a white veteran at CORE.
The first leg of their trip included stops at Richmond, Petersburg, Farmville, Lynchburg and Danville in Virginia. Stops in North Carolina included Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Charlotte. There were no confrontations with riders at most of these stops. Should trouble occur, however, the Freedom Riders were trained in non-violent tactics and would not fight back. In Charlotte, North Carolina, there was an arrest.
Genevieve Hughes and John Lewis, Rock Hill, S.C.
In Charlotte, when black rider Joseph Perkins tried to get a shoe shine at a “white only” shoe shine station, he was arrested for trespassing, refused bail, and spent two nights in jail. He later rejoined the group as the journey continued south. Violence did occur in Rock Hill, SC at the Greyhound Bus terminal on May 10th when black rider John Lewis and white rider Albert Bigelow attempted to enter a white-only waiting area. Several white men attacked the pair. In the skirmish, another Freedom Rider, Genevieve Hughes, also sustained injuries. The attack was broken up by local police. But more violence lay ahead.
The second leg of the trip through South Carolina and Georgia included dinner with Martin Luther King in Atlanta. Source: PBS/American Experience.
The Freedom Riders left Rock Hill and continued through South Carolina, with stops at Winnsboro, Columbia, and Sumter. They then crossed into Georgia, with stops at Augusta, Athens and Atlanta. Arriving in Atlanta on May 13th, the Freedom Riders had dinner with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were hopeful that King would join them on the buses — perhaps becoming a Freedom Rider himself. Instead, King questioned the wisdom of proceeding into Alabama, where the probability of violent resistance was high. Sources told him at the time that the Ku Klux Klan has “quite a welcome” planned for them in Alabama. King urged the Riders to reconsider traveling through the Deep South. In fact, King flatly stated that night that the Riders would never make it to New Orleans. Still, the Freedom Riders left Atlanta on Mothers’ Day, May 14th, bound for Alabama.
May 14,1961 Anniston
In Anniston, at the Greyhound station, a white mob had gathered waiting for the first bus with its Freedom Riders. As it arrived, the mob attacked the bus with iron pipes and baseball bats, breaking some windows and slashing its tires. By the time Anniston police arrived, the bus had taken a fair beating, but no arrests were made. The passengers had remained inside the bus. The Anniston police car escorted the bus out of the station to just beyond the Anniston city limit on a rural stretch of road. There, because of the punctured tires, the bus was forced to pull off the road near the Forsyth & Son grocery store. This was about five miles west of Anniston.
Mothers’ Day, May 14, 1961, as Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders and other passengers burns after being fire-bombed by white mob that attacked the bus and some riders near Anniston, Alabama.
The fire-bombed bus at Anniston, Alabama produced thick smoke that filled the cabin, choking escaping riders.
The fire on the mob-burned bus at Anniston, Alabama was eventually put out, but the bus was totally destroyed.
Freedom Riders Jimmy McDonald, center, Hank Thomas, foreground, and regular passenger Roberta Holmes, right, behind Thomas, after bus burning melee, May 14, 1961.
Fireman going through remains of bus, following fire.
Map showing route of two Freedom Ride buses traveling from Atlanta, GA to Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama.
The white mob, meanwhile, had pursued the bus, with a line of some thirty cars and pickup trucks following behind – with at least one car later weaving back-and-forth in front of the bus to slow it down. After the one local police car disappeared, the mob resumed its assault on the bus and its occupants. One attacker hurled a firebomb into the bus. Some reports indicated that the bus door was held shut from the outside preventing riders from exiting, as some of the mob yelled, “burn them alive!” A few of the riders exited through windows.
The bus door was later forced opened, but only after one of the bus fuel tanks exploded, sending some of the mob into retreat. Riders exited gasping for their lives, choking on the thick smoke that had filled the bus.
Still, upon exiting the smoke-filled bus, some of the choking Freedom Riders were set upon and beaten by members of the mob. Rider Hank Thomas was one of those beaten with a baseball bat. Some of the mob remained, but a later-arriving state patrolman fired two warning shots into the air, and the mob gradually dispersed.
The Greyhound bus, meanwhile, became completely engulfed in flames and was totally destroyed. The riders on the second bus, the Trailways bus, were still on their way, unaware of what had happened in Anniston.
At the scene in Anniston, importantly was one lone photographer, Joe Postiglione of the Anniston Star, who had been tipped off by KKK members. Postiglione’s photos of the Anniston bus bombing – shown above and at left – were the only still photographs of the incident, and they soon made it over the newswires to newspapers all across the country – some running the photo on the front pages, thereby drawing the first national attention to the Freedom Rides.
Also in Anniston that day was a 12 year-old white girl, Janie Miller, who lived nearby, and after the violence subsided, defied the Klansmen and brought water to the bleeding and choking riders.
“It was the worst suffering I’d ever heard,” Miller would recall in the PBS / American Experience film, Freedom Riders. “I walked right out into the middle of that crowd. I picked me out one person. I washed her face. I held her, I gave her water to drink, and soon as I thought she was gonna be okay, I got up and picked out somebody else.” For daring to help the injured riders, she and her family were later ostracized by the community and could no longer live in the county.
A number of Freedom Riders that day were taken, eventually, to the Anniston Memorial Hospital where one attempt was made, unsuccessfully, by a group of Klansman trying to block the entrance to the emergency room.
Meanwhile, the second bus with Freedom Riders – the Trailways bus – made a brief stop in Anniston at another bus station. At the stop, that bus was infiltrated by some ticketed KKK members who proceeded to restore the “blacks-in-the-back” seating order on the bus by way of brutally beating up two of the Freedom Riders and installing them in the rear seats. These infiltrators stayed on the bus until it arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, slinging verbal abuse at the Freedom Riders en route and promising them a “special reception” at the bus station in Birmingham.
May 14,1961 Birmingham
Part of the attacking mob with KKK members at Birmingham, AL, as black bystander George Webb is beaten by several men in the foreground. Photo, Tommy Langston.
As was later learned, Birmingham Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Conner had agreed to keep his police away from the Trailways station for 15 minutes to give local whites and members of the Klan time to beat up the arriving Freedom Riders. Connor had reportedly cut a deal with the KKK giving them 15 minutes to “burn, bomb, kill, maim, I don’t give a god-damn what you do.”
The Trailways station had filled with Klansmen and some reporters. When the Freedom Riders exited the bus, they were beaten by the mob, some wielding baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains. White Freedom Riders in the group were especially singled out by the mob, receiving ferocious beatings.
Jim Peck, a 46-year-old white CORE member from New York, and black Freedom Rider Charles Person, a student from Atlanta, both headed for the “whites only” lunch counter, according to plan, as they came off the bus. However, they never made it there.
Jim Peck in hospital after treatment for injuries sustained during mob beating at the Birmingham bus terminal.
A group of Klansmen pummeled Peck with fists, chains and clubs. He was knocked unconscious, his face and head ripped with wounds. “When I saw Peck, I was shocked,” Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a Birmingham civil rights leader would later says. “His head was split down to the skull. Somebody had cracked him with a lead pipe. Peck was a bloody mess. . . .” It took more than an hour for Shuttlesworth to find an ambulance willing to take Peck to the all-white Carraway Methodist Hospital. Once there, staff refused to treat him. Only at Jefferson Hillman Hospital did Peck finally receive treatment, including some 53 stitches for his head wounds.
Freedom Riders were not the only ones attacked in Birmingham. Innocent bystanders were beaten too, and so were members of the press. As soon as the flashbulb went off for the photo shown above right, the mob took after the photographer, Tommy Langston of the Birmingham Post-Herald. He was caught in the bus station parking lot and beaten and kicked and threatened with pipes. His camera was also smashed to the ground. He later staggered down the street to the Post-Herald building and was later treated at the hospital.
Headline from 'The Montgomery Advertiser' news-paper (Montgomery, AL) tells of Anniston bus burning & mob attacks in Birmingham.
A few of Langston’s colleagues at the Post-Herald returned to the bus station to retrieve his smashed camera to find, amazingly, that the film was still intact. The photo of the melee, shown above, ran the next day on the front page of the Birmingham Post-Herald, one of the few pieces of evidence documenting the mob attack and its participants.
Meanwhile, back in Anniston, hospitalized Freedom Riders were told to leave the hospital as the staff there became afraid of a growing mob. A group of churchmen and others led by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth headed off around 2 a.m. that night to rescue the hospitalized Freedom Riders in Anniston.
In addition to news reports about the Anniston bus bombing and mob attacks in Birmingham, Howard K. Smith, a national CBS News correspondent, was already in Birmingham at the time of the attacks. He was working on a television documentary investigating allegations of lawlessness and racial intimidation in the Southern city. Smith, a Southerner himself from Louisiana, was trying to determine if the claims he and his network were hearing about were exaggerated or true.
May 1961: CBS newsman, Howard K. Smith, reported on the mob attacks on Freedom Riders that occurred in Birmingham, Alabama.
On the night of May 13, Smith received a phone call tipping him off that the downtown bus station was the place to be the next day “if he wanted to see some real action.” Smith thus witnessed the May 14 “Mother’s Day” riot at the Birmingham Trailways Bus Station, as a vicious mob of Klansmen attacked the Freedom Riders and innocent bystanders alike with pipes and baseball bats. After the riot, Smith helped badly injured Riders Jim Peck and Walter Bergman to hail a cab. He also found three other injured black men after the melee, one of whom was Ike Reynolds. These men had agreed to do on camera interviews which Smith conducted with the men and was hopeful of airing that evening on CBS-TV. But “signal difficulties” from the local TV station – WAPI – prevented that from happening, though Smith suspected that the local owner there had vetoed such broadcast.
Smith did deliver news accounts of the bus station melee over the CBS radio network that went out nationally. He would make a series of live radio updates from his hotel room that day. “The riots have not been spontaneous outbursts of anger,” he reported in one broadcast, “but carefully planned and susceptible to having been easily prevented or stopped had there been a wish to do so.” In another he explained: “One passenger was knocked down at my feet by 12 of the hoodlums, and his face was beaten and kicked until it was a bloody pulp.”[i.e., the Jim Peck beating].The “rule of barbarism in Alabama,” said Smith in his commentary, must bow to the “rule of law and order – and justice – in America.” Smith reported the facts of the incident for CBS. “When the bus arrived,” he explained in one report, “the toughs grabbed the passengers into alleys and corridors, pounding them with pipes, with key rings, and with fists,” But he was outraged by what he had witnessed, and stated at one point that the “laws of the land and purposes of the nation badly need a basic restatement.” Smith at the time also did a Sunday radio commentary, during which he was more direct, “The script almost wrote itself,” he would later recall. “I had the strange, disembodied sense of being forced by conscience to write what I knew would be unacceptable.” In his commentary, Smith laid the blame squarely on Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor, whose officers had looked the other way during the attack. During that commentary Smith also stated that the “rule of barbarism in Alabama” must bow to the “rule of law and order – and Justice – in America.”
According to historian Raymond Arsenault, author of the 2006 book, Freedom Riders, “Smith’s remarkable broadcast opened the floodgates of public reaction. By early Sunday evening, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Americans were aware of the violence that had descended upon Alabama only a few hours before.” At that point, few people had heard of CORE, and fewer still knew what the term ‘Freedom Rider’ meant. But with reports like the one Smith made, more and more of the general population would soon understand what was taking place in the southern part of their country.
By Monday, May 15th, photographs of the burning “Freedom Bus” in Anniston and Birmingham mob scene were reprinted in newspapers across the country. In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, on May 16th an editorial titled “Darkest Alabama” ran in the Washington Post newspaper.A Washington Post edito-rial of May 16, 1961 used the tagline, “Darkest Ala-bama.” The editors, noting the traditions of the old South such as chivalry, hospitality, and kindness, found them notably absent in Birmingham and Anniston, where the busses and Freedom Riders had been attacked. The Post also noted that “Alabama has a Governor who encourages contempt for the Constitution of the United States and who preaches incendiary racist nonsense.” The Post concluded that Americans traveling in Alabama could not be assured of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. “They are quite justified, therefore, in looking to the United States Department of Justice for the protection of their rights as American citizens.” That message was likely read at the U.S. Justice Department and in the White House.
…and Civil Rights
During the violence and unrest of the Freedom Rides in 1961, President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy met frequently to deal with the crisis.
Although John F. Kennedy (JFK) won the 1960 presidential election by a slender margin, with the black vote playing a key role, he had not been quick to move on civil rights issues in the early months of his administration. Kennedy had been cautious on civil rights as he feared taking action would antagonize southern Democrats – “the Dixiecrats” – a group he needed for both his near-term legislative agenda in Congress, and looking ahead to 1964, for his re-election. (In time, the “Dixiecrat defection” JFK feared would occur, helping elect Richard Nixon in 1968). So the Freedom Rides were among the last thing that he and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy(RFK), wanted to see in 1961.
Just a month earlier, Kennedy had gone though the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. And in May, he was in the midst of preparing for a scheduled June 3, 1961 Vienna Summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the first such summit of his presidential term. So Kennedy’s focus was not on domestic issues, and civil rights, least among these. Journalist Evan Thomas explains in the PBS film Freedom Riders: “The Kennedys, when they came into office, were not worried about civil rights. They were worried about the Soviet Union. They were worried about the Cold War. They were worried about the nuclear threat. When civil rights did pop up, they regarded it as a bit of a nuisance, as something that was getting in the way of their agenda.”
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, center, conferring with Justice Department assistants, Nicholas B. Katzenbach, left, and Herbert J. Miller, during the May 1961 Freedom Rides.
As President Kennedy first learned of the escalating tension around the Freedom Rides, he was not pleased. When reports of the bus burning and beatings in Birmingham reached Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (RFK), he urged restraint on the part of Freedom Riders. The Kennedys, in fact, had condemned the Freedom Rides as unpatriotic because they embarrassed the nation on the world stage at the height of the Cold War. At one point later that summer, Robert Kennedy had called on the Freedom Riders for a “cooling off period.” James Farmer, head of CORE, responded saying, “We have been cooling off for 350 years, and if we cooled off any more, we’d be in a deep freeze.”
Although the Kennedys were initially angered by the Freedom Riders, and thought the bus rides should end, they soon became quite concerned with the incidents and the safety of the riders. Throughout the summer, Robert Kennedy especially, would become heavily involved in federal-state negotiations to protect the Riders – amid repeated attempts to dissuade them from continuing. However, the Administration was in a bit of quandary on just how much the federal government should get involved and what level of force might be needed. JFK, meanwhile, had some political alliances that would prove awkward.
JFK and Alabama Governor, Democrat John Patterson, during a 1960 Kennedy-Johnson campaign rally.
During his 1960 presidential bid, JFK had made some political alliances that would come back to haunt him. Alabama’s governor, Democrat John Patterson, was one of these. Patterson had been one of the few southern politicians to endorse JFK for president, doing so early in 1959. Yet, when it came to the Freedom Riders, Patterson was squarely on the side of the segregationists and “states rights,” and he and the Kennedys would spar on the matter through May of 1961.
Given the Anniston and Birmingham incidents, the Kennedys worried that there might be more violence in Alabama, and they wanted protection for the Freedom Riders. Governor Patterson had refused to guarantee the Freedom Riders safety. JFK thought at one point he would be able to persuade his old political ally to come around on the matter, diffuse the tensions at the state level, and keep Washington out of the picture. Kennedy had White House telephone operators place a call to Governor Patterson. The governor’s secretary responded that the governor was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and could not be reached. It was then that Kennedy realized what he was up against, and gave the go-ahead to begin preparing for the possible use of federal marshals.
Alabama Gov. John Patterson, left, confers with Robert Kennedy and two unidentified aides. Photo undated.
Robert Kennedy, meanwhile, at the Justice Department, had conferred with a number of assistants on the matter, including Nicholas B. Katzenbach and Herbert J. Miller, shown in the photo above. Kennedy urged all citizens and travelers in Alabama to refrain from actions “which will cause increased tension or provoke violence” in troubled Montgomery. RFK had also sent his longtime friend, Justice Department representative John Seigenthaler, to mediate between the Freedom Riders and southern politicians. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Seigenthaler had local southern roots that Robert Kennedy hoped would help ease tensions with southern politicians. Seigenthaler went to Birmingham to monitor the situation and ensure that the Freedom Riders would get off safely to their next destination. Other RFK aides and DOJ officials, including John Doar and Deputy Attorney General Byron White, later a Supreme Court justice, would also become involved with the Freedom Rides.
May 15, 1961: Freedom Rider James Peck, talks with a Dept of Justice official and Ben Cox on plane to New Orleans. Photo, T. Gaffney.
