All posts by J.D.

“Coal & The Kennedys”
1960s-2010s

In May 2012, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was in Portland, Oregon speaking out about U.S. coal exports. He was there supporting an alliance of Pacific Northwest citizen groups worried about the impact of a developing “coal corridor” in their region. Some half dozen new export terminals were then proposed for the Pacific coast. Coal, headed to Asian markets from Western strip mines, would bring a daily disruption of long, coal-hauling unit trains through Northwest communities from Montana to Washington. More than 40 years earlier, in 1968, Kennedy’s father – Robert F. Kennedy, then U.S. Senator and former U.S. Attorney General – was visiting the coal mining communities of Eastern Kentucky. And before that, in 1960, his uncle – John F. Kennedy, then running for president – helped bring the spotlight on coal poverty in West Virginia. His other uncle, Ted Kennedy, a U.S. Senator, helped oversee coal mine safety regulations in the 1980-2000s period. What follows here is look back at some of that history – how these Kennedys and others from that Massachusetts family, have brought national attention to the plight of coal communities, coal miners and their families, and/or coal/environment issues.

May 2012: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., speaking at a Portland, Oregon rally opposing coal exports. More on his coal-related activism – from the 1990s through the 2010s – will be covered later in this article.
May 2012: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., speaking at a Portland, Oregon rally opposing coal exports. More on his coal-related activism – from the 1990s through the 2010s – will be covered later in this article.

Early history in the Kennedy family, circa 1920s, indicate some investments and other ties to the coal industry. The paternal grandfather of JFK, RFK, and Ted Kennedy – Patrick J., or “P.J.” Kennedy, as he was called – had made an investment in the Suffolk Coal Company, an interest he held in 1929 at the time of his death. “PJ’s” son, Joseph P. Kennedy – father of JFK, RFK and Ted Kennedy – is reported to have made a killing in a 1922 stock deal ($45 million in today’s money by some estimates) speculating on Ford Motor Company’s acquisition of the Pond Creek Coal Co. in Kentucky. And Robert F. Kennedy’s wife, Ethel Skakel (married in 1950) was the daughter of multi-millionaire George Skakel who was a principal in The Great Lakes Coal & Coke Company of the 1920s.

Yet in subsequent generations, as members of the Kennedy family coursed through American politics, they became concerned with the hard lives of coal mining families and/or the unhappy side effects of coal mining, especially in Appalachia. During the mid-20th and early 21st centuries, Kennedy family members – while running for political office, acting on public policy matters once in office, or in various public service roles – worked to help coal miners, their communities and families, or to spotlight coal-related environmental problems and safety issues. First, consider John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s, who became the nation’s 35th president.


1960-1963

JFK & West Virginia

April 1960: JFK greets  a one-armed miner near Mullens, WV while on the campaign trail for the West Virginia primary election. Photo: Hank Walker, Time/Life.
April 1960: JFK greets a one-armed miner near Mullens, WV while on the campaign trail for the West Virginia primary election. Photo: Hank Walker, Time/Life.
John F. Kennedy began his quest for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination when he was a U.S. Senator in the late 1950s. As he began, he was faced with running in several presidential primaries to show party bosses that he had the ability to appeal to a broad voter base. Two key states with primary elections in 1960 were Wisconsin in April and West Virginia in May. The West Virginia primary became a critical test for Kennedy. At the time, Kennedy’s Catholic faith was an issue, as there had never been a Catholic president, and some believed non-Catholics wouldn’t vote for him.

But in April 1960, Kennedy won the Wisconsin primary, beating rival Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. Kennedy’s victory was helped by Catholic voters in some districts. Yet, in many non-Catholic districts, Kennedy did not have a strong showing. That meant the next primary that year – in West Virginia, a state that was 95 percent Protestant – would be a more telling test of Kennedy’s non-Catholic appeal. But West Virginia was uncharted territory for Kennedy. As he had done elsewhere in the country in his early informal campaign, Kennedy had visited West Virginia a few times in 1958 and 1959. But now in 1960, ahead of the May 10th? primary, he enlisted all the help he could find with friends and family members fanning out across the state to help him get his message out. JFK himself was also a tireless candidate, traveling throughout the rural state to visit voters wherever he could – though engaging voters directly was difficult due to that state’s rugged terrain.

But it would be West Virginia’s coalfields and coal towns – mostly in the southern part of the state – that would provide Kennedy with a new kind of political education and voter support that would help him gain the Democratic presidential nomination.

April 26th, 1960: JFK meeting with a group of coal miners during a shift change at the Pocahontas Fuel Company’s Itmann mine, near the town of Mullens, West Virginia, in Wyoming County.  Photo, Hank Walker.
April 26th, 1960: JFK meeting with a group of coal miners during a shift change at the Pocahontas Fuel Company’s Itmann mine, near the town of Mullens, West Virginia, in Wyoming County. Photo, Hank Walker.

The coal industry then was in the midst of a pretty brutal downturn. No longer the primary fuel source for home heating, locomotive engines, or industrial factories – as oil and gas replaced coal in many of those uses – coal’s share of the nation’s energy supply had dropped precipitously, from 51 percent in 1945 to 23 percent in 1960. West Virginia’s coal production of 173 million tons in 1947 had fallen to less then 120 million tons by 1960. In addition, increasing mechanization of coal mining in the 1950s had wiped out tens of thousands of jobs. West Virginia’s coal miners – more than 116,400 in 1947 — had fallen to 42,900 in 1960. Local economies in more than 20 of the state’s 55 counties were hit hard. Some counties like Mingo and McDowell had 25 to 40 percent of their populations in need of paltry federal food packages (a minimal system then used prior to food stamps).

April 1960: JFK campaigning in rural West Virginia in advance of the state's May 10th primary.
April 1960: JFK campaigning in rural West Virginia in advance of the state's May 10th primary.
John F. Kennedy visited several working coal mines in West Virginia as he campaigned for the state’s May presidential primary. In his early visits, some of the miners would not shake his hand and were stand-offish at first meeting. But once he began talking about their economic problems and what he might do to help them as president, they often became more receptive.

On April 6th, 1960, Kennedy spoke with coal miners at Slab Fork Mine in Raleigh County, a county that had experienced a 20 percent population decline between 1950 and 1960. Kennedy gathered with the miners near the mine entrance, shook hands, and answered questions from miners, holding a microphone between he and miners as the exchanges were being filmed by a local TV crew. Kennedy’s answers were crisp and made good sense, as he ticked off a list of several policy actions that could be taken to address coal-related economic issues of concern to the miners.

Kennedy also visited miners in the state’s southern-most county, McDowell – where coal mining dated to the early 1890s after the first rail lines came in. By the 1950s, McDowell had become the state’s leading coal producer, a prosperous place with a population of more than 100,000. Yet in 1960, when Kennedy arrived, a decline has set in, part due to the mechanization of the mines, and Kennedy was seeing its effects.

As he traveled around the state, he learned about the hardships people were facing there and how they were living. As one reporter noted: “He saw wives line up for surplus government food. He heard about kids who saved their school milk for younger siblings at home. He passed abandoned miners’ houses with boards over the windows…” Additional accounts noted his remarks as he made campaign stops throughout the state:

Kennedy talking with children as he campaigned in West Virginia for the state's May 1960 primary.
Kennedy talking with children as he campaigned in West Virginia for the state's May 1960 primary.

Clarksburg, April 18, 1960:

“…We talk about new industries and new products for the future – and we must. But we must also do something right now, before those new industries and jobs are here, about those who are unemployed now, who can’t find a job and who can’t get by on an average unemployment check of $23 a week…There are more than 60,000 of those men in West Virginia today and only half of them are drawing unemployment compensation. It is a double failure of our civilization if we cannot permit them to pay their bills and feed their families while looking for another job.”

Bethany College, April 19, 1960:

“…Today the United States is living better than ever before. We have more swimming pools, freezers, boats and air-conditioners than the world has ever seen. ‘But the test of our progress,’ said Franklin Roosevelt, ‘is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.’ By that test, the last several years have been years of economic failure.”

Glenwood, April 26 1960:

“…Thousands of your citizens — 14,000 here in Mercer County alone — are forced to struggle for subsistence on a diet which consists primarily of flour, rice and cornmeal. A diet which does not permit a healthy, decent existence, a diet which is causing malnutrition, chronic diseases and physical handicaps, a diet which is a disgrace to a country which has the most abundant and richest food supply in the history of the world.”

April 28, 1960. JFK campaigner, 'Bunny' Solomon (North-eastern University, MA, top center) with coal miners in Tioga, WW, displaying "Kennedy For President” bumper sticker.
April 28, 1960. JFK campaigner, 'Bunny' Solomon (North-eastern University, MA, top center) with coal miners in Tioga, WW, displaying "Kennedy For President” bumper sticker.
On May 4, 1960, about a week before the West Virginia primary, Kennedy and Humphrey engaged in a live televised debate that originated from WCHS-TV studios in Charleston. At one point during the debate Kennedy displayed the contents of government surplus food -ration package of corn meal, powered milk and other items on a table before him to illustrate the poverty in West Virginia.. “This is what people are living on,” Kennedy said as the camera panned the display. Kennedy appeared more concern for state’s poor than Humphrey did, and some voters began switching to Kennedy after that. But Kennedy’s concern was no gimmick.

Author Teddy White would later observe about JFK’s discovery of hunger in West Virginia when writing on the 1960 election campaign in his classic book, The Making of a President:

“…[Senator Hubert] Humphrey, who had known hunger in boyhood, was the natural workingman’s candidate – but Kennedy’s shock at the suffering he saw in West Virginia was so fresh that it communicated itself with the emotion of original discovery. Kennedy, from boyhood to manhood, had never known huger. Now, arriving in West Virginia from a brief rest in the sun and the luxury of Montego Bay, he could scarcely believe that human beings were forced to eat and live on these cans of dry relief rations, which he fingered like artifacts from another civilization. ‘Imagine,’ he said to one of the assistants one night, ‘just imagine kids who never drink milk.’ Of all the emotional experiences of his pre-Convention campaign, Kennedy’s exposure to the misery of the mining fields probably changed him most as a man (emphasis added); and as he gave tongue to his indignation, one could sense him winning friends.”

Campaigning in Amherst, West Virginia, Kennedy addresses miners from atop a station wagon, April 1960. photo Hank Walker
Campaigning in Amherst, West Virginia, Kennedy addresses miners from atop a station wagon, April 1960. photo Hank Walker

In April and early May 1960, Kennedy made more than 20 campaign trips to West Virginia, according to the state’s Division of Culture and History. During those visits, he made 96 campaign stops at 63 different cities and towns. He told his listeners as he campaigned that the outcome of the West Virginia primary would determine whether he would have a chance at the Democratic nomination. “Help me,” he said during his speeches, “and I will help you,” he promised, should he be elected president.

Map compiled by The Gazette newspaper of Charleston, WV, based on information from the West Virginia Division of Culture & History, showing JFK campaign stops, some dating to 1956, but most prior to the May 1960 primary.
Map compiled by The Gazette newspaper of Charleston, WV, based on information from the West Virginia Division of Culture & History, showing JFK campaign stops, some dating to 1956, but most prior to the May 1960 primary.

Kennedy defeated Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia primary with more than 60 percent of the vote, helping dispel doubts that he could win in Protestant territory and that Americans would support a Roman Catholic nominee. He then secured the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s convention that July in Los Angeles, followed by his November 1960 victory over Vice President Richard M. Nixon to become President of the United States.

JFK signing autographs for workers at the Amherst Coal Company Grill in West Virginia during 1960 campaign stop.
JFK signing autographs for workers at the Amherst Coal Company Grill in West Virginia during 1960 campaign stop.
But Kennedy did not forget what West Virginia had done for him, nor did he forget about the poverty he saw there.

After he was elected president, on January 21, 1961, his second day in office, Kennedy issued his first executive order: a pilot food-stamp program to increase the amount of food distributed to needy people in economically distressed areas. And the first food stamps in this program were issued in McDowell County.

In May 1961, about a year after he had campaigned there, now President Kennedy sent his Secretary of Agriculture to Welch, WV to deliver the nation’s first food stamps — $95 worth — to Alderson Muncy, an unemployed mineworker with 13 children. Three years later, McDowell County would become one of the principal counties in President Lyndon Johnson’s federal War on Poverty legislative effort.

JFK returned to West Virginia in June 1963 for the state’s centennial commemoration. Speaking on the steps of the state capitol in Charleston, he acknowledged that he “would not be where I am now… had it not been for the people of West Virginia.” Five months later, President John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. To this day, however, photos of JFK can be found hung on the walls of West Virginia homes, alongside those of Jesus Christ, FDR, union leader John L. Lewis, or some such mixture of honored souls.


1968

RFK & Kentucky

After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, enacted the federal “War on Poverty,” inspired in part by the poverty found in Appalachia. Johnson’s programs were aimed at alleviating those conditions throughout the region. In February 1968, Robert Kennedy, then on the cusp of jumping into the race for president, toured a string of towns in the coal regions of southeastern Kentucky. He went there to see for himself how this part of Appalachia was faring. His two-day “poverty tour” in February 1968 covered some 200 miles and included stops at a number of towns, among them: Neon, Grassy Creek, Mousie, Fisty, Jackhorn, Cody, and others.

February 1968: Robert F. Kennedy, center, looking down, no top coat, with following crowd of onlookers, staff and media, as he makes his tour of Eastern Kentucky, here on Liberty St., Hazard, KY, photo, Paul Gordon.
February 1968: Robert F. Kennedy, center, looking down, no top coat, with following crowd of onlookers, staff and media, as he makes his tour of Eastern Kentucky, here on Liberty St., Hazard, KY, photo, Paul Gordon.

RFK, who had served as JFK’s Attorney General, was now a U.S. Senator from New York. And on this trip, he would make scheduled and unscheduled visits with the residents of Eastern Kentucky, including walking tours of small communities, roadside visits with individual families, stops at one-room schoolhouses, speeches at courthouses and colleges, and a look at one strip mine site. As a member of Senate’s Labor and Public Welfare Committee’s Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower and Poverty, Kennedy would also hold two field hearings soliciting the views of area residents. A one-room schoolhouse in Vortex hosted one of Kennedy’s hearings, and the other was held in a school gymnasium at Fleming-Neon.

Robert F. Kennedy greeting residents of Eastern Kentucky as he made his way across the region on his two-day tour.
Robert F. Kennedy greeting residents of Eastern Kentucky as he made his way across the region on his two-day tour.
In Vortex, Kennedy listened to local residents from Wolfe, Breathitt and Madison counties. Some who spoke noted how hard it was to make ends meet, others offering suggestions on what the government should be doing.

In the town of Barwick in Breathitt County, Kennedy visited a one-room schoolhouse that was in session. He spoke with each student individually, asking them what they’d had to eat that day.

Reportedly, the teacher there, Bonnie Jean Carroll, always made sure the kids had a big meal at school to be sufficiently nourished. She would send the boys to walk two miles into town to get milk and other things, while the girls cooked. According to some local history assembled at the RFKinEKY.org website, “Bonnie and her students did a lot of cooking in the classroom; they made a big, hot meal every day.”

February 1968: Robert F. Kennedy in Neon, Kentucky where he listened to local residents tell of hardships.
February 1968: Robert F. Kennedy in Neon, Kentucky where he listened to local residents tell of hardships.


Public Hearing

RFK and party traveled from Whitesburg to the gym in Fleming-Neon where they conducted a three-and-a-half hour hearing. Twenty eastern Kentuckians gave testimony, including: nationally known author and Kentucky native, Harry Caudill, Judge Wooton of Leslie County, LKLP director Stafford, coal miner Cliston Johnson, and David Zegeer of Beth-Elkhorn Coal Company.

Evarts High School student Tommy Duff testified about school conditions, while other students protested, some with paper bags over their heads. They were opposing, the proposed flooding of Kingdom Come Creek by the Beth-Elkhorn Coal Company, which would have displaced their community (In 1956, Consolidation Coal Company, which had been the dominant company in the area for decades, sold its coal interests to Bethlehem Steel, and their mining subsidiary was Beth-Elkhorn). During the hearing, Senator Kennedy also debated with David A. Zegeer of the Beth-Elkhorn asking whether Mr. Zegeer’s company had many stockholders from Kentucky. During the exchange with Zegeer, Kennedy asserted: “Outsiders have come in and exploited the great wealth of the area—with great profits going elsewhere in the country.”

Harry Caudill, here walking with RFK, and among those who testified, wrote “Night Comes to The Cumberlands” (1962), a powerful indictment of Appalachian exploitation. Click for story.
Harry Caudill, here walking with RFK, and among those who testified, wrote “Night Comes to The Cumberlands” (1962), a powerful indictment of Appalachian exploitation. Click for story.
Time magazine reported on RFK’s Kentucky visit, noting that he came with “a caravan of 36 cars crammed with out-of-state reporters, committee staffers and electronic gear.” At one stop, Time reported Kennedy being asked: “Why was a man reared to a multi-millionaire’s comforts concerned with the plight of Kentucky’s poor?” Some thought it a simple political calculation, a way to bring the spotlight on himself as a possible contender in that year’s presidential race. Yet others had noted a change in RFK with the assassination of his brother, and that he was looking at social issues in a new way.

