I knew Walter Cronkite was going to die soon. Before the rash of celebrity deaths (McMahon, Fawcett, et al.), it was reported that he was gravely ill. And yet his pasing yesterday still saddens me.
For some reason, I always knew his birthday, November 4. I always how he felt when his 63rd birthday was the taking of the hostages in Iran.
I was aware of his reporting during World War II. But my first recollection was watching him on a history program called The Twentieth Century, which was on from the time I was four to the time I was eleven; my, I was a geeky kid. I was an avid news watcher, pretty much alternating between Cronkite on CBS and Huntley-Brinkley on NBC, until Walter eventually won out.
I have some specific recollections. While I didn’t see the now-famous announcement of JFK’s death in real time – I was at school – I’ve seen the footage so often that I feel that I did. I was watching CBS News for wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath (Oswald being shot, the JFK funeral).
When Cronkite went to Viet Nam in early 1968, then came back and declared in an editorial on February 27 that the war “unwinable, LBJ knew he was sunk and declared his decision not to run for re-election a little more than a month later. It, along with Martin Luther King’s opposition to the war, also had a profound effect on my own view of the conflict, which, when I was 14, was vaguely, “It’s an American war and I’m an American”; by the time I was 15, this changed to “What ARE we fighting for?” Speaking of King, it was from Cronkite that I heard the awful news of April 4, 1968.
Cronkite was a great cheerleader for space exploration. I must admit not being totally sold on it. But his enthusiasm for it, which won him NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award three years ago, was so infectious that I was almost as excited as he with each new launch.
He was a hoot playing himself on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in February 1974.
After he retired as anchor in 1981, I always made a point of watching him in documentaries. Until recently, he was also host of the Kennedy Center Honors.
In this rash of celebrity deaths, I heard a lot about how people should feel a certain way because they didn’t “know” them personally. (Did we “know” JFK or King? Yet we mourned.) When you’ve let someone into your home through television (or music or whatever), you do feel that you’ve “known” them. Having let Walter Cronkite into my home for almost my entire life, now that I think of it, and in ways of great impact, I mourn his loss.
I’m working on a theory, not yet totally formulated, that goes like this:
John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the United States, nibbled around the edges in dealing with the civil rights of black people. His heart I believe was always in the right place, but he needed to be pushed by the civil rights community, notably Martin Luther King Jr, culminating in the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, to really get on board.
Barack H. Obama, the first black President of the United States, has nibbled around the edges in dealing with the civil rights of gay people. His heart I believe was always in the right place, but he needs to be pushed by the civil rights community, notably ????, fulfilling the promise of his Democratic nomination acceptance speech on August 28, 2008, to really get on board.
Both as a civil rights supporter and as a data person, I was pleased that the Obama Administration is “determining the best way to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are accurately counted” in the 2010 census. “The Administration had directed the Census Bureau to explore ways to tabulate responses to the census relationship question, to produce data showing responses from married couples of the same sex.” One does not need to “believe in” same-sex marriage to want a reporting of what is actually taking place.
As I pondered all of this, I came across a piece by Robert Reich called, What can I do to help Obama? The crux of the issue is in the subtitle: “The public has to force him to do the right thing.” Reiterating, we need to bug him AND Congress to, as the title of the best Spike Lee movie, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Do the Right Thing. *** As I’ve mentioned, I only recently discovered that an old friend of mine moved to Canada because same-sex unions were untenable in the U.S. and her now spouse already lived there. This bugs me tremendously. Still, since yesterday was Canada Day, props to the U.S.’s neighbors to the north. *** I came across an interesting survey: Spiritual Profile of Homosexual Adults Provides Surprising Insights. “People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts…The data indicate that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians…It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles – but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles.” As someone noted, some of their margins of error are ENORMOUS. And identifying sexuality on a phone survey, when some people are terrified of answering Census questions about when they go to work, raises an eyebrow. Still, it is is an interesting repudiation of a stereotype, which is always good. *** Here’s a peculiar story briefly referenced in my local paper: Could gay marriage reduce HIV/AIDS? A study by two Emory University economists suggests the answer is yes. They “calculated that a rise in tolerance from the 1970s to the 1990s reduced HIV cases by one per 100,000 people, and that laws against same-sex marriage boosted cases by 4 per 100,000.” Not sure I buy the entire premise of their study, but I accept this sentence: “Intolerance is deadly.”
