By Ken Zurski
In September of 1977, a popular British model and actress named Twiggy appeared on Bing Crosby’s annual Christmas television special. The family holiday staple was being filmed in London that year because the 74-year-old Crosby happened to be in Great Britain for a concert tour.
Crosby recruited several British entertainers as guests on the special titled “Christmas in England.”
The London-born Twiggy was one.
Considered the “face of the 60’s” with a rail thin figure, short hair and strikingly large eyes, the teenage Twiggy was arguably the most recognized model in the world. Now in her late 20’s, Twiggy remained a multi-talented performer who picked up two Golden Globes for her work in The Boy Friend, a movie based on a musical set in the 1920’s about a theater group in England whose stage manager Polly (played by Twiggy) gets her big break when the leading lady literally, “breaks a leg.”
In the Christmas special, Twiggy and Crosby sing a tender version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Twiggy is refined, relaxed and clearly star struck. Crosby takes the lead on the song but the two trade verses and sing portions of the chorus together. Twiggy also appears in a sketch with Crosby and British actor Ron Moody, best known for his role as Fagin in the movie Oliver.
It was both unusual and memorable and those who worked on the special had no idea at time it would be Crosby’s last. Only a month after filming, in October, Crosby died from an apparent heart attack. The posthumously aired British-themed Christmas special would be his last. When the show was broadcast later that year, in December, viewers watched with a heavy heart.
In retrospect, Crosby’s duet with Twiggy is a bittersweet tribute to the late crooner. It’s done with class and professionalism, a trademark of Crosby with any singer. In this case, a British model, 40-plus years his junior. Twiggy’s performance is equally sentimental and tender.
But the performance is forgotten today.
However, another well-known British star – and an even more unlikely choice than Twiggy – would make a mark on the show that would last for years to come.
David Bowie initially turned down the request to be a guest on the special because he didn’t like the song choice of “The Little Drummer Boy.” He eventually agreed after Crosby’s musical arrangers wrote a new part of the song for him to sing, titled “Peace on Earth,” which he liked:
Peace on Earth, can it be
Years from now, perhaps we’ll see
See the day of glory
See the day, when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again
The two voices soared together.
“Ah, that’s a pretty thing, isn’t it?” Crosby remarked after the two superstars finished the song.
Today, their version of “Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy” is a holiday favorite.
By Ken Zurski
In 1968, the LA based boogie/blues band Canned Heat released a Christmas single, The Chipmunk Song, which paired the band with their Liberty Records label mates, the animated – literally – and very fictional group of singing rodents called the Chipmunks.
Canned Heat’s version of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” wasn’t exactly the same as the Chipmunks’ similarly titled chart-topper in 1958. It was a bluesy number containing humorous dialogue between Canned Heat singer Bob Hite and the voices of the Chipmunks: Simon, Theodore and Alvin, who were all named after record executives at Liberty.
The song was released the year before Canned Heat was asked to appear at a massive music festival in southeastern New York where the band covered Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and performed their harmonica infused hit “On The Road Again” as an encore.
“On the Road Again” became the unofficial theme of the 1970 documentary movie “Woodstock.”
The Chipmunk Song’s first appearance on a Canned Heat album was in 2005. It was added as a bonus track to the reissue of the band’s second album “Boogie with Canned Heat.” By that time the Chipmunks had received iconic pop culture status and their 1958 version of The Christmas Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) was already a holiday season staple:
Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We’ve been good, but we can’t last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast
Canned Heat’s version of the song would appear again on the group’s “Christmas Album” released in 2007. The album would feature the Chipmunks cover, along with a few originals and other holiday staples like Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
Typical of the boozy, drug-filled lifestyle of the 60’s & 70’s, Canned Heat would go through various lineup changes and tragic circumstances throughout the years. In 1981 after a show at the Palomino Club in Hollywood, lead singer Bob Hite died from an apparent heroin overdose.
In 2000, the band’s producer and drummer Fito de la Parra wrote a revealing tell-all book titled Living the Blues: Canned Heat’s Story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival. In it, Parra covers a lot of heavy themes, including the death of Hite, but nothing about the Chipmunks or the song.
However, a biographer on Canned Heat’s official website calls the song an “incongruous move” in the band’s history.
Decide for yourself:
By Ken Zurski
In 1945, after serving in the Navy in World War II, Raymond Weeks returned to his family in Birmingham, Alabama and envisioned a national holiday that would honor war veterans. He picked a day, November 11, a date traditionally designated as Armistice Day marking the end of World War I on the “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year.”
