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.
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.)