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September 29, 1972: P.O.W. Wife.

Being the latest in the PAST LIFEs series, in which we revisit the last few months of LIFE magazine, issue by issue, on the 50th anniversary of its departure. They’re mostly descending into blather but we’ll keep writing ’em anyway.

This week we revisit the September 29, 1972, issue, which can be read here. Although my grandfather saved the preceding two issues with the Olympics on the cover, he did not save this one.

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Was it a big deal that Hanoi released three fliers — like, was that three more than they’d released in the previous year? Or is that just a random number LIFE threw in for something resembling a news hook? I am thankful that I do not know this; readers in September 1972 surely would have.

The first ad of the issue features a banana-pudding-colored Ford Maverick with those hubcaps that had circles of matching paint. I hope Detroit gave a nice bonus to whichever grunt came up with that as another accessory to sell to people.

After some more ads, we get a weird letter from Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Hedley Donovan and Chairman of the Board Andrew Heiskell. (The table of contents is squeezed in below it. Managing Editor Ralph Graves’s column does not appear this week, bless us all.)

Hedley Lamarr — er, Donovan — and Mr. Heiskell inform us that Time Inc. is celebrating its 50th anniversary over the next few months, having been incorporated in November 1922 and publishing its first issue in March 1923.

They lay out a long list of stuffed-shirt endeavors the parent company is sponsoring or arranging — including the showing of a Time Inc.-sponsored history program at Ford’s Theater; sponsorship of the U.S. tour of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London; and a series of four dinner meetings “at which senators, representatives, civic leaders, and scholars will be invited to offer their views” on how to restore Congress to equal status with the executive branch.

There is nothing on the list (it also includes the 50th work anniversary of a former Time Inc. president and board member, as if anyone cares) that would connect directly to the average reader. Nothing on how to improve life in the ghetto or keep chemicals out of the earth. Just tuxedo-owner events, straight down the line.

A couple of arse-covering ads follow. Sleep aid Nytol assures us that it doesn’t contain an ingredient recently outed as bad by a national news magazine, while Ford Motor Co. repeats its wordy gray claim that it doesn’t want any unhappy owners.

“The Beat of LIFE” returns with Israeli commandos on an excursion into Lebanon, glum-faced Ugandans of Asian descent being forced from the country by Idi Amin, and a photo of the first hot-air balloon trip over the Alps. The balloon bears the words, “Minolta cameras.”

Hugh Sidey is Hugh Sidey. Dunno whether he or Albert Goldman has been the most consistently disappointing contributor to these magazines. Time-LIFE Books follows with an ad for its new publication, The Emergence of Man. It looks indigestible. Then again, I have never had much stomach for archaeology.

On the other hand, I know the LIFE writer who’s been the most pleasant surprise — Cyclops the TV reviewer (possibly a confederation of writers, I realize.)

Cyclops further earns my fealty this week by reporting on a Boston-area kerfuffle of historical interest to me. After a 15-year wrangle, the Federal Communications Commission early in 1972 took the broadcast license of WHDH Channel 5 away from the Boston Herald-Traveler newspaper, on the grounds that one company should not own two primary sources of news in the same market.

Cyclops reviews the renamed, reprogrammed WCVB Channel 5 and concludes that it’s the same old crap the Herald-Traveler was showing, which pales in comparison to the innovative efforts of public television stalwart WGBH.

Richard Locke raves about Steven Millhouser’s first novel, Edwin Mullhouse, which appears to mash up the lofty ideals of a 19th-century literary biography with the setting of an American suburban childhood. I already suspect I know one of the big twists just from reading the review, but it does sound like an interesting book.

Four Roses advertises, “Tired of things that come on strong? Let us underwhelm you.” The photo shows a guy with his head in his wife’s lap; she is stroking his hair and looks concerned. Buy Four Roses, workingman, and numb thyself softly!

I need to stop getting sucked into the car ads but a two-page spread of Dodge Chargers pulls me in. The Charger is one of the roomiest medium-size cars in America (these trawlers are medium size?) which, the ad says, “is one of the reasons your wife and kids are going to love this car.” What Mrs. America thought as she read that is unrecorded … but it probably wasn’t, “Gee, I’m going to love this car.”

Movie critic Richard Schickel raves about Robert Altman’s Images. Long ago I had a conversation with a more intelligent friend about the difficulty of portraying mental illness on film or in writing — the challenge of presenting something that defies logic in a way that is realistic and graspable. Altman, apparently, nails it here, with substantial help from lead actress Susannah York.

Kodak takes another of those full-page ads that asks, “Would you risk this moment on anything less than Kodak film?” For a change, the featured photo — a young child sitting on the lap of a beaming old man, in a cheap lawnchair — is quite winsome. Although, if my dad had taken it, he would have grumbled that the goddamn kid ruined it by putting his hand in front of his face.

Albert Goldman is somewhat more tolerable than usual because he has something positive to say. This week he covers the resurgent Stan Getz, who has kicked various habits and found the good fortune to record with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Tony Williams and Airto Moreira — a backing band that could have made Spiro Agnew on mellophone sound good. There’s a lot of showoffy crap in Goldman’s writing, but maybe a few more truths than usual, as well.

Book reviewer Larry L. King joins the ravers with a thumbs-up review of Dan Jenkins’ football farce Semi-Tough. I suspect a lot of what went on then in the NFL still goes on now, which is another reason I take my NFL only in retrospective doses.

A two-page ad “reveals” that Maxwell House instant beat regular perked coffee in blind taste tests, which only leads one to conclusions about the poor state of perked coffee in 1972 America.

The “20 Years Ago in LIFE” feature looks grim at first. It seems that U.S. censors held photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until 1952; LIFE published a selection when they finally got the chance. A toy wagon is used as an ambulance for a heavily bandaged child; a dirtied and confused child clutches a ball of rice.

Then, in the last sentence of the accompanying text, LIFE adds: “The cover struck a light, contemporary note: shapely chorus girls from TV’s The Jackie Gleason Show.” And sure enough, I take my eyes off the photos of devastation and there’s a tiny reproduction of the cover — leggy young women stepping in formation. How absurdly crass.

Letters aren’t all that amazing this week. One letter writer — responding to a story about platform shoes — encloses a photo of Marilyn Monroe wearing similar shoes. LIFE, of course, makes room for it.

The cover package follows. Valerie Kushner’s husband, a flight surgeon and U.S. Army captain, has been a POW for five years. She is firmly convinced that George McGovern is the only hope of getting him home, and is traveling the country to canvass on his behalf, as well as to (as we would say in 2022) raise awareness of POWs.

LIFE mentions that Mrs. Kushner is a former debate-club star who can “turn on a calculated quaver” that brings listeners to tears. The mag also quotes an unimpressed Kiwanian in Wisconsin: “She has nice legs, but she’s been brainwashed.” (In LIFE-land, women with nice legs matter; we sure seem to see them a lot.) When she’s not giving speeches or meeting with media, she meets with the wives of other POWs, many of whom seem to be Nixon supporters.

The public-facing half of the cover package is mostly photos. A story about Valerie Kushner’s home life with her two children follows. A surprising amount of it is about sex, or the absence of sex (the jump hed is “I just hope the impotence doesn’t last.”)

When asked what will happen if McGovern loses, she hesitates, “one of the few moments when her carefully programmed responses don’t come to her aid.”

I do not think LIFE likes Mrs. Kushner, and I do not think it does her any favors; I think somebody at the magazine wants her to stay home like a good wife and be quiet.

(Of course I go to Google to find out whether Harold Kushner ever made it home. He did, in the spring of 1973. He subsequently had a successful medical career and apparently appears in Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary, which I have not seen. I do not try to find out whether his marriage lasted.)

We are then invited to meet the new Oldsmobile Omega, which looks suspiciously like the old Chevrolet Nova. Olds boasts that the car is “built like a 1 1/2-ton brick,” an inducement that does not send me sprinting to my nearest Olds dealer.

The cryptic headline on a Polaroid ad — “Is there any take pictures?” — makes it clear that this scan is missing some pages. Sorry, folks. Or maybe it’s good that you are spared my thoughtless takes on 50-year-old advertisements.

We’re on page 50 now, which seems like a curious place for LIFE to shoehorn in an editorial. But shoehorn it does. It’s more tuxedo stuffing, more abstractions with no direct link to Joe the Main Street shop-owner. (The closing: “During the next six weeks, the two candidates would do well to catch up to public expectations and elaborate or contend with the voter’s broadening assumptions.”)

A feature on KOA campgrounds (kampgrounds?) follows: “Hotels with no rooms are booming.” This is vaguely interesting, and not a subject I had thought about. Bell interrupts with an ad urging you to call your father.

Speaking of ads, and my father: I didn’t want to interrupt the Kushner spread by mentioning it, but tucked away back there was a two-pager for the new 1973 Plymouth Satellite. My folks had one of those, a big brown four-door jobbie, and it served us at least somewhat better and longer than one would expect from a 1970s American car.

Anyway, back to KOA. The story points out that many Americans like a tinge of camping and the outdoors in their spare time — but they don’t want to drive too far off the highway to get there, and they’re averse to any actual challenge or inconvenience. Hence, the boom in kampgrounds. Some kampers komplain about the uniformity and pasture-like appearance of KOA facilities. In 2022 they’d be whining that there was no place to take a good selfie.

Western Union is advertising its new Mailgrams — they’re not telegrams, but “mail sent electronically.” You call a phone number; WU transmits your message to a post office near your destination; and the message is delivered the next day. Ah ha ha ha.

Yay! An ad for Old Grand-Dad! Somebody in the fall of 1972 dared to drink bourbon, apparently. The KOA story winds on and on; it has probably surpassed the real estate it ought to occupy.

A former editor of mine used to talk about scattering “cookies” throughout a long story: Don’t put all the good details at the top; space them out to reward people for continuing to read. We get a great cookie near the end of the KOA story. It turns out that the founder has never stayed in one. After serving in the South Pacific during World War II he has no further interest in roughing it, even in the relatively comfortable and accessible style of KOA.

LIFE writes briefly about a new implantable device that lets people with serious back pain “dose” themselves with electronic stimulus that kills the pain. Like other things I’ve read about in LIFE, I wonder if it is now common, or has since been discredited.

Speaking of electricity, Your Investor-Owned Electric Light and Power Companies are back to tell you that electricity helps in the general maintenance of Law and Order, and that Your Investor-Owned Etc. Etc. need your cooperation today to maintain an adequate supply of electricity for the future. The alternative, one assumes, is anarchy in the streets.

Speaking of anarchy in the streets, we then get a photo of a formally dressed couple on a city street, kicking up their heels. It’s an ad for Arthur Murray dance studios, of all the companies I wasn’t expecting to see. “‘Touch’ dancing is back,” the ad counsels. “Learn to hold your partner again — to lead — to follow. It’s a moving experience.” I wonder if Arthur Murray’s investment in advertising resulted in an uptick in customers?

The cheesy Hollywood profiles just keep coming. Having waded through a bunch of complicated, still-working-their-shit-out American men, we now get actress Dominique Sanda, who is variously described as enigmatic, elusive, mysterious, schizophrenic, lovely and sensuous.

Of course the lede of the story reminds us precisely what is most important: “Preposterous as it may seem, Dominique Sanda just misses being homely. Her nose is just a little too prominent…” We do not see or hear about her legs, which is refreshing.

Wow, now here’s something unexpected that aligns with my interests: A story about the young people of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, returning two weeks late to schools that were devastated by the flooding of Hurricane Agnes in June. I saw and read a bunch of stuff about Agnes while living in eastern PA, and have written a number of stories for the Society of American Baseball Research about games and teams affected by the hurricane, so I find this interesting.

