I think I can remember watching the Kennedy assassination drama on TV 50 years ago this weekend. I was three. While I’m sure my parents had the TV on all weekend like everybody else in America, I can’t be entirely sure that the image of a coffin on a bier in a funeral procession isn’t from a later time, from watching the now-iconic footage we’re all watching again this weekend.
(Whether I was watching or not, I grew up thinking about the events of November 22, 1963. Within weeks, the Associated Press published The Torch Is Passed, a narrative of the assassination weekend along with all the famous photos. Mom and Dad bought a copy, and I read it over and over as a kid. As I got older, I read a lot of the books postulating various assassination conspiracies, but I no longer have patience for them. That some of the more byzantine conspiracies could survive 50 years without unraveling strains credulity: Oswald did it, but we’ll never know precisely why, and I’m OK with that.)
I am looking at the Wisconsin State Journal‘s Morning Final (newsstand price: seven cents), which landed on doorsteps around Madison at breakfast time on November 22, 1963. The weather forecast on the front page is for mild weather, occasional rain, and possible thundershowers, with a high around 60. The Wisconsin legislature adjourned last night, although the governor was rumored to be considering a special session to address a controversial highway bill. A state representative was embroiled in scandal over a shady stock transaction. U2 pilot Joe Hyde of LaGrange, Georgia, was missing after wreckage of his plane was found in the Gulf of Mexico, presumably having crashed on a reconnaissance flight over Cuba. At the bottom of the front page, a story about the president’s trip to Texas mentions the catcalls he received at some stops, and his wife’s popularity.
Inside the paper, readers learn that Dave Fronek will start at quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers in their season-ending game against Minnesota tomorrow, and injured quarterback Bart Starr could play for the Packers on Sunday against San Francisco. The high school basketball season is set to begin tonight. There are a couple of display ads urging readers to shop early for Christmas. The back pages of the paper are crowded with ads for movies (a quadruple feature at the Badger Drive In: Juvenile Jungle, Young and Wild, Unwed Mothers, and The Wayward Girl) and restaurants (lobster for $2 at Namio’s and the Tiki but just $1.75 at Nate’s Place). Those staying in tonight can look forward to episodes of Bob Hope Theater, Burke’s Law and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on TV. At 7:00, Madison radio station WISM-FM (at 98.1) will present The Stereo Demonstration Hour.
None of those things happened, with one exception: controversially, the NFL played its games as scheduled on Sunday; the Packers won 28-10 in front of 45,000 fans in Milwaukee. The Badgers were en route to Minnesota when news of the assassination broke; the game would be postponed to the next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Basketball games were canceled; stores, theaters, and restaurants closed; TV stations carried assassination coverage, and radio stations either reported the news or played somber music.
At breakfast, Madison had been expecting another ordinary autumn weekend. By shortly after lunchtime, the world was transformed. I quote again the single best thing ever written about the assassination, from essayist Lance Morrow, written for Time magazine on the 20th anniversary: “The real 1960s began on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 . . . . It came to seem that Kennedy’s murder opened some malign trap door in American culture, and the wild bats flapped out.”
(If you’re interested in the music on the radio 50 years ago today, click here.)
November 1, 1983, is a Tuesday. One day after another Senate vote refusing to raise the debt ceiling, and after a contentious White House meeting today, President Reagan criticizes recalcitrant Republican senators in his diary. The New York Times publishes an interview with House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who blasts Reagan: ”He only works three to three-and-a-half hours a day. He doesn’t do his homework. He doesn’t read briefing papers. It’s sinful that this man is president.” Secretary of State George Shultz receives a memo stating that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons capability, possibly acquired from the United States. Twenty-one year old Kimberly Nelson disappears in Seattle; in 1986, her body will be found, another one of the 49 confirmed victims of the Green River Killer. The Texas Department of State Health Services begins screening all newborns for sickle-cell traits. Former major league outfielder Art Ruble, who played in 56 games with the 1927 Detroit Tigers and 19 with the 1934 Philadelphia Phillies and recorded a lifetime batting average of .207, dies at age 80, and John Alexander, who will catch eight games and pinch-hit in three others for the 2006 GCL Braves of the Gulf Coast League during his only season of professional baseball, is born.
CBS airs four soaps and four game shows during the day today, including The Price Is Right, The New $25,000 Pyramid, Press Your Luck, and Tattletales. In prime time, ABC airs new episodes of Just Our Luck (soon to be canceled), Happy Days, Oh Madeline (starring Madeline Kahn as a bored suburban housewife married to a romance novelist), and Hart to Hart. NBC’s lineup includes The A Team and Remington Steele.
