All posts by J.D.

“Elton John’s Decade”
The 1970s (w/Bernie)

Sheet music cover for Elton John’s “Your Song,” one of his  first Top Ten hits in the U.S., England, and Canada. Click for digital version.
Sheet music cover for Elton John’s “Your Song,” one of his first Top Ten hits in the U.S., England, and Canada. Click for digital version.
In the 1970s, there were few musicians more successful than Elton John, the British singer and piano player who partnered with lyricist Bernie Taupin to turn out some of the decade’s most signature and enduring popular songs. One of the first John/Taupin hits from 1970 was “Your Song,” sampled below and featured on the sheet music cover at right.

 

Music Player
“Your Song” – 1970″

 

“Your Song” was a kickoff of sorts, the breakthrough song that sent Elton John and Bernie Taupin on their way to the big time. As The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll would say of the prolific output of John and Taupin in the 1970s:

“…For most of the `70s Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin were a virtual hit factory with 26 Top 40 hit singles, 16 Top 10, and six No.1 hits. Fifteen of the 19 albums released in the United States during this time went gold [500K] or platinum [1 million]. In the `80s their fortunes declined only slightly. To date [as of 2001] they have achieved more than four dozen top 40 hits and become one of the most successful songwriting teams in pop history…”

What follows later below is an Elton John chronology listing most of the major albums and singles turned out by the John/Taupin team in the 1970s – in many ways a decade significantly marked, if not dominated, by Elton John music. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has noted: “…John and Taupin identified and shaped the mood of the Seventies from its inception. Given to roughly equal numbers of ballads and rockers, John’s output was as critical to this decade as the Beatles were to the Sixties and Presley to the Fifties.” Before getting to the chronology, however, some background on John, Taupin, and the times.

1950. Young Reggie at piano.
1950. Young Reggie at piano.
 
“Reggie” Dwight

Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in a London suburb in March 1947. “Reggie,” as he was called growing up, learned to play piano at an early age, and was somewhat gifted with an ear for melody and could play classical pieces from memory.

John’s parents were fairly strict, with his father encouraging him to pursue a more conventional career. However, both parents were musically inclined and record collectors, among which were Bill Haley and Elvis Presley recordings that young Reggie liked most.

At the age of 11, Reggie won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where he attended Saturday morning sessions for several years. At school on occasion – presaging his later stage antics – Reggie would imitate the raucous piano style of rocker Jerry Lee Lewis. By age 15, he was playing piano in a local pub. In 1962 he formed a band named Bluesology, and two years later, dropped out of school to pursue music full time.

 
Bernie Taupin

By June 1967 John met his life-long songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin after both had answered the same magazine ad in the New Musical Express music magazine seeking songwriters. Taupin was born in 1950 at a farmhouse in eastern England, where he grew up, a somewhat rural area that would color his later lyrical life. Not a keen student, but having a flair for writing, Taupin at age 15 worked briefly in the print room of the local newspaper, The Lincolnshire Standard, with thoughts of possibly becoming a journalist. When that did not work out, he drifted through various part-time jobs until answering the New Musical Express ad for songwriters. He and John would prove to be an exceptionally productive pair, as Taupin could sometimes turn out lyrics in less than an hour, while John was equally efficient and would fit Taupin’s words to music without changing the lyrics. When the two first met in 1967, they recorded what would become the first Elton John/Bernie Taupin song: “Scarecrow”. Not long after, “Reggie” would begin using a new name – “Elton John” – which he would formally adopt later.

1970. Young collaborators, Elton John  and Bernie Taupin, on the cusp of becoming one of the music industry’s most successful hit-producing teams.
1970. Young collaborators, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, on the cusp of becoming one of the music industry’s most successful hit-producing teams.

Initially, John and Taupin wrote songs for Dick James Music for other artists, and John also worked as a session musician for groups such as the Hollies. John and Taupin, however, were advised to write for themselves, which they began doing in 1968, producing an early album titled Empty Sky. The album was recorded during the winter of 1968 and spring of 1969. It was released in the U.K. in early June 1969. However, neither it nor other early John-Taupin tunes were making much headway in the U.K. And that’s about when Dick James got the idea of sending Elton to America, which Elton initially resisted.

 
U.S. Breakout

The Troubadour

Young Elton John at piano, circa 1970, age 23.
Young Elton John at piano, circa 1970, age 23.
Elton John’s second studio album in the U.K. – titled Elton John – had been released there in April 1970, but not in the U.S. until July 22, 1970. It wouldn’t enter the U.S. charts for another three months.

Still, the album had been sent to a number of U.S. venues hoping to receive some U.S. exposure for the new British singer and piano player. Doug Weston, owner of the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, Los Angeles was one of those receiving the album – along with a request for John to perform at his club. Weston, upon hearing the album, booked John for some late August shows.

The Troubadour by then was already well known for being a center for 1960s folk music and would help launch the careers of a long list of singer-songwriters and rock musicians. But Dick James’ sending Elton John to America in this case was actually something of a last attempt to get John’s music across to the public.

Meanwhile, a single from the Elton John album, “Border Song,” had made a modest entrance on the Billboard Hot 100 by the time of Elton’s first Troubadour show in late August 1970. Local FM radio had also been playing his songs leading up to the show. So there was a rising interest among musicians, music industry reps, and music critics leading up to his appearance on August 25, 1970.

Robert Hilburn's review of Elton John’s opening show at the Troubadour, as it appeared, Los Angeles Times, Aug  27, 1970.
Robert Hilburn's review of Elton John’s opening show at the Troubadour, as it appeared, Los Angeles Times, Aug 27, 1970.
The Troubadour’s small room — capable of seating 300 or so — was filled to beyond capacity that first night, with possibly 400 people. Neil Diamond, then a rising singer in his own right, was among those in the audience, having heard John’s album and had come to the Troubadour to introduce John and to hear him perform in person.

Also in the audience that night were Quincy Jones, Mike Love of The Beach Boys, David Crosby, Gordon Lightfoot, Leon Russell, Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, Linda Ronstadt, and other notables.

John performed a nine-song set that night, leading off with “Your Song” followed by “Bad Side of the Moon,” “Sixty Years On,” “I Need You To Turn To,” “Border Song,” “Country Comfort,” “Take Me To the Pilot,” “Honky Tonk Woman” (a Rolling Stones cover), and “Burn Down the Mission.” Five of the songs were from the Elton John album, and two others from a later planned album.

John did not disappoint with his performance that night, as he received a rousing response from the audience (some years later, in 1990, Rolling Stone magazine declared these shows to be among the 20 most important concerts in the history of rock ‘n’ roll).

“Tuesday night at the Troubadour was just the beginning. He’s going to be one of Rock’s biggest and most important stars.”
– Robert Hilburn, L.A. Times
In the next day’s Los Angeles Times, rock critic, Robert Hilburn, gave the show a rave review, opening with: “Rejoice. Rock music…has a new star. His name is Elton John, a 23-year old Englishman whose United States debut at the Troubadour… was, in almost every way, magnificent.” Hilburn reported that the crowd – including the largest local gathering of rock writers in months – “roared its approval, bringing John back for an encore.” Hilburn added that by the end of the evening: “there was no question about John’s talent and potential. Tuesday night at the Troubadour was just the beginning. He’s going to be one of Rock’s biggest and most important stars.”

Thereafter, it was “Katie bar the doors!” First, there was a brief U.S. tour following the Troubadour shows that ran from October 29th through December 4th. One of these shows at the A&R Studios in New York City was recorded for a later live album. Then, for the rest of the decade, the Elton John/Bernie Taupin mind-meld kicked in at full speed, turning out a continuing stream of hit albums and hit singles.

 
A Decade of Hits

During 1971 alone, there were four new albums, each of which reached Billboard’s album chart – the western-themed Tumbleweed Connection; the soundtrack to an obscure film, Friends; the live album 11-17-70, recorded on that date at a New York radio station; and Madman Across the Water, which contained the hit singles “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon,” and the title track. Honky Chateau, which appeared in 1972, included hit singles “Honky Cat” and “Rocket Man.”

Elton John hit, "Levon".
Elton John hit, "Levon".
"Someone Saved My Life..."
"Someone Saved My Life..."
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down..."
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down..."
"Rocket Man" / "Tiny Dancer".
"Rocket Man" / "Tiny Dancer".
“Candle” & “Bennie.”
“Candle” & “Bennie.”
"Rocket Man" single.
"Rocket Man" single.
“Don’t Go Breaking My...”
“Don’t Go Breaking My...”
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Rd".
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Rd".

In fact, from 1972 to 1975, there would be seven consecutive albums that topped the charts: Honky Chateau (1972, No.1 for five weeks), Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player (1973, No.1 for two weeks), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973, No.1 for eight weeks), Caribou (1974, No.1 for four weeks), Elton John – Greatest Hits (1974, No. 1 for ten weeks), Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy (1975, No.1 for seven weeks) and Rock of the Westies (1975, No. 1 for three weeks).

These five albums topped the album chart for a combined total of 39 weeks, meaning that during the mid-1970s, Elton John had a No.1 album about every fourth week.

(See below: “An Elton John Chronology” for listing of album covers and more detail).

As for hit singles, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, during the three-year period 1973-1976, John amassed 15 hit singles in the U.S., including six that went to No.1 – “Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Island Girl,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. Three others were No. 2 hits – “Daniel,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”.

Those 15 singles logged a combined 156 weeks from 1973-1976, which is to say that, on average, an Elton John single could be found in the Top 40 every week for three years.

What follows below is a general 1970s chronology of Elton John’s hit singles, albums, and a selection of a few other career highlights from that decade. To be sure, there is much more to John’s career beyond the 1970s, which stretches another 40 years through the 2010s to the present day. And some of that part of the story is covered below the chronology, where the narrative continues.

 

_____________________________________________

 

An Elton John Chronology
1970s Music & Other Events
(not a complete list)

Elton John’s first studio album, “Empty Sky” was produced in the U.K. and released there in 1969, but not in the U.S. until 1975. Click for copy.
Elton John’s first studio album, “Empty Sky” was produced in the U.K. and released there in 1969, but not in the U.S. until 1975. Click for copy.
April 1970. Elton John’s U.S. debut album, his second studio album, became best seller. Click for CD.
April 1970. Elton John’s U.S. debut album, his second studio album, became best seller. Click for CD.
Oct 1970. Tumbleweed Connection, John’s 3rd studio album; hits No.5 on album charts. Click for CD.
Oct 1970. Tumbleweed Connection, John’s 3rd studio album; hits No.5 on album charts. Click for CD.
March 1971.  Soundtrack album for “Friends” film is released; spawns “Friends” Top 40 single. Click for CD.
March 1971. Soundtrack album for “Friends” film is released; spawns “Friends” Top 40 single. Click for CD.
May 1971. Release of live album “17-11-70"  –  recorded earlier at A&R Studios in NY city.  Click for CD.
May 1971. Release of live album “17-11-70" – recorded earlier at A&R Studios in NY city. Click for CD.
Nov. 1971: “Madman Across the Water”, 4th studio album; peaks at No 8 on album charts. Click for CD.
Nov. 1971: “Madman Across the Water”, 4th studio album; peaks at No 8 on album charts. Click for CD.
May 1972. “Honky Château” is released, John’s 5th studio album. Click for CD.
May 1972. “Honky Château” is released, John’s 5th studio album. Click for CD.
January 1973. 6th studio album, “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” released. Click for CD.
January 1973. 6th studio album, “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” released. Click for CD.
October 1973: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” double album released, has 2-year chart run. Click for CD.
October 1973: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” double album released, has 2-year chart run. Click for CD.
June 1974. “Caribou” album released, John’s 8th studio album; 2x Platinum by 1993. Click for CD.
June 1974. “Caribou” album released, John’s 8th studio album; 2x Platinum by 1993. Click for CD.
November 1974. “Greatest Hits” album released; will become 20+million seller. Click for CD.
November 1974. “Greatest Hits” album released; will become 20+million seller. Click for CD.
May 1975. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” released; 9th studio album. Click for CD.
May 1975. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” released; 9th studio album. Click for CD.
24 Oct 1975. “Rock of the Westies,” 10th studio album, enters chart at No.1. Platinum by 1993. Click for CD.
24 Oct 1975. “Rock of the Westies,” 10th studio album, enters chart at No.1. Platinum by 1993. Click for CD.
30 April 1976. “Here and There” live album released, includes London and NY concerts. Click for CD.
30 April 1976. “Here and There” live album released, includes London and NY concerts. Click for CD.
22 Oct 1976.  “Blue Moves” album released; peaks at No. 3 in U.K./ U.S. and is million-seller. Click for CD.
22 Oct 1976. “Blue Moves” album released; peaks at No. 3 in U.K./ U.S. and is million-seller. Click for CD.
13 Sept 1977.  “Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Volume II” is released. Platinum by Nov 1977. Click for CD.
13 Sept 1977. “Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Volume II” is released. Platinum by Nov 1977. Click for CD.
1 Oct 1978. “A Single Man” album is released, Elton’s 12th studio album - minus Bernie Taupin.  Click for CD.
1 Oct 1978. “A Single Man” album is released, Elton’s 12th studio album - minus Bernie Taupin. Click for CD.
June 1979: Three-song EP released from “The Thom Bell Sessions.” Click for complete six-song CD.
June 1979: Three-song EP released from “The Thom Bell Sessions.” Click for complete six-song CD.
October 1979. “Victim of Love” album released: hits No 35 on Billboard, No. 41 in the U.K. Click for CD.
October 1979. “Victim of Love” album released: hits No 35 on Billboard, No. 41 in the U.K. Click for CD.

1969-1975
Elton John’s first studio album, Empty Sky, is produced in the U.K. and released there in 1969, but not in the U.S. until 1975.

10 April 1970
Elton John’s second studio album – titled Elton John – is released in the U.K., peaking at No. 5 and spending 22 weeks on that chart. In the U.S., it is John’s debut album, released there on July 22nd, peaking on Billboard at No. 4. It is also nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy. Some years later it would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

24 April 1970
Release of “Border Song” single from Elton John album flopped in the UK, but later peaked in Canada at No. 34, John’s first chart appearance in any country. “Border Song” would also hit No. 92 on U.S. Billboard chart by Oct 1970.

25 August 1970
U.S. breakout after performance at Trouba-dour club in Los Angeles, CA; gets rave review in L.A Times.

30 October 1970
Tumbleweed Connection, 3rd studio album released in the U.K. on this date; U.S., January 1971; peaks at No. 2 in the U.K., No.5 on Billboard. On this album, John and Taupin were influenced by American country rockers, The Band and 1968’s Music From Big Pink, as well as western TV shows they grew up watching. No U.S. singles issued from this album, but “Come Down in Time,” sampled below, with its strings, harp, oboe, and horn, offers a quiet love song.

 

Music Player
“Come Down in Time”- John/Taupin
From Tumbleweed Connection

31 December 1970
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 71 concert venues or other appearances.

23 January 1971
“Your Song” single – from Elton John album – reaches No.8 by this date. Began as the B-side to “Take Me to the Pilot” before radio DJs discovered its gold. Later added to the Grammy HOF (1998) and also ranked No. 137 on Rolling Stone 500.

5 March 1971
Friends film soundtrack album released – a pre-U.S. breakout John/Taupin project that nonetheless went Gold by April 1971. Also received 1972 Grammy nomination for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture

10 April 1971
“Friends” single from the Friends soundtrack hits No. 34 on Billboard at this date.

10 May 1971
First live album released – titled 17-11-70 – recorded at the A&R Studios in New York City, Nov 1970, during post-Troubadour U.S. tour. Also scored Top 40 rank on album charts.

5 November 1971
Madman Across the Water, 4th studio album released. While only reaching No. 41 on the UK charts, Madman did better in the U.S., peaking at No. 8 on Billboard and No. 10 on 1972 year-end list. It achieved Gold standing in Feb 1972, and $1 million in U.S. sales. By 1998, it was multi-Platinum in the U.S., with sales of more that 2 million units.

11 November 1971
John & band perform most of Madman album before a small studio audience at BBC-Television Centre in London for broadcast on April 29, 1972 edition of “Sounds For Saturday” show on BBC2.

31 December 1971
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 129 concerts or other appearances.

5 February 1972
“Levon” single (from Madman) – a song about a yearning young boy seemingly stuck in a boring place but bound by family business or local convention – hits No. 24 on the U.S. Billboard chart and No. 6 on Canadian chart.

7 February 1972
“Tiny Dancer” single (from Madman) is released – mistakenly believed to be about Bernie Taupin’s wife at the time, Maxine Feibelman, (literally, seamstress for the Elton John Band for a time). But it was more about the free-spirited California girls Taupin met on his 1970 visit there. While a Top 40 hit in several countries, the song got a second wind after being featured in the 2000 film, Almost Famous. Certified 3x Platinum in the U.S., April 2018, and Gold in the UK, August 2018, though not released there as a single.

3 March 1972
“Rocket Man” single released, from Honky Château album, rises to No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 6 in the U.S. Spends more than three months on both charts. The song uses space travel as a metaphor for spiritual isolation. Later certified 3x Platinum, U.S. and No. 245 on RS500. Taupin says he took inspiration from Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story, The Rocket Man, which also features a lonely astronaut missing his family

 

Music Player
“Rocket Man”- John/Taupin
From Honky Château

19 May 1972
Honky Chateau album released; would rise to No. 1 on Billboard 200 and be ranked at No. 359 on RS 500.

23 September 1972
“Honky Cat” single from Honky Château album hits No. 8.

31 December 1972
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 92 concerts or other appearances.

1973
Elton John and partners launch Rocket Records label, used mostly for other artists.

22 January 1973
Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player album is released; second straight No. 1 album in U.S. Eventually goes 3× Platinum.

3 February 1973
“Crocodile Rock” single (from Don’t Shoot Me) became John’s first U.S. No. 1 single on this date, staying there for 3 weeks. Also No.1 in Canada (4 weeks), No 5 in UK. U.S. Gold by Feb 1973, Platinum, Sept 1995.

2 June 1973
“Daniel” single hits No. 2 on Billboard by this date. Taupin wrote “Daniel” after reading a newsmagazine article about Vietnam War veteran who had been wounded and wanted to get away from the attention he was receiving when he went back home. “I wanted to write something that was sympathetic to the people that came home,” Taupin would later say

16 July 1973
“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” single released (from Yellow Brick Road ); hits No. 7 on UK charts, No. 12 on Billboard. Also featured in Grand Theft Auto V video game (2013-14) and film, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).

5 October 1973
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road double album released, reaches No.1, and remains on the album charts for two years. Using Wizard of Oz film imagery, the album is regarded as John’s best. It has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. In 2000, Q magazine listed it at No.84 on its 100 Greatest British Albums Ever, and in 2003, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and also ranked No. 91 on RS 500.

8 December 1973
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” single hits No. 1 Canada, No. 2 in U.S., No. 6 in UK. Song is widely praised by critics; some calling it John’s best song. Yellow brick road imagery from 1939 Wizard of Oz film used by Taupin to “get back to [his] roots.” Certified Platinum in 1995 by RIAA (song sampled later below).

31 December 1973
By year’s end, Elton John had performed in 91 concert venues or other appearances.

4 February 1974
“Candle in the Wind” (from Yellow Brick Road) – John/Taupin ode to departed Hollywood starlet, Marilyn Monroe – is released in U.K., reaches No. 11 there but is not released as a single in the U.S. (Click for separate story).

13 April 1974
“Bennie and the Jets”(from Yellow Brick Road) – a song about a fictional band and satire on the greed and glitz of the early 1970s music scene – hits No. 1 in U.S. after heavy play on CKLW radio in Windsor, Ontario, sending song to No. 1 in Detroit, as other markets followed. “Bennie” also found some acceptance on Top 40 R&B radio, especially after John appeared on the Soul Train TV dance show in May 1975 performing the song.

28 June 1974
John’s 8th studio album, Caribou, is his fourth No.1 album in the U.S. and third in the U.K.; nominated for Album-of-the-Year Grammy (1974) and certified 2x Platinum by 1993.

27 July 1974
By this date, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” single (from Caribou) has hit No. 2; song also features Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston on backing vocals.

3 November 1974
“The Bitch is Back” single (also from Caribou) hits No.1 in Canada, 4 U.S., 15 U.K. RIAA Gold by Sept 1995. Reportedly, title was inspired by Taupin’s wife at the time, Maxine Feibelman, who would say, “the bitch is back,” when John was in a foul mood. Taupin lyrics also parody John’s celebrity lifestyle. Some radio stations in the U.S. refused to play the song because of the word “bitch,” to which John remarked: “some radio stations in America are more puritanical than others.”

8 November 1974
Elton John’s Greatest Hits album is released, his first “best of” compilation. It became a No 1 album in both the U.S. (10 wks) and the U.K. (11 wks). In 1975, it was the best-selling album in the U.S., and to date is one of John’s best-selling albums and among best-selling albums of all time, with 24 million copies sold worldwide.

28 November 1974
Thanksgiving Day; John coaxes former Beatle John Lennon onstage for three songs during a Madison Square Garden concert that turned out to be Lennon’s final live public performance.

1974
Elton John signs $8 million deal with MCA – company then reportedly took out a $25 million life insurance policy on John.

31 December 1974
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 69 concerts or other appearances.

4 January 1975
Elton John cover of Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” hits No. 1 (w/John Lennon on guitar).

12 April 1975
“Philadelphia Freedom,” a non-album single, hits No.1 The song was inspired by John’s friendship with tennis superstar Billie Jean King, whose pro team at the time was the Philadelphia Freedoms.

19 May 1975
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album released, described as an autobiographical account of the early musical careers of Elton John (Captain Fantastic) and Bernie Taupin (Brown Dirt Cowboy). It debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, believed to be the first album to do so. It sold 1.4 million copies in its first 4 days of release, and stayed at No. 1 for seven weeks

9 August 1975
Elton John named outstanding rock personality of the year at first Rock Music Awards in Santa Monica, California.

16 August 1975
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” hits No. 4. – the only single released from …Brown Dirt Cowboy album. Song is a semi-autobiographical story of John’s ill-fated engagement to Linda Woodrow and related 1968 suicide attempt, as the “someone” in the song – Long John Baldry – convinced him to break off the engagement rather than ruin his music career for an unhappy marriage.

September 1975
“Amoreena,” a song about a young man’s love interest, from John’s 1970 Tumbleweed Connection album, is used over the opening credits of the Al Pacino film, Dog Day Afternoon. The song features John’s powerful piano playing and has a country-rock style from the 1970 Tumbleweed album.

 

Music Player
“Amoreena”- John/Taupin, 1970
From Tumbleweed Connection

11 October 1975
Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood” (on Rocket Records) hits No.1 and features John on harmony vocals.

24 October 1975
Rock of the Westies album enters Billboard chart at No.1 (second in a row to do that in the same year, then unprecedented), and is John’s seventh consecutive No. 1 album. The title is a play on the phrase “West of the Rockies,” as it was recorded at Caribou Ranch studio in the Colorado Rockies. RIAA-certified gold in October 1975 and platinum in March 1993.

25-26 October 1975
Elton John performs two sold-out shows at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (55,000 each night). It was part of his “West of the Rockies” tour that included 17 shows across the U.S. and Canada.

October 1975
Elton John becomes the 1,662nd person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

1 November 1975
“Island Girl,” from Rock of the Westies album hits No.1.

31 December 1975
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 28 concerts or other appearances.

1976
John, a long-time English soccer/football fan, becomes investor in, and director of, the professional Watford Football Club.

30 April 1976
Here and There live album released; title refers to two concerts: “Here,” a concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall, summer of 1974; and “There,” a concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, November 28 1974.

7 August 1976
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” by Elton John and Kiki Dee, tops the U.S. charts for the first of four weeks. Released in June, it also rose to the top of the U.K. charts after three weeks. It was John’s sixth No. 1 hit in 3 years – and his last one in the U.S. for 21 years.

22 October 1976
Blue Moves album released; second double album and first on his own label, Rocket Records. Peaks at No. 3 in U.K. and U.S. Although album suffered some negative reviews – one finding it “impossibly weepy” and another charging “fatigue” – it was still RIAA-certified Gold (Oct 1976) and Platinum (Dec 1976). Includes Edith Piaf tribute song, “Cage the Songbird.”

 

Music Player
“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”
1976

25 December 1976
“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” single (from Blue Moves album), a ballad about a dying relationship, went to No. 3 in Canada., No. 6 U.S., and No. 11 U.K. – and No. 1 on the U.S. Easy Listening chart. The song was also used in 1977 film Slap Shot starring Paul Newman.

31 December 1976
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 64 concerts or other appearances.

13 September 1977
Greatest Hits Volume II album is released. Would reach No. 6 in U.K., No. 21 on Billboard, and was certified Gold in September 1977, Platinum in November 1977. There have been several versions of the album.

3 November 1977
Elton John announces at a London concert that he is retiring from live performances, which he does – for 15 months.

31 December 1977
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 13 concerts or other appearances.

1 October 1978
A Single Man album is released, reaching No. 8 in the U.K. and No. 15 on Billboard. It is Elton John’s 12th studio album and the first with Gary Osborne replacing Bernie Taupin as lyricist. It is the only Elton John album not have any tracks co-written by Bernie Taupin on the original cut. Still, in the U.S., even with mixed reviews, A Single Man was certified Gold in October 1978 and Platinum the following month.

31 December 1978
By year’s end, Elton John had performed at 126 concerts or other appearances.

3 February 1979
Elton John resumes touring after a 15-month hiatus.

21-28 May 1979
Elton John plays eight concerts in the former Soviet Union (USSR). The two-city tour – Leningrad and Moscow – was a significant event amid Cold War tensions of that era and one of the first rock concerts permitted there by a western artist. As a result of John’s visit, in June 1979, the Soviet authorities permitted the state-owned Melodiya record company to issue John’s 1978 album A Single Man, making it the first Western pop album to be officially released in the USSR

June 1979
An EP recording with three songs – The Thom Bell Sessions – is released. It was recorded by Elton John in 1977 in a project with R&B songwriter and producer, Thom Bell, known at the time for his Philadelphia soul music. One of the songs – “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” – became an Elton John Top Ten U.S. single, August 1979. Ten years later, The Complete Thom Bell Sessions was released by MCA, with the original six songs recorded by John and Bell.

13 October 1979
Victim of Love album released: hits No 35 on Billboard, No. 41 in the U.K.
 

_____________________________________________

2017 book, “Captain Fantastic: Elton John’s Stellar Trip Through the ’70s,” by Tom Doyle (no relation). Click for copy.
2017 book, “Captain Fantastic: Elton John’s Stellar Trip Through the ’70s,” by Tom Doyle (no relation). Click for copy.

The Showman

Part of the Elton John success machine of the 1970s evolved from his on-stage concert showmanship and flamboyant costuming.

At the piano, John was an energetic performer, often conducting Jerry Lew Lewis- type acrobatics, beginning with kicking the piano stool out of the way, playing the piano from various contorted positions, to doing flying handstands and horizontal extensions from the piano keyboard – revving up the audience as he did.

In terms of costumes, he used a range of glittery and feathered ensembles, platform shoes, eyeglasses, and more to adorn various fictional and on-stage musical personas. He not only entertained as a talented musician but also broke ground as a kind of “glam rock” fashionista, typically surprising his audience with some new outfit at every show.

As The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll has noted:

“In the mid-1970s, John’s concerts filled arenas and stadiums worldwide. He was the hottest act in rock & roll. And his extravagance, including a $40,000 collection of custom-designed and determinedly ridiculous eyeglasses and an array of equally outrageous stagewear, seemed positively charming.”

1977. Elton John amid colorful feathers on The Muppet Show.
1977. Elton John amid colorful feathers on The Muppet Show.
John’s style had grown progressively more extravagant and outlandish as his performances moved through the decade. By the mid-1970s, Elton John’s stage wardrobe included ostrich feathers and spectacles that spelled his name in lights.

At concerts he would appear in elaborate costume as the Statue of Liberty, Donald Duck, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and other figures. He also appeared with an exaggerated Mohawk hair piece, in a bumble bee costume, as a cowboy, or in various feathered and floral arrangements.

In an appearance on The Muppet Show in June 1977, he wore a large Mummers-parade styled multi-colored floral and feathered ensemble with jeweled white skull cap and matching white-rimed and tinted sunglasses.

He would also dress up for special occasions, as in October 1975, when he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, then wearing a special custom-made pale green and white suit with miniature, gold “Elton John sidewalk stars” sewn throughout the jacket, along with matching star-shaped eyeglasses. In 1997, at his 50th birthday party – for 500 friends – he costumed as Louis XIV of France.

Some of his concerts had an air of spectacle to them – as at the Hollywood Bowl in September 1975 where, as introduction, a succession of dressed impersonators of the Queen of England, Elvis Presley, Frankenstein, the Pope, the Beatles, Batman and Robin, Groucho Marx and Mae West all made their entrance down the staircase. Then, a set of concert pianos arrayed there each raised their covers to display a giant series of letters spelling out E-L-T-O-N, and as they did, flocks of doves were released.

Elton John in concert during the 1970s, doing one of his flying handstands, extending out from the piano keyboard, typically revving up the audience with his energetic performances.
Elton John in concert during the 1970s, doing one of his flying handstands, extending out from the piano keyboard, typically revving up the audience with his energetic performances.

But there were also concerts where the music was what the fans remembered. In October 1975 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles– in a white and blue Dodger-like baseball outfit, adorned with silver studs along with a pair of rhinestone-encrusted glasses – he performed 3-hour plus shows before 100,000 raving fans over two nights. It was one of his more successful outings. Elton John was then a pop culture phenom, as photographer Terry O’Neill has observed:

…You have to remember – in October 1975, no one was bigger than Elton John. He was like Elvis at the height of his career. It is impossible to try to explain to people today what it was like – numerous number one albums, touring non-stop, recording non-stop, media, press, television… he was everywhere. Elton still is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met and he gave his all at those concerts.

