Air Raid Drills

Kids have things to worry about now, for sure. In the 50’s and 60’s, we didn’t know what ozone was. Global warming? Never heard of it. Gas stations were fighting to gain the business of our parents, not putting surly clerks behind bulletproof glass to sell them fuel at per-gallon prices approaching the minimum wage.

But today’s children have never felt the paralysing fear that an air raid siren would cause, as a kid would scramble to get underneath a desk in a futile effort to cover up from the effects of a nuclear blast.

Some communitites would sound the awful siren, some would simply rely on the schools to conduct the air raid drills as they saw fit. But the schools were required to do so by many city and state governments.

nd this was a source of contention for many. You see, the proactive nature of ducking and covering implied that the practicers of such a tactic might have a snowball’s chance in a very hot place of surviving an actual nuclear blast.

Fear became a daily part of the average American’s life beginning on August 29, 1949. That was the day the Russians, who had blockaded Berlin and had also pushed their way into Poland and Eastern Europe, turning the hapless nations into godless communist regimes, joyously announced the detonation of their first atomic bomb.

The ecstasy of winning WWII now seemed a distant memory. The threat of widespread death and destruction at the hands of the enemy now became very real to the average American.

In 1951 the film Duck and Cover was released. Don’t worry, kids, animated Bert the Turtle will teach you how to survive those pesky nuclear bombs. The first thing that you do is take cover at the first flash of a nuclear blast or first sound of a warning siren. Duck to avoid the things flying through the air, then Cover to keep from getting cut or even badly burned. Kids were also encouraged to wear metal identification tags. That way their bodies would be able to be identified by survivors.

That naive, optimistic reptile also appeared in comic books handed out to the class.

Bert the Turtle teaches kids to duck and cover

Is it any wonder that this generation would soon take to the streets to protest war?

It got much, much worse on August 12, 1953. That’s when the Russian Bear exploded its first hydrogen bomb.

Many schools began duck-and-cover drills as early as 1950. The h-bomb blast caused many, many more to join the routines.

The kids’ experience of air-raid drills ranged from boredom to terror. Teachers would sometimes lead the class in comforting prayers or religious songs as they cowered from the imaginary incendiary devices.

As the drills took place more and more often, eventually students’ fears diminished. And this was what got the dander of many up.

Realistically, there was little chance of surviving nuclear war. And the protestors viewed the drills as a way to brainwash a future generation into believeing that the Russians could be outslugged if push came to shove.

Their voice was heard, at least to a degree. Local governments began seeing the folly of educating kids on how to survive the unsurvivable. By the time I started first grade in 1965, the air-raid drills were long gone.

Sadly, nowadays kids in some communities are taught to duck and cover for another reason: the potential of a crazed gunman opening fire at random.

At least they have a shot at survival if they follow the teacher’s instructions.

A Mover and Shaker Named Ladybird

Ladybird watches her husband sign the Highway Beautification Act

In November, 1963, Lyndon Johnson found himself suddenly thrust into the role of President. His wife Ladybird was equally shocked to be the new First Lady.

Ladybird Johnson, nee Taylor, was a woman of Texas stock who was sure of her convictions, and was not afraid to stand behind them. So she promptly got to work on something she believed in very strongly: the beautification of America.

She was a woman of high intelligence and business sense. She had received a substantial inheritance, and used part of it to purchase an Austin, Texas TV station over her husband’s objections. She gently reminded him that she was spending her money, not his. The station ended up being Austin’s sole VHF-transmitted franchise for many years, and her investment paid off very handsomely indeed.

The first thing Ladybird Johnson went to work on was the overall ugly physical condition of America. Highways were lined with litter, massive billboards were being erected as fast as possible to sell advertising space along our rapidly-developing Interstate Highway System, and her memories of driving through pristine Texas Hill Country were feeling very distant indeed.

“Ugliness is so grim,” she once said. “A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.” Perhaps it seemed a little naive, but tensions were rising fast during the 60’s. Whatever might help soothe them was welcomed.

So Ladybird began doing something. She forged a friendship with American Association of Nurserymen executive Vice President Robert F. Lederer. She used his influence to encourage the planting of wildflowers along America’s highways, and also the protection of threatened wildflower species.

She also threw her weight behind the Highway Beautification Act, which would limit billboard construction and force the removal of certain types of signs along the Interstate System as well as the existing Federal-aid primary roads. The act also required certain junkyards along these byways to be removed or screened and encouraged scenic enhancement and roadside development.