Weeks felt the day should be set aside to honor all veterans of all wars.
So the next year he wrote a letter and personally delivered his petition for a “National Veterans Day 1947” to then Army Chief of Staff, General Dwight Eisenhower.
Because of Weeks’ unrelenting commitment to honor those who bravely served the United States during times of war, the first “Veterans Day” event was held on November 11th 1947 in Birmingham.
In 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the designation of Armistice Day when he signed a bill which made Veterans Day, November 11th, a federal holiday. The bill was proposed by U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas.
For 38 years after that, Weeks, dubbed the “Father of Veterans Day,” served his hometown of Birmingham as Director of the National Veterans Day Celebration.
Then on November 11, 1982, President Ronald Reagan presented Weeks with the Presidential Citizens Medal.
The President described Weeks as a person who “…devoted his life to serving others, his community, the American veteran, and his nation.”
He added: “So let us go forth from here, having learned the lessons of history, confident in the strength of our system, and anxious to pursue every avenue toward peace. And on this Veterans Day, we will remember and be firm in our commitment to peace, and those who died in defense of our freedom will not have died in vain.”
Weeks died on May 6, 1985 at the age of 76.
(Source: Some text reprinted from Uncompromising Comittment; www.reaganlibrary.archives.gov)
By Ken Zurski
As brothers growing up in Rochester, New York, William and Francis Church were raised in a strict but loving household. Their father, Pharcellus Church, was a newspaper publisher and Baptist minister. He demanded nothing but the best from his boys, who in return, each earned a college degree and joined their father in the newspaper business.
In 1862, however, at the onset of the Civil War, the two brothers followed separate paths. William resigned his post at the New York Times to become a full-time soldier while Francis continued on as a civilian war correspondent.
William earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but left after a year. His superior at the time, General Silas Casey, suggested he start up a newspaper and devote it strictly to the war. William liked the idea so he mustered out and asked his brother to join him. Together they published The Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer Forces, a weekly filled with articles on everyday applications of the war, soldier’s viewpoints, and a critical eye.
“There is not a shadow of a doubt that Fort Sumter lies a heap of ruins,” the first sentence of the first volume read on August 29, 1863.
While the two brothers continued to edit the Journal, and eventually collaborated on a monthly literary magazine, The Galaxy, their legacies are vastly different.
William would go on to become the founder and first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), while Francis became posthumously known for an editorial he wrote in response to a little girl’s inquisitive letter and inquiry. “I am 8 years old…,” the letter began and ended with an ages old question, “Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?”
It was signed: Virginia O’Hanlon 115 W. 95th Street
The editorial appeared without a byline and was buried deep in New York’s The Sun on September 21, 1897.
Only after Francis’ death in 1906 was it revealed that the former war correspondent penned the famous line:
“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
By Ken Zurski
On October 19, 1915, Hollywood silent movie actress Anita King pulled into Times Square in New York City and became the first woman on record to drive a touring vehicle solo across the country.
She broke no speed record – 48 days – but was she really trying? Movie giant Paramount Studios sought publicity for the stunt and publicity is exactly what they got. The papers were all over it. “Colorful, convoluted and contradictory” is how one writer described King’s elaborate and perhaps embellished tales from the road.
But it was never boring.
King made stops at over a hundred Paramount theaters and graciously greeted well wishers along the way. But in between – and for most of the 3,000-plus mile journey – the infectious 30-year old still had to drive long stretches by herself, on paved and unpaved roads, and in all types of weather. In the Sierra Mountains, she recalled, a tramp tried to hitch a ride. “I wouldn’t permit myself to show how frightened I was,” King said. “I handed him a flask of whiskey I had in the car and told him to come to the theater where I was appearing the next night.” He did, according to King, bringing a bouquet of picked flowers with him.
Some of the reports were bleak by design.
King “wilted in the heat,” went one newspaper account.
“She was nearly a goner” read another.
Each story King told reporters seemed to be more extraordinary than the next. In one harrowing incident, just outside of Reno, King tire’s became stuck in the mud. She spent hours trying to shovel them out, but got nowhere. Then suddenly, she was not alone. A “mad coyote” joined her company. “Gee it looked as big as a house,” she explained. “I finally killed him, and knew nothing more until I was picked up by prospectors, who heard the shots of my gun.”
King was born to immigrant parents who settled in Michigan City, Indiana. Her father committed suicide in 1896 when she was 12 years old and only two years after that her mother succumbed to tuberculosis. King was a grief-stricken teenager and an orphan. She moved from Michigan City to Chicago where she found work as a model and actress. In 1908, at the age of 24, she traveled to California and became fascinated with motor vehicles. She competed in a few auto races but after an accident decided to concentrate on her acting career instead. She appeared in a couple of comedic films, bit parts really, but nothing star making.
