“Never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it’s a form of truth.” JFK
“I’m fond of one definition of death—inaccessibility to experience.” Sylvia Plath
“The summer of 1963 everyone called me baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind.” Jennifer Grey
“That will teach the English for trying to behave like the French.” Pres Charles DeGalle comment regarding Profumo Affair
The Doomsday Clock was set at 12 minutes to midnight way back then. That mid-Atlantic winter was bitterly cold and snowy. Edicts were issued: henceforth, outer space was to simply be called space and Alcatraz was to be close permanently. Civil Rights leader Medger Evans was murdered and in the UK, the first Moors murder victim disappeared. Regretfully, my 11 year old self was little aware of these events. It was focused on earning enough Girl Scout badges to qualify for a November retreat, after which, I planned to be done with girls and scouting. Boys were my new interest, as was earning money to buy vinyl records, a mohair sweater, and more troll dolls and earrings. Young boomers were throwing off shackles from a decade in which one didn’t speak freely or act independently, but simply conformed.
I was too busy watching TV and writing stories about imaginary folks in my dad’s 1962 Christmas train village to pay attention to the news or trends. My characters didn’t live in Mayberry or around the corner from Ozzie & Harriet. If memory serves, the man renting a room near the glass pond with tiny swans was a fugitive, folks that owned the general store were Martians, and Lassie lived on the farm just past the wee bridge. They all had lives more interesting than mine.
In 2023, I’m waiting for the local Walmart to add a full service bar, which will take people watching to a whole new level of interesting. In 1963, I was waiting to grow up, for people in general to take me seriously. My closest relationships were still umbilical in nature, with strings attached, permissions required, and restrictions galore. Angst for the memory of being 11 again, of (yes) walking a mile to school (each way) in snow and rain (mom didn’t drive), of trying to recall what being on the cusp of something big felt like (thanks Bye Bye Birdie), of imaging I was adopted—I couldn’t be related to such uncool parents.
Being 11 meant I was too young to do hip teen things (hike my skirt, tease my hair, wear beige lipstick, date boys), though I was the tallest kid in my class. As the oldest of 4, it meant setting a good example. Never mind that adults were behaving badly. In Saigon, Buddhist monks set themselves on fire in protest. Fifteen masked men stole 2.6M pounds (Great Train Robbery). Civil rights protesters were being harrassed, stoned, arrested, and killed. People, my parent’s included, were ignoring the American Heart Association’s smoking warning. It was also a year of dithering—of ambivalently turning from childhood attachments and notions and imagining a globetrotting, cosmopolitan future. It was an inscrutable future that didn’t include husbands, children, or white picket fences.
The patterns of things to come were there to see. If only I’d saved them in a shoe box as Charles Fort had. JFK banned travel to Cuba and the Kennedy Ripple effect undulated through 1963. He proposed the Civil Rights Act and sought support. Bro RFK investigated kickbacks and anti-Castro Cuban exile group Alpha 66. JFK said stand down, Navy looked the other way. In June, John Profumo, British War Minister, resigned one step ahead of a sex scandal; someone leaked JFK’s possible indelicate involvement. It titillated cold war and Puritan paranoiac’s, and opened the red door, allowing people to talk (aloud) about SEX. Bans were lifted on reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller books.
Though the alleged scandal was about sex, it also involved a Soviet Naval Attache, drugs, lies, and at least one suicide. The Beatles song released that year, Please Please Me became the Profumo anthem. Like with JFK’s assassination, we don’t have all the info—we’ll have to wait until transcripts are made public in 2048. The President went West in June 1963, visiting COL, TX, CA, NM, & Hawaii. His pal Ben Bradlee kept him current on news being released about the Profumo Scandal and about Bobby Baker, an alleged Lyndon Johnson plant/supplier of bodacious babes used to blackmail DC politicians. Dr. Stephen Ward, an Osteopath, whose patients included Churchill, Ava Gardner, Lord Astor, & Mel Ferrer, was alleged to have run a similar operation in London. The CIA got involved, and others…In the book Honeytrap, by Summers and Dorril, an M15 case officer admits Ward was involved in an op to convince Russe Ivanov to become a double agent. He says Ward didn’t commit suicide. He was murdered because he knew too much about too many MPS, peers, and diplomats IMO.