Support for the bill was split along party lines, but the Democratic-controlled House and Senate ran it through, and Ladybird’s Bill, as it was known, became law.

Ladybird’s legacy: a beautiful flowered Texas highway

Ladybird loved the environment, and worked hard to protect it. But she was also a driving force behind America’s Civil Rights movement.

Her mother scandalized neighbors by entertaining Negroes in her home. Her father didn’t share her mother’s views, but tolerated the practice. This had quite an effect on a little girl being raised in east Texas.

So during the 1964 election, she traveled through eight Southern states in her own train to promote the Civil Rights Act, at one point giving 45 speeches over five days. It was the first solo whistlestop tour of a mover and shaker First Lady.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also blew through the House and Senate, to the great consternation of many southern states. LBJ remarked to a friend after its passage that the Democratic party had lost the south for a generation.

While that particular prophecy was not to be true, the bill would never have passed without the firm backing of both Lyndon and Ladybird.

After her White House days, Ladybird continued to battle for causes that would protect the environment. By her recent death on July 11, 2007, she had backed or organized dozens of programs dedicated to beautifying her nation.

So here’s to Ladybird Johnson, a staunch Texas spirit who never shied away from rocking the boat.

The Rooftop Concert

In 1969, the dream wasn’t over, but the closing credits were playing. However, as is frequently the case in the movie theater, the music that was playing during the closing credits was pretty wonderful stuff.

The 1967 death of Brian Epstein was the beginning of the end of the incredible pooled talent of what we knew as The Beatles. Epstein was a manager that the group respected, whose decisions weren’t always perfect, but weren’t disastrous either. On August 27 of that year, the day before I turned eight years old, Epstein died of an overdose of sleeping pills.

The Beatles muddled on under McCartney’s taking the lead for awhile, but Paul’s decision to commit the group to the film Magical Mystery Tour effectively ended the rest of the boys listening to him. While the accompanying album was a success, the film was a critical and financial flop.

By 1968, and the recording of the White Album, all four members of the band were thinking much more in terms of themselves as individuals rather than as members of the greatest pop/rock band in history.

The post-Epstein group was persuaded to film a live concert, along with the practice sessions leading up to it, tentatively called Get Back. As it turned out, the film’s eventual completed version, released as Let It Be, captured the worst of the squabbling that was taking place among the members to the disintegrating group.

But there certainly was a glorious high point of the documentation: the Rooftop Concert of January 30, 1969.

The group met with the film’s production department four days earlier. They presented the idea of setting equipment up in the cold January air on the rooftop of Apple’s headquarters in Savile Row near Piccadilly Circus.

The idea was crazy on a number of levels. So of course it was agreed to and planning began.

On the busy Thursday workday, the group arrived at the rooftop, grabbed instruments, and began jamming. Cameras were rolling all over the place, including down in the streets as astonished Londoners engaged in their normal workday routines came out to see what all of the loud music was all about.

What none of them realized at the time was that it was history. It was the final live performance of The Beatles.

The bobbies hadn’t been informed, nor had anyone else but the filming crews. So it wasn’t long before the police showed up, looking curiously upward and trying to maintain order as the streets began to fill with both fans and detractors of the group.

Eventually, the police showed up at the rooftop itself and demanded that the impromptu concert cease. Legend has it that it might have gone on much longer, if not for the wool merchant next door. He was quoted as saying “I want this bloody noise stopped. It’s an absolute disgrace!”

Footage exists of the magical moment, of course. The concert, as well as many other Get Back recordings, were among the most bootlegged moments of rock and roll history. Underground record stores like many medium-to-large-sized towns had in the 70’s had the uncut products for sale freely.

George Martin eventually produced the album Let It Be, for better of worse, complete with heavenly choirs to help dissuade the depressing sound of the constant bickering.

The King Is Dead

I had just walked into the house after playing a round of golf. Mom hollered “Elvis is dead!”

There was no need to ask Elvis who. There was only one Elvis back then, and many feel the name should be retired, like Jackie Robinson’s number.

Elvis Aron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. While no Boomer himself, there’s no estimating just how great an effect he had on our generation. More’s the pity he was robbed of the chance to completely own the music business, instead being coerced by his controlling manager into appearing in a long string of cheesy movies through the 60’s, wasting time that should have been spent in the recording studio.

Elvis exploded onto the scene with hit singles released by legendary Sun Records. His career was launched into overdrive by triumphant (and controversial for the time) appearances on Ed Sullivan. He truly was rock and roll to a generation of Boomers a bit older than me.

