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.
This week we are up to the issue of November 17, 1972, which is one of the issues my grandfather saved. You can read along with it here.
Apropos de nada, my wife and I are suckers for recipes involving spicy, flavorful, oil-slicked Asian noodles. If you are also, you will want to make friends with this recipe, now if not sooner. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww yeah.
As previously mentioned, this lemon-sucking still life depicts a man who has just won 49 states and the District of Columbia (I need not mention which fine American state turned up its nose at him) in the most dominant electoral victory in Presidential history. LIFE’s choice of cover photo is … interesting.
I am dreading a Hugh Sidey cover story. But I am obliged to open the magazine anyway, in the service of you, the reader. So here we go.
Bell Telephone takes out an ad reading Happy Valentine’s Day. The point, in mid-November, being that you can shower the people you love with love every day, so why not call tonight? (Like James Taylor, you can even set up a tape machine to do the job for you.)
Managing Editor Ralph Graves reports that the children of America are swamping LIFE with responses to its recent kids’ survey. Graves reports that LIFE’s Letters Department is working weekends just to answer all the letters. Only about a month-and-a-half later, the men and women of the Letters Department would look back fondly on the days when they worked weekends. When they worked, really.
We go directly into Sidey’s piece and it’s actually not a bad view of Richard Nixon at the moment of his greatest triumph. It is also mercifully brief and includes photos of Nixon smiling, which seems only fair. Of course Sidey can’t entirely see what’s coming, but he flags Watergate as something that could get in Nixon’s way, and that’s about as good as anybody in November 1972 was reading the tea leaves, I think.
LIFE also gives us a few pictures from the hotel room in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where George McGovern spent Election Night. Apparently, early the following morning, McGovern ate “a bowl of dry cereal.” This only further convinces me that George McGovern was an honorable man, and I yearn to know which kind of cereal he poured himself. (November 7 would have been too late for monster cereal — unless McGovern saved himself a box.) McGovern also gets a page to tell his story in first person, which Nixon didn’t get, unless he passed it up.
The ’73 Buick Century is not unattractive, but the ad Buick has drafted to sell it to America is simply a laundry list of features. Like the Solenoid-Activated Throttle Stop, “for quick, sure engine shut-off.” It was a problem at one point that your car wouldn’t shut off when you turned the key and took it out?
(I also love the Computer-Selected Chassis Springs: Apparently, based on the specific features of the car you ordered, a computer would choose the appropriate chassis springs for you. Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision, one assumes.)
Ooooh! An ad for Contac, the cold medicine consisting of hundreds of tiny colored balls inside a capsule. I thought that was cool when I was a kid, and I remember carefully twisting open a Contac capsule — or maybe some generic equivalent — to free the little balls inside my mouth rather than inside my intestines or wherever. Because, why wait for cold relief? Anyway, if you’re making a list of cool ’60s/’70s mass-market innovations, the Contac capsule has to be on it somewhere.
Bacardi tells us about all the rum drinks we already know how to make, like rum and Coke. Chrysler won’t stop talking about engineering for some weird reason. I had to scorch ginger and scallions in canola oil for dinner and my house smells magnificent in a short-order kind of way.
Oh, now this is ur-Seventies. Fisher, manufacturer of audio equipment, offers a coupon for your own copy of The Fisher Audio Standard. It’s an album of (allegedly) really high-quality, distortion-free sound that you can use to appreciate how much better Fisher gear sounds than anyone else’s. (“The nearest thing to the technically perfect LP record”!) I suddenly think it would have been fun to be back in 1972 with a disposable income, swilling rum and Coke, savoring the most nuanced of sound on my Fisher system, and popping Contac when seasonal illness overtakes me.
(You mean I would have had to read Hugh Sidey, too? No deal.)
The eternally entertaining Cyclops has watched a sequence of NBC’s Mystery Movies and raves about Richard Boone as Hec Ramsey. I wonder if his work is on YouTube or the Internet Archive, in some buried pirate’s corner; I’ve reached a point where, if Cyclops says it’s good, I’m interested in watching. (Cyclops’s description of Boone also, somewhat randomly, reminds me it has been far too long since I watched Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely. Legit, that was.)