JFK gave his Ich bin ein Berliner jelly donut speech in Berlin, then swung by his Irish ancestral home. He met with young, future leaders, including Bill Clinton, and in August mourned the death of his 2nd son. The President meets with and applauds Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech and lends his support. In October, he signs the Partial Test Ban Treaty, negotiates with the Soviet Union to sell US wheat, and approves McNamara’s decision to withdraw troops from Viet Nam by 1965. He asks US economic advisors to prepare reports on the creation of a national health care initiative, which would be called Medicare (when approved by President Lyndon B Johnson in 1965).
Zip codes were introduced in the US in 1963. A few years later, my patent holder/inventor dad would be one of the engineers to develop zip code based mail sorting machines. It would speed up mail delivery–from 5 to 3 days. Other 1963 inventions included the push button phone, lava lamp, and instant coffee.
I hadn’t discovered Tarot Cards yet, however, my Welsh granny had read tea leaves and my Irish grandad regaled me with stories and family otherworld connections. After watching Roger Corman’s The Raven, I memorized Poe’s entire poem. It was a big hit when recited at sleepovers. In a pic snapped by my dad, 11 year old moi is executing a backbend on the living room floor. A fringe of bangs peeks from a hair net hiding beer can size plastic curlers. My upside down expression is tense. It’s an accurate depiction of life at 11 in a country where a cabal of power hungry people were about to kill a sitting president.
In 1923, hard core and social scientists predicted what 2023 might resemble. They thought life spans would increase to 200-300 years and folks would watch both hand held and movie screen size movies. There’d be a 4 hour, 4 day work weeks, and the eradication of several awful diseases. Men would curl and women would shave their hair. We’d use communication and transportation portals, and there’d be a widespread return of mental telepathy. But in 1963, computer IT, mass production of Kevlar vests, and bubble wrap were still fringy sci fi ideas.
The Four Seasons were okay. I wasn’t into Beach Boy surfing vibes, but I did like Ray Charles and I’d worn out my Duke of Earl 45. I knew Allan Sherman’s campy song Hello Muddah/Fadduh by heart. I was a smitten woman child when I heard my first Beatles songs on the airways. She Loves You & I Want to Hold Your Hand were my favorites. I use the term woman loosely. Our home-ec teacher told us we became women after the onset of a first period. Okay, bloody checkmark there. My parents said something like ‘you’ll be a women when we say you’re ready (and grown up when your freckles disappear).’
Not much could be said for American cuisine in the early 60s. We ate stuff that came in cans and jars, bread was white and over processed, and coffee was boiled. Luckily, I read Julia Child’s Art of French Cuisine and M. K. Fischer’s How to Cook a Wolf at friend’s houses and followed teen diets in glossy mags, which advised eating raw food, veggies, fruit, and nuts, and to drink water and tea with lemon slices. To that I added root beer floats and Hershey chocolates.
In 1993, UKer Alan Moore, put out a 6 issue comic called 1963, which paid homage to the silver age of comics and parodied publishers’ questionable 1960s business practices, ugly competitions, and look the other way plagiarisms. 1963 was the year I set aside most comic books (Hulk, Justice League/Avengers, Green Lantern, but not Strange Tales or Sunday comics featuring Mandrake, Prince Valiant, Brenda Starr, Johnny Hazard…) for teen and Hollywood silver screen mags, soft porn books I read at friend’s houses, and eye opening stories in my dad’s Argosy and an occasional Esquire. He read some of my comics, and we silently agreed to keep our reading habits a secret.
Charles Schulz Peanuts strip poked fun at mandatory school prayer, but the Supreme Court’s 1962 ruling that school prayer was unconstitutional was slow to be applied. When I refused to pray along and was sent to the principal’s office, my dad intervened. He threatened to sue and a short time later, the practice at my school was discontinued. It was a proud moment. We celebrated with a rare trip to a soda fountain. I left with a comic featuring a new character, Dr. Strange, and new ambitions regarding what I wanted to be. And thanks to Father Hannigan’s no such thing as a bad book and membership in Book of the Month Club, I got to read Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, Clavell’s King Rat, Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, and the very confusing, still over my head Golden Notebook, The Collector, Bell Jar, and City of Night.