August 1973: Elton John featured on the cover of Rolling Stone with some of his decorative eyewear.
August 1973: Elton John featured on the cover of Rolling Stone with some of his decorative eyewear.
July 1975. Elton John on the cover of Time magazine -- "Rock's Captain Fantastic". Click for copy.
July 1975. Elton John on the cover of Time magazine -- "Rock's Captain Fantastic". Click for copy.

Over more than 50 years, Elton John would play some 3,000 concerts in more than 75 countries around the world – and he’s not done yet, as his farewell tour with 300 more dates is slated to close in 2020.

Among other memorable Elton John imagery from the mid-1970s was his appearance as the pinball wizard of the famous Who song and rock opera album, Tommy – in the 1975 rock opera film of that name. John appeared as a very tall “Pinball Wizard” rigged on stilted giant boots.

Elton John w/stilted boots in "Tommy." Click for DVD.
Elton John w/stilted boots in "Tommy." Click for DVD.
Pete Townshend of British rock group, The Who, had asked John to play the “Pinball Wizard” character in the film version of the rock opera Tommy, and to perform the “Pinball Wizard” song.

John’s version of the song was recorded and used for the movie release in 1975 and a single of the song was later released as well, charting at No. 7 in England. John’s version of that song is the only cover of a Who song to reach the Top 10.

The Bally Company, meanwhile, later released a “Captain Fantastic”-themed pinball machine featuring an illustration of Elton John on the machine’s main glass facing.

 
 
Living Large

Through the 1970s and 1980s Elton John soared to the top of the rock world. He played the most famous venues, became a media darling, and made millions of dollars. He also began living large as the good times flowed – “sex, drugs, and rock & roll,” as they say. But behind the success and flamboyance there were some real-life consequences that caught up with John by mid-career.

May 2019.  Life special edition: “Elton John, Rocket Man: The Songs, The Journey, The Life,” Click for copy.
May 2019. Life special edition: “Elton John, Rocket Man: The Songs, The Journey, The Life,” Click for copy.
In the 2019 film about his life, Rocketman, with Taron Egerton playing Elton, there is some coverage of the difficult days John faced as he soared to the top of the world as a famous rock star.

“Success was fantastic and then I couldn’t cope with it,” John explained in one interview about the film and his life, including his personal struggles, which he said he didn’t want covered up or glossed over in the film. “[Y]ou can’t leave out the bad,” he said, of those parts which are included in the film.

“Everyone knows I had quite a lot of [sex and drugs] during the ’70s and ’80s,” he explained during a May 2019 interview in The Guardian. “So there didn’t seem to be much point in making a movie that implied that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my hotel room with only a glass of warm milk and the Gideon’s Bible for company.”

Still, those scenes are painful for John. “…It’s difficult to watch [them in the film] because I thought, ‘God, I don’t want to go back there. Thank God I came out of it.”

In earlier interviews, John has spoken about his past excesses and his struggles with alcohol, drugs and food:

“I would have an epileptic seizure and turn blue, and people would find me on the floor and put me to bed. Then 40 minutes later I’d be snorting another line [of cocaine]…This is how bleak it was, I’d stay up, I’d smoke joints, I’d drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker and then I’d stay up for three days….I’d binge and have three bacon sandwiches, a pot of ice cream and then I’d throw it up because I became bulimic. And then go and do the whole thing all over again. That is how tragic my life was.”

“This is Elton John circa the late 1980s,” adds Time magazine, also reviewing Rocketman. “He may be one of the world’s richest and most successful rock stars, but he’s also an alcoholic, a cocaine addict and a bulimic. He’s addicted to sex and he has an anger-management problem. He loves prescription painkillers and he can’t stop shopping. He’s alternately agitated and demonically animated as he rattles off his list of flaws and vexations.” By the 1990s, John got treatment, pulled through it all, and got his head on straight.

Poster for 2019 film, "Rocketman," about the life and career of British rock star, Elton John, here recreating a scene from a famous October 1975 concert before tens of thousands at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Poster for 2019 film, "Rocketman," about the life and career of British rock star, Elton John, here recreating a scene from a famous October 1975 concert before tens of thousands at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

John also struggled with his sexuality for much of his career – married once, announced he was bisexual, then homosexual. Openly gay since 1988, he met David Furnish in 1993, a former advertising executive from Toronto, and the two began a relationship. They entered into a civil partnership in December 2005, and after same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales, they married in December 2014. Today they have two young children born with the help of a surrogate mother.
 

Elton John's estate in Berkshire, England.
Elton John's estate in Berkshire, England.
Condo-converted to art gallery in Atlanta as part of Elton John residence there. Photo, Architectural Digest.
Condo-converted to art gallery in Atlanta as part of Elton John residence there. Photo, Architectural Digest.
Elton John with some of his car collection, circa 2001.
Elton John with some of his car collection, circa 2001.

Wealth & Generosity

With his rapidly rising success in the 1970s, wealth came quickly to Elton John – and continued to come to him over the next four decades with touring, more hit songs, film and stage productions, Las Vegas performing, and legacy publishing fees and royalties.

In recent years, his personal wealth has been estimated in $250-$400 million range. A few higher estimates have been closer to $500 million. Bernie Taupin, meanwhile, is believed to have amassed an estimated $70 million fortune through his partnership with John.

In any case, Elton John’s fortune will likely get a bump up following his final concert tour. In September 2018, John began his three-year, 300-date “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” that is expected to gross something north of $400 million.

According to one touring analyst, Pollstar, John grosses about $1.4 million per tour stop. Given 300 arena shows planned on his final tour through 2020, that could translate to $420 million in ticket sales for the entire tour – leaving out tour merchandise.

Meanwhile, in terms of real estate, in addition to his main home in Berkshire, England, John also owns residences in Atlanta, London, Los Angeles, Nice and Venice.

In 1991, he bought a condo in the Buckhead area of Atanta, Georgia in the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood, starting out with a 5,000 square foot unit, then expanding into several neighboring units, making a two-story art gallery in one.

Elton John is also an art collector, and is believed to have one of the largest private photography collections in the world.

In November 2016 through May 2017, an exhibit of some of his photos ran at the Tate Museum in London under the title, “The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection.” It appears that he and partner David Furnish have agreed to donate some of these works to the nation.

Also a car collector until recent years, when in June 2001 he sold a 20-car collection of Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Jaguars through Christies that brought in nearly £2 million.

Able to burn through money with the best of them, especially as he churned up the ladder of fame, Elton John was, and continues to be, quite generous with his wealth and celebrity, using both to bring attention to various social causes and raising money for a range of charities.

In July 1985, along with others including Paul McCartney, Queen, David Bowie and U2, he performed at the Live Aid benefit concert for famine relief at Wembley Stadium in London. In 1986, he joined with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder to record the single “That’s What Friends Are For,” with all profits donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Hardback edition of Elton John’s 2012 book, Love is The Cure: On Life, Loss, and The end of Aids,” which became a best seller.  Click for copy.
Hardback edition of Elton John’s 2012 book, Love is The Cure: On Life, Loss, and The end of Aids,” which became a best seller. Click for copy.
In the 1980s, John had become quite attentive to the AIDS epidemic. In 1989, he became involved with the plight of Ryan White, a young Indiana boy who had contracted AIDS in a blood infusion and had been ostracized in his local community. John befriended and supported the boy and his family until White’s death in 1990. John was also rocked by the 1991 AIDS death of friend and fellow musician Freddie Mercury. In 1992, John established the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Since its founding, the EJAF has raised something north of $350 million for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and has become one of the largest HIV/AIDS grant-makers in the world. In addition to his AIDS work, John also supports the Breast Cancer Research Foundation as well as scholarship funding for students at the Royal Academy of Music, Wright State University, and the Juilliard School. He also has established the Elton John Charitable Fund, which has directly supported nearly 100 organizations, including the American Cancer Society and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

In 1993, he began hosting his annual Academy Award Party in Hollywood, which has become one of the highest-profile Oscar parties and has raised over $200 million.

Back in England, John annually hosts a “celebrity-must” White Tie & Tiara Ball at his Berkshire home where a typical menu might include a truffle soufflé, surf and turf, and Knickerbocker glory ice cream, followed by benefit auctions of famous artwork, rare antique automobiles, and entertainment by the likes of a Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and others. Tens of millions have been raised by these balls for the Elton John Aids Foundation. He has also hosted or participated in a number of AIDS benefit concerts. In 2012 he published the book, Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss and The End of Aids, which became a best seller.

“Candle in the Wind 1997," Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana at her passing, helped raise tens of millions for her foundation. Click for digital, CD, or vinyl.
“Candle in the Wind 1997," Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana at her passing, helped raise tens of millions for her foundation. Click for digital, CD, or vinyl.
In 1997, after Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, Elton John, who had been a very close friend of Diana’s and the Royal Family, rewrote his former 1973 “Candle in The Wind” song with Bernie Taupin adding new lyrics for Diana. This version, also using a string quartet and woodwinds, was titled “Candle in the Wind 1997”and was later released as a single at Diana’s passing. It quickly became a gigantic worldwide hit, selling more than 30 million copies. All artist and composer royalties and record company profits from the song have been donated to “The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.” By September 1999, income to that Fund was estimated at $150 million, much of it from royalties generated by sales of “Candle in the Wind 1997.”

In 2001, one month after the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, John appeared at the Concert for New York City, where he performed a memorable version of “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters”. Through the 2000s and 2010s, John has continued to lend his celebrity in support of various social causes around the world.

 

October 4, 1997.  Billboard magazine cover and tribute story, “Elton John: 30 Years of Music With Bernie Taupin.”
October 4, 1997. Billboard magazine cover and tribute story, “Elton John: 30 Years of Music With Bernie Taupin.”
The Music

Meanwhile, Elton John and Bernie Taupin have given the world an enormous musical legacy that will be enjoyed for many years into the future. After their frenetic success in the 1970s, Elton and Bernie took a two-year hiatus from each other (1979-1980), during which time they worked with other writers and artists. But not long thereafter, they resumed their partnership, co-writing several songs on the 1981 album, 21 at 33, and were back in full partnership by 1983’s Too Low for Zero album. Through the 1980s, 1990s and beyond they continued to pen many more songs.

Their work over the years has not only been musically appealing, but also bears a message or two here and there, defines personal feelings that have universal appeal, or offers a commentary on the times or the human condition. Millions of listeners who love the songs of Elton John have their own personal favorites, and listener polls, music magazine rankings, and sales data have identified a number of Elton John tunes regarded as most popular, most loved, most moving, etc..

Some of these have been the top hits, such as “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon,” “Rocket Man,” “Daniel,” and others. But also buried in the Elton John / Bernie Taupin oeuvre are songs that have not necessarily been pop hits, or even released as singles, but are nonetheless popular with listeners. Among these, might be, for example, “The Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” “Come Down in Time” (sampled earlier above), “Take Me to the Pilot”, “Razor Face” “My Father’s Gun”, “Border Song”, “Amoreena” (also sampled above), “Grey Seal”, “Funeral For a Friend”, and any number of others.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Elton John / Bernie Taupin
1973

When are you gonna come down
When are you going to land
I should have stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man

You know you can’t hold me forever
I didn’t sign up with you
I’m not a present for your friends to open
This boy’s too young to be singing the blues

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

What do you think you’ll do then
I bet that’ll shoot down your plane
It’ll take you a couple of vodka and tonics
To set you on your feet again

Maybe you’ll get a replacement
There’s plenty like me to be found
Mongrels who ain’t got a penny
Sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

Yet, of all the songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin have penned together, perhaps few are more poignant than “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” sampled below. Among his platinum-level hits, and popular globally, this song was not as big a hit as “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “Levon,” or “Your Song.” Still, it is among those John/Taupin songs that many fans and music critics single out.
 

Music Player
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
Elton John/ Bernie Taupin – 1973

 

The song and the album of the same name, use the phrase and iconic imagery from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. There, and in other historic uses dating to the 1900s and the books of Frank Baum, upon which the film is loosely based, “the road of yellow bricks” has the implied meaning of a pathway upon which one might find some kind of reward, happiness, inner peace, and/or personal redemption. At least that is the seeming promise. It is also sometimes referred to as a metaphor for “the road that leads to life’s answers” or “the road that leads to life’s fantasies”.

In the film, of course, in the land of Oz, it is the pathway to see the Wizard in the Emerald City. The Wizard is sought for his powers by Dorothy and her friends. But to make a long story short, the wizard doesn’t really have any special powers and he isn’t really a wizard.

The Wizard of Oz was reportedly the first film that Bernie Taupin had ever seen, and he used the imagery in the lyrics to relate to his own life. At the time he wrote “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” he wanted to live a more tranquil existence after experiencing the frenetic 1970s success he and John were having during the height of Elton John mania – a desire to get back to his roots. Back, perhaps, to a more real world setting. No more promised land for him; he prefers hearing the owls and ploughing the land over penthouse living and vodka and tonics.

Bernie Taupin’s lyrics in this song have the visceral power of nostalgia, of looking back, of longing for a past that is colored by the thought that it was a better time. And for many, that is a universal kind of sentiment. And Elton John’s voice and melody drive that notion deep into the listener’s emotional core. Together, the song’s moving orchestral arrangement with Elton’s powerful vocals elevate the lyrics to make this song a classic. Stewart Mason’s review of the song at AllMusic.com notes: “…Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a small masterpiece of ’70s soft rock, and a strong contender for the coveted title of John’s finest song ever.”

Elton John's “Diamonds” 3-CD set w/51 songs, issued May 2019. Click for copy.
Elton John's “Diamonds” 3-CD set w/51 songs, issued May 2019. Click for copy.
Through the 1980s and 1990s the Elton John magic continued with more hit songs – among singles, for example, have been: “Little Jeanie” (#3 US, 1980); “I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues” (#4 US, #5 UK, 1983); “I’m Still Standing (#4 UK, #12 US, 1983); “Sad Songs Say So Much”(#5 US, # 7 UK, 1984); “Passengers” (#5 UK, 1984); “Nikita” (#3 UK, #7 US, 1985); “I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That”(#2 US, 1988); “Sacrifice (#18 US, 1989 / #1 UK 1990); “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (with George Michael; #1 US & UK, 1991); “The One” (#9 US, #10 UK, 1992); “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”(#4 US, #14 UK); and, “Live Like Horses” (with Luciano Pavarotti; # 9 UK, 1996).

Elton John and Bernie Taupin have been among most successful teams in popular music. They have collaborated on more than 30 albums. A total of more than 300 million Elton John records have been sold worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. To date, he has had more than fifty Top 40 hits, as well as seven consecutive No. 1 albums in the U.S., along with 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 in the Top Ten, four at No.2, and nine at No.1. In his U.K. homeland he has scored 69 Top 40 singles, including 32 Top Tens and seven at No.1.

Philip Norman’s 2001 book, “Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography,” 592 pp,  Carroll & Graf, publisher. Click for copy.
Philip Norman’s 2001 book, “Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography,” 592 pp, Carroll & Graf, publisher. Click for copy.
After decades of success in rock and roll, John also achieved success in film musicals and on stage, composing music for The Lion King film and its stage adaptation, as well as Aida, and Billy Elliot the Musical.

In fact, in the entertainment world, Elton John is distinguished as one of that rare group who have won an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Tony.

Over his career, he has been nominated for 34 Grammy Awards, winning six including, one honorary Grammy.

In film, he has been nominated for three Academy Awards, winning once for Best Original Song for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from The Lion King (1994). And in the theater, he has been nominated for four Tony Awards, winning once for Best Original Score in 2000 for Aida.

In addition to these, he has also five Brit Awards – two for Outstanding Contribution to Music and the first Brits Icon award in 2013 for his “lasting impact on British culture”. He has also won a Golden Globe Award, a Disney Legends award, and received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2004.

Elton John – make that “Sir Elton” – has also been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to music and charitable services.” In music, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Ten years later, Rolling Stone ranked him at No. 49 on its 2004 list of 100 influential musicians of the rock and roll era. In 2018, Billboard placed him among the very top of successful solo artists on the Billboard Hot 100 – 3rd on the list of Top Artists of All Time, behind only the Beatles and Madonna and ahead of Elvis Presley. And there are still other awards, honors, collaborations, new Elton John ventures, and more. For further detail on these, see “Sources” below or visit his website at EltonJohn.com.

“Made in England,” 1995, had several popular singles and was million-seller plus. Click for CD.
“Made in England,” 1995, had several popular singles and was million-seller plus. Click for CD.
In the fall of 2019, his autobiography, Me, Elton John, is slated to be published (see below to order), and in 2020, his farewell concert tour will end. But there will likely be an Elton John song or two yet to come.

In any case, the music of Elton John – and especially those indelible John /Taupin creations of the 1970s – will live on well into the future.

See also at this website, “Candle in the Wind, 1973-1997,” about the Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana songs that John and Taupin wrote, or check out the “Annals of Music” category page for additional stories that profile artists, song histories, and the music industry.

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

 

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Date Posted: 31 May 2019
Last Update: 5 June 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Elton John’s Decade: 1970s (w/Bernie),”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 31, 2019.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Companion book to “Rocketman” film. “Inside the world of the movie” with foreword by Elton John. May 2019, 160pp. Click for copy.
Companion book to “Rocketman” film. “Inside the world of the movie” with foreword by Elton John. May 2019, 160pp. Click for copy.
Keith Hayward’s 2013 book, “Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John,” 400pp.  Click for copy.
Keith Hayward’s 2013 book, “Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John,” 400pp. Click for copy.
“Elton John: Fifty Years On. The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin,” 320pp, Post Hill Press, October 2019. Click to order.
“Elton John: Fifty Years On. The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin,” 320pp, Post Hill Press, October 2019. Click to order.
Elton John, Madison Square Garden, Oct 2000, “One Night Only - The Greatest Hits.”  Click for DVD.
Elton John, Madison Square Garden, Oct 2000, “One Night Only - The Greatest Hits.” Click for DVD.
Elton John’s partner,  film maker David Furnish, made this film during Elton’s career in 1995. Click for DVD.
Elton John’s partner, film maker David Furnish, made this film during Elton’s career in 1995. Click for DVD.
"Elton John, Greatest Hits, 1970-2002," Click for CD.
"Elton John, Greatest Hits, 1970-2002," Click for CD.

“Elton John,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 500-502.

Robert Christgau, “The Little Hooker That Could,” The Village Voice, November 24, 1975.

Robert Christgau, “Elton John,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp. 528-531.

“The 1970s,” EltonJohn.com.

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David Rensin,”Performance: Elton at the Hollywood Bowl, 9/7/73,” Rolling Stone, October 11, 1973.

“Elton John: Rock’s Captain Fantastic,” Time (cover story), July 7, 1975.

Matt Ballinger, “Times Critic Was Early Champion of Elton John,” L.A. Times Past/Tumbler.com, October 3, 2013.

Paul Sexton, “The Troubadour Nights That Changed Elton John’s Life; Why 25 August 1970 Was Such a Monumental Occasion in the Career of a Young English Singer-Songwriter,” uDiscoverMusic.com, August 25, 2018.

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Stephanie Zacharek, “A Glitter-Fueled Rocket-man Blasts Off, Time, June 3-10, 2019, pp. 93-95.

“Elton John: 20 Essential Songs,” The Tele-graph, October 20, 2015.

“Readers’ Poll: The Best Elton John Songs of All Time Your Picks Include ‘Levon,’ ‘Your Song’ and ‘Rocket Man’,” Rolling Stone, November 28, 2012.

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“Bernie Taupin,” Wikipedia.org.

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“Border Song,” Wikipedia.org.

Cal Fussman, “Bernie Taupin: What I’ve Learned,” Esquire, January 2, 2012.

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Tiny Dancer,” Wikipedia.org.

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Mark Simonian, “Bowls Hollywood Over; Elton John ‘Puts On’ Concert,” The Stanford Daily, Volume 164, Issue 4, September 27, 1973.

Elton John’s 1979 Tour of the Soviet Union,” Wikipedia.org.

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“Photos: Elton John’s Outfits Through the Years; See All the Sunglasses, Animal Costumes and Chest Hair from 1973 On,” RollingStone.com, February 2, 2011.

Kimberley Dadds (BuzzFeed Staff, UK), “The 28 Most Flamboyant Elton John Stage Costumes Ever,” BuzzFeed.com, March 5, 2014.

Doug Fox, “Inside Elton John’s Historic Sold-Out Shows at Dodger Stadium,” Ultimate ClassicRock.com, October 25, 2015.

“Dodger Stadium 1975 – Game On!,” Elton John.com, August 28, 2018.

Marc Myers, “Bernie Taupin Tells the Story Behind 1972’s ‘Rocket Man.’ Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Tale About an Astronaut, The Song Became an Unlikely Catch Phrase in Trump’s Tweets,” Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2018.

Dave Simpson, “Elton John’s 50 Greatest Songs, Ranked!,” TheGuardian.com(London), September 13, 2018.

Ed Power, “This One’s for You: The Story Behind Elton John’s Hit ‘Your Song’,” The Independent (London), November 15, 2018.

“The Boy & The Piano,” John Lewis Christmas Advert, 2018.

Roisin O’Connor, “John Lewis Christmas Ad: Elton John Tribute With ‘Your Song’ As Soundtrack Could Melt the Flintiest of Hearts,” The Independent (London), November 15, 2018.

Zack O’Malley Greenburg, “Elton John’s Retirement Tour Should Gross More Than $400 Million,” Forbes, January 24, 2018.

Jessica Napoli, “Elton John Reveals His Most ‘Difficult’ Scenes To Watch in ‘Rocketman’ Biopic,” Fox News, May 26, 2019.

Kristin Corpuz, “Elton John’s Biggest Billboard Hot 100 Hits,” Billboard.com, March 25, 2017.

Paul Sexton, “50 Years Of Diamonds From Elton John And Bernie Taupin,” uDiscover Music.com, January 24, 2018.

“Farewell Yellow Brick Road,” Wikipedia.org.

Hannah Taheri, “Top 10 Most Iconic Elton John Ensembles,” Golden1Center.com, Janu-ary 7, 2019.

Kathryn Vasel, “The World’s 10 Richest Recording Artists,” CNN Business, December 2, 2014.

Aisling Moloney, “What is Bernie Taupin’s Net Worth? Elton John’s lyricist Has Made a Serious Fortune,” MetroUK, November 13, 2017.

Ben Hirsh, “Does Elton John Really Live In Buckhead?,” Buckhead.com, May 4, 2016.

“Elton’s Photography Collection Now on Display at Tate Modern,” EltonJohn.com, November 10, 2016.

“Elton John Op-Ed on Tirelessly Fighting AIDS Through His Foundation: ‘We Have So Much Work Left to Do’,” (Cover Story), Billboard.com, October 15, 2015.

Stewart Mason, Song Review, “Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” AllMusic.com.

Rob Sheffield, “Elton John’s Greatest Non-Hits; For every “Rocket Man” or “I’m Still Standing,” There Are Countless Other Lost Gems Ripe For Rediscovery, From Stripped-Down Ballads to Decadent Glitter Epics,” Rolling Stone, February 2, 2011.

“Top 33 Forgotten / Overlooked Elton John Songs,” NeedSomeFun.net, July 4, 2017.

Billboard staff, “The Hot 100’s Top Artists of All Time,” Billboard.com, August 2, 2018.

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“100 Years To Live”
2003-2004

Sheet music cover for “100 Years,” similar to cover art used for the single, with a “life stages” timeline. Click for digtal single.
Sheet music cover for “100 Years,” similar to cover art used for the single, with a “life stages” timeline. Click for digtal single.
Cover art for “The Battle for Everything” album by Five for Fighting / John Ondrasik, released in  February 2004, includes “100 Years” song. Click for CD.
Cover art for “The Battle for Everything” album by Five for Fighting / John Ondrasik, released in February 2004, includes “100 Years” song. Click for CD.

The title of the song is “100 Years,” a popular tune from 2003. It was written and performed by John Ondrasik, who uses the stage name, Five for Fighting.

“100 Years” was the first single from his third studio album, The Battle for Everything. The single was released ahead of the album, in November 2003, but both would become million sellers.

 

Music Player
“100 Years” – Five For Fighting
(scroll down for lyrics)

“100 Years” is a song for the ages; its lyrics and composition aptly capture the wistfulness of life flying by – and the progression of life stages. And the spare but perfectly-suited instrumentation by piano, gives it a weighty poignancy and a lingering, classic appeal.

By early 2004, “100 Years” had risen to No. 28 on the Billboard pop chart. And on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, the song did better, hitting No. 1. In fact, on that chart it was the longest running No. 1 single of the year, doing so during May-September 2004. It claimed the top spot for 12 non-consecutive weeks. In December 2004, on Billboard’s end-of-the-year music chart, “100 Years” was also ranked No. 77 for the year.

“100 Years” also reached the top 40 in Australia and New Zealand, peaking at No. 32 in both countries. In 2007, the song surpassed more than 1 million copies sold, earning Platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.

“100 Years” is not so much about reaching the age of 100, or a song in praise of seeking that milestone as a goal. Rather, this is a song lamenting time’s passing – and in a fashion, about how brief a time 100 years actually is, or more exactly, how quickly all of those years actually pass by in one person’s life. The song, depending on listener, may also offer an accounting of what one has done, not done, or might have done, with those years. For the young, it is an offering of possibilities and what might be — “time to lose yourself within a morning star,” as one lyric puts it.

During 2004-2006, “100 Years” also received exposure from its use on various TV programs and movies, among them: One Tree Hill (2004), Smallville (2004), JAG (2005), Scrubs (2006), the ABC Family movie, David Heart (2004), and also during Katie Couric’s last day on the Today Show (May 31, 2006). The song was also used as musical backing for a video montage of the 2004 Stanley Cup ice hockey playoffs broadcast after game seven of the finals on Canadian TV’s Hockey Night in Canada (John Ondrasik, by the way, is a serious ice hockey fan, and his stage name, Five for Fighting, is in fact, an appropriated ice hockey phrase meaning, five penalty minutes for fighting on the ice.)

 

 

But it was the song’s use as the backing track for a 2005 Chase credit card TV commercial (above) that also boosted the song’s exposure. That ad, produced by the McGarryBowen agency of New York, ran during primetime ABC, CBS and NBC shows such as “Lost,” “Survivor,” and “Will & Grace.” Although a music video was prepared for the song, and was quite successful, the Chase TV commercial hyping its credit card services, did a pretty good job of actually capturing, visually, the essence of the song and its message.

“100 Years”
Five For Fighting
2003-2004

I’m 15 for a moment
Caught in between 10 and 20
And I’m just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

I’m 22 for a moment
She feels better than ever
And we’re on fire
Making our way back from Mars

15 there’s still time for you
Time to buy and time to lose
15, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live

I’m 33 for a moment
Still the man, but you see I’m a they
A kid on the way babe
A family on my mind

I’m 45 for a moment
The sea is high
And I’m heading into a crisis
Chasing the years of my life

15 there’s still time for you
Time to buy, Time to lose yourself
Within a morning star

15 I’m all right with you
15, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live

Half time goes by
Suddenly you’re wise
Another blink of an eye
67 is gone
The sun is getting high
We’re moving on…

I’m 99 for a moment
Time for just another moment
And I’m just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

15 there’s still time for you
22 I feel her too
33 you’re on your way
Every day’s a new day…

oooooh, oooooh, oooooh, ooh

15 there’s still time for you
Time to buy and time to choose
Hey 15, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live…

The Chase ad portrays a young male traveling through his various “life stages” – college, job, marriage, family, retirement, grandkids – life stages that are also the subject of “100 Years.” And conveniently for Chase, those life stages are also junctures of commerce when one or more type of credit card Chase issues and co-brands might be useful – such as Continental Airlines, Disney, Amazon, or AARP – each of which appears briefly as the ad runs.

The Chase commercial using “100 Years” in its soundtrack was quite well done visually, hitting all the right emotional buttons. It spurred numerous queries to the web in search of the song’s title and artist. The song and its lyrics, however, are worth a closer look.

 
Song’s Message

The narrator begins with age 15, which he describes as a time “caught between 10 and 20″ when he is “just dreaming.” And here, as a teenager, he appears to be thinking about, and forming himself, for some unknown love in his future. As John Ondrasik has recounted of his own life at that age, it was an awkward time; a time when he had no girl friend.

By age 22, however, all that bad teen angst is history, and the narrator, now in his early twenties, is flying high, and has found his love – “we’re on fire, making our way back from Mars.”

Then comes what might be called “the counseling chorus,” which is repeated later. The narrator here seems to be advising a 15 year-old – about the time he is in and the time he has left: “time to buy and time to lose” – early years, time to wonder and experiment; time to learn; a time of trial and error — but still, a time to make these early years count. “Never a wish better than this,” than to be 15 — with a full road ahead, 85 or more to go…

Back on the narrator’s life track, meanwhile, he is now 33 – “for a moment.” But now he is “a they,” he explains, a family man — “kid on the way…family on my mind.”

At 45 he finds the sea of life is “high” around him, as the years have mounted. And at this point there could be what some call “a mid-life crisis” looming. So now, perhaps, he’s beginning to chase — or reclaim/relive — some of his former self from earlier years?

Again, back to 15 when it was all there before you, really – “never a wish better than this.” Especially when “you only got 100 years to live.”

At the half-way mark there is some reflection. Travelling this far, he appears to be saying, you finally get a little knowledge and you think you’re pretty good at life’s chores and figuring it all out… But soon, 67 is gone in a blink of an eye… And you’re moving on…

By age 99, he is looking back, but still hoping for a bit more time – “time for just another moment.” Then there is a quick recap of the years rolling by – at 15, 22, 33 and more, also reminding us that “every day is a new day”… Carpe deim! But in the end, our narrator appears to be coming full circle, back to age 15, with that counseling chorus — “there’s still time for you.”

In any case, throughout his song, Ondrasik gets it right; suggesting that the sand-in-the-hour-glass slows down for no one. The years are precious intervals and we are all privileged to have those gifts of time. And in the end, it’s not how many years you live, but rather what you have made of them – and how well you have done by the people you’ve known, the family you’ve had, and your own personal truths and measures.