Tina Turner plays Lund, Sweden, and Queensryche plays the Ritz in New York City. Stevie Ray Vaughan plays Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and ZZ Top plays Hamburg, Germany. AC/DC plays Memphis. At B96 in Chicago, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler and “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton hold the top two spots on the survey again this week. Moving up within the top 10 are “True” by Spandau Ballet and “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie. “Say Say Say” by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney is new in the top 10. “Church of the Poison Mind” by Culture Club, “Heart and Soul” by Huey Lewis and the News, and “Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels are the chart’s biggest movers. About 250 highway miles southwest of Chicago, at WXXQ in Macomb, Illinois, it’s the new guy’s first day. He and his wife, married six months, moved to town yesterday. He’s on the air from 5 until 8 in the evening, which is not exactly the afternoon show he thought he would be doing.
Perspective From the Present: I needed a job that fall, but Macomb was not my first choice. I’d been chasing a job in Madison, at a new station that was assembling its first staff—Magic 98. But when they never called and the offer from Macomb came in ($200 a week!), I took it.
From the jump, I was not particularly happy there. Some of it was the process of adjustment—I do not handle change well, and there’s no change bigger than the one that comes when you leave the nest, which is what The Mrs. and I had done, leaving behind familiar Dubuque. But some of it was legit. There wasn’t enough off-air work—production, promotions, whatever the hell—to keep six full-time jocks busy, and as a result, I spent a lot of time hiding out in the programming office reading the newspapers and trying to look busy. The music format was one of those small-town, all-things-to-all-people trainwrecks that had us playing country by day and Top 40 with album cuts at night. The office was full of smokers, and I’d come home every night reeking. After four years part-time and full-time at KDTH, which was fabulously well equipped and efficiently run, I felt as though I had taken a step backward with this new job. And given the size of my ego at the age of 23, that I was too good for it.
That, of course, was probably not true. A few years ago, I found an old aircheck that must have been from my first week down there. It was terrible. I was terrible. And probably exactly where I should have been.
September 25, 1966, is a Sunday. A Minnesota man is being held for questioning in the murder of Valerie Percy, the 21-year-old daughter of U.S. Senator Charles Percy of Illinois earlier this month. (47 years later, the case will remain unsolved.) People from Virginia to Wisconsin are still abuzz over the unexplained bright lights seen in the sky early yesterday morning. NASA says it ejected chemicals into the atmosphere as part of a missile test, and the lights must have had something to do with that. In the Chicago suburb of Alsip, the village holds an open house to show off the new garage built to house its municipal vehicles. Newspapers around the country carry the first ad for the Chevrolet Camaro, a brand-new model for 1967, which will go on sale on Thursday.
Ken Holtzman of the Chicago Cubs takes a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Wrigley Field against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Holtzman will lose the no-hitter and the shutout but win the game 2-1. The losing pitcher is Sandy Koufax, who also pitches a complete game. The game takes one hour and 50 minutes to play. The Dodgers will clinch the National League pennant this week; the Cubs will finish dead last with 103 losses; after the Dodgers lose the World Series, Koufax will retire. The American League cellar-dwellers, the New York Yankees, finish their home schedule with a 3-0 win over the Red Sox in front of a crowd of about 16,000; the previous Thursday, attendance for a game against the White Sox was announced as 413. Jim Stevens, who played two games for the Washington Senators in 1914, dies in Baltimore at age 77, and Army PFC Gary Dopp of Almond, Wisconsin, is killed in Vietnam. The Green Bay Packers win their third game of the season, beating the Los Angeles Rams 24-13.
On TV tonight, ABC paid a record $2 million to Columbia Pictures for the right to show the 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai, and almost 28.5 million homes tune in. It’s the highest rated movie in TV history. NBC has Bonanza and The Andy Williams Show, with special guests Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. On CBS, Ed Sullivan welcomes the Supremes and Ethel Merman. In Wisconsin, a newly minted first-grader is watching The Ed Sullivan Show on the new color TV at his grandparents’ house when he is called to the telephone—a very rare occurrence. It’s his father, who tells him that his new baby brother was born today.
At the Empire Theater in Liverpool, the Rolling Stones are on their biggest tour of Britain to date, headlining with the Yardbirds, and Ike and Tina Turner. Because it’s a Sunday, the bands play two performances. The Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Muddy Waters wrap up a three-day stand at the Fillmore in San Francisco with an afternoon show. The Kinks play Vienna, Austria. Gordon Lightfoot wraps up a three-night stand at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a venue that seats 150 people. At WLS in Chicago, the top 3 songs on the latest Silver Dollar survey are unchanged from the previous week: “Cherish” by the Association, “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan, and “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes (which they perform on The Ed Sullivan Show tonight). New in the top 10 is “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys; the biggest movers are “Mr. Dieingly Sad” by the Critters and “Cherry Cherry” by Neil Diamond. Among the new songs on the survey this week: “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops and “Poor Side of Town” by Johnny Rivers.