Bill Grieder, who covered Kennedy’s Kentucky trip for the Louisville Courier-Journal, noted in a later email recalling the trip: “…Reporters more sophisticated (and cynical) than I assured me he was merely prepping for his as yet unannounced presidential candidacy. Probably so, but you couldn’t imagine any politician slogging through all those hollows and decayed coal camps without some kind of deep conviction.”

Some of those who covered Kennedy on that trip, however, had a different reactions to him. Tom Bethell for one, reporting for The Mountain Eagle newspaper of Whitesburg, KY, had the opportunity to see him in a more private setting, and would later write:

Robert F. Kennedy, listening to a miner relay his concerns during a two-day tour in Neon, KY, February 1968.
Robert F. Kennedy, listening to a miner relay his concerns during a two-day tour in Neon, KY, February 1968.

“…[U]p close, Kennedy was harder to read….[I] was struck by how uncurious, even detached, Kennedy seemed when he wasn’t in a public setting. …I found myself riding with him in his car, en route to his next photo-op, and was shocked when a VISTA volunteer in the car tried to engage him in a conversation about what she had learned on the job, and he cut her off, rudely and brusquely. At that moment I thought he was every bit as arrogant as I’d sometimes heard he was, a stereotypically spoiled and entitled little rich kid if ever there was one, and I couldn’t imagine voting for Bobby Kennedy unless the only alternative was Richard Nixon.”

Bethell added, however, that his first impression “might have been completely wrong,” and that Kennedy “might have been a wonderful president, the first since Franklin Roosevelt to offer real and lasting hope for hard-pressed people, rural and urban alike. Or not….”

Back on the 1968 poverty tour, meanwhile, Time magazine quoted Cliston Johnson, 48, a partially disabled miner struggling to raise 15 children on $60 a month: “Whenever you get another kid to feed, just add a little more water to the gravy.” The government’s “gravy,” however – at the time, totaling some $450 million Federal aid to Appalachia since 1965 – had done little to help. Nor were private-sector companies setting up factories in that part of Appalachia, some dissuaded by the ravaged landscape. Kennedy, as Time reported, did not seem inclined toward more federal handouts, quoting him as saying: “Welfare’s not the answer. It’s jobs. It is a basic responsibility of our society to give every man an opportunity to work.” At the tiny school building in Vortex, Kennedy pulled in an overlfow crowd, where he asked questions about diet, clothing and schooling. Over and over again, he said: “This is not satisfactory, this is not acceptable.” And when he said, “We’ve got to do away with welfare,” the people applauded.


Strip Mine Site

Senator Robert F. Kennedy talking with strip mine owner Bill Sturgill at the Yellow Creek mine site in Knott County, Kentucky, February 1968.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy talking with strip mine owner Bill Sturgill at the Yellow Creek mine site in Knott County, Kentucky, February 1968.
After leaving Hazard, Kentucky, Kennedy and entourage stopped, unannounced, at the Yellow Creek strip mining site Knott County. In trying to gain access to the site, Kennedy’s entourage was blocked by cars of the mine crew several times. After a contentious moment of negotiation between RFK and the mine’s security staff, mine owner Bill Sturgill allowed Kennedy and his group to access the site.

At the final stop of the Eastern Kentucky tour, in a filmed interview with an off-screen reporter on the streets of Prestonberg (see YouTube video), Kennedy was asked, “Is there anything significant that you’ve learned on this trip?” He answered as follows:

“…Well, people are still having a very, very difficult time… There’s hunger; considerable hunger in this part of the country. There’s no real hope for the future amongst many of these people… who have worked hard in the coal mines. And now the coal mines shut down, they have no place to go. There’s no hope for the future. There’s no industry moving in. The men are trained in government [job training] programs and there’s no jobs at the end of the training program because of the cutback – because of the demands on our federal budget in Washington and the war in Vietnam – even these training programs are being cutback. So people are being cut off, and they have no place to turn. And so they’re desperate and filled with despair. Seems to me that this country, as wealthy as we are, that this is an intolerable condition. It reflects on all of us. We can do things all over the rest of the world, but I think we should do something for our people here in our own country.”

RFK did not have the opportunity to do much of substance for Appalachia following his visit, since shortly thereafter he began his bid for the 1968 Democratic Presidential nomination. And tragically, like JFK, Bobby Kennedy was also taken by an assassin’s bullet. Kennedy was murdered June 5th, 1968, on the night of the California primary, shortly after he won that primary and had made his victory speech. It was four months after his visit to Eastern Kentucky.

In February 1972, New York Times reporter, George Vecsey, doing a four-year follow-up story on RFK’s Kentucky visit, noted: “…The issues have not changed much in four years. Poverty is everywhere; coal miners still die, and the hills are being torn apart ever faster by the strip miners.”


Caroline’s Coal Project
1973: Tennessee

During the summer of 1973, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, then 15½ years old, undertook a brief school project in the coal region of Eastern Tennessee’s Campbell County. At home in Massachusetts, while attending Concord Academy, Caroline had developed an interest in film and photography and that summer, she would work on a documentary film about earlier coal mining and coal camps in Tennessee. During this project, she stayed at the home of former Catholic nun and community advocate, Marie Cirillo, in the Rose’s Creek area near Eagen, Tennessee. Caroline came to Tennessee with a high school friend, Allyson Riclitis, who were among eight students helping to make a film history of the area.

July 1973: Caroline Kennedy, left, poses with local resident Pauline Huddleston at Huddleston's home in Eagan, Tennessee.
July 1973: Caroline Kennedy, left, poses with local resident Pauline Huddleston at Huddleston's home in Eagan, Tennessee.
Kennedy had learned about Marie Cirillo and the Clearfork Valley in Campbell and Claiborne counties, through the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, established for her uncle. Cirillo, who at age 19 had joined the Catholic Glenmary Home Mission Sisters of America, had worked for a time in Chicago, helping Appalachian migrants adjust to new lives there. However, along with some fellow nuns, Cirillo concluded it might be more effective to work in the Appalachian communities that were sending the migrants.
July 1973. Caroline’s friend, Allyson Riclitis, about to sample some local moonshine as Marie Cirillo looks on. Photo, C. Kennedy.
July 1973. Caroline’s friend, Allyson Riclitis, about to sample some local moonshine as Marie Cirillo looks on. Photo, C. Kennedy.
In the late 1960s, Cirillo and a few others left the religious order and moved to Tennessee. Cirillo soon set her roots there, became a community advocate, and was all about local empowerment.

By 1973, Cirillo, among other projects, had obtained a grant for an oral history project on earlier coal mining in the region and “coal camp” towns that had formerly existed there. The Clearfork area of Tennessee was then made up of twelve unincorporated communities located between the towns of Jellico, Tennessee, and Middlesboro, Kentucky. As Cirillo would later explain: “When I arrived there, the company towns had been dismantled, mainly because of the shift from deep mining to strip mining as new technology made that possible. Big machines now dug the coal. Production no longer required people, so the companies tore down the miners’ homes because they no longer had to provide housing. That was when people realized for the first time that over the years the companies had bought up most of the land.”

Rough copy of July 1973 AP wire story: 'Caroline Kennedy Joins Crew Taping History of Coal Camps'.
Rough copy of July 1973 AP wire story: 'Caroline Kennedy Joins Crew Taping History of Coal Camps'.
Caroline Kennedy, and the other film project volunteers, would work on the history of the area, visiting with local families and former miners to gain some understanding of what had gone before. The resulting film would be used in local schools for educational purposes. During Caroline’s time there, she traveled among the local folks, visited with former miners, and learned about local culture and coal history. Among those she met with, for example, was former coal miner Joe Siler of Prudens, Tennessee. Siler, then 73 years old, had worked in the coal mines for 58 years. Caroline spent about an hour with Siler and his wife, who had several JFK mementoes and plaques in their home. “I sure loved her father,” Mr. Siler would say to one reporter of JFK. Siler gave Caroline a statue of a coal miner made from coal and also promised to send her a walnut-framed, brass coin of “scrip” money from 1899 used by mining companies to pay workers. Another miner Caroline visited was Ed Marlow, who had been paralyzed following a mine accident. Near his bed were several pictures of JFK as well as a photo of he and Ethel Kennedy (Caroline’s aunt and Bobby Kennedy’s wife), who had come to Clairfield, Tennessee the previous summer (1972) to dedicate a local factory. Ethel Kennedy was also a friend of Marie Cirillo’s.

Marie Cirillo some years later, undated photo.
Marie Cirillo some years later, undated photo.
Cirillo, then in the early years of her community service and local advocacy, would in subsequent years, become something of a regional activist and important mentor for numbers of students, including those from Vanderbilt University who did research uncovering legal, land, and health issues in eastern Tennessee. In the mid and late 1970s, Cirillo was also as a member of the coalition of citizen groups from Appalachia and across the U.S. that worked for passage of a federal strip mine law in the 1970s. In 1977, when Tennessee’s Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM) and other advocacy groups began pushing for federal strip-mining regulation, some disgruntled locals involved with strip mining blamed Cirillo for the new activity. There were shots fired into Marie’s house and drive-bys with loudspeakers blaring threats. In one case, the brake lines of a car of one of Marie’s volunteers were cut. In subsequent years, other of Cirillo’s projects were targeted by unhappy local arsonists. Still, she persisted and became a positive force in the region, also pushing for micro-enterprise development. By the late 1970s, Marie and the community established the Woodland Community Land Trust, which helped local residents gain access to land and housing. Although she formally retired as director of the Clearfork Community Institute in 2013, Marie Cirillo continued her activism. As of April 2017, she was talking with a group in New York to have teenagers there spend their summer in Clairfield, Tennessee to do oral histories of area residents.

Caroline Kennedy profiled by Parade magazine in Sept 2011 at release of her book, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.”
Caroline Kennedy profiled by Parade magazine in Sept 2011 at release of her book, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.”
Caroline Kennedy, meanwhile, stayed in touch with Marie, as Marie attended her wedding to Edwin Schlossberg in 1986 and visited the family in 1988 after Caroline’s daughter, Rose, was born, the first of three Kennedy-Schlossberg children. Some years later, in 2010, Caroline Kennedy was interviewed for a feature story on Marie Cirillo in The Knoxville News-Sentinel. “She’s a saint,” said Kennedy of Cirillo in the story, praising her “incredible career.” Cirillo was “trying to bring change” in the work she did, said Kennedy. “She is one of the more powerful inspirations to me outside my family, making faith real and visible to make people’s lives better,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Law school, went on to publish several books, and became involved in the JFK Presidential Library and the Profile of Courage Awards. She also served as America’s ambassador to Japan during the Obama Administration.


U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, Feb. 2004.
U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, Feb. 2004.

Ted Kennedy

Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy served as a U.S. Senator from 1962 until his death in 2009. His service of 46 years in the U.S. Senate at that time made him the fourth-longest, continuously-serving senator in U.S. history. In those years, Kennedy became a friend of labor, and held forth on Senate committees helping to craft and watch over occupational health and safety matters. Kennedy was one of the Senate leaders who helped pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which created OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Prior to passage of the act, there were few federal health and safety protections for workers. And in later years, as well, Kennedy would help to defeat attempts to weaken the law.

Coal mine safety was also one of the areas Kennedy would become involved with as he sought improved worker health and safety regulation. For decades, coal-mine disasters had killed miners regularly. Some mine explosions and fires would kill dozens and even hundreds of miners at a time. The Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, generally known as “the Coal Act,” was the first meaningful law to help govern mining practices. It came about following the deaths of 78 miners at the November 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster in West Virginia.

West Virginia historic marker for the Farmington mine disaster, which killed 78 miners, and helped spur Congress to pass the Federal Coal Mine Health & Safety Act of 1969.
West Virginia historic marker for the Farmington mine disaster, which killed 78 miners, and helped spur Congress to pass the Federal Coal Mine Health & Safety Act of 1969.
Kennedy Amendment. During Senate floor debate on that legislation in October 1969, Senator Kennedy offered an amendment to make it unlawful to fire, layoff, or otherwise discriminate against any mine employee who sought to report a violation of mine safety standards. “The rationale for this amendment is clear,” said Kennedy at the time. “For safety’s sake, we want to encourage the reporting of suspected violations of health and safety regulations… But miners will not speak up if they fear retaliation. This amendment should deter such retaliation, and, therefore, encourage miners to bring dangers and suspected violations to public attention.” Kennedy’s amendment was approved by voice vote that October, and became section 110(b) of the Act. The Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 was later signed into law by President Nixon. The new law helped reduce the number of major mine disasters, but it did not eliminate them.

Indeed, a few years later more coal-related disasters would ensue. In February 1972, at Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, 125 persons died when a coal waste dam burst sending a near tidal wave of coal waste water through a seventeen mile-long valley, leaving a trail of devastation as it went. In July 1972, at Blacksville, West Virginia, a fire was sparked by a continuous mining machine that came into contact with an electric wire, igniting the coal seam. Nine miners who had not been adequately trained in emergency procedures, became trapped and died in the mine.

Senator Kennedy in his younger years, shown here at a 1979 Judiciary Committee hearing.
Senator Kennedy in his younger years, shown here at a 1979 Judiciary Committee hearing.
Then in March, 1976 two explosions occurred within days of one another at the Scotia Mine in southeastern Kentucky, killing a total of 26 miners. Fifteen miners were killed in the first explosion, and 11 more, who had entered the mine three days later to investigate the first disaster – eight company workers and three Federal inspectors – were killed in a second explosion.

New Law. These incidents and others stirred Washington to action again, as House and Senate committees investigated and held hearings. On February 11, 1977, S.717, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act, was introduced by Sen. Harrison Williams (D-NJ), with Senator Kennedy and 25 others as cosponsors. The Harrison bill revised the 1969 Coal Act with the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, also known as “the Mine Act.” It was signed by President Carter in November 1977. This law consolidated federal health and safety regulations for coal and non-coal mining; moved the new Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to the Department of Labor; strengthened and expanded the rights of miners; and enhanced their protection from retaliation. Mining fatalities would drop sharply in subsequent years, but problems still remained.

The Reagan Years. In the 1980s, as the Reagan Administration and the mining industry sought to weaken mine safety regulations, Senator Kennedy and his staff geared up for battle, focusing a series of hearings on the lax regulatory oversight by Reagan’s MSHA. Kennedy described the record of that agency as “shameful and tragic,” and kept pressure on MSHA to strengthen its programs and enforcement. Among those who testified before Kennedy at a March 1987 hearing was J. Davitt McAteer, a lawyer and coal miner’s son who then headed the Occupational Safety and Health Law Center, a public interest group in Washington, D.C.“We know how to prevent many of the unnecessary deaths in the mines. What we seem to have lost is the will to do what good judg-ment and the law require.” – Senator Kennedy, 1987 McAteer testified that in a six-year period during the Reagan Administration, MSHA had muzzled many of its inspectors, dissolved its most successful criminal investigative team, and administratively reduced serious safety violations to minor ones. Since the Federal mine safety act’s adoption in 1969, McAteer stated there had been 2,029 fatal accidents in American coal mines, but only 38 attempts to prosecute those involved under criminal provisions of the law. Kennedy, referring to the Federal mine safety act and MSHA’s powers during the hearing, said: ”We know how to prevent many of the unnecessary deaths in the mines. What we seem to have lost is the will to do what good judgment and the law require. It makes me angry every time I hear about a miner killed because someone would not do his job.” Although no new mine safety legislation was enacted at that time, the Reagan administration did agree to hire about 100 additional mine inspectors, and also rescinded one rule that had reduced criminal convictions of negligent coal operators.

Ted Kennedy, 2005 press conference.
Ted Kennedy, 2005 press conference.
Mine safety regulation was strengthened somewhat during the Clinton years, when Davitt McAteer was appointed head of MSHA. McAteer instituted more worker training and other improvements. In fact, from 1993 to 2000, there was not a single coal-mining disaster, defined by MSHA as an incident that claims five or more worker lives. In Congress, however, by 1995, anti-regulatory sentiment was high, with legislation proposed to reduce MSHA inspections and enforcement, including one failed attempt to abolish MSHA. In the early 2000s, with the election of George W. Bush, MSHA’s budget was slashed, and a former coal industry executive ran the agency.

In July 2002, Kennedy, still chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), chairman of its Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, held hearings to investigate coal mine safety, focusing in part on MSHA’s enforcement at the Jim Walters Resources coal mine in Brookwood, Alabama where 13 miners had been killed in a September 2001 explosion. At the time, the mine had 31 outstanding violations, and MSHA inspectors had not returned to determine if they had been corrected. During the hearings, Kennedy called MSHA enforcement record “dismal,” while Wellstone noted that mine fatalities were rising but the Bush Administration had cut MSHA’s 2003 budget by 6 percent. However, as Kennedy and Wellstone tried to turn the spotlight on MSHA’s record, two weeks after their hearing, a few MSHA officials received high media attention and national praise in the successful rescue of 9 coal miners trapped in a flooded underground mine in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. MSHA reforms were then somewhat derailed. Then, several years later, there was another mine tragedy.


