Oddities

October 7, 1957 – Time’s People in the News

On October 7, 1957, the weekly installment of Time magazine included their regular feature on the doings of famous movers-and-shakers, the People column.  During a week which included continuing reports of the forced integration of – and military presence at –  Little Rock Central High School, and the announcement of the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the American public probably enjoyed a lighter moment catching up on high-society and high-celebrity.  Some of the high-points:

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Ernest and Mary Hemingway in Venice, 1954.

“With plenty of works in progress but no finished manuscript under his arm, Novelist Ernest Hemingway arrived incognito with wife Mary at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a quiet holiday far from his Cuban finca.  Meanwhile, two short stories, the first new Hemingway fiction to be published since The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, were being put to bed for the centennial issue of the Atlantic, which will be out at the end of October.  Apparently stemming from the experience Hemingway underwent when he was temporarily blinded after his plane crash in Africa in 1954, the stories are paired under the title “Two Tales of Darkness”.

“Following the long antarctic night, the sun rose over the U.S. base at the South Pole last week, and Polar Explorer Paul Siple (Time cover, Dec. 31, 1956) led 17 scientists and servicemen into the open for the reveille that comes there technically only once every six months.  With the temperature at a numbing  minus 88°F and an 18-knot wind blowing across the polar wastes, the ceremonial hoisting of Old Glory turned out to be about the most frenzied since the famed planting of the flag under fire at Iwo Jima.”

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LOS ANGELES – OCTOBER 10: Singer Frank Sinatra and actress Lauren Bacall attend a party for the musical ‘Pal Joey’ on October 10, 1957 in Los Angeles, California.

“In seclusion since the death last January of Cinemactor Humphrey Bogart, his widow, Cinemactress Lauren Bacall, was stepping out with an old family friend, Cinemactor Frank Sinatra.  Lauren was recently draped on Frankie’s arm for the Las Vegas premiere of his new movie The Joker is Wild, last week went along with him to a closed-circuit telecast of the Sugar-Ray Robinson – Carmello Basilio fight in a Hollywood theater from which they emerged looking as happy as if they had bet on Winner Basilio.  But though Hollywood gossips buzzed, both Lauren and Frankie denied a wedding is in the wind.”

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

“Describing the Russian people as ‘wonderful’, Globetrotter Eleanor Roosevelt, 72, climaxed her first trip to the Soviet Union by interviewing Communist Boss Nikita S. Khrushchev for almost three hours at his summer villa on the Black Sea near Yalta.  ‘War is unthinkable,’ Khrushchev told Mrs. Roosevelt, who called the hard-drinking, explosive Soviet leader ‘a cordial, simple, outspoken man who got angry at certain spots and emphasized the things he believed.’  But when Khrushchev accused her of hating Communists, Mrs. Roosevelt quickly replied: ‘Oh no, I don’t.  I don’t hate anybody.  I don’t believe in Communism as an ideological way of life.'”

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Vintage 1957 – Near-Mint Near-Complete 1957 Topps Baseball Card Set

1957 Topps Mickey Mantle-Yogi Berra card. Photo: Sports Collectors Daily.

1957 Topps Mickey Mantle-Yogi Berra card. Photo: Sports Collectors Daily.

Attention, baseball card collectors! Rich Mueller at Sports Collectors Daily recently announced that a near-mint, near-complete set of 1957 Topps baseball cards will be put up for auction on eBay. Just Collect is planning to sell, piece by piece, a rare grouping of almost 400 cards obtained from a private collector which Mueller claims would rank “among the 50 best All-Time Finest sets on the PSA Set Registry.”

Topps made significant changes to their card line in 1957. They adopted the standard size still in use today and, rather than using both photo and artwork portraits, switched to photo-only shots of MLB’s Boys of Summer. Our banner year, 1957, is also notable for collectors in that it was a year in which many greats were playing, joined by a swath of soon-to-be-famous rookies. And 1957 was the last year that the Giants played in Gotham and the Dodgers owned Brooklyn.

Collectible baseball cards are rated on a score from 1 to 10. Each card is examined for its centering (how well did the printer do?), corners (how worn are the four points?), creases (did the card get bent or folded?), and surface (are there wrinkles, scratches, warping, damage, bubbles, marks, stains, or notches?).  A rating of ten is extremely rare, and means “taken off the printing press with tweezers and hermetically sealed” (I’m only slightly joking).  On the other end of the scale, a one rating would probably mean that the printing press was in dire need of a tune-up and a teething toddler with cotton candy got hold of the card (again, just a little exaggeration). All the cards in this 1957 collection have been rated a 7 “Near Mint”.

