December 1, 1972: Mellow, busy days.

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. Four are left.

This week we tackle the issue of December 1, 1972, which you can read here if you want. My grandpa saved this one.


“Mellow, busy days after the White House.” Well, you can scarcely accuse LIFE of trying to goose the drama in its cover story this week, can you? I expect 10 pages of, “Dad watched the baseball for a while and then went for a walk.”

Volkswagen is holding the line on price with its 1973 Beetle, keeping the ’72 price of $1,999. According to the online inflation calculator, that’s $13,984.18 in October 2022 money. Seems to me that when you haven’t invested substantial money in the redesign or improvement of the car, you can get away with that kind of thing, and perhaps even should be required to.

Managing Editor Ralph Graves pretty much hands his column to Margaret Truman for a discussion of the writing process of her book about her father. It doesn’t tell you anything interesting. Some mellow, busy days went into its writing, I’d say.

GE takes a full-page ad, urging you to give the pretty girl in your life a GE Sunlamp so she can get a tan whenever she chooses. I mean, if she wants skin cancer that badly, why not enable her? (I wonder if GE has ever been sued over the lasting effects of tanning lamps, or whether it can rely on the simple legal defense that GE never forced anyone at gunpoint to sit in front of a sunlamp.)

“The Beat of LIFE” begins with Juan Peron, returned to Argentina, gazing happily out onto street-choking crowds of Peronistas. Thank God I live in a country that doesn’t have irrational political cults of personality … right?

An interesting spread shows us the work of Vatican art repairmen who are carefully fixing the marble face of Michelangelo’s Madonna, after an attacker named Lazlo Toth (!) took a hammer to it in May.

LBJ, who seems to show up a lot in these parts lately, is shown celebrating his 38th wedding anniversary with Lady Bird; Prince Charles, ditto, is shown on his 24th birthday wearing a kilt. The shots are paired by some editor’s debatable stretch-logic.

Hugh Sidey is pretty good this week, reporting on what life is like at Camp David, where President Nixon is spending a lot of time lately. If I had access to Camp David I’d probably be there a lot too. Sidey reports that the President was recently seen taking a casual walk while wearing “purple flared trousers” — a vision unfortunately not captured on camera.

Panasonic shows off its system for playing quadraphonic recordings. I think of George Harrison’s long-ago wisecrack that he was always skeptical of quadraphonic because you only have two ears.

Polaroid takes out two pages to advertise its full line of Polaroid Land Cameras. Wonder why Edwin Land had to have his last name on the product line? Kodak cameras aren’t — er, weren’t — Eastman Kodaks; George Eastman put his name on the company but not on the product.

I skim the masthead and am reminded that the editor of LIFE is a Thomas Griffith. We never seem to see him; he lurks in the clouds. (Why is it Managing Editor Ralph Graves gets a column but the big boss doesn’t?)

Cyclops watches Saturday morning network television kids’ programming. The only program he has a kind word for is the Jackson 5ive cartoon series. (He says something nice about ZOOM, again, but it’s not on on Saturdays.) He also notes the phenomenon of the networks cannibalizing their adult programming for cartoon equivalents. “Not much harm is being done,” he says, “and no good at all.”

Holland House touts packaged sour mix. Is it really that hard to mix an acceptable drink from scratch? I don’t do a lot of that, so maybe it is.

McDonald’s takes a full page to tell us that it serves Coca-Cola, not “a second-class soft drink.” Of course I am drawn to the anachronisms in the ad. There is no mention of “Coca-Cola products,” just the flagship … and McD’s touts its burgers and fries but nothing else from its menu. And of course the Coke pouring out of the tap is draining into one of those big styrofoam cups that are collectively not-decomposing under our feet by the billions.

Book reviewer Melvin Maddocks weighs in pithily and effectively on five books, including John Gardner’s The Sunlight Dialogues, which is apparently set in Batavia, New York, in the late 1960s. I might have to check that one out; I think the last good book I read that was set in western New York was Yobgorgle.

Next up is a two-page ad; the way it’s duplicated online, we see the photo — a smiling, attractive young man and woman under an umbrella, with a few prominently displayed hardcover books — before we can see the caption.