In just a few pages LIFE manages to summarize things pretty well. We meet a third-grader who has moved to temporary housing in another town, but takes a long bus ride every morning to get back to the school she attended before the flood, just to have something familiar in her existence. We see high-school kids drying library books in an oven. And, this being Pennsylvania, we see the captains of one local football team standing on their home field, now covered with a thick, cracked layer of dried sludge that renders it unplayable.

Newspapers dot com shows me the third-grader just shy of a decade later. She is preparing to graduate from high school, and also preparing to be married. Her face is older, of course, but recognizable as the same girl. I do not choose to follow her any further.

We reach the back-of-the-book Parting Shots. Prince Charles of the UK is said to be keeping company with a “petite but shapely” Chilean blonde. We don’t see her legs.

But the other item is about Georgia Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox launching a talk show, which includes dancing girls in short skirts, and of course we see them. The Maddox piece mentions an unsatisfactory encounter Maddox had on The Dick Cavett Show, which will be recognizable to listeners of Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys.

Writer Paul O’Neil, who contributed an article on forgery a week or two ago, works the same waters again — this time with a profile of a veteran hoaxster and flim-flam man named William Taub, one of those sorts who has the knack and the effrontery to vastly oversell themselves in order to mingle with famous people. The article goes on longer than is necessary to summarize Taub’s greasiness.

(Taub had recently emerged in connection with a scheme to send Jimmy Hoffa to Hanoi to negotiate for the release of prisoners of war. I suspect that Hoffa is the target here, at least as much as Taub is.)

The usual closing ads, and we’re done. Happy birthday, Mark Farner.

A break from LIFE.

A temporary break from the Past LIFEs series to celebrate some minor victories.

I ran my first 5K since the Fourth of July today. No conscious reason for the break (I wasn’t injured); I just didn’t sign up for any 5Ks.

This one supported my town’s Boosters Club and was held at the high school, a 30-minute walk from my house. Gotta love a race you can walk to.

I’ve run this one twice. Scorched it in 21:32 in 2019 and wrote about the day’s adventures here. Waddled it in 23:35 last year and mentioned it in passing here. The race is always full of high-school athletes and I always enjoy seeing if I can beat any of them.

I didn’t match my 2019 performance this year but I greatly improved on 2021. More importantly, I stayed ahead of a group of three or four teenage soccer players who were breathing down my neck for much of the race, and even held them off with a decent kick on the closing segment on the school track.

The message I often tell myself when I race nowadays is don’t hand anything to anybody. I don’t care if people at my skill level beat me, but I want them to have to work for it.

Today I did not hand anything to anybody.

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The baseball field and the track at Millis High are smushed up close to each other, to the extent that I imagine they cannot safely be used at the same time.

How close are they? The new home dugout that was recently constructed is on the other side of the track from the baseball field. (The finish line of the 5K was about five steps further to the right beyond this picture.)

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I hadn’t been close to that dugout in a while. Memory says that at my son’s high school graduation in June, that was a student gathering area, and I didn’t go there. But I got close enough to it after the 5K to notice a banner on the back, thanking everyone who donated.

“Hmm,” I thought. “That sounds like something I would have supported if I’d heard about it. Wonder if I did?”

I did.

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Kind of a nice surprise to find out that I have my name on a dugout — however temporarily. (Who knows how long the banner has been up, or how long it will stay.) This is the sort of thing that makes one’s day when one is like me.

This is actually not the first piece of ballpark infrastructure I have underwritten.

In my Lehigh Valley days, either Lehigh University or Lafayette College did a Kickstarter or GoFundMe or something to raise money to rebuild their bullpen, and I donated to that as well.

Memory says it was probably Lafayette, which has a fancier bullpen; the pens at Lehigh’s ballpark are just fenced-in areas down the foul lines. The paper trail, though, is long since gone from my email.

I’m pretty sure there was no banner or other public acknowledgment of donors on that project, but I have the private satisfaction of having improved the working lives of Leopard relievers. And now I know I have done the same for the Millis Mohawks, as well. (The school district has stopped using Indian-head imagery but their teams remain the Mohawks; we’ll see how much longer that lasts.)

There is no dugout on the third-base side — just a length of fence for visiting players to sit behind. Perhaps the district will solicit help for a matching dugout at some point. If I’m relatively flush, I will be glad to play ballpark tycoon again.

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September 22, 1972: Haywire.

Continuing the Past LIFEs series, in which we look at the last few months of publication of the original LIFE magazine, issue by issue, 50 years later.

The September 22, 1972, issue can be read here. It is another one from the pile that my grandfather saved, for reasons unknown, and that I read in the early 1980s.

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It’s an interesting choice to run a headline about “The Haywire Olympics” with a photo of one of the few positive moments of the Games from an American perspective — a photo in which the athlete is, in a pained and limited way, even smiling.

Definitely an artful caption on the cover. It more or less says, “This is the exact opposite of what the cover story’s about.” Well, maybe the positive photo moves more covers on the newsstands than a photo of somebody weeping in failure.

A full-page Mercury Montego ad touts the kind of stunt that only a professional adman finds impressive or noteworthy: Theyfilmed wild horses from a Montego to show how smooth the car’s ride is. Why boast about something you can’t show in a magazine?

Woulda been a great stunt to put on YouTube, though.

TWA advertises the perks of its Ambassador Express service. I would compare them to the perks of today’s commercial flights if I knew anything about today’s commercial flights, which I avoid like the plague.

Managing Editor Ralph Graves lists the American Olympic athletes that LIFE profiled or pictured in the months leading up to the Games,and updates the reader on how they all fared. Only Mark Spitz and hurdler Rod Milburn won medals, both gold. (Graves mentions that gymnast Cathy Rigby, who went home without hardware, “made a lovely cover” in May.) Graves also acknowledges that the East German women’s track team, talked up in LIFE’s Olympic preview issue, won 13 medals.

Hugh Sidey goes on at length about the Henry Kissinger phenomenon, which retains a little of its interest in 2022.

Ford takes two pages to roll out the 1973 LTD, with a headline — “Quiet is the sound of a well-made car” — that recalls the famous jest once aimed at Time magazine, “Backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind.”

For the first time, as I browse past the LIFE masthead, I note that the editor is a man named Thomas Griffith; Ralph Graves is simply the second-in-command. I wonder who Mr. Griffith was, and what his job was like in September 1972, and how much of a role he took in choosing the magazine’s story list, and whether he knew yet that his venerable publication was going bye-bye at the end of the year.

Salem menthol cigarettes are giving away 500 pairs of his-n’-hers 10-speed bicycles. No purchase required, and you can enter as often as you wish as long as you use a separate envelope for each. To follow up on a thread from one of our recent Past LIFEs, I wonder if any of these are still street-legal, so to speak?

Oooooh! Late September must have been a big time of year in Detroit, because here comes Chrysler to introduce the ’73 Chrysler New Yorker. The one in the ad is a big slab-sided butterscotch-colored bastard that reminds me, however improbably, of a mobster’s casket. (And indeed, I cannot say for certain that a ’73 Chrysler might not have been used for just that purpose at some point.)

The ad ends on a weird note — “We want our newest Chrysler to run better and last longer than any we’ve ever built.” Well, I want my 401(k) to grow to nine times its current dimension, and I want the Red Sox to win every single remaining game this season and take the World Series. I’d like to hear more about your commitments than your desires, Chrysler.

Prying my eyes off this absurd misfire of a vehicle, I move on. Cyclops the TV reporter confesses to liking G&Ts while on vacation. My kind of fella (or dame). He/she, having made a passing reference to New England, also disses the Boston Red Sox for “[losing] fly balls in the glare of Tom Yawkey’s money.” My kind of fella (or dame)!

The hook of the story is that Cyclops the TV reporter has broken down and bought a tiny portable TV for use while on vacation. (Rather a belated thing to write about in the September 22 issue, it seems, but that must be the magazine’s pesky lead time at work again.)

My new pal writes, “It is another thing to climb to the top of Mt. Monadnock with your TV set on your back like a papoose, plug the thing into the cigarette-lighter socket of somebody’s helicopter and watch the Republican convention.” This sounds to me like the kind of caper Hunter S. Thompson would have pulled off around the same time. I only regret that Cyclops did not heighten his/her experience by toting along a bottle of tequila, a few hits of mescaline, and a dozen grapefruits.

Careening wildly into literature, Webster Schott reviews Philip Roth’s novella The Breast, whose narrator is transformed into a giant human breast. The book is not a literary stunt, Schott argues, but a serious piece of art that addresses the human condition. LIFE splits the difference with a headline that can be read either as a straightforward summary of the book, or as an uproarious literary pun: “Speak, Mammary.”

An ad for Sports Illustrated — a magazine probably on the upswing in ’72 — offers the chance to get close to Joe Namath. Namath’s celebrity predated my existence, for the most part, and to me he is one of those foreign figures who loom in from other generations.

Oldsmobile takes two pages for the ’73 Cutlasses. Seventies Cutlasses were distinctive cars and I kinda miss them; they weren’t as gross as the big whompers like the Chrysler New Yorker.

Unlike Chrysler, Olds mentions that its cars hold good value on the trade-in market. Presumably one did not do something so vulgar as to trade in a Chrysler New Yorker. You probably just tossed the keys to somebody and never came back for them.

Movie critic Richard Schickel quite likes the British farce The Ruling Class, which I can’t recall ever hearing about.

Buick is the next player heard from in the ’73 car sweepstakes, rolling out a massive black Electra 225 … black as night, black as coal, I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky.

I am oddly drawn to this bomber, a thousand times more than I was to the New Yorker. Maybe because it looks a little like a junior Caddy. Or maybe because it looks like the long, sleek, rain-swept car (a real Caddy, I think) that Bryan Ferry poses with on the back cover of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure, an album recorded about five months after this issue hit newsstands.

Abso-damn-lutely would I drive one of these … though heaven help the man who got one up to 120 mph, the rightmost marking on the speedometer shown in the advertisement.

Freelancer Marie-Claude Wrenn stops in with a half-page piece about the latest French flap over the increasing invasion of “franglais.” It might have been humorous but it’s a one-joke trip — a series of conversations in which half the words are franglais. The laffs run out a long time before the words do.

MG takes out a full-page ad, but not to specially tout its 1973 model, which probably looked a whole lot like the ’72s and ’71s. (It is a nice look.) Then a big ad for GE appliance repair service. I guess the message is positive — they’ll get you a repairman no matter where you are — but an appliance company shouldn’t really be spending so much money and space to tout repairs.

“24 Years Ago in LIFE,” the cover story tracks a Broadway play in rehearsals, which is a good excuse to put a pretty actress on the cover.

Inside was a memorable photo essay about a young doctor covering heaven and earth to serve a community in small-town Colorado. LIFE reports that the doctor is still on duty in the little town of Kremmling, and his son spent the summer working with him as an intern. (Newspapers dot com reports that the doctor, Ernest Ceriani, was serving as county health agent in 1984 while continuing to practice in his little town.)

The Letters are good and fairly spicy, particularly in regard to the “Bored on the Job” cover story. (The public relations director of the United Steelworkers of America writes in to deny the claim that the union’s president makes $125K a year.)

The Boston-adjacent town of Brookline, Massachusetts, gets two letters published this week. I wonder if opinionated residents Chloe Curtiss-Cherkasky (she doesn’t like unions or greedy corporate bosses) and Mike Wolk (he likes Jean Shepherd) have ever met.

It’s back to the Olympic Games from there — an event LIFE was probably counting on to move copies, until it went sideways in a variety of ways.

The photo gallery collects American failures, or perceived American failures: Black medal winners Wayne Collett and Vince Matthews on the medal stand, chatting their way through the national anthem; runner Jim Ryun sprawled out after a fall; the U.S. basketball team (there was only one then) getting jobbed out of a victory over the USSR by the referees; and 16-year-old swimming gold medalist Rick DeMont, stripped of his medal after his asthma medication (which he properly reported) was found to include a banned substance.

