All posts by J.D.

“Crosby, Stills & Nash”
1960s & Beyond

In late May of 1969, an album of music with some stunningly beautiful songs was issued by a group named Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was their debut album, simply titled in their last names, Crosby, Stills & Nash. The three musicians, shown below – David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills – had each played previously with other groups. Crosby, with the Byrds, played guitar, sang and wrote songs; Stills, a guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter with Buffalo Springfield; and Nash, a guitarist, singer and songwriter with The Hollies – all groups that had made hit songs and albums. But around 1968 these three singer-songwriter-musicians came together to form a new group to make new music. And what good music it was – fashioning a distinctive and beautiful sound, along with a social statement or two here and there.

Photograph of Crosby, Stills &Nash at the Big Sur Folk Festival, California, September 1969.
Photograph of Crosby, Stills &Nash at the Big Sur Folk Festival, California, September 1969.

Legend has it, that at a July 1968 party in Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles (at either Joni Mitchell or Cass Elliot’s house) Crosby, Stills and Nash tried out a new song written by Stills, “You Don’t Have To Cry,” revealing to themselves and others they had very good vocal chemistry with one another and exceptional harmony. Before long, excepting a rejection at Apple Records, they were signed by Ahmet Ertegün at Atlantic Records, and they hired David Geffen and Elliot Roberts as their management team. Their new album came out in May 1969. And with the help of progressive FM radio in those days, which served up generous portions of new albums over the air, Crosby, Stills & Nash became a wildly popular album. The boys also added to their rising standing by performing at the enormous Woodstock music festival in August 1969, where Neil Young joined the group (later becoming “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young”). Their performance at Woodstock — then the largest gathering at a rock festival to that date — helped place them among the leading troubadours of the counterculture era.

Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby, on the cover of their 1969 album that would help advance the singer-songwriter genre of music through the 1970s. Click for album & digital singles.
Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby, on the cover of their 1969 album that would help advance the singer-songwriter genre of music through the 1970s. Click for album & digital singles.
In the U.S., Crosby, Stills & Nash peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard album chart and had a 107-week stay on that chart. The album also spawned two Top 40 hits – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Marrakesh Express.”

“Marrakesh Express” was released first, in July 1969. It’s a song by Graham Nash describing a Moroccan vacation he took in 1966 by train from Casablanca to Marrakesh – a song that was turned down by Nash’s earlier group, the Hollies, as not being commercial enough. Released with “Helplessly Hoping” on the B side, another song from the CSN album, “Marrkesh…” would rise to No. 28 on the Billboard pop chart by August 23rd, 1969.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a song about Stephen Still’s former girl friend, folk singer Judy Collins. It’s the opening song on the album and was released as a single in September 1969 with “Long Time Gone” on the B side. It peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by December 6, 1969 and also rose to No. 11 in Canada. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” at No. 418 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll.”

On the success of their break-out album, Crosby, Stills and Nash won a 1970 Grammy for Best New Artist. The album would continue to be a best seller in later years, earning a RIAA triple platinum certification in 1999 and quadruple platinum certification in 2001.

In one sense, the album was ground-breaking; its music in perfect step with the times. It set a new tone and would prove to be very influential in advancing the singer-songwriter movement of that era, and helped define a kind of “California” or “soft rock” sound that rose to prominence through the 1970s with groups and solo performers such as The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and others. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Crosby Stills & Nash at No. 262 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In addition to its vinyl edition of 1969, it has been issued on compact disc three times: the mid-1980s, again in 1994, and as an expanded edition in 2006. Worldwide is has sold in excess of 6.5 million copies.

1969. The original 'Crosby, Stills & Nash' vinyl LP album was released in a gatefold-type record sleeve that included the above photo of the three musicians in large fur parkas shot against a sunset background in Big Bear, California. photo, Henry Diltz.
1969. The original 'Crosby, Stills & Nash' vinyl LP album was released in a gatefold-type record sleeve that included the above photo of the three musicians in large fur parkas shot against a sunset background in Big Bear, California. photo, Henry Diltz.

Although the album’s two pop hits, “Marrakesh Express” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” are notable and worthy songs, there are other songs on the album that are arguably better – more beautifully written and performed, more entrancing, more melodic. Among two of these, for example, are “Guinevere” and “Lady of the Island” (“Guinivere” was initially spelled with two “n’s,” later corrected).

“Guinevere”
Crosby, Stills & Nash
1969

Guinevere had green eyes
Like yours, mi’lady, like yours
When she’d walk down
Through the garden
In the morning after it rained

Peacocks wandered aimlessly
underneath an orange tree
Why can’t she see me?

Guinevere drew pentagrams
Like yours, mi’lady, like yours
Late at night
When she thought
that no one was watching at all
on the wall
She shall be free

As she turns her gaze
Down the slope
to the harbor where I lay
Anchored for a day

Guinevere had golden hair
Like yours, mi’lady, like yours
Streaming out when we’d ride
Through the warm wind
down by the bay

Yesterday
Seagulls circle endlessly
I sing in silent harmony
We shall be free

“Guinevere”

The lyrics of “Guinevere” appear to be patterned after Lady Guinevere of ancient English lore, using a Lancelot-type perspective. However, Crosby has also explained the song has relevance to loves in his own life. Guinevere in the song is clearly the object of the singer’s affection.

According to a Rolling Stone interview with Crosby: “That is a very unusual song, it’s in a very strange tuning with strange time signatures. It’s about three women that I loved. One of who was Christine Hinton, the girl who got killed [in an auto accident] who was my girlfriend, and one of who was Joni Mitchell, and the other one is somebody that I can’t tell. It might be my best song.” Elsewhere, Crosby has said of the song, “It’s three women – three verses, three different women…” – one of whom he promised he wouldn’t reveal.


Music Player
“Guinevere”-4:40
Crosby, Stills & Nash
1969

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Guinivere, in the song, provides glimpses of various behaviors and personality traits. The song also deals with the importance of freedom, with Guinevere described longingly by the male narrator as an inspiring beauty, but also as a free spirit, never quite attainable. “Why can’t she see me,” he asks as one point. And later, recalling a time “when we’d ride…down by the bay.” But in the end, it seems, free spirit prevails, with narrator accepting.

The music, in any case is, as one writer put it, “mesmerizingly beautiful,” and fans of this song have not been bashful about singing its praises.

Some posted comments reacting to one YouTube airing of the song a few years ago are indicative of the impressions this song has left on many listeners:

“Crosby, Stills and Nash: Greatest Hits,” Piano/Vocal/Guitar songbook, Hal Leonard publishers, 2005 paperback, 144pp.
“Crosby, Stills and Nash: Greatest Hits,” Piano/Vocal/Guitar songbook, Hal Leonard publishers, 2005 paperback, 144pp.
Poster for a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at New York’s Fillmore East, June 4, 1970.
Poster for a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at New York’s Fillmore East, June 4, 1970.

Judith Petree: “I still think this is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded.”

Guitar BS: “This song is so beautiful and haunting. The feeling described in this song doesn’t seem to exist in the 21st century. I dunno, I could be wrong but don’t think so.”

Burt472: “One of the most beautiful songs of the last 2,500 years.”

Limestonegoth: “I wore this album out on vinyl, mostly listening to this song over and over.”

Comer: “Is there any way to describe this song? I consider this one of the most perfect songs ever written. Nothing compares to it.”

Mike Kenwright: “One of the greatest songs ever recorded, I was around 23 when I first herd this track and it always makes my hair on my neck stand on end. The whole album is superb, but this track stands out from the others.”

Adrienne Spy: “Still has the magic. This song will never age.”

Kealani: “Perfection. And no other song is anything like it. Crosby totally knocked it out of the ballpark with this one.”

Thundergod129-7307: “Call me a purist but this is the definitive version of this great ballad. Just David and Graham and a guitar. Pure Bliss…”

Mtjgw: “This song from 1969 is as timeless as they come. Was 11 then and now at 55, the full power of this piece resonates with me every time I hear it. I’m not sure music can ever be better than this as it truly sets the ‘Gold Standard!’.”

TheDocrock100 says, “I constantly hit replay when I get this song on Pandora. Amazing harmony. Timeless.”

Robert Scott adds: “…Always the song I need to hear when I haven’t listened to them for a while.”

Crosby’s skills in writing and arranging “Guinevere” have been praised by Lindsay Planer in one review of the song at AllMusic.com, as follows below:

“Although David Crosby’s contributions to the Byrds had hinted at the depth of his capacity as a singer/songwriter, it would take the calibre of material such as “Guinevere” to reveal his prowess as a true craftsman. This ballad musically spotlights Crosby’s intricate and highly inventive open chord structures. He possesses an uncanny sense of harmonics, which can be likened to that of Brian Wilson or, perhaps more aptly, jazz icon Thelonious Monk. “Guinevere” is likewise structurally designed to augment and support the equally complex vocal harmonies from he and Graham Nash.

“The name “Guinevere” itself instantly conjures up romantic images of knights in shining armour and virtuous maidens fair. Lyrically, Crosby weaves those connotations with his own unique minstrel-like qualities — even incorporating the use of “m’lady” when describing the different muses that influenced his hauntingly beautiful verse.

“The acoustic backdrop is sublime, providing ample space for the crystalline vocals to blend with the sparse instrumentation in an organic way. It also allows Crosby to demonstrate his amazing jazz influenced guitar playing.”

Poster with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at top of the bill for October 1969 rock concerts at San Francisco venues.
Poster with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at top of the bill for October 1969 rock concerts at San Francisco venues.
As for what musicians might hear in this song, consider the comments and reaction of Michael Kaulkin, a San Francisco based teacher and composer. Kaulkin has written about how he belatedly discovered “Guinevere” in 2006, quite by accident, when he was downloading “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the only CSN song he had previously known. His reaction to “Guinevere,” praising it highly in musical terms, follows:

…What a gorgeous song! … It opens with an almost Sondheim-like chromatic vamp, which turns into a beautiful repeating Dorian-mode figure before the vocals come in. This use of modality is something in common with other music that I like, particularly Reich and early Adams. Do you think David Crosby was sitting around with the score to Ravel’s Mallarmé Songs, turning pages between bong hits?

Then there’s the vocal writing. It’s your standard CSN three-part homophonic harmony at first, which is lovely as usual. But there’s a nifty mixing trick at the end of each verse. The two higher voices are faded in (muted trumpets if I were orchestrating it), holding D and F# (we’re in E dorian, by the way), and they step down in thirds, crossing the remaining voice who has the melody. Some wonderful dissonances result naturally from this, and it’s a terrific effect.

The melody is particularly expressive. It’s rhythmically complex in that it often avoids landing on the beat, which is something I find myself doing a lot in my own music. This is easy for a solo vocalist to pull off — Sinatra is most famous for it — but hats off to these guys for accomplishing it in three parts.

For those listening to this tune with a musical ear, Kaulkin advises: “…Stick with it until the end to hear those descending parallel thirds.”

“Lady of the Island”
Crosby, Stills & Nash
1969

Holding you close undisturbed
before a fire
The pressure in my chest when
you breathe in my ear
We both knew this would happen
when you first appeared
My lady of the island

The brownness of your body
in the fire glow
Except the places where the sun
refused to go
Our bodies were a perfect fit
in afterglow we lay
My lady of the island

Letting myself wander through
the world inside your eyes
You know I’d like to stay here
until every tear runs dry
Do, do, do, do, do, do, do
My lady of the island

Wrapped around each other
in the peeping sun
Beams of sunshine light the stage
the red light’s on
I never want to finish what I’ve
just begun with you
My lady of the island
Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do
_____________________
Written by Graham Nash.

Another noteworthy song on the Crosby, Stills & Nash album is “Lady of the Island,” a folk song written by Graham Nash. It is the second track on side two of the original edition of the Crosby, Stills & Nash album.

Like “Guinevere,” this song is also a love song, in this case taking its inspiration from fellow folk musician Joni Mitchell, with whom Nash was romantically involved at the time. The lyrics describe the narrator’s impressions and feelings over the course of one or more intimate engagements between he and his lover.


Music Player
“Lady of the Island”-2:39
Crosby, Stills & Nash
1969

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Nash had come up with the melody/music for this song when he was with the Hollies sometime in 1968, but the lyrics weren’t quite there yet. They came later after he began working with Crosby and Stills.

“When I came over to America and I started working with David and Stephen and Neil [Young] and Joni [Mitchell],” explained Nash in a later interview, “I noticed what words they were putting to their melodies and I realized that I would have to get serious about songwriting. I knew I could write melodies, but it was only after I came to America that I really got into changing the way I wrote songs.”

One listener at a YouTube posting of “Lady of the Island” using the name “Charleybones,” noted: “Nash and Crosby make a perfect vocal blend in this song. The sensitivity of Nash’s voice singing the words and melody, with Crosby singing harmony notes that perfectly flow around Nash’s voice. These two were always special together, and Stills simply added the bottom of the three- part harmony and the musicianship to help the other two flush out the instrumental side of their songs in order to produce them on record and in concert. This first CSN album was truly phenomenal….”


“Wooden Ships”

A third song from the Crosby, Stills & Nash album worth mentioning here is “Wooden Ships,” which is the first track on side two of the original album. It was written and composed in 1968 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a boat owned by Crosby. The song was written by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, who also recorded a version of the song around the same time. Crosby composed the music, while Kantner and Stills wrote most of the lyrics.

“Wooden Ships”
Crosby, Stills & Nash
1969

If you smile at me, I will understand
‘Cause that is something
Everybody everywhere does
in the same language

I can see by your coat, my friend
You’re from the other side
There’s just one thing I got to know
Can you tell me please, who won?

Say, can I have some of your purple berries?
Yes, I’ve been eating them
for six or seven weeks now
Haven’t got sick once
Probably keep us both alive

Wooden ships on the water,
very free and easy
Easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be
Silver people on the shoreline, let us be
Talkin’ ’bout very free and easy

Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cries
Stare as all human feelings die
We are leaving, you don’t need us

Go, take your sister then, by the hand
Lead her away from this foreign land
Far away, where we might laugh again
We are leaving, you don’t need us

And it’s a fair wind blowin’ warm
Out of the south over my shoulder
Guess I’ll set a course and go

The song came during the social upheavals of the late 1960s, and at the height of the Vietnam War. Bob Dylan by then had written several songs with anti-war sentiment, and his “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” was being heard in 1962 around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” came out in 1965. “Wooden Ships” was also aimed at the Cold War clench between the U.S. and Soviet Union and their nuclear arsenals – but in this case, what might happen in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange.


Music Player
“Wooden Ships”-5:28
Crosby, Stills & Nash
1969

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The song opens with a series of innocent-sounding guitar picks, landing on a loud and full guitar power riff, sounding at first confrontational and defiant, but then settling into a quieter story mode.

The lyrics depict the horrors of a post-nuclear war landscape. A man from one side stumbles upon another survivor, hoping for a smile as a sign of trust. He can tell by this survivor’s coat, he’s “from the other side.” Then he asks, perhaps with a shred of sarcasm, “Can you tell me, please, who won?”

The conversation then moves on to their survival and the sharing of “purple berries,” which appear safe; “haven’t got sick once” (re: nuclear fallout).

The narrative then turns to wooden ships on the water, those on board, and a sighting of “silver people on the shoreline,” who David Crosby has described as “guys in radiation suits” — authorities scouring the devastation, perhaps, or other survivors protecting themselves from fallout? In any case, those on the ships are “let be” by those on the shoreline.

Record sleeve for single release of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Long Time Gone". Click for digital.
Record sleeve for single release of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Long Time Gone". Click for digital.
Crosby has noted that he and the other authors “imagined ourselves as the few survivors, escaping on a boat to create a new civilization.”

In the presumed departure of the ships then escaping the devastation, those on board look back in horror at those remaining, feeling helpless, “as all human feelings die.” Those aboard the ship are heading “away from this foreign land” – someplace unnamed, but “far away, where we might laugh again,” adding, “we are leaving, you don’t need us.”

For some listeners in that late 1960s early 1970s period, this music and verse no doubt resonated metaphorically regarding the tumult of those times. Some were then opting out of mainstream culture, seeking new values and alternative lifestyles. The year 1968, for example, from top to bottom was truly annus horribilis in the U.S. in terms of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, presidential election tumult, as well as convulsive events abroad.

The Crosby, Stills & Nash album of 1969 also included “Long Time Gone,” a David Crosby song reacting to the July 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy. And in May 1970, Neil Young was then with the group, and he wrote the CSN&Y protest song, “Ohio,” reacting to the National Guard shooting of student anti-war protesters at Kent State University (see separate story, “Four Dead in O-H-I-O.”). Other songs on the Crosby, Stills & Nash album of 1969 include: “You Don’t Have to Cry”( Stills), “Pre-Road Downs” (Nash), “Helplessly Hoping” (Stills), and “49 Bye-Byes” (Stills).

CSN&Y's "Déjà Vu" album of 1970, featuring old tintype style photo, and including musicians Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves.
CSN&Y's "Déjà Vu" album of 1970, featuring old tintype style photo, and including musicians Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves.


Déjà Vu & Beyond

Close on the heels of their success with the Crosby, Stills & Nash debut album, the group – now with Neil Young aboard – turned out another album titled Déjà Vu. It was released in March 1970 and rose briefly to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. It also generated three Top 40 singles: “Woodstock” (written by Joni Mitchell), “Teach Your Children”, and “Our House.”

Déjà Vu would become a monster hit album, selling over 14.3 million copies worldwide. In 2003 it would be ranked at No.148 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, however, had their internal squabbles and artistic differences, and not long after a summer tour in 1970, they had an acrimonious parting of the ways. It would be the first of many such splits. They would break up and reform several times over the next few decades, sometimes with and without Neil Young. They split off into twosomes and solo acts (separate solo albums were issued by each member in 1970-71) and they would hold a number of reunion tours of one kind or another. Yet, they would continue to have a loyal fan base, as their touring and subsequent album sales would make clear.

CSN - Greatest Hits album.
CSN - Greatest Hits album.
CSN&Y - Woodstock single.
CSN&Y - Woodstock single.
"On The Way Home" - DVD.
"On The Way Home" - DVD.
"Daylight Again" - DVD.
"Daylight Again" - DVD.
 
Stephen Stills - solo album.
Stephen Stills - solo album.
Neil Young - solo album.
Neil Young - solo album.
 
CS&N - Guitar Songbook.
CS&N - Guitar Songbook.
Graham Nash - Guitar Tabs.
Graham Nash - Guitar Tabs.
 

Four Way Street, a live double album issued after their first breakup in 1970, became another No. 1 hit (8.7 million worldwide). In 1974, they re-formed for a summer stadium tour, but did not cut a new record. Still, a compilation album was released – So Far – and it too became a No. 1 album, their third straight (10.2 million worldwide).

In 1977, Crosby Stills & Nash re-formed without Young for the album CSN, another giant hit (6.8 million worldwide). They followed that album in 1982 with Daylight Again (2.4 million worldwide). By the mid-1980s, however, David Crosby was in the throes of drug addiction and some legal problems, landing in jail during 1985-1986. But he cleaned up his act and returned to the music scene.

In 1988, CS&N along with Young this time, reunited for what would become only their second studio album, American Dream (1.8 million worldwide). Two years later, CS&N followed with Live It Up, which was not a commercial success, though the trio remained a popular live act. CS&N embarked on a 25th anniversary tour in the summer of 1994 and released a new album, After the Storm (200,000 worldwide).

The trio reunited with Young once again for 1999’s Looking Forward (600,000 worldwide), followed in 2000 by their CSN&Y2K tour. A decade or so later, CSN 2012, a DVD/CD set, filmed and recorded during a 2012 tour, was released that same year. As of early 2017, there appeared to be the possibility that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were at least open to the idea of reforming yet again. In any case, they have certainly made their mark musically over the last 50 years or more.

Lauded for their lasting influence on U.S. music and culture, both for kicking off the singer-songwriter movement that soared throughout the 1970s, and their sterling, indelible harmonies, Crosby, Stills & Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. All three members of the group were also inducted for their work in other groups – Crosby for the Byrds, Stills for Buffalo Springfield, and Nash for the Hollies. Neil Young, meanwhile, with an amazing body of work on his own and with other groups, has also been inducted as a solo artist and as a member of Buffalo Springfield.

There is a lot more detail on the history and biography of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and their music – both together and as solo artists. Some of this history can be found at any number of on-line sources and websites, as well as a number of books, some of which are listed below in Sources.

See also at this website, “Joni’s Music, 1962-2000s”, a profile of Joni Mitchell’s career, with song samples, album history, travels, songwriting, and her time with Graham Nash. “Four Dead in O-hi-o, 1970,” profiles the Kent State shootings and the genesis and reception of the CSN&Y song, “Ohio.” Additional stories on music can be found at the “Annals of Music” category page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what 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: 18 November 2018
Last Update: 18 November 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Crosby, Stills & Nash: 1960s & Beyond,”
PopHistoryDig.com, November 18, 2018.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Neil Young's 2012 book, "Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream," paperback edition, 512pp.
Neil Young's 2012 book, "Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream," paperback edition, 512pp.
David Roberts’ 2017 book, “Stephen Stills, Change Partners: The Definitive Biography,” hardback edition, 326pp.
David Roberts’ 2017 book, “Stephen Stills, Change Partners: The Definitive Biography,” hardback edition, 326pp.
“CSN Demos” CD, a 12-song compilation of previously unreleased Crosby, Stills & Nash demos from 1968 to 1971.
“CSN Demos” CD, a 12-song compilation of previously unreleased Crosby, Stills & Nash demos from 1968 to 1971.

“Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 224-225.

“Crosby, Stills & Nash” (biography & induction page), RockHall.com, 1997.

“Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,” Wikipedia.org.

Jason Ankeny, “Crosby, Stills & Nash (album),” AllMusic,com.

Lindsay Planer, Song Review, “Guinnevere,” AllMusic.com.

Lee Zimmerman, “The 13 Best Songs by Crosby, Stills & Nash,” PasteMagazine.com, September 27, 2016.

Andy Greene, “Track by Track: Crosby, Stills & Nash on Their Self-Titled Debut,” Rolling Stone, August 18, 2008.

Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, “Review: CSNY Concert Rocks in Truly Classic Style,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Monday, March 20, 2000.

“Crosby, Stills & Nash,” Apple Music Review, iTunes.Apple.com.

“Wooden Ships (1969), Crosby, Stills & Nash,” SongMango.com.

“The Story Behind ‘Wooden Ships’,” The Hangar (Jefferson Airplane), Archived on the WayBack Machine (internet archive), Novem-ber 16, 2012.

“Wooden Ships,” Wikipedia.org.

Lindsay Planer, Song Review, “Wooden Ships, Crosby, Stills & Nash,” AllMusic.com.

“David Crosby,” Wikipedia,org.

David Crosby, Official Website.

“Stephen Stills,” Wikipedia,org.

Stephen Stills, Official Website.

“Graham Nash,” Wikipedia,org.

Graham Nash, Official Website.

“Neil Young,” Wikipedia,org.

Neil Young Website/Archives.

Jordan Runtagh, “Graham Nash Tells the Wild Tales Behind His Most Enduring Songs,” People.com, June 29, 2018.

“Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (page 2),” UnMask.us.

“Top 100 ’60s Rock Albums” (page down on site), UltimateClassicRock.com.

Rick Moore, “Crosby, Stills & Nash: Wooden Ships; Jefferson Airplane Recorded Their Own Version of The Song for Their Controversial Fifth Album, Volunteers,” AmericanSong-writer.com, January 31, 2016.

“Déjà Vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album),” Wikipedia.org.

Dave Lewis, “The 10 Best Songs By Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,” LouderSound.com, August 15, 2016.

Patrick Lyons, “The 10 Best Crosby, Stills And/Or Nash Albums To Own On Vinyl,” VinylMePlease.com, March 9th 2018.

Richard Buskin, “Crosby, Stills & Nash: ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ | Classic Tracks, Producers: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash; Engineer: Bill Halverson,” SoundOnSound .com, August 2010.


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“Fonda Fitness Boom”
1980s & Beyond

1979: Jane Fonda, with ballet exercise bar behind her.
1979: Jane Fonda, with ballet exercise bar behind her.
Jane Fonda, Hollywood film star and sometimes controversial activist, became a national fitness leader in the 1980s.

Her rise to this position, however, was something of an accident, but it would bring her a new identity, a new career path, and a considerable cash flow. More on this part of her career in a moment; but first some biography.

Daughter of Hollywood legend Henry Fonda (who famously played Tom Joad in the film version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath), Jane Fonda had a difficult family life that would haunt her, but also forge her into the energetic whirlwind she later became. When Jane was 12, her mother committed suicide in a psychiatric hospital, a tragedy kept from Jane until she read about it a magazine. She strove for approval from her father, emotionally distant and demanding, as Jane bid for a perfection that would help fuel her ambition.

As a teen, Jane Fonda attended the Emma Willard boarding school in Troy, New York and then to Vassar College for two years before heading to Paris to study art briefly. Returning to New York to work as a model for a time, she twice appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine. By 1958, she attended Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio where she was told she had real acting talent, soon earning positive notice in a few early 1960s’ stage and screen performances, including a few in France. In August 1965 she married her first husband, French film director Roger Vadim, with whom she would make films and have a daughter, Vanessa.

1965. Fonda in "Cat Ballou".
1965. Fonda in "Cat Ballou".
1967. "Barefoot in the Park".
1967. "Barefoot in the Park".
Life cover, 1968, "Barbarella".
Life cover, 1968, "Barbarella".
Newsweek, 1967, "Barbarella".
Newsweek, 1967, "Barbarella".
1969. "They Shoot Horses...".
1969. "They Shoot Horses...".
1970. Time; "Flying Fondas".
1970. Time; "Flying Fondas".
1971. "Klute," Fonda Oscar.
1971. "Klute," Fonda Oscar.
1978. "Coming Home".
1978. "Coming Home".
1977. Newsweek on "Julia".
1977. Newsweek on "Julia".
1984. "The Dollmaker".
1984. "The Dollmaker".

Meanwhile, a breakout U.S. film role had come for Fonda in the western comedy, Cat Ballou (1965) playing the lead character, Catherine “Cat” Ballou, a schoolmarm turned outlaw. This was followed by other films, including Barefoot in the Park (1967) with Robert Redford.

Then came the “sex kitten” stage, especially after her 1968 role in Barbarella, the sci-fi space film directed by her then husband, Roger Vadim, who cast her as the film’s principal character who explores space, futuristic sex, and extravagant costumes while hunting an earth-threatening villain.

Newsweek featured Fonda in a scene from Barbarella on its cover for a November 1967 story on “The Permissive Society.”

But Jane Fonda’s acting bona fides soon became clear when she was nominated for a best acting Oscar in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), a film about marathon dancers during the Great Depression.

Two years later she won a best acting Oscar for Klute (1971), playing a New York city call girl mixed up in a murder, described recently in that role as “a major actress, with a persona all her own: empowered yet high-strung, her taut intelligence shot through with anxiety.”

Time magazine, meanwhile, had published a February 1970 feature cover story under the banner, “The Flying Fondas,” covering the Hollywood accomplishments of Jane, father Henry, and brother, Peter Fonda, who had just co-written, produced, and starred in the 1969 counterculture film classic, Easy Rider.

In 1977, Jane played famous playwright, Lillian Helman, in a story about her friendship with Julia, played by Vesnessa Redgrave, who fought against the Nazis in the years prior to World War II. Fonda was nominated, but did not win, a Best Acting Oscar, but she did win both a best acting Golden Globe and BAFTA award for her role.

In 1978, Fonda won her second best acting Oscar for her performance in Coming Home, playing a Vietnam-era Army wife who falls for a paraplegic anti-war veteran, Jon Voight. This film, and several others, were produced by her own film company, IPC, founded in 1972 with Bruce Gilbert, who had been the nursery-school teacher of Fonda’s 4-year-old daughter at the time.

Fonda started IPC, in part, because she felt “graylisted” in Hollywood — not being hired due to her activism. But IPC was also created to make films that offered important social statments. Coming Home had been inspired, in part, by Fonda’s earlier meeting and hearing Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran paralyzed in the war who became an anti-war activist. The film took six years to make. Another IPC film, Nine-to-Five (1980), took on the plight of 40 million female office workers.

Throughout her career Jane Fonda would appear in more than 50 films and various TV productions. In 1984, she won an Emmy Award for her performance in the IPC-crafted TV film The Dollmaker, in which she played an Appalachian mother of six who follows her husband north for work during World War II and takes up wood carving. Recently she and her long-time friend, Lily Tomlin, have appeared in the Emmy-nominated Netflix series, Grace and Frankie (2015-2018). Among some of her other Hollywood films have been: Steelyard Blues (1973), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), California Suite (1978), The Electric Horseman (1979), The China Syndrome (1979), On Golden Pond (1981), Agnes of God (1985), The Morning After (1986), Stanley & Iris (1990), Monster-in-Law (2005), and others through the 2010s that will be mentioned later.

Apart from Hollywood, it was the political activism of Jane Fonda in the late 1960s and early 1970s that gained her as much notice as her film roles – not all of it good. For she had left some deep scars among Vietnam War era veterans, especially after a 1972 trip to North Vietnam when she appeared in an infamous photo seated in an North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi, for which she later apologized a number of times (including once on ABC’s national TV show, 20/20, in June 1988 and also on 60 Minutes in March 2005) and in written explanations. Still, a derogatory “Hanoi Jane” nickname and worse would dog her for much of her life, with occasional threats and some nasty confrontations from detractors.

1971. Life, "Busy Rebel".
1971. Life, "Busy Rebel".
1972. "Rolling Stone" feature.
1972. "Rolling Stone" feature.
1975. People, Fonda-Hayden.
1975. People, Fonda-Hayden.
1977. "Sex Object...To Woman".
1977. "Sex Object...To Woman".
1977. US mag, "Fonda at 40".
1977. US mag, "Fonda at 40".
2018. HBO, "Fonda in 5 Acts".
2018. HBO, "Fonda in 5 Acts".

Activist Jane

As an anti-war activist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jane Fonda had the attention of the Nixon Administration, and later the FBI. She had also been lecturing at colleges in the U.S. and Canada about the war. And in Cleveland, Ohio in November 1970, after a flight from Canada, she was arrested and detained on suspicion of drug trafficking, finding in her luggage several baggies of pills. She was booked and photographed by police, told by the arresting officer that he was acting on direct orders from the Nixon White House.

Fonda would later write that Nixon’s people probably hoped that the “scandal” of catching her in a drug bust (and there were headlines), would cause her popularity as a college speaker to be ruined. But in the end, lab tests confirmed the pills were vitamins, as Fonda had said at the time of her arrest. Still, in the the battle with Nixon, Fonda might have had the last laugh, as today her mugshot from that arrest, with raised fist in protest, has become famous, an image she now uses on t-shirts, coffee mugs and other merchandise to benefit child and adolescent development. The Fonda mugshot was also used as the poster image for the 2018 HBO documentary, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, and was used on a giant billboard ad in Times Square in September 2018.

But during the early 1970s, Jane Fonda received quite extensive coverage in the popular press for her various activist involvements. Life magazine, for example, did a cover story on her in April 1971 with the tag, “Busy Rebel: Jane Fonda Pusher of Causes.” That story noted, in part:

“ …[T]here is scarcely an evil – be it racism, sexism, capitalism or the war in Vietnam – she had not taken on, nor a cause she has not espoused….Headlines proclaim her involvement in antiwar shows for servicemen, in demonstrations on behalf of welfare clients and California farm workers and Indians. She makes speeches for women’s rights and GI rights and Black Panther rights. She appears on TV talk shows, and if she turns on many of the young she turns off a great many other citizens. Publicity for herself, however, is not her aim. She is a sincere advocate, though her command of facts and complexities is unconvincing…” Her then estranged husband, Roger Vadim, called her ‘Jane d’Arc.” They were later divorced.

In January 1973, she married her second husband, Tom Hayden, the famous 1960s anti-war activist, organizer of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and one of the Chicago Seven defendants in the high-profile 1969 Chicago trial following the street protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

2001. "Ms America: Why Jane Fonda is A Mirror of the Nation's Past 40 Years".
2001. "Ms America: Why Jane Fonda is A Mirror of the Nation's Past 40 Years".
By 1976 Fonda helped her husband in an unsuccessful primary challenge to then incumbent U.S. Senator John V. Tunney, with Hayden finishing a surprisingly strong second in that bid. Later that year, Fonda and Hayden founded the Campaign for Economic Democracy in California, to promote solar energy, environmental protection, and candidates for local and state political office. Hayden would later win a seat in the California Assembly.

By the late 1970s, Jane Fonda appeared to be having a bit of makeover, with the movie-going public returning to her films, though her Vietnam reputation remained for many. Uneven treatment in the media (examples above) acknowledged her activism (Ms. magazine, October 1977), but also cast her in more of a mainstream role (US magazine, November 1977 “Fonda At 40: How She Juggles Husband, Family and A Red-Hot Film Career”). Through the remainder of her career, Jane Fonda would continue to fascinate and confound, with the popular press continuing to profile her in all manner of stories, from a 1988 Vanity Fair story by Tina Brown on Fonda as a repeat risk taker, to American Heritage magazine in 2001 (at left) treating her as a socio-political mirror of four decades of U.S. history.

There is a lot more detail in the many lives of Jane Fonda, some of it presented in the 2018 HBO film, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, or from Jane herself in her 2005 autobiography, My Life So Far. Suffice it to say here, briefly, that despite her critics and detractors over the years, throughout most of her life, Jane Fonda has been generous with her celebrity and her money, helping advance civil rights, women’s issues, child development, and other causes.

But one chapter of her life during the 1980s became especially interesting, presenting her with new opportunity and a new persona of sorts as she became America’s fitness queen, touching off both a fitness boom and a home video revolution. The “Jane Fonda workout” soon permeated the larger culture as her best-selling books and exercise videos swept over America. She soon had legions of fans in a new arena. In the process, a Jane Fonda business empire worth millions was spawned that both spurred new technology and boosted the economy, while helping enable her pursuit of various activist causes. What follows is a review of some of that history.

Jane Fonda played reporter Kimberly Wells in “The China Syndrome,” a 1979 film about a nuclear meltdown.
Jane Fonda played reporter Kimberly Wells in “The China Syndrome,” a 1979 film about a nuclear meltdown.

A Broken Ankle

In 1978, as Jane Fonda was filming The China Syndrome, she had something of a fortuitous accident. The film, about a nuclear power plant disaster (i.e. nuclear core meltdown i.e, “burning through the earth to China”), starred Jack Lemon, Michael Douglas and Fonda as a reporter covering the accident and revealing the dangers to the public.

But on her way to one film set, and running in high-heeled platform shoes, she fell, breaking her ankle. The producers were able to complete filming by working around Fonda’s parts and filling in later. The film, released in 1979, became an especially well-timed and propitious arrival, as an actual near meltdown was then occurring at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Jane, meanwhile, had some other upcoming film roles, in two of which she had to appear in a swimsuit. Staying in shape was important to her for such film roles, and regular exercise had also became part of her life. Normally she had done ballet type exercise to stay in shape. But now, in recovery with her bad ankle, she began to look elsewhere for exercise.


Ballet to Aerobics

Exercise for Fonda, however, wasn’t new. In fact, she had been a devotee of, and believer in, regular exercise for years, focused primarily on ballet. “When I’m on a movie location, no matter where I am, the first thing I ask is, ‘Where is a ballet school?,’ she explained in a 1979 Vogue magazine story. “I’ve studied ballet in almost every country I’ve been in.” Fonda had her own philosophy to go along with the ballet routine. “People respond differently to various types of movement, to different workout speeds, even to different kinds of music.,” she told Vogue. “I like ballet and what it does for me—the slowness, the rigor, the sense of creativity while I move.”

Jane Fonda, at the ballet bar, as photographed by Arthur Elgort for the 1979 Vogue magazine story, “Fitness – Fonda Style”.
Jane Fonda, at the ballet bar, as photographed by Arthur Elgort for the 1979 Vogue magazine story, “Fitness – Fonda Style”.

After her ankle injury, her mother-in-law pointed her to an exercise class in Century City, California run by a woman named Leni Cazden who had developed an exercise technique that toned through repetitive movement backed with popular music. Fonda soon began participating in aerobics and strengthening exercises under Cazden’s direction. “Her class was a revelation,” Fonda would later write. “I entered so called adult life at a time when challenging physical exercise was not offered to women. We weren’t supposed to sweat or have muscles. Now, along with forty other women, I found myself moving nonstop for an hour and a half in entirely news ways.”

Early 1980s: Entrance to “Jane Fonda’ Workout,” her Beverly Hills exercise studio.
Early 1980s: Entrance to “Jane Fonda’ Workout,” her Beverly Hills exercise studio.
Fonda liked what she had discovered in Cazden’s routines, and soon saw the possibility of something bigger on the local scene. In May 1979, she teamed up with Cazden, opening “Jane and Leni’s Workout” studio in Beverly Hill, where three studios were strung together around a patio. The Leni Workout soon became the Jane Fonda Workout, and the Beverly Hills studio was also named “Jane Fonda’s Workout.” Fonda also conducted some classes there and on film sets. The chance to workout with Jane Fonda became an obvious drawing card, and at its peak, 2,000-to-3,000 people would pass through the Beverly Hills studio each week. The three studios there were open six days a week with multiple classes running from 7am to 10pm. For the year 1982, that location alone was showing a pre-tax profit of about one million dollars. By this time, Fonda hired a Julie LaFond as business manger and other teachers as well. She also opened a couple of other studios, one in Encino area of Los Angeles and another in San Francisco. At the time, there was also some thought of franchising the studio. But by then, a few publishers had approached her about the possibility of doing a book on her exercise routines.


The Book

“Jane Fonda’s Workout Book,” in a 254-page hardback edition, was published by Simon & Schuster, November 1981.
“Jane Fonda’s Workout Book,” in a 254-page hardback edition, was published by Simon & Schuster, November 1981.
At first, she was resistant to the idea of doing a book. “I kept saying no,” she would later recall in a 1992 interview, “but I kept thinking, ‘You know something? If I really made it personal, and I tried to tell some truths about my own journey [she had suffered from bulimia in younger years], maybe it would be helpful.’ And I never had thought of myself as a writer, so it was a real big commitment of time, but I did it anyway, and it made publishing history. It totally took me by surprise.”

In November 1981, New York publisher Simon & Schuster issued the first edition of Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, with photos by Steve Schapiro. The 254-page hardback book, priced at $17.95, included Jane Fonda’s fitness program, designed to burn calories, improve body shape, and increase stamina and flexibility.

The book included chapters on nutrition, health, and beauty, and demonstrations of the exercises. But the book’s personal touch, incorporating some of Fonda’s own struggles and her fitness philosophy, became important elements for her audience. She also wrote about health in a broader environmental context, as she noted in the book:

…There is no way I can write about health and leave it at urging you to make a personal commitment to nutrition and exercise. […] The fact is we can only be as healthy as our ecological environment – the one true life-support system […] we must become aware of how we are being affected by our environment and what actions we can take to protect ourselves, as individuals, as communities, and as part of the whole ecosystem.

By January 24, 1982, Jane Fonda’s Workout Book was making its climb on the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list, landing at No. 8, described as “an exercise book for women, seasoned with the film star’s philosophy of physical well-being.”

1982. Time: "The New Ideal of Beauty: Taut, Toned & Coming on Strong".
1982. Time: "The New Ideal of Beauty: Taut, Toned & Coming on Strong".
By March 13, 1982 it was No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction list, where it would stay for many weeks. And it didn’t hurt that Time magazine jumped into the frenzy with a cover story of August 30, 1982 titled, “Coming on Strong: The New Ideal of Beauty,” picturing a Fonda-like model in exercise attire.

For the year 1982, according to a New York Times survey, Robert Ludlum’s novel The Parsifal Mosaic was the biggest selling book of the year, though it had just edged out the year’s nonfiction best seller, Jane Fonda’s Workout Book.

The book was No. 1 on the bestseller list for over six months and over 16 months in the top five through 1983. By December 1983, for example, hardback copies of the book could even be found at some Eastern Newstand locations in New York city, such as: the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Sheraton Centre, the Helmsley Palace Hotel, the Pan Am Building, and Rockefeller Center. After 1.3 million copies of the hardback edition were sold, Simon & Schuster issued a paperback edition in March 1984.

In writing the book, and in her exercise programs generally, Fonda researched sports physiology to understand the process of exercise. She emphasized health outcomes rather than using exercise for beauty or appearance only. And this focus on the factual basis of exercise became an appealing component of Fonda’s programs for many of her followers.

In 1982, a record album and cassette tapes, offered an “aural companion” to the Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, including music by The Jacksons, REO Speedwagon, Boz Scaggs & others.
In 1982, a record album and cassette tapes, offered an “aural companion” to the Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, including music by The Jacksons, REO Speedwagon, Boz Scaggs & others.

LP & Cassette

Close on the heels of the book, came Jane Fonda’s Workout Record, a two-disc album featured as “an aural companion” to her best-selling book. The double disc album listed at $12.98, and suggested its users augment the record with the Jane Fonda Workout Book, then available for $17.50. The recording was also available on cassette tapes. Both were issued by Columbia Records and Tapes, a CBS company.

The Workout Record, in fact, had climbed into the Top 40 of the album pop charts in both the UK & US, peaking at No.7 in the UK and No. 15 in the U.S. In 1983, Jane Fonda’s Workout Record was the seventh biggest selling album in the U.S.

By May 1982, the headline on a full-page Billboard magazine ad, then being pitched to record dealers, noted: “‘Jane Fonda’s Workout.’ Her #1 Book is Now an Album.” The text of the Billboard ad ran as follows:

Later edition of “Jane Fonda’s Workout Record” with new music from Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Dean Correa & others.
Later edition of “Jane Fonda’s Workout Record” with new music from Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Dean Correa & others.