Perspective From the Present: My four-year-old brother and I were rousted in the wee hours of what was probably Saturday morning to go along when Dad took Mom to the hospital. He parked the car at curbside and took her in, leaving us in the back seat by ourselves. (Different times, they were.) Sleepily, my brother asked me, “What’s going on?” “Mom’s gonna have a baby,” I told him. I remember being quite proud to have a baby brother. He’s still my baby brother today, and although he’s not nearly as cute as he used to be, his own kids have made up for it.
And sweet fancy Moses, the music in September 1966. Unbelievable.
August 31, 1970, is a Monday. A nationwide manhunt continues for those suspected in the bombing of Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin one week ago. A researcher was killed in the blast. Police in Philadelphia launch a preemptive strike on the Black Panthers, fearing violence at a Panther-sponsored “revolutionary constitutional convention” set for the coming weekend. The cover story on the latest Time magazine is “The Politics of Sex,” with a painting of “Kate Millett of Women’s Lib.” Dallas Cowboys running back Les Shy is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The cover story says, “Coach Tom Landry doesn’t deny his club’s tendency to choke when a title is at stake.” The Cowboys have lost critical season-ending games in each of the last four seasons. On TV tonight, all three networks present nothing but repeats. On CBS, there’s Gunsmoke, The Lucy Show (with guest star John Wayne), Mayberry RFD, The Doris Day Show, and The Wild Wild West. NBC and ABC present reruns of theatrical movies following episodes of My World and Welcome to It and It Takes a Thief respectively. Future pop star Debbie Gibson and future Christmas Story actor Zack Ward are born. Abraham Zapruder, who took the famous film of the Kennedy assassination, died yesterday.
The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival concludes early this morning in the UK. In the wee hours, after Jimi Hendrix plays his set, some among the crowd of 600,000 begin to riot. Leonard Cohen is asked to take the stage to calm the crowd, and he does. Richie Havens closes the show at dawn. That night, Hendrix moves on to Stockholm. Pink Floyd plays Kent, England. Led Zeppelin plays Milwaukee, a show that had been postponed days earlier after the death of John Paul Jones’ father. The local newspaper will say that Robert Plant “looks like an Appalachian jug band reject,” but will also praise his talent. At Criteria Studios in Miami, Derek and the Dominoes continue work on the album that will be titled Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Today they lay down tracks for “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush is released.
At KDWB in Minneapolis, Edwin Starr’s “War” takes the #1 spot away from “Make it With You” by Bread, which falls to #2. There are two new records in the Top 10: “Looking Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (at #7, up from #14, the biggest upward move of the week) and “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond (at #10, up from #15). A couple of other songs take five-spot jumps: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross (to #19 from #24) and “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad (#29 from #34).
Three hundred-and-some highway miles from the Twin Cities, in Monroe, Wisconsin, school has started again. A newly-minted fifth-grader is about to make a discovery that will change his life, but on this day, that discovery has not yet happened. Of more immediate interest on this day is his new teacher. She has a son the same age as he is. He doesn’t know that, and the two boys haven’t met. But they will, and for four years of high school, thanks to their close proximity in the alphabet, they will share a locker. And although they won’t see much of one another 43 years from now, they’ll still be friends.
July 5, 1975, is a Saturday. Arthur Ashe upsets Jimmy Connors to become the first black Wimbledon champion. President Ford begins the day at Camp David, where he meets with Indonesian president Suharto. Ford later returns to Washington, where he attends his daughter Susan’s 18th birthday party for eight minutes, although he later stops by the small dinner party (nine guests) being held in her honor at the White House. Future pro hockey player Chris Gratton is born; former major league pitcher Joe Kiefer, who appeared in 16 games for the White Sox and Red Sox during three scattered seasons in the 1920s, dies. The Cape Verde Islands are granted independence from Portugal. In Madison, Wisconsin, McFarland Realty Company invites you to an open house at 5702 Bartlett Lane, four bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, finished basement, fenced yard, asking price $39,600. Saturday night diners have a wide variety of options, from a seven-ounce tenderloin for $2.39 at the Nitty Gritty to an eight-ounce lobster tail at Murphy’s for $5.95. Movies playing in town include Jaws, The Wind and the Lion, French Connection 2, and Russ Meyer’s Super Vixens.
Tony Orlando and Dawn are on the cover of TV Guide. An inside spread gives viewers a first look at the new series Space: 1999, set to premiere in the fall. NBC repeats an episode of The Midnight Special, where host Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons welcome Freddy Fender, Orleans, and the Hollies. Bob Marley plays San Francisco. Pink Floyd plays Knebworth, England; the show will eventually be bootlegged as Trouble in Knebworth. Also playing at Knebworth today: Captain Beefheart, the Steve Miller Band, and Roy Harper (who sings “Have a Cigar” with Pink Floyd). The Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa hosts Florida Jam, starring ZZ Top, Johnny Winter, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, War, KISS, Pure Prairie League, and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Promoters have hired female karate and judo experts as a security team; tickets are $12 at the gate. In Madison, tickets are on sale for next Tuesday’s concert at the Dane County Coliseum starring Eric Clapton and Santana: $6 in advance, $7 day of the show.