Sago Disaster

Associated Press map & reporting, Jan 2006.
Associated Press map & reporting, Jan 2006.
On January 2, 2006 in Upshur County, West Virginia near the town of Buckhannon, an explosion and collapse at the Sago Mine caused the deaths of 13 miners who had been trapped for nearly two days before expiring. A lone survivor later told of … The Sago disaster received extensive news coverage worldwide. Adding to the tragic situation, incorrect information had been released to the media that 12 survivors had been found alive.

A few days after the Sago Mine had exploded, Kennedy told an Associated Press reporter that Senate hearings were needed to determine how the tragedy happened. “We owe it to these miners and their families to find out what happened and whether this accident could have been prevented,” Kennedy said. “In addition, we should investigate the troubled history of repeated safety violations at the mine.”

Then, just few weeks following the Sago explosion, another West Virginia mine accident occurred this one on the morning of January 19, 2006, at the Aracoma Alma Mine in Logan County. The accident occurred when a conveyor belt in the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 at Melville in Logan County, West Virginia, caught fire. The conveyor belt ignited pouring smoke through the gaps in the wall and into the fresh air passageway that the miners were supposed to use for their escape, obscuring their vision and ultimately leading to the death of two of them by carbon monoxide poisoning when they became separated from 10 other members of their crew. The others held onto each other and edged through the air intake amid dense smoke to make their escape. At the time of the fire, the mine was owned by Aracoma Coal Company, a Massey Energy company.

Map showing somewhat larger area and location of the Sago Mine and Alma Mine tragedies of January 2006.
Map showing somewhat larger area and location of the Sago Mine and Alma Mine tragedies of January 2006.
On January 20, 2006, not long after the Sago disaster, a delegation of U.S. Senators including Ted Kennedy, Mike Enzi (R-WY and chairman of the HELP Committee), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), visited with the families of the 12 coal miners who were killed in that tragedy. Kennedy and colleagues traveled to Buckhannon, West Virginia to spend time with the families and convey their condolences and their intention to do what they could in Washington to help improve mine safety. The senators had a private, nearly two-hour meeting with the families. Following the meeting, Kennedy, then ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee, said he was troubled to learn that the families had not yet been involved in the accident investigation. He urged state and federal investigators to take time to talk to the relatives, who he said were extremely knowledgeable about the industry. “Whoever’s doing the investigation, they won’t spend a better two hours than listening to the people we’ve just listened to,” he said.


Low Fines

At a hearing held March 2, 2006, by the Senate HELP committee (Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) to discuss the state of mine safety, Senator Kennedy was present to voice his concern about mine safety enforcement. In an impassioned statement, Kennedy said that fines as low as $60 give companies “little incentive to make safety improvements.” He added that while he understood that MSHA was then proposing to raise the maximum fines from $60,000 to $220,000, “such gestures are meaningless unless MSHA actually issues those fines.”

2006 Associated Press graphic showing dollar amounts of fines that then could be levied per infraction by various federal agencies, with mine safety fines being the lowest, a limitation Senator Kennedy & others found deplorable.
2006 Associated Press graphic showing dollar amounts of fines that then could be levied per infraction by various federal agencies, with mine safety fines being the lowest, a limitation Senator Kennedy & others found deplorable.
Kennedy noted that MSHA rarely used the maximum fine of $60,000, and that MSHA had also failed to use their “enforcement tool” of shutting down mines where there “have been a pattern of violations,” he said. “It’s time the agency did more about chronic and persistent violations, including dangerous mines, before tragedies like those at Sago and Alma can occur,” he said.

In the year prior to the Sago Mine disaster, the operator reportedly received over 200 safety citations, half of them being serious enough to potentially lead to injuries.

David G. Dye, then acting assistant secretary of MSHA, responding to Kennedy, said that the agency had collected $25 million in fines in 2005 and reductions were the result of actions taken by independent administrative law judges. He also said that the 1977 Mine Act “does not give MSHA the authority to preemptively close entire mines because of the frequency of violations.” Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), who grew up in a coal-mining community, said during the hearing that MSHA “had the legal authority to require higher fines” but “didn’t use it.”

January 2003.  AP file photo of Senators Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Ted Kennedy on Capitol Hill. photo, Susan Walsh.
January 2003. AP file photo of Senators Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Ted Kennedy on Capitol Hill. photo, Susan Walsh.
Byrd also pressed Dye on why a proposed rule to supply coal miners additional emergency oxygen has been delayed by the White House review process. Kennedy noted that “miners in Canada are required to have 36 hours of breathable air. But miners in the U.S. are required to have only one.”

Byrd, frustrated with the agency said at one point, “It’s been 25 years since mine safety rules have been updated,” Byrd said. “How long do we have to wait?”

Byrd, Kennedy, and others in the U.S. Senate did not wait. In 2006, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (the MINER Act), which President Bush signed into law June 15 2006. The new law required mine-specific emergency response plans in underground coal mines; installation of wireless communications equipment and tracking devices within three years; new regulations for mine rescue teams and sealing abandoned areas; and prompt notification of mine accidents. The MINER Act also raised maximum fines for accidents and gave the government the power to shut down mines when operators failed to pay fines. Senator Kennedy, meanwhile, continued to push for additional mine safety reforms, as yet another mine disaster occurred not long after the MINER Act passed.


Map showing location of Crandall Canyon Mine.
Map showing location of Crandall Canyon Mine.
Crandall Canyon

In August 2007, the Crandall Canyon Mine, an underground coal mine in Utah’s Wasatch plateau near Huntington, made headlines when six miners were trapped by a mine collapse. Ten days later, three rescue workers were killed and six more injured as one of the walls of the tunnel exploded inward, toward the rescuers, as they attempted to reach the trapped miners.

On August 31, 2007 the search for the six trapped miners was called off and declared too dangerous for continued rescue efforts. The six men originally trapped were later declared dead and their bodies were never recovered. The mine was then operated by Genwal Resources Inc., an operating division of UtahAmerican, a subsidiary of the Murray Energy Corporation.

Senator Ted Kennedy, shown here in another Senate proceeding, had his committee staff compile a report on the Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah.
Senator Ted Kennedy, shown here in another Senate proceeding, had his committee staff compile a report on the Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah.
Investigations of the accident began, and hearings were held in Congress. Shortly after the accident, on August 23, 2007, Senator Kennedy – then Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – sent a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao requesting a range of documents and other materials on the mine – documents in the Uniform Mine File on Crandall Canyon; mine plan changes and MSHA consideration of them; inspection reports; meeting minutes, e-mail, handwritten notes; and other communication between the mine owners and MSHA officials.

“The loss of life at the mine, and the devastating emotional toll on families of the victims, underscore the urgent need for a thorough examination of our federal system of mine safety,” Kennedy said in his letter to Chao. In particular, Kennedy said he was “troubled” by reports that roof problems were not reported to MSHA, and that the roof had reportedly collapsed in other areas of the mine where workers were using a dangerous technique called “retreat mining.” Such reports, Kennedy said in his letter to Chao, “raise questions about the integrity of the mine operator’s reporting and the rigor of MSHA inspections.”

Cover of Senator Kennedy’s Committee report on the August 2007 disaster at Utah’s  Crandall Canyon coal mine.
Cover of Senator Kennedy’s Committee report on the August 2007 disaster at Utah’s Crandall Canyon coal mine.
On March 6th, 2008, Kennedy’s senate committee issued the results of its investigation of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster, a 75-page report. It was the first to reveal the serious lapses by both the mine operator and MSHA that led to the deaths of nine miners and rescue workers.

“The committee’s investigation has revealed that the owner of Crandall Canyon Mine, Murray Energy, disregarded dangerous conditions at the mine, failed to tell federal regulators about these dangers, conducted unauthorized mining and, as a result, exposed its miners to serious risks,” Kennedy said. The report also charged that the operator’s parent company, Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., bullied MSHA to gain approval of its overall mining plan.

“MSHA also unconscionably failed to protect miners by hastily rubber-stamping the plan,” said Kennedy. “This is a clear case of callous disregard for the law and for safety standards, and hard-working miners lost their lives. This deserves a full criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.”

Kennedy’s report was followed by a report from the Labor Department’s Inspector General which found that MSHA failed to protect workers at the Crandall Canyon mine. That report blamed federal mining regulators for negligence in approving a roof-control plan for the mine. An audit of events preceding the two collapses found that lower-level MSHA officials skipped many of the agency’s own protocols in approving a roof control plan for the Crandall Canyon mine and could have been subject to “undue influence” by the mine’s operator. It also found that MSHA could not show it made the right decision when it approved risky retreat mining at Crandall Canyon and found the agency “negligent” in its duty to protect underground miners in the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, and in mines across the nation. Rep. George Miller’s (D-CA) House Education and Labor Committee also released a May 8, 2008 report on the Crandall Canyon disaster that repeated the call for a criminal investigation.

On July 24, 2008 MSHA issued one of its highest fines then to date for coal mine safety violations at the Crandall Canyon Mine. Genwal Resources was fined $1.34 million “for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners last year,” plus nearly $300,000 for other violations. MSHA also levied a $220,000 fine against a mining consultant, Agapito Associates, “for faulty analysis of the mine’s design.”

September 2008: Dedication of the memorial commemorating the lives of the 6 miners and 3 rescuers killed at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah. Sculpture by ___ .
September 2008: Dedication of the memorial commemorating the lives of the 6 miners and 3 rescuers killed at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah. Sculpture by ___ .

Coal mine health and safety to this day continues to be a vexing issue, with mine disasters such as the April 2010 coal mine explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County West Virginia that killed 29 coal miners, while black lung disease continues to diminish coal miner health and take their lives. Yet in recent decades, the efforts of public servants like Ted Kennedy and others have helped make coal mining and other workplaces safer than they might otherwise have been – although, to be sure, they are not as safe as they should be. In 2008, Senator Ted Kennedy was named one of the 50 most influential EHS leaders by Occupational Hazards magazine (now EHS Today) for his 40-plus years of advocating for workers’ rights and health and safety in the U.S. Senate. After a battle with a malignant brain tumor, diagnosed in May 2008, Ted Kennedy passed away in late August 2009.


December 2009: RFK, Jr. at Charleston, WV rally speaking out against mountaintop mining at the Coal River Mountain site.
December 2009: RFK, Jr. at Charleston, WV rally speaking out against mountaintop mining at the Coal River Mountain site.

RFK, Jr.

Of all the Kennedys who have worked on coal-related issues over the years, few have been more active than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy. A graduate of Harvard College (1976) with a law degree from the University of Virginia, plus a Masters of Law from Pace University, RFK, Jr. has worked on a wide range of environmental issues, both as a litigating attorney and environmental activist.

He began his environmental work in the 1980s when he joined New York’s Hudson River Keeper, later doing battle with the likes of General Electric and Con Edison in New York over pollution and land development issues. He also joined the staff of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the 1980s, and would become a senior attorney there through the early 2000s.

Kennedy is co-author of the 1997 book, The Riverkeepers, with John Cronin and helped spread the “waterkeeper model” of protecting rivers, bays and estuaries throughout the U.S. and around the world. In 1999, Kennedy and others formed the Waterkeeper Alliance which unites more than 200 Waterkeeper organizations in common action. The work of protecting rivers, harbors and estuaries brought Kennedy and his allies into direct contact with the coal cycle, whether strip mine blasting and mountaintop removal, power plant CO-2 and mercury emissions, or coal ash dumps polluting rivers and lakes throughout America.

In recent years, Kennedy has been in the thick of the nation’s battle to end the excesses of coal mining and coal pollution. He has made numerous appearances at activist and citizen rallies, lent his name to many local fights, written Op-Eds, and helped make and promote a documentary film on mountaintop removal. Like his father and uncle before him, RFK, Jr has pushed economic and policy strategies to help alleviate the hardships on coal communities. But unlike them, he has also worked as an activist and litigator, often taking a more aggressive approach with the coal and utility industries.

In February 2009, the Waterkeeper Alliance launched its “Clean Coal is a Deadly Lie” campaign, which rose in part as a response to a $49 million advertising push by the coal and utility- backed American Coalition for Clean Coal. The Waterkeeper campaign – often in league with other national environmental and local citizen groups – would later include dozens of lawsuits targeting strip mining practices, mountaintop removal, slurry pond construction, mercury emissions, coal ash piles, and coal export terminal expansion in the Pacific Northwest.

Example of mountaintop removal strip mining in progress at Kayford Mountain, West Virginia when this photograph was taken.
Example of mountaintop removal strip mining in progress at Kayford Mountain, West Virginia when this photograph was taken.

In a March 25, 2009 Washington Post Op-Ed by Kennedy titled, “Stopping Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining,” he wrote:

…Having flown over the coalfields of Appalachia and walked her ridges, valleys and hollows, I know that this land cannot withstand more abuse. Mountaintop-removal coal mining is the greatest environmental tragedy ever to befall our nation. This radical form of strip mining has already flattened the tops of 500 mountains, buried 2,000 miles of streams, devastated our country’s oldest and most diverse temperate forests, and blighted landscapes famous for their history and beauty. Using giant earthmovers and millions of tons of explosives, coal moguls have eviscerated communities, destroyed homes, and uprooted and sickened families with coal and rock dust, and with blasting, flooding and poisoned water…

November 2003. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., National Press Club luncheon speaker, in critique of the Bush Administration’s environmental policies.
November 2003. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., National Press Club luncheon speaker, in critique of the Bush Administration’s environmental policies.
Kennedy has advocated replacing coal energy with renewable energy, which, he argues, would reduce costs and greenhouse gases and increase jobs, while improving air and water quality and public health.

In an April 2009 interview with ABC News, Kennedy let fly on how the coal industry was in effect ruining the environmental commons and preventing the public from using certain resources because it has polluted them:

…You know, we’re living today, truthfully, in a science fiction nightmare. Our country, where my children and the children of most Americans can no longer engage in the seminal primal activity of American youth, which is to go fishing with their father in the local fishing hole and then come home and safely eat the fish. Because somebody gave money to a politician and poisoned more than half of the fish in this country with mercury. And it’s the coal industry, and they are privatizing a public trust resource, the fish of our country, which belong to us, they belong to the people. But now the coal industry owns them and the utilities. Because they poison them so much we can’t use them anymore….

Publicity poster for the “RFK, Jr./ Don Blankenship” debate held in January  2010 at the University of Charleston.
Publicity poster for the “RFK, Jr./ Don Blankenship” debate held in January 2010 at the University of Charleston.

Coal Debate

In late January 2010, Kennedy debated the notorious West Virginia coal baron, Don Blankenship, then head of Massey Energy, over mountaintop removal, climate change, and coal’s future. The debate was held at University of Charleston and moderated by university president, Ed Welch. It was also broadcast online and on television stations across West Virginia. With advance billing, the Kennedy-Blankenship duel received considerable interest, especially in West Virginia and among some national media.

Blankenship, an outspoken climate change denier and environmental critic, told a packed house that night: “The mission statement for coal is prosperity for this country. This industry is what made this country great and if we forget that, we’re going to have to learn to speak Chinese.” Kennedy countered that giant mining machines have cost thousands of jobs while mountaintop removal was destroying ancient peaks and burying pristine streams. “This is the worst environmental crime that has ever happened in our history,” Kennedy said. “These companies are liquidating this state for cash with these gigantic machines.”

Don Blankenship, RFK, Jr., and moderator, Ed Welsh, president of the University of Charleston during debate.
Don Blankenship, RFK, Jr., and moderator, Ed Welsh, president of the University of Charleston during debate.
One account of the debate, from David Roberts, writing in Grist, noted:

…When Kennedy accused [Blankenship] of leaving behind ghost towns across WV, Blankenship responded that he’d bought up all those homes at fair market value (“those people left voluntarily”). In response to Kennedy’s points on water pollution, Blankenship effectively dismissed the threat of mercury as a bunch of hype on the internet. …When Kennedy listed the social and health damages done by coal — “externalities” the industry charges to taxpayers — Blankenship mumbled, “do we have some of those externalities? I don’t know. Maybe.” When Kennedy pointed out that China is dumping trillions into renewable energy, Massey responded that they were only building windmills to appease the UN. When Kennedy pointed out that Massey’s own disclosure revealed some 12,000 violations of the Clean Water Act last year, Blankenship responded that they’re reducing their violations year to year, now that they’ve been reminded by the EPA that it would be a good idea.

…He simply dismissed Kennedy’s facts and stuck to his narrative: global warming’s a hoax, hippie environmentalists are strangling free enterprise, out-of-staters have no right to question what happens in WV, and China is going to take over if we don’t mine and burn all the coal we can as fast as we can. We’re crazy to be worried about “parts per million” of pollutants when coal is the only thing keeping our life expectancy above Angola’s….