How badly did things go? A U.S. freestyle wrestler, muscles bulging, got two pages after his team won six gold medals. I’m reasonably certain LIFE’s pre-Olympics planning included precisely zero mentions of freestyle wrestling.

(In the midst of this is an ad for Seagrams V.O. featuring “people who do everything just right.” The art consists of a closeup of a young couple who kinda fade into a sailboat riding at anchor. I find it interesting that the man looks substantial and realistic, but the woman is a ghost fading into the water … as if women were less substantial, or women are free to appear to disappear when you’re a man who does everything right.)

Bulky U.S. shot-putter George Woods (silver medal) gets a page, as does tiny Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, who is shown crying after a blown routine while an East German rival tells her with a glare to harden the frick up.

My attention is distracted by Chevrolet’s big spread for the new ’73 Caprice; the example shown is long and lustrous and dark cherry red, and boasts a 400-cubic-inch V8 under the hood. The setting, for what it’s worth, is Bass Rocks in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a place I have never been to but probably should before the ocean messes it up.

Ooooh, it’s a six-page spread! After the Caprice comes the Monte Carlo, then pickups, the Suburban, the Blazer and the van. I dunno which is the tastiest car of the issue so far — the black Electra, or the two-tone avocado Blazer, which looks strong enough to kick arse but small enough to be backed into a parking spot without needing an airport-style flagman to help you.

Well after interest in the subject seems to have exhausted itself, the Olympic coverage ends with a downer state-of-the-Games essay from Bill Bruns, quoting gold medalist Milburn: “The spirit of the Olympic Games is gone. … It’s just a track meet.” Bingo, Rod.

Bruns correctly notes that Denver, Colorado — then on the hook to host the 1976 Winter Games — stands a good chance of surrendering them as the result of a statewide ballot question. He also gives the back of his hand to retiring International Olympic Committee head Avery Brundage, whose long-established condescension toward athletes led Red Smith to nickname him “Slavery Avery.”

From there, LIFE pays a two-page visit to an antiballistic missile complex being built in North Dakota. Originally one of 12 planned complexes, it may turn out to be the only one built. The town’s Wiki page in September 2022 makes no mention of it ever existing.

LIFE then stumbles into a story that could not have been any more ’70s, noting the arrival of wife and husband Dr. Gail and Tom Parker as (respectively) president and vice president of Bennington College at the ages of 29 and 30, respectively.

The Parkers’ rocky ride at Bennington was later chronicled at immensely entertaining length by Nora Ephron in Esquire magazine. The couple rubbed campus old-timers the wrong way — Gail, in part, by starting an open romantic relationship with a faculty member. They ended up getting the boot to end an episode that, in Ephron’s telling, did not reflect particularly well on anybody involved.

(Somewhere in the Ephron article, somebody makes the point that male Bennington professors had been sleeping with their female students for years without repercussions … but when a female president began a consensual, non-exploitative relationship with another adult, people on campus couldn’t get their heads around that. That’s just one of the high points. Oh, and jazz bassist Jimmy Garrison makes a random, tragicomic appearance as well. It’s that kind of article; it starts nuts and keeps going.)

But, back to the September 22 LIFE. Are there any American automakers we haven’t heard from yet? Well, FoMoCo checks in with a solid page of small type about how Ford-Lincoln-Mercury doesn’t want any unhappy owners, and 6,035 dealers are on board with that.

Did Ford really think there were people in America who were gonna sit down and read this screed attentively? Shame the phrase “TL;DR” didn’t exist 50 years ago.

Suddenly, the September 22 issue veers from subpar to sublime with the arrival of P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore’s “The Boys in the Bank,” the story of the Brooklyn bank holdup the previous month that inspired the 1975 movie Dog Day Afternoon. 

(It’s not just that the holdup inspired the film; this story inspired the film. Kluge and Moore even do the casting department a favor by mentioning that lead holdup man John Wojtowicz looks like Al Pacino, the movie’s eventual star. The piece is so well-done that I skip right past a Volkswagen ad — though, to be fair, the ad is all text, and lacks the wit and punch of the best VW ads.)

Oh, look, another Kodak ad with a photo that clearly didn’t come from one of the little cameras in the ad. Remarkable they could get away with that.

Since I started this Past LIFEs project, I’ve seen profiles of Sam Peckinpah and Jon Voight, two complicated Hollywood types. LIFE goes for the hat trick this week with a story on George C. Scott, who is presented as not just a conflicted seeker-type but potentially dangerous. I scan it with one eye to see if he blows up, not being much interested in the scope of his personal torment.

Along the way there’s a full-page ad for diamonds with a young woman, admiring her new engagement ring, who might have stepped straight out of a Carly Simon song. Why do I assume it didn’t last?

Much, much better, for reasons previously explained, is an ad for Volvo 145E station wagons, which instantly rocket to the top of the list of Tasty Cars In This Issue. I’ll have two, please, in different colors, for different days of the week.

We then stop in with a falconer and conservationist named Morlan Nelson, who treats injured eagles at a recently established national wildlife refuge in Idaho.

The birds are all well and good, but to be honest, I would have been more interested in a look at Nelson’s daily life — the spartan apartment in the little town where he probably lived; the diner where the waitress knew him as “the bird rescue guy who eats eggs;” the yard where he sat outside on idle nights and listened to Merle Haggard or somesuch on the radio.

Kodak gets another promo from Raleigh cigarettes, which remind us that you can get a free Instamatic in exchange for an unspecified number of the coupons that come in packs of Raleigh. Suddenly I imagine some poor secretary or clerk or something, just absolutely smoking like hell to pick up enough coupons to get themselves (or their kid) a camera.

At long last — not having heard from American Motors, Fiat, Saab, Toyota, Datsun or Subaru — we come to the Parting Shots feature. Floyd Patterson explains why he keeps boxing at 37. Interim U.S. Senator Elaine Edwards, chosen solely for being the wife of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, gets a short profile that is probably more even-handed than it should have been. (In situations like this, I suppose the facts speak for themselves.)

LIFE also reports on a schism in an Alabama church caused by the reverend’s daughter’s victory in a beauty contest.

I wonder what the (male) editors in New York City thought while they reviewed and laid out the package, which includes not one but two photos of comely 17-year-old Becky Marshall. (One of the photos started the whole fuss by being published in a local newspaper. The other one is totally unnecessary from any kind of news standpoint, but shows off her legs.)

Conversely, I wonder what the people in Alabama thought when they saw themselves in a national magazine, played pretty much as an excuse for cheesecake by those city folks in New York. The rupture between the two sides of the congregation was not at all eased, I imagine.

But, that wasn’t LIFE’s problem.

Ads for Calvert “soft whiskey” and Kool “cool” cigarettes wrap things up, and we’re out of another week. I can only wonder what awaits us on September 29. (Mark Farner’s 24th birthday, among other things, though I doubt we’ll see that mentioned.)

September 15, 1972: Tragedy.

The most recent in a series we’re calling Past LIFEs, in which we revisit the last few months of LIFE magazine, issue by issue. You can read along with the September 15, 1972, issue here.

For what it’s worth, this issue is the earliest in the pile of old LIFEs that my grandfather saved, and that I first read a dozen or so years later.

In which geopolitics arrives in the sandbox with a sickening impact:

09151972

It seemed remarkable to me that a photographer caught a perfect image of the Israeli Olympic team at the opening ceremonies, not knowing what was to come.

But multiple explanations are possible. Perhaps LIFE (or some other media outlet) made a policy of getting a photo of every incoming team. Or maybe LIFE bought the pic from an Israeli media outlet, which would have had an obvious interest in taking the picture. We’ll see if the credits inside the magazine give any clue, once we get past the cigarette ads.

(Squint and you’ll find out: The cover is a United Press International shot. Maybe they did, indeed, photograph every team in passing. I hope they found buyers for their shots of Trinidad and Tobago, or Dahomey, or the one-man team from Upper Volta.)

Managing Editor Ralph Graves’ column contrasts two young champions who “have raised a fair number of hackles on the way to their triumphs” — Bobby Fischer and Mark Spitz. The column acknowledges that Fischer has irritated far more people than Spitz, and in fact Graves never bothers to tell us what it was that Spitz did (maybe it’s later in the magazine?)

At any rate, Fischer has gone down in history as an awful human being, while Spitz’s legend is dulled by time but largely unsullied. Or, at least, that’s my perception.

Skipping the usual BEAT of Life starting ragbag, the magazine opens cold after Graves’ column with several pages of photos from Munich. Most of them are very Seventies: blocky concrete architecture, submachine guns, helicopters, black and white grain. We are then introduced to the murdered Israelis, with special focus on one who grew up in Ohio. The spread ends with a pair of Bavarian folk dancers, in costume for a canceled rehearsal for the closing ceremony, walking in the empty Olympic stadium.

After fifty years the spread holds up pretty well, in terms of capturing the moment. Presumably LIFE, with a national magazine’s inherent delay and lead time, was trying to show people scenes they hadn’t already seen. (The attack took place September 5 and 6; I don’t know when an issue dated September 15 would have had to get out the door.)

Hugh Sidey remains, essentially, pointless; he files a column about Richard and Pat Nixon spending time in San Clemente before the formal start of their campaigning. It feels inessential, padded with cotton, devoid of substance.

After that we get a whomping big ad for the Record Club of America, another of those popular-culture institutions our kids and their kids will never know or understand. The mockup cover of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street is something I wish I could see better; the original cover was presumably too illegible to represent itself in an ad at small size.

Cyclops the TV critic gets lit up about ABC cutting Dick Cavett’s late-night show to one week a month, a tempest that must have meant something in 1972’s teapot. The TV column shares its page with a promotion by America’s savings and loan associations, who are handing out a free guide to Monday Night Football. I bet that would be a fun read for 15 seconds or so. (My personal ban on all things NFL does not apply retroactively.)

Albert Goldman is very Albert Goldman, pressing all the expected buttons in his “analysis” of the popularity of “Amazing Grace.” Rolling Stones concerts and Nuremberg rallies get compared to each other, of course, and the piece ends with a backhanded slap at young people caught up in the holy-rolling trend of the early ’70s. There’s always gotta be a dismissal somewhere with this kind of writer, doesn’t there?

(Goldman shares a page with an ad for what’s either a hyperextended cigarette or a very skinny cigar. With its mention of “your very own style,” the ad practically grabs young men between about 19 and 25 — the age where you think consciously about having a style, and what it might be — and shakes them by the collar. The cigar in the mouth of the beaming gent in the photo is proudly rampant.)

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes takes a full-page ad that literally could have run 50 years before. The copy is maybe a little deflated compared to Jazz Age jazz, but not by much.

As a lifelong lover of breakfast cereal, I recoil instinctively from the photo of a kid holding a bowl of corn flakes in the out-of-doors. Who eats breakfast cereal al fresco? Like, a leaf might drop into your bowl or something.

Reviewer Hugh Kenner likes Andre Dubos’s book The God Within, and although I don’t come away from the review with a well-formed sense of what’s in the book, it sounds as if I might kinda like it as well. Garry Wills doesn’t like Theodore Roszak’s Where the Wasteland Ends, and, ditto.

A full-page ad for a very familiar-looking set of “Mediterranean-Look Decorator Shelves” follows. I don’t think my grandparents had those, but I recognized them as soon as I saw them … maybe from the occasional photographs of regular Uhmuricans’ living rooms that got printed in LIFE every so often.

“35 Years Ago in Life,” steel magnate Ernest Weir (who?) was on the cover, and LIFE printed eight pictures of Frank Chadwick of the Bronx and his daughter Marion. It seems Mr. Chadwick had someone take a picture of the two of them together every summer.

LIFE continued to print the annual pictures until 1954, when they stopped coming. For this issue, LIFE tracked down Marion Chadwick and her mother in Florida and printed a photo of them. (LIFE did not deign to explain Frank’s absence — America didn’t need to know, I guess — but some searching on Newspapers dot com reveals that he died in 1970.)

