We continue 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. Five are left.
Something or somebody caused a spike in traffic for last week’s entry. Not sure what it was, but if you’re reading, thanks. This one might or might not be as interesting.
We are up to the November 24, 1972, issue. You can read along here if you want. My grandpa saved this one.
Depending on your perspective, the cover photo is either a stirring shot of a man who refuses to give into physical disability, or a pitiable shot of a man who is trying to convince America that he still has enough of his physical abilities to remain a viable Presidential candidate (given that Americans, with one exception, don’t have a long history of electing those with disabilities to the Presidency).
It’s Friday night and I have just had a snapping disagreement with a co-worker but will try not to let it infect my review of this magazine.
Calvert Extra, the Soft Whiskey, touts itself as a holiday gift suitable for Tom, Dick, or Harry. Presumably not Jane, Margie, or Amanda, though. Their angle: Rather than try to remember all your friends’/colleagues’/relatives’ gift preferences, just give ’em booze. Hiccup.
Managing Editor Ralph Graves introduces a photog named Bill Stack, who has his first LIFE byline with a photo essay on boot camp at Parris Island — a trip he himself took as a young recruit. The cover tease promises, “Marine boot camp is still hell,” and I am left wondering why I should want to read something that tells me what I already knew. Maybe if the photos are good …
Magnavox takes a two-page ad asking whether you want your stereo sound to come built into a console, or as separate components. I am firmly in the latter camp, by nurture, and wonder where all the consoles are now.
“The Beat of LIFE” brings us into the excitement on Wall Street on November 14, when the Dow Jones finished above 1,000 points for the very first time. White men are thrilled. I guess it’s a refreshing contrast to the stereotyped white-man-gestures-frantically Wall Street stock-trading photo.
We get a spread of college football photos: Rich Glover, Johnny Rodgers, and Greg Pruitt are stars who will face off Thanksgiving Day with the Heisman Trophy in the balance.
Then we get a spread of photos of Earth taken by the ERTS satellite — in infrared! They’re not all that interesting but they are infrared, so hooray for scientific progress. One of the photos shows New England, including the entire infra-rhode state of Rhode Island. I guess the photo that shows a six-mile swath of polluted water off New Jersey is kinda interesting.
Cheesecake alert! Twenty months before, Sonia McMahon, wife of Australia’s prime minister, had been photographed descending a staircase and displaying lots of leg. With her husband on the campaign trail, LIFE takes the opportunity to re-run the shot, along with a new photo of Ms. McMahon among a herd of sheep. Sigh.
Hugh Sidey is reasonably readable this week as he writes about the aftermath of the Presidential election. Richard Nixon is making noises about reorganizing the White House and cutting staff; Democrats of all stations stare at smoking rubble. I don’t think I said anything to my colleague that I’ll regret on Monday.
Seagram’s VO is the next whiskey into the gift-giving market. A man and woman stand in a room that, I assume, was meant to impress people in 1972 as, I dunno, old money or something. Old portraits, wood, high ceilings, a fireplace, a big Christmas tree, and like that. It does not look like a room I would want to spend time in. I bet it’s drafty.
Tyco apes Norman Rockwell with a two-page ad for electric trains, in which a young boy is surprised to find (presumably) his dad and grandpa playing on Christmas Eve with the next day’s gift of electric trains. I find the ad quite touching — not because of the painting, but because it brings back those sepia-toned days when makers of toy trains took out two-page ads in national magazines.
The other page, in hard-to-read type, lists stores in New England and New York where you can buy Tyco trains — which makes me wonder, not for the first time, about the regional “zoning” of these issues.
I blow up the size of the ad, just to try to figure out where the nearest store to my house was, and I am confronted with some crazy long-gone names: Lechmere! Two Guys! Mammoth Mart! Abraham & Straus! Naum Brothers! Sibley’s! Bradlees!
A “former New York newspaperman” named Joel Sayre gives a rave review to a book collection of drawings by John Held Jr., whose Jazz Age-type style you would recognize. Mr. Sayre notes that Held-drawn flappers “had long, racy legs with beautiful bone structure to them,” then goes on to add that they were “scant in their pectoral region” because that was the fashion. Whatever he might have been like in person, he comes across — well, not quite as a dirty old man, but as one of those disagreeably smudged old men who doesn’t understand that, no, nobody wants to go there.
Time-LIFE takes a full-page ad (or maybe “gives itself a full-page ad” is a better way to put it) advertising a book chronicling the latest in photography gear, ideas, and approaches for 1973. Might be a fun read now.
