Israeli Team Massacred at 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich (September 5, 1972)

Munich72 Up until today the 1972 Summer Olympics had been about the sterling performances of U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz and Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut.  Sept. 5 was the day after Labor Day, and the first day of the new school year for me, where I was starting the 10th grade at Sto-Rox High School.  When I returned home from classes that afternoon is when I first heard word that terrorist guerillas from the Palestinian Black September movement had taken athletes from the Israeli team hostage. 





Later that night at a little past 10:00 I was getting ready for bed.  My father was dozing in the living room in front of the TV and my mom was out bowling in her Tuesday night league.  I had my bedroom door open so I could listen to the Olympics coverage when I heard ABC Sports anchor Jim McKay give a brief update on the situation that ended with the words "they're all gone".  Nine of the hostages and five of the eight terrorists had been killed at the airport in a bungled rescue attempt (two other Israeli athletes had been killed at the beginning of the ordeal at the Olympic Village).  It was very distressing news to hear before going to bed.





Although I was aware of earlier acts of terrorism in the Middle East this one was by far the most audacious.  And distressing news from the Olympics continued later in the week, but in a very different vein, when the U.S. Men's basketball team was upset by the archrival Soviet team after a very controversial call in the closing three seconds (a play that was replayed repeatedly).  It was the first time the U.S. team failed to win the gold medal in that event.




(An in-depth account of the guerilla incident is provided in the book One Day in September: The Full Story of the Munich Olympics Massacre & the Israeli "Wrath of God" Revenge Operation.)  


Nielsen Introduces Its Peoplemeter (August 31, 1987)

Nielsen_peoplemeter Nielsen inaugurated its national peoplemeter service on Aug. 31, 1987 while I was away on vacation in London.  I read about this advance in audience measurement in the international edition of USA Today.  Of course, since TV research was the focus of my job I had been well aware of this change for many months.  This change in measurement was a change that ad agencies had sought for a while since the previous method collected demographic data using an inferior paper and pencil method that relied on a person's memory.  The Big 3 networks, however, were resistant because the peoplemeter would likely result in lower ratings for them and higher ratings for cable networks.


This trip to the UK was my first abroad, a trip I won as grand prize winner of the United Way drawing the previous Christmas at my previous employer, ad agency Young & Rubicam.  And although I had changed jobs since winning it, Y&R graciously honored my prize.  It was a week-long trip for two, including business class travel on TWA and hotel accommodations in the tony Knightsbridge section of London (near Harrod's).  


But enough about my good fortune.  The peoplemeter was a big advance in how TV advertising was bought since it provided ratings for the people who were viewing shows rather than just their household.  It also provided this information much more quickly.  What made this change even more interesting was the fact that big, bad Nielsen briefly had a competitor in the U.S., a British company called AGB Research.  AGB had introduced the peoplemeter to our shores earlier in the year. 




The agency I worked at, the now defunct NWAyer, purchased both services, so our TV analyses compared the ratings of both (although Nielsen was what all national TV buys were made on).  However, AGB went out of business in the spring of 1988 since it was unable to get enough companies to buy its service, especially once Nielsen developed similar technology.  Alas, in the years to come this fate would befall other research companies that attempted to compete against the Nielsen Company.  (25 years later a competitor called Rentrak would prove more tenacious.)


History of tv


Finally, two pop culture references from that week in 1987 bring to mind Nielsen's new peoplemeter.  The day before leaving for London I went with friends to see the movie Dirty Dancing, which had opened that weekend.  And while in London Rick Astley's record Never Gonna Give You Up was a smash hit and I bought the single at the Tower Records store in Piccadilly.  It became an equally big hit in the US shortly after I returned.








Remembering the Tragic, Shocking Death of Princess Diana (August 31, 1997)

Princess diana in pinkIt was the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend 1997 and I was out at my summer share in Fire Island Pines, which is situated a few miles south of Long Island.  As my housemates and I were finishing dinner we became playful - as a group of eight gay men can easily do after a marvelous dinner and a few glasses of wine. For whatever reason we were inspired to try on some campy hats, feather boas and wigs that just were on the "wig wall" (just having a gay old time - literally!).  Eventually we got around to clearing the table and loading the dishwasher and then decided to go out to Sip'n Twirl, a dance bar in the harbor.  


It was well past midnight when we finally got our asses in gear and left the house for the 10-minute walk to the club.  We were making our way along the rickety boardwalk called Fire Island Boulevard when an acquaintance of one of our housemates walked by and said rather dismissively, "Oh, I guess you're going down to join the rest of the queens sobbing over Diana".  We didn't know what he was referring to (our house didn't have a TV) so he told us of the recent news bulletin reporting on Princess Diana's death in Paris in a high speed auto accident. 




Stunned, we returned home instead of continuing to the bar.  Since we didn't have a TV in the house it was actually somewhat of a relief because we weren't immersed in the news coverage that dominated the rest of the weekend. 



The following Saturday was Diana's funeral.  It aired beginning at around 4AM here in the U.S.  Once again I was out at FIP, but this time I had an opportunity to watch it at the house of a fellow from Cherry Grove who I had just begun dating.  However, I just wasn't in the mood to watch something so dispiriting.  Instead I borrowed a tape from a friend at work who taped it on his VCR and I watched it in fits and starts over the course of the following week.  A memory that sticks with me was seeing the hearse bearing Diana's casket with its windshield wipers slowly moving back & forth in order to clear flowers/bouquets being thrown at the vehicle by the millions lining the streets.  (Mother Teresa died the week leading to Diana's funeral but her death was somewhat overlooked.)  




The 2006 movie The Queen is about the British public's backlash when Queen Elizabeth failed to join her subjects in publicly mourning and commemorating Diana's death. (British actress Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of the queen.)  






Soviet Army Crushes Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring" (August 21, 1968)

Praguespring1968 When the Soviet Union put an end to Czechoslovakia's "experiment" with democracy ("The Prague Spring") late in the summer of 1968, it hit close to home because my maternal grandmother was from Slovakia, the eastern region of Czechoslovakia.  She came to the U.S. in August of 1920 shortly after the independent nation of Czechoslovakia was created out of the dismantled Austro-Hungarian empire.  By coincidence the day the Soviet army rolled into Prague occurred the day before her 69th birthday on Aug 22. 


Soviet-invasion-czechoslovakia-1968 I heard this dispiriting news during the afternoon as I was lazily lying on the living room floor reading the comics in the Pittsburgh Press and waiting for my dad to come home from work (around 4:30).  A TV news bulletin came on reporting what was happening in Czechoslovakia.  Although I was just 11 at the time I knew that restricting one's freedom wasn't a good thing (e.g., like not being allowed to watch TV or go outside to play) so I understood the seriousness of the situation there.  Mom called grandma to tell her the news.  It was yet another week of turmoil that was par for the course in turbulent 1968.  And the Democratic convention in Chicago, which would be held next week, would be the icing on the cake. 





The acclaimed novel, Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, uses the Prague Spring as the backdrop for the intertwined and tempestuous relationships of two couples.  It was published in 1984 and was later made into a movie in 1988 starring Daniel Day Lewis and Juliette Binoche. 


(By the way, my grandmother lived to see Czechoslovakia divided into two independent nations in 1993 when she was 93.)

Charles' & Diana's Fairytale Wedding (July 29, 1981)

CharlesanddianaMy memories of the Royal Wedding are linked to a personal career milestone.  On the late July morning in 1981 when Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's nuptials were held (it was a Wednesday) I had my fourth, and final, interview at ad agency Young & Rubicam for a position as a senior media planner on the Eastern Airlines account.






Royalwedding I had been at my first job with Scali McCabe Sloves for a little more than two years and was ripe for a move (four of my colleagues had left in the previous few months.)  And while Scali was a great place to start, its reputation was largely due to its creative product.  Going to Y&R would be like getting an Ivy League education in the discipline of media planning, so I jumped at the chance to interview there.  For this last interview I wore a new suit from Saks that I bought earlier in the month (a 3-piece blue pinstripe for $185).  While getting dressed I watched some of the TV coverage of the wedding and saw Diana as she glided down the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral after the ceremony (which took place at 6:15 AM EST).


Young_rubicam Later that morning I got the call with a job offer from Polly Langbort, the doyenne of Y&R Media Planning, and I eagerly accepted.  I started my new job on August 11.  My energetic new boss, David Verklin, was a rising star with the company.  At the time he was still in the relatively humble position of media supervisor but a number of years later his career took off after being hired as media director at San Francisco agency Hal Riney & Partners where he directed the media strategy behind the high-profile launch of GM's new Saturn line.


Eastern_airlines_planes Alas, six weeks after I started my new job Eastern took its account of 17 years to Campbell-Ewald in Detroit where Eastern chairman Frank Borman's old Navy buddy was CEO. (Borman is best known for being Commander of Apollo 8 which was the first mission to orbit the Moon in December 1968).  Fortunately, Y&R had recently won enough new business so my job was secure (I was reassigned to work on the Chee.tos and J&J Band-Aid accounts).  And speaking of airlines, another big news story at this time was the strike by 11,000 air traffic controllers who President Reagan fired and replaced a week later.  And while on the subject of strikes, Major League Baseball players went on strike in mid-June and stayed out until July 31.  This resulted in a split season and a complicated post season.


Of course, we all know that once Diana's and Charles' wedding day was behind them the world's most transfixing soap opera began.  The following video clip from the end of the wedding ceremony is amusing because of the dour look on the Queen's face - as if she already knew how the next 10 years would unfold.





The book Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook Up the Monarchy discusses the repercussions the Queen may have been concerned about.   



Saddam Hussein's Evil Sons Meet Their Maker (July 22, 2003)

Saddam_husseins_sonsOn July 22, 2003, five months before the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, his sadistic sons Uday (age 39) and Qusay (37) were mowed down by U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.  (A teenage son of Qusay was also killed.)  I heard the news a few days after it happened while vacationing in Iceland.  Graphic photos of their bullet-ridden bodies were widely circulated.  They were truly vile characters whose "removal" was one of the few positive accomplishments of the U.S. invasion.
Our tour group was in the desolate central portion of the country on a gloomy day (pictured, below) when our tour guide, Yense, announced the news over the bus microphone.  This was the first news we heard from the "outside world" since our trip began six days earlier.  I found it interesting that Yense mentioned it since, except for me and my friend Tom and a feisty retired elementary school principal from North Carolina, the rest of our tour group was from Ireland or the UK.   



Soweto Uprising Draws World's Attention (June 16-17, 1976)

Soweto_riot_76 South Africa's selection as host of soccer's 2010 World Cup was a great honor since it was once a pariah state for repressing its black population.  Back in mid-June 1976 the world's attention turned to the all-black township of Soweto after police violently repressed a student protest there.  The protest was in reaction to a law requiring schools to provide instruction in the Afrikaans language, the tongue of the minority white population (which enforced the legalized separation of the races known as apartheid).  Violent altercations with police resulted in hundreds of deaths and the incarceration of thousands.


Welcome_to_york I read about the uprising in the morning paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as I drove with my parents and sister to my cousin Karen's wedding in York, PA.  We left on Friday, June 19.  Driving east from Pittsburgh, the trip of 175 miles took about four hours.  My brother Darrell drove in from northern New Jersey and provided music during the ceremony, playing a number of trumpet solos. Rather than the traditional Wedding March he played Trumpet Voluntary by Henry Purcell and Processional & Recessional by Eugene Hemmer.


Platform_shoes It's painful for me to admit, but I wore a get-up that was more appropriate for Soul Train than a family wedding, i.e., a wide collared, bold brown and white patterned qiana shirt and platform shoes that made me tower over everyone.  (And the platform part of the shoes was made out of rattan.)  Looking back I don't know what was I thinking but I also wonder why my parents or sister didn't say anything?  In my defense it was the 70's and I was 19.


Nelson_mandela_with_winnie The Soweto uprising was a turning point for South Africa's black population as the world's press remained focused on the struggle there.  This attention ultimately led to boycotts and ostracism by the world community.  Still, it wouldn't be until the early 1990's before the apartheid regime was finally dismantled.  In June 1990 long imprisoned freedom fighter Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie were honored with a ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan celebrating his release from prison earlier in the year.  (Hollywood embraced this hard fought and inspirational struggle with a number of acclaimed films including Cry Freedom, Sarafina! and A Dry White Season.)  


BONUS. Here is a vintage music video of the 1984 protest song Sun City by Artists United Against Apartheid (featuring artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates and Pat Benatar) that called for performers to boycott South Africa's Sun City entertainment complex because of its whites-only admissions policy.  Parts of the video were filmed in New York's Washington Square Park.  


The Six-Day War: Israel Vanquishes Its Enemies (June 5-10, 1967)

Flag_of_israel The residents of McKees Rocks, the factory town I grew up in just outside of Pittsburgh, were a mix of Poles, Slovaks, Italians and Germans, and predominately Roman Catholic.  Jews were few and far between.  However, the Six-Day War in the Middle East in June 1967 struck a chord with my family because my teenage sister, Linda, had an Israeli pen pal.  Her name was Meirah; she lived in a village somewhere between Haifa and Tel Aviv and was a soldier in the Israeli army.  When war broke out it put a human face on the conflict for us.   


I was 10 at the time and the idea of female soldiers was a novel concept (as it probably was for most of pre-feminist America).  Linda developed a crush on Israeli general, and war hero, Moshe Dayan (and also took a liking to a Jewish classmate of hers, Sanford, who was valedictorian of her 1968 senior class).  Because of the ties my sister had with Meirah I developed a strong affinity for Israel.  (20 years later I'd have an Israeli boyfriend who drove a tank in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.)


Moshe dayan six day war 


In the eyes of this 10-year old the conflict seemed fairly black and white: Egypt, Syria and Jordan planned to attack Israel which struck first, prevailed and gained new territory - which its enemies then demanded back.  Even a child on the playground would find this demand laughable.


Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem


Also on the minds of my family at this time was the well-being of my Aunt Lillian who had been hospitalized.  Shortly after the war ended she died suddenly on June 13 - the first time I experienced the death of a relative.  On that sweltering day my parents picked me up from school at lunchtime and once home told me the news of her death.  It was a shock since she was set to be released from the hospital the next day.  She was only in her mid-50s at the time of her death. 


Linda and Meirah exchanged 25 letters over a three-year period (thru the end of 1969) and she has all of them as well as souvenirs and small gifts she received.  I've wondered how much she could get on Ebay for the special commemorative edition of the magazine Bamahane, a Hebrew-language weekly of the Israeli Defense Force that Meirah sent her after the war concluded.


(To learn more about this war, the book Six Days of War: June 1967 War & the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, sets the landscape for the conflict and discusses the geo-political implications that still reverberate today.)


Book about six-days war   






U.S. Bombs Libya in Retaliation for Various Acts of Terror (April 14, 1986)

Los_angelesThe U.S. bombing of Muammar Gaddafi's headquarters in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in the spring of 1986 triggers memories of my first visit to Los Angeles.  The day of the airstrike, April 14, was a Monday and my first full day playing tourist there.  I was staying with a former colleague from ad agency Young & Rubicam who now worked for McCann Erickson on Wilshire Boulevard.  Elsa lived in Sherman Oaks, which was over the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley. 


Us_airforceI rented a white Dodge Colt from Rent-A-Wreck and drove to Venice Beach in the morning.  Later I walked around West Hollywood, visited a few stores on Melrose Ave. and stopped by the International Male store on Sunset Boulevard before heading over to the Beverly Center a few blocks away.  It was there during the early evening that I came upon a group of shoppers milling about in front of an electronics store watching President Reagan's address to the nation.  He explained that our surprise attack was in retaliation for a bombing at a German disco a week earlier linked to Libya that killed one American soldier and injured hundreds of others.  




(Unfortunately, Libyan sponsored terrorism would continue and culminate in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotand two-and-a-half-years later.)


Because of the military action I had some concerns about the security of my return trip to New York at the end of the week.  It turned out my worries were justified as my red-eye flight was delayed by five hours due to a bomb threat.  This included an hour delay after boarding as our luggage was taken off the plane and searched again.  We didn't take off until 4AM.        

U.S. Hockey Team Stuns Russians at Winter Olympics (February 22, 1980)

050217_miracleOnIce_hmed_7p_standard It was Friday night and after work (I was an assistant media planner at ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves) I poked my head into a few bars in the vicinity of my office on Manhattan's East Side.  At Cowboys & Cowgirls on 53rd St. I was idly chatting with an older fellow (I was 22 at the time so most everyone qualified as "older") who teasingly mocked my choice of cocktail, a Tom Collins, as being an "old man's drink".  That may have been, but I was a novice and still familiarizing myself with mixed drinks. 


While standing at the bar we overheard that the U.S. hockey team had beaten the Soviet team 4-3 at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid (which made the victory even sweeter).  It was a huge upset and took some of the sting from the the Russian basketball team's controversial defeat of the U.S. at the 1972 Summer Olympics. 




Images Shortly afterwards I met up with a few friends from work and we went to the dance club Stix (formerly the Barefoot Boy) which was a few blocks north of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel on 2nd Ave.  Two particular songs I remember dancing to were Vertigo/Relight My Fire and Don't Cry for Me Argentina (from the classic Disco Evita album).  We stayed until the wee hours and since I lived in New Jersey at the time (Bayonne) I slept over at my friend Phillip's place in the Lower East Side.


Olympics-1980-GoldMedalCeremony-flagsH2OAlthough the U.S.'s victory over the Russians was a huge accomplishment it wasn't the end of the story.  In order to win the gold medal they still needed to win one more game.  That match was played two days later on Sunday - and they prevailed over Finland.  This provided a huge boost to a nation whose pride had taken a serious hit a few months earlier as a result of the Tehran hostage crisis - which continued for nearly another year. 


(To learn more about this inspiring David-and-Goliath story the DVD Do You Believe in Miracles? and the book The Boys of Winter provide excellent background.)