Back in Birmingham, meanwhile, when the CORE Freedom Riders sought to continue their ride on May 15th to their next stop, Montgomery, Alabama, bus drivers refused to leave the station for fear of their lives. Behind the scenes in Washington, some calls were made to union officials to try to bring in willing bus drivers, but that effort failed. Robert Kennedy also tried to organize protection for the riders, but was unable to reach a compromise with Alabama officials. Finally, John Seigenthaler, one of the Robert Kennedy’s team sent to Alabama, convinced the Freedom Riders to fly to New Orleans instead of going by bus. They agreed to the plan, and CORE leaders at that point also chose to halt the Freedom Ride, their ranks diminished by injuries. Seigenthaler secured a flight for the Riders to New Orleans, which departed from the Birmingham airport late on May 15th. Still, in this departure, and on the plane’s arrival in New Orleans, the Freedom Riders faced threats and jeers. In Birmingham, a mob had gathered at the airport, making for a tense waiting period. When they first boarded the plane, all passengers had to exit because of a bomb threat. On arriving in New Orleans, the state police formed a “protective” corridor of troopers from the arriving plane’s door to the airport terminal. Yet these state troopers, to the astonishment of John Seigenthaler, engaged in vicious jeers and taunts as the Freedom Riders made their ways to the terminal. In New Orleans, the Riders attended a May 17th rally to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court school desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education.
April 1960: Diane Nash, as Fisk University junior with the Rev. Kelly Smith, president of the Nashville Christian Leadership Council. Photo: Gerald Holly, Nashville Tennessean.
Meanwhile, other civil rights activists, realizing the importance of the Freedom Ride, and also seeing the national attention the Anniston and Birmingham incidents had brought to the civil rights movement, began planning to continue the bus rides. The Nashville Student Movement, lead by Diane Nash, decided to send “fresh troops” to Birmingham – replacement riders – to continue what CORE had started. Nash and other civil rights activists began to see that what CORE had put in motion could not be allowed to fail, and should not stop because of violence.
Raised in middle-class Catholic family in Chicago, Nash attended Howard University in Washington, D.C, before transferring to Nashville’s Fisk University in the fall of 1959. Shocked by the extent of segregation she encountered in Tennessee, she became a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960. In February 1961 she served jail time in solidarity with the “Rock Hill Nine” — nine students imprisoned after a lunch counter sit-in.
Nash felt that if violence was allowed to halt the Freedom Rides, the movement would be set back years. She pushed to resume the ride and began calling black colleges in nearby states to find replacements for the injured Freedom Riders. On May 17, 1961, a group of eight blacks and two whites – students from Fisk University, Tennessee State University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary – traveled by bus from Nashville to Birmingham, where they would then resume the Freedom Ride from there to Montgomery, Alabama, and then on to Mississippi and Louisiana. However, upon their arrival in Birmingham, they were immediately arrested – “protective custody,” according to police. Later that night, in the early a.m. hours, this group was transported by Birmingham police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor to Ardmore, Alabama near the Tennessee line, and dropped off in a rural area – an area reportedly known for Klan activity. They were told to take a train back to Nashville. After finding refuge with a local black family, they reached Diane Nash who sent a car for them, returning them to Birmingham, where they intended to resume the Freedom Ride.
“John Meets Diane”
John Seigenthaler, in later years, would recall his activities during the 1961 Freedom Rides in the 2011 PBS documentary, “Freedom Riders.”
John Seigenthaler, a former reporter for The Nashville Tennessean newspaper, had worked with Robert Kennedy in Congress. In 1961, then 32, Seigenthaler became a special assistant in Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department.
Dispatched by Kennedy to the south to help diffuse the Freedom Rider tensions, his first task in that crisis was to get the CORE Riders safely on airplanes to New Orleans. When the Riders – after some harassment and verbal abuse along the way – arrived safely in New Orleans, Seigenthaler thought both the Freedom Rides and the crisis were over. Instead, he learned that someone named Diane Nash and others from the Nashville Student Movement planned on continuing what the CORE Riders had started. In the PBS film Freedom Riders, Seigenthaler appears on camera offering his remembrance of that pivotal moment:
. . . I went to a motel to spend the night. And you know, I thought, “What a great hero I am. . . . How easy this was. . . I just took care of everything the president and the attorney general wanted done. Mission accomplished.” My phone in the hotel room rings and it’s the attorney general.“Sir, you should know, we all signed our last wills and testaments last night before they left…” - Diane Nash, 1961 And he opened the conversation, “Who the hell is Diane Nash? Call her and let her know what is waiting for the Freedom Riders.” So I called her. I said, “I understand that there are more Freedom Riders coming down from Nashville. You must stop them if you can.”
Her response was, “They’re not gonna turn back. They’re on their way to Birmingham and they’ll be there shortly.” You know that spiritual [song]—“Like a tree standing by the water, I will not be moved”? She would not be moved. And . . . I felt my voice go up another decibel and another and soon I was shouting, “Young woman, do you understand what you’re doing? You’re gonna get somebody . . . Do you understand you’re gonna get somebody killed?”
Diane Nash, of Fisk University, let John Seigenthaler know there was no turning back.
And there’s a pause, and she said, “Sir, you should know, we all signed our last wills and testaments last night before they left. We know someone will be killed. But we cannot let violence overcome nonviolence.”
That’s virtually a direct quote of the words that came out of that child’s mouth.
Here I am, an official of the United States government, representing the president and the attorney general, talking to a student at Fisk University. And she, in a very quiet but strong way, gave me a lecture.
James Peck (right) and Hank Thomas march in a picket line outside the Port Authority Terminal in New York City.
Civil rights leaders at the national level, meanwhile, were spreading word of what had happened to the Freedom Riders in the south. In several U.S. cities, CORE chapters used the May 17th anniversary date of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to protest the violence in Alabama. They set up picket lines in front of bus terminals in cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. More than two thousand people came out for the New York City demonstration, with hundreds picketing the Port Authority terminals of the Greyhound and Trailways bus lines in protest over the segregated bus stations in the South. Some marchers carried signs that read, “segregation is morally wrong.” At least two of the Freedom Riders – Hank Thomas, who had been attacked in Anniston, and James Peck, who was beaten in Birmingham and was still bandaged – joined the demonstration in New York City. Peck carried a large placard that identified him as “a victim of an attempt at lynching by hoodlums,” and Thomas a sign that indicated he was arrested on a Freedom Ride in South Carolina. Following the New York demonstration, Peck and Thomas also answered questions and at a press conference held at the offices of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Lillian Smith, a well-known author and southern liberal unafraid to criticize segregation and who worked to dismantle the Jim Crow laws, was also at the press conference. Other national figures began voicing their opinions as well. On Thursday morning, May 18th, the New York Times and other newspapers reported a story citing the Southern Baptist evangelist, Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, who said that the Southerners who had attacked and beaten the “Freedom Riders” should be prosecuted for their actions.
Rev. Shuttlesworth during “CBS Reports” TV show.
That evening on television, a documentary about Birmingham that CBS reporter Howard K. Smith had been working on, was aired as a CBS Reports special. Titled, “Who Speaks for Birmingham?,” the hour-long show featured a series of interviews with several black and white citizens, including one with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights leader from Birmingham, and another with Temple Graves, a columnist for the Birmingham News. The documentary ran accounts of cultural and educational progress in Birmingham, alternating with stories of Klan violence and local segregationist resistance. On the whole, the show was not a flattering portrayal of Birmingham or Alabama. In the segment with Shuttlesworth, he recounted several beatings, two attempted bombings of his church, and a constant fear for his family’s safety and need to hire someone to guard his home at night. During the show, Howard K. Smith also re-aired his radio account of the May 14th bus terminal melee. Near the end of the broadcast, Smith, standing in front of an enlarged photo of Bull Connor, said that “fear and hatred” had stalked the streets of Birmingham in the preceding days.
May 18,1961: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, left, talks with several Freedom Riders waiting in the Birmingham bus station to go to Montgomery. AP photo.
Meanwhile, the contingent of student riders from Nashville who had come to Birmingham to resume the Freedom Ride to Montgomery, were in a kind of limbo at the bus station; still trying to make their trip. An Associated Press news story filed from Birmingham reported that on May 19 a crowd (i.e., a mob) had gathered outside the bus terminal that evening. Civil rights leader, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, was quoted in the story saying more riders from other areas outside Alabama were ready to come join the Freedom Rides – “wave after wave, if necessary,” he said. On May 20th, the group of replacement riders sent from Nashville boarded a Greyhound bus in Birmingham and finally headed for Montgomery. The Kennedy Administration had intervened on two counts: pressuring Greyhound to provide a bus driver, and secondly, securing a commitment from Alabama Governor John Patterson to protect the riders and the bus from Klan mobs and snipers on the road to Montgomery. Patterson’s director of public safety, Floyd Mann, had arranged for the safe passage to Montgomery. The situation in Montgomery, however, was another story.
May 20, 1961 Beatings in Montgomery
May 20, 1961: Jim Zwerg, one of the Freedom Riders beaten at Montgomery, Alabama bus terminal.
The trip to Montgomery was made at high speed along with a contingent of the Alabama State Highway Patrol. At the Montgomery city limits, however, the troopers disbursed. The Freedom Riders then were on their own, and at the Greyhound bus terminal they were met by a mob of more than 200, many of whom were Klansmen, armed with baseball bats and iron pipes. The mob attacked not just the Riders, but reporters and other bystanders, leaving more than twenty people seriously injured. The local police did not show up for 20 minutes.
One of those on the arriving bus was Jim Zwerg, a 21-year-old white college from Beloit College in Wisconsin who became an exchange student at Fisk University an was also active in the Nashville sit-in movement. Zwerg was one of those selected for the “new troops” initiative for replacement Riders begun by Diane Nash and others. He was one of the group that left Birmingham earlier that day on May 20th. As Zwerg, stepped off the bus in Montgomery, someone shouted, “kill the nigger-loving son of a bitch!” With clubs and fists they attacked Zwerg brutally, beating him several times. He lost teeth in the beatings and was eventually hospitalized.
The mob also brutally attacked John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and William Barbee. Barbee was beaten unconscious and left on the sidewalk, suffering injuries that would later shorten his life. Three others escaped the violence by jumping over the retaining wall and running to the adjacent post office. Five black female Freedom Riders escaped in a cab driven by a black cab driver. Two white women were pulled from another cab and beaten by the mob.
May 20, 1961: Montgomery, AL mob member, later identified as a Klan leader, attacking news photographer.
Floyd Mann, Alabama’s director of public safety, arrived on the scene and attempted to stop the violence, finally pulling out his pistol and firing two shots in the air. Mann succeeded in dispersing the crowd in one part of the bus station, but other areas of the station were still in turmoil. News reporters, camermen and photographers had been set upon by the mob even before the riders were attacked – their cameras and filming gear smashed to the ground.
Also on the scene that day in Montgomery to observe was Justice Department emissary John Seigenthaler, who was beaten as well. Seigenthaler, who saw the unfolding melee at the bus terminal from a distance, tried at one point from his car to help one of the female Freedom Riders being pursued in the street. But Seigenthaler was pulled from his car, beaten with a tire iron, his head fractured and left unconscious in the street.
In the aftermath, ambulances, manned by white attendants, refused to take the wounded to the hospital. Local blacks finally rescued the wounded, with some of the Freedom Riders eventually hospitalized.
Freedom Rider Jim Swerg in his hospital bed after beating with a copy of the “Montgomery Advertiser” newspaper, with his bloody photo on its front page.
Among the Freedom Riders on the bus into Montgomery that day was 18 year-old white girl, Susan Hermann of Los Angeles, CA, who said of her group’s arrival there, reported in the Los Angeles Times: “We were all prepared to die–and for a while Saturday I thought all 21 of us would die at the hands of that mob in Montgomery. We did not fight back. We do not believe in violence…” Hermann and another white girl, Susan Wilbur, 18, managed to outrun the mob, reaching a local police station.
The Montgomery melee was front-page news the next day all across the country. The Montgomery Advertiser, for its part, ran a large photo of a beaten and bloody Jim Swerg on its front page (see photo at right).
In Washington, D.C., the melee was front-page news as well. Along with the bloody Zwerg photo, The Washington Post headlines that day also announced the actions of the federal government in response to the violence: “Kennedy Orders Marshals to Alabama After New Freedom-Rider Mobbing.”
Attorney General Robert Kennedy had been on the phone with Justice Department lawyer John Doar who was relaying a nearly blow-by-blow account to Kennedy of the mob violence as the fists and clubs began flying that day.
May 21, 1961: Washington Post runs “marshals-to-Alabama” front-page story on violence in Montgomery, along with photo of bloodied Freedom Rider, Jim Swerg
“There are no cops present” Doar reported at one point, having already described to Kennedy the mob attacking people as they got off the bus. “It’s terrible. It’s terrible,” Doar relayed to Kennedy. “Not a cop in sight! People are yelling ‘Get ‘em. Get em!’ It’s awful.” Doar’s eye witness phone-in account of the melee reportedly angered Kennedy to the point where he heard enough and moved to send U.S. Marshals to the area. On May 21st, Kennedy ordered a task force of U.S. Marshals and Byron R. White, Deputy U.S. Attorney General, to go to Montgomery to safeguard federal rights. Initially, some 400 marshals were ordered. The marshals would be dressed in civilian attire wearing yellow arm bands. Governor Patterson, for his part, publicly objected to the marshals — as well as the civil rights leaders and activists who had come to Montgomery — telling them all to go home and mind their own business. He also threatened to arrest the marshals if they broke the law.
May 21, 1961: A contingent of Federal marshals gather to watch over civil rights activists and Freedom Riders coming to rally at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery. AP photo.
Part of the 1,500 supporters who came out to learn about the Freedom Rides and hear from civil rights leaders – on what became a long night. Joseph Scherschel /Time Life
May 21, 1961: U.S. Marshals stand guard in front of Baptist Church as an automobile burns in the distance after being overturned by the mob. Photo, AP/Horace Cort
May 21-22,1961: Rev. Ralph Abernathy & Rev. Martin Luther King during stand-off with white mob outside Abernathy’s Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. King had been on the phone with Attorney General Robert Kennedy seeking help. Photo, Paul Schutzer/ Time Life.
May 21-22, 1961: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy on the phone at his Justice Dept office during the night of the church attack in Birmingham, Alabama. Bob Schutz/AP.
A detachment of National Guardsmen at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama after martial law was declared. AP photo/Horace Cort.
May 22, 1961: National Guard troops in front of the First Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL. AP/Horace Cort.
May 21, 1961 Church Mob
In response to the violence, civil rights leaders called for a gathering of supporters in Montgomery for Sunday evening, May 21, 1961. They convened at Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church and organized a program of hymns and speakers. About 1,500 community members attended along with civil rights leaders, including, Martin Luther King, Jim Farmer, Joseph Lowery, and Rev. Shuttlesworth.
The purpose of the gathering was to show support for the Freedom Rivers – of which more than a dozen attended. Diane Nash was also listed on the program, possibly to introduce the Freedom Riders. The First Baptist Church was located just a few blocks from the state capitol. Federal marshals, now on the scene in Montgomery, stood watch from a park near the church as evening services began on May 21st.
As those inside the church that night listened to testimonials about courage and commitment and sang hymns and freedom songs, a white mob began gathering outside. By nightfall the mob had grown larger, and had begun yelling racial epithets and hurling rocks at the church windows.
Inside, Martin Luther King Jr., told the crowd that Gov. Patterson was responsible for allowing the violence to happen. King also called for legislation to end desegregation and stop the violence. “We hear the familiar cry that morals cannot be legislated. This may be true, but behavior can be regulated,” King said. “The law may not be able make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.”
During the evening, the mob grew, overturned a U.S. marshal’s car, and set a couple of small fires. The mob threatened to overwhelm the federal marshals who feared the church would be set on fire. According to one account of that evening by a U.S. Marshals historian, “a fiery projectile nearly burned the roof of the church.” At one point during the evening, some 75 marshals charged the angry mob and were pelted with rocks. The marshals were later bolstered by local and state police. Still, the mob persisted.
From inside the church that night, at around 3 a.m., King called Attorney General Robert Kennedy at the Justice Department for help. Kennedy then called Governor Patterson and also had his Deputy Attorney General, Byron White, later a Supreme Court Justice, meet with Patterson and his staff.
Back at the mob scene, meanwhile, it became obvious that the civilian federal marshals were overmatched by the mob’s larger numbers. It was at that point that Patterson, under federal pressure, declared martial law and authorized a National Guard battalion to disperse the crowd. The Alabama National Guard took control of the scene and the U.S. marshals were placed under Guard command.
One wire story of the church attack by United Press International that appeared in newspapers on Monday, May 22nd, reported: “Tear gas and fire hoses were needed to beat off the angry mob of about 200 whites who converged on the church [other accounts had that number much larger]. It took 100 U.S. Marshals and more than that number of city police and a National Guard contingent to hold back the rock-hurling, club-swinging mob.”
But it was early morning before the surrounding streets were secure enough for the Freedom Riders and their supporters to leave the church. Before dawn on May 22, 1961, the Guard moved the congregation out, using military trucks to transport some of the church attendees back to their communities,
Back in Washington, there had been early a.m. meetings at the Justice Department on the crisis, and Robert Kennedy, up all night, called President Kennedy at 7 a.m. to update him on what had happened.
On May 23, 1961, martial law was in place in Montgomery, Alabama, and national guard soldiers were present in front of the First Baptist Church and elsewhere in the city, including the Montgomery bus terminal.
Still, Patterson called the Freedom Riders “agitators” and said, “they were to blame for the race rioting because of their insistence on testing bus station racial barriers.”
The church attack and martial law were front-page news across the country. In Rome, Georgia, the News-Tribune story covering the church attack included reaction from state and local politicians, including some who blamed the Kennedys for encouraging “these people to come into the South to change traditions and the way of life.”