An image taken from the "100 Years" video, showing song author and performer John Ondrasik, along with some lyrics.
An image taken from the "100 Years" video, showing song author and performer John Ondrasik, along with some lyrics.
Music Video. In January 2004, the music video for “100 Years” came out. It would reach No. 30 on VH1’s Top 40 Music Video Countdown of 2004, spending 18 weeks on VH1’s weekly Top 20 countdown. In the video, images of John Ondrasik singing and playing the song at the piano are intercut with fictional versions of himself as a 15-year-old boy, a man in his mid-40s, a 99-year-old man, and at the end, meeting his older self.

A version of the video posted on YouTube.com has collected more than 37 million views and 11,000 comments (as of 2019), many praising the song, and some offering various takes on its lyrics and meaning. Similarly, comments on song and lyrics are also offered at SongFacts.com.

 

In January 1977, New West magazine featured “How To Make it To 100" as its cover story for a special year-end health issue.
In January 1977, New West magazine featured “How To Make it To 100" as its cover story for a special year-end health issue.
Living To 100

Living to the age of 100 has long been thought to be something of the gold standard for those born in the 20th century – though an unreachable marker for most. However, as nutrition, medicine, and genetic knowledge advance, it appears that for those born in the 21st century, living to 100 will be a distinct possibility, and not exceptional.

A growing number of Americans are now found to be living to age 100. Nationwide, the centenarian population has grown 65.8 percent over the past three decades – from 32,194 people who were age 100 or older in 1980 to 53,364 centenarians in 2010, according to new Census Bureau data (as of January 2013). Some 82.8 percent of U.S. centenarians were female.

Japan currently has the greatest number of known centenarians of any nation with 67,824 according to their 2017 census. They also have the highest proportion of centenarians at 34.85 per 100,000 people. According to the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics, one-third of U.K. babies born in 2013 are expected to live to 100.

Of course, for decades now, “living to 100” has been quite topical in the media, receiving generous play in the popular press. Periodic magazine stories, as the one above left, have appeared featuring the lives of those who have achieved the milestone, or other stories about the best way to get there, and still others on the latest science and/or dietary secrets for reaching 100.

Parade Magazine – the Sunday supplement magazine that comes with many Sunday newspapers across America – has periodically featured stories on living to 100, such as the two samples offered below. The April 5th, 2015 issue of Parade ran its cover titled “Cheater’s Guide to Living to 100.” A group of middle-aged to elderly folks were shown on that cover with small print above saying “these people are practicing two longevity boosters now. Can you name them?” And again in January 2017, Parade headlined a “Living to 100” story with the title, “Forever Young,” noting, “Your chances of living to 100 are better than ever,” and adding: “We’ve got the moves to get you there.”

The April 5th, 2015 issue of Parade with cover story, “Cheater’s Guide to Living to 100.” Click for copy.
The April 5th, 2015 issue of Parade with cover story, “Cheater’s Guide to Living to 100.” Click for copy.
Jan 22nd, 2017 issue of Parade headlining a “Living to 100” story with the title, “Forever Young”. Click for copy.
Jan 22nd, 2017 issue of Parade headlining a “Living to 100” story with the title, “Forever Young”. Click for copy.

Time magazine has also periodically visited the “living-to-100” story, or variations thereof, as the three sample covers below illustrate, these respectively, from 2004, 2010, and 2015. In August 2004 Time ran a cover story with the tagline, “How to Live To Be 100 (and not regret it)” – this last point focused on the quality of life in those elder years. In a February 2010 cover story, Time featured “The Science of Living Longer,” showing three stages of a woman’s life, from young girl to older woman. Five years later, in February 2015, Time blew past the age 100 marker, featuring a baby on the cover who Time said “could live to be 142 year old”!

Time, August 2004. Click for copy.
Time, August 2004. Click for copy.
Time, February 2010. Click for copy.
Time, February 2010. Click for copy.
Time, February 2015. Click for copy.
Time, February 2015. Click for copy.

Time, and other of the popular media, delivering stories on this subject, usually focus on the latest information from science and long-term studies. Typically, the message is that some combination of genetics, diet, and lifestyle figure into the magic formula for long life. Some of these stories also point to places such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Spain; and Nova Scotia, Canada where clusters of long-lived individuals have been studied, hoping to find their “secret sauce.” Then there are also a slew of magazines, specialized publications, and one-time editions that offer advice, counsel, and/or various products to aide those striving to reach 100. A sampling of some of these are offered below.

2018. "Live to 100", U.K. magazine.
2018. "Live to 100", U.K. magazine.
2013. "Prospect" magazine, U.K.
2013. "Prospect" magazine, U.K.
2011. Dr. Oz, "Men's Fitness".
2011. Dr. Oz, "Men's Fitness".

One U.K. magazine, Live to 100 – “dedicated to inspiring people to lead healthier lives” – has featured a Dr. Hilary Jones on its cover periodically – “Live Longer My Way!” says one of his taglines on a recent issue. Another U.K magazine, Prospect, a monthly British essay and comment magazine, ran a special issue in 2013 on living to 100, including an article by American author and radio personality, Garrison Keillor, with the billing, “Living To 100: Now It’s Normal What Will You Do?” And Dr. Oz, a well-known celebrity physician in the U.S., is shown on a Men’s Fitness cover of July 2011 for the story, “Dr. Oz Shows You How to Live to 100 (and live well).”

2007: “Healthy at 100," by John  Robbins. Click for copy.
2007: “Healthy at 100," by John Robbins. Click for copy.
2017: “The 100-Year Life,” by Gratton & Scott. Click for copy.
2017: “The 100-Year Life,” by Gratton & Scott. Click for copy.
1999: “Living to 100," by Perls & Sliver. Click for copy.
1999: “Living to 100," by Perls & Sliver. Click for copy.

In addition, a number of books have also been published on the “100 years of life” theme. Among titles released in recent years, for example, noted above, are: John Robbins’ 2007 book, Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples (384 pp., Ballantine Books); Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s 2017 book, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (424pp., Bloomsbury Business, paperback); and Thomas T. Perls and Margery Hutter Silver’s 1999 book, Living To 100: Lessons In Living To Your Maximum Potential At Any Age (304 pp., Basic Books, paperback).

 
Music Best

Song author, John Ondrasik, shown on cover of 'Five for Fighting, Live' album, which also includes a version of '100 Years'. Click for CD.
Song author, John Ondrasik, shown on cover of 'Five for Fighting, Live' album, which also includes a version of '100 Years'. Click for CD.
Publishing and the popular press may well have the corner on the market for the “how-to-get-to-100” stories and/or profiles of those who have crossed the centenarian threshold.

However, the more poignant stories, perhaps, are those that come with music, as in John Ondrasik’s “100 Years” song. And of course, his is not the only song on the subject.

One listing at SongFacts.com, for example, includes more than 180 songs that have something to do with aging or age-related themes. And periodically, some of the more thoughtful radio stations will offer special broadcasts that group songs around one or more age-related themes.

In any case, music looking back on one’s life – the joys and the trials, the loves lost and won, the wisdom gleaned or missed, and more – will always have strong appeal. And the John Ondrasik song, “100 Years,” is definitely one worth keeping on the playlist.

Readers who liked this story may also find the following stories of interest, which also sample music with related “life story” themes and lyrics, including: “Cycles” (Frank Sinatra), “What A Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong), “Life is Beautiful” (Vega 4), “Taxi” (Harry Chapin), and “In My Life” (The Beatles). 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 April 2019
Last Update: 24 April 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “100 Years To Live: 2003-2004,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 24, 2019.

____________________________________



Sources, Links & Additional Information

Former NPR producer, Neenah Ellis’s 2004 book, “If I Live to Be 100.” Click for book and/or audio edition.
Former NPR producer, Neenah Ellis’s 2004 book, “If I Live to Be 100.” Click for book and/or audio edition.
Michael Greger, M.D. and Gene Stone’s 2015 book, “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease,” Flatiron Books, 576pp. Click for book.
Michael Greger, M.D. and Gene Stone’s 2015 book, “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease,” Flatiron Books, 576pp. Click for book.

“100 Years,” Wikipedia.org.

“Five for Fighting” (John Ondrasik), Wikipe-dia.org.

JPMorgan Chase, Press Release, “Campaign Positions Chase as Company that Empowers Consumers Throughout Life’s Important Moments,” May 9, 2005, New York, NY.

“JPMorgan Makes Its ‘Choice’,” Adweek, May 9, 2005.

“Playing the ‘Heart Strings’ Card: JPMorgan Chase’s New Ad Connects with Consumers on an Emotional Level…,” U.S. Banker, July 5, 2005.

Apple/iTunes, “Commercial Success:50 Songs That Sell,” Apple.com, October 7, 2005.

Tim Nudd, “Apple Picks 50 Top Songs from Commercials,” Ad Week, October 11 2005.

“Five for Fighting – 100 Years: Music Video,” YouTube.com, posted October 2, 2009.

“100 Years by Five For Fighting,” SongFacts .com.

“Songs About Getting Older” (list of 186 songs), SongFacts.com.

Richard Corliss and Michael D. Lemonick, “How To Live To Be 100. New Research Suggests That a Long Life Is No Accident. So What Are the Secrets of the World’s Centenarians?,” Time, August 30, 2004.

Emily Brandon, “What People Who Live to 100 Have in Common; U.S. Residents in Several States Live Considerably Longer than the Rest of the Country,” U.S. News & World Report, January 7, 2013.

Bronwen Maddox, “Editorial: Living to 100,” and Cover Story, Garrison Keillor, “Living to 100. Now it’s Normal, What Will You Do?,” Prospect (U.K. magazine), March 2013.

“How Many Singaporeans Are Living to 100 Years Old?,” Population.sg, March 2016.

“More than Half of World’s Wealthy Expect to Live to 100: Survey,” Reuters.com, April 19, 2018.

John Robbins, Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, 2007, Ballantine Books, 384pp.

Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, 2017, Bloomsbury Business, paperback, 424pp.

Thomas T. Perls and Margery Hutter Silver, Living To 100: Lessons In Living To Your Maximum Potential At Any Age, 1999, Basic Books, paperback, 304pp.

_____________________________






“Two-Sport Man”
Pittsburgh’s Dick Groat

Early 1950s. Dick Groat, All-American basketball star at Duke University, became a pro baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals & Philadelphia Phillies.
Early 1950s. Dick Groat, All-American basketball star at Duke University, became a pro baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals & Philadelphia Phillies.
Dick Groat grew up in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania in the 1940s, only a few miles from the Forbes Field baseball park in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, then home of the Pittsburgh Pirates professional baseball team.

Some years later, Groat would become a key player on the famous Pittsburgh Pirates team of 1960. That team — with a roster of other key players, including Vernon Law, Bob Friend, Hal Smith, Harvey Haddix, Bill Mazeroski and others — would upset the heavily-favored New York Yankees team of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, et. al, in the World Series that year in an historic and memorable Game 7 drama.

In fact, Dick Groat, as a Pittsburgh Pirate, would become quite the standout that year – serving as the Pirate’s team captain, winning the National League batting title with an average of .325, and also collecting the 1960 National League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.

But before his baseball heroics, there was basketball, as Dick Groat had also been an All-American basketball player at Duke University in the early 1950s, a nationally=ranked player who was selected by the then Fort Wayne (and later, Detroit) Pistons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft.

And for a time, Dick Groat thought he might try to play both professional sports for a few years. But in the end, baseball won out, yet basketball always tugged at his soul.

Groat was born in November 1930, the youngest of five children. As a boy growing up in the Pittsburgh area, he played more basketball that baseball, at least initially. “I played probably 20 times more basketball than I did baseball. Nobody in my neighborhood played Little League in those days…”

Dick Groat, 1954 Pittsburgh Pirates; Topps baseball card.
Dick Groat, 1954 Pittsburgh Pirates; Topps baseball card.
The first time he really started to play baseball was during his sophomore year in high school. He honed his athletic skills at Swissvale High School, where he played both baseball and basketball, and also volleyball.

Groat was not a exceptionally big guy – just at 5′ 11’’, but had grit and athletic talent enough that he stood out among his peers. And when the colleges came after him, he chose Duke, receiving a basketball scholarship there, where he would also play baseball.

Groat excelled at Duke, becoming an All-American in both sports in 1951 and 1952. But it was his basketball play that distinguished Groat during his collegiate years. Roy Terrell of Sports Illustrated would later write of Groat’s basketball talents at Duke:

…As a scorer he was almost impossible to stop. He could hit from outside with a two-hand set shot or confound and confuse the opposition with his driving, stop-and-go dribble in close. He was one of the first to realize the value of the one-hand jump shot, and he used it; he was also an exceptional rebounder for his size, a tough defensive man and perhaps the best playmaker ever seen in the old Southern Conference.

In 1951 at Duke he was named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year. In 1952, he became the first and only player to lead the nation in both scoring and assists. In fact, some who watched him play were astonished at his production – one calculating that with his points and assists he was sometimes accounting for more than 55 percent of Duke’s points. In 1952 UPI named him National Player of the Year after he set an NCAA record with 839 points

Dick Groat of Duke University driving for the bucket during his collegiate career in a game against Temple.
Dick Groat of Duke University driving for the bucket during his collegiate career in a game against Temple.
Groat’s last home game with Duke was against North Carolina in late February 1952, a game in which he had an especially hot hand, finishing with 48 points, the most allowed in a game by the Tar Heels. Duke won that game, 94-64, and Groat was carried off the court on the shoulders of Duke students.

Groat’s 48-point performance that game, became the single-game scoring record for a Duke player. The record would stand for 36 years until December 1988 when Danny Ferry of Duke scored 58 points against Miami.

Still, in Groat’s time at Duke, the university was not keen on post-season participation of its athletic teams.

“We were 24-6 in my senior year in basketball,” Groat would recall in a later interview, “and the administration wouldn’t let us play in the NIT.”

Duke that year had upset national No. 1 West Virginia, 90-88, in the Southern Conference semifinals, but lost in the Southern Conference championship game to N.C. State, who went on to the NCAA playoffs.

In the NBA draft of April 1952, Groat was selected 3rd overall pick in round one by the Fort Wayne (later, Detroit) Pistons. He was still in college at the time, and in fact, playing his final year of college baseball that spring as well.

Dick Goat was drafted 3rd overall in the 1952 NBA draft and played briefly with the Ft. Wayne Pistons.
Dick Goat was drafted 3rd overall in the 1952 NBA draft and played briefly with the Ft. Wayne Pistons.
And on the Duke baseball team, Groat was also a standout. In 1951, he hit .386 and helped his team to the College World Series, where they won their first game against Oregon State, but dropped out of the tournament after losses to Penn State and Western Michigan.

In the next season with Duke, Groat hit .370, and was again named All American. He also led the team that year in doubles, hits, runs batted in, and stolen bases.

In his collegiate career, Groat was a two-time winner of the McKelvin Award, given to the Athlete of the Year in the Southern Conference.

Pro baseball scouts, meanwhile, had noticed Groat’s play, and by 1952, three teams were interested – the Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Giants. The Pirates had a leg up in the competition, as Pirate scouts and general manager Branch Rickey had been following Groat’s collegiate play. In fact, Groat had been invited to a workout with the Pirates in the summer while still in his junior year at Duke. Branch Rickey wanted to sign him then, offering to put him in the Pirates’ lineup the next night if he signed a contract on the spot.

But Groat said he felt an obligation to finish what he started at Duke, planning to play basketball and baseball in his senior year. But if Rickey made him the same offer a year later, he said, he’d be glad to sign with the Pirates. Rickey agreed to bide his time. A year later, a few days after the conclusion of the College World Series, Groat signed a five-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, then joining the team in New York where he played the next night at the Polo Grounds in a game against the New York Giants.

June 1952. Dick Groat, fresh from the College Baseball World Series of 1952, shakes hands with Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, after signing a baseball contract to play with the Pirates, as Groat’s father looks on.
June 1952. Dick Groat, fresh from the College Baseball World Series of 1952, shakes hands with Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, after signing a baseball contract to play with the Pirates, as Groat’s father looks on.

Groat played with the Pirates through the remaining games of the 1952 season, hitting .284 in 95 games that summer. But after the first season with the Pirates, he returned to Duke, where he planned on finishing his degree. However, the Ft. Wayne Pistons were still hot on his trail and wanted Groat to play basketball for them that fall.

But since Groat was finishing his degree at Duke in Durham, North Carolina, he had assumed that he wouldn’t be able to play in the NBA – “because they were in Fort Wayne and I was in Durham.” But the Pistons really wanted him. “They said they would fly me out for the games, so I flew out and played an exhibition and scored a bunch of points and they wanted to keep me around. So they just flew me into wherever they were playing.” Still, the hectic schedule of games on the road and classes at back Duke almost caused him to end his basketball career, as he later recalled:

“At one point… the weather grounded me in Detroit and I had to cut a class. In those days, if you cut three classes during one semester you were kicked out of the school. My father would have killed me if I didn’t graduate since I only needed nine credits, so I called the Pistons and told them that I quit. They told me that they had to have me back and that the owner would get me a private plane to get me back for my classes on time. Along with that, they doubled my salary, so I was making more in basketball than in baseball. With the new arrangement, I would play with my team on Monday and play at places like Madison Square Garden, and then I’d go to class Wednesday and then fly out to the next game….”

Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop and NL MVP in 1960, Dick Groat, is featured on the August 8th 1960 cover of Sports Illustrated - “Fiery Leader of the Pirates.” Click for copy.
Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop and NL MVP in 1960, Dick Groat, is featured on the August 8th 1960 cover of Sports Illustrated - “Fiery Leader of the Pirates.” Click for copy.
Dick Groat had a .325 batting average in 1960, helping the Pirates take the NL pennant & himself, the MVP award.
Dick Groat had a .325 batting average in 1960, helping the Pirates take the NL pennant & himself, the MVP award.
By 1961, on the heels of the Pirates’ 1960 World Series win, and his own MVP year, Groat was getting top billing alongside Mickey Mantle on the early season reports. Click for copy.
By 1961, on the heels of the Pirates’ 1960 World Series win, and his own MVP year, Groat was getting top billing alongside Mickey Mantle on the early season reports. Click for copy.
At a 1961 spring training game, Groat continued to get head- liner treatment, here with NY Yankee slugger Roger Maris.
At a 1961 spring training game, Groat continued to get head- liner treatment, here with NY Yankee slugger Roger Maris.
In May 1961, Groat continues to receive top billing along side big stars like Mantle and football great, Jim Taylor.
In May 1961, Groat continues to receive top billing along side big stars like Mantle and football great, Jim Taylor.
1960s: Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente and Dick Groat checking out the Pirate lumber. Click for signed photo.
1960s: Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente and Dick Groat checking out the Pirate lumber. Click for signed photo.

During his 1952-53 season with the Pistons, Groat played 26 games of the 69-game schedule. He scored 309 points on 100 (two-point) field goals and 109 free throws, with 86 rebounds, averaging 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. He then had two years of military service, where he continued to excel in both basketball and baseball.

During his time at the U.S. Army base in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., he led his teams to worldwide Army championships in both baseball and basketball – the first time a single U.S. Army base had won both titles in the same year.

In his Army play, Groat compiled a .362 batting average in baseball and a 35 points-per-game average in basketball.

In 1955, at the completion of his military service, Groat returned to Pittsburgh, ready to resume his two-sport pro careers with the Pistons and the Pirates.

“I honestly felt it would be all right to play both sports for a number of years.” But Pirate’s general manager Branch Rickey was not happy with that prospect. Rickey believed the two sports were different, and the demands on the human body would be too great – at a cost, Rickey believed, for the baseball side of the equation.

In trying to convince Rickey he could play both sports, Groat cited the example of Gene Conley, who pitched for the Milwaukee Braves pro baseball team in 1952 and also played pro basketball for the Boston Celtics.

“Don’t bring up Conley with me,” Rickey told Groat. “As a starting pitcher he only works every fourth or fifth day, and he’s only a backup center in basketball. You are a regular player in both baseball and basketball. I think you should realize that eventually you won’t justify your salary in either sport”. Rickey didn’t think an every-day player could do both.

Still, Groat said he had considered breaking his baseball contract in order to rejoin the Pistons, who had offered a higher salary and would also allow him to leave the team early for spring baseball training.

But in the end, Groat’s father weighed in as well. He was pretty insistent that his son stick with baseball, especially since in those years, professional baseball was considered the premiere, prestige professional sport – “America’s game.” More than either football or basketball at that time, baseball was the great American pastime. And legally, Groat had signed a five-year bonus contract with Rickey and the Pirates.

So, that was the end of Groat’s professional basketball career, but not the end of basketball in his life. More on that later. Still, Groat is one of 13 athletes who have played in the NBA and the Major Leagues.

The Pirates in the 1950s, meanwhile, were something of a doormat club in the National League, as Rickey was then on a building mission, soon to add high-caliber talent.

Rickey had come to the Pirates as General Manager in 1950, after he had made history with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 by bringing in Jackie Robinson as the first African American player in Major League baseball.

But with Pittsburgh, Rickey had some tough seasons while he tried to rebuild. In 1952, the Pirates had one of the worst seasons in major league history, finishing with 42 wins and 112 losses, 54½ games out of first place.

Rickey had previously invented the farm system with the Cardinals, and built powerful teams with both the Cardinals and the Dodgers. Now in Pittsburgh, he set out to do the same, bringing in new blood and younger players.

Among Rickey’s successful picks were pitchers Vernon Law, Bob Friend and Elroy Face, second baseman Bill Mazeroski, outfielder Roberto Clemente, drafted from Brooklyn, and Dick Groat. These players, and a few others, would form the nucleus of the Pirates’ 1960 championship club.

Groat for his part had a few tough years at the outset, but soon found his footing. At shortstop, though not endowed with exceptional speed or the strongest arm, he was a very smart defender, typically taking the right field position for each hitter.

At the plate, by 1957, Groat was the fifth best in the National League, batting .315. In 1958 he hit .300, and led the league in putouts and double plays as the Pirates finished in second place. In 1959, he again led the league in putouts and double plays and made his first of five All-Star teams. However, in the off-season that year, he was nearly traded for Roger Maris, but the deal was cancelled by manager Danny Murtaugh.

In 1960, at age 29, Groat had a banner year with the Bucs, becoming team captain. He hit for a .325 average that year with 189 hits, winning the National League batting title. By August 1960, Groat made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, with the cover tagline, “Fiery Leader of the Pirates.”

Groat would also win the National League’s Most Valuable Player trophy in 1960, and help the Pirates to their World Series victory over the NY Yankees, though having just recovered from a broken wrist.

In the Series, Groat tied Game 1 at 1-1 with a first-inning double and scored to give Pittsburgh the lead, eventually winning that game 6-4, with Groat turning a double play to end the game. In Game 7, he had an RBI single and scored in the 8th inning, in which the Pirates scored 5 runs to take a 9-7 lead, eventually winning that game and the Series on Bill Mazeroski’s famed walk-off home run.

In 1961 Groat batted .275, and together with Mazeroski led the league in double plays. In 1962 he batted .294, finishing third in the league in doubles with 34, also leading the league in putouts, assists, and double plays.

But in November 1962, Dick Groat was caught by surprise, as then general manager Joe L. Brown, in need of pitching support, traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Don Cardwell.

July 22, 1963: Dick Groat on the cover of Sports Illustrated – “A Hitting Shortstop On a Hard-Hitting Team.” Click for copy.
July 22, 1963: Dick Groat on the cover of Sports Illustrated – “A Hitting Shortstop On a Hard-Hitting Team.” Click for copy.
October 1964: St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat and pitcher Bob Gibson celebrate the 1964 World Series championship. (Sports Illustrated photo).
October 1964: St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat and pitcher Bob Gibson celebrate the 1964 World Series championship. (Sports Illustrated photo).
April 18, 1966. Dick Groat on the cover of Sports Illustrated showing his "hit-and-run" form, then thought to be a help to the Phillies pennant hopes. Click for copy.
April 18, 1966. Dick Groat on the cover of Sports Illustrated showing his "hit-and-run" form, then thought to be a help to the Phillies pennant hopes. Click for copy.
1967. Groat in his final season with the San Francisco Giants.
1967. Groat in his final season with the San Francisco Giants.

In St. Louis…

Dick Groat was deeply hurt by the trade to St. Louis, having set his sights on possibly coaching and managing in Pittsburgh after his playing years.

“I was heartbroken to hear that I had been traded. Pittsburgh is my hometown and I never wanted to leave. It’s the greatest city in the world and I never wanted to leave. That was one of the toughest winters that I’ve ever spent….”

In fact, for a time after the trade to St. Louis, Groat severed all contact with the Pirate organization (though later restored in 1990 after a team reunion).

In St. Louis, though, Groat became a key member of one of the best hitting infields ever assembled , including Ken Boyer at third base, Groat at shortstop, Julian Javier and Bill White at first)

By July 1963, Sports Illustrated was praising Groat’s play: “Groat, still the same deadly opposite-field hitter he was when he won the National League batting title in 1960, uses a log for a bat and merely slaps the ball wherever it is pitched.”

Groat would later say of his first year in St. Louis, “… I had the best year of my career in 1963 with the Cardinals. I hit in front of Stan Musial the whole season and I had never seen so many good pitches to hit.”

Groat finished finished fourth in the National League that year with a .319 batting average – just seven points off the top average that year – compiling 201 hits. He also led the league with 43 doubles, and was third in triples with 11. And in a year when Los Angeles Dodger pitching sensation, Sandy Koufax, was striking out everything in sight and would win the National League’s MVP award, Dick Groat was the runnerup for that award. He also earned an All-Star appearance that year.

In 1964 he batted .292 for the pennant-winning Cardinals, also leading the league in assists and double plays and making his last All-Star team.

In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, he reached base on Bobby Richardson’s error in the sixth inning of Game 4, and scored on Ken Boyer’s grand slam in the 4-3 St. Louis victory. Groat also tagged out Mickey Mantle in the third inning of that game on a pickoff play. He scored in the 3-run tenth inning of Game 5, a 5-2 win, and had an RBI groundout in the final 7-5 win in Game 7.

 
To Philadelphia

After hitting .254 for the Cardinals in 1965, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in a six-player deal. The Phillies that year were a good prospect for a National League pennant, according to Sports Illustrated, and Groat, a good hit-and-run man, was seen as someone who could help them get there.

The Phillies finished in the top half of the National League that year, in fourth place, at 87 and 75. Dick Groat hit .265 for the year, and his contract was sold midway through the next season, in June 1967, to the Giants (by then in San Francisco). He then split that 1967 season between the Phillies and the San Francisco Giants, ending his career that year with a .156 average in 44 games.

In his Major League baseball career, spanning 14 years and some 1,929 games, Dick Groat compiled a .286 batting average with 2,138 hits, 39 home runs, 829 runs scored, 707 runs batted in, 352 doubles, and 14 stolen bases. He made five all-star teams and won two World Series rings, one with the Pirates (1960) and St. Louis Cardinals (1964).

At the end of his playing career, Dick Groat returned to the Pittsburgh area. For many years when he played baseball, Groat had worked during the off-season as a salesman for Jessup Steel in Washington, Pennsylvania. But in 1965 he took a new direction. Groat and former Pirates teammate Jerry Lynch built a public golf course, called Champion Lakes, in the Laurel Valley, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. And for some years thereafter, Groat would spend a good deal of time living at Champion Lakes and managing day-to-day operations there.

 
Back to Basketball

But then in 1979, a new opportunity came Groat’s way – one that brought him back to his first love, basketball. That’s when the University of Pittsburgh reached out to him about becoming a broadcaster for the Pitt men’s games in Division 1 NCAA play. He didn’t hesitate on the offer.

2018. Groat being honored at a Duke-Pitt basketball game.
2018. Groat being honored at a Duke-Pitt basketball game.

Dick Groat was then in his version of basketball heaven! For the next 40 basketball seasons, Groat was a Pitt Panthers’ radio sportscaster, alongside partner Bill Hillgrove.

In March 2019, his tenure as a Pitt broadcaster was ended at age 88, though feeling he still had a few more seasons left. But Dick Groat was always grateful for the experience, saying at one point:

2015. Honored on Duke-Pitt program.
2015. Honored on Duke-Pitt program.
“I could have never pictured myself becoming a broadcaster, but thank God that this has happened because it’s an absolute joy to me and I’ve loved every minute of it. I love college basketball. It was my first love. And just being around all of the kids keeps me young. Every day that I walk into a basketball arena is a joy to me.”

And over the years in Pittsburgh, and on the road, there have been special moments for Groat, some commemorating his basketball feats of the past, and others celebrating reunions with former baseball teammates, and various other special events where he has been honored.

In 2007, Groat was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Four years later, in 2011 he was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. With that induction, he became the first man ever inducted into both the college basketball and college baseball halls of fame.

In March 2014, at the opening day of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season, Groat was there at PNC Park along with Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen as honored guests. In mid-January 2015, when Pitt played Duke at the Cameron Indoor Stadium, a photo of Dick Groat of 1952 dribbling down court was featured on the game’s program cover. Back in Pittsburgh, meanwhile, in mid-2018, the City Council announced that “Dick Groat Day” would be celebrated on June 12, 2018. For Dick Groat, the years have been mostly kind, filled with a two-sport collection of many fans and many fine memories.

Duke University's hot young guard, Dick Groat (#10), eluding Temple defenders, and taking the ball to the bucket, early 1950s.
Duke University's hot young guard, Dick Groat (#10), eluding Temple defenders, and taking the ball to the bucket, early 1950s.

Readers of this story may also find “The Mazeroski Moment” of interest — a story about the famous 1960 World Series games between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees, including background on each team’s 1960 season, key players, and review of the seven World Series games, with photos. See also the “Annals of Sport” category page for additional sports stories. And basketball fans may also find these stories of interest: “Basketball Dollars: NCAA History,” about how NCAA tournament basketball has grown in recent years to become a big money and big media enterprise; and “Bill Bradley, 1960s-2009,” about the former Princeton and New York Knicks basketball star who went on to become a U.S. Senator, presidential candidate, and author of several best-selling books.