A couple ads follow for things that make me mildly nostalgic — a big Zenith TV with Chromacolor picture tube and fake-wood casing, and a three-LP set called as you remember them. (They lower-cased the title; I’ll do the same.) The set featured standard-type songs “played note for note from reconstructions of the great original arrangements that made them famous.”

I take some degree of interest in the once-common belief that it was the song, not the singer, that mattered, and that a generation of music lovers didn’t care all that much whether they were listening to Glenn Miller as long as they heard “Moonlight Serenade” with the notes in the right places. Imagine selling teens and twentysomethings a three-LP set of Beatles or Stones tunes as played by random session musicians?

(Yes, I know that sort of thing was practiced on the single-LP level; Elton John, for instance, got a start singing on “cover albums,” some of which copied the original records more closely than others. I’ve never gotten the sense that these albums were popular in any measurable way, or that Mick Jagger or John Lennon lost any sleep about these recordings cannibalizing their own bands’ sales.)

From there we get a half-page ad for Total cereal — awwww yeah, maybe Sir Grapefellow will show up this week too! — and 35-year-old photos of people in New York City reviving a collapsed dray-horse on a hot day by opening a fire hydrant. I will have to send this to my younger son, recently arrived in the Big Apple, for useful advice in case he encounters any clapped-out dray horses.

Letters, they got letters. This week there are letters dunking on Ramsay Clark, and letters dunking on Rudy Vallee, and a letter dunking on a guy who was pictured wrestling a python in the Nile, and a letter from the president of the Walter Cronkite Fan Club, and a letter from Eric Sevareid of New York, New York, who presumably was the TV newsman but not identified as such. There is also a letter from novelist James T. Farrell, taking LIFE for task for quoting his remarks without providing sufficient context.

David Maxey turns in a story examining the Committee to Re-Elect the President, notorious then and now as CREEP. He notes early on: “The Watergate affair … in which important people close to the committee were deeply involved, will not go away.”

The CREEPers come across as jerks with a mission — which is perhaps misleading, because their Democratic equivalents (if the fractured and stumbling Democrats had any equivalents in 1972) would probably have come across the same way. Getting somebody elected President is a bloody-knuckled business no matter which side you’re on. The real meat of the story — CREEP’s collective amorality, going above and beyond mere intense competitiveness — had yet to be told.

(Although the two pages immediately after the Maxey story, a summary of Watergate as it appeared in its early months, does indeed tell some of it. Watergate had reached a point where even a photo-magazine couldn’t ignore it.)

After that we go back to Munich, where LIFE lays on the praise for the Games’ early days: “Staged with opulence and graceful efficiency, the XXth Olympiad was blessed with the most keenly balanced competition since World War II.” Well, yeah, I guess if you ignored the brutal and tragic act of terrorism that the Germans weren’t prepared to stop, it might have been.

(It’s a funny thing about sports — they only stay somber for so long before their water-carriers start nattering anew about Competition and Narratives and Statement Games and Redemption and the Unquenchable Soul of Man. It’s as if we were supposed to be fooled about how much sports actually mean.)

The best photo of the Olympic spread shows a pair of disappointed Black faces in a grandstand crowd. They are U.S. sprinters Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson, who missed their chance at reaching the final race because a U.S. track and field coach, working off an outdated schedule, gave them the wrong time for their qualifying heat. It’s easy to have keenly balanced competition when incompetence wipes out some of the best competitors. (There would be more of this at Munich.)

Chrysler-Plymouth takes out a two-page ad to promote new electronic upgrades to its cars, including a dashboard clock you can allegedly set your watch to. How refreshingly novel. Actually, as recently as last year I owned a Honda (a marvelous car in all other respects) whose digital clock had a weird way of creeping.

Brad Darrach, who turned in a piece about “The Bobby Fischer I Know” (or somesuch) in one of the previous issues I read, is back with another pagelong piece called “Can This Be Bobby Fischer?” I am retroactively so burned out on America’s conquering chess-punk that I can’t bring myself to read it. I wonder if Americans in September 1972 felt the same way.

Given that Jon Voight has turned conservative of late (or maybe always was), I don’t especially want to read a profile of him from the set of Deliverance, either.

Author Joan Downs describes Voight early on as “a shy, ornery, funny, serious quicksilver man, an actor playing at life as if it were his own personal shell game, slipping in and out of a variety of roles on and off screen as easily as a snake sheds skins.”

That phrasing telegraphs to me that the former Cowboy Joe Buck managed to keep the writer at arm’s length, and that she really never got a firm handle on him … which only reinforces my decision not to read the piece.

A two-page ad for “A Dress You Can Make Without a Stitch” looks like a story but reads like an advertisement; if it is marked as the latter, I didn’t see it. Sloppy work, LIFE.

Having long ago read all that stuff about subliminal seduction in the ad business, I persist in looking for sexual subtext in every ad I see — well, maybe not the ones for breakfast cereal. Anyway, there’s some racy subtext to the Gilbey’s Gin ad, I just know it, but I can’t figure out what it is. I know I could use a G&T, but that’s pretty much my default setting in the warmer months; I don’t think a crafty adman is specifically to blame.

The next piece, called “Tracking Down the Forger,” looks at the small handful of established handwriting experts plying their trade in crime labs. “Fraud thrives in a pay-by-paper economy,” LIFE tells us. (Well, you’re never gonna guess what happens when everything goes digital, LIFE.)

A full-page ad for Crow Light whiskey features a cruel-looking man with a crow on his hand (!) as if it were a falcon. Behind them sits a woman who is gazing anxiously at his crow (his crow?) as if she fears it. Dunno what all this signifies but I’ll stick with the Gilbey’s, thanks.

Merriam-Webster Dictionaries takes out a piquant ad as well. One side shows a dissatisfied-looking young man in work clothes, holding a shovel. The other shows a beaming young man, professionally dressed, holding a dictionary. “One of the differences between a blue collar and a white collar could be a red jacket,” the headline says — that is, make sure your son knows how to use words, and he won’t have to work on the highway crew. (Your daughter is on her own, apparently.)

The ad seems somewhat condescending in a country that had a stronger blue-collar population than it does now. I guess it speaks to parents who want their kids to do better than they did, but it also alienates the ditch-diggers of the world, who apparently weren’t smart enough to suss out that a Merriam-Webster dictionary was the key to success.

As a professional communicator, I am also required to point out that simply knowing what words mean is not the same thing as having the ability to motivate and influence others with them. But by now I have looked at and thought about this ad for too long.

The story of the forgery hunters winds on and on, and it’s not without interest, but I’ve been reading for a while so my eyes jump to the ads.

Oh, look, an ad for front-wheel-drive Renaults — top speed 93 mph. The coupe is sleek, and I bet its looks sold more than a few, but when the owners got a taste of the famous French build quality they probably traded in and went Japanese or Swedish. (Maybe that’s a cold shot … but there’s a reason Renaults never got a lasting foothold on American roads, and it’s not Francophobia.)

State Farm takes out an ad about a program in Michigan that sends drunk drivers and their spouses to a month of group therapy, apparently to encourage them to talk through the underlying issues that are presumably driving one spouse to drink. Wonder if it worked (or works).

We get about five jumps into the forgery story until they substantively touch on the Clifford Irving/Howard Hughes fraud that ensnared TIME/LIFE in 1971-72. I suppose it must have taken some guts for an editor to propose an article on forgery after that debacle.

Or perhaps this article arose from that situation: I can picture some LIFE editor in New York, following the winding trail of the examination and re-examination of Irving’s forgeries, and suggesting that the work of handwriting examiners would make a great story.

On and on LIFE goes about forgery, accompanied by a half-page ad featuring a teenage girl — from the look of her, fun-loving and perhaps a little tomboyish. “High school girls and high school boys. We think they both want basically the same things out of life. A feeling of belonging, a sense of accomplishment, and some fun. We think Army Junior ROTC is a way to achieve these things” — and there the needle scratches on the vinyl.

Finally the forgery article wends to a close, having gone on so long that the page designers are forced to fill the final page with a black-and-white version of the art that featured on the first page. That tells you something.

Your Investor-Owned Electric Light and Power Companies take out an ad to point out that the recycling plants that create new uses for old materials need lots of electricity. “Our country’s ability to clean the air, water, and land will depend on an adequate supply of electricity,” Your Investor-Owned Etc. Etc. assure us.

On the surface this is a rich claim, since American electricity in 1972 came predominantly from burning vast quantities of coal. I assume in retrospect that the endgame here was the promotion of nuclear energy — an industry still developing in 1972, and one that offered more or less carbon-free energy in the short term in exchange for the creation of nuclear waste that must be safeguarded for many generations to come.

LIFE then hands us an extended spread — the first page appears to be missing — with photos showing the first six years of a Connecticut girl named Dionis Lindsay.

It’s a mildly interesting exercise as it explains the way kids grow and develop year-by-year — the move from misbehavior to behavior, or the first curiosities about babies or other mysteries of life.

But this spread lacks spark or spice. In its effort to show us the life of one average kid, it fails to explain why we should care about this average kid. So little girls lose their teeth at six and get crushes on their dads at five. So what? Why is Dionis Lindsay in a national magazine?

A trip back to the table of contents solves the mystery to some degree: The story was adapted from a book by longtime Look and LIFE magazine contributor Patricia Coffin. If you squint closely at one of the first pages, it carries a small, easy-to-miss credit: “Copyright 1972 Patricia Coffin.”

Perhaps more explanation was provided on the missing first page. And, perhaps books by staffers or regular contributors provided easy-to-arrange back-of-the-mag content, especially when they came loaded with lots of photos.

Once again, Newspapers dot com fulfills my curiosity about what happened to some of these folks after their moment on America’s newsstands passed. Patricia Coffin Lindsay, who wrote under her maiden name, died in 1974. A news story from 1965 listed her daughter as 11 years old; by the time her childhood appeared in LIFE, she would have been roughly 18.

Of course, even a somewhat pointless spread on a young girl qualifies as hard-hitting news next to this week’s final feature — a spread about a new trend of Hollywood movies in which hordes of murderous animals gang up to kill people.

This dives gleefully and headlong into pure cheese. The largest photo is given — doubtless by design — to the looming mega-bunny villains of Night of the Lepus, a movie that would have been forgotten a week after filming wrapped up if not for its absurd central gimmick of grotesquely enlarged mega-bunny villains.

Will we get one last breakfast-cereal ad on the back page? Naw, it’s another light whiskey — Four Roses this time. With all the absurdity and ugliness facing them, one would think the Americans of 1972 would have reached for the 100-proof stuff.

The ad for Four Roses (which, thankfully, has been restored in 2022 America to legit full-powered bourbon) features the headline, “Born to Underwhelm You,” and goes on to declare: “How it tastes is absolutely underwhelming. After all, life has whelm enough as it is.”

Yes, the past is a different country.

September 8, 1972: Remember.

The latest installment of a series we’re calling Past LIFEs, in which we revisit the final few months of publication of the original LIFE magazine, 50 years after each issue came out. This week we’re up to the issue of September 8. You can read along here if you want.

This week’s LIFE uncannily predicts the form the magazine takes in the 21st century. You know those “special collectors’ issues” you see at the checkout counter that play off a performer’s star power? That’s what this brings to mind — although in 1972 LIFE was still surrounding its celebrity content with at least a pretension of news.

Scrolling to the table of contents, I am both amused and disappointed to find the Marilyn Monroe material limited to the “Parting Shots” section that ends the magazine. I mean, if you’re gonna go the sleazy celebrity route for the cover, you ought to give the people a decent portion of what they came for.

(I also note that the “Beat of LIFE” section upfront teases “a pretty Kennedy on the court.” Methinks at this early juncture that this issue is going to tweak my nose early and often with its cynical shallowness.)