A few big names are missing in the collection, notably Red Sox immortal Ted Williams and  a regular issue of Yankee Mickey Mantle, winner of the Triple Crown in 1956. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, and Roy Campanella are there, along with rookies Brooks Robinson, Rocky Colavito, Don Drysdale, and Bill Mazeroski. Numerous commons, multi-player, minor stars, and team cards also add to the set.

I acquired my love of baseball when I married into the Red Sox nation at age 21. Now I can’t help but wonder about the identity of the persistent baseball card lover who amassed this treasure trove. Were they born in 1957, too?

September 13, 1957 – The Kalmikoffs Win in Buffalo

Dastardly Ivan and Karol at work. Photo: Online World of Wrestling

On September 13, 1957, Ivan and Karol Kalmikoff defeated Vic Christy and Sammy Berg in a National Wrestling Alliance event at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  The Kalmikoffs tag team – a team of fictitious Soviet brothers consisting of Ivan (Edward Bruce, native son of Detroit, Michigan), and Karol (Karol Piwoworczyk, hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma) – were very successful in the mid-50s, having begun their sweaty grappling career in 1953 in Amarillo, Texas.  Two other “brothers” participated occasionally: Nikita (Nikita Mulkovich) and Stan or Igor (Eric Pomeroy).

Populated by wild characters with quirky gimmicks, partly athletic event but wholly staged entertainment, professional wrestling featured clearly defined heroes and villains who episodically portrayed the alternating triumph of the forces of good or evil in (and frequently out) of a canvas-floored ring.  What great fun – and how vicariously cathartic – to boo the Communist Red menace Kalmikoffs while the Cold War raged.

Television fueled the popularity of professional wrestling as each of the major networks broadcast the colorful, inexpensive-to-produce matches.  As a result, the ’50s became the “Golden Age” for the pseudo-sport.

September 12, 1957 – [Subliminal] Messages

Popcorn and Coca-Cola. [1957 Time Capsule]. Photo: Faux Food Diner

On September 12, 1957 [1957 Time Capsule], market researcher James Vicary revealed at a press conference in New York City that 45,699 movie-going guinea pigs [1957 Time Capsule] had been recently exposed to what sounded suspiciously to alarmed Americans like thought control.  The Wall Street Journal reported the following on Vicary’s presentation about his new subliminal [1957 Time Capsule] projection technology:

“This story may sound as though a flying saucer [1957 Time Capsule] is lurking behind the scenes, but you can rest assured that all characters in this drama are real.  The tale begins some months ago when several closed-mouthed men walked into a New Jersey motion picture house [1957 Time Capsule] and fitted a strange mechanism to the film projector.  Over the next six weeks, as 45,699 unsuspecting movie goers watched Hollywood’s newest epics [1957 Time Capsule],  a strange thing reportedly occurred.  Out of the blue, it is claimed, patrons started deserting their seats and crowding in the lobby.  Sales of Coca-Cola [1957 Time Capsule] reportedly rose 18.1% and popcorn purchases zoomed 57.7% over the theater’s usual sales.  These claims – and the explanation of this purported phenomenon – were made at a press conference yesterday afternoon [1957 Time Capsule] by executives of a new firm called Subliminal Projection Co., Inc.  The movie patrons had been subjected to ‘invisible advertising’ that by-passed their conscious [1957 Time Capsule] and assertedly struck deep into their sub-conscious.  The trick was accomplished by flashing commercials past the viewers’ eyes so rapidly [1957 Time Capsule] that viewers were unaware they had seen them.  The ads, which were flashed every five seconds or so, simply urged the audience to eat popcorn [1957 Time Capsule] and drink Coca-Cola, and they were projected during the theater’s regular movie program.”

Vicary claimed that subliminal advertising [1957 Time Capsule] would revolutionize the advertising industry – which was moving rapidly to take advantage [1957 Time Capsule] of the growing popularity of television – by promoting products directly to the drives, needs [1957 Time Capsule] and desires of the unconscious mind.  The cool, rational processes of conscious recognition and evaluation [1957 Time Capsule] would be disabled.  The public was worried: were they about to become [1957 Time Capsule] the victims of brainwashing?

September 5, 1957 – “On the Road” is In the Bookstore

On September 5, 1957, a story recorded on a 120-foot-long scroll of cut-and-taped typing paper was published as a  320-page book.  On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, was an autobiographically-based testament to the emerging Beat Generation, fueled by jazz, poetry, and notes taken during seven years of (probably) drug-laced road trips.  Kerouac maintained that coffee was the only stimulant he used during the three weeks in New York City in April of 1951 that he spent typing the single-spaced, sans-paragraphs, sans-margins manuscript.