‘Jane Fonda’s Workout’ book is the #1 best-selling book in the country and has been for over thirteen weeks! To date, it has sold in excess of 350,000 copies. So be prepared for Jane’s ‘Workout’ album to take off like no other exercise record ever had or ever will!

Narrated by Jane and featuring hits by REO Speedwagon, The Jacksons, Boz Scaggs, Brothers Johnson and others, it is based on the program she advocates in the book, in Jane Fonda’s Workout health clubs, and in her many TV appearances. Included in both the album and cassette packages is a special fold-out of selected illustrated instructions.

This is one time when you’ve be in great shape if you order heavily! Remember, there are plenty of exercise records out and coming out, but only one has Jane Fonda!

Through early 1982, Jane Fonda’s book and record album were doing quite well, as were her exercise studios, generating a sizeable cash flow, some of which was being channeled through the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED), the organization that she and Tom Hayden established in 1976. By May 1982, some of Fonda’s workout revenues were being used to help fund Hayden’s political campaign, then seeking a seat in the California legislature.

In May 1982, there were some news reports, as in this New York Times story, reporting that money from Jane Fonda’s workout studios and her book were being used to help fund her husband’s run for the State Assembly.
In May 1982, there were some news reports, as in this New York Times story, reporting that money from Jane Fonda’s workout studios and her book were being used to help fund her husband’s run for the State Assembly.

The CED was then financed largely by income generated from Fonda’s exercise salons and her book, which by then was the nation’s No. 1 nonfiction bestseller. Hayden at the time said that the income – about $30,000 a month – was helping finance overall operations of CED and that only a portion of his legislative campaign fund had come from the organization’s political action committee.

Meanwhile, the bigger revenue producer for Jane Fonda’s budding exercise empire – and the product that brought her the most fame and the cultural change that followed – came with the Jane Fonda exercise videos.

Jane Fonda original workout video, April 1982; since re-issued in DVD and digital formats.
Jane Fonda original workout video, April 1982; since re-issued in DVD and digital formats.

Make a Video?

In 1980, Stuart Karl, an early producer of home improvement videos, approached Fonda about making a video of the exercise routine that appeared in her workout book. On trip to New York city, Karl’s wife, Debbie, while looking at the book in a New York store window, remarked to her husband that it would be nice to work out at one’s home to avoid gym crowds. That gave him the idea of having Fonda make videos – a video made by his company. But at the time, the home video market was minuscule, and hardly anyone had or could afford a VCR player (also known as a videocassette recorder or video recorder). And besides, who would use a video over and over again?

Still, Karl believed there was a huge opportunity to create a new market for home videos somewhere between the highly commercial Hollywood films and the lurid under-the-counter world of pornography. His fledgling company, Mid-Vid, turned out a line of home improvement tapes, instructional videos, and other special titles that he described at the time as “filling the gap between Jaws and Deep Throat.” But his wife’s remark about working out at home got him thinking, and that’s when he went to talk with Fonda.

But Jane was initially reluctant about Karl’s proposal, thinking it would be bad for her career as an actor. Still, her workout studio in Beverly Hills had been going great guns. So she finally decided, “what the heck, it won’t take long, not too many people will see it and a video will bring in a little extra funding to CED.”

Jane Fonda leading a workout class, circa 1980s.
Jane Fonda leading a workout class, circa 1980s.
So Karl’s company partnered with RCA and $50,000 was made available for production costs to make the first workout video. Fonda’s partner, Leni, created the exercise routine and Jane brought in Sidney Galanty as director, who had done ads for Tom Hayden’s political campaign.

Fonda wrote a short script, and the video featured herself, along with some of her studio workout teachers and clients doing the workout. They did their own hair and makeup, had one camera, and after a few takes, they had their product.

“We did it in three days, we hardly had any rehearsal, we had no hairdressers — when I look at how we do it now compared to then, it was funny,” she would later recall. On April 24th,1982, Jane Fonda’s Workout video hit the streets. Within a few months, it sold more than 300,000 copies — and it kept selling.

The first workout video included a 30 minute beginners’ class and a 60-minute advanced session, with segments for toning arms, waist, abdomen, legs and hips. The workout was designed to build strength, develop flexibility, and increase endurance.

Jane Fonda in beach scene from 1979-80 film, “California Suite,” a Neil Simon comedy with Alan Alda and others.
Jane Fonda in beach scene from 1979-80 film, “California Suite,” a Neil Simon comedy with Alan Alda and others.
Jane Fonda in dock scene from 1981 film “On Golden Pond,” right before the island mail boat arrives.
Jane Fonda in dock scene from 1981 film “On Golden Pond,” right before the island mail boat arrives.

The Best Advertisement

“Look Like Jane”

In her 40s at the time of the first video’s release in 1982, Jane Fonda became “a perfect advertisement for herself,” as one reviewer would put it. And in her writing and verbal instruction, Fonda came across in a non- threatening way, and was all business in her exercise routines, becoming famous for certain phrases, such as, “feel the burn.” Her natural beauty was also an asset, and she drew women to her as they trusted her familiar face over that of strangers. Her Hollywood films also helped sell the Jane Fonda exercise materials.

Swimsuit appearances in two of her movies during 1979-1982 (shown at left) certainly did not hurt sales of her book and video – one beach appearance in California Suite, a Neil Simon comedy released late December 1979 with Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Richard Pryor and others; and another on a lake dock in On Golden Pond, released in 1981, starring her father, Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn.

Fonda, then in her early 40s, looked fit and healthy in her swimsuit scenes, evidence enough for many women to get on the workout bandwagon and buy the Jane Fonda book and video.

Jane Fonda’s Workout became the highest selling home video of the early 1980s, with over a million copies sold. A Fonda-led fitness craze swept the country. The video’s release led many people to buy then new VCRs in order to use the workout at home. VCR sales jumped, helping advance the home video revolution.

Jane Fonda had tapped into a gold mine of female frustration, as in those days there were few places for women to work out, or even to know what kind of exercise to do. Gyms were primarily designed for men, as were weights and most exercise equipment. There was also something of stigma attached to women working out; women “weren’t supposed to sweat,” as Fonda would say.“Part Murphy Brown, part Teddy Roosevelt, the ’80s Fonda was a solid role model for entrepreneurial feminists & career moms.” But with the Baby Boomer females of that era, Fonda found a willing and eager audience, and a huge market. And for Fonda image-wise, her exercise leadership contributed to an elevation of her reputation and national standing, especially among women. One 1984 World Almanac listing identified her as the country’s third most influential woman, and a 1985 Gallup poll ranked her fourth on a list of “America’s Most Admired Women.” Writing in American Heritage magazine in 2001, Peter Braunstein described her as: “Part Murphy Brown, part Teddy Roosevelt, the eighties Fonda was a solid role model for entrepreneurial feminists and career moms.” Meanwhile, the Jane Fonda fitness craze of the 1980s was just hitting its stride at mid-decade, as more Jane Fonda books and videos were on the way.

1984: new book, “Women Coming of Age With Jane Fonda’s Prime Time Workout”.
1984: new book, “Women Coming of Age With Jane Fonda’s Prime Time Workout”.
In 1984 there was, Women Coming Of Age With Jane Fonda’s Prime Time Workout, written with Mignon McCarthy, which also had a companion video. The book included chapters titled: “Women In Midlife,” “The Body Mature,” “Is There Life After The Menopause?,” “My Program For Midlife Well-Being,” and “Prime Time Workout.” This book also had a 1985 Viking Press edition published in Great Britain.

A couple of yearbook/desk calendar-type publications also came out: Jane Fonda’s Year of Fitness, Health and Nutrition, 1984, a 192-page spiral bound book published by Simon and Schuster. And another similar volume for the following year in hardcover, Jane Fonda’s Year of Fitness, Health and Nutrition, 1985 published by Holiday House.

By the early mid-1980s, it was clear that Jane Fonda, on her exercise ventures alone, had penetrated popular culture in a major way. Observes James Michael Rafferty in a British PhD thesis paper he wrote on Fonda in 2010, “Politicizing Stardom”:

“…The cultural impact and commercial success of The Workout cannot be overstated… By April 1984, [the Jane Fonda workout video] had sold approximately 275,000 copies at $60 each, making it the biggest selling non-musical video in American history. This earned the CED-owned Workout Inc. approximately $2 million. Jane Fonda’s Workout Book sold two million copies in hardcover at $19.95 each and was on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for ninety weeks; the trade paperback version sold more than 250,000 copies at $9.95 each. Jane Fonda’s Year of Fitness and Health/1984 desk diary, which retailed for $8.95, had two print runs totaling 250,000 copies.

Jane Fonda Workout and Active Wear, manufactured by Capri Beachwear Corporation in partnership with Fonda, was being carried by Saks Fifth Avenue and nearly one hundred major retail outlets across the nation; the clothing line was projected to gross more than $30 million in 1984 alone….

Yet, through the remainder of the 1980s and beyond there was more to come. In 1986, she revised her workout book with a new version – Jane Fonda’s New Workout and Weight Loss Program — released in June that year (Simon & Schuster 254 pages).

1986: New book, “Jane Fonda's New Workout and Weight Loss Program,” released in June 1986, by Simon & Schuster, 254 pages, with a trim Jane Fonda on the back cover holding a vegetable on a fork as a diet prompt.
1986: New book, “Jane Fonda's New Workout and Weight Loss Program,” released in June 1986, by Simon & Schuster, 254 pages, with a trim Jane Fonda on the back cover holding a vegetable on a fork as a diet prompt.

New York Times writer and columnist, Jane Brody, who then wrote a personal health column, reviewed Jane Fonda’s New Workout and Weight-Loss Program book in mid July 1986, noting: “At last a celebrity has proposed a weight-loss program that is sensibly slow, nutritionally sound, appropriately flexible and readily adaptable for a lifetime.” The updated version of the Fonda workout book put more stress on the role of a healthy diet and suggested a weight-loss program high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and low in fat. A sample menu was also provided. But the book’s major focus was the exercise routines.

Easy Going Workout, 1985.
Easy Going Workout, 1985.
New Workout, 1985.
New Workout, 1985.
Low Impact Workout, 1986.
Low Impact Workout, 1986.
Complete Workout, 1988.
Complete Workout, 1988.
 

Videos Boom

By 1986, Fonda sold over $4 million worth of fitness videos alone. And through the 1980s and into the 1990s, more Jane Fonda videos and books would come as well. Displayed here at right are the covers of some of her classic exercise videos, first produced in the 1980s, but later remastered and re-issued in DVD format.

Jane Fonda’s Easy Going Workout (1985), was designed for those who found her other tapes, especially the original Workout video, too difficult and needed a slower workout program. It is a mild, but challenging routine that offers upbeat music & easy-to-follow choreography.

Jane Fonda’s New Workout (1985), her fifth workout video, was designed as an improved version of her original workout program. It offers a 35 minute beginners’ class with 12 minutes of aerobics and a 55 minute advanced class with 16 minutes of aerobics. Each class begins with a warm-up, proceeds to work the waist, arms and aerobics, floor stretch, abdominals, legs and hips, buttocks, and ends with a cool-down.

In 1986, she released Jane Fonda’s Low Impact Workout, offered an alternative to her other aerobic classes with high intensity moves. The classes in this video include a 6 minute warm-up, 35 minutes of low impact aerobics, and a 10 minute stretch cool-down.

Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout was released in 1988, and was designed by Fonda as her new overall exercise class to replace her original and New Workout classes. This program offers a half hour of aerobics which can be done at high or low intensity, or alternating between the two for an interval training effect to maximize fat burning. Upper and lower body toning segments precede and follow the aerobics which can be done with or without dumbbells or ankle weights.

Fonda Fitness Empire
Books, Videos & Audio
1980-2012

Videos:
Jane Fonda’s Workout (1982)
Jane Fonda’s Workout Challenge (1983)
Jane Fonda’s Pregnancy, Birth
and Recovery Workout (1983)
Jane Fonda’s Prime Time Workout (1984)
(later, Easygoing Workout)
Jane Fonda’s New Workout (1985)
Jane Fonda’s Low-Impact Aerobic Workout (1986)
Start Up With Jane Fonda (1987)
Jane Fonda’s Workout With Weights (1987)
Jane Fonda Presents Sports-Aid (1987)
Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout (1988)
Jane Fonda’s Light Aerobics
& Stress Reduction Workout (1989)
Jane Fonda’s Lean Routine (1990)
Jane Fonda Presents Fun House (1990)
(2 videos for children & young adults)
Jane Fonda’s Lower Body Solution (1991)
Jane Fonda’s Step Aerobic and
Abdominal Workout (1992)
Jane Fonda’s Favorite Fat Burners (1993)
Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout (1993)
Jane Fonda’s Step & Stretch Workout (1994)
Jane Fonda’s Personal Trainer Series:
Low Impact Aerobics & Stretch (1995)
Total Body Sculpting (1995)
Abs, Buns & Thighs (1995)
Jane Fonda’s Prime Time Series
Fit and Strong (2010)
Walkout (2010)
Trim, Tone & Flex (2011)
Firm & Burn (2011)
Jane Fonda’s Am/Pm Yoga for Beginners (2012)

Books:
Jane Fonda’s Workout Book
Jane Fonda’s Workout for
Pregnancy, Birth and Recovery
Women Coming of Age
Jane Fonda’s New Workout
and Weight Loss Program
Jane Fonda’s New Pregnancy Workout
and Total Birth Program.

Records & Tapes:
Jane Fonda Workout (album & casette)
Jane Fonda’s Walkout
Audio Companions to Videos.
_________________________
Not a complete list. *Pregnancy books were written
by Femmy Delyser in conjunction with Jane Fonda.

By the early 1990s, Jane Fonda’s video line had workouts for just about everyone. There was a standard aerobics video, a workout with weights, workouts that were less vigorous and low-impact, as well as workouts for those in good shape and could deal with Jane Fonda’s Workout Challenge. There were also videos for children and pregnant women, as well as women recovering from childbirth.

So why all the videos? “This is a repeat thing, “ Jane would later explain, “I mean, people use it two, three, four, five times a week, and after a year, they want new music, a few new steps. And so we do a lot of market research to determine what it is now that people want.”

By December 1990, Jane Fond was in New York promoting her 12th workout video, Jane Fonda’s Lean Routine. She told the New York Times reporter at that time: “I never could understand why after a long 15-hour day on the sound stage everyone would be real tired Instead of going home I’d go to dance class and study ballet for a few hours and at the end of that I would feel so great, like I just had a good night’s sleep. Thirty years later, I understand that when you’re exercising strenuously, a chemical is released in the body called endorphin, which gives you a natural high. It also helps relieve stress, fatigue and depression.”

Her new video explored some new exercise territory while also offering diet advice. “I hadn’t yet done a 60-minute aerobic program using interval training, which is now considered the best way to burn fat,” she said at the time, referring to a system where a few minutes of light exercise are interspersed with periods of intense exercise.

“If we’re asking people to do that, we also have to tell them that exercise goes hand in glove with proper eating and dieting. And that doesn’t mean crash diets, which are totally counterproductive. I wanted to explain how to eat and diet properly so that you really are getting on a lifelong program and not just a roller coaster ride.”

On her Lean Routine video Fonda discusses, among other things, why aerobics is considered the safest and most effective way to burn calories, how weight control is fat control, the advantages of healthy living, and guidelines for good eating habits.

By April 1991, Fonda closed her Beverly Hills, workout studio, in part due to increasing competition but primarily to concentrate on her core businesses of fitness videos, books and audiotapes. At that time one UPI report estimated her empire to be worth $100 million.

It was around this time that Fonda had met her third husband, Ted Turner, cable-TV maverick and CNN founder, who she would marry in December 1991, with her life then taking another new turn, as she would put down some roots and make certain philanthropic and community commitments in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

VHS edition of "Jane Fonda's Step & Stretch Workout" from 1994.
VHS edition of "Jane Fonda's Step & Stretch Workout" from 1994.
Back in the workout business, meanwhile, by 1992 she had issued some 15 tapes that had sold about 9 million copies. That year she issued her second video on step aerobics, which involves the use of a small platform or step. Fonda, who formerly conducted some classes at her workout studio, was no longer leading the aerobics sessions on her tapes, but was still doing the floor exercises on the videos. She was still working out four times a week by then, but just didn’t have the time to memorize and rehearse the aerobics routines. The video taping for her exercise videos by this time — more than a decade after her first video – was now much more of a production and took about a year to complete. In the earlier tapes, Fonda had been the principal choreographer, but now most of the routines were created by staff members with input from Fonda, as well as a physiologist and a cardiologist.

Other celebrities had come to the market with their own exercise videos of one kind or another, as the Fonda tapes faced competition. Still, during 1991-1994 she issued five more exercise videos: Lower Body Solution; Step Aerobic and Abdominal Workout; Favorite Fat Burners; Yoga Exercise Workout; and Step & Stretch Workout.

By 1995, as sales of the videos slowed, the Fonda workout managers and sales folks were adopting other strategies. “Fonda’s Personal Training Center” – a retail store kiosk that included videos, clothes, and fitness equipment – was installed at 1,000 locations, including Target, Oshman’s, Big 5 Sporting Goods and Sportsmart. There was also “bundling” of the video tapes with exercise equipment, as Fonda’s business manger La Fond reported to Billboard magazine. “Of the 2 million units sold on Fonda’s “Step Aerobics,” explained La Fond, “1.5 million were sold with the step.”

Jane Fonda, meanwhile, in her personal life had separated from Ted Turner and began living at her own ranch and working on her memoir. By May 2001, her divorce from Ted Turner was final, though the two have remained friends. After she finished writing the manuscript for her memoir, she began to think about making a return to acting. But at 65, that would be a pretty hard sell, but by 2005, she made her first out-of-retirement movie, Monster-in-Law with Jennifer Lopez. That same year, Random House published her autobiography, My Life So Far, which prompted a Washington Post reviewer to conclude that Jane Fonda is a “beautiful bundle of contradictions.” The New York Times called her book, “achingly poignant.” Also around this time, some of her older workout videos were re-released in DVD.

But Jane Fonda was not finished with her wellness acts just yet.

Jane Fonda’s “Prime Time,” paperback book, May 2012.
Jane Fonda’s “Prime Time,” paperback book, May 2012.

Fitness & 3rd Acts

Although her exercise videos from the 1980s and 1990s were still available in VHS format, and some remastered and issued in digital formats, Fonda decided to hit the exercise market once again in 2010. This time, she would be focusing on seniors living in their “prime time” years. First came two new fitness videos released on DVD in 2010. And there was also a new book to dovetail with the videos – Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit; Making the Most of All of Your Life. It was a new call to her audience that focused on living one’s life fully in the final years. This book followed upon her 2005 best seller, My Life So Far, as Jane explains:

…In my memoir, My Life So Far [2005], I defined my life in three acts: Act I, from birth to 29 years; Act II, from 30 to 59 years; and Act III, from 60 until the end. It really seemed to resonate with people, and a few years after the book came out, my editor at Random House, Kate Medina, came to me and suggested I write a book focusing more on the Third Act. I was interested in doing this because I was already well into my Third Act and relished the challenge to dig deeper, to understand its meaning, to learn how to make the most of it, and to navigate the inevitable challenges of aging–what is negotiable and what isn’t….

The videos – two issued in 2010 and three more in 2011-2012 – targeted the boomer and senior population to help them stay fit as they aged. Brief summaries of four of those videos follow below.

Walkout video, 2010.
Walkout video, 2010.
Fit & Strong video, 2010.
Fit & Strong video, 2010.
Yoga for Beginners, 2012.
Yoga for Beginners, 2012.
Trim,Tone & Flex, 2011.
Trim,Tone & Flex, 2011.
 

In 2010, Jane Fonda: Prime Time–Walkout was released. It includes two one-mile walking workouts. Also released in 2010, Jane Fonda: Prime Time – Fit & Strong, was also aimed at seniors and includes two 25-minute workouts aimed at burning fat, toning and shaping muscles, and core strengthening.

In 2011, came Jane Fonda Prime Time: Trim, Tone & Flex, which emphasized the importance of staying strong and flexible in aging, focusing on stretching to help promote weight loss and also protect bones and reduce joint stress. IT includes upper- and lower-body workouts.

Also in 2011, Jane Fonda Prime Time: Firm & Burn Low Impact Cardio was released, using several programs of dance routines to Doo-Wop, Latin, Funk and other music to get folks moving in 5 and 10 minute defined segments.

In 2012, Jane Fonda AM/PM Yoga for Beginners was released. This video includes three morning workouts and two evening workouts. Says Jane: “It’s time to get a yoga body! I love doing yoga in the morning to wake up my body and again at night to unwind from the day. Yoga is a great way to enhance your energy build strength and increase flexibility. Join me for my series of three AM yoga workouts designed to make you feel rejuvenated and energized and two PM workouts that will help you relax unwind and release tension and stress.” This video includes a 5-minute bonus section on stability and posture exercises to improve balance.


The Fonda Cohort

In the end, Jane Fonda had tapped into a market that has grown and aged along with her – mostly around the Baby Boomer cohort, but edging into demographics on either side of that group as well. For it was the thirty- and forty-something boomers from the 1980s who first bought her books and videos, and who then became the fifty- and sixty-somethings in the 1990s and 2000s, and as this is written, even the seventy- and eighty-somethings in the 2010s. At each of these stages there was some kind of Jane Fonda book or exercise video — and/or living advice in later years — to help keep her followers active and interested. It proved to be a prosperous and magic demographic for her. A bonus, of course, is that fair numbers of non-boomers became a part of Jane’s market too, in some cases, as the children of boomers also used Jane Fonda tapes and read her books, and possibly even a few millennials have now ventured there as well.

1979.  Jane Fonda working out with others, as photographed by Vogue magazine.
1979. Jane Fonda working out with others, as photographed by Vogue magazine.

Nor should Fonda’s exercise success and business empire be considered a ‘60s activist “sell out.” Certainly for Fonda herself, her books and tapes were always about female empowerment – bringing fitness and health to women as first steps in the broader empowerment process – and happily for her, also an avenue for proselytizing on diet, the environment, and other issues. It was, for her, all of a consistent piece — an honorable way of doing well while doing good; it all fit together. And it also became something of a built-in market for her autobiography, later books, films, and TV shows.

The success of her workout venture over the years also became an important enabler for her – a financial enabler worth millions every year, complimenting her acting and film production income and providing the means to continue her activism while living a comfortable celebrity life. Moreover, the additional celebrity that accrued to her by way of her workout fame through the 1980s and beyond, only added to her impact and reach on various activist causes. And the publicity she has received, and continues to receive, at activist events (see below), and for her support of social causes and activist organizations, reinforces her celebrity and activist standing.

Jane Fonda, at one of her workout studios, leading a group in floor exercise, circa 1980s.
Jane Fonda, at one of her workout studios, leading a group in floor exercise, circa 1980s.

It’s also turned out that her exercise business gave Jane Fonda entrée to a giant constituency of sorts – a base of followers who not only listened to her fitness advice, but also her “bigger-picture” messages on diet, health and the state of the environment. Certainly not all of Fonda’s fitness audience were in lockstep with her views. No doubt more than a few of her fitness followers loved her workout routines but hated her politics. Still, many likely at least gave her a listen. And combined with her Hollywood film and later TV audiences, Jane Fonda over the years has had a bigger base than many national politicians.


2018.  Fonda & others in "Book Club".
2018. Fonda & others in "Book Club".
Later Films

Jane Fonda’s film career, meanwhile, has continued into her later years. After Monster-in Law of 2005, Fonda made ten more Hollywood films, among them: Georgia Rule (2007), All Together (2012), Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (2012), The Butler (2013), in which she plays Nancy Reagan; Youth (2015), for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress; Our Souls at Night (2017 /Netflix), with Robert Redford; and Book Club (2018), about a group of senior women reacting to the book, 50 Shades of Grey, also starring Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen.

In her television work, Fonda has been a guest actress appearing in the series, The Newsroom (2012-2014), and is also co- starring with Lilly Tomlin in the series, Grace & Frankie (2015-2018), for which she and/or Tomlin have received several Emmy and other nominations.

During her earlier film career Fonda had won her profession’s highest acting awards, including two Oscars, two BAFTAs, and four Golden Globes, among others.


Activist Life

Whatever might be said about Jane Fonda, one thing is for sure: she has not stood still. Her friends, former husbands, and fellow actors throughout her life have been amazed at her energy and the many causes she undertakes. One reviewer of her 2005 autobiography remarked at being “astonished by how much living can be packed into sixty-plus years.” Indeed, Jane Fonda has marked every decade in which she has lived; leaving a little “Fonda dust” wherever she ventures. Her activism of the 1960s and 1970s — though not always well-received — was no one-time occurrence, and it continues as this is written. She has a long history of supporting women’s rights, environmental protection, and childhood development, and often travels far and wide to participate in protests, conferences, and marches on these and other issues.

1972. Jane Fonda in Rome, Italy supporting a rally on behalf of Italian feminists. photo, Associated Press.
1972. Jane Fonda in Rome, Italy supporting a rally on behalf of Italian feminists. photo, Associated Press.

In May 1979, she was among speakers supporting anti-nuclear power protests in Washington following the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. In the mid-1990s she established the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential and the Fonda Family Foundation in the late 1990s. In 2001, she established the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at Emory University in Atlanta to help prevent adolescent pregnancy. She has also been a longtime supporter of feminist causes, including V-Day, a movement to stop violence against women, inspired by the off-Broadway hit The Vagina Monologues.

May 1979.  Jane Fonda flanked by Governor Jerry Brown of California (left), and her husband, Tom Hayden, at anti-nuclear power protest rally in Washington D.C., which occurred shortly after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania and as ‘The China Syndrome’ film was still running in theaters.
May 1979. Jane Fonda flanked by Governor Jerry Brown of California (left), and her husband, Tom Hayden, at anti-nuclear power protest rally in Washington D.C., which occurred shortly after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania and as ‘The China Syndrome’ film was still running in theaters.

In mid- February 2004, Fonda led a march through Ciudad Juárez, Mexico with Sally Field and others urging Mexico to provide sufficient resources to investigate the murders of hundreds of women in that city. In 2005, along with Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem, she co-founded the Women’s Media Center, an organization that works to amplify the voices of women in the media. Fonda serves on its board.

2015.  Jane Fonda holding a 'Stop Shell' protest sign at an anti-oil development gathering in Vancouver, British Columbia.
2015. Jane Fonda holding a 'Stop Shell' protest sign at an anti-oil development gathering in Vancouver, British Columbia.
She has also opposed oil development in Alaska and oil sands conflicts with First Nation indigenous lands in Canada.

In June 2015, she joined protests in Vancouver, British Columbia regarding Shell Oil’s drilling plans in offshore Alaska as well as expected oil tanker traffic off the British Columbia coast. In July 2015, she marched in a Toronto protest called the “March for Jobs, Justice, and Climate.”

In November 2016 she helped lead a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota (and later withdrew her money from Wells Fargo bank, one the project’s funders).

In January 2017 she stood with Greenpeace and First Nation groups opposing expansion of tar sands development in Alberta, Canada. Fonda’s protests on various oil projects are often met with vitriol by many in the oil industry, but she says she is working on behalf of her grandchildren and wants to make sure “I did every single possible thing I could do to make their world a liveable world.”

Back in Hollywood, meanwhile, Fonda was honored in 2014 with the AFI Life Achievement Award, and in 2017 she received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 74th Venice Film Festival. As this is written, Jane Fonda is 80 years old, and shows no signs of slowing down, planning to continue both her advocacy and her acting.

See also at this website, “Noteworthy Ladies,” a topics page with dozens of story choices on the lives of famous women in various fields. See also the “Film & Hollywood” page or the “Environmental History” page for stories in those categories. 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: 27 September 2018
Last Update: 20 October 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Fonda Fitness Boom: 1980s & Beyond,”
PopHistoryDig.com, September 27, 2018.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

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Cover art for earlier Jane Fonda biography by Thomas Kiernan, Jane: An Intimate Biography of Jane Fonda, New York: Putnam, 1973.
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“Shell Plant Explodes”
1994: Belpre, Ohio

On May 27th, 1994, an explosion and multiple fires at a Shell Oil chemical plant in southeastern Ohio killed three workers, caused the temporary evacuation of 1,700 local residents, and polluted the adjacent Ohio River with a mixture of toxic chemicals for more than 20 miles downstream. As later described by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): “A catastrophic failure of a 15,000 gallon polymer reactor vessel was initiated by a runaway chemical reaction” in the company’s Kraton-D polymer unit. “The reactor failure and resulting fire,” explained OSHA, “caused the complete destruction” of that unit. Additionally, missile fragments from the failed reactor damaged

May 27th, 1994 photo of raging inferno in the chemical tank storage area of Shell’s Belpre, Ohio chemical plant, set off as a second fire by missile fragments from initial explosion in another part of the complex. (firefighter photo).
May 27th, 1994 photo of raging inferno in the chemical tank storage area of Shell’s Belpre, Ohio chemical plant, set off as a second fire by missile fragments from initial explosion in another part of the complex. (firefighter photo).

adjacent units of the plant, as well as another area with large chemical storage tanks. One fragment from the initial explosion punctured a styrene storage tank some 600 feet away. This tank’s explosion and fire resulted in the burning of five additional styrene storage tanks containing approximately 3.5 million gallons of flammable products.

The Parkersburg News of Parkersburg, West Virginia reporting on the May 1994 Shell explosion & fires: 'Disaster At Shell'.
The Parkersburg News of Parkersburg, West Virginia reporting on the May 1994 Shell explosion & fires: 'Disaster At Shell'.
Throughout Ohio, and especially in the local region, the Shell explosion was front-page news. The Parkersburg News of Parkersburg, West Virginia, a town just across the Ohio River from Belpre, reported the incident with the May 28th headline: “Disaster at Shell” (photo at right). That story also included a front-page aerial photo of the Shell plant complex burning in two locations (see larger photo later below).

Another Ohio newspaper, The Saturday Review of East Liverpool, for its May 28th edition, used the headline: “Explosion, Fire Force Evacuations; Governor Declares State of Emergency in Belpre.”

Belpre, Ohio is a small town in southeast Ohio on the Ohio River opposite Parkersburg, West Virginia. A town of about 6,800 people at the time of the Shell accident, Belpre is located about 110 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio and about 150 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Ohio River, in fact, stretching from Pittsburgh, and flowing south and west along the Ohio-West Virginia border to the Mississippi River, became an industrial highway of sorts, making the area something of a chemical valley, with DuPont, GE, and others all locating plants in the Belpre-Parkersburg area in the 1950s and 1960s, using river barges to supply their operations and move their finished products.

Map showing location of Belpre, Ohio on the Ohio River border with West Virginia.
Map showing location of Belpre, Ohio on the Ohio River border with West Virginia.
In 1961, the Shell Oil Company opened a plastics plant at Belpre along U.S. highway 50, building a complex of buildings there on about 15 acres. The plant was expanded at least twice after that – once in 1980 and again in 1990.

The plant became known for making plastics, and in particular, Shell’s Kraton, a thermoplastic rubber used in automotive parts, wire, footwear, adhesives, and cable coverings.

For the most part, things were good at the Belpre plant during those years. In fact, Shell had been crowing during the summer of 1993 about how this plant was meeting “stringent international quality standards” under something known as ISO 9002.

But early morning on Friday, May 27th, 1994, just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, things at the Shell plant were not quite right. It was about 6:20 a.m., and at that hour only 50 to 75 workers were on hand at the plant. Normally, the plant would fill to several hundred workers. An explosion occurred in the K-1 building at the plant about 6:25am followed by a fire, but soon spread to a chemical storage tank area. Then, at about 6:30 am, there was a violent explosion as the fire reached one of the tanks. Soon, five more chemical tanks there, holding millions of gallons of styrene and 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel, were burning, and they continued burning.

Front page photo from the May 28th 1994 “Parkersburg News” showing the Shell Chemical plant at Belpre, Ohio along the Ohio River, with two areas of the plant burning on May 27th, 1994, following an early morning explosion that day. Three workers were killed; 1,700 residents evacuated. ( Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair, Parkersburg, WV).
Front page photo from the May 28th 1994 “Parkersburg News” showing the Shell Chemical plant at Belpre, Ohio along the Ohio River, with two areas of the plant burning on May 27th, 1994, following an early morning explosion that day. Three workers were killed; 1,700 residents evacuated. ( Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair, Parkersburg, WV).

The fire raged for nine hours before being brought under control, as dozens of fire companies and some 150 firefighters from surrounding communities responded. At times, flames shot 300 to 600 feet into the air; and firefighters had to back away from their battle at various points due to the intense heat. One exchange among firefighters caught by local reporters for the Parkersburg News, had a fire chief in radio communication with his men who were reporting the searing heat and a possible retreat and withdrawal of equipment. “I don’t care about the [fire] engines, they can be replaced. Just get those people out of there,” he relayed over the radio, according to the Parkersburg reporters. “We’re really feeling the heat,” one firefighter radioed back. “Leave them babies [referring to the trucks] and run,” said the chief. “If you feel it’s safer, then come up here,” the chief advised.

Another photo from the “Parkersburg News,” taken from the other side of the Ohio River, showing two areas of the Shell plant in flames – at right, where the initial explosion occurred, and tank storage area, to the left, where projectiles from the first explosion caused several tanks there to ignite & leak. (Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair, Parkersburg, WV).
Another photo from the “Parkersburg News,” taken from the other side of the Ohio River, showing two areas of the Shell plant in flames – at right, where the initial explosion occurred, and tank storage area, to the left, where projectiles from the first explosion caused several tanks there to ignite & leak. (Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair, Parkersburg, WV).

At one point, a giant, elongated plume of thick black smoke moved away from the plant and was visible stretching over nearby areas as the fire burned. Two of the burning chemicals in the blaze were petroleum-based solvents, cyclohexane and styrene monomers, according to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rob Berger. Both are used in the production of plastics and can produce irritating or poisonous gases.“…Former sheriff Bob Schlicher later told us that officials simply could not explain why the entire tank farm did not explode that day…” Authorities first ordered the evacuation of 15 homes in Porterfield, five miles west of Belpre, then ordered the evacuation of everyone within a one-mile radius of the plant, on both sides of the Ohio River. In all, 1,700 people were evacuated. US highway 50 was shut down and an advisory was issued to boaters on the Ohio River to avoid the area because of the smoke.

One reporter who was at the scene, Mike Cullums, filing live reports for WMOA and ONN radio stations, later offered this account:

…The most memorable moment came as I was reporting from the press pool location, in the parking lot of the Belpre Church of Christ late that morning. While on-air, I looked up and saw a parade of fire engines racing away from the scene and past the church. They had run out of fire-fighting foam. As urgently as possible, hundreds of residents were evacuated from Porterfield, Blennerhassett Heights, and the portion of Belpre west of Farson Street. Former sheriff Bob Schlicher later told us that officials simply could not explain why the entire tank farm did not explode that day. He said that, had the expected blast occurred, the results would have been unimaginably worse….

“Family Men”
Killed in Explosion

Michael Lee Harris of Reedsville, Ohio was one of the workers killed in the explosion at the Belpre plastics plant. He was 36 years old. By all accounts, Michael Lee Harris was madly in love with his wife, Lori, crazy about his two kids, Steven 4, and Katie 2, and liked his job. His wife last saw him at 10 pm the night before the accident when they went to bed, as Michael would sometimes slip away quietly in the morning without waking her. Michael’s father, Sonny Harris, like other residents in the Belpre area, knew the hazards of the job at the Shell plant. “I’ve been in factories all my life,” he said, “so I understand this.” Still, Mr. Harris saw his son as a person with few flaws and a model family man. “Thirty-six years old, and I never heard a swear word out of him… Never smoked a cigarette in his life. No enemies. …That’s just the way he was.”

The other two victims were Gary Reed, 41, who enjoyed the outdoors and left behind his wife, Julie, and two kids, Alexis, 7, and Ashley, 10. George Nutter, 50, was an avid woodworker, leaving behind his wife, Brenda, and two children, Michael, 22, and Heather, 18.

Governor Acts

Shortly after noon on the day of the fire, Ohio Governor George Voinovich declared a state of emergency in Washington County, Ohio where the plant and Belpre were located. He had been advised that the fires at the Shell plant were burning out of control and posed a threat to the health and safety of residents and rescue crews. Voinovich also ordered the Ohio National Guard to fly 8,000 pounds of foram from Rickenbacker Air Base in Columbus, Ohio to Wood County Airport as local foam supplies were low. More foam would be flown in later from Texas.

By late afternoon the day of the explosion, the fires at the Shell plant were brought under control. “The large fire is now out,” reported one Belpre firefighter. “All the firefighters are going through detoxification to assure they don’t have any chemicals on them.” Evacuated residents were also allowed to return to their homes later that afternoon. But at that point, it was known that at least one worker was dead and two others were missing.

Six days later, industrial cranes were still working at the site clearing through heavy debris, as a search continued for the two other plant workers, then presumed to have died in the blast.


River Pollution

Meanwhile, liquid chemicals from the burning and burst tanks had been seeping into the Ohio River, which flows south along West Virginia, then west along the northern Kentucky border to the Mississippi River.

After the explosion, a long slick of ethylene dibromide formed in the Ohio River and began moving down-river with concentrations of more than 100 times the federal drinking water standard. As the spilled chemicals moved downstream toward the Mississippi, towns such as Ironton and Portsmouth, Ohio, and Huntington, West Virginia, began to shut their water intakes. By June 7th, Ironton, Ohio was dependent upon barges bringing in fresh drinking water. By then, the chemical slick on the Ohio River stretched downstream for miles.

On June 10th, 1994, EPA issued a statement on the Shell explosion at the Belpre plant:

“A major explosion and fire at a chemical plant owned by Shell Oil caused four one-million gallon styrene tanks and their secondary containment systems to fail… The explosion released numerous hazardous substances and killed over 1,500 fish in the Ohio River. EDB [1,2-dibromoethane, a pesticide] has been discovered at the water-intake on the River in Huntington, West Virginia, and at other downstream locations. A plume of EDB measuring 22 miles long was identified, and is continuing to be tracked downstream.”

EPA ordered Shell to begin a clean up, monitor on-site run-off and movement of the chemical spill in the river, develop a warning system for downstream water users, provide alternative drinking water supplies for those users, and assess all off-site environmental damage.

In the aftermath of the May 1994 explosion & fires, one portion of the Shell complex revealed a collapsed tank and other damage. Note distant worker standing on platform near right center of photo. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.
In the aftermath of the May 1994 explosion & fires, one portion of the Shell complex revealed a collapsed tank and other damage. Note distant worker standing on platform near right center of photo. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.

Within a few weeks of the explosion, a number of residents in the area filed a class-action lawsuit seeking damages for the evacuation and exposure to harmful chemicals. EPA would later report that more than 1 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released during the fires. In the lawsuit, most of the residents were seeking compensation for property damage. The lawsuit also sought, at Shell’s expense, medical testing of people living near the plant and a determination of whether the gases endangered their health. That lawsuit was not certified as a class action, but six individual cases did go forward. Families of the three workers killed in the blast filed wrongful death suits against Shell seeking $20 million each in damages.

Others in the community, however, were worried about jobs, and a rally was held in Porterfield on June 5th, 1994. Hundreds of people turned out voicing their support for the company and carrying signs that they stood behind the company despite the explosion. Meanwhile, investigations by Shell, the state of Ohio, and federal authorities were all underway.

Another photo of the internal damage found at the Shell chemical plant in Belpre, Ohio in the wake of the May 1994 explosion and fires. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.
Another photo of the internal damage found at the Shell chemical plant in Belpre, Ohio in the wake of the May 1994 explosion and fires. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.

By late June 1994, Shell said it was preparing to resume operations at the plant, although at a reduced level. In July, when Shell Oil (U.S.) made its quarterly report, it booked a loss and recorded $233 million in costs from the Belpre explosion. In October 1994, Shell reported that one of the three workers killed in the explosion helped cause the accident by failing to follow established operating procedures, but declined to name which worker was responsible. A month later, the company announced it was planning to rebuild the damaged portions of the plant and have it back on stream within one year.


OSHA Fine

In late November 1994, Shell agreed to pay a fine of more than $3 million to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for federal safety violations that occurred in connection with the Belpre explosion. At the time, it was the largest fine ever levied on an Ohio company, and the sixth largest ever for OSHA since the agency was created in 1970. OSHA had found 42 violations at the Belpre plant.

“We are very pleased that Shell has agreed to resolve this matter as quickly as possible, in order to ensure maximum protection for its employees,” said then Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich in a prepared statement. “The agreement avoids the burden and cost of possible prolonged litigation and furthers the efforts of both Shell and OSHA to assure a safe workplace.”

A broader look at the Shell chemical plant and one of the damaged areas at center following the May 1994 explosion, with the Ohio River and near shore of West Virginia at the top of photo. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.
A broader look at the Shell chemical plant and one of the damaged areas at center following the May 1994 explosion, with the Ohio River and near shore of West Virginia at the top of photo. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.

Shell, for its part, stated the agreement with OSHA was not an admission of any violations. Arnie Ditmar, Shell’s Belpre plant manager, said the company disputed many of OSHA’s allegations and conclusions, but that Shell decided against contesting the case. “It would have continuously distracted from our desire and need to move forward and focus on rebuilding our plant and returning to normal, safe operation,” Ditmar said.

“We don’t agree with Shell’s conclusion that it was operator error.”
    – Deborah J. Zubaty, OSHA
Meanwhile, Shell’s internal investigation of the accident found employee error and equipment failure contributed to an abnormal chemical reaction and resulting explosion in the reactor unit. OHSA disagreed. “We don’t agree with Shell’s conclusion that it was operator error,” said Deborah J. Zubaty, director of OSHA’s Columbus, Ohio office at the time the agreement was announced. “We feel there were a multitude of causes,” though the agency’s investigation did not pinpoint one specific cause.