“The Beat of LIFE” brings us a bloodied lion-tamer, a so-so aerial shot of Mark Spitz winning his first gold at the Summer Games in Munich, and two pages of admiring photos of Ted Kennedy’s wife Joan playing in a tennis tournament (“one of the prettiest of the also-rans.”) Yes, this issue is going to taunt me with sexism, celebrity worship, and general mediocrity, isn’t it?

The next two pages make up for it somewhat, with a stark portrait of a New Mexico man and the small, unusually shaped chapel he built to honor his son killed in Vietnam. In a room inside the chapel, he posts a rotating line of pictures of soldiers killed in the war, with his son’s photo always at the center. Back in 2022 for a moment, the Wiki page for his little town does not mention the presence of this monument, and I wonder if it’s still there, or how long it lasted.

(Perhaps the goal was never permanence.)

The celebrity focus resumes in Hugh Sidey’s column, which details the appearances of various stars at a fundraiser for Richard Nixon. Choice passage: “Cybill Shepherd, Peter Bogdanovich’s date, wore the face and used the voice of Saturday night Main Street.” What the hell does that mean?

Sidey redeems himself slightly by taking a slap at the celebs– “It seemed a remarkably isolated and self-centered group which somehow will get more than they give” — which would be more effective if it didn’t come across as the crabbings of a man who is secretly thinking, “If these people were really important, they’d work inside the Beltway.”

Cyclops the TV critic gives the rough side of his/her tongue to daytime TV game shows. Choice passage #2: “You wander into a midtown Chinese bar for a Pisco sour and the Mets game: Faith moves bowels.” What the hell does that mean?

Now here’s a quintessential Kurt Blumenau detail. The piece goes on to mention that “it is raining even in Montreal” — the implication being that the Mets game cannot be watched for that reason.

This allows us to very likely date Cyclops’ day of angst to either April 19, 1972, or more likely July 3, 1972, because those were the two dates that season when the Mets and Expos got rained out in Montreal. (I say “more likely July 3” because it was closer to publication.) The games were made up at the end of the season on October 2 and 3, and in one of them, Montreal’s Bill Stoneman threw the second no-hit game of his career. Don’t believe me? The Expos’ 1972 schedule, including rainout dates, is online; and as Casey Stengel (still alive in September ’72 and enjoying retirement in California) used to say, you could look it up.

It is, of course, the duty of a film reviewer to drop the names of attractive celebrities, so it doesn’t feel like pandering when Richard Schickel shares his thoughts on Liv Ullmann’s Pope Joan and Raquel Welch’s roller-derby movie, Kansas City Bomber. (A saucy shot of Ms. Welch in an unzipped roller-derby jersey landed on the June 2 cover of LIFE; we won’t be reviewing that issue here but you can go look yourself if you want.) Sharing the page is a whiskey ad that gives George Dickel the unfortunate same color as Listerine.

Calvin Trillin turns in a “humor” piece about the increasing largeness of Americans. He got paid. LIFE’s Rome correspondent, Dora Jane Hamblin, files a similarly “humorous” gardening-themed piece that begins, “I have a rather fine stand of sweet corn out in back of my villa…” and I am glad I did not pay for this issue back in September 1972.

“This Week in Life” goes back 16 years ago, showing Irish actress Siobhan McKenna in costume as Saint Joan on the cover. LIFE devotes a full page to reprinting a photo of a young woman in impossibly short shorts, tugging her arse for comfort. Yes, the LIFE crew is not knocking me out with its magazine-assembling abilities this week.

Nice understated full-page Volvo ad; then we get a full-page ad for pre-mixed Heublein Brass Monkey cocktails that dabbles in World War II espionage ephemera but never tells you what a Brass Monkey tastes like. It has rum and vodka in it, apparently.

Interesting batch of letters this week. One asks what camera setting and gear Co Rentmeester used to get the Mark Spitz cover image (Dad, you will not be surprised to learn he used Ektachrome-X film.) A private detective in Texas makes the same point we did about the crime-in-skyscrapers story: Thieves in Detroit will be thrilled to get such a close look at the Fisher Building’s security measures.

And two other writers point out something that slipped right past me: In one of the photos of the Michigan garage sale printed in Parting Shots, a boy is shown carrying an aquarium with some of its glass missing. In response to a letter, LIFE reports that the boy’s name is Leigh Yarborough; that he paid 25 cents for the aquarium; and that he plans to keep his chameleon in it.

The big story on prison reform in Walla Walla is up next. I glance through it. The gist seems to be that the warden is willing to extend the prisoners a little more trust than usual, but that this hasn’t resulted in the wholesale improvement of the American prison experience. An interesting anecdote, I suppose, and something to lend a little balance to a Marilyn Monroe cover. One briefly wonders when and how the experiment ran aground, and when the inevitable swing back to law-and-order took place.

A spread on the increasing popularity of platform shoes for women follows. It pretty much seems to be a vehicle to show more legs. I have almost four more months of this magazine to read and I do not relish the time and effort.

William McWhirter tackles the question, “Whatever Happened to the Peace Corps?,” lamenting a loss of esprit or distinctiveness. The article is, one presumes, motivated by the recent nomination of former Corps head Sargent Shriver as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. The piece makes a reasonably compelling skim in 2022; it was probably much more interesting in 1972, when readers could still remember the fizz of Camelot excitement with which the Peace Corps launched.

Now here’s a fragment of 1972 — a profile of Marjoe Gortner, a former boy preacher who briefly made a name for himself starring in a movie that blew the lid off professional evangelism. The article, in text and photos, makes it abundantly clear that Gortner is trying to leverage his tell-all documentary into an acting career, and that it isn’t really working. (Eventually it more or less would, as Gortner compiled a modest string of film and TV appearances.)

Consumer Watch focuses on school bus safety — in a short article that mentions, as if as an afterthought, that school buses are already the safest vehicles on the road. The article mentions that standees on school buses are no longer allowed. Somehow I could swear this does not jive with my years riding buses in the 1980s; I could swear I’ve been on school buses with kids standing in the aisle. But, I could easily be misremembering at this distance. (Maybe I’m confusing it with the T.)

Photographer Lennart Nilsson provides a gallery of microscopic photos of stuff found in the air you breathe, ranging from pollution to pollen. It’s OK, a pretty decent space-filler for the back half of a photography-oriented magazine.

Finally we get four pages of photos of Marilyn Monroe, apparently taken from a then-current exhibition. They’re … what can one say? They’re not all shameless cheesecake, at least, and the last one is mildly charming. They don’t particularly tell the reader anything about the world they lived in in September 1972. I wonder how this sold on newsstands, especially compared to the bored assembly worker on last week’s cover.

Next week: the Olympics.

September 1, 1972: Bored on the job.

The latest in a series of posts we’re calling Past LIFEs, in which we revisit the final few months of LIFE magazine, issue by issue, 50 years later. We have reached the issue of September 1, 1972; you can read along here if you want.

Wha’? They put Michael Palin on the cover of LIFE?

No, this is a fender installer named Larry Walker, chosen somehow to epitomize the phenomenon of being bored by manual labor. It is obvious to suggest that being bored on the job might have been preferable to what came next for many American manufacturing workers in the 10 or 15 years after this issue was printed.

I am also piqued by (a) LIFE’s funereal choice of colors for the cover design; and (b) LIFE’s apparent choice to run the cover photos in black and white. (I assume the photos were shot in color; I guess we’ll find out soon enough.) It hits, I guess, though now I’m mentally playing with the design to imagine what it would have looked like another way.

Managing Editor Ralph Graves gives a promotional goose to a previously announced Bicentennial photo contest for amateur and professional photographers, called “A Declaration of Interdependence.” Entries are due December 31, 1972, he says, and winning entries will appear in the issue of LIFE available on the Fourth of July, 1973.

The entry deadline, as it turned out, was also the cover date of the final issue of LIFE. I wonder if Graves knew when he wrote this that the issue of July 4, 1973, would never be printed? Someone of his rank must have had at least some suspicion.

A quick Google search does not turn up any evidence that any other publication took on this contest after LIFE’s death. It must have been frustrating to at least a few amateur shooters in America to send their best shots to LIFE only to have them die a forgotten death in some file cabinet. (In the best of all possible worlds, LIFE would have sent the submissions back with regret; but we do not live in the best of all possible worlds, most of the time, and I tend to doubt that happened.)

“The Beat of LIFE” kicks off with a sequence of shots of Sammy Davis Jr. and newly renominated President Nixon onstage together in Miami. It ends with Davis, exuding thrilled-to-death vibes as only he could, hugging a beaming Nixon, who has the good grace to greet Davis’s physical embrace more openly than Archie Bunker did.

We also see Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, on the verge of defeat (how long until another chess match enters the American mainstream?); Christo hanging his latest installation under gorgeously blue skies in Colorado; lions killing a bull in Kenya; and a chain of lightning bolts menacing an observatory in Arizona. Christo and the lightning bolts come out best.

I’m really not getting into Hugh Sidey’s dissection of the political maneuverings of 1972. Maybe it’s because I read Hunter S. Thompson’s considerably woollier coverage of the campaign first. Or maybe it’s just that people inside the Beltway are just boring as hell when they write about the sausage getting made. Or all of the above.

I went on a Jean Shepherd mini-kick a while ago, listening to some of his old radio shows, so I was interested in Cyclops (the TV reviewer)’s verdict on “Jean Shepherd’s America.” He didn’t like it, for a reason that would play well today: Shepherd’s America was, to a fault, a nostalgic working-class white male vision. “It’s that sort of America for Jean Shepherd. I wish it were that sort of America for all of us, including women,” Cyclops concludes … and while I enjoyed the Shepherd I heard and would like to go back for more, I can feel in my bones that this is on target.

A full-page ad for Subarus is mildly nostalgic, as it reminds me of that generation of Seventies Japanese small-car design. I find the look pleasantly dashing, and I would buy one of the pictured cars tomorrow (probably the little station wagon) if it were new on the lot.

Book reviewers take on a work about Eleanor Roosevelt’s last years, as well as a fact-based doomsday fiction thriller in which Egypt’s High Dam of Aswan slowly gives way and the collected leaders of the world do nothing to stop it. A reprint of this would also probably do good business today, as each day seems to bring a new existential threat created by climate change, the pandemic, and/or resource exhaustion, and the world’s capacity to face the problems seems not to have gained any in the past 50 years.

Belair Menthol cigarettes advertise a free cassette tape recorder with the return of an unspecified number of coupons. I wonder how much disaster you had to inflict on your body to earn a free cassette tape recorder? It can’t possibly have been worth it just to be able to bring the Carpenters with you everywhere you went.

Film critic Richard Schickel characterizes Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, etc. etc. as a noble failure. I saw a couple Woody Allen films decades ago, before I completely turned my back on the cinema, but that wasn’t one of them.

“This Week in Life” we go back 32 years to see the Dionne Quintuplets on the cover, marking their First Communion. I don’t remember seeing news stories recently about women bearing great numbers of children, which I take as a positive sign in social development (though I also don’t read every news outlet in America, so maybe they’re still out there.)

There’s also a classic photo — it looks Hollywood but it’s real — of the long-forgotten Wendell Willkie being greeted in his Indiana hometown after getting the Presidential nomination. This is, quite possibly, the greatest single moment of Willkie’s life, and it looks it.

The letters are all over the map — though quite a few of them seem to come from Massachusetts, with the towns of Northborough, Dedham, Topsfield, and South Hadley all represented. (Euclid, Ohio, gets two letters; in a national publication, what are the odds?) A reader in Georgia didn’t enjoy the Sam Peckinpah mock-suicide photo any more than I did, so, three cheers for that much.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan writes at length about how Richard Nixon views his apparently inevitable second term following his renomination at a calm, well-managed convention. I didn’t scan it to see if Moynihan predicted Nixon’s intention to ratf–k his enemies … but the jump headline assures me that Tricky Dick “believes in a ‘Stevensonian’ concept of civility,” so I’m guessing not.

