August 25, 1972: FLOTUS.

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.


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