The violations OSHA did find, however, indicated deficiencies in the company’s equipment, plant layout, production safety procedures, and training of its employees. OSHA also faulted Shell’s emergency response plan, noting that those who first responded were not wearing breathing apparatus to protect them against chemicals, including asbestos.

A “closer in” look at some of  the damaged areas of the Shell chemical plant following the May 1994 explosion and fires there. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.
A “closer in” look at some of the damaged areas of the Shell chemical plant following the May 1994 explosion and fires there. Source: Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair/Mike Cottrell.

One of the OSHA violations revealed that Shell had an earlier experience with an “uncontrolled reaction” at the same reactor and the same chemical involved in the May 27th explosion. That event occurred on January 23, 1994, only four months earlier. Shell, in fact, had written a three-page memo on the January incident, but there was no further investigation and no report by the company. OSHA wasn’t informed about the January 23rd incident until the agency investigated the May 27th accident. Shell maintained it didn’t need to report the January 23rd incident because it was a minor incident that didn’t fall within OSHA’s reporting requirements. Shell’s Mike White said at that time that the company would have “vigorously contested” the OSHA charge on that count. White explained that the January 23rd incident “was not uncontrolled,” and that the attending technician knew what was in the reactor before allowing the reaction to proceed. The reaction was hotter than normal, he acknowledged, because of a frozen vent line due to extremely cold temperatures at the time.


Shell Blocks OSHA

Nearly two years later, in September 1996, just as OSHA was about to publicly release its final report on the May 1994 Belpre accident, Shell filed a lawsuit to block the report. The OSHA report contained a more detailed narrative on the accident and described what the agency believed were contributing factors.…Shell filed a lawsuit to block OSHA’s report on the Belpre explosion. Shell, then facing litigation from the families of the dead workers as well as other cases for property damage from local residents, was doing what it could to limit possible awards in court and keep the company’s name out of the newspapers and media. Shell’s lawyers met with OSHA staff on September 18th, and an agreement was reached to withhold the OSHA report until Shell had a chance to make its case before a federal judge. Shell then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Houston to formally block the report’s release. Shell argued the OSHA report contained trade secrets and law enforcement information that is exempt from the Federal Freedom of Information Act. Shell had also learned that the Charleston Gazette newspaper of West Virginia had sought a copy of the report under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under that law, OSHA is required to inform companies of requests for such reports. OSHA had already explained to Shell that it was intending to delete portions of the report that contained trade secret information. Although OSHA had prepared to delete more of the report after rereading some of Shell’s earlier letters, OSHA still favored releasing the report.

“OSHA believes, as amended, the report does not disclose any of Shell’s trade secrets or confidential information,” said OSHA in a September 10th, 1996 letter to Shell. “Moreover, OSHA continues to believe that the conclusions of its investigation team relating to the history and causes of the event would be useful in educating both the public and the chemical industry on hazards presented by chemical processes and thereby possibly preventing death and injuries at other locations.”

“The Daily Damage”
An Occasional Series

This article is one in an occasional series of stories at this website that feature the ongoing environmental and public safety impacts of various industrial disasters and accidents – oil and chemical spills; explosions and fires; toxic and hazardous waste issues; air and water pollution; and other such occurrences.

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

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

Shell, in its court documents, argued against disclosure of the report since its was “based almost exclusively on confidential and privileged documents and information that Shell had voluntarily given to OSHA, which Shell would not release to the public.” Shell also said the report was “an investigatory record prepared by OSHA for law enforcement purposes, and its disclosure would unfairly prejudice Shell in pending litigation. . .” Shell’s request to prevent the OSHA report’s public release went before the US District Court in Houston – where Shell’s U.S. headquarters are located — and was granted a “protective order” to keep the report under wraps while Shell was in litigation.

In January 1997, Shell settled the wrongful death lawsuits with the families of three dead workers. Each family received payments of between $2.1 and $2.4 million in out-of-court agreements. Other litigation with 44 residents seeking damages from the Belpre explosion and fire also proceeded, but it is unclear what the details and final outcome of those actions were, or if any settlements were made. And it appears that OSHA’s more detailed report and narrative on the Belpre, Ohio explosion was never publicly released.

At the Shell Belpre plant, however, there was another incident – an August 1998 explosion. This time it was a hydrogen explosion in a compressor unit. The blast rattled buildings up to five miles away. A fire ensued but was brought under control by the plant’s firefighters within 30 minutes. Shell, meanwhile, had begun an internal process of reevaluating its chemical strategy, and decided to exit some of its chemical lines. In December 1998, Shell announced that it planned to sell the Belpre chemical complex, but would continue to operate the plant until a new owner was found. After 18 months on the sales block, Shell finally sold the Belpre plant to Rippelwood Holdings LLC in September 2000 for an estimated $600 million. Rippelwood then operated the plant until late December 2003 when the plant was again sold, this time to the Texas Pacific Group, a private investment partnership, for $770 million. As of 2018, the Belpre plant continues to operate under these owners, and is known as Kraton Polymers. Following the 1994 explosion, new technology and safety measures were added to the chemical complex, and subsequent owners report they have continued to spend money on system upgrades, worker safety, and environmental protection.


One of the logos used by Royal Dutch Shell.
One of the logos used by Royal Dutch Shell.
Big Player

While Shell sold its chemical plant at the Belpre, Ohio location, it has been a major player in the global chemical business for decades. Royal Dutch Shell, known commonly as “Shell Oil,” is among the world’s top five corporations, one of the four “supermajors” in the oil and gas industry. It is also among the world’s top 15 chemical companies, with more than $20 billion in annual chemical sales.

Formed in the 1907 merger of Royal Dutch Petroleum and Shell Transport & Trading, Shell Oil today has operations in more than 140 countries. In 2017, the company’s total annual revenues were in excess of $300 billion, making it the world’s fifth largest corporation by sales. It’s profits in 2017 were $13.4 billion.

In recent years, Shell has also begun a small renewable energy business developing wind, hydrogen, and solar power. Still, as of 2018 Shell appears to be a fully-committed fossil fuels player, with continuing investments in exploration, refining, transport, and petrochemicals. The company’s 2016 acquisition of the BG Group (formerly British Gas) for $53 billion made Shell the world’s largest player in liquefied natural gas and also bolstered its position in the Brazilian oil business while expanding its holding of offshore deep water assets. Today, in the oil and gas business, only ExxonMobil is bigger.

From an October 2017 story on Shell’s cracker plant, The Pitt News (University of Pittsburgh). Map, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
From an October 2017 story on Shell’s cracker plant, The Pitt News (University of Pittsburgh). Map, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In North America, as of 2018, Shell has begun building a $6 billion ethylene cracker plant for the production of plastics north of Pittsburgh, PA along the Ohio River. This location was chosen in part for its proximity to a huge feedstock source: the Marcellus Shale natural gas fields, where hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is the current method of extraction. Shell has also stated that 70 percent of its polyethylene customers in North America are within a 700-mile radius of the Pittsburgh location.

In addition to the cracker plant itself will be the 97-mile Falcon Pipeline project that will collect and transport more than 100,000 barrels of ethane daily to feed the cracker.

As work on the Shell plant has gone forward, environmentalists in the area, along with some citizens and clergy, have expressed concerns over the plant’s potential pollution impacts. Others worry about public safety issues. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania officials, supporting the Shell cracker, have awarded the company a $1.7 billion, 25-year tax credit.

With its far flung global empire, Royal Dutch Shell, like other multinationals, has its hands full managing its many operations. While the company is attentive in controlling the impacts of its rigs, refineries, and factories, and spends sizeable amounts on safety and environmental protection, the company’s performance history in these areas is not without incident. Chronic safety and environmental issues continue to be a problem for this company and include, for example: oil spills at sea, refinery fires, offshore accidents, pipeline leaks, workplace incidents, and various chemical release and pollution issues. In the 2010-2018 period, Shell has had major and minor incidents. A few examples follow below:

Paperback edition of “Where Vultures Feast,” a 2003 book about Shell’s performance history in Nigeria.
Paperback edition of “Where Vultures Feast,” a 2003 book about Shell’s performance history in Nigeria.
Ronnie Green’s 2008 book featuring Louisiana resident Margie Richard’s 15 year fight with Shell Oil’s Norco, LA  refinery & chemical plant that polluted her community and sickened its residents, by Amistad publishers, 288pp.
Ronnie Green’s 2008 book featuring Louisiana resident Margie Richard’s 15 year fight with Shell Oil’s Norco, LA refinery & chemical plant that polluted her community and sickened its residents, by Amistad publishers, 288pp.

North Sea Leak
August 2011. A Royal Dutch Shell pipeline off the coast of Scotland at the company’s offshore Gannet Alpha oil platform leaked more than 1,300 barrels of oil into the North Sea.

Refinery Fire
September 28, 2011. A 32-hour fire at Shell’s Pulau Bukom oil refining and petrochemical complex in Singapore, brought an $80,000 fine from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower on October 30, 2012 for “lapses in workplace safety” that led to the blaze.

Oil Spill
December 21, 2011. Up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled while being transferred from a floating oil platform to an oil tanker 75 miles off the coast of the Niger delta in the Bonga offshore oil field, off Nigeria, Africa.

Oil Spill
May 12, 2016. More than 88,000 gallons of crude oil discharged from a Shell subsea wellhead into the Gulf of Mexico off Timbalier Island from a flow line about 90 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Glider Field near the company’s Brutus Tension-Leg Platform.

Pipeline Leak
May 30, 2016. Shell Oil’s San Pablo Bay Pipeline, which transports crude oil from California’s Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area, leaked an estimated 21,000 gallons into the soil.

Refinery Explosion
August 11, 2016. An explosion and major fire rocked the Shell/Motiva oil refinery in Convent, Louisiana, leading to the evacuation of 1,400 workers and damage to one of the refinery’s processing units. No injuries were reported.

Refinery Fire
July 31, 2017. A massive fire erupted at Shell’s Pernis refinery in Rotterdam in the Netherlands — the largest refinery in Europe – causing a blackout and forcing the company to halt all loadings.

Rig Fire & Spill
November 8, 2017. Shell’s Enchilada oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico was shut down and all associated production stopped after a fire broke out on the rig. Two people were injured and the crew of 46 were evacuated to a nearby platform. There was also a report of a light sheen of oil on the water north of the Shell platform, which is located about 112 nautical miles south of Vermilion Bay, Louisiana.

Refinery Fire
March 4, 2018. Fire and rescue crews were called to the Shell Refinery in Saraland, Alabama for an oil pump fire. No injuries were reported.

Tank Explosion & Fire
June 11, 2018. Shell reported a storage tank explosion and small fire at its Carson, California tank farm and distribution facility. Employees were evacuated from the tank farm, but no injuries were reported. About 60,000 barrels of gasoline were in the tank when the incident occurred,

For additional history at this website on the environmental and safety performance of the oil and chemical industries see, for example, the “Environmental History” topics 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: 26 August 2018
Last Update: 26 August 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Shell Plant Explodes, 1994: Belpre, Ohio,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 26, 2018.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

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Lim Yi Han, “Fire at Shell’s Pulau Bukom Plant Leaves 6 Injured, Including 3 in Critical Condition,” The Straits Times (Singapore), August 21, 2015.

Sarah Kent, “Shell Oil Spills Led to ‘Astonishingly High’ Pollution in Nigeria; Stalled Cleanup of Leaks from Faulty Pipeline in 2008 Is Endangering Locals, Letter Warns,” Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2017.

Oliver Milman (New York), “Shell Working to Repair Leak That Spilled 2,000 Barrels of Oil into Gulf of Mexico; Thursday Leak Created a 13 Mile-Wide Slick on the Surface of the Water, from Group of Underwater Oil Wells 97 Miles South of Port Fourchon, Louisiana,” The Guardian, May 16, 2016.

Emma Grey Ellis, “Bet You Didn’t Hear Shell Spilled a Bunch of Oil in the Gulf,” Wired, June 9, 2016 (on the inexact nature of reporting and recording spills; and why small spills matter).

Reuters, “Shell Reports Small Explosion at Carson, California Facility,” June 11, 2018.

Mark Schleifstein, “Shell Offshore to Pay $3.9 Million for 2016 Deepwater Oil Spill from Cracked Pipeline,” NOLA.com, July 7, 2018.
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“The M&M Boys”
Summer of 1961

2001 book by The Sporting News on the Mantle-Maris home run race of 1961. Click for book details.
2001 book by The Sporting News on the Mantle-Maris home run race of 1961. Click for book details.
Baseball fans in the summer of 1961 had a special treat that brought them to the sports pages daily. A “home run race” developed that summer between two New York Yankee teammates: Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

The “race” between these two sought to topple the venerable home run mark set by former Yankee, Babe Ruth in 1927. Ruth hit 60 home runs that year, and by 1961, his record had stood for 34 years.

Prior to 1961, only two other players had approached Ruth’s record: Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932 and Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers in 1938, both of whom hit 58 home runs. Hack Wilson of the Chicago Cubs hit 56 in 1930, and Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Johnny Mize of the New York Giants hit 51 in 1947. Kiner also hit 54 in 1949. Willie Mays of the New York Giants hit 51 in 1955, and Mickey Mantle hit 52 in 1956. Still, in most years, the home run leaders were in the 40s.

The pursuit of Ruth’s record in 1961 by Mantle and Maris wasn’t something purposely stated by either man at the outset of the season, though they were asked about it frequently by the press. In their private thoughts, no doubt, each man wanted to break Ruth’s record. And as both Mantle and Maris had impressive home run totals in previous years, there was periodic press speculation about one or the other of them breaking Ruth’s record

Still, as the season began, no one was flatly predicting that either Maris or Mantle, or anyone else, would hit 61 home runs that year. And for Mantle and Maris, there was also the uncertainty that comes with any baseball season, each man’s abilities, the possibility of batting slumps or personal injury, other competitors outperforming them, etc. But as the season progressed, and the home run count for Mantle and Maris each rose, the race between “the M&M boys” as they came to be called, soon captivated baseball fans and the broader public, while permeating popular culture of that day and for years to come. What follows here is a review of that season, with photos, press accounts, and later, a timeline, as well as a postscript on events that followed the 1961 season, including a Hollywood film and the numerous books that came out on the pair and their home run race. But first, some background on Maris and Mantle.

Late 1950s. Roger Maris with the Cleveland Indians.
Late 1950s. Roger Maris with the Cleveland Indians.

Roger Maris

Roger Maris grew up in Fargo. N.D and was an outstanding athlete at Shanley High School, an all-state halfback in football, who led the state in scoring his senior year and helped Shanley win the North Dakota championship as a junior. He also set a record for returning 4 consecutive kickoffs in one game.

In addition to football, Maris was also a standout in basketball and track. Shanley, like other high schools in the state, did not play spring baseball because of the long North Dakota winters. However, Maris did play summer baseball as a boy, and also at the American Legion level, where he excelled.

But Roger Maris was first sought out for his football prowess, recruited by a number of colleges, including the legendary Bud Wilkinson of the University of Oklahoma, where Maris agreed to go. However, a baseball scout for the Cleveland Indians began waving around a $15,000 contract and signing bonus, and that appeared more enticing to Maris than college.

After four seasons in the minors Maris made his major league debut at in 1957 with the Indians, batting .235 with 14 homers and 51 RBI in 116 games. A year later he was traded to Kansas City, and from there, to the Yankees. In New York, however, he would soon prove his worth.


March 1951: Young Mickey Mantle picking out a bat at New York Yankee spring training.
March 1951: Young Mickey Mantle picking out a bat at New York Yankee spring training.

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle had been with the Yankees nearly a decade when Roger Maris arrived. Mantle had come to the Yankees in 1951 as a 19 year-old sensation from Oklahoma – a player with a rare combination of speed and switch-hitting power the game had not seen in years.

Like Maris, Mantle had played running back as a high school football player, but baseball was his passion, instilled by his father who had worked with him as a young boy, insisting he become a switch hitter.

As a muscular, 5′-11,’ 195-pound baseball player, Mickey Mantle packed amazing power into his swings, and during his career would hit some memorable 500-foot-plus home run shots. He could also move with lightening speed running the bases and in the outfield, especially in his early years.

In his early spring training appearances with the Yankees in 1951, he had received effusive praise from famous Yankees such as former catcher and Hall of Famer, Bill Dickey, then a Yankee coach. Dickey, not prone to exaggeration, would say of the young Mantle: “I thought when I was playing with Ruth and Gehrig I was seeing all I was ever gonna see. But this kid [Mantle]… Ruth and Gehrig had power, but I’ve seen Mickey hit seven balls, seven so far…. Well, I’ve never seen nothing like it.”

Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 1956, the year he would win Triple Crown batting honors.
Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 1956, the year he would win Triple Crown batting honors.
In June 1951, then Yankee manager Casey Stengel, speaking to SPORT magazine about the new kid, Mantle, stated: “He’s got more natural power from both sides than anybody I ever saw.”

When Mantle came to play with the Yankees, he was touted as the next link in the legendary line of Yankee superstars, and the likely replacement for Joe DiMaggio, whose centerfield spot he would inherit full time in 1952.

Although the young Mantle had a rough start with the Yankees in the early 1950s, sent for a short stint in the Yankee farm system, and disappointing fans when he didn’t become an instant DiMaggio or Ruth, he soon began demonstrating his superstar talents.

By the time Roger Maris arrived in 1960, Mantle’s heroics had already put him on the covers of Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated magazines, and often in the headlines of the New York sports pages. In 1956, Mantle posted a .353 batting average, slammed 52 homers, and drove in 130 runs, winning the Triple Crown, a rare baseball achievement. At that time, in fact, he was only the twelfth player in baseball history to have won it. And to date, Mantle is the last Triple Crown winner to have led all of Major League Baseball in all three Triple Crown categories.


1960, Early 1961

Nov. 1960: Roger Maris featured in ‘Sport’ magazine cover story: “Roger Maris Rejuvenates The Yankees’.
Nov. 1960: Roger Maris featured in ‘Sport’ magazine cover story: “Roger Maris Rejuvenates The Yankees’.
By 1960, however, the new kid in town – Roger Maris – was also demonstrating his talents. In fact, in his very first game as Yankee, Maris hit a single, double, and two home runs. Maris hit 39 home runs in 1960, along with 112 RBIs and a .283 batting average. That performance brought him the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. Mantle took the home run title that year with 40, along with 94 RBIs and a .275 average.

Although the Yankees had won the pennant in 1960, and were favored to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, the Pirates prevailed, wining one of the most dramatic Game 7 battles in baseball history.

By November 1960, Sport magazine featured Maris in a cover story touting him as rejuvenating the Yankees. Still, compared to Mantle, Maris was the newcomer and slow to become a fan favorite. But at the beginning of 1961 at least, Maris appeared to have no designs on Ruth’s record, and was asked by an Associated Press reporter if the expanded 164 game schedule that year might make it possible to break Ruth’s record. His reply: “Nobody will touch it… Look up the records and you’ll see that it’s a rare year when anybody hits 50 homers, let alone 60.”

In mid-January 1961, Mickey Mantle, then 29, was the highest-paid active player in professional baseball. That year he signed a $75,000 contract with the Yankees (equal to more than $620,000 in 2018, but still a pittance compared to what elite players now get under free agency). Heading into the baseball season that year, Mantle said: “I don’t remember when I have felt better at this stage. I ought to have my best year.” In the previous year, he noted he had hit .275 and “struck out much too much” (125 times). For the coming 1961 season, he said: “I’m setting my sights on a .300 plus batting average, 100 runs batted in and at least 40 home runs. And I’m not going to strike out as often.” Mantle’s lifetime batting average at that point, after 10 years with the Yankees, was over .300.

October 12th, 1960, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA.  New York Yankees Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Clete Boyer are optimistic about their chances in winning the 1960 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, having just thrashed the Pirates in Game 6 by a 12-0 score. "1 more" is all they need, say the boys, but it was not to be, as the Pirates pulled off one of the most exciting World Series finishes in baseball history. Click for separate story.
October 12th, 1960, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA. New York Yankees Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Clete Boyer are optimistic about their chances in winning the 1960 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, having just thrashed the Pirates in Game 6 by a 12-0 score. "1 more" is all they need, say the boys, but it was not to be, as the Pirates pulled off one of the most exciting World Series finishes in baseball history. Click for separate story.

In the 1960 World Series against Pittsburgh, Mantle hit a torrid .400, going 10 for 25 with 1 double, 3 homers, 8 runs scored, and 11 RBIs. Roger Maris hit .267 in the series, contributing 8 hits including a double, 2 home runs, and 6 runs scored.

In March 1961, during Mantle’s first spring training season under new Yankee manager Ralph Houk, Mantle blasted a towering home run shot against the Dodgers at their Dodgertown stadium in Vero Beach, Florida. That Mantle drive soared over the right field fence and went completely out of the park, disappearing into the distance. It was a good omen for the home run derby to come between he and Maris in the regular season.

In addition to Maris and Mantle, the Yankees in 1961 were loaded with talent, and any number of guys who could hit the long ball – including Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer, Moose Skowron, and John Blanchard. On the mound was ace Whitey Ford, and a superb reliever in Luis Arroyo. So coming into the 1961 season, the Yankees were favored to win the American League pennant.


1961. Roger Maris watching one of his home runs take flight.
1961. Roger Maris watching one of his home runs take flight.

The M&M Race

In the home run race between Mantle and Maris that season, the lead would shift back and forth between the two power hitters numerous times throughout the summer.

Mantle got off to a strong start in April, hitting seven round trippers. Maris was slow at the start. The Yankees were already 11 games into the 1961 season before Maris hit his first home run. Mantle had a productive April, but Maris picked up the pace in May, hitting 11.

Nor were Mantle and Maris the only American Leaguers hitting home runs that season. By the end of May, Mantle led the American League with 14 home runs, with Jim Gentile of Baltimore next at 13, while Maris with 12 was tied for third place with Rocky Colovito of Detroit and Harmon Killibrew of Minnesota. These power hitters were also in the home run hunt through much of the summer, until both Maris and Mantle pulled away from the pack in later months.

In June, Maris hit 15 and Mantle 11.Still, they would each sometimes have four- and -five-game droughts without hitting a single home run, followed by a hot streak by one or the other, sometimes with multiple home runs in the same game. In Yankee Stadium on June 11th, Mantle hit an impressive upper deck home run against the Los Angeles Angels in the first inning of a second game doubleheader, giving Mantle the home run lead at 18 – but only momentarily. Two innings later, in the same game, Maris hit his 19th home run, followed by another in the seventh inning, raising his total to 20. During a 16-game road tour that month, Maris would hit seven more.

1961: Mickey Mantle, coiled up and waiting to strike.
1961: Mickey Mantle, coiled up and waiting to strike.
By the end of June it was Maris 27, Mantle 25. It was about then, that reporters started to speculate, with a few asking the principals directly about the Ruth record, as one did with Maris after he hit his 27th at Kansas City. But Maris replied:

“…I hope you believe me when I say I never give Babe Ruth a thought… I do not think about his record. I’m just surprised I’m able to hit this many. Thankful, too.”

Still, as the competition heated up between the M&M boys, the buzz among fans and press was increasingly about one or both of them breaking Ruth’s record. At the first All-Star game break of July 10-12 (there were two All-Star games played at the time, the second coming in August), Maris was in the lead at 33 home runs with Mantle at 29.

Then on July 17th that summer, Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick, made a ruling addressing the difference between the Ruth-era 154 game schedule and new 162 game schedule inaugurated that year in the American League to accommodate its expansion to 10 teams. Frick ruled that any home run total surpassing Ruth’s 60 would have to be accomplished in 154 games as Ruth did in order to be the official record. Failing that, and anyone hitting more than 60 during the 162 game schedule would have to carry some special mark or notation indicating that it was done during the longer schedule.

Roger Maris was a bit misunderstood by the press, who treated him unfairly in their reporting, adding to his woes and the pressure to beat the Ruth record.
Roger Maris was a bit misunderstood by the press, who treated him unfairly in their reporting, adding to his woes and the pressure to beat the Ruth record.
The Frick ruling touched off a long-running controversy, with divided opinion among fans and players. Still, Mantle and Maris at that point were both on pace to eclipse Ruth in 154 games, but the pressure was on both of them. In fact, on July 17th, the day of the Frick ruling, during the second game of a doubleheader at Baltimore, both Mantle and Maris each lost a home run they had hit that day due to a rain out, with that game and their home runs cancelled.

In addition to the Frick ruling, Mantle and Maris were also fighting against history and some powerfully entrenched nostalgia – with Ruth’s widow, Claire Ruth, and several Hall of Famers, including Rogers Hornsby, and even some members of the Yankee organization, openly rooting against both of them. Numerous Yankee baseball fans, as well, did not want to see Ruth’s record upended.

But Mickey Mantle by then, who had suffered years of fans jeering him as a “hayseed” and pretender to the Yankee slugger throne, was now getting more sympathetic fan support.

“If anyone should break Ruth’s record,” went the new fan logic, “it should be Mantle.”

Maris was considered the outsider; not a true Yankee. And unlike Mantle, he was not the easy-going type, personality-wise. His workman-like focus on his craft was often mistaken for a dower, unconcerned disposition. And accordingly, he suffered, unfairly, for how the press portrayed him in their stories.

Mickey Mantle’s explosive power captured in photo as he hits one into the seats during the 1961 home run race.
Mickey Mantle’s explosive power captured in photo as he hits one into the seats during the 1961 home run race.
Still, Maris always took time to talk with the press – multiple times a day in some cases as the race heated up with reporters camped out at his locker – often subject to repeated and inane questioning. While the harsh treatment he received from fans and press did bother and upset him, it also helped steel him in his quest for the record.

Meanwhile, back in the home run hunt, Mickey Mantle went on a bit of tear in mid-July 1961, hitting seven homers in eight games at Yankee Stadium.

Against Chicago on July 13th and 14th, Mantle hit two (Nos. 30, and 31); on July 15 and 16 in games against Baltimore, he hit Nos. 32 and 33; and against Washington on July 18th he hit Nos. 34 and 35 in the same game, and No. 36 on the following day, also against Washington. Maris was then having a bit of a hitless stretch over some 19 at-bats in six games.

But Maris soon broke out of his funk in a big way on July 25th in Boston. During a doubleheader there he hit four home runs – two in each game – for Nos. 37, 38, 39 & 40. Mantle hit No. 37 during the first game of that doubleheader. At this point, the M&M boys were running about 20 games ahead of Ruth’s 1927 pace.

Others in the American League were also on the home run leader board, though somewhat behind Mantle and Maris – Harmon Killebrew at 30, and Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash, and Jim Gentile, all tied with 27.

In early August, Mantle had another multiple home run performance, hitting three home runs – Nos. 41, 42, and 43 – during an August 6th doubleheader with Minnesota before 39,408 fans at Yankee Stadium. Maris had hit his 41st homer two days earlier.

Aug 11, 1961: NYTimes finds fan support for breaking Ruth’s record & begins publishing comparative home run chart.
Aug 11, 1961: NYTimes finds fan support for breaking Ruth’s record & begins publishing comparative home run chart.
About a week later, in a somewhat unscientific poll of 50 New Yorkers at Yankee Stadium, in a New York Times story reported by Gay Talese, the headline read: “Fans Want Ruth’s Record Broken; 39 of 50 Here Hope Mantle or Maris Hits 61 Homers.”

That story also included a chart comparing where each Ruth, Mantle and Maris were in their progression of hitting home runs after 112 games: Ruth 36, Maris 41, and Mantle 43. The New York Times would continue running that graphic – titled “The Yankee Home Run Derby” – on the sports page in subsequent Times reporting, updated with each new Mantle or Maris addition.

On August 11, Mantle hit his 44 and Maris his 42 in Washington, D.C. game against the Senators, as the Yankees had won nine in a row. The Yankee win streak ended the next day, as they lost to the Senators, but Maris hit his 43rd. By August 13th, with Maris homering twice and Mantle once during a doubleheader with the Senators, the Yankee duo were then tied at 45 home runs a piece and still ahead of Ruth’s pace.

August 18, 1961. Life magazine, then one of the premiere news and lifestyle sources of its day, runs a featured cover story on the Mantle and Maris race to upend Ruth’s record.
August 18, 1961. Life magazine, then one of the premiere news and lifestyle sources of its day, runs a featured cover story on the Mantle and Maris race to upend Ruth’s record.
The August 18th, 1961 issue of Life magazine – the iPhone news feed of its day – featured Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on the cover. Their photo was overlain on a background image of Babe Ruth, with one tagline that read “Babe Ruth’s Challengers: Mantle and Maris.” One lead headline at the top of the magazine asked: “Will Yank Sluggers Smash 60 Homers? The Real Odds.”

The Mantle-Maris cover photo was taken by photographer Philippe Halsman, while the ghostly background photo of Ruth from earlier times had been taken by William Greene. Inside the magazine, a several-page story featured Mantle and Maris in separate photos, each swinging mightily for the fences.

Life titled its story “Math Muscles in On The Race Against Ruth,” in which it explored the use of “Bernoullis Distribution,” a mathematical formula used to project probability. Life even offered charts and graphs in the application of the formula to the chances of Mantle and/or Maris breaking Ruth’s record.

Life concluded: “Based on this season performance after 110 games… Mantle’s chances were 50-50. The odds were 4-1 against Maris, but the combined probability of one or the other or both men breaking the record was 3-2 in favor.”

Still, with more than 40 games to go in that chase, Life acknowledged there were certain other variables and imponderables that could still come into play for Mantle and Maris. And in Ruth’s case in 1927, the formula was no predictor whatsoever. In any case, the Life magazine story was one more indicator as how the nation had fastened its attention on the M&M boys. But behind the scenes, there was a high-stakes drama in play as well, and it was taking a toll on both hitters, especially Maris.

Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were much alike on one level, both coming from the Midwest, raised in working class families, with similar high school athletic stardom, and both marrying their high school sweethearts. Yet, in terms of personality and lifestyle, they were quite different. Mantle was more outgoing and gregarious than Maris, and liked being in the limelight. Though he played it humbly, Mantle really loved the media attention and he wanted the adulation. Maris only wanted to play baseball; he didn’t want the celebrity that might come with breaking Ruth’s record, and he especially did not want the press attention that hounded him that summer.

Mickey Mantle, a switch-hitter, showing his power from the right side of the plate, capable of 'distant shot' home runs of 500 feet or more.
Mickey Mantle, a switch-hitter, showing his power from the right side of the plate, capable of 'distant shot' home runs of 500 feet or more.
Roger Maris was a line-drive power hitter with a long, smooth swing, and more of a contact hitter.
Roger Maris was a line-drive power hitter with a long, smooth swing, and more of a contact hitter.

Press Pressure

Mantle had the benefit of 10 years experience in the New York fishbowl, and had learned quickly how and when to smile and what to say and not say to the press. Still, Mantle had had his bad times with fans and press, and earlier had been given “the hick treatment,” also receiving his share of grandstand booing and bad press when he didn’t perform, sometimes regarded as a DiMaggio upstart.

Even in 1956, on his way to the Triple Crown, as Mantle crossed the 50 home run threshold and was seen as a possible contender to the Ruth home run record, fans and press jumped on him as the undeserving soul and threat to the Ruth legacy.

Now, Maris was getting the treatment full bore – fans jeering and booing him, receiving threatening mail and telegrams, and followed by a constant throng of press at his every turn. He wasn’t prepared for it, and had little help dealing with it. And he often made matters worse by his statements or behavior, or stubbornly sticking to his course with an “I’ll-show-them” determination. Yet this attitude often made the press go after him all the more. In his book, October 1964, David Halberstam would write of Maris in the latter months of the 1961 home run race:

…The more he [Maris] became the story, the warier he became. The Yankees, completely unprepared for the media circus, gave him no help, offered him no protection, and set not guidelines. They let him, stubborn, suspicious and without guile, hang out there alone, utterly ill prepared for this ordeal; they never gave him a press officer to serve as a buffer between him and the media, or even set certain times when he would deal with the reporters, so what it would not be a constant burden. They did not filter requests, or tell him who he might trust and whom he might not or which requests were legitimate and which were trivial.

Under all this pressure, Maris grew more and more irritable. He found that he could go nowhere without a phalanx of journalists….

Some of the media had also fabricated a rivalry between Maris and Mantle that didn’t exist. That was obviously good for selling newspapers and gaining TV share, but it wasn’t true. Mantle and Maris, along with Bob Cerv, a Yankee friend of Maris’s, lived together in a Queens apartment for most of the 1961 season. Maris and Cerv had in effect, rescued Mantle from his more freewheeling lifestyle and Times Square hangovers, when he lived downtown at the St. Moritz hotel. Sure, Mantle and Maris were competitors in the home run race, but they were also friends despite significant lifestyle differences. And as a pair of New York Yankees hitting home runs, they were very good for the business of baseball, and not only in New York.

As the Yankees went on the road to other cities, record crowds began coming out, but not to see their home teams. “Cleveland baseball fans,” wrote the New York Times’ John Drebinger in a story filed from Cleveland on August 18th, “who soured on the Indians weeks and weeks ago, turned out 37,840 strong tonight – the largest crowd of the local season – to see the Yankee bombers, heated by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, do their stuff.”

August 21, 1961 New York Times story on the increased interest of TV viewers tuning in for the home run race.
August 21, 1961 New York Times story on the increased interest of TV viewers tuning in for the home run race.
Through the month of August 1961, the Maris-Mantle home run race and the prospect of Ruth’s record falling, was the big news of the day – every day. The sports pages throughout the nation were full of “home run battle” reporting. Television, too, was enjoying the “home run fever,” with more viewers tuning in.

The New York Times of August 21, 1961 ran a story headlined “TV: Battle of the Bats – Home Run Hitting of Maris and Mantle Increases Interest in Yankee Telecasts.” The TV baseball audience, it seemed, had suddenly swelled to World Series levels six weeks early, all to watch the exploits of Maris and Mantle. Some New Yorkers were even foregoing visits to the beach in favor of watching the Yankees on TV. “In office building, bars and other locations,” wrote Times reporter John Shanley, “the cluster of fans around TV sets testify to the extraordinary interest” in the Maris-Mantle home run duel. Radio audiences for Yankee games were also up.

Roger Maris, in particular, continued his hot-hitting through August, as Mantle went cold for a time. Maris became the first player in history to hit 50 home runs by the end of August. On August 26, in a game on the road against Kansas City, Maris hit s 51st. But when the boys went hitless, as they did on August 27th, the headlines would note that too. On August 30th and 31st, Mantle got back on track, hitting home runs Nos. 47 and 48 in back-to-back games at Minnesota. For the month of August, Maris had hit 11 and Mantle 9.

Sept 3, 1961 New York newspaper story with Roger Maris holding up  a “53" hand count for his home run total, as headlines tell the story (inset ticket stub incidental; not part of original publication).
Sept 3, 1961 New York newspaper story with Roger Maris holding up a “53" hand count for his home run total, as headlines tell the story (inset ticket stub incidental; not part of original publication).
On September 1st with the start of a critical three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, who were only one-and-a-half games behind the Yankees in the pennant race, Maris led the home run race with 51, while Mantle stood at 48.

Both Maris and Mantle went hitless in the first game of the Detroit series, each going 0-for-4.

Then, on September 2nd, 1961 against the Tigers, before a Yankee Stadium crown of 50,261, Maris hit two home runs – Nos. 52 and 53. That made him the first Yankee to hit 53 in a season, after Ruth.

New York newspapers’ sports pages gave Maris top billing, crowing about his hitting, one showing a classic black and white photo of a smiling Maris holding up a hand count of “53″ with the huge headline, “Maris: 52, 53; Needs 8 to Top Ruth’s Record.”

The following day against Detroit, on September 3rd, Mickey Mantle rejoined the home run race in a big way, hitting his Nos. 49 and 50 (see photo below). Mantle, in fact, wasn’t expected to play that game, as he had strained his left forearm muscle, and could be seen wincing in some photos of his swings that evening. But he kept playing.

And when the Washington Senators came to Yankee stadium on September 5th, Mantle hit No. 51. The following day against the Senators, Maris added his 54th. Then the Cleveland Indians came to Yankee Stadium for a four-game series, September 7th-thru-September 10th, during which Mantle hit Nos. 52 and 53, and Maris, Nos. 55 and 56. At this point, the combined total of home runs hit by Maris and Mantle, 109, eclipsed the previous record set by a pair of teammates — Ruth (60) and Gehrig (47) at 107 –set back in 1927.

Mickey Mantle’s powerful swing from the left side of the plate, September 3, 1961, hitting his 49th home run during 1st inning against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium with Roger Maris aboard. Mantle would hit his 50th home run in the same game in the 9th inning. AP photo.
Mickey Mantle’s powerful swing from the left side of the plate, September 3, 1961, hitting his 49th home run during 1st inning against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium with Roger Maris aboard. Mantle would hit his 50th home run in the same game in the 9th inning. AP photo.

On September 14th, after the Yankees had dropped a doubleheader to the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Mickey Mantle, who had gone hitless in both games, made a surprising statement after the game. “I can’t make it,” he said referring to the Ruth home run mark, “not even in 162 games. I figure if I could have hit a couple here (in the Chicago doubleheader) I might have been able to do it. But I don’t think I can do it now.” But there was more going on with Mantle at that time then he allowed in his remarks.

14 Sept `61. Mickey Mantle, frustrated at first base after grounding into a force play during Chicago game, afterwhich he would assess his HR record chances as poor, but he then had an infected hip.
14 Sept `61. Mickey Mantle, frustrated at first base after grounding into a force play during Chicago game, afterwhich he would assess his HR record chances as poor, but he then had an infected hip.
Mantle had been waylaid with what was variously reported as a virus, head cold, and upper respiratory infection that had lingered for some time, affecting his performance. Still, Mantle continued to play, though not at his best. In the Detroit series, September 16th and 17th, and he hit a couple of long balls that almost made it out.

Also in that series, Mantle had some heated words for Detroit pitching ace, Jim Bunning, who had thrown hard and inside to Mantle during one at bat, causing Mantle’s ire to rise – in part, no doubt, from his feeling ill and his home run frustration. At the time Mantle hadn’t hit a home run since September 10th, and was stuck at No. 53, while Maris had 57. The game itself would go into extra innings, until the top of the 12th when Maris hit his 58th homer of the season – a two-run blast – giving the Yanks a 6-4 victory. Maris would have three RBIs that day while Mantle struggled, going hitless in four at bats.

By the time the Yankees traveled to Baltimore for a three-game series, September 19-thru-21, Mantle only made one appearance as a pinch hitter. At the Yankees’ next stop in Boston on September 24th, Mantle made a surprise start and also hit his 54th home run – a three-run, first inning blast that helped the Yankees win that game. The next day in Boston, Mantle went hitless, and the day after that he could only play one inning. On the plane ride back from Boston, Mantle, still feeling under the weather, spoke with Yankee announcer Mel Allen who said he knew a doctor who could fix him up — an infamous physician, it turns out, named Max Jacobson. Dr. Jacobson, popular for a time with celebrities and even President John F. Kennedy, was known by the nickname, “Dr. Feelgood” for his rejuvenating injections of amphetamines (and who later had his medical license revoked). Mantle received one of Dr. Jacobson’s shots, ostensibly to knock out the virus, but the needle had hit Mantle’s hip bone, causing an abscess on his side that would later have to be lanced and drained. By September 28th, Mantle was taken to the hospital where he was treated for an infected hip, as doctors excised and packed the abscess. Mantle was effectively knocked out of the home run race, hospitalized for the final week of the season.

Roger Maris, watching one of his homers leave the yard.
Roger Maris, watching one of his homers leave the yard.
Roger Maris, meanwhile, continued his charge on the home run record book, although the pressure of Ruth’s 60, plus the daily press harangue, was hanging over him hard, taking a personal toll. At one point, patches of his hair were falling out. Still, he soldiered on. Maris hit No.56 on September 9th in a game at Yankee Stadium against Cleveland. But No. 57 didn’t come until a week later, on September 16th, followed by No. 58 the next day, both on the road at Detroit. With that last home run, Maris joined the “58 club” along with Hank Greenburg, Jimmie Foxx and Babe Ruth, only the fourth player to have hit 58 home runs.

The Yankees traveled next to Baltimore, Babe Ruth’s hometown to play the Orioles. There, Maris had a some rough at bats in the first game of a doubleheader on September 19th. The second game was the 154th game of the season, in which he could equal or exceed Ruth. But there would be no Roger Maris home runs in that game either. On the next day at Baltimore, however, Maris hit No. 59. And with that day’s performance, Maris had once again moved into rarefied home run territory – now only the second player in major league history to hit 59 home runs, that also set by Ruth in 1921, six years before he hit 60.

Then there were two games on the road at Boston, September 23rd and 24th, where Maris did not hit another home run, but where Mantle had hit his last home run (No. 54) on the 23rd. The final five games of the 1961 season were played at home — two with Baltimore on September 26th and 27th, and three with Boston, September 29th & 30th and October 1st. In the first game with Baltimore on September 26th, Maris hit his 60th home run in the third inning. And then, in the final game of the 1961 season, on October 1st in the fourth inning, Roger Maris went into the record books with his 61st home run of the season, surpassing Babe Ruth.

September 20, 1961, New York Daily News headlines and photos feature the 59th home run of Roger Maris (Yogi Berra greeting him at the plate) and the New York Yankees celebrating their 1961 American League pennant victory.
September 20, 1961, New York Daily News headlines and photos feature the 59th home run of Roger Maris (Yogi Berra greeting him at the plate) and the New York Yankees celebrating their 1961 American League pennant victory.
October 2, 1961, New York Daily News headlines and photos show Roger Maris coming out of the dugout to tip his hat to Yankee Stadium fans after hitting his 1961 season record 61st home run. Maris also show with his wife Pat.
October 2, 1961, New York Daily News headlines and photos show Roger Maris coming out of the dugout to tip his hat to Yankee Stadium fans after hitting his 1961 season record 61st home run. Maris also show with his wife Pat.

