Friday, November 22, 2013

How Long It's Been: John F. Kennedy Was President

Fifty years. November 22, 1963:

Most members of Congress were, like him, veterans of World War II. But there were quite a few who were old enough to have served in World War I. Obviously, there were no Vietnam War veterans in Congress yet -- because most of us didn't even realize we were at war in Vietnam. The only member of the House of Representatives now who was there in 1963 is John Dingell of Detroit, who's served since 1955, the longest-serving member in Congressional history.

Former Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were still alive. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became President. Richard Nixon was still licking his wounds from losing the previous year's race for Governor of California.


Former Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were still alive. Vice President Lyndon Johnson became President. Richard Nixon was still licking his wounds from losing the previous year's race for Governor of California.

Gerald Ford was in the House Republican leadership. Jimmy Carter was a freshman State Senator. Ronald Reagan was still acting. George H.W. Bush was still in the oil business; his son, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham, Al Gore, Dan Quayle and Mitt Romney were all still in high school. Dick Cheney was in college. Barack Obama was 2 years old, and Michelle Robinson and Sarah Heath (Palin) hadn't been born yet.

The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, preparing to run for President -- and that would turn out to be a disaster. The Mayor of the City of New York was Robert F. Wagner Jr. The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes. Elizabeth II was Queen of Great Britain -- that hasn't changed -- but she only had 3 children, as Prince Edward wasn't born yet. The Prime Minister of Britain was Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and of Canada, Lester Pearson.

The current holders of those offices? Andrew Cuomo was about to turn 6. Michael Bloomberg was at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and the man just elected to succeed him as Mayor, Bill de Blasio, was 2 1/2 years old. Chris Christie was 1 year old. Queen Elizabeth, of course, is still on the throne. David Cameron wasn't born yet. Stephen Harper was 4. 

The International Red Cross had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (If you're thinking Martin Luther King, he got the Prize the next year.) The Pope was Paul VI. The current Pope, Francis, was a priest in his native Buenos Aires, Argentina, Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio. There have since been (counting JFK himself) 10 Presidents of the United States, 9 Prime Ministers of Britain and 5 Popes.

There were 20 teams in Major League Baseball. There was an American League team in Washington, and a National League team in Texas -- the Houston Colt .45's, and they were the only team in a former Confederate State.


There was a National League team in Milwaukee, but it was the Braves, not the Brewers. There was a team in Kansas City, but it was the Athletics, not the Royals. There was no designated hitter, no artificial turf, and no domes, retractable or otherwise.

The Mets just moved out of the Polo Grounds, and were preparing to move into Shea Stadium. Including the Mets, 9 teams were playing in ballparks built before World War I; now, only 2 are, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. No NBA or NHL arena in use then is being used by the same team now. And the only NFL or AFL team playing in the same stadium today is the Green Bay Packers.

There were black and Hispanic players in the major leagues, but no Asians. The highest-paid player in baseball was Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, making $100,000 a year -- about $757,000 today, or about 1/30th of what he would be making, based on what today's top players make.

Yogi Berra and Stan Musial had just retired. Duke Snider and Warren Spahn were still playing. 
Of the defining baseball players of my childhood, Carl Yastrzemski had just won the American League batting title for the 1st time, Pete Rose was just named National League Rookie of the Year, Willie Stargell was in his 2nd big-league season, Steve Carlton and Rod Carew were in the minor leagues, Tom Seaver was in college; Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, Carlton Fisk and Nolan Ryan were in high school; and George Brett was 10 years old.

Mark McGwire and Paul O'Neill were born that year, and Roger Clemens the year before, while Barry Bonds, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz were yet to come.

Tom Coughlin of the Giants had just started his senior year of high school, and Terry Collins of the Mets his freshman year. Mike Woodson of the Knicks and John Tortorella of the Rangers were 5 years old. Rex Ryan of the Jets was approaching his 1st birthday. Joe Girardi of the Yankees, Jason Kidd of the Nets, Jack Capuano of the Islanders and Peter DeBoer of the Devils weren't born yet.

There were 14 teams in the NFL, and 8 teams in the AFL. There was a team in Baltimore, but it was the Colts, not the Ravens. There was a team in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. The Rams were still in Los Angeles.

