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.

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