Impresario

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“He was clearly in the early stages of what his colleagues referred to as Alzheimer’s, although it was never diagnosed as such. Whatever it was, it didn’t prevent him from functioning effectively much of the time, yet by this point…”

–Around 1969, Ed Sullivan began having “senior moments.”

The Book of the Week is “Impresario, The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan” by James Maguire, published in 2006.

Born in 1901 in East Harlem, Ed Sullivan grew up in the New York metropolitan area. He had a burning desire to become famous and rich. Therefore, beginning in his teen years, he met as many people as he could, and hung out at all the city’s hippest social clubs (celebrity hangouts) that featured alcohol and performances.

In 1948, he finally got to host his own show on TV, after paying his dues failing at radio shows and succeeding at writing a newspaper gossip column. Even so, he got lots of hate mail. His CBS-TV show, Toast of the Town was partially sponsored by Lincoln Mercury (car) dealers in Southern states. They were livid that he refused to stop shaking hands with and hugging black performers. Sullivan was racially egalitarian, but politically, rabidly anti-Communist.

With the 1955-1956 season, the show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show— as the host had achieved his goals of wealth and stardom; media ratings, really. He began talks with Warner Bros. to make a movie of his life. In preparing the script for that endeavor, unsurprisingly, the clashing of egos resulted in back-and-forth shenanigans; summarized thusly: “When Jack Warner realized that Sullivan had completely thrown out Wallace’s second version… hearing of Sullivan’s plans for still more rewriting… He cancelled the film.” That was eight months after signing the contract.

In summer 1967, the CBS Standards and Practices department was strict about performers’ not saying specific words that smacked of sex or drugs. The band The Doors got away with “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” in its song “Light My Fire” because the show was live, and the lead singer disobeyed the censors.

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about: how The Ed Sullivan Show was able to stay wildly popular and attain high ratings for decades despite its host’s lack of charisma; (Hint: It changed with the times in featuring guests who entertained audiences of all ages, until advertisers’ demands changed); the people who helped make it so; and the secrets of Sullivan’s success.

Character & Characters / Retail Gangster

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The first Book of the Week is “Character & Characters, the Spirit of Alaska Airlines” by Robert J. Serling, published in 2008.

Alaska Airlines (AKA) came into existence in the mid-1940’s with the buyout of Star Air Service. It faced stiff competition from Northwest Airlines, and Pan American– which was already monster-sized from: its contract with the federal government to deliver the U.S. mails, and exchanging many political favors.

Mostly, AKA transported passengers between the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. In early 1949, it completed a dangerous mission, flying about 140 Jews from Yemen to the airport in Tel Aviv, while an Arab bomb could have hit the plane anytime.

In the 1950’s, top executive Charlie Willis had such passion for and loyalty and dedication to AKA, that he borrowed $100,000 using his personal house as collateral, in order to restore the pilot-pension-fund shortfall, to keep his employer from going out of business. Beginning at the dawn of the 1960’s, he enabled his second-in-command-executive to engage in deficit spending. They broke the bank to do promotional gimmicks.

In the back of its model CONVAIR 880, AKA installed a stand-up beer bar, even though it replaced eight passenger seats. AKA generated goodwill by throwing parties it couldn’t afford for industry players, such as its own employees and trade associations. In the late 1960’s, it bought hotels and a ski resort. AKA was one of the very first airlines to provide in-flight movies and music. So it hovered near bankruptcy, repeatedly unable to meet its employee payroll. For years.

Commercial airlines, initially transporting wealthy passengers, employed stewardesses in sexy uniforms– with no or minimal training, and offered alcoholic beverages included with the airfare. With evolution came the organization of labor– of pilots, flight crews and ground crews. Alaska’s bush pilots who had gotten in on aviation’s ground floor, had become disenchanted with the changing times. Bob Ellis sold his tiny airline in Alaska because he was no longer having fun, was emotionally exhausted from the government’s imposition of regulations, and didn’t understand the need for union labor. He had treated his employees well.

The Civil Aeronautics Board, one of the government’s regulatory bodies, was soon to stop subsidizing the (small, financially struggling) regional airlines (including AKA) in Alaska. The consolidation of the industry in the 1960’s meant no more floatplanes, biplanes, and single-engine monoplanes. These were replaced with DC-3’s and other faster, technologically superior aircraft.

Competing airlines were growing in size, complexity, and needed economies-of-scale and scope. Bosses couldn’t afford to pay for their employees’ expensive personal problems as though they were in a small business anymore. There was backlash by the workers against this vanishing era. They no longer felt like a family.