Then, Uncle Sam called. On December 20, 1957, Elvis opened his mail to find a draft notice. We didn’t know it then, but the King of Rock and Roll would never be the same.

Serving in Germany, Elvis discovered amphetamines. They would keep you going when you were short of sleep. Elvis was an instant fan, and they accompanied him right to the grave, along with a host of other prescription drugs obtained for him by Colonel Parker.

But it wasn’t the drugs that took Elvis’s brilliant edge off that was so cutting from 1955-1957. It was his greedy manager, who saw more cash flow from Elvis the actor instead of Elvis the rocker. So he convinced Presley it was in his best interests (it was certainly in Parker’s) to back off of cutting records and spend more time making movies. Songs like Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, and Love Me Tender will endure for the ages. Movies like Charro!, Tickle Me, and Kid Galahad won’t.

Elvis towards the end of his life, his doctor behind him

But in 1968, Elvis, dissatisfied about his downhill career slide, signed a deal with NBC to produce a television show called simply Elvis. It later came to be known as the ’68 Comeback Special. The King, whose record sales and movie receipts were way down from previous highs, wowed TV audiences with a smash hit show that was also artistically praised by the critics. Elvis was back.

He went on the road, playing all over the country, but performed numerous times in Las Vegas. His later career was marked by his white outfit onstage at the big Vegas casinos. As Neil Young sang in He Was the King, the blue-haired ladies screamed.

But the whole time, he was on a veritable cocktail of uppers, downers, and everything in between that was available at the local pharmacy. Colonel Parker might have slowed down the flow of drugs if he had envisioned the early death of his cash cow, but he kept Elvis richly supplied with everything the King asked for.

On August 16, 1977, it all caught up with him. He was found dead in the toilet.

I wish I had known Elvis the rocker. Jailhouse Rock, one of his few cinematic jewels, gives me an idea of how this man turned the world of music upside down. So does footage of the Sullivan appearances. But, sadly, the Elvis I remember was the one who sang those bad songs in those bad movies, and who died at the age of 42 looking like he was twice that old.

I blame a sponging, dominating, self-centered agent, and Elvis’s poor judgment in sticking with him.

The Day the Music Died

You want to hear something weird? While pondering column ideas this morning, the thought of Buddy Holly popped into my head. Being a Don McLean fan, I thought “why not write about the the day the music died?” So I set out to go to work.

It was after I had invested a half hour of my time that I finally realized that the infamous plane crash occurred 49 years this very day (Feb. 3, presstime).

Strange, wouldn’t you say?

Anyhow, rock and roll music, still in its infancy, received a shot in the arm of pure immortality that unfortunate day so long ago when three talented musicians, as well as a pilot, gave up their lives in a frozen Iowa cornfield. Many of us were too young to remember it, but the genre, which might have passed the way of other musical crazes, was cemented in place as the voice of not only the current generation, but that of future ones as well.

Buddy’s second album

Buddy Holly, inspired by seeing Elvis perform live in 1955, began playing clubs in hometown Lubbock, Texas shortly afterward. Within a few months, he appeared on Presley’s bill during a tour stop in Lubbock. Soon, he was cutting records at Norman Petty’s studio at Clovis, New Mexico with his newly formed backup group, The Crickets.

Artists have long been exploited by music industry fatcats, and Holly was no exception. Petty tried to muscle in on Holly’s royalties by claiming to be a cowriter of his lyrics. This was a fairly common practice among producers at the time. Well, Buddy got tired of it and moved to New York.

Litigation took place between Holy and Petty, and the artist felt a cash crunch. So the wildly successful musician agreed to take part in the Winter Dance Party Tour just so he could pay the bills.

In the meantime, Ricardo Valenzuela, born in California, had found an ear for his Latino-tinged brand of rock and roll. La Bamba, a traditional song, was a massive 1958 hit when the artist, now known as Ritchie Valens, belted it out. When he got invited to join the Winter Dance Party Tour, he jumped aboard.

Jiles Perry (J.P.) Richardson, Jr. was a successful disc jockey who was imbued with musical talent himself. He wrote a song called White Lightnin‘ which turned out to be a #1 hit for George Jones. He also wrote a novelty hit called Running Bear which was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid.

In 1958, he recorded a song he had written called Chantilly Lace. He had previously invented a DJ-singer persona called The Big Bopper, and that’s who was credited as the song’s performer. The song peaked at #6, and The Big Bopper also said yes to the 1959 winter tour.