Perhaps I should have stuck with stuff I knew by heart, like catchy Oscar Meyer theme song ‘…cause if I were an Oscar Meyer weiner, everyone would be in love with me.’ Another fateful event occurred in 1963, the arrest of Ernesto Miranda on kidnap/rape charges. It would pave the way for introduction of Miranda Rights law. Fortunately, I’ve yet to be read my rights by law enforcement. Dr. Martin Luther King (Time’s 1963 Man of the Year) wasn’t quite as lucky. He penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail (to 8 white bigoted clergymen) in April of 1963, and was the key speaker at Gay Black Activist Bayard Rustin’s freedom March on Washington. In future years, I’d quote lines from that letter at protest marches and in editorials—his thoughts on civil disobedience, exhaustion of thresholds of patience and perservence, and the rightness of taking risks still resounds.
Not those arches—as in McDonald’s bright yellow plastic ones promoting its 15 cent burgers, which began being sold by mascot Ronald McDonald in 1963, but St. Louis’ stainless steel Gateway Arches, built (by McDonald Construction, no link to Kroc’s burgeoning burger biz) to stimulate the economy and serve as gateway to the West. After several years of delays and lawsuits, the arch opened for business. At the top of the arch, one can view the Mississippi (to the East), and southern Illinois, and its prominent Mississippian culture mounds at Cahokia. Though the mounds were high on my list of places to visit, I was nearly 30 before I explored this intriguing site.
I doubt many could have seen that country singer Patsy Cline would die 3/5/63 in a plane crash; or a month earlier, poet Sylvia Plath would commit suicide in London. Robert Frost died 1/29/63 and chanteuse Edith Piaf 10/11/63, as did French author/Surrealist Jean Cocteau. Archaeologist, Egyptologist, and writer Margaret Murray died 11/13/63, age 100. Her books and theories about witches, cults, and ancient rites were fascinating. I’d have to wait a decade before acquiring The Witch Cult in Western Europe, God of the Witches, Egyptian Temples, The Female Occult… Though she was at times more visionary than scholarly, her writing introduced me to a world that felt familiar and enigmatic.
If it was Saturday, you could often find me at the movies, with siblings in tow, watching a double feature matinee. The pic above is where we were dropped off. There was a hardware and liquor store to the right and a Rexall Drug Store to the left. I bought candy and soda at the drug store and hid it as best I could, in pockets and my black patent leather purse, a mom hand me down. I barely recall the movies we watched. It was probably just as well my sister often fell asleep. There were horror and adventure movies, Carnival of Souls, Dracula and Werewolves, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Aladdin… Too often I had to watch cartoonish or tame movies: Flipper, Gay Purr-ee, Son of Flubber, though I did like Pollyanna, Greyfriars Bobby, & Jason & the Argonauts. There were also a few good ones The Miracle Worker, How the West was Won, Birdman of Alcatraz, and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. Too soon it was time to go home. If I was lucky, I’d get to stay up and watch more movies. And there was always Sunday TV: Ed Sullivan, Lassie, Wonderful World of Disney, and Bonanza!
Were you old enough that the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy became a lightbulb moment? It was for me. Teachers at my school were crying, but the Girl Scout retreat weekend I’d earned by completing many badge requirements wasn’t cancelled. It should have been, as it was turned into a silent memorial with no woodsperson demonstrations or games as promised. On our own, and largely unsupervised, we five fingered hot dogs, buns, condiments, and s’more ingredients. As we’d been taught, we made our own fire pit. We didn’t sing KumBaYa. We wailed Beatles tunes, the Flintstones theme song, The Ballad of Oh Boy, The Chipmunk Song, and warbled Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Over Night? and what we could remember from Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol. After which, we were chastised and sent to our dorm rooms, where, if memory serves, we reconvened more quietly, sharing the last of the chocolate and graham crackers, wondering briefly what losing a president meant, would mean.
Of those somehow involved in/witness to, and dead as a direct/indirect result of the JFK assassination, we easily recall Lee Harvey Oswald, killed on live TV Sunday, 11/24/63. There were 100+ other folks that had untimely or suspicious deaths. Not everyone remembers Officer J. D. Tippit, killed 11/22/63 in Dallas. A few days before 11/22, actress Karyn Kupcinet, screamed to a phone operator JFK would be killed. Her body (strangled) was discovered 11/30/63. Her dad was a respected journalist. On 12/2/63 Grant Stockdale, a close friend of JFK’s fell or was pushed from his 13th story office window in Miami. On 12/3/63 Captain Groves, JFK’s honor guard commander, died after eating a bite of food. His possessions, which were sent home to Michigan, were mysteriously destroyed in a fire. (The honor guard had been practicing for a presidential funeral 3 days before JFK died.)