The cover story comes next, and it’s reasonably interesting: A new generation of young people on the assembly line is less willing to trade at-work drudgery for paychecks. Again, as it turned out, far fewer of them would end up being offered the choice.

The story package tells the interesting tale of a man (not the cover subject) who worked on an assembly line for 11 years while earning a psychology degree to better help him understand mental disabilities like his brother’s. For a time he taught the mentally disabled; but when that work left him a slim step above the poverty line, he went back to manufacturing. His father is a steelworker on the night shift who admits that his team does a certain amount of work each night and then knocks off to read books; I’m guessing his employer didn’t take kindly to seeing that in LIFE magazine.

The package ends with a piece titled “The will to work and some ways to increase it,” which looks like it might have some relevance to today’s burned-out semi-remote American workforce. But the analysis is tightly limited to automaking, so today’s corporations are going to have to find their answer to today’s malaise somewhere else.

After a classic Virginia Slims “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” cigarette ad (I use the term “classic” loosely and ironically), writer Paul Hemphill checks in with an essay on his brief attempt at a career on the lowest levels of minor league baseball many years before.

This aligns with my interests, and I scan-read it; it’s unsurprising but pretty good. I also go to Baseball-Reference to look up Hemphill’s record before realizing that his only professional appearance came in a preseason game. He has no official record in professional baseball … not unless you count seven pages in the September 1, 1972, issue of LIFE magazine.

Hemphill’s young son David, wearing a lower-case Atlanta Braves “a” cap, is shown playing with him in one of the photos. I look him up in Baseball-Reference too, just for yucks, and he’s not there, so he didn’t get any farther than his dad did in terms of getting somebody to pay him to swing a baseball bat in anger. No shame in that, though.

Kodak takes a full-page ad: For just $4.95 plus both end panels from three boxes of Kodak film, you can get your choice of a patriotic watch. One watch face shows a donkey; one shows an elephant; and one shows Uncle Sam pulling open his shirt to display the word “VOTE” on his bare torso. This is a look I associate more with Mick Jagger than with Uncle Sam, and I wonder how many of each watch Kodak ended up shipping out.

Two pages follow with a mini-profile of Richard Roundtree, tasting success in the Shaft series after years of scraping along. As of press time he is making a movie called Charlie One-Eye, which I have never ever heard of but would watch before I watched most of Woody Allen’s oeuvre.

A full-page Toyota ad boasts that the new Mark II is the first Toyota with six cylinders. It also has “leather-like padding.” Hey, those come in station wagons too, though they’re not shown in the ad.

Suddenly one of those random questions grips me: I wonder how many of each 1972 make of car is still registered in America today. How many ’72 Chevys are still registered and street-legal? How many ’72 Toyotas, or Saabs, or Volvos, or AMCs?

I am just barely smart enough to recognize that collectability plays more of a part in this than durability. There are probably more ’72 Mustangs and Vettes preserved than there are ’72 Toyota Mark IIs … but the build quality of each model is probably not the prime factor for that.

Another unexpectedly interesting essay follows. In 1964, LIFE had profiled Jill Kinmont, a former Olympic downhill skiing hopeful paralyzed in an accident, who vowed not to be limited by her disability. LIFE rejoins her as she leads a literacy class for children on a Paiute Native American reservation. I am interested enough to go to Wiki and find out what happened next; Kinmont apparently moved back to her hometown and taught special education for 21 years. She died in 2012. (Her Wiki article includes the following terse summary: “Known for: Ski racing, quadriplegia, tenacity.”)

Finally we reach the Parting Shots section. The guy who profiled Bobby Fischer a few issues ago turns in a page of copy on whether Boris Spassky will be able to return to Soviet Russia if/when he loses to Fischer. (Spoiler: Yes, he could, though he emigrated to France in 1976.) The rest of the section consists of Olympic absurdities from Games many years past. Sure, why not.

A Bell ad (remember Bell?) urges us to teach kids how to call the operator (remember calling the operator?) And on the back cover is an ad for Kent cigarettes and their Micronite filters, which reminds me of the tequila-soaked 1973 shows at which Neil Young introduced his band as Clark Kent and the Micronite Filters.

Sad to say, Tonight’s The Night — like the Bicentennial photo contest — will never make it into the pages of LIFE magazine.

August 25, 1972: FLOTUS.

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We continue to revisit the last few months of LIFE magazine, taking each issue as it came out, inspired by a pile our grandfather saved way back when. (Backstory here.) This week we’ve made it to the August 25, 1972, issue, which can be read here.

Another issue that lands smack in the greylands for me. I have no preset emotions or knowledge regarding Pat Nixon. She is neither as earthy and relatable as her successor, nor as active in prohibiting highway billboards as her predecessor, and God knows she’s a cipher compared to the glamorous Jackie Kennedy.

Pat Nixon appears in perception, perhaps, as a woman who in another world might have had to keep a stiff upper lip while her husband’s import-export business went bankrupt … but instead had to go through a similarly trying situation under a massive spotlight, with global stakes. Nobody dast blame this woman.

Anyhow, we have a magazine to read, so let’s read it…

Managing Editor Ralph Graves explains how a national magazine found a New York City youth gang to follow — they discovered a gang leader who’d appeared on the TV talk shows of Dick Cavett and David Susskind. This is, perhaps, like doing a story about New York music by talking to Leonard Bernstein, or by asking the biggest label in the recording business to steer you to a New York band. But we’ll get back to the gang in due time.

“The Beat of Life” brings back some memories: It leads with an aerial photo of Karl Wallenda doing a high-wire walk across Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia before a Phillies game.

When I moved to eastern Pennsylvania in 2002, you could still get free Phillies tickets by buying packages of hot dogs in the supermarket, such were the low fortunes of the ballclub. We went to the Vet a couple times through the charcuterie connection, and I always kinda liked the cement-floored old dump.

The seats on the third-base side where I spent my long-distant 29th birthday with the wife and (then only one) kid are visible in the photo, not that anyone but me would know where to look.

The first two lines, perhaps difficult to read due to the low resolution, say: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO: KURT BLUMENAU – 29. It is the most famous I have ever been at a ballpark.

Unfortunately, after a couple pix of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the scan of the magazine goes haywire … a couple pictures are missing, and we’re left with what looks like a guy trying to fend off a water-snake right next to the Olympic Village.

There’s a Chevy Vega ad, and an ad for Sears color TVs, and an editorial that begins, “With all the attention given blacks and ethnics, the one unprotected species left in American life is the poor old WASP.” Nein, danke. Cyclops the TV critic’s praise for political reporter Carrie Mackin is cut off, as well.

After movie critic Richard Schickel expresses his distaste for two new films starring Stacy Keach, a full-page ad introduces a new magazine called Money. If you’re in a particular tax bracket, you can own a vacation home in California, Florida or the Virgin Islands that will pay for itself. Proto-yuppies, assemble!

Book reviewer Richard Freedman makes Louis Auchincloss’s I Come as a Thief sound like much sound and fury signifying nothing; I imagine Freedman was right. Meanwhile, reviewer Gerda Lerner splashes praise on Notable American Women, a three-volume assembly of biographies of dames, chicks, broads, and doxys not usually captured by history. Good job, girls!

This Week in LIFE goes back 29 years to capture World War II kids doing the Lindy Hop. Seems like more service for the magazine’s core readers to me. Remember when you danced, Joe? Remember when you let tomorrow think about tomorrow? Remember when you didn’t have a mortgage, or a job you could live without, or two kids smoking pot at the state university, or a — yeah, we’ll stop there.

(Where is she now, Joe? She’s married to a guy like you and she’s not happy either. Have another menthol cigarette and go to sleep, Joe. Death will come soon enough. Maybe next time around you’ll be happy.)

The Aug. 25 issue is the first issue since we began this exercise in which the Letters comment on an issue we’ve previously covered — in this case, the Aug. 4 Flip Wilson issue. The most noteworthy letter is one that clocks Managing Editor Graves for being a jerk to the young woman in the row in front of him at the Stones concert. We’re glad to see that somebody else in America joined us in our disappointment over that lame column.

Other letters are signed “J.J. Flash” — ol’ Jumpin’ Jack lives in Morristown, New Jersey, apparently — and Rudy Vallee of Hollywood, California. The magazine is just sloppy enough to make me wonder whether “Vallee” is, indeed, the old crooner; there is no wink or nod of the head or editor’s note to indicate that, yes, they’d verified the sender’s identity.

We go from there into the Pat Nixon cover story, which does not help 2022 me get any better grip on Mrs. Nixon’s personality (although there is, for the second time in three weeks, a reference to the White House’s iced tea — it must have been quite something.) She is in control, willing to pick up sofas and move them around, and yet she is also at peace as well. In a Presidential election year I have no idea what any of this signifies.

From a photo-magazine point of view, the best photo is the last — Pat locks arms with the engineer and a wires guy who worked on a lighting project dear to her in the White House yard. I’m not sure any of them look completely at ease … but dammit, they’re trying.

An update on the war in Vietnam follows. Even from a 50-year distance you get some of the flavor: The average reader is tired after weeks of following these updates, like a trapper following a snake that retraces the same ground over and over again but can never quite be stopped.

The latest wrinkle this week is that former Attorney General Ramsey Clark has just returned from a trip to North Vietnam. He is blasted in some corners as a “dupe,” a willing carrier of the Commies’ message to America. And yet the conclusion of his piece for LIFE seems so solid: “Our bombs destroy churches, hospitals, schools, dikes. They kill old men, women, babies. … We must stop or we will destroy ourselves.” Funny how the people who say stuff like this always turn out to be right, war after war, conflict after conflict.

Oh boy! An article about the launch of San Francisco’s BART mass transit system. Featuring a one-two punch of photographic funk — a shot of a train with the SF skyline behind it, and one of those claustrophobic interior shots that narrows your bowels a little bit of the BART control room, complete with high-quality wall-sized analog maps. Wonder if that room is still under BART’s control, and if so, what it looks like today? (It doesn’t look like that.)

Kodak takes a full-page ad to present a not-particularly-compelling photo of a little kid and ask, “Would you risk this moment on anything less than Kodak film?” Actually, IMHO, this one could probably be handled OK by Polaroid or even Fuji. But thanks for asking.

Roger Kahn, whose The Boys of Summer rode the best-seller lists in ’72, proves he’s not just a one-Duke pony with a lengthy article about “fragile genius” classical pianist Claudio Arrau.

If you’re not much for classical music, you’ll probably see this as a profile of just another neurotic longhair who can’t get out of his own way. If you’re sympathetic to the headcase challenges of classical piano — you play the same repertoire again and again, eleven cities in twelve nights, as critics analyze every eighth-note for the smallest signs of slippage — you’ll get into this. I got into this. The story goes on for parts of seven pages, a wealth of riches in 1972 LIFE terms, and it’s worthy.

(The New England setting didn’t hurt. Yeah, I’d bring my pack of mentholated Kools back to Vermont in the summer of ’72 to chillax with a classical pianist. Maestro, whaddya make of Carlton Fisk?)

I didn’t mention a full-page ad for MG sports cars. Every time I see an MG I am reminded of a high school classmate, in my older brother’s grade, who went out into the school parking lot one afternoon and drove his MG at speed into a lamppost, leaving tiny bits of British body-plastic scattered all over the parking lot. The young man in question died far too young of a brain tumor. This burst of questionable judgment aside, he was a good guy; he deserved far better from life, and I think of him every now and again.

After all this we get to the story of Eddie Cuevas, president of Bronx street gang the Reapers. (Buck Dharma has not yet let America know not to fear them.) I am somehow less interested in these guys for the simple reason that LIFE magazine managed to find them … how serious can any street gang be that ends up in Henry Luce’s embrace?