Rare Baseball Event

Exceptional Season

1961. Roger Maris, haunted by Babe Ruth all year, shown at the Babe's monument, then behind Yankee Stadium's center field.
1961. Roger Maris, haunted by Babe Ruth all year, shown at the Babe's monument, then behind Yankee Stadium's center field.
In the end, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris each posted exceptional seasons in 1961, providing baseball fans and baseball history with a rare event, especially since the likelihood of two players on the same team being that productive with the long ball is not normally a regular season occurrence.

Mickey Mantle played in 153 games that year, and his 1961 statistics included: 514 at bats, 163 hits, 54 home runs, 128 RBIs, 131 runs scored, 126 walks, 112 strike outs, an on-base percentage of.448, a slugging average of.687, and a batting average of .317, fourth best in the American League.

Roger Maris played in 161 games with 590 at bats, 159 hits, 61 home runs, 142 runs batted in, 132 runs scored, 94 walks, 67 strikeouts, an on base percentage of.372, a slugging average of.620, and a batting average of .269. He led the American League that year in runs scored, RBIs, and home runs.

Feb 1962. Roger Maris, Man of the Year.
Feb 1962. Roger Maris, Man of the Year.
The Yankees won the World Series that year, besting the Cincinnati Reds, 4 games to 1, but neither Mantle or Maris played major roles. Mantle, still recovering from his infected hip, made a few appearances in two of the games with one hit. Maris played all five games, went 4 for 19, with a home run and double, scoring 4 runs.

Roger Maris won the 1961 American League MVP Award for the second consecutive year, with Mantle finishing second in the voting. As of this writing, Mantle and Maris still hold the single-season record for combined home runs by a pair of teammates at 115 (although as of 2018, current Yankee teammates Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton may one day challenge that record).

Maris also collected a number of other awards following his 61 home run season. He won the Hickok Belt as the best professional athlete of the year. He was also voted Sport magazine’s Man of the Year (shown at left on February 1962 cover), The Sporting News Player of the Year, the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year; and Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year.

As for a Roger Maris – Babe Ruth home run comparison, some baseball historians note that it took Ruth 689 plate appearances (i.e., all at bats) to hit 60 home runs, while Maris hit his 60th after 684 plate appearances.

 

1961 Home Run Race
Mickey Mantle & Roger Maris
Day-By-Day Scorecard

Prior year, August 1960: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle await their turn at batting practice before a game at Yankee Stadium. In 1960, Maris hit 39 home runs (HRs) and Mantle 40.  Photo, Neil Leifer, Sports Illustrated.
Prior year, August 1960: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle await their turn at batting practice before a game at Yankee Stadium. In 1960, Maris hit 39 home runs (HRs) and Mantle 40. Photo, Neil Leifer, Sports Illustrated.
A pinback button – “61 in ‘61 or Bust” – among the fan paraphernalia that emerged during the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris home run race of the summer of 1961.
A pinback button – “61 in ‘61 or Bust” – among the fan paraphernalia that emerged during the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris home run race of the summer of 1961.
Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees playing a little “hand-over-hand” game with baseball bat to see who comes out on top.
Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees playing a little “hand-over-hand” game with baseball bat to see who comes out on top.
August 14th, 1961 cover of Newsweek magazine featuring the “Home Run Year: Target 60,” with a Mickey Mantle look-alike pictured.
August 14th, 1961 cover of Newsweek magazine featuring the “Home Run Year: Target 60,” with a Mickey Mantle look-alike pictured.
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris jogging in from the outfield, circa 1960s.  Mantle played center field, Maris played right field.
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris jogging in from the outfield, circa 1960s. Mantle played center field, Maris played right field.
September 3rd, 1961 front page of the New York Times reporting on 52nd and 53rd home runs of Roger Maris at Yankee Stadium, with two photos.
September 3rd, 1961 front page of the New York Times reporting on 52nd and 53rd home runs of Roger Maris at Yankee Stadium, with two photos.
October 2, 1961.  Cover of Sports Illustrated magazine featuring Roger Maris hitting one of his late-season, record home runs, with full story by Roger Kahn, “Pursuit of No. 60: The Ordeal of Roger Maris”.
October 2, 1961. Cover of Sports Illustrated magazine featuring Roger Maris hitting one of his late-season, record home runs, with full story by Roger Kahn, “Pursuit of No. 60: The Ordeal of Roger Maris”.

vs = home game
at = away game

April 1961
(Mantle 7, Maris 1)

17 April / vs. Kansas City
Mantle, #1
20 April / vs. Los Angeles
Mantle, #2 & #3
21 April / vs. Baltimore
Mantle, #4
23 April / vs. Baltimore
Mantle, #5
26 April / at Detroit
Maris, #1
26 April / at Detroit
Mantle #6 & #7


May 1961
(Mantle 7, Maris 11)

2 May / at Minnesota
Mantle, #8
3 May / at Minnesota
Maris, #2
4 May / at Minnesota
Mantle, #9
6 May / at Los Angeles
Maris, #3
16 May / vs Washington
Mantle, #10
17 May / vs Washington
Maris, #4
19 May / at Cleveland
Maris, #5
20 May / at Cleveland
Maris, #6
21 May, vs. Baltimore
Maris, #7
24 May, vs. Boston
Maris, #8
28 May, vs. Chicago
Maris, #9
29 May, at Boston
Mantle, #11
30 May, at Boston
Mantle, #12 & 13
30 May, at Boston
Maris, #10 & #11
31 May, at Boston
Maris, #12
31 May, at Boston
Mantle, #14


June 1961
(Mantle 11, Maris 15)

2 June, at Chicago
Maris, #13
3 June, at Chicago
Maris, #14
4 June, at Chicago
Maris, #15
5 June, vs. Minnesota
Mantle, #15
6 June, vs. Minnesota
Maris, #16
7 June, vs. Minnesota
Maris, #17
9 June, vs. Kansas City
Mantle, #16
9 June, vs. Kansas City
Maris, #18
10 June, vs. Kansas City
Mantle, #17
11 June, vs. Los Angeles
Mantle, #18
11 June, vs. Los Angeles
Maris, #19 & #20
13 June, at Cleveland
Maris, #21
14 June, at Cleveland
Maris, #22
15 June, at Cleveland
Mantle, #19
17 June, at Detroit
Maris, #23
17 June, at Detroit
Mantle, #20
18 June, at Detroit
Maris, #24
19 June, at Kansas City
Maris, #25
20 June, at Kansas City
Maris, #26
21 June, at Kansas City
Mantle, #21
22 June, at Kansas City
Mantle, #22
22 June, at Kansas City
Maris, #27
26 June, at Los Angeles
Mantle, #23
28 June, at Los Angeles
Mantle, #24
30 June, vs,Washington
Mantle, #25


July 1961
(Mantle 14, Maris 13)

1 July, vs. Washington
Mantle, #26 & #27
1 July, vs. Washington
Maris, #28
2 July, vs. Washington
Maris, #29 & #30
2 July, vs. Washington
Mantle, #28
4 July, vs. Detroit
Maris, #31
5 July, vs. Cleveland
Maris, #32
8 July, vs. Boston
Mantle, #29
9 July, vs. Boston
Maris, #33
13 July, vs. Chicago
Maris, #34
13 July, vs. Chicago
Mantle, #30
14 July, vs. Chicago
Mantle, #31
15 July, vs. Chicago
Maris, #35
16 July, vs. Baltimore
Mantle, #32
17 July, vs. Baltimore
Mantle, #33
18 July, vs. Washington
Mantle, #34 & #35
19 July, vs. Washington
Mantle, #36
21 July, at Boston
Maris, #36
21 July, at Boston
Mantle, #37
25 July, vs. Chicago
Maris, #37
25 July, vs. Chicago
Mantle, #38
25 July, vs. Chicago
Maris, #38, #39 & #40
26 July, vs. Chicago
Mantle, #39


August 1961
(Mantle 9, Maris 11)

2 August, vs. Kansas City
Mantle, #40
4 August, vs. Minnesota
Maris, #41
6 August, vs. Minnesota
Mantle, #41, #42 & #43
11 August, at Washington
Maris, #42
11August, at Washington
Mantle, #44
12 August, at Washington
Maris, #43
13 August, at Washington
Maris, #44
13 August, at Washington
Mantle, #45
13 August, at Washington
Maris, #45
15 August, vs. Chicago
Maris, #46
16 August, vs. Chicago
Maris, #47 & 48
20 August, at Cleveland
Mantle, #46
20 August, at Cleveland
Maris, #49
22 August, at Los Angeles
Maris, #50
26 August, at Kansas City
Maris, #51
30 August, at Minnesota
Mantle, #47
31 August, at Minnesota
Mantle, #48


September 1961
(Mantle 6, Maris 9)

2 September, vs. Detroit
Maris, #52 & #53
3 September, vs. Detroit
Mantle, #49 & #50
5 September, vs. Washington
Mantle, #51
6 September, vs. Washington
Maris, #54
7 September, vs. Cleveland
Maris, #55
8 September, vs. Cleveland
Mantle, #52
9 September, vs. Cleveland
Maris, #56
10 September, vs. Cleveland
Mantle, #53
16 September, at Detroit
Maris, #57
17 September, at Detroit
Maris, #58
20 September, at Baltimore
Maris, #59
23 September, at Boston
Mantle, #54
26 September vs. Baltimore
Maris, #60


October 1961
(Mantle 0, Maris 1)

1 October vs. Boston
Maris, #61


___________________


Post Script

Following the incredible 1961 season, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle continued their careers with the Yankees. The M&M boys would still fire up their bats over the next few years, creating bursts of home run power and RBIs here and there. But their respective careers would level out some, and after a few years, their life paths would also diverge.

Roger Maris settled in for a more middling career during the next seven years of his baseball life. Continuing with the Yankees in 1962, Roger Maris hit 33 homers, 100 RBIs, and batted .256. He was also named to the All-Star team for a fourth straight year. In 1963 in 90 games, he hit 23 homers and 53 RBIs as the Yankees won their fourth straight pennant. The following year, Maris had some improvement, hitting .281 with 26 homers and 71 RBIs, meeting the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

July 3, 1962.  The M&M boys had occasional displays of their home run power beyond 1961, as they did here, shown in the locker room after hitting two home runs apiece in a game against the Kansas City Athletics at Yankee Stadium. AP photo,
July 3, 1962. The M&M boys had occasional displays of their home run power beyond 1961, as they did here, shown in the locker room after hitting two home runs apiece in a game against the Kansas City Athletics at Yankee Stadium. AP photo,

In 1965 Roger Maris was out with an injury for all but 46 games, though he rebounded somewhat in 1966, playing 119 games hitting 13 homers. Maris, in addition to a painful hand injury (according to one account, he played most of the 1966 season with a misdiagnosed broken bone in his hand) and declining production, had his age-old troubles with the press and Yankee fans who thought him a slacker when he didn’t produce. That December, Maris was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, becoming a part-time right fielder there, hitting 14 homers with 100 RBI over two seasons. However, in the 1967 World Series, he hit .385 with seven RBIs for the Cardinals in their victory over the Boston Red Sox in seven games. Maris hit his 275th and final regular season home run on September 5, 1968. After 12 years in the major leagues, Roger Maris retired from professional baseball in 1968, having played in 1,473 games with 5,101 at bats. In those years he compiled a .260 batting average with 1,325 hits, 275 home runs, and 851 RBIs.

Oct 14, 1964: Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in locker room following Game 6 of World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in which they hit back-to-back home runs.
Oct 14, 1964: Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in locker room following Game 6 of World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in which they hit back-to-back home runs.
Maris had wanted to retire in 1967, but St. Louis owner, Gussie Busch, persuaded him to stay another season by offering him an Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship in Gainesville, Florida. When he did retire from the Cardinals in 1968, he moved to Gainesville, where he and Pat raised their six children. Running the beer distributorship there in the 1970s and 1980s with his brother Rudy, the business made him a wealthy man.

However, the relationship of Roger Maris with the New York Yankee organization and fan base had left some deep scars, and he had vowed never to return again to Yankee Stadium.

Maris had previously turned down repeated Old Timers Day invitations. But over the years, he mellowed a bit, and on opening day 1978, at the urging of new Yankee management, he returned with Mantle to Yankee Stadium for the raising of the team’s championship banner.

As described in The Sporting News book, 61* : “…The scene was electric as Maris, with the tape of his 61 homer playing on the scoreboard, was introduced by the voice of Mel Allen saying, ‘Welcome Back Roger,’ Fans screamed and shouted his name in a tribute that obviously moved the emotional home run champion.”

July 1984: Monument Park plaque in honor of Roger Maris's 61 home runs in 1961.
July 1984: Monument Park plaque in honor of Roger Maris's 61 home runs in 1961.
Maris came again to Yankee Stadium on July 21, 1984 when the Yankees retired his No. 9 jersey along with the No. 32 jersey of the late Elston Howard.

The ceremony was held in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium and also included an inscribed plaque in honor of Maris’s “61 in ’61” home run accomplishment, subtitled “Against All Odds” and praising Maris as “a great player and author of one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of major league baseball.”

Maris by this time, as of November 1983, had been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He later died of the disease on December 14, 1985 in a Houston hospital and was buried in his home town of Fargo, North Dakota. He was 51 year old.

Mickey Mantle, meanwhile, following the 1961 season, had his ups and downs both in the field and at the plate. In 1962, he had a good year, batting .321 in 123 games with 30 home runs, 89 RBIs, winning MVP honors. In 1963, he played only 65 games, having sustained a fielding injury on June 5th that year trying to prevent a home run by Brooks Robinson in Baltimore, catching his spikes in the center field chain link fence as he was leaping for the ball, breaking his foot in the process. In 1964, Mantle hit .303 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs and he also eclipsed Babe Ruth’s career World Series home run record (15) hitting his 16th, and in later years adding two more for a World Series total of 18, which remains the career World Series home run record to this day.

By 1965, the Yankees were not the dynasty Yankees of old, finishing in sixth place. Mantle, meanwhile, was slowed by injuries that year, batting .255 with 19 home runs and 46 RBIs. In 1966, Mantle’s average rose to .288 with 23 home runs and 56 RBI. For the 1967 season, he was moved to first base for less wear and tear on his legs, and on May 14th that year he became the sixth member of the 500 home run club. In 1968, Mantle hit .237 with 18 home runs and 54 RBIs. He announced his retirement on March 1, 1969. When he retired, Mantle was third on the all-time home run list with 536, and he was the Yankees all-time leader in games played with 2,401, until eclipsed by Derek Jeter in 2011. Mickey Mantle was selected to the America League All-Star team in 16 of his 18 years with the Yankees. He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, his first year of eligibility. Mantle would die of liver cancer in August 1995 at age 63.

May 1991.  Mantle and Maris looking good, 30 years later, as Sports Illustrated pines for Yankees of old.
May 1991. Mantle and Maris looking good, 30 years later, as Sports Illustrated pines for Yankees of old.

In Hindsight…

As the years have gone by, the New York Yankees of 1961 have grown in stature, and the performance of Mantle and Maris that year has become a touchstone of dynasty Yankee performance.

By 1991, for example, at the 30th anniversary of Summer of ’61, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story with M&M boys Mantle and Maris pictured, lamenting those glory days gone by, contrasted with the then sinking Yankee performance (last place in 1990).

“Whatever Happened to the Yankees?,” asked the magazine’s cover headline, with the smiling Mantle and Maris looking on. “Thirty years after the magical season of Mantle and Maris,” explained a companion tag line, “New York has hit rock bottom.”

A number of books have also been written chronicling that 1961 season and the home run race, some profiling Mantle and/or Maris, the Yankees that year, the pennant race that season, and more. Some of those titles, with cover photos and links, are listed below in “Sources.” There has also been one film.


Crystal Film

In April 2001, forty years after the home run summer of 1961, came the Hollywood film titled, 61*, a film revisiting the story of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris as they chased Ruth’s record.

DVD for Billy Crystal film, “61", on the Roger Maris - Mickey Mantle home run race of 1961.
DVD for Billy Crystal film, “61", on the Roger Maris - Mickey Mantle home run race of 1961.
The HBO film was directed by famous actor and comedian, Billy Crystal, who had grown up a Yankee fan in New York. Crystal was 13 years-old at the time of the Mantle-Maris race, but he remembered it fondly and as an adult had become a collector of Yankee history and memorabilia.

Crystal had later become a friend to Mickey Mantle and had talked to Mantle about his friendship with Maris and their race for Ruth’s record. The film was written by Hank Steinberg and produced by Robert F. Colesberry. Barry Pepper, who looked a bit like Roger Maris, played Maris, and Thomas Jane appeared as Mickey Mantle. The film follows the real-life Maris/Mantle quest during the 1961 season.

The asterisk in the title reflects the controversy that had raged for time over the Ruth 154-game record vs. the 162 game season that Mantle and Maris played (though no asterisk ever appeared for the Maris home run total).

The film chronicles the negative attention Maris received from fans and the press during the race, and the different lifestyles and personalities of Mantle and Maris during their quest. The film also explores the personal relationship between Maris and Mantle, portraying them as friends more than rivals, with Mantle defending Maris to the New York media, and Maris trying to help Mantle clean up his hard living off the field. The film first aired on HBO on April 28, 2001. Stated Crystal in one interview on what he hoped the film would accomplish: “I wanted it to be an intimate look at these two men and rivals who became friends. Of Mickey being able to say,’You’re a good man, Roger’… what it was like off the field. I wanted people to come away with a feeling for theses two guys… And to acquaint them with what it was like for Roger to go through this assault on his character…”

April 27, 1962.  Roger Maris at the White House, Washington, D.C., signing a baseball for U.S. President, John F. Kennedy.
April 27, 1962. Roger Maris at the White House, Washington, D.C., signing a baseball for U.S. President, John F. Kennedy.


Maris & Legacy

Meanwhile, Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61 would stand for 37 years, three years longer than Babe Ruth’s previous record. In 1998, Mark McGuire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs raced to beat Maris’ record, ending that year, respectively, with 70 and 66 home runs. Barry Bonds set a new record in 2001 with 73 home runs.

However, those numbers by McGuire, Sosa and Bonds, official as they may be, remain contested and tainted since all three players have been suspected for the possible use of performance-enhancing steroids. And so, for many fans, the 61 home runs that Roger Maris hit in 1961, has become the home run milestone now regarded as the untainted record. In 2005, in light of the steroid question, the North Dakota Senate wrote to Major League Baseball to express the opinion that Roger Maris’ 61 home runs should be recognized as the single-season record.

Roger Maris U.S. postage stamp, September 1999.
Roger Maris U.S. postage stamp, September 1999.
In 1974, Roger Maris became eligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but since that time, in subsequent votes for induction, he has not received enough votes for induction, and since then his eligibility has run out. His critics charge that while he had a few exceptional seasons playing at Hall of Fame caliber, his career statistics overall are not worthy of induction.

Still, some fans and sportswriters believe Maris’s absence from the Hall to be a grave injustice, and there is a petition supporting his selection by the Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee that considers induction of previously overlooked candidates active between 1947 and 1972. This committee’s next ballot will come in 2020.

In North Dakota, however, Maris has always been regarded as a sports hero. He has been honored with the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo and billboards around town proclaim him as the true home run king. There is also the Roger Maris Cancer Center at Sanford Hospital in Fargo, a beneficiary of an annual golf tournament. In September 1999, the U. S. Postal Service issued a “Roger Maris, 61 in 61” commemorative stamp in his honor.

For additional baseball history at this website please see the “Baseball Stories” topics page, or visit the “Annals of Sport” category page for a broader selection of sports 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: 21 August 2018
Last Update: 21 August 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “The M&M Boys: Summer of 1961,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2018.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

1987 book by Tony Kubek & Terry Pluto, “Sixty-One: The Team, the Record, the Men,” Macmillan, 287pp. Click to order.
1987 book by Tony Kubek & Terry Pluto, “Sixty-One: The Team, the Record, the Men,” Macmillan, 287pp. Click to order.
Phil Peppe’s 2011 book, “1961*: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase,” Triumph Books, 288pp.
Phil Peppe’s 2011 book, “1961*: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase,” Triumph Books, 288pp.
The New York Daily News 2008 magazine series on Yankee Stadium, one of which focused on 'The M&M Boys' and 1961.
The New York Daily News 2008 magazine series on Yankee Stadium, one of which focused on 'The M&M Boys' and 1961.
Maury Allen’s 1986 book, “Roger Maris: A Man for All Seasons,” Dutton, 272pp.
Maury Allen’s 1986 book, “Roger Maris: A Man for All Seasons,” Dutton, 272pp.
Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith’s 2018 book, “A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle,” Basic Books, 304pp.
Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith’s 2018 book, “A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle,” Basic Books, 304pp.
1962 book, "Roger Maris At Bat," by Roger Maris and Jim Ogle / publisher, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 236pp.
1962 book, "Roger Maris At Bat," by Roger Maris and Jim Ogle / publisher, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 236pp.
“The Classic Mantle,” 2012 book by Buzz Bissinger (author) and Marvin Newman (photographer),  publisher, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 144pp.
“The Classic Mantle,” 2012 book by Buzz Bissinger (author) and Marvin Newman (photographer), publisher, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 144pp.
Harvey Rosenfeld's 1991 book, "Roger Maris: A Title to Fame," Prairie House publishers, 287pp.
Harvey Rosenfeld's 1991 book, "Roger Maris: A Title to Fame," Prairie House publishers, 287pp.
Peter Golenbock's 2010 book, "Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964," Dover Publications, 720pp.
Peter Golenbock's 2010 book, "Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964," Dover Publications, 720pp.
Leonard Shecter’s 1961 book, “Roger Maris: Home Run Hero,” Bartholemew House, paperback.
Leonard Shecter’s 1961 book, “Roger Maris: Home Run Hero,” Bartholemew House, paperback.
Tom Molito’s 2016 book, “Mickey Mantle: Inside and Outside the Lines,” publisher, Black Rose Writing, 184pp.
Tom Molito’s 2016 book, “Mickey Mantle: Inside and Outside the Lines,” publisher, Black Rose Writing, 184pp.
Jim Sargent’s 2016 book, “The Tigers and Yankees in '61: A Pennant Race for the Ages...,” McFarland, 256pp.
Jim Sargent’s 2016 book, “The Tigers and Yankees in '61: A Pennant Race for the Ages...,” McFarland, 256pp.
1996 book by Mickey Mantle's wife, Merlyn and their three sons, "A Hero All His Life," HarperCollins, 272pp.
1996 book by Mickey Mantle's wife, Merlyn and their three sons, "A Hero All His Life," HarperCollins, 272pp.
Allen Barra’s 2013 book, “Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age,” Crown Archetype, 496pp.
Allen Barra’s 2013 book, “Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age,” Crown Archetype, 496pp.
Mickey Mantle with Mickey Herskowitz, 2006 book, “All My Octobers: My Memories of 12 World Series When the Yankees Ruled Baseball,” Harper Perennial, paperback, 256pp.
Mickey Mantle with Mickey Herskowitz, 2006 book, “All My Octobers: My Memories of 12 World Series When the Yankees Ruled Baseball,” Harper Perennial, paperback, 256pp.
Mark J. Schmetzer’s 2011 book, “Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Reds,” Clerisy Press, 256pp.
Mark J. Schmetzer’s 2011 book, “Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Reds,” Clerisy Press, 256pp.

Ron Smith, Billy Crystal (Foreword), 61*: The Story of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and One Magical Summer (Hardcover), 2001, The Sporting News, St. Louis, MO, 160pp.

Maury Allen, Memories of the Mick, Taylor Publishing: Dallas, Texas, 1997.

David Halberstam, October 1964, Villard Books, New York, 1994, 380pp.

“Mickey Mantle, Mini Biography,” Biography .com.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Beat Angels Twice at Stadium; Mantle Clouts Two Homers in Opener…” New York Times, April 21, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Mantle’s 4th Homer in 4 Games Helps Yanks Down Orioles, 4-2…Ford Gains 2d Victory of Week,” New York Times, April 22, 1961

John Drebinger, “Yanks Beat Minnesota in Tenth on Mantle’s Home Run with Bases Filled; 2 Bomber Drives Mark 6-4 Victory; Skowron Homer Sends Game into 10th Inning and Clout by Mantle Beats Twins,” New York Times, May 3, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Beat Twins Second Time in Row as Maris’ Homer Routs Ramos; Turley’s 6-Hitter Takes 7-3 Verdict…,” New York Times, May 4, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Boyer’s Two-Run Homer in Ninth Enables Yanks to Defeat Angels on Coast; 17,801 Fans See Bombers Win, 5-4; Boyer Bats In Three Runs…Mantle’s Streak Halted,” New York Times, May 6, 1961.

John Drebinger, Yankees Top Athletics With Five-Run Eighth as Mantle Ends Batting Slump; Clevenger Stars in 9-To-4 Victory…,” New York Times, May 11, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Indians Score Five Runs in Eighth-Inning Rally and Triumph Over Yankees; Bombers Bow, 9-7, Despite 3 Homers; Maris, Berra, Lopez Belt Drives but Indians Win With Late Offensive,” New York Times, May 20, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Yankees Beat Red Sox on Terry’s 3-Hitter and Kubek’s 9th-Inning Single; Two-Out Safety Decides Game, 3-2… Maris Wallops Homer Only Once in Five Tries…” New York Times, May 25, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Delock Subdues Bombers, 2 to 1; Red Sox Pitcher in Control Except for Seventh, When Mantle Hits a Homer,” New York Times, May 30, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Belt 7 Home Runs During 17-Hit Attack That Overwhelms Red Sox; Mantle’s Drives Mark 12-3 Game; Maris, Skowron Also Get 2 Homers Each and Berra Clouts One at Boston,” New York Times, May 31, 1961.

Joe King (Boston, MA), “Taped-Up Mick Busts Loose on Home Run Binge; Crippled Mantle Hits Four in Three Games, Leads in Onslaught Against Bosox,” The Sporting News, June 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Beat Red Sox by Halting Rally in 9th; Mantle and Maris Connect; Five Runs in 4th Gain 7-6 Victory; Mantle’s Drive Key Blow — McDevitt, in Relief, Ends Late Red Sox Surge,” New York Times, June 1, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Ford of Yanks Beats White Sox on Two Homers by Berra and One by Maris; Bombers Win, 6-2, Behind Southpaw Ford Pitches a Seven-Hitter Before 38,410, Chicago’s Top Crowd of Season,” New York Times, June 3, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Rout White Sox in Series Finale as Stafford Pitches Complete Game; Maris Hits No.15 in 10-1 Conquest…,” New York Times, June 5, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Take Double-Header and Send Twins to 10th, 11th Straight Defeats; Coates, Sheldon Triumph, 6-2, 6-1 Yankees Set League Mark as Blanchard, Mantle and Kubek Wallop Homers,” New York Times, June 6, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Home Runs by Mantle and Maris Help Yankees Beat Athletics Before 22,418; Arroyo Is Victor in Relief, 8 to 6; Maris Ends Deadlock with Blast in 7th as Yankees Top Athletics in Rain,” New York Times, June 10, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Ford Wins, 5 to 3; Mantle Clouts Homer and Triple — Yanks Take Series…,” New York Times, June 11, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks, Behind Terry and Sheldon, Take Double-Header From Angels Here; Five Homers Aid in 2-1, 5-1 Sweep; Maris and Berra Belt Two, Mantle One Off Angels…,” New York Times, June 12, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Indians Rout Yanks With Six-Run Outburst Off Coates in First Two Innings; Perry Is Winner in 7-to-2 Contest… Maris Hits 21st Homer for Yanks,” New York Times, June 14, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Homers in Ninth Decide 4-3 Game; Siebern, Covington Connect After Maris Puts Yanks Ahead With No. 25,” New York Times, June 19, 1961.

“Yankees Down Athletics and Gain Second Place as Maris Hits 26th Homer; Stafford Scores Fifth Victory… Maris’ Clout 4th in 4 Games,” New York Times, June 20, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yankees Down Athletics as Maris’ 27th Homer Paces 5-Run Second Inning; Arroyo Aids Ford in 8-to-3 Victory; Whitey Wins 12th of Season — Maris Drives In 4 Runs With Homer, 2 Doubles,” New York Times, June 23, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Yanks Beat Senators as Ford Gains 8th Victory in Row and 14th of Season; Mantle’s Homer Aids 5-1 Triumph; Star Scores on Inside-Park Hit — Maris Drives in 3 Runs — Ford Fans 8,” New York Times, July 1, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Mantle Clouts 2; Maris’ Homer in Ninth Wins for Yanks — Arroyo Victor…,” New York Times, July 2, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Daley Is Credited with 13-4 Victory; Yank Pitcher Wilts in 9th — Mantle, Howard, Skowron Add Homers to Maris’ 2,” New York Times, July 3, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Yanks Divide With Red Sox and Slip to Second as Tigers Beat Angels Twice; Bombers Win, 3-0, Before 9-6 Loss… Maris Hits 33d Homer,” New York Times, July 10, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Yanks Beat White Sox and Regain First Place as Maris, Mantle Hit Homers; Stafford Victor in 6-to-2 Triumph… Maris Hits No. 34 — Idle Tigers Drop to 2d,” New York Times, July 14, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Pizarro Is Victor with 7-hitter, 6-1; Mantle’s 31st Homer Only Damaging Blow Made Off White Sox Left-Hander,” New York Times, July 15, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Maris Hits No. 35; Yanks Win, 9-8, in 10; Keep League Lead — Arroyo Victor Yankees Defeat White Sox, 9 to 8,” New York Times, July 16, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Daley Triumphs On 4-Hitter, 2-1; Mantle Bats In Yankee Runs With 32d Homer and a Two-Bagger in Ninth,” New York Times, July 17, 1961.

“Ruth’s Record Can Be Broken Only in 154 Games, Frick Rules,” New York Times, July 18, 1961.

Associated Press, “Houk Roots for His 2 Stars,” New York Times, July 18, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Bombers Triumph With 6-Hitter, 5-0; Mantle Connects in Opener — He, Maris Lose Homers When Rain Ends Finale,” New York Times, July 18, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “2 Mantle Homers Spark 5-3 Victory; Mickey Moves Into Tie With Maris for Clout Honors at 35 as Yanks Win,” New York Times, July 19, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Yanks Drop Double-Header to Senators But Cling to American League Lead… 27,126 See Daniels, Donovan Halt Yanks at Washington — Mantle Hits No. 36,” New York Times, July 20, 1961.

Joseph M. Sheehan, “Mantle and Maris Aid 11-8 Triumph; 4 Yanks Hit Homers — Ford Routed in Fifth — Arroyo Victor…,” New York Times, July 22, 1961.

Howard M. Tuckner, “Giants Beat Yanks Before 47,346; Mays’ 2-Run Single, Mantle Home Run Mark 4-1 Game; Coast Club Cheered in First Showing Here Since ’57,” New York Times, July 25, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Maris Hits Four Home Runs As Yanks Beat White Sox Twice and Regain Lead; Bombers Defeat Chicago, 5-1, 12-0…,” New York Times, July 26, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Blanchard Hits 2 Homers and Mantle Poles No. 39 as Yanks Beat White Sox; Sheldon Is Victor with 4-hitter, 5-2,” New York Times, July 27, 1961.

“Ruth, Gehrig Shared Spotlight In Homer Derby 34 Years Ago,” New York Times, July 27, 1961.

John Drebinger, Sports of the Times, “The Home-Run Whirligig,” New York Times, July 30, 1961.

Walter Bingham, “Assault on the Record: If Either Mantle or Maris Hits 61 Home Runs This Season, Will He Break Ruth’s Record? Herewith a Straight Answer to a Hot Question,” Sports Illustrated, July 31, 1961.

Gordon S. White, Jr., “Mantle’s 40th Homer Highlights Double Victory by Yankees Over Athletics; Arroyo and Terry Triumph… Mantle Ties Maris in Homers,” New York Times, August 3, 1961.

Howard M. Tuckner, “Frick, Giles and Tests of Ball Can’t Explain Homer Increase; Spalding Assures Big League Officials That Specifications of Its Product Haven’t Changed in 25 Years,” New York Times, August 3, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Arroyo Triumphs in Relief, 8 TO 5; 24,109 See Yankees Win on Blanchard Hit Off Pleis — Maris Gets 3-Run Homer,” New York Times, August 5, 1961.

Gay Talese, “Fans Want Ruth’s Record Broken; 39 of 50 Here Hope Mantle or Maris Hits 61 Homers,” New York Times, August 11, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Yankees Rout Senators for Ninth In Row as Mantle and Maris Hit Homers; Terry Is Victor…Mantle Belts His 44th Homer, Maris No. 42,” New York Times, August 12, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “4-Run Homer Wins; Green’s Hit in Seventh Cuts Yank Lead to 3 Games over Tigers; Yankees Are Beaten by Senators in Washington, Despite Maris’ 43d Homer…,” New York Times, August 13, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Maris Hits 2 Homers and Mantle 1 As Yanks Split Twin Bill With Senators… Maris, Mantle Each Hits No. 45,” New York Times, August 14, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Maris Poles Two Homers, for Total of 48, in Yankee Victory Over White Sox; Game Ends at 5-4 as Pitch Hits Cerv; Tie Is Broken in 9th After Maris’ Homers Provide First 4 Yankee Runs,” New York Times, August 17, 1961.

“Math Muscles in On the Race Against Ruth – The Odds on Mantle and/or Maris Breaking Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record,” Life, August 18, 1961, pp. 62-70.

John Drebinger, “Yankees Bow to Indians Before 37,840 Fans as Mantle and Maris Go Hitless…,” New York Times, August 19, 1961.

William Barry Furlong, “That Sixtieth Home Run; Baseball’s Big Guns Are Still Trying to Top a Record Set in 1927,” New York Times Magazine, Sunday, August 20, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Arroyo Relieves; Howard’s Hit Wins – Maris and Mantle Fail to Connect; ..Ford Wins No. 21…,” New York Times, August 19, 1961.

UPI, “Home-Run Odds Quoted; Bookie Offers 5 to 6 Either Way on Maris or Mantle,” New York Times, August 20, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yankees Turn Back Indians Twice as Maris Hits No. 49 and Mantle No. 46… Mantle Drives in 6 Runs — Skowron Connects,” New York Times, August 21, 1961.

“Yanks’ Homer Derby Goes West And Berra Ponders a New Pitch; Yogi Asks: What Happens if One Star Hits 61 in 154 Games but the Other Finishes With More in 162?,” New York Times, August 22, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris Clouts 50th Homer But Yankees Lose to Angels in Contest on Coast…,” New York Times, August 23, 1961.

Arthur Daley, “Sports of The Times; One Who Came Close (Greenburg), New York Times, August 27, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris’ 51st Helps Yanks Win… A’s Beaten, 5 to 1; Yanks Raise Lead to 2 1/2 Games…,” New York Times, August 27, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Sheldon, Arroyo Aid 8-7 Triumph… — Maris, Mantle Hitless — Howard, Berra Clout Home Runs,” New York Times, August 28, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Mantle on Homers: The Players Are Livelier; Yankees’ Star Says Maris Should Get Credit for Feats; Pitchers Are Called Slicker, Smarter Than in Past,” New York Times, August 29, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Casey the Computer Says Maris Will Set Mark; But Electronic Brain Thinks Mantle Has Little Chance,” New York Times, August 30, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Crowd of 40,118 Sees 3-0 Contest; Record Bloomington Turnout Watches Pascual of Twins Fan Mantle 3 Times,” New York Times, August 30, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Twins Beat Yanks Despite Mantle’s 48th Homer;…Sheldon Routed in 5-to-4 Defeat; Yank Lead Cut to 1 1/2 Games — Season Homer Mark of 195 Set — Maris Halted,” New York Times, September 1, 1961.

Gay Talese, “Mantle, Maris and a Few Others Stir a Potpourri of Fan Emotion,” New York Times, September 2, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Lead Is 3 1/2 Games; 50,261 See Yanks Win…as Maris Hits 52d and 53d Homers…Colavito of Tigers Hits No. 40,” New York Times, September 3, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Mantle Makes It 49 and 50 and Yanks Make It Three Straight Over Tigers; Howard’s Homer Caps 8-5 Victory; Drive in 9th Defeats Tigers After Mantle Ties Score — 55,676 See Game,” New York Times, September 4, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Sink Senators Twice; Mantle Plays One Inning and Maris Goes Hitless; …Yanks Take First on Homer by Blanchard…,” New York Times, September 5, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Maris’ 54th Homer, One of 5 by Yanks, Marks Ford’s Shutout Over Senators; Bomber Ace Gains 23d Triumph…Blanchard Hits 2 Homers…,” New York Times, September 7, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Maris Hits 55th Homer as Yankees Beat Indians and Lift Lead to 9 Games…Mantle’s Double Snaps Tie in 6th,” New York Times, September 8, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “Mantle Hits Homer No. 52 as Yanks Down Indians Before 41,762 at Stadium; Bombers Capture Ninth in Row, 9-1 Stafford Hurls 7-Hitter and Belts Triple and Single — Kubek Clouts Homer,” New York Times, September 9, 1961.

UPI, “[Ted] Williams ‘Pretty Sure’ Maris Will Set Record,” New York Times, September 10, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris Hits No. 56 As Yanks Beat Indians; 4 Runs in 9th Win; Yankees Take 10th in Row — Arroyo Victor — Mantle Stopped…,” New York Times, September 10, 1961.

Robert L. Teague, “The Not-So-Private Life of the M-Squad; Home Runs on Field and Home Fun Just Do Not Mix; Mantle Likes Films and Golf — Maris Reads Sports; Yankee Sluggers Short on Privacy,” New York Times, September 10, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Mantle Hits No. 53 as Yanks Extend Streak to 12 by Beating Indians Twice; Maris Is Stopped …57,824 See Yank Sweep…,” New York Times, September 11, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Hank Greenberg Roots for Mark In Homers by Maris or Mantle,” New York Times, September 14, 1961.

John Drebinger, “White Sox Turn Back Yanks Twice; Maris and Mantle Fail to Hit Homers…Winning Streak Ends at 13 — Maris Gets Three Singles — Mantle Hitless,” New York Times, September 15, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Mantle Concedes He Can’t Beat Ruth Homer Mark in 162 Games,” New York Times, September 15, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Maris Sulks in Trainer’s Room As Futile Night Changes Mood,” New York Times, September 16, 1961.

John Drebinger, “…Four Yank Hurlers Allow 17 Hits Yanks Lose, 10-4; Maris Hits No. 57,” New York Times, September 17, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Maris’ Big Bat Speaks Louder Than He Does; 57th Homer Gets Ace Talking Again, But Not Effusively, Abusive Crowd, ‘Bad Press’ Embitter Yank Slugger; Maris Still Lets Bat Talk for Him,” New York Times, September 17, 1961.

“Computer Says It’s 20-1 Maris Won’t Set Mark,” New York Times, September 17, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris’ 58th Homer Gives Yanks Victory Over Tigers in 12th Before 44,219; Two-run Wallop Decides 6-4 Game…, ” New York Times, September 18, 1961.

Louis Effrat, “Maris, Second Only to Ruth Now, Stirred by the Thrill of the Chase,” New York Times, September 18, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Win Pennant… Maris Hits 59th Homer But Misses 154-Game Mark; Bombers Victors At Baltimore… Maris Connects But Fails to Tie Ruth Mark of 60,” New York Times, September 21, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Yanks 8-3 Victors; Ford Stops Red Sox for 25th Triumph… Mantle Hits 54th…” New York Times, September 24, 1961.

Philip Shabecoff, “Maris Likely to Top $100,000 For Earnings Outside Baseball,” New York Times, September 24, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris Hits No. 60 as Yankees Win; Wallop Starts Team To a 3-2 Victory Over Orioles,” New York Times, September 27, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Mantle Is Hospitalized, But Yankees Expect Him to Play in World Series; Mickey Will Miss 3 Red Sox Games; Abscessed Hip Sends Mantle to Hospital — Maris Hopes for 61st Homer Tonight,” New York Times, September 29, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris Hitless as Yankees Beat Red Sox; Mantle to Leave Hospital Sunday; Blanchard Drive Decides, 2-1…,” New York Times, September 30, 1961.

Roger Kahn, “Pursuit of No. 60: The Ordeal of Roger Maris,” Sports Illustrated, October 2, 1961.

John Drebinger, “Maris Hits 61st in Final Game; Yank First to Exceed 60 Home Runs in Major Leagues;…Right-Field Shot Wins 1-To-0 Game; Maris Is First to Go Above 60 Homers – 4th-Inning Drive Caught by Youth,” New York Times, October 2, 1961, p. 1.

Louis Effrat, “Mantle to Stay Out of World Series Opener Unless His Condition Improves; Yankee Slugger Weak and in Pain; Club Doctor Says He Thinks Mantle Can Play, However…,” New York Times, October 3, 1961.

Arthur Daley, “Sports of The Times; The Homer Epidemic,” New York Times, October 3, 1961.

Joseph Durso, Obituary, “Roger Maris is Dead at 51, Set Record Home Runs,” New York Times, December 15, 1985.

Alan Schwarz, Word for Word/Sports Journalism, “1961-62; One for The Records: How The Press Hounded Roger Maris,” New York Times, August 30, 1998.

Kevin Kernan, “No. 18: M&M Boys Chase The Babe: Summer of ‘61,” New York Post, September 26, 1999.

Allen Barra, “Roger Maris’s Misunderstood Quest to Break the Home Run Record; 1961 Was One of Baseball’s Most Exciting Seasons—But it Also Gave Rise to a String of Persistent Myths,” TheAtlantic.com, July 27, 2011.

Bill Pruden, “Roger Maris,” Society for American Baseball Research.

“Mickey Mantle Stats,” Baseball-Almanac .com.