In summer 1970, AKA’s Willis (rumored to be an alcoholic) was able to get a new air route: to the U.S.S.R. Ironically, AKA had to lease a Pan Am 707 in order to do it. Willis became a drinking buddy to his Aeroflot counterparts. The passengers, who flew to Siberia, consisted mostly of Native Americans from Alaska visiting family, missionaries, and businessmen. They were treated to flatware made of gold, caviar in their Caesar salads, wine, and Russian samovars. The flight attendants dressed in Cossacks’ attire, with bear fur hats. Unsurprisingly, the flights proved insufficiently profitable over the course of three years.

AKA suffered less disastrous financial losses when the oil industry in Alaska kicked into high gear, in the late 1960’s. Oil-pipeline construction around Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope area became all the rage. From the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the airline’s Hercules’ C-130 planes transferred cargo, including hazardous materials that could accidentally cause a lot of wrongful deaths and property damage: 25,000 pounds of dynamite, heating and fuel oil and big, heavy drilling rigs for ground vehicles, and heaters.

In the early 1970’s, many pipeline workers liked hunting, but they got drunk before they flew home. AKA allowed rifles on their planes, so they hired the equivalent of bouncers who served as ground-crew screeners, and had a locked-up special gun-rack section in the front of the plane.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Alaska Airlines’ role in the development of aviation, people, power struggles, technologies, and the tenor of its times up until the book’s writing.

The second Book of the Week is “Retail Gangster, the Insane, Real-Life Story of CRAZY EDDIE” by Gary Weiss, published in 2020.

Currently fading from Americans’ memory, is “Crazy Eddie.” Launched in the mid-1970’s, it was a retail chain of electronics stores in the northeastern United States. The company became known for a spokesman who flooded all kinds of advertising media with emotionally-charged screaming, that Crazy Eddie’s prices were insane. The repetitive repetition of this singular message worked. Eddie projected an image of success that fed on itself.

However, from the start, the store’s top executive– Eddie Antar– committed financial crimes. He had selfish, greedy intent, unlike the aforementioned Alaska Airlines executives, who were merely big spenders out of unbridled optimism and honest ineptitude.

Starting in 1984 when the company sold shares to the public, Eddie and his key employees (mostly his relatives) engaged in securities fraud. They had ongoing, frantic bursts of activity in which they: “…stuffed cash in the ceiling, stole store sales-taxes, [plus, they falsified inventory records] and defrauded insurance companies without a second thought. They did not expect to be caught, and if the Antars had any doubt on that score, they had only to look to City Hall for inspiration.” New York City’s government had committed exactly the same kinds of accounting fraud for years and years, beginning in the 1960’s. As the behavioral-economics cliche goes, “The fish rots from the head down.”

By 1987, Crazy Eddie had 2,250 workers in 32 locations from Philadelphia to New England. Read the book to learn a slew of details on the fates of Eddie, his families, and his businesses.

The Preacher and the Presidents

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The Book of the Week is “The Preacher and the Presidents, Billy Graham in the White House” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, published in 2007.

Billy Graham was one of the most famous Christian preachers in the world from the middle of the twentieth century, into the single-digit 2000’s. He was a religious version of Rush Limbaugh. Although he was raised as a Presbyterian, in 1939 he earned his Baptist-minister certificate from the Florida Bible Institute. By 1949, he had become president of a Bible College, and he had founded a radio station. He spouted propaganda on various political issues through the years, but claimed he was nonpartisan, and claimed he wasn’t aware of the implications of his speechifying.

Graham got friendly with as many powerful, influential people as he possibly could, including American presidents from Truman through Dubya. He rubbed shoulders with publishing magnates Henry Luce and William Randolph Hearst. His philosophy was, believe the Bible or leave the ministry. He was a true, literal believer. Graham told worshipers in Los Angeles that the Soviets were planning to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons because they were sinners. Yet, he preached love rather than fire and brimstone.

In January 1952, Graham held a religious rally– er, uh, revival in Washington, D.C. He invited president Truman, who didn’t like him because he was a grand-stander. About eleven thousand people attended. “To keep his finances transparent, he [Graham] insisted that crusade accounts be audited and published in the local papers when the crusade was finished.” (Apparently, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker didn’t get that memo with regard to their ministry.)

Graham continued to identify himself as a staunch desegregationist. He delivered sermons to that effect in president Eisenhower’s second term, after racial incidents. A common situation cropped up when Graham courageously took a stand on controversial issues. People on each extreme side of the political spectrum complained he was doing too much for their opponents, or not enough for them.

But Graham was still ever-popular through the 1950’s. In 1957, about two million people attended his 97-day crusade (which was publicized via prayer chains in fifty different countries, leaflets, mailings and bumper stickers) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He strove for quality over quantity in holding only a few crusades a year, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was constantly on the move for the Civil Rights Movement, spreading himself and his resources too thinly.