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: 22 March 2019
Last Update: 22 March 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Two-Sport Man: Pittsburgh’s Dick Groat,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 22, 2019.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Dick Groat/ Frank Dascenzo 1978 book, "Groat: I Hit and Ran," Moore Publishing. Click for book.
Dick Groat/ Frank Dascenzo 1978 book, "Groat: I Hit and Ran," Moore Publishing. Click for book.
Dick Groat / Bill Surface 1961 book, "The World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates," Coward-McCann. Click for book.
Dick Groat / Bill Surface 1961 book, "The World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates," Coward-McCann. Click for book.

Walter Bingham, “Dick Groat and His Hitting Machine,” Sports Illustrated, July 22, 1963.

William Leggett, “Whose Turn in the Fratricidal National?,” Sports Illustrated, April 18, 1966.

Associated Press, “His First Sport: Ferry’s 58 Points Broke Duke Record Few Realized That Ex-Pirate Dick Groat Held,” Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1988.

Bill Brill, “Duke-UNC Memories: Dick Groat,” Blue Devil Weekly, March 5, 2004.

Steve Treder, “The Branch Rickey Pirates (Part 3: 1951-1952),” The Hardball Times, March 31, 2009.

Joseph Wancho, “Dick Groat,” Society for American Baseball Research, 2013.

Johnny Moore, “An Interview With Former Two-Sport Star Dick Groat,” GoDuke (The Magazine), June 6, 2014.

Al Yellon, “Cubs Historical Sleuthing: All-Star Edition” (There aren’t too many photos around of this game), BleedCubbieBlue.com, February 17, 2018.

Christine Coleman, “Cardinals Throwback Thursday: Basketball Stars Bob Gibson and Dick Groat,” AaronMilesFastball.com, March 20, 2014.

Chip Alexander, “He Twice Won the World Series. But Before That, He Was a Duke Basketball Star,” NewsObserver.com, January 23, 2018.

Ben Hamrick, “Baseball Legend and Pride of Swissvale,” Pittsburgh.com, June 6, 2016.

Brian Rzeppa, “An Interview With Pittsburgh Sports Legend Dick Groat,” BucsDugout.com, February 4, 2016.

James Crabtree-Hannigan, “Pittsburgh City Council Names June 12, 2018, ‘Dick Groat Day’ To Honor Pitt Broadcaster,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 12, 2018.

Ron Cook, “Ron Cook: Dick Groat is The Best Athlete To Come Out of Western Pennsylvania,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 13, 2018.

Jerry DiPaola, “In 40th and Final Year, Dick Groat Reflects on Broadcasting Pitt Basketball,” TribLive.com, March 13, 2019.

“Dick Groat,” Wikipedia.org.

“Guide to the Dick Groat Collection, 1948-1955,” David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Duke University.

 
________________________________
 





“Nixon-Related Stories”
Topics Page: 1950s-2000s

Republican Crisis

“Nixon’s Checkers Speech”

September 1952

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

Post Watergate

“The Frost-Nixon Biz”

1977-2009

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

Politics & Celebrity

“1968 Presidential Race”

Republicans

Celebrity support — from John
Wayne to Billy Graham —
helped Nixon win in ’68.

On Nixon’s List

“Enemy of the President”

1970s

Cartoonist Paul Conrad
draws the ire
of Richard Nixon.

Music & Republican Wrath

“White Rabbit”

Grace Slick: 1960s

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

Politics & Protest

“Four Dead in O-hi-o”

1970

Kent State tragedy
comes with Nixon’s
Cambodia incursion.

Kennedy vs. Nixon

“JFK’s 1960 Campaign”

Primaries & Fall Election

While the focus here
is JFK, Richard Nixon
was his main opponent.

Politics & Publishing

“The Pentagon Papers”

1967-2018

A ‘freedom-of-the-press’
story & the beginning of
Richard Nixon’s downfall.

Nixon & The Environment

“Santa Barbara Oil Spill”

Union Oil: 1969

Oil blowout generates
pressure on Nixon
for ban & tougher regs.

Nixon & The Environment

“Burn On, Big River…”

Cuyahoga Fire: 1969

River’s burning spurs
Congress, Nixon and
Earth Day 1970.



Please Support
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Date Posted: 16 March 2019
Last Update: 16 March 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Nixon-Related Stories, Topics Page:
1950s-2000s,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 16, 2019.

____________________________________





“Buffalo Creek Disaster”
Coal Dams Fail: 1972

In the early morning hours of Saturday, February 26th, 1972, after three days of rain, a series of coal slurry impoundments in the upper reaches of the Buffalo Creek watershed in Logan County, West Virginia, were beginning to weaken. They were filled to capacity, holding tons of coal wastewater. The dams, built of coal slag wastes, were then owned by the Pittston Coal Company. Coal waste dumping had gone on there for decades, up in the hills, at the headwaters of the Buffalo Creek. But in the valley below, Buffalo Creek ran for about 17 miles where some 5,000 people lived in a string of 16 small towns built along the valley’s bottom lands. When the impoundments up in the hills gave way that February morning, a tsunami-like wall of thick, black coal wastewater went crashing down the hollow, wiping out homes and lives.

Feb 28, 1972. Headlines of the 'Charleston Daily Mail' of Charleston, WV reporting early death toll of 66 people killed during the Buffalo Creek flood disaster, the result of a giant “coal waste” wall of water from failed “gob” dams high in the hills upstream, also showing houses tossed about in the ravaged watershed. Actual death toll would be 125, nearly twice early reports.
Feb 28, 1972. Headlines of the 'Charleston Daily Mail' of Charleston, WV reporting early death toll of 66 people killed during the Buffalo Creek flood disaster, the result of a giant “coal waste” wall of water from failed “gob” dams high in the hills upstream, also showing houses tossed about in the ravaged watershed. Actual death toll would be 125, nearly twice early reports.

Residents were just awakening that Saturday morning; some entire families were still in bed. In the end, more than 125 people were killed, at least 1,000 injured, and some 4,000 left homeless. The headlines the next day played the catastrophe as a flood disaster, as there had been heavy rain. Yet, as all who lived in those parts knew well, this was a coal disaster, not an “act of God,” as the coal company would later claim.

Some residents in the area, especially those who lived in the town of Saunders, located in the valley directly below the dams, had worried for years about the dams’ strength. They also worried about the mining practice of dumping coal mining “slag” or “gob”– coal mining waste – into the dams. One resident had even written to the governor a few years earlier saying if something wasn’t done about the dams, “we’re all going to be washed away.”“We saw the water lift up our house. When the water set it down again, it just flattened out on the ground. The water was there, and then it was gone…”    – Edna Baisden And on the morning of February 26, 1972, just after 8:00 am, that worst fear was realized.

The huge wall of coal wastewater was 30 feet high and 550 feet wide as it gauged its way down the hollow, first smashing through Saunders and then, successively through Pardee, Lorado, Londale, and a dozen other small villages in the narrow creek valley.

The moving wall of wastewater did its damage in seconds, in repeated fashion, as it moved down the hollow. “We saw the water lift up our house,” said Enda Baisden Short, recalling for The Herald Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia that she and her husband had run from their home early that Saturday morning just prior to coal waste flood. “When the water set it down again, it just flattened out on the ground. The water was there, and then it was gone.”

As the wave moved down the mountain valley it wiped out much of what stood in its path. Some residents in higher hilltop homes overlooking Buffalo Creek, watched as entire houses floated down the hollow, some later crashing into a small bridge downstream. One resident at the scene, later quoted in in Kai T. Erikson’s book, Everything in Its Path, noted of the onrushing tide: “This water, when it came down through here, it acted real funny. It would go this way on this side of the hill and take a house out; take one house out of all the rows, and then go back the other way. It would just go from one hillside to the other…”

Map of Buffalo Creek communities in 1972 shown with disaster summary inset. Sources: “The Herald Dispatch,” newspaper of Huntington, WV, Thomas Marsh, and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Map of Buffalo Creek communities in 1972 shown with disaster summary inset. Sources: “The Herald Dispatch,” newspaper of Huntington, WV, Thomas Marsh, and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

The black wall of water was later estimated to have moved at a rate of seven feet per second. In addition to its coal debris, the slurry wave picked up an abrasive and destructive mixture of semi-rotten trees, rocks, and sediment as it went, gouging out the land and becoming a more lethal force capable of battering and sweeping away all in its path. It ripped homes from their foundations, swept up cars, mobile homes, and bridges, and even left twisted rail lines in a few places before it finished its destructive run over 17 miles to the Guyandotte River.

One retired coal miner who survived the flood, but who lost his wife, daughter and granddaughter in the disaster, explained what he experienced in one Charleston Gazette account: “…How I got out of that water, I don’t know… I rode the house a long ways. Then I fell off in the water. I finally caught hold of the railroad with one hand and pulled my myself out. As I rode that house down the creek I could see that the bottom of it was above those telephone poles in the holler.”

February 1972.  Aerial photograph from 'The Herald Dispatch' (Huntington, WV) captures some of the enormous damage in the Buffalo Creek valley, showing collection of homes uprooted and floated down the valley, covering roads and rail lines.
February 1972. Aerial photograph from 'The Herald Dispatch' (Huntington, WV) captures some of the enormous damage in the Buffalo Creek valley, showing collection of homes uprooted and floated down the valley, covering roads and rail lines.

Rescue operations and accurate reporting of the dead and missing were made difficult by the fact that access to the area by road had been wiped out, with bridges destroyed and rail lines blocked or flooded. A few helicopters were used initially until local miners and others, and the National Guard, began clearing debris and building makeshift roads and bridges.

Robert Shy, among those in the West Virginia Army National Guard who helped during the crisis, flew helicopters up and down the valley delivering water and milk and picking up dazed and injured survivors. “It just broke your heart to see firsthand the devastation that water could do,” he would tell a Herald Dispatch reporter. “Roads weren’t where they used to be, nor were houses. Railroad rails were twisted, cars were everywhere, bridges were on the roads instead of over the creek.”

February 28, 1972. An early New York Times story filed from Man, West Virginia, implicated 'coal waste pile' in its reporting on the Buffalo Creek disaster, along with a photo of some of the local damage.
February 28, 1972. An early New York Times story filed from Man, West Virginia, implicated 'coal waste pile' in its reporting on the Buffalo Creek disaster, along with a photo of some of the local damage.

The news of the Buffalo Creek Disaster broke variously across the nation the next few days, in part due to the difficulty of getting to the site. The New York Times ran an Associated Press wire story on the front page of its Sunday, February 27th, 1972 edition, above the fold, bearing the headline, “37 Killed as Flood Sweeps A Valley in West Virginia.” The opening sentence of that story read: “A huge, coal-slag heap serving as a dam burst under the pressure of three days of torrential rains early this morning, sending a wall of water through a narrow valley dotted with small impoverished mining towns.” The Times’ own reporter, George Vecsey, based in Kentucky, managed to reach Man, West Virginia on February 27th, filing his story (above) which appeared in the next day’s edition. UPI photographer Leo Gardner, one of the first outsiders to reach the area reported, “Lorado was wiped out.” Another early report from the devastation noted: “52 bodies lying on both sides of the road running alongside Buffalo Creek.” Some drowned in the floodwaters, while others were buried by landslides, as a thick muck had moved along with the coal water.

Feb 27, 1972.  Headlines from 'The Springfield Republican' of Massachusetts, report on the 'W.Va. Dam Break'.
Feb 27, 1972. Headlines from 'The Springfield Republican' of Massachusetts, report on the 'W.Va. Dam Break'.
The Charleston Gazette of February 1972 reporting on the early flood death total, with front-page photo of damaged homes thrown about on the valley floor.
The Charleston Gazette of February 1972 reporting on the early flood death total, with front-page photo of damaged homes thrown about on the valley floor.
Associated Press wire story reporting "400 missing" in a front-page story that ran in The Tuscaloosa Times newspaper in Alabama.
Associated Press wire story reporting "400 missing" in a front-page story that ran in The Tuscaloosa Times newspaper in Alabama.
Feb 28, 1972, The Logan Banner of Logan, WV reports on the search for victims, relief effort, and first-hand accounts.
Feb 28, 1972, The Logan Banner of Logan, WV reports on the search for victims, relief effort, and first-hand accounts.

The Springfield Republican newspaper of of Springfield, Massachusetts ran a wire story from United Press International (UPI) on the front page with the headline: “80 to 90 Feared Dead in W. Va. Dam Break; Mining Town ‘Wiped Out’.” That story shared the front page with other national and regional news that day, picturing U.S. Senator Ed Muskie (D-NH) in one photo, then running for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, shown campaigning ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

At one point, West Virginia Governor Arch Moore, complaining that the state’s image was getting a bad rap from the media, closed the Buffalo Creek area to reporters. But West Virginia newspapers in the area were covering the tragedy closely, as the grim business of accounting for the dead, injured, and homeless continued. Still, the reported number of dead and missing varied with each day’s news reports, a reflection of the difficulty in finding and identifying bodies in the aftermath.

Later accounts from survivors would describe some of the horrendous moments that families faced as the coal flood tore through the valley.

Roland Staten, a coal miner who had managed to jump off of his house as it was being carried away by the rushing waters, held on to his son as he jumped. But his pregnant wife couldn’t get out; she was trapped in the house. In a court statement later, Mr. Staten recounted his travail and losing his wife: “When I looked back and saw her she said, ‘Take care of my baby.’…That’s the last time I saw her.”

Mr. Staten and his son, meanwhile, swept along in the water, were struggling to save themselves. “I was thrown from side to side and crushed,” he recounted, “my insides was crushed so hard it just seemed my eyeballs was trying to pop out, and… I couldn’t get my breath at all. Somewhere along there I lost that boy of mine. I don’t know where. By that time he had stopped screaming and drunk so much water and everything – I don’t what happened to him.”

Alvid Davis was working outside his home in the community of Stowe when he looked up and saw the flood waters coming, according to an Associated Press report of February 28, 1972. Davis managed to rescue two of his sons, and his neighbors helped pull his 17-year-old daughter from the waters two miles down the hollow. But his youngest son and daughter and his wife were among the missing. “My daughter said she had heard my wife praying when the waters hit the house,” said Davis, later recounting his travail.

Wallace Adkins of Robinette, tried to escape the on-rushing wall of water by loading up his family car. But the water-soaked engine would not start, and as he reached for his wife, the flood “just carried her away.” Adkins did manage to hold onto one daughter and two sons, but his wife and two other children could not be located.

Another survivor and eye witness recounted what he saw to a Logan Banner reporter: “…It was throwing houses around like matchstems and it was picking up cars like they were eggshells…”

Two other witnesses reported to the Logan Banner that they “saw bodies getting hung in trees… The water was black and it was carrying homes and timber…” Another man added: “I just didn’t believe I would see that much water and houses floating down the creek. Men and women, children and animals were …floating in that high wall of water.”

Those who survived saw corpses everywhere. Hundreds of families lost everything — their homes, their belongings, their memorabilia. An accounting of the disaster, and multiple investigations, would then proceed to piece together what had happened there, focused on the coal mining and dam building.

A Pittston Coal Group decal sticker listing some of the company's mining locations in the VA-WV area.
A Pittston Coal Group decal sticker listing some of the company's mining locations in the VA-WV area.


Mining & Dumping

The first coal mining in the Buffalo Creek watershed dated to the 1910s when a few “coal camps” – small mining towns – sprang up following the first rail lines into the area to exploit the coal there. Through the 1940s coal mining and coal washing – including dumping coal refuse and coal wash water – occurred in the area of the Middle Fork, one of three headwater streams that formed Buffalo Creek. By 1957, the Buffalo Mining Company, as part of its strip mining operations, began dumping “gob” — mine waste consisting of mine dust, shale, clay, low-quality coal, and other impurities — into the Middle Fork branch.

In 1960, Buffalo Mining had constructed its first gob dam, or impoundment, near the mouth of Middle Fork in 1960. Six years later, it added a second dam, 600 feet further upstream. And by 1968, the company was dumping more gob at a third location, another 600 feet upstream. But this dam – dam No. 3 – had been built on top of coal slurry sediment that had collected behind the earlier dams 1 and 2, not on solid bedrock. By 1972, the third dam ranged from 45-to-60 feet in height, and the Middle Fork had become a series of black pools.

The three dams also served as something of a crude pollution-prevention system: filtering, settling out, and retaining the dirty prep plant particles and toxins found in the coal wastewater, also enabling some reuse of the water in processing. Downstream, the coal wastewater — theoretically “filtered” through the dams – would then emerge in a “cleaner” state in Buffalo Creek and beyond. But the dam pools, and the dumping of the solid slag wastes on the dam structures, were both essentially cost-saving, “cheapest-way-to-do-it” coal industry practices. Additionally, on one side of the valley below Dam #1, there was a huge smoldering coal refuse pile.

Aerial photograph used during investigation of  Buffalo Creek Disaster, showing the approximate locations of the three coal waste “gop” dams, and the path taken by coal slurry flood wave on its destructive run downstream.
Aerial photograph used during investigation of Buffalo Creek Disaster, showing the approximate locations of the three coal waste “gop” dams, and the path taken by coal slurry flood wave on its destructive run downstream.

The dams themselves were certainly not state-of-the-art construction. According to one assessment at the time: “These impromptu structures were hardly dams in any technical sense… They were simply piles of coal waste, clay, shale, red dog, and other by-products of the coal preparation process, dumped off the back of trucks and bulldozed to an even height. Many in the downstream communities were keenly aware of the unstable nature of these impoundments, and expressed their concern to government officials….” In fact, there had already been signs of trouble at the dams, which should have raised alarms and efforts at corrective construction.

In March 1967, a partial collapse at one of the dams caused some flooding in the hollow, alarming residents already concerned about the structures. State officials requested a few minor alterations to the impoundment. And that same year, 1967, the U.S. Department of the Interior had warned state officials that the Buffalo Creek dams – and 29 others throughout West Virginia – were unstable and dangerous.“[I]f you don’t do some-thing, we’re all going to be washed away.”
    – Pearl Woodrum letter, Feb 1968
Interior’s study had been prompted by a coal dam failure in Aberfan, Wales in 1966 – a catastrophe that had killed 147 people, including 116 school children.

In February 1968, Saunders resident Mrs. Pearl Woodrum wrote a letter of complaint to then Governor Hulett Smith saying in effect, the dams were unsafe. “[I]f you don’t do something,” she wrote, prophetically, “we’re all going to be washed away.” Her letter did bring a state inspector to visit the dams. He reported there was no danger of a washout of Dam No. 1. However, he did question the ability of the overflow pipes in Dam No. 2 to handle excessive runoff. A search of Public Service Commission records in response to Pearl Woodrum’s complaint failed to produce any proof that dams No.1 and No. 2 had ever been formally approved by the state. In March 1968, DNR notified the Logan County Prosecuting Attorney of Pearl Woodrum’s letter, but no action was taken at the local level or by the state.

By June 1970, Pittston had acquired the Buffalo Mining Company. But before the acquisition, Pittston engineers had reportedly surveyed the Buffalo Mining property, and according to company officials who later testified: “Our reports had no indication that there was any danger, or that anything was wrong with the impoundments . . .”In 1971, Pittston was cited for over 5,000 safety violations at its mines nationally. At the time of Pittston’s acquisition of Buffalo Mining, Dam No. 3 was under construction and about 50 percent completed.

Less than a year later, in February 1971, Dam No. 3 failed. However, in this case, Dam No. 2 held and halted the water. The state then cited Pittston for violations but failed to follow up with inspections. Pittston by then had developed a reputation for poor safety practices, and was ranked second nationally in the number of fatal and non-fatal mine accidents. In fact, the company was cited for over 5,000 safety violations at its mines nationally in 1971. But the company challenged each of the violations and paid only $275 of the $1.3 million in fines originally proposed.

Pittston was also the fifth largest corporate landowner in the Appalachian region at the time, holding nearly 375,000 acres. It also held coal reserves of 1.5 billion tons, mostly high-grade metallurgical coal used in steel-making. Beyond coal, and headquartered in New York City, Pittston had other diverse holdings – an oil company, a large trucking firm, the Brink’s armored car company, and forty percent of the warehouses in New York City.

February 1972. Some of the flood damage in the aftermath of the Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia, showing "mud line" on damaged home, indicating approximation of flood levels for some structures, while others were carried away in the wave or disintegrated into pieces.
February 1972. Some of the flood damage in the aftermath of the Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia, showing "mud line" on damaged home, indicating approximation of flood levels for some structures, while others were carried away in the wave or disintegrated into pieces.

As of February 1st, 1972, dam No. 3 was being filled at a rate of about 1,000 tons of refuse a day, carried from the coal preparation plant to the dam in 30-ton trucks. The company was operating eight mines in the vicinity and ran all the coal through the preparation plant above the dams. The plant was pumping about 500 tons of water-saturated waste into the pond behind dam No. 3 every day. A few weeks later, on February 22nd, a federal mine inspector and the company safety engineer observed the dams and found conditions satisfactory. Three days later, on February 25, with heavy rain, the water behind dam No. 3 was rising one or two inches per hour. The next day, February 26th, at 1:30 a.m. the water was twelve inches from the dam’s crest and oozing through the dam’s surface. Not long thereafter, the dam gave way, creating the horror that unfolded for the Buffalo Creek communities downstream.


Surveying The Damage

As the skies cleared on Sunday, February 27, West Virginia’s Governor, Arch Moore toured the area by helicopter, describing the “awesome destruction” he viewed from above. President Richard Nixon, then in China, had contacted Moore by phone to promise Federal disaster aid. Army personnel, the Red Cross, state and county officials were all on the scene by then as well, trying to feed, clothe and comfort survivors. A temporary morgue was set up at an elementary school in the town of Man.

A helicopter hovers over one location in the Buffalo Creek valley, surveying the damage in the aftermath of the coal dam failures and devastating flood of February 26, 1972. Note mud lines on the building at left, marking flood level.
A helicopter hovers over one location in the Buffalo Creek valley, surveying the damage in the aftermath of the coal dam failures and devastating flood of February 26, 1972. Note mud lines on the building at left, marking flood level.

U.S. Congressman Ken Hechler (D-WV)), who also came to the area on Sunday, February 27th, told reporters that the U.S. Bureau of Mines and state agencies had “failed to demonstrate sufficient concern for the protection of the safety of the people who work in the mines and live in the mining communities.” Hechler also pointed to what he believed was a contributing cause of the flooding: “As I looked through Buffalo Creek valley yesterday, it struck me again that the entire valley is honeycombed with strip mines and the waste from deep mines so that the soil can no longer hold the [rain] water.” Hechler also slammed the coal industry’s power in the area, saying, “the people are prisoners of the coal industry…” And with some irony, he added, “the only building left intact in one Buffalo community was the company store.”

Crowd of onlookers in the distance surveys the enormous debris field jammed up against a downstream bridge following the Buffalo Creek coal flood. Some survivors reported homes exploding or splintering apart with the wave's impact. Gazette-Mail/L. Pierce.
Crowd of onlookers in the distance surveys the enormous debris field jammed up against a downstream bridge following the Buffalo Creek coal flood. Some survivors reported homes exploding or splintering apart with the wave's impact. Gazette-Mail/L. Pierce.

On Monday, February 28th, U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV) visited Man High School, a temporary refugee location for Buffalo Creek survivors. Tempers flared there as one local man tore into Randolph. “I told you this was going to happen,” he said, “I told you.“ He had voted for Randolph, but was frustrated with the political process and how the locals were regarded by most politicians. He believed most local people didn’t tell Randolph and other politicians how they really feel. “You build them up with a bunch of political propaganda…..,” he said, also suggesting that the “coal operator’s money” installed the politicians in Washington, and then, “you don’t care nothing about us.”

February 1972. The Charleston Gazette reporting on the rising death toll of the Buffalo Creek Disaster and Pittston’s PR office calling the disaster an “act of God”.
February 1972. The Charleston Gazette reporting on the rising death toll of the Buffalo Creek Disaster and Pittston’s PR office calling the disaster an “act of God”.


“Act of God”

Not long after the dams had burst, and the flood waters had raged through the Buffalo Creek communities, Pittston’s New York public relations office, attempting to absolve the company from legal responsibility, issued a news release stating that the flood was “an act of God.” The dam, said the Pittston officials, was simply “incapable of holding the water God poured into it.”

At a protest meeting held in the Buffalo Grade School in Accoville a month after the flood, an older woman stood up and shouted out: “I’ve lived up at the top of the hollow for a long time. And I ain’t never seen God up there driving no bulldozer dumping slate on that dam.” Her remarks won applause from most everyone in the room. Robert Weedall, West Virginia’s climatologist, noted in later remarks that yes, “Act of God is a legal term,” but there were other perhaps more apt legal terms that might apply to what had happened in Buffalo Creek, such as “involuntary manslaughter” or “criminal negligence.” The record, however, would prove that “acts of man” had everything to do with what happened at Buffalo Creek.

WV Governor, Arch Moore.
WV Governor, Arch Moore.


Investigations

By March 2, Republican Governor Arch Moore announced the formation of an Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry to investigate the flood. Its nine members, however, were either sympathetic to the coal industry, or government officials whose departments might have been complicit in the dams’ failures. After then-president of the United Mine Workers Union, Arnold Miller and others were rebuffed by Gov. Moore regarding their request that a coal miner be added to the commission, a separate Citizens’ Commission was formed to provide an independent review of the disaster.

“The current members of [the Governor’s] panel are either oriented to coal or apologists for the tragedy, so we are creating our own commission of 19 residents to take testimony from eyewitnesses,” said Pat McClintock at the time. McClintock was a field worker for the Black Lung Association, an organization focused on the debilitating disease common to miners. “We do not see this as a disaster in a vacuum,” he said, “but a series of events of coal dominating the lives of West Virginians.”

Both the Governor’s Commission and the Citizens’ Commission set about their investigations, and each group began holding public hearings and collecting information regarding the disaster. But these weren’t the only investigations; there were also several others, including: one or more Congressional committees, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

March 5, 1972.  Ralph Nader letter to Congressional committees raises dangers of coal dams.
March 5, 1972. Ralph Nader letter to Congressional committees raises dangers of coal dams.
Among those pressing for action in Washington was consumer advocate Ralph Nader, well known by then for taking on politicians and corporations. Nader had sent one of his investigators, a young West Virginia lawyer named Davitt McAteer (who years later would head up the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration) to the Buffalo Creek area a few days after the disaster. Nader and McAteer, in a letter to key members of Congress urging investigations, estimated that hundreds of thousands of West Virginians living in narrow Appalachian valleys, could be threatened by sudden catastrophic flooding from unstable coal waste dams. They pointed to a 1966 U.S. Geological Survey report of 1966 that had found 60 such coal mine waste piles in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, and that little had been done to correct or eliminate those hazards – and additional ones – since that report was made. Citing coal industry dereliction throughout central Appalachia, they said it was imperative for Congress to investigate the industry’s practice of erecting crudely-made coal refuse dams and propose legislation to prevent future disasters. Nader was also quoted saying: “The Buffalo Creek massacre is only one more in the long series of tragedies which coal corporations have perpetrated upon the people of Appalachia, especially of West Virginia.”

The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor had already begun an investigation, and by late May 1972 also began a series of public hearings on the Buffalo Creek disaster. This subcommittee would hear from dozens of witnesses, and was briefed at one point by experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who provided a scale model of the site with details of what happened (see photo below).

May 1972, Wash., DC.  U.S. Senators and experts gather around scale model of Buffalo Creek area in Senate hearing room showing valley below and three coal waste impoundments (#s 8, 5, & 4) that burst causing catastrophic flood on February 26, 1972. Among officials and Senators shown are, from left: Dennis Gibson, Buffalo Mining Co.(22) Garth Fuguay (21, with pointer), Army Corps of Engineers; Sen. Harold Hughes (18); Sen. Jennings Randolph (17); Sen. Jacob Javits (16); Sen. Harrison Williams (15); Sen. Richard Scheiker (19), and Sen. Robert Stafford (20).
May 1972, Wash., DC. U.S. Senators and experts gather around scale model of Buffalo Creek area in Senate hearing room showing valley below and three coal waste impoundments (#s 8, 5, & 4) that burst causing catastrophic flood on February 26, 1972. Among officials and Senators shown are, from left: Dennis Gibson, Buffalo Mining Co.(22) Garth Fuguay (21, with pointer), Army Corps of Engineers; Sen. Harold Hughes (18); Sen. Jennings Randolph (17); Sen. Jacob Javits (16); Sen. Harrison Williams (15); Sen. Richard Scheiker (19), and Sen. Robert Stafford (20).

Leading off the testimony before the Senate Subcommittee was Garth Fuquay of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (shown in above photo), who had been detailed to the subcommittee to help guide the committee in its investigation. Fuquay would also conduct an early field analysis of what happened there. At the outset of the hearing, Fuquay was the first witness, and the subcommittee chairman, Senator Harrison Williams (D-NJ), submitted for inclusion in the hearing record, Fuquay’s 225-page report, titled “An Engineering Survey of Representative Coal Mine Refuse Piles as Related to the Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, Disaster.” That two-part report, focusing on the failed Buffalo Creek dams and a sampling of other dangerous coal refuse dams in the region, made headlines in a few places on May 30th, 1972, the day the Senate hearings began. One newspaper, reporting on the study and the Senate hearings, used the headlines “Army Corps of Engineers Says Dam Doomed From Start” (below).

May 30, 1972. Headlines from an Associated Press story reporting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- also testifying at U.S. Senate hearings -- found the the Pittston Coal Co. dam above Buffalo Creek was "doomed from the start."
May 30, 1972. Headlines from an Associated Press story reporting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- also testifying at U.S. Senate hearings -- found the the Pittston Coal Co. dam above Buffalo Creek was "doomed from the start."

The Senate subcommittee would later issue some three volumes of material and by June 1972 would call for new legislation to prevent disasters like Buffalo Creek, offering a “Mined Area Protection Bill,” a measure, however, that would not be adopted.