That story also quoted the Alabama Ku Klux Klan “grand wizard,” Robert Shelton, who said the klans of the nation would amalgamate in an effort to prevent further integration attempts in the South. He also added: “It is regrettable that the President of the United States would used the power of his office to condone the unlawful activities of these integrationist groups by attempting to enjoin the Alabama klans from aiding in the preservation of our laws and customs.” Shelton said that while the klan did not condone violence, it would “take all measures necessary” to preserve Alabama customs.
Back in Montgomery, on May 23, 1961, civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy and James Farmer, and student leader John Lewis, held a news conference announcing that the Freedom Rides would continue.
The National Guard remained a presence in Montgomery following the mob activity at the First Baptist Church. Soldiers also lined the streets near the Montgomery bus terminals.
May 22, 1961: Alabama National Guardsman are also stationed at Montgomery bus station. AP photo.
May 23, 1961: Civil rights leaders John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy and James Farmer announcing that Freedom Rides would continue.
May 24, 1961: National Guard troops line sidewalk at at bus station in Montgomery, AL as Freedom Riders plan to resume bus trips. Photo, AP / Horace Cort.
May 1961: Photo from inside bus departing from Mont-gomery for Jackson with police & Nat’l Guard escort.
May 24, 1961: Wm.Sloan Coffin (glasses) and Yale group of Riders arriving in Montgomery, AL. Perry Aycock/AP
May 24, 1961: Alabama National Guard protecting Freedom Ride bus at stop near Mississippi handover, at state border.
Jackson, Mississippi police line city streets near the bus station as Freedom Riders arrive there in May 1961.
On the morning of May 24, 1961, the Freedom Riders in Montgomery resumed their travels with two buses departing at different times for Jackson, Mississippi. The two buses carried 27 Freedom Riders between them and also some 20 members of the press. The buses were escorted by 16 highway patrol cars, each carrying three National Guardsmen and two highway patrolmen. A few national guardsmen were also on the buses. The ride from Montgomery to Jackson, a distance of about 140 miles, would take about six hours.
More Freedom Riders were also converging on Montgomery to fill more buses for additional trips into Mississippi. On the same day as the first buses departed for Jackson, for example, two white college students, David Fankhauser and David Myers, students at Central State College in Ohio, arrived in Montgomery. They were among those responding to the earlier call of Diane Nash seeking new recruits. On their arrival, these prospective riders and others would stay at local homes for a few days awaiting additional Freedom Riders sufficient to fill more buses.
Another bus arriving in Montgomery that afternoon from Atlanta brought a group of Riders from Connecticut, including four white college professors and three black students. Leading this group was white clergyman Rev. William S. Coffin, Chaplin at Yale University. Coffin, 35, and a WWII veteran, was also a member of President Kennedy’s Peace Corps Advisory Council. A day or so earlier on the Yale University campus, at a pre-Freedom Ride ally, Coffin had criticized southern ministers for not supporting the Rides. And in a Life magazine article a week or so later, Coffin also stated: “Many people in the South have criticized the Freedom Riders as ‘outsiders’ who want to stir up trouble. But if you’re an American and a Christian you can’t be an outsider on racial discrimination, whether practiced in the North or the South…”
Rev. Coffin also explained that by joining the Freedom Rides with his group “we hoped to dramatize the fact that this is not just a student movement. We felt that our being university educators might help encourage the sea of silent moderates in the South to raise their voices…”
Arriving at the Montgomery bus terminal on May 24th with Coffin that day were Dr. David E. Swift, Dr. John D. Maguire, and a contingent of Yale divinity students. The terminal was then patrolled by the National Guard. Still, a throng of angry whites had gathered there, but Sloan and others were able to make it to cars that carried them to meet with civil rights leaders at a local home. The next day, Coffin and his group were slated to board a bus for Jackson. However, while at the bus terminal that morning before departure, Coffin and others joined Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and others at a terminal lunch counter, testing a “whites only” restriction. Most of this group, including Coffin, were arrested in the Montgomery terminal for “breach of peace and unlawful assembly,” and did not make the trip to Jackson. They were later released after posting $1,000 bond.
“Fill The Jails”
As Freedom Riders and civil rights leaders gathered at Ralph Abernathy’s home in Montgomery, including Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, and student leaders, a new strategy was devised for the Freedom Rides heading into Mississippi. They decided that as more and more riders came to participate – then converging on Jackson, Mississippi where all incoming riders would likely be arrested – they would seek to “fill the jails” in Mississippi as part of the protest.
Back in Washington, meanwhile, the Kennedy Administration, was suffering some bad press overseas as new reports of the Freedom Ride violence spread around the globe. As one attempted counter to those reports, Robert F. Kennedy, on May 25, 1961, delivered a radio broadcast over Voice of America, defending America’s record on race relations, and adding, “there is no reason that in the near or the foreseeable future, a Negro could [not] become President of the United States.”
Back in Alabama, the two buses that had left Montgomery on May 24 were traveling on the road to Jackson with their convoy of police cars, National Guardsmen, and overhead helicopter. They were only making limited stops en route, during which National Guardsmen would array themselves around the bus in a protective manner. As they approached the Mississippi border, there would be a changing of the guard as the Mississippi Guard would take over from the Alabama Guard, and that transfer went smoothly. However, there had been one report of a phoned-in dynamite threat in Mississippi, so the Guardsmen at the state-line border exchange were especially attentive to their surroundings.
In Washington, Robert Kennedy had been negotiating with Mississippi officials over the safety of the Freedom Riders who were heading to Jackson. He struck a deal with Mississippi’s Democratic Senator, James O. Eastland, allowing the Riders to be jailed in exchange for their safety. Kennedy would not interfere in Mississippi’s affairs by sending in federal marshals as long as Eastland would guarantee there would be no mob violence. Kennedy explained that the Federal Government’s “primary interest was that they [Freedom Riders] weren’t beaten up.”
There were no incidents en route to Jackson, with the exception of some hecklers and a thrown bottle or two. The first two buses of Freedom Riders arrived in Jackson safely on May 24th, with no rabid white mobs awaiting them. As the Riders exited the buses and tested the whites-only or colored waiting areas, they were immediately ushered by police into a waiting paddy wagon which drove them to jail. The riders were typically charged with “breach of peace,” rather than breaking segregation laws. Freedom Riders responded with a “jail, no bail” strategy —part of the effort to fill the jails. Back in Montgomery, more Riders were preparing for the trip to Jackson. On May 28th, and in the days thereafter, additional buses with more Freedom Riders made the trip to Jackson.
June 1961: A police paddy wagon in Jackson, Mississippi with arrested Freedom Riders aboard. Photo from “Breach of Peace” book, Eric Etheridge.
Among those departing from Montgomery on May 28th for Jackson was Pauline Knight, a 20-year-old Tennessee State student, who would be arrested in Jackson and would later lead a brief hunger strike among female Rider-inmates. Describing the motivation that led Knight to participate in the Freedom Rides, she said: “It was like a wave or a wind, and you didn’t know where it was coming from but you knew you were supposed to be there. Nobody asked me, nobody told me.” And that was true for many who came to the Freedom Rides that summer – they just came, in the hundreds, unselfishly, out of personal conviction, finding it was the right thing to do. It was a spontaneous movement of individuals, each coming from separate locations, but each making a similar decision to become personally involved. It was a simple but powerful statement of democratic action – one that augured well for America’s future, and a proud moment for all of its citizens.
Back in Washington, meanwhile, on May 29th, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy formally petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to adopt “stringent regulations” prohibiting segregation in interstate bus travel. The proposed order would not be issued for several months, but the process was set in motion. Kennedy was also trying to dissuade the Freedom Riders from continuing their protest, asking for “cooling off” period that went nowhere. In fact, if anything, the movement only grew larger in the months ahead as individuals all around the country responded.
Mug shot of Ray Cooper, 19, arrested in Jackson, MS.
Within two weeks of the May 14th, 1961 bus bombing in Anniston, Alabama, Ray Cooper, a 19 year-old art student from Seattle, Washington, was on a bus bound for New Orleans. The CORE chapter in New Orleans was conducting training classes in the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience, preparing candidates for more Freedom Rides. Cooper recounts his experience there and some of his early thinking regarding what he was about to do:
…Gathering in New Orleans, we were getting to know one another, bonding to find the courage to act together. There was a wave of volunteers and we had the moral advantage. I could not have continued past New Orleans if there had been a meager turn out. Strength in numbers. Was I frightened? Yes. But like the others I was calm and focused. I was nineteen and was about to do something meaningful for the first time in my life. I had resolved not to participate with the U.S. military adventure in Vietnam. The battle at home was my choice. I was testing myself, challenging my country to actually “free the slaves” not just talk about it…
I had read about Gandhi in high school.“I had read about Gandhi in high school. He stood against the British Empire. People listened to him and won. I admired that. . . .” He stood against the British Empire. People listened to him and won. I admired that. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted him. I respected that. I believed that nonviolent resistance would also work in America where people professed belief in democracy. It was a gamble but was a rather “strong hand”…
[Ray Cooper later boarded his Greyhound Bus in New Orleans, headed for Jackson, Mississippi].
…We arrived in Jackson in [July]. Police and their vans surrounded the terminal. They watched passively as we walked into the whites only waiting room. Once inside we sat on available benches together with arms locked. The police ordered us out. We declined. Threatened with arrest we went limp and were dragged from the Greyhound station by our feet and were loaded into paddy wagons. . . . Arrested and booked for unlawful assembly, we entered the jails of Jackson City and County. We were, of course, segregated by race and sex. Our fear was not of police mistreatment, but of the uncertainty of being housed with criminal prisoners. At no point during the summer did this occur. The standard length of incarceration was forty-five days, first in Jackson and ultimately at Parchman . . . All summer long the buses kept arriving with more Freedom Riders…
Headline from ‘The Morning Herald’ newspaper of Hagerstown, MD, May 25, 1961 announcing jailing of Freedom Riders in Mississippi with photo of Riders being loaded into paddy wagon.
Throughout, the summer of 1961, the Freedom Riders kept coming to Jackson, most later ransferred to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, also known as Parchman Farm. A maximum security prison, Parchman had a reputation as a particularly inhospitable place. Basic jail cells had open toilets and were often rife with mice and insects, some with soiled mattresses. Abusive treatment of arriving female Freedom Riders included a Lysol-based vaginal examinations. Most Riders jailed there were issued only underwear, had no exercise, and received no mail. Some were placed in the maximum security unit on death row. Others were subject to solitary confinement or thrown in extremely crowded cells.
Mississippi’s governor, meanwhile, Ross Barnett, had the Freedom Riders in his sights, and set out “to teach ‘em a lesson” and “break the back” of their movement. By doing “real time in a real prison” like Parchman, Barnett believed his Mississippi jailers would give the Riders an education they would remember, helping to end the Freedom Rides. But Barnett’s jailers would underestimate the resolve and ingenuity of their charges. Among other measures to maintain their spirits while jailed, the Riders sang freedom and folk songs – among them, “Buses Are A’Comin, Oh Yeah,” which surely made their jailers boil. When the Riders refused to stop singing, prison officials took away their mattresses and toothbrushes. But the Riders kept singing, and also devised other strategies to survive their jail time. Most would endure a sentence of about 45 days.
PBS “Freedom Riders” map showing routes traveled as of July 1961, when some 367 Riders had participated.
Eventually there were more than 430 Freedom Riders that summer traveling various routes in the South, some 328 of whom would end up at Mississippi’s Parchman prison farm. The map at left shows some of the routes traveled through July 1961 – although additional Rides would continue into November and even December 1961.
Freedom Riders would also test train and plane routes and their related facilities — waiting areas, restrooms, and restaurants — at train stations and airports. Riders also went to Arkansas, Florida and Texas; some came from New York and Los Angeles. In fact, they came from all regions of the U.S., and some from Canada as well. (see PBS Freedom Riders website for full list of rides, riders, and routes traveled).
June 2, 1961: Alabama Gov. John Patterson on Time cover for Freedom Riders story.
Newsweek’s June 5, 1961 featured three of the contending major players in the Freedom Rider controversy that continued throughout the summer.
By early June, the Freedom Riders story was front-page national news almost everywhere. Magazines such as Time and Newsweek had cover stories devoted to the latest developments. Life magazine in early June also chose the Freedom Riders and the unrest in Montgomery as its “story of the week.”
Time magazine featured the Freedom Riders as its cover story, using a cover photo of 39 year-old Governor John Patterson and focusing on the governor’s segregationist career, the incidents that had occurred in his state, and the fight between he and Robert Kennedy over enforcing the law.
Newsweek also had a photo of Patterson on its cover that week, along with those of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy – featuring the three contending players in that week’s news with quotes from each displayed with their photos. “We stand for human Liberty,” ran beside RFK’s photo. “We must be prepared to suffer…even die,” was attributed to Rev. King. And in the third frame, Gov. Patterson was quoted saying: “The Federal government encourages these agitators.”
Life magazine ran several pages of photos and narrative for its story of the week – “The Ride for Rights: Negroes Go by Bus Though the South Asking for Trouble and Getting It. Among Life’s photos in that issue was a sequence from the siege of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery.
More news reporters and photographers were drawn to the story by this time as well. A number of the media had already witnessed the early mob violence visited on the Freedom Riders in Montgomery. More reporters joined on the bus rides in late May 1961 during the National Guard escort from Alabama to Mississippi and others came to Jackson, Mississippi as the “breach of peace” arrests were made throughout that summer. As a result, Freedom Rider stories continued to appear in the news media through the summer and fall of 1961. The media coverage of the Rides kept the issue on the nation’s front burner. Yet it was the rising up of individuals all across the country that kept the Rides going – much to the dismay of the Kennedy Administration which tried to dissuade the Riders from continuing.
By November 1, 1961, the ICC rule that Robert Kennedy had initiated began to be enforced. With the new rule, passengers were permitted to sit wherever they pleased on interstate buses and trains and related facilities. All the “white” and “colored” signs came down at all terminals. There would be no more segregated drinking fountains, toilets, or waiting rooms. Lunch counters would serve all customers, regardless of race. However, there were still pockets of resistance in some locations. Black riders encountered stiff resistance in December 1961 when they attempted to desegregate a white waiting room in Albany, Georgia. Other locations also offered resistance. But eventually, the rule took hold everywhere, and segregated interstate travel and accommodation ended.
The Freedom Rides and Freedom Riders of 1961 provided an important boost to the civil rights movement. The Rides brought new momentum, new energy, and a broadening constituency to the movement. The grass roots nature of its participants also empowered the cause in a new way, directly influencing, and helping inspire, other activities that followed – from the March on Washington in August 1963 and the Freedom Summer movement in Mississippi in 1964, to landmark federal legislation culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the voting Rights Act of 1965.
May 1961: Scene from Montgomery, Alabama after National Guard arrived to protect Freedom Riders from local mobs. / Bruce Davidson
In 1961, the Freedom Rides shook up a complacent Washington, forcing a reluctant Kennedy Administration to act. Initially resistant to the Freedom Rider methodology, both President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy were changed by the Rides, and both moved clearly to the side of quicker action in subsequent years. Robert Kennedy, acknowledging the impact of the Freedom Rides would later say, “I never recovered from it,” but thereafter became a champion of civil rights. And President Kennedy sent federal troops to the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the University of Alabama in 1963 to protect black students attempting to enroll. On June 11, 1963, JFK gave a nationally-televised speech calling upon Congress to pass a comprehensive Civil Rights bill, though adding that Americans were “confronted primarily with a moral issue, not a legislative or political one.” Journalist Evan Thomas states in the PBS documentary Freedom Riders, that there is “a direct line from the Freedom Riders to the speech that President Kennedy gave in June of 1963.”
James Peck’s 1962 book shown in one of its paperback editions.
Raymond Arsenault’s 2006 book on the 1961 Freedom Riders.
And for the nation as a whole – the nation watching the horrors on television and reading the news accounts of what was happening, and seeing more and more people step forward willing to risk bodily harm and/or imprisonment – the Freedom Riders helped change minds and stiffen the national backbone for confronting Jim Crow. As the PBS Freedom Riders website has put it: “The courage and stoicism of the Freedom Riders, in the face of the most vicious hatred and racism and physical beatings, left a deep impression on the nation and the world.”
The Freedom Rides also became established in popular literature and American history practically from the beginning. In 1962, James Peck, a veteran CORE member and Freedom Rider who was badly beaten in Anniston and Birmingham, published his account of the Rides in a book first published by Simon and Schuster, titled Freedom Ride. Later editions of Peck’s book included a forward by African American author James Baldwin. Other books on the Freedom Rides followed in the 1980s and 1990s, some of which are listed in “Sources” below, as well as more comprehensive books on the overall civil rights movement, which typically incorporate special sections on the Freedom Rides.
In recent years, the Freedom Rides have received more in-depth treatment in volumes such as the January 2006 book by Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and The Struggle for Racial Justice, published by Oxford University Press. This volume, at 704 pages, is regarded by many as the definitive treatment of the 1961 Freedom Rides and their impact. One review of the book appearing in the New York Times Book Review by Eric Foner notes, for example:
“Drawing on personal papers, F.B.I. files, and interviews with more than 200 participants in the rides, Arsenault brings vividly to life a defining moment in modern American history…. Rescues from obscurity the men and women who, at great personal risk, rode public buses into the South in order to challenge segregation in interstate travel…. Relates the story of the first Freedom Ride and the more than 60 that followed in dramatic, often moving detail.”