Today is the anniversary of the death of John Lennon. I realize that, while I always mark his birth (October 9, 1940), I don’t always note his death (December 8, 1980), not just because the death was so tragic and senseless, but because I’d been operating on the assumption that it was somehow disrespectful to focus on death. One should focus on life! Though I do remember calling my friend since kindergarten Karen at 2 a.m. that night Also working at FantaCo the Sunday after, we closed the store for ten minutes in the middle of the afternoon for a time of silence, with some of the customers still inside (at their request).
Then I pondered: am I’m being unrealistic? Public figures, especially, come into one’s life generally after one is born. I remember November 22, 1963 but do I even KNOW John F. Kennedy’s birthday. Well, yes, it’s May 29, 1917, but only because I once blogged about it. (Aren’t blogs educational?)
Likewise, I’m convinced that the push for a Martin Luther King holiday was born, in part, by people who didn’t want April 4, 1968 to be his legacy but January 15, 1929, a/k/a the third Monday in January.
So, I suppose, instead of overthinking this, I should, in the words of one of Mr. Lennon’s colleagues, “let it be.”
THE Lennon song I think about today The nice video LINK The not-so-nice video LINK.
Odetta died last week. I have a grand double album of her music on something you kids may not recall, vinyl. This was one of my father’s true musical heroes, and her passing, in some way, makes his passing eight years ago, more real. LINK
Forry Ackerman, who died a few days ago, was a huge part of my life at FantaCo, for we sold oodles of copies of the magazine he founded, Famous Monsters of Filmland. The earlier issues were classics, but the latter ones, most of which came out after he’d left the publication, were often reprints of previously published material.
It was so significant a publication to publisher Tom Skulan that three years after I left, FantaCo published the Famous Monsters Chronicles. Though a book rather than a magazine, Tom always considered it the last of the Chronicles series that started with the X-Men Chronicles a decade earlier. It’s out of print and apparently in demand based on the Mile High price listing.
I went to see the AIDS quilt last Wednesday. Not so incidentally, the program was cut from five days to four because of budget cuts. For the last three years, I had requested that the section featuring my old friend Vito Mastrogiovanni come to Albany. This year, it made it. There it was, a much more simple design than some of the others. There it was. Seeing it, I thought I’d get emotional, but I did not. There it is. Until I started talking to one of the guides, a task I had done in previous years, talking about how we were in high school together, how we tried to end the Viet Nam war together, how we partied together. There it is. And then I did get just a little verklempt. There it is – Vito Mastrogiovanni 1951-1991. May 15, 1991, same good friend Karen, who was his best friend, noted when I called her that evening.
This is, as most Americans of a certain age – what a quaint phrase – the 45th anniversary of the assassination of the 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I remember it well, I think. Or, as I have surmised in the past, I may have shared the story with acquaintances so often that now I recall the retelling rather than the actual event. No matter. The facts were these: I was in my fifth grade class at Daniel S. Dickinson school in Binghamton, NY when our teacher, Miss (Marie) Oberlik was called into the hall by someone. She came back into the class to announce that the President had been killed. then she left. Immediately our 10-year old minds were reeling. What happened? And what does this mean for the country. I’m fairly sure that we were not versed in the rulkes of Presidential succession and I doubt that I even knew who Lyndon Johnson was. Suddenly, Miss Oberlik returns to the class screaming, “Everyone else in the school is being quiet in respect fior the President!” Well, yeah, but I bet their teachers didn’t drop a bombshell on them and then LEAVE.
BTW, I also saw Lee Harvey Oswald get shot on live TV that weekend.
My questions, which I request that you answer: 1. Who was the first tragedy (death or other traumatic event) you know that was NOT personally involving your sphere of family and friends. For me it was JFK’s death; for my wife, who is younger than I am, it was Richard Nixon’s resignation, probabl;y for the reason I felt about JFK – what now? (Wheras I was rather pleased by Nixon’s departure.)