It’s mildly amusing to stop on the photo, without moving on to the caption, and brainstorm about what it might want to sell us. What will the accompanying pitch turn out to be? They don’t have cigarettes, hamburgers, or glasses of whiskey, so no, no, and no. They could be bright young Chevy Nova owners … but if they were, they’d be required by law to be standing next to the car, so no dice.

It could be something totally random — maybe they are so happy because they slept well on a certain mattress.  Or maybe it’s a public-service shock ad: These happy young Americans don’t know that they have gum disease, venereal disease, the yellow jack, and a leaky muffler that’s trying to kill them with carbon monoxide.

Oooooh, or maybe it’s America’s Light and Power Companies telling us that these people work at a nuclear plant and you should pay for more nuclear plants because they’re awesome! (See, I’ve become fluent in the ad-language of 1972 LIFE.)

Nooooooo, after all that, it’s an ad for the Army, recommending military service as a destination for those who aren’t quite ready to tackle college. I didn’t guess that, maybe because chauvinist me saw the pretty girl and didn’t think “soldier.” Be better, Blumenau.

Richard Schickel doesn’t much like Lady Sings the Blues, The Valachi Papers or Rage, though he finds things to praise about the first and last of them, mainly in the performances of Diana Ross and George C. Scott.

Westclox takes out an ad to reassure all those people who toss and turn all night because they’re worried that their alarm clock won’t ring in the morning. I have tossed and turned on plenty of nights and that has never been the reason. Indeed, anyone who ranks that among their biggest concerns ought to sleep soundly.

Sylvania expends lots and lots of words guiding you, the reader, through the process of evaluating and buying a stereo set. Not surprisingly, all the best features just happen to be built into Sylvanias.

“21 Years Ago in LIFE,” a photo essay about a rural South Carolina midwife clashes absurdly with the cover photo of leggy actress Suzy Parker. (is there any other kind of actress? If there is, they didn’t make the cover of LIFE, at least not back then.) I am heartened to learn that LIFE readers apparently deluged the midwife with donations that helped her open her own clinic; as of December 1972 she was still in business, with plans to retire in the coming year. I guess LIFE was good for something more than selling gift-wrapped whiskey.

The retrospective section ends with photos of three people who peaked before my time — Phil Silvers, Anthony Eden and Dean Acheson.

Virginia Slims follows with another of its “you’ve come a long way, baby” ads. This one merits seeing because of the remarkable matching floral outfit the model is wearing. I don’t think that’s a skirt, but it doesn’t look quite like pants either. Whatever it is, the pattern just screams.

Letters is oddly free of fireworks this week, except maybe from a Massillon, Ohio, resident who disputes LIFE’s claim that the people there have forgotten the sacrifices of Vietnam War soldiers. (The boys don’t all grow up to work in the steel mill, either.)

A spread shows Henry Kissinger at the American ambassador’s house in Paris in between peace negotiating sessions, then some pictures of American and Vietnamese leaders stepping outside during breaks in the negotiations. They are apparently our first glimpses of the process, but they don’t show much — just older men in coats standing or pacing outside buildings. I guess nobody turned any handsprings.

The editorials are pretty bland — one points out that 91 percent of West German voters took part in a recent election, as opposed to only 55 percent in the US Presidential election, and says “more people oughta vote here!” without bothering to propose any methods or solutions to make it happen.

Southern Comfort takes one of those off-putting ads that tells you to go buy the product but neatly sidesteps any discussion of what it tastes like or what’s in it. I go to Wiki to find out what is in it, and am at least heartened to learn that it’s based on whiskey again, after a period in which a corporate owner changed the base to neutral spirits.

The best part of the ad, hands down, is that — for a mere 75 cents or two for a dollar — you can get a poster that combines SoCo drink recipes and “fascinating facts on astrology, numerology, palmistry.” I have no idea how you shoehorn two subjects as diverse as those onto a single poster, but I bet it made a fine decoration for dorm rooms everywhere.

