Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For LBJ, a victory that was a defeat

Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., talks to campaign workers and
the press at his
Bedford, N.H. campaign headquarters on March 12, 1968.

The New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968, marked the beginning of the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s quest for re-election.

Johnson won an electoral victory over Minnesota senator and anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy by the smallest of margins -- 230 votes --in an election that highlighted the deep divisions in the country -- and the the Democratic Party -- over Vietnam.

Pollsters had predicted at McCarthy would take only 10% to 20% of the vote, even though LBJ’s name was not on the ballot. When all the votes were counted, Johnson had 29,021, or 49.4%, to McCarthy’s 28791, or 42.2%. McCarthy also got 5,511 write-in votes in the Republican primary, which was easily won by Richard Nixon. (Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon’s chief opponent, ran a write-in campaign.)

Youths were drawn by McCarthy's anti-war stand and the hope of revitalizing the political system. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it.) Time magazine reported that on the final weekend before the primary, McCarthy's headquarters had to turn away 2,500 volunteers, including a group that was ready to charter a plane from California. The Johnson campaign spent about $300,000 on the campaign and the McCarthy camp spent about $170,000.

This piece from An Abridged History of the NH Presidential Primary sums up the race.

"In 1968, the primary attracted wide attention when Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn, ran an anti-war platform against President Lyndon Johnson. McCarthy’s young campaign volunteers cut their hair and dressed well to be "Clean for Gene." Johnson did not formally enter the primary but though he won the primary with 50 percent of the write-in votes, he had been politically wounded. Johnson became the first "winner" of the primary to lose the political and media expectations contest."

Just four days later, Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York would enter the Democratic race. And at the end of the month , LBJ announced he would not seek re-election.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A posthumous gold record for Otis

Otis Redding

Three months after he died in a plane crash, Otis Redding posthumously received gold record on March 11, 1968, for (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay.

In San Francisco for shows at the Fillmore West just days after his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Redding was staying on a houseboat in Sausalito when the inspiration came for Dock Of The Bay. Redding wrote the first verse of the song sitting on a pier on San Francisco Bay,

In December 1967, he joined of that year he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at Stax Records Studio A in Memphis for what turned out to be his last recordings. Redding and Cropper completed the music and lyrics (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay, which was recorded on December 6 and 7.

Back on tour just days after the session was completed, Redding’s charter plane. on a landing approach from Cleveland, went down Dec. 10 in the frigid waters on Lake Monona in Madison, Wis. Redding and seven others were killed. Only one passenger, Ben Cauley of the Bar-Kays, survived. Redding was 26 years old.

The Dock Of The Bay was released in early 1968. The record, which earned Redding a posthumous Grammy Award for Best R&B Song , has been certified by BMI for more than 8 million plays, according to Stax Records.

Personal note: I was at the Monona Terrace in Madison at my wife's high school reunion a few years ago and went outside to look at the lake. I saw a plane was flying over the lake en route to the Madison airport, and I was hit by a feeling of melancholy. I was remembering Otis Redding and thinking about about that December night long ago when his plane went down. I go to Madison almost every year and I never see Lake Monona without thinking about Otis Redding.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A look back in Time

I spent awhile Sunday digging through Time magazine archives and felt like I had been rummaging around the attic of my childhood home. This site is a treasurer trove. It looks like each edition is fully archived. And each edition was that week's first draft of history.

The March 8, 1968, edition, which featured Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller on the cover, was full of politics as the nation was getting ready for the first presidential primary of the 1968 campaign -- New Hampshire, on March 12.

President Johnson's secret trips to Texas were chronicled under the headline Fly Now, Tell Later. To boost security -- and to avoid demonstrators -- LBJ kept the itinerary from reporters -- and even local police officials -- and told the White House press corps only to pack a coat and a bathing suit. The swings took to him to Dallas, for his first campaign speech of '68, and on to Austin, for John Connally's 51st birthday celebration. Later in the week, LBJ and the press took another stealth trip, this time to Houston and Beaumont. The entourage traveled to Georgia then on to Puerto Rico.

A report headlined Saigon Under Siege told about the first battle for Saigon. The dispatch concludes:

"The unpleasant fact is that the Viet Cong used the Tet assault to infiltrate into Saigon hundreds and perhaps even thousands of agents who pose as normal Vietnamese going about their jobs. . . . The V.C. have been active in Saigon for years but, in a city under siege, their presence is more unnerving than ever."

These reports make a reader feel omnipotent today. As I read the old dispatches, they are new to my memories, but I knew how the stories were going to end.

On the upbeat side, this edition has a piece about NBC's Laugh-In, which was just a few months old at the time, and reviews of albums by The Butterfield Blues Band, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, John Mayall's Blues Breakers and a 16-year-old Janis Ian. (There'll be more on Laugh-In later.)

This was my favorite post, from the People section. Variety may be the spice of life, but this was too spicy:

"Just ten days of the meditative life with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh proved sufficient for Ringo Starr, 27, and Wife Maureen, who fled back to the more familiar vision of London. "The meditation camp is a bit like summer camp," said the littlest Beatle, who left his three confreres to finish out their month. "We all lived in chalets, and we used to go to the canteen for breakfast, then perhaps walk about a bit and meditate, or bathe. Then it was time for lunch." He and Maureen gave up such transcendental experiences, said Ringo, "because we missed the children. I wouldn't want anyone to think we didn't like it there. Of course, Maureen and I are funny about our food—we don't like spicy things."

