All posts by J.D.

“Plastic Infernos”
A Short History

Among the “wonder products” generated by the synthetic chemical revolution of the mid-20th century are an array of plastics that today permeate all manner of products and structures throughout the world. And tragically, as learned recently in the June 14th, 2017 London Grenfell high-rise fire that has claimed at least 80 lives, the building’s exterior skin – consisting of aluminum composite panels with a polyethylene core (and possibly, polyisocyanurate insulation behind the panels) – is believed to have played a role in aiding the fire’s spread and severity. A formal investigation is still underway.

June 2017.  Photo of the Grenfell Tower high-rise fire in progress in London, believed to have been aided in its rapid spread by the building’s exterior cladding; panels which incorporated a polyethylene-filled core, and also, possibly, plastic insulation.
June 2017. Photo of the Grenfell Tower high-rise fire in progress in London, believed to have been aided in its rapid spread by the building’s exterior cladding; panels which incorporated a polyethylene-filled core, and also, possibly, plastic insulation.

But beyond the role the plastic-filled exterior building panels and/or insulation may have played in the Grenfell Tower blaze, another issue raised in fires of this kind is the toxic gases given off by multiple burning plastic substances – from furniture and carpeting to wall coverings and plastic piping. In fact, “toxic fires” fueled by an array of plastic products remain a serious problem worldwide, and one that was not foreseen at the invention stage of the “miracle plastics.”

1927 headlines for Cleveland Clinic fire; other headlines note “poisonous fumes from burning x-ray films continue to claim victims” – one of the early plastic-fueled fires.
1927 headlines for Cleveland Clinic fire; other headlines note “poisonous fumes from burning x-ray films continue to claim victims” – one of the early plastic-fueled fires.
Headlines for 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, where nitrocellulose decor was a later-implicated fuel.
Headlines for 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, where nitrocellulose decor was a later-implicated fuel.
1972 White House report, “America Burning,” was the first such report to signal the special dangers of plastics in fires.
1972 White House report, “America Burning,” was the first such report to signal the special dangers of plastics in fires.

For decades, little was known about the special toxicity that came with plastics that burn in accidental fires in homes, office buildings, cars and trucks. But over the years, as major fires have occurred in which plastics have been implicated, more has been learned about their toxicity.

Most plastics are carbon-based materials and will burn and give off gases and smoke when subjected to a flame.

Burning polyurethane foam, for example, instantly develops dark smoke along with deadly carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas. Inhaling this smoke only 2 or 3 times would cause rapid loss of consciousness and eventually, death by internal suffocation.

Yet, sadly, protective regulations, safety standards and building codes to deal with these and other dangers have lagged behind the learning.

The trail of tragedies dates to the earliest uses of plastics, some implicating substances such as nitrocellulose used in celluloid. A 1927 fire at the Cleveland Clinic killed 135 people as an acrid brown-black smoke was generated from the nitrocellulose x-ray film used at the clinic. That fire was among the first to be fueled by synthetics. But it wasn’t the last.

The famous catastrophic 1942 Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire killed more than 400 people. An investigation highlighted some obvious issues in that fire. But only a handful of scientists and investigators knew that the nightclub’s copious decor of nitrocellulose cocoanut fibers was a contributing cause of the resulting death and injury.

By the 1950s and 1960s, a wide array of synthetics began filling up homes and office buildings, such as nylon carpeting, urethane foam mattresses, plastic filled soft furniture. and PVC wire insulation. Automobiles, trucks and planes added synthetics material to their construction and interiors as well.

During the 1960s and 1970s, airplane crashes in which victims survived the crash but died in a toxic fire began to raise questions about the plastic material inside planes. And the 1969 New York Harbor fire aboard the USS Enterprise killed many sailors after plastic-coated electric cables burned.

Following these incidents, a White House report on fire in 1972 — America Burning — noted that plastics were being sold and used without adequate attention to the special fire hazard they presented. But when the National Fire Protection Association tried in 1975 to require by code that material used in construction be no more toxic than wood, the Society of the Plastics Industry blocked the move.

In 1974–75, some plastics manufacturers advertised that urethane foam was fireproof and self extinguishing, a claim the Federal Trade Commission challenged, but only resulted in industry’s “rehabilitating the product” to improve its public image.


‘Dragon Fires’

Deborah Wallace’s 1990 book, “In the Mouth of the Dragon,” details the dangers of plastic-fueled toxic fires.
Deborah Wallace’s 1990 book, “In the Mouth of the Dragon,” details the dangers of plastic-fueled toxic fires.
In her eye-opening 1990 book, In The Mouth of the Dragon: Toxic Fires in The Age of Plastics, Deborah Wallace notes:

“No one thought to test [the] early synthetic polymers for their combustion toxicity. These products were virtually untested when they were put on the market. Instead, the public became the test animals.”

Wallace describes in detail the “plastics effect” in a number of toxic fires occurring in recent history, among them:

> the 1975 New York Telephone Exchange fire that injured 239 out of 700 firefighters who battled a blaze fueled by polyvinyl chloride (PVC);

[ One later description of that fire from The New York Daily News noted: “…A 16-hour blaze followed in which more than 100 tons of PVC sheathing in a rat’s nest of wires went up in smoke at a phone switching high-rise south of 14th St. on Second Ave. Clouds of hydrochloric acid and fumes of cancer-causing benzene and vinyl chloride filled the air as the conflagration boiled within a sealed vault three stories below ground. At one point, an explosion of accumulated hydrocarbon gas knocked firefighters outside to the pavement. Men inside used up their air cylinders, unable to escape in dense, black smoke without gulping the toxic air….” The Daily News also noted later-reported, PVC-related cancer deaths among Telephone Exchange firefighters.]

> the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire of 1977, in which 165 people were killed in an electrical and PVC-fueled blaze;

> the 1978 Cambridge, Ohio Holiday Inn fire in which 10 died from smoke from burning PVC and nylon;

> the 1978 Younkers Brothers Department Store fire in which 10 people died in another PVC-electrical fire;

> the 1980 MGM Grand Hotel fire in which 85 died and 600 were injured in a fire largely fueled by plastics;

> the 1980 Stouffer’s Inn fire in which 26 people died in a blaze fueled by PVC and nylon/wool;

> the 1983 Westgate Hilton fire in which 12 died from smoke that came mainly from PVC and urethane foam; and,

> the 1983 Fort Worth Ramada Inn fire in which five died from PVC and nylon fumes.

Early L. A. Times headlines on the November 1980 MGM Hotel fire that would finally take 85 lives, with plastics heavily implicated.
Early L. A. Times headlines on the November 1980 MGM Hotel fire that would finally take 85 lives, with plastics heavily implicated.
Added to these are the toxic fires that came during and after the September 2001 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, and the February 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island that killed 100 and injured 230. Burning plastic material played a role in the death, injury and/or debilitation of victims and workers in both of these catastrophes.

Although The Station nightclub fire was caused by pyrotechnics set off as part of the Great White rock band’s act that night, the fire’s spread and intensity were aided by ignited plastic foam used as sound insulation in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage, materials that generated considerable carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide within a few minutes.

Plastic material was implicated in the September 23, 2007 fire at the Water Club Tower at the Borgata Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey where fire raced up 38 stories on the face of the building. And since 2012, fires fueled by metal composite cladding with plastic cores have occurred in high-rise buildings in France, Dubai, and South Korea. Thousands of structures worldwide may be similarly vulnerable.

Fires at plastic manufacturing facilities and in storage areas can also yield catastrophic results. In March 2017, spools of high density polyethylene (HDPE) conduit stored below a freeway in Atlanta, Georgia fueled an intense fire there that caused an elevated portion of I-85 to collapse on March 30th. In the spectacular blaze, flames shot 40 feet into the air, and the heat was so intense that it melted supporting metal structures. Both directions of I-85 were closed in a key area of Atlanta near its busy downtown hub.

Meanwhile, individual homes continue to be vulnerable to the toxic effects of plastic-fueled fires, as everything from urethane-filled sofas and mattresses to PVC siding, wall coverings, plumbing lines, and molded furniture can provide toxic fuel.


“Burning Plastic”
by Stephen Fenichell*


Stephen Fenichell's 1996 book, "Plastic: The Making of A Synthetic Century" (Harper-Collins).
Stephen Fenichell's 1996 book, "Plastic: The Making of A Synthetic Century" (Harper-Collins).
. . . That burning plastic could release noxious gases equal to any biochemical weapon . . . was dismally proven in January 1970 when an elderly resident of the Harmar House nursing home in Marietta, Ohio carelessly tossed a lighted cigarette into a polypropylene wastebasket filled with waste paper. The burning paper caused her plastic basket to flare up, throwing out flames that rapidly consumed her polyurethane foam mattress, touched off her nylon wall-to-wall carpet, and instantly ignited the carpet’s styrene-butadiene foam underlayer. By the time rescue workers arrived on the scene to evacuate the ward, they were met by a dense, black wall of smoke that obscured their view of survivors still trapped inside. The billowing smoke not only blinded the firemen but was so viciously toxic that it overcame scores of enfeebled patients who might otherwise have been able to escape on their own. By the time the fire was brought under control five hours later, twenty-two elderly people had died. The vast majority, coroners concluded, had been felled by the toxic fumes, not the flames.

Eight months later, on a steamy day in August 1970, a twelve-alarm fire broke out on the thirty-third floor of One New York Plaza, a modern high-rise office building in Manhattan’s financial district. A stray electrical spark ignited a welter of computer cables concealed within a dropped ceiling in a telephone equipment room, which was itself filled floor to ceiling with mile after mile of exposed polyethylene- insulated cable. As the heat intensified, flammable and toxic gases were distilled from the polyurethane foam padding cushioning office furniture in the suites below. As the toxic gases burned, the blaze exploded, as if shot from an aerosol can. Fed on this rich diet of toxic, flammable gas, the fire consumed two entire floors covering over forty thousand square feet of office space in under twenty minutes. During the six hours it took to extinguish the flames, two firemen died of smoke inhalation.“Plastics ignite like excel-sior, contribute heat like kerosene, and produce four to thirty times the amount of smoke as non-synthetic materials.” Thirty more were hospitalized with potentially life threatening lung injuries—as the result of inhaling burning, noxious plastic fumes.

Only three weeks later, at 8:30 on the morning of August 26, a third blaze broke out in the recently completed British Overseas Airways terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. As flames licked across six hundred polyurethane foam-padded benches clustered by the gate entrances, clouds of toxic gas distilled from the benches’ foam padding caused the fire to gallop off down the 35-foot- wide, 330-foot-long corridor at lightning speed . . . As the roaring fire leapt wildly from seat to seat, blowing out dozens of large plate-glass windows in its wake, it took a mere fifteen minutes to consume the entire west gallery of the newly completed airline terminal, at an estimated cost of $2.5 million in damages.

Awestruck insurers would later term it “the shortest large-loss fire in the history of mankind.” [A] flammability expert retained by BOAC’s insurance company to investigate the blaze, delivered the bad news to plastic manufacturers on . . . the issue of plastic fire safety: “Plastics ignite like excelsior, contribute heat like kerosene, and produce four to thirty times the amount of smoke as nonsynthetic materials.”
___________________

*Excerpted from Stephen Fenichell, Plastic: The Making of A Synthetic Century, Harper- Collins: New York, 1996, pp. 308–11.


Grenfell Update: In addition to the suspected role that the polyethylene-filled exterior cladding panels may have played in the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, an insulation foam product named Celotex RS5000, a polyisocyanurate product, was also used in that building, installed behind the cladding. Some have stated that this insulation was more flammable than the cladding.

Grenfell Tower fire near its end, with bits and fragments of exterior cladding and insulation  seen in the charred remains.
Grenfell Tower fire near its end, with bits and fragments of exterior cladding and insulation seen in the charred remains.
Wikipedia’s entry on the Grenfell Tower fire, with citations, notes that the polyisocyanurate product “will burn if exposed to a fire of sufficient heat and intensity” and that such insulation foams, when ignited, “burn rapidly and produce intense heat, dense smoke and gases which are irritating, flammable and/or toxic,” among them carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.

Building and fire codes in recent years have no doubt been updated in many jurisdictions to take account of the toxic effects of plastic materials, leading to safer installations and products. But certainly not everywhere, as the Grenfell tragedy attests. Given the ubiquity of plastics in modern use, plastic-fueled infernos are likely to remain a danger throughout the world.

And beyond the fire dangers of modern plastics, there are a whole host of other problems associated with this miracle of inventive science – not least those being, for example: plastics in municipal waste incineration, in landfills, worker exposures in “upstream” chemical manufacturing, plastic chemicals leaching from food packaging and containers, the tons of plastics floating in the world’s oceans, and plastic chemicals and their breakdown products found in human blood and body tissue.

See also at this website, the “Environmental History” topics page which offers additional stories on spills, fires, and explosions in the oil industry; agricultural pesticide history; and surface coal mining in Kentucky. Thanks for visiting – and if you find the reporting and story development at this website useful and informative, please make a donation to help support its continued publication. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 5 July 2017
Last Update: 5 July 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Plastic Infernos: A Short History,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 5, 2017.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

“London Fire: What We Know So Far About Grenfell Tower” and, “London Fire: Six Questions for the Investigation,” BBC News, June 23, 2017.

“Grenfell Tower Fire,” Wikipedia.org.

Robert Moulton, “The Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire, Boston, November 28, 1942,” National Fire Protection Association, 1943.

D.L. Breting, Underwriters Laboratories, “Pretty Plastics–Ugly Fires,” 1954.

J. Harry DuBois, Plastics History U.S.A, 1972.

Ronald K Jurgen (Editor), “The Great New York Telephone Fire,” IEEE Spectrum Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 6, June, 1975.

Richard Best, Investigation Report on The MGM Grand Hotel Fire, Las Vegas, Nevada, November 21, 1980, National Fire Protection Association, Report revised January 15, 1982.

Deborah Wallace, In the Mouth of the Dragon: Toxic Fires in the Age of Plastics, Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, New York, 1990.

Stephen Fenichell, Plastic: The Making of A Synthetic Century, Harper- Collins: New York, 1996.

Robert Burke, “Plastics & Polymerization: What Firefighters Need To Know,” Firehouse, February 28, 1999.

Bob Port, “Three Decades After an Infamous New York Telephone Co. Blaze, Cancer Ravages Heroes,” New York Daily News, Sunday, March 14, 2004.

James M. Foley, “Modern Building Materials Are Factors in Atlantic City Fires,” Fire Engineering, May 1, 2010.

Susan Freinkel, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, April 2011.

Thunderthief, “PSA–Burning Plastic Can Kill You,” DailyKos.com, June 2, 2012.

Associated Press, “Fire That Killed Newark Family Fueled by Plastic Flowers,” New York Post, June 17, 2014.

Carla Williams, “Smoked Out: Are Firefighters in More Danger than Ever Before? New Construction Materials Are Making Firefighting More Hazardous to the Health and Well Being of First Responders, As Well as Building Tenants and Homeowners,” EHSToday.com, September 7, 2016.

Catherine Kavanaugh, “Plastic Conduit Fuels Fire That Brings Down I-85 Overpass,” PlasticsNews.com, March 31, 2017.

Justin Pritchard, Associated Press, “Insulating Skin on High-Rises Has Fueled Fires Before London,” ABC News.com, June 18, 2017.

“Grenfell Tower Fire” (Polyisocyanurate insulation), Wikipedia.org.

_________________________







“Shields, Brooks, Trump”
PBS: 30 June 2017

Mark Shields, analyst, The PBS NewsHour.
Mark Shields, analyst, The PBS NewsHour.
David Brooks, analyst, The PBS NewsHour.
David Brooks, analyst, The PBS NewsHour.
Donald J. Trump, President of the United States.
Donald J. Trump, President of the United States.

If you’re not a regular watcher of The PBS News-Hour, one reason to check in more often is the commentary and political analysis of New York Times columnist, David Brooks, and syndicated columnist, Mark Shields. They have been regulars on the show, along with moderator Judy Woodruff, since 2004.

Every Friday, this threesome tries to make sense of the political insanity that has transpired in the previous week. Their analysis is usually fair, insightful, and done in respectful form with good humor. There is also a personal decorum in the exchanges among these three that is often lacking in many other such forums.

As one example, take their analysis on the PBS NewsHour of June 30, 2017, focusing on Donald Trump’s latest “tweetstorm” regarding cable TV commentators Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

If you’ve not heard about this, here’s the gist of it: President Trump, reacting to criticism of him made by Brzezinski and Scarborough on the CNBC politics show, Morning Joe, launched one of his Twitter commentaries (short internet messages known as “tweets”) on Thursday June 29th (8:52-8:58 a.m.) aimed at the pair as follows:

I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came…..to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!

President Trump’s tweet — with its personally-laden insults, and street-style language — elicited a furor of criticism just prior to the 4th of July weekend, many condemning the president for his remarks.

On that same morning, for example, three U.S. Senators responded to the President’s tweet — Sen. Lindsey Graham (“your tweet was beneath the office”); Sen. Ben Sasse (“this isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office”); and Sen. Susan Collins (“this has to stop…we must show respect and civility”). It also brought back into the arena a review of similar coarse comments and/or tweets made earlier by either candidate or President Trump.

But on the PBS NewsHour that Friday evening, Shields and Brooks, responding to Judy Woodruff’s questions about the incident, offered some cogent and compelling perspectives on the incident — as well as the continuing problem of our nation’s declining discourse. Here’s a video excerpt of their comments during that segment of the PBS NewsHour, followed by the transcript.



Transcript

JUDY WOODRUFF: ….Well, speaking of the tweets, David, we have seen some eyebrow-raisers. We have heard some gasps. But I guess the president’s tweet yesterday morning about the “Morning Joe” MSNBC cable hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, where the president tweeted very personal insults, low I.Q., face-lift, and so forth, it seemed to reach a new low.

Do we learn anything new about this president at this point?“…It’s morally objection-able. And I do wish more senators would say that…”

“…[T]he issue here is the corruption of our public sphere. And that’s what Donald Trump does with these things. And it makes it harder for us, our country, to ever get back to normal, when these things are corrosive to just the way people talk to each other.”

DAVID BROOKS: Well, one of the nice things, if we can find a silver lining here, is, it’s possible for everybody to be freshly appalled, that we are not inured to savage, misogynistic behavior of this sort.

And I saw a lot of people around. And I certainly felt in myself a freshness, a freshness of outrage.

And I must say, when I hear Roy Blunt say it’s unhelpful to himself, well, that’s true, but it’s more than unhelpful to Donald Trump to tweet in this way. It’s morally objectionable. And I do wish more senators would say that. Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse have said it, but a lot of others, oh, it’s just not helpful.

It’s more than that. And the issue here is the corruption of our public sphere. And that’s what Donald Trump does with these things. And it makes it harder for us, our country, to ever get back to normal, when these things are corrosive to just the way people talk to each other.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Corruption of the public sphere, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David is guilty of understatement.

No, I think he put it very well. This is hateful and it’s hurtful. Judy, I don’t know what a parent or a grandparent is supposed to say to a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old who said anything comparable to this and was sent — banished to their room or whatever else for it, I mean, that the president of the United States can talk this way, and there are no consequences.

The irony is that he’s more engaged on the back-and-forth with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on this than he has been on health care or any other issue. He obviously — this is what matters to him. And it’s just that classic — not to be sectionally biased, but it’s sort of a New York bully approach to life, I mean, that you say anything, you do anything, because the important thing is winning.“…This is hateful and it’s hurtful…I don’t know what a parent or a grandparent is supposed to say to a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old… I mean, that the president of the United States can talk this way, and there are no consequences…”

“…[I]t’s sort of a New York bully approach to life, I mean, that you say any-thing, you do anything, because the important thing is winning.

And I just — you know, I don’t know what else there is to say, other than you want to put yourself through a car wash after you listen to the president talk this way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there consequences, David? I mean, I heard what you said about some senators are just saying, well, it’s not helpful, but other senators are going further and saying, this is really wrong.

But are there ever consequences? Do we just go on like this?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, we will see if people eventually get disappointed and get tired.

I do think if it — one of the things that may begin to offend people is potential mafioso behavior. One of the things we heard this morning in the op-ed piece in The Washington Post by the two hosts was that the White House sort of threatened sort of extortion, that, if the show becomes more Trump-friendly, then a National Enquirer investigation into their relationship will be spiked.

And that’s sort of mafioso, extortion behavior. That’s beyond normal White House behavior. It’s beyond political hardball. It’s sort of using your media allies, The National Enquirer and the Trump administration, to take down enemies. And that’s not something we have seen in America since maybe Nixon, or maybe never.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s true, Mark, we haven’t seen anything like this in a while.

MARK SHIELDS: We haven’t.

But I think David’s point about extortion certainly strengthens the position of James Comey, that threats and extortion or a hint of extortion is part of the modus operandi. To Republicans …

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, we should say the White House is denying it.“…[D]o we snapback? Do the norms that used to govern politics reestablish themselves after the Trump administration, or are we here forever?

“…[T]he politics is broken up and down. And Trump may emerge from a reality TV world that is much more powerful than we think. And there is the prospect that this is where we are, which is an horrific thought.”

MARK SHIELDS: The White House is denying it. Jared Kushner, I guess, is denying it, or perhaps somebody else through him is denying it.

But the fact that there’s negotiations going back and forth or communications on this subject, you do this and we won’t print an injurious and harmful article in The National Enquirer, one of the great publications of our time.[said facetiously].

But, Judy, I remember when Republicans used to get upset and angry at Bill Clinton because he didn’t wear a suit and tie in the Oval Office. And Donald Trump, who is supposed to be this great deal-maker, I mean, Joe and Mika Brzezinski have Morning Joe, which is a show that’s watched very much in this area, but it doesn’t have a great national audience, and probably 1 percent of the people.

And he just made them a national — everybody now knows about this show. It’s probably increased their ratings, juiced them up. So I don’t understand where — if anything, it’s but counterproductive in every sense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is true, David, that this is — it’s hard to find; you said there may be a silver lining in fresh outrage, but beyond that, I’m not sure where it is.

DAVID BROOKS: No.

And, you know, the big question for me is, do we snapback? Do the norms that used to govern politics reestablish themselves after the Trump administration, or are we here forever?

And I hope, from the level of outrage, that we have a snap back. But the politics is broken up and down. And Trump may emerge from a reality TV world that is much more powerful than we think. And there is the prospect that this is where we are, which is an horrific thought.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Horrific thought.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.
_________________________________________


Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on their show, June 2017.
Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on their show, June 2017.
The Shields-Brooks commentary, and the PBS NewsHour generally, offer some of the more intelligent oases in TV news analysis these days, especially important in these current times, and one more reason to be thankful that there is public broadcasting.

Readers of this story may also find “Brian’s Song: C-SPAN, 1977-2012” of interest. See also at this website, the “Politics & Society” page for additional stories on politics, or the “TV & Culture” page for stories in that category. Thanks for visiting, and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 3 July 2017
Last Update: 3 July 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Shields, Brooks, Trump: PBS – 30 June 2017,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 3, 2017.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

The PBS NewHour Website.

Jenna Johnson, “President Trump Angrily Lashes Out At ‘Morning Joe’ Hosts on Twitter,”
Washington Post, June 29, 2017.

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, “Trump Mocks Mika Brzezinski; Says She Was ‘Bleeding Badly From a Face-Lift’,” New York Times, June 29, 2017.

“Shields and Brooks on GOP’s Health Care Bill Gridlock, Trump Tweet Backlash,” YouTube.com, posted by, The PBS NewsHour, June 30, 2017.

“PBS NewsHour,” Wikipedia.org.

Daniella Diaz, “GOP Lawmakers Blast Trump’s ‘Morning Joe’ Tweets,” CNN.com, June 29, 2017.

Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, Op-Ed, “Donald Trump is Not Well,” Washington Post, June 30, 2017.

J. Freedom du Lac and Jenna Johnson, “Mika Brzezinski Explains What President Trump’s Tweets Reveal About him,” Washington Post, June 30, 2017.

Callum Borchers, “The Strange Saga of Trump and ‘Morning Joe’ Now Involves The National Enquirer,” Washington Post, June 30, 2017.

Emily Jane Fox, “Joe and Mika Defend Themselves Against the Haters; The Morning Joe Hosts Talk Access to Donald Trump, Ratings, and Their Critics,” Vanity Fair, December 15, 2016.
______________________________







“Reggae Breaks Out”
Jimmy Cliff: 1972-74

Original album cover for Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” soundtrack, July 1972, Island Records.
Original album cover for Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” soundtrack, July 1972, Island Records.
In 1972-73, The Harder They Come, a Jamaican film about a poor country boy who becomes a music star and then a criminal, arrived at the box office with a very upbeat and powerful soundtrack of Jamaican reggae music.

The Harder They Come is the most important movie ever to come out of the Caribbean,” says iTunes, “and its soundtrack helped put reggae, in all its variants, on the world map.” The effusive iTunes praise for the film may be a bit of a stretch, but the part about the music is right on the money.

First released in the U.K in 1972, the film was slow to capture much attention. And in the U.S., too, at least with its initial release in February 1973, the film did not receive much notice. About a year later, however, it became more popular with audiences in midnight showings. And from that point on, the film’s music also began to take off.

The soundtrack became a breakthrough for reggae music in the U.S., introducing many listeners to the distinctive sound for the fist time. The Harder They Come soon became a favorite dance album at parties across the U.S. It left a lasting impact and its influence on the music scene continues today.

One commentary on the film’s music in 2009 from the blog, DK Presents gave The Harder They Come its top rating, noting: “The soundtrack gathers legendary performances that not only enhance the action of the film, but on their own play out as nothing less than the greatest reggae album of all-time… Whether or not you’re familiar with the movie, this is an impeccable collection that remains the best possible introduction to the genre.”

The soundtrack’s selections are also loaded with Jamaican nuance and political meaning, as the lyrics, both directly and between the lines, refer frequently to oppression, inequality, and social injustice. What follows here, is an exploration of the film’s music along with historical background on Jimmy Cliff and the album’s other artists, as well as the film’s producer, Perry Henzell.

Cover of David Katz’s book, “Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography,” 2011.
Cover of David Katz’s book, “Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography,” 2011.
The Harder They Come was the first Jamaican-produced feature film shot in Jamaica with a full Jamaican cast and director. The film starred Jimmy Cliff, who plays a role in the film which, in part, is not unlike his own early years. Cliff had left his country home as a teenager in 1962 heading to Kingston where he began cutting tracks for DJs to consider. With the help of producer Leslie Kong, he had a couple of hits, including a No. 1 Jamaican hit,”Hurricane Hattie” and others. By 1965, Cliff was in London, and eventually scored there with another Top Ten international hit 1969, “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” one of the first big reggae hits heard outside of Jamaica. He also wrote and sang “The Harder They Come” title track for the 1972 film.


Music Player
“The Harder They Come”

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


In the 1960s, Cliff had also written a number of songs for other Jamaican artists. In 1969, he had written, “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” which became a hit for Desmond Dekker. That year as well, Cliff wrote and recorded the song “Many Rivers to Cross.” It was also the year Cliff met Jamaican film maker Perry Henzell, as he would later explain to the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers in a 2013 interview. Henzell would offer Cliff the lead role in The Harder They Come:

…In 1969, I was at Dynamic Sounds Studio in Kingston recording a song I had written, ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want.” When we finished, I walked outside and met a gentleman named Perry Henzell, who had been waiting for me. He said he was making a movie and asked if I could write music for it.

“The Harder They Come”
Jimmy Cliff – 1972

Well they tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you’re born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry.

So as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now of what’s mine
And then the harder they come
the harder they’ll fall, one and all
Oh, the harder they come
the harder they’ll fall, one and all.

Well the officers are trying to keep me down
Trying to drive me underground
And they think that they have got the battle won
I say forgive them Lord,
they know not what they’ve done.

So as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now of what’s mine
And then the harder they come
The harder they’ll fall, one and all
Ooh the harder they come
The harder they’ll fall, one and all

And I keep on fighting for the things I want
Though I know that when you’re dead you can’t
But I’d rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave.

Repeat Chorus: “So as sure…”

By that point, I was pretty well known in Jamaica and the U.K. I had recorded quite a few hits. I had always wanted to be a movie actor, so I asked Perry to send me the script. When I read it, I felt I had known Ivanhoe Martin [the main character] all my life. In the script, he was a guy from the country who came to the city to make it as a musician but was held back by the trickery of a record-company owner. Eventually Ivan turns to crime and is killed at the end.

I told Perry that the script was great, and he decided to cast me as Ivan. The film at the time was called “Hard Road to Travel,” after one of my songs, and we filmed over the next year or so. When we shot the scene where Ivan cuts the bicycle-store owner who came on really hard, a line came to my mind—”the harder they come.” In real life, if you come on hard like that, you’re going to die hard.

When I told Perry my line, he loved it. He thought it was a stronger film title and asked me to write a theme song to go with it….

…The lyrics came from my past. I grew up in the church and had always questioned what they were telling me. Like the promise of a pie in the sky when you die. The second verse about oppressors trying to keep me down kind of reflected my own life—coming out of the ghetto in Jamaica and fighting the system. I wanted the song to have a church feel and to reflect the environment I grew up in—the underdog fighting all kinds of trickery.

In the film, Cliff plays Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a country boy who heads to Kingston, Jamaica, to seek fame as a singer.

Jamaican director and writer Perry Henzel, later describing his film in a 2003 National Public Radio (NPR) interview: “The theme of The Harder They Come is: Can the little man get through? The character, Ivan Martin, has no education, and is coming into the city from the country with no advantages at all – a young, impoverished, ambitious guy who is trying to make it. And [he] has so much going against him that he ends up as a renegade…”

Album Tracks
The Harder They Come
1972

1. “You Can Get It If You…”
Jimmy Cliff
2. “Draw Your Brakes”
Scotty
3. “Rivers of Babylon”
The Melodians
4. “Many Rivers to Cross”
Jimmy Cliff
5. “Sweet and Dandy”
The Maytals
6. “The Harder They Come”
Jimmy Cliff
7. “Johnny Too Bad”
The Slickers
8. “007 (Shanty Town)”
Desmond Dekker
9. “Pressure Drop”
The Maytals
10.”Sitting in Limbo”
Jimmy Cliff
11.”You Can Get It If You…”
Jimmy Cliff
12.”The Harder They Come”
Jimmy Cliff

After being taken advantage of by a record producer who pays him only $20 for recording his first song, Ivanhoe Martin turns to a life of crime, dealing marijuana, and becoming a cop-killing folk hero – a character modeled in part on an actual 1940s Jamaican criminal who was not a musician.

In the film, it is Ivanhoe’s criminal notoriety and folk hero standing that ironically sends his record to the top of the Jamaican charts.

The title song, by Cliff, is also central in the film story, as it is the song that Ivanhoe Martin records to launch his own career. It is also a song that intimates the hard life of Jamaica’s poor.

In the end, the film wasn’t exactly Oscar material – though it still has its fans to this day. Yet the film’s soundtrack was eventually a blockbuster, opening the door to reggae big time.

The soundtrack album was released in America in 1973, and proved to be a steady seller, though it didn’t enter Billboard‘s album chart until March 1975.

In any case, the early- and mid-1970s was the dawning of a golden time for reggae. By then, Bob Marley and Wailers had broken through (their first U.S. charting song came about two months after The Harder They Come film was first shown in the U.S.), and others followed.

Part of the success of The Harder They Come album then, and still today, is its notable collection of other reggae artists in addition to the songs by Jimmy Cliff. Half of the tracks on the album are by Cliff, including: two performances each of “The Harder They Come” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” plus two others – “Many Rivers to Cross” and “Sitting in Limbo.”

The other six tracks, however, are fine reggae offerings as well, and include Jamaican singles that had been previously released in the 1967-1972 period that were also popular, including: “Draw Your Brakes” by DJ Scotty; “Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians; “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pressure Drop,” both by Toots & the Maytals; “Johnny Too Bad” by the Slickers; and “007 Shanty Town” by Desmond Dekker. Dekker also had a hit with “You Can Get It If Your Really Want.” Some of these songs and their context are reviewed briefly below.

Music Player
Scotty – “Draw Your Brakes”

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

“Draw Your Brakes”

The second track on the soundtrack album, for example, is “Draw Your Brakes,” by Scotty, also known as DJ Scotty, and formally, David Scott (1951-2003). Scotty’s song is a 1971 Jamaican deejay version of Keith & Tex’s hit, “Stop That Train.” It is a lament of man who has just lost his woman to another man. A review of this song at an earlier blog titled, DK Presents 2009, stated that ‘Draw Your Brakes’ is one of the most important tracks on the album –along with The Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad,” noted later below — Jamaican songs “which take on the twin cultures of violence and grief that are at the heart of the Jamaican ghetto, and the center of the movie.” See also Scotty – “Draw Your Brakes” for full lyrics and additional interpretation.

Cover of record sleeve  for “Rivers of Babylon” song by The Melodians, Island Records, Germany, 1978.
Cover of record sleeve for “Rivers of Babylon” song by The Melodians, Island Records, Germany, 1978.


“Rivers of Babylon”

The third track on The Harder They Come album is “Rivers of Babylon,” a song by the Jamaican group The Melodians. The group was formed in 1963 by Tony Brevett, Brent Dowe. and Trevor McNaughton. “Rivers of Babylon” was written by Dowe and McNaughton and was recorded as a Rastafarian song in 1970, two years before it was used on The Harder They Come.

Rastafarianism is a religious movement among black Jamaicans that teaches the redemption of blacks and their return to Africa, employs the ritualistic use of marijuana, and venerates Haile Selassie as a god. (Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930).

Interestingly, the lyrics of “Rivers of Babylon” are adapted from the texts of Psalm 137 and Psalm 19 in the Bible ( there, in the original, as a hymn expressing the lamentations of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem). In further explanation, Wikipedia notes: “In the Rastafarian faith, the term “Babylon” is used for any governmental system which is either oppressive or unjust.

“Rivers of Babylon”
The Melodians, 1970

By the rivers of Babylon
Where he sat down
And there he wept
When he remembered Zion

‘Cause the wicked carried
us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
In a strange land?

[ Repeat above]

Sing it out loud
Sing a song of freedom, brother
Sing a song of freedom, sister

So, let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Oh, Fari!

[ Repeat above]

We got to sing it together
Everyone
La la la la la

By the rivers of Babylon
Where he sat down
And there he wept
When he remembered Zion

‘Cause the wicked carried
us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
In a strange land?

[ Repeat above, fade out]

In Jamaica, Rastafarians also use ‘Babylon’ to refer to the police, often seen as a source of oppression because they arrest members for the use of marijuana (which is sacramental for Rastafarians).

Therefore, ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ refers to living in a repressive society and the longing for freedom.

Brent Dowe, the lead singer of the Melodians, told Kenneth Bilby that he had adapted Psalm 137 to the new reggae style because he wanted to increase the public’s consciousness of the growing Rastafarian movement and its calls for black liberation and social justice.

Traditional Rastafarian worship often included psalm singing and hymn singing, and “Rastas” typically modified the words to fit their own spiritual conceptions; Psalm 137 was among their sacred chants.


Music Player
“Rivers of Babylon”

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


In Jamaica, the song became well known in 1970 after its release. But then, it was initially banned by the Jamaican government because of “its overt Rastafarian references” then considered “subversive and potentially inflammatory.”

But after a round of criticism for banning a song that was taken almost entirely from the Bible, the government backed down. Three weeks later “Rivers of Babylon” was a No. 1 hit in Jamaica. The Harder They Come film and soundtrack album then took it to an international audience.

In 1978, the song was further popularized in Europe by the Boney M. cover version, which became one of the Top Ten all-time best-selling singles in the UK.

The song was later used in the 1999 Nicolas Cage movie, Bringing Out the Dead, and again in 2010 in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s film, Jack Goes Boating.


Cover art for “Many Rivers to Cross” single by Jimmy Cliff, issued by Trojan Records in 1969.
Cover art for “Many Rivers to Cross” single by Jimmy Cliff, issued by Trojan Records in 1969.

“Many Rivers…”

“Many Rivers to Cross” – also on The Harder They Come soundtrack – is a song written in 1969 by Jimmy Cliff, released on his earlier 1969 album, Jimmy Cliff. The song has often been described for its church-like or hymnal quality, arranged with organ and a gospel backing.


Music Player
“Many River to Cross” – Jimmy Cliff

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


But Tom Moon, writing in 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, points out that the song also has some culture-specific conveyance: “Though ‘Many Rivers’ sounds like a plainspoken sermon of persistence, it was heard in Jamaica as a rallying cry of rude-boy culture, a bold street kid talking openly about getting what he could.” (The “rude boy” subculture arose from the poorer sections of Kingston, Jamaica, and was associated with violent discontented youths, who also had their own fashion and music preferences, including Jamaican reggae in the 1970s.)

“Many Rivers To Cross”
Jimmy Cliff – 1969

Many rivers to cross
But I can’t seem to find my way over
Wandering I am lost
As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover

Many rivers to cross
And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
I’ve been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my pride

And this loneliness won’t leave me alone
It’s such a drag to be on your own
My woman left me and she didn’t say why
Well I guess, I have to try

Many rivers to cross
But just where to begin, I’m playing for time
There are times I find myself thinking
Of committing some dreadful crime

Repeat 1, fade out…

Cliff has stated that the song emerged from his frustrations in early career when he wasn’t making much headway:

When I came to the UK, I was still in my teens. I came full of vigor: I’m going to make it, I’m going to be up there with the Beatles and the Stones. And it wasn’t really going like that, I was touring clubs, not breaking through. I was struggling, with work, life, my identity, I couldn’t find my place; frustration fueled the song.

Rolling Stone has ranked “Many Rivers to Cross” at No. 325 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song has been covered by a number of artists, including: Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Joe Cocker, Percy Sledge, Desmond Dekker, UB40, Cher, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Marcia Hines, Toni Childs, Oleta Adams, Linda Rondstadt, and Annie Lennox.

In 2013, Tessanne Chin performed a cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” on a live round of NBC-TV’s The Voice. Her rendition spurred some interest in the original Jimmy Cliff version, as Billboard’s Digital Singles chart indicated that “Many Rivers to Cross” sold 707 downloads the week Chin performed. As of mid-November 2013, Cliff’s song had sold more than 87,000 downloads since Neilsen Soundscan began tracking digital sales of reggae singles in 2008.

“Many Rivers to Cross” has also been featured in the film Rush (2013) and during episodes of TV shows such as: the Australian-American comedy series Wilfred (2011-2014); the Netflix TV series, Daredevil (2015-16),based on the Marvel Comics character; and the post-apocalyptic series, Falling Skies (2011-15), produced by Steven Spielberg.