 West Virginia Governor's report: "The Buffalo Creek Flood And Disaster".
West Virginia Governor's report: "The Buffalo Creek Flood And Disaster".
By September 1972, the two competing West Virginia commissions — one from the Governor, and the other a Citizens’ Commission — issued their reports. Governor Moore, however, acting to protect the Pittston Coal Company, tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress his own commission’s report. When that report came out it called for new legislation and further inquiry by the local prosecutor, also concluding:

…Based on the testimony obtained from hearings, technical reports and our own field inspection, the Commission concludes that: Dam No. 3 on the Middle Fork was born out of the age-old practice in the coal fields of disposing of waste material and was constructed without utilizing technology developed for earthen dams and without using or consulting with professional persons qualified to design and build such a structure. The physical conditions leading to the failure of the dam are complex and involve a weak foundation and saturated embankment giving rise to failure of the downstream portion of the dam and a sudden total collapse of the remainder of the dam due to liquefaction. The failure occurred a minute or so before 8:00 a.m. February 26, 1972, and was solely the cause of the Buffalo Creek flood. No evidence of an act of God was found by the Commission.

Norm Williams, Deputy Director, WV-DNR & Citizens' Commission chairman.
Norm Williams, Deputy Director, WV-DNR & Citizens' Commission chairman.
The citizens’ commission report, formally titled Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizens’ Report on Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community, was released in 1972 — and it pulled no punches. It charged that officials of the Buffalo Creek-Pittston Company were “guilty of murdering at least 124 men, women and children living in the Buffalo Creek Hollow.”

The tautly-worded 31-page report offered detailed findings and evidence of corporate negligence and government failures in the disaster, and proposed 21 recommendations. The report found that company and state officials were ill informed of the problems of refuse dams and had not taken timely measures. “Clearly and simply,” said the report, “people living downstream from the Buffalo Mining Company’s coal refuse dam at Saunders were the victims of gross negligence.”

The Citizens’ report also noted that strip mining above the dam had likely contributed to its over-filling. Aerial photos at an Army Corps of Engineers office showed that earlier strip mining of coal seams had occurred on both sides of the slate dump, along with horizontal auger mining boring into the hillsides there. This mining activity, though in the past, had stripped away the water-absorbing forest undergrowth, thus increasing surface run-off during heavy precipitation. The report also noted the possibility that water and coal wastes in abandoned underground mines could break through auger holes and flow into the impoundment behind dam #3, as the practice of disposing coal sludges in abandoned underground mines had occurred in other areas of the state, with sludges breaking through to the surface in some cases.

One of the photos used in “Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizens' Report on Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community,” 1972.
One of the photos used in “Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizens' Report on Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community,” 1972.

The chair of the citizens’ commission, Norman Williams, then deputy director of West Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources, called for the outlawing of strip mining throughout the state. Williams explained that such mining was only viable because the state allowed it to “externalize costs” – i.e., impose its pollution, mine wastes, and environmental damage on landowners and the general public. Williams wasn’t alone in pointing to the ravages of strip mining. In the U.S. Congress at the time, federal legislation was being considered to regulate strip mining, and the Buffalo Creek disaster figured into the debate. West Virginia Congressman Ken Heckler (D) had offered a bill in 1971 to ban all surface coal mining. West Virginia’s Secretary of State at the time, Jay Rockefeller (D) – who became a candidate for Governor running against Arch Moore in the 1972 fall election – also favored banning strip mining. Moore would prevail in the election, campaigning heavily in West Virginia’s coal mining regions, impugning Rockefeller’s position on strip mining. (Rockefeller would later be elected governor and U.S. Senator). The Buffalo Creek disaster, however, did galvanize concern about strip mining and coal safety in Congress, and helped to spur passage of regulatory bills on the House side during Congressional debate in the early 1970s. A final federal strip mine bill, however, would not be signed into law until 1977.

1977 paperback edition of Gerald Stern's book on the class-action lawsuit he brought against Pittston Coal Co. on behalf of Buffalo Creek survivors and settled out of court in 1974.
1977 paperback edition of Gerald Stern's book on the class-action lawsuit he brought against Pittston Coal Co. on behalf of Buffalo Creek survivors and settled out of court in 1974.
In addition to the two West Virginia reports, there were also several others, including the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing record already mentioned; a U.S. Geological Survey report; a U.S. Department of the Interior Report; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report – all of which, in one form or another, found fault with the design, integrity, and lack of oversight of the dams, and how regulators and the Pittston Coal Company failed to meet their responsibilities for public health and safety.

Several lawsuits were also filed in the wake of the Buffalo Creek disaster, including a large class action with 645 survivors and victim family members suing Pittston for $64 million. The plaintiffs settled out of court for $13.5 million in 1974, with each individual receiving an average of $13,000 after legal costs.

The state of West Virginia also sued Pittston for $100 million for disaster and relief damages, but Governor Arch A. Moore settled that case for just $1 million three days before leaving office in 1977. That deal would dog Moore for the rest of his career. Having faced several corruption allegations when serving as governor, Moore left office with this additional blemish on his record. The state later had to pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more than $9 million for recovery work along Buffalo Creek.

Although the Governor’s Commission had referred the case to the Logan County, West Virginia prosecutor for possible legal action against Pittston Coal Company and its subsidiary, nothing came of it. No criminal charges were brought against the mining executives for their negligence in the creation and operation of the illegal and unstable coal waste dams.

The Logan prosecutor said at the time that Pittston’s failure to receive a state dam license was merely a misdemeanor and that a one-year statute of limitations for prosecutions had lapsed. He also concluded that Pittston’s Buffalo Creek Mining Co. could not be charged with negligent homicide because “there was no way to put a corporation in jail.”

In 1973, the West Virginia Legislature passed the Dam Control Act, regulating all dams in the state. However, adequate funding was never appropriated by teh West Virginia legislature to enforce the law. Pittston, meanwhile, would inform its investors that the 1974 settlement that had come with one of the survivors’ lawsuits did not impact the company’s profit margin.

Kai T. Erikson’s 1976 book, “Everything In Its Path: Destruction of Community in The Buffalo Creek Flood”.
Kai T. Erikson’s 1976 book, “Everything In Its Path: Destruction of Community in The Buffalo Creek Flood”.
According to some, however, there were positive changes that did come to coalfield and regulatory practices in the years immediately following the disaster. But those improved practices didn’t last. And for the survivors of the Buffalo Creek Disaster, there was little real recovery. They lost loved ones, their homes, their neighbors, their community. Many lived in temporary trailer-park style homes following the disaster – some for years. Old community ties and neighbor networks could not be reestablished. The socio-psychology of all this was probed and covered in an award-winning 1976 book by Kai T. Erikson, Everything In Its Path: Destruction of Community in The Buffalo Creek Flood.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, various state, local and federal government agencies had initially come together to help plan for the recovery of the Buffalo Creek area. The first restoration, however, came with the railroads, rebuilt to serve the mines, which were operating again within a week of the flood. A few years later, construction began on water and sewage systems, and some permanent housing was built. But $27 million in flood emergency funds was used in 1975 to build a highway that really went nowhere, except to the coal tipples at the head of Buffalo Creek. Four years after the disaster, in 1976, about 100 families were still living in the government provided mobile homes. There had been emergency relief, but little community redevelopment.

The Pittston Coal Co., meanwhile, continued extracting coal in the Buffalo Creek area through its subsidiary there. And it also continued dumping its coal wastes in the area as well, absent the use of watery waste dams. As of 1987, Pittston was still among the ten largest coal companies in the U.S. But following a bitter labor strike in 1989, and the declining profitability of its minerals division throughout the 1990s, Pittston began to wind down its coal operations. In 2002, Alpha Natural Resources purchased what remained of Pttston’s coal business. By 2003, Pittston had moved into one of its more profitable businesses, private security, then adopting its Brinks Company subsidiary as its new corporate name.


The National Research Council's 2001 report to Congress on coal waste impoundments.
The National Research Council's 2001 report to Congress on coal waste impoundments.
Coal Waste Legacy

The problem of coal waste impoundments in Appalachia — and all across America — has not gone away since the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster. Nearly 50 years later, there are still hundreds of coal waste dams to worry about, as well as other assorted coal waste dangers throughout the U.S.

In fact, there is a very sizeable “coal waste legacy” that will continue to pose dangers for many rural American communities — and the nation’s rivers and streams — for decades to come, even as the coal industry as a whole winds down its role in the U.S. and global economies. For as it turns out, there are coal waste impoundments, and coal waste disposal methods, of many kinds.

In addition to coal waste dams used in mining and coal washing operations, there are also more than 1,400 coal ash impoundments used mostly at or near coal-fired powerplants in the U.S. In addition, coal wastes have also been dumped into abandoned deep mines and used to “reclaim” strip mines. Still other operations use injection techniques to pump various coal wastes underground. Recent history suggests that a number of these facilities and practices hold public safety risks and/or environmental threats.

In the year 2000, increased attention was focused on the regulation of coal waste impoundments following a failure near Inez, Kentucky. In that case, the bottom of the 72-acre Big Branch slurry impoundment – owned by the Martin County Coal Corp. – broke through an abandoned underground mine located below it. That failure sent 300 million gallons of liquid coal waste tearing through the underground mine chambers, then spewing out of mountainside portals into valley streams below. The toxic coal slurry poured into Kentucky’s Coldwater and Wolf creeks, then to the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, traveling more than 70 miles downstream, and eventually reaching the Ohio River, with blackwater visible at Cincinnati. Drinking water systems in ten counties had to be shut down, and a 20-mile stretch of river was declared an aquatic dead zone: more than 1,500 fish were killed. At the time, the EPA called it “the worst environmental disaster in the southeast United States.” The coal company called it “an act of God” (sound familiar?).

In the wake of this disaster, Congress asked the National Research Council to examine ways to reduce the potential for similar accidents in the future, and their report appeared in October 2001, recommending the federal government establish clear authority to review the stability of such impoundments, improve regulation, establish minimum distance rules, and undertake more complete mapping of existing and abandoned underground mines.

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 ash slurry into the Emory & 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 ash slurry into the Emory & Clinch rivers and the downstream community of Harriman, TN.

Then in December 2008 a second major impoundment breach occurred — this time, a failure of a giant 84-acre coal ash impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant in eastern Tennessee (photo above). This dam failure released 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers. More than a dozen homes and hundreds of acres in the down-stream community of Harriman, TN were hit with a gigantic toxic mess. The spill covered the surrounding land with up to six feet of sludge. EPA had initially estimated the spill would take four-to-six weeks to clean up, however, three years later they were still cleaning up.

TVA’s spill was from a “coal ash” impoundment, which is somewhat different than a mine-site slurry impoundment, as it deals with post-combustion, powerplant coal ash, which involves a different regulatory arena than mine-site or coal processing impoundments. Still, the worries for citizens living near either kind of impoundment are equally valid, whether of the mine-site or powerplant variety.

U.S. map showing locations of coal ash waste dams, spills, and contamination compiled by Earth Justice. Click to visit that site.
U.S. map showing locations of coal ash waste dams, spills, and contamination compiled by Earth Justice. Click to visit that site.

According to the U.S. EPA, there are over 1,000 operating coal ash waste ponds and landfills, plus many hundreds of “retired” coal ash disposal sites. Some 208 of these “coal combustion” waste sites are known to have contaminated groundwater, wetlands, and/or rivers. A number of leaks and smaller spills have also occurred. EPA has made hazard ratings for hundreds of coal combustion waste ponds and impoundments in the U.S., ranking them for the public safety dangers and environmental risks they would pose in the event of failure. As of December 2014, some 331 of these facilities were rated as either holding a “high” or “significant” safety hazard – meaning likely loss of life in the former case, and significant economic/environmental damage in the latter case. The Earth Justice organization, one of the environmental groups following this issue, and has complied a U.S. map of these sites as shown above.

For additional stories at this website on the history of coal and coal mining, see for example, the following: “Paradise: 1971″ (about a John Prine song, strip mining in Muhlenberg County, KY, and the demise of a small town); “Mountain Warrior” (profile of Kentucky author and coal-field activist, Harry Caudill, noted for his famous book, Night Comes to The Cumberlands and his life-long critique of Appalachian strip mining); “Giant Shovel on I-70” (about strip mining in southeastern Ohio during the 1960s and `70s and the use of giant strip-mining shovels there); “Coal & The Kennedys,” (featuring Kennedy family involvement with Appalachian coal communities, deep mine safety, environmental protection, and related political issues, 1960s-2010s); “Sixteen Tons, 1950s” (the famous Tennessee Ernie Ford song and some coal mining history, 1940s-1960s); and, “G.E.’s Hot Coal Ad, 2005” (a General Electric TV ad that features a new breed of coal miner).

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

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Date Posted:  31 January 2019
Last Update:  31 January 2019
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Buffalo Creek Disaster: 1972,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 31, 2019.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information


"Coal: A Human History", by Barbara Freese, 2016 edition.
"Coal: A Human History", by Barbara Freese, 2016 edition.
Richard Martin's 2015 book, "Coal Wars", St. Martin's Press.
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 2008 book, "Matewan: Before The Massacre".
Rebecca Bailey's 2008 book, "Matewan: Before The Massacre".

Associated Press, “37 Killed as Flood Sweeps A Valley in West Virginia,” New York Times, Sunday, February 27, 1972, p. 1.

“Logan Flood Toll 66; 400 Missing, Hundreds Search Disaster Area; Cause of Break Gets Attention,” Charleston Daily Mail, February 28, 1972.

Earl Lambert, “From The Mountainsides: Many Saw It Happen,” Logan Banner (Logan, WV), February 28, 1972.

Associated Press (Man, WV.), “400 Still Missing in West Virginia Flood,” February 28, 1972.

George Vecsey, “West Virginia Flood Toll At 60 With Hundreds Lost,” New York Times, February 28, 1972.

George Vecsey, “Memories of a Disaster,” GeorgeVecsey.com, February 22, 2012.

George Vecsey, “Homeless Thousands Await Future in Flooded Valley,” New York Times (front page), February 29, 1972.

Ben A. Franklin, New York Times News Service, “Dam Failures ‘Common’: Who’s Liable for Flooding,” Charleston Gazette, February 28, 1972.

“Buffalo Area Declared Health, Safety Hazard,” Logan Banner, March 1, 1972

Mary Walton, “State Warned in 1967 of Larado Dam Danger,” Charleston Gazette, March 1, 1972.

Craig Ammerman, “Eight More Bodies Found; Logan Flood Toll Climbs to 84,” Charleston Gazette, March 3, 1972.

“Hope Wanes for 94 Listed Missing in Logan; Known Flood Dead is 88,” Charleston Gazette, March 4, 1972.

Jules Lob, “Buffalo Creek – Now A Valley of Death,” Charleston Gazette, March 5, 1972.

Ben A. Franklin, “Coal Dam Curbs Urged by Nader,” New York Times, March 5, 1972.

Ben A. Franklin, New York Times News Service, “Slag Piles Imperil 5th of State – Nader,” Charleston Gazette, March 5, 1972.

Jules Loh, Associated Press, “Buffalo Creek Hollow: A Nice Place to Live – Then The Flood,” March 5, 1972.

Jules Loh, Associated Press, “A Lie About God – From Paradise to Hell: The Morning When False Alarms Turned to Reality,” The Sunday Messenger (Athens, OH), front page, March 5, 1972.

George Vecsey, “West Virginians Living in Hollows Fear That Mine Waste Piles in Their Areas Will Cause Next Flood,” New York Times, March 6, 1972.

John G. Morgan, “Angered Citizens Plan Own Logan Flood Probe,” Charleston Gazette, March 7, 1972.

“Media ‘Blow’ Held Worse Than Flood,” Charleston Gazette, March 8, 1972.

Richard Carelli, “Mining Official Blames Explosions on Flood Water Hitting Hot Slag Pile,” Charleston Gazette, March 9, 1972.

“Engineering, Not Rainfall, Given Blame, Logan Banner, March 9, 1972.

“After the Dam Broke, Cries for Control,” Business Week, March 11, 1972.

George Vecsey, “Two Rival Inquiries Are Begun into Flood in West Virginia,” New York Times, March 12, 1972, p. 70.

U. S. Department of Interior, Task Force to Study Coal Waste Hazards, “Preliminary Analysis of the Coal Refuse Dam Failure at Saunders, West Virginia February 26, 1972,” Washington, D.C., March 12, 1972.

“West Virginia: Disaster in the Hollow,” Time, Monday, March 13, 1972.

“Death in Buffalo Hollow,” Newsweek, March 13, 1972.

“Murder in Appalachian,” The Nation, March 20, 1972.

“Engineers Say Buffalo Dam Doomed at Start,” Logan Banner (Logan, WV), May 30, 1972.

Thomas N. Bethell and Davitt McAteer, “The Pittston Mentality: Manslaughter on Buffalo Creek,” Washington Monthly, May 1972.

Mary Walton, “Triangle of Blame Placed in Disaster,” Charleston Gazette, May 30, 1972, p.1.

United States Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Labor, Buffalo Creek (W. Va.) Disaster 1972, Hearings, May 30 and 31, 1972, 2 vols. (plus appendices, vol. 3), Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1972.

Report of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the Buffalo Creek Disaster, Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizen’s Report on Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community, Charleston, West Virginia, 1972.

The Buffalo Creek Flood and Disaster: Official Report From the Governor’s Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry, 1973 (as posted at: wvculture.org).

The Buffalo Creek Flood and Disaster: Official Report from the Governor’s Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry, 1973 (PDF of actual report at Marshall University).

UPI, “Buffalo Creek Flood Inquiry [i.e., special grand jury] Is Off Until After Election,” New York Times, September 13, 1972.

“A Town Stood Here,” Life, October 10, 1972.

William E. Davies, James F. Bailey, and Donovan B. Kelly, West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek Flood: A Study of the Hydrology and Engineering Geology, U.S. Geological Survey, Geological Survey Circular 667, Washington, DC: 1972.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines (W. A. Wahler & Associates), Analysis of Coal Refuse Dam Failure. Middle Fork Buffalo Creek, Saunders, West Virginia, Volume 1, February 1973.

Ben A. Franklin, “Flood Survivors Sue Mine Concern; Plaintiffs Ask $64-Million — Seek Damages Over ‘Survivor Syndrome’; 800 Pages of Testimony; A Sound Like ‘Thunder’,” New York Times, April 18, 1973.

Tom Nugent, Death at Buffalo Creek: The 1972 West Virginia Flood Disaster, New York: Norton, 1973.

“Survivors of 1972 Dam Disaster Accept $13.5-Million Settlement,” New York Times, July 6, 1974.

Kai T. Erikson, Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.

“Events Leading To The Buffalo Creek Disaster,” BuffaloCreekFlood.org.

“The Buffalo Creek Disaster – February 26, 1972,” LoganWV.US (website), History and Nostalgia/ Preserving Logan County History.

Tom Price, “Who Killed Buffalo Creek?,” Rolling Stone, January 3, 1974.

Associated Press, “Pittston’s Federal Flood Suit Settled Out of Court,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, WV), July 6, 1974, p. 1.

Gerald M. Stern, The Buffalo Creek Disaster: The Story of the Survivors’ Unprecedented Lawsuit, New York: Random House, 1976.

J.L. Titchener, F.T. Kapp, “Disaster at Buffalo Creek. Family and Character Change at Buffalo Creek,” American Journal of Psychiatry, March 1976, pp 295-299.

K.T. Erikson, “Disaster at Buffalo Creek. Loss of Communality at Buffalo Creek,” American Journal of Psychiatry, March 1976, pp. 302-305.

C.J. Newman, “Disaster at Buffalo Creek. Children of Disaster: Clinical Observations at Buffalo Creek,” American Journal of Psychiatry, March 1976, pp.306-12.

Paul Cowan, Book Review of Gerald Stern’s “The Buffalo Creek Disaster: The Story of the Survivor’s Unprecedented Lawsuit,” The New York Times Book Review, September 5, 1976, pp.6-7.

Mimi Pickering (Film Director), “Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man” (essay), Library of Congress, 1978 (in 1984, filmmaker Mimi Pickering completed Buffalo Creek Revisited, an update on the flood and its consequences).

Film Clip, “The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act Of Man,” YouTube.com (8:22), February 20, 2012.

“The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act Of Man,” Transcript (undated).

“Two Films 1975 and 1984,” Appalshop.org.

“The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man / Buffalo Creek Revisited,” BuffaloCreekFlood .org, Website.

Dennis Deitz & Carlene Mowery, Buffalo Creek Valley of Death, 1992.

“Buffalo Creek Flood, 1972,” Online Exhibit /Special Collections, Marshall University, 2002.

“Buffalo Creek Special Series,” Charleston Gazette, February 1997.

Ken Ward, Jr., “Agencies Failed to Protect People, Inspector Recalls,” Charleston Gazette, Tuesday, February 25, 1997.

“Modern Marvels: The Buffalo Creek Disaster” (History Channel production), YouTube.com (9:27).

Russell Mokhiber, “Buffalo Creek,” Chapter 5, Corporate Crime & Violence: Big Business Power and the Abuse of the Public Trust, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1998.

“Buffalo Creek Flood,” Wikipedia.org.

Rita Colistra, “The Rumble and The Dark: Regional Newspaper Framing of the Buffalo Creek Mine Disaster of 1972, Journal of Appalachian Studies, Vol. 16, Nos. 1 & 2.

“Buffalo Creek,” West Virginia Division of Culture and History, 2012.

Jamie Goodman/Brian Sewell, “Remembering Buffalo Creek,” The Appalachian Voice, February 21, 2012.

Lori Kersey, “40 Years Ago: Buffalo Creek Disaster,” Charleston Gazette-Mail, February 25, 2012.

Press Release, “New Federal Standards Needed for Storing Coal Waste,” National Research Council (Washington, DC), October 21, 2001.

Betty Dotson-Lewis / Brian Sewell, “The Day Baby Brucie Died: An Oral History of the Buffalo Creek Flood,” The Appalachian Voice, February 27, 2012.

Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, “Many Coal Sludge Impoundments Have Weak Walls, Federal Study Says,” Washington Post, April 24, 2013.

Vicki Smith, “Feds OK Coal Slurry Dam Expansion,” GazetteMail.com, March 25, 2013.

Julie Robinson, “Buffalo Creek ‘Miracle Baby’ Tells Story to Reader’s Digest,” Charleston Gazette, January 26, 2013.

Gallery: The Buffalo Creek Flood, Herald-Dispatch.com, February 26, 2014.

“Death, Destruction, Terror of 1972 Buffalo Creek Disaster Still Vivid,” The Herald-Dispatch, January 15, 2009.

“Coal Waste,” SourceWatch.org.

Coal and Labor Collection, Appalachian Collection, McConnell Library, Radford University, Radford, Virginia.

Erin L. McCoy, “The U.S. Has Nearly 600 Coal Waste Sites. Why They’ve Got West Virginians Worried,” YesMagazine.org, April 23, 2015.

William Rhee, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University, “The Buffalo Creek Timeline,” WVU.edu, updated on December 30, 2015.

Emery Jeffreys (former reporter for The Logan Banner; account of his early flood-site reporting), “Mud, Muck and Misery,” LoganWV.us, February 27, 2018.

Brittany Patterson, “The Cautionary Tale of the Largest Coal Ash Waste Site in the U.S.,” AlleghenyFront.org, June 22, 2018.

“The Pittston Company: Company Profile & History,” ReferenceForBusiness.com.

“Pittston Quits the Coal Business,” Buffalo CreekFlood.org.

“Map Feature: Coal Ash Contaminated Sites & Hazard Dams (U.S.),” EarthJustice.org.

“Chronology of a Disaster,” BuffaloCreek Flood.org.

U.S. General Accounting Office, “Delayed Redevelopment was Reasonable after Flood Disaster in West Virginia,” Report of the Comptroller of the United States, Washington, DC: 1976.

First Lieut. Robert C. Withers, “The Disaster of Buffalo Creek,” Report of the West Virginia Adjutant General, Charleston, WV, 1972.


____________________________________






“Harry Chapin”
Taxi & Beyond

A taxi cab at work on the nighttime streets of some anonymous city.
A taxi cab at work on the nighttime streets of some anonymous city.
It was sometime in early spring of 1972 that a little-known American musician named Harry Chapin made a national TV appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In those pre-cable, pre-internet days, with only three major over-the-air TV channels, Carson’s late night show had a good share of the viewing audience.

Harry Chapin was then a folk rock singer-songwriter who had been playing New York City nightclubs with his small quartet and receiving some local notice. But nationally, he was virtually unknown.

On Carson’s show that night, Chapin performed his song, “Taxi,” about a cab driver who picks up a female passenger whom he discovers, after a few looks in his rear-view mirror, is a long lost love from his youth.

“Taxi” is a song filled with hard-luck poignancy, life-lived serendipity, and what-might-have-beens. And on the Carson show that night, Chapin’s performance wowed the late night audience. His appearance was followed by viewer phone calls and telegrams sent to NBC praising the performance.

In fact, at the time, Johnny Carson himself was so taken with Chapin’s performance that he invited him back to perform the following night. Reportedly, it was the first time in the show’s history that Carson had brought a performer back the very next night for an encore performance. But apparently, the chemistry with Carson was for real, as during his career, Chapin would appear on Carson’s show more than a dozen times.

Harry Chapin performing in the 1970s.
Harry Chapin performing in the 1970s.
In any case, “Taxi,” and the Carson show appearance that spring of 1972, helped launch Harry Chapin into national prominence.

 

Music Player
“Taxi” – Harry Chapin
(scroll down for lyrics)

 

Only months before, in November 1971, Chapin had signed a big recording contract after something of a bidding war had broken out over signing him between Columbia’s Clive Davis and Elektra’s Jac Holzman. Elektra won in the end, and Chapin got free recording time as part of his deal.

By March 1972, Chapin released Heads & Tales, his first studio album. It included “Taxi,” and both the album and single had successful chart runs for about six months, each selling more than 1 million copies. Chapin also had a supporter in WMEX-Boston radio DJ, Jim Connors, who helped push “Taxi” up the pop charts – lasting 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No.24. Billboard would also rank the song at No. 85 for the year of 1972.

But “Taxi” had not been expected to do well, especially since it ran nearly seven minutes in playing length (6:47), while most A.M. radio stations at the time rarely used recordings of more than two minutes. But progressive FM radio stations were coming into vogue at the time, exploring lengthier musical formats and even entire albums, a development which also helped “Taxi” get air time. In any case, “Taxi” sent Chapin on his way, providing huge career momentum. And even today, nearly 50 years later, “Taxi” still resonates with many listeners. Below are the song’s lyrics along with some narrative comment.

Harry Chapin's song "Taxi" begins with a lady hailing a cab in a San Francisco rain. Click for digital version of song.
Harry Chapin's song "Taxi" begins with a lady hailing a cab in a San Francisco rain. Click for digital version of song.

“Taxi”
Harry Chapin-1972

It was raining hard in ‘Frisco
I needed one more fare to make my night
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down
She got in at the light

Oh, where you going to, my lady blue
It’s a shame you ruined your gown in the rain
She just looked out the window, she said
“Sixteen Parkside Lane”

Something about her was familiar
I could swear I’d seen her face before
But she said, “I’m sure you’re mistaken”
And she didn’t say anything more

It took a while, but she looked in the mirror
And she glanced at the license for my name
A smile seemed to come to her slowly
It was a sad smile, just the same

And she said, “How are you Harry?”
I said, “How are you Sue?
Through the too many miles
And the too little smiles
I still remember you”

It was somewhere in a fairy tale
I used to take her home in my car
We learned about love in the back of the Dodge
The lesson hadn’t gone too far

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly
She took off to find the footlights
And I took off to find the sky

Whoa, I’ve got something inside me
To drive a princess blind
There’s a wild man, wizard
He’s hiding in me, illuminating my mind

Oh, I’ve got something inside me
Not what my life’s about
‘Cause I’ve been letting my outside tide me
Over ’till my time, runs out

Baby’s so high that she’s skying
Yes she’s flying, afraid to fall
I’ll tell you why baby’s crying
‘Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all

There was not much more for us to talk about
Whatever we had once was gone
So I turned my cab into the driveway
Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns

And she said we must get together
But I knew it’d never be arranged
And she handed me twenty dollars
For a two fifty fare, she said
“Harry, keep the change”

Well, another man might have been angry
And another man might have been hurt
But another man never would have let her go
I stashed the bill in my shirt

And she walked away in silence
It’s strange, how you never know
But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for
Such a long, long time ago

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly
She took off to find the footlights
I took off for the sky

And here, she’s acting happy
Inside her handsome home
And me, I’m flying in my taxi
Taking tips, and getting stoned

I go flying so high, when I’m stoned…

The song features its cab driver narrator in San Francisco coming to the end of a long rainy night, and needing one more fare before calling it quits for the evening.

He picks up a lady who has waved him down at a stop light. She is dressed in an evening gown. When she enters the cab, he offers a sympathetic comment about the rain ruining her gown. She simply stares out the window and gives him the address.

As they drive, he checks her out in the rear-view mirror, then thinks he’s sure he’s seen her face before. He then asks her the “don’t-I-know-you-from- somewhere” question, to which she replies with an air of certainty: “I’m sure you’re mistaken.”

But as they drive on and sit in silence for a time, she looks into the mirror to see his face, and then views the cab-driver license posted on the back of the front seat with his name, photo, and license number.

Still glimpsing her occasionally in his rear-view mirror, he notices a slight smile of discovery coming across her face, noting, as narrator: “It was a sad smile, just the same.”

Finally, she acknowledges her discovery and greets him: “How are you Harry?” to which he replies, “How are you Sue?,” having also remembered who she was: “Through the too many miles, and the too little smiles, I still remember you.”

Then, continuing as narrator, he fills in his listeners with the Harry-and-Sue back story, as in their younger years, they had dated in an earlier “fairy tale,” where they learned love in a back seat of his Dodge. And during those years, they each had big dreams: “She was gonna be an actress, and I was gonna learn to fly. She took off to find the footlights, and I took off to find the sky.”

Then Harry the cab driver appears to begin a life assessment of sorts – and it’s not clear whether this is just his own “talking-to-himself” private assessment, or something that he and his lost love are having a conversation about during the cab ride — catching up a bit, to learn what’s gone on in each other’s lives?

In any case, as for himself, Harry believes he still has “something inside” and the desire and drive to realize his dream. What you see now, he explains of his cab driver gig, is not the final act — “just tiding me over.”