A few months later, in March 2010, Kennedy and Blankenship followed-up with more of their arguments in dueling Op-Eds in The Hill newspaper that circulates on Capitol Hill and in the Washington, DC community. (A few months after Blankenship and Kennedy had debated, in April 2010, on Blankenship’s watch as CEO, the mining catastrophe at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia occurred in which 29 miners were killed. Facing multiple charges in connection with that incident, and much legal wrangling over the next few years, Blankenship in the end, was found guilty of one misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards for which he served one year in jail and was fined $250,000. In 2017, having served his time, Blankenship then filed papers to run for the U.S. Senate).

June 2011, Blair Mountain, West Virginia. RFK, Jr. tells crowd that Big Coal, while forever promising prosperity, had instead left a legacy of devastation and poverty for coal communities.
June 2011, Blair Mountain, West Virginia. RFK, Jr. tells crowd that Big Coal, while forever promising prosperity, had instead left a legacy of devastation and poverty for coal communities.


Blair Mountain

For five days in June 2011, nearly 800 citizen activists marched 50 miles through West Virginia from the town of Marmet to the town of Blair to protest mountaintop strip mine on Blair Mountain. Adding to the protest at this location was the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Battle at Blair Mountain, a 1921 bloody fight by coal miners to unionize their mine. (For five days some 10,000 armed coal miners battled 3,000 lawmen and Pinkerton strikebreakers backed by coal mine operators, only ending after the intervention of the U.S. Army by presidential order). The battle site, having been accepted for National Historic Site designation in 2009, was delisted in 2010 after objection from the state of West Virginia and the coal industry. An estimated crowd of 2,000 citizen activists, union workers, historians, environmentalists gathered for the June 2011 rally at the site seeking to end mountaintop removal and restore the historic site designation, among other issues. Joining the speakers that day was Robert Kennedy, Jr., who told the crowd that Big Coal, while forever promising prosperity to West Virginia, had left a legacy of devastation and poverty. As of October 2017, the historic site designation was still under consideration. A relisting of Blair Mountain Battlefield site on the Historic Register would cease surface mining operations on the mountain.

Promotional poster for the 2011 film, “The Last Mountain.”
Promotional poster for the 2011 film, “The Last Mountain.”

Coal River Film

In June 2011, a documentary film on Appalachian coal mining was released, The Last Mountain, co-written by Bill Haney and Peter Rhodes and produced by Haney, Clara Bingham and Eric Grunebaum. The film focuses on the mountaintop mining fight then occurring over Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. In the film, RFK, Jr. is featured joining local activists trying to stop Massey Energy Co. (acquired by Alpha Resources in 2011) from destroying Coal River Mountain. Massey/Alpha then held many of the necessary permits to begin stripping the mountain and fill nearby valleys in the process. Instead, Kennedy and opponents advocate using the Coal River Mountain site for wind generation; a site found to hold high wind potential – high enough, in fact, with wind farm development, to produce 328 megawatts of electricity, which could power 70,000 homes. That option is presented in the film as a better alternative for the environment and nearby communities, while also producing more jobs as well.

In the film, several local activists are introduced along with stories to present some of the problems associated with strip mining and coal development in the Coal River Valley area. Maria Gunnoe describes how the hills surrounding her home in the town of Bob White had been stripped of forest cover and topsoil, resulting in down-mountain flash flooding, imperiling communities below. Ed Wiley, a former mountaintop coal miner, worried about his granddaughter’s school, Marsh Fork Elementary, located a short distance below an earthen dam holding back a slurry pond with 1.8 billion gallons of coal waste. And Jennifer Hall-Massey from the town of Prenter, explains that six of her immediate neighbors have died of brain tumors, and the only thing they had in common was the well water. She and 264 of her neighbors would sue local coal companies and West Virginia arguing that the companies pumped millions of gallons of coal slurry waste into the ground surrounding Prenter, polluting their well water with heavy metals like arsenic and lead, and causing disease.

The 95 minute film premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and then went into general release in June of that year. Kennedy and Haney also did media interviews to help promote the film.


Coal Exports

As noted at the top of this story, RFK, Jr. also became involved in the coal export issue. In May 2012 he spoke at a Portland, Oregon rally of citizen activists opposing coal export expansion in the Pacific Northwest. At the time, coal companies were targeting the Pacific Northwest with six separate coal export terminals, which would send stunning volumes of U.S. coal from the Powder River Basin through the Pacific Northwest to Asia. One proposal would send a dozen coal trains each day through Portland, Oregon neighborhoods. The Columbia River Gorge would face up to 30 coal trains per day.

Coal Export overview in the Northwest U.S. as of 2013 or so, showing proposed coal export terminals & possible train routes from the surface coal mines in the Montana / Wyoming Powder River Basin. Not all of the proposed Washington and Oregon coal export terminals on this map are still proposed. Map by Think Progress.
Coal Export overview in the Northwest U.S. as of 2013 or so, showing proposed coal export terminals & possible train routes from the surface coal mines in the Montana / Wyoming Powder River Basin. Not all of the proposed Washington and Oregon coal export terminals on this map are still proposed. Map by Think Progress.

At the May 2012 Portland, Oregon rally, Kennedy said: “Oregon and Washington leaders are faced with a choice between healthy communities with a clean energy future or becoming tied to trafficking coal, the most toxic fuel on earth… “ Kennedy argued that the proposals to bring coal to Oregon and Washington state would lead to political corruption and environmental damage, while the actual number of jobs created would be minimal. And while some may believe the U.S. can simply “export away” the environmental problems associated with coal, Kennedy warned that mercury and other coal pollutants from coal combustion in Asia will still come back to America’s Pacific shores.


Coal Ash

Coal ash, generated by hundreds of coal-fired power plants in the U.S., is one of the nation’s single largest waste streams. Fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal is generated at power plants, as are other coal-burning related wastes, such as bottom ash, boiler slag, and sludges from flue gas desulfurization. Coal ash waste, in one form or another, is found in all regions of the country. The amount generated annually is staggering – currently exceeding 140 million tons a year. A portion of the nation’s coal ash is recycled in construction and other materials. But the lion’s share, for many years, had been dumped or “stored” in coal ash waste lagoons and landfills which have been poorly regulated. There are more 1,100 known coal ash impoundments and nearly 400 known coal ash landfills in the U.S., many of which do not have liners and/or pollutant collection systems. Coal ash wastes contain harmful pollutants, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, selenium, and other toxic metals that can damage the environment, kill aquatic organisms and cause cancer and neurological harm in humans.

December 2008. The failure of a giant 84-acre coal ash impoundment (upper right) at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee, released 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers and the downstream community of Harriman, TN.
December 2008. The failure of a giant 84-acre coal ash impoundment (upper right) at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee, released 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers and the downstream community of Harriman, TN.

Coal ash received national attention in December 2008 with the failure of a giant 84-acre coal ash impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in eastern Tennessee, which released 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers. The downstream community of Harriman, TN was hit with a gigantic toxic mess, with sludge deposits as thick as six feet. Three years later they were still cleaning up. Less catastrophic, however, and perhaps even more serious, is the out-of-sight leakage and ongoing discharges from hundreds of coal ash impoundments all across the country.In July 2013, RFK, Jr. was among those trying to bring more public attention to this issue.

In North Carolina, Kennedy appeared at a press event with a group of environmental leaders and activists highlighting toxic discharges into local waterways from a Duke Energy coal ash pond at the company’s former Riverbend powerplant location near Charlotte, North Carolina. The discharges there were making their way into Mountain Island Lake, a drinking water source for more than 800,000 people in Charlotte and other communities. During the event, which also included release of report on the failures of coal ash regulation and extent of the problem nationwide and in North Carolina, Kennedy joined project leaders from Sierra Club, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Catawba Riverkeeper showing local media where illegal discharges from the Duke Energy coal ash pond were occurring.

Coal Ash Pollution, July 2013: RFK, Jr. joins Sierra Club's Mary Anne Hitt (left); Catawba Riverkeeper, Sam Perkins (black shirt); and Environmental Integrity Project's Eric Schaeffer (far right) in press event showing reporters illegal discharge locations of toxic heavy metals from Duke Energy’s Riverbend, NC coal ash pond. Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance
Coal Ash Pollution, July 2013: RFK, Jr. joins Sierra Club's Mary Anne Hitt (left); Catawba Riverkeeper, Sam Perkins (black shirt); and Environmental Integrity Project's Eric Schaeffer (far right) in press event showing reporters illegal discharge locations of toxic heavy metals from Duke Energy’s Riverbend, NC coal ash pond. Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance

“…[T]his is harming people,” Kennedy said during a press conference at the Mountain Island Lake boat ramp. “We know it’s causing illness. Hundreds of thousands of people are being injured by it every year. And yet this industry continues its assault on the American public and the environment…” One section of the report released that day by the groups was titled, “Coal Rivers: Duke Energy’s Toxic Legacy in North Carolina,” covering the impact of the company’s 10 power plants in the state. Some months later, in fact, in February 2014, another closed Duke Energy coal-fired power plant near Eden, North Carolina, spilled tens of thousands of tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River, coating 70 miles of that river with a gray sludge.

Dec. 2014. RFK, Jr., Op-Ed: “Coal, An Outlaw Enterprise,” NYT.
Dec. 2014. RFK, Jr., Op-Ed: “Coal, An Outlaw Enterprise,” NYT.
Through the 2010s, meanwhile, RFK, Jr., continued to take on the coal issues of the day. In mid-December 2014, he published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, titled, “Coal, an Outlaw Enterprise,” in which he cited details of cases in West Virginia and Kentucky where coal interests routinely flouted the law or gained influence and favorable treatment after making large campaign donations.

In his writing and speeches, Kennedy often singles out “money in politics” as the chief driver of environmental woes – the fact that corporate polluters are essentially buying the politicians to service their industries and protect them from regulation. So for him, campaign finance reform – getting the big money out of politics – is a top priority, along with electing politicians that will support that goal.

Since 2016, Kennedy and his various Waterkeeper organizations in the U.S., have been following closely the regulatory actions of the Trump Administration, filing lawsuits when necessary to challenge industry and Administration proposals that will weaken or remove key EPA, Clean Water Act, and other regulations. In July 2017, for example, RFK, Jr. “If you believe in markets, you have to believe that the era of coal has ended.”
– Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
testified before an EPA panel in Washington on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s move to overturn an Obama Administration coal ash rule that established new standards for coal ash disposal sites, including inspections and monitoring to prevent leaks and spills.

Meanwhile, in terms of the overall coal economy, Kennedy believes that market forces will win out, with renewable energy sources – especially wind and solar – generating the more favorable economic results. “Anything that Trump does is not going to bring back a single coal job – not one,” Kennedy has said. “If you believe in markets, you have to believe that the era of coal has ended.” As an example, in his speeches, Kennedy has often ticked off the costs of various energy alternatives. “An industrial utility scale solar plant in this country costs $1 billion a gigawatt. A coal plant costs $3-5 billion a gigawatt, an oil plant or gas plant costs $3-5 [billion per gigawatt], and a nuke plant costs $9-15 [billion per gigawatt].” Given these economic realities, he believes renewables will eventually drive out the “incumbents,” i.e., coal, oil, etc.,. Still, the policy battles will continue.


The Fights Ahead

The Kennedy family involvement in the nation’s coal travails for nearly 60 years has not, of course, been the singular force in helping alleviate the hardships and damage found throughout the coalfields during those years. Hundreds of activists, politicians, journalists, union leaders, government officials, and others have also been involved. Still, the nation has been fortunate to have had members of this politically prominent family doing what they could to help rein in the excesses of coal power and push reforms. Indeed, in the continuing battles ahead with coal and the broader fossil fuels industry, political leadership of that kind will be needed on many levels – plus widespread public support – to bring about lasting change.

For additional stories at this website on energy/environment issues see the “Environmental History” topics page. See also the “Kennedy History” page for stories in that category. And if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 19 December 2017
Last Update: 23 December 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Coal & The Kennedys: 1960-2010s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, December 19, 2017.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information


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Peter Galuszka's 2012 book, "Thunder on the Mountain".
Peter Galuszka's 2012 book, "Thunder on the Mountain".
Thomas Andrews' 2008 book, "Killing for Coal".
Thomas Andrews' 2008 book, "Killing for Coal".
Harry Caudill's 1983 book, "Theirs Be The Power".
Harry Caudill's 1983 book, "Theirs Be The Power".
Davitt McAteer's book on the 1907 Monongah mine disaster.
Davitt McAteer's book on the 1907 Monongah mine disaster.
Chad Motrie's 2003 history of Appalachian strip mining.
Chad Motrie's 2003 history of Appalachian strip mining.
Penny Loeb's 2007 book, "Moving Mountains".
Penny Loeb's 2007 book, "Moving Mountains".
Robert Shogan's 2004 book, "The Battle of Blair Mountain".
Robert Shogan's 2004 book, "The Battle of Blair Mountain".
Rebecca Bailey's "Matewan: Before The Massacre",
Rebecca Bailey's "Matewan: Before The Massacre",

John F. Kennedy

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_________________________

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_________________________

Caroline Kennedy

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_________________________

Ted Kennedy

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“Senators Pay Visit to Sago Families: Jay, Ted Kennedy, Two From GOP, Vow to Find Answers for Victims’ Families,” Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), January 21, 2006.

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_________________________

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Website.

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______________________________________




“Burn The Beatles”
1966: Bigger Than Jesus?

August 1966: A two-photo collage of “burn-the-Beatles” protests following John Lennon’s “more-popular-than-Jesus” remarks. Top: sign advertising a Beatles burning. Bottom: A radio station disc jockey – center w/microphone -- possibly delivering “on-the-air” reporting during  a "Beatles bonfire.”
August 1966: A two-photo collage of “burn-the-Beatles” protests following John Lennon’s “more-popular-than-Jesus” remarks. Top: sign advertising a Beatles burning. Bottom: A radio station disc jockey – center w/microphone -- possibly delivering “on-the-air” reporting during a "Beatles bonfire.”
Fame and celebrity can be very fragile and fleeting commodities. One moment they’re here, next minute they’re gone. One moment the adoring masses are tearing your clothes off because they love you, next they’re burning you in effigy because they hate you.

For popular matinee idols, sports stars, politicians, and rock musicians, public pirouettes in adoration can come rather sharply. In fact, sometimes, an adoring public following or fan base will pivot en masse, turning on its idols for something they have said or done. Often it’s for trivial reasons. But sometimes it’s more serious and the reaction is explosive – and in these cases, the cause is sometimes due to an insensitive comment made in sensitive territory; a verbal trespass that touches a raw nerve on matters of class, race, religion, politics, or civil society.

For the Beatles — the famous British rock`n roll band of the 1960s –the pivot of the masses from adoration to something closer to hate came by way of that most sensitive of topics, religion.

The controversy first broke in the U.S. in late July 1966, right before the Beatles were slated to begin a major 14-city North American concert tour. However, the beginning of the controversy had its origins months earlier, back in London, England.


The Interview

It all began in March 1966, during one of hundreds of media interviews the Beatles had given on their rocket ride to international stardom and pop music fame. In this case, it was John Lennon being interviewed by Maureen Cleave a reporter with the London Evening Standard.

Cleave, in fact, was also a friend of Lennon’s, and John had agreed to be interviewed by her at his home for a Beatles series she was planning. Cleave’s series would eventually run in four parts, one for each Beatle. During the Lennon interview, and in the writing of her article – which appeared on page ten of the London Evening Standard of March 4, 1966 – a paragraph written by Cleave described Lennon’s views on religion, noting at the end of the graph, that Lennon was then reading a lot about religion.

March 4, 1966: Portion of the original London Evening Standard newspaper story & layout interviewing John Lennon about his life as a Beatle, in which he made remarks about religion and Jesus, which weren’t given any special attention by the paper, nor did they bring any noticeable reaction from British readers at the time.
March 4, 1966: Portion of the original London Evening Standard newspaper story & layout interviewing John Lennon about his life as a Beatle, in which he made remarks about religion and Jesus, which weren’t given any special attention by the paper, nor did they bring any noticeable reaction from British readers at the time.

Here’s the passage Cleave wrote (which was only part of a wide-ranging interview profiling Lennon on a number of topics):

…Experience has sown few seeds of doubt in him [Lennon]: not that his mind is closed, but it’s closed round whatever he believes at the time. ‘Christianity will go,’ he said. ‘It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first-rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.’ He [Lennon] is reading extensively about religion…

Paul McCartney on Sept 1966 “Datebook” magazine cover, which also featured story on Lennon’s remarks about Jesus.
Paul McCartney on Sept 1966 “Datebook” magazine cover, which also featured story on Lennon’s remarks about Jesus.
In the Evening Standard article, Lennon’s remarks on Jesus and religion were not given any special attention, used as a pull quote, or accorded any other special treatment. In fact, after that story ran in the U.K., there was no wild popular reaction to Lennon’s remarks. Nothing seemed to have come of it.


DATEbook

Then, five months after Lennon’s interview with Cleave had appeared in London, parts of the same interview were scheduled to be republished in the September 1966 edition of the American teen magazine, DATEbook.