To prove the danger, I suppose, we get a photo from behind of gang leader Cuevas, wearing his colors, looking into the coffin of neighboring gang member Chino Rosa. (The New York Daily News confirms that 17-year-old Norbeito Rosa, member of a gang called the Warlocks, was stabbed to death on April 18, 1972, on Westchester Avenue in the city.) One wonders if there is anyone alive in 2022 — a sibling, a fellow gang member, even a former cop — who remembers Chino Rosa before he landed flat on his back in the silk-lined box.

Newspapers dot com, incidentally, turns up no leads at all regarding whatever happened to Eddie Cuevas, the gangleader with a knack for the media hustle.

We end with the Parting Shots feature, which incorporates the creation of a wax model of Agatha Christie; a visit to a parody “Mr. Adonis” beauty contest in Boston; and a classic LIFE parlay in which a photographer sets up a hopscotch grid on a sidewalk and takes pictures of the passing adults who can’t resist a go. This being an Olympic year, there’s also a visit with Jesse Owens, who from the sound of it is shamelessly recycling his 1936 victories into upbeat patriotic speeches that pay his bills.

We end with ads for Seagram’s 7 Crown Whiskey (is there a Canadian whiskey anywhere that’s worth drinking in place of bourbon? Worth gargling with, even?) and Raleigh cigarettes, which remind me of the Robert Lowell lines from “Lady Ralegh’s Lament“: “Down and down / The compass needle dead on terror.”

Which is where we’ll be in two weeks or so … so, stay tuned, friends.

Everybody here wanted somethin’ more.

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Long-timers here might remember my angst, four years ago around this time, over dropping off my older son at college for the first time.

Well, today was the sequel … and like most every sequel, it didn’t hit quite so hard the second time around.

(Not yet, anyway. There’s still time.)

Today my wife and I drove into the middle of Manhattan to drop off my younger son for his freshman year of college.

That’s all the kids we got … so with the older one still finishing off in Boston this year (he switched majors so he’s on the five-year plan), the house is officially empty of kids, at least for a while, in a way it hasn’t really been before.

Just the two of us. And not in a romantic Grover Washington Jr. kind of way … more like, every recipe we’ve ever liked is now too big by half. But we’ll figure that out.

Anyway, to get back to the younger kid: I’ve enjoyed getting to know him as a young adult, because in some ways he is very much like me, and in other ways he is diametrically opposed.

Nothing expresses the “diametrically opposed” part quite like his decision to go to school in my least favorite city — a place I have been dreading driving into and out of for months now.

(In recent weeks, I have joked that any paternal sadness I felt on the day of drop-off would be outweighed by my massive relief at successfully driving into and out of New York City … assuming I actually managed to get in and out, and didn’t get towed to some dark hell-corner of Staten Island and flogged with hoses, or something like that.)

But, what was I gonna do? Kill his dream? Tell him he had to go to some backwater town like State College just so I could have an easier time getting in and out twice a year? Nope.

As it turned out, the drive in wasn’t all that bad — especially on a Sunday morning; I hope all his future comings and goings can be timed on a similar schedule.

The last three blocks or so took about 45 minutes, but you get to a point where it can’t be helped. You’re in New York City and there are dozens of people trying to drop off their kids in the same place. The college has a decent system in place to handle it, so you get in line, and you wait.

And the goodbye … well, it’s never easy per se, and of course we miss his voice in the family chorus. But this is the kind of kid who enjoys independence, and who would probably have gone to college at 11 if he could have. I think he has a few jitters now that the dream has turned real. Once he finds his feet and gets to know his way around, I imagine that will go away.

(If it never does — if he finds he’s chosen incorrectly in some way — he can always transfer; I’ve told him that’s not the end of the world. Of course, God knows where else he’ll have me driving if he gets a second choice.)

# # # # #

Last time around there was a song; and this time around there will also be a song.

The full backstory of the song is complex and not really worth recounting. Suffice to say that this is the singer-songwriter Father John Misty, covering Taylor Swift’s song “Welcome to New York” in the style of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Misty’s vocal impression of a young Reed is glorious verging on eerie.

It’s been waiting for you. Welcome:

August 18, 1972: Surge to the Olympics.

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The latest in a series of posts we’re calling Past LIFEs, in which — inspired by a grandfather — we’re revisiting the last few months of the original LIFE magazine, issue by issue, 50 years after they came out. We’re up to the August 18 issue:

The Olympics are a pretty sweet deal for a photo magazine — lots of multi-cultural strain and pain and grimacing and emotion and victory and defeat, not to mention well-toned cheesecake/beefcake.

LIFE has already put the Winter Games (in the person of a Japanese ski jumper) on a cover in February, and concocted some reason to put gymnast Cathy Rigby there in early May. With the Munich Summer Games just around the corner, we get a nice close-up of Mark Spitz, looking like he’s watching a tramp steamer explode from a just-safe-enough distance.

So what’s inside the issue? (Besides cigarette ads?)

Well, managing editor Ralph Graves — who has not outdone himself thus far in our series — devotes his weekly column to introducing a special guest. It turns out that this week’s issue features an excerpt from Roald Dahl’s latest children’s novel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

(Aw, man. Are we gonna get dames in bathing suits and Roald Dahl in the same issue? And if so, why couldn’t I have read this when I was, like, 12? Anyway.)

Hugh Sidey doesn’t really have a great point to make this week, but he’s quite entertaining (I can practically taste the iced tea with fresh mint) as he lays out the perks of being President. As of mid-August ’72, they include a new Russian hydrofoil personally presented by Leonid Brezhnev. I’m sure the boat’s fate following Nixon’s resignation is a matter of record — a Commie hydrofoil with wolfskin upholstery doesn’t just go missing, after all. I wonder where it ended up?

Then there’s a full-page ad for Kodak Instamatics — this particular type being the long skinny rectangular model — illustrated by a photo that absolutely, positively was not produced by any Kodak pocket Instamatic ever made. LIFE, before the end of its run, is going to do something that will make the Kodak corporate brass in Rochester spit out their chicken French … but we’ll get to that.

The Army takes two pages to make a pitch to young men with no plans after high school. “It’s a job that lets you live away from home and afford it. Not only in the States, but in places like Europe, Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska.” I don’t know which side of the barn is broader — the one that says, “Uh, Hawaii and Alaska are states,” or the one that says, “My older brother got Vietnam.”

On to the weekly reviews. TV reviewer Cyclops raves about public television coverage of the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess championship. There’s no video feed of Fischer or Spassky. Instead there’s a studio with a couple chess buffs and a big chessboard. When they get news of a move they adjust the board to reflect it. Then they speculate at wild length about what they think will happen next … until the next move comes in and it turns out they’ve all been totally wrong (since, after all, Fischer and Spassky are operating on a different level than the guys in the studio.) It sounds like a stone gas … distinctly more fun than Deliverance, which movie reviewer Richard Schickel doesn’t overmuch care for.

Book reviewer Webster Schott praises with not-so-faint damns A.E. Hotchner’s Depression semi-memoir King of the Hill, which shares its page with ads for Tampax and the new ’72 front-wheel-drive Renaults.

Somehow a reminder of the Depression — of a family eking out an existence of grinding want in one room of a hotel-slash-bordello in St. Louis — seems out of place amidst the blithe, blue-sky affirmations of consumerism stacked up on every other page … cars, cameras, cigarettes, Canadian Club. You mean there were people in America who couldn’t afford a General Electric fridge, with 50 percent larger top-mounted freezer? (You mean … there still are?)

After a Bacardi ad — most notable for showing a can of Fresca emblazoned, “NEW! NO CYCLAMATES” — the redoubtable Albert Goldman turns his pen on John McLaughlin. Goldman takes a totally gratuitous swipe at George Harrison, then adds a reasonably well-aimed swipe at McLaughlin’s tendency to fill all available space. The piece ends with the assertion that McLaughlin’s violin player, Jerry Goodman, is the real reason to listen to his band. I can’t quite say I agree … and I can’t quite say I understand why, if Goodman is so revelatory, Goldman waits for the final paragraph to work him in.

Plowing through a few more tidbits (I retract any promise I ever made to mention every single damned thing in these issues), we get to the annual look back. This week it’s 20 Years Ago in Life, and don’t you just know it, they ran pictures of a gorgeous woman that week.

The shot in question is very creatively constructed — even, dare I say, iconic … and they balance it with a picture of a tubby despot, as if they knew I was going to call them on it half a century later. But, man, file photos of beauty queens have a way of popping up in LIFE, the way cars with out-of-state license plates have a way of getting pulled over in small towns.

Sundry ads follow, the most interesting of which is for James Beard’s American Cookery, a twelve-course feast of 1,500 recipes. I’d page through that, though Mr. Beard’s well-fed appearance discourages me from following too closely in his footsteps.

Are we ever gonna surge to the Olympics? First we gotta get past the Letters to the Editor.

I recently read a book that positioned Spiro Agnew as a predecessor to President No. 45 — a polarizing figure, a bellicose attacker of the press, and a liar who stonewalled and prevaricated until the rope tightened unavoidably around his legs and he was pulled down (45 has not reached that final stage, and may never.) Several of the letters here draw that connection even more sharply. There is also a letter — a response to a photo essay on “The Bare Look” for women — that makes me suck in my breath reflexively and wince.

OK, I guess I can take my time getting to the stories if there’s gonna be a classic full-page Volkswagen ad (still the work of Doyle Dane Bernbach in ’72, I wonder?) The ad announces that the ’72 VW bus has an engine that’s 32 percent more powerful than before. Does this mean that a VW bus could finally outrace a dozy hippo to the top of a hillock? Reader, the ad sayeth not.

Stories at last! George McGovern has a running mate — Kennedy auxiliary Sargent Shriver — and the mag prints an interview with his wife, Eunice, along with headline teasers about a “potent political legacy” and “a Kennedy in the room.” Sarge himself apparently didn’t talk to them, though he is seen posing for a snazzy picture on his Maryland farm. Of course he had a Maryland farm.

Much more interesting is an interview with the man Shriver replaced, Tom Eagleton, which portrays Eagleton as firm yet forgiving, and a genuinely likeable person who attracted more support from average Americans than he expected. Makes me wonder how the rest of his life went. If I ever get through this frigging magazine I’ll make a point of looking it up.

Hey! Finally the Olympic spread. Co Rentmeester, who took the cover shot, works out from various other artsy angles. Oooh ahhh — one’s even solarized. Fancy, like every third high-school yearbook cover back in ’72-’73. The first four pages are two-page spreads; the last photo, of boxer Duane Bobick, consists of a one-page portrait placed against a razor-blade ad. If it’s accidental, it works marvelously.

Then we get several pages on the East German women’s track and field team, dubbed the best in the world. (Hey, what would Henry Luce say about using the pages of his magazine to talk up the Commies?) The “Rhinemaidens” (LIFE’s word) are a mixed group — this is neither an exercise in cheesecake, or a series of bulky shot-putters — and the article gently approaches but does not touch the idea that they might be doping.

The Olympic spread concludes with a brief piece on American 5,000-meter runner Steve Prefontaine, not yet the James Dean of track and field. (You might remember the two Pre biopics that hit theaters simultaneously some years ago.) A shame this wasn’t longer, but thankfully Pre’s distinctive mystique has been captured extensively elsewhere.

From a beach in Oregon, we go to an apartment in Chicago, for one of those statistic-free, non-study-based, no-experts-quoted trend stories — this one about couples choosing to have their babies at home. Epifanio and Misarai Lozano welcome a healthy nino named Rafael on their kitchen table. LIFE briefly profiles 75-year-old Dr. Beatrice Tucker, whose Chicago Maternity Center supports at-home births; she will send crews anywhere in the city except the notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects.

Roald Dahl takes over with a hefty chunk of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I read it multiple times when I was a kid; memory says it was OK but it wasn’t quite the equal of its predecessor. I have a mild urge to re-read it, but I’m not gonna do it from a 50-year-old magazine on a computer screen. I scan the copy just long enough to see if the racist joke that is the only firm thing I remember from the book is included in the excerpt. Of course it is.