2. Who was the first person you knew personally to die? For me, it was all in one short stretch of my great-grandfather (my paternal grandmother’s father), my paternal grandmother, and my great aunt (my maternal grandmother’s sister). They may have been a year or two apart, but they all feel now as though it were the same gloomy stretch. ROG
I first realized that I didn’t much like Robert F. Kennedy when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate from the state of New York in 1964. There were three overriding factors: 1. I had heard that the FBI was bugging Martin Luther King, Jr., and I felt that as U.S. Attorney General, he was responsible. 2. We had a perfectly good moderate Republican senator in Kenneth Keating, in the Jacob Javits tradition. I know some of you are too young to remember moderate Republicans. They existed. Really. 3. I had read a syndicated column in the morning newspaper in Binghamton, the Sun-Bulletin, where William F. Buckley compared RFK to a “carpetbagger”. Of course, his own brother, James, would move into New York, to run for and win a Senate seat in 1970; the tradition continued with Hillary Clinton in 2000.
BTW, I was 11 at the time. I was a political junkie, even then.
As it turned out, Bobby Kennedy won the Senate seat. Satirist Tom Lehrer quipped that Massachusetts then had three senators. Ken Keating ended up on the state Court of Appeals, which, despite its name, is New York’s highest court. (Whereas the Supreme Court is a trial court; go figure.) He then served as a US Ambassador, first to India, then to Israel.
Move to 1968. Eugene McCarthy runs against an incumbent President and gets 42% of the vote versus 49% for LBJ in the New Hampshire primary on March 12. It’s only then that Bobby Kennedy gets into the race. Commentators at the time declared that Kennedy used McCarthy as a “stalking horse” against Johnson, and I tended to agree. LBJ’s declaration that he would not run came at the end of March. This was followed on April 4 by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which ultimately had a profoundly moderating effect on my world view.
I woke up the morning of June 5 to see the results of the California primary, only to hear the news of RFK’s shooting in Los Angeles; he died the next day. I knew many people who were deeply affected by his loss. I too was at a loss, though. While I certainly didn’t wish him ill, I wasn’t having the same sensation, and I was feeling pretty guilty about it. Yet, as I watched the days of coverage, seeing people lined the railroad tracks as the train carrying his body went by, somehow I started to emphasize with what those folks felt.
A few years later, Tom Clay, a radio disc jockey, born in Binghamton, but by then working out of Los Angeles’ KGBS, put together this very odd song, melding the Bacharach-David song “What the World Needs Now” with the Dion hit “Abraham, Martin and John.” I’ve written about this record before, even putting it on as the last song on a mixed CD. The song starts off rather cloyingly, with Clay asking children about prejudice and segregation, and them having no idea, then segues into soldiers preparing for the Viet Nam war. Next, reports of JFK’s and MLK’s death, with this comment by Bobby Kennedy about the latter: “No one can be certain who next will suffer, from some senseless act of bloodshed.”
Then the record uses what I believe to be the audio tape of reporter Andrew West of KRKD, a Mutual Broadcasting System radio affiliate in Los Angeles, who also provided a blow-by-blow account of the struggle with the shooter Sirhan Sirhan in the hotel kitchen pantry, shouting at Olympian Rafer Johnson to “Get the gun, Rafer, get the gun!” and telling others to “get a hold of his thumb and break it, if you have to! Get his thumb! We don’t want another Oswald!” (Not so incidentally, I was watching the television 4 1/2 years earlier when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot.)
The next thing heard is Senator Edward Kennedy, eulogizing Bobby: “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” Ted Kennedy’s voice cracks during that section, and my own pain, largely missing at the time, except as a supporter of others who mourned, came into fruition; it gets to me every time I hear it. The remaining Kennedy brother concluded his eulogy, by quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?'”
In retrospect, I think that Bobby Kennedy was transforming from a cool, calculating politician to a more truly compassionate man, and I mourn his death now far more than I did at the time.