However, some of the DATEbook material appears to have been released ahead of newsstand arrival and reached the American media by late July 1966.

When the magazine’s final edition hit the newsstands in September (shown at left) – with Paul McCartney on the cover – it also used a tagline that ran second in a column of multi-colored taglines on the left side of the cover, quoting Lennon’s remark: “I don’t know which will go first — rock `n roll or Christianity.” That line was also used as the headline for the story that ran inside the magazine.

[Interestingly, the first tagline listed on the DateBook cover, using a quote from Paul McCartney, apparently commenting on state of American society where the Beatles were about to tour, noted: “It’s a lousy country where anyone black is a dirty nigger!” By today’s standards, that comment might have been more incendiary than Lennon’s remarks, but at the time, it did not generate the attention that Lennon’s comments had. McCartney, for his part, was likely reacting to the news reports on civil rights protests in America at that time.]

Two-page layout of the September 1966 “DateBook” magazine article on John Lennon (from the March 1966 London Evening Standard) using the headline, “I Don’t Know Which Will Go First – Rock `n Roll Or Christianity”.
Two-page layout of the September 1966 “DateBook” magazine article on John Lennon (from the March 1966 London Evening Standard) using the headline, “I Don’t Know Which Will Go First – Rock `n Roll Or Christianity”.

Lennon’s comment, in context, was an observation about religion losing its connection to youth. It was taken, especially in the South, as an anti-Christian boast.


Boycotts & Bonfires

July-Aug 1966: Birmingham, Alabama radio disc jockeys, Tommy Charles, top, and Doug Layton, right, of  WAQY, ripping up Beatles record albums and other materials.
July-Aug 1966: Birmingham, Alabama radio disc jockeys, Tommy Charles, top, and Doug Layton, right, of WAQY, ripping up Beatles record albums and other materials.
By Sunday, July 31st, 1966, two disc jockeys at radio station WAQY in Birmingham, Alabama – Tommy Charles and Doug Layton – had read the DateBook story, became outraged by Lennon’s remarks, and kicked off a drive to ban the Beatles music from the airways. Their radio station would no longer play records by the Beatles, they said – the British group who “grew wealthy as the music idols of the younger generation.” The DJs encouraged listeners to throw away or burn the band’s records. They called for a “Beatles Burn-In,” to be held around the time the Beatles tour was to arrive in nearby Memphis, Tennessee.

The photo at right shows the two Birmingham disc jockeys, Tommy Charles, upper left, and Doug Layton of Radio Station WAQY, ripping up and breaking Beatles record albums and other materials They are credited with starting a “Ban the Beatles” campaign, which would spread to other stations and protest actions.

Charles in particular took exception to Lennon’s statement as “absurd and sacrilegious.” He went on to say, “something ought to be done to show them they cannot get away with this sort of thing.” Charles then began making spot broadcast announcements on the air every hour urging WAQY’s audience to turn in their Beatles records, pictures, magazines and souvenirs for a Beatles bonfire. Other radio stations would soon follow suit. And the anti-Beatles sentiment grew from there. Overnight, it seemed, teenaged Beatles fans in states like Georgia and Mississippi turned out to smash records and throw their Beatles paraphernalia on bonfires.


News Coverage

Newspapers throughout the country soon picked up on the story as well. An August 4th, 1966 United Press International story on the developing radio ban, appearing in a Camden, New Jersey newspaper, used the headline, “DJs Ban The Beatles for Lennon Remarks.” The News and Observer newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina that same day used a more descriptive headline: “Stations Ban ‘Sacrilegious’ Beatles.” Another that day, The Republic newspaper in Columbus, Indiana, ran the headline: “Christianity Will Go, Says Prophet Lennon; Beatles ‘More Popular Than Jesus’?”

August 4th, 1966: United Press International story on Beatles radio ban, appearing in a Camden, New Jersey newspaper with headline, "DJs Ban The Beatles for Lennon Remarks."
August 4th, 1966: United Press International story on Beatles radio ban, appearing in a Camden, New Jersey newspaper with headline, "DJs Ban The Beatles for Lennon Remarks."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Capitol Records, which then distributed Beatles recordings in the U.S., had already issued a statement explaining that Lennon was “quoted out of context and misconstrued.” Rather, Lennon was being “conjectural” on the topics of Christianity and rock `n roll, said the spokesman, and “only intended the broadest comparison…. He definitely intended no irreverence.” Nonetheless, the radio bans of Beatles music continued.

August 4, 1966: “The News and Observer” newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina ran the headline,“Stations Ban ‘Sacrilegious’ Beatles,” for its story about radio bans of Beatles music in reaction to John Lennon’s remarks.
August 4, 1966: “The News and Observer” newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina ran the headline,“Stations Ban ‘Sacrilegious’ Beatles,” for its story about radio bans of Beatles music in reaction to John Lennon’s remarks.

“Anyone making a sacrilegious remark like that has no place on our station,” said George Nelson of WRNB in New Bern, North Carolina, quoted in Raleigh’s News and Observer August 5th, 1966 story, announcing his station’s ban. Bob Latham of station WTYC in Rock Hill, South Carolina reported a telephone poll of 177 supporters of his station’s Beatles ban, as opposed to 10 who wanted the group’s music continued. Another station using a poll to decide on a Beatles ban was WORG of Orangeburg, South Carolina, which found 144 in favor and 2 opposed.

August 4th 1966 headlines from “The Evening Republican” newspaper of Columbus, Indiana: “Christianity Will Go, Says Prophet Lennon; Beatles ‘More Popular Than Jesus’?”
August 4th 1966 headlines from “The Evening Republican” newspaper of Columbus, Indiana: “Christianity Will Go, Says Prophet Lennon; Beatles ‘More Popular Than Jesus’?”

Bobby Dark of radio station WYNA of Raleigh, North Carolina reported that his station had a Beatles bonfire scheduled. According to the News and Observer, as of August 4th, among other stations then banning Beatles music were: WKDK of Newberry, South Carolina; WLSC of Loris, South Carolina; WPET of Greensboro, North Carolina; WBBB of Burlington, North Carolina; WVCB of Shallotte, North Carolina; WRKB of Kannapolis, North Carolina; and WTYN of Tryon, North Carolina.

Although many of these stations were in the south, there were boycotts elsewhere as well. WAKR of Akron, Ohio decided to ban Beatles music on August 5th: “WAKR banned the playing of the Beatles records on the station Thursday in light of comments by John Lennon,” said Roger G. Berk, vice president and general manager of Akron’s Summit Radio Corp. “The ban will continue until such time as it’s in the public interest to play them again.”

 
Brian’s Mea Culpa

August 6th, 1966: Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, holds NY press conference in attempt at “damage control” re: Lennon remarks.
August 6th, 1966: Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, holds NY press conference in attempt at “damage control” re: Lennon remarks.
From a business standpoint, the reaction to Lennon’s statement had the potential to become a major economic disaster for the group, as millions of dollars were in the balance with the pending 14-city tour about to begin. On August 6th, 1966, the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, then on a brief vacation following the Beatles’ Asian tour, decided to fly to New York City where he held a televised press conference at the Americana Hotel. During that appearance, in which Epstein delivered a calm and professional defense of Lennon, he tried to quell the emerging American controversy over Lennon’s remarks:

“The quote which John Lennon made to a London columnist has been quoted and misrepresented entirely out of context… Lennon is deeply interested in religion and was at the time having serious talks with Maureen Cleave…of the London Evening Standard. The talks were concerning religion. What he said and meant was that he was astonished that in the last 50 years the Church in England, and therefore Christ, had suffered a decline in interest. He did not mean to boast about the Beatles fame. He meant to point out the Beatles effect appeared to be, to him, a more immediate one upon certainly the younger generation. John is deeply concerned and regrets that people with certain religious beliefs should have been offended.”

The media, of course, had more questions for Epstein, who at one point, even allowed that if any of the promoters for the upcoming concert events had concerns and wanted to cancel, he wouldn’t stand in their way:

Press: We’re wondering whether you’re going to change the itinerary of The Beatles to avoid areas where the radio stations are now burning their records and their pictures?

Epstein: This is highly unlikely. I’ve spoken to many of the promoters this morning. When I leave here, I have a meeting with several of the promoters who are anxious that the concerts should not be cancelled, at all. Actually, if any of the promoters were so concerned and wish that the concerts be cancelled, I wouldn’t, in fact, stand in their way.

August 1966: Collage of some of the newspaper headlines, Beatle protests, and “Beatle bonfires” that erupted in the U.S. following John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark, republished in ‘DateBook’ teen magazine.
August 1966: Collage of some of the newspaper headlines, Beatle protests, and “Beatle bonfires” that erupted in the U.S. following John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark, republished in ‘DateBook’ teen magazine.

Meanwhile, in Alabama two days later, on August 8th, 1966, The Daily Gleaner of Birmingham published the following notice:

…Hundreds of Beatles records are to be pulverized in a giant municipal tree-grinding machine here because of what Beatle John Lennon said about Christ, a disc jockey revealed today. ‘After going through the “Beatle-grinder,” borrowed from Birmingham City Council, all that will be left of the records will be fine dust.’ A box full of the dust will be presented to the British pop stars when they arrive in Memphis, Tennessee, not far from here, for a concert August 19th, said local disc jockey Rex Roach…

There were also reports of protests in Spain, South Africa, Costa Rica, and other locations. Yet the U.S. reaction, also covered by the world press, was the primary focal point, especially since the Beatles were about to begin their American tour.

 
Politicians Jump In

August 1966. AAP-Reuter wire story about Pennsylvania legislator who sought to ban Beatles music and performances in the state via a proposed resolution.
August 1966. AAP-Reuter wire story about Pennsylvania legislator who sought to ban Beatles music and performances in the state via a proposed resolution.
In Pennsylvania, state Senator Robert Fleming, a Republican, said he was “shocked” by Lennon’s remarks, and announced he would offer a resolution in the Pennsylvania legislature on August 8th calling on all talent agents in the state to refuse to book the Beatles and to cancel any engagements already made – as one in Philadelphia was already scheduled for the Beatles’ planned tour. Senator Fleming’s resolution also proposed contacting radio and TV stations to request they stop playing Beatles records and that owners of juke boxes also remove Beatles records from their machines.

“We can all get along very well without the Beatles,” Fleming was quoted as saying in a AAP-Reuter news story, “but there are multitudes of us who cannot get along without Jesus Christ.” Fleming’s resolution was not approved.

In Boston, too, state representative Charles Iannello, a Democrat drafted a petition to be offered in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, for the city of Boston to revoke the Beatles permit for their scheduled August 18th show at the Suffolk Downs race track venue. “Who are these four creeps to put themselves above the High and Mighty”, Iannello asked. “Do you think they will do anything for the morals of out teenagers? We’ve got enough problems.” Iannello, however, was unable to obtain a suspension of House rules to permit the introduction of his petition. In Indiana, meanwhile, there was a Catholic youth group organizing a Beatles burning, and other such protests were in the offing elsewhere.

 
Cusp of Change

For the Beatles, however, then in their third year of international acclaim, the troubles of 1966 – and their forthcoming concert tour – would contribute to a major shift in their career. A combination of forces would be at work on the group’s thinking, and would not fully form until the end of the tour. As it was, they were already evolving from the “she-loves-you” style of music, to more sophisticated compositions. The release of their Revolver album – their seventh studio album – would set something of a new standard once it was digested by fans and critics. However, that album – released on August 5th in the U.K, and August 8th in the U.S. – came just as the furor over Lennon’s remarks were spawning protests in America.

August 1966: Roadside sign along route 93 near Hazelton, Pennsylvania expressing disapproval with the Beatles, then in reaction to John Lennon’s “more-popular-than-Jesus” remarks.
August 1966: Roadside sign along route 93 near Hazelton, Pennsylvania expressing disapproval with the Beatles, then in reaction to John Lennon’s “more-popular-than-Jesus” remarks.

So sitting in London and hearing about the outrage in the States over Lennon’s remarks, the Beatles must have certainly thought about cancelling their tour. This would be their third trip to America in as many years, having arrived to wild acclaim in 1964, the year they first broke out, and again during their 1965 American tour. But now, as they contemplated coming to America for their August 1966 tour in the wake of the heated reaction to Lennon’s remarks, they surely had concerns about coming. Still, they came. But now, their popularity and staying power would be tested in ways they had never experienced before.

 
Meet the Press

By August 11th, 1966, the Beatles had arrived in Chicago, the first stop on their American tour. They had flown into Chicago from a connecting flight from Boston on American Airlines, and at their first class seats they found copies of the Bible, thoughtfully provided for each member of the group. In Chicago, the four young Brits held a press conference at the Astor Towers Hotel. During that meeting, Lennon attempted to apologize for his “more-popular-than-Jesus” remarks, as other Beatles also joined in the session:

August 11, 1966: John Lennon of the Beatles, center, is flanked by George Harrison, left, and Ringo Starr as he apologizes for his remark that "the Beatles are more popular than Jesus," at a Chicago news conference.
August 11, 1966: John Lennon of the Beatles, center, is flanked by George Harrison, left, and Ringo Starr as he apologizes for his remark that "the Beatles are more popular than Jesus," at a Chicago news conference.

Associated Press wire story reporting on John Lennon’s August 11, 1966 apology.
Associated Press wire story reporting on John Lennon’s August 11, 1966 apology.

John:“I’m sorry, I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it as a lousy, antireligious thing…

If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it…

“[O]riginally I was pointing out that fact in reference to England– that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion, at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it as a fact…”

“I’m not saying that we’re better, or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is, you know. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong. And now it’s all this…”

Paul: “And this is the point– you know, this is why we’re getting in all these messes with saying things. Because, you know, we’re just trying to move forward. And people seem to be trying to just sort of hold us back and not want us to say anything that’s vaguely sort of, you know, inflammatory… I think it’s better for everyone if we’re just honest about the whole thing.”

George: “Well, in the context that it was meant — it was the fact that Christianity is declining, and everybody knows about that, and that was the fact that was trying to be made… I agree that it’s on the wane.”

Ringo: “Well, I just hope it’s all over now, you know. I hope everyone’s straightened out, and it’s finished.”

But it wasn’t finished.

Later that same evening, in fact, August 11th, 1966, in Chester, South Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) held a “Beatle Bonfire” at a cross burning.

The Associated Press photograph below shows South Carolina KKK Grand Dragon, Bob Scoggin, tossing Beatles records into the fire.

Still, the Beatles hoped for the best as they began their tour.
 

August 11, 1966: South Carolina KKK Grand Dragon, Bob Scoggin, tossing Beatle records into the fire of a burning cross at Chester, South Carolina. Photo, Associated Press.
August 11, 1966: South Carolina KKK Grand Dragon, Bob Scoggin, tossing Beatle records into the fire of a burning cross at Chester, South Carolina. Photo, Associated Press.

Beatles’ 1966 Tour
Dates & Locations

12 August 1966*
Chicago / Int’l Amphitheatre

13 August 1966*
Detroit / Olympia Stadium

14 August 1966
Cleveland / Cleveland Stadium

15 August 1966
Washington, D.C./ D.C. Stadium

16 August 1966
Philadelphia /JFK Stadium

17 August 1966*
Toronto /Maple Leaf Gardens

18 August 1966
Boston / Suffolk Downs

19 August 1966*
Memphis/ Mid-South Coliseum

21 August 1966 (noon)
Cincinnati / Crosley Field

21 August 1966 (8pm)
St. Louis / Busch Stadium

23 August 1966
New York / Shea Stadium

25 August 1966*
Seattle /Seattle Center Coliseum

28 August 1966
Los Angeles /Dodger Stadium

29 August 1966
San Francisco / Candlestick Park
______________
*two shows scheduled.
 

August 12th & 13th

Tour Amid Protest

By August 12th, as the Beatles began their American tour, they performed two shows at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, at 3:00pm and 7:30pm. Each performance was at near full capacity, seen by 13,000 fans. Press coverage was favorable. One story filed by United Press International (UPI), which appeared in newspapers nationally, and ran, for example, on the front page of Salt Lake City’s Desert News, used the headline, “Fans Hail Beatles in Chicago.” The reporting in that story began as follows:

Their theology didn’t matter. The Beatles were in town and teenagers were in ecstasy.

Beatle fans who had forgiven or forgotten or who were unconcerned about John Lennon’s reported statement that his group was more popular that Jesus, streamed into the 13,500 seat International Amphitheater….

…The Beatles…played to near packed houses for two tumultuous concerts… If any of their Midwest fans were bothered by Lennon’s comments, he apparently smoothed things over with this statement that he was sorry he had ever said it and that he merely mean to deplore the decline in religious zeal…”

In Detroit as well, where the Beatles performed two shows the following day at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm before a total of 28,000 fans, an Associated Press account gave the performances a positive report, with the Milwaukee Journal using the headline: “Detroit Teens Give Beatles Big Welcome”:

A throng of screeching youngsters greeted Britain’s Beatles in Detroit Saturday in what appeared a second American vote of confidence for the controversial mopheads.

Not deterred by the story of protest kicked up recently by Beatle John Lennon, an estimated 30,000 fans bought tickets for two performances here.