Per author Jim Marrs (Crossfire, the Plot that Killed JFK), in the 3-year period ‘which followed JFK’s murder, 18 material witnesses died: 6 by gunshot, 3 in motor accidents, 2 by suicide, 1 throat cut, 1 from karate chop to neck, and five from seemingly natural causes.’ Over 115 other ‘witnesses’ have died via strange circumstances, possible suicide, or murder. Especially notable are the deaths of people that disagreed with prevailing theories paraded by local police, FBI, and other Government officials.
For example, Jack Zangretti (mob) manager of a gambling resort remarked on 11/23 Jack Ruby would kill Oswald on Sunday & a member of Sinatra’s family will be kidnapped to divert attention. Zangretti disappeared; Sinatra’s son was kidnapped. Zangretti’s body was found 2 weeks later, riddled with bullets. On 7/21/64 Dr. Mary Sherman was murdered in New Orleans and her CIA backed bio lab was set on fire. She’d been working with David Ferrie, who was also (likely) murdered in 1967 shortly before testifying for Jim Garrison. Mary Pinchot Meyer former JFK mistress, and wife of a CIA employee, was shot dead 10/12/64 as she walked along C&O towpath in DC.
It’s maddening to realize the degree of cover up, though this wasn’t the first president whose manner of death was disguised. There’s been speculation DT’s plot to remain at the helm was lifted from 1933 Wall Street Putsch coup attempt. Unemployment was high, farms/homes in foreclosure, banks failing…Huey Long, Randolph Hearst, and sham priest Charles Coughlin attacked FDR via newspapers and radio. J P Morgan gave Mussolini a $100M loan and refused to pay income taxes. FDR’s proposed new deal pissed off the elite, more so after he eliminated the gold standard. A marine, Smedley Butler, claimed Wall Street tycoons recruited him to lead a fascist coup summer of 1933. Butler told FBI’s Hoover, who told FDR. Congress investigated, yet when final report was issued, no tycoon names appeared. Word was FDR struck a deal and got his New Deal approved.
In addition to assassination attempts made on Teddy Roosevelt, Jackson, Truman, Ford, & Reagan (plus 3 other presidents killed in office: Lincoln, McKinley, & Garfield, there’s conjecture Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding may have been poisoned. At least for the JFK assassination, a few panels were convened and investigations held: Warren Commission; Jim Garrison investigation/New Orleans connections; Senate Committee Investigation; and House Committee on Assassinations Investigation…Your taxpayer dollars hard at work obfuscating and misdirecting.
Who dun it? My best guess reads like an Agatha Christie novel, specifically Murder on the Orient Express, though the reasons are far less noble. An entire cabal of people were complicit—military, CIA/FBI, politicians, Nazis’, the Mafia, White Russians, secret & public societies, Cuban exiles, business tycoons, Quakers …all were involved in a coup, an execution that required brilliant planning and misdirection. The actual killers were likely professional assassins, and were either themselves killed or died with sealed lips. That doesn’t mean, to borrow a catch phrase from X Files, the truth isn’t out there. The December 2022 release of another dump of files, some still full of redactions, confirms details the top conspiracy theorists have been saying since 11/22/63.
The Outer Limits debuted on TV in 1963 and introduced us to a new 60’s theme. It warned ‘not to attempt to adjust the picture. They would control the transmission…’ The Government probed minds and opened secretive shops and programs its citizens wouldn’t learn about for decades. But a few brave people spoke out about companies that were polluting our air, land, and waterways. Disclaimers were put on pill bottles and some cigarette packs. A few folks thought the 1963 comedy It’s a Mad, Mad World was a potent of things to come.
As I bid adieu to 1963 (also year of the rabbit like 2023), a piece of childhood, and the grassy knolls’ secrets, ‘I spy with my little eye’ 1976, America’s bicentennial. It was the year computers edged into view (Apple, MS, Cray-1), Dean Martin & Jewis Lewis briefly reunited, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest netted five awards and Stallone’s Rocky came out punching, and both Son of Sam and Legionnaires disease ran amuck. And I wonder, are movies released in a given year a crystal ball for what’s coming?