Source: Time magazine

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Dead goes to prison

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, circa 1968

On a strange stop on their long, strange strip, the Grateful Dead played an afternoon concert on the lawn outside San Quentin State Prison in California n this date in 1968, a Thursday. I looked long and hard for details of this show and could only find one entry, from someone named David Higginbotham, who attended the show, but whose memory seems a little sketchy. He dates the show March 15, but the Deadnet site says the concert was on March 7. This is his report posted on the Deadlist site:

"Regarding this 'free' concert. It did happen as the previous commentator states, on a spit of land opposite the prison, separated by a body of water, amongst some trees, on a flatbed truck with an incredible echo reverberating back from the other side.

"I cannot say exactly who played or any titles, but I do recall Jack Cassidy and his Guild Bass. We hitch-hiked to attend the event which was learned about either over radio KMPX or by word of mouth. I did not stand close to the stage for some reason long forgotten. Possibly to not jeopardize my ride back to the city. It's possible also that we either, arrived late, left early, or the show was cut short."

The dead played 115 shows in 1968, including a concert Dec. 28 in Houston. That show was number 113, their third to the last for the year.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Coming to a big screen near you

Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in The Producers

Movies released this month included:

March 8: The first of three Elvis movies of 1968 was foist upon an unsuspecting public. Stay Away, Joe was called a “comedy-drama western film with musical interludes set in modern times." Elvis' co-stars were Burgess Meredith and Joan Blondell. One commenter on the Internet Movie Database called it an unusually bad film. It was the 65th highest grossing film in the U.S. of the year.

March 18: The Producers, written and directed by Mel Brooks, starring Zero Mostel, and Gene Wilder. Producers Max Bialystock (Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Wilder) make a fortune by producing a sure-fire flop. Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006. Mel Brooks won an Oscar in 1969 for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen. A musical based on the film hit the boards on April 19, 2001, for a very successful run on Broadway, and later across the nation and the world.

March 21: The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band was a Disney film that goes down in history as the setting for the first meeting of Kurt Russell (then age 16) and Goldie Hawn (then age 21), who both were in the film. They have been partners since 1983.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cowboys and Hillbillies light up the Dome

Actors Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan starred
as Jed and Granny Clampett
in the 1960s comedy The Beverly Hillbillies

If you’re one of the lucky 70,000 or so “rodeo fans” who are holding tickets to see Hannah Montana this year at Reliant Stadium, or planning to see the other rodeo entertainment, such as Alan Jackson Thursday night, John Fogerty and perennial favorites Brooks and Dunn, to name just a few, you might be looking ahead to the excitement or longing for a quieter time. A look back at the 1968 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shows how the focus of the rodeo has changed..

The show ran for 12 days - Feb 21 to March 3 - at the pre-Reliant Astrodome and featured as several TV stars as nightly entertainment.

Appearing the first three nights were Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan – Jed and Granny Clampett – of the Beverly Hillbillies, which was one of the most popular TV shows of time and was aired on KHOU-TV.

Michael Landon – Little Joe on Bonanza – and singer Marty Robbins were on stage for the next three nights. A big singing star, Robbins had recorded at least 15 No. 1 songs on the pop and country charts between 1955 and 1968.

Following them was 25-year-old Wayne Newton who was just getting his 40-year run as “Mr. Las Vegas” off and running. His two big hits, Danke Schoen and Red Roses for a Blue Lady carried him through the 60s.

Playing that other kind of music – western Roy Rogers and Dale Evans made their first appearances in Houston's Astrodome on March 2 and 3 along with the Sons of the Pioneers. Worried that their music would not be heard properly over the Dome sound system, Rogers and pre-recorded their musical numbers which were played by tape while they lip-synced from the portable stage in the middle of the arena.

Restaurant owner James A. "Bill" Williams bought the Grand Champion Steer for $16,700. The Hereford steer was exhibited by Henry Musselman from Albany, Texas. Last year’s Grand Champion Steer sold for $300,000, just half of the record price of $600,001 set in 2002.

It’s hard for me to imaging what Ebsen, Ryan and Landon did to entertain the audience, but even with Newton and Robbins, I would imagine the Dome sounded like a church service compared with the high-energy shows of today. I wonder how many daughters dragged their parents out to see the hottest TV stars of the day.

Source: Houston's Rodeo History

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Life as it was March 1, 1968

Georgia O'Keffe
Photo: John Loengard, David Lees

Catching up -- Here are some things that happened the first week of March 1968:

March 1
- NBC's unprecedented on-air announcement, Star Trek will return. Star Trek premiered on Sept. 8, 1966. The last show in the original series aired on June 3, 1969. Here's a clip from YouTube from Sept. 15, 1967.

March 1
- Singers Johnny Cash, 36, and June Carter, 38, wed, less than a week after winning a Grammy award for their duet Jackson. Johnny left us on Sept. 12, 2003, almost four months after June died.

March 2
- Worlds Ladies Figure Skating Champ in Geneva won by Peggy Fleming, about a month after winning the gold medal in the Grenoble Olympics.

March 4
- Joe Frazier TKOs Buster Mathis in 11 for heavyweight boxing title

March 4
- Martin Luther King Jr. announces plans for Poor People's Campaign (There will be more on MLK in the next couple of weeks.)

March 4
- Orbiting Geophysical Observatory 5 launched

Also, on March 4, my childhood friend and school chum Larry Reid turned 18. For some reason, I can still remember the birthdays of three longtime schoolmates, and every year about this time, my thoughts turn to this guy that I haven't seen since college. So, happy 58th birthday to you Larry.