The near sellout crowds were similar to the large and vocal audiences the British rock `n rollers drew in two Chicago performances Friday…

Still, in Detroit there were some pickets that carried signs in protest, one that read, “Jesus Saves – John Sins.” Two Beatles fans, however, tore down another sign that read, “Limey Go Home.”

August 15, 1966: UPI wire photo showing Donna Woods of Longview, Texas applying torch to pile of Beatles material, ending a 10-day “Burn the Beatles” campaign.
August 15, 1966: UPI wire photo showing Donna Woods of Longview, Texas applying torch to pile of Beatles material, ending a 10-day “Burn the Beatles” campaign.

Texas Bonfire

On the same day that thousands of fans were cheering the Beatles in Chicago, radio station KLUE-AM in Longview, Texas organized one of the “Beatles bonfires” (shown at left). For that event, ex-Beatle fans over a ten day period brought their Beatles records and other memorabilia to be burned in protest.

According to the Associated Press, “Hundreds of youths contributed records and pictures of the vocal group for the bonfire,” and “several thousands persons witnessed the burning.” (Interestingly, in a possible sign of divine intervention on the Beatles’ behalf, KLUE’s radio tower was struck by lightning the next morning, throwing the station off the air.)

In addition, by August 13, the music industry magazine, Billboard, was also reporting that a number of radio stations were calling for a ban on Beatles music. Some twenty-two radio stations by that date, mostly in the South, had begun to boycott Beatles music. Billboard also noted that New York’s WABC station had then reportedly put Beatles records on a “no play” list.

Meanwhile, back in Birmingham, Alabama, where the “Ban the Beatles” campaign had begun, WAQY disc jockey Tommy Charles said in a statement of August 12th that he accepted Lennon’s apology made at the Chicago press conference, and that Charles would call off the Beatles bonfire that had been scheduled there for August 19th. And at their first performances on the 1966 tour, The Beatles appeared to be doing quite well, playing to full venues, at least in Chicago, as shown in the photograph below.

August 12th, 1966: The Beatles in Chicago at the  International Amphitheater, first stop on their 1966 American tour, taking a bow on stage after their performance, which appears to have drawn a full house.
August 12th, 1966: The Beatles in Chicago at the International Amphitheater, first stop on their 1966 American tour, taking a bow on stage after their performance, which appears to have drawn a full house.

 
August 14th

Cleveland

For the third city on their concert tour, the Beatles were scheduled for one show in Cleveland, Ohio on August 14th at 7:30pm at Cleveland Stadium, then also known Lakefront Stadium or Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

AAP-Reuter wire story on Cleveland pastor who told his parishioners they would be expelled from the church if they attended Beatles concert.
AAP-Reuter wire story on Cleveland pastor who told his parishioners they would be expelled from the church if they attended Beatles concert.
However, on the day of that concert, Sunday morning, during church services at Cleveland’s New Haven Baptist Church, Rev. Thurmann H. Babbs warned his parishioners that if they attended the Beatles concert that evening he would expel them from the congregation – and he backed up his warning by reading passages from the third book of Daniel. The previous evening, Rev. Babbs had told reporters that he felt it was time for Christians to speak out against John Lennon’s remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

Yet, the very same day came a report from Rome that the Vatican paper of record, L’Osservatore Romano, had accepted Lennon’s public apology, noting in its editorial that Lennon’s remark was made “offhandedly and not impiously.” Though adding: “This is a sign that some subjects must not be dealt with lightly, in a profane way, even in the world of beatniks.” But the Vatican also noted: “It cannot be denied that there is some foundation to the latest observations of John Lennon about atheism or the distraction of many people.”

In Cleveland, meanwhile, it is not known how many members of Rev. Babbs’ congregation did not attended the Beatles concert, but there were some 20,000 or so fans in Cleveland who did go to that concert.

In fact, during that show, about 3,000 of the more enthusiastic fans in Cleveland broke through a four-foot security fence around the stage area just as the Beatles played “Day Tripper.” The police were overwhelmed, and stood back as fans ran over the stage and surrounding grassy area. The Beatles sought refuge in their caravan/trailer dressing room behind the stage. The concert was halted for about 30 minutes until police reinforcements arrived to restore order. Still, as reported by Beatles media manager, Tony Barrow, at the end of that show some fans tried stealing Beatles instruments from the stage as souvenirs.

 
August 15th

Washington, D.C.

On Monday, August 15th, 1966, in Washington, D.C., the Beatles performed one show at 8:00 p.m. at the DC Stadium (later named RFK Stadium). The stadium was then used by the Washington Senators professional baseball team. Prior to the concert, the Beatles held a press conference in the Senators’ locker room, where more than 50 reporters and TV camera crews had assembled. One reporter there suggested the Beatles were using the “more-popular-than-Jesus” flap as a publicity stunt to increase ticket sales. In response, Lennon, no doubt incensed by the reporter’s remark, said it was one of the “most stupid versions” he had heard yet of his controversial remark, adding the incident was “not a publicity stunt…We don’t need that publicity; not like that.”

Washington., D.C., August 15, 1966: Beatles press conference in Washington Senators’ baseball locker room, prior to show.
Washington., D.C., August 15, 1966: Beatles press conference in Washington Senators’ baseball locker room, prior to show.

Outside D.C. Stadium, five members of the Prince George’s County Ku Klux Klan, dressed in red, white and green robes, and led by the Imperial Grand Wizard of the Maryland clan, picketed in protest of Lennon’s earlier remarks about Jesus. Still, the D.C. concert took place without incident, as the Beatles performed before 32,164 fans. “Steering steadfastly clear of amateur theology,” wrote one Associated Press account of the D.C. concert, “the Beatles resumed their American tour today, having sent thousands of the capital’s teenagers into cheering fits.” Newspaper columnist, Charles McDowell, Jr., who attended the earlier press conference and also the concert, noted the stadium reception for the Beatles was “the loudest. most blood-curdling screams these old ears had ever heard,” adding, “The Goodyear blimp was overhead, and it flinched perceptibly.”
 

Washington Post Interview
John Lennon: August 1966

In advance of the Beatles arrival in Washington D.C., Washington Post reporter Leroy Aarons did a 40-minute interview with John Lennon, then in Cleveland. Aarons came away from that interview with a sympathetic view of Lennon and his plight, having digested from Lennon what had happened to him between the time of Maureen Cleave’s interview in London through the emerging American controversy. He noted, for example, that Lennon was reading quite a bit on religion and spiritual matters, including one book, The Passover Plot, popular at the time, which claimed that Jesus’s message had been distorted by his disciples to the point where it had become irrelevant to many in modern times.“…I believe that what people call God is some-thing in all of us…”

As Aarons explained in his piece, Lennon had a childhood of indifferent religious training, then went through a period of cynical atheism, and in more recent years, a reshuffling of his thinking given his various worldly exposures and travels. Said Lennon during the interview: “I’m more of a Christian now than I ever was… I don’t go along with organized religion and the way it has come about. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us, I believe what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong…”

Aarons found that Lennon’s views on Jesus were part of a growing process that Lennon was then going through at age 26 – “more of a groping than a finding.” And that process would continue, soon apparent in the changes coming to Beatles music as well, with lyrics and sound, reflecting social concerns, eastern mysticism, and transcendental meditation, and drug-influenced spiritualism…

On a personal level, Lennon was genuinely concerned about the reaction to his remarks. The Beatles Bonfires were especially unsettling. “….But the record burning. That was the real shock, the physical burning. I couldn’t go away knowing that I created another little piece of hate in the world.“….But the record burn-ing. That was the real shock, the physical burn-ing. I couldn’t go away knowing that I created another little piece of hate in the world….” Especially with something as uncomplicated as people listening to record and dancing and playing and enjoying what the Beatles are. Not when I could do something about it.

“If I said tomorrow I’m not going to play again, I still couldn’t live in a place with somebody hating me for something irrational… But that’s the trouble with being truthful. You try to apply truth talk, although you have to be false sometimes because the whole thing is false in a way, like a game. But you hope sometime that if you’re truthful with somebody they’ll stop all the plastic reaction and be truthful back and it’ll be worth it. But everybody is playing the game and sometimes I’m left naked and truthful with everybody biting me. It’s disappointing.”

Lennon, like other twenty-somethings of his day, searching for spiritual meaning, and was reading extensively about religion, as the Cleve article noted. He and other Beatles, like thousands of other young people at that time, were searching in various venues –eastern and western – for spiritual meaning and guidance… For Some / some ventured This became part of the psychedelic and transcendental movements… The Beatles would go to India, in fact, two years later in search of spiritual guidance.
__________________________
Source: Leroy Aarons, “‘Can’t Express Myself Very Well’, Beatle Apologizes for Remarks,” The Washington Post, August 15, 1966, p. A-1; and Leroy Aarons (Washington Post News Service), “Beatle Tells How Religion Got Into Act,” August 16, 1966.

Portion of front page of the August 17th, 1966 metro edition of The Miami News has Beatles’ Philadelphia concert story & photo appearing below Vietnam War-related headline.
Portion of front page of the August 17th, 1966 metro edition of The Miami News has Beatles’ Philadelphia concert story & photo appearing below Vietnam War-related headline.
Portion of front page from Aug 13th Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA) noting Beatle’s earlier concert in Chicago (left column), amid other news on Vietnam (McNamara headline) and lower on page, civil rights march and “racial rampage” stories .
Portion of front page from Aug 13th Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA) noting Beatle’s earlier concert in Chicago (left column), amid other news on Vietnam (McNamara headline) and lower on page, civil rights march and “racial rampage” stories .
Texas newspaper, ‘The Victoria Advocate’ of August 12th, 1966, features ‘Beatles Bonfire” photo on its front page, but also a dominant LBJ/Vietnam War headline, and lower on page, story headline about race-related rioting in Chicago.
Texas newspaper, ‘The Victoria Advocate’ of August 12th, 1966, features ‘Beatles Bonfire” photo on its front page, but also a dominant LBJ/Vietnam War headline, and lower on page, story headline about race-related rioting in Chicago.

August 16th

Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, the Beatles performed one evening show on Tuesday, August 16th 1966, at the John F. Kennedy Stadium, before an audience of 20,000, which was about a third of that venue’s capacity.

An Associated Press story that ran in The Reading Eagle of Reading, PA, used the headline, “Philadelphia Fans Enthusiastic; 20,000 Cheer The Beatles at Stadium.” As in other tour cities, the reporting on the Philly concert in this story also noted the Christianity issue:

Beatle John Lennon’s remarks about Christianity and his subsequent apology apparently haven’t dampened the enthusiasm of the quartet’s fans, their cheers indicated last night.

And a sampling of fans, most of whom said they weren’t offended by his first remarks, stood up for this right to speak his mind about the popularity of Christianity and rock n roll music.

“The church isn’t doing its job – that’s what he meant when he said it,” said Eninise Sevellia, 14, a Philadelphia high school student. “If the church was doing its job, rock `n roll wouldn’t be more popular than religion.”

 
…In the News

The Beatles, of course, were not the only news of the day, as larger issues loomed for the nation and the world. In fact, while reporting on the Beatles’ tour during August 1966 often appeared on the front pages of American newspapers, and those around the world, there were also more dire news reports on those front pages – notably headlines about the Vietnam war or racial strife in American cities, as American involvement in the war and civil rights issues were both pressing issues of the day.

In The Miami News of August 17, 1966, for example, a front-page story appeared on the Beatles in Philadelphia with a photo of two female Beatles fans and front-page headline noting: “Teens Still Love Beatles: They’re Big in Philly.” But the big lead headline in that Miami News edition that day was about a military jet in Vietnam slamming into a Vietnamese village.

At the Beatles earlier shows on the tour as well, newspapers had Beatles stories on front pages that also carried news about Vietnam War related issues, civil rights marches, and/or racial strife.

The front page of the August 13th, 1966 Desert Sun of Palm Springs, CA, for example (above right), noted the Beatles’ earlier August 12th concert in Chicago (left news column), amid related news on Vietnam War (McNamara headline) and a Civil Rights march (lower on page).

In Texas, The Victoria Advocate featured a photograph of a Beatles Bonfires on a front page but also had a major Vietnam headline, and lower on the page, a story about Chicago racial strife – “Chicago Rioting Continue as Police Battle in Park.”

 
August 17th

Toronto

Back on the Beatles tour, meanwhile, on Wednesday, August 17th – one day after their show in Philly – the Beatles were scheduled to performed two shows at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada. The first show took place at 4 pm and was seen by 15,000 people and the second began at 8 pm and was attended by 17,000.

During a press conference between the two shows, the Beatles created a bit more controversy by appearing to side with American “draft dodgers” who moved to Canada rather than be drafted into the U.S. military to fight in the Vietnam War. Harrison noted, for example: “‘Thou shalt not kill’ means that – not amend section A… We all just don’t agree with war for any reason whatsoever. …People have a right not to go into the army.” There were also questions about Christianity, to which Lennon replied that he recommended “the basic idea” of Christianity to young people, and Harrison added, “there are lots of things right about Christianity, but people don’t follow it.”

One columnist for The Toronto Star, Robert Fulford, writing in an August 17th column, that Lennon was in good company raising the issue of youth’s declining interest in Christianity, as some “substantial portion of the ordained clergyman of the English-speaking world” had been saying much the same thing for years. Fulford also noted that newspapers – always looking for controversy “to fill that otherwise white space” – were having a field day hyping Lennon’s remarks and fanning the reaction that followed. There was also a spate of letters-to-the-editor at The Toronto Star on Lennon and The Beatles that appeared the day before their concert, some defending Lennon’s right to his own opinion or calling his remarks “thought-provoking.”

 
August 18th

Boston

In Boston, on Thursday, August 18th, 1966, their seventh stop, the Beatles played one show at Suffolk Downs, a horse race track. That concert began at 8 pm, and went off without incident, save a few fans who tried reaching the performers on stage. Among the 25,000 attending the Boston show were 13 year-old Joseph and 15 year-old Kathleen Kennedy, teen children of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, along with 33 other friends and Kennedy family members who had driven up from Hyannis Port, Massachusetts for the show. According to The Boston Globe, the Kennedy group had a block of seats in the front section of the venue.

On August 18, 1966 the Beatles performed one show in Boston, MA at the Suffolk Downs Racetrack, as this photo shows the Beatles performing, far right, on a make-shift stage set up on the race track turf, facing the grandstand audience.
On August 18, 1966 the Beatles performed one show in Boston, MA at the Suffolk Downs Racetrack, as this photo shows the Beatles performing, far right, on a make-shift stage set up on the race track turf, facing the grandstand audience.

 
August 19th

Memphis

The most southern of the venues for the Beatles’ 1966 American tour was the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee, where they were slated to perform two shows on Friday, August 19th, at 4:00 and 8:30 p.m. When Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remarks had first broke, the mayor of Memphis, William Ingram, sought to have them banned from performing in the city. He asked the city council to request that the Beatles withdraw from their performance contract, which the Beatles would not do. Instead, the mayor and board of commissioners adopted a unanimous resolution on August 10th to express “official disapproval,” and “advise the Beatles that they were not welcome in the City of Memphis.” Brian Epstein, meanwhile, tried to quell their concerns with a telegram to Mayor William Ingram that read: “I wish to assure yourself, the people of Memphis and the Mid-South, that the Beatles will not, by word, action or otherwise in any way offend or ridicule the religious beliefs of anyone… Furthermore, John Lennon deeply and sincerely regrets any offense he many have caused.” The Beatles had also considered at one point that they might arrange for a recording session at the famous Stax music studios in Memphis, but that deal was never completed.

August 2006 story by John Bifuss for ‘The Commercial Appeal’ newspaper of Memphis 40 years after the Beatles visit recalls “the icy reception” they received from city fathers.
August 2006 story by John Bifuss for ‘The Commercial Appeal’ newspaper of Memphis 40 years after the Beatles visit recalls “the icy reception” they received from city fathers.

At the time of the August 18th concerts in Memphis, however, the anti-Beatles sentiment over Lennon’s remarks was still strong in the area. A local preacher, the Reverend Jimmy Stroad, staged a rally outside the Coliseum. There were also six members of the Ku Klux Klan who picketed the venue wearing full robes. Just before their first show in Memphis, the Beatles received an anonymous phone call warning them that at least one of them would be shot on stage, and a bomb scare caused an hour delay in the first show while authorities checked the facility. Still, the Beatles proceeded with their performances. Midway through the evening show, however, a lit cherry bomb was thrown on stage, frightening them, each thinking one of them had been shot. This incident, among others, was one of those contributing to the Beatles rethinking their career plans, and live touring in particular.

August 1966: Paul McCartney walking toward an  infield stage at Crosley Field, Cincinnati, Ohio.
August 1966: Paul McCartney walking toward an infield stage at Crosley Field, Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Mid-South Coliseum would normally accommodate 13,300 people, and the Beatles drew 7,589 for the 4 pm show and 12,539, for the evening show. Across town that evening, a group of ministers held a youth rally and a Beatles protest gathering that drew some 8,000 attendees, prompting some news outlets to report that the Beatles outdrew the Christian protest. One 17 year old female fan at the concert, wearing buttons that read “I still love you Beatles,” told a UPI reporter, “I love Jesus, but I love those Beatles, too.”