Graham prayed at president-elect Nixon’s 1969 inauguration. A few days later, he spoke at the National Prayer breakfast, and presided over a church service at the White House; all these events jammed into a few days to provide efficiency for Secret-Service security. “Whatever else they were, the [religious] services were a great opportunity for arm-twisting, fund-raising, loyalty-testing. [both for Nixon and Graham].”

Also in early 1969, the government was drafting young men working full-time for (college) Campus Crusade for Christ (Graham’s organization) to fight in Vietnam. Graham pulled strings so they would be treated like ordained ministers and evade conscription. However, in late April 1970, Nixon said that it was up to the United States to save the world, be its police officer, lest free nations were threatened with dictatorship and anarchy. Never mind that America had been an aggressor for two decades in so many little global wars, replacing one dictator with another, and had been bombing Cambodia for the year prior(!)

Also in 1970, the president held a July 4th event called Honor America Day in Washington, D.C., to help ordinary Americans calm down. It featured interfaith speakers and celebrity singers, and attendees from all walks of life. Nixon himself, however, didn’t personally attend. He was at his San Clemente property. Later, the media revealed that the event had been a nepotistic donor-fest presented by J.W. Marriott and Nixon’s brother, Donald. Once again, there is nothing new under the sun.

A dress rehearsal for the Patriot Act was proposed in the summer of 1970. It was called the Huston plan. It would have legalized a bonanza of spying in America, like there is currently. Through that plan, Nixon wanted to get rid of influential antiwar troublemakers, but FBI head J. Edgar Hoover opposed it. Even so, as is well known, the Nixon administration committed countless evil acts in order to “… stop leaks, track down traitors, punish enemies, and ensure domestic tranquility.”

In mid-October, 1971, Charlotte, NC enjoyed a holiday named “Billy Graham Day” with a parade and school and government closures. Nixon and Graham rode together in the motorcade. The Secret Service barred anyone who appeared to be a demonstrator, from entering the Coliseum — the venue of a political rally– er, uh, a speaking event. In early 1972, the White House perceived that Jews dominated the American media, so they attacked certain of its members.

As is well known, in the past century, separation of Church and State has waxed and waned in this country. But the main reason for the separation is that civil law must trump religious law, as this nation’s diverse people have diverse religious beliefs. Graham always used the technique of “whataboutism” whenever people pointed out Nixon’s high crimes and misdemeanors, using the cliched excuse: He who is without sin, cast the first stone.

In the mid-1980’s, for the 1988 presidential race for George H.W. Bush, an evangelical political-consultant prepared a 57-page briefing book for wooing devout Christian voters– identifying their demographics, denominations, leadership and beliefs; providing a glossary (with such entries as, “born again”) and recounting how Reagan had wooed them.

Read the book to learn numerous other factoids on Graham’s life, career and political impact.

John Reed: Witness to Revolution

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The Book of the Week is “John Reed: Witness to Revolution, A Biography” by Tamara Hovey, published in 1975.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked a detailed list of Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography), Reed was born in October 1887 in Portland, Oregon. The beneficiary of white male privilege, he graduated from Harvard, then bummed around Europe, and wrote stories and articles that were published in the magazines of the day; among them: American, Saturday Evening Post, Century, Smart Set, Colliers, and Trend. But he rebelled against the bourgeois values of his social class. The Masses did not pay its contributing writers, but featured short stories that realistically portrayed the struggling masses in America of the 1910’s. Many publications generously compensated their contributing writers, so Reed was able to scratch out a living.

Reed was given a press pass through the years by different publications to cover a few major historical events. In 1913, he wrote human-interest stories through immigrant workers’ eyes after witnessing violent labor trouble at the silk factory in Paterson, New Jersey.

Reed rubbed shoulders with the famous social activists of his generation. Showing their white-savior-complex– in June 1913, he, along with the independently wealthy Mabel Dodge (who owned a stately home on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan) and Robert Edmond Jones, staged a pageant whose performers consisted of downtrodden laborers at the old Madison Square Garden. The three served as planner and director, funder and arranger, and set designer, respectively. Their goal was to improve working conditions for the poor. After the pageant, Reed, Dodge and Jones sailed to Europe.

Reed spent four days in New Jersey’s Passaic County jail (whose conditions were very disgusting) in order to write articles that publicized the plight of striking workers who were denied due process. He was unlike journalists at most newspapers, who were puppets of: management (rather than labor), government officials, and law enforcement. Reed physically climbed into the trenches with German soldiers during WWI to get their stories. He then turned into a pacifist.

