Where Were They?

Where Were They Then? – Ben Bradlee

Ben Bradlee at Newsweek's Washington bureau, late 1950s. Photo: Mike Lien, The New York Times-Redux

Ben Bradlee at Newsweek’s Washington bureau, late 1950s. Photo: Mike Lien, The New York Times-Redux

Benjamin Crowninshield “Ben” Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post, was a towering figure in American journalism with a rich family history (literally and figuratively) and a broad experience of life and the world. His family relations and close friendships included Old World royalty and New World privilege. He moved among people who made the news and then made sure they were the news. He is best known for giving Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein free rein to follow the slim story of the Watergate Apartments break-in to its damning conclusion, ultimately bringing down President Richard M. Nixon and radically remaking the journalism profession for all who followed. Bradlee not only served his country by pursuing the truth, he also served in the Pacific during World War II as an naval intelligence officer. He participated in numerous operations including the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle ever fought. After the war, Bradlee immediately started on his career as a reporter for the New Hampshire Sunday News, Newsweek, and the Washington Post.

Where was Ben in 1957? Through a connection at the Post, Bradlee had been assigned to the United States French embassy in 1951 as a press attaché. There he joined the staff of the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), which produced Pro-American films, magazines, research, speeches, and news items for use by the CIA throughout Europe (propaganda, if you like). Bradlee’s official role with USIE ended in 1953 and he began reporting for Newsweek in 1954.

In 1956, Ben interviewed members of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), or National Liberation Front of Algeria. The FLN was a socialist political party with a revolutionary guerilla arm fighting to liberate colonial Algeria from control by France. The war of liberation lasted from 1954 until 1962, when the French government agreed to a cease-fire, Algerian independence, and mutual cooperation between the two countries.

As a  American resident of France, working as a foreign correspondent, Bradlee’s contact with Algerian forces was not looked upon favorably by the French authorities. His background in intelligence raised red flags – was he really just a reporter for Newsweek, or was something else going on? A biographer of Post publisher Katharine Graham, Deborah Davis, later described Bradlee’s actions in 1956 as having “all the earmarks of an intelligence operation.” “I flew back to Paris, and next morning went to see Ambassador Dillon to let him know what I had been up to in Algeria,” Bradlee wrote in The Good Life: Newspapers and Other Adventures, his 1995 memoir. “When I got back to my office on the Rue de Berri in a taxi, I was suddenly surrounded by cops and black Citroens. Two cops got me by the elbows, lifting me off the pavement, and asked me to come along with them.”

Bradlee’s recent marriage to Antoinette Pinchot added to the suspicion. Toni was closely tied to two CIA figures in France – her brother-in-law Cord Meyer, and James Jesus Angleton, the husband of a good friend. Ben and Toni’s circle of connections seemed to indicate that Bradlee might have been doing more with the FLN than taking notes.

Consequently, Bradlee was no longer welcome in France. He returned to Washington in 1957 and continued working at Newsweek. Ben and Toni bought a house in the prestigious Washington, DC suburb of Georgetown. Very soon after, a new power couple moved in down the street: Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline. “I was on a roll being in the right place at the right time, a luck that stayed with me,” Bradlee wrote in The Good Life. For Bradlee, the year 1957 was the year he put his career on a fast track. Building an intimate friendship with future-President Kennedy would ultimately boost Ben’s professional credentials and provide insights and access into the halls of government.

Four years later, Newsweek was bought by the Washington Post. Bradlee played an instrumental role in the acquisition. Now at the Post, Ben moved up the ladder to become “the most lauded and influential American journalist of his era.”

Where Were They Then? – Dr. Seuss

 

Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, enjoying success and a good read. Photo: Al Ravenna, New York World-Telegram; Library of Congress

Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, enjoying success and a good read. Photo: Al Ravenna, New York World-Telegram; Library of Congress

A new volume by one of America’s greatest author/illustrators – beloved by children and adults – is now available on bookstore shelves. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel passed away in 1991, but thousands upon thousands of new copies of his well-known books find their way to good homes every year. An alert Seuss-o-phile named Charles D. Cohen is responsible for the recent addition of Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories to the Seuss canon. The stories, from Geisel’s long-time publisher, Random House, first appeared many years ago as illustrated strips in Redbook Magazine and other periodicals. The stamp-sized drawings have been enlarged and enhanced. Horton and Marco and the Grinch figure into the plotlines. More Seuss! A grateful world – and this blogger – say, “Thank you!”

For Ted Geisel, the year 1957 turned the mildly successful ad writer, cartoonist and illustrator, animator, screenwriter, and author into a worldwide sensation. From his home base in La Jolla, California, happily ensconced with his wife, Helen Palmer, Geisel completed his book-on-a-dare, commissioned by William Spaulding of Houghton Mifflin. The challenge: write an engaging learn-to-read book from a carefully selected and very short list of easy reader words. The goal: help children learn to love to read. Dr. Seuss was all over that like oobleck.