 
August 20th-21st

Cincinnati

The next city on the tour was Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Beatles were scheduled to do a Saturday concert on August 20th, 1966 at Crosley Field, a baseball stadium. As the show progressed, the warm-up and opening acts that had been traveling with the Beatles, and performing at every stop as well, included: the popular 1960s girl group, The Ronettes; a Boston garage band, The Remains; the pop group, Cyrkle (“Red Rubber Ball” hit), and Nashville R& B singer Bobby Hebb (“Sunny” hit). Each of these performers in Cincinnati managed to get their acts in before a rain storm there became worse. At that point, the Beatles were advised that touching any of the stage’s rain-soaked electrical equipment could be lethal, so Brian Epstein had no option but to call off the concert. However, it was announced to the audience that the Beatles would perform their portion of the show the following day, Sunday, August 21st at noon – although later that same day the Beatles were scheduled to perform an evening show in St. Louis. “We had to get up early and get on and play the [Cincinnati] concert at midday,” George Harrison would later recall in Anthology (published in 2000), “then take all the gear apart and go to the airport, fly to St Louis, set up and play the gig originally planned for that day. In those days all we had were three amps, three guitars, and a set of drums. Imagine trying to do it now!”

August 20, 1966: Ren Grevatt's column, for UK's ‘Melody Maker’ magazine, was also reporting that Beatles music was receiving air play.
August 20, 1966: Ren Grevatt's column, for UK's ‘Melody Maker’ magazine, was also reporting that Beatles music was receiving air play.

 
Better News

Meanwhile, by August 20, Billboard magazine was reporting that a number of Hot 100 “powerhouse” radio stations – those in big markets – were not involved in any Beatles boycotts, and in fact, were playing Beatles music as part of their regular programming. Among these stations were: KIMN in Denver; KLIF in Dallas, Texas; KDWB in Minneapolis; EFUN in Miami; WDKO in Louisville; KDKA in Pittsburgh; WCBG in Chambersburg, PA; WPRO in Providence, Rhode Island; and EMCA in New York. The Chambersburg, Pennsylvania station, in fact, aired an editorial supporting the Beatles. And according to Capitol Records, Southern stations were also among those playing Beatles music, including WMPS in Memphis; WAPF in Jacksonville, Florida; WVOK in Birmingham, Alabama; WBAM in Montgomery, Alabama; and WFLI in Chattanooga.

Radio program directors, Billboard noted, were in no hurry to ditch Beatles music. “For a program director to say ‘I’m not going to play the Beatles’ is tantamount to committing rating suicide,” said Ted Atkins of KIMN in Denver. “When the story first broke,” Atkins said, “we conducted a two-hour poll during a radio show and found 900 listeners were for the Beatles, while only 200 were against playing the [Beatles] record. We had a couple of heated comments, but nothing serious…”

 
August 21st

St. Louis

The Beatles’ St Louis concert had been expected to sell out in the brand new, three-month old Busch Stadium. But ticket sales had slowed there when Lennon’s comments about Christianity first broke, although picked up again as the controversy cooled. Still, before the concert began, some 85 people from two Baptist churches distributed 20,000 pamphlets on the Lennon statement. The Rev. Bob Wright of the First Baptist Church in Ferguson said his membership tried to take a positive approach, as the pamphlets acknowledged there was an element of truth to what Lennon had said, but that popularity was fickle, and that those who once praised Christ were also those who later demanded his crucifixion. The Christian pamphleteers, however, were not always well received by many of the St. Louis concert goers.

John Lennon shown performing during the rain storm at the Beatles' St. Louis concert, August 21, 1966.
John Lennon shown performing during the rain storm at the Beatles' St. Louis concert, August 21, 1966.
There were 23,143 fans who attended, and neither rain nor religious controversy appeared to dampen their enthusiasm. The Beatles and the other acts played in the rain, under a makeshift shelter. Busch Stadium then also had a brand new public address audio system with 200 speakers, but the echo effect in the stadium made the listening experience something less than stellar. It was at this concert when Paul McCartney became convinced that The Beatles should cease touring, as he later recalled in Anthology:

…It rained quite heavily, and they put bits of corrugated iron over the stage, so it felt like the worst little gig we’d ever played at, even before we’d started as a band. We were having to worry about the rain getting in the amps and this took us right back to the Cavern days – it was worse than those early days. And I don’t even think the house was full.

After the gig I remember us getting in a big, empty steel-lined wagon, like a removal van. There was no furniture in there – nothing. We were sliding around trying to hold on to something, and at that moment everyone said, ‘Oh, this bloody touring… I’ve had it up to here, man.’

I finally agreed. I’d been trying to say, ‘Ah, touring’s good and it keeps us sharp. We need touring, and musicians need to play. Keep music live.’ I had held on that attitude when there were doubts, but finally I agreed with them.

George and John were the ones most against touring; they got particularly fed up. So we agreed to say nothing, but never to tour again. We thought we’d get into recording…

…But now even America was beginning to pall because of the conditions of touring and because we’d done it so many times.

 
August 22-23

New York

After the St. Louis concert, the Beatles took a night flight to their next stop, New York city, arriving there in the wee hours of August 22nd, at 3:50 a.m. They lodged at the Warwick Hotel, where they gave a press conference the following day (and also a junior press conference for teens). At the main press conference, John and George came out against the war in Vietnam, and war in general, and John was reluctant to answer any more questions on his Christianity remarks, feeling played out on the subject, with nothing new to say. Some concern arose when two teenage girls, who walked out on to a 21st story building ledge of the nearby Americana Hotel, threatened to jump unless they met the Beatles. The two were rescued by New York police.

August 22, 1966: New York city police rescue two teenage girls on the 21st story of the Americana Hotel who threatened to jump 'unless we get to see the Beatles,' who were in the Warwick Hotel, a block away.  AP wire photo.
August 22, 1966: New York city police rescue two teenage girls on the 21st story of the Americana Hotel who threatened to jump 'unless we get to see the Beatles,' who were in the Warwick Hotel, a block away. AP wire photo.

The following day, on August 23rd, the Beatles did their show at Shea Stadium, which a year earlier was among their biggest and most successful venues. This time, however, their August 23rd show did not sell out, with 11,000 of the 55,600 tickets still available. Still, the Beatles made more money from this appearance than they did their previous Shea concert, receiving $189,000 – which was a 65 per cent cut of the $292,000 gross. Some of those traveling with Beatles, such as Judith Sims, editor of TeenSet magazine, thought the New York concert was one of the most exciting of the 1966 tour. During the performance hundreds of fans broke through barriers at one point and attempted to reach the stage. They were held back by security guards and none managed to reach The Beatles. Following the New York show, the Beatles flew to Los Angeles where they rented a home on Curson Terrace in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles to use as a West Coast base and a more amenable non-hotel retreat, as they finished up their last three show dates scheduled for Seattle, L.A., and San Francisco.

 
August 25th

Seattle

Special souvenir Beatles edition of the 'Seattle Post-Intelligencer' newspaper for the Beatles' August 25th, 1966 concerts in Seattle, Washington.
Special souvenir Beatles edition of the 'Seattle Post-Intelligencer' newspaper for the Beatles' August 25th, 1966 concerts in Seattle, Washington.
On August 25th, 1966, departing from their adopted temporary base in Los Angeles, the Beatles took a chartered flight to Seattle for their two scheduled shows at the Seattle Center Coliseum. They also held a press conference in Seattle prior to the first show, as they had at other tour stops. In Seattle, meanwhile, a special issue of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper had been prepared for the Beatles’ visit, shown at right. And in the front-page section entitled, “Beatlemania Returns to Puget Sound Area,” the editors noted that the Beatles “appear to be as hot as ever,” despite the remarks by Lennon on Jesus and Christianity. In further explanation, the editors added:

…Lennon, who made an offhand comparison of the Beatles with Jesus, said he was misunderstood. It now appears that his millions of teen-age fans all over the world are agreeing with him, for they are buying tickets and records as in the peak year of the Beatles’ popularity.

As a result, Lennon’s remarks are now being studied in a new light. By pinpointing the fact that worship and church attendance have fallen off everywhere in the world, the performer shocked millions of persons into recognizing the alarming status of international morality.

At any rate, there can be no doubt the Beatles are making a comeback…

Still, in protest over Lennon’s earlier remarks a small group of pickets set up outside the Seattle Coliseum bearing hand-lettered signs with Biblical and other phrases, such as “Beware of False Prophets,” “Christ first, Beatles last,” and, “Teenagers who support the Beatles continue to crucify Christ.” One of the pickets handing out leaflets noted: “We are protesting against the atheistic, anti-Christ Beatles. It’s a sad day for America when we fall for this. It’s straight out of the pits of Hell.”

Ticket for the Beatles Thursday, August 25th, 1966 concert at the Seattle City Center Coliseum, 3 pm.
Ticket for the Beatles Thursday, August 25th, 1966 concert at the Seattle City Center Coliseum, 3 pm.
In addition, as the Beatles’ evening show ran, the Reverend Thomas Miller, Pastor of the Calvary Bible Presbyterian Church, arranged for a concert of sacred music in the Rainier Room at the Coliseum, at which some 250 attended. Yet earlier that day, each of the Beatles had been presented with official certificates designating them honorary citizens of the state of Washington.

For the Beatles’ first Seattle show at 3 pm, about half of the Coliseum was filled – roughly, 8,200 seats in a 15,000-seat arena. The evening show, however, was a sell-out with the gross gate for both shows reported at $118,071 (nearly $900,000 in today’s money) – then “the biggest single day’s gross ever in (Seattle’s) entertainment history,” according to Zollie M. Volchok, for the sponsoring agent. Of that amount, the Beatles received some $73,717.81 for the two shows (about $560,000 in today’s money). Following the evening show that night, the Beatles and their supporting acts flew back to Los Angeles.

 
August 24th-28th

Los Angeles

August 24th, 1966: Beatles at the Capitol Records Tower Building in Los Angeles, for press conference and to receive Gold Record award.
August 24th, 1966: Beatles at the Capitol Records Tower Building in Los Angeles, for press conference and to receive Gold Record award.
In Los Angeles, the Beatles stay had two parts. On the 24th of August, 1966, ahead of their Seattle show date, the Beatles had some time to themselves, but also held a press conference that day at the Capitol Records Tower building in Los Angeles. During the press conference, they were asked again about Lennon’s “more-popular-than-Jesus” remarks, which Lennon, now tired of explaining himself, begged off once more, saying he’d tried clarifying it “about 800 times, you know.” They were also asked if the controversy had hurt of helped their careers, to which Paul replied: “It hasn’t helped or hindered it, I don’t think. I think most sensible people took it for what it was… and it was only the bigots that took it up,” thinking it was something they might “get the Beatles” on, trying to cast John as arrogant in the process. And that once people read it, “they saw that there was nothing wrong with it really.” Meanwhile, at the Capitol Records building following the press conference, the Beatles were also awarded Gold records by Capitol and RIAA for their latest album, Revolver.

August 28th, 1966: The venue at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where the Beatles and their opening acts appeared on a temporary stage constructed just behind second base on the edge of center field, then typical of early stadium set ups, which many performers felt as remote from their audience.
August 28th, 1966: The venue at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where the Beatles and their opening acts appeared on a temporary stage constructed just behind second base on the edge of center field, then typical of early stadium set ups, which many performers felt as remote from their audience.

On the second part of their L.A. stay, after their Seattle show, the Beatles had some time off prior to their August 28th show at Dodger Stadium. They used the time to relax at their rented home with swimming pool in the Hollywood Hills, and also to visit with other musicians who lived and worked in the L.A. area. Among those that one or more of the Beatles met with informally at various homes and other locations during this time (along with Barry Tashian of the Remains on some visits), were: Brian and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys; David Crosby, then with the Byrds; Cass Elliott, Michelle Phillips, and Denny Doherty of The Mamas & The Papas; photographer Barry Feinstein and his wife, Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul & Mary; Jim McGuinn (known as Roger McGuinn, then with Byrds); Peter Tork of The Monkees, and others. A number of these artists that year, had or would have, top charting hits of their own, including, for example: “Eight Miles High by the Bryds”(No. 14, April-May); “Monday, Monday” by The Mammas & The Papas (No. 1, May-June); “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys (No. 8, Aug-Sept ); and, “Last Train to Clarksville,” by The Monkees (No.1, Oct ).

August 28th, 1966: The Beatles performing at Dodger Stadium, from left: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon. Not shown, drummer Ringo Starr, set up behind the three frontmen, outside of the photo's right frame.
August 28th, 1966: The Beatles performing at Dodger Stadium, from left: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon. Not shown, drummer Ringo Starr, set up behind the three frontmen, outside of the photo's right frame.

On Sunday evening, August 28th, the Beatles performed before an audience of 45,000 in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, with their stage set up behind second base on the edge of center field, the typical set up for stadium venues on the tour. After their performance, however, the Beatles had some difficulty escaping enthusiastic fans, as their ground transportation was waylaid by hundreds of fans who blocked their exit in a first vehicle. Flattened tires on a second armored vehicle brought further delay and a retreat back into some inner stadium rooms before they again departed. They were even pursued into the Hollywood Hills by some fans before making it back their rented home safely with the help of police. Bob Eubanks, the promoter of the L.A. show and well known TV game host, would later recall the Beatles as being far more jaded in 1966 than they were in 1964 and 1965 when they played the Hollywood Bowl. “It was much different because the band was different,” Eubanks told a Los Angeles Times reporter. “I believe they were tired of it all. They were different people in ’66.”

 
August 29th

San Francisco

San Francisco was the last stop for the Beatles’ 1966 American tour – and as it turned out, it would also be the last time they would ever appear publicly in a live concert format. Few of their adoring fans knew that at the time, but the Beatles certainly did, and they were happy to be at the end of their 1966 tour. Back stage, before the show began, there were some visits from American musicians – Joan Baez, her sister, and a teen neighbor visited with George and Ringo briefly.

August 29th, 1966: Pickets from Sunnyvale, CA outside Candlestick Park protest John Lennon's "more-popular-than-Jesus" remark. These demonstrators were seen by some concert goers, but missed by the Beatles, who used a different entrance. AP photo.
August 29th, 1966: Pickets from Sunnyvale, CA outside Candlestick Park protest John Lennon's "more-popular-than-Jesus" remark. These demonstrators were seen by some concert goers, but missed by the Beatles, who used a different entrance. AP photo.

Yet, in San Francisco, as at other tour locations, there were also pickets protesting the much-publicized Lennon statements about Jesus and Christianity. However, inside the venue, one fan offered a cheeky home-made sign hung over the stadium railing that read, “Lennon Saves.”

In San Francisco, the Beatles and their opening acts were again playing in a baseball stadium set up, this time Candlestick Park, home of baseball’s San Francisco Giants, a stadium known for its sometimes finicky and chilly winds. The stage, once again, as in the other stadiums, would be set up behind second base, well away from fans, and surrounded by fencing.

Some Beatles fans inside Candlestick Park offered home-made signs of cheeky support for John Lennon, like this one.
Some Beatles fans inside Candlestick Park offered home-made signs of cheeky support for John Lennon, like this one.
Barry Tashian, with The Remains, one of the opening acts on the tour, would recall later: “…on stage, a wild sea wind was blowing in every direction. There was a double fence around the stage. The only entrance was behind the drums. The audience was about 200 feet away–much farther than usual. It made us feel extremely isolated… But it was the last show, and we were determined to have a good time. All the acts did a great job to wind up the tour on a high note…”

At Candlestick, the Beatles played their 30-minute set of tunes – “Rock and Roll Music,” “She’s A Woman,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Day Tripper,” “Baby’s In Black,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Long Tall Sally.” Their share of the gate that night was about $95,000 (roughly $725,000 today). For the entire tour – 19 shows in 14 cities – they would make something in the vicinity of $4 million ($30 million today). At the end of the San Francisco show that night, the Beatles and their opening acts flew back to Los Angeles, and the following day, August 30th, the Beatles flew home to England. It would prove to be the end of an era for them, and in many ways also, a beginning for more sophisticated rock music and better quality rock concerts.

 
Jesus Controvery

Little Impact

As for the Jesus controversy that had dogged the Beatles from late July 1966 throughout their August tour – with Beatle bonfires, radio station protests, threatening messages, endless questions from the press, some picketing, etc – the uproar did not really have a “material effect” on the Beatles fan base or their business. True, their popularity may have been temporarily dented and their activities more closely examined. And there were a couple dozen or more radio stations that did boycott Beatles music for a time. Yet it appears they were the exception, as most U.S. radio stations ignored the boycott, while those who did boycott, later returned to playing Beatles music. And yes, attendance was down in a few of the concert venues on the 14-city tour that August – but overall, the Beatles still appear to have drawn record numbers at these concerts for the most part. Nor did their record sales appear to be noticeably affected.

