We begin, as we must, with an ad for menthol cigarettes. Then there’s an ad for Chevy Vega hatchbacks, featuring an anecdote about a dentist who drove cross-country with his life’s belongings in the back of a Vega. Given how visible those belongings would have been through the big rear window of a hatchback, I can only assume he did not sleep at any point.
Managing Editor Ralph Graves writes an editorial about going to a Rolling Stones concert and watching from behind as a teenage girl danced to the beat. “I couldn’t see her face, but I wondered what it would be like: intelligent? attractive? stupid? Could an intelligent girl really keep that up so mindlessly, so metronomically? … When the lights came up and it was finished, the girl in the white halter turned around to leave. Her face was rather stupid — which in this case was almost reassuring.” I wonder if he ever realized what a condescending ass he was.
“The Beat of Life” begins on a downbeat note, with a B&W image of American POWs speaking at a North Vietnamese propaganda event. “Yet again the North Vietnamese staged a mammoth press show to flaunt their latest catch of U.S. prisoners of war…” the caption begins. If it’s so old hat, such a bare-faced tactic by an enemy, why lead with it?
(My guess is that LIFE ran this as a perceived service to the families of American POWs. LIFE could print these pix in higher quality than a newspaper could, and somewhere in America, there were theoretically families who would recognize their loved ones from such photos and be glad they were alive. The subject of POW photos will recur in this series of posts, assuming I keep doing them.)
There’s a spread of several pages of photos of the Tasaday people, followed by a two-page spread of a group of Mayflower descendants having a family reunion on the Outer Cape. I wonder if they still do. It’s nice in Truro in the summer.
Hugh Sidey turns in an impenetrable piece arguing some fine point of the ’72 Presidential campaign, followed by another few pages of ads (funny, it doesn’t look like a dying magazine.)
Movie reviewer Richard Schickel doesn’t like the latest Neil Simon adaptation; TV reviewer Cyclops likes The David Steinberg Show OK but wishes Ed McMahon got less screen time; theater critic Tom Prideaux likes Godspell.
The last of these brings back secondhand, received memories of the influx of religion into mass youth culture in the first half of the Seventies — Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sister Janet Mead making the Top Ten with “The Lord’s Prayer.” Had I been 15 years old in 1972, would I have sprouted a temporary cross and a passing interest in the Lord Our God? I suppose if I’d been 15 in 1972 it would have been possible that I’d wear one as a permanent sign of belief, not a pop-culture phase. But, the LIFE I’m writing about here is not my own.
From there we get a retrospective — “23 Years Ago in LIFE,” no fealty to zeroes and fives here. Joe DiMaggio was on the cover that long-ago week; Jackie Robinson was inside the magazine. In August of ’72, DiMag was no longer in uniform but not yet Mr. Coffee, while Robinson — old before his time from his burdens — had fewer than three months to live.
A two-page ad for Time-Life Recordings’ boxed set of Wagner’s Ring Cycle follows. The promotion of classical culture to the masses seems like such an outdated idea and I am totally here for it. (Of course, magazines seem like an outdated idea at this point.)
I can’t help but imagine some 14-year-old in Topeka being drawn to this offer by forces he cannot understand, and begging, borrowing, and/or stealing enough money to make the magic box of music arrive on his doorstep. Awakenings come to us in unexpected ways and I like to think this ad sang a song to somebody, somewhere. (The cost of this doorstop made it more likely that Joey in Topeka might have found a copy in a used-record store. But it’s my fantasy and I can take it anywhere I want to.)
The Letters section begins with several letters on a recent Rolling Stones cover story, the first of which is signed “Ruby Tuesday.” I’m sure LIFE’s editorial department reached out to Ms. Tuesday to confirm her authorship. (She lived in San Diego, apparently. Go know.)
Another letter writer points out that “Tom Jones has more soul than a lot of black brothers,” while a third wonders whether “Mr. Graves knows how supercilious he sounds.” Right on to both of them!
Yet another writer, the president of a food company, asserts that “Hot dogs are still the American’s favorite meat food,” one of those great phrasings that suggest corporate officials speak a different English than you, me, or the Queen.
A six-page spread captures another of 1972’s queasy moments: At press time, vice-presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s record of treatments for depression has been made public, but George McGovern has not yet exiled him from the ticket. We know how that ended.
A photo in the spread captures Eagleton meeting and greeting a group of children at a pool in Maryland. In the background stands a boy with a cheap kid’s camera; it is aimed not at Eagleton, but at the professional photographer taking the picture. I wonder what the snapshot that came out of the kid’s camera looked like, and whether he still has it. It would have been kicky for LIFE to track the kid down and print it.
Skipping ahead a bit, past a story about residents of Louisville turning in people for polluting and some unreadable editorials, we get a two-page ad that likens the ’72 Chevrolet Nova to the defenders of the Alamo. It’s … not what I would have written.
We then hit the cover story, which details how comedian Flip Wilson periodically likes to ditch LA in his gorgeous blue Rolls-Royce and tool around in the desert, dashing off new ideas in solitude and mingling unexpectedly with the plainfolk. I have no idea why this qualifies to be a cover story in a major national publication … but it’s done decently enough, and I guess Major Star Loses Himself On The American Road is a pretty ur-Seventies plotline.
(I am, as a side note, fully unfamiliar with Mr. Wilson’s lifework. Where had he gone by the 1980s? Off to the desert permanently?)
A full-page ad for Vantage cigarettes features Pat Schanning of New York, New York, asserting, “I like smoking. Always have liked smoking.” Expecting fraud, I hit Newspapers dot com and discover that, yes, there actually was a Patricia Schanning living in New York at that time. Following her marriage in October 1976, I find no further paper trail on Ms. Schanning. Wherever she is, I hope for her sake that she likes smoking less than she did 50 years ago.
A lengthy article by Loudon Wainwright — his son not yet on the Top 40 — follows, about a New York cop forced to go underground after investigating his corrupt brethren. (Defund the police!) I’m sure it’s dark and gritty but I don’t go in much for that.
More interesting to me is a full-page ad from Toyota, offering a free 100-page guide to the upcoming Munich Olympics at your local dealer. There’s also a half-page ad for a Sports Illustrated simulation baseball game. Somehow I never got into the cards-and-dice kinds of baseball games myself; computers had come just far enough when I was a kid to take their place.
Photographer Co Rentmeester checks in with a spread of photos about pediatric surgeons and patients at Johns Hopkins. JFTFOI, I hit Newspapers dot com again and find a charming coda. The featured patient, a seven-year-old named Lisa, was featured in the Baltimore Sun in 1985 on the occasion of her marriage; she sent an invitation to the doctor who’d closed a hole in her heart 13 years before.
The story also features a quote from another surgeon: “One of the nice things about pediatric surgery is that everything is so clean when you get inside.” This is not something that has ever occurred to me and I spend a few minutes thinking about it.
Ads for cigarettes and motorcycles, a safety warning about lawnmower blades, and a few closing quick-hit items follow — one of which appears to be a slim justification for getting 14-year-old Caroline Kennedy into the magazine. Kennedys sell magazines, I guess. Or they did in 1972; I don’t think anything or anyone sells magazines now.
And that’s the end of the book; we’ll pick up the trail of LIFE again in a week. Does anyone have a cigarette?