A while along in the copy is a half-page ad for Sylvania flash cubes — the perfect accessory for your Kodak Instamatic, no doubt. Once again, the ad is illustrated by a photo almost definitely not taken using flash cubes. (Oooh! I see Sylvania’s corporate address listed as Danvers, Massachusetts. I doubt they made those now-faded photographic appendages here in the Bay State but I’m tickled to know there was at least a front-office connection.)

This week’s Consumer Watch column focuses on rabies awareness. The hook for consumers, I guess, is to get your dog trained and keep it under control, because if it gets out and bites somebody and then can’t be caught, that person is on the hook for 23 shots. The story is illustrated by an appropriately satanic picture of a rearing, snarling dog. I wonder whether it was really a hellhound by nature, or if they had to insult its mother for 20 minutes to get the shot.

Oooooh! Tucked into the back of the magazine is a juicy morsel, very much of its time (here comes The Dark Side of ’72 again.) It’s a story about increased crime in American skyscrapers, a trend that’s been followed by “the creation of a new, alien and somewhat spooky atmosphere in American offices.” These are the roots, right here, of the lanyard I hang on my belt … well, nowadays, the lanyard I hang on my belt two days in a typical week.

Downtown Detroit’s Fisher Building has been chosen as a representative American office building, and one by one, its safeguards are detailed — a security staff, video monitors, locking gates that prevent people from getting off elevators, even a squirreled-away pistol in a desk drawer.

Secretaries contribute a life hack that once again proves they are the smartest people in any organization: They take their phones off the hook at the end of the day so that thieves, calling to see if anyone is present, will get a busy signal.

More glorious still, if that’s possible, are the “Polish Mafia” — the building’s staff of 71 cleaning women who serve as an important ground-level set of eyes and ears to notice anything unusual. A group of them are photographed from the ground up, with mops, vacuums, and scowls. They look like they’ve come to kick dupa and scrub tile, and they’re plumb out of Lysol.

I was once told that listing all of your business’s security features in public only makes it easier for an enemy to break in — since (s)he knows what (s)he is up against, (s)he can plan precisely for it. Makes me wonder whether the Fisher Building security team kept some other weapon hidden up their sleeves. Snarling dogs, maybe?

At long last we reach the end of LIFE. It caps off with items on Sir Francis Chichester cutting short a sea voyage for health reasons; the father of a young Irishman killed in the troubles; and a guide to hosting a successful garage sale.

Sir Francis died on August 26, eight days after the cover date of this issue; the recurrence of cancer that forced him off the sea allowed no return. The fate of the $442 earned by the Chuck Ericksons of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, at their family yard sale was unspecified.

…. and y’know what? Somehow we never got babes in bathing suits.

August 11, 1972: Skyjacked.

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Another installment of Past LIFEs, in which we revisit the last few months of the original LIFE magazine, issue by issue, inspired by my grandpa’s long-ago hoard of old LIFEs. More explanation of the concept is here. Today we’ll look at the August 11, 1972 edition, which can be read here.

skyjack

Before I even dive into the issue, I find myself second-guessing the headline. Does LIFE acknowledge that, if the “get-tough policy” could make skyjacking even worse, it could also make the situation better? Why are they picking one side?

It’s funny: I imagine the editors of old magazines being law-and-order types, so spinning a headline against a “get-tough policy” seems unusual. Just gonna have to see what the story says, I guess.

After the menthol cigarettes and car ads comes Managing Editor Ralph Graves’s column. He devotes most of it to memorializing a recently deceased colleague, then breaks off at the end to mention that two other LIFE contributors have just died as well. Doesn’t do anything to dispel my previously stated perception of 1972 as a land of grimness.

“The Beat of Life” begins with a grainy B&W of an FBI agent in a bathing suit, lugging a suitcase with $1 million out to a hijacked plane. There must have been cute ducklings frolicking somewhere in America the week of August 11, 1972 … but you might as well hit people over the head with your cover topic again, I guess. (Why the bathing suit? To prove that the agent was unarmed.)

Continuing the parade of underdressed noteworthies, a photo of George McGovern on the phone in a sleeveless undershirt follows. He had ducked into his office to change his shirt and, apparently, a photog insisted on following him (and LIFE insisted on printing it). To close the loop from last week’s issue, Tom Eagleton is off the Democratic ticket but has not yet been replaced.

In Nigeria, the government has taken to executing armed robbers by firing squad, and we get to watch. Um, thanks. Then there’s some camels photographed from the air and another indigestible chunk of Hugh Sidey.

Then comes a Navy recruitment ad, flaunting bennies like a new three-year enlistment term (instead of four or six); a raise to $288/month; the freedom to wear neatly trimmed beards; and, of course, the opportunity to see the world. The chance to land in the middle of a race riot at sea goes unmentioned, although in fairness to the Navy, that wouldn’t happen for another two months.

After one of those ads with the broken cigarette (remember those? Were those really supposed to suggest impotence, or was that just some far-out psychologist’s weird idea?), we come to the weekly reviews.

After long hours of watching experts bloviate during political conventions, Cyclops the TV reviewer adores a trippy PBS program called “The Fine Art of Goofing Off” (“owes a great deal to the drug culture … All the submarines are yellow, the sergeants full of pepper.”) Richard Schickel similarly finds positive things to say about several movies, all of them totally unknown to me (OK, I think I’ve heard of Junior Bonner at some point.)

Book reviewer Webster Schott also praises Thomas Harris’s I’m OK–You’re OK, but in so doing reconfirms my commitment never to read that kind of book; I’d rather be messed up. (“Books good or bad don’t change people. People change themselves, and usually in response to environment.” There’s my out.)

Page 21 offers another kind of nostalgic bliss — a full-page ad for the Volvo 145E station wagon. As mentioned in this space several years ago, the grandpa who saved the LIFE magazines also had a non-functioning Volvo 145E next to his driveway, courtesy my uncle. I drove that thing all over the place, without going anywhere, and the sight of that generation of Volvo wagon still hits the warm n’ fuzzy button. My uncle also owned a big gray delivery-type van — this one running, at least — that lived in his father’s driveway as well, but for some reason I never bonded with that one.

The weekly throwback this week is 31 Years Ago in LIFE, and it conveniently gives the editors a chance to re-run the classic World War II pinup photo of Rita Hayworth kneeling on a bed. The thought occurs to me that the generation of men who adored this photo in its original go-round — young then, middle-aged in 1972 — are probably the magazine’s core audience, and this is what’s known in the 21st century as fan service.

The Rita Hayworth negligee photo has legs, you might say. It will recur in the final month or two of LIFE, popping up again in a random and unexpected setting. I look forward to flagging it when it shows up again. It won’t be for another month or two, though.

An ad for Coors beer comes and goes, which is interesting, as I don’t think the stuff was available west of the Rockies at that time. I think Coors in ’72 was still nurturing its image as the sort of regional delicacy that people like Carl Yastrzemski, who used to smuggle cases of Coors on the Red Sox team plane, made a point of bringing back East. I wonder if LIFE printed regional editions and I’m looking at the one from out West … or whether Coors was stoking the fires of Eastern desire a little bit.

The letters are mildly entertaining though not revelatory. One, from a soldier stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, quotes The Godfather, who “made them an offer they couldn’t turn down.” I guess Mario Puzo’s most famous phrase hadn’t entrenched itself in the American consciousness just yet — or maybe the soldier simply hadn’t brought his copy with him and didn’t have it to refer to.

OK, now to the cover story. It’s basically a couple of colorful pictures padding out a relatively shallow story. On one hand is a psychologist who, having extensively studied hijackers, believes that force in dealing with them will only lead to tragedy. On the other are the FBI and FAA, who are all for cracking down. Two airline presidents and a pilot are briefly represented as well, the former in a manner that suggests their position is being extrapolated from previous public statements.

One piece of art is a particular doozy. It’s a collage. In the background are the eyes of a man; in the foreground are money, military medals, an electric chair, and a woman’s mouth. This hodge-podge is meant, LIFE explains, to symbolize the chief interests of hijackers — ranging from the desire for a dramatic death, to a longing for domineering women. The designer who executed this deserved a bonus; the editor who commissioned it, an unpaid week off.

I also find it interesting that the story makes no mention of the hijacker alternately known as Dan Cooper and D.B. Cooper, who made good (or, perhaps, bungled) his daring escape over Washington state less than a year before. Nowadays, Cooper is a veritable American legend, but apparently in August 1972 he was just one in a crowded field of criminals. I notice that the article does not mention any hijackers by name, even the man whose photo is used in the collage, so perhaps LIFE had an all-encompassing “don’t give the bastards any publicity” policy.

From there we leap wildly into tennis, which is apparently booming everywhere from Harlem to the Hamptons. Sure, why not. The best anecdote belongs to a film editor in New York City, who sometimes plays doubles until 3 a.m. on a court above Grand Central Station. Something about that sounds really, really cool.

We then get some crowd-sourcing before crowd-sourcing was a thing. In April, LIFE ran a profile of a sympathetic but overworked hospital nurse. They followed up by surveying readers on what they thought about their health care. Good concept but the results don’t particularly interest me 50 years later.

“BOBBY IS NOT A NASTY KID,” the next story is headlined. It’s a profile of chess wunderkind Bobby Fischer that begins with him sitting “naked and steaming” on the edge of a bed opening fan mail. The author labels him “an intricate and mysterious being who will probably be part of our public experience for the next 20 or 30 years.” Swing and a miss. Come to think of it, he turned out to be a rather nasty kid after all, long after youth ceased to be an excuse.

The Air Force takes a page to try to hook any reader who didn’t sign on with the Navy a couple hundred words ago. “Those who leave the Air Force take with them … souvenirs from around the world, happy memories of new friendships, a new dimension of maturity, and … the skill to do a job the whole world can use.” What the f–k is this, sleepaway camp?

Director Sam Peckinpah steps into the spotlight for an article titled “What Price Violence?” It’s what you’d expect — a hash-out of the question of whether movie violence helps society see life as it is, or whether it just serves as inspirational porn for a new generation of criminals.

Author P.F. Kluge teases a scene in Peckinpah’s next movie in which a man hangs himself in a bathroom; a page or two later we get to see it. Um, thanks, again. The headline on that page, referring to a quote from Peckinpah in the story, is “His Work Brings ‘Anxiety Dreams.'” For that population of Americans who had lost someone to self-harm, I imagine that week’s LIFE brought plenty of anxiety dreams. Well, next week’s mailbag ought to be lively.

Bobby Fischer might not have cared for the next story, but I found it the sleeper hit of the week: A reporter and photographer follow a Russian (Soviet?) Jewish family emigrating to Israel, part of a slowly increasing number of Russian Jews allowed to quit the country. It ends with a photo of the 90-year-old family elder praying at the Wailing Wall for the first time. Even in its divided and scanned-in Internet form, the picture, maybe more than any other in this week’s book, suggests what a photo magazine is truly capable of.

Finally we reach the Parting Shots ending section, which includes a truly scattershot assemblage of items. They include a promo piece for a new Edith Piaf biography (does the guy who’s still drooling over Rita Hayworth even know who Edith Piaf was?); an update on veteran golfer Gene Littler; and a photo gallery in which the reader is asked to pick out Gloria Steinem amid a herd of other young women who share her hairstyle and choice of glasses. I’m sure some young female readers were angry, but while I thought some of the wording skirted the edge of sexism, I found the basic concept charmingly irreverent.

Oh — and lest we forget this is 1972 LIFE-land, awash in grimness and darkness and violence, the issue ends with a photo of a Korean dogfight, with two dogs locked in combat in front of a crowd of attentive spectators. LIFE tries to appease us by assuring us that the dogs know when to quit, and the fights never end in death. Left unexplored is just how much damage short of death they can inflict on each other in the 30 minutes (!) a fight lasts.

Can’t wait for next week.