Aresnault’s book became a primary source for a the PBS/American Experience documentary, Freedom Riders – an excellent two-hour show that first aired in mid-May 2011 and has since won numerous awards. 2011 was also the 50th anniversary year of the Freedom Rides, during which a number of other books, short films, museum specials, and other commemorations were produced – including a special May 2011 edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show. A number of these are also referenced in “Sources” below, many with links. However, one volume that came out in 2008 deserves special mention for the imagery and personal stories it brought forth, providing a whole new perspective on the Freedom Rides.
Eric Etheridge discovered the archive of Freedom Rider mug shots in 2003.
Adding The Faces
In 2003, Eric Etheridge, a native of Carthage Mississippi, had lived and worked in New York City. He had done some work for Rolling Stone and Harper’s, but was then looking for a new photography project.
During a visit in 2003 with his parents in Jackson, Mississippi, he was reminded that a lawsuit had forced the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission – an agency created in 1956 to resist desegregation – to open its archives. The agency files, put online in 2002, included more than 320 police mug shots of Freedom Riders arrested for “breach of peace” in Jackson, Mississippi. The photos cover those incarcerated from late May to mid-September 1961.
The trove of photos, Eteridge concluded, was a pot of gold, and important history that should have wider circulation. “The police camera caught something special,” Etheridge would later say. The segregationist Sovereignty Commission had unintentionally created and preserved an important visual record of the Freedom Rides and civil rights history.
Eric Etheridge’s 2008 book, using Freedom Rider mug shots for “then- and-now” profiles of 80 Riders.
“I was captivated by these images and wanted to bring them to a wider audience,” Etheridge writes. “I wanted to find the riders today, to look into their faces and photograph them again.” Using the internet and information in the arrest files, he tracked a number of the riders down, then called them cold. “My best icebreaker was: ‘I have your mug shot from 1961. Have you ever seen it?’ Even people who are prone to be cautious were tickled to even think that it still existed.”
The result of Eteridge’s sleuthing was the book, Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders, published in May 2008. It features 80 of the Freedom Riders, each shown in their 1961 mug shots alongside a more current photo that Etheridge took, plus interviews he did with the activists reflecting on their Freedom Ride experiences. More than two dozen of the riders Etheridge interviewed went on to become teachers or professors. There are also eight ministers as well as lawyers, Peace Corps workers, journalists and politicians.
Of the 320 or so Freedom Riders arrested in Mississippi, nearly 75 percent were between 18 and 30 years old. About half were black; a quarter, women. And as many who have examined these photos have concluded, the mug-shot expressions displayed by the riders in that famous summer of 1961 not only offer a look at the collective face of democracy in action, but also a measure of each Rider’s composure and determination at the time – and in some cases, their defiance, pride, vulnerability and/or fear as well. Yet above all, at least in the collective, there is an overwhelming optimism that seems to come through – and for the observer, faith in one’s “fellow man.”
A small cross-section of the 328 Freedom Riders who were arrested in Mississippi during the summer of 1961 – most of whom were processed in Jackson, MS and likely served time in Parchman State Prison for their “crime.”
The Mississippi Freedom Rider mug shots helped bring a new dimension to the Freedom Rider story, and many are now circulating on the web with personal histories attached, including “where-are-they-now” details. This visual record also helped enliven the 2011 PBS documentary mentioned earlier, and in some cases the photos have also been used on more recent book covers, magazine specials, websites, and DVDs exploring Freedom Rider history. They have also been used in special exhibits and in displays at some museums. A dozen or so are also offered below in “Sources,” only as a sampling, with very brief sketches.
For additional civil rights history at this website please visit “Civil Rights Stories,” a topics page, which includes thumbnail sketches and links to 14 additional story choices. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Buses Are A’Comin’- Freedom Riders: 1961,” PopHistoryDig.com, June 24, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Catherine Burks Brooks helped integrate restaurants in Nashville, TN before becoming a Freedom Rider. She was among the first group from Nashville who came to Birmingham to keep the Rides going in May of 1961, and also among those Birmingham Police Chief Bull Conner dropped off in rural Alabama in the middle of the night and told not to return. But she and her group did return to Birmingham to continue the Rides.
Bill Svanoe heard Dr. King speak in his last year at Oberlin College and realized that “this was not the country I thought it was." He signed up with the CORE and during his July 16th, 1961 bus ride was threatened with a gun by another traveler, but made it to Jackson where he was sent to Parchman prison. Later, his Rooftop Singers folk-rock group scored a No. 1 hit with 1963's “Walk Right In.” Play writing & teaching followed.
Hank Thomas was a sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C. when he joined the first May 4, 1961 CORE Freedom Ride – the one that was firebombed in Anniston, AL. He was also beaten with a baseball bat there, but persisted in service with CORE as a field secretary in the South during 1962. In 1965-66 he served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Army. Today he & his wife own restaurants & hotels in Georgia.
Margaret Leonard, a 19 year-old student at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, LA in June 1961, was the first white Southerner to participate in the Freedom Rides, joining 8 others on June 21 on a bus ride from Montgomery, Al to Jackson, MS where she was arrested. Her mother, a progressive columnist for the Atlanta Journal, was fired after Margaret’s arrest. Margaret, now retired, had a long career as a reporter in Florida.
Clarence Melvin Wright, one of ten children, was born in Mason, TN and was a 19 year-old student at Tennessee State University when he rode a Greyhound bus from Nashville, via Memphis, to Jackson, MS. Clarence was one of 14 Tennessee State students expelled from school for joining the Rides. He also became active in voter registration drives and urban community work, settling in Detroit as a Conrail worker and security contractor.
Winonah Myers was a white student at the historically black Central State University in Ohio when she joined the Rides after the first group was attacked. She would later explain one key tactic of the Rides, in counter to those who thought mass arrests would stop the Rides: "Our feeling at the time was, 'We're going to keep coming and we're going to flood your jails, cram your dockets, and break you financially,' "
Jean Thompson was born and grew up in Louisiana, and along with her sisters, became active in New Orleans CORE. She was arrested in Jackson on a June 1961 Freedom Ride. After bailing out of jail, she returned to New Orleans to train other Riders. She also did civil rights work elsewhere in the South in the `60s and also with CORE in NY City. By the late '60s, she became involved in anti-war and feminist causes in California.
James Farmer was co-founder and National Director of CORE, chief architect of the original 1961 Freedom Ride. Farmer joined the Montgomery-to-Jackson ride on May 24th, 1961, was arrested in Jackson and sent to Parchman prison. Farmer, who devoted his career to civil rights and social justice causes, served as an Assist. Secretary in Richard Nixon’s Dept. of HEW, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by Bill Clinton.
Jorgia Siegel was attending UC Berkeley when she heard a speaker describe the Freedom Ride violence in the South. She joined a training group in New Orleans to help “fill-the-jails.” On June 20th, 1961, she and 13 others took a train to Jackson where they were arrested and sent to Parchman. Growing up in a Jewish family, she remembered a cross burning in her neighborhood and a sign that read: “No Jews or Colored After Dark.”
Rev. Grant Harland Muse, Jr. was a 35 year-old priest at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Berkeley, CA when he joined the Freedom Rides. Rev. Muse was a graduate of the University of New Mexico and had studied theology at Mirfield, England, and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. On June 20th, 1961, he and 12 others rode the Illinois Central Railroad from New Orleans to Jackson where they were arrested.
Helen Singleton and her husband, Bob Singleton were among the few people to join the Freedom Rides as a married couple. Inspired by the courage and commitment of earlier Freedom Riders, they helped recruit students from UCLA and Santa Monica College and other activists in Southern California to join the “fill-the-jails” strategy in Mississippi. They were both arrested after a July 30, 1961 train ride from New Orleans to Jackson.
Ellen Lee Ziskind was volunteering at the CORE offices in NY City the summer before her last year at Columbia University. She heard first-hand accounts from Freedom Riders who’d been beaten and jailed. “I think they kind of took my breath away,” she would later recall. “...[I]t was kind of like a story from another country. And I was so... struck by, swept away by their working to have a democracy.” She later volunteered, rode a bus to Jackson and served six weeks in Parchman.
Stokely Carmichael was a 19-year-old student at Howard Univ. when arrived in Jackson on June 4, 1961 by train from New Orleans with 8 other Riders. He would go on to become one of the leading voices of the Black Power Movement and the Black Panther Party. He moved to West Africa in 1969, changed his name to honor African leaders, and was a proponent of the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party. He died in Guinea at the age of 57.
Eugene Levine, a 34 year-old English instructor at Oklahoma State Univ. and WWII vet, became a one-man Freedom Ride. Later explaining to Eric Etheridge that he hated joining groups, Levine drove to Jackson on his own. “The police saw I was alone... and older than the usual Freedom Rider.” They tried to send him back home without an arrest, but he persisted in joining the protest and was finally arrested on June 21, 1961 and put in jail.
John Lewis, at age 19, was on the first CORE Freedom Ride and had already been arrested in Nashville sit-ins. He later rode to Birmingham, was beaten in Montgomery, and also rode to Jackson, serving time at Parchman. He was chairman of SNCC, spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, and played a key role in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march. Elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis has served his Georgia district for 27 years.
A 19-year-old Duke University student, Joan Trumpauer arrived in Jackson, MS by train from New Orleans, LA as part of a June 4, 1961 Freedom Ride. Arrested that day, she was later transferred to Parchman Prison, where among other things, she was subject to a forced vaginal examination. In 1964, she became a Freedom Summer organizer, later worked at various jobs in Washington, DC, and taught English as a second language.
Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner (left-center) and Rabbi Martin Freedman of New York – who rode a bus on the June 1961 Washington-to-Tallahassee, FL Freedom Ride – were also arrested in Tallahassee, shown above, for attempting to eat at a segregated airport restaurant.
Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and The Struggle for Racial Justice, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
WGBH, “Freedom Riders,” PBS/American Experience, Film & Website, PBS.org.
“Democracy in Action: A Study Guide to Accompany the Film, Freedom Riders,” American Experience/PBS/WGBH, PBS.org, 2011.
Terry Gross, “Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961,” Fresh Air, WHYY/NPR, January 12, 2006.
Elsie Carper, “Pilgrimage Off on Racial Test,” Washington Post, May 5, 1961, p. B-4.
United Press International ( Rock Hill, S.C., May 10), “Biracial Unit Tells of Beating in South,” New York Times, May 11, 1961.
“Newsfilm Clip of a Burned out Greyhound Bus and Injured Freedom Riders in the Hospital in Anniston, Alabama,” WSB-TV (Atlanta, GA), May 14, 1961, Civil Rights Digital Library.
Associated Press (Anniston, Ala., May 15), “Bi-Racial Buses Attacked, Riders Beaten in Alabama; Alabama Whites Fire Bi-Racial Bus, New York Times, May 15, 1961, p. 1.
“Darkest Alabama,” Editorial, Washington Post, May 16, 1961.
United Press International (UPI), “Bi-Racial Group Cancels Bus Trip; Alabama Rejects Appeal by Robert Kennedy for Guard; Bus Drivers Balk at Bi-racial Trip; State Inspector Aids Passengers in Bus Burning,” New York Times, May 16, 1961.
“Pickets March Here,” New York Times, May 18, 1961.
Jack Gould, “TV: ‘C.B.S. Reports’ Turns Camera on Birmingham; Negroes and Whites State Their Views; Program Sheds Light on Conflicting Forces,” New York Times, May 19, 1961, Business, p. 63.
Associated Press, “Judge Issues Writ; Alabama Judge Bars Attempts At ‘Freedom Rides’ in the State,” New York Times, May 20, 1961, p. 1.
Associated Press (Birmingham, Ala., May 19), “Crowd at Bus Station,” New York Times, May 20, 1961.
“SNCC Wires President Kennedy,” The Student Voice (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC), Atlanta, Georgia, April-May1961, p. 1.
“Freedom Rides,1961,” The Student Voice (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC), Atlanta, Georgia, April-May1961, p. 3.
Associated Press (Montgomery, Ala, May 20), “Freedom Riders Attacked by Whites in Montgomery; President’s Aide Hurt by Rioters; Battle Rages for 2 Hours as Mobs Chase and Beat Anti-Segregation Group,” New York Times, May 21, 1961, p.1.
“Negroes, Whites Try to Renew Freedom Ride,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1961, p. 3.
U.S. Sends 400 Officers to Alabama After Riot,” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1961, p. F1-F2
Anthony Lewis, “400 U.S. Marshals Sent to Alabama as Montgomery Bus Riots Hurt 20; President Bids State Keep Order; Force Due Today Agents to Bear Arms — Injunction Sought Against the Klan,” New York Times, Sunday, May 21, 1961, p. 1.
“Kennedy Orders Marshals to Alabama After New Freedom-Rider Mobbing,” Washington Post, May 21, 1961, p. 1.
“Russians Scornful; Refer to Alabama Violence as ‘Bestial’ U.S. Custom,” New York Times, May 22, 1961.
“Martial Law Declared in Alabama’s Capital; National Guard Troops Put Down New Riot; Wild Mob Trying to Overthrow U.S. Marshals; Scattered Troops Quell New Riots in Alabama’s Capital,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1961, pp. 1-3.
Susan Herrmann, “Southland Coed Caught in Rioting; Coed’s Story,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1961, p. 1
UPI, “Patterson Declares Martial Law As Alabama Negro Church is Attacked; New Violence Explodes in Montgomery Sunday,” Rome News-Journal (Rome, Georgia), May 22, 1961, pp. 1-2.
Gigantic, 20-story tall strip-mining shovel that Peabody Coal Co. used to dig through more than 5,000 acres of Muhlenberg County, KY, 1963-1986, supplying TVA’s Paradise powerplant. Note full-size commercial bus at bottom of photo.
In 1971, a song titled “Paradise” began to be heard on the radio. It was written and performed by country singer John Prine. The song, written for Prine’s father, is about how coal mining altered the countryside in western Kentucky. In this case, the type of mining at issue was strip mining. Companies such as Amax, Pittsburg & Midway, and Peabody Coal Company had either acquired coal land or engaged in strip mining in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky during the 1960s, and in some cases, for years thereafter.
Peabody Coal Co., for one, was then supplying coal under contract to the Tennessee Valley Authority which had built two new coal-fired, electric-generating units for a powerplant near the small town of Paradise, Kentucky.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Peabody would supply huge amounts of coal to this plant – known then as the TVA Paradise Steam Plant. This type of powerplant was known in the trade as a “mine-mouth” powerplant, built essentially at or near huge coal deposits that could supply the powerplant’s needs for many years. Such was the case in Muhlenberg County.
Muhlenberg County in Western KY is mostly flat farmland, distinct from mountainous Eastern KY.
1971: John Prine on the cover of his debut album, “John Prine,” which includes the song “Paradise.”
“Paradise” – John Prine
As large-scale strip mining ensued there from the early 1960s thorough the 1970s, a substantial land area near Paradise, Kentucky – encompassing some thousands of acres – would be stripped.
In those days, especially through the 1960s and most of the 1970s, strip mine regulation and land reclamation, then governed by state laws, were minimal at best. As a consequence, land and water in the vicinity of Paradise suffered accordingly – as it did elsewhere in Kentucky and other states.
In the process, the small town of Paradise, a town dating to the 1800s, would become a victim as well, and would disappear entirely by the end of the 1960s. More on the town’s demise and the coal mining history in a moment.
John Prine’s song, “Paradise” — sampled below left — is also known by some as “Take Me Back To Muhlenberg County,” or “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train.” It was released in 1971 on his debut album, John Prine. In 2003, Rolling Stone rated the album at No. 458 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
John Prine was born in October 1946 and grew up in a Chicago suburb. His parents were natives and residents of Western Kentucky until the time when his father escaped the life of a coal miner and moved to Chicago.
However, as a child and a young boy, John spent many summers with relatives in the town of Paradise, where he took in the country environment, the culture, and lore of the region’s blue-collar struggles.
An earlier coal mine – a drift mine, one of the first commercial mines in Kentucky – had opened in the area in the 1820s. Paradise was also a river town, located on the Green River, where a ferry crossing operated. Prine’s song is about remembrance and loss; remembering happier times in that rural environment, and then seeing it altered by the “progress of man.”
When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.
And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.
Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Airdrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.
Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’
Just five miles away from wherever I am.
In October 2013, Lydia Huthchinson, writing a background piece on Prine at PerformingSongwriter.com, brought together some of the history behind a few of his songs, including “Paradise.” Here’s what Prine had to say about the song:
…I wrote it for my father mainly so he would know I was a songwriter. Paradise was a real place in Kentucky, and while I was in the Army in Germany, my father sent me a newspaper article telling me how the coal company had bought the place out.
It was a real Disney-looking town. It sat on the river, had two general stores, and there was one black man in town, Bubby Short. He looked like Uncle Remus and hung out with my Granddaddy Ham, my mom’s dad, all day fishing for catfish. Then the bulldozers came in and wiped it all off the map.