James Lincoln Ray, “Mickey Mantle,” Society for American Baseball Research.

“Roger Maris,” Wikipedia.org.

Mickey Mantle,” Wikipedia.org.

Nick Acocella, “Maris Battled Mantle, Media, and Babe’s Legacy,” ESPN.com.

Michael K. Bohn, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, “Fifty Years Ago, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle Produced Great Home Run Derby, Debate,” Morning Call (Allentown, PA), September 28, 2011.

Jane Leavy, “The Last Boy: An Excerpt From Jane Leavy’s Acclaimed Mickey Mantle Biography,” GrantLand.com, October 10, 2011.

“The Last Boy,” JaneLeavy.com.

Harold Friend, “Maris and Mantle: Back-to-Back and Wall-to-Wall Home Runs at Yankee Stadium,” BleacherReport.com, May 12, 2012.
_________________________________








“Deepwater Horizon”
Film & Spill: 2010-2016

DVD cover for 2016 film, "Deepwater Horizon," based on the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster that killed 11 workers and resulted in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Click for DVD.
DVD cover for 2016 film, "Deepwater Horizon," based on the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster that killed 11 workers and resulted in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Click for DVD.
In 2016, Hollywood produced a film that tackled the daunting subject of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The film took the name of the failed drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon.

The real life BP oil spill of 2010 is mostly remembered as an environmental catastrophe – for the months-long oil hemorrhage spewing from the blown-out well 5,000 feet below the water’s surface.

The spill – the worst in U.S. history — lasted 87 days and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels (210 million gallons) of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to the region – from Texas to Florida – was extensive, taking a toll on wildlife, fisheries, tourism and more. BP paid out billions in fines and damages, and the full ecological toll is still being studied.

But one part of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that did not receive the media attention the spill did was what happened before the spill, when the well blew out and the rig became a raging inferno and death trap.

This is the story that the 2016 Hollywood film endeavors to tell with the aide of an all-star cast, including: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, and Kate Hudson.

Turns out that making this film was no easy task. Director Peter Berg, producers, and studio faced some pretty stiff challenges, not least of which was a resistant Louisiana oil culture led by BP, local workers fearful or legally bound from not talking, and having to build an enormous offshore oil rig set that cost tens of millions (more on all of this later). Still, Berg, studio, cast and crew pulled it off in good form, producing an important film that is as much a cautionary tale and valuable history lesson as it is entertainment.

The Deepwater Horizon film focuses on the failed elements and decision making that led up to the 2010 BP blowout. It covers the mayhem of the initial catastrophe, the worker heroics attempting to right the ship, and the final scramble of workers to get off the doomed rig. It is a film “inspired by a true story of real life heroes,” as the film’s promotional material explains.

In fact, the Deepwater Horizon film is based, in part, on an account that appeared in print by New York Times reporters David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul. That 8,500 word story, run on the front page of the Sunday, December 26th, 2010 edition, was titled, “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours — Mixed Signals. Indecision. Failed Defenses. Acts of Valor.” It began as follows:

The New York Times story, “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours,” ran on the front page, Sunday, December 26, 2010.
The New York Times story, “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours,” ran on the front page, Sunday, December 26, 2010.

“The worst of the explosions gutted the Deepwater Horizon stem to stern.

Crew members were cut down by shrapnel, hurled across rooms and buried under smoking wreckage. Some were swallowed by fireballs that raced through the oil rig’s shattered interior. Dazed and battered survivors, half-naked and dripping in highly combustible gas, crawled inch by inch in pitch darkness, willing themselves to the lifeboat deck.

It was no better there.

…Searing heat baked the lifeboat deck. Crew members, certain they were about to be cooked alive, scrambled into enclosed lifeboats for shelter, only to find them like smoke-filled ovens.

Men admired for their toughness wept. Several said their prayers and jumped into the oily seas 60 feet below….”

It was this New York Times story that Lionsgate and its partners, acquired for film rights to use as a starting point for the film. (However, the film’s casting, script writing, set construction, and filming would not be finished until 2016, and during that time there was more detailed information, continued news reporting on the BP catastrophe, as well as government and corporate inquires, a 60 Minutes program, and other information that could be used to help frame the film and its characters.)

In one of the trailers for the film, the principal character and survivor, Mike Williams, a rig electronics supervisor played by Mark Wahlberg, is shown at home before departing for his 21-day shift on the rig, 45 miles out to sea in the Gulf of Mexico. In a kitchen scene with his wife (Kate Hudson) and young daughter, his daughter asks him to find her a dinosaur fossil so she can tell her schoolmates about her father’s work – “my Daddy tames the dinosaurs.” On arrival at the rig Williams greets fellow workers already on the job. A voice over during the trailer — that of the BP man, Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich — is heard explaining: “We’re a big company with millions of moving parts… We all work very hard to insure those moving parts are functioning as a means to bear a profitable end for all of us…” This before all hell breaks loose…

 

 

Offshore oil rigs of the Deepwater Horizon variety are enormous and complex structures. On one level they are truly marvels of sophisticated engineering and oil industry derring do. Since the early days of oil extraction when the first flimsy wooden rigs ventured a couple hundred yards offshore into shallow water, the business and technology of oil drilling at sea has become dramatically more capable and powerful. Today’s modern rigs – of nearly aircraft-carrier heft and proportion – are now able to go many miles out to sea and drill in 5,000 to 10,000 feet of water. Total well depth beyond that – i.e, from the sea floor, where the actual drilling begins, to the pay zone, where the oil is – can be 10,000-to-20,000 more feet. This was the case with the drilling at BP’s Macondo oil well prospect in the leased federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico about 45 miles south of Louisiana.

Sample offshore drilling rig shown here, with its main well derrick, construction cranes, and helicopter landing pad. This happens to be another Transocean rig. But for some perspective on the scale of things in the offshore world, note the two “tiny men” standing mid-deck on the supply boat, lower right corner of the photo.
Sample offshore drilling rig shown here, with its main well derrick, construction cranes, and helicopter landing pad. This happens to be another Transocean rig. But for some perspective on the scale of things in the offshore world, note the two “tiny men” standing mid-deck on the supply boat, lower right corner of the photo.

The drilling rig involved, however, was not BP’s. This rig, owned and operated by Transocean, a Swiss company, was leased by BP to drill the well. Transocean and the Deepwater Horizon were hired by BP to drill and open the well, not extract the oil. Once drilled, BP would later move in a production rig or submersible pumping unit to harvest the oil. The disaster occurred, however, at BP’s well; Transocean was then attempting to finish the opening of the well. Both parties, however (plus a third party, Halliburton) each bore some responsibility for what went wrong when the well blew out, as later investigations would find that a series of bad decisions, corner cutting, and failed technology all contributed to the disaster.

What the film dramatizes, in part, is the conflict between BP’s man on the scene, Donald Vidrine (played by John Malkovich), and Transocean’s rig manager and safety guy, Jimmy Harrell (“Mr. Jimmy,” played by Kurt Russell). BP wants to get the job done quickly (i.e. to meet corporate goals and profit targets), while Transocean wants to get the job done safely (not injuring or killing any workers or fouling the environment). And in fact, in real life, at the time of the blow-out, the Transocean rig was six weeks behind schedule, costing BP half a million dollars a day, so there was no fiction about BP’s push to complete the well as fast as possible.

Transocean’s “Mr. Jimmy” – played by Kurt Russell, the man concerned with rig integrity & safety.
Transocean’s “Mr. Jimmy” – played by Kurt Russell, the man concerned with rig integrity & safety.
BP’s Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich, the man concerned with $ 1 million-a-day drilling delays.
BP’s Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich, the man concerned with $ 1 million-a-day drilling delays.

Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams is the lead character in the film. He is the person who frames the whole movie as he interacts with his family at home, Mr. Jimmy, BP’s Vidrine, and various workers on the drill floor and control bridge. (Williams in real life would later give 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelly an extensive and compelling interview recounting his harrowing ordeal on the rig during the catastrophe. More on this later).

Poking holes into underground geological strata holding fossil fuels is inherently risky business. Geological formations holding oil and gas are typically under great pressure. They hold various mixed proportions of volatile natural gas and oil. In the film, these inherent dangers are “set up” in a family scene at the home of Mike Williams and his wife, Felicia (Kate Hudson), and their elementary school-age daughter, Sydney, who is doing a “what-my-Daddy-does-at-work” project.

Mike Williams (Wahlberg) in film scene at home with wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter Sydney before departing for his shift on the drilling rig, is about to use a shaken Coca-Cola can as “oil reservoir” to illustrate drilling well pressures.
Mike Williams (Wahlberg) in film scene at home with wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter Sydney before departing for his shift on the drilling rig, is about to use a shaken Coca-Cola can as “oil reservoir” to illustrate drilling well pressures.

Sydney correctly, if somewhat fantastically, describes the 300 million year old fossil deposits “where the trapped dinosaurs are” who want to be free and rush furiously to holes poked into their reservoirs. Her father uses a shaken can of Coca-Cola to illustrate the pressures involved, poking a hole in the can as his daughter then applies honey to the hole, simulating drilling mud, “to tame the dinosaurs.”

Floating oil rig in 5,000 ft of water; well on sea bed below.
Floating oil rig in 5,000 ft of water; well on sea bed below.
Here’s some of the exchange between the two as Mike listens to his daughter read her report:

Sydney Williams: My dad is Mike. He works on a drilling rig that pumps oil out from underneath the ocean. That oil is a monster, like the mean old dinosaurs that oil used to be. So for 300 million years, these old dinosaurs have been getting squeezed tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter.

Mike Williams: We get it. Just use two “tighters”.

Sydney Williams: Then dad and his friends make a hole in their roof and these mean old dinosaurs can’t believe it. Freedom! So they rush through the new hole. Then smack, they run into this stuff called mud that they cram down the straw [her pipe/riser in the Coke can] to hold the monsters down and build them a new roof.

But during the end of this table-top demonstration – and as prelude to what actually happens later in the film on the Deepwater Horizon – the “well” in the Coke can sends up an uncontrolled geyser of “untamed dinosaurs.” It’s a clever little lesson, which serves to clue-in viewers of the bigger drama yet to come.

The film also does a good job of capturing the scale and sophistication of modern offshore drilling rigs. The Deepwater Horizon was known in the trade as a dynamically positioned, semi-submersible, mobile offshore drilling unit. That means, essentially it floats, albeit with the aide of some sophisticated technology, being “dynamically positioned,” or locked in one place, with the help of an assortment of data fed into its computers – wind sensors, motion sensors, gyro-compasses, etc.

Film clip, drilling rig derrick.  Looking skyward, from the drilling floor of the main deck, up into the farthest reaches of a multi-story, steel-built drilling derrick at the center of the rig.
Film clip, drilling rig derrick. Looking skyward, from the drilling floor of the main deck, up into the farthest reaches of a multi-story, steel-built drilling derrick at the center of the rig.

The Horizon’s main deck was nearly as big as a football field. And mounted at the center of that deck was the main attraction – a 25-story well derrick (above photo), made with tons of steel, and flanked by two large cranes. Below the main deck there were two floors. These included sleeping rooms for up to 146 people– as crew and officers lived on the rig for weeks at a time. Each room had its own bathroom and satellite television. On board, there was also a gym, a sauna, and a movie theater. Housekeepers cleaned the crew members’ rooms and did their laundry. Some workers called the place “a floating Hilton.”

A New York Times illustration of the Deepwater Horizon rig helps to show the gigantic rig's layout, with helicopter pad and bridge control center at top left, and various other levels, production cranes, engine rooms, drilling floor, and central well shaft area, as well as living quarters, mess hall, movie theater, and life boat areas. It also shows path of mud & gas during blow-out.
A New York Times illustration of the Deepwater Horizon rig helps to show the gigantic rig's layout, with helicopter pad and bridge control center at top left, and various other levels, production cranes, engine rooms, drilling floor, and central well shaft area, as well as living quarters, mess hall, movie theater, and life boat areas. It also shows path of mud & gas during blow-out.

But the Deepwater Horizon rig was also about the business of opening new wells, and could carry up to 5,000 pieces of drilling equipment, pipe, and tools. The rig was ten years old at the time of the catastrophe, but still pretty much a state-of-the-art facility that included lots of redundant safety features. The rig won an award for its 2008 safety record, and on the day of the disaster, in fact, BP and Transocean managers were on board to celebrate seven years without a lost-time accident, which is depicted briefly in the film when Mr. Jimmy is given the award and cheered by the crew assembled in the mess hall.

Film clip.  Mike and Felecia Williams in the family SUV, travel over Louisiana  causeways and wetlands on their way to the regional heliport for Mike's departure to the offshore Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Film clip. Mike and Felecia Williams in the family SUV, travel over Louisiana causeways and wetlands on their way to the regional heliport for Mike's departure to the offshore Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Deepwater Horizon also captures the everyday life of rig workers and the environment of southern Louisiana’s oil culture. Early in the film, Wahlberg’s character travels with his wife in the family SUV over some miles of Louisiana causeways and beautifully green wetlands to the regional helicopter center that ferries hundreds of workers back and forth to the numerous rigs out in the Gulf. There are dozens of copters at this field awaiting others crews, as the Deepwater Horizon group in the film is shown walking to their designated departure pad (In 2013, BP reported that some 12,000 people each month traveled through the Houma, LA heliport on their way to BP rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico).

Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams character (right) walks with Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell, left), bridge officer, Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez, center), and other crew on their way to waiting helicopter for the 45-minute flight to Deepwater Horizon rig.
Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams character (right) walks with Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell, left), bridge officer, Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez, center), and other crew on their way to waiting helicopter for the 45-minute flight to Deepwater Horizon rig.

At the heliport, Williams has joined his colleagues, including: Andrea Fleytas (played by Gina Rodriguez), a young bridge officer in charge of the rig’s sophisticated navigation computer; Transocean crew chief, “Mr. Jimmy” (Kurt Russell); two BP executives; and others. They will take a 45 minute helicopter flight out to the rig. (Of the helicopter ride out into the Gulf, the film’s director, Peter Berg, who took a similar trip, would later observe: “I did one of these flights out to a rig. And you get about 5 miles out and you still have 35 miles to go. And you hit weather, you know, there’s a lot of weather in the Gulf. And the isolation is very clear and very palpable. And I found… my anxiety level after about 5 miles, [and] every mile, I just felt unsettled and very alone in that helicopter.” And in the film, during the helicopter ride, there is a bird strike, which brings a brief moment of distress to the passengers.

Film clip showing helicopter with about a dozen BP and Transocean passengers aboard, approaching Deepwater Horizon rig.
Film clip showing helicopter with about a dozen BP and Transocean passengers aboard, approaching Deepwater Horizon rig.

Upon arrival on the rig’s helipad, Williams and Mr. Jimmy notice that the well cementing crew is boarding the helicopter for the return trip back to land, claiming they’ve finished their work, as the BP guy, Donald Vidrine (Malkovich), has said that no further testing was needed. But Mr. Jimmy is distressed by this claim, as he believes checking the integrity of completed cement work on the well – called a “cement bond log”– is critical for the rig’s safety. So Mr. Jimmy sets about verifying from several sources on the rig, with the help of Mike Williams, that yes, in fact, BP has passed on verifying the cement work. Mr. Jimmy has also noticed a boat in the area, the Damon Bangston, and verifies it too has been summoned by BP to take on drilling mud, another verification that BP has by-passed the testing. This prompts Mr Jimmy and Mike to go visit with BP’s Donald Vidrine and other BP officials in their on-rig office, where they have a somewhat testy exchange about the cement work. Mr. Jimmy, reminding the BP folks that a properly done cement job “is the only thing between us and a blow out,” says it would only cost BP $125,000 to do it properly. Vidrine replies that Transocean is 53 days being behind schedule, costing BP millions. Mr Jimmy, who has the final word on rig procedures, insists that a negative pressure test be done, which is reluctantly agreed to by the BP folks.

Film clip of Mr. Jimmy watching monitors as negative pressure testing in underway, with Mike Williams (far right),  BP’s Donald Vidrine (obscured in back), and other Transocean crew.
Film clip of Mr. Jimmy watching monitors as negative pressure testing in underway, with Mike Williams (far right), BP’s Donald Vidrine (obscured in back), and other Transocean crew.

As they gather to monitor the test, there are some anxious moments as the computer monitors record steadily rising well pressure – 100 psi (pounds per square inch), 450 psi, 900 psi, 1395 psi – “enough to cut your car in half,” says Mr. Jimmy on that last reading, and at which point “pressure alert” warnings are also sounding. But Vidrine, drawing on a whiteboard to make his point, dismisses these as an anomaly or false readings, claiming that sensors are picking up “pockets of pressure,” also explained in technical jargon as a “bladder effect.” Still, Mr. Jimmy is not assured and wants further testing. Vidrine then agrees to run a second test, this time on the “kill line” to illustrate his belief they are over-reacting to the first test.

Mr. Jimmy, meanwhile, is called away at that point by two other BP officials for an “urgent safety matter” on another deck, which is pretext for presenting him with a safety award in front of assembled crew in the galley. On his way to the safety gathering, Mr. Jimmy and Mike acknowledge that it’s possible Vidrine’s theory about the pressure test could be correct, but they still have their doubts. Mr. Jimmy, meanwhile, is lauded at the surprise gathering for his safety leadership. Back at the kill line test, however, the readings are still not stellar, and Mr. Jimmy’s Transocean colleague, Jason, is reluctant to give BP’s Vidrine the o.k. until he talks to Mr. Jimmy. Over the intercom, Jason informs Mr. Jimmy of the barely passable results. Mr. Jimmy very reluctantly gives the o.k., and tells Jason he will see him in about a half an hour. He decides to go to his room for a quick shower and some rest before resuming his duties. Vidrine then issues the go ahead to begin pumping out drilling mud, on the way to completing the well opening and closing out that phase of the work.

Film clip. On the drilling floor of the Deepwater Horizon, with well at work at left, floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) holding radio speaker, is in communication with the drill operator in the wire-protected Drill Shed behind him, as BP’s Donald Virdrine (John Malkovich) looks in at the well shaft. Things appear to be working O.K.
Film clip. On the drilling floor of the Deepwater Horizon, with well at work at left, floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) holding radio speaker, is in communication with the drill operator in the wire-protected Drill Shed behind him, as BP’s Donald Virdrine (John Malkovich) looks in at the well shaft. Things appear to be working O.K.

Donald Vidrine’s gamble appears to work, as the oil well seems to be cooperating with no adverse signs. Mike Williams by this time is back at his workshop office, later talking with his wife on a computer screen over Skype. On the drilling floor, work on the well resumes with the Transocean crew, as BP’s Virdrine walks by occasionally to monitor the work.

However, as the drilling crew is going about their work, floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) notices a tiny bit of mud welling up around the drill pipe. It also starts coming up in the seams around the well drilling floor.

Film clip.  Floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) discovers some bad news at the drill pipe.
Film clip. Floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) discovers some bad news at the drill pipe.

“Are you seeing this?,” Holloway frantically calls into the drill shack monitor on his radio. And just then, a large buildup of mud gushes up through the pipe, causing it to burst, sending drill crew members and BP’s Vidrine flying off their feet, thrown about, and covered in a torrent of mud and spray from the powerful blowback.

Blast of mud and debris from the well sends workers flying on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
Blast of mud and debris from the well sends workers flying on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

After some struggle, the drill crew and technicians manage to stop the mud from spewing. But Jason in the Drill Shed is still recording rising pressure. Then, as popping bolts and projectiles begin pelting the Drill Shed, he calls for the crew “to get off the drilling floor — now !” But just then the rig shakes violently, and another, more powerful burst of mud and pressure spews, this time rising up through the top of the rig’s huge derrick. Rig floor workers struggle against the torrent, and their attempts at control are futile. Some begin a scramble to the lifeboats.

Film clip.  Transocean floorhand Caleb Hollway (Dylan O’Brien) attempts to help BP’s Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) to his feet after powerful well blast on the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Film clip. Transocean floorhand Caleb Hollway (Dylan O’Brien) attempts to help BP’s Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) to his feet after powerful well blast on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Methane gas is part of the escaping blow-out brew and this volatile substance begins to seep out invisibly all over the rig. Some of the drenched workers can smell and taste the gas; a few begin to panic. Gas alarms are now sounding throughout the rig. Up on the bridge, Andrea is discovering that the rig’s giant underwater thrusters that maneuver the rig are over-revving as escaping gas is being sucked into their on-board engines. She can’t hold the rig in place. Magenta alarms – the most serious of the color-coded alarms – are going off and appearing on the consoles. The leaking gas soon finds an ignition source and a powerful explosion occurs, cascading destructively throughout the rig, and a roaring firestorm ensues.

Mike Williams (Wahlberg) in his workshop on a Skype call to his wife when he hears some strange sounds, moments before he is blown across the room behind the flying metal door of his workshop and knocked unconscious temporarily.
Mike Williams (Wahlberg) in his workshop on a Skype call to his wife when he hears some strange sounds, moments before he is blown across the room behind the flying metal door of his workshop and knocked unconscious temporarily.

Mike Williams, then at his workshop office in conversation with his wife on Skype, hears a few pops and pings, and the lights suddenly get real bright. Just as he starts to get up to see what’s going on, the explosion sends him flying as the heavy steel door to his office is blown off its hinges, sending him across the room and to the ground.

Mr. Jimmy, meanwhile, is then in the midst of his shower. As the terrific blast force ripples through the living-quarters, compressing those compartments as it goes, Mr. Jimmy is blown against the shower wall and bounced out onto the bedroom area like a rag doll. He is knocked out temporarily and lands on the floor. A blast wave of tiny glass, metallic, and plastic particles have hit him and now cover his entire body.

Mr. Jimmy, showering in the living quarters, notices the lights becoming brighter; not a good sign. As a blast wave rips through the living quarters, Mr. Jimmy is bounced around his compartment like a rag doll, covered with debris, and is temporarily knocked out.
Mr. Jimmy, showering in the living quarters, notices the lights becoming brighter; not a good sign. As a blast wave rips through the living quarters, Mr. Jimmy is bounced around his compartment like a rag doll, covered with debris, and is temporarily knocked out.

Mr. Jimmy, upon waking in near darkness, and now with impaired vision, discovers that a long slender piece of glass or metal has pierced through the arch of his foot and is lodged there. He pulls it out with a painful scream. He then pulls on some coveralls and shoes, cursing at the pain. Feeling his way along the walls, he tries to walk, but falls down in a near hallway.

Mike Williams, too, is in a post-blast daze. He wakes up with a door on top of him, pushes it off, and manages to make his way to a hallway with a flashlight, where he finds an injured colleague who he helps to the lifeboat area. He then decides to go to the living quarters to look for Mr. Jimmy.

Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams character shown with flash light and crow bar at left, and Mr. Jimmy next to him, trying to free trapped worker whose leg is stuck and severely injured between damaged deck flooring.
Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams character shown with flash light and crow bar at left, and Mr. Jimmy next to him, trying to free trapped worker whose leg is stuck and severely injured between damaged deck flooring.

When Mike arrives at the living quarters area, he finds Mr. Jimmy on the floor in a hallway and helps him up to walk. Mr. Jimmy asks Mike to help get him to the bridge to check on the status of the well. But along the way they hear calls for help from a pair of workers, one with his leg caught between heavy steel plates. They work to help free him, buffeted by a secondary blast as they do.

With the Deepwater Horizon now in flames, the nearby Damon Bangston work vessel has also sent in a “may day” call: “the Deepwater Horizon has exploded and is on fire.” The Bangston is the one refuge ship in the area, and it sends out a smaller skiff to look for survivors.

As the Deepwater Horizon burns in a raging inferno, the nearby Damon Bangston vessel sends out a smaller rescue boat to help pick up survivors.
As the Deepwater Horizon burns in a raging inferno, the nearby Damon Bangston vessel sends out a smaller rescue boat to help pick up survivors.

The film cuts briefly to U.S. Coast Guard message center where other reports of an explosion in the Gulf are also coming in, which the Coast Guard verifies and locates with a satellite image that shows the burning rig. Rescue helicopters are dispatched, but it will take more than 35 minutes for them to get to the rig.

Film clip. At the home of Mike Williams, Felicia has learned that there is a fire on the Deepwater Horizon, and that some workers are “jumping into the water”.
Film clip. At the home of Mike Williams, Felicia has learned that there is a fire on the Deepwater Horizon, and that some workers are “jumping into the water”.

At the home of Mike Williams, Felicia has called the company to learn that there is a fire on the Deepwater Horizon, but she is given no further information. She has also called the wife of another rig worker who has learned that some workers “are jumping into the water.” Felicia fears the worst for Mike.

Back on the rig, Mr. Jimmy says he must get the bridge, as he and Mike continue their trek through flames and flying debris. Arriving at the bridge, Mr. Jimmy has a long “if-looks-could-kill” face-off with BP’s Vidrine, curtly ordering him to the lifeboats.

Film clip. At the bridge control center as the rig continues to burn, Mr. Jimmy and BP’s Donald Vidrine have an awkward moment, but Mr. Jimmy contains his anger and orders Vidrine to the lifeboat area.
Film clip. At the bridge control center as the rig continues to burn, Mr. Jimmy and BP’s Donald Vidrine have an awkward moment, but Mr. Jimmy contains his anger and orders Vidrine to the lifeboat area.

At the bridge, Mr. Jimmy, asks for Andrea’s help to guide his hand to the disconnect button on the control panel to activate the blowout preventer on the sea floor below to cut the riser pipe and seal the well. But it doesn’t work. They try a second time. No dice. Mr. Jimmy then decides they must try to hold the rig in place so the riser pipe doesn’t break off without a seal. But the rig is dead in the water; there is no power.

Mr. Jimmy says the emergency generators could work, but they’re on the other side of the rig, a perilous distance given the circumstances. Mike then volunteers to go across the rig to reach the emergency generators. Floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) volunteers to go with him. This journey is filled with continuing peril from fire, secondary explosions, and flying shrapnel all over the rig.

Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and colleagues find a worsening situation on the Deepwater Horizon rig as the rig fire intensifies and secondary explosions occur all around them.
Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and colleagues find a worsening situation on the Deepwater Horizon rig as the rig fire intensifies and secondary explosions occur all around them.

Along they way, one of the huge cranes is swinging perilously above the rig, as it has broken free of its cradle. Mike and Caleb see one of their fellow workers scale the fiery tower to get to the operator’s chair attempting to bring the crane back to its cradle. He does so heroically, but soon falls to his death as the continuing inferno claims him.

Mike and Caleb get to the generators and start them briefly. For a moment, back on the bridge, Andrea and others are elated they have power to maneuver the rig, but the power goes out again. Back at the generators, Mike and Caleb try again, and start the generators a second time, successfully it appears, and they try heading back to the bridge across the blazing rig.

A badly beaten up Mr. Jimmy confers with others on the bridge about their worsening situation on the Deepwater Horizon.
A badly beaten up Mr. Jimmy confers with others on the bridge about their worsening situation on the Deepwater Horizon.

Back on the bridge, Mr. Jimmy is flagging, nearly passes out, and is helped by Andrea. The situation on the rig has deteriorated badly by this time, and the captain gives the abandon ship order. Most of the crew have already made it to the lifeboats, and have evacuated the rig. The last of those on the bridge, including Mr. Jimmy, now head to the lifeboat area, only to discover that the last one has already left. Mike and others work to deploy a canister holding an inflatable emergency raft, and after some difficulty, are successful, though Caleb has caught fire and falls into the water during the process, but is shortly rescued.

Mike, Caleb, and others attempt to deploy an emergency raft cannister, their last chance of escape from the blazing Deepwater Horizon.
Mike, Caleb, and others attempt to deploy an emergency raft cannister, their last chance of escape from the blazing Deepwater Horizon.

As conditions on the rig deteriorate in the area of the emergency raft, Mike and Andrea are cut off from the raft area by a small explosion, and are unable to board the raft. Instead, they will have to don life vests and jump into the water. However, they have to climb to a higher level on the rig amid the inferno in order that their jump trajectory will take them beyond flaming seas. They climb up to the helicopter pad level.

Andrea is terrified and refuses to jump, as Mike tries coaxing her. Still she hesitates, then Mike asks her a distracting question and pushes her off the rig with a little run assist. He then follows her with his own run and leap. They each plunge deep beneath the water, surfacing in the oily waters as some flaming seas can be seen not far from them. They are later pulled to safety in a rescue skiff, which heads for the Damon Bangston nearby.

Mike and Andrea contemplating their plight after being unable to board the last emergency escape raft, now have to don life vests and jump from the burning Deepwater Horizon rig into the waters below, much of which is also ablaze.
Mike and Andrea contemplating their plight after being unable to board the last emergency escape raft, now have to don life vests and jump from the burning Deepwater Horizon rig into the waters below, much of which is also ablaze.

As they climb aboard that ship and find some space to collect themselves, they, like others, are shattered emotionally from the horror they have just experienced. Much of the evacuated crew has assembled on the deck of the Damon Bangston, where an injured Mr. Jimmy begins calling the roll to get an accounting of those who have made it. Evacuation helicopters come to take away the most seriously injured. After a time, the survivors on deck are led in a round of the Lord’s Prayer. The nearby Deepwater Horizon is still burning, and would continue to burn for two more days before it would sink to the sea floor more than 5,000 feet below.

Survivors from the Deepwater Horizon blow out and explosions have gathered on board the "Damon Bangston" vessel, here showing Dylan O'Brien's character, Caleb Holloway, at center.
Survivors from the Deepwater Horizon blow out and explosions have gathered on board the "Damon Bangston" vessel, here showing Dylan O'Brien's character, Caleb Holloway, at center.

The surviving crew is then taken away from the scene to hotels on land where they are given medical treatment and rooms to shower and reunite with their families. Mike is swarmed by reporters outside a hotel, and he is shoved against a wall by a distressed man asking him if his son got off the rig. Mike goes up to his room and breaks down as he tries to take a shower. Felicia and Sydney enter the room to comfort him in a family embrace. But throughout his ordeal, Mike has managed to hold onto the fossil he was given for Sydney, which he gives to her. Later, upon leaving the hotel, the camera pans Andrea and Caleb reuniting with their loved ones, while both Mike and Felicia embrace Mr. Jimmy, who is walking on crutches.

After the movie’s ending, the film continues with a tribute and homage to the eleven men who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon. There is also footage of the real Mike Williams, Andrea Fleytas, and James Harrell giving testimony in the aftermath of the disaster. Williams never returned to sea, and lives in Texas with his family. Fleytas lives in California and no longer works in the oil industry. James Harrell continued his work for Transocean. BP’s Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza (also portrayed in the film) were indicted on manslaughter charges, but federal prosecutors later dropped those charges.


Making The Film

“To this day, when people think of Deepwater Horizon, they only think of an oil spill,” said film director Peter Berg in 2016 comments to the Los Angeles Times, “– they think of an oil spill and dead pelicans,” said Berg. “Obviously that oil spill was horrific,” he continued. “But the reality is 11 men died on that rig and these men were just doing their jobs and many of them worked hard trying to prevent that oil from blowing out and it was certainly not their fault. As it pertains to the families of those men who lost their lives, I want them to feel as though another side of that story was presented, so that whenever someone talks about the Deepwater Horizon or offshore oil drilling, people don’t automatically go to ‘oil spills.’ ”

However, the families of the workers who were killed in the disaster were initially resistant to the film. “When Pete (Berg) and I reached out to the families we were getting resistance at first, and we didn’t understand,” said Wahlberg, also one of the film’s producers, in a USA Today interview. “I’ve done Lone Survivor [2013], I’ve done many true stories. We figured our reputation would have been enough to at least get us to be able to sit down (with them).”The families of the workers killed on the rig were afraid the film would again cause their loved ones to be blamed for the oil spill. The families, it turns out, were afraid that their loved ones would be blamed, again [as occurred in 2010], for the devastating environmental consequences of the massive oil spill that followed the disaster. But Berg and Wahlberg made clear to the families their intention was to highlight worker efforts to save the rig in doing their jobs, and helping save one another during the rig’s melt down. The film would also include coverage of rig safety measures cut by BP to speed up production – namely, skipping the check on the well cementing. Still, to be sure that they got the story as correct as possible from the workers’ perspective, as well as the work settings used in the film, they signed on Mike Williams as a consultant to the film. “Once I met Mike,” Wahlberg explained, “I just insisted that they bring him on as a consultant. I wanted him to be there with us and make sure we were getting it as accurately as possible.” Caleb Holloway was also consulted. Once Berg and Wahlberg communicated their intent to the families, they had their support for making the film.

May 2010.  "60 Minutes" aired a riveting interview with Mike Williams as part of a Deepwater Horizon story.
May 2010. "60 Minutes" aired a riveting interview with Mike Williams as part of a Deepwater Horizon story.
Mike Williams, for his part, was also apprehensive about the casting of his role. He was hesitant about being presented as any kind of a hero. “He was very nervous about what he called ‘stolen valor,'” Berg said in an Los Angeles Times interview. “He wanted to make sure that we didn’t present him in a way that made him look like he did a bunch of things that he didn’t do, or was any more heroic than any other people on that rig. And I respected that.”

Williams had also given a riveting 2010 interview with Scott Pelly on the CBS 60 Minutes program in which he recounted his harrowing escape from the rig. That interview also helped frame the Williams role in the film.

In making the film, there was also considerable attention to detail on the set, not the least of which was the enormous rig replica they built in Louisiana (see sidebar). On the bridge, for example, there were real drilling rig instrument panels and computer screens, and Berg and some of the actors were tutored in the business and technology of deep water oil drilling.

On the bridge set for the Deepwater Horizon film, real oil rig instrument panels and control monitors were installed to give an authentic look.
On the bridge set for the Deepwater Horizon film, real oil rig instrument panels and control monitors were installed to give an authentic look.

In an interview on National Public Radio, Berg explained that he had the good fortune of attending a kind of “oil school” which was set up for him and others by some of the film’s producers. In that experience, Berg explained, “we were able to spend a lot of time with petroleum engineers and deepwater drilling experts,” who took them slowly and carefully enough through the process that they developed an appreciation and decent understanding of offshore drilling. Likewise, Gina Rodriguez, who plays Andrea Fleytas, the bridge officer who runs the Deepwater Horizon’s navigation controls, was sent to dynamic positioning school in Houston where she learned Fleytas’ duties aboard the rig. Rodriguez also spoke with Fleytas and studied audio tapes of her testimony during one of the government inquiries on the disaster.

Big Oil’s Turf
Filming Not Welcome

As the film-makers sought to be as realistic as possible in making a film about an oil industry disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, they rightly came to the Gulf coast region and to Louisiana to do their filming. But as it turns out, according to director, Peter Berg, the oil industry, and BP in particular, wasn’t exactly excited about the prospect of a film on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And in fact, according to Berg, BP went out of its way to make filming in Louisiana as difficult as possible.

Peter Berg, director, 'Deepwater Horizon' film, 2016.
Peter Berg, director, 'Deepwater Horizon' film, 2016.

“…BP became a very effective disruptor and prevented us getting any access to any oil rigs. We couldn’t even fly by one. At one point we were in a helicopter on a tour of a rig called the Nautilus and were told if we got any closer we would be perceived to be a threat and they were going to defend themselves. The companies exert so much power because they are such financial engines in that part of the country – anyone who worked with BP basically said they couldn’t talk to us. We had consultants who would work with us for a day or two, but the third day they would call in sick and we would never hear from them again. We had contracts to film on the tenders that go back and forth to the rigs – then the day before, they would say we couldn’t. It became obvious that BP was doing a great job of intimidating most of the people down in that community. We understood it; it wasn’t a news flash. BP pays a lot of bills there, a lot of mortgages, sends a lot of kids to school, pays a lot of medical insurance. We realized our only option was to build our own rig – which we did… [more on this below]

Berg also discovered that several of the people who were involved in the real-life incident had gag orders as a result of their settlement with BP, and “told us they could not speak with us.” And then there was the threat of BP legal action hanging over the production. Says Berg: “…The legal processes were something else.“It became obvious that BP was doing a great job of intimidating most of the people down in that community.” Lionsgate, our studio, had a team of independent lawyers who would review every word in the script… [Also]… in the final edits the lawyers were all over me; it was the first time in my career I have ever had to take mandatory edits from the studio….”

The rig seen in the movie and used in filming was an 85 percent scale recreation of the actual Deepwater Horizon rig. But this “studio rig” was no small project – and in many ways, was an actual smaller rig using real materials. It was located in a rural area of Louisiana at an abandoned amusement park. The rig was constructed using 3.2 million pounds of steel, and was built inside of a giant, five-acre, two-and-a-half million gallon water tank. Peter Berg would say of this project:

…[T]he set we built was about 85 feet in the air, was about size of about one and a half football fields, and underneath it was a 5-acre water tank that we could set on fire… [W]e could…blow up giant pieces of that set and blow oil and mud up in the air about 150 feet and land helicopters on it to do all kinds of things to try and provide the audience with an experience that…felt as authentic…as possible.”

An 85-percent scale recreation of the actual Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, using some 3.2 million pounds of steel, and set in a 5-acre water tank, had to be constructed in rural Louisiana due in part, to oil industry resistance to using an existing rig.
An 85-percent scale recreation of the actual Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, using some 3.2 million pounds of steel, and set in a 5-acre water tank, had to be constructed in rural Louisiana due in part, to oil industry resistance to using an existing rig.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest practical set ever built, really ever, in the history of filmmaking. It’s certainly one of them,” Peter Berg said in a September 2015 Los Angeles Times story on the set. The main deck sat more than five stories in the air, and internally real materials were used from similar oil rigs on the bridge set and throughout other parts of the rig. “On the drill deck, all the mechanics above them, we built that for real,” explained production designer, Chris Seagers. “We thought we’d just rent that stuff, but then you realize each piece weighs 20, 30 tons. So we had to make it all…” The real Mike Williams acknowledged the set’s accuracies — “all the way down to the salt and pepper shakers in the galley.” In addition to meticulously recreating the rig, current and former oil workers and Coast Guard members were cast in smaller roles. In the end, the rig was set ablaze to recreate the explosions and inferno.

The fact that this substitute rig had to be built from scratch, as opposed to using an existing or out-of-commission rig somewhere in the Gulf, meant that huge and unexpected costs were confronted, which certainly cut into the film’s profit, which was meager in the end. The film’s costs of $156 million, minus some production credits from the state of Louisiana, gave it net costs of about $120 million. Worldwide box office for the film was $122 million plus another $16 million in 2017 video sales.


Reviews & Critics

On September 13, 2016, Deepwater Horizon had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where, after its screening, it received a standing ovation. The film opened in theaters about a week later. Deepwater Horizon received generally positive reviews from critics and viewers. Audiences polled by CinemaScore, for example, gave the film an average grade of “A–”.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans produced 'Six Steps That Doomed The Rig' in 2010, which includes detailed descriptions of what went wrong in each of those areas. Click for enlarged version.
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans produced 'Six Steps That Doomed The Rig' in 2010, which includes detailed descriptions of what went wrong in each of those areas. Click for enlarged version.
BP’s review of the film, however, was negative – and not unexpected. In late September 2016, as the film began circulating in theaters worldwide, a statement came from Geoff Morrell, BP senior vice-president of U.S. communications and external affairs:

“The Deepwater Horizon movie is Hollywood’s take on a tragic and complex accident. It is not an accurate portrayal of the events that led to the accident, our people, or the character of our company. Morrell also said the film “ignores the conclusions reached by every official investigation: that the accident was the result of multiple errors made by a number of companies.”

Yes, true enough, other companies and the lack of government oversight share the blame. Yet the major errors at the Macondo well, and the setting of a culture of haste at the expense of safety, were those laid to BP,

(For those who might want more detail on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, click on the New Orleans Times-Picayune graphic at right to explore the enlarged version of “Six Steps That Doomed the Rig.”)

One of the film’s producers, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, explained that Deepwater Horizon sought to steer clear of simplistic depictions of corporate villainy, though it is clear that BP’s Donald Vidrine is wearing the back hat in this film, which is basically supported by the historical record (although perhaps compressed for the purpose of filmmaking).

“In those kinds of events, there is no black and white,” Di Bonaventura said in one interview about the film. “If you have an agenda, you’ll see this movie through your agenda. But it’s very important to us: It’s not an anti-oil movie. It’s not a pro-oil movie. It’s what happened that day.”

Most reviews of the film were positive. Benjamin Lee of The Guardian of London praised Berg’s direction as “admirably, uncharacteristically restrained…[He] stages the action horribly well, capturing the panic and gruesome mayhem without the film ever feeling exploitative. It’s spectacularly constructed, yet it doesn’t forget about the loss of life…”

Gina Rodriguez plays rig navigation expert, Andrea Fleytas, who has a near-death escape scene from the blazing rig.
Gina Rodriguez plays rig navigation expert, Andrea Fleytas, who has a near-death escape scene from the blazing rig.
Deepwater Horizon “evokes the human cost of that calamity from the crew’s point of view,” wrote one Wall Street Journal reviewer, “and does so with impressive pictorial energy.” In other reviews, the film and Berg received high marks for providing context and offering explanations, while not simply making it all explosions and gore.

Reviewers also found the performances of Wahlberg, Russell, Maklkovich, Rodriguez, and Hudson as bringing authenticity to the film.

“…Wahlberg proves a sturdy, sympathetic leader on a journey to an enormous floating hellscape,” wrote Ann Hornaday in her Washington Post review. Another thought Kurt Russell was especially good in his role, worthy of a best supporting actor consideration. And portions of Gina Rodriguez’s performance — especially those at near the end, showing human fear — added to the believability of how people react in life-threatening situations.

There was also one review from CatholicMom.com that found the film’s depictions of marriage, family life, faith – minor as they may appear – all to be pluses, from the Wahlberg-Hudson characters as a married couple in love, to Wahlberg’s sign-of-the-cross-moment and the surviving crew taking a knee to say the Our Father together.