There were 6 teams in the NHL, and 10 teams in the NBA. Until 1961, there were 9, and Marv Albert, newly installed as the radio voice of the NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers, said he used to think the sole purpose of the NBA regular season was to eliminate the Knicks, as the top 8 teams moved on to the Playoffs.

In JFK's hometown, the Boston Bruins, all white, weren't doing well, but they sold out the Boston Garden. The Boston Celtics, with players of both races but led by the black Bill Russell, were in the middle of winning 8 straight titles, but they barely sold half the seats at the Gahden. Gee, you think Russell had a point when he said Boston was a racist city? I'll bet JFK didn't like it.

As I said, the defending NBA Champions were the Celtics. The holders of the Stanley Cup were the Toronto Maple Leafs. (This really was a long time ago.) Both would repeat in the spring of 1964. The Los Angeles Dodgers, led by the pitching of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, had just swept the Yankees in 4 straight to win the World Series. Liverpool-based Everton were defending Champions of England's Football League, and Manchester United were the holders of the FA Cup, their 1st trophy following the Munich Air Disaster of 1958.

The Green Bay Packers were defending NFL Champions, but had lost Paul Hornung to a yearlong suspension due to gambling. Their arch-rivals, the Chicago Bears, led by tight end Mike Ditka, would win the NFL title. (Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus wouldn't arrive until 1965.) Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions was also suspended for the season for gambling. Hornung, still alive, has since been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Karras has now gone to his final reward without justly receiving that earthly one.

The AFL title would be won by the San Diego Chargers -- and this remains the only time in major league play that a San Diego sports team has gone as far as the rules of the time allowed it to go. Since then, the Chargers have gone to their last possible game 3 times (the 1964 and '65 AFL Championship Games and Super Bowl XXIX in 1995), but haven't won; baseball's Padres have been promoted from Triple-A to the majors and lost 2 World Series; the NBA's Clippers have arrived and left; and San Diego has only had major league hockey (if you can call the 1970s WHA "major league") for 3 seasons.


The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Charles "Sonny" Liston, but a young man named Cassius Clay would soon to perform, as he put it, "a total eclipse of the Sonny." Shortly thereafter, that young man would be named Muhammad Ali.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, knowing that he had 48 hours to make a decision, and that some of the teams playing away games were already at their airports, called his former roommate at the University of San Francisco -- Pierre Salinger, JFK's White House Press Secretary. Salinger told Rozelle that the Kennedy family would want that Sunday's games to go on, and so Rozelle ordered it. He later said that it was his biggest regret in his 29 years as Commissioner, but Bobby later said the family was grateful that it was done.

AFL Commissioner Joe Foss, despite having been a Republican politician (Governor of South Dakota) and no supporter of JFK's, polled his League's 8 owners, and, as he told CBS in an interview in 1993, "The vote was unanimous: The show must not go on." That week's slate of AFL games, including the Jets' game away to the Kansas City Chiefs, was pushed back to the week after the intended last week of the season.

One of college football's major rivalries, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, was played the next day as scheduled. Most major games were postponed, including the Army-Navy Game, which JFK had attended the preceding 2 years and intended to do so again.

The New York Rangers were not scheduled to play that night, but the Knicks were, at home at the old Madison Square Garden, and, for the 1st time in their 17-year history, postponed a game. (Their 2nd would be due to the 1965 blackout.)

A sellout crowd still went to Yankee Stadium on the Sunday, and saw the Giants upset by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yankees and Mets, being in the off-season, were not affected. Nor were the Nets, Islanders and Devils, as they didn't exist yet.

England's Football League did not postpone its games in respect. Nor did its successor, the Premier League, do so the weekend after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. To be fair, they didn't postponed games after the deaths of Kings George V in 1936 and George VI in 1952. But they did on the weekend of Princess Diana's funeral in 1997.

Since the JFK assassination, the Olympics have been held in America (4 times), Canada (3 times), Japan (3 times), Austria (twice), France (twice), Mexico, Germany, Russia (and are about to be again), Yugoslavia (now Bosnia), Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Britain.

There were still living veterans of America's Indian Wars and the Mahdist War. There were then 23 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The last remaining Justice who was on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 was Byron White, who served until 1993.

There had been a Civil Rights Act in 1957 and another in 1960, and the bill JFK wanted passed had just cleared its most difficult hurdle, the Southerner-chaired House Judiciary Committee. So anyone who tells you that he shouldn't get any credit for it, that LBJ or the Republicans should, is lying.