Ohhhhhhhhhhh! Next we get a real treat — another of those ads where America’s Investor-Owned Power Companies tell us we gotta swallow a nuclear future and get it done with. This ad shows a photo of a middle-school class — allegedly from Ontario, New York — with the assertion that going to school every day exposes them to more radiation than the local nuclear power plant. (If you have been around here a long, long, long, long time, you might remember a post about the local nuclear power plant in Ontario, New York.)
Thirty-five to 40 years after this issue came out, I still had my grandfather’s old copy, and I went to work for a company that owned a nuclear power plant (not the one in Ontario, New York; rather, the one in Berwick, Pennsylvania.) I tore this ad out of the issue and hung it in my cube for quite a while as a conversation piece. What a trip to see it again.
For $8.50 and five end flaps from the cartons of Winston cigarettes — rather a high price for 1972 — you can get a square portable transistor radio with spaces to insert your favorite snapshots. So, I dunno, you can look at your friends and family while you listen to the radio. And cough up a lung. Peter Gabriel is still two years away from immortalizing Winston cigarettes in song; I suppose it would have been recursive fun to listen to “Broadway Melody of 1974” on a GE/Winston transistor radio.
Johnny Unitas, then nearing the end of his career, appears in an ad for Sharp televisions. Apparently, what Fisher’s LP is to audio — an all-knowing test — Mister Crewcut is to televisions. A book reviewer turns in quick takes on a bunch of books. Again, I wonder if anyone reads them now, or if they are paperback 25-cent specials wherever quality used books are sold. Here come the supernatural anesthetist.
Maytag reprints a testimonial from Marcia Krummel of Duluth, Minnesota, who bought a washer 17 years ago when her son was an infant. Today he’s a teenager and the blessed machine is still at it. Newspapers dot com confirms the existence of the Krummel family, and their shared fondness for golf. I sometimes think I could live in Duluth, Minnesota; I think I could tolerate some extreme northness. Pretty happy where I am, though.
(Wow. Have you ever looked at a map? Duluth makes Rochester look like Fort Myers. That’s some north shiznit. Anyway.)
Sherwin-Williams offers a sampling of nine of the wallpapers you will find at Sherwin-Williams stores … and I gotta tell ya, those are some fly, fly wallpapers. And I speak as a man who has, in his life, been blessed with some serious wallpaper. I want the wallpaper with the Continental soldier, who can sling ’em o’er his shoulder. Did I type that out loud, or did I just think it?
Richard Schickel gets to watch some good movies — he reviews Bunuel, Rohmer, Fellini, and Truffaut together in one essay. Savor it like calvados, mate; next week you’ll probably draw Shaft’s Big Score. Sleeping cheaply on the midnight show; it’s the same old ending – time to go. Some more of those one-eighth-page ads offer the reader the chance to borrow $3,000 “in complete privacy, by mail,” as well as the chance to buy a terrycloth monk’s robe. Um, what?
Schenley Canadian whiskey takes out an ad with a guy who, in the British Commonwealth, would be giving me a rude gesture. Thankfully, Continental soldiers saved me from that understanding. William Zinsser, who I still revere as a teacher of quality writing principles, turns in another stinkbomb of a Comment column. This time it’s literal, as he seems to be harpooning a cultural trend to wear musk oil. An ad for Old Forester bourbon accompanies. Yes, please.
Honeywell Pentax takes out a full-page ad for its cameras. Presumably the Honeywell Pentax is different from the Asahi Pentax K1000 that my grandfather bought circa 1981 or so; that I used for film photography for a while; and that now sits under a thick layer of dust in my basement, waiting for some sort of miracle. A good camera, the K1000.
Just like the stereo ads, this ad makes me think fondly of a time where one could be a sort of autodidact of consumer products — armed with the hippest-yet-most-affordable SLR camera, stereo, Japanese compact car, etc. Most likely I woulda slept alone anyway; none of these things substitutes for a personality.
Theater Critic Tom Prideaux is as kind as he can possibly be to Dude, which sounds like what my Philly friends would call a “hot mess,” 1972-style. An ad for George Dickel Tennessee whiskey accompanies, with a theme of holiday gift-giving. If Schroeder should wander past, he would remind us there are only 20 shopping days until Beethoven’s birthday. An ad for “counterfeit” diamonds follows, also with Christmas firmly in its sights.
