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.

All American

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The Book of the Week is “All American, The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe” by Bill Crawford, published in 2005.

America’s tradition of holding a Thanksgiving Day college-football game began in the early 1890’s. The schools with football teams practiced profiteering from the get-go. They charged fans admission to the games, and gambling was rampant; even in preseason games. Even among the coaches– who themselves, sometimes played in the games. The coaches also made obscene salaries, even then.

Football had no passing, only rushing, until 1895. And hardly any rules: with respect to creative plays, and preventing injuries. There was unnecessary roughness galore, not to mention minimal, if any, protective equipment, and fan interference was sometimes allowed. Officials arbitrarily enforced the few rules there might have been. Play continued in all kinds of weather.

Born in May 1887 in Oklahoma, Jim Thorpe received most of his education on sports fields, although he was supposed to have been in school. His mother was of Native American, Irish and French origin. At sixteen years old, Thorpe began attending Carlisle Indian Industrial School. It was a military-style trade school for Native Americans where they could live on-campus.

In 1903, the Carlisle team tricked the Harvard Crimson with a play in which a Carlisle player hid the ball under the back of his jersey while his teammates hid their helmets under their jerseys so the opposing team couldn’t find the ball until its actual holder had run into the end zone for a touchdown.

Another dirty trick involved sewing an image of half a football onto various players’ jerseys, making it unclear as to which receiver caught the ball, to trick the opposing team’s defense. But, there was still no penalty for pass-interference, so receivers could be tackled before touching the ball. All of them. Even if they didn’t have the ball.

It should be noted that other, better-funded teams had tens of players who could enter the game anytime, whereas Carlisle had a tiny team whose players were both offense and defense.

In 1906, the newly formed NCAA established specific rules that dramatically reduced injuries, but failed to address the financial shenanigans that have greatly enriched colleges and individuals for the past century.

In 1907, when he was twenty, Thorpe joined the Carlisle football team, which had been coached by Glenn Warner since 1899. Warner headed the school’s Athletic Association, but he was not an employee of the school. So he got paid by a profit-making organization, which got its revenues through gate receipts of sports-competitions hosted by the school– football, baseball, track, etc.

Since Carlisle was a school for Native Americans, it received full federal funding for tuition, room and board for all its students. The Association didn’t have to award tuition-scholarships. Coach Warner used the Association as his personal piggy bank.

Yet another part of Warner’s job that has characterized football coaches since time immemorial, was to hush up the bad behavior of his players so as to squelch bad publicity the school would receive when players got drunk and destroyed property or got into fights, broke school rules or NCAA rules, etc.

Read the book to learn of what an exceptionally excellent multi-sport athlete Thorpe was (though he played mostly football; hint: “Twice Thorpe managed to run downfield and catch his own punts” and on one of those receptions, he shook off three or four tacklers to run twenty yards to score a touchdown.); the scandal surrounding him; and much more about his life and the tenor of the times in “amateur” sports.

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.