The Cat in the Hat was released on March 12, 1957 and became a phenomenal bestseller. The old saying, “a rising tide floats all boats” went to work in McElligot’s Pool and all of Geisel’s titles started flying off shelves (without the mischievous mayhem of Thing 1 and Thing 2). An invitation from Random House to join their staff then led Ted to wonder what he’d do If I Ran the Zoo Circus Publishing Company. Dr. Seuss put on a children’s book editor hat (one of the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins), started practicing in New York City and delivered another whopper on November 24th, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. After thirty years in the business, at age 53, Theodor Seuss Geisel was an overnight success. The days of Green Eggs and Ham had only begun. No one could have told you then, Ted, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Where Were They Then? Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin and Maria Putin: Photo from Vladimir Putin's personal archive

Vladimir Putin and Maria Putin: Photo from Vladimir Putin’s personal archive

Like the President of Russia himself, Vladimir Putin’s early years are somewhat shadowy. Most sources agree that he was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on October 7, 1952. In 1957, young Putin would have been five years of age (done toddling and ready to run – for a ball, in a footrace, for an elected office). According to Gale Biography in Context, Putin’s parents were basic working class people. His father, Vladimir Spiridonovich, was a decorated war veteran and metal factory foreman. His mother, Maria, did not work outside the home, which was uncommon at that time. The Putin family shared a communal apartment with two other families. Maria had her son secretly baptized as an Orthodox Christian. Religious practice was not permitted in Stalin or Khrushchev’s Soviet Union.

Putin (or one of his minions) maintains his own personal website. Here Putin explains that, “I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life.” His mother was “a very kind, benevolent person”, who cooked “cabbage soup, cutlets, pancakes, but on Sundays and holidays my mom would bake very delicious stuffed buns (pirozkhi) with cabbage, meat and rice, and curd tarts (vatrushki).”

Dad, Putin says, “worked as a security guard, and later as a foreman at the carriage works.” His family’s communal apartment (kommunalka) on Baskov Lane was on the fifth floor (no elevator).

The pirozkhis, vatrushkis, and treks up five flights of stairs eventually led the undersize Putin to teenage acclaim as an expert in a martial arts discipline called “sambo”, a combination of judo and wrestling. He was capable of feats of mental gymnastics, as well. His prestigious high school, School 281, accepted only the best students and emphasized chemistry and technology studies. Putin acknowledges turning himself around in the sixth grade. Previously an indifferent student, he began applying himself to his studies and joined the Young Pioneers, a pro-communism, pro-atheism youth organization. “It became clear that street smarts were not enough,” Putin recalls. “I realized that I also needed to study well.” The events in today’s headlines make it clear that Putin’s subsequent studies added to, never supplanted, those street smarts.

In 1957, at age five, Vladimir Putin was a small but growing force getting ready to unleash itself on the world.

Where Were They Then? Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall, in a still from "Designing Woman"

Lauren Bacall, in a still from “Designing Woman”

 

Barely two weeks into the new year of 1957, on January 14th, Lauren Bacall lost the love of her life, husband Humphrey Bogart, to esophageal cancer. She had recently completed Designing Woman, directed by Vincente Minnelli and co-starring her good friend Gregory Peck. Bogie and Bacall’s son, Steven Humphrey, had just turned eight on January 6th. Leslie, their four-year-old daughter, would celebrate her fifth birthday on August 23rd. At Bogie’s funeral, Lauren placed a silver whistle in his casket as a memento of their first film together, the classic To Have and Have Not. “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” she had purred to sailor “Steve”. “You just put your lips together and blow.”

Widowed and a single parent at 32, Bacall squared her slim shoulders and kept going. She committed to filming The Gift of Love with Robert Stack and director Jean Negulesco. She dazzled on the red carpet for Designing Woman‘s New York premiere on May 16th. She entered into a brief rebound relationship with Frank Sinatra, who called everything off when their engagement became a gossip column item. Surely she felt older than 33 when her birthday came around on September 16th.

Both 1957 and 1958 were difficult years for Bacall, but better times were coming for the former Betty Perske. In 1959 she would reinvent herself as an acclaimed Broadway actress in New York and in 1961 she would marry again, to actor Jason Robards. “I put my career in second place throughout both my marriages and it suffered,” Lauren revealed. “I don’t regret it. You make choices. If you want a good marriage, you must pay attention to that. If you want to be independent, go ahead. You can’t have it all.”

To a classy lady, who was born to Eastern European immigrants and then made it to the very-big time, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”