But the Medicare bill he wanted would have to wait for LBJ's landslide election, and it would be LBJ who demanded a Voting Rights Act and a Fair Housing Act. An Environmental Protection Agency, legalized abortion and gay rights? Those weren't being seriously talked about in 1963.

Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis both died the same day as JFK. J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive. In 1963, Pierre Boule published Planet of the Apes, John le Carre The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Ian Fleming On Her Majesty's Secret Service (as his James Bond novel From Russia With Love, starring Sean Connery as Agent 007, was in theaters), Alistair MacLean Ice Station Zebra, Thomas Pynchon V. (not to be confused with V for Vendetta), Kurt Vonnegut Cat's Cradle, Walter Tevis The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Morris West The Shoes of the Fisherman (about a former Communist prisoner who becomes Pope; Packer coach Vince Lombardi called it his favorite book).

Sylvia Plath, despondent over her failing writing career, committed suicide; her novel The Bell Jar was published posthumously a few months later, and made her a legend. Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and John Barton and Peter Hall adapted some of William Shakespeare's plays into The Wars of the Roses -- in other words, that hours-long play mentioned on the 3rd-season finale of The West Wing is a real play.

Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Scott Turow and George R.R. Martin were in high school. John Grisham was 8 years old. J.K. Rowling wasn't born yet.

Earlier in the month of the JFK assassination, the all-star comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World premiered. The biggest picture of the year -- not the best, but definitely the biggest -- was Cleopatra, the film that brought Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton together, and nearly sank 20th Century Fox studios. Sidney Poitier starred in Lilies of the Field, and would, the next year, become the 1st black actor to win an Academy Award. George Lucas was in college, Steven Spielberg in high school.

Oliver Hardy, Lou Costello, Jerry "Curly" Howard, Sam "Shemp" Howard and Leonard "Chico" Marx had died, but Stan Laurel, William "Bud" Abbott, Moses "Moe" Howard, Larry Fine, the rest of the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Charles "Buddy" Rogers (they were married to each other), Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, Mae West and Greta Garbo were still alive.

Superhero stories were doing just fine in the comic books. Live-action, not so much: The Adventures of Superman was canceled with the 1959 death of George Reeves, there hadn't been a Superman movie since 1950, and no Batman movie since 1949. The 1966 TV version of Batman wasn't even an idea yet. Stan Lee's Marvel Comics revolution was well underway: He'd already created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men, and had revived Captain America, and Daredevil was on the way.

Doctor Who made its debut the day after the assassination, with William Hartnell as The Doctor.
The Fugitive, The Outer Limits, My Favorite Martian, an American version of the hit British show That Was The Week That Was, and the 1st TV show scripted and produced by Gene Roddenberry, a military drama titled The Lieutenant, had all recently debuted on television.

On The Lieutenant, Gary Lockwood -- later to appear in the second Star Trek pilot -- starred as Lt. William Rice. Like Star Trek's James Kirk, the character had the middle name Tiberius. Robert Vaughn would also star. Trek players Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, Ricardo Montalban and Madlyn Rhue (later to play Khan and Mrs. Khan) would all appear on it. So would Eddie Albert, Ed Asner, Bill Bixby, Linda Evans, Chad Everett, Norman Fell, Dennis Hopper, Ted Knight, Denver "Uncle Jesse" Pyle, and future Mission: Impossible regulars Barbara Bain and Greg Morris.

The Twilight Zone was entering its final season. William Shatner had recently made his 2nd appearance on it, in the fear-of-flying story "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Nimoy had 1 line on an episode, and George Takei was soon to appear on it. Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan would also appear on the Western Bonanza.

The original versions of The Price Is Right and Match Game were on the air, and the original version of Jeopardy! would debut the following March. Robert Kardashian Sr. was in college, Bruce Jenner was in high school, Kris Houghton had just turned 8, and none of them knew each other.

The Number 1 song in America was a cover of "Deep Purple" by the brother & sister team of Nino Tempo and April Stevens. Frank Sinatra had recently released Sinatra's Sinatra, re-recordings of some of his most familiar songs. Elvis Presley's film Fun in Acapulco was released the next week. Bob Dylan had just recorded, but not yet released, his album The Times They Are A-Changin'

Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen had just started high school. Elton John, still using the name of Reggie Dwight, was already a professional musician. Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince were all 5 years old.