Aw, man! This issue just keeps on giving — at least with the ads; the actual copy has been negligible, but who needs that? Now we get a two-page ad for the 1973 Volkswagen 412. This is the car that had a sort of slantback four-door incarnation and a square-back wagon incarnation. The car that got totally and thoroughly erased from history, in between the success stories of the Bug and Bus before it and the Rabbit afterward. I’ll take five 412s, please, and I’ll figure out where to park them later.
(The ad explains why VW is asking a rousing $3,275 for the 412. I guess that’s the downside of having a “viral” car like the Bug in your lineup — every time you try a new model, you’ve gotta explain why it’s not working the same super-cheap waters.) Suspension cracked on unmade road – the trucker’s eyes read ‘overload.’
“25 Years Ago in LIFE,” we see a “funny and now famous picture from 1914,” of British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst being removed from Buckingham Palace. Don’t lean on me, man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket back from Suffragette City. (A relative handful of hip Americans knew what that meant in November 1972.) We also see a football player being “tackled” via a finger in the mouth, and a photo of ace placekicker Ben Agajanian of the Los Angeles Dons. If Wiki is correct, Agajanian was the Dallas Cowboys’ kicking coach in 1972; not a bad gig, as they go, if you don’t mind spending time in Dallas.
LIFE recommends itself as a good gift for Christmas. Not as good as those boxes of Life Savers you used to be able to buy, but good nonetheless. Also from “25 Years Ago,” we learn that it was a teen-girl fad to swap a sock and a shoe with a friend and walk around mismatched all day. That sounds, truth be told, like a damned cool way to approach life — distinctly cooler than anything the Class of 1991 ever came up with.
There’s also an ad for a cookbook Classic French Cooking – except this time it’s not by Julia Child, but by Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne. LIFE in November 1972 might have been a dead end, but you could learn to coq au vin to your damn heart’s content, and that’s not nothing.
25 years ago LIFE visited with Mary Pickford but I’m more interested in the holiday-themed Canadian whiskey ad next door. There’s also a pic of war hero Audie Murphy, a name lost to the 21st century; he gave his medals to the woman he married, then divorced, and then he died in a plane crash. May as well drown life in a tide of distilled Canadian wheat, gift-wrapped at no extra cost. “It’s the last great adventure left to mankind,” screams a drooping lady offering her dreamdolls at less-than-extortionate prices.
Two pages of promo for electric heat follow. They have delightful cartoon art, including a butterfly. The good news is, we’re moving back toward electrification in the 21st century, and away from fossil fuels. The bad news? The electric heat system you put in in 1972 — if it’s still there — is as dated as the Andrews Sisters, and is probably costing you more than it would cost to just burn your furniture for heat. No solution works for long. Perhaps I should get that slogan tattooed on myself, somewhere …. starting with the inside of the eyelids.
The Letters page is always a groove and a gas. One letter writer blasts Frances Fitzgerald, the Vietnam chronicler with the green eyes and the exceptional figure; another declares, “She is engaged in the joyous search.” I’ll go back to ’72 with a Volkswagen and a case of George Dickel and engage in the joyous search; I’m not contributing much to 2022.
One Wayne Rogers writes in to share how much he enjoys working on M*A*S*H; you might know him as “Trapper John” McIntyre (Trapper John had a last name? Most people do, I guess.) Another letter writer from Lubbock, Texas, vouches that “Lyndon Johnson looks sexier in his ‘retirement’ than Burt Reynolds in his centerfold.” I’m sure that sentiment heartened the former President as he lay flat on his back with his daily thunderclap of angina, mentally offering anything and everything in his earthly possession for the reward of remaining alive two hours later.
Norge appliances takes out a two-page ad; somehow my only cultural association of Norge is that Bill Murray played a Norge repairman on Saturday Night Live the week he mooned America. Remember when that was edgy?