True, there was some criticism of the film for straying too far from the actual events, or not getting things exactly right technically. Some felt there was too much technical detail, others not enough. Time magazine’s Justin Worland, who flagged some of the film’s shortcomings in his September 2016 review, nevertheless concluded: “…No movie is flawless and, as far as films based on true events go, Deepwater Horizon is pretty good. The average viewer will walk away from the movie with a new understanding of a complex disaster. And, as easy as it is to complain about the details, the film gets the gist of it right.”

Sample poster art for "Deepwater Horizon" film.
Sample poster art for "Deepwater Horizon" film.
One viewer in Houston, Texas, David Vaucher, a director specializing in energy issues at the firm Alvarez and Marsal, told the Houston Chronicle in October 2016 after viewing Deepwater Horizon, that the film didn’t need to be completely accurate in order to have an impact. Vaucher went to see the movie because he was concerned about the oil and gas industry’s portrayal. However, he came away thinking that Deepwater Horizon is a cautionary tale the industry should embrace. “This is really horrible to watch,” he said. “Let’s just try and learn something from it. I hope that in 10 or 15 years that people will still talk about this film.”

Whatever the technical, sequential, or composited shortcomings of this film may be, they are few and inconsequential as far as the main story line is concerned. On the whole, Deepwater Horizon is a genre of film that Hollywood should be lauded for making. Thank you, Lionsgate. In fact, Hollywood should make more films like it. Lord knows there are lots of industrial calamities and pollution stories out there that need to be told, many with real human consequences and drama at their core. History is full of examples – from the coal mines, the steel mills, the chemical factories, and more. Hollywood needs to do much more in these arenas as a public service and for public education. Less Marvel, more realism.

For those interested in “Part II” of the Deepwater Horizon disaster – i.e., the oil spill and its aftermath — a bit of that history follows below, along with some of its media coverage. In addition, more than a dozen books on the spill, shown with cover art, are listed in “Sources” at the end of this article.

May 17, 2010 Time magazine cover story, “The Big Spill".
May 17, 2010 Time magazine cover story, “The Big Spill".
New Orleans Times-Picayune graphic showing Deepwater Horizon rig, disconnected riser pipe, and blowout preventer at the well head, all on the sea bed, 5,000 feet below Gulf surface.
New Orleans Times-Picayune graphic showing Deepwater Horizon rig, disconnected riser pipe, and blowout preventer at the well head, all on the sea bed, 5,000 feet below Gulf surface.
“SpillCam,” on the sea bottom at hemorrhaging well spewing thousands of bbls per day, became a split-screen 'star' during CNN and other TV broadcasts probing the spill.
“SpillCam,” on the sea bottom at hemorrhaging well spewing thousands of bbls per day, became a split-screen 'star' during CNN and other TV broadcasts probing the spill.
June 18, 2010. L. A. Times front-page photo & story on BP's Tony Hayward in Washington: “Head of BP Rejects Taking Blame.”
June 18, 2010. L. A. Times front-page photo & story on BP's Tony Hayward in Washington: “Head of BP Rejects Taking Blame.”
June 17, 2010. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) with photo of oil-covered pelican during hearings in Congress, as he admonished BP’s Tony Hayward to "keep this image in your mind".
June 17, 2010. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) with photo of oil-covered pelican during hearings in Congress, as he admonished BP’s Tony Hayward to "keep this image in your mind".
May 12, 2010. Front-page oil spill headlines from Florida’s ‘Pensacola News Journal’ featuring 'BP Holding Back' story & Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) during Washington hearings.
May 12, 2010. Front-page oil spill headlines from Florida’s ‘Pensacola News Journal’ featuring 'BP Holding Back' story & Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) during Washington hearings.
June 4, 2010. President Obama with Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, and speaking with press, at Deepwater Horizon oil spill response center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
June 4, 2010. President Obama with Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, and speaking with press, at Deepwater Horizon oil spill response center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
June 12, 2010. Portion of the front page of the Press-Register of south Alabama reporting on 'black tide' hitting the beaches.
June 12, 2010. Portion of the front page of the Press-Register of south Alabama reporting on 'black tide' hitting the beaches.
June 7, 2010. During Congressional hearing in Chalmette, LA, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) holds up full-page BP newspaper ad to illustrate  complaint about BP paying for advertising while Gulf Coast region faced financial need.
June 7, 2010. During Congressional hearing in Chalmette, LA, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) holds up full-page BP newspaper ad to illustrate complaint about BP paying for advertising while Gulf Coast region faced financial need.
June 14, 2010. Portion of Newsweek cover, with featured story, "What The Spill Will Kill".
June 14, 2010. Portion of Newsweek cover, with featured story, "What The Spill Will Kill".
June 12, 2010. Front page of The Mississippi Press showing oil on beaches of Petit Bois Island and reporting that latest spill projections look bad for wildlife and BP damages.
June 12, 2010. Front page of The Mississippi Press showing oil on beaches of Petit Bois Island and reporting that latest spill projections look bad for wildlife and BP damages.
June 14, 2010. Chemical & Engineering News cover story: 'Oil Spill Exposes Regulatory, Science Gaps'.
June 14, 2010. Chemical & Engineering News cover story: 'Oil Spill Exposes Regulatory, Science Gaps'.
June 15, 2010. Pensacola, FL newspaper shows President Obama walking the beach with Governor Crist with headline, “BP Will Pay”, and story about Obama speech to nation.
June 15, 2010. Pensacola, FL newspaper shows President Obama walking the beach with Governor Crist with headline, “BP Will Pay”, and story about Obama speech to nation.
Signs of protest – like this one along a Grand Isle, LA highway in July 2010 – were spotted throughout the region, expressing anger of those whose lives and livelihoods were turned upside down by the spill, fishing restrictions, and oil drilling bans.
Signs of protest – like this one along a Grand Isle, LA highway in July 2010 – were spotted throughout the region, expressing anger of those whose lives and livelihoods were turned upside down by the spill, fishing restrictions, and oil drilling bans.
July 2010.  Newsweek cover features a major story on the Obama Administration's response to the BP oil spill.
July 2010. Newsweek cover features a major story on the Obama Administration's response to the BP oil spill.
National Geographic offered a special report on the Gulf oil spill in its October 2010 edition, featuring a partially cleaned Brown Pelican at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center.
National Geographic offered a special report on the Gulf oil spill in its October 2010 edition, featuring a partially cleaned Brown Pelican at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center.
January 2011: The Obama-appointed National Oil Spill Commission’s 390pp report on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, titled “Deep Water,” with blazing rig on cover.
January 2011: The Obama-appointed National Oil Spill Commission’s 390pp report on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, titled “Deep Water,” with blazing rig on cover.
Nov 2012. Wall Street Journal Europe on $4.5 billion in criminal fines for BP, with Clean Water Act fines yet to come.
Nov 2012. Wall Street Journal Europe on $4.5 billion in criminal fines for BP, with Clean Water Act fines yet to come.
2015. National Wildlife Federation’s “five-years-later” report on the Gulf oil spill’s wildlife and ecosystem impacts.
2015. National Wildlife Federation’s “five-years-later” report on the Gulf oil spill’s wildlife and ecosystem impacts.

The Real Spill

After the Blowout…

Once the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank, the spill phase of the disaster began in earnest. It would last for more than 80 days — and the controversy would continue for years.

But unlike most other oil spills, this one was an underwater hemorrhage — deep underwater, more than a mile. Large oil slicks on the surface would take a while to form, and the oil wouldn’t reach coastal areas for some weeks. Still, national TV news coverage had begun with the rig explosion and would continue, along with extensive print coverage, throughout the spring and summer of 2010.

One prominent TV image became the real-time underwater camera – nicknamed “SpillCam” – that focused on the spewing crude from the blown out well at the bottom of the sea. The volume of oil escaping – originally estimated by BP to be about 1,000 barrels per day—would rise considerably over subsequent weeks as experts got a better fix on the volume, later figured by U.S. government officials and other experts to have been 60,000 barrels per day for much of the spill’s uncontrolled duration.

Magazine cover stories and front-page newspaper accounts lasted for months, including coverage of hearings in Washington and in the Gulf region, as BP executives, rig survivors, and government officials were summoned to answer questions from Congress, the U.S. Coast Guard, Dept. of Interior investigators, and others.

Throughout the ordeal, neither government nor industry fared very well in public opinion polls. Early on, there were some fairly dismissive comments by BP officials, either to press or made during hearings.

BP’s CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, in May 14th, 2010 comments to U.S. Secretary of the Interior, stated: “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” A few days later, on May 18th, in other comments Hayward stated: “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest….”

Somewhat later, as Hayward had suffered through a few inquiries and haranguing by the press, he was quoted saying: “…There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.” That comment was especially hurtful to the families of those killed in the rig explosion, also resented by many Gulf Coast residents whose lives and livelihoods had been turned upside down by the spill.

As plumes of oil formed on the sea surface, strategies were deployed to spray the spill with chemical dispersant to break up, congeal, and sink it. There were also “controlled burns” of corralled portions of the oil slick at sea. Both methods were billed as ways to keep the spill from moving inland, to protect wetlands and beaches. Neither of these strategies were especially popular, and the chemical dispersant, Corexit, was suspect as a toxic problem itself.

At the White House, initially, there had been no verification of a major spill problem. Although briefed by the Coast Guard on the search and rescue operations following the rig explosion, there appeared to be little concern in the Obama Administration about a spill — at least at first. Once the rig sank, there was heightened concern and more briefings, though the requisite federal agencies were assumed to be handling the situation.

Only weeks earlier President Obama had proposed expanding the government’s offshore oil leasing program. And during remarks on April 2, 2010, Obama was quoted as saying: “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during [hurricane] Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs. They came from the refineries on shore.” But soon, the Administration would discover that advanced offshore technologies had their shortcomings.

Once it was clear there was a major spill, the president sent his top energy and environmental officials to the Gulf region to assess the problem. The Coast Guard was already working with BP. On April 29, the president said he would use all in his power to contain the spill, including bringing in the U.S. military if necessary. The following day, the White House ordered that no new offshore drilling would be permitted until the cause of Deepwater Horizon disaster was determined.

Meanwhile, at the main event – i.e., trying to stop the hemorrhaging well – BP struggled with its technology and various jerry-rigged methods.

When the drilling rig sank (see diagram above right), the long riser pipe between it and the well 5,000 feet below broke off at the rig end, though staying connected to the top of the giant blowout preventer atop the well on the sea bed below. It would later be learned that there were leaks along the riser pipe, at the blowout preventer, and at the well head.

First, BP tried, via deep-sea robot, to manually turn on the blowout preventer, but that didn’t work. BP had also begun, by May 2nd, drilling relief wells, one designed to intersect the Macondo well so it could be plugged with cement. But that well wouldn’t be complete until August, nearly two months away.

Then BP began fashioning a giant, 125-ton containment dome on land, later brought to the site on a separate vessel. This massive structure was lowered over the spewing well on May 7th with the hope that it would trap and siphon off some of the escaping oil, sent to surface vessels. But deep-sea ice hydrates foiled that attempt.

Back in Washington, meanwhile, three executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton testified on May 11th before a U.S. Senate committee, each blaming one or both of the other companies for the incident.

Several days later, on May 15th, scientists reported huge underwater plumes of oil – one six miles wide and 22 miles long. These underwater “clouds of oil” consisted of oil beads believed to be the result of chemical dispersants used on the spill. The underwater plumes were moving with the current toward the coastline.

Back at the well, on May 16th, BP inserted a narrow tube into the riser pipe, capturing a small portion of the escaping oil and pumping it to a surface ship. But the well was still releasing tens of thousands of barrels per day into the Gulf.

By May 19th, the oil was reaching Louisiana wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi River. “This wasn’t tarballs, This wasn’t sheen,” reported Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. “This is heavy oil in our wetlands.” Oil had also hit the Chandeleur Islands earlier in May, barrier islands that comprise an eastern boundary for Louisiana and include part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.

By late May, NOAA — the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — had closed nearly 20 percent of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing. The toll on wildlife and natural resources mounted day by day, and throughout the ordeal, there were heroic efforts to save and treat oiled wildlife. On June 28th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began digging up turtle egg nest on Florida’s Panhandle Gulf Coast and moving them to the state’s Atlantic coast – thousands to be moved this way by November 2010. Reporting by the Los Angeles Times on wildlife losses found that by August 2010, some 516 dead sea turtles had been collected and more than 3,900 dead birds. The Audubon Society would later report that more than one million birds were killed.

On May 22nd, President Obama ordered the creation of a bi-partisan national commission on the spill to report on the root causes of the disaster and options for improved safety and environmental protection. Five days later, on May 27th, he announced a six month moratorium on new deep water drilling.

Obama would make several trips to the Gulf region during the duration of the BP spill, meeting variously with Coast Guard officials, state governors, fishermen, local residents, and walking beaches. His first visit came on May 2nd, 2010, when he traveled to Venice, Louisiana.

Back in Washington, on June 1st, Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced that the Justice Department would begin a criminal and civil investigation of the oil spill.

Meanwhile, attempts to control the hemorrhaging well continued with more of BP’s “technological-trial-and-error.” On May 26th, BP tried a maneuver it called “top kill,” using a 30,000 bbls of mud-like liquid to staunch the flow. Along with that was “junk shot,” using golf balls and shredded tires in an attempt to clog up the blowout preventer to stop the flow. Neither worked. By May 27th the oil was reported to be leaking at a rate of 19,000 bbls per day, a rate later found to be low.

Public opinion polls were extremely critical of BP’s response. Across the U.S. at one point, thousands participated in protests at BP gas stations and other locations, actions which reduced BP sales at some stations by 10-to-40 percent. BP’s stock suffered and its reputation sank to all time lows. By June 1st, BP’s stock value had fallen some 40 percent, a reduction of nearly $75 billion in shareholder value.

On June 3, BP began an advertising campaign in the U.S. aimed at boosting public opinion. Tony Hayward was featured in one of the first TV spots, and also on the company’s Facebook page offering a mea culpa for his earlier “I-want-my-life-back” remark. Here’s Hayward in one of the June 3rd TV ads:

“The Gulf spill is a tragedy that never should have happened.

” … BP has taken full responsibility for cleaning up the spill in the Gulf… We’ve helped organize the largest environmental response in this country’s history… Where oil reaches the shore, thousands of people are ready to clean it up. We will honor all legitimate claims. And our cleanup efforts will not come at any cost to taxpayers.

“To those affected and your families, I am deeply sorry. The Gulf is home for thousands of BP’s employees and we all feel the impact. To all the volunteers and for the strong support of the government, thank you. We know it is our responsibility to keep you informed. And do everything we can so this never happens again. We will get this done. We will make this right.”

The same message appeared in major newspaper ads. BP in fact, more than tripled its advertising budget in the U.S. in the three months after the explosion to combat negative publicity and rising public anger. Between April and early July 2010 by one estimate, BP spent $93 million on advertising.

BP’s campaign also included local newspaper ads, run in 126 markets in 17 states, including the those directly impacted by the oil spill. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), one of those critical of BP’s campaign, said at one point:

“BP’s extensive advertising campaign that is solely focused on polishing its corporate image in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster is making people angry… As small businesses, fishermen, and mom and pop motels, hotels and restaurants struggle to make ends meet, they are bombarded by BP’s corporate marketing largesse day after day.”

In one interesting move to capture the informational high ground on public queries, BP purchased Google and other search engine page-one positioning (shown as top-of-page sponsored content) for search terms such as “oil spill.”

Further work at the well continued as BP moved with underwater robots to shear off the riser pipe from the gushing well. This was part of a plan to install a containment cap, which was successful, as some siphoning off of escaping oil began. Still, by June 10th, the government was then estimating that 25,000-to-30,000 bbls of oil per day were flowing into the Gulf.

On June 15th BP officials met with President Obama at the White House. The following day, BP announced it was setting up a $20 billion escrow fund for damages and claims and also agreed to set aside $100 million to pay lost wages to oil worker left unemployed by the disaster.

On July 12, BP installed of a “capping stack,” to provide a tighter seal on the well – this until the relief wells were completed. Three days later BP reported that the hemorrhage had stopped. However, there was continuing question that all the leakage had stopped.

On August 4th, BP reported that its ‘static kill’ attempt to stop the oil leak by pumping mud into the well had been successful, though more mud may still have to be pumped into the well. The following day, on August 5th, BP pumped cement into the blown-out well, asserting the leak was permanently sealed. The U.S. government, however, wouldn’t declare the well “effectively dead” until September 19th, 2010, some five months after the blow-out.

Once the well was capped, there was still plenty of drama ahead and years of settling up – cleaning up the mess, investigating the accident, adjudicating blame, assessing damages, parsing claims, and making reparation. While the spill was in progress, a series of inquiries, hearings, and investigations had already begun – one joint investigation by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard. Various committees in the U.S. Congress also conducted hearings, some held in the Gulf region. By early July 2010 at least 19 congressional committees — 11 House and eight Senate — had held hearings on the rig failure and/or the oil spill.

Then came a variety of reports – a few from the companies involved, as well as more weighty tomes from government agencies. Each of the reports, in one way or another, implicated one or more of principals – BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. These reports also enumerated a series of mistakes, bad calls, and failed technology in one way or another, some shifting blame more this way or that, while others tried to remain neutral.

Notable among the reports was that of the Obama-appointed, bi-partisan national commission on the Deepwater Horizon, released in early January 2011. This 390-page report to the President – titled Deepwater: The Gulf Oil Disaster and The Future of Offshore Drilling – concluded the blowout was “avoidable” and resulted from “clear mistakes” made by BP, Halliburton and Transocean. But theses mistakes, said the commission “reveal such systemic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.”

At one of the Commission’s earlier briefings it was also stated there had been “a rush to completion” on the Macondo well and, “there was not a culture of safety on that rig.”

One example of that failing came when rig operators were doing a “negative pressure test” to check the integrity of the cement job on the well to prevent gas from leaking. Co-chairman Bill Reilly explained that the operators didn’t like a reading they were getting from the drill pipe test, so they did a second test on another piece of equipment, which came out better.

“Inexplicably,” said Reilly, “a decision was made to take the reassuring test result without trying to figure out why it was inconsistent with the information coming up the drill pipe.” The report blames the operators for failing to communicate the inconsistent results to their onshore operations and states that if they had, the blowout may not have occurred.

In another example, before the accident, Halliburton found that the cement slurry it planned to use was not stable, but Halliburton did little to warn BP.

The report also singled out “government officials who, relying too much on industry’s assertions of the safety of their operations, failed to create and apply a program of regulatory oversight that would have properly minimized the risk of deepwater drilling.”

Commission co-chairman Bob Graham, former US. Senator (D-FL), said at the report’s release: “I’m sad to say that part of the answer is the fact that our government let it happen… Our regulators were consistently outmatched. The Department of Interior lacked the in-house expertise to effectively enforce regulation.”

Meanwhile, in London in November 2011, Tony Hayward, by then no longer BP’s CEO (resigned July 27, 2010), made some fairly stunning revelations about the disaster to BBC television and other news outlets – namely, that “BP’s contingency plans were inadequate,” and “we were making it up day to day.” Hayward added, however, that BP was actually doing “some extraordinary engineering” under the circumstances – “tasks completed in days that would normally take months, numerous major innovations with lasting benefits.” But when these efforts were “played out in the full glare of the media,” he said, “it looked like fumbling and incompetence.”

“While we were able to mount a massive response to contain and disperse the oil on the surface,” Hayward said, “we did not have the equipment to contain and disperse on the seabed. In fact the equipment had never been designed or built. It simply did not exist.” And it wasn’t just BP that was unprepared for a deep water disaster. “The whole industry,” he said, “had been lulled into a sense of false security after 20 years of drilling in deep water without a serious accident…” For BP, he said, the Deepwater Horizon event “was the ultimate low-probability, high-impact event – a black swan to borrow a term used in the financial crisis.”

“Embarrassingly we found ourselves having to improvise on prime-time TV…”

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.

All told, BP is on the hook for something north of $60 billion for all Deepwater Horizon related charges, portions of which were being paid by the company over time in smaller annual installments continuing through 2018 and beyond.

Still, today, BP survives and remains one the world’s largest corporations, continuing to drill for oil around the world. In fact, by late April 2012, it was starting work on three new Gulf of Mexico oil rigs – then making a total of eight new BP drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico, more than it operated before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Obama Administration for its part, did move to reorganize the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), which was found to have exercised poor industry oversight and had internal conflicts of interests. In October 2011, MMS was dissolved and divided into three new agencies: the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, for regulation; the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for leasing; and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue for revenue collection.

The disaster’s economic impacts on the Gulf region were considerable: the coastal tourism industry lost about $22.7 billion, and the area’s commercial fishing industry, $247 million. BP faced more than 390,000 claims from fishermen, seafood producers, and tourism providers, and most of these were paid, or will be paid, when determined to be valid. Wildlife losses, ecological and natural resources damage have also been significant, with ongoing studies and assessments still being made.

Encyclopedia Britannica map of the Gulf of Mexico and region showing former location of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the extent of the oil spill, impacted shoreline areas, and the spill’s relation to Gulf currents.
Encyclopedia Britannica map of the Gulf of Mexico and region showing former location of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the extent of the oil spill, impacted shoreline areas, and the spill’s relation to Gulf currents.

The lessons of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster loom large over the world’s offshore oil regions – whether the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa, or the Australian Bight. As drillers push into more remote frontier regions with harsh conditions, and move into deeper and deeper waters with attendant geologic pressures, risks and unknowns will rise, and the world will be but one mistake, one unfortunate decision, or one technological glitch away from the next fiasco. Greenland, taking a cue from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, announced it November 2010 that it will require a $2 billion “bond” up front from oil companies who want to drill in its Arctic waters.

Added to the possibility of future Deepwater Horizon-type events, and perhaps more problematic, is the continuing “routine” assault of offshore oil spills, pipeline breaks, and drilling rig mishaps that rarely make the evening news. And of those recorded in recent years since the Deepwater Horizon by Interior’s new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), there is not much to cheer about. Here are some totals of reported incidents for the 2011-2017 period, occurring across offshore leases in the federal outer continental shelf region (of which the Gulf of Mexico is the largest), based on BSEE categories: 74 collisions, 377 evacuations (or musters for evacuation), 760 fires and explosions, 119 gas releases, 26 loss-of-well-control incidents (which can be a precursor to a blowout), 129 spills (oil, drilling mud and/or chemicals), more than 1,400 injuries, and 13 fatalities. These numbers do not include incidents in state offshore waters or other inland waters. Nor do they include “unreported” incidents. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are thousands of rigs operating.

Map of some 3,858 oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico as of 2006, also showing the former location of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The yellow dots used to note platform locations are not to scale and exaggerate the density of platforms. NOAA 2012.
Map of some 3,858 oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico as of 2006, also showing the former location of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The yellow dots used to note platform locations are not to scale and exaggerate the density of platforms. NOAA 2012.

Another concern in the Gulf of Mexico, according to an investigation by Associated Press (AP), are more than 27,000 abandoned oil wells found there from a host of companies, including BP. AP has described the area as “an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades”. Some of these wells date back to the 1940s, and state officials estimate that thousands of them are badly sealed. There are also 43,000 miles of underwater pipeline and pumping stations in the Gulf.

In any case, the likelihood of more offshore incidents occurring in U.S. waters in the years ahead has increased significantly with recent actions by the Trump Administration. In December 2010, the Obama Administration had backed away from plans to expand offshore oil and gas development, putting the waters off the Atlantic seaboard and the eastern Gulf of Mexico off-limits for at least another seven years. Obama had also moved to strengthen offshore regulations in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. However, Trump has now reversed all of that, and wants to expand offshore oil and gas development in all U.S. waters. Coastal communities and environmental organizations throughout the nation are girding for the battles ahead. Stay tuned.

Additional stories on the environment and the oil industry at this website can be found at the “Environmental History” topics 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: 14 July 2018
Last Update: 10 August 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Deepwater Horizon: Film & Spill: 2010-2016,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 14, 2018.

____________________________________




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_______________________________

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“Goffin and King”
Love & Music: 1950s-2010s

For a time in the 1950s-1960s era, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, pictured below, made beautiful music together, both in their love affair and for the millions who listened to the songs they wrote. They became, at a young age, one of America’s most creative and productive songwriting teams. They rose to fame working for the fabled New York City / Brill Building song publisher, Aldon Music. Their story is one of great accomplishment, though touched by personal sorrow, love undone, and rocky travels ahead for each. What follows here is some of that history and cultural context.

1959: In a photo that suggests an air of youthful confidence, young lovers Carole King & Gerry Goffin are about to hit the big time with a string of pop music hits. But their union would not survive the shoals of 1960s’ drugs and entertainment-world temptations.
1959: In a photo that suggests an air of youthful confidence, young lovers Carole King & Gerry Goffin are about to hit the big time with a string of pop music hits. But their union would not survive the shoals of 1960s’ drugs and entertainment-world temptations.

Gerry Goffin and Carole King were each born and raised in the boroughs of New York City. Gerry was born in Brooklyn, though later moving to Queens after his parents divorced when he was five. Carole Klein – later taking the name Carole King in high school – was born in Manhattan, daughter of a firefighter and school teacher. She would be raised in Brooklyn and taught piano by her mother at an early age. As a boy, Gerry had been exposed to show tune music at home, and growing up, he also “played a game with words in my head,” though without music, foreshadowing a talent that would serve him well a few years later. After graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School, Gerry enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. He then spent a year at the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1961, but resigned from the Navy to study chemistry at Queens College.

Gerry & Carole at work in their early days at Aldon Music.
Gerry & Carole at work in their early days at Aldon Music.
1959: Carole King and singer Johnny Restivo between takes in New York recording studio.
1959: Carole King and singer Johnny Restivo between takes in New York recording studio.
1959, New York: Carole King, Paul Simon, and Gerry Goffin listening to a playback of some music they worked on.
1959, New York: Carole King, Paul Simon, and Gerry Goffin listening to a playback of some music they worked on.
Early 1960s. Carole King at piano, with  fellow Brill Building song writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil behind her, and husband/partner, Gerry Goffin, far right.
Early 1960s. Carole King at piano, with fellow Brill Building song writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil behind her, and husband/partner, Gerry Goffin, far right.
Carole King & Gerry Goffin, somewhat later 1960s.
Carole King & Gerry Goffin, somewhat later 1960s.

Carole went to public high school in Brooklyn and as a teen had attended Alan Freed Paramount Theater rock `n roll shows in New York, where she had been moved by the music and performers. In high school she formed a band briefly and made demo records with her friend, Paul Simon. Carole sold her first composition in Manhattan for $25 when she was 16. But in 1958, Carole King met Gerry Goffin at Queens College.

“She was interested in writing rock’n’roll, and I was interested in writing this Broadway play [a musical about beatniks],” Goffin would later recall for Vanity Fair. “So we had an agreement where she would write [music] to the play if I would write [lyrics] to some of her rock ‘n roll melodies…” Gerry eventually gave up on his play, as the pair decided to focus on writing rock ‘n roll tunes. And along the way, they fell in love.

Neil Sedaka, who had dated King in high school, had a hit song in 1959 titled “Oh! Carol.” Goffin took the tune and wrote a playful response to it titled, “Oh! Neil,” which King recorded and released as a single. She and Gerry also wrote the B-side song on that single, but neither song was a success.

Their personal relationship, however, was going strong. In August 1959, Carole and Gerry were married in a Jewish ceremony on Long Island after Carol had become pregnant. He was 20 and she was 17. They both quit college and took daytime jobs; Goffin working as an assistant chemist and King as a secretary. They wrote songs together in the evening.

It was about then that Don Kirshner at Aldon Music in Manhattan hired them both to write songs professionally. Carole’s friend, Neil Sedaka, had worked there as well.

Carole would later tell a New York Times reporter of how they worked at Aldon Music:

“…We each had a little cubby hole with just enough room for a piano, a bench and maybe a chair for the lyricist — if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing some song exactly like yours…

“The pressure…was really terrific, because Donny [Kirshner, of Aldon] would play one songwriter against an other. He’d say ‘We need a latest smash hit,’ and we’d all go back and write a song and the next day we’d each audition for Bobby Vee’s producer. ‘Take Good Care of My Baby,’ one of our biggest hits, came about that way.”

Initially, Gerry and Carole both worked with other composers and writers. And in one case they would establish a long-lasting friendship, though competitors in songwriting, with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, another husband-and-wife team at Aldon.

Still, before long, Carole King and Gerry Goffin soon established themselves as a successful team, she crafting the music and he the lyrics. Their big breakthrough came with the 1960 song, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” It was in 1960, not long after the couple had their first child. They were then based at Aldon Music at the 1650 Broadway, across from the famed Brill Building, and they also worked at home.


Making The Hit

As Carole would later recall in her book, A Natural Woman, the hottest girl group in the country at that time were the Shirelles, four black teenagers just a few years out of Passaic High School in New Jersey – Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie Harris, and Beverly Lee. They had just broken out with the hit song “Tonight’s The Night.” Don Kirshner and Aldon Music wanted the follow-up song to that hit, whatever it might be, and he pushed his writers and composers to come up with it.

Carole King began working from piano on music and melody, using “There Goes My Baby” as the model. Carole also planned to arrange a strings section – this an agreement with the Shirelles, who at first had heard the song on Carole’s demo and found it “like a country-and-Western song,” and didn’t like it. On the strings arrangement, Carole later acknowledged in her book, “I had never before composed a string arrangement.”

“Will You Love Me”
Tomorrow?”

The Shirelles
1960-61

Tonight you’re mine completely
You give you love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sighs?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words unspoken
You say that I’m the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?

I’d like to know that your love
Is love I can be sure of
So tell me now, and I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?

So tell me now, and I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Will you still love me..
_______________________
Carol King, music; Gerry Goffin, lyrics

One morning after she dropped off her daughter at her grandmother’s, King traveled to the offices and studio of Scepter Records, the Shirelles’ record label. There she recorded the rhythm track, which took less than an hour.

“…Then the string players arrived,” she would later recount in her book. “The first time I heard the cellos play the rhythmic figure at the beginning of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow,’ I was euphoric. Some composers literally hear the sounds in their head as they write; I had to wait until a session to hear what I wrote. As the musicians began to play the parts I had written for ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow,’ I became giddy with excitement. I was 18.”


Music Player
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”
The Shirelles: 1960-61

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

 

But the words for this song were also key – and that was Gerry’s department. Goffin came home from a night bowling with his buddies to find a message from Carole on the tape recorder, asking him to write lyrics for the music she had composed for the Shirelles, as Don Kershner was hot to get the tune locked up. Goffin would later say that the lyrics came easily to him.

Hiram Lee, writing some years later on the Goffin-King effect in this song, observes:

…On this pop classic, King’s fragile melody seems to rise nervously from its bed of chords as if she were raising a question she is afraid to ask. To this, Goffin’s lyrics add: “Tonight you’re mine completely/You give your love so sweetly/Tonight the light of love is in your eyes/But will you love me tomorrow?”

As was often the case, Goffin’s words seemed to marry so exactly to King’s melodic line that it was difficult to imagine the two having been written separately.

Yet others would marvel at how Gerry, a guy, could reach into a woman’s thoughts and emotions and express her feelings, as he did in this song, and would do in other songs to come. As former Shirelle, Beverely Lee, offered of the “Will-You-Love-Me-Tomorrow” lyrics in a May 2018 New Yorker story:

“Now that I’m older, I listen to the lyrics. Knowing what’s going on — as women, you have a right to ask: Are you going to still love me if I am your loved one? Are you just going to love me for the moment and leave me? Is this a lasting treasure or just a moment’s pleasure? Can I read the magic of your sighs? Will you love me tomorrow? That tells it all. Are you going to be for real with me, or are you just playing with me and my emotions? What am I worth to you? That’s what it’s saying.”

When the final Goffin-King package came together for “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” they had the follow-up Kirshner wanted, and then some. “…Tomorrow” became a giant hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1961 – the first song by a female group to reach No. 1 on the pop charts since the McGuire Sisters in 1958, and first ever for a black female group.


‘Bye-Bye Day Job!’

Gerry and Carole, a young married couple then living in a Brooklyn basement apartment, were still working other day jobs while they wrote their music. But the hit record they had just composed would change all that, as Carole recalled: “When ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ sold a million [copies], we went: ‘bye-bye day job!’” Gerry Goffin remembered that day too, as he was still working his chemical company day job: “Carole and [Don Kirshner of Aldon Music] arrived in Donny’s limousine at the chem factory and told me I didn’t have to work anymore. And he gave us a $10,000 advance and we got credit cards, and I’ve never had to do an honest day’s work since.”

Later 1963 photo for the hit song, “The Loco-Motion,” from left: Aldon Music producer Al Nevins; composer,  Carole King,; singer, Little Eva Boyd; songwriter, Gerry Goffin; and Aldon Music producer, Don Kirshner. Click to visit 'Loco-Motion' story.
Later 1963 photo for the hit song, “The Loco-Motion,” from left: Aldon Music producer Al Nevins; composer, Carole King,; singer, Little Eva Boyd; songwriter, Gerry Goffin; and Aldon Music producer, Don Kirshner. Click to visit 'Loco-Motion' story.

The Shirelles’ hit was a turning point for the Goffin-King partnership – and more hits kept coming. In 1961 they did “Take Good Care of My Baby,” a No. 1 hit for singer Bobby Vee and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” a Top 40 hit for The Drifters. Then came “The Loco-Motion” in 1962, another No. 1 hit with their former baby sitter, Eva Boyd, who became “Little Eva.” (see separate story at this website on the history and success of this song). They also wrote and composed “Up On The Roof” in 1962, a No. 5 hit for The Drifters.

Early 1960s photo of the growing Goffin-King family.
Early 1960s photo of the growing Goffin-King family.
Also in 1962, the Goffin-King song, “It Might as Well Rain Until September,” was originally written for Bobby Vee, but became a top 40 hit for Carole King at the time. Don Kirshner liked King’s demo version of “…September” rather than Bobby Vee’s version, and released it as a single on the Dimension label. (King’s demos, in fact, were so well crafted, that they were sometimes copied note-for-note in the final recordings, and some were even squirreled away by A&R people in the music business who had received them but found the piano playing and/or the background arrangements so good that they kept them as collector pieces).

Carole and Gerry had two small children at the time, and Carole was not interested in traveling to promote the song. However, she was persuaded by Kirshner and Gerry to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, where she performed the song in lyp-sync mode as was the custom there, but received a low score in a Bandstand “rate-a-record” session.

Still, the song peaked at No 22 on the Billboard charts in September 1962, and also rose to No. 3 on the U.K. charts. Yet, according to some accounts, Carole was discouraged from doing further recordings herself at this point by Gerry, who preferred her to focus on the composing part of their partnership. And according to Carole herself, she then lacked the confidence to write lyrics. But that would change.

Goffin-King Music
Sample Top 40 Hits, 1960s

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
1960 / The Shirelles / #1
“Take Good Care of My Baby”
1961 / Bobby Vee / #1
“Some Kind of Wonderful”
1961/ The Drifters / #32
“The Loco-Motion”
1962 / “Little Eva / #1
“Up On The Roof”
1962 / The Drifters / #5
“Chains”
1962 / The Cookies / #17
“I’ve Got Bonnie”
1962 / Bobby Rydell /#18
“Go Away Little Girl”
1962 / Steve Lawrence / #1
“It Might As Well Rain Until Sept”
1962 / Carole King / #22
“Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About…”
1963 / The Cookies / #7
“One Fine Day”
1963 / The Chiffons / #5
“This Little Girl”
1963 / Dion / #21
“I Can’t Stay Mad at You”
1963 / Skeeter Davis / #7
“Hey Girl”
1963 / Freddie Scott / #10
“I’m Into Something Good”
1964 / Herman’s Hermits /#13, #1 UK
“Just Once In My Life”*
1965 / Righteous Brothers / #9
“Don’t Bring Me Down”
1966 / The Animals / #12
“Pleasant Valley Sunday”
1967 / The Monkees / #3
“…Natural Woman”
1967 / Aretha Franklin /#8
___________________
Release / Artist / Billboard / *w/Phil Spector

Over the next several years, through the mid- and late 1960s, more hits came for Gerry Goffin and Carole King, including more No. 1 hits, and others charting in the Top Ten and Top 40. In all, between 1960 and 1968, the Goffin-King team would write more than 50 Top 40 hits together – among those not already mentioned: “Crying in the Rain,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Natural Woman,” and others.

They had particularly good fortune with the black girl group sound; a winning formula in the early 1960s. Among these girl group successes were The Cookies, then consisting of Dorothy Jones, Earl-Jean McCrea, and Margaret Ross. In 1962, the Cookies had a Top 20 hit with the Goffin-King song “Chains.”


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“Chains”
The Cookies: 1962

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They scored a second somewhat bigger hit in 1963 with the Goffin-King song, “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)”, which peaked at No.3 on the Billboard R&B chart and No.7 on the Billboard pop chart. But it was the earlier Cookies hit, “Chains” that brought the group and Goffin-King some unexpected attention.

The Beatles, who were then coming on the music scene in a big way, had covered “Chains” for their first British LP. The Beatles had recorded it on February 11, 1963 and released it on their debut album, Please Please Me, on March 22, 1963. In fact, John Lennon was quoted as saying about this time that he wanted Paul McCartney and himself to become “the Goffin-King of England.” This helped give the Goffin-King songwriting team more notice, and demand for their talents rose.

Gerry Goffin, meanwhile, went on the road with The Cookies, leaving Carole at home with the two kids. And before long, he was having an affair with one of the Cookies, Earl-Jean McCrea.

By early 1964 it was apparent that Earl-Jean was pregnant and Gerry was the father. The baby was born in July 1964. Gerry had been restless and unsettled, and he had told Carole about his dalliances, not wanting to lie to her. But the McCrea affair was a sign of troubles to come.

The Cookies, mid-1960s: Dorothy Jones, Earl-Jean McCrea, and Margaret Ross. Dimension Records.
The Cookies, mid-1960s: Dorothy Jones, Earl-Jean McCrea, and Margaret Ross. Dimension Records.
The 1960s were perilous times for young marriages, as a more permissive cultural milieu was then coursing through society. There was a new birth control pill, and an emergent youth culture was setting new trends and challenging establishment norms. “Sex, drugs and rock `n roll” was the mantra of the day, and Gerry Goffin was a more willing participant than Carole King.

As Gerry would later explain in a Vanity Fair interview: “I wanted to be a hippie—grew my hair long—and Carole did it modestly… And then I started taking LSD and mescaline. And Carole and I began to grow apart because she felt that she had to say things herself. She had to be her own lyricist.”

McCrea, meanwhile, would leave the Cookies and sign with the Colpix record label, where she recorded the Goffin-King song, “I’m Into Something Good,” which hit No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. However, this Goffin-King tune became a bigger No. 1 U.K. hit for the British group, Herman’s Hermits, that same year.


Suburban Angst

Through the mid-to-late 1960s, the Goffin-King songwriting continued, though now under a good deal of strain given their personal circumstances, but still staying together as a couple. Adding to this strain, no doubt, was the move they made in 1965 to the New Jersey suburb of West Orange. Carole had wanted to make the move, but now there was an added complication. With financial help from Goffin-King song-writing royalties, Earl-Jean McCrea would move into a nearby home in the same suburb.

“Pleasant Valley
Sunday”

The Monkees: 1967

The local rock group down the street
Is trying hard to learn their song
They serenade the weekend squire
Who just came out to mow his lawn

Another pleasant valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

See Mrs. Gray, she’s proud today
Because her roses are in bloom
And Mr. Green, he’s so serene
He’s got a TV in every room

Another pleasant valley Sunday
Here in Status Symbol Land
Mothers complain about
how hard life is
And the kids just don’t understand

Creature comfort goals,
they only numb my soul
And make it hard for me to see
Ah, thoughts all seem to stray
to places far away
I need a change of scenery

Ta ta ta ta, ta ta ta ta
Ta ta ta ta, ta ta ta ta

Another pleasant valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Another pleasant valley Sunday
Here in Status Symbol Land

Another pleasant valley Sunday
(A pleasant valley Sunday)
Another pleasant valley Sunday
(A pleasant valley Sunday)
_______________________
Carol King, music; Gerry Goffin, lyrics

Meanwhile, Gerry was not a big fan of the suburbs to begin with, and this would be revealed in the lyrics he wrote for the 1967 song that he and Carole composed for The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, a No. 3 hit in July 1967. The song was pure satire and social commentary on life in suburbia. The inspiration for the song’s title, in fact, derived from a street in West Orange near to where Gerry and Carole were living, named Pleasant Valley Way.


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“Pleasant Valley Sunday”
The Monkees-1967

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At the time Goffin and King wrote “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” suburbia was already topical, with a growing collection of popular books and academic literature, some critical, some not.

Split-Level Trap, 1961.
Split-Level Trap, 1961.
Titles dating from the mid-1950s and early 1960s took on one or more aspects of the suburban experience. Among these, for example, were, A.C. Spectorsky’s The Exurbanites of 1955, and Split-Level Trap of 1961, by Richard and Katherine Gordon. More sympathetic portrayals came with William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man of 1957, examining Park Forest, Illinois, and Herbert Gans’ 1965 sociological study of Levittown, New Jersey, The Levittowners.

Also in music at that time, there was the 1962 song, “Little Boxes,” written and composed by folk singer-songwriter-activist Malvina Reynolds, a song noted for its line mocking the sameness of suburban tract housing as “little boxes” made of “ticky-tacky.” That song became a 1963 hit for folk singer Pete Seeger.

In any case, Goffin and King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” captured a bit of the critical vibe at the time for suburbia in the 1960s. The song stayed in the Top 40 for most of that summer and was also featured during the Monkees’ television series that year.