Actually, part of it is a fun read now: The ad touts that the government’s Project Documerica has put 50 photographers to work across the country to document the condition of the environment. A whole bunch of photos from Project Documerica are available on Flickr, and they’re a marvelous time capsule of man’s inhumanity to Earth, as well as various aspects of social life. Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s.
Cyclops raves about NBC Reports, a documentary series whose subjects have included pension-plan manipulation, Japanese-American internment during World War II, accessory-to-mass-murder Caril Fugate, and the Tasaday tribe (hey, weren’t we just talking about them?) George Dickel, meanwhile, wants you to give still more whiskey.
The American Gas Association tells America they’ll have to dig deep to pay for more natural gas, but it’s worth it because gas is cleaner-burning than coal. This is accompanied by a photo of a kid blissing out in a mammoth tree. One of the problems of adulthood is you can’t climb trees any more, but that one looks big enough to hold a full-grown individual. BRB, as the cool kids on the Internet say.
Somebody is selling Swedish army officers’ coats; the look is “really now,” apparently. I am content to never have worn one. The theater critic takes up “Pippin,” which just got a photo spread a week or two ago. I learn that Ben Vereen’s character is called Leading Player, which is pretty damn stylin’. Maybe now that I’ve quit Twitter, Facebook,. and Instagram, I’ll use that as my CB handle.
For only $2 in coach, United Airlines passengers can watch 26 minutes of an NFL game while they fly — presumably a Los Angeles Rams game, since they’re the team pictured. It would be great if you plunked down your $2 and it turned out to be the Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles trading fumbles and offsides penalties for 26 minutes.
(Oh, OK, I actually bother to read the ad, and allegedly those 26 minutes contain an entire Game of the Week minus time-outs, halftime and huddles. Can you really fit all the action of a football game into 26 minutes? If so, why don’t they?)
Old Grand-Dad is next, and you’ll never guess what they’re suggesting, and dude I want a shiny silver paisley-patterned box with a bottle of 100-proof inside.
Recent LIFE coverboy Joe Namath, still wearing that eyes-narrowed semi-drunken smirk that made him so much money, appears in an ad for La-Z-Boy lounge chairs. Joe has clearly been cut-and-pasted in from some other background; a slice of his hair is missing. The overall effect is disorienting.
“36 Years Ago in LIFE,” we revisit the magazine’s very first issue, with photography by Margaret Bourke-White. I believe that, as of this issue, LIFE had yet to announce its closing. Robert Taylor, “Today’s Great Lover of the Screen,” appears in one of those delightfully ripe old portrait shots. Cutty Sark brings the number of whiskies that want you to give them away to five. Why did this grand tradition fade away before I could turn 21?
The Letters section lights up with fireworks in a few places. Barbara Korth of Oakland, California, strafes LIFE for giving Jackie Robinson’s death too little space and the Onassises’ anniversary party too much. Terry Burrington, morning radio jock on WCLO in Janesville, Wisconsin, says he thinks listeners don’t need to be “put on,” “put down” or “put through” Don Imus’s daily shtick.
Regarding the spread on the children of Presidents, a reader from Hollywood asks about the children of Warren Harding and Woodrow Wilson; LIFE assures him that Harding had no children and Wilson’s kids are dead. LIFE is, of course, half-right … although Harding’s illegitimate daughter was still in the “alleged” category in 1972, as DNA testing did not prove the relationship until 2015, after her death.
David Maxey’s cover story on George Wallace in therapy plays solidly to the positive. I am trying to decide if my inability to summon sympathy and admiration for Mr. Segregation Forever is a character flaw in me.
An entertaining spread about the massive popularity of blue denim follows. I have worn blue denim every single day of my life that I could (except for the days when I wore either shorts or sweat pants) so I heartily applaud this.
What makes this article great, besides the fact that it’s mostly a free ad for Levi’s? Well, French rock n’ roll legend Johnny Hallyday (why him of all people?) makes an appearance in an eagle-studded denim shirt and studded jeans. And a California rancher is shown admiring the interior of his new Levi’s-edition AMC Gremlin. He looks damned happy, and so too would I be.
Hey, ladies: Bulova points out that its self-winding ladies’ watches wind themselves while you’re knocking back booze and necking. No, really. It seems like a triumph of design.
A big blue Olds Ninety-Eight gets a testimonial from the design head of Henredon Furniture, which seems like a name I should know but don’t. Of course, there’s a lot about furniture I don’t know, seeing as I’m typing this while seated at what used to be my older brother’s desk when he was in elementary school. The faux-walnut three-piece set has sat quietly through a lot of bad writing, including right now.
LIFE reminds people that the deadline is upcoming for its Bicentennial Photo Contest: While the deadline for submission has been extended to March 1, 1973, photos must be taken by December 31, 1972. Of course, in the days before digital dating, there is no way to know for certain when a photo is taken; it would be amusing to think of somebody taking the winning photo on February 1 just to cock a snook at the judges.
(Also, I note the specific language in the ad: You have until midnight March 1, 1973, to mail your photos to us. 11:45 p.m., March 1, 1973: The streets of Atlanta are filled with drunks, windblown newspapers … and one hell-bent photographer in a secondhand Dodge Dart, steaming toward the post office. Don’t really big cities have, like, one post office that keeps crazy hours? Or did I dream that?)
The Record-a-Call Company of Paramount, California, takes an eighth-page ad to display its telephone answering machine. The tone of the copy suggests that the idea of recording phone messages — and remotely accessing them — is new for people. Apparently Americans grew familiar with it over the next two years, as an answering machine would be a prominent part of a TV-show opening beginning in September 1974.
LIFE rolls out the first of two parts of Margaret Truman’s memoir-slash-biography, with the second to follow next week. I am acquainted enough with the Truman legend that I don’t feel like reading it. Old Harry, as previously mentioned, has less than a month to live when this issue hits stands and mailboxes.
Another California company offers readers the chance to buy a roomful of cheap furniture and “do your bit for ecology, too.” The furniture in question (allegedly) knocks down and builds up easily, plus it’s made from “recycled paper tubes — incredibly strong — with plastic fittings and shelves.” I suppose in an alternate universe these people were the IKEA of the Seventies.
Ronrico rum shows off a big fizzy drink but doesn’t suggest that you give its product away for Christmas. That’s just a whiskey thing, I guess. I’m listening to the Rockford Files theme now on semi-repeat and that’s a serious jam.
A full-page ad follows of a sort I’m not used to seeing in LIFE. It offers the chance to buy property at Sleepy Hollow Lake, a man-made lake and recreational development in New York’s Hudson Valley. The photo — of a Sunfish-style sailboat scudding across sunny water — features a caveat: The lake is still under development, but bonds have been posted to ensure full completion.
I go to Wikipedia, hoping to find out this was a raging scam and the property is now a county dump, lovers’ lane and impromptu skatepark … but no, the place got built, and it’s still there fulfilling its function as a privately owned vacation development. According to Wiki, the New York State-record white crappie was caught in Sleepy Hollow Lake in 2021. What a load of crappie.
I’ve mostly forgot about my colleague. Hey! An ad for Fotomat photo centers, the little booth-looking things that used to fit into stray corners of mall parking lots. You can order Christmas cards there with family photos on them, to send to the people who are also getting bottles of whiskey. You can sign them, too, with the exotic-wood Hallmark pens being sold a couple of pages later. (Fancy pens are cool but I’m always losing my writing utensils so I don’t spend any more on them than I have to.)
Benson & Hedges Multifilters runs an ad featuring a young woman wearing roughly 35 pounds of bedazzlements around her neck. She is, perhaps, not doing her neck any favors inside or out.
The boot camp essay is boot camp. There are scared kids and screaming drill instructors. You, as the cliche says, know the drill.
More interesting is Parting Shots, which touches base with Ann-Margret, who is recovering from a freak accident in which a mechanical hand she was riding dropped her 22 feet onto a Lake Tahoe stage. It sounds horrifying but apparently she’s dancing up a storm.
LIFE also interviews a Spanish-speaking passenger on a jet recently hijacked to Cuba; the passenger got to meet Fidel Castro after disembarking. The interview is short and not especially revelatory, and the pictures aren’t great either.
The issue ends on a note that is pure 1972: The student government president of the University of Hartford challenged the school president to a duel, and the president agreed, on the condition that he choose the weapon. His choice: Cream pies. After a sequence of blow-by-blow covering the rounds of the duel, the last photo in the issue shows the lavishly mustached president and his hippie-ish opponent, grinning widely, with arms around each other.
I bet it settled nothing … and all those young people who two years earlier were marching and shutting down campuses in protest probably wondered what the hell happened to the revolution.
The question would recur.
(One last note from this issue: Canadian Club runs an ad in which, apparently, a complete amateur is handed the job of lassoing a wild rhino. Canadian Club doesn’t give a good goddamn if you give it away for Christmas, apparently. Finis.)