LIFE touts “Fresh Blood for a Sick Congress” — a new group of representatives and senators elected this fall. The irony, as I understand it, is that a tidal wave of newbies would be elected in the fall of ’74 after Watergate and Nixon’s resignation — a new wave to swamp anyone elected in 1972. John Heinz of Pennsylvania is one of the fresh faces; Jack Kemp of New York another; Joe Biden of Delaware a third.
It is interesting to think that most of these people are either dead now, or retired into a gray haze … but one — from Delaware, of all places — is still stuck neck-deep in the hubbub of national politics. Hopefully not for much longer. (Editorial comment: While Joe Biden has compiled an admirable record as a public servant, he is too old for 2024, and the Dems need to pick a successor, like, two years ago and start promoting and advancing him/her.)
Polaroid steps up with another two-page ad. “Think of it as your personal fun factory.” Good job divorcing your product from its base function and affiliating it with a sentiment. Don Draper would be proud. Don who?
The two editorials haven’t aged well. Neither has the spread for “Pippin.” Is anybody in 2022 America mounting a production of “Pippin”? A ’73 Chevy Nova hatchback is pictured in Plymouth, Massachusetts — wonder if that’s a dig at a certain other American auto brand, or just a stylish place for a photo shoot? Either way I will have to look long at this; I have tarried in Plymouth, now and again, and I wonder if I’ve been here.
LIFE presents the results of a survey on marriage. I should probably care but I don’t. Panasonic follows with a stereo ad, chock full of various pieces of gear, and in my mind I’m thinking of bass response and sound-wave patterns again. There is mad crazy woodgrain — and, for some reason, a separate phone number just for consumers in Connecticut. Why that?
An eighth-page ad features cheap watch faces with John F. Kennedy, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaft. God bless America. A two-page ad offers a 97-LP Beethoven box set (OK, maybe not quite that exhaustive, but it has a 275-page full-color book.) Even Schroeder would have been swamped by this doorstop.
LIFE follows with a story on a Hawaiian who has found his way into Japanese sumo-wrestling culture. LIFE spends plenty of time escorting us into this curious realm. An ad with a young husband and wife welcoming a guest into their party distracts me; the guest holds a wrapped bottle of bourbon behind his back. Dude, I need to make some friends so people will come to my house and hand me bourbon. Is that the American dream? (And is it weird that the gift-carrying friend seems focused on his friend’s wife, and not on his friend?)
A spread on a New York City kid named Brian Sullivan sparks some memories. In the mid-’90s I worked for a newspaper editor named Brian Sullivan; he didn’t look like the kid in the pictures but I always wondered a little bit. (It wasn’t; the Brian Sullivan who patiently served as my boss grew up in the suburbs of Boston.) Wonder what became of Brian. He was a New York Rangers fan, apparently.
I remember the next story, too, about a Southern sheriff who reveled a little too long in his power. I don’t choose to look at Newspapers dot com to see what became of him, as I sometimes do with people I meet in these magazines. There’s an ad for a Ford Maverick the color of banana pudding and I’ll look at that instead. An ad for John Begg whiskey describes its buyers as the sorts who went in for VW Bugs in 1958; I wonder briefly if John Begg whiskey still exists, because it’s better than thinking of this redneck sheriff in Florida.
As the ugliness of the sheriff unfolds, there’s another tacky ad for $1 Santa Claus costumes for your dog, then an ad for Toyotas (with “leather-like padding,” and also with a separate phone number for Connecticut residents. Such a pain in the arse to live in Connecticut. Might as well move one state north.) The story ends with the sheriff finally being deposed by voters in his home county …. only about 20 years too late.
GE takes out an ad for its toaster ovens, outlining how it can keep the hunger of the average American household slaked from 7 a.m. to midnight. I am left with a desire to have a friendly chat with the person baking pizza at midnight. That couldn’t have ended well.
“Parting Shots” summarizes F. Lee Bailey’s involvement in a porn magazine, and David Frost and Diahann Carroll’s involvement with each other. A spread of unusual California vanity license plates provides a setting for some cheesecake. Eleven years later, the actress with the nice legs will appear in a minor role in Strange Brew, which is more than I’ve ever accomplished.
I was just thinking it was about time this issue ended already. And so it has. Only a handful left.