According to who you asked, On the Road was either “timeless,” “elusive and precious,” “a cultural event,” “the saga of a solitary seeker,” “a historic occasion,” “a major novel,” “passe and at times corny,” “an authentic work of art,” “life-changing,” or “not writing, that’s typing.”  Thinly-veiled friends and acquaintances populated the novel as the narrator, Sal Paradise, traveled west across America and into a series of experiences he hoped would help him make sense of the world around him.  He searched for life’s meaning in music, drugs, women, odd jobs, and fellow road-travelers high and low: “holy con-men” and “poetic con-men,” migrant workers, heroic ex-prisoners, prostitutes, down-and-outers, and failures.  In the end, Sal returns to New York City believing that “nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old.”

In 2007, Viking Press released a less-edited version of Kerouac’s manuscript titled On the Road: The Original Scroll. The fiftieth-anniversary edition restored several deleted sections, including some sexual passages deemed pornographic in 1957, and substituted the real names of the people in Jack’s life for the fictional names of the novel’s characters.

August 27, 1957 – Underground Nuclear Test Launches Giant “Manhole Cover”

On August 27, 1957, a four-inch-thick steel plate weighing several hundred pounds shot into the stratosphere over the Nevada Test Site, never to be seen again.  Operation Plumbbob’s Pascal-B was an underground test of a nuclear safety device designed to limit the amount of destructive energy released by a bomb in the event of an accidental detonation.  Buried at the bottom of a 500-foot shaft and sealed with an over-2-ton plug of cement, Pascal-B generated sufficient energy – the equivalent of a few hundred tons of dynamite – to vaporize the concrete plug.  The concrete vapor expanded and raced up the shaft, propelling a massive steel plate sealing the shaft opening into the sky.

According to the February 1992 issue of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine, astrophysicist Bob Brownlee was in charge of designing the Pascal-B test.  “He knew the lid [steel plate] would be blown off; he didn’t know exactly how fast.  High-speed cameras caught the giant manhole cover as it began its unscheduled flight into history.  Based on his calculations and the evidence from the cameras, Brownlee estimated that the steel plate was traveling at a velocity six times that needed to escape Earth’s gravity when it soared into the flawless blue Nevada sky.  ‘We never found it.  It was gone,’ Brownlee says, a touch of awe in his voice almost 35 years later”.

Even though the eventual whereabouts of the steel plate forever remained a mystery, it’s unlikely, according to the laws of physics and the character of the Earth’s atmosphere, that the plate headed into outer space.  Unable to maintain escape velocity on its own (not being equipped with mini-rocket engines), it would not retain sufficient speed to pass completely through the layers of nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases surrounding our planet.  Most likely it either vaporized in the explosion, disintegrated in the atmosphere, or landed somewhere far from the Nevada Test Site.  It’s also possible it became some innocent person’s “close encounter”, or enormous fish story.

August 17, 1957 – Phillies Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn’s Freak At-Bat

Phillie Richie Ashburn: Photo Source: Chuck Hofmann, Richie Ashburn Display at the Madison County Museum, Nebraska

 

On August 17, 1957, one of Philadelphia’s most loved baseball heroes fouled twice, striking the same spectator, in one at-bat.

Center-fielder Richie Ashburn, one of the 1950 National League Champion “Whiz Kids”, played outstanding ball for the Phillies from 1948 until 1959.  He led the league several times in batting and fielding statistics, retiring with a .308 lifetime batting average.  After his retirement from baseball in 1962, he joined the Phillies radio and TV broadcast team as a color commentator, a job he loved and held until his death in 1997.  A long campaign by Philadelphia fans resulted in his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.  Over 25,000 local fans drove to Cooperstown for the ceremony – a day which must have meant much to the boy who grew up on a farm in Tilden, Nebraska, dreaming of his day in the big leagues.

But August 17th was not quite a day he had dreamed of.  In the second game of a four-game series against the New York Giants, (which the Phillies won, 3-1), Richie fouled twice into the stands, striking spectator Alice Roth.  Alice was married to Philadelphia Bulletin Sports Editor Earl Roth.  The first errant ball broke her nose; the second struck her as she was being carried out of the stands on a stretcher.  Alice was a good sport and she and Richie remained friends for many years.

The Philadelphia Phillies retired Ashburn’s #1 in 1979.  The center-field entertainment area of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies current stadium, is named Ashburn Alley in honor of Richie’s 47 years of service to the Phillies organization.