Poster from Buddy’s last show

Dion and the Belmonts also joined up, and the tour was on its way.

It was the dead of winter, and the buses used to transport the artists had no heat. Drummer Carl Bunch ended up in the hospital with frostbitten feet. Disgusted, Holly chartered a plane to fly from Clear Lake, Iowa to Fargo, ND. The single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza had room for three passengers, and after begging, cajoling, and coin-flipping had taken place, the seats were occupied by Holly, Valens, and The Big Bopper.

The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and, for better or worse, legends were born.

Holly was amazingly prolific during his short time. He wrote and performed nearly a hundred songs in two years, and many have been re-recorded by artists hundreds of times. One wonders what he, as well as Valens and The Big Bopper, might have accomplished with just a little more time.

By the way, if you find yourself in Vegas, stop in at the Hard Rock cafe to see some amazing candid color photos of Buddy.

When the Beatles Broke Up

What a wild, crazy, turbulent, jubilant, tragic decade was the 1960’s. It began with lingering communist paranoia and ended with man walking on the moon.

However, nothing symbolized the end of the 60’s quite as effectively as the breakup of the group that we listened to and whose albums and singles we bought by the hundreds of millions.

The 70’s was definitely not going to be the same decade as its predecessor.

The Beatles were one of the most rapidly evolving rock and roll groups to have ever existed. By the time each new album was released, they were already heading a completely new and different direction in the recording studios. Their physical appearance changed as radically as their music, as hair began to grow profusely.

They began as a group, but by 1968, had developed an individually independent sound that resulted in The Beatles, more commonly known as The White Album. Indeed, the double album consists of the first solo projects of the soon-to-be-ex-Beatles. The fact that it stands on its own as a great work is a testament to the sheer immensity of talent of these working-class youths who met up in Liverpool all those years ago.

In late 1969, their last studio album was released: Abbey Road. Interestingly, the quartet had reverted back to a group sound. The traded guitar solos by Paul, George, and John on “The End”, in particular, are some of the finest examples of a group of performers performing as a group.

However, the bonds holding them together were already unraveling. Earlier that year, all agreed to a documentary chronicling the group producing an album. The album and the documentary would be be entitled Get Back, a reference to an attempt by the group to return to the early days when the songs and music flowed freely, with good will among all.

Instead, the movie effectively portrayed four guys who were tired of working together. The original Get Back is disturbing to fans in its depictions of carping, sniping, and all around nastiness three of the Beatles (Not Ringo, God love him) showed towards each other.

Phil Spector, a virtual stranger to the group, produced Get Back (which would eventually become the album Let It Be). However, after the Get Back sessions ended, Abbey Road was produced by old friend George Martin, and the group put their ill will aside for their buddy. The album’s near-perfection is as much a credit to Martin as it is to the Beatles.

In April, 1970, Paul McCartney released a solo album. Fans weren’t too worried, he had done other solo projects. But on the tenth of the same month, a few days after McCartney‘s release, Paul announced that he was through with the group.

Fans (including me) were greatly disturbed by the announcement, but were hopeful that it was just typical artistic crankiness that would pass. But it was all made official on December 31, when a lawsuit was filed by McCartney officially dissolving the Beatles.

Lennon and McCartney in particular traded nasty barbs back and forth, in the press as well as their solo albums. Paul assured his fans that he and Linda would not become a John and Yoko in his liner notes, and Lennon retorted with the song “How Do You Sleep,” a vitriolic shot of venom aimed back at his old friend.

But all of the group loved Ringo. His first solo album, one of my all-time favorites, enlists the help of all three other ex-Beatles. His own song “Early 1970” showed that he had absolutely no ill will towards his friends, and they had none towards him.

And so, the 60’s came to a close. A decade known for students doing something would be followed by the polyester era. Protest music would be replaced by disco. Gas wars would become gas lines.

But still, what a wondrous spectacle it was to witness pop-rock’s greatest group evolve from joyful naivete to cynical surliness, producing truly great music the entire time.

Rock Star Deaths

It’s a bit sad that death is so much a part of our Boomer memories. We learned at a very early age that famous people die. We also learned, through the Vietnam war, that loved ones die. And as we kids grew up listening to and loving rock and roll music, we likewise learned that the makers of that music die.

Airplane crashes have taken many musical stars from us. The first one to shake up the world of the newly-invented genre of rock and roll was the one that took Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper in 1959. Nine years later, Otis Redding took off in his own plane (his manager was the pilot) and ended up losing his life in an icy lake near Madison, Wisconsin. Thus was the world robbed of a rising star who had redefined soul music, and had in fact taken on the title of the King of Soul.