“Eleanor Rigby” sheet music cover. Click for separate story on “Eleanor Rigby” song, a Beatles hit in 1966.
“Eleanor Rigby” sheet music cover. Click for separate story on “Eleanor Rigby” song, a Beatles hit in 1966.
In fact, while they were on tour, their single, “Yellow Submarine”/“Eleanor Rigby,” released on August 5th, was being played regularly by many Top 40 American radio stations and became the No. 1 hit in the U.K. within a week. By the end of the month, this single would also hit No. 1 in the Los Angeles market and reach No. 11 nationally, on the Billboard Hot 100. (However, there were also reports that Capitol Records was wary of religious references in “Eleanor Rigby,” given the Jesus controversy, and favored “Yellow Submarine” in some of its marketing and promotion).

The studio album, meanwhile, Revolver – which was released on August 5th in the U. K. and August 8th in the U. S., at the very outset of the Jesus controversy – also managed to scale the pop charts. Revolver sales, in fact, would reach $1 million in the first two weeks, with the album hitting No. 1 on the American charts by September 10th and remaining there for six weeks.

The Jesus controversy, meanwhile, would still sprout up on occasion in subsequent years, and there would also be some enterprising research analysts and graphics artists who set out to investigate whether, in fact, the Beatles really were more popular than Jesus (one suggested they were not, for example, with Bibles sold outdoing Beatles albums sold).

 
Tour Captives

Repressed Musicians

What did happen on the 1966 American tour, however, was that the Beatles came to a consensus among themselves that they were finished with touring – and the “Jesus reaction” that had occurred on that tour was only one factor contributing to that conclusion. Earlier that year, also on tour, they’d had some rough moments in Germany and in the Philippines. They were also fed up with the Beatlemania scene; the screaming fans even prevented them from hearing their own music on stage in order to stay in sync with each another. And the general chaos and mob scenes surrounding their visits and security concerns had made them virtual prisoners on tour. Ringo Starr would later comment that the chaos had gone on “24 hours a day without a break. Press, people fighting to get into your hotel room, climbing 25 stories up drain pipes. If it had carried on, I would have gone insane.”

A photographer's film contact sheet showing a series of headshots of the Beatles as they were performing at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, August 1966 – from left: Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.
A photographer's film contact sheet showing a series of headshots of the Beatles as they were performing at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, August 1966 – from left: Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.

But the central problem for the Beatles on tour was what the craziness was doing to their advancement as musicians. They had been trapped by Beatlemania; for three years playing essentially the same music. And on tour, especially in stadiums, the sound quality of what they did play — when any sound could be heard — wasn’t very good. They weren’t happy with that, of course. Having worked in the studio, discovering news ways to produce more sophisticated music – like that on Revolver – they wanted more of that and more advancement for themselves as musicians. In fact, the Beatles had actually begun a new phase of their careers in late 1965 – before they began the 1966 tour – with their Rubber Soul studio album (released December 1965). But as they were breaking new ground in the recording studio, on the road they were playing the same old hits at teenage rock shows, and that was holding them back. So for them, touring was over and done with. They would now turn their energy and talents toward the recording studio, and along with their producer, George Martin and his engineers, the Beatles would become a powerhouse of studio production and innovation.
 
1967-1970

Studio Tour de Force

From the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” album, May 1967.
From the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” album, May 1967.
During the next four years — 1967-1970 — the Beatles would do some of their best work, turning out a stunning array of high quality and musically complex albums that would top the charts and have a significant influence on the composition and quality of popular music for years to come. Among their albums in that period would be: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 1967), Magical Mystery Tour (Nov 1967), The White Album (Nov 1968), Yellow Submarine (Jan 1969), Abbey Road (Sept 1969), and Let it Be (May 1970), all of which were No. 1 in the U.S. with the exception of Yellow Submarine (No. 2)

Additional history on the Beatles at this website can be found at the “Beatles History” topics page, which includes more than a dozen story choices on Beatles music, song histories, and Beatles’ biography. See also the “Annals of Music” page for additional 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

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Date Posted: 11 October 2017
Last Update: 11 October 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Burn The Beatles, 1966: Bigger Than Jesus?,”
PopHistoryDig.com, October 11, 2017.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

August 1966: Beatles material aflame in a bonfire of protest following John Lennon's "more-popular-than-Jesus" remarks.
August 1966: Beatles material aflame in a bonfire of protest following John Lennon's "more-popular-than-Jesus" remarks.
August 20, 1966: UPI story from Pittsburgh Post Gazette suggesting Beatle critics could have been more Christian.
August 20, 1966: UPI story from Pittsburgh Post Gazette suggesting Beatle critics could have been more Christian.
August 11th, 1966: Beatle George Harrison quizzed by reporter on tarmac at Boston’s Logan Airport as Beatles made connecting flight to Chicago to begin their American concert tour.
August 11th, 1966: Beatle George Harrison quizzed by reporter on tarmac at Boston’s Logan Airport as Beatles made connecting flight to Chicago to begin their American concert tour.
August 12th, 1966 AP story appearing in The Miami News (FL) on John Lennon’s apology at Chicago press conference.
August 12th, 1966 AP story appearing in The Miami News (FL) on John Lennon’s apology at Chicago press conference.
Ticket for Beatles' concert at Washington, D.C., Aug 15th, 1966.
Ticket for Beatles' concert at Washington, D.C., Aug 15th, 1966.
August 21st, 1966. Paul McCartney and John Lennon per-forming at rescheduled Crosley Field concert, Cincinnati.
August 21st, 1966. Paul McCartney and John Lennon per-forming at rescheduled Crosley Field concert, Cincinnati.
Ticket for Beatles' August 1966 concert, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Ticket for Beatles' August 1966 concert, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Portion of the crowd that turned out for the Beatles' August 23rd, 1966 concert at New York's Shea Stadium.
Portion of the crowd that turned out for the Beatles' August 23rd, 1966 concert at New York's Shea Stadium.
Poster image advertising  Beatles’ August 29th, 1966 concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Poster image advertising Beatles’ August 29th, 1966 concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Aug 29th, 1966: Joan Baez, center, with sister Mimi Farina, backstage at Candlestick Park; George Harrison in foreground. Baez also brought along 10 year-old neighbor, Naomi Marcus, to meet the Beatles.
Aug 29th, 1966: Joan Baez, center, with sister Mimi Farina, backstage at Candlestick Park; George Harrison in foreground. Baez also brought along 10 year-old neighbor, Naomi Marcus, to meet the Beatles.
Ticket for the Beatles' August 29th, 1966 concert in San Francisco at Candlestick Park.
Ticket for the Beatles' August 29th, 1966 concert in San Francisco at Candlestick Park.
August 29th, 1966: Paul McCartney and George Harrison performing at Candlestick Park in what would be the last time the Beatles would perform together in a public concert.
August 29th, 1966: Paul McCartney and George Harrison performing at Candlestick Park in what would be the last time the Beatles would perform together in a public concert.

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“Beatles Planned No Religious Dispute,” The Seattle Times, August 26, 1959, p. 59.

UPI (Los Angeles), “Screaming Teenagers Storm Beatles Car,” The Desert Sun (CA), August 29th 1966.

AP, “Beatles’ Closing Concert On Coast Attracts 25,000,” New York Times, August 31, 1966.

Leonard Gross (European Editor), “Beatle on His Own,” Look, December 13, 1966.

“More Popular Than Jesus,” Wikipedia.org.

“Beatles in the News,” blogspot.com.

John C. Stoskopf, “The Beatles 1966 International Tour (Part 2 of 2),” Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Barry Tashian, Ticket to Ride: The Extraordinary Diary of The Beatles’ Last Tour, August 1996, Dowling Press, 142pp (Tashain toured with the Beatles as a member of The Remains).

“Friday, March 4, 1966: ‘We’re More Popular Than Jesus Now’,” The60sat50.Blogspot.com.

Robert Fontenot, “…And Now It’s All This: Frequently Asked Questions About the Beatles’ ‘Bigger Than Jesus’ Controversy,” About.com, Updated March 3, 2015.

Robert Fontenot, “The Beatles Backlash: Jesus, War, and Raw Meat: A Timeline of the Beatles in 1966,” About.com.

Vince Kowalick, “25 Years Later: Recalling The Beatles’ Last Stand,” Los Angeles Daily News, September 3, 1991.

Harry Sunrall (San Francisco), “Beatles’ Last Show A Hard Day’s Night,” The Canberra Times (Australia), September 1st, 1991.

David Willey, “Vatican ‘Forgives’ John Lennon,” BBC News (Rome), November 22nd, 2008.

Mark J. Price “Local History: Akron Radio Station’s 1966 Beatles Ban Recalled,” Ohio.com (Akron Beacon Journal), August 1st, 2011.

Chris Erskine, “In 1966, the Beatles Brought a Whole New Ballgame to Dodger Stadium,” Los Angeles Times, August 26th, 2011.

Brian Ward, “The ‘C’ is for Christ: Arthur Unger, Datebook Magazine and the Beatles,” Popular Music and Society, August 1st, 2012, pp. 541-560.

Mark Murrmann, “Burn Your Beatles Records!,” Mother Jones, August 12th, 2014.

Jordan Runtagh, “When John Lennon’s ‘More Popular Than Jesus’ Controversy Turned Ugly; How an Offhand Remark Led to Protests, Death Threats and the End of the Beatles’ Touring Career,” Rolling Stone, July 29, 2016.

“Revolver, Jesus and the Beatles – August of ’66,” 1966myfavoriteyear.blogspot.com, Fri-day, August 5, 2016.

Jeff Suess, “The Beatles, When They Played Crosley Field,” Cincinnati.com, August 19, 2016.

“A Look Back at the Fab Four’s U.S. Tours,” The Orange County Register (California), September 16, 2016.
________________________________________








“Pop Music, 1950s”
Artists, Songs, Bios

Sultry Saxophone

“Harlem Nocturne”

1939-1980s

The Viscounts’ 1959
sax-powered instrumental
gave old tune new life.

No.1 R&B Hit

“Love is Strange”

1956-2007

Mickey & Sylvia’s hit song
has 1987 pop encore
in “Dirty Dancing” film.

1950s R&B Rocker

“Fats Domino”

1950s-2000s

“Boogie-woogie” pianist
helps invent rock `n roll;
becomes nat’l sensation.

Rock `n Roll Rising

“Rock Around The Clock”

Bill Haley: 1951-1981

Bill Haley & Comets
become major force in
1950s rock `n roll.

Late ’50s Beginnings

“1960s Girl Groups”

1958-1966

The innocent & upbeat
“girl group” sound began
in the late `50s.

1950s Doo-Wop

“Dion DiMucci”

1950s-2012

Dion & Belmonts score
hits w/ “Wonder Why” and
“Teenager in Love.”

1950s TV Dance Show

“American Bandstand”

1956-2007

Dick Clark’s “American
Bandstand” brought 1950’s
music to millions via TV.

Danny & The Juniors

“At The Hop”

1957-1958

“At The Hop” got a
boost from Bandstand;
hit No.1, sold 2 million.

1950s Radio DJ

“Moondog Alan Freed”

1951-1956

He coined the term
“Rock ‘n Roll” & gave
exposure to R&B artists.

Finding His Audience

“Elvis on the Road”

1955-1956

Elvis Presley’s concert
tour, w/town-by-town
itinerary, southeast U.S.

Versatile Entertainer

“Dream Lover”

1962 & 1988

Bio of Bobby Darin,
who had six Top 40
pop hits in 1958-59.

Coal Mining Song

“Sixteen Tons”

1955-1956

Tennessee Ernie Ford’s
“sold-my-soul” song
tops the charts.

1958 Hit Song

“To Know, Know Him”

1958-2010

Phil Spector, before
the Wall of Sound,
as Teddy Bears singer.

Seattle Soft Rock

“Come Softly To Me”

1959-1963

In 1959, The Fleetwoods
scored big with two
No. 1 “soft pop” hits.

Newsreel/Commentary

“Drew Pearson on Elvis”

1956: Video

National newsman
reviews the rise of
Elvis Presley.

Music Controversy

“Elvis Riles Florida”

1955-1956

Elvis Presley’s music
& dancing on stage
brings judicial threat.

1950s Love Song

“Sea of Love”

1959

Phil Phillips wrote
this No.1 R&B hit
to woe his girlfriend.

1957’s Top Songs

“Bandstand Performers”

1957

American Bandstand
brought dozens of top
acts to national TV.

1950s Power Guitar

“Rumble Riles Censors”

1958-1959

Link Wray’s guitar song
prompts some radio
managers to ban its airing.

Enchanting Sound

“I Only Have Eyes
For You”

A 1959 remake of
an old standard has
resonance for the ages.

“See The U.S.A.”

“Dinah’s Chevy Tune”

1951-1963

Her 1950s PR anthem
for General Motors was
like a pop hit.

Popular Musicals

“The Sound of Money”

2009

Story covers music of
Rodgers & Hammerstein which
permeated 1950s & beyond.

 

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this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

Date Posted: 11 October 2017
Last Update: 17 October 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Pop Music, 1950s: Artists, Songs, Bios”
(Topics Page),PopHistoryDig.com, October 11, 2017.

_______________________________________________


 






“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

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____________________________________

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

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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.


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“The Harder They Come”

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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.


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Scotty – “Draw Your Brakes”

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“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.


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“Rivers of Babylon”

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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.


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“Many River to Cross” – Jimmy Cliff

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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.

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 the song along with a portion of the lyrics:


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“Johnny Too Bad”-The Slickers

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…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.


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“007(Shanty Town)”-Desmond Dekker

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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 ….


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“Pressure Drop” – The Maytals

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“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.


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“Sitting in Limbo”- Jimmy Cliff

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“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.


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

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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

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Date Posted: 25 June 2017
Last Update: 16 December 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

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

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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.
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“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

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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.

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Rising Star Ruffled Feathers at GM, Made Headlines with Failed Sports Car Venture and Scandals,” Automotive News, September 14, 2008.

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“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.


The 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 in 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 shows 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: Athens, 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

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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.

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“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.]

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“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.”


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“Please Don’t Leave Me” – Fats Domino

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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 and 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.


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“Ain’t That A Shame” – Fats Domino

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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 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.”


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“Blueberry Hill” – Fats Domino

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“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.)


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“Blue Monday” – Fats Domino

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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 right 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 trying to beat the fire marshal’s audience limit; and another showing whites and blacks mixing at a Domino performance.


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. 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 that Fats at that point (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.


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“Walking to New Orleans” – Fats Domino

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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. Domino’s 1956 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, Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was able to bring Fats and his band to England for the first time. In one review of the performance there, 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.


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Fats Domino – “Lady Madonna”

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Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, reviewed Domino’s album, calling it “unequivocally a fine record in all respects.” And specifically of the “Lady Madonna” track, 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, was 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

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Date Posted: 20 March 2017
Last Update: 26 October 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

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

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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

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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”

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Paul Newman & friends
jump into the political
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Music for Democrats

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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

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1966-1972

Robert F. Kennedy gave
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1964

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1972-2011

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1966-1972

A Robert F. Kennedy
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Celebrity Politics

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Pt.1: 1958-60

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

Celebrity Politics

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Pt. 2: 1961-64

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

Books By Democrats

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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
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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.


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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

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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.”


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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.

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____________________________________

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

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“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

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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.

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

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..
During the “going home” sequence, a lush panorama of scenes of natural beauty is shown accompanied by a suite of evocative classical scores that help provide a particularly moving part of the films. 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, 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.


Music Player
Classical Medley
Tchaikovsky, Beethoven & Grieg

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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.
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.

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 channel, it was revealed in background that Robinson had only told Heston, a personal friend, that his doctors had given him just weeks to live. Robinson told Heston this news shortly before the filming of Sol’s death scene, which reportedly affected Heston’s on-screen performance during that scene.

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!”


Follow The Bodies

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.

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.

Cover of a VHS edition of the 1973 film, "Soylent Green".
Cover of a VHS edition of the 1973 film, "Soylent Green".
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

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Date Posted: 16 July 2016
Last Update: 2 December 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Soylent Green: 1973,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 16th, 2016.

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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

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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.

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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.

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“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 the new dance and its variations, would teach other family members the dance steps, and would incorporate The Twist 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. But another Philadelphia label that Clark became 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 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 to learn that she involved 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.

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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 the chap who just stumbled on the dance floor was no stag-line bum, but the Vice President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Sometimes, the very best friends were asked not to come until after dinner…

— Ben Bradlee, The Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, 1995.

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…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.

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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.

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…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

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Date Posted: 20 June 2016
Last Update: 20 November 2017
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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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. The gas then went into a back-up unit, which also overflowed. That caused a geyser of gasoline to shoot into the air. Workers in the refinery reported seeing the cloud of the vaporizing fuel shoot from the tall stack. It then rolled down to ground level, enlarging into a massive vapor cloud as it moved, still being fed by the 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 would later recall hearing frantic voices calling over a hand-held 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 ignited the giant gas cloud that had been forming, touching off the horrific explosions and firestorm that followed.

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