And as for the lady of his dreams, well she appears to be doing well, at least from outward appearances. Yet there’s some uncertainty there. She’s flying high, but on a tightrope of sorts, afraid to fall. (Musically, this part is performed in falsetto by Chapin’s bass player, John Wallace). But why is she crying? “`Cause [inside] she’s dying; aren’t we all.”

Here is the frustration of what people feel when they realize they will never reach their dreams, though they still have the desire; but that life has now become something less than what they had hoped for.

“There was not much more for us to talk about,” says the cabbie narrator, nearing the end of the ride, acknowledging that “whatever we had once was gone.” And although at ride’s end Sue says “we must get together,” Harry knows “it would never be arranged.”

Upon departing the cab, she covers the $2.50 fare with a $20 bill, saying: “Harry, keep the change” – which didn’t provoke anger or hurt in Harry, only regret – “another man never would have let her go.”

As she walks away to her home, Harry thinks somehow that they had both gotten what they asked for those many years ago, when she set out to be an actress, and he was going to learn to fly. For she is now “acting happy inside her handsome home,” and Harry, well he’s now “flying” in his taxi, “taking tips, and getting stoned… I go flying so high, when I’m stoned.”

When Chapin was asked at one point if the song was true, he replied:

“It’s emotionally true, if not literally true. I’ve been in the film business on and off for a lot of years, and wasn’t doing well at one point. So I went out and got a hack [taxi cab] license…, and during the month that I was waiting for it to come through, I heard that an old girlfriend of mine had gotten married and instead of becoming an actress she married a rich guy. I envisioned some night I’d be driving a cab in the big city streets and this lady would get in the back, and I’d turn and look at her and she’d look at me and know we both sold out our dreams.”

Grainy photo of Clare Alden MacIntyre in later life.
Grainy photo of Clare Alden MacIntyre in later life.
Chapin’s brother and fellow musician, Tom, during a 2016 interview, would flesh out more details about Harry’s old girlfriend and the lady character in “Taxi.” Her name was Clare Alden MacIntyre, and Tom described her “an early, formative love” in Harry’s life. She came from the prosperous Scarsdale area, while Tom and Harry were from Brooklyn.

Harry and Clare had met as summer camp counselors in the early 1960s. She was the daughter of Malcolm MacIntyre, a lawyer and corporate executive who headed up Eastern Airlines from 1959 to 1963.

Clare’s parents, in fact, weren’t wild about the budding relationship between their daughter and Harry Chapin. According to Tom, Clare’s father viewed Harry as something of a ne’er-do-well, not worthy of his daughter’s affections.

Still, Harry and Clare had an on-and-off romance in the early 1960s; they dated for two years despite Harry living in Brooklyn, Clare living in Scarsdale. But there was one difference in how they traveled locally in those days, according to brother Tom.”We took subways,” explained Tom of he and Harry. “But [Clare’s] father and mother refused to let her take subways. They always gave her money to take a taxi.”

Harry Chapin, Elektra promotional photo.
Harry Chapin, Elektra promotional photo.
Some years later, in 1969-1970, as Harry was out of work and about to begin driving a cab in the New York area, scheduled to report for his first 12-hour shift in a few days, he began thinking: “What happens if Clare gets in my cab? What am I going to say?”

As it turned out, Harry didn’t become a cab driver nor did he have to confront Clare getting into his cab, as other job offers came his way. But he never discarded the idea of Clare getting into his cab, and some years later, turned it into the song, “Taxi,” as New York became San Francisco and Clare became Sue. And the rest is history, as they say. Billboard ranked “Taxi” as the 85th top song of the year. “Taxi” also earned Chapin a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist of the Year. Yet, according to Peter Coan, Harry Chapin’s biographer, Chapin never completely got over Clare MacIntyre: “She was the love of his life.”

Harry Chapin's second album, "Sniper and Other Love Songs". Click for album choices.
Harry Chapin's second album, "Sniper and Other Love Songs". Click for album choices.
Meanwhile, through the 1970s, following the success of “Taxi” and his first album, Harry Chapin remained popular, recording a number of other “story songs” and successful albums.

His second album, Sniper and Other Love Songs, released in 1972, included two other popular Chapin songs: “Sunday Morning Sunshine” and “Circle.”

Chapin’s third album, Short Stories, came out in 1973 and spawned the million-selling hit, “W.O.L.D.,” using the call letters for a radio station who’s devoted disc jockey has neglected his family, the song penned from the wife’s perspective.

“W.O.L.D.” was inspired by an American radio personality from Boston who Chapin knew, with the song’s story focused on a workaholic-damaged marriage.

“W.O.L.D.” became a top 40 hit in 1974 on the Billboard Hot 100, top 10 in Canada, and in the Top 20 in various other countries.

Other songs from the Short Stories album, but not released as singles, include: “Mr. Tanner,” “Mail Order Annie,” and “They Call Her Easy.”

Cover of Harry Chapin's No. 1 hit single of 1974, "Cat's In The Cradle". Click for digital single.
Cover of Harry Chapin's No. 1 hit single of 1974, "Cat's In The Cradle". Click for digital single.
In 1974, Chapin released, Verities and Balderdash, his fourth album, which sold 2.5 million units, largely due to the single, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” his No. 1 hit.

 

Music Player
“Cat’s in The Cradle”

 

This song is about a father who didn’t find time for his son during his childhood, and finds as he grows older, his son has become “just like me,” and does not spend time with his aging father. “Cat’s in The Cradle” earned Chapin another Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. He was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Verities and Balderdash peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. The album’s follow-up single, “I Wanna Learn a Love Song,” charted at No. 7 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The song is a true story about how he met his wife, Sandra Chapin.

By 1976, Chapin was established as one of the most popular singers of the decade. A live album came that year, Greatest Stories Live, selling 2.1 million copies. By the end of the decade, he was doing more touring, though still releasing one album a year.

Harry Chapin proved to be a popular act, selling out arenas and concert halls, some exceeding 250,000. He was then earning an estimated $2 million per year, through 1981, making him one of the highest paid artists in the world. And despite almost no promotion for his later albums with Elektra, they all sold well and charted.

Harry Chapin at the White House, three chairs down from President Jimmy Carter's left at Hunger Commission meeting.
Harry Chapin at the White House, three chairs down from President Jimmy Carter's left at Hunger Commission meeting.

Activist Harry

Harry Chapin, however, was not just a musician; he was also an intensely committed social activist. By the mid-1970s, Harry Chapin was devoting more of his time and energy to various activist and charitable causes – one of which was hunger. In 1975, he co-founded World Hunger Year with radio host Bill Ayres, and also became a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger under President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Chapin was reportedly the only member of that commission who attended every meeting. He became something of a regular in Washington, DC. advocating for anti-hunger initiatives. He was also involved in a number of other social causes, from helping local food banks to historic preservation. By the mid- and late 1970s, Chapin was performing over half of his 200 concerts a year for charitable causes. By one count, in 1977 he earned $2 million, giving away some $700,000 to charity. In those times, according to some sources, Chapin was known for keeping “a totally insane schedule” between his music career and his various charitable causes.

 

Album cover for Harry Chapin’s “Sequel” of 1980. Click for CD.
Album cover for Harry Chapin’s “Sequel” of 1980. Click for CD.

Taxi, Redux

In 1980, as his contract with Elektra expired, Chapin signed a one-album deal with Boardwalk Records. It was at this point he made an attempt to reconnect with his first hit, “Taxi,” naming a new album “Sequel,” which included a single by that name as well.

“Sequel” continued the story of Harry and Sue. In the song, Harry is no longer driving cabs, but returns to San Francisco as a successful singer for a concert appearance. While in San Francisco Harry hails a cab, instructing the driver to head for “16 Parkside Lane,” where he had last seen Sue.

When he arrives at the address, Sue no longer lives there, and is given the name of an apartment building at another address. There, he finds Sue, now divorced but happy. She likes herself. He invites her to his concert. She says no, she has to work that night. He tries to give her money, she refuses. It’s unclear if they make love or not. What is clear is that they are each in a better place than they were before. “Sequel,” the single, became a top 25 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and the album sold 500,000 copies. Following “Sequel,” Chapin was coy about whether there would be another “Harry and Sue” song down the line. But it was not to be.

On July 16, 1981, Chapin was driving in the fast lane on the Long Island Expressway on the way to perform at a free concert that evening in East Meadow, New York. Along the way, near the Jericho exit, as his car had slowed for some reason, he put on his emergency flashers, veering into the center lane, then swerving left and right. At that point, a tractor-trailer truck traveling behind him could not brake in time to stop, ramming into and climbing over Chapin’s 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, rupturing the fuel tank which burst into flames. The truck driver and a passerby cut Chapin’s seat belt and removed him from the burning car through a window before the car was entirely engulfed. Chapin was then helicoptered to a hospital where doctors tried to revive him to no avail. Harry Chapin was 38 years old.

Harry Chapin performing, here with other backing musicians, but sometimes on tour, he performed solo.
Harry Chapin performing, here with other backing musicians, but sometimes on tour, he performed solo.

Chapin, by many accounts, was a multi-talented artist, with works in film, stage, and poetry in addition to his music career. A documentary film he made in the late 1960s with Jim Jacobs, titled Legendary Champions, was nominated for an Academy Award. And a 1975 musical stage production, The Night That Made America Famous, ran on Broadway for 75 performances and was nominated for two Tony awards. Chapin’s musical legacy includes nine studio albums, two live albums, thirteen singles, and 14 compilation albums. His total record sales were in excess of 16.7 million copies. In December 1987, he was honored at an all-star Carnegie Hall tribute. At that tribute he was also posthumously awarded a Special Congressional Gold Medal for his campaigning on world hunger and other social issues. An album documenting the event, titled Tribute – with performers including Judy Collins, Richie Havens and Bruce Springsteen – was released in 1990.

Harry Chapin, undated.
Harry Chapin, undated.
At his passing, Harry Chapin was also lauded by activists and politicians who knew him outside of music.

“To talk about Harry Chapin only as a singer-composer,” said Ralph Nader, “is like viewing Theodore Roosevelt as a state assemblyman or Babe Ruth as a pitcher. More than any other entertainer in his generation, Harry was a citizen-artist.” A number of U.S. Senators and members of Congress made floor statements praising Chapin’s policy work. Among these was former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) who called Chapin “a liberal — and a liberal in the best sense of the word …What he really was committed to was decency and dignity.”

In recent years, Harry’s widow, Sandy, has served as chair of the Harry Chapin Foundation, where she has continued to pursue Harry’s legacy. His son, Josh, has also been involved with the foundation, along with other family members.

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

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Date Posted: 19 January 2019
Last Update: 19 January 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Harry Chapin: Taxi & Beyond,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 19, 2019.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Peter Coan's 1987 book, "Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story," paperback version shown, Lyle Stuart, 542pp. Click for book.
Peter Coan's 1987 book, "Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story," paperback version shown, Lyle Stuart, 542pp. Click for book.
Harry Chapin Sheet Music Collection & Songbook (2009), described as “a moving account of Chapin's legacy as a pioneering 'story song' writer, performer, and philanthropist...” Includes sheet music for 24 of his most beloved songs. Alfred Publishing Co., 176pp.
Harry Chapin Sheet Music Collection & Songbook (2009), described as “a moving account of Chapin's legacy as a pioneering 'story song' writer, performer, and philanthropist...” Includes sheet music for 24 of his most beloved songs. Alfred Publishing Co., 176pp.

Don Heckman, “Harry Chapin Shows His Style In Program at the Bitter End,” New York Times, April 7, 1972, p. 25.

Don Heckman, “America — A One-Hit Phenomenon?,” New York Times, April 30, 1972, p. 28-D.

Henry Edwards, “‘Story Songs’ From Harry Chapin,” New York Times, December 12, 1972, p. 63.

“Chapin is Multi-Talented Man,” The Merciad ( Merceyhurst College, Erie, PA), April 2, 1976, p. 3.

Tony Kornheiser, “Harry Chapin: Words and Music,” New York Times, December 4, 1977.

John Rockwell, “Harry Chapin, Singer, Killed in Crash,” New York Times, July 17, 1981.

“Harry Chapin,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 163-164.

“Harry Chapin,” Wikipedia.org.

Harry Chapin Website (Chapin family)

Carol Strickland, “Harry Chapin: All His Life Was a Circle,” New York Times (N.Y./Region), October 19, 1997.

Alan Grayson, “Harry Chapin on What Made America Famous,” HuffingtonPost.com, Sep-tember 27, 2011.

JC Mosquito, “Almost Hits: Harry Chapin, “Taxi” (1972) and “Sequel” (1980),” Some-thingElseReviews.com, September 10, 2013.

Peter Crigler, “Harry Chapin: Balderdash, Charities & Cab Rides, Perfect Sound Forever,” Furious.com, October 2013.

James R. Hagerty, “Clare MacIntyre-Ross, Woman Who Inspired Song ‘Taxi:’ 1943-2016; Clare MacIntyre-Ross’s Break up with Harry Chapin in the ‘60s Prompted Him to Write Tune,” Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2016.

Peter D. Kramer, “Scarsdale Woman Inspired Harry Chapin’s ‘Taxi’,” The Journal News (lohud.com), March 22, 2016.

“Harry Chapin,” DramaticPublishing.com.

Jennifer Kathleen, “Harry and Clare, Skyying,” Medium.com, March 28, 2016.

Rick Moore, Harry Chapin, “Taxi,” American Songwriter.com, June 20, 2016.

“Harry Chapin Discography,” Wikipedia.org.

“Sniper (song),” Wikipedia.org.

The Harry Chapin Foundation.

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“Big Game, New Era”
Colts vs. Giants, 1958

In 1958, the game of professional football occupied a distinctly different position in America’s economy and culture than it does today. There were no Super Bowls then and certainly no $150,000-per-second TV ads during any sporting event. Baseball was then America’s most popular sport, by far. In fact, through most of the 1950s, college football was more widely followed than professional football. But in late 1958 a sea change was about to come to professional football; a change that would set the game on its present course as big-time business, taking over a large part of American sports culture and American Sunday afternoons for five or more months of the year.

December 28, 1958 game-changer: Famous photo from Baltimore Colts vs. New York Giants  NFL championship game; the game that launched a new era of big time pro football sports culture & big business. Baltimore Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas, No. 19, shown here about to throw one of his passes.
December 28, 1958 game-changer: Famous photo from Baltimore Colts vs. New York Giants NFL championship game; the game that launched a new era of big time pro football sports culture & big business. Baltimore Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas, No. 19, shown here about to throw one of his passes.

The historic moment marking the beginning of this transformation came some 50 years ago now, on December 28th, 1958 at the meeting of the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants in a professional football game played at New York’s Yankee Stadium. In those days, this season-capping football showdown was simply called a National Football League (NFL) championship game. There was only one football league then, the NFL, consisting of two conferences, East and West, each with six teams. The championship game, however, wasn’t just any old championship game. No, it happened that there was a pretty impressive lot of talent out on the field that day – a number of whom would later join the pro football Hall of Fame. The game was also nationally televised, still something of a rarity for professional football at the time. But this particular mix of elements would make for a pretty exciting afternoon – and more. “That’s the game that changed professional football,”famous Hall of Fame football coach Don Shula would say some years later. “The popularity of it started right there.”


1950s America

Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President 1953-1961.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President 1953-1961.
America in 1958 was a much different place than America today. Republican Dwight David Eisenhower was president, and the Cold War was on with the Soviet Union. The previous fall, in fact, in October 1957, the Soviets had beat the U.S. into space with the first earth-orbiting satellite, raising fears about America’s security and technological capabilities.

In terms of consumer amenities in those years, there were no iPhones, of course, no PCs, no big-screen TVs. In fact television then had three primary channels, viewed mostly on small black-and-white sets. TV westerns were a dominant genre in the 1950s, and Gunsmoke, with actor James Arness, was among the most popular shows.

In music, Billboard magazine debuted its “Hot 100″ music chart in July 1958, and Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” became the first No.1 hit. In Hollywood, South Pacific, a romantic musical film based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage production of the same name, would become the year’s top grossing film. In September that year, Bank of America introduced the first credit card.

President Eisenhower, meanwhile, who had played halfback on the West Point football team, watched the 1958 NFL Championship Game that day between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. He tuned in from Camp David, joining millions of others who also watched the game.

Colts QB, Johnny Unitas, at a 1950s practice session, about to throw a pass.
Colts QB, Johnny Unitas, at a 1950s practice session, about to throw a pass.

Regular Guys

Professional football players in those days, for the most part, did not have the exalted status and multi-million-dollar paydays they would come to have years later. Most in fact, were then pretty much like everybody else; like normal people. Some even lived in row houses.

A guy named Johnny Unitas who happened to be the quarterback on the Baltimore Colts professional football team, had recently helped his teammate, fullback Alan Ameche, lay out his kitchen floor in the row house that Ameche and his wife had bought.

Professional football salaries were such that some players held other work-a-day jobs during their football careers. Unitas, in fact, worked at Bethlehem Steel during the off-season for extra cash. Another Colt, defensive lineman Art Donovan, worked as a liquor salesman.


Football Drama

But in late December 1958, Unitas, Ameche, Donovan and their teammates would travel to New York’s Yankee Stadium for a professional football championship showdown with the New York Giants that some believe was one of the greatest games ever played. It would also be the game that catalyzed a major change in the fan base for pro football, and generally, in its economics as well.“I knew nothing about pro football when the game began and was hooked for life when it ended. So too were millions… of other Americans…”
– Jonathan Yardley
Of fans who saw the game that day – either among the reported crowd of 64,185 who filled the old Yankee Stadium, or the millions who watched on television – many came away believing they had witnessed a very special contest indeed. Washington Post writer, Jonathan Yardley, recalled some years later that his football conversion occurred watching this game on television as a young man – a game, he would later write, “for which the only appropriate adjective was, and remains, thrilling.” Yardley was 19 years-old at the time, home from college for Christmas vacation. Bored to tears with nothing much to do, he had found a black-and-white television set in a recreation room at the school where his father was headmaster – “to which I retreated in desperation the afternoon of December 28th.” Yardley recounted that “he knew nothing about pro football when the game began, but was hooked for life when it ended. So too were millions – literally millions – of other Americans…” More on the game in a moment; first some background on how the two teams got there.


The ’58 Season

In 1958, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts were the respective champions of their divisions. Each team had complied 9-and-3 records that season, pro teams then playing a 12-game schedule as opposed to 16 today. Baltimore had won their first six games, standing at 6-and-0 until losing to the Giants in a regular season contest, in part because quarterback Johnny Unitas was out due to an injury. In any case, the Colts clinched the Western Conference title by Game 10, beating San Francisco, then able to rest their starters for the remaining two games of the regular season, which they lost.

Dec 14, 1958. Pat Summerall kicks winning field goal in the snow against the Browns to advance Giants to playoff game.
Dec 14, 1958. Pat Summerall kicks winning field goal in the snow against the Browns to advance Giants to playoff game.
The Giants had a more tortured route. They were 2-and-2 by week four, improving to 5-and-3 by week eight, and finishing strong by wining their last four games in a row, bringing them to 9-and-3. But their last few contests with the Cleveland Browns would test their mettle.

On December 14th, 1958, the 8-3 Giants faced a 9-2 Cleveland Browns team — their last regular season game and their last shot at a possible Conference title. That game came down to a 10-to-10 tie in closing minutes of play on a cold, snowy afternoon.

It was then that the call went out to Giant’s place kicker, Pat Summerall, to attempt a 49-yard field goal in the driving snow. The pressure was on. Ending in a tie game would mean Cleveland would go to the Championship game, not the Giants.

Summerall made the kick, despite the freezing conditions, sending the ball through the uprights, and lifting the Giants to a 13-10 win. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Giants managed to hold NFL’s leading rusher, Jim Brown (32) of Cleveland to 8 yds in Dec 21, 1958 playoff game.
Giants managed to hold NFL’s leading rusher, Jim Brown (32) of Cleveland to 8 yds in Dec 21, 1958 playoff game.
Now the Giants and the Browns were tied for the Eastern Conference title, each at 9-and-3.

That meant a playoff game would be needed to determine the Eastern Conference champion. So that game was played the following week on December 21st, 1958 at Yankee Stadium.

Jim Brown of Cleveland was a punishing and powerful fullback for Cleveland, who had gained a record 1,527 yards rushing that year. In the playoff game, however, the Giants managed to hold Brown to a mere eight yards total rushing – no mean feat – and won the game, beating Cleveland 10-0.

Then, a week later, came the NFL Championship game against the well-rested Baltimore Colts, to be played on the same Yankee Stadium field where the Giants had just beaten the Browns – a field worn by the previous weeks’ battles, and much of it on the baseball diamond’s bare-dirt infield. These were not the days of well-manicured Super Bowl fields and climate controlled superdomes.

The Hall of Fame 15
1958 Championship Game

New York Giants
Rosey Brown, Offensive Lineman
Frank Gifford, Halfback
Sam Huff, Linebacker
Don Maynard, Wide Receiver
Andy Robustelli, Defensive End
Emlen Tunnell, Defensive Back
Vince Lombardi, Offensive coordinator
Tom Landry, Defensive coordinator

Baltimore Colts
Raymond Berry, Wide Receiver
Art Donovan, Defensive Lineman
Weeb Ewbank Head Coach
Gino Marchetti, Defensive Lineman
Lenny Moore, Halfback/Receiver
Jim Parker, Offensive Lineman
Johnny Unitas, Quarterback

Talented Teams

The nationally-televised NFL Championship Game was broadcast by NBC and watched by some 50 million people. The broadcast would help open the floodgates to more televised professional football contests thereafter, and the sport’s rising popularity via television in the 1960s and beyond. And the fact that it was being played in media-centric New York, even then, meant that it would receive a fair amount of press attention.

On the field that day there were 12 players and 3 coaches – including Colts’ quarterback Johnny Unitas and hulking Giants linebacker Sam Huff – who would later be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. (see later sidebar below for brief player profiles).

Unitas and the Colts also had Lenny Moore at halfback, wide receiver Raymond Berry, and all pro defensive end, Gino Marchetti. The Giants, in addition to Huff’s formidable defensive talents, had a potent backfield in Frank Gifford at halfback (also a passing threat), Alex Webster at halfback, and fullback Mel Triplett.

This particular game, in addition to its playing talent, would also have some of game’s rising strategic thinkers and coaching personnel, especially in the case the Giant’s offensive coordinator, Vince Lombardi, and Giant’s defensive coordinator, Tom Landry, both of whom would later rise to have standout seasons and Super Bowl victories as head coaches — Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers and Landry with the Dallas Cowboys. The Super Bowl trophy, in fact – the Lombardi Trophy – is named after Vince Lombardi. And for the Colts as well, head coach Weeb Ewbank would go on to other coaching successes, notably winning Super Bowl III with the New York Jets and quarterback great, Joe Namath.

Frank Gifford (16), star halfback for the New York Giants, shown in an earlier 1958 game, running against the Cleveland Browns, as offensive end, Bob Schnelker (85), blocks ahead of Gifford, with other Giants, offensive tackle Rosey  Brown (79) and half back Kyle Rote (44), visible in the background and headed downfield.
Frank Gifford (16), star halfback for the New York Giants, shown in an earlier 1958 game, running against the Cleveland Browns, as offensive end, Bob Schnelker (85), blocks ahead of Gifford, with other Giants, offensive tackle Rosey Brown (79) and half back Kyle Rote (44), visible in the background and headed downfield.

The 1958 championship game would also have high drama, as it would go into sudden-death overtime – the first time that had ever occurred in an NFL game. And in the wake of this game, new football celebrities were created and pro football as a sports business was about to become a much bigger enterprise.

For the Giants, backup QB Don Heinrich would start the game, as he and regular QB Charlie Conerly had routinely shared the position in the early minutes of each game throughout the season. The Giants’s coaching staff liked to use Heinrich for the first few series to “feel out” the opposition so that offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and Conerly could look over the defense from the sidelines. Along with their other coaches in the press box, the Giants could then modify the game plan for Conerly when he entered the game. At least that was the plan.

Colts’ Lenny Moore (24) about to catch a Unitas pass. (graphic, Robert Riger).
Colts’ Lenny Moore (24) about to catch a Unitas pass. (graphic, Robert Riger).
First Quarter. The game got off to a sloppy start with fumbles on both sides. Giant linebacker Sam Huff sacked Colt QB Johnny Unitas forcing a fumble, as New York recovered on the Colts 37. One play later, Baltimore took the ball back after defensive end Gino Marchetti hit NY QB Don Heinrich causing him to fumble with the Colts recovering. But in the ensuring Colt possession, a Unitas pass was picked off by Giant defensive back, Lindon Crow.

The Giants then went three-and-out. Baltimore began moving on its possession, as Unitas completed a 60-yard pass to Lenny Moore at the Giants 26-yard line, establishing speedster Moore as a big threat. But Baltimore’s drive was slowed, and they were forced to make a field goal try at the 19 yard line.

Kicker Steve Myhra, who made only 4 of 10 FGs during the season, missed the kick from about the 31 yard line. However, the Giants were offside, so Myhra got another chance, this time from about the 26. However, Giant linebacker Sam Huff broke through the Colt line and blocked the kick.

As the Giants took over, QB Charlie Conerly then came in and moved New York to the Colts’ 30-yard line, featuring a 38-yard run by Frank Gifford. On a third-down play, Conerly threw a pass to wide-open fullback, Alex Webster, who slipped on the turf just as the ball arrived, sailing past him and falling incomplete. If caught, however, this one might have been a Giant’s touchdown. Pat Summerall then kicked a 36-yard field goal to put New York on the board. Giants 3, Colts 0.

Second quarter. During the second quarter, the line play of both teams began to be a telling feature of this game, as some of New York’s standout defenders, like Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, playing with a a bad leg, wasn’t at full power. Halfback Frank Gifford would have his problems as well. Giant QB Conerly tossed to Gifford in the left flat. But as Gifford tried to break the tackle of Colt defensive lineman, Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb (6′-6″, 285 lbs), the ball popped out and Colt defensive tackle, Ray Krouse, fell on it at the New York 20-yard-line.

December 28, 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium, as New York Giant’s halfback, Frank Gifford, No. 16, looks for running room as Baltimore Colt defenders – including “Big Daddy” Lipscomb No 76 -- close in.
December 28, 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium, as New York Giant’s halfback, Frank Gifford, No. 16, looks for running room as Baltimore Colt defenders – including “Big Daddy” Lipscomb No 76 -- close in.

The Colts then took over with mostly running plays: Lenny Moore ran for 4 yards, Ameche for 5, and then again for a yard more and a first down. The Colts were now at the ten-yard line. Moore then tried a run around left end, was almost taken for a loss by Colt defensive back Karl Karilivacz, but broke free briefly until Colt defensive back Jimmy Patton pushed him out at the 2-yard-line. From there, Unitas gave the ball to fullback Ameche (photo below) who took it in for a score behind the blocking of left tackle Jim Parker. Myhra’s point-after-touchdown kick then added the extra point. Colts 7, Giants 3.

Alan Ameche, No. 35, takes hand-off from Colt quarterback Johnny Unitas, No, 19, to score on a two-yard run in the 2nd quarter after Giant’s Frank Gifford had fumbled at that end of the field, putting the Colts in the lead, 7-to-3.
Alan Ameche, No. 35, takes hand-off from Colt quarterback Johnny Unitas, No, 19, to score on a two-yard run in the 2nd quarter after Giant’s Frank Gifford had fumbled at that end of the field, putting the Colts in the lead, 7-to-3.

The Giants made little progress after receiving the Colt’s kick, and after a series of plays had to punt. The kick to the Colts, however, was fumbled by Jackie Sampson, with the Giants recovering on the their 10-yard line. But the Giant’s were unable to capitalize, as Frank Gifford, on a sweep play left, fumbled again late in the second quarter when hit by Colt defensive back Milt Davis. On the Giant’s defensive line about that time, tackle Rosey Grier took himself out of the game, as his leg injury had hobbled him by then. With thin reinforcements, the Giants were forced to use an offensive tackle, Fran Youso, to replace Grier for the rest of the game.

Play diagrams & explanation from ‘Sports Illustrated,’ January 1959 issue (more detail, later below)
Play diagrams & explanation from ‘Sports Illustrated,’ January 1959 issue (more detail, later below)
Unitas then came in with his Colts needing 90 yards for a score – and promptly engineered an impressive drive. Among the key plays: a 10-yard pass to Ameche on 3rd-and-5; a Lenny Moore sweep for a 10-yard gain; a Unitas scramble for 16 on a 3rd-and-7; and a 13-yard pass to Raymond Berry, who made a diving catch at the 21.

From there, Ameche gained 6 more yards. Then Unitas faked to Ameche, as in the previous running play, drawing in Colt defender Jimmy Patton (#20), who thinks it’s a run. But instead, Unitas then turns and fires a 15-yard-pass to Berry who is wide open in the end zone. Touchdown! (see diagram at right). Myhra then added the extra point. Colts 14, Giants 3.

Sam Huff would later say of his nemesis that afternoon, Johnny Unitas:

“You couldn’t out-think Unitas. When you thought run, he passed. When you thought pass, he ran. When you thought conventional, he was unconventional. When you thought unconventional, he was conventional. When you tried thinking in reverse, he double-reversed. It made me dizzy. It bothered me. We were one of the greatest defensive teams ever put together. … But we didn’t have a defense for Unitas.”

Third Quarter. The Colts received the kickoff at the opening of the second half, and Unitas, with continued good protection from his offensive line, moved the Colts down the field with passing in two series of downs before punting to the Giants. But the Giants went 3-and-out, punting the ball back to the Colts. This time, Unitas moved the Colts down the field to the Giant three-yard line, first down and goal to go. A sure touchdown seemed certain. Giant fans were about to throw in the towel. But the Colts were stopped cold by the Giant defense there on four attempts, including a quarterback sneak attempt by Unitas. But the Colts, surprisingly, did not opt for a field goal. On successive 3rd and 4th down running attempts by fullback Ameche, as the Giant defenders held the line

Alan Ameche, Colts fullback, and key workhorse in the game, mis-heard play call that might have been TD.
Alan Ameche, Colts fullback, and key workhorse in the game, mis-heard play call that might have been TD.
On the fourth down play, however, the Colts went for what they hoped would be a touchdown and an insurmountable 21-3 lead. Unitas called a play for Ameche to take a handoff and then throw a pass for the score. In the ensuing play, tight end Jim Mutscheller was open in the end zone, but Ameche didn’t throw the ball. He hadn’t heard the play correctly in the huddle and thought he was supposed to run the ball. He never looked for Mutscheller and was tackled for a loss.