When I recorded the song, I brought a tape of the record home to my dad; I had to borrow a reel-to-reel machine to play it for him. When the song came on, he went into the next room and sat in the dark while it was on. I asked him why, and he said he wanted to pretend it was on the jukebox…
Prine’s song did not crack the Top 40 on the pop charts in those days, but it did become something of anthem for those trying to bring environmental law and order to the coal fields. At the time, surface coal mining was very weakly regulated – and in Kentucky even less. A major push for increased coal development began in the 1960s, with coal then mined in more than 25 states, East and West. And after the Arab Oil embargo of the early 1970s, coal became a major alternative in the push for “energy independence.”
Throughout these years coalfield citizens and communities all across the country were pressing Congress for a federal strip mine law. Prine’s song became one of the popular expressions of that struggle, helping to bring the issue to a broader audience, and was also used to rally supporters.
Through the 1970s as well, Prine’s song was covered by a number of other prominent musicians – which also helped spread the song’s message. Among those covering the song in 1972-1973, for example, were: Jackie DeShannon, John Denver, the Everly Brothers, the Country Gentlemen, and the Seldom Scene. The Everly Brothers also had family roots in Muhlenberg County.
“Mr. Peabody’s coal train” has a prominent role in John Prine’s 1971 song, “Paradise,” about coal mining’s damage.
But not everyone was excited by Prine’s song. Peabody Coal, for one, took issue with some of the song’s claims. During 1973, as the company battled strip mine activists, it offered a rebuttal to the song with a missive titled “Facts vs. Prine,” a broadside that noted, “we probably helped supply the energy to make that recording that falsely names us as ‘hauling away’ Paradise, Kentucky.”
It’s true that the town of Paradise wasn’t literally hauled away by Peabody. But the town was bought out by TVA in 1967, with its remaining buildings bulldozed. And so, the town’s essence was wiped out; its geographic identity removed, and so too, in a sense, its culture and heritage. And although “Mr. Peabody’s coal trains” may not have been directly involved with the demise of Paradise, Prine’s song was essentially right on the bigger picture, as Peabody trains during the 1960s and 1970s hauled away lots of coal from numerous other places throughout rural America.
Long lines of coal hopper cars loaded with coal on rail siding.
In Muhlenberg County near Paradise there were three companies involved with coal land during the 1960s and/or 1970s – Peabody, Amax, and Pittsburg & Midway – but Peabody appears to have been the major player. Peabody then was one of the top U.S. coal producers and among the largest coal companies in the world, and so a prominent name on the list of strip mine operators. Peabody was also the major player then supplying TVA’s Paradise coal plants.
In the late 1950s, TVA – the regional flood control and power authority created by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s – began a major push in building coal-fired electric power plants. Near the town of Paradise, Kentucky, TVA acquired land for what would eventually become the Paradise Steam Plants – initially two units, both in the 740 megawatt range. TVA also began making long-term coal supply contracts with mining companies for thousands of acres of land in the immediate vicinity of Paradise. Some 6,000 acres of relatively flat land in the county held thick seams of coal not far beneath the surface. The beauty of this project for TVA was that the powerplants were built, essentially, right in the coalfield, dramatically cutting coal haulage and transportation costs. TVA officials by this time were also advocating “bigger, faster stripping shovels, more powerful bulldozers, improved explosives and bigger haulage trucks” to improve extraction efficiency. And with Peabody Coal, they had a willing partner on those counts. For Peabody, in Muhlenberg County, would proceed to use one of the largest pieces of mining equipment the world had ever seen.
1970s: Peabody Coal Co.’s “Big Hog” at work at the Sinclair Mine in Muhlenberg Co., KY, uncovering coal seams in a strip mine pit where an army of other smaller shovels and trucks load and haul the coal to TVA’s Paradise plant.
This colossal Peabody mining machine would be nicknamed “Big Hog,” and it was so big it had to be built on site, piece by piece. Bucyrus-Erie Company got the contract to manufacture the shovel. Then it had to be shipped by rail to the new mine near Drakesboro – named the Sinclair Strip Mine. New roads had to be built and a special rail spur was made, along with special rail cars, to haul in some of the parts. The huge shovel began arriving in pieces in 1962. Some 300 rail cars would bring in 5,000 parts and a 250-foot boom. The assembly took eleven months. Fully constructed, the Goliath-like machine stood 20 stories tall, weighed in at 20 million pounds, and cost some $7 million (in early 1960s money).
A Peabody “loader,” a smaller shovel, loading coal from a Sinclair Mine pit into a 100-ton capacity coal haulage truck for the Paradise Power Plant, circa 1960s-1970s.
Big Hog’s bucket could scoop up sizeable chunks of earth; each bite had a capacity of 115 cubic yards, more than a football field’s worth, or about 173 tons. The giant shovel was also a huge energy user, requiring a daily electric feed equivalent to the needs of a small town of 15,000 people. Big Hog went to work in 1963 at the Sinclair Strip Mine, and continued mining essentially non-stop supplying coal for the TVA Paradise plant. For the next twenty-five years, the Sinclair strip mines and the Paradise Steam Plant were partners in the production of electric power. During that time Big Hog would supply nearly 80 million tons of coal stripped from more than 5,000 acres of Muhlenberg County land. Thanks in part to Sinclair’s strip mine production, Muhlenberg County during the 1960s and 1970s was the state’s leader in coal production, and at times, the top U.S. coal producer as well.
Peabody’s Big Hog was assisted in its work by a variety of other machines, including sizable loaders and coal haulage trucks. The trucks could carry some 100 tons of coal to TVA’s Paradise Steam Plant. They would drive over the plant’s hopper bays, and usually while moving, dump their coal loads into the massive storage units. Then it was back to the strip mine pit for another load. All of the coal that was being mined at the Sinclair Strip Mine went to Paradise Steam Plant. At the time, it was the largest coal-fired power plant in existence. Plans were made for two more similar units to be built, but the decision was to build an even bigger generator. By the late 1970s, however, the toll on Muhlenberg County land began to come clear. One newspaper reporting out of Bowling Green, Kentucky in April 1978 ran the headline, “50,000 Acres Ruined by Strip Mining,” referring to the acres strip mined in the county, with a soil conservation agent saying another 50,000 acres were ruined. Some landowners in the county said they were hopeful that the new federal strip mine law could help reclaim the land.
April 1978 headlines from the “Daily News” of Bowling Green, Kentucky announcing the toll of “50,000 acres ruined” at the hand of surface coal mining in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
By 1986, most of the coal had been played out at the Sinclair Strip Mine. The mine had been in operation some twenty-five years, sine 1963. Big Hog had been working full time for most of those years. The big shovel had been the center of attention at the Sinclair site for nearly three decades – the technological “star” that churned through the thousands of acres of Muhlenberg County land that laid above the coal seams there. But Big Hog had one more job yet to do. With some fanfare, and with the news media and some miners in attendance, as well as state and federal officials, including some from EPA, the giant Bucyrus-Erie 3850 shovel would now be used to dig its own grave.
'Kentucky New Era' newspaper headline of April 7, 1986, on the burial of giant Peabody strip mine shovel.
In April 1986, the big machine would be buried in the last pit at the Sinclair Strip Mine. Peabody had sought state permission to bury Big Hog in the pit, and no objections were apparently made. Peabody agreed to remove all the toxic and hazardous fluids and materials from the shovel. Its tracks were removed and its boom laid flat. A dragline was used to bury Big Hog.
The Peabody Coal Co. would then become responsible for reclaiming the barren pits at the Sinclair Strip Mine under the requirements of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Today, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife division operates what is called the Peabody Wildlife Management Area at the former strip mine site.
Town of Paradise
The town of Paradise, meanwhile, wasn’t in the path of the giant Peabody shovel – although stripping near the town did occur by Pittsburgh & Midway, according to some sources. Rather, the problem for Paradise came from the TVA’s coal-fired powerplants and the burning of the coal. In the early 1960s, after the plants first began operating, the town and power station co-existed. But soon, the fly-ash from the generating unit’s smokestacks became a big problem for residents. When residents would hang their wash out to dry, it would often turn gray with fly-ash. Other emissions were raising health concerns. And this was in the era before EPA. Over the years, in fact, the Paradise plant would become a problematic polluter, often cited by EPA for its emissions. But in Paradise during the 1960s, some residents, fed up with the pollution, began leaving of their own accord. TVA later installed electrostatic precipitators to control the fly ash. By then, many residents had left. TVA finally bought out the remaining residents and buildings, including the post office. All of the remaining buildings were later bulldozed.
An aerial view of the town of Paradise, Kentucky, circa 1965, before the final buy-out by TVA.
Paradise had roots stretching back to the 1800s, first as a river trading post on the Green River called Stom’s Landing, then later, as a pick-and-shovel coal mining location, with a “drift mine” opening there in 1820, known as the “McLean drift bank.” A U.S. post office was established at Paradise on March 1, 1852. The town was located about 10 miles east-northeast of Greenville.
An older map showing a portion of Muhlenberg County, Ky with the town of Paradise shown, now gone.
One rumor about how the town came to be known as Paradise – and there are at least three local stories on that count – has to do with an early pioneer family traveling up the Green River by boat, circa 1830s-1840s. During their trip, their young daughter became sick. The parents had stopped at several ports and towns along the river, but help was just not available. Without help, they continued on the river and were told by several old timers of a magical place further up river where Native Americans, centuries ago, had left an aura or an emanation that was believed to be able to cure people (Indian Knoll, an archaeological site near Paradise, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966). Several days later, the child was so near death that their last stop was to find a place to bury the child. Unbeknown to the parents, they had stopped at that magical place. The next day the child was better, and in a few days completely well. The parents believed, and would tell others, “this place must be paradise,” and decided to make their roots in the town, which later became known as Paradise.
In the 1960s, after TVA bought out the remaining residents of Paradise, the town ceased to exist. The last families moved out of Paradise in 1967, the same year that the post office closed and the Paradise Ferry ceased to operate. Soon after the TVA bought the town out, they tore down all the structures and constructed a third coal-fired boiler, “Paradise Unit 3″. Today, the Paradise Fossil Plant is the second largest plant in the TVA Fossil Fuels Plant Inventory and the largest power plant in the state of Kentucky. It has a rated output of 2,630 megawatts. It is composed of three units: units 1 and 2, twin 740 megawatt units, built between 1959 and 1962, and unit 3, a large cyclonic boiler rated at 1,150 megawatts, built in 1970. The plant also has three large natural-draft cooling towers. In 1985 a barge-unloading facility was added so that coal could be delivered by barge. That facility occupies a potion of land that was once part of Paradise. All that remains of the original town today is a small cemetery not far from the TVA Paradise plant (and some relatives of those interred there have complained to TVA about the cemetery’s condition).
TVA’s Paradise Power Plant, circa 1996, near the former site of the town of Paradise, Kentucky, which in this photo would have sat just beyond the left-hand end of the photo and field of view.
Paradise, however, was not the only town in Muhlenberg County that made way for the “progress” of coal development. According to one account in a 1973 edition of Southern Exposure, journalist James Branscome and his wife Sharen reported on the demise of the town of Morehead, a town then located in Muhlenberg County. The residents of this town, apparently, were forced to sell once the roads in their town were condemned for strip mining. Here’s the summary of what the Branscomes found, as reported in the September 1, 1973 edition of Southern Exposure:
…In researching the company’s record in the Division of Reclamation in Frankfort, the office that enforces Kentucky’s strip mining laws, we found that Peabody has succeeded in removing all the residents from the entire community of Morehead in Muhlenberg County. Since Kentucky law prohibits strip mining within 100 feet of a public road, coal companies must persuade the County Judge to declare the roads of no use to the county and send a copy of this declaration to the Division of Reclamation. (The roads of Morehead were thus condemned ..)
Peabody, it was said, “had Judges in their pockets,” and could get rural roads condemned for coal strip mining practically for the asking.
We asked a Division of Reclamation official about Peabody’s success in the Morehead venture:
Q: How Many people live there? A: Not more than 500, I think. Q: Did they all sell to Peabody? A: They had no choice. Everybody knows that they had no choice about selling. If they decide they want what you have, they’ll blast you out. Sure, they force people out. Q: Does Peabody do this kind of thing often? A: Peabody is the worst in this. They close roads every day. All they need is to get the Judge to write a letter and we have to let them strip. They’re forcing old people out of their homes all over the place. They just buy everyone around a person and then start pressuring him to sell. They always sell. Q: Do the County Judges ever object to giving public roads to Peabody? A: No, they have the Judges in their pockets. Several magistrates in Muhlenberg County work for Peabody. When they decide they want to strip a road, they’ll hire a magistrate who doesn’t work for them it it takes that to get the court’s permission. Q: Does Peabody pay they county for the roads? A: No, it looks like, at least, that the coal that is under a public road should belong to the public, but that isn’t the way it is.
The Long View: Peabody strip mine operation supplying coal to the Paradise Fossil Plant, 1970s.
In addition to the Branscomes’ research, one report from the Woodson Baptist church, formerly of Morehead, noted: “In the Morehead Community the church grew and did prosper…. but then the sad day came when Peabody Coal Company bought all the property in and around Morehead and the church had to be moved to a new location.” In 1971, TVA also battled some Kentucky farmers in Union County, KY when it sought to build a giant 12.5 mile-long overland conveyor belt to move coal between two Peabody-run TVA mines and a river outlet. Twelve landowners went to court to stop the huge conveyor belt, which would be built on concrete supports. In the end, TVA prevailed and used its federal agency eminent domain power to build the conveyor system which would move 30,000 tons of coal each day. A similar fight around the same time occurred with four farmers in Ohio County, adjacent to Muhlenberg County, where Peabody invoked a private use of eminent domain under a little-used law allowing it to build a three-mile coal conveyor belt.
“Small Town Removal”
Strip Mine Depopulation
The loss of small towns like Paradise, Kentucky is not something that has occurred only in the “distant past” of the 1960s. Small towns have continued to disappear at the hand of coal development in the 1990s and 2000s. Coalfield citizens have been pointing out for decades that one of the major and often unheralded impacts of strip mining, especially in small rural communities, is the effect it has had – and continues to have – on driving people out of those communities. In some cases, the mining companies make no bones about it, as they set about directly buying up homes located near, or in the path of, planned or expanding mining operations. In other cases, the “driving out” is more subtle, and takes place over time, as in the daily harassment of mining activities, dust, truck traffic, blasting, the diminution of the local tax base, and families leaving one by one.Arch Coal Co., through a subsidiary, bought up more than half of the 231 houses in Blair, West Virginia in the l990s. In still other cases it’s the ruin of natural beauty; the despoliation of tourist and recreational assets that did have, or could have had, local economic value.
In the 1990s, as the Arch Coal Company was strip mining the mountaintop near Blair, West Virginia, it faced periodic complaints from residents who were being harassed by the constant dust and periodic rock fragments pelting their homes from strip mine blasting. Rather than fight constant complaints from homeowners, the coal company decided it would be easier to buy up the residential properties. So it set about doing just that and by August 1997, as Penny Loeb reported for U.S. News & World Report, Arch Coal, through a subsidiary, had bought up more than half of the 231 houses in Blair. Once the homes were vacated, they would often be stripped, and sometimes set ablaze by arsonists – the fate of at least two dozen such homes in the area.
2006: Mountain top strip mining proceeds in the mountains behind a home in Martin County, Kentucky.
In southwest Virginia, the town of Roda once had a population of more than 500 residents. In a July 2008 interview with reporter Debra McCown of the Bristol Herald Courier, Pete Ramey, who had made his home in Roda in 1948, said he had to leave town because of strip mining. “It was the dust, the noise, and the blasting and rocks flying from the blasting into homes,” Ramey told McCowan. “The fear is terrible, the fear of blasting on the mountains above you. It’s still going on.” Ramey explained that in the last decade the Roda community – like other coal communities in the region – had dwindled in population. At the time he spoke with McCowan in 2008, the town’s population had fallen to ewer than 100. “There’s people who still live there,” he said, “but they’re just gradually coming down the mountain as most of them are forced to move. The community’s been destroyed.” Residents in Roda and elsewhere are often confronted by strip mining that can come as close as 300 feet to their homes. And once the mining arrives, their choices are limited. With the blasting of nearby strip mines, they can’t sell their homes, unless the coal company buys them. Some never have that option. So they just try to bear the dust, blasting, coal trucks, and mining for as long as they can. But for others, it becomes impossible, and they decide to just walk away. It’s a scenario that’s been played out many times throughout Appalachia and other rural mining locations.
Stonega. Stonega is the name of another town in southwest Virginia beset by strip mining. Created in 1890 by the Virginia Coal and Iron Co., the town lies between two mountains – Bluff Spur and Ninemile Spur, and had taken form along the banks of Callahans Creek.“The fear is terrible, the fear of blasting on the mountains above you…” - Pete Ramey, 2008 In the first two decades of the 20th century, Stonega had more than 2,400 residents — white and black, natives and immigrants from Hungary, Poland and Italy. The town was sometimes known by its sections: Red Row, Canal Row, Hunktown, Midway, and others. During its heyday, Stonega boasted a brass band, baseball teams and a gospel quartet. There was also a hotel, a commissary, a theater, a hospital, schools, four churches. The town, in fact, had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2004. “[A] listing on the National Register,” noted reporter Tim Thornton of The Roanoke Times in August 2006, “ is no hedge against demolition, and whole sections are already gone.” Strip mining was moving ever closer to the town, and in 2006 Cumberland Resources, a mining company then operating a strip mine at the edge of Stonega, had set about buying out local residents. As for the remains of the town, Cumberland Resources sought to preserve the neighborhood’s history with photographs and a video it made before the buildings were demolished – the video supplying documentation for a safety record as well.
Lindytown, Boone County, WV.
Lindytown. As far as small towns go, Lindytown, West Virginia was one of the smaller places in America. Yet, it was a place that had several generations of families, a town with a church and a school bus that picked up kids for school. A place from which men went off to fight for their country in foreign wars and returned to marry local women, raise children, and live their lives with friends and family. They enjoyed their natural surroundings, taking to the hills and woods, hunting the wildlife, searching for ginseng, or just wandering in the outdoors. Extended families often had adjacent or nearby homes in the area. One of the deep mines in the area – the Robin Hood No. 8 mine – had shut down, taking jobs with it. Some residents began leaving the area to find work. But then in the 2000s, Massey Energy began strip mining in the area. And not long thereafter, the company began acquiring the homes of local residents.
Massey’s general counsel, Shane Harvey, explained to the New York Times in April 2011 that many of Lindytown’s residents were either retired miners or their widows and descendants. They welcomed the opportunity to move to more metropolitan locations, he explained – places with easier access to medical and other services. Residents who sold homes to Massey also signed documents in which they agreed not to sue, testify against, or “make adverse comments” about coal- mining operations in the area. Local residents of Lindytown came to Massey, he said, expressing interest in selling. So Massey began making offers in December 2008. “It is important to note that none of these properties had to be bought,” Mr. Harvey said. “The entire mine plan could have been legally mined without the purchase of these homes. We agreed to purchase the properties as an additional precaution.” Elaborating later in writing, Harvey added that Massey voluntarily bought the properties “as an additional backup to the state and federal regulations” that protect people who live near mining operations. James Smith, 68, a retired coal miner from Lindytown, told the Times, that yes, some people did approach Massey about selling their homes. But he also explained that many residents decided to leave Lindytown only because the mountaintop operations above them in the hills had ruined the quality of life below. And when residents agreed to sell to Massey, many also signed documents in which they agreed not to sue, testify against, seek inspection of, or “make adverse comments” about coal-mining operations in the area.
Lindytown, WV, November 2009, showing boarded- up homes & buildings. Photo, OHVEC.org
In the spring of 2009, Lora Webb and her husband, Steve, a coal miner, packed up their possessions and left Lindytown, the place where Steve’s family had their ancestral roots. The Webbs had borne the strip mine assault – the giant, twenty- story dragline, daily explosions at the mine site, and the dust clouds and fly rock that rained down on their home and garden. They watched the nearby creeks and mountain hollows disappear and their community die. “It’s unreal,” Lora Webb remarked to a local newspaper reporter in the fall of 2008. “It’s like we’re living in a war zone.” So the Webbs moved on, as others did, leaving only a few families.
One who decided to stay was Quinnie Richmond, 85, who lives in a solitary home that displays five generations of family portraits in its small living room. Her son, Roger, a retired coal miner, lives next door. Quinnie, decided to sell various land rights to Massey, but wanted to remain in Lindytown. Roger’s uncle, Carson, who was killed in World War II, is buried in one of the small family cemeteries scattered in the mountains. “If he wanted to pay his respects,” The New York Times reported, “he would have to make an appointment with a coal company, be certified in work site safety, don a construction helmet and be escorted by a coal-company representative.” As regards family cemeteries in Appalachia, they are found quite extensively in small family plots throughout the region, and sometimes become entangled with strip mine sites as mining proceeds around their perimeters, leaving highwalls that make then inaccessible. AuroraLights.org has plotted some family cemetery locations on a map of the Coal River Mountain area of West Virginia (see Sources below).
Penny Loeb's 2007 book, "Moving Mountains."
As for the ever-vanishing Appalachian small town at the hand of strip mining, consider a comment made by Penney Loeb, who wrote the 1997 piece in U.S. News & World Report mentioned at the top of this sidebar, and also a 2007 book titled, Moving Mountains. Here she writes in 2003 about “disappearing towns” from her website:
…I am saddened when I return to communities I first visited five or six years ago and find the problems remain. Blair [West Virginia] got much coverage when the land company associated with the mine bought out more than half the residents, with many vacant homes quickly falling to an unknown arsonist. A similar scene was playing out in Mud River, but few people knew. A couple of years ago, I got an email from a woman whose family homeplace was one of the few remaining properties that Arch Coal had not purchased in Mud River. She had even written to ABC’s Primetime Live. Last summer, her family was featured on NOW with Bill Moyers. Still they are being forced to move away from a sweet little homestead that they loved.
Over the years, I watched as the communities [in West Virginia] disappeared along Rum Creek in Logan County. First Yolyn and Slagle went in the fall of 1997. Then Dehue at the other end of the creek in 2001. In between, a valley fill [from a strip mine operation] bulged nearly to the road in Chambers. Dust from the mining and preparation plant blanketed the communities…
…And apparently, the beat goes on. In 2014, the residents of a small community of about 219 residents and 100 homes in southern Illinois named Cottage Grove, were fighting Peabody Coal over the fate of their community, as the coal company wants to expand a strip mine site there by more than 1,000 acres, taking over a local road, and more. One local resident, citing the John Prine refrain, said “Mr. Peabody’s coal trains want to haul our community away.”
Young John Prine, circa 1970s.
John Prine on the cover of 1984's “Aimless Love.”
As for John Prine, beyond his famous 1971 song “Paradise,” he went on to have a full and successful recording career. Prine had been a mailman in Illinois for a few years following high school, was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Germany. When he returned home he resumed delivering the mail in Illinois. But during those years and while in the Army, Prine was playing his guitar and writing songs, mostly for himself. Then in 1970, after a few friends encouraged him to try some of his songs at an open-mike night at Chicago’s “The Fifth Peg” club, things began to change.
That fall, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who had given up on a bad movie, happened to visit The Fifth Peg and heard Prine perform. Ebert was so impressed with Prine that he wrote an article for the Sun-Times beyond his normal film beat, titled, “Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words.” It proved a glowing first review of Prine’s music and it helped to spread the word about Prine’s talents in Chicago and beyond. He later met Steve Goodman, a singer-songwriter who had helped Arlo Guthrie with his hit, “City of New Orleans.” Goodman played one of Prine’s songs for Kris Kristofferson who was greatly impressed with what he heard. Paul Anka, too, liked some of Prine’s Hank Williams-influenced songs, according to Rolling Stone, and along with Kristofferson, is said to have helped Prine land his first recording contract. Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records put out Prine’s first album – the John Prine titled 1971 album that also included “Sam Stone,” a song about a drug addicted Vietnam veteran that has the famous line: “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.”
An October 2011 CD album of John Prine recordings from 1970, before his debut, and borrowing the Roger Ebert line for its title, “The Singing Mailman Delivers.”
John Prine performing with guitar in later years.
Street scene from a portion of Paradise, KY, circa 1958.
Prine’s music and songwriting have brought effusive praise from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, among others. He has turned out more than 20 albums in his career, at least a dozen of which have appeared on the Billboard 200 albums chart. In addition to his first album, other fan favorites include Sweet Revenge (1973), Common Sense (1975), and Bruised Orange (1978). In 1984 Prine co-founded an independent record label, Oh Boy Records, which produced several subsequent albums, among them, Aimless Love (1984), German Afternoons (1986) and The Missing Years(1991).
In early 1998, Prine was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, had surgery and radiation therapy, and after a time, returned to recording. That same year, George Strait had a No. 1 Country & Western hit with Prine’s “I Just Want to Dance With You,” bringing a writer’s windfall to Prine just as he needed funds for his medical care. Although the neck surgery had altered Prine’s voice, giving it a gravelly quality, he continued recording and touring. His album Fair & Square won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and he also received the Artist of the Year award at the Americana Music Awards that September. Earlier in 2003, Prine had been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In November 2013, Prine was diagnosed with operable lung cancer ( unrelated to his earlier cancer), and had surgery to remove the cancer. By March 2014, he had resumed performing and touring.
As for Prine’s coal mining song, “Paradise,” he may have taken some artistic license in that song regarding the town and Peabody Coal, but on balance, his message about the social and environmental damages of strip mining – especially in the larger context of what had occurred and what was occurring in America’s coalfields during those years – was right on the money. In fact, “Paradise” still has resonance today, whether the struggle is about coal or any other form of social, environmental, or corporate bullying.
See also at this website “GE’s Hot Coal Ad” and “Sixteen Tons.” For other story choices please visit the Home Page or any of the category pages, such as the Politics page, each of which include thumbnail sketches and links to dozens of other stories. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Penny Loeb, “Mining’s Impacts on Commu-nities,”WVCoalfield.com, March 2003.
Walter L. Creese, TVA’s Public Planning: The Vision, The Reality, University of Tennessee Press, August 2003, 304pp.
Tim Thornton, “Companies Strip Town of Homes in Order to Strip for More Coal; People Are Selling Their Properties and Leaving What Used to Be a Thriving Mining Area,” Roanoke Times (Roanoke,VA), Monday, August 7, 2006.
Tim Thornton, “Women Make Some Noise About Mining Blasts; Two Residents of a Coal Mining Town Are Fighting for an Ordinance That Would Limit Explosions,” Roanoke Times, Monday, August 7, 2006.
Shirley L. Stewart Burns, Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountain-Top Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities, West Virginia University Press: Morgantown, 2007.
Dan Barry, “As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes,” New York Times, April 12, 2011.
Beth Wellington, “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train Wants to Haul it Away,” The Writing Corner, June 22, 2012.
Alexis Bonogofsky, “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train Has Hauled It Away…,” Wildlife Promise, June 27, 2012.
Todd Hatton, “John Prine and Paradise (KY) Lost”(radio clip, 7:18), WKMS.org, Murray, Kentucky, September 1, 2013.
Paul McRee, “Book Inspired by Western Kentucky Coal Mining,” SurfKy.com, October 25, 2013.
Theresa Dowell Blackinton, “How A Town Called Paradise Turned into Hell,” Moon Kentucky (Moon Handbooks Series), Avalon Travel, 2014, p. 399.
“Land Use Map – Coal River Mountain, W.Va.,” AuroraLights.org. Excellent Maps. See this Coal River Mountain area interactive map for a good introduction to the complexity of mining hazards in this one area of Appalachia.
Cover of 1963 Skeeter Davis album, “The End of The World,” also the title of her hit single that year. RCA label.
In early 1963, a song with the title “The End of the World” was doing something no other recording had done then or since then: making its way into the Top Ten of four of the nation’s music charts.
During March of 1963, the song, performed by country singer Skeeter Davis, hit No. 2 on both the Billboard country and pop charts. The Davis song also hit No. 4 on the Billboard R&B chart and went to No. 1 for four weeks on the Billboard adult contemporary chart. The song, about a lost love or personal bereavement, also rose into the Top 20 on the U.K. music charts.
Davis, then in her early 30s, was a country recording artist, and had started out singing as a teenager in the late 1940s as part of The Davis Sisters duo. She later began recording as a solo artist for RCA Records. By the late 1950s, she had become mostly a country star with some crossover to pop music.
Skeeter Davis in a promo ad for her song, "What Am I Gonna Do Without You", October 1964.
“The End of the World” was written by composer Arthur Kent and lyricist Sylvia Dee; the latter drawing on sorrow from her father’s death, writing the lyrics when she was 14 years old. Skeeter Davis recorded the song on June 8, 1962 at the RCA Studios in Nashville, produced by Chet Atkins, and featuring Floyd Cramer on piano. Released by RCA Records in December 1962, “The End of the World” began its historic four-chart, Top Ten accomplishment in March 1963. An album featuring the song, along with other Skeeter Davis tunes, also reached the Billboard 200 album list in 1963. (cover shown above).
“The End of The World”
In later years, “The End of the World” came to be regarded as something of a modern standard, subsequently covered by acts as diverse as Loretta Lynn, the Carpenters, Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and John Cougar Mellencamp.
The Skeeter Davis version, however, the original “End of The World,” has been featured in a number of films, including: Girl, Interrupted, Riding In Cars With Boys, Daltry Calhoun, An American Affair, and others. It has also been used on television, including episodes of Man Men and Under the Dome. Davis’s recording of “The End of the World” was also played at Chet Atkins’s funeral in an instrumental by Marty Stuart, and at Davis’s own funeral in 2004 at the Ryman Auditorium.
“The End of The World”
Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world,
‘Cause you don’t love me any more?
Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world.
It ended when I lost your love.
I wake up in the morning and I wonder,
Why everything’s the same as it was.
I can’t understand. No, I can’t understand,
How life goes on the way it does.
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world.
It ended when you said goodbye.
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world.
It ended when you said goodbye.
Skeeter Davis – Mary Frances Penick – was born in a two-room cabin at Dry Ridge, Kentucky near Glencoe in 1931. She was the first of seven children, and she grew up on a farm. Her grandfather, impressed by her energy, nicknamed her “Skeeter.” After 1947, the Penick family moved to Covington, Kentucky, and it was there that Skeeter began singing with high school classmate Betty Jack Davis. Adapting the name the Davis Sisters – when Skeeter Penick became Skeeter Davis – the two girls gained momentum in the early ’50s working at Detroit’s WJR radio station on the “Barnyard Frolics” show. The girls’ harmonies came to the attention of RCA’s Steve Sholes, who signed them to a recording contract in 1953. They were just a year or two out of high school by then. That summer, as their “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” headed to No. 1 and million-seller status, a violent car crash left Betty Jack dead and Skeeter injured. Betty’s stage mother, reportedly then coerced Skeeter into performing with Betty’s sister, Georgia, through 1956. Skeeter then married, in part to escape Mrs. Davis, and begin a solo career.
Chet Atkins had played guitar on nearly all the Davis Sisters’ RCA sessions. By 1958 Atkins ran the RCA Nashville recording shop. Suspecting Skeeter’s voice had broader potential, he multi-tracked her vocals to echo the Davis Sisters sound. Skeeter also joined the Grand Ole Opry as a solo act in 1959. Between 1959 and 1962, she had a series of Top 10 and Top 20 hits on the Billboard Country chart including: “Am I That Easy To Forget” (1960); “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too” (1960), “My Last Date (With You)” (1961), and “Where I Ought to Be” (1962). Some of these latter recordings were “answer songs” to popular country recordings of the time.
Skeeter Davis on later copy of her single, “The End of the World” with “Blueberry Hill” on the B-side.
During the 1960s, Skeeter Davis became one of RCA’s most successful country artists, charting 38 country hits, 13 of which crossed over to the pop charts. Among these was “The End Of The World” which became her best-known song and a million-selling recording. It was released by RCA Records in December 1962.
Radio DJs, however, had initially been playing the B-side of the record, which was the old pop standard, “Somebody Loves You.” But New York City disc jockey Scott Muni of WABC flipped it over and began playing Davis’s sentimental ballad. In the next week, it sold 100,000 copies. And with that, Skeeter Davis was on her way to becoming a big crossover star, as the “The End of The World” climbed the Billboard pop chart. The song reached it’s peak in March 1963, rising to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.2 on the Billboard country chart.
Skeeter Davis performing, likely in the 1970s.
The song also enjoyed international success, topping out in the U.K. at No. 18 after thirteen weeks on the chart. She also received special recognition for the song in Norway (Silver Record) and South Africa (Gold Record).
But Davis expressed frustration when some of her country music fans accused her of selling out when the song became a big hit on the pop charts. For Davis, that only meant a broader audience, and the likely prospect that those listeners would spend more time with country music. “I know they began listening to my other albums and those of a lot of other country artists,” she would say in later interviews. “I looked upon these events as just another way of getting country music heard.”
In 1963, Davis achieved another country pop hit with the Carole King-penned song “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” which became a Top 10 pop hit, peaking at No. 7.
During her career, Davis received five Grammy Award nominations, including four for Best Female Country Vocal Performance — in 1964 for “He Says the Same Things to Me;” 1965 for “Sunglasses;” 1967 for “What Does It Take;” and 1972 for “One Tin Soldier.”
The cover of Skeeter Davis’s 1993 book, “Bus Fare to Kentucky,” uses a country quilt motif.
Skeeter Davis was also an accomplished songwriter, penning nearly 70 songs and earning two BMI awards. Davis made several appearances on the pop music show American Bandstand in the early 1960s, and a decade later was one of the first country artists to appear on The Midnight Special TV show, a 90-minute late-night variety series on NBC. During the 1970s and early 1980s, The Midnight Special show followed the Friday night edition of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show.
In 1973 during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Skeeter dedicated a gospel song to street evangelists that had been arrested by Nashville police. For her “political” commentary, Davis was barred from the Grand Ole Opry for a time, but was later reinstated. In the 1970s, Davis was active singing with religious ministries and spent some time evangelizing in Africa.
In the mid-1970s she returned to the recording studio briefly with Mercury Records in 1976, producing two single releases, including her last song to chart nationally, “I Love Us.”
In 1985, New York Times pop music critic, Robert Palmer, noting an upcoming appearance by Skeeter Davis in December with the band NRBQ at New York’s Lone Star Café, called her “an extraordinary country-pop singer,” albeit one, he noted, who had faded from popularity and was then seldom seen. Palmer added, however, that on the basis of her NRBQ songs and recording history, “Miss Davis is still an exceptional singer” and her appearance in New York was “eagerly awaited.” Davis and NRQB that year had released the album She Sings, They Play.
Back cover of “Bus Fare to Kentucky” shows Skeeter Davis performing.
Jeff Tamarkin, on assignment with Goldmine magazine in late 1985, saw Davis perform with NRBQ in New York that December and noted: “Watching Skeeter and the boys sing together at New York’s Bottom Line and Lone Star Cafe, it’s obvious that what both parties say is true: This is a match made in heaven. Skeeter sounded and looked great and NRBQ is right at home with her style and experience.”
In her career as a solo artist, Skeeter Davis placed a total of 43 singles on the Billboard Country Chart between 1957 and 1976. She also recorded some 30 studio albums and 14 compilation albums. Davis was an acknowledged influence on Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton. Throughout much of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Davis continued to perform. Her autobiography, Bus Fare to Kentucky – named after a 1971 Davis hit – was published in 1993 with a hardback print run of 40,000 copies and $40,000 for promotion. In 1998 she wrote a children’s book, The Christmas Note, with Cathie Pelletier. In 2001 she became incapacitated by the breast cancer that would later claim her life. While Davis remained a member of the Grand Ole Opry until her death, she last appeared on the program there in 2002. She was 72 when she died from breast cancer on September 19, 2004.
Other stories about country artists at this website include, “Last Date” (Floyd Cramer); “Paradise” (John Prine); and “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford). Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “The End of the World, Skeeter Davis:1963″ PopHistoryDig.com, May 28, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
“WABC-Top Hits” January 22, 1963
1. Go Away Little Girl – Steve Lawrence
2. Walk Right In – The Rooftop Singers
3. Tell Him – The Exciters
4. Up On the Roof – The Drifters
5. Hey Paula – Paul and Paula
6. The Gypsy Cried – Lou Christie 7. The End of the World – Skeeter Davis
8. Pepino the Italian Mouse – Lou Monte
9. Night Has a Thousand Eyes – Bobby Vee
10. Two Lovers – Mary Wells
11. Remember Then – The Earls
12. My Coloring Book – Kitty Kallen
13. Telstar – The Tornadoes
14. Our Day Will Come – Ruby & Romantics
15. Hotel Happiness – Brook Benton
16. He’s Sure the Boy I Love – The Crystals
17. Fly Me to the Moon…- Joe Harnell
18. Walk Like a Man – The 4 Seasons
19. …Really Got a Hold On Me – Miracles
20. Loop de Loop – Johnny Thunder
21. Don’t Make Me Over – Dionne Warwick
22. Limbo Rock – Chubby Checker
23. Ruby Baby – Dion
24. Bobby’s Girl – Marcie Blane
25. Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah – B B. Soxx & BJs
____________________________ Source: WABC Radio (NY, NY) Silver
Dollar Sound Survey, Week of 22 Jan 1963.
Floyd Cramer on cover of RCA Victor 45rpm EP, with four of Cramer’s songs: “Last Date,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Flip Flop Bop,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
“Last Date” is the name of a 1960 instrumental song written and performed by Floyd Cramer. It entered the Top 40 on the music charts in October 1960, a time when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon were running for president of the United States; the same month that Bill Mazeroski’s bottom-of-the-ninth home run in Game 7 of the World Series made the Pittsburgh Pirates world champs over the New York Yankees. It was also the time of a new dance song called “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, and the beginning of the 1960s’ “girl group” sound.
Instrumental piano, however, had never gone out of fashion, and Floyd Cramer brought his own unique style to the party.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1933, Cramer became an American Hall of Fame pianist who was also one of the architects of the “Nashville sound” in country music – a more popular sound, sometimes called “countrypolitan,” that helped bring a pop audience to country music in the 1950s and 1960s. Cramer grew up in the rural saw mill town of Huttig, Arkansas. As young boy, he did not take well to piano lessons, but instead taught himself to play at an early age, learning by ear. After high school, he returned to Shreveport where he worked as a pianist at the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
“Last Date”-Floyd Cramer
Cramer released a few recordings under his own name in the early 1950s, cutting his first single, “Dancin’ Diane,” in 1953. He then toured for a time with a young singer just starting out named Elvis Presley.
By 1955, he moved to Nashville, where piano-backed tunes in country music was then growing in popularity. The next year he became a studio session musician, backing a long line of stars, including Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and others.
Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date” song on the RCA Victor label, became a No. 2 hit in 1960.
In 1956, he recorded with Elvis Presley for the first time in a two-day session that produced two Presley songs, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Money Honey.” “Heartbreak Hotel” became Presley’s first big national hit. But Cramer, for the most part, remained a session player, unknown outside the music industry. Then came “Last Date,” a piano piece he released in the fall of 1960 as a 45 rpm single. This instrumental exhibited a relatively new concept for piano playing known as the “slip note” style.
“Last Date” entered the Top 40 on the Billboard pop music in late October 1960 and rose to No. 2. It stayed in the Top 40 for 15 weeks. “Last Date”sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. Interestingly, the song was kept out of the No. 1 position by Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” a song which featured an unnamed Floyd Cramer on piano. Two more follow-up Top Ten hits came for Cramer in 1961 – “On the Rebound,” which rose to No. 4 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the U.K., and “San Antonio Rose,” which hit No. 8 in the U.S. In 2009, “On the Rebound” was featured in the opening credits of the Oscar-nominated film An Education, which was set in England in 1961.
Cover photo of Floyd Cramer’s third studio album, also titled “Last Date,” released in 1961.
By one count, between 1958 and 1962, eleven of Cramer’s singles charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, which was quite notable for an instrumentalist in that era. Fred Bronson, writing in the updated and expanded 4th edition of Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, lists two of Cramer’s hits on his “Top 100 Instrumentals” chart – “Last Date” at No. 10, and “On the Rebound” at No. 67. “Last Date” is also included on Bronson’s “Top 100 Songs of 1960″ at No. 13.
Cramer’s piano backing is also found on numerous country songs of the late 1950s and early 1960s. His piano is heard on Hank Locklin’s hit, “Please Help Me, I’m Falling.” By some estimates, as many as a fourth of the Nashville hits during the late 1950s and early 1960s had Cramer’s piano on them. Many consider him the most important pianist in country music history.
“On The Rebound” – Floyd Cramer
Cramer was a longtime friend of producer and guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins. He toured with Atkins and saxophonist Boots Randolph as a member of the “Million Dollar Band.”
It was Atkins who suggested that Cramer write “Last Date” to showcase the “slip-note” or “slip-tone” style that Cramer would make popular. Cramer later explained of the sound and technique: “The style I use mainly is a whole-tone slur which gives more of a lonesome cowboy sound. You hit a note and slide almost simultaneously to another.” The exact origin of the technique is somewhat uncertain.
“It’s been done for a long time on the guitar by people like Maybelle Carter and by lots of people on the steel guitar,” Cramer would acknowledge. “ Half-tones are very common.” But the style Cramer made popular was a whole-tone slur. It seems first to have emerged for Cramer at a 1960 session for Hank Locklin’s future hit “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” during which Chet Atkins asked Cramer to copy the unusual piano styling used by the songwriter Don Robertson on the original demo.
Early 1960s: RCA studio session of Nashville musicians, from left: Bob Moore, Chet Atkins (arms folded on piano), Louis Nunley, Gil Wright, Anita Kerr (leaning on piano, back to camera), Willie Ackerman, and Floyd Cramer.
Floyd Cramer continued to work as a session musician while putting out his own albums. He also performed with other country and pop stars including: Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, Perry Como, and Roy Orbison. By the mid-1960s, Cramer had become a respected performer, making numerous albums. His recordings typically featured cover versions of the popular hits of the era for each calendar year, doing so from 1965 to 1974. Other Cramer albums included I Remember Hank Williams (1962), Floyd Cramer Plays the Monkees (1967), and Looking For Mr Goodbar (1978). On one of his albums, Cramer played eight different keyboard instruments. In 1979, he won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental with “My Blue Eyes.” In 1980, he recorded a hit version of the theme song from the Dallas TV series.
Singer Skeeter Davis performing.
‘Last Date’ Again
Cramer’s “Last Date,” however, became one of those songs that gained audience share and shelf life by way of its cover versions. It was also boosted after a few artists added lyrics to the music. That first occurred in 1960, the same year the song came out, when Skeeter Davis and Boudleaux Bryant wrote lyrics for the song. Skeeter Davis – who would later become famous with the 1962-63 hit “The End of the World” – was one of the artists who performed the Cramer song set to lyrics. She titled her version, “My Last Date (With You),” which became a Top-30 pop hit and a Top-Five country hit.
Other early 1960s performers who also covered the song using the Skeeter Davis lyrics, included Joni James, Ann-Margaret, and Pat Boone. In the mid-1960s, instrumental cover versions of the song, sticking closer to Cramer’s original, were offered by Lawrence Welk and Al Hirt.
The Emmylou Harris version of “Last Date” appears on her 2005 album.
In 1972, Conway Twitty recorded the song with new lyrics under the title, “(Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date,” which hit No. 1 on the U.S. country chart for one week.
Ten years later, in 1982, Emmylou Harris recorded the Conway Twitty version, substituting a male character – “(Lost His Love) On Our Last Date” – which also hit No. 1 on the country chart. That song appears on her 2005 album, Heartaches & Highways.
In 1987, R.E.M. recorded an instrumental version of the Skeeter Davis treatment of “Last Date.” Through the 1990s, there were also a few other “Last Date” cover versions. In 2013, the David Bromberg Band recorded a studio version of “Last Date,” which had been a regular part of their live repertoire.
In 2003, Floyd Cramer was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In December 1997, at the age of 64, Floyd Cramer died of lung cancer at his home in Nashville. He had been diagnosed with cancer six months earlier. He was interred in the Spring Hill Cemetery in the Nashville suburb of Madison, Tennessee. At his death, he was survived by his wife Mary, two daughters and four grandchildren.
In 2003 Floyd Cramer was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, offers the Floyd Cramer Competitive Scholarship.
Country star Jimmy Dean is reported to have said of Cramer: “No orator ever spoke more eloquently than Floyd Cramer speaks with 88 keys.”
For additional stories at this website about music history and artist profiles please see the Annals of Music category page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Last Date,” 1960-2013 PopHistoryDig.com, May 15, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
“WABC-Top Hits” December 16, 1960
1. Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley
2. A Thousand Stars – K. Young & Innocents
3. Will You Love Me Tomorrow – Shirelles
4. Wonderland By Night – Bert Kaempfert
5. Exodus – Ferrante & Teicher
6. Stay – Maurice Williams & Zodiacs
7. Sailor (Your Home Is the Sea) – Lolita
8. He Will Break Your Heart – Jerry Butler
9. Many Tears Ago – Connie Francis
10. North to Alaska – Johnny Horton
11. Poetry In Motion – Johnny Tillotson
12. Angel Baby – Rosie & the Originals
13. New Orleans – U.S. Bonds
14. You’re Sixteen – Johnny Burnette 15. Last Date – Floyd Cramer
16. Shop Around – The Miracles
17. Lonely Teenager – Dion
18. Sway – Bobby Rydell
19. Alone At Last – Jackie Wilson
20. Ruby Duby Du – Tobin Mathews & Co.
____________________________ Source:WABC Weekly Surveys for 1960.
1952: Photo from an earlier Cuyahoga River fire, caused by the river’s severe pollution, shows firemen on railroad bridge at left battling the blaze on the river below.
In June 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire, a river long polluted with oily wastes, chemicals, and debris. The river fire, coming at a time of emerging national concern over pollution, made big news, and became something of a famous disaster. The incident helped give momentum to a newly emerging national environmental movement.
Only months before, on the beaches of Santa Barbara, California, an oil spill from a Unocal Oil Company offshore rig in January 1969, had soiled some 30 miles of California coastline, killing sea birds and other wildlife. Oil industry pollution and oily wastes were part of the Cuyahoga River concoction as well, described by Time magazine as being “chocolate-brown, oily, [and] bubbling with subsurface gases.”
1952: A burning tug boat gets the attention of fire hoses during Cuyahoga River fire fight. Photo, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In fact, it was the Time magazine story that helped bring national attention to the Cuyahoga River and nearby Lake Erie into which it flowed, both of which became poster images for the severe water pollution of those times. U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), a promoter of the first Earth Day in 1970, would later invoke the Cuyahoga-in-flames as an example of the nation’s most severe environmental disasters. Carol Browner, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1990s, would later recall in speeches the impression that images of the burning Cuyahoga had on her. But the Cuyahoga River fire of June 1969 wasn’t the worst the river had experienced. A 1952 fire – shown in the two photos above – was much worse. Time magazine in its August 1969 story, had used one of those photos, incorrectly attributing it as the 1969 fire. Turns out, there is a long history of Cuyahoga River fires – at least a dozen or more dating from the 1860s – several of which resulted in more damage than the 1969 incident. More on those in a moment. Still, when the June 1969 Cuyahoga River fire occurred, many people found it surprising that pollution could be so bad that a river would burn. That wasn’t supposed to happen. “[A] river lighting on fire was almost biblical,” said Sierra Club President Adam Werbach referring to the Cuyahoga fire during a CNN interview some years later. “And it energized American action because people understood that that should not be happening.”
There’s a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake
There’s a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake
There’s an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake
There’s an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake
Cleveland, city of light, city of magic
Cleveland, city of light, you’re calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
‘Cause the Cuyahoga River
goes smokin’ through my dreams
Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
Now the Lord can make you tumble
Lord can make you turn
The Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can’t make you burn
Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
The Cuyahoga’s plight – and particularly its association with oil pollution – caught the attention of singer/ songwriter Randy Newman, who penned a famous song about the river’s tendency to catch fire. “Burn On” was the name of the song, which Newman released with his 1972 hit album, Sail Away, an album brimming full of musical satire. Newman’s river song, however, was quite on the mark, conveying at least some of the history and causes of the Cuyahoga River’s pollution problem.
“Burn On”-Randy Newman
Newman would explain that he was spurred to write the song after seeing news reports about the 1969 fire. To be fair, by the early 1970s, there were no more fires on the Cuyahoga, though it remained severely polluted for at least another decade. The cleanup of the river had begun by the time of Newman’s song – though ever so slowly, and slogged on for many years thereafter. Still, Newman’s song captured the historical demise of the river and one of its primary culprits, oil. His lyrics at the end of the song also captured the “unnatural” act of a river burning:
Now the Lord can make you tumble
Lord can make you turn
The Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can’t make you burn
In later years, other musicians would also write music referencing the river, including REM’s. “Cuyahoga” of 1986 and Adam Again’s “River on Fire” of 1992. More on these songs a bit later.
The Cuyahoga River watershed is located in Northeastern Ohio. The river travels about 100 miles from its headwaters in rural Geauga County where it begins as two bubbling springs, then winding its way to Cleveland where it drains into Lake Erie. Named “the crooked river” by native Americans, “Cuyahoga” is an Iroquoian word, befitting the river’s turns and changing course.
Map of the Cuyahoga River watershed, showing the river's many tributaries and its "U" shaped course on its way to Cleveland and Lake Erie.
The river’s East and West branches, originating from respective springs, later combine to form the main Cuyahoga, which flows southwest at first, through thick forests and past rich farm fields, until it reaches the urban areas near Akron, Ohio. At this point, the geology of an east-west continental divide forces a sharp northwestern turn, as the river then flows north. Here too, the once-important Ohio & Erie Canal ran parallel to the river to assist in its commerce. But it is this “lower portion” of the Cuyahoga – the Akron-to-Cleveland-to-Lake Erie segment – where industrial activity was most intense for decades, with steel plants, oil refineries, paint and chemical works running along the river’s banks. One of the largest oil refineries in U.S. history, in fact – John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil of Ohio – accounted for at least some of the pollution that fueled the Cuyahoga’s infamous fires. By the end of the Civil War – and before Rockefeller began buying up his competitors and consolidating oil properties – there were at least 20 oil refineries in the Cleveland area. A common practice in the early days of the oil refining industry was to dump the unusable portions of refined crude oil – one of which was gasoline – into nearby creeks and rivers. Rockefeller himself would report that “thousands and hundreds of thousands of barrels of it floated down the creeks and rivers, and the ground was saturated with it, in the constant effort to get rid of it.” No surprise then that fires would occur.
Cleveland Press headlines, circa 1883.
The Cuyahoga River had burned as early as 1868. One major fire in the river valley occurred at the Standard Oil refinery and other properties in early February 1883. A Cleveland Press account of the fire, which was reported while the blaze was still ongoing, blared the headline, “Furious Flames!!” That report went on to note in sub-heads that a “fast floating fire” set off “the most terrific explosions” at the refinery, adding that “tank after tank” and “still after still” blew up.