Promotional photo from “The Harder They Come” with Jimmy Cliff featured as pistol-packing Ivanhoe Martin.
Promotional photo from “The Harder They Come” with Jimmy Cliff featured as pistol-packing Ivanhoe Martin.
Music Player
“Johnny Too Bad”-The Slickers

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


Cover art for Slickers’ 2006 reissued “Breakthorugh” album by Tad's Records, which includes 'Johnny Too Bad'.
Cover art for Slickers’ 2006 reissued “Breakthorugh” album by Tad's Records, which includes 'Johnny Too Bad'.


“Johnny Too Bad”

“Johnny Too Bad,” the 7th track on The Harder They Come, is a song recorded by the Slickers, a Jamaican group that began in the mid-1960s.

The lyrics in this case fit some of the action in The Harder They Come film, as Ivanhoe becomes a renegade criminal and folk hero, though the song is also asking what will happen when it all catches up with him. Here’s a sampling of a portion of the lyrics:

…Walking down the road
With your pistol in your waist,
Johnny you’re too bad (oh boy)…

You’re just robbing and you’re stabbing
and you’re looting and you’re shooting
Now you’re too bad (too bad)….

…One of these days when you hear,
a voice say come,
where you’re going to run to (oh boy)…

…You’re gonna run to the rock
for rescue…
There will be no rock…

After its use on the soundtrack album, the original version of “Johnny Too Bad” became one of the most celebrated tracks ever recorded in Jamaica. The Slickers toured the U.S. and the U.K. on the success of the song, continuing until they recorded their album Breakthrough in 1979. Some version of the Slickers group continued touring in both the U.S. and Europe, releasing occasional singles through the 1970s before ceasing as a group sometime in the late 1970s.

Countless versions of “Johnny Too Bad” have been recorded by other musicians in a variety of styles. The song was covered by the British reggae group UB40, the American reggae punk band Sublime, American power pop band, The Silencers, and blues artist Taj Mahal. John Martyn covered it with additional lyrics on his 1980 album Grace and Danger.


Desmond Dekker

Cover of 2-CD set of “Th e Best of Desmond Dekker” on the Trojan label, London, 2016.
Cover of 2-CD set of “Th e Best of Desmond Dekker” on the Trojan label, London, 2016.
Desmond Dekker is another Jamaican artist who had an earlier hit song – his “007 (Shanty Town)” – featured on The Harder They Come soundtrack album. Dekker (1941 – 2006) was a popular Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and reggae singer-songwriter and musician who had already had several Jamaican hit songs in the early 1960s.

But in 1967, Dekker’s “007 (Shanty Town)” became his first international hit, rising to No 1 in Jamaica and No. 14 on the UK singles chart – the first Jamaican-produced record to reach the UK top 20, which then demonstrated the viability of Jamaican music in England. It was followed by another much bigger hit with Dekker’s “Israelites” in 1968 (U.S. pop, No. 9, 1969), which uses lyrical imagery from the Biblical Exodus story.

“007 (Shanty Town)” was released in the U.K. as a 1967 single on the Pryamid label. The song has been called “the most enduring and archetypal” rude boy song. Its title and lyrics also hint at James Bond and Oceans 11 film imagery, then admired by Jamaican rude boys.

“007 (Shanty Town)”
Desmond Dekker

0-0-7, 0-0-7
At ocean eleven
And now rude boys have a go wail
‘Cause them out of jail
Rude boys cannot fail
‘Cause them must get bail

Dem a loot, dem a shoot,
dem a wail (a shanty town)
Dem a loot, dem a shoot,
dem a wail (a shanty town)
Dem rude boys get a probation
(a shanty town)
And rude boy bomb up the town
(a shanty town)

0-0-7, 0-0-7
At ocean eleven
And the rude boys a go wail
‘Cause them out of jail
Rude boys cannot fail
‘Cause them must get bail

Dem a loot, dem a shoot,
dem a wail (a shanty town)
Dem a loot, dem a shoot,
dem a wail (a shanty town)
Dem rude boys get a probation
(a shanty town)
And rude boy bomb up the town
(a shanty town)

According to Dekker, the song was also inspired in part by news coverage he had watched of a student demonstration protesting construction of an industrial complex near the beach in the Shanty Town area, where violence had erupted. The song also deals with rude boy violence and rude boys being released from prison, but continuing to commit crime.


Music Player
“007(Shanty Town)”-Desmond Dekker

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


AllMusic.com’s Jo-Ann Greene notes in her review of the song:

“If any song can be said to epitomize the entire rudeboy era, ‘007 (Shanty-Town)’ is it. The song has it all: a melody that once heard is never forgotten, a brilliant arrangement that’s all stomping beats emphasized by every one of the instruments, references to cool movies — from the Bond films’ hero to the equally hip Rat Pack flick Ocean’s 11 — and lyrics aimed directly at the rudies. Desmond Dekker succinctly sums up rudeboy ways, looting and shooting their way across the shanty-towns that surround Kingston. Amongst a clutch of pithy lyrics, “Rudeboys have no fear [or cannot fail]” was the line that inevitably brought whoops from every rudie on the dancefloor.

In The Harder They Come film, with Ivanhoe Martin doing his looting and shooting, Dekker’s tune also hits the mark — though in his earlier career, Dekker’s music had been associated with tamer, more traditional values.


“Pressure Drop”

Cover of CD with selections by Toots & The Maytals, The Definitive Collection, Trojan.
Cover of CD with selections by Toots & The Maytals, The Definitive Collection, Trojan.
“Pressure Drop,” by the Maytals, is another fine example of the infectious reggae sound. The song was written by Frederick Hibbert and recorded by The Maytals in 1969 for producer Leslie Kong. It was released as a single and on their 1970 album, Monkey Man and ….


Music Player
“Pressure Drop” – The Maytals

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


“Pressure Drop,” as offered in this song, can also have some interesting social meanings. The phrase, in one common usage can refer to a change in barometric pressure, the meteorological term, which in weather forecasting, with the technical aid of an instrument called a barometer, is used to predict adverse weather conditions and approaching storms, certainly important for island populations like Jamaica. A rapid barometric “pressure drop” can signal, for example, an approaching hurricane. And on a personal level, in a social context, a pressure drop as suggested by these lyrics, might also mean, that “a storm is coming for you.” Toots Hibbert, elaborating, has also added in one 2016 interview with The Guardian of London, that this song can serve a further purpose: as a calling for a kind of karmic justice:

It’s a song about revenge, but in the form of karma: if you do bad things to innocent people, then bad things will happen to you. The title was a phrase I used to say. If someone done me wrong, rather than fight them like a warrior, I’d say: “The pressure’s going to drop on you.”

“After this song appeared on The Harder They Come soundtrack, The Maytals enjoyed success beyond Jamaica. In one example, Clifton ‘Jackie’ Jackson, bass-player for the group, in the same 2016 interview with The Guardian mentioned above, recalled that in 1975 the Maytals were on the bill with The Who, playing to a crowd of 90,000 people in California. At that concert the Maytals were kind of stunned, “because the crowd just stood there staring, like they were going to have us for their supper. We said: ‘What the hell are we going to do?’ Then someone suggested opening with ‘Pressure Drop.’ The place erupted.”

In 2004, Rolling Stone rated “Pressure Drop” at No. 453 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song has been covered by other artists including, The Specials and The Clash, and it is also featured in the 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Disc label for Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo” single, released in 1971, Island Music Ltd.
Disc label for Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo” single, released in 1971, Island Music Ltd.


“Sitting in Limbo”

In 1971, Leslie Kong died – the producer Jimmy Cliff (and other Jamaicans) had worked with since his early youth, at age 14. According to AllMusic.com, Cliff was racked by the loss, and was not sure how to proceed.


Music Player
“Sitting in Limbo”- Jimmy Cliff

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


“Sitting in Limbo” is a song he wrote about that time; a song which also had origins in Cliff’s travels and his return to Jamaica from England where his career had stalled. He was seeking direction on several fronts. But Cliff did proceed that year, recording the album, Another Cycle, at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama. “Sitting in Limbo,” co-produced with Gully Bright, is included on that album and was also released as a single in 1971. It was added to The Harder They Come soundtrack in 1972. Jo Ann Greene at AllMusic.com notes of the song: “This gentle song perfectly captures [Cliff’s] mood, determined to somehow carry on, but unsure just how to begin…” Greene, citing its musical detail, calls the song “a true masterpiece.”


“You Can Get It…”

Jimmy Cliff on cover of later released CD of "You Can Get It If You Really Want."
Jimmy Cliff on cover of later released CD of "You Can Get It If You Really Want."
The next-to-the last track on The Harder They Come soundtrack album – as well as the album’s opening song – is also a song by Jimmy Cliff: “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” This is a song Cliff had originally written for Desmond Dekker in 1969. Dekker’s version of the song became a hit first, released as a single in a number of markets. It rose to No. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart. It was also ranked at No. 27 on the 1970 year-end U.K. chart.


Music Player
“You Can Get It If You Really Want”
Jimmy Cliff

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


Over the years, “You Can Get It If You Really Want” has become something of an anthem for can-do optimism, and an inspirational tune for individuals seeking success or persevering in personal struggles of one kind or another. It has also been used in political campaigns. In 1990 it was used as a campaign anthem during the 1990 Nicaragua elections by the ruling left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front. And SongFacts.com has noted the song was used in the U.K. in 2007 to close the British Conservative Party’s leader David Cameron’s speech during the party’s annual conference that October. In fact, the Conservatives liked it so much, apparently, the song was used again by the party as a catchphrase for a media package of newspaper ads, billboards, broadcast and web messages by Cameron calling for a shift away from “old politics.” Paraphrasing from the song’s lyrics, Cameron said: “Rome was not built in a day, opposition will come your way; but the hotter the battle you see, it’s the sweeter the victory; you can get it if you really want.” Jimmy Cliff, noted SongFacts, had his own views: “I’m from the lower class of society and I tend to support them rather than the upper class.”


Perry Henzell
Film Producer
The Harder They Come


In 1969 Perry Henzell heard Jimmy Cliff’s song, “Many Rivers to Cross,” and sensed it would be a good fit for a film he had in mind about a Jamaican’s struggle to make it. He also asked Cliff to work up some other songs for the film. But once the film was made, bringing it to a wider audience beyond Jamaica was the next step, and one fraught with challenge.

Perry Henzell, Jamaican film producer, at work, 1970s.
Perry Henzell, Jamaican film producer, at work, 1970s.
Henzell had something of an uphill fight to get his film distributed. “Nobody would take it,” he later explained to Variety in a 1995 interview. “They’d never heard of reggae music, and nobody was interested in black people in Jamaica.” The film, although told through the life of its main character, was also an unflinching look at what Henzell called “the harsh reality of Jamaican life.”

In London, he tried distributing the film himself, resorting at one point to handing out 5,000 fliers at bus and subway stops. He eventually hooked up with producer Roger Corman to help distribute the film, but that effort did not fare well initially either. In the U.S., midnight showings of the film in some college towns helped bring word-of-mouth cache, and by 1974-75 its music in particular helped broaden its marketing. Respectable reviews soon arrived (see samples in reproduced poster below).

Roger Ebert, reviewing the film February 9th, 1973, noted it was “sort of two movies in one.” First, he explained, “we get a Jamaican version of the standard black exploitation movie, with guns and gangsters and a flashy superhero turned folk hero.” But the second movie, he continued, “the one that makes the experience worthwhile – is a celebration of Jamaican music and style. This was the first extensive American movie exposure for reggae, the insinuating Jamaican music that was just then beginning to make itself heard over omnipresent rock.”

“I didn’t make the soundtrack of The Harder They Come until the last two weeks of editing,” Henzell would later note in a 2003 interview. “And I just chose all the of the music that I really loved that I thought [others would like]. And sure enough, it’s been selling ever since…”

Henzell had plans for what he hoped would be a trilogy of films centering on Jamaica and Ivanhoe Martin. A next film in that series, No Place Like Home, was started by Henzell in the 1970s but later abandoned for lack of funds. Some years later, Henzell rediscovered bits of the film and reworked it. Eventually, No Place Like Home was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival to sold-out audiences in September 2006. The film was then scheduled to be screened at the Flashpoint Film Festival in Negril, Jamaica in early December 2006. However, Perry Henzell died of cancer in November 2006. He was 70 years old. In 2015, a documentary film – Perry Henzell: A Filmmaker’s Odyssey, which explores Henzell’s journey in making No Place Like Home – was released by David Garonzik and Arthur Gorson.


1970s promo piece for film “The Harder They Come,” with a headlined review contrasting it with the Marlon Brando film of that era, ‘Last Tango in Paris.” A selection of other reviewer comments are also offered.
1970s promo piece for film “The Harder They Come,” with a headlined review contrasting it with the Marlon Brando film of that era, ‘Last Tango in Paris.” A selection of other reviewer comments are also offered.

In later years, both the film and the music would collect kudos and spawn a number of other projects. The Harder They Come soundtrack was ranked No.12 on one list of the “100 Best Film Soundtracks,” those described as “soundtracks that moved us the most” by Entertainment Weekly. In 1980, Jamaican-American author Michael Thelwell published a novel based on the film, using the same title. In August 2003, the Universal Music Group issued a two-disc deluxe edition of The Harder They Come soundtrack album, remastered with the second disc featuring additional reggae singles from 1968-1972. In 2005, the film story was developed into a stage musical by the Theatre Royal Stratford East and U.K. Arts Productions in London. The script for that production was overseen by Perry Henzell who also served as production consultant. It opened in London in March 2006 and played through 2008, going on international tour thereafter. The stage production used the original soundtrack as well as a couple of additions. In 2006, The Harder They Come film was also digitally restored, frame by frame, and issued in a remastered DVD version. In 2013, there was a 40th anniversary celebration of the film and its re-release.

Rolan Bell, one of the stars in the London musical stage production of "The Harder They Come," 2006-2009
Rolan Bell, one of the stars in the London musical stage production of "The Harder They Come," 2006-2009
Jimmy Cliff, meanwhile, was propelled to international fame by The Harder They Come. Not long after the film became popular, Cliff helped introduce reggae to America by performing two songs from the film on the first season of the Saturday Night Live TV show, episode 12, on January 31, 1976. Cliff that night sang the title track, “The Harder They Come” and “Many Rivers to Cross.” Since those heady years of the 1970s, Cliff has done a variety of work in film and music, much of which is detailed at his Wikipedia page and elsewhere. Cliff provided backing vocals on The Rolling Stones’ 1986 album Dirty Work, and appeared in the comedy Club Paradise, co-starring with Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole, also contributing several songs to the soundtrack, including “Seven Day Weekend,” which he sang with Elvis Costello. In 1988, his song “Shelter of Your Love” was featured in the hit film Cocktail. Cliff returned to the American music charts in 1993 with his Top 20 cover of “I Can See Clearly Now,” from the soundtrack for Cool Runnings. In March 2010 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As of this writing he continues to perform and lives in Jamaica.

For additional stories on music, song histories, and artist biography at this website see the “Annals of Music” category page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 25 June 2017
Last Update: 25 June 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Reggae Breaks Out: Jimmy Cliff, 1972-74,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 25, 2014.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

40th anniversary film poster for “The Harder they Come,” 2013.
40th anniversary film poster for “The Harder they Come,” 2013.
“Jimmy Cliff,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 185-186.

“The Harder They Come,” Wikipedia.org.

Tom Moon, “Reggae Rises Here: The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff,” 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, New York: Workman Publishing, pp 174–175.

Loraine Alterman, “Pop; It’s Here–Reggae Rock,” New York Times, February 4, 1973, p. 132.

Tom Shales, “’Harder They Come’: Good Work, Mahn,” Washington Post, Times Herald, February 14, 1973, p. F-1.

Ian Dove, “Records: Black Music; Soundtrack Albums of 2 Films Include Reggae Pieces From West Indies,” New York Times, February 14, 1973.

John Rockwell, “Jimmy Cliff Makes His American Debut Exciting, Formal [at Carnegie Hall],” New York Times, November 18, 1974.

John Rockwell, “The Pop Life; Toots and Maytals in a Reggae Year,” New York Times, September 26, 1975.

Tom Zito, “Jimmy Cliff: Bringing the ‘Freshest Form of Music’ From Jamaica to the U. S.,” Washington Post, October 28, 1975, p. B-9.

Stephen Davis, “Reggae Jamaica’s Inside-Out Rock and Roll; Reggae It’s Inside-Out Rock,” New York Times, November 30, 1975.

“80th Straight Weekend for Reggae Film,” New York Times, April 30, 1976.

John Rockwell, “Jimmy Cliff And Reggae In the Park,” New York Times, September 1, 1976.

National Public Radio, Morning Edition, “’The Harder They Come’ – Jimmy Cliff Film, Soundtrack Sparked the ’70s Reggae Explosion,” NPR.org, October 22, 2003.

Toby Ball, “The Harder They Come,” AllMusic.com Review.

“Jimmy Cliff, Biography,” RockHall.com.

“Jimmy Cliff, Biography,” AllMusic.com.

“The Harder They Come”(song), Wikipedia.org.

“The 20 Greatest Reggae Albums Of All-Time,” DK Presents, June 2009.

“Rivers of Babylon,” Wikipedia.org.

“Desmond Dekker,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 249.

“Many Rivers to Cross,” Wikipedia.org.

Adam Jones, “The Harder They Come”-Jimmy Cliff,” Anthems for A New Generation, January 13, 2012.

Neil McCormick, “Jimmy Cliff Interview: ‘I Still Have Many Rivers to Cross’,” The Telegraph(London), July 12, 2012.

Colin Jacobson, Review, “The Harder They Come: The Criterion Collection (1973),” DVD Movie Guide.

“Pressure Drop (song),” Wikipedia.org.

Dennis McLellan, “Perry Henzell, 70; His Movie `The Harder They Come’ Brought Reggae to the World,” Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2006.

“The Harder They Come (remastered) – Jimmy Cliff,” iTunes.com.

Song Review by Jo-Ann Greene, “Sitting in Limbo,” AllMusic.com.

Emily Dugan, “‘I Always Support the Lower Classes’: Jimmy Cliff’s Response to His Adoption by Cameron,” The Independent, October 5, 2007.

“You Can Get It If You Really Want, by Jimmy Cliff,” SongFacts.com.

Mike Riggs. “Is Reggae Classic ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ ‘Conservative’? Jimmy Cliff Weighs In,” The Washington Times, June 6, 2012.

Marc Myers, “Anatomy of a Song; The Song That Put Reggae on The Map,” Wall Street Journal, updated February 14, 2013.

Dave Simpson, “Toots and the Maytals: How We Made Pressure Drop,” The Guardian, September 6, 2016.

“Perry Henzell, 70, Filmmaker of ‘The Harder They Come,’ Dies,” New York Times, December 5, 2006.

“Perry Henzell,” Wikipedia.org.

Entertainment Weekly, “America’s 100 Best Movie Soundtracks,” FilmSite.org.

Kevin Jackson, “Chin, Cliff Surge, Dancehall Stumbles,” Jamaica Observer, Sunday, November 17, 2013.
_____________________________________





“The DeLorean Saga”
Car Guy: 1960s-1980s

Sketch of the DMC - "the DeLorean" sports car -- later built by the DeLorean Motor Co. in 1981-82.
Sketch of the DMC - "the DeLorean" sports car -- later built by the DeLorean Motor Co. in 1981-82.
It was the September 1973 story in Fortune magazine that turned heads at the General Motors Corporation, then the world’s largest automaker. Featured in the story was one of GM’s top executives then leaving the company. His name was John Z. DeLorean and he had risen to the very top of the company with astonishing speed.

This would be the same guy who would later found the DeLorean Motor Company, inventing and producing the DMC-12 sports car, also known as “the DeLorean,” in 1981-82.

It would also be the guy whose name would appear on a “tell-all” book about GM titled, On A Clean Day You Can See General Motors. But at the moment, he was caught up in the “leaving-GM” controversy, and Fortune was telling his story.

John Z. DeLorean, in fact, had been a rising star on the GM fast track; a good bet to run the place and become CEO. But DeLorean had done the unthinkable: he had quit his high-level post at General Motors (some say he was fired), doing so with controversy and in his own style.

Early 1970s photo of John Delorean that ran in Fortune magazine. By then he had gone through some personal changes, lost weight, became fit & lived a full social life, clashing with the expected GM executive model. Photo, Anthony Edgeworth.
Early 1970s photo of John Delorean that ran in Fortune magazine. By then he had gone through some personal changes, lost weight, became fit & lived a full social life, clashing with the expected GM executive model. Photo, Anthony Edgeworth.
Earlier that year, in May 1973, DeLorean had walked away from his $650,000-a-year job (about $8 million in today’s money). He had been a group vice president, one of an elite cadre of managers at the very top of the corporation.

The Fortune piece was a post-mortem on the whys and wherefores of DeLorean’s departure. But it also became hot fodder for water-cooler gossip at GM since it showed the six-foot-four Delorean shirtless in one photo, a buff 48 year-old in good trim, and also working out with weights in another.


‘Picture Star’

“He looked like a million-dollar picture star,” remarked Hollywood producer Pierre Cossette, who had met DeLorean about that time, “like he had been put together by the property department of M-G-M.,”

No, John DeLorean wasn’t your typical, every day GM executive, especially in those last few years near the top of the company. In fact, the guy had quite a reputation on his climb up the corporate ladder – known for dating Hollywood starlets and models, wearing tapered Italian suits, and roaring around town in high-performance Maseratis and Lamborghinis.

Yet John DeLorean was also a dedicated automotive professional. He had become a highly competent GM executive in a leadership role, boosting GM’s fortunes in two of its divisions and operating at the industry’s highest levels.


GM Wunderkind

John Z. DeLorean as he appeared in August 1965, a rising star at General Motors featured here in a “Car Life” magazine spread on his success with the Pontiac GTO.
John Z. DeLorean as he appeared in August 1965, a rising star at General Motors featured here in a “Car Life” magazine spread on his success with the Pontiac GTO.
In fact, during the 1960s and early 1970s, John DeLorean was a General Motors wunderkind. He ran the Pontiac Division in 1967 and 1968, leading it to record sales in both years. In 1969, he was tapped to help turn around GM’s troubled Chevrolet Division, which he did in spades.

In 1971, he was featured in Business Week. In 1972 he appeared on the cover of Automotive Industries magazine with his overhead cam engine. By 1973, he was GM’s vice president and group executive for North American cars and trucks — a huge swath of the General Motors empire, encompassing Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Cadillac, GMC, and Canadian car and truck operations. Total sales of this group at the time were $25 billion, placing it among the top echelon of only a handful of other businesses worldwide.

John DeLorean, then 48, was one of four other group-level vice presidents, and he held more GM turf than his peer Roger Smith, who would later run the company. In fact, many believed John DeLorean, too, was on the “candidate track” to run GM, and those who worked with him thought he was a sure bet to do just that.

Yet, when he made it to the company’s prestigious “14th floor”headquarters – the inner sanctum sanctorum of global auto power in those years – John DeLorean, by the early 1970s, was not exactly fitting in. Rather, DeLorean was running counter to GM’s management culture.

John DeLorean doing the company’s bidding on his way to the 14th floor, before his cultural makeover.
John DeLorean doing the company’s bidding on his way to the 14th floor, before his cultural makeover.
It was not his work – which was spotless for the most part, as his track record proved he was a valuable and creative asset to the company. At issue was his style; he was not meeting GM’s expectations of the model executive. He had become, in fact, the Willie Joe Namath of the automotive industry; a guy with plenty of ability but a personal style that grated on the conservative, button-down ways of the industrial heartland. Higher ups in the company would complain about DeLorean’s dress, his hair, his cowboy boots, his women.

In the mid-1950s when DeLorean was recruited to GM’s Pontiac division by Bunkie Knudsen, he was viewed as a hard worker and straight-arrow; just the kind of creative young man the company would want to groom for its top leadership positions. “He wasn’t flamboyant or anything; just a nice young man,” Knudsen would say of DeLorean when he hired him. And before rising to the lofty heights of GM’s command center, DeLorean had toiled for many years in the engineering bowels of the auto industry, notching some impressive accomplishments. He would later claim to have a number of patents, and would be credited for a number of automotive innovations, including the concealed windshield wiper, the overhead cam engine, and the windshield-embedded radio antenna.

John DeLorean began his rise in GM's Pontiac Division.
John DeLorean began his rise in GM's Pontiac Division.
John DeLorean with Pontiac Firebird model, later 1960s.
John DeLorean with Pontiac Firebird model, later 1960s.

Streets of Detroit

John DeLorean’s roots were in the hard scrabble streets of Detroit, where he played stickball as a kid. His father had worked in a Ford foundry. Young John proved a bright kid who applied himself in school, landing at Cass Technical High School for Detroit’s honor students, considered a feeder school for the Big Three.

At “Cass Tech,” as it known locally, DeLorean excelled, then winning a scholarship – not in engineering, but in music – to attend the Lawrence Institute of Technology. Delorean would later study industrial engineering there. At night for pocket money he played the saxophone at “black and tan” clubs, as the mixed-race jazz clubs were then called.

In 1943, during WWII, his education was interrupted when drafted into the U.S. Army. After his three-year hitch, he returned to Lawrence to complete his degree in mechanical engineering.

He then had a series of odd jobs thereafter, including a stint selling insurance before enrolling in a post-graduate engineering program at the Chrysler Institute, earning an M.A. there in industrial engineering in 1952. He was also working at Chrysler by then as well.

DeLorean would later add an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, attending at night, and he also studied law briefly.

In the mid-1950s, DeLorean moved to the Packard car company where he became director of research and development. At Packard, among other things, DeLorean improved the efficiency of their automatic transmissions by adding something called “a lockup clutch” that directly linked the engine to the wheels. Eliminating slippage in an automatic transmission provides much better fuel economy and lower temperatures.

1968 magazine ad for Pontiac GTO: “Get One, Before You’re Too Old to Understand.” DeLorean’s GTOs of the 1960s pitched power & speed to American youth.
1968 magazine ad for Pontiac GTO: “Get One, Before You’re Too Old to Understand.” DeLorean’s GTOs of the 1960s pitched power & speed to American youth.
After Packard merged with Studebaker, DeLorean in 1956 was offered a choice of jobs at General Motors. He decided to work at GM’s Pontiac division as an assistant to chief engineer Pete Estes and general manger “Bunkie” Knudsen, the son of former GM CEO Bill Knudson. Bunkie and DeLorean would become fast friends, even after Bunkie went to Ford Motor Co.

At Pontiac, in September 1956, DeLorean’s first title was director of advanced engineering. He was 31 years old.

After a few years at Pontiac, DeLorean rose to assistant chief engineer, and then chief engineer of the Pontiac division.

But in the early 1960s, working with Estes and Knudsen, DeLorean helped turned the fortunes of the Pontiac division around. What they came up with was a new “wide track” design; producing cars with longer axles and powerful engines. Initially, new high-powered Catalina and Bonneville models were quite successful. But the best was yet to come.


The GTO

1960s: John Delorean receiving a Motor Trend award for his work on the Pontiac GTO.
1960s: John Delorean receiving a Motor Trend award for his work on the Pontiac GTO.
At Pontiac, DeLorean made his mark in the early 1960s by creating a new Pontiac model called the GTO – one of the first “muscle cars,” as the high-performance street cars would be called. DeLorean and his team in 1963 took a big 389 cu. in V-8 engine outfitted with three carburetors and placed it in a smaller but newly-styled Pontiac Tempest body that was relatively light at 3,200 pounds. The result was a very hot car, with “blinding acceleration” as Brock Yates would later describe it for Sports Illustrated. This “supercar” as Delorean saw it, was perfect for the emerging new market of testosterone-brimming baby boomer males who saw themselves as street racers. DeLorean, and others – most notably Lee Iacocca at Ford with his Mustangs – saw the “boomer-hot-car” market emerging in the early 1960s, and the Pontiac GTO would lead the “muscle car” parade, touching off one of the most successful industry makeovers and product introductions in auto history.

From 1964 through 1974, each of Detroit’s then “big four” automakers all offered muscle cars – among these were AMC’s Rebel SSTs, Plymouth Road Runners, Chevrolet Chevelles, Dodge Chargers and more. [ However, with the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the emergence of the Clean Air Act and 1975 auto emissions standards, the muscle car era cooled off considerably by the mid-‘70s.]

“GTO Marketing”
Revving Up the Kids
1969

In 1969, Brock Yates, writing in Sports Illustrated, would describe some of the GTO marketing that ensued under Pontiac ad executive, Jim Wangers:

“… Realizing, with DeLorean and Estes, that rival manufacturers were plunging into the performance market with bigger, hotter cars than the GTO, [Wagners] launched a text book sales promotion campaign that included the pop hit, Little GTO record by Ronnie and the Daytonas [the writer of the song, reportedly, had come to Pontiac for advice and accuracy of lyrics]. While by-passed in the Grammy awards, Little GTO got to No. 3 on the charts, sold 1.2 million copies and got played an estimated seven million times on the nation’s rock radio stations – ground zero for the GTO market. At the same time Wangers flooded the nation with GTO shoes, emblems, T-shirts and more records until every kid from Portland, Maine to West Covina, California was stuffing his piggy bank in anticipation of the day he could purchase a GTO. In 1965, 65,000 GTOs were sold. The following year sales soared to 83,000.” (Brock Yates, Sports Illustrated, 1969).

But in the mid-1960s, the GTO was immensely popular with young drivers when it first came out. Nearly 250,000 of the fast and classy “hot rods” were sold in the first five years of production. As a result, Pontiac’s sales tripled.

It was also during DeLorean’s years leading the Pontiac division that he developed a prototype sports car – a 1964 concept model named the Pontiac Banshee. However, this project was halted since it would have been direct competition for the Chevrolet Corvette, GM’s marquee performance sports car. But it was this idea that would later lead to DeLorean’s plan for a future automotive venture, the DMC-12. More to come on this later. Still, it is alleged that DeLorean’s Banshee model was raided by others at GM for features incorporated into the 1968 Corvette.

By 1965, the high-flying success of the GTO helped send Bunkie Knudnsen up the ladder to GM corporate, Pete Estes to become general manager at Chevrolet, and DeLorean as top man at Pontiac. He was now making more than $200,000 a year. It was at this juncture in John DeLorean’s rise in the auto establishment that he appeared to begin something of personal metamorphosis.

“After giving Pontiac its new style,” Newsweek would report, “DeLorean gradually transformed himself from a button-down conformist to a vain, middle-age clotheshorse. He lost 60 lobs., began lifting weights and started draping his 6-ft’ 4-in. frame in brightly colored shirts, turtlenecks and nipped-at-the-waist suits…” He also dyed his hair, and according to some sources, had facial work done as well.

DeLorean began to enjoy the freedom and celebrity that came with his position, and spent a good deal of his time traveling to locations around the world to support promotional events. His frequent public appearances helped to solidify his image as a “rebel” businessman with his trendy dress style and casual conversation.

DeLorean also became more of a free spender, and open to new business opportunities. By 1966 he had acquired a 10 percent share of the San Diego Chargers football team, and could be found at times visiting with the team’s head coach, Sid Gilman, or star players like receiver Lance Alworth.

General Motors executive John DeLorean, shown on first of a 2-page spread in ‘For Men Only,’ June 1969.
General Motors executive John DeLorean, shown on first of a 2-page spread in ‘For Men Only,’ June 1969.
Fast cars, flashy females, and sideline access to pro football games were part of this DeLorean story.
Fast cars, flashy females, and sideline access to pro football games were part of this DeLorean story.

In June 1969, the magazine For Men Only, ran a feature story on DeLorean (above) with the title, “The Women-and-Wheels Life of Johnny DeLorean – General Motors’ 200 M.P.H., Million Dollar Swinger.” As a tag line on the article’s next page put it, “At the wheel of the world’s fastest cars, dating the flashiest females of the Jet Set, or being on the field with your own pro football team are dreams to most men, just another day to ‘Johnny Z’.”

Delorean, then age 43, had divorced his wife of 15 years. In late May 1969 he married Kelly Harmon, 21, the daughter of football legend Tom Harmon, described by one writer as “the uncrowned Miss America.”

1969: John DeLorean relaxing with his young wife, Kelly Harmon, outside their home. Photo, Sports Illustrated.
1969: John DeLorean relaxing with his young wife, Kelly Harmon, outside their home. Photo, Sports Illustrated.

After his success at Pontiac, DeLorean was promoted to the top job at the company’s Chevrolet division, GM’s flagship brand. He was the youngest man ever to head up the huge division. DeLorean was recruited for the job by GM’s CEO at the time, as Chevy was in some difficulty, with declining sales and dealer profits down. Over the next few years, DeLorean executed a turn around at Chevy, which helped solidify his management bona fides (although there were some “misses” in this period, as well, including a rather mixed record on GM’s sub-compact, “import fighter,” the Chevrolet Vega, related to the vehicle’s quality, durability and performance. Delorean, for his part, would later claim that he was “called upon by the corporation to tout the car far beyond my personal convictions about it.”). Still, under his leadership at the time, Chevrolet in 1971 became the first Big Three division to sell more than 3 million vehicles a year. And dealer profits that year had also soared by 400 percent.

1972: John DeLorean in car, ‘Signature’ magazine.
1972: John DeLorean in car, ‘Signature’ magazine.
Newsweek photo of John DeLorean shown with actress Ursula Andress at an outdoor event.
Newsweek photo of John DeLorean shown with actress Ursula Andress at an outdoor event.

But during his Chevrolet years, because he was on the road so much, and working long hours back in Detroit, there were problems at home. He was not spending enough time with his wife, Kelly, or the son they were adopting. And Kelly, younger than most other executive wives, wasn’t fitting in well either. She missed California. The pair separated in the fall of 1972 and were later divorced.

By October 1972 DeLorean was promoted again, this time as GM’s VP for its entire car and truck group. And after his separation from Kelly, he resumed a free-ranging life style, as described by Paul Ingrassia, former Detroit bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, in his book, Engines of Change:

… DeLorean started dating Ursula Andress, Raquel Welsh, and other Hollywood starlets. He appeared in gossip tabloids as often as car magazines. On Thursday nights he would commandeer a General Motors jet from Detroit to Los Angeles, where a GM junior executive would meet him with keys to a company car and hotel room in Beverly Hills or Bel Air, He would party through the weekend and fly back to Detroit Monday nights, showing up in the office on Tuesday morning. On Thursday nights, it was back out to Hollywood again.

His bosses tolerated this flight pattern because DeLorean sill produced results. He eliminated layers of management, reorganized engineering,… slashed inventory, and installed computerized financial controls… On September 19, 1971, Business Week touted him on its cover with the headline: “John Z. DeLorean: A Swinger Tries to Cure Chevy’s Ills.”

In 1972, under Delorean’s leadership, Chevrolet became the first automotive nameplate on earth to sell more than 3 million vehicles in a single years. It was a major milestone, and in October of that year, DeLorean was promoted yet again: to group vice president in charge of GM’s entire car and truck business….

On his way up the corporate ladder at GM, DeLorean had leapfrogged ahead of several promising engineers, some with more seniority. At Pontiac, DeLorean had already been the youngest GM division head at 40. And with his arrival as head of GM’s North American operations, he began collecting his $650,000-a-year paycheck. In his rise, he had occasionally rubbed colleagues the wrong way, made unflattering public statements about other auto executives, or offended important politicians, calling Michigan’s Republican U.S. Senator, Robert Griffin, for example, a “moron.”

Still, in his last couple of years at GM, he continued his jet-setting lifestyle, seen in celebrity circles with noted businessmen and entertainers. In Hollywood, he became friends with James T. Aubrey, president of Metro-Goldwyn -Mayer studios, and was introduced to entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and The Tonight Show TV host, Johnny Carson. He also met financier Kirk Kerkorian. By then, DeLorean also held a 1.5 percent interest in the New York Yankees baseball team.

Cristina Ferrare on the July 1974 cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Cristina Ferrare on the July 1974 cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Cristina Ferrare in a 1975 magazine advertisement for Max Factor eye makeup.
Cristina Ferrare in a 1975 magazine advertisement for Max Factor eye makeup.

In 1972 DeLorean began dating Cristina Ferrare (above), an American supermodel, who had graced fashion magazine covers. Hired as a model by the makeup company Max Factor when she was 16, Ferrare at 20 signed with the New York modeling agency Eileen Ford. She soon became a cover girl for major fashion magazines and later did TV and film work as well. DeLorean and Ferrare would marry in 1973.


14th Floor Blues

DeLorean’s disaffection with his position at GM began to surface when he moved from heading up the Chevrolet division to becoming a regional vice president. As a head of a car company line, auto executives had public visibility and more hands-on involvement with the business. On the 14th floor, however, although at the center of GM power, life was considerably more boring, filled with lots of meetings, and as some would later speculate, not at all in the style of John Z. DeLorean.

Late 1960s: John DeLorean, far right, at meeting when he was head of the Chevrolet division, where he felt more engaged, could meet with dealers, travel the country, etc., as opposed to life on the 14th floor.  Sports Illustrated.
Late 1960s: John DeLorean, far right, at meeting when he was head of the Chevrolet division, where he felt more engaged, could meet with dealers, travel the country, etc., as opposed to life on the 14th floor. Sports Illustrated.

As one friend noted, it was “like putting a straitjacket on Secretariat”(famous thoroughbred race horse). Another observed, “instead of [being] the big cheese at Chevy or Pontiac, he was just another vice president upstairs at the GM staff level.” DeLorean himself would recount one meeting with an executive who told him he should “disappear into the wallpaper up here.” DeLorean, in other words, was being told to tone down his act.

In addition, on the 14th floor, DeLorean’s ideas for GM’s business were being rejected, which was something of a new experience for him. His idea for making restyling changes earlier in the design cycle was nixed, as was the plan to make model changeovers at night and on weekends to keep plant shutdowns at a minimum, which would have saved the company $1 billion by his accounting. His suggestion to meet the 1975 federal air pollution emissions standards (then three years away) with catalytic converters was also rejected – as GM and the Big Three would instead lobby Washington for a one-year extension the Clean Air Act deadline ( the first of many such delays the automakers would win from subsequent administrations and/or Congress). DeLorean, in fact, had caught the attention of some environmentalists and safety advocates who viewed him as someone who might help turn GM in a better direction.


Little Innovation

According to some accounts, DeLorean had misgivings about GM and what he was seeing in the business well before his rise to the 14th floor. Detroit Free Press writer, Paul Hendrickson, noted in a Detroit magazine profile shortly after Delorean had left GM:“…My concern was that there hadn’t been an important product innova-tion in the industry since the automatic transmis-sion and power steering in 1949…”    – John DeLorean

“…By late 1972, there were new rumblings [for DeLorean]. More and more, many of America’s cars were becoming to him just big, vulgar hunks of tin and chrome. At the auto show in [Detroit’s] Cobo hall that fall, DeLorean was repulsed by what he later said was the gaudiness everywhere he looked. He began to question all over again the validity of bending the tin a different direction each year.”

DeLorean’s disenchantment with GM he would later say, actually began “sometime in the late 1960s,” when “a nagging suspicion about the philosophy of General Motors and the automobile business began to overtake me…” At that point he began looking at the company more critically, recalling what he had witnessed over 17 years. “My concern was that there hadn’t been an important product innovation in the industry since the automatic transmission and power steering in 1949. That was almost a quarter century in technological hibernation.”