Otis was a clean-living family man who was raised in Georgia, and who never left his roots. However, the deaths that would soon follow would show the world that rock and roll music had transformed from innocence to worldliness as its participants found themselves at risk from deaths from decidedly hedonistic causes.

The victims were young people who found themselves thrust into the bright spotlight and simply had problems handling all of the success. While they struggled, they produced some of the most beautiful and prized art that the world has ever seen, art in the form of music.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington in 1942. His father, a WWII veteran, instilled strong family values in him. Jimi got into some trouble later on, riding in a couple of stolen cars, and chose enlisting in the army over going to jail. He served for a year with the 101st Airborne Division, then left after (his own account) breaking his ankle and sustaining back injuries. Others claim that he was discharged for being an ineffective soldier. Hendrix bounced around for a while until Animals bassist Chas Chandler suggested he give England a try. Hendrix was practically an overnight success in Europe, and came back to the US triumphantly as leader of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The pressures of success, touring, and being in the public eye caused him to seek relief through alcohol and drugs. He kept things finely balanced for a time, generally appearing onstage sober enough to dazzle audiences with his talent, but eventually he overdosed in London on September 17, 1970, and the world lost the greatest guitarist in history.

In the meantime, a soulful blues singer by the name of Janis Joplin had been climbing the ladder of success. Born in 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, she grew up listening to records of blues singers like Bessie Smith and Leadbelly, and soon found herself a social outcast for her liberal views on race relations, as well as her fascination with art, poetry, and reading, things that went against the grain of Texas teens in the 1950’s.

Janis was a rebel, and she began living her life in a self-destructive manner, similar to many of the blues artists she held in high regard. She was soon washing down speed with Southern Comfort, and by 1965, had a full-fledged addiction problem.

But she was also pouring out some of the most soulful music ever heard, and her popularity rose. She moved to San Francisco and joined a group called Big Brother and the Holding Company. While in the group, she developed a taste for heroin.

She would succeed in weaning herself off of the hardest drugs for a time, then once again succumb to temptation. Finally, just a couple of weeks after Jimi’s death, she overdosed on heroin and died.

According to the book No One Here Gets Out Alive, when Jim Morrison heard that Janis had passed, he told friends “You’re drinking with #3.”

Morrison was born in 1943 in Melbourne, Florida. Similar to Janis, he was tortured by personal demons at an early age. His father was in the military, and as a result Jim lived all over the country. He ended up graduating college from UCLA, and in 1965 formed The Doors. The group was successful from the start, playing Sunset Boulevard clubs like the Whisky a Go Go, and were soon selling hundreds of thousands of records.

As the group’s success rose, Morrison’s excesses followed along. Unlike Jimi Hendrix, Morrison would frequently be stoned or drunk during onstage performances, forcing the band to improvise around his inability to perform. On one particularly out-of-control evening in Miami, Florida, Morrison was arrested for indecent exposure onstage. The evidence was sketchy, and the case was never tried, but for a sinister reason.

On July 3, 1971, Jim’s alleged prophecy came true, and he died in a bathtub in Paris. Jimi, Janis, and Jim had all died at the age of 27.

They were the Big Three, but others also passed about this time. Brian Jones’ excesses had gotten him booted from the Rolling Stones, and he died soon afterwards (at the age of 27) in July, 1969. On October 29, 1971, Duane Allman, the undisputed top guitar player in the world after Jimi’s passing, died when a truck stopped abruptly in front of his Harley Sportster. Besides being a younger 24 years old, Duane was also not known for the same excesses in drugs and alcohol that had decimated the ranks of talent during this time. His death was simply a tragic accident.

Thus ended a very bad streak. Other musicians would die during the decade, including Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Bon Scott (actually he died in February 1980), but the stretch of years from 1967 to 1971 would be sadly remembered as a great thinning of the ranks of some of the greatest musical talent the world has ever known.

Rock and Roll Heaven must have a hell of a band.

By the Time I Got to Woodstock . . .

Life covers Woodstock

The tensions of the 60’s erupted in various ways. The most unfortunate were the riots, notable ones occuring in Watts, California, Detroit, Newark, Chicago, and Washington D.C. More peaceful statements were made by sit-ins and marches.

But an amazing statement was made in the form of a three-day music festival on an upstate farm owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur.