Motown Records had already introduced the world to Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, and the Miracles (if not yet made their lead singer, William "Smokey" Robinson, a household name), and the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops were in the process of being introduced.

The Beatles released their 2nd album, known in Britain as With the Beatles, mere hours before the assassination. It didn't hurt sales over there. By the time it was released in America under the title Meet the Beatles, we were ready to feel good about something again.

Earlier in the month, they appeared at a charity show at the London Palladium, attended by Elizabeth the Queen Mother, widow of King George VI. Before playing their final song, their cover of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout," John Lennon asked the audience for their help: "Those of you in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. And the rest, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."

He had threatened to ask them, in his Scouse accent, to "rattle yer fookin' jewelry," but was talked out of it. After all, it was live TV, broadcast all over the British Isles, and the Queen Mum was there. She did applaud the Beatles, despite being 63 years old.

Just today, for the first time, I was told that Walter Cronkite was planning to introduce a story on the Beatles on The CBS Evening News on November 22, 1963, as they were already the biggest thing in European entertainment, but they were still unknown to all but a handful of Americans. But the assassination prevented the story from being broadcast, and America didn't really find out about the Beatles until right after the New Year.

Also released on the day was A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, with performances by several acts that Spector, with his "Wall of Sound," had produced, including the Ronettes, featuring his girlfriend, Veronica Bennett, later his wife, Ronnie Spector, later his ex-wife. Turned out, Phil was a white Jewish version of Ike Turner. Maybe worse. Thankfully, like Tina, Ronnie escaped, and is still knocking crowds out in her 70s.

Inflation has been such that, what $1.00 would buy then, $7.57 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp was 5 cents, and a New York Subway ride was 15 cents. The average prices of a gallon of gas was 29 cents, a cup of coffee 35 cents, a McDonald's meal (cheeseburger, fries, shake -- no Big Mac until 1968) 49 cents, a movie ticket 87 cents, a new car $3,233, and a new house $19,600.

As you might guess, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped upon the news of the assassination -- but not as much as you might think, especially since it had already dropped a bit the day before. On November 20, 1963, it closed at 742.06; on the 21st, 732.65, so that's nearly 10 points already -- it would be like dropping 200 points today, which hasn't been a big deal for years. On the 22nd, it dropped to 711.49. The market would have been closed for the weekend anyway, and was closed on the 25th since that was the day of the funeral. When it reopened on the 26th, it was back up to 743.52, higher than it was on the 20th.

The 1st push-button telephone had been introduced the week of the JFK assassination. There were telephones that could be used in cars, but that was it as far as "mobile phones" were concerned. Most TV shows were still produced in black and white, and less than 1 out of 5 Americans had a color TV set. Computers still took up an entire wall of a building; Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were 8 years old. Credit cards were still a relatively new thing, and there were no automatic teller machines in America.

In November 1963, in addition to the JFK assassination, there was a coup in South Vietnam, which made it more and more likely that Kennedy would not be able to pull out of there as soon as he would have liked. Donald Summerville, the Mayor of Toronto, died of a heart attack while playing in a charity hockey game. He was only 48 years old.

It was a big month for coal miners: 11 of them were rescued, 14 days after a mine collapsed in Germany; but an explosion killed 458 miners in Japan. A fire killed 63 people at a nursing home in Ohio. The 2nd of "the Moors Murders" committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley took place in Manchester, England. Elsewhere in crime, the Boston Strangler was still at large. And in civil rights, in the wake of the awakening sparked over the summer by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X gave a speech titled "Message to the Grass Roots" in Detroit.

That month, in addition to JFK, Huxley and Lewis, Amelita Galli-Curci, and Phil Baker, and "Birdman of Alcatraz" Robert Stroud died. Nicollette Sheridan, and Peter Schmeichel, and Vinny Testaverde were born.

November 22, 1963. Fifty years ago. The Presidency of John F. Kennedy will forever be known for how it began, with a legendary campaign and a stirring Inaugural Address; but it will also forever be known for how it ended, with three gunshots, and a thousand questions, few of which have satisfactory answers.

As the man himself said:

Let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.


For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures.

And we are all mortal.

No comments: