November 1978 was a month like few others for the city of San Francisco. On Nov. 7 voters in California rejected the anti-gay Briggs Initiative which would have banned the hiring of gay teachers. It was an emotional victory for openly gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk who had put considerable energy campaigning against it. Then a week-and-a-half later Jim Jones, leader of the People's Temple cult, forced more than 900 of his followers to commit suicide in their Jonestown settlement in the Venezuelan protectorate of Guayana. Jones and many of the victims were from the Bay Area.
On Nov. 27, the Monday after Thanksgiving, disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White snuck into City Hall during the morning and shot dead mayor George Moscone (pictured, below with Milk) at point blank range and then walked down the hall and did the same to Milk. In a somewhat bizarre coincidence, Moscone and Milk had a connection to Jim Jones, who a few years earlier was chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority.
At the time I was in my senior year at Penn State University and in the early stages of coming out so Milk's murder was especially sobering for me. Back than having an openly gay man in such a high profile government position was unheard of, compounding the loss. In 2009 Sean Penn won an Oscar for his portrayal of Milk in the movie Milk. The film was based on the biography The Mayor of Castro St. - The Life & Times of Harvey Milk.
When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house. We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports. Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone. And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest. And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look. (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)
Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it). Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published. I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.
In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations. (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.) Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg. Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings. Covers can be purchased through Time'swebsite; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.
As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues. Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes. Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.
Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years. However, some personalities slipped through the cracks. For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover. And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)
After I graduated from Penn State at the beginning of March 1979 I spent the rest of the month going on job interviews in New York City. I stayed with my older brother, Darrell, who lived in Bayonne, NJ, conveniently located across from Manhattan. In the months preceding my graduation I had set up meetings at ad agencies such as J. Walter Thompson, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and Grey Advertising, and also arranged appointments with a number of personnel agencies. If nothing turned up on the job front I planned to return home to Pittsburgh where I'd resume my job search. (However, the personnel director - it wasn't called Human Resources back then - at the Kenyon & Eckhardt ad agency insisted that if I really wanted to work in advertising it had to be in New York, particularly after he interviewed for a job at Pittsburgh's major agency, Ketchum & MacLeod, and was told that if he wanted to be hired as its personnel director he'd first need to marry the woman he was living with.)
March 28 was a chilly Wednesday and after having meetings at three personnel agencies I walked across town to the Port Authority terminal to catch my bus back to Bayonne. Walking along 42nd St. near the Public Library a NY Post headline caught my eye. It screamed (as only a Post headline could) that an accident had occurred at a nuclear reactor in south central Pennsylvania and there was the possibility of a radiation leak.
Residents of the New York metropolitan area were reassured that if a leak occurred we wouldn't be in danger, at least for the next few days, since the wind would be coming out of the north. Still, the accident was of great concern since 30 million persons lived within a 200-mile radius of the reactor. There was also skepticism about how forthright officials were being with the public as they tried to reassure residents in the vicinity of the reactor. (My Aunt Lee and Uncle George lived in York, Pennsylvania, which wasn't far from where the reactor was located.)
A few days later Darrell and I saw the new movie China Syndrome (starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas) which, by eerie coincidence, had a plot about a meltdown cover up. Looking back, I don't recall ever feeling panicked over the incident at Three Mile Island despite the fact that it was the most serious accident at a commercial nuclear power plant in US history. Perhaps it was the cockeyed optimism that came with being a recent college graduate.
A week later my future looked bright as I was hired by ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves to work in its media department. And thousands of residents from south central Pennsylvania began returning to their homes. (Later in the year, however, my future seemed somewhat uncertain when talk of war, and a possible military draft, arose after Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in Iran were taken hostage.)
Here's a baker's dozen of events from the world of entertainment that grabbed headlines in late July between 1928 and 2003. (For the purposes of this post "Hollywood" encompasses movies as well as television.)
The MGM Lion "roared" for the first time on July 30, 1928. The lion's name was Jackie, the 2nd of five lions and his "greeting" was used in the opening credits for the next 28 years. The current lion has been "introducing" MGM's movies to audiences even longer - since 1957. Another furry friend who made his film debut in late July was Bugs Bunny who on July 27, 1940 appeared with Elmer Fudd in the cartoon "A Wild Hare".
Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney made 9 movies together and the last of them, "Girl Crazy", opened in theaters on July 30, 1943. By then Garland was 21 and Rooney 23. Musical numbers included ""I Got Rhthym", "Embraceable You" and "Fascinating Rhythm". Judy died in 1969 but Mickey is still kicking at the age of 89. He's been married 8 times but back in 1943 he was with "starter wife" #1, movie star Ava Gardner.
The gossip industry was thriving back in the glory days of the movies. It tried to counter the publicity machine of the Hollywood studios that produced glowing stories for its stars while keeping their dirty laundry largely out of public view. Perhaps the queen bee of the gossip columnists was Hedda Hopper, the cover subject of the July 28, 1947 issue of TIME Magazine (a feat neither Liz Smith or Perez Hilton ever achieved). Hedda was known for her trademark outrageous hats (a role model for Lady Gaga perhaps?) as well as her fierce rivalry with fellow columnist Louella Parsons.
Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin performed together for the last time on July 26, 1955 at New York's Copacabana Club. The comedy team had worked together for 10 years and as solo acts they both had their successes, Martin as part of Sinatra's Rat Pack while Lewis became wildly popular in France. On this same date in 1990 another comic was in the headlines when Roseanne Barr, upon finishing the singing the national anthem before a San Diego Padres game (controversy enough), proceeded to grab her crotch & spit.
Jack Paar made his "Tonight Show" debut the night of July 29, 1957. Most viewers referred to the program as "The Jack Paar Show" which Paar hosted for nearly 5 years. Also on July 29 - but 26 years later (1983) - NBC premiered "Friday Night Videos" at 12:30AM in an attempt compete somewhat with cable's fledgling MTV (90 minutes a week vs. MTV's 24/7 schedule). The first video aired was Michael Jackson's "Beat It". FNV aired for 19 years.
Tormented actor (and 4-time Oscar nominee) Montgomery Clift died at the age of 45 in his New York apartment on July 23, 1966. Some think it may have been a suicide. If it was it would make him, with the exception of Marilyn Monroe who committed suicide 4 years earlier, the most famous actor to take his own life. In fact, after a serious car accident in 1956 his career was referred to as the "longest suicide in Hollywood history". Interestingly, he & Marlon Brando were both born in Omaha.
Earlier in the summer of 1978 "Grease" opened and became a huge hit for Olivia Newton John & John Travolta. The Bee Gees, riding high on their "Saturday Night Fever" fame, had the misfortune to star in the summer's other musical, and the year's biggest flop, "Sgt. Pepper". It opened the weekend of July 24, 1978. Perhaps its only redeeming aspect was Earth Wind & Fire's remake of the Beatles' "Gotta Get You Into My Life". The following summer another musical act, The Village People, experienced a similar disaster when they starred in "Can't Stop the Music" - perhaps the worst movie of all time.
38-year old Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) was arrested on July 28, 1991 for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. Though never again as popular as he was pre-arrest he rehabilitated his career somewhat over the years and this fall will be appearing on Broadway in The Pee Wee Herman Show.
Britain's outrageous sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous" had its U.S. premiere on Comedy Central on July 24, 1994. Like another BBC-TV sensation, "The Office", AbFab aired only a small number of episodes (relative to U.S. shows) yet the memory of Eddie & Patsy live on.
10 years have passed since Kathie Lee Gifford ended her 15-year co-hosting duites w/Regis Philbin on "Live w/Regis & Kathie Lee" on July 28, 2000. It was a farewell that few seemed to care much about. She returned to TV 5 years ago to become part of NBC's sprawling "Today Show", co-hosting the show's 4th hour with Hoda Kotb, a stint that has been parodied on SNL.
Finally, on July 28, 2003 Bob Hope died 2 months after celebrating his 100th birthday. Hope never won an Oscar but he lived longer than any Oscar winner. His death followed that of 96-year old Katharine Hepburn (a 4-time Oscar winner) one month earlier. Hope has the distinction of being the high-profile Hollywood celeb to live the longest, outliving George Burns (who died in 1996) by 1 month.
Absolutely Fabulous, bad movies, Bee Gees, Bob Hope, Bugs Bunny, Hedda Hopper, Hollywood, Jack Paar, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney, Katharine Hepburn, Kathie Lee Gifford, MGM lion, MGM lion, Montgomery Clift, movie flops, Paul Reubens, Roseanne Barr, zeitgeist