Gerry, meanwhile, was feeling especially isolated in suburbia and was having bigger problems. He was taking LSD and dealing with a crumbling marriage. King would later write in her book that Goffin suffered from mental illness following his use of LSD. He would be diagnosed with manic depression, and was hospitalized for a time. He eventually underwent treatment with lithium and electroshock therapy. He and King would separate in 1967 and divorce in 1968.

Goffin and King, like the rest of America, had gone through some perilous times in the 1961-67 period. The country was still digesting the November 1963 assassination of its promising young president, John F. Kennedy. A certain innocence had died then as well. A rising civil rights struggle was then underway: the Freedom Rides (1961), the March on Washington (1963) and the “Bloody Sunday” beatings of marchers in Selma, Alabama (1965) had all occurred, among others. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment was increasing at home as U.S. troop levels rose and more Americans were being killed. On the music scene, in addition to the Beatles arrival in 1964 and the subsequent “British invasion,” there was also competition from Berry Gordy’s Motown music center in Detroit, as well as the onset of new folk and protest music. Bob Dylan, who had begun performing in Greenwich Village clubs in 1961, released his first album with Columbia in March 1962. And finally, Don Kirchner sold Aldon Music to Columbia Screen Gems in 1963 for $3 million and had begun packaging his songwriters’ music under the new ownership for use in TV, film, and Hollywood – of which the Monkees were one example.

Aretha Franklin in recording studio, 1960s. Click for hits link.
Aretha Franklin in recording studio, 1960s. Click for hits link.

Hit for Aretha

Still, in the midst of the cultural changes and industry upheaval, and the Goffin-King personal struggles, the pair would manage a few more hit songs. One of these is perhaps Gerry Goffin’s tour de force — “A Natural Woman,” or more correctly, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”

The song became a classic 1967 hit for Aretha Franklin. It’s about a woman who is somewhat down and out, doubting herself, until a new love appears to lift her to a new beginning.

Although written by Goffin and King, the song’s title at least was inspired by Atlantic Records co-owner and producer Jerry Wexler. As recounted in his autobiography, Wexler, a student of African-American musical culture, had been mulling over the concept of the “natural man,” when he drove by Carole King on a New York sidewalk, shouting out to her that he wanted a “natural woman” song for Aretha Franklin’s next album. Goffin and King delivered in short order – and they would also give Wexler a co-writing credit for his part in their song.

“…A Natural Woman”
Aretha Franklin
1967

Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
But your the key to my peace of mind

‘Cause you make me feel,
You make me feel,
You make me feel like
A natural woman

When my soul was in the lost and found
You came along to claim it
I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
Till your kiss helped me name it
Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for
And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more

‘Cause you make me feel,
You make me feel,
You make me feel like a natural woman

Oh, baby, what you’ve done to me
You make me feel so good inside
And I just want to be, close to you
You make me feel so alive

You make me feel,
You make me feel,
You make me feel like a natural woman

You make me feel
You make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman

You make me feel
You make me feel
_______________________

Songwriters: Goffin / King / Wexler

Yet the lyrics that Goffin would write for this song – powerfully delivered in performance by Aretha Franklin (and a few years later, also by Carole King) – continue to amaze critics to this day for Goffin’s ability to plumb the depths of female emotion. Goffin’s daughter for one, Sherry, herself a musician, would say on camera during a 2017 TV special, that lines from that song, such as – “When my soul was in the lost and found / You came along to claim it,” among others – were pretty amazing. Gerry Goffin had a gift that way.


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“…A Natural Woman”
Aretha Franklin-1967

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“…Natural Woman” is also about spiritual satisfaction from the female perspective: “Oh, baby, what you’ve done to me / You make me feel so good inside.”

The Aretha Franklin version of the song was released in September 1967 and would peak at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and No. 2 on the Billboard R & B chart

Yet, within a year of this single reaching the U.S. Top 10, the Goffin-King partnership was over. Both Carole and Gerry would move to California, where their careers would take new turns.


Carole’s Rise

Carole King’s move to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles – then a haven for up-and-coming singer-songwriters – would prove beneficial, but not right away. Earlier, she had met James Taylor, who had encouraged her to begin solo recording and performing.

After a false start or two, and a middling debut album, Writer, King would find her footing in a big way in 1971 with her second solo album, Tapestry. That album proved to be a blockbuster, topping the U.S. album chart for 15 weeks and remaining on the charts for more than six years. Tapestry first charged onto the charts April 10, 1971, staying there for 302 consecutive weeks until January 15, 1977. Then it returned to the chart twice — in 2010 and 2016. Tapestry’s record was finally eclipsed by Adele’s album, 21, which logged its 319th week on the Billboard 200 album chart dated April 15, 2017.

Carole King proved herself a capable lyricist on Tapestry, crafting a series of new songs for the album, including: “So Far Away,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend.” and “It’s Too Late,” this last song, a Billboard No.1 hit. She would even garner praise from former partner Gerry Goffin for the album: “It was completely original, and Carole really showed me up as a lyricist….”

A portion of the cover art from Carole King's 1971 album, 'Tapestry," with Carole & cat in view. Click for Amazon link.
A portion of the cover art from Carole King's 1971 album, 'Tapestry," with Carole & cat in view. Click for Amazon link.
Still, three of the songs on Tapestry were earlier Goffin-King collaborations – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” “Natural Woman,” and “Smackwater Jack.”

King reinterpreted these older Goffin-King tunes in her own style and voice. Her rendition of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” for example, is far sadder and perhaps a bit wiser than the Shirelles’ version. Or as another observer put it, the slower version showed that the lyrics worked just as poignantly for a housewife stuck in an unstable marriage as they did for an innocent teenager pondering her first love. Delivery and performance of this song matters as well, as historian and writer Kirk Silsbee has observed: “The Shirelles sang ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ like girls. Carole sang it as a woman” — each, however, appropriate for their times.

Women of all ages flocked to Tapestry. The mix of material King used on Tapestry struck a chord with women all over the world.

“Carole spoke from her heart, and she happened to be in tune with the mass psyche,” said her old Brill Building friend and fellow songwriter, Cynthia Weil. “People were looking for a message, and she came to them with… exactly what they were looking for.” Tapestry sold more than 15 million copies over the decades and became a critical influence on other artists.

The album also garnered four Grammy Awards for King: Album of the Year; Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”); Record of the Year (“It’s Too Late,” lyrics by Toni Stern); and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Tapestry would help propel King to becoming one of America’s most beloved singer/songwriters.

Following Tapestry, Carole King had an incredible run of additional hit albums in the 1970s: Music (No. 1, Dec 1971); Rhymes and Reasons (No. 2, Nov 1972); Fantasy (No. 6, June 1973); Wrap Around Joy (No. 1, Sept 1974); Thoroughbred (No. 3, 1976 ); and Simple Things (No. 17, July 1977). Along the way, there was also touring, and a few notable homecomings, among these, her Carnegie Hall Concert of June 18, 1971, which was her first concert performance in front of an audience, and a free concert she gave in Central Park on May 26, 1973 made the front page of the next day’s Sunday New York Times with the headline: “Carole King Draws 70,000 to Central Park.”

King’s 2nd album of 1971, “Music,” released Dec 9th, entered the charts at No. 8, reportedly selling 1.3 million copies the first day of its release, reaching No. 1 on Jan 1, 1972.
King’s 2nd album of 1971, “Music,” released Dec 9th, entered the charts at No. 8, reportedly selling 1.3 million copies the first day of its release, reaching No. 1 on Jan 1, 1972.
Overall, King would produce some 25 solo albums during her career, and her record sales have been estimated at more than 75 million copies worldwide. She would also have productive collaborations with other musicians and successful touring, and would collect a bevy of music awards and singular notices, a few of which are covered later below.

By virtue of her 1970s success, Carole King was becoming a wealthy woman. Tapestry alone yielded an estimated $10.7 million in earnings in 1971. She also had estimated earnings of $500,000 or more per album for the albums she produced in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1977.

And over the next 30 years, there would be additional income generated by her continuing work, as well as a healthy stream of songwriting royalties from the Goffin-King back-catalog.

But during the late 1970s, King would move to Idaho and later buy a 128-acre ranch there, inspiring her environmental activism, including testimony some years later in Congress for protecting the northern Rocky Mountains ecosystem. King would also own other real estate, including a Hollywood Hills West home and an ocean-side home in Malibu, California, the latter acquired in 2003 for $1 million.

However, in her personal relationships following Gerry, Carole King traveled a difficult road. A second marriage to bass-player Charlie Larkey, with whom she had two children, would end after some years in 1976. Her third husband, musician Rick Evers, reported by Carole to have been abusive, died of a heroin overdose in 1978. A fourth marriage to Idaho rancher Rick Sorenson would end in divorce in 1989. Some who have written about King’s life, speculate that part of the reason for her failed relationships lay in her successive husbands’ failures to accept her achievements and celebrity.


One version of a release from Gerry Coffin's 1973 album, "It Ain't Exactly Entertainment'.
One version of a release from Gerry Coffin's 1973 album, "It Ain't Exactly Entertainment'.
Goffin, Pt. 2

Gerry Goffin, meanwhile, had continued success in his music career as well, though not on the scale that Carole King had. In 1973, he tried his hand at recording with a solo album, It Ain’t Exactly Entertainment, but it was not successful. This album was part social protest, as Goffin, an admirer of Bob Dylan, was feeling the social and political turmoil of those times. One of the songs on the album, “Honorable Peace,” was an anti-war song, aimed at the Vietnam War, by then a major point of social unrest.

But in the music business, songwriting collaboration was still Gerry Goffin’s strong suit, as he had collaborated with other songwriters in addition to Carole from his earliest years. And now he continued to do so, with partners such as Barry Mann, Jack Keller, Russ Titelman, Wes Farrell, Barry Goldberg and Michael Masser.

In 1975, Goffin and Michael Masser earned an Academy Award nomination for the “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?),” a No. 1 hit for Diana Ross from that movie. Goffin and Masser also received a Golden Globe nomination for “So Sad the Song,” from the 1976 Gladys Knight film, Pipe Dreams. They also wrote “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” a 1983 duet hit by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. In 1985, the Goffin-Masser R&B ballad, “Saving All My Love for You,” became Whitney Houston’s first No. 1 hit and Grammy winner. And in 1989, the Goffin/Masser/Preston Glass tune, “Miss You Like Crazy,” became a major hit for Natalie Cole, reaching No 7 of the Billboard chart, and No. 1 on both the R&B and adult contemporary charts, as well as No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart.


March 1987. Gerry Goffin and Carole King at their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
March 1987. Gerry Goffin and Carole King at their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Goffin-King Kudos

As Carole King and Gerry Goffin made their way through their respective separate careers, there was no escaping their earlier joint successes and history together – with all its glories and perhaps a few regrets. They had etched themselves into the American cultural tableau with their music making, and it was not letting go. If anything, their joint body of work was burnishing itself into rock music history more permanently.

By the mid-1980s, the legacy of their earlier Brill Building work, now more than 20 years old, was faring well with the test of time and in the judgement of their peers. In March 1987, Gerry and Carole were among those lauded for their work, along with seven others – including their former Brill Building colleagues, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – who were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, an arm of the National Academy of Popular Music. Three years later, in 1990, they were again jointly honored for their songwriting, this time inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame.

1990: Carole King and Gerry Goffin at their Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame induction.
1990: Carole King and Gerry Goffin at their Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Jon Landau, a writer with Rolling Stone magazine, who had covered their careers, gave the induction speech, as follows:

As songwriters, Gerry and Carole stand as a great bridge between the Brill Building styles of the late 1950s and the early 1960s and the modern rock era. And the fact is, they started looking forward with their very first hit. In 1961, they wrote a little song called “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It was the first great ‘60s record to be written from a woman’s point of view. It was a first great ballad directed toward a new generation that would soon be labeled “baby boomers.” And for some of the people in this very room, it was the first song they slow-danced too, made out too, and made love to. It was perhaps the first ’60s song about which you and your girlfriend or boyfriend said, “that’s our song.” And by the way, because it meant so much to so many, it is a song and a record – beautifully sung by the Shirelles – that will live on well into the next century. In 1962, the Drifters recorded their sublime “Up on the Roof,” a song that expressed the sensibility that a few years later would be called “60s idealism.” And in 1963 Gerry and Carole extended that idealism with a romantically eloquent “One Fine Day.” And then in 1965 they put themselves at the center of one of rock’s most vital developments – the Phil Spector-Righteous Brothers collaborations. One of the two songs they wrote with Phil was the classic, “Just Once in My Life,” and the other, is one of those great lost masterpieces due for rediscovery in the 1990s, a great song called “Hung on You.” By the time they wrote “Don’t Bring Me Down” for the Animals and “Goin Back” for the Byrds they helped to start an approach that would effect every sing-songwriter to come after them. And in a nice epiphany, in 1967, they closed a cycle they began with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” when they wrote, “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin. But by then, they had given us more that we could ever give back… Gerry Goffin and Carole King – two of rock’s great writers!

Gerry Goffin's "Back Room Blood" album of 1996, motivated by a conservative wave in Congress, with some Dylan input, but not successful.
Gerry Goffin's "Back Room Blood" album of 1996, motivated by a conservative wave in Congress, with some Dylan input, but not successful.
Landau’s tribute was followed by a brief audio clip of “One Fine Day,” by the Chiffons, including Carole’s signature piano riff on that piece.


Later Careers

Goffin and King, meanwhile, continued their careers through the 1990s and beyond. In 1996, Goffin co-wrote three songs for the soundtrack to Grace of My Heart, a film with a principal character modeled on Carole King.

That year, Goffin also took another stab at solo recording, releasing the album Back Room Blood, inspired by his politics and anger over conservative gains in the 1994 congressional elections. The album was mostly co-written with Barry Goldberg, but included two songs co-written with Bob Dylan.

At the time, Goffin also told a reporter at Billboard magazine: “I depend mostly on my back catalog… Actually, I could afford to retire, but I would go crazy…” Compositions from Goffin’s catalog at the time, in fact, appeared on the Beatles’ Live At The BBC album (1994), the Forest Gump film soundtrack (1994), and Carole King’s Tapesty Revisited album (1995).

Gerry Goffin, however, was also still dealing with his past marriage to Carole King, noting in one 1996 interview with United Press International: “Carole loved me for what I was… I’ve had a lot of guilt [over his role in that marriage]. It’s been almost 30 years, and I’m finally feeling expurgated…. I feel like I’ve worked it off, but maybe you never work it off.”

2010. Carole King/James Taylor, "Live at the Troubadour".
2010. Carole King/James Taylor, "Live at the Troubadour".
Gerry, like Carole, had married again, three more times in fact. In the early 1970s, he married Barbara Behling and they had a son in 1976. After that marriage ended later that decade, Goffin married songwriter Ellen Minasian in the 1980s and they had a daughter in 1984. Following a divorce in that union, Goffin married for a final time to actress Michele Conaway in 1995.

Carole King, meanwhile, continued her busy career. In 1992, she wrote and performed the song “Now and Forever,” for the film, A League of Their Own, a song that received a Grammy nomination.

In 1997, she recorded backing vocals for Celine Dion’s song, “The Reason.” In 2001, after an eight-year break from studio recording, she released the album, Love Makes the World.

Another album, The Living Room Tour, was released in 2005, consisting mostly of live versions of her Tapestry songs. This album debuted at No. 17 in the U.S., becoming King’s highest-charting album since 1977, spurred, in part, by TV ads and Starbucks marketing. For the week of July 18, 2005 it was the No.1 album on Amazon.com.

In 2007 King and James Taylor performed six Troubadour club anniversary shows – as she and Taylor had performed at that famous Los Angeles night club in 1970. These Troubadour shows would inspire the Troubadour Reunion Tour with King and Taylor, which ran globally from March through May 2010, with 58 shows selling more than 700,000 tickets and grossing about $60 million, making it one of that year’s most successful tours. A King-Taylor Live at the Troubadour album was also released, which debuted at No. 4 on Billboard Album Chart that year.

2012: Carole King memoir.
2012: Carole King memoir.
2014: Carole King musical.
2014: Carole King musical.

In 2012, King published her memoir, A Natural Woman, which became a national bestseller. The next year, she became the fifth recipient and the first woman to receive the Gershwin Prize for popular song from the Library of Congress. President and Mrs. Barack Obama hosted the award concert at the White House on May 22, 2013, with the President presenting the prize and reading the citation.

In February 2013, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. And in January 2014, a Broadway musical covering her life – including the Goffin years – titled, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, opened in New York. It would go on to great success, wining two Tony Awards, and after its London run, two Olivier Awards. King had been apprehensive about the show’s dredging up of old, painful history, as it focuses on the Goffin-King love affair, their work at the Brill Building, their marriage, and Goffin’s infidelity. The show ends just as King is enjoying fame for her groundbreaking solo album, Tapestry. While Gerry Goffin’s infidelity and emotional problems are part of the stage production, he did attend the show’s opening in January 2014 at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, though he was not then in the best of health.


Gerry’s Death

Gerry Goffin in February 2004, when the Recording Academy presented he and Carole jointly with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.
Gerry Goffin in February 2004, when the Recording Academy presented he and Carole jointly with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.
About six months after he had attended the opening of the Carol King Musical, Gerry Goffin died on June 19th, 2014 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 75. He left behind his wife Michele, one son, four daughters, and six grandchildren. During his career Goffin wrote or co-wrote some 114 Billboard Hot 100 hits, including eight No.1 songs, and 72 of which were also U.K. hits.

Carole King said in a statement that Goffin was her “first love” and had a “profound impact” on her life. “Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come …His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship.”

Barry Goldberg, composer and pianist who wrote many later songs with Goffin said of him: “Gerry was one of the greatest lyricists of all time and my true soul brother. I was privileged to have had him in my personal and professional life.”

Lawrence Downes of the New York Times noted that when he taught a class on writing for New York Times interns, he used “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”– and specifically the lyrics from that song – to make a point about brevity and beauty in writing. He used the Goffin-crafted lyrics “to show how it’s possible to convey complicated emotions, deep feeling and intricate meanings with the tiniest and plainest of words.” He explained that “you can be short and sweet” or “short and heartbreaking” – all with economy and good effect, as Gerry Goffin did.

Richard Williams, writing for The Guardian newspaper in London, called Goffin “The Poet Laureate of Teenage Pop,” also adding: “…Those who accept the conventional wisdom that nothing happened in pop music between Elvis and the Beatles should listen to these marvelous [Goffin-crafted] records – and to the outpouring of memories of a man who did the best thing a pop songwriter can do: made listeners feel they are not alone with their emotions.”

Richard Corliss, writing a remembrance on Goffin at Time magazine, adds: “A look at Goffin’s lyrics upends the common wisdom that pre-Beatles adolescent pop was all banal optimism conveyed in moon-June-spoon doggerel….Goffin was eerily in sync with the convulsions kids feel during first love, first sex and first breakup.” Corliss continues that Goffin used “the pop-ballad form to offer hard answers to dewy questions, …often saying that life’s most perplexing riddles had no comforting resolutions …[B]ut Goffin educated young listeners to the complexity of love and loss. He wasn’t just the guy who put simple words to [King’s] lovely music. He was a prime ’60s poet of teen yearning.” By the mid-1970s, however, with the No. 1 hit, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To,” made popular in the Diana Ross film, Mahogany, Corliss explains that Goffin “raised the age bar from fretful teen to disillusioned adult, and the stakes from failed romance to existential chill. ‘Now looking back at all we’ve planned / We let so many dreams just slip through our hands. / Why must we wait so long before we’ll see / How sad the answers to those questions can be?’.”

An album of Carole King’s July 2016 Hyde Park performance of her ‘Tapestry’ songs was released in 2017.
An album of Carole King’s July 2016 Hyde Park performance of her ‘Tapestry’ songs was released in 2017.
Carole King, in recent years, has remained in the public eye. In December 2015, she was among Kennedy Center honorees receiving recognition for their lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts.

Janelle Monae, James Taylor, Sara Bareilles, Aretha Franklin, and the cast of Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, performed during King’s segment of the awards ceremony.

In February 2016, the PBS TV program, American Masters, featured the profile, “Carole King: Natural Woman,” which included history on the Goffin-King biography and discography.

In July 2016, King was on the top of the bill at the British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park, London, where she performed all of Tapestry live for the first time. That concert was broadcast on UK TV in October 2016 and in 2017, an album of that concert, Tapestry: Live at Hyde Park, was released.


Goffin-King Legacy

Carole King and Gerry Goffin with Aldon Music owner and creator, Don Kirshner, 1960s.
Carole King and Gerry Goffin with Aldon Music owner and creator, Don Kirshner, 1960s.
The Goffin-King catalog and musical legacy appears to be alive and well in the 2010s, as any number of their songs – some more than 50 years old – are likely being played somewhere in the world every day. Their compositions have been recorded by hundreds of artists, and their songs continue to be used in film and television. Their careers and songwriting mark an important time in the evolution of modern music – from the Brill Building era of love-conquers-all pop hits played on 45 rpm vinyl records, through the singer-songwriter era of folk rock played on 33.3 rpm vinyl albums, to the current internet era of anytime-anywhere digital music. Still, the sentiments they penned and the melodies they made, have stood the test of time and remain a part of cultural history. In all likelihood, they will be loved tomorrow.

See also at this website, for example, “Joni’s Music” (Joni Mitchell), “Linda & Jerry” (Linda Ronstadt & Jerrgy Brown), “Streisand Rising” (Barbra Streisand), and “1960s Girl Groups” (includes long sidebar on Brill Building scene). The “Annals of Music” category page offers 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. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 24 May 2018
Last Update: 30 May 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Goffin and King, Love & Music: 1950s-2010s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 24, 2018.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

1960s: Aldon Music songwriters - Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
1960s: Aldon Music songwriters - Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
Rich Podolsky’s 2012 book, “Don Kirchner: The Man with the Golden Ear,” on the Brill Building era.
Rich Podolsky’s 2012 book, “Don Kirchner: The Man with the Golden Ear,” on the Brill Building era.
ACE Records, UK, compilation of Gerry Goffin-Carole King songs, “Hung on You”, 2015.
ACE Records, UK, compilation of Gerry Goffin-Carole King songs, “Hung on You”, 2015.
CD cover art for a 5-CD collection of Carole King albums, “Original Album Classics,” from Epic records.
CD cover art for a 5-CD collection of Carole King albums, “Original Album Classics,” from Epic records.
“Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter,”  DVD and CD, from TV film aired on PBS ‘American Masters’ series.
“Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter,” DVD and CD, from TV film aired on PBS ‘American Masters’ series.

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“The Pentagon Papers”
1967-2018

After the first newspaper stories broke on the Pentagon Papers, Newsweek and Time magazines each followed with June 28,1971 cover stories – Newsweek’s shown here with a “map”of Vietnam peopled by those making secret decisions.
After the first newspaper stories broke on the Pentagon Papers, Newsweek and Time magazines each followed with June 28,1971 cover stories – Newsweek’s shown here with a “map”of Vietnam peopled by those making secret decisions.
In 1967, the United States was mired in an ever-deepening war in Vietnam. By year’s end there were 485,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, with more than 11,300 American war deaths that year and rising discord at home.

Lyndon B. Johnson was then President of the United States, in his first full term following his assumption of the Presidency after JFK’s November 1963 assassination. Johnson had won the 1964 election in a landslide victory over Republican candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater.

Then U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, a JFK appointee continuing to serve in Johnson’s cabinet, and known for his statistical acumen and penchant for data-driven objectives, commissioned a top-secret study that year on the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, going back to World War II.

McNamara – one of JFK’s brightest cabinet members and a chief architect of American strategy in Vietnam since 1961 – was having private doubts about American involvement there and wanted an “encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War” that would comprise a written record for historians and military planners in the future.

That study — though top-secret and never intended to see the light of day as a contemporary document — would prove to be explosive if revealed. It included some 46 volumes and thousands of pages of secret history – sensitive diplomatic cables, presidential decision documents, military analyses, political manipulations, and more that told the true story of what had really gone on in American-Vietnam relations over some 22 years. When it was later leaked to the press in 1971, this study would reveal that the American public was misled, deceived, and lied to about the real nature of U.S. involvement in Vietnam for more than two decades. The top-secret study would come to be known as the “Pentagon Papers,” named for the sprawling, five-sided U.S. Defense Department headquarters just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. in Arlington, Virginia.

McNamara commissioned the study in mid-June 1967, but neither then President Lyndon Johnson nor Secretary of State Dean Rusk, knew about it.

During 1967-68 a team of some 36 researchers worked on the study coordinated at a Pentagon office adjacent to McNamara’s. Of those who worked on the study, half were high-level Pentagon staff, half security-cleared contract analysts. One of the analysts was Daniel Ellsberg, a Harvard-educated economist and one-time hawk on the war, who would later leak the study to the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers. That top secret Pentagon document, and Ellsberg’s action, touched off one of the country’s fiercest battles over freedom of the press vs. government secrecy; a battle recently given dramatic form in the 2017 Steven Spielberg Hollywood film, “The Post,” starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and others. Here’s one of the trailers for that film:

Stephen Speilberg’s 2017 film, of course, focuses on the inside story at the Washington Post as it struggled with the publication decision, court battles and the Nixon Administration. Yet, the story – both before and after it got to the Washington Post and the U.S. Supreme Court – has a number of heroes and heroines, not least of whom is Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who followed his conscience and got the ball rolling. What follows below is a recounting of some of the Pentagon Papers history and why it remains important today – including a narrative chronology of events, sample newspaper headlines, photos of some of the principles, as well as various books, television productions, and Hollywood films that came in the wake of that controversy through the present day.


Daniel Ellsberg, circa 1970s.
Daniel Ellsberg, circa 1970s.

“Most Dangerous Man”?

In 1971, President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, would call him “the most dangerous man in America.” Yet, many today regard Daniel Ellsberg as a true patriot for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press.

Ellsberg, a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard in economics in 1952, was also Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Cambridge for a year following graduation. He returned to Harvard for graduate study for a time, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1954 where he served as a platoon leader and company commander, completing his service in 1957 as a first lieutenant. He later resumed graduate work at Harvard, then worked as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, focusing on nuclear weapons strategy. He completed a PhD in Economics at Harvard in 1962, with an emphasis on decision theory, later becoming known for something in that field called “the Ellsberg paradox.”

By August 1964, Ellsberg was working in the Pentagon under Defense Secretary McNamara as special assistant. When Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John McNaughton, an expert on nuclear test bans, needed an assistant, Ellsberg got the job. He then volunteered for duty in South Vietnam for two years, working for General Edward Lansdale as a member of the State Department. By 1967, he was back in the States, later that year working on the secret Pentagon study that would become the Pentagon Papers.

Vietnam, 1967: Daniel Ellsberg, right, shown with Associated Press photographer Horst Faas.
Vietnam, 1967: Daniel Ellsberg, right, shown with Associated Press photographer Horst Faas.
Ellsberg had been a “hawk” on the Vietnam War early on. But later, in August 1969, while still at RAND, he converted to the other side, beginning as a strategic dissenter after being moved by a draft resistor’s remarks and willingness to go jail for his beliefs. He soon became a more active anti-war activist (“superhawk-turned-superdove” is how Time magazine would later put it). And by this time, given his work at RAND and his security clearance, Ellsberg was in a position to access sensitive government and military information, including the U.S.-Vietnam history.

The McNamara-ordered history was completed on January 15, 1969 – just five days before the inauguration of the Nixon Administration. Officially titled: United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, it was a massive and sweeping document: 47-volumes in all, consisting of 4,000 pages of documents, 3,000 pages of analysis, and 2.5 million words — all classified as secret, top secret, or top secret-sensitive.

Among those called in to help with the project for a time was then Harvard University professor Henry Kissinger. The report offered a detailed self-examination of U.S.-Vietnamese relations and the Vietnam War. Only 15 copies were initially authorized and held in secret, made available to selected officials — two at the State Department; two for the National Archives; two copies held by the RAND Corporation (one at its D.C. office, and another at a California office); one for incoming Defense Secretary, Clark Clifford; and seven to remain at the Department of Defense.

Robert McNamara, appointed Secretary of Defense by JFK, and served LBJ until differences over the war emerged, had initiated the secret US-Vietnam history in mid-June 1967.
Robert McNamara, appointed Secretary of Defense by JFK, and served LBJ until differences over the war emerged, had initiated the secret US-Vietnam history in mid-June 1967.
Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, also received one copy. However, McNamara was gone from the Pentagon about year before the study was finished.

In November 1967, McNamara had written a memorandum to President Johnson in which he recommended that the President freeze troop levels, stop bombing North Vietnam, and turn over ground fighting to South Vietnam. McNamara by then believed the U.S. could not win the war in Vietnam. His advice to Johnson at that time was not well received and ignored.

Within a few months of his memo to LBJ — by the end of February 1968 — Robert McNamara was persona non grata in the Johnson Administration. He would resign as Secretary of Defense and move on to head up the World Bank.


Tumultuous Times

Several books have documented the tumultuous events that roiled America & the world in 1968.
Several books have documented the tumultuous events that roiled America & the world in 1968.
The social and political milieu in the U.S. as the secret Vietnam study was being compiled was anything but calm. During 1968 in particular, an election year, there came a series of especially volatile events that sent successive shock waves through the nation. “All hell broke loose” is how some described what would become one of the most tumultuous periods of American history – between January 1968 and November 1968.

First came the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in late January 1968 (“Tet” marking the lunar new year holiday), when North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched a coordinated attack in South Vietnam that undermined what President Johnson and the U.S. military were saying about the war. At home, Johnson’s well-intentioned Great Society domestic agenda for helping the poor was being circumscribed by the war. Then on February 27th, respected CBS-TV newsman, Walter Cronkite, who had gone to Vietnam after the Tet Offensive, offered an on-air commentary during the regular CBS Evening News program watched by millions, concluding that the Vietnam War was “mired in stalemate.” That broadcast is regarded as seminal in raising doubts among mainstream Americans about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Johnson, meanwhile, was being challenged for his party’s presidential nomination. On March 12, 1968, anti-war candidate, Senator Eugene McCarthy staged a surprised challenge to Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. Four days later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced he would also seek the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Walter Cronkite's February 1968  "stalemate-in-Vietnam" TV commentary was devastating to  LBJ.
Walter Cronkite's February 1968 "stalemate-in-Vietnam" TV commentary was devastating to LBJ.
Then on March 31, 1968, LBJ, in a nationally-televised address in which he announced a partial Vietnam bombing halt while offering the possibility of peace talks, stunned the nation and his party by also announcing he would not seek a second term as President, primarily because of Vietnam. A few days later, on April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and dozens of cities erupted in reaction. On April 23rd, 1968 in New York city, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) seized five buildings on the campus of Columbia University to protest war-related research there. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, meanwhile, had surged to the front of the Democratic pack seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination. But after winning the California primary on June 6th, 1968, Kennedy was assassinated, crushing liberal hopes for a better future. A highly fractured Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago in late August 1968 and became the scene of violent anti-war protests and nationally-televised street battles with Chicago police.

Nixon-Agnew button.
Nixon-Agnew button.
The feeling across the nation was that things were out of control; as if the country had lost its moorings. Republican Presidential candidate Richard Nixon then deftly exploited the Democrats’ chaos using “law & order” rhetoric in his campaign speeches and advertising, appealing to America’s law-abiding “silent majority” and promising to set the nation right again. On November 6th, 1968, in one of the closest presidential elections in history, due in part to third-party candidate, George Wallace of Alabama who garnered 9 million votes, the Republican ticket of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew defeated the Democrats’ Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie. By year’s end 1968, America had 540,000 of its soldiers in Vietnam. Nixon had campaigned to bring an “honorable end to the war in Vietnam,” also saying he had a “secret plan” to end the war.


Early 1970s: Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who made late night copies of the Pentagon Papers while at RAND.
Early 1970s: Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who made late night copies of the Pentagon Papers while at RAND.

Ellsberg’s Move

Meanwhile, by January 1968, Daniel Ellsberg had spent about 8 months working on the McNamara-ordered Vietnam history, and he regarded the Tet Offensive a troubling development, among others. Still, he continued to work as a government contractor, Vietnam trouble-shooter, and policy advisor, meeting with government officials, presidential candidates – and even in early 1969 — meeting with Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor. Kissinger asked Ellsberg to prepare a list of policy options for the new Nixon administration, which Kissinger did not include in those submitted to Nixon.

Some months later, however, by October 1, 1969, Ellsberg began to cross the line from government contractor and Vietnam analyst to anti-war activist and government whistleblower. As a RAND analyst, he had access to an authorized copy of the 47 volume Pentagon Papers – and he had also read the entire study. Over a three-month period beginning that October, Ellsberg and a RAND colleague named Anthony Russo, began photo-copying the study bit by bit late at night, returning it to the RAND safe each morning. But once copied, Ellsberg would not immediately distribute the sensitive materials to the press.

Ellsberg also tried other avenues to advance his concerns about the Vietnam War. On October 12, 1969, he and several RAND colleagues wrote a letter to the Washington Post opposing the Nixon Administration’s Vietnam policies and statements. As for the secret document he was copying, his first thought was to distribute a few copies to selected U.S. Senators. Members of the U.S. Senate (or the U.S. House of Representatives) could release sensitive papers on the Senate or House floor and face no repercussions, as they could not be prosecuted for anything they said in official proceedings.

Among those receiving early copies of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg was Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-AR) a critic of the Vietnam War and a careful foreign policy thinker.
Among those receiving early copies of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg was Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-AR) a critic of the Vietnam War and a careful foreign policy thinker.
In November 1969, Ellsberg sent a portion of the secret study to Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright was an early critic of the Vietnam War and no fan of the Pentagon.

In 1966, he held some of the first public hearings on the Vietnam War and would publish The Arrogance of Power that year as well, a book sharply critical of the war, in which he attacked its justification and Congress’s failure to set limits on it. As for the Pentagon, in 1970 he would publish The Pentagon Propaganda Machine, a short book focusing on the military’s public relations campaigns.

Fulbright, however, would not release the secret Pentagon study Daniel Ellsberg brought to him. Instead, he decided to request a copy of the full secret Vietnam history from Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird. On December 20, 1969, Laird replied but refused to release the Pentagon study to Fulbright.


War Protests

Protest over the Vietnam War, meanwhile, had grown. Two large marches on Washington – with hundreds of thousands of protesters — occurred in October and November of 1969. In early November 1969, Nixon made his “silent majority” speech, claiming that most Americans supported his policies to end the war.

May 1970: Four students killed by National Guard during anti-war protest; click for story.
May 1970: Four students killed by National Guard during anti-war protest; click for story.
Then on April 30th, 1970 it was revealed that the U.S. had invaded Cambodia in an effort to stop North Vietnamese using that neighboring country to raid South Vietnam. The Nixon Cambodia incursion is seen as a broadening of the war, and it sets off student demonstrations around the U.S., including one at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4th, where national guard troops are called out to quell the protests. Four Kent Sate students are killed by guardsman on the campus during the demonstrations, setting off further protests across the nation.

Ellsberg, meanwhile, has left RAND and becomes a senior research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies, where he meets others, including William Bundy, a former Vietnam war architect, and two professors, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, with whom he shares the Pentagon Papers. Back in Washington, Ellsberg continued to distribute portions of the Papers to selected Senators and Congressmen, including Sen. George McGovern (D-SD), a leading opponent of the war, and Republican Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-CA). But both choose not to act on the secret document.

On May 13, 1970, Ellsberg testifies before Senator Fullbright’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but does not disclose the secret Pentagon study he holds. Several months later, in September that year, Ellsberg publishes an essay, “Escalating in a Quagmire,” presented at a conference of the Political Science Association. He also meets with Secretary Kissinger around this time to discuss his concerns. Kissinger offers him a position as an advisor, which Ellsberg declines. Ellsberg would later confront Kissinger again, publicly, over Vietnam casualty reports, at a January 1971 MIT conference.


Going To The Press

In early March 1971, Ellsberg meets with New York Times reporter, Neil Sheehan. Sheehan had covered the Pentagon and White House for the Times since the mid- and late- 1960s, writing on political, diplomatic and military issues. He was also a former UPI correspondent whom Ellsberg had met in Vietnam. By 1971 Sheehan worked in the Washington bureau of the Times. At his first meeting with Sheehan, Ellsberg only describes the document he has, and wants to be sure that the Times will publish it. He and Sheehan would meet again later.

Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe
Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe
Then on March 7th, 1971, the Boston Globe carries a front-page story by its Washington correspondent Thomas Oliphant that is headlined, “Only 3 Have Read Secret Indochina Report; All Urge Pullout,” referring to three Defense Department insiders who had access to the papers – Morton Halperin, Leslie Gelb and Ellsberg.


The Boston Globe story is the first public reporting that a secret U.S./Vietnam history even exists (except for a brief mention in the Oct 25, 1970, issue of Parade magazine). Although Oliphant and the Globe are the first to write publicly about the Papers, no other media picked up on it. Oliphant had interviewed Ellsberg earlier, when Ellsberg acknowledged the study existed. Still, the Globe at this point did not have access to the secret study’s content. Ellsberg and his wife, meanwhile, feared the government might come knocking on their door, so they begin salting away additional copies of the study with friends.

Neil Sheehan of the New York Times had covered the Pentagon and the White House in his reporting.
Neil Sheehan of the New York Times had covered the Pentagon and the White House in his reporting.
A few weeks later, on March 21st, 1971, Ellsberg meets again with New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan in a Cambridge, Massachusetts motel, and Sheehan later photocopies a set of the Pentagon Papers.

By April 5, 1971 Sheehan and New York Times editor Gerald Gold have set up shop in DC’s Jefferson Hilton hotel to begin reviewing the documents. The Times’ winnowing operation on the papers – called Project X – is later moved to a hotel near Times Square. (The Times’ editors and writers had holed up in hotels away from their D.C. and New York offices for fear of FBI raids).

By this time, Sheehan is joined by a broader team of reporters and editors from the Times – Hedrick Smith, Ned Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield and others. During a three-month period, up through early June 1971, while the Times prepared and selected stories to publish from the secret Pentagon study, there was much internal debate over whether and how to publish, with outside counsel recommending not publishing. Among those arguing strongly to run the secret material was senior Times editor, James Reston, who would write an early column titled, “The McNamara Papers.” Finally, on June 11th, 1971, after having the documents for nearly three months, New York Times publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger gave to final approval to publish the secret material.

June 13, 1971: The New York Times publishes its first Pentagon Papers stories (shared with coverage of Tricia Nixon’s White House wedding) – “Vietnam Archive...” by Neil Sheehan , and “Vast Review of War Took A Year,” by Hedrick Smith. A box in the first story directed readers to  further pages of “documentary material from the Pentagon study.”
June 13, 1971: The New York Times publishes its first Pentagon Papers stories (shared with coverage of Tricia Nixon’s White House wedding) – “Vietnam Archive...” by Neil Sheehan , and “Vast Review of War Took A Year,” by Hedrick Smith. A box in the first story directed readers to further pages of “documentary material from the Pentagon study.”

In its Sunday edition of June 13th, 1971 (above), the New York Times published its first Pentagon Papers story on the front page in a story by Neil Sheehan headlined as the “Vietnam Archive.” That headline introduced the secret Pentagon study to Times readers, noting it covered “3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement” in Vietnam. There was also coverage of the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which proved to be a fictitious provocation (of a U.S. vessel fired upon at sea) that the U.S. would use to justify greater U.S. participation in the war via the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by the House and Senate, and used by LBJ as a broad executive power to prosecute a major war. The first New York Times stories, their headlines, and others later, were purposely drawn to be as bland as possible, and not sensationalized, so as to show intent of publisher responsibility, as the Times was then anticipating legal challenges ahead. Still, there was much more in the Times that first day than just these two stories. In fact, that Sunday edition came in at a whopping 486 pages – much of it in supporting verbatim materials from the secret Pentagon study.

On June 14th, 1971, the Times published its second story (below) on the Pentagon Papers – it focused on the February 1965 decision to bomb North Vietnam. This story revealed that President Johnson was planning the bombing on the day he was elected to his second term, despite campaign promises he would not escalate military action. The article also described the decision process that led to the bombing campaign.

June 14, 1971. Cropped front page of the New York times featuring the second in a series of stories on the Pentagon’s secret Vietnam history. This story revealed that planning was underway to bomb North Vietnam before the U.S. 1964 Presidential election, when as a candidate, President Johnson had said he would not escalate the war.
June 14, 1971. Cropped front page of the New York times featuring the second in a series of stories on the Pentagon’s secret Vietnam history. This story revealed that planning was underway to bomb North Vietnam before the U.S. 1964 Presidential election, when as a candidate, President Johnson had said he would not escalate the war.

With the Times’ second story on the sensitive Vietnam history, the Nixon Administration becomes involved in an effort to stop further publication. However, President Nixon had not known of the secret Pentagon study before the Times had run its first stories. Kissinger knew of it, but hadn’t read it. And the secret Vietnam history only covered events up to 1967, and nothing during the Nixon years — with the previous Democratic Administrations of Johnson and Kennedy being skewered initially.

On June 13th, 1971, when the first of the New York Times stories appeared, Nixon did not, at first, want to go after the Times for publishing the material. In fact, he hadn’t read the stories that morning – the day after his daughter had been married at the White House. When he did read them, and after he heard early reaction from his staff and some Cabinet members, Nixon became more concerned with going after who ever leaked the material than he was with the Times’ publication.

President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, early 1970s.
President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, early 1970s.
On Monday evening, June 14, 1971, Nixon would remark to his top domestic policy aide, John Ehrlichman, “Hell, I wouldn’t prosecute the Times. My view is to prosecute the [expletive, expletive ] that gave it to ‘em.” However, Nixon’s views about publication would soon change as he held various telephone conversations and meetings with aides, including: National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger; Alexander Haig, then assistant to Kissinger; Secretary of State, William Rogers; Nixon’s top domestic policy aide, John Ehrlichman; and Attorney General John Mitchell.