Yasgur no doubt never knew what he was getting into. It was planned for up to 200,000 to attend the Woodstock Festival. By the time non-paying stragglers wandered in from all over the country, there were 500,000. Yasgur’s farm was essentially destroyed. But he remained good-natured about it, and received a $50,000 check from the festival organizers to make things right.

The nation held its breath as young people, all of whom were angry about things like the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement, and Spiro Agnew’s condescending rants about their opinions, gathered in a VERY large group. This could be very, very ugly.

But, as it turned out, the biggest problem was finding a place to go to the bathroom.

My own depiction of Jimi closing out Woodstock

The rains fell more or less steadily over the weekend as an impressive group of musicians played sets that began in the afternoon and continued until well after sunrise. The performers included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, and curiously, Sha-Na-Na. That was one wild gig for an oldies act.

It was Jimi Hendrix who capped the wild weekend with his 9:00 AM Sunday morning two-hour set. It may have been the performance of his career. Ironically, it was also the least-attended event. The crowd was down to 80,000 by then. But Hendrix wowed ’em with his immortal playing of the Star Spangled Banner, complete with warlike sound effects. And of course, setting his guitar on fire on stage is one of the festival’s defining moments.

Life Magazine did a ten-page spread on the festival, and that’s what I remember most vividly. It was kind to the concept that a significant statement had been made peacefully. It just didn’t smell too good where the statement took place.

Perhaps the ultimate statement was made when the US Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Woodstock in 1999. What was once viewed in fear as the ultimate potential riot has been immortalized with a postage stamp.

Nothing like Woodstock has taken place since. And it will likely ever be repeated. It was the first time such a group came together, and nobody knew what to expect.

Brando Sends an Indian Maiden to the Oscars

Sacheen Littlefeather

In 1972, a gritty mobster movie was all the rage. The Godfather, despite its running time of over three hours, was a huge hit all over the nation.

The next year, when the Academy Awards show was televised, there was a lot of buzz in the air about the movie. As it turned out, Cabaret was the big scene-stealer at the Oscars, winning most of the statuettes when running head-to-head against The Godfather. So the team behind the film, as well as ardent fans who were tuned in, were thrilled when the Best Actor award was announced and Marlon Brando’s name was heard.

What happened next caused the audience in attendance, as well as the one tuned in on TV, to gasp.

Instead of Mr. Brando, a young lady wearing a leather outfit decorated in Native American beadwork walked out, carrying a piece of paper. The crowd sat in stunned silence.

The woman stood at the podium and said these words:

Marlon Brando … has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently—because of time—but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he… very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reason for this being… the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that… in the future…our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.

The crowd let out a mixture of applause and as boos. The woman, named Sacheen Little Feather, turned and walked off stage.

John Wayne was backstage, and had to be restrained from storming onto the stage and forcefully removing her.

Little Feather had a longer speech that Brando wanted read, but she was told by Oscar staff backstage that if she did, she would be arrested. She was intimidated by the ridiculous threat, so instead, she spoke the above words.

Brando wasn’t at the ceremony. He was up in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, supporting the American Indian movement as they occupied the small town as a statement of what they had been going through.

Look for a reminiscence about the AIM and what they were up to in a future column.

Brando’s (and Little Feather’s) actions received much criticism, but now, all these years later, opinion seems to have shifted to support. There’s no doubt about it, Amerinds have received some of the most heinous treatment in history. One governmental break that they have caught since then is the ability to run casinos in many areas of the nation.

It must feel good taking money from the ancestors of many who caused their own ancestors so much agony.

The Spiro Agnew Watch

Spiro Agnew watch

“What kind of watch does Mickey Mouse wear?”

“A Spiro Agnew watch!”

I guess it was funny at the time. You had to be there. Of course, if you’re reading this, you probably were.

Spiro Agnew was definitely not a soft-spoken individual. An avowed Hawk, he was constantly criticizing those who questioned the Vietnam War. Remember his calling the media “nattering nabobs of negativism?” He was a dream come true for Johnny Carson, who was provided with plenty of material for opening-show-monologues every time Agnew would hold forth.

The watches came out in 1970. They sold like hotcakes for a time.

By the time Agnew was embroiled in his infamous scandals (taking bribes while in office was looked down upon), their manufacturing had stopped. 1973 saw him resign, and the watches quickly became a forgotten fad.

However, thanks to eBay, you can still score one if it tickles your fancy. They seem to run about $60 to $80.

So here’s to Spiro Agnew, man of many unique achievements. He was the only Vice President to have Greek lineage, the only one to resign in disgrace, and the only one to ever have a wristwatch named after him.