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.

092972

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.

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