At WLS in Chicago, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille zooms from #7 to #1, knocking last week’s #1, “Wildfire” by Michael Murphey, to #2. Making big moves into the Top 10 are “The Hustle” by Van McCoy and “Listen to What the Man Said” by Wings. The top three albums are unchanged from the previous week: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John, Chicago VIII, and BTO’s Four Wheel Drive.
Perspective From the Present: Memories of this summer always include my favorite cousin, a year younger than me. Every summer we’d spend a few days in Madison with him and he’d spend a few days on the farm with us. During my visit in the summer of 1975, we went to the movies a lot. It must have been sometime around July 5 that we saw Jaws at the Esquire Theater—I remember standing in line outside to get in. We must also have seen Tommy during the same week. I was terribly disappointed by it, but he loved how trippy and weird it was. And that was the kind of thing that would have obsessed him by then. I don’t know if he was actually using drugs yet—he was 14 and I never saw him do it—but he was fascinated by the drug culture, and he eventually did partake. His chemical of choice would become alcohol.
After one last summer of reciprocal visits in 1976, we would see each other only on holidays at Grandma’s house, and eventually he stopped showing up for those. I would see him only a handful of times in the intervening years, but I heard stories about his troubles. The last time I saw him was when Grandma died in 1994, and he was in fairly terrible shape that day. In the spring of the next year, we got the call that he had died, at age 34.
April 5, 1983, is a Tuesday. Headlines on the morning papers include the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Challenger, launched yesterday on the sixth mission of the shuttle program; the death of actress Gloria Swanson at age 84; and the upset win by North Carolina State over Houston in the finals of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Today, President Reagan vetoes the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Claims Settlement Act, extends the term of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving through the end of the year, and appoints Allen Davis ambassador to Uganda. Chattanooga, Tennessee, sets an all-time record with 3.36 inches of rain, while El Paso, Texas, sets an snowfall record for a single day in April with 6.5 inches. The Board of Commissioners of Orange County, North Carolina, adopts an ordinance prohibiting the keeping of wild animals. The ordinance exempts the teaching and research facilities at the University of North Carolina.
Today is the second day of the new major-league baseball season with nine games scheduled. After 5 1/2 seasons in Cincinnati, pitcher Tom Seaver returns to the New York Mets and outduels Steve Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies 2-0. John Candelaria of the Pittsburgh Pirates strikes out 10 St. Louis Cardinals in a 7-1 win; it will be the most by any Pirates pitcher on Opening Day until 2013. The defending American League champion Milwaukee Brewers lose to California 3-2; the Chicago Cubs and Montreal Expos are postponed by bad weather in Chicago; they will open tomorrow. Shows on NBC tonight include The A Team, Remington Steele, and St. Elsewhere. CBS shows the TV movie The Return of the Man from UNCLE. On ABC, it’s Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, and Ryan’s Four, a medical-show pilot starring Tom Skerritt, Lisa Eilbacher, and Tim Daly. It won’t become a regular series.
Danny Rapp, lead singer of Danny & the Juniors, commits suicide in Arizona. Future pro football player Will Buchanon and future pro golfer Brendan Steele are born. Huey Lewis and the News play Austin, Texas, R.E.M. plays Nashville, and the Beach Boys play Halifax, Nova Scotia. Rush plays Buffalo and Prince plays Denver. On the current Cash Box chart, the top five are largely unchanged from the previous week. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson is #1 for the fourth week in a row; “You Are” by Lionel Richie and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Culture Club swap #2 and #3 spots; “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran and “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders round out the top 5. There’s one new entry in the Top 10: “Jeopardy” by the Greg Kihn Band. The biggest move within the top 40 is made by Bob Seger’s “Even Now,” moving from #38 to #28; “I Won’t Hold You Back” by Toto is up from #40 to #32, and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” moves from #22 to #15. The hottest record on the entire chart is David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance, reaching #34 in its second week on.
In a small one-bedroom apartment in Dubuque, Iowa, a calendar hangs on the kitchen wall. Today, there’s a note: “Opening Day: baseball.” On the upcoming Saturday, April 9, there’s another: “Opening Day: marriage.” The couple sharing the apartment differs on how funny the notes are: the young man thinks they’re hilarious, but his intended bride is less amused by them. Thirty years hence, she will continue to put up with him, with everything that’s funny and everything that isn’t, and he will consider himself very fortunate indeed.