In place of product innovation, DeLorean charged that the automobile industry “went on a two-decade marketing binge which generally offered up the same old product under the guise of something new and useful.” There really wasn’t much that was new, DeLorean said. “But year in and year out we were urging Americans to sell their cars and buy new ones because the styling had changed. There really was no reason for them to change from one model to the next, except for the new wrinkles in the sheet metal…”“Soon,” he would later write, “I found myself questioning the bigger picture; the morality of the whole GM system…” DeLorean felt that more emphasis on innovations that made a car safer, easier to drive, more trouble free, or more economic to operate would bring true benefit to the consumer. These were new found concerns for DeLorean, who admitted he had been among the stylists who pushed for superficial model changes in the past.

“Soon,” he would later write in a tell-all book, “I found myself questioning the bigger picture; the morality of the whole GM system… The undue emphasis on profits and cost control without a wide concern for the effects of GM’s business on its many publics seemed too often capable of bringing together, in the corporation, men of sound, personal morality and responsibility who as a group reached business decisions which were irresponsible and of questionable morality.” At GM, DeLorean charged, “the concern for the effects of products… was never discussed except in terms of cost or sales potential…”


Small Cars
Delorean & GM

In the late 1960s, small cars produced by foreign manufacturers, notably Volkswagen, and later the Japanese, were beginning to penetrate the American market in a noticeable way. But such sales — and the emerging trend — were dismissed for the most part by Detroit’s Big Three automakers, preferring to sell large cars. This was occurring a few years before the 1973-74 arab oil embargo and resulting U.S. energy crisis, revealing America’s big-car culture to be energy profligate and vulnerable. John DeLorean then headed GM’s Chevrolet division, and he became a voice for trying to move GM away from its large-car bias, a task that proved difficult and bucked up against GM tradition and culture. Here is an excerpt from Jack Doyle’s book, Taken For a Ride, on that period:

…Detroit’s heart and soul — and its leadership — just weren’t in the small-car business, a fact often admitted, and for some like Ford engineer Hal Sperlich, deeply lamented. But like Sperlich at Ford, there were a few voices within the industry that tried to push efficiency and smaller car design well before the energy crisis.Cole and DeLorean…were up against the fundamen-tal Alfred Sloan growth dictum of…trading up to bigger cars. At General Motors, Ed Cole and John DeLorean, then head of the GM’s Chevrolet division, had argued for smaller cars in the late 1960s. They pointed to the VW Beetle and the fact that much of the sales growth in the U.S. since 1965 had been in the small car segment. Smaller families, congested roads, higher costs and shifting values were also part of a trend toward a new market segment. But Cole and DeLorean were voices in the wilderness at GM; for they were up against the fundamental Alfred Sloan [formative and legendary GM CEO] growth dictum of GM’s success: trading up to bigger cars. By this rule, every American had a fundamental right (if not an economic obligation) to “trade up” to bigger cars — an idea that has never lost favor in management, even today. Cole and DeLorean — prodding GM to design smaller and lighter compacts and intermediates, while scaling down full-size cars — were bucking tradition. And they ran into GM’s powerful finance committee; then dominated by executives who had served with Sloan, and who were solidly committed to the big-car world view.

At John DeLorean’s departure from GM in 1973, he also made remarks on this topic in an October 28, 1973 New York Times story as follows:

…The thing that disappointed me was that most of the growth in the auto business in the last 10 years [ 1963-1973] has gone to the foreign cars. [That] business is 1.5 million units, and it’s gone overseas. This is an indictment of our industry.

…It was my feeling that we had a moral responsibility to build smaller cars, especially in G.M.’s case as America’s major supplier of transportation equipment.

Clip from October 28th, 1973 New York Times story  & interview with John DeLorean by reporter Robert Irvin.
Clip from October 28th, 1973 New York Times story & interview with John DeLorean by reporter Robert Irvin.

We had a responsibility to do that — whether it was profitable or not. And what happened is that we didn’t, and we left those cars to overseas.

Then we got to the point where the trade deficit on automobiles alone was $3.5-billion or $4-billion a year and that was the total amount of the nation’s trade deficit. That was the principal reason the dollar had to be devalued three or four times and we had no credibility in the financial world.

These guys refused to step up to their responsibility. Some guys say you should not do anything that’s not profitable. That is a matter of opinion.

…[I] wanted to bring out a sub-Vega size car long before the Vega [ was introduced in 1970].

We had worked out a line of smaller cars, that really combined the Camaro and Nova in a considerably smaller car so that today’s [i.e., 1973’s] intermediate-sized Chevelle would have been the size of the present compact Nova and the Nova would, have been somewhat smaller but with the same amount of size inside…. [ That program was cancelled ].

However, during DeLorean’s watch as head of the Chevrolet division, the Vega was launched, a small car whose first five years of production saw erratic fuel economy (23 mpg in 1971; 13 mpg in 1973), body rusting within a few months of purchase, a problem-plagued aluminum engine, and various brake, drive-train and rear-axle problems. These shortcomings and others in GM and Ford small cars [i.e., the Pinto] raised troubling questions about the U.S. auto industry’s engineering capabilities — a harbinger of things to come in later years. It also brought forward for the first time in Detroit “the quality issue.”


Greenbrier Speech

DeLorean’s growing disaffection with GM seemed to bubble up in a speech he was preparing to give at a November 1972 gathering of GM’s top 700 managers in Greenbrier, West Virginia. GM held such meetings every few years or so to have its managers talk candidly about needed internal changes and new perspectives. DeLorean was asked to talk on Product Quality, and his earlier drafts were quite pointed and critical, but later toned down by management. None of the material, in any case, was intended for the public beyond GM. But an earlier draft of DeLorean’s speech was leaked, and made its way into the Detroit News in November 1972.

While John DeLorean was having his doubts about GM, the press was still featuring him in cover stories, here with Signature magazine in November 1972 – “Man on the Move John Delorean: The New Mr. Cool at General Motors.”
While John DeLorean was having his doubts about GM, the press was still featuring him in cover stories, here with Signature magazine in November 1972 – “Man on the Move John Delorean: The New Mr. Cool at General Motors.”
DeLorean’s speech included a number of topics, including some discussion of the Wankel engine, an alternative internal combustion engine then thought to be a low-polluting alternative to the conventional ICE, later found to have poor fuel economy and was dropped. However, it was his critique of the company’s poor product quality at the time that appeared to wound GM most deeply.

DeLorean revealed that GM was then spending as estimated $500 million annually in warranty repairs — a huge sum in the early 1970s. “Poor quality,” DeLorean wrote for his prepared remarks, which were printed in the newspaper, “threatens to destroy us.” DeLorean also noted, “every defect, each recall, only diminishes the credibility of whatever amount of advertising we do.” Poor quality in GM’s cars, he continued, “has already resulted in seriously declining owner-loyalty… and reduced credibility of our promises to do better next time.”

After that speech, GM Vice Chairman Thomas Murphy, who generally had judged DeLorean on his ability and solid business performance, began to lose confidence in him. It was about then as well that DeLorean himself began to realize he was on his way out.

In December 1972, DeLorean wrote a 19-page single-spaced memorandum to Murphy. The memo recounted in great detail what DeLorean believed to be GM’s failings and poor record — on safety and pollution, among other concerns. One small portion of that memo, pertaining to the company’s views on emissions control, is excerpted below:

…In no instance, to my knowledge, has GM ever sold a car that was substantially more pollution free than the law demanded — even when we had the technology. As a matter of fact, because the California laws were tougher, we sold “cleaner” cars there and “dirtier” cars throughout the rest of the nation. This approach of just doing the bare bones minimum to just scrape by the pollution law when GM could do much better by spending a few dollars is not socially responsible. With our virtual monopoly position in the industry we also, in effect,DeLorean argued that GM, with its dominant market position, could lead the industry with socially-re-sponsible technology and push its competitors in that direction as well. control our competitors — who would be economically devastated if they tried to do better socially but at a greater product cost.

We of Chevrolet proposed to the EPG [Engineering Policy Group] that we make our cars cleaner than the law demanded — we were told that the other divisions did not need a $15.00 air pump to meet the law — we were to take it off our cars. Our next proposal was to have all optional engines exceed the law (do the best we knew) since the customer would pay the extra cost anyhow — once again we were not permitted to do so for fear we would lose a few sales…

…Our corporation has lost credibility with the public and the government because each new emissions standard has been greeted by our management’s immediate cries of “impossible,” “prohibitively expensive,” “not economically responsible” — usually before we even knew what it involved. The remarkable thing is that with all of our resources and the amount we tell the government we are spending on emissions research that most of the significant developments in this field have come from someone else — for example, our first answer, the “Clean Air Package,” was developed by a handful of engineers at Chrysler, the manifold reactor which meets the 1975 standard now (and should be in production) was developed by Du Pont with less than 10% of our facilities and manpower. The other 1975 answer, the catalytic converter with EGR, was developed by a small grant given by Ford, several oil companies and several Japanese manufacturers. Not a very good record for a corporation that professes to be vitally interested in emissions. When we tell government about our large expenditures for emissions controls we don’t bother to tell them that very little is being spent on R and D and that most of our money is spent on adapting hardware to our wide variety of engines.

Feb 1974: John DeLorean shown in a reflective pose on the cover of Detroit magazine: “The Private Side of John Delorean: Designing a New Life at 49.”
Feb 1974: John DeLorean shown in a reflective pose on the cover of Detroit magazine: “The Private Side of John Delorean: Designing a New Life at 49.”
Murphy gave the memo back to DeLorean without any response or comment, and before long, John DeLorean knew he would have to resign.

In January 1973, after 17 years of making his way to the top of the auto game, John DeLorean took the final plane ride from Detroit to New York to meet with three GM executives to tender his resignation. Some say DeLorean’s departure from GM was not his decision but GM’s, choosing to rid itself of a bothersome critic. Upon leaving, however, DeLorean was awarded a Cadillac dealership in Florida and was owed over $500,000 in bonus pay. And while he planned his next venture, he would also run the National Alliance for Businessmen for one year, an organization that helped find jobs for disadvantaged minorities. GM would pay him a $200,000 salary while he held this post. The resignation letter, which DeLorean signed at GM’s headquarters in New York city after meeting with GM Chairman Richard Gerstenberg and Vice Chairman Thomas Murphy, would become effective on May 31, 1973.

Meanwhile, in his personal life, Delorean and Cristina Ferrare were married that same month, May 1973. By February 1974, in addition to his home in the Bloomfield Hills of Detroit, he had a string of real estate holdings that included a cattle ranch in Salmon Idaho, an avocado farm in southern California’s Puma Valley, and a D.C. townhouse. Later, a New Jersey estate and a New York city residence would be added.


The Bombshell

1st edition of, “On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors,” John DeLorean's GM account, as written and published by J. Patrick Wright.
1st edition of, “On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors,” John DeLorean's GM account, as written and published by J. Patrick Wright.
“On a Clear Day…”

Upon leaving GM, DeLorean agreed to collaborate in writing a “tell all” book about his GM experience with J. Patrick Wright, a former Detroit Business Week bureau chief. Wright had covered the auto industry for 13 years.

As the book project got underway in the mid-1970s, and Wright proceeded with the writing, DeLorean began his quest for a new automotive business venture. He planned to build a new sports car, and would found a new auto company to do it; a company he called the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). The car he planned to build and sell would be called the DMC-12 (more on the venture later below).

However, as DeLorean set about raising money and making connections in the auto industry for suppliers and production, he began to worry about the forthcoming book he and Wright were doing, and possible retaliation from GM on his new-car venture.

For several years, in fact, DeLorean vacillated about publication, frustrating Wright to the point of Wright mortgaging his house to stake the book’s publication. Wright persisted because he believed that what DeLorean had told him about GM, and big business generally, was important for the public to see. Finally, in November 1979, after four years of holding the book off the market, and at least one blown publishing contract with Playboy Press, the book was published — and some controversy began.

J. Patrick Wright, former Business Week Detroit Bureau Chief.
J. Patrick Wright, former Business Week Detroit Bureau Chief.
“It is his book,” said Wright of DeLorean and the story, which was written in the first person as told to Wright by DeLorean. “He told me several times that it is exactly what he wanted.”

Wright, who had staked his personal reputation on the book’s publication, also added in the introduction that “much of the factual content, anecdotes, tenor and tone of the book has been confirmed in my own outside reporting.” Wholesalers sold all 20,000 copies of the first edition. Another 20,000 copies were quickly printed.

DeLorean, for his part, gave a two-hour interview on the book that November (1979) with several reporters. By then he was well along with plans for his DMC car idea and was then working out of a suite of ultra modern offices atop a Manhattan office building – which had a clear view of GM’s office tower a few blocks away.

Regarding the book, DeLorean acknowledged On A Clear Day to be a true account, and said there were no significant errors of fact and no misrepresentations of his own views about GM. In fact, DeLorean reiterated that he didn’t see a dramatic difference in the GM of that day (1979) compared to the company he had left in 1973. He also offered comment on one current hot Detroit topic: the financial troubles of the Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler at the time, prior to Lee Iaccoca, was near bankruptcy, and complained that government regulation was the cause. “That’s bullshit,” DeLorean said, pointing to stumbles by mistake-prone management, adding however, that he did support government aid to bail out Chrysler.

John DeLorean, in his Manhattan office suite during his DMC planing years in the 1970s, high above New York city.
John DeLorean, in his Manhattan office suite during his DMC planing years in the 1970s, high above New York city.

On A Clear Day, meanwhile, exposed a whole laundry list of GM misdoings — from industrial espionage and contempt for workers, to poor quality in manufacturing and misleading advertising campaigns. The book showed GM’s fledgling attempt to produce the 1968 Vega, a car that was supposed to compete with the VW bug, but instead became an engineering disaster, and was dropped by the end of the 1977 model year.

First edition, Wright/DeLorean book, 1979.
First edition, Wright/DeLorean book, 1979.
DeLorean also revealed that the Corvair in 1959 “was unsafe as it was originally designed” and that GM knew it was unsafe and made “an immoral business decision” to produce the car. The Corvair had also been the central subject of Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, Unsafe At Any Speed, to which DeLorean’s charges helped lend further substantiation. On a Clear Day also described the efforts of the company to “squelch information which might prove the [Corvair’s] deficiencies.”

In the book, DeLorean also recounts one tale in 1971 of the company’s attempt to destroy 19 boxes of microfilmed complaints from Corvair owners, only to have those boxes come back to GM by way of two Detroit junk dealers who found them, selling them back to GM for $20,000. DeLorean’s management critique of GM, including the increasing centralization of management at the expense of its individual car divisions, would prove to be prophetic as GM and all of Detroit became victimized by their own inertia and myopia during the 1980s.

A number of journalists gave the Wright /DeLorean book glowing reviews. “What we have spread on the record is a stunning account of the venality, narrow-mindedness – yes, even immorality – of one big American business,” wrote Washington Post business reporter Hobart Rowan.

June 1980: Avon paperback edition of “On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors.”
June 1980: Avon paperback edition of “On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors.”
Others, however, were more critical, challenging DeLorean’s motives. Detroit News columnist Robert Irvin found DeLorean’s memory a selective one, and the book “full of gossip” and detailed accounts of office politics and executive pettiness. Still, even Irvin said the book “should be read by students of the auto industry because DeLorean offers some interesting insights and opinions about GM corporate life.”

The back jacket of the June 1980 Avon paperback edition leads with a series of press blurbs and offers a summary description:

“Controversial.” – The New York Times

“Damming.” – Saturday Review

“Riveting.” – Chicago Sun Times

In the spring of 1973. John Z DeLorean stunned the business world by handing in his resignation as a Vice President of General Motors. His rise had been meteoric. By his mid-forties he was their most brilliant and flamboyant young executive, earning $650,000 a year and destined to become the next president of the industrial giant. But the higher he rose, the more disillusioned he became. When he saw what really went on along Executive Row – the corruption, the mismanagement, the total irresponsibility at every level – he decided the climb to the top was no longer worth it. He got out.

This is John Z. DeLorean’s story, the unprecedented and unforgettable expose of America’s most powerful supercorporation – the book that blows the lid off the king of carmakers.

On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors sold more than 1.6 million copies, and the book is still used today in schools and colleges for reference and the study of the automobile industry. Meanwhile, Part 2 of the John Delorean story was already in motion.


The DMC Dream

DeLorean in a happier moment, promoting his DMC.
DeLorean in a happier moment, promoting his DMC.
After leaving GM, and mulling over his options for a time, DeLorean managed to do what few others in the auto business had done: begin a new automobile company. He set up the DeLorean Motor Corporation (DMC) in Ireland, with the partial backing of the British government, delivering by the fall of 1978, a prototype “gull-wing” sports car. Production models for sale, however, would take a bit longer.

The fact that he could raise the money alone was something of a coup. “No one had ever doubted his talent, for he was one of the most creative young men of his generation,” wrote David Halberstam in his 1986 book on the auto industry, The Reckoning. “Many thought, that his was the most plausible attempt by an American at a start-up [auto] company since that of Henry Kaiser…” Halberstam observed that DeLorean’s flamboyant style and Iacocca-like national recognition, helped him raise the money.

DeLorean needed $175 million to finance his dream. He enlisted more than one hundred investors, including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr., who put over $12 million into a partnership for research and development while the British government produced $156 million in grants and loans in return for DeLorean locating the DMC factory in Northern Ireland. (Britain liked the idea of creating 2,000 new jobs in a region suffering a 20 percent unemployment rate.) He also had more than 250 U.S. car dealers sign up as partner/investors, with many of those filing early orders for the car. DeLorean, however, according to some accounts, risked relatively little of his own money — $700,000 by one estimate — but he seemed to be on the road to having his dream come true.

1981: John DeLorean at right showing famous late night talk show host, Johnny Carson  – also a DMC investor – some of the internal controls of a DeLorean Motor Car.
1981: John DeLorean at right showing famous late night talk show host, Johnny Carson – also a DMC investor – some of the internal controls of a DeLorean Motor Car.

And as he pursued his DMC, DeLorean lived in the style of the well-paid business executive that he had become accustomed to. Among his multiple residences in 1982 were, for example: a $7.2 million, 20-room Fifth Avenue duplex; a $3.5 million estate in New Jersey; and a $4 million California ranch. His estimated net worth at the time was $28 million. As DMC’s CEO, his salary was nearly half a million dollars a year. DMC’s New York city offices, meanwhile – in a GM- comparable skyscraper – ran a costly $25,000-a-month.

The DMC and DeLorean received quite extensive publicity both in advance of the car’s actual production and as it first became available for sale in 1981-82. The car was featured in a number of prominent auto magazines well before it became available, helping to stoke expectations. And DeLorean himself appeared on magazine covers and in numerous media stories.

Oct 1979: DeLorean w/DMC, billed by Success mag. as a “pioneer in a new era of individual opportunity.”
Oct 1979: DeLorean w/DMC, billed by Success mag. as a “pioneer in a new era of individual opportunity.”
John DeLorean & his DMC featured in a laudatory 1982 Cutty Sark profile.
John DeLorean & his DMC featured in a laudatory 1982 Cutty Sark profile.

One 1982 Cutty Sark Scotch whisky advertisement — featuring Delorean’s face and his DMC — offered a profile that was especially laudatory, opening with the headline: “One Out of Every 100 New Businesses Succeeds. Here’s to Those Who Take the Odds.” And the ad’s text gave DeLorean rave reviews:

John DeLorean was on the way to the presidency of General Motors when he quit to build his own car company. In his 17 years with GM he helped quadruple Pontiac sales, built Chevrolet into a 3-million seller and was awarded 44 automotive patents. While his bosses railed at him for wearing his hair too long.

Now his stainless steel DeLorean Sports Car is here. Designed to last 20 years rust free. And the first year’s production is sold out.

John DeLorean anticipates the needs and wants of car buyers. He does no less for the scotch drinkers he invites to his home. That’s why he selects and serves the impeccably smooth Cutty Sark… The Scotch with a following of leaders…

Automobile suppliers were also eager to use DeLorean and his upcoming DMC in their product advertising. Goodyear, for example, ran a double page magazine spread in about the DMC’s use of their tires on the new model, with DeLorean along for the photo shoot. “Goodyear. Quality A Man Can Stake His Reputation On,” read the ad’s headline, with DeLorean getting good press in the ad’s copy (below):

Circa 1981-82. Goodyear’s double-page magazine ad touted the man and the car -- and of course, its own tires on the car.
Circa 1981-82. Goodyear’s double-page magazine ad touted the man and the car -- and of course, its own tires on the car.

John Z. DeLorean. A legend in the car industry long before he ever decided to build his dream car. And when he did decide to build his dream car, he went to Lotus for the suspension; to Giugiaro for the design.

And to Goodyear for the tires.

Working with Goodyear engineers, and drawing on Goodyear’s unequalled racing experience, John Z. decided on race-type sizing for optimum balance and handling:

Goodyear NCT 195/60 HR14s for the front: larger Goodyear NCT235/60 HR15s for the rear.

Given John Z’s knowledge of the automobile industry, he could have decided to have just about any major tire manufacturer provide him with tires for the first car bearing his name.

But when John’s first car rolled off the line, the only name other than John’s that appeared on the exterior was ours.

Our name is Goodyear, And we make high-performance radial tires.

Radial tires that a man can stake his reputation on.

March 2, 1981. Automotive News reporting on the first DMCs produced in Ireland.
March 2, 1981. Automotive News reporting on the first DMCs produced in Ireland.
DeLorean the GM critic, meanwhile, would also surface from time to time in the media, goading GM or the industry generally on one or more topics, a favorite being lack of innovation.

“Today’s transverse engine front-wheel-drive layouts,” he wrote in an April 1981 New York Times Op-Ed piece, “differ little from the British Layland mini [car] of 25 years ago…” In that same piece, he also suggested that a then-advertized GM efficiency feature was hardly cutting edge:

“I remember my first visit to the GM proving ground in October 1956. I rode in a 1956 Chevrolet with John Dolza, GM’s noted engine engineer. In this particular car, he had rigged the V-8 engine to run on all eight cylinders when maximum power was required and to cruise at highway speeds on only four cylinders to save fuel. That was 24 years ago. [emphasis added]. A Cadillac advertisement recently touted that a V-8 that accelerates on eight cylinders and cruises on four is 1981’s hottest feature…”

After a fair amount of hype and numerous false starts, the production of his $25,000 V-6-powered, stainless-steel, gull-winged DMC-12 finally began in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The snazzy car debuted in February 1981. In Los Angeles there was an unveiling of the car at the Biltmore Hotel on February 8th, 1981 with Johnny Carson, DeLorean, wife Cristina Ferrare and others.

One of the print ads that ran in 1982 for the DMC, using the theme, 'The DeLorean: Live The Dream'.
One of the print ads that ran in 1982 for the DMC, using the theme, 'The DeLorean: Live The Dream'.
Some advertising for the car had also begun, using the theme, “The DeLorean: Live The Dream,” with ad copy hyping the car’s special features and noting the company’s 345 U.S. dealers would deliver a “superb standard of service.”

But the DMC’s introduction and early sales were not without glitches. There were some quality problems with the cars, though these for the most part were quickly addressed with a series of Quality Assurance Centers set up to correct problems before the cars went to the dealers. But entering the market in 1981 there was lower priced competition in the sports car class from Datsun, Mazda, and Porsche. The DMC, at $26,000, cost $8,000 more than a Chevy Corvette. There was also a recession during 1981-82. The hoped-for sales of 12,000 DMCs a year fell short by half.

DeLorean then faced a raft of DMC-related financial difficulties – not least of which was money owed against some very weak cash flow. He had sought a second round of financial help from the British Government without success (which some believe could have helped the company survive and was shortsighted by the Thatcher government). Other sources of financial help were limited, with earlier backers tapped out. And that’s when some believe John DeLorean ventured into desperate territory.


“Busted”

In the fall of 1982, DeLorean’s fortunes changed rather abruptly when he walked into the middle of an FBI drug sting in Los Angeles. There he was videotaped in an airport hotel meeting with 50 pounds of cocaine in a breifcase while saying, “it’s as good as gold,” a reference to the drug’s possible street value. This was DeLorean’s assumed move to help generate the large amounts of capital he needed to keep his car company afloat. But now he was busted; arrested and charged with conspiring to sell drugs. But the arrest was just the beginning of a very public prosecution and trial that would stretch over nearly 2 years.

Time’s Nov. 1st, 1982 cover story: “DeLorean’s Shattered Dream.”
Time’s Nov. 1st, 1982 cover story: “DeLorean’s Shattered Dream.”
New York Daily News front page on DeLorean drug bust, Oct. 22, 1982.
New York Daily News front page on DeLorean drug bust, Oct. 22, 1982.
Newsweek’s Nov. 1st, 1982 story on DeLorean: “From Cars to Cocaine.”
Newsweek’s Nov. 1st, 1982 story on DeLorean: “From Cars to Cocaine.”

The bust was something of a media event, with Time, Newsweek and many newspapers giving the story top billing and front-page treatment. DeLorean’s trial following his arrest fueled the tabloids for months. There were stories in People magazine featuring DeLorean and wife Cristina. One unflattering profile of DeLorean appeared in a New York magazine cover story by Michael Daly titled, “The Real DeLorean Story.” Rather than the well-intentioned maverick businessman with tendencies toward ethical car production and righting callous corporate decision making, DeLorean, in this piece, was characterized as a ruthless operator and something of a con man, leaving a trail of unhappy business partners, self-interested investments, and litigation by various wronged parties. According to this piece, a range of creditors, former partners, and government agencies all had him in court for a variety of charged offenses, from breach of contract an unpaid attorney fees to racketeering and income tax evasion.

People, Nov. 29, 1982: Cristina “telling the kids about Dad.”
People, Nov. 29, 1982: Cristina “telling the kids about Dad.”
Nov. 1982. New York magazine cast DeLorean in unflattering story.
Nov. 1982. New York magazine cast DeLorean in unflattering story.
April 1984. People magazine at trial time asks: “Will He Get Off?”
April 1984. People magazine at trial time asks: “Will He Get Off?”

Back at the main event, however – DeLorean’s drug trial and the government’s alleged conspiracy case against him – he had pled not guilty and his attorney mounted a defense that charged the government agents (who had first posed a legitimate investors) with entrapment and luring Delorean into the drug deal. It was a strategy that won the day. DeLorean was acquitted of all charges in 1984 – “not so much because the jury believed him,” wrote David Halberstam in his book, The Reckoning, citing those who had followed the case, “but rather because ordinary Americans did not like the idea of their government setting up its citizens…”

Detroit Free Press headlines of August 17th, 1984 on “not guilty” verdict in DeLorean’s drug case. Second headline: “Tapes Were Dramatic, But Didn’t Sway Jurors.”
Detroit Free Press headlines of August 17th, 1984 on “not guilty” verdict in DeLorean’s drug case. Second headline: “Tapes Were Dramatic, But Didn’t Sway Jurors.”
In addition, DeLorean’s wife, Cristina Ferrare, appeared to be a particularly strong and loyal companion throughout his drug ordeal and trial. She put her modeling career on hold to devote time to family and helping her husband raise money for his defense, including, reportedly, selling parts of her personal diary to People magazine for $110,000. And she was also an invaluable public relations asset throughout the trial. People’s Michael Ryan would later write of her in late December 1984, post verdict:

“…But the most telling argument for the defense was the woman who sat at [DeLorean’s] side most days, descended like a fairy princess from the ether of her high-fashion world to give the jury a lesson in wifely devotion. Surely Cristina Ferrare DeLorean — loyal, chic, and smart – would not be the moll of a drug peddler. Nobody ever said that in so many words, but it was a question the jury had to ponder every time the faithful wife appeared in the courtroom. The government said that DeLorean acted out of greed; his lawyers said he acted out of fear, to protect his family from drug dealers. The jury, weighing the model of matrimonial devotion against the testimony of often bumbling government operatives, decided that evil was not in the mind of John DeLorean.”

By this time, the British Government had closed down DeLorean’s DMC plant in Ireland in 1983, which still had several hundred cars in stock and others on the production line. He and his company, meanwhile, would become ensnared in business-related litigation for years thereafter. In the end, fewer than 10,000 DMC cars were produced. But many of those cars have had an amazing second life, with more than 6,000 in fact still in use today, testament to their “no rust” billing. More on that in a moment.

Poster for the film “Back to The Future,” now a three-film,  billion franchise with a universe of related products.
Poster for the film “Back to The Future,” now a three-film, billion franchise with a universe of related products.

Back To The Future

One happy development for DeLorean’s legal troubles and his legacy, however, came in 1985, when a movie named Back to the Future — starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as the slightly unhinged but lovable Doc Brown – used the DMC-12 as one of its main characters: the time-travelling machine aiding Marty and Doc in their adventures.

In fact, there were three Back to the Future films (1985, 1989, and 1990) and the then-defunct DeLorean DMC-12 car received a huge popularity boost throughout the world. The three films have grossed nearly $1 billion to date, and DeLorean through the 1980s and 1990s collected millions in licensing fees from all three, plus a piece of the action from a related animated television series, toys, games, and other Back to the Future paraphernalia.

In fact, the income generated by the DMC’s starring role in the Back to the Future franchise helped to keep DeLorean afloat as creditors, partners, and government agencies pursued him for various damages, taxes, and fees. The DMC, meanwhile, lives on.

In 1995, a Liverpool-born mechanic and business entrprenur Stephen Wynne started a separate company using the “DeLorean Motor Company” name. He would also acquire the remaining parts inventory (in fact, quite substantial and enough to build a couple hundred new DMCs) and the “DMC” logo trademark. Now based in the Houston, Texas area, and known informally as “ DMC Texas”, this company has five franchised dealers in Florida, Illinois, California, Washington and the Netherlands helping to service existing DMCs, of which some 6,000 are believed to be still in operation. And as of January 2016, this company was also building new DMCs in limited numbers, some priced around $100,000. The DMC has also became something of a car-collectors favorite, with a number of clubs and/or fan websites devoted to the car and its history.

“De Lorean: Stainless Steel Illusion,” by John Lamm, published, April 1983.
“De Lorean: Stainless Steel Illusion,” by John Lamm, published, April 1983.
Hillel Levin’s book, “John DeLorean: The Maverick Mogul,” published in October 1983.
Hillel Levin’s book, “John DeLorean: The Maverick Mogul,” published in October 1983.
“Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. Delorean,” Ivan Fallon & James Srodes, 1985.
“Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. Delorean,” Ivan Fallon & James Srodes, 1985.

Tougher Times

John DeLorean, meanwhile, had a tougher life following his failed car effort and his battles with the government. He divorced again in 1985, married for a fourth time, and led a much quieter life through the 1990s. Still, he was seen occasionally in media photos, attending social events. However, by 1999, after fighting some 40 court cases related to his failed car company, he filed for bankruptcy. Among assets and personal property sold were his 1978 Yankees World Series ring (he held a minority stake in the team) and his 434-acre estate in Bedminster, New Jersey. The estate was purchased by Donald Trump for part of a golf course.

John DeLorean did not, however, let go of his new car ideas. In May 1999, a wire story noted he had another new car in the works – this one built with structural composite that could go zero-to-60 mph in 3.2 seconds and would cost $18,000. “Cars are in my blood,” he said at that time, “they’re really the only thing I’ve ever worked at.” But he never returned to the industry. In March 2005, John DeLorean died after a stroke. He was 80 years old. Still, to this day, DeLorean remains an intriguing figure for journalists and auto historians. At least half a dozen books have been written about him, along with several TV and film documentaries. In 2017, a new Hollywood film on DeLorean was reported to be in the works, and there is also a DeLorean Museum located in Humble, Texas.


“…Heart of a Hippie”?

Charles Madigan, writing a profile of DeLorean for the Chicago Tribune in October 1982 at the news of his drug arrest, offered the following sketch:

John Z. DeLorean was a man tailor-made for success, a bold and brilliant engineer with a plan to ride to glory in a stainless steel sports car.

He was a Henry Ford with some rock ‘n roll mixed in. He was fireworks instead of stuffiness. He built cars and talked about the ethics of industrial America. He became a media favorite.

It was almost too good to be true, a man with the brains of a capitalist and the heart of a hippie, the kind of character who would walk away from one of the most powerful positions in American industry to “do his own thing.”…

Dan Neil, writing a 2005 retrospective on the DeLorean/ GM era in the Los Angles Times, suggested that GM and DeLorean needed each other, and implied that if each side had come half way in working with each other, perhaps the historic outcome would have been different:

What if DeLorean and GM had reconciled?

It certainly seems now they needed each other. GM needed the bold strokes of an unconventional thinker such as DeLorean. He needed the coat-and-tie discipline of the 14th floor. If the collapse of the DeLorean Motor Co. proves anything, it’s that the bean-counters have their place.

With the DMC-12, DeLorean had in mind an “ethical sports car”: a car that would be fun to drive, practical, safe, offer good fuel efficiency and value… And — as the stainless steel body suggests — he wanted it to last a long time. He argued that the endless churn of automotive obsolescence was a waste of money and resources.

In this respect, DeLorean was one of the rare Detroit auto executives who — along with futurists such as Buckminster Fuller and Norman Bel Geddes — saw the automobile as part of a progressive vision of the world, where transportation was framed by social and environmental imperatives….

Unfortunately, that progressive vision of transportation has not yet reached fulfillment, and is certainly not apparent in most of what General Motors turns out today, or for that matter, the rest of the automobile industry either. As for the DeLorean saga, on one level, it illustrates the difficulty in trying to make modest change in an automobile culture that – with all its moving parts, resource requirements, urban congestion, pollution, wastes, and parallel consumption – is now well into its second century of roiling the planet and most major cities.

For additional stories on General Motors at this website see, for example: “Dinah Shore & Chevrolet” and “G.M. & Ralph Nader.” See also the “Business & Society” and “Environmental History” topics pages for stories in those categories. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find at this website, please make a donation to help support its research, writing, and story development. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 15 June 2017
Last Update: 15 June 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “The DeLorean Saga: Car Guy, 1960s-1980s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 15, 2017.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Aug 15, 1965. John DeLorean, then General Manager of GM’s Pontiac Division, posing with new 6-cylinder overhead cam engine, among America's first mass-produced overhead-cam engines, ahead of its time on several fronts.
Aug 15, 1965. John DeLorean, then General Manager of GM’s Pontiac Division, posing with new 6-cylinder overhead cam engine, among America's first mass-produced overhead-cam engines, ahead of its time on several fronts.
October 1972. Delivering the Chevy vision in the company magazine, “Friends” as top man at Chevrolet.
October 1972. Delivering the Chevy vision in the company magazine, “Friends” as top man at Chevrolet.
March 1975: John DeLorean and Cristina Ferrare at The Balloon Ball, Hotel Pierre, New York, NY.
March 1975: John DeLorean and Cristina Ferrare at The Balloon Ball, Hotel Pierre, New York, NY.
July 1977: Early media attention for DeLorean’s DMC-12 prototype helped stoke expectations for the car.
July 1977: Early media attention for DeLorean’s DMC-12 prototype helped stoke expectations for the car.
Feb 1981. John & Cristina DeLorean featured on cover of United Airlines’ “United Mainliner” in-flight magazine with tagged story, “DeLorean Motors Revs Its Engines.”
Feb 1981. John & Cristina DeLorean featured on cover of United Airlines’ “United Mainliner” in-flight magazine with tagged story, “DeLorean Motors Revs Its Engines.”
Print ad used to pitch DMCs mid-1981 during U.S. Open tennis tournament; also mentions DMC’s debut TV ad.
Print ad used to pitch DMCs mid-1981 during U.S. Open tennis tournament; also mentions DMC’s debut TV ad.
November 8, 1982: People, “Downfall of an Auto Prince.”
November 8, 1982: People, “Downfall of an Auto Prince.”
May 1984. DeLorean and Cristina during drug trial in L.A. Cristina filed for divorce in 1985. Photo, Ron Galella.
May 1984. DeLorean and Cristina during drug trial in L.A. Cristina filed for divorce in 1985. Photo, Ron Galella.

“John DeLorean,” Wikipedia.org.

“DeLorean Motor Company,” Wikipedia.org.

“DeLorean DMC-12,” Wikipedia.org.

Tamir’s DeLorean Site (good DeLorean history source).

Howard Pennington, “Mr. GTO,” Car Craft, January 1967.

Robert Flowers, “The Women-and-Wheels Life of Johnny DeLorean,” For Men Only, June 1969.

Brock Yates, “New Kind Of Wheel At GM,” Sports Illustrated, December 15, 1969.

Al Rothenberg, “Powerhouse Behind the Vega,” Look, August 25, 1970, pp. 54-57.

“A Car Is Born,” Look, April 2, 1979.

James Mateja, “An Auto Pioneer’s Bold Venture,”Success Unlimited, October 1979, pp. 15-17.

AP, “DeLorean Hits Poor Car Quality,” Chicago Tribune, Business Section, November 18, 1972.

Karl Ludvigsen, “Man On The Move: John DeLorean – He Made The Push Come to Chevy,” Signature, November 1972.

“`Poor Quality Threatens Us,’ DeLorean Tells Colleagues,” Automotive News, November 27, 1972, p. 25.

“The Non-Organization Man,” Newsweek, April 30, 1973.

Rush Loving, Jr., “John DeLorean: The Automotive Industry Has Lost its Masculinity,” Fortune, September 1973.

Robert Irvin, “The General Motors Maverick,” New York Times, October 28, 1973, p. F-1.

Paul Hendrickson, “The Private Side of John DeLorean: Designing a New Life at 49,” Detroit Magazine (Detroit Free Press), February 10, 1974.

Julie Greenwalt, “The De Loreans: Swinger Tycoon Gets Domesticated Model,” People, July 29, 1974.

Stephen B. Shepard and J. Patrick Wright, “The Auto Industry,” The Atlantic, December 1974, pp. 18-27.

Ralph Nader, “GM Defector’s Choice: New Sports Car or a Book,” Nader.org (archive), October 15, 1977.

William Flanagan, “The Dream Car Of John DeLorean,” Esquire, June 19, 1979.

Charles Madigan (Chicago Tribune), “Tragedy of John DeLorean,” The Day (New London, CT), October 24, 1972, p. 1.

Fred M. H. Gregory, “DeLorean — Back Again, With a New Car,” New York Times, Sunday, September 18, 1977, p. 173.

Charles Ewing, “Betting on the Luck of the Irish” DMC 12 A Gamble,” Washington Star (Washington D.C.), March 17, 1979.

“The $200 Million Car” New York Times, October 28, 1979.

Peter J. Schuyten, “A G.M. Struggle On Corvair Detailed,” New York Times, November 9, 1979, p. D-1.

Edward Lapham, “DeLorean Book Debuts Minus OK,” Automotive News, November 12, 1979, p. 3.