But Henry Kissinger and others soon convinced Nixon there was plenty to worry about. For if documents as sensitive as these could be photocopied and handed out to the press at will, how could their own Administration carry on the business of national security? They had already had some leaks of their own sensitive material, and the move to publish these Pentagon documents could only embolden others. Indeed, Nixon’s team had their own secrets about how they were conducting the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere. There was also the anti-war movement at home that was growing beyond the campuses. In Congress, there were a dozen or so bills calling for an end to the war. Nor did Nixon care much for the press, referring to the Times and other press as “enemies.” So the Nixon Administration — driven by Nixon’s own paranoia about conspiracy efforts out to get him — soon became preoccupied with stopping publication and prosecuting those who leaked sensitive material.

Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, sent a telegram to New York Times publisher Sulzberger threatening Espionage Act prosecution if the Times does not stop publication. Mitchell cited “irreparable injury to the United States.” Violating the Espionage Act meant prison time for those convicted. The Times girded for a legal fight. They added Yale Law Professor Alex Bickel and First Amendment litigator Floyd Abrams to their legal team. Still, they continued publication.

June 15, 1971: New York Times third installment of its series on the secret Vietnam study runs with a front page story on how the Johnson Administration began U.S. ground combat operations in Vietnam. There is also the featured top headline story on the Nixon Administration’s efforts to shut down the Times’ publication of the study.
June 15, 1971: New York Times third installment of its series on the secret Vietnam study runs with a front page story on how the Johnson Administration began U.S. ground combat operations in Vietnam. There is also the featured top headline story on the Nixon Administration’s efforts to shut down the Times’ publication of the study.

On June 15th, 1971, the third installment of the series on the secret Pentagon study is published by the New York Times – this time with a double headline. The first told of the current fight with the Nixon Administration over publication: “Mitchell Seeks to Halt Series on Vietnam But Times Refuses.” On the Vietnam history story, the headline read: “Vietnam Archive: Study Tells How Johnson Secretly Opened Way To Ground Combat.” That story described the decision to commit U.S. ground troops to Vietnam, which was first made on April 1, 1965, beginning with 3,500 Marines, then 18,000-20,000 ground troops, and escalating to 200,000 more requested by General Westmoreland in June of that year (over Ambassador Maxwell Taylor’s objections) which LBJ approved on July 17, 1965.

In this same June 15th edition, the Times wrote that court action over the Vietnam series was likely. In fact, an injunction came later that day, with Nixon’s team filing its action in federal district court in Manhattan. The presiding judge was Nixon appointee, Murray Gurfein, then hearing his first case. Judge Gurfein issued a temporary restraining order barring the Times’ further publication. Back in Washington, the Department of Justice announced that it was considering criminal penalties for the leak and publication. Also at that time, Secretary of State William Rogers, in a press conference, singled out the disclosure of the secret study for harming U.S. relations with its allies.

June 16, 1971. The New York Times reports on the Nixon Administration’s action to halt the Times’ publication on the secret Pentagon study, while also reporting another story from that study and another on related issues.
June 16, 1971. The New York Times reports on the Nixon Administration’s action to halt the Times’ publication on the secret Pentagon study, while also reporting another story from that study and another on related issues.

On the following day, June 16, 1971, the Times runs the dominant front-page headline announcing the government’s action against the paper: “Judge, at Request of U.S., Halts Times Vietnam Series Four Days Pending Injunction.” But the paper also runs another piece from the secret Vietnam archive, as well as a related story on Secretary of State Rogers’ concerns, and another on Senator Mike Mansfield’s (D-MT) call for Senate hearings into the history of the Vietnam War. With the Times being shut down on the story, Daniel Ellsberg then offers the Pentagon Papers to the three television networks (in those days there were only three). But each of the TV networks declines, citing FCC license vulnerability. By this time, Ellsberg and his wife Patricia go underground after Ellsberg is identified as the probable source for leaking the secret Pentagon study.


Post Joins Fray

With the New York Times now legally sidelined, the Washington Post, which had only published wire stories and summations of what the Times had been reporting about the secret study, then began its own effort to pursue the story. Ben Bagdikian, an assistant managing editor at the Post, knew Ellsberg from a time when both had been together at RAND. He had also pieced together that Ellsberg was the likely leaker, and contacted him on behalf of the Post to arrange for a copy of the study. Bagdikian flew to Boston on June 17th, 1971, met with Ellsberg to get the Papers, then flew home to D.C. in an airplane scene now made famous by the 2017 film, “The Post,” with Bagdikian and his big box of papers “belted in” on an adjacent airplane seat (photo below). He was actually carrying two copies, one for a member of Congress (Senator Mike Gravel), later to be incorporated into a formal committee record (see sidebar later below).

Scene from 2017-18 film, “The Post,” showing Ben Bagdikian of The Washington Post (played by Bob Odenkirk ), flying back to Washington after obtaining copies of the 7,000-page “Pentagon Papers” from Daniel Ellsberg in Boston. “Must be precious cargo,” observes flight attendant of his seat companion; “only government secrets” he assures her.
Scene from 2017-18 film, “The Post,” showing Ben Bagdikian of The Washington Post (played by Bob Odenkirk ), flying back to Washington after obtaining copies of the 7,000-page “Pentagon Papers” from Daniel Ellsberg in Boston. “Must be precious cargo,” observes flight attendant of his seat companion; “only government secrets” he assures her.

When Bagdikian arrived in Washington that evening, on June 17th, 1971, he went straight to the home of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, where a gathered team of reporters and editors were awaiting the secret study to write stories for the following day’s edition. They soon dug into the work as the Post’s lawyers and editors debated the risks of publishing. The Post’s owner and publisher, Katharine Graham, would later approve the publication of the secret material over the telephone during a party being held at her home. Graham’s approval came despite strong objections by the Post’s legal counsel and her own worry about risking the family business. Back in New York, the Times, complying with a court order, released a list of the secret documents it held to the government, but not the documents themselves. The court rejected the government’s request for the copies. Meanwhile, the next day, the Washington Post published its first stories on the secret Pentagon study.

June 18, 1971. The Washington Post runs its first front-page stories on the secret Pentagon study: one from the study during the Eisenhower era in 1954 when the U.S. figured into a delay in South Vietnamese elections; another on how members of Congress were then mostly supporting the earlier New York Times’ publication of the secret study; a third on the Times’ actions regarding the government’s legal requests for documents; and a fourth, in the lower right hand corner, about the government’s pursuit of then suspected leaker, Daniel Ellsberg.
June 18, 1971. The Washington Post runs its first front-page stories on the secret Pentagon study: one from the study during the Eisenhower era in 1954 when the U.S. figured into a delay in South Vietnamese elections; another on how members of Congress were then mostly supporting the earlier New York Times’ publication of the secret study; a third on the Times’ actions regarding the government’s legal requests for documents; and a fourth, in the lower right hand corner, about the government’s pursuit of then suspected leaker, Daniel Ellsberg.

In its debut on the secret Pentagon study (above), the Post featured four related stories on its front page: one from the study during the Eisenhower era in 1954 when the U.S. figured into a delay of South Vietnamese elections; another on how members of Congress were then mostly supporting the New York Times’ publication of the secret study; a third on the Times’ actions regarding the government’s legal requests for the Pentagon documents; and a fourth about the government’s pursuit of then suspected leaker, Daniel Ellsberg. Upon publication, the Nixon Administration immediately goes after the Washington Post.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General, William Rehnquist, calls Post editor Ben Bradlee to inform him that further publication will be a violation of espionage laws. He also requests the Post turn over its documents. Bradlee refuses on both counts.

Some hours later – now June 19th, 1971 at 1:20 a.m – the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily enjoins the Post from further publication. Two days later, on June 21, 1971, in Federal District court in Washington, Judge Gesell denies the government’s request for a preliminary injunction against the Post, but the government immediately appeals to the D.C. Circuit.

June 21, 1971. Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post,, emerging from Federal District Court in Washington, DC after court temporarily ruled in their favor.
June 21, 1971. Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post,, emerging from Federal District Court in Washington, DC after court temporarily ruled in their favor.
Then, over the next few days, in both the Washington Post case, and New York Times case, a series of legal maneuvers and appeals and counter-appeals began, culminating in the arrival of both cases together at the U.S. Supreme Court, which first hears oral arguments in a rare Saturday session on June 26, 1971.

By this time, more than 10 other newspapers across the country had received the sensitive Pentagon study and begin publishing their own articles.

At stake in the case as it came before the Supreme Court – New York Times v. United States – is the question of whether the First Amendment allows “prior restraint” (in the form of a legal injunction/prohibition) on the publication of the Pentagon Papers (and by extension, all other information of this kind going forward) by the Times and Post, and generally, the press. It is a fundamental First Amendment challenge.

Meanwhile, as the legal questions were being sorted out in this epic case, Ellsberg was moving from motel to motel to avoid capture by the FBI, still distributing the secret Pentagon study selectively to other newspapers. On June 22nd, 1971, for example, after being contacted earlier by Boston Globe reporter Thomas Oliphant, and with the Globe agreeing to publish the secret material, Ellsberg supplies portions of the study and the Globe runs three related front-page stories; two reporting, respectively, on the JFK and LBJ roles in the secret Vietnam history, and a third reporting that Ellsberg would soon be making a statement on his role. The Justice Department then stopped the Globe from further publication with an injunction and also ordered the Globe’s documents to be impounded. Instead, the Globe’s editor, Thomas Winship, moved the documents off premises to a locker at Boston’s Logan Airport.

June 22, 1971: Boston Globe reports on JFK and LBJ roles in secret Vietnam history – and also Ellsberg.
June 22, 1971: Boston Globe reports on JFK and LBJ roles in secret Vietnam history – and also Ellsberg.
June 24,1971: San Francisco Chronicle reports on secret Pentagon Vietnam history, Ellsberg, & newspaper bans.
June 24,1971: San Francisco Chronicle reports on secret Pentagon Vietnam history, Ellsberg, & newspaper bans.

Ellsberg would continue distributing portions of the secret Pentagon study to other newspapers, a few of which the government also tried to enjoin. The St Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and Chicago Tribune were among newspapers that published material from the secret Pentagon report. By June 23rd, 1971, Ellsberg himself was interviewed on Walter Cronkite’s CBS-TV news show, when he told the anchorman that Americans were to blame for the war and “now bear the major responsibility, as I read this history, for every death in combat in Indochina in the last 25 years.”

June 25, 1971: St. Louis Post-Dispatch publishes revealing front-page story from the secret Pentagon Vietnam history, running the headlines: ‘M’Namara: Pacification A Failure; Despaired In ‘66 Of Quick Victory, Papers Show,” with front-page photos of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson.
June 25, 1971: St. Louis Post-Dispatch publishes revealing front-page story from the secret Pentagon Vietnam history, running the headlines: ‘M’Namara: Pacification A Failure; Despaired In ‘66 Of Quick Victory, Papers Show,” with front-page photos of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson.

On June 25th, 1971, the St. Louis Post Dispatch published a front-page story (above) on the secret Pentagon study that headlined the fact that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had declared the “pacification” effort in Vietnam a failure, and in 1966 he warned President Johnson there would be no quick victory. This story was a clear indication that more than just the New York Times and Washington Post were involved, as nearly an additional dozen or so newspapers – some in the heartland of the country such as the St Louis Post-Dispatch – were also publishing revealing accounts from the secret Pentagon Vietnam history.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, a federal grand jury was convened to hear charges on the criminal aspect of the Pentagon study leak. On June 26th, 1971, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Daniel Ellsberg; his attorneys announced he would surrender the following Monday. Also on June 26th, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch came under a restraining order for its publication.

June 28, 1971: Time cover, “Pentagon Papers: The Secret War.”
June 28, 1971: Time cover, “Pentagon Papers: The Secret War.”
By late June 1971 the secret Vietnam history is being called “The Pentagon Papers” by Time magazine, and the story continues to be big national news. On June 28, 1971, Time and Newsweek both run cover stories on the secret Papers (Newsweek’s cover story of this date shown earlier, the first photo at the top of this story). Time, in its cover story, for example, offers its impression of the U.S./Vietnam decision making revealed in the study:

…Each step seems to have been taken almost in desperation because the preceding step had failed to check the crumbling of the South Vietnamese government and its troops—and despite frequently expressed doubts that the next move would be much more effective. Yet the bureaucracy, the Pentagon papers indicate, always demanded new options; each option was to apply more force. Each tightening of the screw created a position that must be defended; once committed, the military pressure must be maintained. A pause, it was argued, would reveal lack of resolve, embolden the Communists and further demoralize the South Vietnamese. Almost no one said: “Wait—where are we going? Should we turn back?”

Also on June 28th, 1971, Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to the U.S. Attorney in Boston. There he was charged under the Espionage Act with theft and unauthorized possession of classified documents and released on $500,000 bail. Ellsberg faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, the New York Times/Washington Post case over the right to publish was still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Late June 1971: Daniel Ellsberg appears before microphones, surrounded by reporters at the Federal Building in Boston, where he would surrender to Federal authorities after admitting he supplied the New York Times with the secret Pentagon papers.
Late June 1971: Daniel Ellsberg appears before microphones, surrounded by reporters at the Federal Building in Boston, where he would surrender to Federal authorities after admitting he supplied the New York Times with the secret Pentagon papers.

On the following day, June 29, 1971, U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (D-AK) then attempted to read the Pentagon Papers into the Senate record as part of his filibuster on the military draft, but he was stopped by a parliamentary maneuver. He then convened a hearing of his Senate Public Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee in the middle of the night and began reading the Pentagon Papers into the hearing record, continuing to do so for three hours, and later submitting the unread remainder into the formal hearing record. (more on Gravel and these papers in later sidebar).

Then on June 30, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in New York Times v. United States, with the nine justices voting 6-3, upholding the Times’ and Post’s right to publish, and declaring that all news organizations could publish any excerpt of the report they deemed newsworthy. The landmark decision made front-page news all across the country, and no more happily than at the New York Times and Washington Post – with each of those newspapers, and others, resuming their reporting on the once secret U.S.-Vietnam history.

July 1, 1971: In addition to its front page coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Times continued its series on the Pentagon Papers with two of the stories appearing on the front page – one on JFK decisions  – “...Made ‘Gamble’ Into a ‘Broad Commitment’,” – and another on the overthrow of South Vietnam’s President Diem.
July 1, 1971: In addition to its front page coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Times continued its series on the Pentagon Papers with two of the stories appearing on the front page – one on JFK decisions – “...Made ‘Gamble’ Into a ‘Broad Commitment’,” – and another on the overthrow of South Vietnam’s President Diem.

July 1, 1971.  Washington Post front page following U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the press to publish secret Pentagon Papers. Photo shows Post owner Katharine Graham, editor, Ben Bradlee, and Post reporters in Post’s newsroom receiving and celebrating the court’s decision.
July 1, 1971. Washington Post front page following U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the press to publish secret Pentagon Papers. Photo shows Post owner Katharine Graham, editor, Ben Bradlee, and Post reporters in Post’s newsroom receiving and celebrating the court’s decision.

The case marked the first time in modern American history that the U.S. government had actually restrained the press from publication in the name of national security, as the New York Times had been restrained for 14 days from publishing. But the Supreme Court’s decision re-affirmed the right and duty of the press to keep a watchful eye on government. Justice Hugo Black wrote, for example: “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” Justice Black and Justice William O. Douglas added that no restraints of any sort are permissible under the First Amendment. (For a legal analysis of the importance of New York Times v. the United States, see C-SPAN’s “Landmark Cases” series on this case).

However, the controversy over the publication of the Pentagon Papers did not end with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the right to publish. The story continued with the arrests and trial of Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo. In fact, on the day of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Pentagon Papers case, June 30, 1971 the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles indicted Ellsberg on two counts of theft and espionage. And in some ways, this is where “the plot thickens,” as they say, for the Nixon Administration, as would be later revealed, was hot on the trail of Daniel Ellsberg.

July 5, 1971: Time puts Daniel Ellsberg on it cover with story on the “Battle Over the Right to Know.”
July 5, 1971: Time puts Daniel Ellsberg on it cover with story on the “Battle Over the Right to Know.”
July 12, 1971: “Victory for The Press,” Newsweek cover story on Supreme Court ruling.
July 12, 1971: “Victory for The Press,” Newsweek cover story on Supreme Court ruling.

The Ellsberg/Russo prosecution and trial would run nearly two years, from June 1971 through May 1973, and would take several twists and turns. In August 1971, Anthony Russo was called to testify before the grand jury in Los Angeles, but refused, citing his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. And after he was offered immunity from prosecution, he still refused to testify and was cited for contempt and put in jail. In late December 1971, a second indictment was brought against Ellsberg and Russo that superseded the original, this one containing fifteen counts. By July 29, 1972, with the trial underway, it was learned the government had wiretapped a conversation between one of the defendants and his lawyer or consultants. However, the judge in the trial, Judge Matthew Byrne, refused to stop the trial because of the wiretap. But Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas ordered a stay since an appeal has been filed at the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court, on November 13, 1972, refuses to hear defense arguments arising from the government’s wiretap. Then on December 12, 1972, Judge Byrne, declares a mistrial in the Ellsberg-Russo case and calls for a new jury to be empaneled. On January 17, 1973, opening statements are delivered in the new Ellsberg/Russo trial. But not long thereafter, some other revelations come to light.

Charles Colson, Nixon aide.
Charles Colson, Nixon aide.
John Erlichman, Nixon aide.
John Erlichman, Nixon aide.
Howard Hunt, "plumber".
Howard Hunt, "plumber".
Gordon Liddy, "plumber".
Gordon Liddy, "plumber".

Nixon’s Plumbers

Two years earlier in the White House, during the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers, concern about leaks and conspiracies had escalated, as Nixon and his aides fumed over the Pentagon Papers disclosures and Daniel Ellsberg.

During June and July 1971 several of Nixon’s top aides and chief advisors — through a series of memos, telephone calls, and meetings — were involved in a continuing harangue about the leaks, Ellsberg, and what they were going to do about it. All of this led to an internal, self-reinforcing revving up of the group, including Nixon, to stop leaks and take revenge, initially on Ellsberg, the first among a variety of “enemies.”

Henry Kissinger, for example, Nixon’s National Security Advisor – who had once praised Ellsberg and sought his expertise – painted a very dark and damaging portrait of Ellsberg on the evening of June 17, 1971 in the Oval Office with Nixon, John Ehrlichman, and Bob Haldeman present.

Another top Nixon aide, Charles Colson, in a July 1st, 1971 telephone call with retired CIA agent named E. Howard Hunt, helped inspire and recruit Hunt to see what he could come up with on Ellsberg and other projects, suggesting, among other things, that Ellsberg might be “tried in the newspapers.” By July 6, 1971 Hunt was hired as White House consultant.

Meanwhile, the FBI and CIA by this time had been looking into Ellsberg’s past at the request of the White House with some urgency. But this was apparently not sufficient, as a special and covert White House Special Investigations Unit – later to be known as the “plumbers” – had been created on July 24, 1971 to help stop the leaking of classified information. Two junior aides were appointed to administer the unit – Egil “Bud” Krogh, Jr., and Kissinger aide David Young, Jr. This unit would come under the supervision of Nixon’s Domestic Advisor, John Ehrlichman.

On July 28, 1971, Howard Hunt sent a memo to Colson entitled “Neutralization of Ellsberg” with an outline of several proposed actions. “Building up a file on Ellsberg,” Hunt wrote, was “essential in determining how to destroy his public image and credibility.” One of the proposals from Hunt was to burglarize the offices of Ellsberg’s one-time psychiatrist in Los Angeles,…Hunt’s plan to burglarize the office of psychiatrist Dr. Lewis Fielding sought a “mother lode” of infor-mation about Ellsberg’s mental state in order to discredit him. Dr. Lewis Fielding, to obtain a “mother lode” of information about Ellsberg’s mental state in order to discredit him. In August 1971, that plan is fleshed out in more detail at the Old Executive Office Building near the White House and is later approved by Ehrlichman under the condition that it “is not traceable.” On September 3, 1971, the burglary of Fielding’s Beverly Hills Los Angeles office was carried out by “plumbers” Hunt, Liddy, Eugenio Martínez, Felipe de Diego, and Bernard Barker (the latter three, former CIA). In Fielding’s burgled office and crow-barred filing cabinet, Nixon’s plumbers found Ellsberg’s file, but it apparently did not contain the embarrassing information they had hoped for and left it discarded on the floor. Hunt and Liddy then planned to break into Fielding’s home, but Ehrlichman did not approve the second burglary. (This plumbers unit, meanwhile, would be the one and the same group made famous in the 1972 burglary of Democratic Campaign headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC — the break in and subsequent cover-up that would lead to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon).


Back at The Trial…

Back at the Ellsberg/Russo trial on April 26, 1973, a memo to Judge Bryne revealed the White House “plumbers” break-in of Dr. Fielding’s office seeking Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatric records. And there was more. On May 9th, further evidence of illegal wiretapping of Ellsberg was revealed, as the FBI had recorded numerous conversations between he and Morton Halperin without a court order. In addition, it was also revealed that during the trial, Judge Byrne – the residing judge in the trial – had personally met with Richard Nixon’s domestic advisor, John Ehrlichman, who had offered Byrne a position at the FBI. Given the gross governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo on May 11, 1973. The dismissal was front-page news.

May 12, 1973.  New York Times headlines proclaiming government charges against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo in their Pentagon Papers trial are dismissed and the are free, with the judge noting “improper government conduct” in that trial.
May 12, 1973. New York Times headlines proclaiming government charges against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo in their Pentagon Papers trial are dismissed and the are free, with the judge noting “improper government conduct” in that trial.

At the White House, however, President Nixon was not happy with the outcome of the Ellsberg trial, nor with the fact that earlier, on May 2, 1972, the New York Times had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for “meritorious public service in journalism” for its reporting on the Pentagon Papers. While speaking to Alexander Haig and Bob Haldeman at the White House on the day the mistrial is declared, Nixon says: “…Son-of-a-bitchin’ thief is made a national hero and is gonna get off on a mistrial. The New York Times gets a Pulitzer Prize for stealing documents. They’re trying to get at us with thieves. What in the name of God have we come to?”

Fifteen months later, on August 8th, 1974, Richard M. Nixon announced in a televised address that he would resign as President of the United States the following day to escape what would have been most certain impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate for the crimes of the Watergate Scandal, which began, in part, with the White House paranoia over the publication of the secret Pentagon Papers (see also at this website “The Frost-Nixon Biz,” which covers the 1977 David Frost TV interviews with Richard Nixon about the “plumbers” and Watergate, and the books, stage play, and film that followed).


Books & Film

Popular History

In the years following the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the Daniel Ellsberg disclosures, there came a number of books and films on the controversy, its various characters, and related Vietnam War histories and politics. Among the first of these was a July 1971 Bantam Books paperback of some 677 pages that compiled what the New York Times had published in its newspaper series. The cover of that book appears below left, which also provided attribution on the cover for the various Times reporters involved, adding — “with key documents and 64 pages of photographs.”

1971: Bantam Books paperback edition of the New York Times published “Pentagon Papers,” 677pp.
1971: Bantam Books paperback edition of the New York Times published “Pentagon Papers,” 677pp.
1971: NY Times / Quadrangle Books “definitive” hard-back copy of Pentagon Papers & documents, 810pp.
1971: NY Times / Quadrangle Books “definitive” hard-back copy of Pentagon Papers & documents, 810pp.

Also in 1971, the New York Times-owned company, Quadrangle Books, published a hardback volume of some 810 pages (above right) billed at the “definitive edition” of the Pentagon Papers as published by the Times, plus supplementary materials. It was offered as a comprehensive volume for libraries, universities, and private citizens. It included the ten chapters covered by the Times in its June and July 1971 stories, plus the full texts of the government documents that appeared in those stories; the court proceedings in the case of The New York Times Company vs. The United States; pictorial documentation of the Pentagon study in 60 pages of photographs; a glossary of names, code words, abbreviations and technical terms used in the Pentagon study; expanded and illustrated biographies of American and Vietnamese officials prominent in the study; and a 32-page index. Then there was also “the Gravel edition” of the Pentagon Papers, with a little history of its own.


“The Gravel Edition”
Mike Gravel & Beacon Press

Senator Mike Gravel, early 1970s.
Senator Mike Gravel, early 1970s.
In mid-June 1971, as the New York Times and Washington Post were doing legal battle with the Nixon Administration to continue publishing the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg wasn’t sure how they would fare. He continued looking for a way to get the entire document on the public record so anyone could read it. He then returned to the idea of having a member of Congress read the papers into the formal proceedings of Congress or the Congressional Record. He hadn’t succeeded with other Senators in earlier attempts. But now he turned to a freshman senator from Alaska, Democrat Mike Gravel, who was then using a filibuster in an attempt to end the military draft as one way to end America’s involvement in Vietnam. Gravel agreed to receive the papers from Ellsberg, who had arranged for a copy through Washington Post editor Ben Bagdikian. Gravel picked up the papers in a midnight exchange in front of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

On the evening of June 29, 1971, after being thwarted in his attempt to read the secret study on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Gravel resorted to using his Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee as a way to enter the Pentagon Papers into the formal Congressional record. As he began reading from the papers with the press in attendance, Gravel noted: “It is my constitutional obligation to protect the security of the people by fostering the free flow of information absolutely essential to their democratic decision-making.” He read until 1 a.m., though finally inserting some 4,100 pages of the Papers into the record of his subcommittee. The following day, the Supreme Court, in New York Times Co. v. United States, ruled in favor of the newspapers’ right to publish the Pentagon Papers, which then continued at the Times, Post, and other newspapers. In addition, by July 1971, Bantam Books published an inexpensive paperback edition of the papers containing the material the New York Times had published.

"The Senator Gravel Edition" of the Pentagon Papers, published by Beacon Press, October 1971. Not shown, Chomsky/Zinn Vol. 5.
"The Senator Gravel Edition" of the Pentagon Papers, published by Beacon Press, October 1971. Not shown, Chomsky/Zinn Vol. 5.
Gravel, too, wanted to publish in book form the portion of the papers he had read into the record, believing that “immediate disclosure of the contents of these papers will change the policy that supports the war.” On August 4, 1971, after being turned down by dozens of commercial publishers, some fearful of government retribution, Gravel reached agreement with Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian church, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), of which Gravel was a member. On October 22, 1971, a four-volume set of the Pentagon Papers bearing the name, “The Senator Gravel Edition,” was published. This edition of the Pentagon Papers was edited and annotated by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also included an additional volume of articles and essays on the origins and progress of the war, also edited by Chomsky and Zinn. Cornell University and the Annenberg Center for Communication are among institutions offering kudos for the Gravel Edition

UUA President Bob West and Senator Mike Gravel respond to the FBI’s attempt to seize UUA bank records in 1971.
UUA President Bob West and Senator Mike Gravel respond to the FBI’s attempt to seize UUA bank records in 1971.
In 1971, however, the response of the Nixon Administration to Beacon Press publishing the Gravel Edition was swift. Days after Beacon Press published The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, FBI agents showed up at the UUA’s bank asking for their financial records. The UUA and Senator Gravel sued the government to suspend its search in a legal action that made its way to the Supreme Court, which decided in June 1972 that the senator’s official speech immunity did not, however, extend to Beacon Press. Senator Gravel and his staff were also involved in other litigation with the Nixon Administration for their initial disclosure of the Pentagon documents.

Senator Gravel’s involvement with the Pentagon Papers, meanwhile, had made him into something of a national political figure at that time. He became a sought-after speaker on the college lecture circuit and was also sought out for political fundraisers. The Democratic candidates for the 1972 presidential election sought his endorsement, and he later backed Maine Senator Ed Muskie.

Gravel continued fighting the Nixon Administration on Vietnam. In April 1972, he appeared on all three nightly TV newscasts criticizing Nixon’s “Vietnamization” plan for the South Vietnamese to shoulder the war fighting, while also making other secret government war documents public.


Sanford J. Ungar first published this book with E.P, Dutton; shown here in Columbia Univ. Press edition, 1989.
Sanford J. Ungar first published this book with E.P, Dutton; shown here in Columbia Univ. Press edition, 1989.
In 1972, Sanford J. Ungar, a former Washington Post reporter, published The Papers and The Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle Over the Pentagon Papers. The first hardback edition of this book at 319 pages was published by E.P. Dutton. The edition shown at left is the March 1989 Columbia University Press edition of 340 pages.

Ungar had also written on the Pentagon Papers and Ellsberg in 1971-72 for the Washington Post, publishing one story there titled, “Daniel Ellsberg: The Difficulties of Disclosure,” in a Sunday edition, April 30,1972, tracking the difficulties Ellsberg encountered trying to put the secret Pentagon materials on the public record.

Ellsberg himself published his own quick book on the Pentagon Papers in July 1972 titled simply, Papers On The War (Simon & Schuster, 309pp). In 2002, Ellsberg would publish a second account on the Pentagon Papers case, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, which reached bestseller lists across the nation and won several awards, including the American Book Award.

One book profiling Ellsberg’s history with the Pentagon Papers is Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, published by Roaring Brook Press in 2015 and was a National Book Award finalist.

Other popular and academic volumes on the Pentagon Papers, some from the perspective of journalism, and others probing the trail of litigation or parsing the Supreme Court’s decision, would also come into print over the next 40 years – not to mention numerous periodical and law review articles.

Daniel Ellsberg, 1972 book.
Daniel Ellsberg, 1972 book.
Daniel Ellsberg, 2002 book.
Daniel Ellsberg, 2002 book.
David Rudenstine’s 1996 book.
David Rudenstine’s 1996 book.
James Goodale's 2013 book.
James Goodale's 2013 book.
David Halberstam's 1972 book.
David Halberstam's 1972 book.
Robert McNamara's 1996 book.
Robert McNamara's 1996 book.
Steve Sheinkin’s 2015 book.
Steve Sheinkin’s 2015 book.
H.R. McMaster's 1998 book.
H.R. McMaster's 1998 book.
Ben Bradlee's 1995 book.
Ben Bradlee's 1995 book.
Kay Graham's 1997 book.
Kay Graham's 1997 book.

Among books exploring the publishing and/or legal aspects of the Pentagon Papers, for example, is David Rudenstine’s 1996 work, The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case (University of California Press).

In 2013, James Goodale, the former general counsel and vice chairman of the New York Times, published Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles, which includes his account representing the Times before the Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case.

There are also two books from the Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham, which include sections on the Pentagon Papers: Graham’s Personal History of 1997, published by Alfred A. Knopf, and Bradlee’s A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, published by Simon & Schuster in 1995. Presidential biographies – especially those on Johnson and Nixon – also have history related to the Pentagon Papers and Vietnam era decision making.

Complimenting the early books on the Pentagon Papers is David Halberstam’s well-received 1972 best seller on Vietnam, The Best and The Brightest. Halberstam’s book offers details on how the decisions were made in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations that led to the war, focusing on a period from 1960 to 1965, but also covers earlier and later years up to the book’s publication.

One of the “best and brightest” featured in Halberstam’s book, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, penned his own book on Vietnam in 1995, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (Crown Books). McNamara’s best-selling book generated considerable controversy with lots of media time for the former Defense Secretary.

Beyond the literature that covers the Pentagon Papers per se or the decision making at that time, there is of course, a vast array of works on the history of the Vietnam War from multiple perspectives. Among these, for example, are: Frances FitzGerald’s 1975 book, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, and Stanley Karnow’s 1984 book, Vietnam: A History (Viking), billed at the time as “the first complete account of Vietnam at war” (This book was also used as a basis for the long form PBS TV series of the same title).

Among books taking a critical look at Vietnam policy making and military strategy is H.R. McMaster’s 1998 book, Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam – one of many probing the whys and wherefores of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter that broke the early Pentagon Papers stories, also wrote an award-winning 1988 book on the war, A Bright Shining Lie:John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (Random House), which probes the Vietnam War through the experiences of John Paul Vann, a U.S. military advisor there in the early 1960s who became increasingly critical of U.S. military command and tactics used in the war.

Another Vietnam book by Mark Bowden published in 2017 focuses on one of war’s seminal military engagements during the Tet Offensive: Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam (Atlantic Monthly Press). The titles presented here and above are only samples; not by any means an exhaustive listing of the much larger universe of U.S./Vietnam analysis and the politics of that period.

TV & Hollywood. In September 2003, a television film, The Pentagon Papers, was the first in that arena to explore the Pentagon Papers episode. It aired on the FX cable TV channel. The film is about Daniel Ellsberg and the events leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers. It documents Ellsberg’s life starting with his work at the RAND Corporation, and ends with the mistrial in the Ellsberg-Russo espionage case. The film stars James Spader as Ellsberg and cast that also includes Claire Forlani, Alan Arkin, and Paul Giamatti (Rod Holcomb director,Joshua D. Maurer executive producer).

Sept 2003 cable TV movie, “The Pentagon Papers,” with James Spader as Daniel Ellsberg, FX channel.
Sept 2003 cable TV movie, “The Pentagon Papers,” with James Spader as Daniel Ellsberg, FX channel.
2009 documentary film, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.”
2009 documentary film, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.”

In 2009, a documentary film directed and produced by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, titled, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The film had a four-month theatrical run and in 2010 it was shown on the PBS series POV, for which it won a Peabody Award. It was also nominated for an Oscar in the documentary film category and won more than a dozen other film festival and other awards. It features Ellsberg and explores the events leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers. One Washington Post reviewer of the film called it: “Compelling… (a) gripping mix of politics, history and the derring-do of one of the era’s most audacious capers…deservedly Oscar nominated.” Here’s the trailer for that documentary:



An earlier documentary on the Vietnam war – Hearts and Minds of 1974 (which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature that year) – is also relevant to this period and its history, and includes interviews with Ellsberg and other major figures involved in U.S./Vietnam policy making and military operations. And most recently, of course, the 2017, Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg Hollywood film, The Post, covers the Washington Post portion of the Pentagon Papers episode (trailer available at the top of this story).


The Post

The 2017 Spielberg film – with Meryl Streep portraying the country’s first female newspaper publisher, Katharine “Kay” Graham of The Washington Post, and Tom Hanks playing hard-driving newsroom editor, Ben Bradlee – was released in America at a propitious time; a time when the sitting president, Donald Trump, much like the historic figure, Richard Nixon during the Pentagon Papers controversy, was at war with many news organizations. In addition, by depicting the struggles of a female executive in a powerful business, the Spielberg film also struck a positive chord with women in a time of renewed calls for female equity and empowerment. But perhaps most of all, the film helped drive home the importance of a vibrant and unfettered press, rising to its “fourth estate” responsibilities.

Scene from Steven Spielberg's 2017-18 film, ‘The Post’, showing, at left, Ben Bradlee (Hanks, w/cup), Kay Graham (Streep) next to him, and Meg Greenfield, seated (Carrie Coon), watching news on table-top TV set in the Washington Post newsroom during the tense days of June 1971 as Pentagon Papers publication was being challenged by the Nixon Administration.
Scene from Steven Spielberg's 2017-18 film, ‘The Post’, showing, at left, Ben Bradlee (Hanks, w/cup), Kay Graham (Streep) next to him, and Meg Greenfield, seated (Carrie Coon), watching news on table-top TV set in the Washington Post newsroom during the tense days of June 1971 as Pentagon Papers publication was being challenged by the Nixon Administration.

Spielberg read the screenplay in early 2017 and decided to direct the film as soon as possible. “When I read the first draft of the script,” he told USA Today in November 2017, “this wasn’t something that could wait three years or two years — this was a story I felt we needed to tell today.” Spielberg also explained that it was “a patriotic film” and that he decided to take it on basically because he believes in journalism. Spielberg’s film helped trumpet the importance of a free and feisty press. “It is an antidote to ‘fake news,’ he said of the film. “Those journalists in the movie are true heroes.”

The film began airing in the U.S. in late December 2017, with full release in January 2018. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as the best film of 2017 and was named as one of the top 10 films of the year by Time magazine and the American Film Institute. It also received six Golden Globe nominations (Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actress – Drama [Streep], Best Actor – Drama [Hanks], Best Screenplay and Best Original Score), and two Academy Award nominations (Best Picture and Best Actress). And while there were some gripes about not giving the New York Times its due in the film, and that “nice guy” Tom Hanks lacked a certain edge to fully portray the Ben Bradlee character, the film nonetheless achieved an important public education role by underscoring the importance of a free and feisty press.

As for the real Pentagon Papers crisis and confrontations of June 1971, it is at least somewhat heartening to know that good people came forward to expose and publish the truth, and that key institutions generally worked as the Founders intended: to help free up vital information for all citizens to access so that democracy can work to keep power in check.

April 1, 1972. Daniel Ellsberg, addressing a crowd at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania following an anti-war march that ended at the Capitol. (AP photo/Rusty Kennedy)
April 1, 1972. Daniel Ellsberg, addressing a crowd at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania following an anti-war march that ended at the Capitol. (AP photo/Rusty Kennedy)

Still, in the world of government secrecy since 1971, the news is not so good, as Dana Priest, Pulitzer Prize-winning intelligence and Pentagon reporter for the Washington Post has written in a 2016 Columbia Journalism Review article titled, “Did The Pentagon Papers Matter?” Citing a number of cases of “government at work” since the days of the Pentagon Papers, she concludes that “secrecy in government…has continued unabated….” All the more reason for the first-amendment protected press to keep digging and afflicting, and for the rest of us to ensure that they do.

_____________________________

New York Times team that won 1972 Pulitzer Prize for public service for publication of the Pentagon Papers; from left, reporter Neil Sheehan, managing editor A.M. Rosenthal, foreign news editor James L. Greenfield & others. AP photo
New York Times team that won 1972 Pulitzer Prize for public service for publication of the Pentagon Papers; from left, reporter Neil Sheehan, managing editor A.M. Rosenthal, foreign news editor James L. Greenfield & others. AP photo
Other related stories at this website include, for example, four on Richard Nixon: “Enemy of the President, 1970s” (profile of Paul Conrad’s political cartoons with special attention to those on Richard Nixon and Watergate); “The Frost-Nixon Biz, 1977-2009” (the David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews and Watergate); “1968 Presidential Race: Republicans” (includes Nixon’s candidacy & election that year and others); and “Nixon’s Checkers Speech” (Nixon in crisis as 1952 VP candidate). See also: “Newsweek Sold!, 1961” (history of Washington Post under Phil Graham, acquisition of Newsweek magazine, and later years); “Four Dead in O-hi-o, 1970” (Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and Kent State shootings); and “1968 Presidential Race: Democrats” (covers the tumult of 1968 and candidacies of Eugene McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey).

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: 5 February 2018
Last Update: 27 October 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “The Pentagon Papers: 1967-2018,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 5, 2018.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Cover used on one version of Quadrangle Books edition of “Pentagon Papers as published by the NY Times,” showing LBJ with Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and McGeorge Bundy.
Cover used on one version of Quadrangle Books edition of “Pentagon Papers as published by the NY Times,” showing LBJ with Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and McGeorge Bundy.
“Inside The Pentagon Papers,” by John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, 2004 edition, 260pp.
“Inside The Pentagon Papers,” by John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, 2004 edition, 260pp.
“The Pentagon Papers, Abridged Edition” (1993), by historian George Herring (ed), is billed as “a brief and manageable collection of the most important documents on U.S. policy-making in the Vietnam War between 1950 and 1968”.
“The Pentagon Papers, Abridged Edition” (1993), by historian George Herring (ed), is billed as “a brief and manageable collection of the most important documents on U.S. policy-making in the Vietnam War between 1950 and 1968”.
Originally titled, “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967,” the Pentagon Papers were designated “Top Secret-Sensitive,” and despite their 1971 disclosure to the press, were not officially “declassified” by the government until June 2011.
Originally titled, “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967,” the Pentagon Papers were designated “Top Secret-Sensitive,” and despite their 1971 disclosure to the press, were not officially “declassified” by the government until June 2011.
Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright Shining Lie” (1988), winner of a Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award.
Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright Shining Lie” (1988), winner of a Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award.
Frances FitzGerald’s 1972 best seller, “Fire in The Lake,” won a Pulitzer Prize and “shows how America utterly and tragically misinterpreted the realities of Vietnam.”
Frances FitzGerald’s 1972 best seller, “Fire in The Lake,” won a Pulitzer Prize and “shows how America utterly and tragically misinterpreted the realities of Vietnam.”
Stanley Karnow’s 1983 “tie-in” best seller, “Vietnam: A History,” the basis for 13-part PBS TV series “Vietnam: A Television History ,” aired 1983.
Stanley Karnow’s 1983 “tie-in” best seller, “Vietnam: A History,” the basis for 13-part PBS TV series “Vietnam: A Television History ,” aired 1983.
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“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 himself and the 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 mementos 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. The memorial is titled, 'Heroes Among Us', sculpture by Karen Jobe Templeton.
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. The memorial is titled, 'Heroes Among Us', sculpture by Karen Jobe Templeton.

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 than 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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"Coal: A Human History", by Barbara Freese, 2016 edition.
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Richard Martin's 2015 book, "Coal Wars", St. Martin's Press.
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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Steven Greenhouse, “Rise in Mining Deaths Prompts Political Sparring,” New York Times, July 26, 2002.

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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.

“Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.,” Wikipedia.org.

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“The Last Mountain,” Wikipedia.org.

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Cheryl K. Chumley, “RFK Jr Wants Law to Punish Global Warming Skeptics,” Wash-ington Times, September 23, 2014.

Wendy Koch, “Kennedy Home Gets Green Makeover,” USA Today, January 27, 2010.

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Dan Zukowski, DC News Bureau, “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: ‘If You Believe in Markets, You Have to Believe the Era of Coal Has Ended’,” EnviroNews.TV, June 27, 2017.

______________________________________




“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 sometimes be very fragile and fleeting. 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