Yay NFL!!!!!!! Changes to the rules in 1972 have encouraged the running game, and a bunch of running backs are gaining mad yards; LIFE “talks” to seven of them in one-paragraph blurts. John Riggins admits that he’s thrilled to be on bubble-gum cards; Mercury Morris says that running on AstroTurf reminds him of running on the streets where he grew up; Floyd Little tells some scary stories about getting his bell rung; and OJ Simpson says he’s guilty, guilty, guilty.

Well, OK, one of those is made up.

Ford-Lincoln-Mercury makes a bold promise in blue type: They’ll fix it right the first time or they’ll fix it free the second time. I find this promise in no ways reassuring, as it is eight words too long. They also guarantee their service work for 90 days or 400 miles, whichever comes first, and that doesn’t give me the feelgoods either; you mean I might have to be back at the dealership in four months? Screw that, I’m buying a Volvo.

The Consumer Watch column returns with useful advice on which pets can make you sick, and with what illness. Goldfish are the safest, LIFE counsels; “no one has pinned anything serious on them yet.” A noble pet, the goldfish.

A Time-LIFE ad introduces us to a hostess of color who speaks only English, but can cook recipes from the world over, thanks to her Time-LIFE cookbooks. Coq au vin is once again cited as one of the world’s glamour dishes, along with beef Stroganov [sic] and cheese fondue.

Margaret Truman’s narrative of her father’s post-Presidency begins with the subhead: “Back home, Truman dealt with grass, pesky tourists and the verdict of history.” I am still not compelled … although I look at the story just long enough to see Truman and Eisenhower throwing some smack at each other on Eisenhower’s inauguration day.

Kodak takes an ad for its Instamatic X-15, which shoots 126-format cartridge film. Twelve exposures and you’ve gotta shell out for a fresh cartridge (and pay to get the old one developed). I like now better.

Hitachi takes an ad for various electronic products, including portable TVs. The room where the kids used to sleep when we visited my grandparents had a portable black-and-white in it for a while (can’t remember whether it was a Hitachi), and a portable TV served as our family’s computer monitor for a while in the Apple II+ days, so I actually have modestly fond recollections of small televisions. Today they are all barn-sized; I don’t necessarily like now better.

The story plods along; LIFE advertises itself as the perfect Christmas gift (I wonder when Hanukkah fell in 1972, and whether I will see it mentioned in LIFE); you can buy a Zippo lighter with a Dallas Cowboys helmet on it. Harry Truman verbally drills a friendly long-haired young man; eat it, Harry. A photo shows four Presidents at the funeral of Sam Rayburn, and it’s astonishing how much younger JFK looked than all the other old white political men in the surrounding pews.

The UCLA Art Gallery has assembled a touring show of rope art, and LIFE introduces us to it, with an introduction that doesn’t sound particularly sold on the whole idea. The headline and subhead are in one of those great ’60s typefaces I should know the name of but don’t (Zappa used it on the Absolutely Free cover, if memory serves.)

LIFE devotes several pages to the case of an Iowa couple whose five sons were taken from them and put into foster care, based on assertions that the parents were “retarded,” they kept a shabby house, and the boys’ behavior was incorrigible and beyond their control. (Their “moderately retarded” 11-year-old daughter and a baby remained with the parents, I assume because they hadn’t acted out like their brothers.)

The implication seems to be that the parents were railroaded, and that juvenile authorities were biased against them … but it doesn’t feel to me like LIFE has (or presents) evidence to prove that point. The parents’ case, at press time, had gone all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled against them. We are left to conclude that the system was stacked against the parents all the way down the line, but it’s just as easy to come to the conclusion that, well, they had chances to prove their side, and they must not have done so. A sad story, yes … but it feels to me that LIFE tries to set up an argument that it doesn’t have solid backing for.

Parting Shots depicts the cast of an upcoming movie about the fall of Nazi Germany; it is apparently the first time Hollywood has shown Adolf Hitler and his henchmen as on-screen presences. Alec Guinness takes on the Hitler role. For balance, we also get British actor Simon Ward, star of the contemporary (and recently panned) Young Winston, duplicating Churchill’s famous bulldog portrait with photographer Yousof Karsh.

Should that bring back any unpleasant memories for LIFE readership of a certain age, they can drown them with some gift-wrapped Walker’s bourbon and chase them with menthol cigarettes.

Three issues to go.

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