The Giants then took over, giving team and fans hope they would prevail. It was one of the game’s key turning points in what was becoming an exciting see-saw battle.

Still, backed up against their own endzone, the Giants had their work cut out for them. They had 95-yards to go. A key play came on a Conerly pass to Kyle Rote who caught the ball on a long crossing route, broke an arm tackle at about mid-field, but then fumbled when he was hit from behind at around the 25 yard line. Fortunately for the Giants, running back Alex Webster wasn’t far behind, and although some Colt players were closing in on the fumble, Webster managed to pick up the ball and ran downfield until he was knocked out-of-bounds at the one-yard-line. From there, Giant fullback Mel Triplett took the ball in for the score. Summerall kicked his first extra point of the day. Colts 14, Giants 10. The psychology of the game suddenly shifted in the Giant’s favor – or so it seemed.

Mel Triplett (33), NY Giants’ fullback, on the move during the 1958 NFL Championship Game, as Colt’s defensive lineman, Gino Marchetti pursues him. Triplett would score Giant touchdown in the 3rd quarter..
Mel Triplett (33), NY Giants’ fullback, on the move during the 1958 NFL Championship Game, as Colt’s defensive lineman, Gino Marchetti pursues him. Triplett would score Giant touchdown in the 3rd quarter..

The Giants continued their momentum, sacking Unitas for a loss to force a three-and-out for the Colts. Starting the next possession from their 19, the Giants began moving again. Webster ran for 3, then Conerly hit tight end Bob Schnelker with a pass for 17 yards as the third quarter ended.

Fourth Quarter. Then early in the fourth quarter, with the Giants still with the ball, Conerly hit Schnelker again, followed by a 15-yard pass to Gifford who caught it at the 5 yard line, then carrying defender Milt Davis with him into the endzone for the score. With the extra point, it was now Giants 17, Colts 14.

The Baltimore Colts in the fourth quarter were able to move the ball into scoring range on two occasions, but came up short both times. First they made it to the Giants 39-yard line, but kicker Bert Rechichar missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. On another drive after a fumble recovery, they moved the ball to the New York 42 yard line, and then to the 27-yard line. But here, Unitas was sacked twice in a row – once by Giant’s defensive tackle, Andy Robustelli, and once by Giant’s defensive end, Dick Modzelewski. These losses pushed the Colts back by 20 yards or so and out of field goal range.

New York Times photo from November 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also key Giant players in 1958. Photo Dan Rubin.
New York Times photo from November 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also key Giant players in 1958. Photo Dan Rubin.

With less than three minutes left in the game when they received the Colts punt, the Giants were trying to run out the clock through a series of plays and hold their lead. But then they faced a crucial third-down-and-4-yards-to-go, needing a first down for a fresh set of plays. They were on their own 40 yard line. Gifford was given the call on a sweep play, and appeared to have the first-down as he was tackled by Colt’s defensive end, Gino Marchetti. Also joining in on the tackle was Colt teammate “Big Daddy” Lipscomb who fell on Marchetti, breaking his lower leg bones above the ankle. Some say Marchetti’s yelling in pain had distracted the officials resulting in a bad spot of the ball marking the end of Gifford’s run. Gifford believed – and would maintain for years thereafter – that he had made the crucial first down. But at the time, the ball was placed just short of the marker.

Sports Illustrated artists’ rendition of key 4th quarter play from 1958 Championship game when Colt’s Gino Marchetti (89) makes tackle of Giant’s Frank Gifford (16), as Colt’s Big Daddy Lipscomb (76) joins in, when the tibia and fibula bones in Marchetti's lower right leg were broken, afterwhich officials made a controversial spot of Gifford’s advance just short of a first down.
Sports Illustrated artists’ rendition of key 4th quarter play from 1958 Championship game when Colt’s Gino Marchetti (89) makes tackle of Giant’s Frank Gifford (16), as Colt’s Big Daddy Lipscomb (76) joins in, when the tibia and fibula bones in Marchetti's lower right leg were broken, afterwhich officials made a controversial spot of Gifford’s advance just short of a first down.

This meant the Giants were then at a pivotal fourth-down moment. They were inches away from a possible first down, which if made, would help them continue to eat up the clock, hold their lead, and win the game. Should they go for it or punt? Offensive coach Vince Lombardi urged Giant head coach Jim Lee Howell to go for it, as did defensive coach Tom Landry. Giant players wanted to go for it as well, thinking they had a better shot at running the ball at Marchetti’s replacement, Ordell Brase. Giant’s offensive guard, Jack Stroud, would later say: “We only need four inches. We would have run through a brick wall at that point.” There was a little over two minutes remaining.

Injured Colt Gino Marchetti on sideline.
Injured Colt Gino Marchetti on sideline.
Meanwhile, the injured Gino Marchetti, who had been carried off on a stretcher, told his carriers to put him down just outside the sideline so he could watch the rest of the game. “After all those years when we were so bad,” he would later say, “I wanted at least to see the finish.”

Back on the Giant’s sideline, head coach Jim Howell was still pondeing his fourth down decision. He elected to punt, believing his defense could protect the Giants 17-to-14 lead and hold the Colts in the remaining minutes.

The punt by Giant’s Don Chandler pinned Baltimore back on their own 14 yard-line with about two minutes remaining in the game. As the Colts took the field, wide receiver, Raymond Berry recalled: “I said to myself, ‘Well, we’ve blown this ballgame.’ The goalpost looked a million miles away.”

With 1:56 left and no timeouts, a Johnny Unitas legend was about to begin. From that point, Unitas engineered one of the most famous drives in football history – what might be called a “2-minute drill,” though before anyone used that term. His first two throws were incomplete, but Unitas made a third down, 11-yard completion to Lenny Moore. After a first down throw went incomplete, Unitas then threw three consecutive completions to Raymond Berry for 25, 15 and 22 yards, moving the ball 62 yards down the field to the Giants 13-yard line as time nearly ran out. This set up a 20-yard field goal by Myhra with seven seconds left to play. Myhra, in fact, wasn’t just a kicker that day, as he had been playing most of the game, since the first quarter, replacing injured left linebacker Leo Sanford. Nor was Myhra’s record exceptionally good, having made only 4 of 10 field goal attempts during the season. But this time, with seven seconds left, Myhra hit the 20-yard field goal, tying the score – Giants 17, Colts 17.

1958. With 7 seconds  remaining in the championship game, Colts kicker, Steve Myhra, successfully boots one through the uprights from 20 yards out, tying score with the Giants, 17-to-17. Ball in flight is visible, upper center.
1958. With 7 seconds remaining in the championship game, Colts kicker, Steve Myhra, successfully boots one through the uprights from 20 yards out, tying score with the Giants, 17-to-17. Ball in flight is visible, upper center.

As the final seconds ticked away in the deadlocked contest, many of the players thought the game was over and would end as a tie. Some began heading to the locker rooms only to be admonished by the officials that a “sudden death” overtime period was about to begin. It was the first overtime game in NFL playoff history.


Sports Illustrated artist’s rendition of coin toss for “sudden death” period, showing Johnny Unitas for the Colts and co-captains for the Giants, Kyle Rote and Bill Svoboda.
Sports Illustrated artist’s rendition of coin toss for “sudden death” period, showing Johnny Unitas for the Colts and co-captains for the Giants, Kyle Rote and Bill Svoboda.
Sudden Death

As Johnny Unitas later recalled:: “When the game ended in a tie, we were standing on the sidelines waiting to see what came next. All of a sudden, the officials came over and said, ‘Send the captain out. We’re going to flip a coin to see who will receive.’ That was the first we heard of the overtime period.” The respective player-captains came to the center of the field for the coin toss. Unitas called for the Colts, but lost the toss. The Giants would receive. “The first team to score, field goal, safety, or touchdown,” the referee explained to the captains, “will win the game, and the game will be over.”

Across America, meanwhile, as the special overtime period began, TV viewers and radio listeners were transfixed. This game was providing a new kind of athletic drama. On the NBC-TV broadcast, Colts announcer, Chuck Thompson, offered that “something historic” was happening “that will be remembered forever…”

In the overtime period, Don Maynard received the opening kickoff for the Giants, bobbled the ball a bit, but held onto it as he was tackled at the Giants 20-yard line. Giants quarterback, Charlie Connerly, the 37-year-old veteran, then came in, and his first play went to halfback Frank Gifford, who gained four yards. Then Conerly faked a draw play, as receiver Bob Schnelker was sent downfield for about ten yards, deep enough for a first down, but Conerly’s pass just missed him, as Schnelker made a valiant dive attempting to reach it. With a third-down-and-six-to-go, Conerly tried to pass again, but his receivers were covered, so he tried to run for it, moving around the Colts right end, but was hit by Colt linebacker Bill Pellington first, then lineman Don Shinnick, who brought Conerly down just short of the first-down marker. The Giants then punted and the Colts took over.

Earlier in the game, Giants quarterback, Charlie Conerly (42), had been having a pretty good day, shown here throwing a jump pass over on-rushing Colt defenders. But in the overtime period, the Giants seemed to run out of gas.
Earlier in the game, Giants quarterback, Charlie Conerly (42), had been having a pretty good day, shown here throwing a jump pass over on-rushing Colt defenders. But in the overtime period, the Giants seemed to run out of gas.

As the Colts took possession of the ball in the overtime period following the Giant’s punt, once again, the field command of quarterback Johnny Unitas would be put to the test – and he did not disappoint. Unitas took his team 80 yards down the field in 13 plays, as a tired Giant’s defense tried to keep up.

The first play was a run by halfback Louis Dupre over right tackle for 11 yards to the 31. Next, Unitas threw a long pass for Lenny Moore down the sideline, but Colt defender, Lindon Crow, broke it up. Dupre was called again for a two-yard run. It was then 3rd-down-and-8-to-go. On this crucial play, wide receiver Raymond Berry headed downfield on a passing route, but Unitas tossed a flare pass in the flat to Ameche who took it eight yards, just enough to make the first down at the 41 yard line. Dupre that ran again for a gain of four yards.

Photo shows Colt QB, Johnny Unitas (19), in action during NFL Championship Game, throwing pass over the attempt of hard-charging NY defensive tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), to unsuccessfully block it.
Photo shows Colt QB, Johnny Unitas (19), in action during NFL Championship Game, throwing pass over the attempt of hard-charging NY defensive tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), to unsuccessfully block it.

On the next play, Giants’ tackle, Dick Modzelewski, broke through the Colt line and sacked Unitas for a loss of eight yards. It was then 3rd down. The Colts were on their own 37 yard-line and needed 14 yards for first down. On the that 3rd down play, Unitas was rushed by Colt defenders, but evaded them and threw to Berry, who had come back for the ball off his pass route, gaining 21 yards for the first down and crossing midfield to the Giant’s 42 yard-line.

As Unitas came to the line for the next play, he had been feeling the pressure of Giant’s hard-charging defensive tackle, Dick Modzelewski. So Unitas this time called an “audible” at the line – a change of play – signaling a trap block on Modzelewski from left Colt guard Art Spinney (63) who would cut across center laterally “trapping” Modzelewski (77) with a good block (see illustration below), while the other Colt’s guard, George Preas (60) went after Giant linebacker Sam Huff (70), clearing the way for fullback Alan Ameche who then went for a gain of 23 yards downfield. A nicely timed play which then put the Colts on the Giant’s 19 yard line.

Artists rendition from ‘Sports Illustrated’ showing key “trap play” during the Colts’ final sequence of plays, with Colt linemen –  Art Spinney (63) making trap block on Giant tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), and George Preas (60) on Giant linebacker Sam Huff (70) –  clearing the way for Colt fullback, Alan Ameche (35).
Artists rendition from ‘Sports Illustrated’ showing key “trap play” during the Colts’ final sequence of plays, with Colt linemen – Art Spinney (63) making trap block on Giant tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), and George Preas (60) on Giant linebacker Sam Huff (70) – clearing the way for Colt fullback, Alan Ameche (35).

The next play was a run by Dupre who was stopped cold by the Giant’s line for no gain. Unitas then threw a pass to Raymond Berry who ran a slant pattern over the middle for a gain of 11 yards, bringing the Colts to the Giant’s eight yard-line. The Colts then had first-down-and-goal-to-go.

However, at this point, in the middle of Raymond Berry’s catch, millions of TV viewers across the nation no doubt went apoplectic as the TV transmission of the game suddenly went black. Someone in the crowd had knocked a cable loose in the end zone. NBC tried to get a delay in the game, but failed initially. Then, after some “drunk” (or instructed NBC employee) wandered onto the playing field, a timeout was called, during which NBC managed to reconnect its cable. Viewers would miss a play or two, including play no.11 in the Colt’s drive, when Ameche ran for a one yard gain.

Colt receiver, Ray Berry, making one of his catches during 1958 Championship Game. Berry's 12 receptions for 178 yards that day set an NFL record that stood for 55 years.
Colt receiver, Ray Berry, making one of his catches during 1958 Championship Game. Berry's 12 receptions for 178 yards that day set an NFL record that stood for 55 years.
Back on the field, Unitas on the next play then made what many believed was a risky call. As he dropped back to pass, Unitas made a pump-fake to his halfback Lenny Moore, who was then running into the end zone, but he threw instead to his end, Jim Mutscheller, who made a twisting catch at about the two-yard-line before going out of bounds, just short of the goal. This pass was risky because if it had been intercepted in the flat by a Giant defender, he could have gone all the way for a Giant touchdown. But that didn’t happen. Now the Colts were poised to win the game.

On the next play the Giant defenders dug in on the goal line, including linebacker Sam Huff, all expecting a run. Fullback Ameche got the call, put his head down and sailed through a big opening off right tackle and into the endzone. Colts win, game over! Final score, Colts 23, Giants 17.

Headlines from The Salisbury Times in Maryland reporting on fan reaction to Colt's victory.
Headlines from The Salisbury Times in Maryland reporting on fan reaction to Colt's victory.
Jubilant fans rushed the field and one group carried Ameche off on their shoulders in celebration. Later than night in New York, Ameche would appear briefly on The Ed Sullivan Show, lauded for his and the Colts victory that day.

Back in Baltimore there was wild celebration; 30,000 fans would come out to the airport back home to greet their conquering heroes. Some newspaper stories ran a front-page photo of one happy Colt threesome in the locker room – Steve Myhra, Johnny Unitas, and Alan Ameche.

Unitas was the MVP of that game, awarded for his stellar late-game and sudden-death heroics, as he completed 26 of 40 passes for 349 yards, then a championship game record. Raymond Berry’s 12 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown that day also set a championship game record that would stand for 55 years.

The following year, Unitas, Berry, and the Colts returned to win the 1959 NFL championship game, also against the New York Giants. But it was the 1958 game that would live for the ages.


New York Daily News, Monday, December 29, 1958 edition, announcing Colts win with photograph of Colt fullback Alan Ameche scoring winning touchdown behind great Colt blocking.
New York Daily News, Monday, December 29, 1958 edition, announcing Colts win with photograph of Colt fullback Alan Ameche scoring winning touchdown behind great Colt blocking.
Lore & Legacy

In fact, “greatest game” accolades for the 1958 NFL Championship Game began almost immediately. In the Monday morning edition of the New York Daily News following the game, reporter Gene Ward wrote:

“In years to come when our children’s children are listening to stories about football, they’ll be told about the greatest game ever played – the one between the Giants and Colts for the 1958 NFL Championship.”

They’ll be told of heroics the like of which never had been seen . . . of New York’s slashing two-touchdown rally to a 17-14 lead . . . of Baltimore’s knot-tying field goal seven seconds from the end of regulation playing time . . . and, finally, of the bitter collapse of the magnificent Giant defense as the Colts slammed and slung their way to a 23-17 triumph with an 80-yard touchdown drive in the first sudden death period ever played….”

True enough; the game was an emotional roller coaster, with ups and downs, multiple lead changes, exciting plays, costly miscues, player heroics, and more. But “greatest” and “best” game attributions would come from other quarters as well, including an early boost from Sports Illustrated magazine, then and now, a respected journal of sports reporting and analysis.

Only a week or so after the game was played, a January 5th, 1959 Sports Illustrated story by Tex Mule was titled, “The Best Football Game Ever Played.” This piece ran over five pages with several photographs by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin. The first two-page spread from that piece is shown below. Maule, in his article, would say that the contest “was a truly epic game which inflamed the imagination of a national audience.”

The January 5th, 1959 issue of “Sports Illustrated” lauds the 1958 NFL Championship Game as “The Best Football Game Ever Played” in a five-page story by Tex Maule with photos by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin. Click for magazine issue.
The January 5th, 1959 issue of “Sports Illustrated” lauds the 1958 NFL Championship Game as “The Best Football Game Ever Played” in a five-page story by Tex Maule with photos by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin. Click for magazine issue.

But Sports Illustrated wasn’t finished with just one piece on the game. Two weeks later, the magazine followed up in its January 19th, 1959 edition with a more detailed breakdown of the game by Tex Maule, along with dramatic hand drawings by Robert Riger, and some play diagrams and description, recreating some of game’s action in detail. That article was titled, “Here’s Why It Was The Greatest Game Ever.” A sampling of a two-page layout from that piece is offered below, but the full Sports Illustrated treatment of the game in this edition ran for nine pages, with drawings and annotation, including one page with a diagram of a football playing field marking the on-field progress of each of the 13 plays Johnny Unitas called in the final Colt drive in the sudden death period.

Sports Illustrated, January 19th, 1959, showing first two pages of a nine-page spread of diagrams, play calling, and analysis of the December 28, 1958 NFL championship game between NY Giants and Baltimore Colts. Click for magazine issue.
Sports Illustrated, January 19th, 1959, showing first two pages of a nine-page spread of diagrams, play calling, and analysis of the December 28, 1958 NFL championship game between NY Giants and Baltimore Colts. Click for magazine issue.

Some observers believe that the January 1959 Sports Illustrated pieces did capture a sense of what the game meant to those who were there at the time or had viewed in on TV, and also how the culture then began perceiving pro football. But the legend and lore for the 1958 game only grew thereafter, especially as the years went by. In fact, over the next fifty years, this game would become the subject of a number of books, magazine features, film documentaries, player reunion TV shows, and more.

David Klein book, 1976.
David Klein book, 1976.
Sports Illustrated, April 2008.
Sports Illustrated, April 2008.
Frank Gifford book, 2008.
Frank Gifford book, 2008.
Mark Bowden book, 2008.
Mark Bowden book, 2008.
 
Lou Sahadi book, 2008.
Lou Sahadi book, 2008.
Pro Football Researchers, 2008.
Pro Football Researchers, 2008.
 

The first of the books on the 1958 game came nearly 20 years later, in 1976 – The Game of Their Lives, by Dave Klein, a sports writer for the Newark Star-Ledger (New Jersey). Published by Random House, this book profiled the 13 players from the 1958 game who would later be inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame. A paperback edition of this book came out a year later, and it was also re-issued in digital and paperback form again in 2007-2008.

But after Klein’s book came out in 1976, there wasn’t much more activity on books about the 1958 game until about the time of its 50th anniversary in 2007-2008.

In April 2008, Sports Illustrated put the 1958 game on its cover, using the classic photo of Unitas rearing back in QB form preparing to throw one of his passes during the game, and titling its lead feature story, “The Best Game Ever,” as it had nearly 50 years before in January 1959. Only this time, the feature story was written by book author, Mark Bowden, and titled: “How John Unitas and Raymond Berry Invented the Modern NFL.”

Bowden would also publish his own book on the game in 2008, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and The Birth of The Modern NFL.

Frank Gifford, meanwhile, a former New York Giant player in the 1958 game, and also by this time, a well-known sportscasting celebrity who had worked on TV’s Monday Night Football games, also wrote a book on the 1958 game that came out in November 2008. This book – The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever – was written with Peter Richmond, and was popular at the time of the game’s 50th anniversary.

The genesis of the Gifford book had begun with Pulitzer Prize winning writer David Halberstam – famous for his book on Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest, and others, including several sports books. Halberstam had intended to write a book on the 1958 game and Gifford was recruited to help Halberstam get in touch with a number of the players from that game for the planned book. Halberstam, however, on his way to meet one of his first interview subjects for that book, was killed in a California car accident. Thereafter, Gifford decided to take on the project. And once the book came out, Gifford made the rounds on some sports shows and media interviews talking about the famous game.

There were also a couple of other books that came out at that time. In September 2008, Lou Sahadi, an author of other sports and pro football books, published One Sunday in December: The 1958 NFL Championship Game and How It Changed Professional Football, released by Lyons Press. And also that year, the Professional Football Researchers Association issued a book titled, The 1958 Baltimore Colts: Profiles of the NFL’s First Sudden Death Champions.


“Famous Players”
1958 Colts v. Giants Game

The 1958 game also became known for its famous players – those who entered the professional Football Hall of Fame and others who were famous in that game, for what they did elsewhere in football, and/or for later achievement in sportscasting and other career endeavors. What follows below are brief profiles on some of those Colt and Giant players who took part in the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game.

– Baltimore Colts –

Alan Ameche book, 2012.
Alan Ameche book, 2012.
Alan Ameche, cousin of actor Don Ameche, won the Heisman Trophy in college at the University of Wisconsin where he played both fullback and linebacker. He is one of six Wisconsin players to have his numeral retired there. Nicknamed “The Horse,” and famous for his winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship game, Ameche was elected to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons in the NFL.

Due to an Achilles tendon injury in 1960, Ameche finished his NFL career after six seasons with 4,045 rushing yards, 101 receptions for 733 yards, and 44 touchdowns. He is one of four players named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ameche was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2004. Along with Colts teammate Gino Marchetti, Ameche founded the Gino’s Hamburgers chain and the Baltimore-based Ameche’s Drive-In restaurants were also named for him.

Raymond Berry book, 2017.
Raymond Berry book, 2017.
Raymond Berry was a split end for the Baltimore Colts from 1955 to 1967. When he was drafted in the late rounds by the Colts in 1954 he was considered a long shot to make the team. His college career at SMU had not been exceptional and he had poor eyesight. However, his subsequent rise with the Colts has been touted as one of American football’s Cinderella stories. He became known for rigorous practice and attention to detail, along with running near-perfect pass routes and his sure handedness. By his second NFL season, after quarterback Johnny Unitas arrived, Berry’s talents came in full display. Over the next 12 seasons together, the two became one of the most dominant passing and catching duos in NFL history. Berry, who did not miss a single game until his eighth year in the league, led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards three times and in receiving touchdowns twice. When his playing days ended, Berry began coaching. After several assistant coaching positions, he became head coach of the New England Patriots from 1984 to 1989. In 1973, Berry was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He is also a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, compiled in 1994, and the 1950s All-Decade Team. Berry’s No. 82 jersey is retired by the Colts and he is also included in the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor.

Art Donovan book, 1987.
Art Donovan book, 1987.
Art Donovan, a Colt defensive lineman, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. As a U.S. Marine he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II seeing action in the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Iwo Jima. He played his college football at Boston College following his military service. He was an All-NFL selection 1954-1958 and played in five straight Pro Bowls. During his playing days Donovan was noted as a jovial and humorous teammate and capitalized on those qualities with television and speaking appearances in later years. He appeared ten times on the Late Show with David Letterman telling humorous stories about his playing days and “old school” footballers. Donovan also made other TV guest appearances and was a guest commentator for the WWF’s 1994 edition of “King of the Ring.” He was also co-host of the popular 1990s Baltimore TV program, “Braase, Donovan, Davis and Fans,” with fellow Colt teammate Ordell Braase. Donovan also owned and managed a country club in Towson, Maryland and he published his autobiography in 1987 titled, Fatso. Art Donovan died in 2013 from a respiratory disease at age 89.

Big Daddy & Marchetti, 1950s.
Big Daddy & Marchetti, 1950s.
Eugene Allen Lipscomb, also known as “Big Daddy” due to his hulking 6′-6″/285 lb. size, was born in Uniontown, Alabama. He never knew his father, moved to Detroit at age three, where his mother was brutally murdered when he was 11, then raised by his grandparents. For a time at Detroit’s Miller High School, he starred in football and basketball, but was declared ineligible his senior year for playing semi-pro basketball. He then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, playing football for the Camp Pendleton team. He was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Rams (1953-1955) before being traded to the Baltimore Colts where he played five seasons. In 1958 and 1959, he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, and was instrumental in the Colts’ two consecutive NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. He then went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers for two seasons. Fellow players described him as a powerful big man with unusual speed and athletic ability, but also as a gentle and big-hearted person off the field, often helpful to those down-and-out. Gino Marchetti, his teammate and mentor, found his lateral movement exceptional, calling him “our fourth linebacker;” an uncommon defensive tackle who could sometimes catch halfbacks downfield. In his final game, the 1963 Pro Bowl, Lipscomb was named MVP after making 11 tackles, forcing two fumbles and deflecting a pass. But Gene Lipscomb also had a fondness for nightlife, women, and liquor, and in May 10, 1963, he was found dead of a heroin overdose in Baltimore, though many believed he was not a drug user and suspected foul play. He was 31 years old. In Baltimore, 30,000 lined up for his funeral. Several magazines would later profile and eulogize him following his death (see Sources).

Gino Marchetti sports card.
Gino Marchetti sports card.
Gino Marchetti, the son of Italian immigrants, enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a machine gunner. After playing college football at the University of San Francisco, he was drafted by the New York Yanks, the team that later became the Baltimore Colts. Marchetti played 13 seasons with the Colts and became known as a relentless pass-rusher. He was voted “the greatest defensive end in pro football history” by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1999, he was ranked number 15 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, then the second-highest-ranking defensive end behind Deacon Jones.

In 1959, Marchetti joined with several of his teammates, including Alan Ameche, and opened a fast food restaurant. The business grew, began to franchise, and would eventually become known as Gino’s Hamburgers, a popular fast food chain in the 1960s. On the East Coast in would grow to have 313 company-owned locations when the chain was sold to Marriott International in 1982 and became Roy Rogers restaurants.

Lenny Moore book, 2005.
Lenny Moore book, 2005.
Lenny Moore, Penn State standout from Reading, Pennsylvania, won the NFL Rookie of the Year as a Baltimore Colt running back in 1956. In 1958, he caught a career-high 50 passes for 938 yards and seven touchdowns in helping the Colts win the NFL championship. In 1959, he had 47 receptions for 846 yards and six touchdowns as the Colts repeated as champions.

In 1964, Moore had one of his best seasons when he scored 20 touchdowns, helping the Colts to a 12–2 record and another trip to the NFL Championship Game. He was voted MVP by his fellow players that year and also won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Moore was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975. In 2005, he published his autobiography, All Things Being Equal. In 2010, Moore retired from the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services after 26 years of service, working with at-risk kids in Maryland middle schools and high schools.

Jim Parker, Colt lineman.
Jim Parker, Colt lineman.
Jim Parker, offensive lineman with the Baltimore Colts from 1957 to 1967, played college football at Ohio State University from 1954 to 1956. During the 1958 Championship Game, Sam Huff noted that the Giant’s All-Pro defensive end, Andy Robustelli, was having no success getting past Parker to harass Unitas. Huff recalled: “Andy couldn’t get around Parker; he couldn’t come under him; he couldn’t go over him. The immovable object, that’s what Jim Parker was.” And Robustelli himself would say: “I used to think there wasn’t a big tackle I couldn’t outmaneuver. But Parker was too strong, too smart, too good.” Parker was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974. He is considered among the greatest lineman to ever play pro football. In 1994, Parker was selected to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. In 1999, he was ranked number 24 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Jim Parker died in 2005 at the age of 71.

Johnny Unitas book, 2004.
Johnny Unitas book, 2004.
Johnny Unitas, legendary quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, grew up in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA, losing his father at age 5 and raised by his mother, who worked two jobs to make ends meet. Of Lithuanian decent, Unitas played halfback and quarterback at Pittsburgh’s St. Justin’s High School, and dreamed of playing at Notre Dame, but at a try out there he was told by coach Frank Leahy he was too skinny and would “get murdered” on the field. Unitas played instead for the University of Louisville, where mid-career there, the school deemphasized football, but Unitas persisted, playing both ways, heroically in a few cases, suffering many losing contests. Still, Unitas emerged from Louisville with 245 completed passes for 3,139 yards and 27 touchdowns and was selected as a ninth-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1953? However, with four other QBs in training camp, Unitas was cut by the Steelers even before training camp had ended. After being cut, Unitas played for the Bloomfield Rams in the semi-pro Greater Pittsburgh League. In 1956, Baltimore Colts coach Weeb Ewbank gave Unitas a look and liked what he saw and signed him for a pittance. But with the Colts, Unitas would become the prototype, modern era marquee quarterback, setting records and winning NFL most valuable player awards in 1959, 1964, and 1967. For 52 years he held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass ( 47, set between 1956 and 1960), until quarterback Drew Brees broke the record in 2012. Unitas is 7th all time in number of regular season games won by an NFL starting quarterback with 118. He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. In 2004, The Sporting News ranked Unitas No. 1 among the NFL’s 50 Greatest Quarterbacks, with Joe Montana at No. 2. At the Baltimore Ravens stadium a statue of Unitas is the centerpiece in the stadium’s front plaza, and large banners depicting Unitas in his heyday flank the entrance. Towson University named its football and lacrosse complex Johnny Unitas Stadium in recognition of his football career and his service to the university.