Read the book to learn what transpired when Reed developed a reputation as a radical (hint: he acquired a press credential from the American Socialist press in August 1917 in order to cover the Russian Revolution).

American Mirror – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “American Mirror, The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell” by Deborah Solomon, published in 2013.

Born in February 1894 in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, Rockwell was an illustrator known for his engaging scenes of ordinary Americans in a kind, lighthearted, innocent time.

The attitude of the United States was forced to change with WWII. FDR speechified about Four Freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear. In 1943, Rockwell was tasked with creating images on posters (to promote the sale of War Bonds) that portrayed the freedoms; during which, he helped shape the image of “Rosie the Riveter.” In this way, Rockwell developed a reputation as a patriotic artist who reinforced America’s values, that contrasted with the values of America’s enemies.

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Rockwell’s life and career.

ENDNOTE: The 2024 presidential candidates should be asked to explain what they will do to preserve the above Four Freedoms in these modern times. Ironically, freedom of speech is what allows propagandists to whip the public into a frenzy of fear (!)

The freedom from fear directly stems from the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights that, arguably, the U.S. government violates daily, in this electronic age. President George W. Bush pushed for decriminalizing spying on American citizens via Congressional approval of the Patriot Act– a set of federal statutes separate from those contained in the U.S. Constitution. In the past forty years, the following presidents have been accused of a significant number of crimes in the following major categories:

  • war-related crimes: Reagan, H.W. Bush, G.W. Bush;
  • treason-related crimes: Reagan, G.W. Bush, Trump, Biden;
  • financial-related crimes: H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump, Biden;
  • sex-related crimes: Clinton, Trump, Biden

It shouldn’t be surprising that Obama’s name is absent from the above. He needed to avoid egregiously unethical behavior because, given his skin color, not only his political enemies, but also hatemongers— witch-hunted his and his family’s history and every move 24/7.

The question for the 2024 election is:

Is the country ready for another variation on the Caucasian Christian/Catholic male presidents– in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation?

Dr. Folkman’s War

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The Book of the Week is “Dr. Folkman’s War, Angiogenesis and the Struggle to Defeat Cancer” by Robert Cooke, published in 2001.

In the 1970’s, Judah Folkman was a competent surgeon and a very popular professor at Harvard Medical School, but his first love was medical research. He hypothesized about why and how a tumor grows. He inferred that blood vessels grow toward a tumor, but was unable to provide proof for a very long time. He was ostracized for having this radical idea, so he had difficulty attracting enthusiastic graduate students to assist him, and with getting funding for his research.

Traditionally, university medical studies in laboratories had been funded by government grants. Profiteering from patents and medical products resulting from research was considered sleazy in scientific circles. In 1974, Harvard broke the taboo and partnered with the large, profit-making organization called Monsanto.

Even after receiving generous funding, Dr. Folkman worked around the clock simply because making new medical discoveries requires months or years of blood, sweat and tears. The materials required to do experiments can be expensive, messy, odorous and pose unanticipated problems. For a while, Folkman’s lab was working with vast quantities of cow and shark meat (and other obscure, problematic materials) because the animals’ cartilage contains no blood vessels.

Even after the doctor’s studies yielded exciting breakthroughs, media articles influenced the medical community and the public in ways that were harmful to Folkman’s research operations. There were even accusations of fraud against him. It turned out that in his team’s haste to treat cancer patients, many errors were made. Time was of the essence, and procedures for organized data collection were lacking. Folkman wasn’t deliberately trying to deceive anyone.

Folkman was a rare bird in that he was quite altruistic with his time and talents. His patience and persistence allowed him to ignore his detractors and the naysayers (most of whom were jealous). He eventually acquired an area of expertise that not only spawned a new way of thinking about cancer treatment, but also led to treatments for other medical conditions, and whole new industries, including biotech. He also helped shatter a myth in cancer treatment. But this additional idea of Folkman’s still might not be fully accepted in oncology circles (due to GREED), even two decades after the writing of this book.

This is what he learned: The approach to cancer-drug delivery to a tumor of:

“low [dosage] and slow [buildup over the long-term]” was shown to be superior to

“might makes right” and come in with guns blazing; in the past, it was hoped that immediate, large doses would eliminate the tumor before metastasis, and before the patient died from the deaths of too many healthy cells that were also killed in the process.

In other words: The patient’s treatment should begin with a low drug dosage, and if that proves ineffective, increase the dosage gradually until it is effective. Folkman’s experiences with patients showed that that was the successful way to go, and he even saw a few miraculous cures.

Read the book to learn many more details on Folkman’s trials and tribulations and the reasons for them, and what transpired when he finally found vindication.