William H. Jones, “Views In GM Book Confirmed,” Washington Post, November 15, 1979, p. B-1.

Hobart Rowen, “A Stunning Account Of How GM Works,” Washington Post, November 18, 1979, p. G-1.

Robert W. Irwin, “DeLorean Doesn’t Tell All,” Automotive News, November 26, 1979, p. 3.

Martha Smilgis, “G.M. Renegade John Delorean Toots His Own Horn with a New Life, New Book and a New Car,” People, January 7, 1980.

Clarence Ditlow, “Making It At GM,” Environmental Action, February 1980, pp. 28-30.

William G. Flannagan, “Personal Affairs: Belfast Buggies,” Forbes, January 5, 1981.

Associated Press (Belfast, Northern Ireland), “DeLorean’s Dream Starting To Come True; Delays, Irish Conflict Haven’t Stopped New Car,” February 21, 1981.

John Z. DeLorean, “Engineers Should Run The Auto Business,” New York Times, April 26, 1981.

Associated Press (Los Angeles, CA), “DeLorean, Co Defendants Plead Innocent,” November 9, 1982.

“DeLorean: The High Road to Ruin,” Life, December 1982, pp. 178-179.

“John DeLorean and The Icarus Factor,” Inc. (magazine), April 1983, pp. 35-42.

“De Lorean’s Decline,” Newsweek, February 22, 1982.

Judith Cummings, “DeLorean, Automobile Executive, Arrested in Drug Smuggling Case,” New York Times, October 20, 1982.

Dow Jones & Co., “Dream Of Building Car Company Is Over For DeLorean,” Edited Wall Street Journal Stories, October 22, 1982.

“A Life In the Fast Lane; Genius, Jet-Setter, Rebel; The Boy From Detroit Became A Driven Man,” Time, November 1, 1982, p. 34

Roger Rosenblatt, Essay, “The Man Who Wrecked The Car,” Time, November 1, 1982, p. 90.

“Finished: DeLorean Incorporated; The Rise and Demise of A Stainless Steel Miracle,” Time, November 1, 1982, p. 37.

“From Cars to Cocaine,” Newsweek, November 1, 1982.

Pete Axthelm, “Why It Went Wrong,” Newsweek, November 1, 1982, p. 38.

Jeff Jarvis, “Downfall Of An Auto Prince,” People, November 8, 1982.

Bernice Kanner, “When You Wish Upon A Car: DeLorean’s Difficulties,” New York Magazine, February 22, 1982, pp. 19-20.

Thomas Bevier, “DeLorean Was Reportedly Investigated While at GM,” Detroit Free Press, Sunday, January 9, 1983.

Aaron Latham,”Anatomy of a Sting: John DeLorean Tells His Story,” Rolling Stone, March 17, 1983.

Don Sharp,, “Grand Delusions: The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean,” Book Review, Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. DeLorean, by Hillel Levin,” Commentary, January 1, 1984.

Michael Ryan, “De Lorean’s Days Of Reckoning: Wife Cristina Stands By Him, But the Drug Trial is Only The Beginning…,” People, April 16, 1984, pp. 96-106.

“DeLorean vs. Almost Everybody. Was He Entrapped, Or Just Caught in the Act of Being Himself?,” Time, April 30, 1984.

Linda Deutsch, Associated Press, “A Designer Style, A Fall From Grace, Detroit Free Press, August 17, 1984, p.15-A.

“De Lorean: Not Guilty. The Ex-Auto Executive Beats The Government’s Sting,” Newsweek, August 27, 1984.

“The DeLoreans: Why Did Cristina Split?”, People, October 8, 1984, pp.47-48.

Michael Ryan, “The DeLoreans: Most Intriguing Split,” People, December 24, 1984, pp. 134-135.

“John Delorean Finally Gets Cross-Examined,” Playboy, October 1985.

Ivan Fallon and James Srodes, Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. DeLorean, Putnam Publishing Group, November 1985, 455pp.

Hillel Levin, Grand Delusions:The Cosmic Career of John De Lorean,

William Haddad, Hard Driving, Random House, 1985.

John DeLorean with Ted Schwartz, DeLorean, Zondervan, 1985.

David Halberstam, The Reckoning, New York: William Morrow & Co., September 1986, 752pp.

Ralph Nader & William Taylor, The Big Boys: Power & Position In American Business, New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

Associated Press, Detroit, “$53 Million Case Against DeLorean Stands,” Chicago Tribune, Sunday, April 2, 1989, Section 7, p. 10.

“The Man,” DeloreanMuseum.org.

George Mahlberg, “DeLorean: Stainless Style” (re: specs, collectors & investors), Bloomberg, March 1998, pp. 107-110.

Jason Manning, “10. The Rise and Fall of John DeLorean,” 2000.

Jack Doyle, Taken For A Ride: Detroit’s Big Three and The Politics of Pollution, New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, June 2000.

Dan Jedlicka, “Ambitious DeLorean Planning A Comeback,” Chicago Sun-Times, Business, Tuesday, October 3, 2000, p. 48.

Lucy Kaylin, “Wings of Desire. After a Drug Arrest and Bankruptcy, 75 Year-Old Maverick John DeLorean Wants to Build A New Car For You,” GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), September 2000, pp. 320-324.

“John DeLorean: This Automotive Visionary Took A Detour,” People, August 2001, p. 122.

Al Rothenberg, “Back To The Future: GM is Reviving The GTO and Arhitect John DeLorean Has pleant To say About It and The Carmaker,” Chicago Tribune, Cars Section, June 6, 2002, p. D-1.

Dan Neil, “Detroit’s “Kid Notorious’ Was Creative Force Behind The GTO; John Z. Delorean Put the Car on the Map by Being in Touch with All Things Young,” Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2003.

“DeLorean: Winging Its Way Home, Call it Nostalgia, But Motor Buffs in The UK Are Now Buying A Car With A Bad Reputation and Fantastic Look, ” UK Metro, March 18, 2004, p. 15.

Dan Neil, “DeLorean: A Vision Clouded by Vanity. The Automaker Lived Fast and His Burnished Dream Died Young, The Icon of an Age of Excess,” Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2005.

Edward Lapham, “John DeLorean: Maverick Exec Was Talented, Devious — and Never Dull
Rising Star Ruffled Feathers at GM, Made Headlines with Failed Sports Car Venture and Scandals,” Automotive News, September 14, 2008.

Edward Lapham, “DeLorean Didn’t Fit the GM Mold; Talented, Quirky Exec Played by His Own Rules, Ruffled Corporate Feathers Along the Way,” Automotive News, October 31, 2011.

Paul Ingrassia, Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, Simon and Schuster, 2012, 395 pp.

Richard Retyi, “The Stainless Steel Life of Playboy Carmaker John Z. Delorean; Inventor of the GTO. Father of the DeLorean. Lover. Huckster. Genius,” Road & Track, March 17, 2014.

Wallace Wyss, “Unsung Heros – The Story of John DeLorean,” CarBuilderIndex.com, June 16, 2015.

Wallace Wyss, “The Legend of Long Tall John,” CarBuilderIndex.com, October 22, 2015.

“DeLorean Books & Publications,” DeLorean Directory.com.

Glenn Patterson, “John DeLorean: A Visionary or a Charlatan? Creator of ‘Back to the Future’ Car and His Belfast Factory Were Sources of Controversy,” Irish Times, Friday, January 8, 2016.

Lily Rothman, “The Short, Chaotic History of the DeLorean, Time, January 21, 2016.

“DeLorean Literature /DeLorean Magazines,” SpecialTauto.com.

____________________________________________________








“Giant Shovel on I-70”
Ohio Strip Mine Fight: 1973

Colossal earth-moving machines became symbols in the 1960s-1970s environmental battles over surface coal mining, also known as “strip mining.” These machines – some capable of scooping two-to-three Greyhound bus-size equivalents of earth with each bite – laid waste to tens of thousands of acres as they uncovered near-surface coal to feed electric power plants. In 1972-73, a trio of these machines, then chewing through southeastern Ohio, became involved in a controversial proposal: to cross, and temporarily shut down, a major interstate highway to get to the coal on the other side. The event became a symbolic and actual “line-in-the-sand” confrontation between those opposed to strip mining and those who saw it as vital for energy, jobs, and local economies.

The February 1973 issue of Smithsonian magazine ran a dramatic shot of “The GEM of Egypt”  in operation in the Egypt Valley of Ohio, just north of I-70, as the magazine featured a story on “the need for energy vs. strip mining.” Note size of the shovel’s bucket relative to the vehicles on the road below. Photo, Arthur Sirdofsky.
The February 1973 issue of Smithsonian magazine ran a dramatic shot of “The GEM of Egypt” in operation in the Egypt Valley of Ohio, just north of I-70, as the magazine featured a story on “the need for energy vs. strip mining.” Note size of the shovel’s bucket relative to the vehicles on the road below. Photo, Arthur Sirdofsky.

There were three of the giant machines at issue: The Tiger, The Mountaineer, and The GEM of Egypt. All three were then in the service of the Hanna Coal Company, which by 1970, had been strip mining in Ohio for decades and was then a division of the much larger Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company, later known as “Consol,” itself then owned by Continental Oil. More on Hanna/Consol and the big machines in a moment, first some background on Ohio’s coal.


Ohio’s Coal

Various coalfields in the tri-state OH-PA-WV area are shown in color, overlaying county boundaries – a region where coal has been mined for decades in the Appalachian Coal Basin.
Various coalfields in the tri-state OH-PA-WV area are shown in color, overlaying county boundaries – a region where coal has been mined for decades in the Appalachian Coal Basin.
Coal is found in 32 counties in Ohio, though primarily in the southeastern part of the state which is located on the northwestern edge of the Appalachian Coal Basin, one of the largest coalfields in the U.S.

Coal has been mined in Ohio since the early 1800s, initially with crude mining techniques working surface outcroppings, to more sophisticated mechanized technologies that evolved following WWI and WWII. Most of the mining in Ohio through the 1930s was in deep mines or shaft mines that bore into mountainsides. Surface mining existed as well, but it wasn’t until the big shovels came on in the 1940s and 1950s that strip mining began to take a larger portion of the state’s annual coal production.

Generally it is economic to strip mine when there is a 20:1 ratio of overburden-to-coal seam, meaning, for example that a three-foot coal seam can be surface mined economically when the overburden is up to 60 feet. However, at some surface mines in Ohio, highwalls of up to 200 feet high remain where five-foot-coal seams have been extracted. And in these cases, the size and power of the giant shovels and draglines used in those areas made that level of extraction possible.


The Big Shovels

The smallest of Hanna Coal Company’s earth movers involved in the I-70 controversy, The Tiger, was among the company’s first big shovels, built in the early 1940s. But even for that “small” shovel, mining historians noted that it took about 63 trainloads to ship its parts from Marion, Ohio to Hanna’s Georgetown coal complex south of Cadiz, Ohio in Harrison County, where it was assembled. The shipping and assembly of the shovel began in 1943, and by the following year, The Tiger was ready to begin digging. At the time, it was considered to be the world’s largest shovel, used to help mine coal for the steel mills during WWII. The photo below shows a portion of The Tiger in 1957 near Cadiz, Ohio.

The Tiger shown during a 1950s field tour. This shovel first began its work in Harrison County, Ohio in 1944, moving on to other coal fields in Ohio through the 1970s.
The Tiger shown during a 1950s field tour. This shovel first began its work in Harrison County, Ohio in 1944, moving on to other coal fields in Ohio through the 1970s.

The Hanna Coal Company, meanwhile, was quite an Ohio industrial power, evolved initially from Rhodes & Co., a firm in the 1840s that mined coal in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley area. Hanna expanded into iron ore mining in the Lake Superior region in the mid-1860s, establishing roots in the steel industry. Some years later, after considerable growth over the decades, and various business transactions, stock trades, mergers, and restructurings, including the sale of its iron and steel interests, Hanna, by 1945-46, became part of what was then called the Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company (Pitt-Consol). In this deal, Hanna brought to Consol its eastern Ohio coal properties, which then accounted for about 20 percent of Ohio’s production. A few years later, Pitt-Consol acquired more Hanna coal lands in Ohio’s Harrison, Belmont and Jefferson counties. But Hanna, as a Consolidation company, continued to operate in these areas under its name.

Undated photo (probably circa 1950s) of a smaller Bucyrus-Erie electric shovel loading a 55-ton Euclid truck at one of Hanna's coal mines. The loaded coal would then go to Hanna’s Georgetown prep plant for cleaning and shipping.
Undated photo (probably circa 1950s) of a smaller Bucyrus-Erie electric shovel loading a 55-ton Euclid truck at one of Hanna's coal mines. The loaded coal would then go to Hanna’s Georgetown prep plant for cleaning and shipping.

Hanna became one of the major players in the Eastern and Southeastern Ohio coalfields for many years. By the 1950s at Duncanwood, Ohio, near Cadiz in Harrison County, Hanna had a complex of offices and shop buildings, and also a major coal processing center at its giant Georgetown complex of coal mines, tipples, and railroads. The company’s coal cleaning operations there, which opened in 1951, was then one of the largest preparation plants in the world, and could process 1,275 tons/hour – which was quite formidable in the 1950’s. Hanna was also one of the first to use a coal slurry pipeline to transport coal over a long distance. In 1956 the company built a 10-inch, 108-mile-long pipeline that linked the Hanna’s Georgetown prep plant near Cadiz with the Cleveland Electric Company’s Eastlake Generating Station in Cleveland. Crushed coal was mixed with water at a Hanna plant and the slurry mixture then pumped through the line to Cleveland. Between 1957 and 1963, this pipeline supplied about six million tons of coal to Cleveland Electric.

Headlines from July 1966 when Hanna made a big investment in a nearby West Virginia deep mine.
Headlines from July 1966 when Hanna made a big investment in a nearby West Virginia deep mine.
Hanna made front-page news whenever it was inovled in a new coal investment. On June 10, 1966, for example, the company made headlines in the Steubenville Herald-Star of Steubenville, Ohio, for its plans at the Shoemaker Mine in the nearby West Virginia panhandle south of Wheeling. Just across the Ohio River there, at Benwood, West Virginia, a deep mine and related facilities were being planned. In the newspaper, an aerial photo on the front page showed the complex of coal haulage roads and preparation facilities to service the deep mine, which also included rail transport from the mine, conveyor system, and coal crushing and coal washing.

At its deep mine locations, especially in earlier years, Hanna built company housing for its miners, such as those built for workers at the Dunglen mine at Newtown, Ohio. It also operated company stores – those invoked generally by the Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons.” Two of Hanna’s stores were those named Dillonvale and Lafferty, and another one was located at Willow Grove, Ohio. First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, had visited Hanna’s Willow Grove deep mine in April 1935. Below is an enlarged map of several Ohio counties where Hanna Coal Company mines and machines exploited the Pittsburgh No. 8 Coalfield for many years.

Map showing the Pittsburgh No. 8 Coalfield, running beneath Southeastern Ohio counties where Hanna Coal Co and others operated strip and deep mines and other facilities for decades. Source: CoalCampUSA.com
Map showing the Pittsburgh No. 8 Coalfield, running beneath Southeastern Ohio counties where Hanna Coal Co and others operated strip and deep mines and other facilities for decades. Source: CoalCampUSA.com

Hanna’s Ohio strip mining, meanwhile, was aided through the 1950s by another of the big machines, The Mountaineer, built by the Marion Co. The Mountaineer was among the first of the big “super strippers.” This colossus was also assembled in pieces, near Cadiz, Ohio, a build that began in June 1955. The big shovel didn’t start digging until January 30, 1956. The Mountaineer had a 65-cubic-yard dipper, stood 16 stories tall, with a 150 foot tall boom. Its shovel could hold a 100-ton payload. The Mountaineer was the first shovel to have a built-in elevator for the crew to reach the operating controls, in this case, located in dual cabs at the front of the machine, one on each side.

The Mountaineer shovel, from a Life magazine photo in the 1950s, shows the colossal size of this earth mover relative to nearby vehicles, locomotive, and group of workmen.
The Mountaineer shovel, from a Life magazine photo in the 1950s, shows the colossal size of this earth mover relative to nearby vehicles, locomotive, and group of workmen.

The GEM of Egypt (“GEM,” an acronym for “Giant Earth Mover” or “Giant Excavating Machine”), the largest of the three shovels in Hanna’s employ, went into service in January 1967 (There was also a fourth giant shovel that Hanna used, The Silver Spade, sometimes called the “sister” to The Gem of Egypt, also used in Ohio, but not involved in the I-70 crossing. The Spade in 1965 had worked at Hanna’s Georgetown Mine near Cadiz, among other places, active through 2008). The Gem of Egypt was 20 stories tall and weighed 7,000 tons. It had a 170-foot boom and a 130 cubic yard bucket. It first went to work at the opening of the Egypt Valley mine in January 1967.

Photo of The Gem of Egypt shovel, believed to be around the time it began operating in the Egypt Valley of Ohio in the late 1960s.  Note the size of the machine relative to the people standing near its shovel and around its base.
Photo of The Gem of Egypt shovel, believed to be around the time it began operating in the Egypt Valley of Ohio in the late 1960s. Note the size of the machine relative to the people standing near its shovel and around its base.

Hanna invited the public to attend the grand opening of the Egypt Valley Mine in late January 1967. An estimated 25,000 people traveled to the site, many from Ohio cities such as Cleveland, Akron, and Canton, as well as those from neighboring states. The centerpiece of the tour was the colossal GEM of Egypt, which towered over the visitor’s cars parked near it that day. The GEM, in fact, was capable of holding the equivalent of at least two Greyhound buses in its bucket. The giant earth mover was slated to operate in Hanna’s 96,000-acre Egypt Valley surface mine in Belmont County. Production there was expected to average 20,000 tons a day until the vein ran out, which the company then forecast to last for the next 30 to 40 years.

January 1967 “open house” at Hanna Coal Co’s Egypt Valley surface mine, unveiling the GEM of Egypt shovel.
January 1967 “open house” at Hanna Coal Co’s Egypt Valley surface mine, unveiling the GEM of Egypt shovel.

Hanna also used the 1967 mine-opening event to public relations advantage, offering hand-out literature for the public that touted the virtues of reclamation and post-mining uses, some of which bordered on the far-fetched, such as suggesting spoil piles could be used for ski slopes. The reality was that this mine, and others that had preceded it, were ripping through farmland, and despite laws on the books, leaving in their wake, highwalls, spoil piles, acid mine drainage, damaged homes, silted streams and polluted water supplies.


1940s-1960s

Weak Ohio Laws

The state of Ohio has not had a happy environmental history with strip mining; and to this day, its ravages are still taking a toll. Although Ohio was one of the earliest states to adopt a strip mining law in 1947-48, that law had very little impact in terms of environmental protection or land reclamation. As documented in Chad Montrie’s book, To Save The Land and People, Ohio farmers were among the first to rail against the ravages of strip mining.“We believe that strip mining is a menace to agriculture and the very life of our county, unless some control measure is taken.”
    -Morgan County Grange, 1947
Farm groups such as the Grange and Farm Bureau, concerned about losing good farmland to the strippers, helped pass the Ohio law in 1947. Wrote one member of the Morgan County Grange in 1947 in support of Ohio’s first strip mine law: “We believe that strip mining is a menace to agriculture and the very life of our county, unless some control measure is taken.” A member of the Western Tuscarawas Game Association, also supporting the legislation that became law, noted: “Strip mines must level their spoil banks and the land put in a tillable condition.” But despite the 1947 law, that wasn’t happening, and didn’t happen. Essentially, there was no reclamation.

1940 post card from the Cadiz News Agency, with four photos by E.C. Kropp Co., showing coal mining scenes near Cadiz, Ohio, Harrison County with caption: “Scenes From Cadiz, Ohio. Where They Destroy Good Farms to Get The Coal.” Some stripping shovels at that time were mounted on rails and/or temporary rail lines & hopper cars serviced the mining area.
1940 post card from the Cadiz News Agency, with four photos by E.C. Kropp Co., showing coal mining scenes near Cadiz, Ohio, Harrison County with caption: “Scenes From Cadiz, Ohio. Where They Destroy Good Farms to Get The Coal.” Some stripping shovels at that time were mounted on rails and/or temporary rail lines & hopper cars serviced the mining area.

By 1949, the Grange and Farm Bureau were back in the legislature seeking strengthening amendments to the law. Still, little changed. In 1953, the Conservation Committee of the Ohio Grange noted that “land in the strip mining areas of Ohio [is] left in such condition that it is practically worthless.” By 1965, the Grange and Farm Bureau again lobbied the Ohio General Assembly for tougher strip mine regulations, but only minor changes resulted.“Land in the strip mining areas of Ohio [is] left in such condition that it is practically worthless.”
      -Ohio Grange, 1953
Some of the adopted language now called on coal operators to grade spoil banks “so as to reduce the peaks thereof …to a gently rolling, sloping or terraced topography, as may be appropriate, which grading shall be done in such as way as will minimize erosion due to rainfall, [and] break up long uninterrupted slopes.” Large boulders were also to be removed and acid mine drainage and stream siltation on adjacent lands prevented, “if possible.” Needless to say, such language wasn’t exactly iron clad. Farm organizations by then were filing reports of strip mine siltation and clay washing onto adjacent lands in depths of up to two feet. They called on legislators to deny strippers their license when they damaged neighboring lands. But that didn’t happen either. Further reform wouldn’t come until 1972, covered later below.

During the late 1960s, meanwhile, The GEM of Egypt was chewing through Ohio farm country at a rate of 200 tons per bite, continuing to work through the Egypt Valley of Harrison and Belmont counties where Hanna held thousands of acres of land with strippable coal. The GEM gradually worked its way to within sight of the interstate highway, I-70, as it dug through the hills just north of the highway. Motorists traveling on I-70 would sometimes stop to marvel at the giant shovel while it did its handwork.

The Gem of Egypt working its way through the Egypt Valley strip mine of Ohio in the late 1960s early 1970s. The  giant machine is removing the earth over the coal seam on the right, and then, swinging its boom and loaded shovel  left, depositing the “overburden” on the spoil banks. A tiny vehicle mid-photo appears to be riding on a road that is  the unearthed coal seam. At right, atop the hillside being mined, is a line of powdered-white blasting holes where dynamite will be used to loosen the “overburden” the giant shovel will continue to remove.
The Gem of Egypt working its way through the Egypt Valley strip mine of Ohio in the late 1960s early 1970s. The giant machine is removing the earth over the coal seam on the right, and then, swinging its boom and loaded shovel left, depositing the “overburden” on the spoil banks. A tiny vehicle mid-photo appears to be riding on a road that is the unearthed coal seam. At right, atop the hillside being mined, is a line of powdered-white blasting holes where dynamite will be used to loosen the “overburden” the giant shovel will continue to remove.

Hanna, at this point, had new plans for The Gem of Egypt. Hanna wanted to use the machine ten miles south, to begin stripping coal lands near Barnesville, in Belmont County. Barnesville then had a population of 4,300. But in order to move the big machine to that location, it would have to cross, and temporarily shut down, a major interstate highway, I-70. While Hanna and other coal companies had worked their will with local and state roads – sometimes taking them over completely for hauling coal, or taking them out of service – a federal interstate highway was in something of a different league. And this particular east-west segment – running between Wheeling, West Virginia and Columbus, Ohio – would become heavily traveled.


The I-70 Deal

In the 1950s and 1960s, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway system was taking form across the U.S., one of the segments to be built in Ohio was the East-West running Interstate I-70. This highway would cut across Southeastern Ohio’s coalfields, including counties in the vicinity where Hanna and others were operating. Hanna, in fact, had acquired some 12,000 to 13,000 acres of coal lands (more??) in the area prior to the laying of the I-70 route. So when the Federal and state governments started planning for I-70, Hanna was one of the parties at the table– and by that time Hanna was part of Consolidated Coal Co., or Consol.

Map showing I-70 running through a portion of S. E. Ohio near the town of Barnesville, where strip mining was headed in 1973.
Map showing I-70 running through a portion of S. E. Ohio near the town of Barnesville, where strip mining was headed in 1973.
In the 1960s, the State of Ohio attempted to negotiate with Hanna/Consol for the necessary right-of-way for that part of I-70 which divided the Egypt Valley coalfield.

Consol claimed $8-to-$10 million in damages for the dividing of its coal field by the highway. However Ohio agreed to construct two underpasses at I-70 to permit Consol’s coal trucks to travel under the highway. The state also agreed to permit Consol to cross over the surface of the I-70 highway with mining equipment 10 times during a period of 40 years. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation also approved this agreement in early September 1964.

By 1968, Interstate highway I-70 was built, with about 27 miles traversing Belmont County, bisecting the coal lands held by Hanna/Consol. During this time, Hanna’s Gem of Egypt and the strip mining of the Egypt Valley site had proceeded, moving closer and closer to the Interstate.


1960s-1970s

New Activists

Through 1967, the Ohio farm groups continued to seek stricter strip mine enforcement in the state legislature, though with little success. By this time, however, new public environmental awareness was rising across the nation and in Ohio, where the Cuyahoga River had caught on fire from pollution in June 1969, raising the state’s environmental profile. New activists were entering the strip mine fight there as well, and throughout the region. A 1970 strip mining symposium held in Cadiz, Ohio drew 400 attendees, including many students, but with sponsors such as the Ohio Conservation Foundation, state chapter of the Sierra Club, the Ohio Audubon Council, and others. By late December 1970, some local members of the United Steelworkers Union and the Belmont County AFL-CIO, along with others from Ohio State University’s Marion extension campus, formed an organization called Citizens Concerned About Strip Mining. This group planned to lobby the Ohio legislature for strip mine reforms, and in the summer of 1971, sponsored a meeting that drew prominent strip mining opponents from nearby states, including a regional representative of the Sierra Club.


“The Ravaged Earth”
NBC-TV: Cleveland
1969

Title screen for “The Ravaged Earth” TV program pro-duced by WKYC-TV, Cleveland, 1969. Click for film.
Title screen for “The Ravaged Earth” TV program pro-duced by WKYC-TV, Cleveland, 1969. Click for film.
In Ohio and across the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the media began to play an important role in bringing environmental issues to the attention of the general public.

In Cleveland, a small group of TV producers and writers at NBC’s WKYC-TV station, produced a 1969 documentary that focused in part on strip mining in Ohio’s Perry County and the environmental ruin it was causing there. The film was part of WKYC’s Montage series of documentary programs on local and regional subjects that aired in Cleveland from 1965 to 1978. The title of the strip mine program was “The Ravaged Earth.” Linda Sugarman, one of the associate producers at the time, wrote a July 31, 1969 memo, statement of need, and description of the planned program, to be broadcast in late September 1969:

For twenty five years giant steamshovels have been clawing their way across the beautiful hills of Southern Ohio, unearthing shallow veins of coal and leaving a scene of utter devastation. The strip mines, which are dug instead of deep mines when the coal is close to the surface, bring about in their wake a stark, and almost worthless wasteland of steep spoil banks whose overturned earth is so acidic weeds can barely grow on it. Rivers and streams become red with sulfuric acid pollution. Public heath hazards are created by uncontrolled clouds of coal dust and carbon monoxide fumes. Property damage, caused by blasting goes uncompensated. Many of the mining interests seem to be in almost total disregard of the local laws, property rights, safety, and health of the nearby residents.

Although a few of the coal companies attempt to renew and reclaim the land they have strip mined, the ones who have made so much damage seem to be able to continue their activities without much opposition. Since the coal companies bring in most of the income in many of these counties, most public officials seem hesitant to prosecute or even confront them. Residents of the area who depend directly or indirectly upon the mines also seem hesitant to complain about the coal companies’ actions…

Montage will talk to these conservationists, as well as local citizens, elected officials, and mine representatives. The film will also show the damaged as well as the reclaimed areas of Southern Ohio.

Screen shot from “The Ravaged Earth” of light green automobile (center) moving through unreclaimed strip-mined area with remaining highwall, spoil debris, and rugged terrain.
Screen shot from “The Ravaged Earth” of light green automobile (center) moving through unreclaimed strip-mined area with remaining highwall, spoil debris, and rugged terrain.
The program included extensive footage of strip-mined lands, eroded hillsides, miles of highwalls, polluted run-off, closed and detoured local roads, and more (especially in Perry County, Ohio). Some mining operations of the Ohio Power Company were shown, featuring its gigantic dragline, “Big Muskie.” A Peabody Coal Co. roadside billboard was also shown with its boastful “Operation Green Earth” headline and wildlife mural, as the camera slowly panned across an adjacent and continuous view of poorly-reclaimed spoil piles and strip-mined lands. One official interviewed during the program explained that problems such as the acidic run-off and lack of successful reclamation, resulted from “turning the land upside down” and not saving and segregating topsoil during the mining process so it could be used in reclamation. Other officials were also interviewed during the program – from Perry County Planning Commissioner, James Brown, to former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.

In fact, Udall, who served as Interior Secretary from 1961-1969, made extensive comment during the program. Below are excerpts from his remarks and voice-overs during that program:

Stewart Udall, as he appeared  in the 1969 TV report, “The Ravaged Earth.”
Stewart Udall, as he appeared in the 1969 TV report, “The Ravaged Earth.”
“…Of course, the whole history of coal mining in this country is a rather sad story, of lack of any control or regulation… And lack of any conscience on the part of the industry, until very recently. And as someone said, in those parts of the country that were fortunate to have coal, when you look at the long haul, coal has been a curse.” [here Udall may have been referring to Harry Caudill].

“Coal as an extractive industry, like all extractive industries, once the mineral or product is mined, the values are gone, and the industry usually walks away and you’re confronted then with the long haul with what people will do with what is left…”

“…We calculated once in a strip mine study we made about two years ago what the cost would be of restoring all the stripped areas in the United States. As I recall it was a very big cost, something like $2 billion…And it’s also an uneconomic cost because this should have been done at the time the coal was mined and should have been charged as part of the cost of the mining… So I fear this [reclamation] will have a very low priority, that it will not be done in the near future, and the result is that we’re going to be denied the use and benefit of these lands for recreation,“…[T]here’s no damage to the land that is more permanent, and really more devastating, than what you see in the worst strip mining areas of the United States…”
         – Stewart Udall, 1969
as watershed lands, and for the contribution that they can make to the country…

“…I’ve probably seen as much of this nation from a helicopter in the last 6 or 8 years as anybody – and that’s the best way to see it.. Because you see the beauty, you see the scars, you see the damage. And of course, there’s no damage to the land that is more permanent, and really more devastating, than what you see in the worst strip mining areas of the United States… The reason this is damaging is that if action is not taken to restore these stripped areas, they’re left there; they can’t revegetate themselves — at least it will take many, many tens or hundreds of years for anything to occur… And that these become sort of permanent, man-made wastelands. …We have too many people; we have too many things we need to do with our land; too much need for outdoor recreation and playgrounds…We can’t afford to have wastelands created by man in this country. And this is the reason all of us have to regret the mistakes of the past and we have to determine that we’re not going to repeat those mistakes now.”

All in all, WKYC-TV’s “The Ravaged Earth” was one of the first of its kind on strip mining, and helped educate the public about what was happening in the coalfields.


In the Ohio academic community, meanwhile, Arnold Reitze, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, wrote a 1971 law review article entitled, “Old King Coal and the Merry Rapists of Appalachia,” in which he focused on some of strip mining’s effects in the Egypt Valley where Hanna was mining. Reitze found that in Belmont County, some 200,000 of the county’s 346,000 total acres had been sold, leased, or optioned to coal interests. “That beautiful county,” he wrote, “like scores of others, seems destined to become a wasteland of silted, acid waters, barren land, and patches of crown vetch, all legally reclaimed.”New activists and a new governor were changing Ohio’s strip mine politics. Another professor who became involved was Dr. Theodore “Ted” Voneida, a professor of neurobiology also at Case Western. Voneida and his wife had built a cottage on Piedmont Lake in the Egypt Valley in the 1960s and soon began to see first hand the results of strip mining in that area. Voneida didn’t like what he saw, and was amazed at what the strippers were doing to the land and communities. He began gathering documentation of strip mining’s impacts in the area – measuring water pollution, taking photographs, and generally chronicling what was going on there. He also succeeded in getting The Plain Dealer newspaper of Cleveland, the Akron Beacon Journal, and others news outlets interested in the strip mining story. By the early 1970s, Voneida would be quoted in newspaper stories on strip mining’s harmful effects, sometimes opposite Hanna Coal’s CEO, Ralph Hatch.

New political developments in Ohio also brought more attention to the lack of effective strip mine reclamation. John J. Gilligan, a democrat from Cincinnati who had served in the U.S. Congress for one term in 1965-1967 and had run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, was elected Ohio’s Governor in November 1970 (Gilligan was also the father of Kathleen Sebelius, who would later serve as Governor of Kansas and U,S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Adminstration). Governor Gilligan took on strip mining as one of his top priorities, and he specifically backed a bill in the legislature that would bring tougher reclamation standards to Ohio’s coalfields.

Hanna Coal, meanwhile, made plans for mining south of I-70 and sought to exercise its highway crossing agreement with Ohio and the federal government. However, by late 1970, Hanna, and strip mining in Ohio, were getting some unwanted national attention, now cast in an Appalachian regional and national context over how best to deal with surface coal mining. And Hanna’s hulking machines were part of the theater – and the damage being done.


Ohio in Spotlight

On December 15, 1970, Ben Franklin, a reporter with The New York Times, did a story on strip mining that his editors ran on the front page with a photo of a ravaged Ohio strip mine scene. “Strip-Mining Boom Leaves Wasteland in Its Wake,” was the headline. Franklin filed his story from St. Clairsville, Ohio. And while the story covered strip mining nationally, it featured particular problems in Belmont County, where Hanna was then operating day and night.

Dec 15, 1970: Front-page story in the New York Times with photo of strip mine damage in Belmont County, Ohio and story that prominently featured Ohio strip mining, environmental issues there, and the Hanna Coal Company.
Dec 15, 1970: Front-page story in the New York Times with photo of strip mine damage in Belmont County, Ohio and story that prominently featured Ohio strip mining, environmental issues there, and the Hanna Coal Company.

In his story, Franklin described the strip mining problem in Ohio as follows:

…This rolling, unfarmed farm land, just west of the Ohio River, is being chewed into billions of tons of rocky rubble by strip mining for coal. More than five billion tons of it, long considered low-grade fuel too marginal for mass mining, lies less than 100 feet from the sur face in eastern Ohio, and a boom is on to recover it.

It is bringing an upheaval of terrain unmatched since the glaciers of the last Ice Age scoured these hills and valleys as far south as Cincinnati, compacting thick bituminous coal beds that have aged 300 million years…

“They’re turning this beau-tiful place into a desert…”
     – U.S. Rep., Wayne L. Hays (D-OH)

Strip mining—a cheaper, quicker and more efficient method than digging under ground—now produces more than 35 per cent of the nation’s annual coal output…

…To lay bare the coal, farms, barns, silos, houses, churches and roads are being dynamited, scooped up by mammoth power shovels that tower 12 stories high, and piled in giant windrows of strip mine spoil banks.

Scores of aggrieved persons here have lost well water, have suffered sleepless nights from blasting, or have seen timbered acreage at their property lines turned into the 100-foot-deep pits of strip mines.

In his story, Franklin also quoted U.S. Congressman Wayne L. Hays, an Ohio Democrat who then lived in Flushing, Ohio, a Belmont County town which Franklin described as “isolated on three sides by abandoned strip mine highwalls, the sheer, quarry-like cliffs where the strip mine excavation stopped.” Congressman Hayes, cited in Franklin’s story, had this to say: “They’re turning this beautiful place into a desert … They’ll take anything that’s black and will burn… It costs them more to really reclaim this land than the land is worth when they’re finished. No one has figured out what will happen to us here when they’re through, but I can tell you it isn’t going to be pretty.”

The GEM of Egypt at work in Ohio, circa 1960s-1970s, also illustrates the problem of “highwalls” – the sheer-face cliffs, seen here on the right – often left as unreclaimed “final cuts” when the mining was finished.
The GEM of Egypt at work in Ohio, circa 1960s-1970s, also illustrates the problem of “highwalls” – the sheer-face cliffs, seen here on the right – often left as unreclaimed “final cuts” when the mining was finished.

During 1970, environmental concerns continued to rise across the nation. On December 20th that year, President Richard Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the strip mine fight, just after Christmas 1970, West Virginia’s Secretary of State, Democrat John D. “Jay” Rockefeller announced that he would seek a ban on the surface mining of coal in West Virginia, with bills to that end introduced in the legislature in late January 1971. At the federal level too, by July 1971, West Virginia’s Congressman, Democrat Ken Heckler, had introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to ban surface coal mining. The prohibition efforts, however, at state and federal levels, would prove to be uphill fights.

A New York Times Op-Ed by Belmont County, Ohio resident brought further attention to the impact of strip mining on Ohio’s land and small towns.
A New York Times Op-Ed by Belmont County, Ohio resident brought further attention to the impact of strip mining on Ohio’s land and small towns.
Ohio coal mining, meanwhile, continued to receive more national attention as a local Belmont County resident and former newspaper man named Doral Chenoweth wrote a January 1972 Op-Ed piece on that topic in the New York Times. The title line used for the piece was, “Say Good-by to Hendrysburg,” a small town then in the cross hairs of Hanna’s strip mining.

As the article contended, Hendrysburg would be ruined as a viable small town given what the strippers were doing to depopulate the area, having bought out many landowners. A pull quote used in the piece noted: “All the farms started going in 1967 when the big shovels were moved in.”

Barely a town by that point, Hendrysburg had been badgered day and night for several years by the hulking operations of The GEM of Egypt. Blasting and digging to get at the coal — as well as 100-foot-deep excavations made around and near the town — had unnerved residents. Wells were disrupted in some places. And since the shovel worked around the clock with lights, the town’s homes were sometimes “bathed in an eerie electric glow,” as one reporter described it.

Florence Bethel, a Hendrysburg resident who worked as a telephone operator, had first-hand experience with The GEM of Egypt. She later recounted her tale to reporter George Vescy of the New York Times:

“It started around Christmas of 1969. You could feel the blasting three and a half miles away. I had a brand new sealed well, 53 feet deep. The water got so muddy, it clogged the valves. Then my basement walls cracked. …I was working nights and trying to stay in college. I couldn’t sleep during the day. I called them up and asked them to take is easy, but it just got worse. Then my health started to go. I had a 3.2 average but it dropped to D’s and F’s. I had to drop out….” Bethel sued Hanna for $107,500 and damages and moved to a mobile home south of Barnesville.

In February 1972, a two-day strip mining conference at Zanesville, Ohio attracted about 100 activists. Also that month, on February 26th, the Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia occurred. In the upper reaches of the Buffalo Creek watershed in Logan County, West Virginia, a series of large coal slurry waste gop impoundments burst after heavy rains, releasing a tidal wave of coal waste water on more than a dozen downstream communities. More than 125 people were killed, with at least 1,000 more injured and 4,000 left homeless. Upstream strip mining and mine wastes were implicated as contributing factors.


New Law

In March 1972, Ohio Governor John Gilligan, addressing the state legislature in opening his administration, listed strip mining legislation as among his priorities. As the new Ohio state strip mine bill was being considered in early 1972, among those coming to testify was Mrs. Alice J. Grossniklaus, of Holmes County, Ohio. Mrs. Grossniklaus had a cheese store near Wilmot, Ohio that she had run since 1932.“…They’d call me at 2 or 3 a. m. and tell me that their cupboard doors were opening and closing from the blasting, flower pots were falling off the walls, and that the walls were cracking…” In the early 1960s, she had her first experienced strip mining on about 1.000 acres of land in nearby Tuscarawas County. She would explain that the mining was driving some of the neighbors crazy. “They’d call me at 2 or 3 a. m. and tell me that their cupboard doors were opening and closing from the blasting, flower pots were falling off the walls, and that the walls were cracking. ‘What can we do, they would ask.’ I told them to call up the mine owners and get them out of bed so they could be bothered too.” Grossniklaus had crusaded for tougher strip mine laws since 1963. “Until then, I didn’t even know what a strip mine was,” she would say. But in March 1972, she drove to Columbus to testify before a Senate committee on the pending strip mine legislation, calling for the strongest possible bill. Ted Vonieda testified on the pending bill as well. He recommended a three-year ban on strip mining until a detailed study could be made of strip mining’s environmental impact on the state.

The new Ohio strip mine bill, backed by Governor Gilligan, was passed and took effect on April 10, 1972. But it wasn’t clear how much the new law would help those in Belmont County facing the expansion of strip mining south of I-70, as the giant shovel prepared to cross the interstate. Local newspapers were reporting that the crossing by The Gem of Egypt could occur before June 15, 1972, ahead of the summer vacation season when traffic on I-70 would be at a peak levels. Local activists, however, were vowing to fight the crossing.


Crossing Fight

Among local residents who were opposed to the I-70 crossing was Barnesville City Council member Richard Garrett. After a couple of residents had come to him when strip mine blasting had damaged their homes, Garrett formed Citizens Organized to Defend the Environment (CODE) in June 1971, a grassroots effort aimed at the environmental impacts of strip mining.

The local opponents, however, were outnumbered by those who saw coal mining as key to their local economy and those who worked directly at the mines. During a summer 1972 public meeting sponsored by CODE in Barnesville, part of which was captured by an ABC-TV documentary, Echo of Anger, some of those working at the strip mines came out to offer their opinions.“…If that GEM is not able to cross the road, I’m out of a job…[I]f they keep the publicity up on this thing [i.e., the crossing], we are going to boycott the busi-nesses in town…”
     – Bernard Delloma, mine worker
A bulldozer operator working at the Egypt Valley Mine, Bernard Delloma, voiced his objection to the lawsuit filed to stop the crossing. “If that [mine] shuts down, there are 322 of us [out of a job]. If that GEM is not able to cross the road, I’m out of a job. I’m out of a ten or twelve thousand dollar a year job.” And he added that he and the other strip miners “have organized… and we say that if they keep the publicity up on this thing [i.e., the crossing], we are going to boycott the businesses in town. If we do, there won’t be no town left.”

“I don’t like stripping or any part of it,” explained Barnesville furniture store owner John Kirk, quoted in a Wall Street Journal story. Kirk, in fact, had gone to Columbus to protest new mining regulations. Still, “it isn’t that simple,” he said. “Better than 10 percent of the work force in this county works for the mines.” Newspaper editor Bill Davies of the Barnesville Enterprise agreed, “Our future is definitely tied to the strip mining industry – it’s more important to us that you think.”

Map shows approximate location in Ohio of a planned I-70 crossing by a giant strip-mine shovel owned by the Hanna Coal Co. N.Y. Times map.
Map shows approximate location in Ohio of a planned I-70 crossing by a giant strip-mine shovel owned by the Hanna Coal Co. N.Y. Times map.
But others in Barnesville were working on a plan to establish a one-mile greenbelt buffer around Barnesville where new surface mining would be prohibited. They also wanted additional reclamation for areas leading to and from the village to “reduce the visual aspect of strip mining.” The greenbelt group had some support from Governor Gilligan. Hanna/Consol, in negotiations with the group, agreed to reclaim its mined lands in the area to meet the standards of the 1972 Ohio Strip Mine Law, though technically Hanna was only bound by the less stringent 1965 law. Hanna’s Hatch also agreed to fund a land use plan for the area around the village and to work with local officials to ensure that reclamation did not violate the plan, which would also provide for post-mining planning and development of industrial sites and access roads.

Meanwhile, a permit for the crossing of I-70 by The GEM of Egypt strip mining shovel was issued to Hanna/Consol on August 7, 1972. That’s when the CODE group joined the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in a lawsuit to challenge the I-70 crossing. Garrett in comments to the Times-Leader newspaper of Martins Ferry, Ohio, had stated earlier his group’s intent “to fight every one of those machines when they try to bring them across.” The lawsuit was filed in federal district court. CODE was joined by Friends of the Earth and two local residents as listed plaintiffs

The legal battle would delay any further action on the crossing. Still, on September 29, 1972, Hanna/Consol moved to amend the crossing permit to substitute The Mountaineer and The Tiger (also known as 46-A) shovels, instead of The GEM of Egypt. Some speculated this was partly a public relations move on Hanna’s part, since the bigger GEM of Egypt had drawn national notice at the time. But Hanna’s CEO, Hatch noted that The GEM had plenty to do north of the interstate and would make the crossing later in 1973 or early in 1974.

In their legal challenge to the crossing, CODE and fellow plaintiffs made federal and state arguments. They raised questions of federal procedure and decision making under the Administrative Procedures Act; whether the U.S. Secretary of Transportation could approve such a crossing under the Federal Highway Act; and whether the action to cross might be construed to be “a major federal action” under the National Environmental Policy Act requiring an environmental assessment.

From Associated Press story, December 29, 1972, Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA).
From Associated Press story, December 29, 1972, Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA).
The plaintiffs also claimed that the state of Ohio lacked authority to allow Hanna/Consol to cross I-70 for three reasons: the Ohio Constitution required public roads to be open to the public at all times; the Ohio Director of Transportation may permit only special uses or occupancy of highways that will not inconvenience the traveling public; and Ohio law prohibits access to limited access highways at undesignated access points.

On each of these counts, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Kinneary in Columbus offered his findings and analysis, and on December 15th, 1972 he dismissed the plaintiffs’case and allowed the crossing to proceed.

In his ruling, the judge cited as valid the 1964 shovel-crossing agreement the company had made with Ohio and the Federal highway agencies. He did note that the crossing of 1–70 would be an “inconvenience,” but one that would only slow traffic and not stop it, with suitable detours. Hanna would, however, be liable for any damage to the highway. So with Judge Kinneary’s ruling, the crossing was allowed to proceed.

One protest group, The Commission on Religion in Appalachia, from Knoxville, Tennessee, made an 11th-hour appeal to Ohio Gov. Gilligan to step in and halt the crossings. But the giant shovels would not be stopped. Still, a coalition of protesters from Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia planned a peaceful march to the crossing site.


The Crossing

On January 4, 1973, in the early hours of a bitterly cold winter morning, the two mammoth machines – first, the 5.5 million pound Mountaineer (65 cu yd bucket) followed by the smaller, 4.5 million pound Tiger (46 cu yd bucket) – crossed I-70. The machines moved very slowly in making the transit, at a rate of about three miles an hour.

Grainy black & white photo of The Mountaineer shovel at left moving toward its crossing point of Interstate highway I-70 near Headrysburg, Ohio, dumping sand ahead of itself as part of the land bridge being built to protect the highway surface from damage.
Grainy black & white photo of The Mountaineer shovel at left moving toward its crossing point of Interstate highway I-70 near Headrysburg, Ohio, dumping sand ahead of itself as part of the land bridge being built to protect the highway surface from damage.

The crossing required a rerouting of traffic off I-70 for approximately 1¼ miles. Temporary entrance and exit ramps in both directions were constructed, connecting with State Route 800 onto which traffic was routed for a mile or so, until it could return to I-70. Uniformed flagmen were stationed to direct traffic through the re-routing. To protect the highway pavement, a special gravel and earthen land bridge was built across I-70 over which the Hanna shovels crossed. At least six feet of crushed stone and earth was used for the land bridge and heavy wooden mats were also placed over the crushed stone and earth. Sensors were also placed beneath the highway surface to test for any stress on the roadway.

The Mountaineer shovel shown continuing to aid in the construction of the land bridge upon which it and another shovel, The Tiger, would cross interstate highway I-70 in Ohio in order to strip mine coal fields on the other side.
The Mountaineer shovel shown continuing to aid in the construction of the land bridge upon which it and another shovel, The Tiger, would cross interstate highway I-70 in Ohio in order to strip mine coal fields on the other side.

A fleet of some eight bulldozers worked around the base of the big shovels, helping to shape and stabilize the land bridge ahead of the crossing. The transit of the big shovels began at noon on January 4th, 1973. Under the permit, Hanna was allotted a period of 24 hours to move its equipment, and officials at the company had estimated it would take from two to three hours to make the actual crossing. However, the crossing was made ahead of schedule and was actually completed by 6:30 pm that day.

The crossing of the big shovels made The NBC Evening News with John Chancellor on Friday, January 5th, 1973. The event was also front-page news in many Ohio newspapers, and was also covered in the New York Times and Washington Post. One local newsman rode along in The Tiger as that shovel made the crossing.

Jan 4, 1973: The Mountaineer earth-moving shovel makes the transit across I-70 near Hendrysburg, Ohio, on its journey south through Belmont County to help strip mine coal lands owned by Hanna Coal Co. near Barnesville.
Jan 4, 1973: The Mountaineer earth-moving shovel makes the transit across I-70 near Hendrysburg, Ohio, on its journey south through Belmont County to help strip mine coal lands owned by Hanna Coal Co. near Barnesville.

Ted Voneida of Case Western Reserve University was one of the activists at the crossing. He was quoted in an Associated Press story on the day of the crossing: “I’m protesting the idea that we must trade off the environment for [electric] power in this country. I hope to let people know, especially in the western states, what is happening.” Strip mining was then about to move west in a big way, to states such as Montana and Wyoming, where the land was flat to gently rolling, the coal seams thick, and the odds against reclamation even greater. Voneida was sounding a warning: the giant shovels were headed their way and the results would not be pleasant. Other protesters at the crossing – all peaceful; there were no confrontations – sought to highlight the fact that costs were being created — costs to roads, water, and land — that would be borne by the public, not the companies making the profits.

On January 5th, 1972, after the two shovels were moved across the highway, Arthur Wallace, who then headed Hanna’s reclamation efforts, conducted a bus tour of “reclaimed” areas for newsmen, as a contingent of press from out of state had gathered for the crossing. Wallace noted that Belmont County’s’ farming land, after strip mining, would be used for cattle grazing due to the lower quality of the restored land. Wallace noted that the cattle would graze on a variety of vegetation including alfalfa and crown vetch.


Postscript

Once on the south side of I-70, The Mountaineer and The Tiger resumed their digging as Hanna/Consol continued strip mining in Belmont County for many years. And despite the new 1972 Ohio strip mine law (the implementation of which was blocked for several years by coal company litigation), Hanna’s Egypt Valley Mine continued its southward expansion, as the big shovels worked to turn the landscape upside down. True, some reclamation occurred in that area and throughout the state, and the land in some cases was returned to passable condition. But environmental problems from strip-mined land, and disruption for nearby communities, persisted for many years throughout the coal mining areas of the state, continuing for some areas as this is written.

The Tiger at work uncovering coal seams near Barnesville, Ohio in 1973 after it had crossed interstate I-70.
The Tiger at work uncovering coal seams near Barnesville, Ohio in 1973 after it had crossed interstate I-70.

But during the 1970s, in the Belmont County area and other Ohio counties, there appears to have been continued struggle between local residents and coal mining companies. Among those residents, for example, was Mary Workman of Steubenville, Ohio (shown below) who would not sell her land to Hanna Coal Company even though the company owned much of the land around her and many of the local roads were closed. In the early 1970s, she filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Company for ruining her water (still searching for the outcome of that case).

Photo date, October 1973.  Mary Workman of Steubenville, Ohio holds a jar of undrinkable water that comes from her well. At the time, she had filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Co.; she had to transport water from a well many miles away. She also resisted selling her land to the coal company, even though much of the land around her was sold and many of the roads closed. Photo, Erik Calonius, U.S. EPA Documerica Project.
Photo date, October 1973. Mary Workman of Steubenville, Ohio holds a jar of undrinkable water that comes from her well. At the time, she had filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Co.; she had to transport water from a well many miles away. She also resisted selling her land to the coal company, even though much of the land around her was sold and many of the roads closed. Photo, Erik Calonius, U.S. EPA Documerica Project.

By August 1977, the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, providing hope in the nation’s coalfields for improved regulation and better reclamation outcomes. Among those invited to the Rose Garden signing ceremony was Barnesville’s Richard Garrett and Case Western Reserve University’s Ted Voneida. Yet even with the 1977 federal law, which did help raise mining safety and reclamation standards across the country, the record now 40 years later remains mixed, with the law’s Abandoned Lands Reclamation Fund a frequent target of the industry, and in 2017, slammed by an Inspector General’s report for diversions of reclamation monies in some states for non-reclamation purposes.

The Sand Hill strip mine in Vinton County, Ohio, May 2008, as photographed by Ohio’s Matt Eich for his book “Carry Me Ohio,” and also published in The Atlantic magazine, December 2016.
The Sand Hill strip mine in Vinton County, Ohio, May 2008, as photographed by Ohio’s Matt Eich for his book “Carry Me Ohio,” and also published in The Atlantic magazine, December 2016.

In southeastern Ohio, meanwhile, strip mining, and the region’s reliance on a single industry, has not made for a viable economy. As Allen J. Dieterich-Ward noted of the region, writing in his 2006 dissertation, Mines, Mills and Malls: Regional Development in the Steel Valley:

…By the late 1970s, the rise in mining employment coupled with the failure significantly to diversify employment or to develop the region’s infrastructure meant that the area’s economic fortunes increasingly rested on a single industry. The continued use of surface mining had also depopulated large swaths of the area, leaving behind thousands of acres unsuitable for either industrial or recreational development. The collapse in the market for the area’s high sulfur coal during the 1980s prompted a steep drop in mine employment. Combined with losses in the heavy industrial employers along the Ohio River, the mine closures created a mass exodus from the region and the collapse of the local economy.

Columbus Dispatch newspaper map of the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in S.E. Ohio.
Columbus Dispatch newspaper map of the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in S.E. Ohio.
Back in Barnesville, meanwhile, in the mid-1990s, a group of residents began to mobilize around their earlier Greenbelt plan – the plan agreed upon in 1972 but never afforded legal standing. When another mining company later acquired mineral rights in the Barnesville area, a group of residents, including some of those who had protested the original I-70 crossing, petitioned the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources to deny the company permits, sparking a series of legal battles that continued through the late 1990s.

Elsewhere in the region, some of the land where Hanna’s monster shovels roamed, ironically, has been converted into parks and wildlife areas. In Harrison County, the surrounding hillsides of what is now the Sally Buffalo Park were strip mined for coal in the 1950s. Hanna had also built a dam there in 1953 to “reclaim” some of the mined land, and the area was first used as a recreation area for company employees. The restored area became a public park in 1965.

The 18,000-acre Egypt Valley Wildlife Area was created by the state of Ohio in 1994-95. It includes land the northwest corner of Belmont County where The GEM of Egypt worked for a number of years. Approximately 80 percent of the acreage in the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area has been strip mined. The last active mine there was completed in 1998. The converted wildlife area, however, as of 2015, has been targeted for coal re-mining. Oxford Mining Co. a subsidiary of Westmoreland Coal Co, won a 2015 case before the Ohio Supreme Court allowing it to strip mine there. Given this decision (which involved a privately-held in-holding), other Ohio parks, forests, and wildlife areas may also be vulnerable to strip mining.

2009 map of abandoned coal mines and unfunded cleanup sites in SE Ohio. Source: Columbus Dispatch.
2009 map of abandoned coal mines and unfunded cleanup sites in SE Ohio. Source: Columbus Dispatch.

Abandoned Mines

Part of coal’s legacy in Southeast Ohio continues to be the abandoned mines that have been left behind. As of 2009, the state estimated that more than 600,000 acres of coal had been mined underground in Ohio and more than 720,000 acres had been strip mined. The Columbus Dispatch map at left show those areas of known mine sites – underground and stripped – that have been abandoned as well as unfunded cleanup sites.

In 2012, a Columbus Dispatch story on coal and polluted streams in the state, noted: “Coal’s legacy on Ohio’s waters, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, is visible in creek after yellow creek. In some instances, coal companies intentionally pumped water out of coal mines into nearby streams. In others, abandoned coal mines that fill with rainwater continuously leach water into nearby watersheds.” Some 1,300 miles of streams or creeks in Ohio have been polluted by water from coal mines.

Scientists and citizen organizations in Ohio have initiated some remediation efforts in a few watersheds that have been heavily mined. One of these has been a partnership working to restore the Raccoon Creek watershed in southeastern Ohio. This watershed with multiple streams drains 683 square miles of land in six counties: Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Meigs, and Vinton. Coal extraction over nearly 100 years in the area has badly damaged the watershed. On a map of the watershed below, strip-mined areas are indicated in dark blue, while deep-mined areas are shown in red.

In the early 1950s, Ohio’s Division of Wildlife performed the first study of the Raccoon Creek basin and found little aquatic life due to abandoned coal mines and acid-producing wastes. Some 350 million tons of coal were mined in this watershed between 1820 and 1993, affecting nearly 40,000 acres.

Blue (stripped), red (deep-mined), 6-county Raccoon Ck. watershed.
Blue (stripped), red (deep-mined), 6-county Raccoon Ck. watershed.
Given poor mining regulation and the lack of reclamation that prevailed until the mid-1970s, vast amounts of waste and spoil were generated, and thousands of tons of toxic coal refuse were spread throughout the watershed. Erosion and acid mine drainage were rampant. Stream water quality, however, has improved as the result of reclamation in the watershed from the 1980’s. And substantial improvement has occurred since the 1950s.

As of 2005, however, Ohio scientists believed that it would still take a decade for recent remediation efforts in the watershed to have any pronounced changes on the water quality and biology of its streams. A number are still in poor or fair condition. But in a few streams, there have been improvements in water chemistry and aquatic habitat. Findings of aquatic insects and fish in Little Raccoon Creek, for example, while not in great numbers, show a diversity that some scientists find promising for the future.


Big Shovel Epitaphs

As for the monster machines that caused all the damage and commotion back in the 1960s and 1970s, all three of them had long mining careers. The Tiger, from 1944, worked up through the 1970s; The Mountaineer, began working in 1956, stopped digging in 1979 and was scrapped in 1988; and The GEM of Egypt of 1967, dug its last shovelful in 1988. The Silver Spade, a sister shovel to The GEM, and also used by Hanna, continued mining though January 2006, in part because The GEM was used for parts to keep The Spade running. More history and background on the big machines, and Ohio’s surface mining history, is available at the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park in Cadiz, Ohio.

For additional stories at this website on the history of coal and coal mining, see for example, the following: “Paradise: 1971″ (about a John Prine song, strip mining in Muhlenberg County, KY, and the demise of a small town); “Mountain Warrior” (profile of Kentucky author and coal-field activist, Harry Caudill, noted for his famous book, Night Comes to The Cumberlands and his life-long critique of Appalachian strip mining); “Sixteen Tons, 1950s” (the famous Tennessee Ernie Ford song and some coal mining history); and, “G.E.’s Hot Coal Ad, 2005” (a General Electric TV ad that casts a new breed of coal miners).

Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 31 May 2017
Last Update: 31 May 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Giant Shovel on I-70: Ohio Strip Mine Fight, 1973,”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 31, 2017.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Top of “The GEM of Egypt” shovel stripping hillsides above Hendrysburg, Ohio, early 1970s. Matt Castello/Facebook.
Top of “The GEM of Egypt” shovel stripping hillsides above Hendrysburg, Ohio, early 1970s. Matt Castello/Facebook.
"GEM of Egypt" shovel stripping hillsides near Morristown, Ohio, north of I-70, 1973-74. EPA Documerica.
"GEM of Egypt" shovel stripping hillsides near Morristown, Ohio, north of I-70, 1973-74. EPA Documerica.
"GEM of Egypt" at work uncovering coal seams in Ohio farm country, circa 1960s-1970s.
"GEM of Egypt" at work uncovering coal seams in Ohio farm country, circa 1960s-1970s.
1960s: Aerial view of shovel at work in Ohio and rows of tree/shrub plantings on unleveled spoil piles, lower left.
1960s: Aerial view of shovel at work in Ohio and rows of tree/shrub plantings on unleveled spoil piles, lower left.
Helicopter view: Flying along miles of highwalls in Perry County, OH. From 1969 film, “The Ravaged Earth.”
Helicopter view: Flying along miles of highwalls in Perry County, OH. From 1969 film, “The Ravaged Earth.”
Screen shot from “Ravaged Earth” film showing Peabody Coal Co. billboard in Ohio at “reclaimed” site (next photo).
Screen shot from “Ravaged Earth” film showing Peabody Coal Co. billboard in Ohio at “reclaimed” site (next photo).
Eroded spoil piles & mined hillsides on Peabody Coal Co. strip-mined land adjacent to “Green Earth” sign.
Eroded spoil piles & mined hillsides on Peabody Coal Co. strip-mined land adjacent to “Green Earth” sign.
“The Silver Spade” strip mining shovel crossing a local road in Ohio, circa 1960s-1970s.
“The Silver Spade” strip mining shovel crossing a local road in Ohio, circa 1960s-1970s.
"The Silver Spade" -- sister to "The GEM of Egypt," -- was employed by Hanna Coal Co. in Ohio for many years.
"The Silver Spade" -- sister to "The GEM of Egypt," -- was employed by Hanna Coal Co. in Ohio for many years.
1969's “Ravaged Earth” film showing strip mined lands & environmental dmage in Perry County, Ohio.
1969's “Ravaged Earth” film showing strip mined lands & environmental dmage in Perry County, Ohio.
EPA Documerica photo showing some reclamation near New Athens, Ohio, 1973-74, but with remaining highwalls.
EPA Documerica photo showing some reclamation near New Athens, Ohio, 1973-74, but with remaining highwalls.
December 1973: Stop sign in southeastern Ohio adorned with a protest message. Erik Calonius, EPA Documerica.
December 1973: Stop sign in southeastern Ohio adorned with a protest message. Erik Calonius, EPA Documerica.

Jane Stein, “Coal is Cheap, Hated, Abundant, Filthy, Needed,” Smithsonian, February 1973, pp. 19-27.

Associated Press, (Cadiz, Ohio), “Hanna Coal Company Unveils Giant Shovel,” Somerset Daily American (Somerset, PA), January 19, 1967, p. 4.

Douglas L. Crowell, GeoFacts No. 15: “Coal Mining and Reclamation,” Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey, Revised, March 2002, 2pp.

“Coal Mines,” Atwater Historical Society (At-water, Ohio).

“Pittsburgh No. 8 Coalfield,” CoalCampUSA .com.

Louise C. Dunlap, “An Analysis of the Legislative History of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1975,” Proceedings of the Twenty-First Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute, Matthew Bender & Co.: New York , 1976.

Chad Montrie, To Save the Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining in Appalachia, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

WKYC-TV, NBC, Cleveland, Ohio, “The Ravaged Earth” (1969 documentary film on strip mining, featuring in part, strip mined lands in Perry County, Ohio and officials from Perry County, commenting on strip mine damage in that county; 21:24 minutes), Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University,

Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University, “Montage: A Filmed History of the 60s and 70s With a Cleveland Perspective.”

James Hyslop, Vice President, Consolidation Coal Company, “Some Present Day Reclama-tion Problems: An Industrialist’s Viewpoint,” The Ohio Journal of Science, Vol. 64, No. 2 (March, 1964), pp. 157-165.

“Hanna Coal: The Early Years” (early mining equipment, 1939-1940s), The Coal Museum .com.

Allen J. Dieterich-Ward, Mines, Mills and Malls: Regional Development in the Steel Valley, A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (History), University of Michigan, 2006.

Ben A. Franklin, “Strip-Mining Boom Leaves Wasteland in Its Wake,” New York Times, December 15, 1970, p. 1.

Arnold W. Reitze Jr., “Old King Coal and the Merry Rapists of Appalachia,” Case Western Reserve Law Review, Volume 22, Issue 4, 1971.

Ken Hechler, “Strip Mining: a Clear and Present Danger,” Not Man Apart (Friends of the Earth), V. 1, July 1971 (discusses strip mining and urges support for his bill, HR 4556, which would ban all strip mining six months after its passage).

Interior Committee, House, U. S. Congress. “Regulation of Strip Mining,” Hearings, 92nd Cong., 1st Session, H.R. 60 and Related Bills. Washington, D.C., U.S. Gov’t Printing Office, 1972. 890 pp. Hearings held Sept. 20 – Nov. 30, 1971.

“Hanna Coal to Install Limers on Polluted Skull Fork,” The Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio), December 27, 1971, p. 17.

Doral Chenoweth, “Say Good-by to Hendrys-burg,” New York Times, Op-Ed page, January 3, 1972.

“Complaints Started Her Strip Mine Fight,” Akron Beacon Journal, (Akron, Ohio) March 1, 1972, p. E-15.

Tom Walton, “Gilligan Lists New Goals Without Asking Extra Tax; New Agency, Strip Mine Bill Get Top Priority,” Toledo Blade, March 1, 1972, p.1.

“Hatch Pledges to Aid Barnesville Leaders,” Columbus Dispatch, March 15, 1972.

“GEM of Egypt Proposed Move: Why Does ‘Earth-Eater’ Cross The Road?,” Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), April 2, 1972, p. 32.

“GEM Power Shovel Casts a Shadow Over Barnesville,” Akron Beacon-Journal, April 2, 1972.

GEM of Egypt Photo Gallery, MidwestLost .com.

Editorial, “Ohio Cracks Down on Strip Mining” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 22, 1972, p. 6.

“It Could Be A Hungry Vacation For Big ‘GEM’,” Akron Beacon Journal, Sunday, May 14, 1972, p. 6.

“Environment: Why Does the Gem Cross the Road?,” Time, Monday, May 15, 1972.

“Coal,” OhioHistoryCentral.org.

“Suit Eyed to Stop GEM Move,” The Times Leader (Martins Ferry, OH), August 7, 1972, 1.

John S. Brecher, “A Stripper Threatens to Invade Ohio Town; Citizenry is Divided,” Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1972, p. 12.

George Vecsey, “Strip Mining and an Ohio Town: Economy vs. the Environment,” New York Times, September 4, 1972.

“GEM Devastates Ohio Hillsides in Search for Coal,” Denver Post, September 17, 1972.

1972 ABC-TV documentary Echo of Anger (aired mid-August 1972), TV listing: “ABC News inquiry examines the controversial issue of strip mining in the Appalachian region.”

Citizens Organized to Defend Environment, Inc. v. Volpe, 353 F. Supp. 520 (S.D. Ohio 1972), U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio – 353 F. Supp. 520 (S.D. Ohio 1972), December 15, 1972.

Associated Press, “Giant Shovels Due to Cross I-70 in Ohio,” Observer-Reporter (Washing-ton, PA) December 29, 1972., p. 16.

“Bills Regulating Strip Mining Die in Senate,” CQ Almanac, 1972, Washington, DC: Congres-sional Quarterly, 1973.

“Ohio to Shut Interstate a Day for Shovel Crossing,” New York Times, January 1, 1973.

“Environmentalists Plan Protest to ‘Mourn Land’ as Shovels Move,” The Times Leader (Martin’s Ferry, OH), January 3, 1973.

William Richards, “Strip Miners’ Move Alarms Ohio Town,” Washington Post, January 4, 1973, p. A-4.

AP, (Barnesville, Ohio), “Hanna’s Big Shovels to Move Despite Opposition,” The Xenia Daily Gazette (Xenia, OH), January 4, 1973, p. 18.

“Hanna Coal Co. Will Cross I-70; I-70 Is Closed So Crews Can Lay a 12-Foot Blanket of Earth for the Huge Machines to Roll Across,” Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH), Thurs-day, January 4, 1973, p. 1-A.

“Mountaineer Goes for A Cruise,” [Thursday, January 4, 1973, The Mountaineer and The Tiger crossed I-70 near Hendrysburg, Ohio. The following pictures are from the January 5 Times-Leader (Martins Ferry and Bellaire, Ohio) and were taken by Boyd Nelson.]

Ben A. Franklin, “Giant Mine Shovels Finally Cross Road; A Vast Operation,” New York Times, January 5, 1973, p. 61.

“Giant Shovels Chug Across I-70,” The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), January 5, 1973, p. 2.

AP, “Shovels Moved Over I-70; As Protestors Watch,” The Evening Review (East Liverpool, Ohio), January 5, 1973, p. 1.

Chan Cochran, “Hanna Coal Company’s Two Huge Strip Mining Shovels Make it Across I-70 Early and Without Incident,” Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH), Friday, January 5, 1973, p. 1-A.

“Giant Shovels Cross Highway As Protestors Merely Look On,” The Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) January 5, 1973, p. 5.

“Hanna Coal Company Moves Across I-70; Ohio Residents Fight Strip Miners,” The Daily Iowan (Iowa City, Iowa), Thursday, January 18, 1973 (Ken Light and Mountain Life & Work contributors).

“Tim Twichell’s Mountaineer Pics,” StripMine .org.

Erik Calonius, Photo Albums (freelance photographer hired for EPA’s “Documerica” Project, 1971-1977 ) Included at this URL are some extensive photos, now in the National Archives, of strip mining and strip mine damage in Southeastern Ohio, circa 1973-74.

“Strip Mining,” CQ Researcher (Congressional Quarterly), November 14, 1973

“Hanna Coal’s Past Recalled in Calendars,” The Times Leader (Martins Ferry, OH), December 17, 2012.

“Coal Mining and Landscape Change: The Case of Harrison County,” OSU.edu.

“Council Pledges Support to Greenbelt Advocates,” Barnesville Enterprise, October 21, 1997.

“Council Approves Greenbelt Resolution,” Barnesville Enterprise, October 22, 1997.

“Warren Trustees Pass Greenbelt Resolution,” Barnesville Enterprise, October 29, 1997.

Ohio Chapter, Sierra Club, “Ohio Tour Shows Effects of Coal Mining,” Sierra Club Scrapbook, December 3, 2008.

Laura Arenschield, “Old Coal Mines Still Taint Ohio Waterways,” The Columbus Dispatch, (Columbus, OH), August 14, 2015.

Allen Dieterich-Ward, Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, November 2015, 347pp.

Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park, Cadiz, Ohio.

______________________________________________________







“Fats Domino”
1950s-2000s

Fats Domino photo from a 1950s record sleeve for “There Goes My Heart Again” and “Can’t Go On Without You.”
Fats Domino photo from a 1950s record sleeve for “There Goes My Heart Again” and “Can’t Go On Without You.”
Fats Domino, a rhythm and blues piano player from New Orleans, was one of the early creators of rock ‘n roll music, although his considerable contributions to that genre are not always given the full recognition they deserve.

In 1949, Domino recorded a song titled “The Fat Man” on Imperial Records that became a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart in 1950. That recording is regarded as one of the earliest rock `n roll songs, featuring a rolling piano along with Domino’s vocals. “The Fat Man” would sell one million copies by 1953.

But there’s a lot more to Fats Domino than his first hit record. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, between 1950 and 1963, Domino made Billboard’s pop chart 63 times and the R&B chart 59 times. In fact, notes the Hall, “Domino scored more hit records than Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly put together”(emphasis added).

January 1950 ‘Billboard’ magazine ad for Fats Domino’s first record, boasting “10,000...sold in New Orleans within 10 days”; would become a million-seller hit.
January 1950 ‘Billboard’ magazine ad for Fats Domino’s first record, boasting “10,000...sold in New Orleans within 10 days”; would become a million-seller hit.
Antoine Domino, Jr. was born in New Orleans in February 1928, the last of eight Domino children. As a young boy, he began playing on an old upright piano at home, taking lessons from relatives. By the fourth grade he quit school in order to make piano playing his full time activity. His journey from a poor childhood in the semi-rural wards of New Orleans to becoming a top national rock ‘n’ roll star was not without its trials and difficulties.

As an ice delivery man in New Orleans for a time, with bars and nightclubs among his customers, Domino would sometimes slip away to play on pianos he found at those stops. He also worked for a time in a bed spring factory, playing honky tonks at night.

But it was at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans where house band leader Bill Diamond gave him the nickname “Fats,” as Domino reminded him of another famous piano player, Fats Waller. Domino, meanwhile, persisted with his piano playing and soon had the help of some street-wise business musicians.

Dave Bartholomew, a New Orleans trumpeter, songwriter, and pioneering R&B producer, would become a producer for, and partner to, Fats Domino.
Dave Bartholomew, a New Orleans trumpeter, songwriter, and pioneering R&B producer, would become a producer for, and partner to, Fats Domino.
1956: Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew at work in recording studio, a team that proved effective in turning out early R&B and rock ’n roll tunes.
1956: Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew at work in recording studio, a team that proved effective in turning out early R&B and rock ’n roll tunes.

A key partner to Fats Domino was Dave Bartholomew, a New Orleans trumpeter, songwriter, and pioneering R&B producer. Bartholomew’s collaborations with, and guidance for the young Domino, would have the most profound impact on his career.

Bartholomew was also an arranger and bandleader, and he and Fats co-wrote and produced most of Domino’s hits. It was Bartholomew who brought Lew Chudd of Imperial Records to the Hideaway Club to hear Domino play his boogie woogie piano, and some of his specialty songs such as “Swanee River Boogie” and “Junker’s Blues.” Chudd liked what he heard and signed Domino on the spot.

Two weeks later, Domino made his first recording, “The Fat Man,” noted earlier, which rose to No. 1 on the R&B charts in February 1950. For the next five years, Domino, and mostly Bartholomew’s band, recorded a steady stream of R&B hits for Imperial Records.

Among these were: “Every Night About This Time,” a Top Ten, October 1950 R&B hit; “Goin’ Home,” his first No. 1 R&B hit in 1952, (which Fats recorded with his own band); and three more Top Ten R&B hits in 1953, including: “Going To the River”, “Rosemary”, and “Please Don’t Leave Me.”


Music Player
“Please Don’t Leave Me” – Fats Domino

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


Some of Domino’s early hits, such as “Please Don’t Leave Me,” and others of that vintage, were not meant to be lyrical wonders, but rather, more rhythmic, featuring his signature boogie woogie piano style and “the big beat,” as it was called. And as such these songs became very popular dance tunes, and eventually would bring a wide teen following.

Throughout the process, Fats and Dave Bartholomew were innovating as they went. In fact, American rock critic, Robert Christgau, writing for The Village Voice some years later, would credit Fats and Bartholomew as having “defined a pop-friendly second-line beat that nobody knew was there.”

In Domino’s rising career, he would join some traveling musical reviews that performed beyond Louisiana. On August 1, 1954, for example, he joined Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed’s “Moondog Jubilee Of Stars Under the Stars,” held at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, then still home of baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. On the bill at the Freed concert, in addition to Domino, were the Clovers, the Orioles, 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 Alan Freed had organized, giving broader exposure to artists like Domino, who by this time was becoming more widely known. In fact, five of his records released before 1955 had already sold over a million copies and would become certified gold records. But Fats’ first national breakthrough came in the summer of 1955.

Pat Boone on a record jacket for his 1955 cover hit of the Fats Domino song, “Ain’t That a Shame.” Click for Boone’s version at YouTube.
Pat Boone on a record jacket for his 1955 cover hit of the Fats Domino song, “Ain’t That a Shame.” Click for Boone’s version at YouTube.
Single cover art for Fats Domino’s version of 1955 his hit song, “Ain’t That A Shame.”
Single cover art for Fats Domino’s version of 1955 his hit song, “Ain’t That A Shame.”


First Pop Hit

Domino’s first pop hit – his first “crossover” success, as R&B songs moving to the mainstream white pop charts were termed in those days – came in July 1955. The song’s title was “Ain’t That A Shame.” It was a Top Ten pop hit, the first hard-rocking black record to cross over. However, its rise on the pop charts for Domino came in a round about way. Fats had recorded “Ain’t That A Shame” at an earlier 1955 studio session in Los Angeles.


Music Player
“Ain’t That A Shame” – Fats Domino

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


However, within a week of Domino’s initial recording, a white movie star named Pat Boone also recorded a version of the same song. Boone, then something of heart throb among teen girls because of his movies, was not then a successful singer, although he had cut one recording that did poorly a year earlier. Still, Boone’s managers thought he might have some success in that arena given his film exposure.

In any case, Boone’s version of the Domino song charted in July, and soon became a No. 1 hit – his first. Boone’s version of “Ain’t That A Shame” stayed in the Top 40 for 20 weeks. And according to one source, that set the stage for the early part of Boone’s singing career, which then focused on covering R&B songs for the white American market.

Yet the Boone version of “Ain’t That A Shame” – arriving on the pop charts first – apparently didn’t hurt Domino’s version, which hit the pop charts shortly after Boone’s did, in mid-July 1955, and rose to No 10. Domino’s version — which also hit No.1 on the R&B chart — stayed in the Top 40 for 13 weeks. However, between the two versions, since Domino and Bartholomew were the authors of the song and collected publisher’s fees, the two had a pretty good payday thanks in part to Boone’s successful No. 1 version, as well as their own. Domino, all in good fun, reportedly complimented Boone on his cover of the song. And on one later occasion, at a concert where Domino invited Boone on stage, Domino showed off a big gold ring he was wearing, making the comment: “Pat Boone bought me this ring.”

Fats Domino’s first album, here in its re-issued title & cover art of 1956, captured a number of his early R&B hits.
Fats Domino’s first album, here in its re-issued title & cover art of 1956, captured a number of his early R&B hits.
While the Domino version was recorded first, it was standard practice in the music industry at that time – a practice dating to the early 20th century – that cover versions were available to all comers. If a song showed promise, multiple studios and labels would release their own competing versions using whatever artist they could find, and recording it in whatever style they thought might sell. In Boone’s case, he had a “built in” audience of adoring teen girls who could care less how he did the song, or whether it was any good. And for many listeners, in fact, the Domino version is the better of the two. “Ain’t That a Shame” – also noted as the first song that Beatles’ legend John Lennon learned to play – would go on to sell a million copies.

In 1955, Domino also had three other No. 1 R&B hits – “All By Myself,” “Poor Me,” and “I’m In Love Again.” His debut album, Carry On Rockin, was released on the Imperial Records label in November 1955 and subsequently reissued as Rock and Rollin’ With Fats Domino in 1956. The reissued album, combining a number of his hits along with others not then released, rose to No. 17 on the pop albums chart. But Fats was headed for additional fame in 1956 as his music spread around the country, and as he appeared as a performer. His music was also being called “rock `n roll” by then.

“Everybody started calling my music rock and roll,” Domino would later say, remarking on his early success in the 1950s. “But it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues [R&B] I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.”

Fats had a likeable demeanor about him when he performed. Basically a shy man, and not inclined toward the showmanship-type style of Jerry Lee Lewis or an Elvis Presley, Fats always gave a friendly smile to his audience and viewers as he performed. His upbeat tunes and boogie-woogie rockers, however, could sometimes bring out the energy and exuberance of young dancers and audiences – and not always in a good way.


Raucous Crowds

July 1956: Some rioting broke out at a Fats Domino show in San Jose, California at the Palomar Gardens Ballroom.
July 1956: Some rioting broke out at a Fats Domino show in San Jose, California at the Palomar Gardens Ballroom.
During 1956, Domino continued to score Top 10 hits, such as,”I’m in Love Again,” which was No. 7 on the nation’s charts that July. And with his continued success, Fats was touring more as well. And at his performances, he was attracting large crowds, and more white kids were coming to his shows as well.

On Saturday, July 7th, 1956 Fats was scheduled to perform at the Palomar Gardens Ballroom in San Diego, California. Management there expected that the Palomar Gardens crowd for Domino would be one of its largest ever. Some 3,500 tickets were sold for that concert, and lines of people wrapped around six blocks. But that performance, it turned out, was also one of the earliest “rock and roll riots” in America. Some beer bottles were thrown and windows were broken; clothes were ripped and fist fights erupted; and some people were taken to the hospital. San Diego wasn’t alone, however. On September 18th, 1956, rock music shows were banned at the U.S. Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island after a fight broke out during a Fats Domino concert.

1950s newspaper account interviewing Fats Domino about “riots” at his performances.
1950s newspaper account interviewing Fats Domino about “riots” at his performances.
Later that year, on November 2, 1956, a riot broke out at Domino’s show in Fayetteville, North Carolina. On that occasion, police resorted to using tear gas to break up the unruly crowd. Domino, in fact, had to exit through a window to avoid the melee; he and two members of his band were slightly injured.

All told that year, there were at least four major “riots” at Domino’s shows. The raucous behavior at these concerts set off a wave of reaction from concerned parents, politicians, psychiatrists, and journalists, all now raising questions about the dangers of this explosive music called “rock and roll.”

Some wanted to blame the music, but when Domino was asked that question he would always reply that the music wasn’t the cause of the wild behavior, especially among the younger kids who were dancing. Asked by a reporter on camera whether rock ‘n roll could be blamed for rioting, Domino answered, “Well, as far as I know, music makes people happy.” As the reporter fired back with another question, this time about the rioting at the Rhode Island naval base, Domino smiled and said, “Well you know when the Navy and the Marines get together…”

The problems that occurred were usually due to alcohol-fueled incidents, and not the music. And in some locations, there were also racial tensions.

“He [Domino] had four major riots at his shows partly because of integration,” says Domino biographer, Rick Coleman, who also noted that alcohol was a factor at these shows. “So they were mixing alcohol, plus dancing, plus the races together for the first time in a lot of these places.” But Coleman finds a positive note at Fats Domino’s and others road shows during this era. “There was this historic moment in American history,” says Coleman. “That the things were kinda coming together and people don’t really credit rock ‘n’ roll for integrating America, but it really did.” However, although music may have been a helpful contributor and door opener, full integration and full equality would still be years away.


Film & TV

Fats Goes National

Fats Domino, on a record jacket cover for “Blueberry Hill,” a song he covered in 1956 for which he became most famous.
Fats Domino, on a record jacket cover for “Blueberry Hill,” a song he covered in 1956 for which he became most famous.
By the end of 1956, Fats Domino was making appearances on major network television shows, among them: The Steve Allen Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. During this time, he also turned out one of his biggest hits, “Blueberry Hill.”


Music Player
“Blueberry Hill” – Fats Domino

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


“Blueberry Hill” was originally written in 1940, and had early versions recorded by big band leader Glenn Miller, cowboy singer Gene Autry, and jazz legend Louis Armstrong, among others. But in October 1956, “Blueberry Hill”, became a giant Fats Domino hit. It rose to No. 2 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts, where it held for 11 weeks.

On November 18th, 1956, Domino appeared on the nationally-televised Ed Sullivan Show singing “Blueberry Hill” by himself at the piano, while the rest of his band was hidden. The Fats Domino version of “Blueberry Hill” – which became his signature song – would sell more than five million copies worldwide in 1956–57 and would remain Domino’s biggest hit. In December 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at No. 82 on its list of of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

Domino biographer Rick Coleman, cites Gerald Early, author of One Nation Under a Groove, who offered one take on the significance of Domino’s “Blueberry Hill”: “What made Motown possible was not that Elvis Presley covered R&B but that Fats Domino, in the end a more significant artist, not only crossed over with R&B hits in 1955, but with a Country and Western tune, ‘Blueberry Hill.’”

Promotional poster for “The Girl Can’t Help It”(1956), starring Jayne Mansfield and other Hollywood actors, but also featuring Fats Domino & other music groups.
Promotional poster for “The Girl Can’t Help It”(1956), starring Jayne Mansfield and other Hollywood actors, but also featuring Fats Domino & other music groups.
Domino’s draw as a recording artist soon got the attention of Hollywood and he would appear in two rock `n roll films. The first was The Girl Can’t Help It, a rock music comedy starring Jayne Mansfield, which was released in December 1956, and included a number of rock ’n roll acts, but also featured Domino performing his big hit, “Blue Monday.” (During the mid- and late-1950s, a spate of rock ’n roll comedy-drama type films flourished briefly, helping to bring exposure to various rock ’n roll performers, including Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and others.)


Music Player
“Blue Monday” – Fats Domino

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


Domino also appeared in a second rock music film, Shake, Rattle, and Rock!, released in April 1957. It starred a young Mike Connors (later of Manix TV detective fame) and featured, among other artists, Fats Domino on piano. Fats played three songs in the film – “I’m in Love Again,” “Honey Chile” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” (Among other rock ’n roll entrepreneurs of that day venturing into rock music films was Cleveland radio disc jockey Alan Freed, who figures prominently in the early history of bridging R&B music to more mainstream audiences, and helping, in fact, to name it “rock ’n roll.” Between 1956 and 1959 Freed was involved with several of these films, first with performers such as Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and others, and later with Frankie Lymon, and before they became stars, actresses Valerie Harper and Tuesday Weld. Follow link above for story on Freed).

Poster for April 8th, 1956 rhythm & blues show at the Washington, D.C. National Guard Armory, with Fats Domino featured among the headliners.
Poster for April 8th, 1956 rhythm & blues show at the Washington, D.C. National Guard Armory, with Fats Domino featured among the headliners.
Fats Domino continued to turn out more pop hit singles during the 1956-1959 period, including: “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” (No.14), “I’m Walkin'” (No. 4), “Valley of Tears” (No. 8), “It’s You I Love” (No. 6), “Whole Lotta Loving” ( No. 6), “I Want to Walk You Home” (No. 8), and “Be My Guest” (No. 8). He was also performing on various music tours – often as a headliner – as shown on the poster at left advertising an April 8th, 1956 show at the National Guard Armory in Washington, DC.


“As Big as Elvis”

In 1956-57, Fats Domino, in terms of record sales, was neck-and-neck with Elvis Presley. With a string of hits, including “Blue Monday” and “I’m Walkin,” Domino was at the peak of his popularity, selling “a million records a month,” by one count.

The February 1957 issue of Ebony magazine had a feature story on Domino with a cover tagline: “Fats Domino: King of Rock ’n’ Roll. ” Inside the magazine, the story ran for five pages, hitting all the highlights of his stardom and popularity, noting he was then receiving up to $2,500 a night to perform, had fifty suits and 100 pairs of shoes, along with a $1,500 diamond horseshoe stick pin. Ebony also noted that Fats had a 1956 gross income of over $500,000. The magazine piece included photos of Fats on the road; one with crowds jostling to beat the fire marshal’s audience limit; and another showing whites and blacks mixing at his performances.


Poster for a Fats Domino performance and dance, likely in the late 1950s, featuring “I’m Walkin,” and “Blue Monday.”
Poster for a Fats Domino performance and dance, likely in the late 1950s, featuring “I’m Walkin,” and “Blue Monday.”

1957

On the Road

During 1957, Fats Domino was in great demand, and he and his band hit the road for non-stop touring, doing shows all across the country.

In fact, during 1957, the Domino band traveled 13,000 miles across the U.S. performing more than 350 shows, selling out nightclubs and concert halls.

Yet, despite being one of the most popular rock ‘n’ roll bands in the country, with a sizable number of white fans, Domino and his band encountered racial segregation in many locations. As they toured, they were denied access to lodging, food and services, and were forced to use “colored only” facilities. Sometimes they would travel 100 miles or more out of their way to find a rooming house.

In the late 1950s, among TV venues where Fats appeared was Dick Clark’s American Bandstand show. On December 18, 1957, Domino’s hit recording of “The Big Beat” was featured on Clark’s Bandstand show. Then on March 29, 1958, on The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show, Fats and band performed a medley of his songs that included: “I’m In Love Again,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” and “I’m Walkin.” Clark had introduced Fats that evening by noting at that point that Fats (then slated to perform at the Apollo that week in New York) had sold some 25 million recordings –“a pretty fantastic thing in the short length of time the man has been in the business,” said Clark of Domino’s achievement. A YouTube video of Clark’s introduction and Domino’s medley (in a rough black-and-white kinescope video of that day) shows the performance as well as the Bandstand-era crowd of white teens clapping and singing along with Domino’s performance.

A 2007 Capitol Records album cover of Fats Domino Greatest Hits, featuring “Walking to New Orleans.”
A 2007 Capitol Records album cover of Fats Domino Greatest Hits, featuring “Walking to New Orleans.”

1960

“Walking To…”

In 1960, Fats had another big hit – “Walking to New Orleans.” This song was written by Bobby Charles (Robert Charles Guidry), a Louisiana singer-songwriter who was star struck by a Fats Domino performance when he was 15, and would later co-write songs with Rick Danko of the Band and Willie Nelson. Charles had also written an earlier song for Domino.


Music Player
“Walking to New Orleans” – Fats Domino

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


The idea for the song came to Charles from a conversation he had with Fats when Fats had come to Lafayette, Louisiana, saying that if he were to visit Fats in New Orleans he’d have to walk there since he didn’t have a car. The idea of walking to New Orleans stayed with Charles for a time and he would soon dash off a version of the song for Domino in 15-minutes. The final song was later arranged by Dave Bartholomew and Fats in the studio, and it also incorporated strings, then an unusual addition to a rock song. It went on to be one of Domino’s biggest hits, released on Imperial Records in June 1960 and hitting No.6 on the pop charts and No.2 on the R&B chart.

Fats continued his touring through the early 1960s, appearing sometimes at college and university venues, as in the February 1962 appearance shown below at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

February 1962: Fats Domino at the piano performing before a crowd of mostly white students at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
February 1962: Fats Domino at the piano performing before a crowd of mostly white students at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

But by the early 1960s, things started to cool off for Fats Domino. After a decade of hits and popular acclaim, other musical genres and artists began to move into the spotlight. Fats also had a change of record company at that time, and the listening tastes of the trend-setting young record buyers was changing as well. But Fats continued to record. In the 1962-1964 period, for example, he released a variety of songs, among them: ‘Jambalaya’, ‘You Win Again’ and ‘Your Cheating Heart’ – the latter tune his take on a Hank Williams song. He also did covers of other material, including,‘I Hear You Knocking’, ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love,’ and ‘Goin’ Home.’ And he also had some of his own new releases – ‘My Real Name’, ‘Dance With Mr Domino’ and ‘Did You Ever See A Dream Walking.’ Fats’ albums, meanwhile, continued to be strong sellers.

Cover art for the record jacket of Fats Domino’s 1963 single, “Red Sails in The Sunset.”
Cover art for the record jacket of Fats Domino’s 1963 single, “Red Sails in The Sunset.”
By the end of 1963, a new generation of rockers was taking center stage, and Fats was scoring big hits less frequently. Though his days of Top 10 hits were behind him, Domino continued to record. By April 1963, Fats had left the Imperial Record label, the label he had stayed with from the beginning, for nearly 14 years. He then signed with ABC-Paramount.

One single he released with ABC was “Red Sails in the Sunset,” an old song, first published in 1935. The music for the original version was written by Hugh Williams (Wilhelm Grosz) with lyrics by songwriter Jimmy Kennedy. Initially, the song was inspired by the “red sails” of Kitty of Coleraine, a yacht Kennedy often saw off the coast of Portstewart, Ireland, where he wrote the song. Early versions of this song included one by Guy Lombardo in 1935, and another by Nat King Cole in 1951. But Fats Domino’s 1963 cover of “Red Sails in The Sunset,” became a No. 35. hit in October 1963. It would be his last Top 40 Billboard hit, but not the end of his career by any means.


Beatles’ Visit

When the Beatles came to New Orleans in September 1964 on their U.S. concert tour they wanted to visit with Fats Domino. The Beatles, shown below with Fats, were quite taken with his music, which had been an influence in their formative years. Dominoe’s 195_ song, “I’m In Love Again,” was the first “rock ‘n roll” song that George Harrison heard. “Ain’t That A Shame” was the first song that John Lennon learned to play.

1964: Fats Domino with the Beatles – from left, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Fats Domino and John Lennon – having a little jam session...
1964: Fats Domino with the Beatles – from left, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Fats Domino and John Lennon – having a little jam session...

In 1967, after Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, was finally able to bring Fats and his band over to England for the first time in 1967, The Record Mirror raved that Fats “completely and utterly enraptured a thrilled audience with his warm, happy brand of New Orleans rock, blues or whatever you care to call it. His voice was superb, his piano playing exciting, and his nine-piece band inspired.”

Fats Domino in a German advertisement featuring “Lady Madonna” and his 1968 album, “Fats Is Back.”
Fats Domino in a German advertisement featuring “Lady Madonna” and his 1968 album, “Fats Is Back.”
Domino, in fact, would record a few Beatles’ songs as covers, including “Lady Madonna,” which managed to chart on Billboard at No. 100 in August 1968. Beatle Paul McCartney, reportedly, had written the original song, in part, with Domino’s style in mind. Domino’s cover of the song was included on what was dubbed his “comeback” album of 1968: Fats Is Back.


Music Player
Fats Domino – “Lady Madonna”

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


Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, reviewed Domino’s album, calling it “ unequivocally a fine record in all respects,” Of ‘Lady Madonna,’ Wenner noted the Domino version was “surely as good a cover of a Beatles’ song as ever has been done…”.

In the 1970s-1980s, Domino traveled the world, often making yearly tours in Europe, where he became something of an icon. A 1979 album, Sleeping on the Job, became a minor European hit. In 1980 Fats appeared in Clint Eastwood’s hit movie, Any Which Way You Can, performing “Whiskey Heaven” in a cowboy hat, a song which became a small country hit. By the 1980s, however, Domino became less and less inclined to leave his beloved New Orleans, as the demands of touring becoming less appealing, with Fats not always able to find the food and lifestyle he liked on the road. Still, for the next 20 years, Fats toured internationally off and on, performing his hits at sold-out shows around the world in his trademarked boogie woogie style. And until his final public performance in 2006, his old friends and musical colleagues, among them, Dave Bartholomew, Herb Hardesty, and Lee Allen, were often in the band.

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Fats Domino 25th on its list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Fats Domino 25th on its list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”


Kudos for Fats

By the mid-1980s, various music awards and honors would begin rolling in for Fats Domino. In 1986, he was one of the first ten inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, joining Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Ray Charles and the Everly Brothers. At the induction ceremony, Billy Joel lauded Fats for proving “the piano was a rock and roll instrument.”

The following year, Domino received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. But Fats was still taking his music on the road occasionally, even in the 1990s when he toured Europe a couple of times, though exhaustion cut one of those trips short.

More awards, meanwhile, came Domino’s way in his later years. In March 1995, he received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Ray Charles Lifetime Achievement Award in Los Angeles.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Domino a National Medal of Arts. But Domino by this time is such a New Orleans homebody that he sent daughter Antoinette to receive the award. In 2004, Fats Domino is ranked No.25 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” In August 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, Fats Domino was rescued from his heavily flooded home in New Orleans 9th ward – where some thought he had perished during the storm.

In 2007, the double CD album, Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, is released, featuring covers of Domino songs by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Elton John, Robert Plant, Norah Jones, Allen Toussaint, Buddy Guy, Doctor John, Robbie Robertson, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, among others. On May 19, 2007, at age 79, Fats Domino performed publicly for the last time at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. A year earlier, Fats had released the album, Alive and Kickin, to benefit Tipitina’s Foundation, which supports indigent local musicians. That album includes unreleased Fats Domino recordings from the 1990s.

On Domino’s 88th birthday in February 2016, PBS’ American Masters series aired the TV documentary, “Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” On August 21, 2016, at a ceremony held in Detroit, Michigan, Domino was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, along with Dionne Warwick, Cathy Hughes, Smokey Robinson, Prince and The Supremes.

In February 2016, in honor of his 88th birthday, the Public Broadcasting System’s (PBS) American Masters TV series, aired a one-hour documentary on Fats Domino, covering much of his life & career during the 1950s-1960s.
In February 2016, in honor of his 88th birthday, the Public Broadcasting System’s (PBS) American Masters TV series, aired a one-hour documentary on Fats Domino, covering much of his life & career during the 1950s-1960s.

Music critics the world over have praised Domino’s historic contributions to rock ’n roll and R&B music. By the end of his career, Domino was credited with selling more records than any other 1950s rock ‘n roll artists except Elvis Presley. And in one interesting bow to Domino’s significance occurring in July 1969, Domino was one of 2,200 people who attended Presley’s first concert at the Las Vegas Hilton. At a press conference following that show, a journalist referred to Presley as “The King.” However, Presley gestured toward Domino, who was in the room. “No,” Presley said, “[there’s] the real king of rock and roll.”

For additional stories at this website on music history, song profiles, and artist biographies, see the “Annals of Music” page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 20 March 2017
Last Update: 20 March 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Fats Domino: 1950s-2000s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 20, 2017.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Three great piano artists: Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis around June 1986 when they recorded the TV concert, “Cinemax Sessions: Fats Domino and Friends.”
Three great piano artists: Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis around June 1986 when they recorded the TV concert, “Cinemax Sessions: Fats Domino and Friends.”
Nov 2007: Fats Domino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Pink Elephant club in New York where Fats was honored and awarded the key to the city.
Nov 2007: Fats Domino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Pink Elephant club in New York where Fats was honored and awarded the key to the city.

“Fats Domino,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 274-275.

PBS / American Masters Series, Fats Domino and The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, February 2016, Directed by Joe Lauro.

Rick Coleman, “Fats Domino: Timeline of His Life, Hits and Career Highlights,” PBS.org/ American Masters, January 26, 2016.

“Fats Domino Biography,” Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

“Fats Domino,” Wikipedia.org.

“King of Rock and Roll: Fats Domino Hailed as New Idol of Teenagers,” Ebony, February 1957, Vol. 12 Issue 4, p. 26.

Robert Christgau, “Consumer Guide” (1990), Village Voice, December 25, 1990.

Rick Coleman, “Seven Decades of Fats Domino,” OffBeat.com, (New Orleans, LA) February 1, 1998.

Rick Coleman, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Da Capo Press, April 2006, 416pp.

Larry Engelmann, “Ain’t That a Shame: Thirty Years Ago, America Experienced Its First Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot,” Los Angles Times, July 6, 1986.

“Pat Boone,” Wikipedia.org.

Patrick Doyle, “Inside Rock Legend Fats Domino’s World: Crawfish, Cards, Boogie-Woogie; On His 88th Birthday, the Rock & Roll Architect’s Musical Influence Is Honored in a New Documentary,” Rolling Stone.com, February 26, 2016.

“July 7: Rock and Roll History in San Jose,” LouieLouie.net.

“Walking to New Orleans,” Wikipedia.org.

David Kunian, “What Fats Domino Means to New Orleans,” Off Beat Magazine (New Orleans, LA), April 20, 2015.

“Red Sails in the Sunset (song),” Wikipedia.org.

Gwen Thompkins, Host,“Fats Domino: The Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Music Inside Out, (hour long radio program), WWNO Radio, 89.9 FM, New Orleans.

“Shake, Rattle & Rock! (1956 film),” Wikipedia.org.

Nate Chinennov, “Finding Thrills With the King of ‘Blueberry Hill’,” New York Times, November 10, 2007.

“The Big Beat: The Story of Fats Domino and His Band,” Historic Films Stock Footage Archive
YouTube.com, Dec 2, 2013.

______________________________







“Democrats’ History”
1930s-2010s

Road to the White House

“JFK’s 1960 Campaign”

Primaries & Fall Election

The historic campaign,
with city-by-city itinerary
— and lots of photos.

1960 Campaign History

“Mailer on Kennedy”

Taschen Book: 2014

“Superman” in the 1960
presidential campaign,
by Mailer & Taschen.

Democrats & Culture

“FDR & Vanity Fair”

1930s

Magazine cover art &
stories feature FDR
& New Deal programs.

Democrat Campaigns

“1968 Presidential Race”

Celebrity Democrats

Paul Newman & friends
jump into the political
fray of 1968.

Music for Democrats

“I Won’t Back Down”

1989-2008

Tom Petty’s “fighter’s
song” is a favorite
among Democrats

Bradley-for-President

Bill Bradley

1960s-2009

He rose to the U.S. Senate
& Presidential politics from
his basketball values.

RFK History

“1968 Presidential Race”

Democrats

Story includes RFK
bid for nomination &
June 1968 assassination.

RFK History

“RFK in Brooklyn”

1966-1972

Robert F. Kennedy gave
hope to urban poor of
Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Video Clip

“Daisy Girl Ad”

1964

LBJ’s TV ad of 1964
campaign began use of
negative campaign ads.

Daisy Girl Story

“LBJ’s Atomic Ad”

1964

‘Daisy Girl’ TV ad story,
its controversy, and
Goldwater’s reaction.

Brown-for-President

“Linda & Jerry”

Celebrity Politics

The lives of Jerry Brown
and Linda Ronstadt
during 1971-1983.

Obama Celebrities

“Barack & Bruce”

2008-2012

Bruce Springsteen & other
celebrities helped President Obama win re-election.

Campaign Ad History

“Endorsing Jimmy Carter”

Mary Tyler Moore: 1980

TV star gives a strong
womens’ pitch for
re-electing Jimmy Carter.

First Lady Democrat

“Jackie & The Twist”

1960-1963

Jackie Kennedy helped
bring the new dance to
White House & nation.

Democrats at Work

“The Kefauver Hearings”

1950-1951

Televised Senate hearings
brought Mafia figures
into American homes.

Musician & Democrat

“Orleans-to-Congress”

1972-2011

John Hall, of rock
group Orleans, served
2 terms in Congress.

Commemorating JFK

“JFK’s Texas Statue”

Ft. Worth: 2012

A Texas tribute site
honors a memorable visit
on a fateful day.

Commemorating RFK

“RFK in Brooklyn”

1966-1972

A Robert F. Kennedy
memorial & 1960s history
on Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Celebrity Politics

“The Jack Pack”

Pt.1: 1958-60

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

Celebrity Politics

“The Jack Pack”

Pt. 2: 1961-64

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

Books By Democrats

“Profiles in Courage”

1954-2008

The best-selling book that
helped give Jack Kennedy
national notice.

Road to the White House

“JFK’s Early Campaign”

1957

After a brush with 1956
V.P. slot, JFK sets sights
on 1960 presidential run.

Road to the White House

“JFK’s Early Campaign”

1958

As JFK wins big in U.S.
Senate re-election, he also
campaigns nationally.

Road to the White House

“JFK’s Early Campaign”

1959

In the 3rd year of his
“unofficial campaign,”
JFK is front-runner.


Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 26 July 2016
Last Update: 27 July 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Democrats’ History: 1930s-2010s”
(topics page), PopHistoryDig.com, July 26, 2016.

____________________________________







“Republican History”
1950s-2010s

Politics & Hollywood

“1968 Presidential Race”

Republicans

Film star John Wayne &
others in Hollywood
turned out for Republicans.

Politics & Music

“I Won’t Back Down”

1989-2008

George W. Bush was among
those ‘backing down’ from
using a Tom Petty tune.

Art, Satire, Politics

“Enemy of the President”

1970s

Cartoonist Paul Conrad
draws the ire
of Richard Nixon.

Campaign Music

“I’m A Dole Man”

1996

A 1960s’ soul song
becomes Bob Dole
campaign music.

Music & Republican Wrath

“White Rabbit”

Grace Slick: 1960s

Jefferson Airplane song
drew political fire from
Nixon-Agnew-Linkletter.

Bush-Koizumi Visit

“They Go To Graceland”

White House outing

Geo. Bush & prime minister
Junichiro Koizumi visit
Elvis home, July 2006.

McCain/Palin Ticket

“Barracuda Politics”

2008

Sarah Palin campaign music
at Republican convention
riles rock group, Heart.

Celebrity & Politics

“Reagan & Springsteen”

1984

How Bruce Springsteen’s
music became part of a
Ronald Reagan speech.

Republican Crisis

“Nixon’s Checkers Speech”

September 1952

Endangered VP candidate,
Richard Nixon, discovers
the “magic” of television.

Post Watergate

“The Frost-Nixon Biz”

1977-2009

The multi-media cottage
industry that followed
the Frost/Nixon interviews.

Politics & Protest

“Four Dead in O-hi-o”

1970

Kent State tragedy
comes with Nixon’s
Cambodia incursion.

Shifting Loyalties

“The Jack Pack”

Pt. 2: 1961-1990s

After years as Democrat
Frank Sinatra backed
Reagan for President.

Ray Charles Story

“Ray Sings America”

1972-2011

Ray Charles & “America
the Beautiful” history and
Ronald Reagan support.

Ray Charles Video

“Ray At 1984 RNC”

Singing ‘America’

Bringing down the house
at 1984 Republican National
Convention w/ “America.”


Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 21 July 2016
Last Update: 21 July 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Republican History: Topics Page, 1950s-2010s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 21, 2016.

____________________________________







“Ray At 1984 RNC”
Singing ‘America’


Note: The MSNBC television clip above, of Ray Charles performing “America The Beautiful,” was apparently used for news coverage of Ray Charles’ passing at age 73 in 2004 (complete with news ticker from that era). While the clip doesn’t capture Ray’s entire performance – which was the closing act of the 1984 Republican National Convention (RNC) nominating the Ronald Reagan/George Bush ticket that year – it does convey the rousing spirit and patriotic fervor that Charles summoned from the convention hall audience with his unique and moving rendition. In the video news clip, meanwhile, some of the insets of the Reagans and the Bushes that flash on the screen during the performance – packaged by the broadcasting network – seem to suggest, by their facial expressions, a bit of befuddlement, though perhaps unrelated and not aimed at the performance, as there was a lot going on at that moment and, no doubt, much on their mind. In any case, Ray’s performance of “America The Beautiful” offered such a rousing and soulful interpretation and delivery, that by song’s end, most delegates throughout the entire hall were up on their feet, singing and swaying. In fact, many who attended that convention often point to the Ray Charles performance as one of the high points.


Story: “Ray Sings America”

See also at this website, a longer story about Ray Charles and “America the Beautiful” that covers the song’s history, Ray’s release of the song and how he rearranged the order of the lyrics for a somewhat different emphasis, and Ray’s attendance at the 1984 Republican National Convention, including photos with the Reagans. Other stories on politics at this website can be found at “Politics & Culture” page, and for music, the “Annals of Music” page. Thanks for visiting – Jack Doyle


Video Source

The source for this video is found on YouTube.

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 18 July 2016
Last Update: 18 July 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Ray At 1984 RNC – Singing ‘America’,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 18, 2016.

____________________________________







“In My Life”
Lennon: 1965

Artistic word cloud illustration for Beatles 1965 song, “In My Life.” Source: Robert Hogan and No. 9 Images Photography.
Artistic word cloud illustration for Beatles 1965 song, “In My Life.” Source: Robert Hogan and No. 9 Images Photography.
“In My Life” is a song by the Beatles, written by John Lennon, released on their 1965 album, Rubber Soul.

The song is ranked 23rd on Rolling Stone‘s December 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” On a separate Rolling Stone listing of the Beatles’ 100 Greatest Songs, “In My Life” is ranked No. 5. The British music magazine Mojo named it the best song of all time in 2000.

Over the last 50 years “In My Life” has become a fan favorite, heard frequently at funerals, weddings, anniversaries and other occasions. More on the song’s legacy a bit later. First, some background on Lennon and the song’s creation.


John’s Song

In March 1964, Lennon had published an 80-page book titled, In His Own Write. It was comprised of short stories, poems, and line drawings, along with some surreal and nonsensical content. Parts of the book drew on his own life and childhood. A British journalist, Kenneth Alsop, noted that the book revealed more about him than his songs did, and that he should write more songs about his life.

John Lennon on the cover of his 1964 book, 'In His Own Write'.
John Lennon on the cover of his 1964 book, 'In His Own Write'.
Lennon, whether acting on Alsop’s comment or his own initiative, would later take stock of his growing-up years, returning to Liverpool for a retracing of his boyhood haunts. He traveled by bus from his old home through Liverpool, taking notes of all the places of his youth. From this, a working title for a song became, “Places I Remember.”

Yet, it turned out that Lennon’s field trip into his youth produced, by his accounting, a boring compilation of place names, which after the fact seemed to him a ridiculous exercise. Still, he had worked up various drafts incorporating some of his listings. But it wasn’t clicking as a song.

So then, he set it aside, and gradually, the basis for a song began to come to him and take form. Lennon would later say. “…I struggled for days and hours, trying to write clever lyrics. Then I gave up, and ‘In My Life’ came to me – letting it go is the whole game.”

Lennon, working with McCartney and George Martin on the song, settled on some more general phrasing for the lyrics rather specific place names which he had tried to use in earlier drafts.

McCartney also helped with the music (although there are varying accounts from McCartney and Lennon over who did what on the song), and George Martin would added some instrumentation in the middle.

“In My Life”
The Beatles / John Lennon
1965

There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more

[ harpsichord-sounding interlude ]

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
In my life– I love you more

Studio Work

During work on the song in the studio, Lennon asked Martin for a piano solo – “something Baroque-sounding,” according to one source. What Martin came up with is one of the signature parts of the song, as he recorded a Bach-like piano piece, but had the taping machine run at half speed, so when it was played back, it was faster, sounding like a harpsichord.


Music Player
“In My Life” – 1965

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


“In My Life” was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studio in London during sessions on October 18th and October 22nd, 1965. It was first heard by the public in early December 1965 on the Rubber Soul album – as the 4th track on side two of both the Parlophone (U.K.) and Columbia (U.S.) recordings. On both albums, the song follows “I’m Looking Through You,” which some believe helped the emotional nature of “In My Life” to stand out. The song, however, was never released as a single.

In the song’s lyrics, the narrator begins by marking all the places he’ll remember throughout his life; some good, some not so good; some etched deeply, others more fleeting – but all of which have their memorable moments. Lovers and friends are part of this tableau as well – some living, some departed – all loved as part of the narrator’s life. But in the song’s second part, the verse is offered to one present friend/lover, who is singled out as standing above the rest, if only for the moment, when love is new, and memories of the past take something of a lesser hold, but do not recede. In fact, the narrator states he will never lose affection for the people and places that have gone before, and will think of them often. But in the present moment, he appears focused on one friend/lover. Thus, the narrator’s lyrics capture the repeating pattern of life; with friends, family, lovers and their places as a cumulative process; accretive to life experience and emotional memory – elements that give this song its universal appeal.

Bernadette McNulty, an editor at London’s Telegraph newspaper, listed “In My Life” as one of her favorite Beatles tunes in 2012, citing it as “a strangely simple, beautiful song that manages to touch on charged emotions like grief, loss, nostalgia and remembrance but without shedding a tear of sentimentality….” And in Lennon’s case, there were real people and real places that had fueled the poetry – places such as Penny Lane, a street in Liverpool; Menlove Avenue, where Lennon had grown up as a boy with his Aunt Mimi; and “the Clock Tower in the Circle of the Abbey,” which he wrote about in earlier drafts – and real people, including his first wife, Cynthia Powell; good friend and biographer Peter Shoton; and departed friend and former Beatles’ bassist, Stu Sutcliffe, who died of a brain tumor in April of 1962.


A Maturation

1965 photo of John Lennon by Brian Duffy.
1965 photo of John Lennon by Brian Duffy.
A 2nd photo of Lennon by Duffy – both photos capture something of Lennon’s early Beatles innocence.
A 2nd photo of Lennon by Duffy – both photos capture something of Lennon’s early Beatles innocence.

Lennon would later say of the song: “’In My Life’ was, I think, my first real, major piece of work. Up until then it had all been glib and throw-away. I had one mind that wrote books and another that churned out things about ‘I love you’ and ‘you love me,’ because that’s how Paul and I did it…It was the first song that I wrote that was really, consciously, about my life…a remembrance of friends and lovers of the past.”

Bruce Eder of AllMusic.com, reviewing the song, noted that “In My Life” was also “a creative watershed in the Beatles’ songwriting and recording history,” calling it “unique in its musical and lyrical sensibilities,” expanding the horizons of both. Eder adds:

…The song altered the public sensibility not only of what constituted acceptable songwriting in which a rock & roll composer could engage, but also the range of emotions that rock & roll musicians were allowed to express. … “In My Life’s” lyrics were steeped in a mix of innocent nostalgia and an acknowledgment of distance from those emotions. Essentially, it was a song about maturation and accepting the passage of time, and the loss that comes with it, all attributes that were unusual, if not extraordinary, in mid- 1960’s rock & roll… [E]ven the confession of feelings of nostalgia was totally unexpected in the repertory of a rock & roll band in this period….

Eder also explains that the song “helped start John Lennon down a creative road that led to songs such as ‘Julia’ and much of the content of his best post-Beatles recordings….”


Graphic showing Beatles sheet music cover for “In My Life” overlaid on a Rolling Stone “Greatest Songs” logo.
Graphic showing Beatles sheet music cover for “In My Life” overlaid on a Rolling Stone “Greatest Songs” logo.
Song’s Legacy

However, what is most notable about “In My Life,” in addition to its role in the evolution of the Beatles’ and Lennon’s music, is the song’s usage and popularity since 1965.

Among Beatles fans, and even non-fans, “In My Life” has become a favored piece of music. It is heard frequently at weddings, anniversaries, funerals and other occasions, whether family celebrations or more somber public occasions where nostalgia and reflection are called for. Some who have grown up with the song, have requested in advance that it be played at their funerals as a remembrance and farewell song.

According to SongFacts.com, “In My Life” was played at Kurt Cobain’s funeral in 1994. Cobain was the frontman for the rock group Nirvana. The Beatles were an early and important music influence on him. Cobain had cited Lennon as his “idol” in journals he kept during his time with Nirvana. At the 2010 Oscars ceremony, James Taylor performed “In My Life”during the “In Memoriam” segment, honoring film stars and entertainers who died the previous year. And among everyday people, too, the song has resonance in a variety of ways. “Charles” of Bronxville, New York, for example, adding a comment at SongFacts.com, noted:

…When my daughter was born, she was delivered by C-Section. I was in the delivery room and got to hold her. Once she was bundled up, the Dr. said I should take her out to the waiting area while they closed the incision. I took her out and held her. I sat there with tears rolling down my face and sang this song to her. I thought it should be the first. I still do.

2010: Special edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ featuring ‘The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs’.
2010: Special edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ featuring ‘The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs’.
“Mister P” of Magnolia, Texas, also writing on SongFacts.com, noted: “As fine a song as ever penned. It took several decades of maturing for its lyrics to finally hit me. I don’t know how such a young man could create such mature lyrics.” Lennon was 25 years old when he wrote “In My Life.”

And for some, after Lennon’s death at age 40 in New York by deranged gunman Mark David Chapman, “In My Life” took on more meaning. Michael Lewis, co-author of 100 Best Beatles Songs: A Passionate Fans Guide, noted of the song: “I’m always a sucker for a melancholy tune, an ode to loves lost, the time that is fleeing and our lost youth. But John’s passing made this song even sadder for me. Fortunately, the song ultimately puts forth a message of hope – love lives on – and that’s all that really matters…”

“In My Life” has been covered by several artists, including Judy Collins, Bette Milder, Johnny Cash, José Feliciano, and others. It has also been used in some film and TV soundtracks, including: the 1987 film Five Corners with Jodie Foster and Tim Robbins (the Beatles version); the 1991 movie For the Boys (Bette Midler cover); the 2005 film Little Manhattan (Matt Scannell cover); various episodes of the 1988-1993 TV series, The Wonder Years (Judy Collins cover); the theme song for the 1999-2002 TV series, Providence (Chantal Kreviazuk cover).

For another John Lennon story at this website, from later in his life, see “Watching the Wheels.” Additional Beatles stories can be found at the “Beatles History” page. See also the “Annals of Music” page for other music stories. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 16 July 2016
Last Update: 16 July 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “In My Life: Lennon, 1965,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 15, 2016.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Side 2 of the Beatle's "Rubber Soul" album on the Parlophone label, showing 'In My Life' as the fourth track.
Side 2 of the Beatle's "Rubber Soul" album on the Parlophone label, showing 'In My Life' as the fourth track.
“In My Life,” BeatlesBible.com.

“In My Life,” Wikipedia.org.

“In My Life: No. 5 – The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs,” Special Collectors Edition, Rolling Stone, 2010, pp.20-22.

“In My Life, by The Beatles,” SongFact.com.

“My Favourite Pictures of John W. Lennon,” All You Need is The Beatles, website.

Dave Rybaczewski. “In My Life” (John Lennon – Paul McCartney), Beatles Music History, website.

Bruce Eder, Song Review, “In My Life,” AllMusic.com.

Sam Jeffries / Sonicnetcom, “Beatles’ ‘In My Life’ Named Greatest Song Ever Written; Poll of Top Songwriters Ranks Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ at #2,” MTV.com, July 13, 2000.

“Famous Beatles Fans Choose the Band’s Best Song; From a Day in the Life to You Won’t See Me, Musicians, Artists, Critics and Writers Pick Their Favourite Ever Beatles Track,” The Telegraph, October 4, 2012.


Other Beatles Stories at this Website

Jack Doyle, “Beatles’ D.C. Gig, March 1964” (history of Beatles’ first U.S. concert appearances), PopHistoryDig.com, July 9, 2008.

Jack Doyle, “Nike & The Beatles, 1988-89” (pop music & advertising history), PopHistoryDig.com, November 11, 2008.

Jack Doyle, “Michael & McCartney, 1980s-2009” (Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney history),  Pop HistoryDig.com, July 7, 2009.

Jack Doyle, “Dear Prudence, 1967-1968“(Beatles & pop music history), PopHistoryDig.com, July 27, 2009.

Jack Doyle, “Beatles in America, 1963-64” (early Beatles in America, first tours, etc.), Pop HistoryDig.com, September 20, 2009.

_____________________________







“Soylent Green”
1973

In April 1973, a film named Soylent Green was released in America starring actors Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotten and Leigh Taylor-Young. In the film, it is the year 2022, and the world has gone to hell. After years of runaway population growth, the planet is a mess, pollution is rampant, and resource scarcity is a way of life. New York city, the place where this story unfolds, houses some forty million people. The city is shrouded in a dense yellow haze of pollution as an ongoing heat wave torments its occupants. Poverty abounds and every available space is crammed with desperate residents. Corporations run all the services, such as they are.

Opening screen shot from the 1973 film “Soylent Green,” depicting a polluted and overheated New York City.
Opening screen shot from the 1973 film “Soylent Green,” depicting a polluted and overheated New York City.

The teeming masses survive by way of generic food products produced by the Soylent Corporation. The highly processed wafers, distributed on specified week days, are known by names such as “Soylent Yellow” and “Soylent Red.” But in the year 2022, a new Soylent product is introduced – “Soylent Green” – made from ocean plankton. Real food – such as vegetables and meat – have long vanished, save for a few last remnants, now black-market fare and eaten only by the ultra-rich. Running water too, is virtually unknown, as residents stand in long lines for their water ration.

"Tuesday is Soylent Green Day," the day small food wafers made from ocean plankton are distributed to the masses.
"Tuesday is Soylent Green Day," the day small food wafers made from ocean plankton are distributed to the masses.
Angry masses often turn violent during Soylent food days.
Angry masses often turn violent during Soylent food days.
One of the film’s opening screenshots set the stage on the crowded, run-down nature of a dystopic New York City.
One of the film’s opening screenshots set the stage on the crowded, run-down nature of a dystopic New York City.
Charlton Heston as detective Robert Thorn, and Edward G. Robinson as Solomon “Sol” Roth, live together in their cramped apartment in the 1973 film, “Soylent Green.”
Charlton Heston as detective Robert Thorn, and Edward G. Robinson as Solomon “Sol” Roth, live together in their cramped apartment in the 1973 film, “Soylent Green.”
Sol and Thorn in conversation while Sol pedals a bike to charge up their generator for electricity.
Sol and Thorn in conversation while Sol pedals a bike to charge up their generator for electricity.
Thorn jumping over local “residents” who now sleep and live in the stairwell outside Thorn & Sol’s apartment.
Thorn jumping over local “residents” who now sleep and live in the stairwell outside Thorn & Sol’s apartment.
Thorn on the scene of the suspected murder of William Simonson, who later turns out to be part of Soylent Corp. Tab Fielding, the bodyguard, played by Chuck Connors, looks on.
Thorn on the scene of the suspected murder of William Simonson, who later turns out to be part of Soylent Corp. Tab Fielding, the bodyguard, played by Chuck Connors, looks on.
“Apartment woman” Shirl – also called “furniture,” since such ladies came with the property, rented out to tenants. She is questioned by Thorn in his murder investigation.
“Apartment woman” Shirl – also called “furniture,” since such ladies came with the property, rented out to tenants. She is questioned by Thorn in his murder investigation.
Shirl at first becomes a casual acquaintance for Thorn, but their relationship takes a more serious turn during the story.
Shirl at first becomes a casual acquaintance for Thorn, but their relationship takes a more serious turn during the story.
At police headquarters, Thorn visits with chief detective Hatcher (Brock Peters) to go over the Simonson case.
At police headquarters, Thorn visits with chief detective Hatcher (Brock Peters) to go over the Simonson case.
Thorn’s investigation takes him to Fielding’s apartment where he finds Fielding’s companion, Martha Philips.
Thorn’s investigation takes him to Fielding’s apartment where he finds Fielding’s companion, Martha Philips.
On his way out, Thorn pockets Martha's spoon.
On his way out, Thorn pockets Martha's spoon.
Sol brings out the linen & silverware for the ‘special meal’ he has made of the rare food items Thorn pilfered.
Sol brings out the linen & silverware for the ‘special meal’ he has made of the rare food items Thorn pilfered.
Sol wishing ‘bon apetit’ to Thorn as he offers his beef stew for their special meal.
Sol wishing ‘bon apetit’ to Thorn as he offers his beef stew for their special meal.
Sol tasting & identifying the red substance Thorn pilfered from Fielding’s lady – rare & expensive strawberry jam.
Sol tasting & identifying the red substance Thorn pilfered from Fielding’s lady – rare & expensive strawberry jam.
Thorn visits with Father Paul in attempt to learn what Simonson might have told him.
Thorn visits with Father Paul in attempt to learn what Simonson might have told him.
Thorn on riot control duty, where a sniper tries to kill him.
Thorn on riot control duty, where a sniper tries to kill him.
Sol at "Supreme Exchange," where fellow "books" concur with Sol's worse case discovery.
Sol at "Supreme Exchange," where fellow "books" concur with Sol's worse case discovery.

Riots over these conditions are frequent and the massed crowds are confronted crudely by riot control police and bulldozer-like equipment called “scoops” which do just that, scooping up and dumping the unruly mobs into trucks to cart them off. This world is also highly bifurcated, with the very rich in walled-off and security-protected buildings, while the masses live in the proletarian district separated from the rich. Most people eke out meager existences, living in the streets, sleeping in churches, cars and building hallways and staircases.


Thorn & Sol

In this dystopic setting, a story unfolds around the lives of Robert Thorn, played by Charlton Heston and his elderly roommate, Solomon “Sol” Roth, played by Edward G. Robinson. Thorn is a detective and Sol is a crime research assistant and one of the few people who can still read. Sol is also old enough to remember how things once were, and how beautiful the planet was.

As it is, living in their resource-scarce and broken-down world, either Sol or Thorn must pedal a stationary bike rigged to a generator to make electricity for their apartment. Outside their door, in the hallway and stairwell, dozens of squatters live and sleep there since they have nowhere else to go.

Thorn and Sol get along with each other fine. Thorn is street-savvy detective not above pilfering a few things from a crime scene now and then to make his and Sol’s life bearable. Sol is frequently reminding Thorn of how good and beautiful the world was “before things went bad.”


Sol is a “Book”

Their apartment is full of books Sol has collected, since books are no longer made. Sol in fact, is called a “book” – a “police book” to be exact.

Electronic databases have long vanished in this world, so folks like Sol who can read and research at “old world” book exchanges, are sometimes employed to help run down what information they can. Sol helps Thorn with his criminal investigations.

“Roth is the film’s heart and soul,” wrote one reviewer in 2011 of Soylent Green, commenting on Edward G. Robinson’s character. “His nostalgic yearnings for the pre-eco-meltdown world still act as a mindful warning to this day…”

Sol has a high regard for the old world and its beauty, if not for its people. “People were always rotten,” he says to Thorn at one point, “but the world was beautiful” – suggesting nature’s recuperative and even “safety-valve” aspects, now gone.

Thorn is an interesting, mixed character, as played by Heston, a swaggering, tough, and street-wise detective, but still retaining his humanity


Murder Investigation

Thorn becomes involved in a murder investigation of a wealthy businessman named William R. Simonson, played by Joseph Cotton. At first the murder appears to be a burglary gone wrong. But as the investigation proceeds it becomes clear Mr. Simonson was deliberately murdered.

Simonson’s “tough guy” bodyguard, Tab Fielding, played by Chuck Connors, seems to be hiding something. At the murder scene – an exclusive residence for the ultra rich – Thorn goes over the site thoroughly, and questions Fieldling about what he knows.

In an earlier set-up scene for viewers, the murderer, named Gilbert, has met with an unnamed person in one of the thousands of abandoned cars that litter the city. He has been hired to kill Simonson – a corporate VIP who has become a security risk of some unstated kind.

Gilbert fulfils his murder contract, gaining entry to Simonson’s normally-secure upper class, luxury apartment, killing him with a meat hook.


“Furniture Girl”

At his apartment, Simonson had a live-in lover, a female attendant who comes with the apartment – referred to as “furniture” or “apartment women” – rented out to rich tenants. Simonson’s female companion is named Shirl, played by Leigh Taylor-Young.

In his investigation, Thorn questions Shirl about Simonson and the apartment, but she knows nothing about the murder or any motive. She does say that Simonson was a kindly man, who did seem bothered about something in recent days.

Simonson, it is later learned, was a member of the board of directors of the Soylent Corporation, and was also involved in politics, associated with the current governor, named Santini.


Luxury Goods

While Thorn is in Simonson’s apartment, with all of its luxuries, he washes his face with running water, something he’s barely experienced before. He also helps himself to some of the apartment’s luxury food items — alcohol, soap, a few books, and other incidentals. He also becomes intimate with the apartment girl, Shirl.

Thorn returns home with his bundle of pilfered food and other supplies from Simonson’s apartment and presents them to Sol. In addition to items such as pencils and real sheets of paper, it is the even rarer food items that get Sol’s undivided attention – an onion, an apple, and a side of beef – the latter of which is now worth a small fortune.

Upon seeing the real food Thorn has brought home, Sol nearly comes to tears remembering the old days. There is also some whiskey.


Oceanographic Survey

In addition, Thorn gives Roth the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report: 2015 to 2019,, a two-volume work which he liberated from Simonson’s apartment. Thorn wants Sol to delve into these reports to learn all he can about them and whether they have anything to do with the murdered Simonson. Then Thorn is off to police headquarters

In a meeting with his supervisor, chief detective Hatcher, played by Brock Peters, Thorn acknowledges he’s having difficulty closing out one of his cases. Hatcher suggests that Sol might be the problem, and maybe he should replace Sol with a new “book,” citing Sol’s age.

Thorn disagrees, and turns to the current murder case. Thorn believes Simonson was assassinated, as nothing was stolen from the apartment and the alarm system was conveniently out of order. Thorn believes Tab Fielding, Simonson’s assistant, is somehow involved.

He later follows Fielding and gains access to his apartment building, but finds that Fielding’s live-in companion, Martha Philips, is the only one at home. After admiring the spacious apartment and wondering how Fielding affords it, Thorn leaves, but on his way out he pilfers a spoon covered with a red substance that Phillips was eating during Thorn’s visit.


“Gourmet” Meal

At home, Thorn discovers that Sol has whipped up a “gourmet” meal from the stolen food items Thorn had brought home earlier. Meager as it is, the “real food” luncheon is something of revelation to Thorn.

Sol treats the occasion with high honor, bringing out real silverware and spreading a linen tablecloth. The main course is a beef stew, served with wine, and a couple of apples. Thorn has never had most of this real food.

Over dinner, Sol reveals from his research of Simonson that he worked for a large legal firm related to the Santini family – that of Governor Santini. Simonson later became director of a freeze-drying food company that was eventually bought by the Soylent Corporation, with Simonson thereafter becoming a member of the Soylent Corporation’s board of directors.


Strawberry Spoon

At the end of the meal, Thorn produces the spoon that he took from Fielding’s apartment with a bit of the mysterious red substance still on it. He offers it to Sol for a taste. Sol exclaims that it’s strawberry jam, a rare delicacy in their world, then selling for upwards of $150 a jar.

Thorn later returns to Simonson’s apartment to visit with Shirl again. She wants to leave Simonson’s apartment and live with Thorn. But that night they stay in the apartment, turn up the air conditioning – “like it was winter again” – avail themselves to the running water and showers, and generally indulge in the luxury apartment’s amenities.

Shirl, meanwhile, has mentioned to Thorn that she and Simonson went to a local church where Simonson had prayed with, and possibly confessed to, a black priest there named Father Paul. Thorn later visits with Father Paul, who is reluctant to divulge any confidential religious conversations he may have had with Simonson.

The powers that be, meanwhile – including Governor Santini – become upset after learning that Thorn now knows about and has talked with the priest. Hatcher, being pressured by higher ups, later tells Thorn that he’s been taken off the Simonson case and assigned to riot control. But Thorn continues his investigation anyway. Tab Fielding, in the employ of the powers that be, later kills Father Paul in his confessional.

Out on the street, during a riot outbreak where Thorn’s unit is involved, the hitman who murdered Simonson tries to kill Thorn, but instead, the would-be assassin is killed by a falling object during the riot. Thorn was grazed in the leg by the hit man’s bullet, but is o.k..

In the next days, Thorn’s investigation continues, as Sol’s research, begins turning up some odd details.


“Oceans Are Dead”

To his great horror, Sol has discovered, after reading the Soylent Corp documents, that “the oceans are dead” – and worse.

Sol then takes Soylent’s oceanographic reports to a like-minded group of researchers at the “Supreme Exchange,” a library and gathering place for fellow “books.”

The “books” and Sol finally realize that the reports indicate a “horrible” truth. They agree that the oceans are no longer capable of producing the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and they conclude it is being made instead from – horror of horrors – human remains.

The appalling nature of what Sol has uncovered in Simonson’s Soylent documents and other sources leaves him shaken and depressed.

Alone in his apartment, contemplating what he has learned, he writes a short note for Thorn and leaves it at their apartment – “I’m going home” it says. This is a Soylent Green world euphemism for cashing oneself in — i.e., government-assisted euthanasia.

Sol has decided to turn himself in for “processing” at one of the government “death centers,” though they are not called that in the film.


“Going Home”

Given that starvation and misery of every imaginable kind are a way of life in this world, the state makes it easy, and even inviting, for those who have simply had it with their grim existence, to avail themselves to the state-assisted euthanasia “going home” services – or what some might call “death centers.”

Scene from “Soylent Green” showing a lone person in the middle of the grimy city, heading toward one of the “going home” centers, where state-assisted suicide is offered as an inviting alternative to the misery of living.
Scene from “Soylent Green” showing a lone person in the middle of the grimy city, heading toward one of the “going home” centers, where state-assisted suicide is offered as an inviting alternative to the misery of living.

Sol with intake attendant at the “going home” center.
Sol with intake attendant at the “going home” center.
The euthanasia facilities are located throughout the city. The clean, well air-conditioned centers offer a stark a contrast to the noisy, dirty, hot, crowded world outside. The idea is to make such places as welcoming and attractive as possible to lure people in. Sol understands all of this, of course, but after what he’s learned, he’s decided that “going home” on his own terms is the better alternative.

The film shows Sol on a lonely walk down an abandoned street in the middle of the night on his way to the huge and well-lit death center.

Thorn meanwhile, has returned to their apartment only to finds Sol’s note that he is “going home.” Knowing exactly what that means, Thorn races from the apartment in an attempt to reach the “clinic” to prevent Sol from going through with the procedure.

Death chamber attendants welcome Sol to his bier.
Death chamber attendants welcome Sol to his bier.
Sol being given “going home” beverage at the death center.
Sol being given “going home” beverage at the death center.
Thorn struggles with attendant (left, over shoulder) to stop process, but is unable, though he forces attendant to open a window to view and talk with Sol as he dies.
Thorn struggles with attendant (left, over shoulder) to stop process, but is unable, though he forces attendant to open a window to view and talk with Sol as he dies.
Sol on his bier at the death center, viewing “forbidden” scenes of nature during his “going home” send off.
Sol on his bier at the death center, viewing “forbidden” scenes of nature during his “going home” send off.
Gigantic film screen dwarfs Sol on his death bier (at center) as filmed images of the old “beautiful world” are shown accompanied by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Grieg..
Gigantic film screen dwarfs Sol on his death bier (at center) as filmed images of the old “beautiful world” are shown accompanied by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Grieg..

Music Player
Classical Medley
Tchaikovsky, Beethoven & Grieg

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

Thorn, looking in on Sol, is enraptured by the scenes of the old beautiful world he has never known.
Thorn, looking in on Sol, is enraptured by the scenes of the old beautiful world he has never known.
During his final moments, Sol urges Thorn to follow the disposition of his body after it leaves the death center.
During his final moments, Sol urges Thorn to follow the disposition of his body after it leaves the death center.
As Thorn follows Sol’s body from inside the death center he discovers that the bodies are trucked away.
As Thorn follows Sol’s body from inside the death center he discovers that the bodies are trucked away.
Jumping onto the roof of one of the trucks, Thorn is following the bodies and he soon arrives at a factory-like setting.
Jumping onto the roof of one of the trucks, Thorn is following the bodies and he soon arrives at a factory-like setting.
Inside the factory, Thorn discovers that the bodies are eventually dropped into a vat of dark liquid.
Inside the factory, Thorn discovers that the bodies are eventually dropped into a vat of dark liquid.
As Thorn travels through the factory, he learns how the remains are turned into Soylent Green wafers, but he is soon running for his life, pursued by guards and others.
As Thorn travels through the factory, he learns how the remains are turned into Soylent Green wafers, but he is soon running for his life, pursued by guards and others.
Thorn on stretcher after gun battle, pleads with Hatcher to spread the truth about Soylent Green .
Thorn on stretcher after gun battle, pleads with Hatcher to spread the truth about Soylent Green .
Thorn’s final words, near death, “Soylent Green is people!”
Thorn’s final words, near death, “Soylent Green is people!”

Sol, however, was already well into the process by then.

Upon arriving at the center, he was greeted by a courteous and welcoming attendant – played by Dick Van Patten (above photo) – who guides him through the process..

Sol then makes his way to a preparation room. While there, his clothing is taken and he is places on a bier.

At this point he is also given the sedating drink that is a lethal death potion. It will work slowly on him while he is wheeled into a huge cathedral like room.

Thorn, meanwhile, in a frantic search for his friend, has arrived at the center in an attempt to save Sol. However, he arrives too late, as the process has already begun.

Outside the room where Sol has already been admitted for his final passage, Thorn has accosted a guard trying to force him to stop the process. But the process can’t be stopped once it’s begun.

However, Thorn prevails upon the attendant to allow him to view Sol on his bier in the amphitheater- like chamber, and he also talks with Sol over a speaker system as the process goes forward.


Death Scene

The film sequence at the “going home” center, featuring Sol’s final moments, is regarded as one of the all-time classic death scenes in modern film history. The lighting and colors used, the music, the camera shots of Sol’s face, and the poignancy of what he and Thorn see there, make it a top-rated movie scene.

As Sol lies atop his bier he is surrounded by giant, building-size movie screens. The euthanasia death chamber was conceived as a sort of super-IMAX movie theater where previously “forbidden” images of forests, rushing rivers, and majestic mountains flash before the eyes of the departing in their final moments before death.

As Sol Roth is dying, he watches the giant screens as a sequence of film clips show the earth as it was long ago, when there was lush plant life, endless fields of flowers, multitudes of birds and mammals, no pollution, and no global warming.


Evocative Music

During the “going home” scene, the lush scenes of natural beauty are accompanied by a suite of evocative classical scores that help provide a particularly moving sequence. The musical selections used during the scene, conducted by Gerald Friedd, include a medley of classical masterpieces – “Pathétique” from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6; “Pastoral” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6; and “Morning Mood” and “Åse’s Death” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.

Thorn, meanwhile, as he views the prohibited material through a portal from outside the chamber, is overwhelmed by what is being shown on the giant screen, having never seen how beautiful the world was.

“I tried to tell you,” Sol says to Thorn, about the world’s beauty. Thorn acknowledges the beauty, he too is seeing on the screen, “I know, I know you did.” He and Sol exchange their love for one another as Sol continues to view the panorama as he slowly slips away.


Real Life Death

In real life, Edward G Robinson died just 12 days after the filming of Soylent Green in January 1973. When the film aired some years later on the TCM cable channel, it was revealed in extra background material that Robinson had only told Heston, a personal friend, that his doctors had been given just weeks to live.

Robinson told Heston the news shortly before the filming of Sol’s death scene in the film, which reportedly affected Heston’s emotions and on-screen performance during that scene.

During Sol’s final moments in the film, he tells Thorn the secret of Soylent Green, and begs him to follow the fate of his body once it leaves the death center. Sol also asks Thorn to report what he finds to the “Supreme Exchange.” As he nods off on his bier, Sol’s final words are mixed and incomplete:

…Horrible. Simonson. Soylent. Listen to me, Thorn. Thorn, listen….You’ve got to prove it, Thorn. Go to the Exchange. Please, Thorn. You’ve got to prove it. Thorn. The Exchange.


Follow The Bodies

Although Thorn is shaken and torn by the death of Sol, he heeds Sol’s request to follow the movement of Sol’s body. Thorn sneaks into the basement there, where he sees corpses being loaded onto waste disposal trucks. He then jumps onto the roof of one as it departs from the center.

After a time he arrives at a factory where the sheet-wrapped bodies are placed on conveyor belts. There, they wend their way through a labyrinth of pipes and factory apparatus, at one point dropping, one by one, into a liquid vat, as if being buried at sea. But these bodies are not being buried.

As Thorn makes his way through the factory, he is confronted by security guards, and a battle ensues. After a tussle sending Thorn onto a conveyor belt below – a belt that is full of Soylent Green wafers – Thorn escapes from the factory, killing one of the guards.

Thorn by this time has figured out what’s going on at the factory, but now he’s on the run for he knows the dreadful secret of the Soylent Corporation, and why all the high-powered killing has been going on.

In an alleyway, he phones Shirl and tells her that he loves her but that she should stay in her apartment arrangement with the new incoming tenant, and “just live,” as he is not sure he will survive, given what he now knows.


Gun Battle & Fight

Tab Fielding and accomplices are now after Thorn, and Thorn calls Hatcher for help. In a gun battle, Thorn is shot by Fielding, but not killed, continuing a struggle with Fielding that spills over into a local church filled with the sick and dispossessed. In a gritty battle with Fielding, Thorn manages to kill him with a knife.

Hatcher then arrives to help Thorn, who is bloodied from the fight and near death. Thorn is then put on a stretcher.


“You Gotta’ Tell ‘Em”

But as Hatcher approaches him, Thorn pulls him close and tries to tell Hatcher what he’s discovered and that Hatcher needs to spread the word:

…I’ve got proof Hatcher… I’ve seen it happening. You gotta tell them, Hatcher…. The ocean is dying, plankton is dying. There is no plankton. Soylent Green is made out of people….They’re making our food out of people… Next thing you know, they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food. You better tell them …Listen to me Hatcher, you gotta tell them ! We got to stop them somehow… Soylent Green is people…”

That line became one of the classic surviving moments from the film, as more than 30 years later, in 2005, it was voted at No.77 on AFI’s list of the most famous movie lines in its “100 Years…100 Quotes” compilation.

…And in the final scene, as Thorn is carried out on the stretcher amid the destitute crowd of souls huddled in the church, he repeats his cry, raising his bloodied arm and calling out, “Soylent Green is people!”

Yet as the film ends, there is no assurance that Thorn’s words are believed or heeded by Hatcher or anyone else, likely dismissed as the paranoid ravings of just another lunatic.


Harrison’s Book

Soylent Green was based on Harry Harrison’s novel, Make Room! Make Room! first published in 1966. Harrison offered a dark and gloomy tale of a future New York City – set in August 1999, then 33 years away – where unchecked global population growth is savaging overcrowded cites, also plagued by resource shortages and crumbling infrastructure.

Harrison’s story, with its food riots, water shortages, pollution, and rampant crime, is set in a New York city with 35 million people. The plot features and follows several individual characters, recounting their lives as they struggle to survive.

1966: Cover of  hardback edition of Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!,” published by Doubleday.
1966: Cover of hardback edition of Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!,” published by Doubleday.
1967: Cover of paperback edition of Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!”
1967: Cover of paperback edition of Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!”

The book was one of the first to feature overpopulation as a pressing issue. The cover of the Doubleday hardback edition (first cover at left) was pretty tame, adding a subtitle, “A Realistic Novel of Life in 1999.” A 1967 paperback edition had a little more of a science fiction look to it, with a top-of-the-cover tagline that read: “An SF novel about New York City, Year:1999 – Population 35,000,00.” Remember that these taglines were written more than 50 years ago!


Heston Backs Film

Once the film came out, "Make Room! Make Room!" was issued in a 'Soylent Green' version with Heston and Leigh Taylor-Young on the cover.
Once the film came out, "Make Room! Make Room!" was issued in a 'Soylent Green' version with Heston and Leigh Taylor-Young on the cover.
The main push for a film version of the book appears to have originated with Charlton Heston who had read Harrison’s book in 1968. Heston began testing the waters in Hollywood to see if any of the studios would be interested in the book as a film project. These early attempts by Heston initially struck out. As of April 1970 there were no takers. But Heston didn’t give up on the idea.

In August 1971 Heston had a discussion with Walter Mirisch of MGM for several possible movies, including one on Make Room! Make Room! Those discussions continued through to May 1972, with Walter Seltzer – with whom Heston had worked on several earlier films. One worrisome cost factor centered on the huge numbers of expensive extras that would be needed to do the urban population and crowd scenes. Still, by then a script had been produced.

MGM meanwhile, proposed to change the title for the film from Make Room! Make Room! to Soylent Green, a change Heston supported. The title change was prompted in part by possible confusion with a TV sit com of that day, Make Room for Daddy. Richard Fleischer agreed to direct the film in late June 1972, and casting went forward as well, with Heston pushing for Edward G. Robinson in one of the key roles. Soylent Green began shooting on 5th September 1972.

At the movie’s release in 1973, the reviews were tepid at best, with Time magazine calling it “intermittently interesting” and New York Times critic A.H. Weiler saying the film’s 21st-century verion of New York City was “occasionally… frightening,” but not always “convincingly real.” Still, in 1973, the film won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.

Charlton Heston, meanwhile, perhaps better known in his science fiction roles for the Planet of the Apes films, noted in one 1985 British TV interview that those films were basically “just a fantasy.” Soylent Green, on the other hand, focused on a major problem. “I think the population problem is the greatest problem the world faces,” Heston said at the time. “If we do not solve population, never mind any of the rest – never mind civil rights; never mind nuclear power; never mind the environment – it’s all finished. And, of course, that’s what Soylent Green was about. I’m very glad we made that, and very glad it was a success.”

Soylent Green by today’s movie-making standards may not offer the most sophisticated treatment of the dystopic themes it raises, or their possible root causes. Still, it has its prescient moments, touching on present-day concerns such as global warming, polluted and dying oceans, overcrowded cities, the widening rich-poor chasm, the remoteness and unaccountability of ever-enlarging food corporations, and the emergence of a politically-corrupt corporate state.

See also at this website, “Max Headroom, 1984-1988″ (a story about a briefly popular sci-fi TV show where a wise-cracking computer-generated being brings a measure of levity to an otherwise dystopic world where the media is a particularly sinister force). Other stories of possible interest can be found at the “Environmental History” page and the “Business & Society” page. Film and publishing-related stories can be found, respectively, at the “Film & Hollywood” page or the “Print & Publishing” page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 16 July 2016
Last Update: 16 July 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Soylent Green: 1973,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 16th, 2016.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Unhappy detective Robert Thorn at police headquarters where a “Re-Elect Governor Santini” poster is visible.
Unhappy detective Robert Thorn at police headquarters where a “Re-Elect Governor Santini” poster is visible.
Thorn savoring the crunch and sweetness of a ripe apple for the first time in his life, a rare “real food” item.
Thorn savoring the crunch and sweetness of a ripe apple for the first time in his life, a rare “real food” item.
Damning report: “Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 To 2019, Volume 1.”
Damning report: “Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 To 2019, Volume 1.”
Thorn happens upon a mother who has died on church steps with her child tied to her arm, hoping the child will be cared for. Thorn brings the child inside to care givers.
Thorn happens upon a mother who has died on church steps with her child tied to her arm, hoping the child will be cared for. Thorn brings the child inside to care givers.
Unhappy Sol, once he has learned about the dying oceans and what the Soylent Corp. is really up to.
Unhappy Sol, once he has learned about the dying oceans and what the Soylent Corp. is really up to.

“Soylent Green, Film Summary,” American Film Institute, AFI.com.

Jeff Stafford, Film Review, “Soylent Green (1973),” Turner Classic Movies.

“Soylent Green (1973): Synopsis,” IMDB.com.

“Soylent Green,” Wikipedia.org.

A.H. Weiler, “Soylent Green (1973),” New York Times, April 20, 1973.

Harry Harrison “A Cannibalized Novel Becomes Soylent Green,” in Danny Peary (ed.) Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies, New York: Doubleday, 1984.

Leigh Taylor Young, “LTY in 1970’s Soylent Green,” LeighTaylorYoung.com.

Boris Lugosi, “Review of Soylent Green,” Girls, Guns and Ghouls, January 9, 2007.

Charlton Heston Fan, “Soylent Green ‘Symphony Suite’ 1973,” YouTube.com, Uploaded. May 15, 2010.

**“Life vs. ‘Expediency’: Thoughts on Soylent Green,” Notes Toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism, July 13, 2010.

Neil Mitchell, “Review of Soylent Green,” Electric Sheep Magazine (U.K.), October, 12, 2011.

“Screen Captures, Soylent Green,” Pyxurz.Blogspot.com, October 2011.

Robin, “Environmental Nostalgia in Soylent Green,” Eco-Cinema and Film Genre, Monday, December 12, 2011.

Christopher Priest, “Harry Harrison Obituary; Popular Author of Science Fiction with a Serious Purpose and a Subversive Wit,” The Guardian (London), August 15, 2012.

James Meikle, “Death of Harry Harrison, Science Fiction Author, Aged 87 Writer of Comic and Dystopian Novels Who Inspired the Film Soylent Green,” The Guardian (London), August 15, 2012.

“Charlton Heston and Soylent Green,” HarryHarrison.com, 2012.

“Make Room! Make Room!,” Wikipedia.org.

B. Shapiro-Hafid, “Make Room! Make Room! And The Politics of Contraception,” A Study of The Hollow Earth, July 24, 2013.

“Luxury Foods, Lunch Scene, Soylent Green,” YouTube.com.

“Soylent Green – Death Center Scene”(3:31), YouTube.com.

“Thorn in Soylent Green Factory,” YouTube.com.

“Soylent Green is People!,” YouTube.com.

David Munk, “Standing Ovation: Edward G. Robinson in ‘Soylent Green’,” Backstage, April 7, 2014.

John Kenneth Muir, “Cult-Movie Review: Soylent Green (1973),” Reflections on Film and Television, June 6, 2014.
________________________________






“Mickey Mantle Day”
September 18th, 1965

It was mid-September 1965. America was in an unsettled time, as the Vietnam War and civil rights unrest were part of an unhappy national scene. Yet life went on. “Help,” by the Beatles, was the No. 1 hit on the Billboard pop music chart; The Sound of Music was leading the film box office; and James Michener’s The Source was atop the New York Times fiction bestsellers list. In August, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, but several days later the Watts Riots began in Los Angeles, underscoring the nation’s racial strife. However, on September 18th at New York’s Yankee Stadium, much of the outside world was suspended, if only briefly, as more than 50,000 baseball fans cheered their hero, Mickey Mantle, the famed slugger of the New York Yankees. It was “Mickey Mantle Day.”

Sept 18th, 1965: Former Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, presents Mickey Mantle to some 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium on “Mickey Mantle Day” in New York. Mantle would also play his 2,000th game that day. AP photo.
Sept 18th, 1965: Former Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, presents Mickey Mantle to some 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium on “Mickey Mantle Day” in New York. Mantle would also play his 2,000th game that day. AP photo.

Mantle, 33, was then in his 15th year with the Yankees. In June that year, Yankee management feared Mantle might be nearing the end of his playing days so they decided to give him a special day at the stadium. Only four other Yankees had been so honored – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. Mantle, who had played his entire career with the Yankees, had been a key player since his arrival as an 19-year old rookie in 1951. He had won three American League MVP Awards, a Triple Crown in 1956, and had made 14 All-Star appearances. He also figured prominently in the team’s World Series appearances. A fan favorite, Mantle was adored in New York and generally loved throughout the baseball world.

Portion of the cover of special program booklet issued by the New York Yankees for “Mickey Mantle Day.”
Portion of the cover of special program booklet issued by the New York Yankees for “Mickey Mantle Day.”
In New York, Mayor Robert Wagner had proclaimed “Mickey Mantle Day” that Friday. Mantle had been a guest of Wagner’s at City Hall that day along with general manager Ralph Houk. “Mickey Mantle is a man of whom all New Yorkers are entitled to be proud.,” said the Mayor. “He is a glowing example of courage and ability, a splendid sportsman and a credit to his country.”

At Yankee Stadium on September 18th, the ceremony honoring Mantle began at 1:00 pm, about an hour before a scheduled game with the Detroit Tigers. Famed announcer, Red Barber was master of ceremonies. Along with Mantle on the field that day, were his wife, Merlyn, and his eldest son, Mickey,.Jr, with three other sons watching from home. Among attending VIPs that day was U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY).

The Yankee organization had issued a special program for the day, with a centerfold of pages and photo collage devoted to Mantle and his career. And as was then the custom with such “special days” honoring national athletes, a cascade of gifts from fans, businesses, and organization were bestowed on Mantle and his family – though at the time Mantle was the highest paid player in Major League baseball.

Joe DiMaggio presented Mantle to some 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium that day.“I am proud and honored to introduce the man who succeeded me in centerfield here in 1951,” said DiMagio. “He lived up to all expectations and there is no doubt in my mind that he will one day be in the Hall of Fame.”

Mantle then moved to the microphone to make his remarks, paying homage to DiMaggio, saying, “I think just to have the greatest baseball player I ever saw introduce me is tribute enough for me in one day.” Acknowledging that he was nervous, he generally thanked those who helped him through his career, saying he hoped he’d lived up to their expectations. “To have any kind of success in life I think you have someone behind you to push you ahead and to share it with you…. And I certainly have that,” he said, acknowledging his wife Merlyn, his four boys, and his mother, who was in attendance that day.

Mickey Mantle making remarks at “Mickey Mantle Day,” Sept 18th, 1965.
Mickey Mantle making remarks at “Mickey Mantle Day,” Sept 18th, 1965.
Mantle also noted that all donations that day would be turned over to the Hodgkin’s Disease Fund at St. Benton’s Hospital. That fund was founded in memory of Mantle’s father who died of Hodgkin’s disease in May of 1952 at the age of 40. “I wish he could have been here today,” said Mantle. “I know he would be just as proud and happy at what you all have done here as we are.”

Then he closed his remarks, noting: “There’s been a lot written in the last few years about the pain that I’ve played with. But I want you to know that when one of you fans, whether it’s in New York or anywhere in the country, say ‘Hi Mick! How you feeling?’ or ‘How’s your legs?,’ it certainly makes it all worth it. All the people in New York, since I’ve been here, have been tremendous with me. Mr. Topping, all of my teammates, the press and the radio and the TV, have just been wonderful. I just wish I had 15 more years with you….”


Rough Year

However, in 1965, Mickey Mantle was having a rough time of it, especially earlier in the season. He was not at his best. In fact, in June that year, he was hurting with injuries and slumping, batting only .240. Not happy with his performance, Mantle at the time thought about quitting. But he persevered, nonetheless, and made a bit of comeback, though still underperforming his then lifetime .308 average. He had also been moved from his traditional centerfield position to the somewhat less demanding left field.

In mid-August that year, Yankee manager Johnny Keane remarked on Mantle’s season: “Mickey has played at half-mast most of the season. But now, I’m seeing him at his best. He may not admit it, but he has cut down on his swing and still hits some real good shots. And when he does, the whole team brightens up. He’s the leader, no doubt about it, and he always wants to play.”

Two years earlier, in 1963, Mantle broke a bone in his left foot in a game against Baltimore, and played only 65 games that year. But in 1964, he came roaring back, playing in 143 games with 34 home runs and 111 runs batted in, compiling a .303 average. In the 1964 World Series, although the Yankees lost to the St, Louis Cardinals, Mantle hit for a .333 average with three home runs, eight RBIs, and eight runs scored. Mantle’s three home runs in that Series, however, raised his World Series total to a record-setting 18, surpassing Babe Ruth’s mark of 15.

In addition to the World Series home run record held by Mantle, his other World Series records include: most RBIs (40), most extra-base hits (26), most runs scored (42), most walks (43), and most total bases (123).

1965: Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with story speculating about the demise of the Yankees.
1965: Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with story speculating about the demise of the Yankees.
Still, in 1965 there were questions about Mantle and the Yankees.

A Sports Illustrated magazine piece that ran a few months prior to Mickey Mantle Day, on June 21, 1965, had featured Mantle on its cover with the tagline, “New York Yankees, End of An Era.” The story focused on the possible end of the Yankee dynasty that had dominated the game, owed in part to the ebbing careers of “big men” players like Mantle. But in the piece, author Jack Mann noted how an injured Mantle amazed his competitors with his continued play:

…Mantle, the one-man orthopedic ward, is even more a symbol of the Yankees in crisis than he was in their predominance. He plays on, on agonized legs that would keep a clerk in bed, and the opposition wonders how. “He’s hurting worse than ever,” says [former Yankee] John Blanchard…, “but he won’t admit it.”

“I don’t see how the heck he can keep going,” says Baltimore’s Norm Siebern, another ex-Yankee. ‘It has to be his last year,’ an American League manager concluded after watching the 33-year-old Mantle for the first time this season. ‘He can’t go on that way.’

But he did go on – for another three seasons in fact. His production was down in those years, cut in half from what he did in his prime. Still, he hit .288 in 1966 and played in more than 140 games in each of 1967 and 1968. And over those three years he continued to hit home runs – 23 in 1966, 22 in 1967 and 18 in 1968, with more than 50 RBIs in each of those years. He finished with a lifetime batting average just under .300, at .298 over 18 years. In that span he played in more than 2,400 games with a career total 536 home runs and 1,509 RBIs.


“A Macho Thing”
Home Runs: 1964

David Halberstam, the famous American journalist, in his book, October 1964, chronicles the respective 1964 World Series-bound seasons of the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals. In the excerpt below, he recounts one of Mickey Mantle’s home runs, and a bit of baseball’s home run lore, beginning with an August 1964 game at Yankee Stadium with the Chicago White Sox:

David Halberstam’s 1994 book on the 1964 Yankees and Cardinals.
David Halberstam’s 1994 book on the 1964 Yankees and Cardinals.
“…In the fourth inning Mantle came up with the right handed Ray Herbert pitching for Chicago, and hit a tremendous drive to center field. The wind was blowing out slightly, and at first Mantle did not think he had quite gotten all of it. A look of disgust came over his face… [and he came] very close to throwing his bat down… Gene Stephens, the center fielder, thought at first that he could make a play on the ball, and then as he went back he saw the ball carry over the monuments, over the 461 [foot] sign, and over the screen, which was thirty feet high there. It landed fifteen rows back, and since each row was judged to be two feet, the ball was officially judged to be 502 feet [from home plate]. It may have been the longest ball Mantle ever hit to center field in the Stadium…

…Mantle was relaxed after the game, almost boyishly happy.”I’m glad I didn’t bang my bat down,” he told the assembled reporters. He loved the tape -measure home runs – they were his secret delight in the game. The reporters who covered him were aware of this, and knew how relaxed and affable he would be in the locker room after he hit one…

…Again and again when Mantle was younger, [former Yankee manager, Casey] Stengel had tried to get him to cut down on this swing, telling him that he was so strong, the home runs were going to come anyway, and they did not need to be such mammoth shots; if he cut back on his swing, his batting average would go up dramatically. That made no impression on Mantle, for he loved the tape-measure drives; he loved just knowing that every time he came to bat he might hit a record drive; he loved the roar of the crowd when he connected, and was equally aware of the gasp of the crowd when he swung and missed completely, a gasp that reflected a certain amount of awe…

Mickey Mantle holding a home run ball he hit some years earlier at Yankee Stadium in a July 1957 game that traveled an estimated 465 feet.
Mickey Mantle holding a home run ball he hit some years earlier at Yankee Stadium in a July 1957 game that traveled an estimated 465 feet.
The home runs separated him from the other great power hitters of that era, as his pure statistics did not. The inner world of baseball was very macho; the clearest measure of macho for a pitcher was the speed of his fastball, and for a hitter, it was the length of his home runs. The players themselves were excited by the power hitters’ extraordinary drives, and they cataloged them – who had hit the longest drive in a particular ballpark – and spoke of them reverentially…”
____________________

Note: Mantle in the August 1964 Chicago game mentioned above had two home runs, one from each side of the plate, the 10th time in his career he had accomplished that switch-hitting feat.


Back at “Mickey Mantle Day” in September 1965… As the scheduled game got underway that day, the pitcher for Detroit Tigers was a right hander named Joe Sparma. When Mantle came up to bat in the bottom of the first inning, with two outs, he received a thunderous ovation from the crowd that day at Yankee Stadium. But then, Tiger pitcher Joe Sparma undertook something of a classy gesture to honor his Yankee opponent. He stepped off the mound, walked to home plate, and shook Mantle’s hand in admiration. He then walked back to the mound and the game continued.


1964: Switch-hitting Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees showcasing his powerful swing from the left side.
1964: Switch-hitting Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees showcasing his powerful swing from the left side.

Mickey Mantle announced his retirement from the New York Yankees on March 1st, 1969. He was 38 years old. His jersey and No. 7 numeral were retired at a ceremony on the second Mickey Mantle Day on June 8th, 1969. Mantle would return to the ballpark on various special occasions and “Old Timers” games in the 1970s and 1980s. After a battle with liver cancer, Mickey Mantle died on August 13th, 1995. He was 63 years old.

Jane Leavy’s 2010 book on Mickey Mantle, 'The Last Boy'.
Jane Leavy’s 2010 book on Mickey Mantle, 'The Last Boy'.
The one footnote about Mickey Mantle, however – and some will say there is more than one – is that he might have had an even greater baseball career were it not for his injuries, but also, were it not for his carousing and alcoholism, especially while he played. This behavior, some say, was due in part to Mantle’s fear he would die at a young age, as his father had, at age 40, from Hodgkin’s Disease.

Mantle did acknowledge his abusive behavior in his final, dying days, when modern medicine could no longer do anything for him, saying at a public press conference that he should have “taken better care of myself,” aiming his remarks at the young and advising them, “don’t be like me.” Still, for many, despite Mantle’s failings and the mythology surrounding his career, good and bad, he remains a much loved baseball superstar, perhaps captured best in the title of Jane Leavy’s 2010 book on him, The Last Boy.

Additional Mickey Mantle stories at this website can be found at the “Baseball Stories” topics page. See also the “Annals of Sport” page for other sports stories, or visit the Home Page for additional story choices. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thanks you. — Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 20 June 2016
Last Update: 20 June 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Mickey Mantle Day: Sept 18th, 1965,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 20, 2016.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

1965: Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees signing autographs for young fans in Houston, Texas.
1965: Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees signing autographs for young fans in Houston, Texas.
Mickey Mantle being interviewed by then sportscaster Frank Gifford.  Click for “Celebrity Gifford” story.
Mickey Mantle being interviewed by then sportscaster Frank Gifford. Click for “Celebrity Gifford” story.

“Mickey Mantle Day,” MickeyMantle.com.

“Mickey Mantle Speech, Mickey Mantle Day,” The Mick.com.

Associated Press, (New York) “Mantle’s Pay For 1965 Put at $107,000,” The Morning Record (Mariden, CT), February 5, 1965, p.4.

Frank Eck, AP Newsfeatures, Sports Editors, “Mantle Turns to Football to Aid His Career” (and MM Day), The Free Lance-Star (Frederickburg, VA), September 9, 1965, p. 19.

UPI, (New York), “Wagner Proclaims Today A Special Day For Mantle,” Lodi News-Sentinel, September 16, 1965.

Arthur Daley, “Sports of The Times: A Day for Mickey,” New York Times, September 17, 1965.

Arthur Daley, “Sports of the Times: The Nervous Hero,” New York Times, September 18, 1965.

Jack Mann,” Decline and Fall of a Dynasty; A 44-Year Saga of Power and Glory Is Ending for the New York Yankees…,” Sports Illustrated, June 21, 1965.

Milton Richman, UPI, “Mickey Mantle Day Was A Huge Success,” The Times-News (Hendersonville, NC), September 20, 1965, p. 3.

“Mickey Mantle & Joe Dimaggio at Yankee Stadium – 1965” (Mickey Mantle Day, September 1965)YouTube.com, Time, 1:53.

Loudon Wainwright / The View From Here, “A Vulgar Tribute to Greatness,” Life, October 1, 1965, p. 25.

“Mickey Mantle Stats,” Baseball-Almanac .com.

James Lincoln Ray, “Mickey Mantle,” Society for American Baseball Research.

“The Last Boy,” JaneLeavy.com.

______________________________________






“Jackie & The Twist”
First Lady History

The year 1960 marked the election of the nation’s youngest president, John F. Kennedy, at age 43. It was also the year when a national dance craze of that era, known as “The Twist,” first came on the scene. And as it happened, “Mrs. JFK” – first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy – would become curious about The Twist, would learn how to do it and its variations, would teach other family members the dance steps, and would incorporate the new dance into the White House party scene. In her role as First Lady, as national hostess and cultural leader, Jackie Kennedy was quite on top of the arts and music scene of her day, and The Twist, it seems, would not be left out. But before exploring Jackie’s role in the new dance, a little background on how the song and dance came about.

1962: Jackie Kennedy dancing the Twist with her designer, Oleg Cassini, in the London home of her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, left. Cassini was also involved with a New York nightclub where the the Twist was popular. Photo, Benno Graziani.
1962: Jackie Kennedy dancing the Twist with her designer, Oleg Cassini, in the London home of her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, left. Cassini was also involved with a New York nightclub where the the Twist was popular. Photo, Benno Graziani.


The Twist

In 1958, Hank Ballard, an African American rhythm and blues (R&B) artist, wrote a song named “The Twist.” Ballard was the lead singer with “Hank Ballard and the Midnighters,” an early 1950s group that had become known in R&B circles for several bawdy songs that had done quite well on the R & B music charts. But Ballard’s “The Twist,” first recorded in early 1958 by Vee-Jay records in a Florida studio, wasn’t released then, as Ballard and group were in the midst of a label change. King Records then became the group’s label, issuing “The Twist” in 1959 on the “B side” of another of their recordings – “Teardrops On Your Letter.” B-side recordings were less likely to be played by radio DJ’s. And sure enough, after its release, “Teardrops” rose to No. 4 on the R&B chart while “The Twist” rose to No. 16, R&B.

1950s: Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, the R&B group that first recorded “The Twist.”
1950s: Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, the R&B group that first recorded “The Twist.”
1959: King record label for Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ recording of  “The Twist.”
1959: King record label for Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ recording of “The Twist.”

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dick Clark, host of the then popular American Bandstand TV dance show, had heard that “The Twist” was getting some attention in Baltimore. Black teenagers there had heard the new song at a Hank Ballard & Midnighters performance, and a new dance was evolving with it, also starting to appear on a Baltimore TV dance show, The Buddy Dean Show. Bernie Binnick, a Dick Clark business associate in Swann Records, along with Freddy Cannon, a Swann recording artist, saw the Baltimore kids dancing the new Twist. Binnick picked up Ballard’s 45 rpm record and later played it for Clark back in Philadelphia, who reportedly, at first, found it too bawdy and too risky for his show. Clark at the time was facing “payola” inquiries, so he was being extra careful. Ballard and his group had incorporated some pretty risque dance moves as they performed their version of The Twist on stage, and Clark was aware that a couple of their earlier songs had been banned in a few places due to their lyrics.

One of the record sleeve covers that appeared for Chubby Checker’s 1960-61 song, “The Twist.”
One of the record sleeve covers that appeared for Chubby Checker’s 1960-61 song, “The Twist.”
Still, by the spring of 1960, Clark was looking for a cleaned-up version of the Twist and a new recording artist that he might be able promote on Bandstand. However, Swann Records’ owner Bernie Binnick, wasn’t interested in recording the song. However, another Philadelphia label that Clark came to be involved with, Cameo-Parkway, was.

At the time, one of Cameo-Parkway’s new artists was Ernest Evans, who had been working as a chicken plucker in a dead-end job before he was discovered. Evans soon became “Chubby Checker”– a name suggested by Dick Clark’s wife – and was the designated candidate to record a new version of “The Twist.” Checker had already recorded a few songs for Cameo-Parkway, but was selected for the Twist primarily because his voice sounded much like Ballard’s.

Dance steps for the new version of the Twist were also revised, with less pelvic action than what Ballard and company had done on stage, or what the Baltimore kids were doing in their dancing. A simplified, open style of dancing with the couple standing apart was devised, swinging their arms from side-to-side across their torso, with legs and lower body moving opposite the swinging arms – ergo, “the twist.”

1960. Dick Clark of American Bandstand receiving instruc-tions from Chubby Checker on how to do The Twist.
1960. Dick Clark of American Bandstand receiving instruc-tions from Chubby Checker on how to do The Twist.
Chubby Checker introduced the new dance on American Bandstand’s Saturday night show in early August 1960, just days after the song appeared for the first time on the Billboard music chart. Hank Ballard and Midnighters’s version of “The Twist” had been reissued by then as well, and actually beat the Chubby Checker version to the Billboard chart in late July 1960, but was soon eclipsed by the Checker version given its backing by American Bandstand. The Checker version hit No. 1 on Billboard September 19, 1960 – a time when Democratic Presidential candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, was in a heated campaign race with Republican and then vice president, Richard M. Nixon.

In late September 1960, Chubby Checker appeared on the regular American Bandstand weekday show with Dick Clark, who then described the new dance as “a pretty frightening thing… sweeping the country.”

As John A. Jackson would later write in his book on Dick Clark: “It suddenly became socially acceptable for dancers to move their hips in public,” also quoting one Bandstand dancer from that era saying the twist “changed the way that we danced from that point on.”

The Twist would also prove to have staying power, and for a few years would touch off something of a mini “Twist economic boom” with more songs, merchandise, promoters, and artists jumping on the Twist bandwagon. Older adults would catch Twist fever as well, following the teenagers a year or so later. As a result, The Twist would become the only song to reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard pop chart in successive years — 1961 and 1962. Chubby Checker, meanwhile, would enjoy a long career of Twist-related personal appearances, films, and other business opportunities.

Chubby Checker doing “The Twist.”
Chubby Checker doing “The Twist.”

Twisting Venues

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy, a stylish, upper-class young woman who became known for her interests in fashion, the arts, and culture, became involved with the new Twist dance, and appears to have played a role in bringing it to the White House. It may well surprise some who associate Jackie Kennedy with the “high arts” of symphony, ballet, and classical art and architecture, that she would involve herself with the more proletarian arts of the street, such as the Twist. Yet Jackie Kennedy, considered a bit snobbish in some arenas, and not always enamored with the grittier side of politics, for example, appears to have had quite an eclectic outlook when it came to art, in whatever form.

In the first year of the Kennedy Administration, in March 1961, a New York dance band conducted by Lester Lanin played a version of the Twist in the East Room of the White House. Also that evening, it was later reported, that Andrew Burden, age 26, who had a reputation for doing “the best Twist in New York society,” gave a demonstration of the new dance at White House reception as JFK looked on. The press reported the president was merely an amused spectator. At least publicly, the Twist at the time was regarded in some quarters as not quite acceptable for a White House social function – not quite “presidential.” In fact, outgoing president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who left office in early 1961, called the Twist, “vulgar.” Yet, the Kennedy White House would be more accepting – after all, this was a president who had championed national vigor and new frontiers, setting some expectation for change.

The Peppermint Lounge. In New York, meanwhile, various celebrities and other glitterati by this time had been doing the Twist at a place called The Peppermint Lounge, a small discotheque at 128 West 45th Street in Manhattan. Among the notables seen “twisting away” there in 1961 were Truman Capote, Noël Coward, Audrey Hepburn, Norman Mailer, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and others.

The twist dancing there was setting the pace, not only for the new dance, but also in a way, for national social mores as well. For with the Twist, couples danced apart; ladies no longer needed to follow the man’s lead. So, a bit of a social revolution was occurring, and as some saw it, the beginnings of the 1960s sexual revolution as well. And the Peppermint Lounge was where it was all happening. It became the place to be; the trendsetting place for the “in crowd.” Reportedly, Jackie Kennedy, with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwil, also made a trip to the Peppermint Lounge.

1961: The Peppermint Lounge discotheque at 128 West 45th St., New York, where “The Twist” dance was all the rage, and where Joey Dee & The Starliters had the No. 1 hit, “The Peppermint Twist.”  (Alamy, stock photo).
1961: The Peppermint Lounge discotheque at 128 West 45th St., New York, where “The Twist” dance was all the rage, and where Joey Dee & The Starliters had the No. 1 hit, “The Peppermint Twist.” (Alamy, stock photo).

The house band at the Peppermint Lounge, Joey Dee and the Starliters, would later have a national hit with their song, “The Peppermint Twist,” which became No. 1 for three weeks in January 1962. The group would have a few albums riding on the coattails of twist mania, and would also appear in an least one film, Hey, Let’s Twist. A Joey Dee paperback on the Twist also appeared, among others.

AP news story, December 23, 1961.
AP news story, December 23, 1961.
In addition to the Peppermint Lounge, the First Lady’s designer, Oleg Cassini, was part owner in another New York club where The Twist was also in fashion on the dance floor. Cassini was reported to have helped bring the dance to Washington, “demonstrating it at Kennedy after-parties” and later introducing some French variations. And by all accounts, the First Lady herself was something of a dancer. According to historian Carl Anthony, Jackie was a whiz at the Twist and she also liked to samba, cha-cha, and dance the bosa nova.

On November 11th, 1961, there was a White House dinner dance in honor of Jackie’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, who had married Polish émigré nobleman, Prince Stanislas (“Stash”) Radziwill. Fiat auto executive, Gianni Agnelli and his wife, Marella, were also honorees at this affair. It was a dinner dance for about 80, with Lester Lanin’s band providing the music and Oleg Cassini introducing the Twist. The champagne flowed until 4 a.m., according to one account. But Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, still protecting the White House from disapproving social critics, denied the Twist had been part of the evening’s festivities.

At a Thanksgiving Day gathering of Kennedy family members at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in November 1961, Jackie, according to Rose Kennedy, gave a demonstration of the dance to interested family members as Joan Kennedy played piano. Back in Washington, a month later, Jackie Kennedy appears to have played a role in granting permission to redecorate meeting rooms in the Pan American Union building into a “look-alike” Peppermint Lounge for a late December 1961 party. The Council of the Organization of American States had been meeting in those rooms earlier that day. Among some of the VIP onlookers attending that function and watching those on the dance floor, were Jackie’s mother, Mrs. Hugh D. Auchincloss; Time-Life publisher Henry Luce and his wife Clare Boothe Luce; and U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright.

Ft. Lauderdale. There had also been a few news reports of the First Lady doing The Twist at local nightspots in Fort Lauderdale, Florida during a late December 1961 visit to the area. As would become custom in those years, the Kennedy family during the December-January holiday, would stay in Palm Beach, not far away.

Regarding the Jackie sightings, however, Kennedy press secretary, Pierre Salinger, firmly denied reports of the First Lady twisting at local nightclubs, and assured inquiring press such sightings were surely the result of mistaken identity.

Still, at least one wire story appeared in some newspapers with witnesses claiming they saw Jackie at one club, The Golden Falcon Lounge. At the time, JFK’s father had taken ill, and the President was reportedly “furious” over the fact that the wire story had run.

White House Parties. By early 1962, it was being reported that the First Lady had begun holding occasional “Twist parties” at the White House, and that Jackie, in particular, was reportedly “a wicked Twister,” according to one friend who saw the 31-year old First Lady doing her version of the dance at an East Room event.

Betty Beale, a society reporter then with The Washington Star newspaper, filed an account of a February 1962 White House party where the First Lady and Secretary of Defense, Robert MacNamara did a bit of twisting.

February 1962: One of the newspaper stories reporting on Jackie Kennedy and ‘The Twist’ at the White House.
February 1962: One of the newspaper stories reporting on Jackie Kennedy and ‘The Twist’ at the White House.
1960: JFK & Jackie Kennedy. Photo, Frank Fallaci.
1960: JFK & Jackie Kennedy. Photo, Frank Fallaci.

Beale’s report, in part, ran as follows:

“…The Twist has truly arrived! From here on it has no place to go.”

…The lady who did it with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at the White House dinner dance last week [Feb 1962] was none other than Jacqueline Kennedy. And according to the other guests, ‘She does it beautifully!” and ‘He [McNamara] was terrific.’

Anyone who still had any misgivings about the current dance craze simply hasn’t seen it done the way Mrs. Kennedy, who looked lovely in a long white satin sheath, and Secretary McNamara, frequently called ‘the brain’ of the cabinet, performed it. It was rhythmic, fun and peppy, and more restrained than the good old Charleston which doesn’t seem to shock anyone.

The third White House dinner dance, this one for the Stephen Smiths (brother-in-law and sister of the President), wowed the 100 guests until morning. Jacqueline Kennedy, who danced almost every dance, withdrew and retired at 3 a.m. But the President, who had disappeared from time to time for consultations in his private apartments upstairs with some of his own officials present, kept it going to 5 a.m. when he went to say goodnight to his last guests…

As usual, Lester Lanin and his orchestra played in their red coats. Lester, who is humble and thrilled to be the one invited to play each time, gives a better picture of the atmosphere at these black tie presidential parties. Here he describes it in his own words:

‘They are as cheerful and as gay and as dignified a party as you will find from coast to coast. Everybody is having fun but everyone is dignified. The White House waiters all say they have never seen such beautiful parties there.’

‘Everybody is on his good behavior, but he (the president) makes you relax…. He doesn’t dance often and he doesn’t hold them close. He talks when he dances, and he only dances a couple of minutes, then he takes another partner later’…

There were also smaller parties occasionally held in the private quarters of the White House — all dignified gatherings, of course. But at least at one of the larger parties, Phil Graham, editor of The Washington Post, split his pants during some vigorous twisting.

Summer 1962: Jackie Kennedy with her sister, Lee Radziwill, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy during vacation, where reportedly, at Italian nightspots, she danced the Twist and learned the Watusi. Photo, Benno Graziani.
Summer 1962: Jackie Kennedy with her sister, Lee Radziwill, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy during vacation, where reportedly, at Italian nightspots, she danced the Twist and learned the Watusi. Photo, Benno Graziani.

Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Jackie Kennedy was also reported to have partaken in the Twist, and its dance variations, while vacationing along Italy’s Amalfi Coast during the summer of 1962. By that time, however, the original version of the Twist was morphing into new dance variations, such as the Watusi. Still, Jackie reportedly learned some new variations of the Twist during her visits to Italian nightspots. Mother-in-law Rose Kennedy would later report in her diary that when Jackie arrived at the family’s Cape Cod compound following her vacation in Italy, she taught various family members all the specifics of the new dances.


“Bradlee Remembers”
White House Parties

Ben Bradlee, former Newsweek and Washington Post editor, was a friend and neighbor to the Kennedys both before and during their White House years. What follows are a couple of excerpts from Bradlee’s books on the White House parties.

_________________________

Ben Bradlee book, 1995.
Ben Bradlee book, 1995.
…[T]he Kennedys were changing the face and the character of Washington. Nothing symbolized this change more than the parties, for the Kennedys were party people. He loved the gaiety and spirit and ceremony of a collection of friends, especially beautiful women in beautiful dresses. They liked to mix jet setters with politicians, reporters with the people they reported on, intellectuals with entertainers, friends with acquaintances. Jackie was the producer of these parties. Jack was the consumer. They gave five or six dances during their time in the White House, and that’s where it all came together.

The crowd was always young. The women were always stylish. And you had to pinch yourself to realize that you were in the Green Room of the White House, and that that chap who just stumbled on the dance floor was the no stag-line bum, but the Vice President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Sometimes, the very best friends were asked to not to come until after dinner…

— Ben Bradlee, The Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, 1995.

_________________________

…In all the time that we knew him, we saw Kennedy really tight only once [i.e., high on alcohol – “one of the very rare occasions we’ed seen him in that condition”]. The occasion was a small dinner in the family dining room upstairs [at the White House], with only the president, Lee Radziwill, Bill Walton, and ourselves [Ben and Tony Bradlee] present. Jackie was out of town. The “twist” had just hit Washington, or it least it had finally hit Washington, and after dinner Lee Radziwill put Chubby Checker’s records on and gave all the men lessons. The champagne was flowing like the Potomac [River] in flood and the president himself was opening bottle after bottle in a manner that sent the foam flying over the furniture, shouting “Look at Bill go” to Walton, or “Look at Benjy go” to me, as we practiced with the “princess.”…

— Ben Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy, 2014.

_________________________

Ben Bradlee book, 2014.
Ben Bradlee book, 2014.

February 14, 1962. At cocktails in the White House with the President, where: “…there was much upbeat reminiscing… – Phil Graham’s ‘twist,’ which had produced a six-inch rip in the seat of his pants as he took his first lesson in the new dance craze from Tony [Bradlee]… the very proper ‘twists’ performed by Jackie with ‘the Guv’ (Averell Harriman) and Bob McNamara…”

— Ben Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy, 2014.

____________________

…We were invited to a birthday party cruise down the Potomac on the Sequoia [presidential yacht] in May 1963…

…Kennedy had not learned that the Twist was passé, and kept calling for more Chubby Checker every time the three piece combo played anything else for long…

— Ben Bradlee, The Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, 1995.


JFK’s younger brother, and U.S. Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, and wife Ethel, were also known for throwing memorable parties at their Hickory Hill home in McLean, Virginia, where on one occasion, Ethel Kennedy reportedly recruited singer/actor Harry Belafonte to teach attending party guests how to do The Twist. And at least one composer, Sonny Thompson, wrote a ditty titled, “Do The Presidential Twist,” which was something of a variation on the Chubby Checker song, with apropos political lyrics and JFK insertions throughout, along with a chorus of, “Come on Baby, lets do the President Twist.”

Paperback book on ‘The Twist,’ part of the general merchandising that came with the craze.
Paperback book on ‘The Twist,’ part of the general merchandising that came with the craze.
But during the 1961-62 period, it appears, the imprimatur of Jackie Kennedy’s approval of the new Twist dance contributed to its rise and wider cultural acceptance. Indeed, some say it was more than that. As James Wolcott wrote in October 2007 for VanityFair.com: “First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was more than an interested bystander. It was she who stamped the presidential seal on the Twist and turned the White House and Hickory Hill… into the Peppermint Lounges of the Potomac. Under her aegis, Washington, D.C., joined New York and Los Angeles to form the power triad of the Twist…”.

Yet, it is also true that the Twist craze had enough commercial impetus behind it – plus the full and free acceptance (and spending) of the burgeoning Baby Boomer youth culture – that it needed little help from the White House.

In the mainstream music world, for example, there were a whole raft of new “twist” songs that came out, many of which were duds, but a few of which became hits. Chubby Checker, for one, had a good run with “The Twist,” which hit No. 1 in 1960 and again in 1962, and also with a succession of other twist songs, including – “Let’s Twist Again” (No. 8, 1961), “Slow Twistin” (No. 3, 1962), “Twist It Up” (No. 25, 1963). Checker also appeared in two films: Twist Around the Clock and Don’t Knock the Twist. Among other twist-related songs that made it into the Top 40 during the 1962-64 period were: “Peppermint Twist – Part 1” by Joey Dee & the Starliters (No. 1, 1962); “Dear Lady Twist” by Gary “U.S.” Bonds (No. 9, 1962); “Twistin’ U.S.A.” by Danny & the Juniors (No. 20, 1961)”Twistin’ Postman” by the Marvelettes (No. 34, 1962); “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke (No. 9, 1962); “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers (No. 17, 1962); “Bristol Twistin` Annie” by the Dovells (No. 27, 1962); “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles (No. 2, 1964). Other artists, such as Bill Haley, a singer who had fallen out of popular favor in the U.S., scored big with the Twist in Mexico and Latin America, with songs such as “The Spanish Twist” and “Florida Twist,” and touring in the region as well. Even Frank Sinatra tried one – “Everybody’s Twistin'” – a song he would later regret recording.

1962: The ‘Twisting Nixonettes’ in action at a Pomona County Fairgrounds rally for California gubernatorial candidate Richard M. Nixon.
1962: The ‘Twisting Nixonettes’ in action at a Pomona County Fairgrounds rally for California gubernatorial candidate Richard M. Nixon.
But the kiss of death for the Twist in cutting-edge culture, some believe, was it’s assimilation by the older generation. By the time it reached the White House, according to this view, it was already passé. If not then, it was when the dance entered the realm of political campaigning that its final end became clear. None other than Richard Nixon, campaigning for governor of California in 1962, was seen at a Pomona County Fair Grounds rally that fall with a group of young women dancers who were called the “Twisting Nixonettes.”

During and following the Twist craze of the early 1960s, there came a succession of other dance songs – the Pony, the Fly, the Swim, the Hitchhike, the Huckebuck, the Loco-Motion, the Mashed Potatoes, the Hully Gully, and others. Yet none of these ever rose to the same level of fame and fortune as The Twist. The nation, it seems, then emerging from a more conservative time, was especially receptive to new forms of expression, and the Twist – in dance, song and rhythm, along with sense of the freedom it exhibited – simply fit the zeitgeist of the moment.

But the Twist has also secured its place in history. On March 21, 2013, the U.S. Library of Congress included Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist,” along with 24 other songs and recordings, for preservation in the National Recording Registry — recordings selected for their cultural, artistic and historic importance to the nation’s aural legacy.

Other pages of possible interest at this website may include: “Noteworthy Women,” with 40 additional story choices on historic women, and “Kennedy History,” featuring mostly JFK-related stories. See also the “Annals of Music” page for additional song profiles, artist biographies, and other music-related history. The “Politics & Culture” page offers additional stories in that arena. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 20 June 2016
Last Update: 20 June 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Jackie & The Twist: First Lady History,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 20, 2016.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Sept 1961: Jackie Kennedy, of course, was involved with a lot more than the Twist, as featured here in a Life magazine cover story on her plans for a major restoration of the White House, the results of which were the subject of a nationally-broadcast TV special with her in the starring role.
Sept 1961: Jackie Kennedy, of course, was involved with a lot more than the Twist, as featured here in a Life magazine cover story on her plans for a major restoration of the White House, the results of which were the subject of a nationally-broadcast TV special with her in the starring role.
The Twist had insinuated itself into the popular media of the day, including ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ a top sit-com of the early 1960s. Click for Mary Tyler Moore story.
The Twist had insinuated itself into the popular media of the day, including ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ a top sit-com of the early 1960s. Click for Mary Tyler Moore story.
Chubby Checker on the cover of later album, “Let’s Twist Again,” with other new dance songs included.
Chubby Checker on the cover of later album, “Let’s Twist Again,” with other new dance songs included.
Cover of London sheet music for ‘The Twist,’ noting recordings by Hank Ballard and Chubby Checker.
Cover of London sheet music for ‘The Twist,’ noting recordings by Hank Ballard and Chubby Checker.
Concert poster for Chubby Checker and other artists performing at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, January 1962.
Concert poster for Chubby Checker and other artists performing at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, January 1962.

Sarah Bradford, America’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Penguin, 2001.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Michael Beschloss, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, Hachette Books, 2011.

“Chubby Checker,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 168.

Jim Dawson, The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World, Faber & Faber, 1995.

John A. Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

“The Twist (song),” Wikipedia.org.

“Hank Ballard,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 43-44.

“Hank Ballard,” Wikipedia.org.

Tom Moon, “Singin` and Swingin` With Hank Ballard and the Midnighters,” 1,000 Record-ings to Hear Before You Die, New York: Workman Publishing, pp 42–43.

Marylin Bender, “Cassini Faces New Frontier in Fashion With Few Regrets for Past Designs; Designer Chosen by First Lady Also a Showman,” New York Times, March 15, 1961

Daz and Richard Harkness, “A New First Lady, a New Mood; Mrs. Kennedy Is Bringing Changes to Her New Home — Just like Many of Her Predecessors,” New York Times, April 23, 1961.

Jonathan Takiff, “1960: Year of the Novelty Record,” Philly.com, July 9, 2010.

Dorothy McCardle, “Peppermint Peps Up Party,” Washington Post, Times Herald, Dec. 23, 1961.

“Peppermint Lounge,” Wikipedia.org.

Associated Press (Fort Lauderdale, Fla), “Dance Report On First Lady Is Said False,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, December 23, 1961, p. 1.

“White House Denies Jackie Danced Twist,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1961, p. A-1.

“Story First Lady Did Twist Badly Twisted,” Washington Post, Times Herald, December 24, 1961, p. A-4.

Associated Press (New York), “Oleg Cassini Steals Show In The Twist,” The Fort Scott Tribune, January 10, 1962.

“Kennedys Give a Party; Entertain 100 at Dinner-Dance in the White House,” New York Times, February 10, 1962.

Winzola McLendon, “Cream of Capital Society Takes a Whirl at the Twist,” Washington Post, Times Herald, February 12, 1962, p. F-1.

Drew Pearson, “They Twisted at the White House,” Washington Post, Times Herald, February 17, 1962, p. B-13.

Marie Smith, “Kennedy Kavort May Angle Out Twist; State Dinner,” Washington Post, Times Herald, February 18, 1962, p. F-1.

David Lawrence, “Jackie’s Twisting With Mac Puts White House ‘on Move’,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 22, 1962, p. 5.

David Lawrence, “Twist Arrives At The White House,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 22, 1962, p. 6.

“Italians Awaiting Mrs. Kennedy; Big Reception Is Set at Ravello Today for First Lady,” New York Times, August 8, 1962.

Benjamin C. Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy, W. W. Norton & Company, 1984.

Ben Bradlee, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, Simon & Schuster, 1995

Dave Haslam, “What the Twist Did for the Peppermint Lounge,” London Review of Books, Vol. 22 No. 1, January 6, 2000, pp. 27-30.

Melanie Eversley, Cox News Service, “Can Bush Boogie? New President May Not Waltz Through His Inaugural Balls,” Lakeland Ledger, January 19, 2001.

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, The Kennedy White House: Family Life and Pictures, 1961-1963,
Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Sally Bedell Smith, “Private Camelot,” VanityFair.com, May 8, 2004.

Sally Bedell Smith, Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, Random House, 2004.

James Wolcott, “A Twist in Time,” VanityFair.com, October 31, 2007.

“When First Ladies Dance: Before Michelle Obama’s “Dougie” Was Jackie Kennedy’s Twist, Betty Ford’s Bump, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Glide and…,” CarlAnthonyOnLine.com, May 6, 2011.

John Johnson Jr, Op-Ed, “The Twist: The Swivel That Shook the World. In the Dance Craze Were the Seeds of Everything That Became the ’60s,” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2013.

“Schulenberg’s Page: New York, Part X” (Peppermint Lounge), NewYorkSocialDiary .com, May 21, 2015.

Wayne Robins, A Brief History of Rock, Off the Record, Routledge, March 2016.

Sam Kashner, “The Complicated Sisterhood of Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill,” Vanity Fair.com, April 26, 2016 8:00 pm

“Politics; Nixon, Brown Launch Campaigns…1962″ (includes“Twisting Nixonettes,” in part), BritishPathe.com.

_______________________________________________







“Texas City Disaster”
BP Refinery: March 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merritt: Yes.

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

Merritt: We believe there is.

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

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

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

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

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


The Baker Report

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

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

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

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

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


“BP’s Other Messes”
2006-2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Eva Rowe’s Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rowe: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Daily Damage”
An Occasional Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

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

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

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas City Explosion Library.

“Texas City Refinery Explosion,” Wikipedia .org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Prudhoe Bay Oil Spill,” Wikipedia.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brent Coon & Associates, Beaumont, Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” Wikipedia.org.

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________








“Rhino Skin”
Tom Petty: 1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rhino Skin”
Tom Petty & Heartbreakers
1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

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

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

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

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

Album Notes, Echo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

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

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

“Tom Petty,” Wikipedia.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________







“Point of View”
George & Guyasuta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Guyasuta With French

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Washington’s Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Sculpture
Idea & Dedication
2004-2006

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

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

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

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

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


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

1775-1799

Later History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

Date Posted: 13 April 2016
Last Update: 23 July 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

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

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

“George Washington,” Wikipedia.org.

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

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

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

“Guyasuta,” Wikipedia.org.

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

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

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

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

“James A. West, Sculptor,” Website.

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

History of the Borough of Sharpsburg.

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

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

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

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

“Siege of Fort Pitt,” Wikipedia.org.

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

______________________







“Jack & Stan”
Kennedy/Musial: 1959-64

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1962

All Star Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

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

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

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

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

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

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

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

“Stan Musial,” Wikipedia.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________


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


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







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Music Player
“Rock Around The Clock”

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


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

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

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


Country-to-R&B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Movies

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________

“Biggest Rock ’n Roll Show of 1956″

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

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

April 1956

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

May 1956

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

June 1956

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

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

_____________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Australian Tour

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

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

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


Brits Wild for Haley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More Touring

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

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

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


Mexico & The Twist

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

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


Rock Revivals

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

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

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


Graffiti & Happy Days

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

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

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


Texas & Final Days

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

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

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

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

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


Sad Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Haley’s Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

____________________________________

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

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

____________________________________



Sources, Links & Additional Information

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

“Bill Haley,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 403.

Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press,2004.

“Bill Haley,” Wikipedia.org.

“Bill Haley and His Comets,” Wikipedia.org.

Bosley Crowther, “The Screen; ‘Blackboard Jungle’; Delinquency Shown in Powerful Film”
New York Times, March 21, 1955.

United Press, “‘Blackboard Jungle’ Banned,” New York Times, April 13, 1955.

Mae Tinee, “Shocking Tale in ‘Blackboard Jungle’ Movie,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 4, 1955, pt. 3, p. 4-F.

“‘Blackboard Jungle’ Heads Week’s Movie Offerings,” The Victoria Advocate (Victoria, TX), May 8, 1955, p. 2-A.

“Blackboard Jungle,” Wikipedia.org.

Bruce Eder, Rovi, “Bill Haley, Biography,” Billboard.com.

“Bill Haley, Timeline,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Princeton Suspends 4; Action Is Aftermath to Rioting Earlier in Week,” New York Times, May 21, 1955.

“Segregationists Would Ban All Rock, Roll Hits,” Billboard, April 7, 1956

“White Council vs. Rock and Roll,” Time, April 18,1956.

“Rock and Roll Fever,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 13, 1956.

“New Jersey Bans Bill Haley,” Time, July 23, 1956.

Thomas P. Ronan, “British Rattled by Rock ‘N’ Roll; Youths Go Wild in Theaters, Jive and Sing in the Streets and Attack Policemen…No Stir in New York; Berlin Having Its Troubles,” New York Times, September 12, 1956.

“Don’t Knock the Rock,” Wikipedia.org.

Joseph R. Marshall, “Rock Around The World,” St. Petersburg Times, October 14, 1956, p. 10-E.

“The Biggest Rock n Roll Show of 1956,” A Rock`n Roll Historian, February 1, 2016.

Chris Gardner’s Bill Haley Gallery, 1955-1958.

This Day in History: February 5, 1957, “The American Invasion Begins, As Bill Haley and The Comets Storm Britain,” History.com, Accessed, March 1, 2016.

“Roll, Britannia!,” Time, Monday, February 25, 1957.

“Bill Haley & His Coments,” European Tour Booklet, Presented by Lew & Leslie Grade, By Arrangement With The Rank Organization, February 1957.

Otto Fuchs, Bill Haley: Father of Rock `n Roll, Wagner, 2014.

“Bill Haley: The Father of Rock & Roll,” RockaBillyHall.com (webpage on Otto Fuchs book).

“Rock Around the Clock,” Wikipedia.org.

Michael Lydon, “Wild Bill Haley,” Rolling Stone, November 1967.

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

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

Martin Hawkins, “Bill Haley: The Guardian Of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” Melody Maker, April 1979.

Martin Weil, “Bill Haley Dies, Classic Was ‘Rock Around Clock’,” Washington Post, February 10, 1981.

Robert Palmer, “Bill Haley, 55, Dies; Singer-Band Leader,” New York Times, February 10, 1981.

Associated Press, “Bill Haley, ‘Father’ Of Rock, Found Dead,” The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), February 10, 1981, p. 1.

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Dawson, Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution!, San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005.

Steven R Rosen, “Book Review of Jim Dawson’s Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution,” Denver Post, June 2005.

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

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

Margaret Moser, “When the Clock Strikes 12: Bill Haley, the Father of Rock & Roll?,” Austin Chronicle, May 16, 2014.

Bob Stanley, “Bill Haley: Rock Around the Clock – The World’s First Rock Anthem,” The Guardian.com, May 22, 2014.

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

Alex Frazer-Harrison, “Reviews and News About Bill Haley and The Comets,” Rocka-BillyHall.com.

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

Martin Chilton, “Rock Around the Clock: How Bill Haley’s Song Became a Hit,” The Telegraph (London), February 9, 2016.

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

________________________________________








“Santa Barbara Oil Spill”
1969: California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spill Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Santa Barbara

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

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

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


Hickel’s Visit

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

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

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


Oil Comes Ashore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Protest & Politics

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

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

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

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

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

But beyond this Santa Barbara fight, there was a much bigger audience and a much bigger national issue. And just down the road from the fouled beaches and struggling wildlife was the Los Angeles news community, which gave the disaster an instant national conduit – soon appearing on nightly news TV broadcasts in every American living room. The Santa Barbara oil spill was soon fueling a growing national environmental sentiment that was already on the rise. In 1962, for example, Rachel Carson’s book on the dangers of chemical pesticides, Silent Spring, also became a primer on ecology. By the mid-1960s, a number of major cities had increasing auto-induced urban smog and air pollution problems, whi