– New York Giants –

Rosey Brown, New York Giants.
Rosey Brown, New York Giants.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown, growing up in Charlottesville, VA, initially played trombone in the Jefferson High School band. He was forbidden to play football by his family after his older brother died from a football injury. However, Brown did play at the prodding of the high school coach, and at first without his father’s knowledge. He then went on to Morgan State University on a football scholarship where he would be named to the Pittsburgh Courier’s All-America team in 1952. Brown was selected by the New York Giants in the late rounds of the 1953 NFL draft, would become one of the team’s most consistent and valuable players, appearing in 162 games, missing only four games in a 13-year career. In his prime, between 1956 and 1963, he helped lead the Giants to six division championships and the 1956 NFL Championship Game. He was selected as a first-team All-NFL player eight consecutive years and was also selected to play in the Pro Bowl nine times. After his playing days, Brown became the Giant’s assistant offensive line coach in 1966, then offensive line coach in 1969. He remained with the Giants organization in the scouting department for many years. Rosey Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1999, he was ranked number 57 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Brown passed away in 2004.

Book by Perian Conerly, 2003.
Book by Perian Conerly, 2003.
Charlie Conerly, quarterback for the New York Giants from 1948 through 1961, played college football at the University of Mississippi where he started in 1942 but left to join the U.S. Marines during WWII, and fought in the Battle of Guam in the South Pacific. Back at Mississippi in 1946, he would lead Ole Miss to their first SEC championship in 1947. That season, he also led the nation in pass completions with 133, rushed for nine touchdowns, passed for 18 more, and was a consensus All-American. Conerly was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966. The Conerly Trophy is given annually to the top college player in the State of Mississippi. Conerly also portrayed the “Marlboro Man” in cigarette commercials. After his playing days, Conerly owned shoe stores throughout the Mississippi Delta, and his wife, Perian, a sports columnist, authored the book, Backseat Quarterback. Charlie Conerly retired to his Clarksdale, Mississippi hometown where he spent his final days before his death in 1996.

Frank Gifford book, 1970.
Frank Gifford book, 1970.
Frank Gifford was a star football player at the University of Southern California and was drafted by the New York Giants in 1952 as a first-round pick, 11th overall. Gifford became a versatile player for the Giants, adept at running, passing, and receiving. He also played defensive back and returned punts and kickoffs. He was named the NFL’s MVP in 1956, helping lead the Giants to a championship. Gifford was named All-NFL six times in his career and selected to a total of eight Pro Bowls at three different positions – defensive back, halfback, and flanker. Overall, Gifford spent 12 seasons with the Giants compiling a record of 3,609 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns on 840 carries. He also had 5,434 receiving yards with 367 catches and 43 touchdowns. Gifford was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 1977. He also became one of the better-known American sportscasters in the latter part of the 20th century, notably for ABC’s Monday Night Football (1971-1997). Gifford also had an extensive advertising career, both as a player and for years thereafter. At his death in 2015, the much admired Gifford was called “the Mickey Mantle of the Giants.” The New York Post’s Steve Serby also wrote of Gifford at that time: “He was the Giants’ first made-for-television superstar in the grainy, black-and-white glory days of the 1950s, every bit the heartthrob Joe Namath would be in the 1960s…” More detail about Gifford at this website can be found at “Celebrity Gifford” and “Bednarik-Gifford Lore.”

Rosey Grier book, 1986.
Rosey Grier book, 1986.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier played his college football at Penn State, and was drafted by the New York Giants in 1955 as the 31st overall pick. He played with the Giants from 1955 to 1962 and was named All-Pro at defensive tackle in 1956 and 1958–1962. Later traded to the Los Angeles Rams, Grier became part of the “Fearsome Foursome” along with Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy, considered one of the best defensive lines in football history. After Grier’s professional sports career, he worked as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign and was guarding Ethel Kennedy when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy, though Grier helped subdue Sirhan and took control of his gun during the mayhem. Beyond football, Grier hosted his own Los Angeles television show and made numerous guest appearances on other shows during the 1960s and 1970s. He also authored several books.

Sam Huff, Time cover 1959.
Sam Huff, Time cover 1959.
Sam Huff was born and grew up in the No. 9 coal mining camp in Edna, West Virginia. During the Great Depression, his father and two brothers worked in the coal mines. Playing high school football, Sam Huff collected all-state honors as a lineman, and continued at the University of West Virginia, where he was an All-American in 1955. Drafted by the New York Giants in 1956, they weren’t sure where to play him until he found a home at middle linebacker, then a relatively new position – where he excelled. Huff appeared on the cover of Time magazine for a pro football feature story in November 1959, and was also the subject of an October 1960 CBS television special, “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” part of a Walter Cronkite series. Traded to the Redskins in 1964 he helped make their defense second best in 1965. An ankle injury in 1967 ended a streak of 150 consecutive games for Huff, and he retired briefly, until Vince Lombardi, then coach of the Washington Redskins, coaxed Huff out of retirement to help bring a winning season in 1969. Huff retired for good in 1970, the year he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, though losing in the West Virginia Democratic primary. Outside of football, Huff worked in textile sales and sports marketing, but through 2012 became known as a Washington Redskin radio and TV broadcast personality with former Redskin teammate Sonny Jurgensen. Sam Huff was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1999, he was ranked number 76 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. In 2005, Huff’s No. 75 numeral was retired by West Virginia University.

Don Maynard book, 2010.
Don Maynard book, 2010.
Don Maynard, then in his rookie NFL season, returned punts and kickoffs for the Giants in the 1958 Championship game. However, he would become a Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver with the New York Jets (1960-1972). In 1965, Maynard was paired up with Jet’s rookie QB Joe Namath and had 1,218 yards with 68 receptions and 14 touchdowns. In 1967, Maynard caught 1,434 of Namath’s historic 4,007 passing yards. The receiving yards were a career-high for Maynard and led the league; he also had 71 receptions, 10 touchdowns, and averaged 20.2 yards per catch. In the 1968 season opener against Kansas City, Maynard had 200+ receiving yards for the first time in his career and passed Tommy McDonald as the active leader in receiving yards, where he remained for the next six seasons until his retirement. Maynard finished his career with 633 receptions for 11,834 yards and 88 touchdowns. His 18.7 yards per catch is the highest among those with at least 600 receptions. Maynard’s No. 13 New York Jets numeral was the second ever retired by the Jets after Namath’s. He was selected to the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1987. In his post NFL-career, Maynard worked as a math and industrial arts teacher, a salesman, and a financial planner.

Andy Robustelli book, 1987.
Andy Robustelli book, 1987.
Andy Robustelli was drafted initially by the Los Angeles Rams but played most of his career with the New York Giants. He was a starter on the Giants defense from 1956 until his retirement following the 1964 season. Robustelli was a six-time All-Pro selection and was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1971. After his playing days, Robustelli spent 1965 as a color analyst for NBC’s American Football League broadcasts. That same year he purchased Stamford-based Westheim Travel and renamed it Robustelli Travel Services, Inc. In December 1973, he was appointed director of operations for the New York Giants, essentially becoming the team’s first general manager for the next six years. In 1988, he was named Walter Camp Man of the Year, a public service and leadership award. Robustelli Travel Services, meanwhile, specializing in corporate travel management, grew into Robustelli World Travel by the time it was sold to Hogg Robinson Group in 2006. He also founded National Professional Athletes (NPA), a sports marketing business which arranged appearances by sports celebrities at corporate functions, and International Equities, which evolved into Robustelli Corporate Services. Andy Robustelli died in May 2011 from complications following surgery. He was 85 years old.

Kyle Rote, New York Giants.
Kyle Rote, New York Giants.
Kyle Rote was a running back and receiver with the New York Giants for eleven years. He was an All-American running back at Southern Methodist University where he became one of the most celebrated collegiate football players in the country. In December 1949, in a near upset of undefeated national champs, Notre Dame, Rote ran for 115 yards, threw for 146 yards, and scored all three SMU touchdowns in a 27–20 loss. His performance was voted by the Texas Sportswriters Association as “The Outstanding Individual Performance by a Texas Athlete in the First Half of the 20th Century.” He appeared on the cover of Life magazine November 1950 in his SMU football gear in a featured story on college football. Rote, who had been runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, was the first overall selection of the 1951 NFL Draft. When Rote retired after the 1961 season, he was the Giants’ career leader in pass receptions (300), receiving yardage (4,795) and touchdown receptions (48). He was named to the Pro Bowl four times and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1964. Following his playing career, Rote was the Giants backfield coach and also a sports broadcaster for WNEW radio, NBC, and WNBC New York. He also wrote a few football books. Kyle Rote died in 2002 following surgery. He was 73 years old.

Pat Summerall book, 2006.
Pat Summerall book, 2006.
“Pat” Summerall played college football from 1949 to 1951 at the University of Arkansas as defensive end, tight end, and placekicker. He graduated in 1953 majoring in Russian history. Summerall spent ten years as an NFL football player, first drafted by the Detroit Lions, traded to the Chicago Cardinals, and then the New York Giants, his last team and where he had his best year in 1959 as a kicker, with 30-for-30 extra points and 20-for-29 in field goals. Pat Summerall, however, is best known for his many years of work in the broadcast booth, along with partners such as Tom Brookshier, John Madden, and others on various TV and cable networks including CBS, FOX and ESPN, doing NFL and other sports events and special telecasts. In 1977, he was named the National Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1994. That year, he also received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1999. The Pat Summerall Award, honoring his legacy, has been awarded to various individuals since 2006. Pat Summerall died in 2013 of cardiac arrest at age 82.

Emlen Tunnell book, 1966.
Emlen Tunnell book, 1966.
Emlen Tunnell, played 14 seasons in the National Football League (NFL) as a defensive halfback and safety for the New York Giants (1948–1958) and Green Bay Packers (1959–1961). He was the first African American to play for the New York Giants and also the first to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was named to the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team and was ranked No. 70 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He was selected as a first-team All-Pro player six times and played in nine Pro Bowls. When he retired as a player, he held NFL career records for interceptions (79), interception return yards (1,282), punt returns (258), and punt return yards (2,209). After retiring as a player, Tunnell served as a special assistant coach and defensive backs coach for the New York Giants from 1963 to 1974. Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Tunnell was a high school standout at Radnor High School. He played his college football at the University of Toledo in 1942 and University of Iowa in 1946 and 1947. He also served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1943 to 1946. He received the Silver Lifesaving Medal for heroism in rescuing a shipmate from flames during a torpedo attack in 1944 and rescuing another shipmate who fell into the sea in 1946. In July 1975, Tunnell died from a heart attack during a Giants practice session at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York. He was 51.


In terms of the media hype on the famous 1958 Championship game, in addition to the books mentioned above, there have also been occasional newspaper and magazine stories on the game, as well as a few TV specials. In 1998, at the game’s 40th-anniversary, the NFL conducted a teleconference with four of the Hall of Fame players from that game — Johnny Unitas and Art Donovan of the Colts, and Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the Giants. In January 1999, at the coin toss for Super Bowl XXXIII,…On any given Sunday since 1958, there have been, and continue to be, games that are arguably better… twelve of the surviving Hall of Fame players and coaches from the 1958 game were honored. And by its 50 anniversary year in 2008, the various books had come out, followed by commentary.

So yes, over the years there has been ample analysis of, and reflection upon, the 1958 NFL Championship Game. But despite the game’s legendary claim as the “best” or “greatest” game ever played, most analysts today acknowledge a certain amount of hype and inflated worth in that claim – and some even mark the game’s lapses of sloppiness and poor execution as evidence it was not the “greatest” NFL game ever played. Indeed, on any given Sunday during pro football seasons since 1958, there have been, and continue to be, games that are arguably better, or at least equally thrilling and engaging, played with equally-talented and superb players who regularly demonstrate amazing feats of athletic dexterity and improvisation plying their craft, whether golden-armed quarterbacks, hard-nosed offensive guards, shape-shifting halfbacks, punishing middle linebackers, or ballerina-styled, sideline-dancing wide receivers.

Michael MacCambridge’s 2012 book, “Lamar Hunt: A Life In Sports,” 416pp. Click for book.
Michael MacCambridge’s 2012 book, “Lamar Hunt: A Life In Sports,” 416pp. Click for book.
Yet the 1958 NFL Championship Game does have a fair claim to being an important demarcation in the rise of pro football’s cultural and economic importance. Clearly, things did change after that game, as it did get the attention of the TV networks, advertising executives, journalists, and investors.

Lamar Hunt, son of oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, had spent much of 1958 trying to decide whether he wanted to invest in a football team or a baseball team. But sitting in his Houston hotel room on a business trip on December 28, 1958, he watched the Colts-Giants game and the action convinced him that football was the way to go.

Hunt would proceed to stir the competitive juices of football investors across the country as he and others founded the American Football League (AFL), and in so doing, hastened expansion in the NFL.

There were 12 pro football teams in 1959, and by the beginning of the 1960 season, that number had grown to 21. The AFL-NFL wars had begun, and with them, among other things, came escalating player salaries and a growing interest among the TV networks in telecasting all pro football games.

Pete Rozelle, elected NFL Commissioner in January 1960, helped negotiate large TV contracts, deftly playing one network against the other. In late September 1961, a bill legalizing single-network television contracts by professional sports leagues was passed by Congress and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.

David Maraniss’s 1999 book on Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” 544pp. Click for book.
David Maraniss’s 1999 book on Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” 544pp. Click for book.
Other changes were also afoot following the 1958 Colts-Giants game that would add to pro football’s rising allure. Vince Lombardi, who had been the Giants offensive coordinator, was hired by the Green Bay Packers as head coach in January 1959, starting a pro football dynasty there and raising pro football fervor in Upper Midwest America. By 1966, Lombardi’s Packers would reign victorious over Lamar Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs in the first AFL-NFL Championship contest (Super Bowl I, though not called that at the time). The AFL and NFL would announce their merger soon thereafter, eventually yielding a pro football colossus that today counts 32 NFL teams generating more than $13 billion in annual revenue, and Super Bowl Championship games with 100 million or more TV viewers globally.

Indeed, the 1958 Colts-Giants Championship Game is quaint by comparison – especially when held up against today’s modern Super Bowl, which some might conclude is an over-the-top, out-of-control media extravaganza with way out-of-proportion importance. Yet the money-making genie of professional football is long out of the bottle, and there is no going back.

* * * * * *

Additional football-related stories at this website include: “I Guarantee It” (a profile of Joe Namath, his famous prediction for Super Bowl III, his bio and pro career, and his off-the-filed activities); “Bednarik-Gifford Lore” (the respective playing careers of Chuck Bednarik and Frank Gifford, and a famous on–the-field collision between the two); “Slingin` Sammy” (career of quarterback Sammy Baugh and Washington Redskins history, 1930s-1950s); “Dutchman’s Big Day”(about Norm Van Brocklin’s single-game NFL passing record and other QBs closing in on that record; and, “Celebrity Gifford” (a detailed look at the advertising, sports broadcasting, and TV/film/radio career of Frank Gifford ). See also the “Annals of Sport” category page for other 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: 12 January 2019
Last Update: 12 January 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Big Game, New Era: Colts vs. Giants, 1958,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 12, 2019.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Jack Cavanaugh’s 2008 book, “Giants Among Men,” paperback edition, 352pp. Click for book.
Jack Cavanaugh’s 2008 book, “Giants Among Men,” paperback edition, 352pp. Click for book.
John Eisenberg’s 2018 book, “The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire,” Art Rooney, George Halas, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Bert Bell, 416pp. Click for book.
John Eisenberg’s 2018 book, “The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire,” Art Rooney, George Halas, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Bert Bell, 416pp. Click for book.
Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, 1968 classic book with Dick Schaap, “Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer,” 303pp. Click for book.
Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, 1968 classic book with Dick Schaap, “Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer,” 303pp. Click for book.
Former QB Ron Jaworski’s 2018  book, “The Games That Changed The Game,” 336pp.
Former QB Ron Jaworski’s 2018 book, “The Games That Changed The Game,” 336pp.

Jack Hand (Associated Press, New York), “Colts 3.5 Point Favorite Over N.Y. Giant’s Sunday,” San Mateo Times (California), December 27, 1958, p. 6.

Gene Ward, “Colts Win In Sudden Death, 23-17; Cop Title in Fifth Period After Late FG Ties Giants,” Daily News (New York), Monday, December 29, 1958, p. 44.

Joe Trimble, “Six Inches Worth $1,600 As Giff Misses First Down,” Daily News (New York), Monday, December 29, 1958, p. 44.

“’The Greatest Game Ever Played’: Colts Beat Giants in 1958 NFL Championship,” Daily News, January 13, 2015 (reprint of 1958 story).

Tex Maule, “The Best Game Ever Played,” Sports Illustrated, January 5, 1959 (photos by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin).

Tex Maule, “Here’s Why it Was the Best Football Game Ever,” Sports Illustrated, January 19, 1959 (drawings by Robert Riger, explanations by Tex Maule).

“1958: Baltimore Colts @ New York Giants, NFL Championship Games,” Golden Football Magazine, GoldenRankings.com.

“Greatest Game Ever Played,” Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“1958 NFL Championship Game,” Wikipedia .org.

“A Man’s Game” (Sam Huff cover story), Time, November 30, 1959.

Tony Kornheiser, “Giants, Colts of 1958 Play It Again – For Laughs,” New York Times, July 8, 1978.

Shelby Strother, NFL Top 40: The Greatest Pro Football Games of All Time, 1988.

William Gildea, When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore, 1994.

Frank Litsky, “There Were Better Games; None More Important,” New York Times, December 16, 1998.

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William Nack, “The Ballad Of Big Daddy: Big Daddy Lipscomb, Whose Size and Speed Revolutionized the Defensive Lineman’s Position in the Late ’50s, Was a Man of Insatiable Appetites: For Women, Liquor and, Apparently, Drugs,” Sports Illustrated, January 11, 1999.

Richard Rothschild, “Sudden Death, Sudden Impact,” ChicagoTribune.com, January 24, 2001.

Richard Goldstein, “Kyle Rote, a Top Receiver For the Giants, Dies at 73,” New York Times, August 16, 2002.

Scott Calvert, “Hero for a Working-Class Town: Friends and Fans Recall John Unitas as a Gritty, Big-Hearted Man Who Perfectly Fit the City Where He Played Football for Nearly Two Decades; 1933-2002,” Baltimore Sun, September 12, 2002.

Chris McDonell, The Football Game I’ll Never Forget; 100 NFL Stars’ Stories, 2004.

Craig R. Coenen, From Sandlots To The Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920-1967, University of Tennessee Press, 2005.

Jonathan Yardley, “Book Review, Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas, by Tom Callahan, Book World, Washington Post, October 22-28, 2006.

Tom Callahan, Johnny U: The Life & Times of John Unitas, 2006.

Frank Deford, “Everything On The Line: The Colts-Giants in ’58 Was a Door Between Two Eras,” SI.com, Tuesday July 17, 2007.

“The Greatest Game Ever Played – Sports Illustrated‘s Coverage of The Game,” FleerSticker.blogspot .com, December 14, 2008.

Mark Bowden, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL, 2008.

Frank Gifford with Peter Richmond, The Glory Game: How The 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever, 2008

Jeff Miller, “Shaky Myhra Made the Kick That Mattered Most,” ESPN, December 8, 2008.

Michael MacCambridge, “Legacy of ‘The Greatest Game’ Can Be Found in What Followed,” NFL.com, December 25, 2008.

Mike Klis, “The ‘58 Classic,” The Denver Post, December 26, 2008.

Ihsan Taylor, “The Glory Game: Q&A With Frank Gifford,” New York Times, January 10, 2009.

Bill Lubinger, “Remember When … Off-Season Was Work Time for the Cleveland Browns (and all pro athletes)?,The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), May 26, 2010.

Joe Garner and Bob Costas, 100 Yards of Glory: The Greatest Moments in NFL History, 2011.

Ernie Palladino, Lombardi and Landry: How Two of Pro Football’s Greatest Coaches Launched Their Legends and Changed the Game Forever, 2011.

Dan Manoyan. Alan Ameche: The Story of ‘The Horse’, 2012.

Joe Horrigan and John Thorn (eds.), The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book: Where Greatness Lives, 2012.

Kevin Boilard, “Pat Summerall: New York Giants Kicker’s Greatest Performances with Big Blue,” BleacherReport.com, April 20, 2013.

‘Steve Serby, “‘Unforgettable’ Frank Gifford Was The Giants’ Mickey Mantle,” New York Post, August 9, 2015.

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https://operations.nfl.com/the-players/evolution-of-the-nfl-player/

“AFL–NFL Merger,” Wikipedia.org.

_______________________________________




“Crosby, Stills & Nash”
1969 & 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 David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills at the Big Sur Folk Festival, California, September 1969.
Photograph of David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills 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

 

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

 

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

 

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.
Peter Doggett's 2019 book.
Peter Doggett's 2019 book.
David Browne's 2019 book.
David Browne's 2019 book.
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 – 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 here at left or 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: 19 July 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Crosby, Stills & Nash: 1969 & 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.

 

______________________________

 

 

 


 

“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".(Click images for products).
1965. Fonda in "Cat Ballou".(Click images for products).
1967. With Robert Redford in "Barefoot in the Park".
1967. With Robert Redford in "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". Click for copy.
2001. "Ms America: Why Jane Fonda is A Mirror of the Nation's Past 40 Years". Click for copy.
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.

Fonda as reporter Kimberly Wells in “The China Syndrome,” a 1979 film about a nuclear meltdown. Click for DVD.
Fonda as reporter Kimberly Wells in “The China Syndrome,” a 1979 film about a nuclear meltdown. Click for DVD.

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. Click for book.
“Jane Fonda’s Workout Book,” in a 254-page hardback edition, was published by Simon & Schuster, November 1981. Click for book.
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.

1982 record album and cassette tapes offered an “aural companion” to Fonda’s Workout Book, with music by The Jacksons, REO Speedwagon, Boz Scaggs & others. Click for CD.
1982 record album and cassette tapes offered an “aural companion” to Fonda’s Workout Book, with music by The Jacksons, REO Speedwagon, Boz Scaggs & others. Click for CD.

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 “Workout Record” with new music from Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Dean Correa & others. Click for CD.
Later edition of “Workout Record” with new music from Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Dean Correa & others. Click for CD.

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

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”. Click for book.
1984: new book, “Women Coming of Age With Jane Fonda’s Prime Time Workout”. Click for book.
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. Click for book.
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. Click for book.

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. (Click on images for DVDs or videos).

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”  book, 2012. Click for book.
Jane Fonda’s “Prime Time” book, 2012. Click for book.

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. (Click on images for DVDs or videos).

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.


Fonda & others in "Book Club". Click for DVD.
Fonda & others in "Book Club". Click for DVD.
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: 27 April 2019
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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Mary Hershberger's 2005 book, "Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Antiwar Icon," 228pp. Click for book.
Jane Fonda's 2005 autobiography, "My Life So Far," Random House, hardback, 624pp. Click for book.
Jane Fonda's 2005 autobiography, "My Life So Far," Random House, hardback, 624pp. Click for book.
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Mary Hershberger’s 2006 book, “Jane Fonda's Words of Politics and Passion,” The New Press, 161pp. Click for book.
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George Haddad-Garcia’s book, “The Films of Jane Fonda,” February 1983, paperback edition, Lyle Stuart, 256 pp. Provides synopsis, cast, credits, review excerpts, and stills for each of Jane Fonda’s films through "On Golden Pond," and traces development of her career. Click for book.
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.

____________________________________



Sources, Links & Additional Information

Ian Cummins and John Beasant’s 2005 book, “Shell Shock: The Secrets and Spin of an Oil Giant,” Mainstream, 256pp.
Ian Cummins and John Beasant’s 2005 book, “Shell Shock: The Secrets and Spin of an Oil Giant,” Mainstream, 256pp.
Steve Lerner’s 2004 book on the Diamond community of Norco, LA, an African-American subdivision sandwiched between a Shell oil refinery and a Shell chemical plant. MIT Press, 344pp.
Steve Lerner’s 2004 book on the Diamond community of Norco, LA, an African-American subdivision sandwiched between a Shell oil refinery and a Shell chemical plant. MIT Press, 344pp.
Lawyer and oil royalty landowner J. Michael Veron’s 2007 account of a nine-year legal battle with Shell Oil over decades of pollution on his family's Louisiana farm. Lyons Press. 272pp.
Lawyer and oil royalty landowner J. Michael Veron’s 2007 account of a nine-year legal battle with Shell Oil over decades of pollution on his family's Louisiana farm. Lyons Press. 272pp.
2002 book published by the Environmental Health Fund of Boston, “Riding the Dragon: Royal Dutch Shell & The Fossil Fire,” includes case histories of Shell environmental and public safety performance over several decades; 350pp.
2002 book published by the Environmental Health Fund of Boston, “Riding the Dragon: Royal Dutch Shell & The Fossil Fire,” includes case histories of Shell environmental and public safety performance over several decades; 350pp.
Stuart Smith’s 2005 book about battling oil companies (including Shell) in Mississippi over oil- derived radium contamination and other oil/environment warnings. BenBella Books, 264pp.
Stuart Smith’s 2005 book about battling oil companies (including Shell) in Mississippi over oil- derived radium contamination and other oil/environment warnings. BenBella Books, 264pp.

“Ohio Chemical Plant Erupts In Fire,” Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1994.

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Associated Press, “Explosion, Fire Force Evacuations; Governor Declares State of Emergency in Belpre,” The Saturday Review (East Liverpool, Ohio), May 28, 1994, p. 1.

“Explosion at Plant Kills 1; 2 Missing,” Columbus Dispatch, (Columbus, Ohio), May 28, 1994.

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Accident Report Detail, Accident: 170662498 – Three Employees Killed In Chemical Plant Explosion, Report ID: 0522500 — Event Date: May 27,1994.

Associated Press, “Ohio Chemical Plant Fire Forces 1,700 to Evacuate,” The Washington Post, May 28, 1994, p. A-3.

“Shell Chemical Fire, Belpre Ohio,” Mackey’s Antiques & Clock Repair, Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Rita Price and Jim Phillips, “Families Grieve For Three Killed In Belpre Explosion,” The Columbus Dispatch, May 29, 1994, p. 1-A

K.C. Ottenbacher, (UPI, Belpre, OH), “Third Fire Victim Identified,” May 29, 1994.

“Search Continues for 2 Bodies at Blast Site,” Columbus Dispatch, May 31, 1994.

Susan Ainsworth, “Fatal Fire at Shell Plant Hits Elastomers Market,” Chemical & Engineering News, June 6, 1994, p. 5.

“Ironton Hauls In Drinking Water,” Columbus Dispatch, June 7, 1994.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, Order of Injunctive Relief and Corrective Action, June 10, 1994, Case Name: Shell Oil Company; Location: Belpre, OH; Statute: CERCLA section 106 UAO.

“EPA Orders Shell to Clean Up After Fire At Ohio Facility,” Dow Jones News Service, June 13, 1994.

“Shell To Check River for More of Chemical,” Columbus Dispatch, June 15, 1994.

“Shell Ordered to Test, Clean Up Belpre,” Chemical Week, June 22, 1994, p.4.

John Seewer, Associated Press, “Reactions to Disaster Mixed in Company-Dependent Town,” The Register Herald (Beckley, WV), October 2, 1994, p. 5-C.

Associated Press, “Shell Chemical Implements Safety Proposals after Blast,” Journal of Commerce, October 26, 1994.

“Belpre Blast Alarm Ignored Says Shell,” ICIS Chemical Business, November 14, 1994.

Jim Woods, “Shell Agrees To Pay $3 Million OSHA Fine For Fatal Blast,” Columbus Dispatch, November 23, 1994, p. 1-A.

Reuters, “Shell Unit to Pay $3 Million to Settle Explosion Charges,” Journal of Commerce, November 27, 1994.

Rocky Lantz, “Reconstruction: Shell’s $80 Million Recovery Helps Area Economy,” Parkersburg News, May 28, 1995, p. 1.

Ken Ward, Jr., “Shell Sues To Stop Release of Belpre Report,” Charleston Gazette, Septem-ber 25, 1996, p. 5-A.

Cynthia Sequin, “Shell Requests OSHA Report Remain Sealed,” Parkersburg News, June 28, 1997, p. A-1.

Shell Oil Co. v. United States Department of Labor, No. H-96-3113 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 31, 1998).

Associated Press, “Hydrogen Explodes at Chemical Plant; No Injuries,” August 10, 1998.

Associated Press, “Chemical Company to Sell Plastics Division,” Plastics News, September 6, 2000.

Associated Press,“Kraton Sale Estimated at $600 Million,” Plastics News, September 18, 2000.

Mike Cullums, “’It Could Have Been Much Worse’– Remembering the 1994 Shell Plant Explosion,” WMOA1490.com (radio station, Marietta, Ohio), May 27, 2014.

Henny Sender, “Texas Pacific Buys Ripplewood Unit,” Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2003.

Bruce Davis, “Investment Firm to Buy Kraton Polymers From Ripplewood,” Rubber & Plastics News, November 24, 2003.

Alex DeMarban, “Shell’s International Record Slammed by Opponents of Arctic Oil Drilling,” Anchorage Daily News, June 12, 2012.

“Shell Oil: A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance,” Alaska Wilderness League, 2012, 51pp.

Remy Samuels, “Cracker Plant Creates Controversy,” The Pitt News(University of Pittsburgh), October 5, 2017.

Shell’s Ethane Pipeline ‘Right on Track,’ Construction Starts 2019,” MarcellusDrilling .com, June 22, 2017.

“Shell Pipeline: Not Quite the ‘Good Neighbor’,” FracTracker.org, April 2, 2018.

Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney, “Shell Foresaw Climate Dangers in 1988 and Understood Big Oil’s Big Role,” Washington Post, April 5, 2018.

Fiona Harvey, “Shell Stops North Sea Leak after 10 Days; Scottish Government Launches Investigation into Safety Procedures after Worst Oil Spill in UK Waters for a Decade,” The Guardian, August 19, 2011.

“Fire at Shell’s Bukom Refinery,” The Straits Times ( Singapore), September 29, 2011, p. 1.

Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, “Shell Fined $80,000 for 2011 Pulau Bukom Refinery Fire,” Press Release, October 29, 2012.

“Pulau Bukom Fire (2011),” InfoPedia / National Library Board, Singapore, July 2016.

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.
_____________________________________








“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.

____________________________________




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.

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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.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

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Deepwater Horizon Blowout & Spill
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