Prior to the fire, on Friday, February 2, 1893, Cleveland had a combination of rising temperature and torrential rains that melted existing snow, producing some of the worst floods in the city’s history. Much of the Flats area and the Cuyahoga River valley were in flood stage. But then came the fire. It began at the Shurmer & Teagle Refinery. However waste oil from a Standard Oil source upstream on Kingsbury Run had been leaking for hours. As reported in Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters: “One by one, nine enormous Standard Oil storage tanks, each containing from five to 16,000 barrels of oil, kerosene, or gasoline blew up over the next 12 hours, adding thousands of additional, lethal gallons to the inflammable torrent rushing toward downtown Cleveland. At one point, no fewer than seven oil tanks were burning at once.” The blaze went on for three days, and Cleveland was nearly a goner, saved by the blocking action of a jammed-up culvert and heroic firemen battling the inferno. By Monday, February 5th, firemen were still pouring water on the various fires. In the end, the damage included nine large storage tanks, 30 stills, and other Standard Oil property. Standard alone had between $350,00 and $300,000 in losses, with all other businesses suffering losses of about $500,000.
A portion of the Standard Oil refining complex in Cleveland, Ohio, as photographed in 1899.
Still more oil and waste fires occurred on the Cuyahoga River in later years. Four years after the 1883 blaze there was another of lesser note, and perhaps others unrecorded. In 1912, a spark from a tugboat on the Cuyahoga ignited oil leaking from the Standard Oil cargo slip, triggering several explosions and a raging inferno. That fire killed five men and destroyed several boats. In 1914 a river fire reportedly threatened downtown Cleveland until a change in the wind altered its course. A fire in 1922 ignited in the same area as the 1912 Standard Oil dock fire. And in 1936 the river ignited and burned for five days. An ore carrier was damaged by a 1941 river fire. Other fires occurred in 1930, 1948, 1949, 1951. Then came the big one – the 1952 fire – which Jonathan Adler, environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University, describes in a 2003 Fordham Environmental Law Journal article on the history of Cuyahoga River pollution. Adler also describes the events leading up to the fire:
Nov. 2, 1952: Headlines in a Sunday edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tell of an oil-slick fire on the Cuyahoga River.
…In 1952, leaking oil from the Standard Oil Company facility was accused of creating, “the greatest fire hazard in Cleveland,” a two-inch thick oil slick on the river. In spots, the slick spanned the width of the river. Although many companies had taken action to limit oil seepage on the river, others failed to cooperate with fire officials. It was only a matter of time before disaster struck. On the afternoon of November 1, 1952, the Cuyahoga ignited… near the Great Lakes Towing Company’s shipyard, resulting in a five-alarm fire. The next morning’s Cleveland Plain Dealer led with a banner headline, “Oil Slick Fire Ruins Flats Shipyard.”[ shown at right]. Photos taken at the scene are incredible; the river was engulfed in smoke and flame. Losses were substantial, estimated between $500,000 and $1.5 million, including the Jefferson Avenue bridge. The only reason no one died was that it started on a Saturday afternoon, when few shipyard employees were on duty.
1951: Oil Burning in the Cuyahoga River, located in the downtown Cleveland Flats area.
July 1964: Portion of a Bill Roberts’ Cleveland Press cartoon depicting industrial pollution on the Cuyahoga River.
Cleveland reporter, Richard Ellers, dipping his hand in the Cuyahoga’s oily soup, was surprised by its thickness.
1960s: A Cleveland Press cartoon from Bill Roberts has a distressed fish from the polluted Cuyahoga River seeking help from President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ).
September 1964: Councilmen Edward F. Katalinas (left), Henry Sinkiewicz, and John Pilch examine oil-soaked white cloth dipped in the Cuyahoga. Photo, Cleveland Press.
June 23, 1969: Photo of fire boat attending to hot spots and bridge timbers following Cuyahoga River fire the day before.
June 23, 1969: Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, center, and Ben Stefanski, city utilities director, right, during press conference near site of previous day’s Cuyahoga River fire.
TheCleveland Plain Dealer, reporting on the 1952 fire, quoted Cleveland Fire Prevention Chief Bernard W. Mulcahy on the front page saying: “We have photographs that show nearly six inches of oil on the river. Our reports show the oil there comes from three sources: Oil brought down Kingsbury Run, from Standard Oil Co., and from Great Lakes Towing itself.”
The fire of 1952 wasn’t the last time the Cuyahoga or its environs would catch fire. Another smaller blaze had occurred a year earlier in the Cleveland Flats area, shown in the photo at left. But the big 1952 fire may have been a turning point, as some environmental historians see it – the point at which local citizen ire is aroused about the problem, with efforts aimed at bringing about change. Still, it would be years before the local recognition and the local resolve would generate the political will at the state and federal levels to write the laws and commit the funding needed to impose standards and clean things up. One preventive measure that was sometimes used along the river in the 1950s and 1960s was the use of a patrolling fireboat to check for oil slick build-ups, especially near bridges, and try to clear those away with high-pressure water hoses.
During the mid-1960s, the Cuyahoga’s pollution drew the attention of Cleveland Press cartoonist Bill Roberts, who did several cartoons on the river and nearby Lake Erie. A few journalists were active as well. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Richard Ellers was shown in one 1960s news photo dipping his hand in the Cuyahoga’s goop. And by 1964, a trio of Cleveland city councilmen was photographed retrieving an oil-soaked white cloth they had just dipped in the polluted river.
Cartoonist Bill Roberts also did a mid-1960s Cleveland Press cartoon showing President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) listening to the plea of a Cuyahoga River fish amid pollution and the river’s stench, suggestion being that federal help was needed. But despite the fact that federal laws such as the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the 1965 Federal Water Pollution Control Act were on the books, there was little use or effective enforcement of those laws. Yet, federal reports, such as one issued in October 1968, identified the Cuyahoga as one of the most heavily polluted rivers in the nation.
By November 1968 there were plans drawn up in Cleveland to upgrade the city’s sewer systems, as an impressive $100 million bond issue for that purpose had been approved by voters. But then came the fire of 1969.
Fire of 1969
On Sunday, June 22nd, the Cuyahoga caught fire for what was believed to be the 13th time in its history, depending on how many fires were actually counted and/or reported. A slick of oily debris caught fire that day near the Republic Steel operations after a spark from an overhead rail car ignited it. As the burning slick floated down the Cuyahoga, it made its way under the wooden bridges of two key railroad trestles and set them on fire. At times during the blaze, flames climbed as high as five stories, according to Battalion 7 Fire chief Bernard E. Campbell, cited in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the next day. A fireboat battled the flames on the water while fire trucks and firemen from three battalions fought the fire on the trestles, where they soon brought the fire under control. At the time, Campbell reported that a bridge belonging to Norfolk and Western Railway Co. sustained $45,000 damage, closing both of its tracks. The other, a one-track trestle, remained opened. The fire did $5,000 damage to the timbers of this bridge, a Newburgh & South Shore Railroad Co. crossing.
On the day following the fire, June 23, 1969, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a photo that showed a fire boat crew hosing down hot spots and smoldering timbers at one of the railroad bridges. Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes also held a press conference that day using the charred railroad bridge as part of his backdrop. Along with Ben Stefanski, city utilities director, Stokes promised to fight for a cleaner river. He also announced that he was filing a formal complaint with the state, claiming that a clean river was beyond the city’s control. “We have no jurisdiction over what’s dumped in there,” he told The Plain Dealer that day.
In point of fact, the state of Ohio, like other states, did issue pollution discharge permits to industry, permits which purported to set discharge limits, but these were essentially “permits to pollute” and were rarely enforced. The federal government was no better. Even though federal pollution control laws had been enacted in 1949 and 1965, these were very weak laws, with little money attached, and little real help to the states. Another older federal law – the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, also known as the “Refuse Act ” – had viable provisions of enforcement, and was even upheld in one 1966 Supreme Court case for oily wastes, but it too was rarely invoked. At his press conference, Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes had criticized the federal government, noting their jurisdiction over the river for interstate commerce.
Meanwhile, the notoriety of the Cuyahoga’s June 1969 fire soon traveled around the country, primarily due to the August 1969 Time magazine story. Time ran a brief story describing the polluted river as “chocolate-brown, oily, [and] bubbling with subsurface gases.” The Cuyahoga, said Time, “oozes rather than flows.” But Time also incorrectly used a dramatic Cleveland Plain Dealer photo from the earlier 1952 fire showing firemen on a railroad bridge battling a blazing tugboat on the river (photo used at the top of this story). Time’s mis-casting of the photo as the 1969 fire appears to have helped spread that impression of the blaze to other news organizations and the general public, furthering “the legend” of the 1969 fire. Still, the river had burned in any case, and that’s what helped ignite calls for action on water pollution nationwide.
Earth Day 1970
A throng of thousands along New York City’s 5th Ave., as far as the eye could see, came out for Earth Day 1970 demonstration, of April 22nd, receiving front-page coverage the next day.
The first Earth Day of April 22, 1970, which launched the modern environmental movement, brought demonstrations by some 20 million Americans in towns and cities across the country. The turnout in New York City brought out thousands who thronged 5th Avenue as far as the eye could see. The demonstration made the front page of the New York Times the next day with headline, “Millions Join Earth Day Observances Across the Nation.” In Cleveland, a march to the Cuyahoga River by Cleveland State University students protesting the river’s pollution was also one of the demonstrations that day. And the Cuyahoga River fire of June 1969 would also be invoked in more than few Earth Day speeches and news accounts that day. Later in 1970, the Cuyahoga received more attention when National Geographic included the river as part of its December 1970 issue and cover story devoted to “Our Ecological Crisis.” The magazine ran a short story and graphic of a six-mile segment of the Cuyahoga showing how it received polluted wastes from steel mills, chemical plants, and other industries along its banks. Meanwhile, the outlook for the river’s health was not good. One report from the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration at the time of the 1969 fire offered this assessment: “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.” But change was on the way.
Dec. 4, 1970: At White House ceremony in Wash., D.C., William Ruckelshaus is sworn in as head of EPA as President Richard Nixon looks on. Photo, Charles Tasnadi/AP.
With growing public pressure for more pollution control, political action followed at the local, state and national levels. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – a key U.S. law that established national policy for promoting and protecting the environment – was passed by Congress in December 1969 and signed by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970. That law also established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and put in place an environmental review process assessing the potential impacts of all major federal actions on the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – a new, independent federal agency with wide ranging jurisdiction over environmental media – was created in December 1970 with 38-year-old William Ruckelshaus, a former Justice Department Assistant Attorney General, named its first Administrator. On December 11, 1970, a few days after being sworn in, Ruckelshaus went on the offensive against three cities with water pollution problems: Cleveland , Detroit, and Atlanta, giving the mayors of those cities six months to come into compliance or face court action.
The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, was churning out tougher environmental laws – one of which was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, also known as the Clean Water Act. This law – first passed by Congress in October 1972, was vetoed by President Nixon,The Clean Water Act of 1972 sought to make all U.S. waterways “fishable and swimmable” by 1985. but finally became law after the House and Senate successfully over-rode the President’s veto on October 18, 1972. The Clean Water Act — aimed at making all U.S. waterways “fishable and swimmable” by 1985 — totally revised water pollution law and regulation, shifting the control mechanism to “effluent limitations” with a long-range goal of “zero discharge.” More pollution control money eventually came to states and cities. In Ohio, meanwhile, the Ohio EPA was created on October 23, 1972, combining environmental programs that were previously scattered throughout several state departments. And in Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District took over sewer operations for the city in the early 1970s and the long, hard fight to cleanup the Cuyahoga began. Progress, however, would not come overnight.
“Cuyahoga in Song”
R.E.M. & Adam Again
In addition to Randy Newman’s “Burn On, Big River” of 1972, included earlier, other musicians have also used the Cuyahoga in song.
In 1986, the group R.E.M. released a song titled “Cuyahoga,” which offers a kind of lamentation for a lost river, noting at one point, “we burned the river down.”
But the R.E.M. song is also about the river as a nostalgic place; a place where “we swam;” a place where photographs were taken and memories made — a place sadly, now gone; a place degraded. Among those lyrics are, for example:
This is where we walked, this is where we swam Take a picture here, take a souvenir Cuyahoga Cuyahoga, gone
In 1992, the river’s burning was still present enough in cultural memory for Adam Again, an alternative rock band, to use the river in a metaphorical way, so stated in their song, “River on Fire.” This song appears to offer a parallel between a possible disaster in a personal relationship to the actual disaster that was the Cuyahoga burning. Some of the ending lyrics in that song are as follows:
…I could be happy, and you could be miserable I’ll grab a metaphor out of the air The Cuyahoga river on fire
I know a lot about the history of Cleveland, Ohio Disasters that have happened there Like the Cuyahoga river on fire.
And apart from music, there is also at least one beer named after the Cuyahoga’s infamous history – “Burning River Pale Ale” (see below).
As the Federal Clean Water Act first came into effect, EPA became the primary enforcer, sharing that role with state and cities in later years — in Cleveland’s case, the regional sewer district. Along the Cuyahoga, stiff fines were levied for violators and some polluters were put out of business. Local and state citizen and environmental groups helped as well, dating to the Kent Environmental Council in 1970 which held one of the Cuyahoga River clean-ups. Dozens of other groups would form in later years, including Friends of The Crooked River, and others.
Still, by 1984, when biologists for the Ohio EPA began counting fish in the middle-to-lower section of the Cuyahoga River — the worst polluted section from Akron to Cleveland — they found very few. In fact, they found less than a dozen fish in total, and even some of those were pollution-tolerant species such as gizzard shad, while others had deformities. But gradually, things began to turn for the better.
At first, improvements came mostly in the upper reaches of the river in its more rural counties. By the summer of 2008, unofficial surveys from Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District were finding high levels of aquatic life in the river. EPA, then following up with its own survey, reported 40 different fish species in the river, including steelhead trout, northern pike, and other clean-water fish.
Since the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has invested more than $3.5 billion in new sewer systems to help clean up the river. Over the next thirty years or so, it is projected that Cleveland will spend another $5 billion or more to insure the upkeep of its wastewater system. The river is now home to about sixty different species of fish, and there has not been another river fire since 1969.
In 1998, EPA designated the Cuyahoga as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers, those which have played a key role in shaping the nation’s environmental, economic and cultural landscape.
In 2000, some 51 square miles of river valley between Akron and Cleveland was established as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This section of river valley was previously designated a national recreation area in 1974. Today the park includes forests, wetlands, canals, a waterfalls, and more than 125 miles of hiking trails, including the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which follows the route of the former canal. In some sections of the park, bald eagles and otters have returned to the river.
Cuyahoga River graphic depicting four decades of progress and calling for an end to all those bad Cleveland jokes.
By June 2009, at the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, improvements along the river had been impressive enough for some to call for a formal EPA de-listing of the river regarding certain pollution criteria.
EPA officials, however, denied the request, though commending the community on progress made, but saying there was still some distance to go. One graphic at that time also called for an end to all the bad jokes about Cleveland centered around the Cuyahoga’s past history.
Meanwhile, in the Cleveland Flats area of the river, business investors found the area attractive enough to begin converting parts of the abandoned industrial landscape into an entertainment district featuring restaurants, nightclubs, and music venues. And in some of those locations, patrons at pubs and restaurants today may well be drinking a local beer named “Burning River Pale Ale.”
More Than a Beer…
Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s "Burning River Pale Ale," seems to have helped elevate the Cuyahoga River to iconic status on behalf of environmental good.
Great Lakes Brewing Company, a brewery and brewpub in Cleveland, Ohio, was founded in 1988. In the early 1990s, Great Lakes named one of its craft beers “Burning River Pale Ale,” a beverage described as “assertively hopped with citrusy and piney Cascade hops.” The founders of Great Lakes Brewing are Dan and Pat Conway. In 2001, they also helped found the Burning River Fest, now an annual outdoor festival event of summer fun, music, and food celebrated on Whiskey Island and Wendy Park at the Cleveland end of the Cuyahoga. The Burning River Fest, in turn, has spawned the Burning River Foundation, which uses proceeds from the Burning River Fest to help fund environmental and water conservation activities in Northeast Ohio to the tune of some $400,000 by last count. In recent years, the Burning River Fest has attracted more than 5,000 visitors to its two-day festival.
“The year 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River catching on fire,” Pat Conway has stated. “The publicity from that incident spurred all of the environmental legislation that followed. I would love to see this Burning River Fest become the largest environmental celebration in the country by that time.” The burning Cuyahoga, then, has become something of a cultural icon, now turned to good advantage. So yes, in the words of Randy Newman’s famous song – but for an altogether different, good, and honorable purpose – “burn on big river, burn on.”
See also at this website the Politics & Society page for stories in that category, and also the Annals of Music page for music-related stories. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
“Cuyahoga River Restoration,” YouTube .com, Posted by WFN: World Fishing Network (discusses the last 40 years of clean-up, returning fish populations, lower river development, and the Cuyahoga’s designation as one of 14 Heritage Rivers).
“What Would Gaylord Do? An Essay on the Environmental Movement and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster,” The Seventh Fold, May 3, 2010.
Michael Heaton, “Burning River Fest Parties in the Name of the Environment,” The Plain Dealer, July 19, 2012.
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 Bednarik continuing celebration for his team’s near-certain victory while standing over Gifford. Photo/ John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated.
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 year 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.