That’s when she heard her boss, motion picture producer John L. Lasky, talking about the Lincoln Highway, the newly opened coast to coast route between San Francisco and New York City that ran through 13 states.
Although it was dedicated in 1913, the road was still a work in progress and Lasky said – perhaps jokingly – that it would be at least ten years before the highway would be in such shape that a lady could make the drive without difficulty.
King chimed in. King could drive a car and she could make the trip now. Seeing the promotional value in the stunt, Lasky was on board telling her he would pay for it and secure a major sponsorship with the Kissel Motor Car Co. for transportation, a machine built for endurance and advertised as “every inch a car” and an “all-year vehicle.” King’s job was to act like a “movie star” and in return, Lasky promised, he would make her one.
King was ecstatic.
Dubbed “The Paramount Girl,” in the papers, King drove the Kissel Kar with a “new set of Firestone tires,” another Lasky sponsor. “There will be nobody with her,” the Los Angeles Times reported, “her only companions will be a rifle and six shooter.”
The trip began appropriately in front of Lasky’s Paramount studios in Hollywood.
When she arrived in New York City, King received a hero’s welcome. She was the honored guest at a ceremonial dinner and shook hands with dignitaries. In typical fashion though, the city’s newspapers, while celebratory, were skeptical too. “Miss King, in spite of being on the road from September 1 to yesterday, had no marks of tan or sunburn,” the New York Sun questioned. King explained she used grease paint on her face all the time. “I was determined I wouldn’t come into New York City with a red nose,” she said.
King became a darling celebrity and a movie titled ”The Race” starring King and Victor Moore went immediately into production. It was released the following year.
Much to Lasky’s surprise, the film was a disappointment. It got poor reviews and ran for only a week. King’s hailed exploits in the papers, as it turned out, just weren’t as interesting on the silver screen.
King however had fond memories of the groundbreaking trip. In an interview later, she recalled meeting a young girl on the side of the road who had packed a bag and wanted to runaway with King to the movies. From the heart, King gave her a lesson in humility.
“I would give the world to have what you have right there in that home,” she said.
Then King got back in her car, waved goodbye to the little girl, and drove off to her next adventure.
By Ken Zurski
In July of 1848 a teenager named Charlotte Woodward read an announcement in a local newspaper about a group of women who would be meeting at a Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, a modest wagon ride from her family’s farm near Syracuse. “A convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman, “ the ad read. Woodward was intrigued.
Woodward had been a school teacher at age fifteen but mostly worked at home, sewing gloves for merchants to sell. The work was long and the pay nearly nonexistent. This was the role of a woman at the time, no identity and no apparent social status other than tending to her family or husband’s needs and eventually having babies, oftentimes lots of them. A woman’s wages, if she worked, belonged to her spouse. She had no rights, no advantages. “She was her father’s daughter,” one writer stressed about the role of women in the mid 19th century, “until she became her husband’s wife.”
She was, however, protected by law against physical abuse, but only with “a stick bigger than a man’s thumb.” A punishment would be imposed, but no damages were ever awarded for injuries since no woman had the right to sign any legal documents.
Woodward was unmarried and feared no man, but she fumed at the prospects of working the rest of her life for others and eventually to a man she might be forced to wed, but did not love. “Every fiber of my being reveled, although silently, for all the hours that I sat and sewed gloves for a miserable pittance which, after it was earned, could never be mine.” Her interest in the women’s rights convention was more a revelation than a curiosity. “I wanted to work, but I wanted to choose my task and I wanted to collect my wages.”
So she went to Seneca Falls.
The convention was the brainchild of two women, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Congress in London in 1840 as part of a women delegation, four in fact, and first of its kind. Their voices were mostly silenced. Some reports had the women turned away at the hall entrance. Returning home, Mott and Stanton gathered a lively group of women who discussed equality behind closed doors. In 1848, they felt it was time to take their case public. So they announced the convention’s date and invited anyone, even men, to come. Men could be part of the second day’s activities, the ad implied. “The first day would be exclusively for women.”.
Apparently, men didn’t care for rules not imposed by men. So on the first day, more than 50 lined up in front of the church. Some women were appalled, but Woodward recalls the men as “uncommonly liberal,” apparently meaning they had open, not closed minds. One man was proof of that. His name was Frederick Douglass.
But it wasn’t just men who were outside of the church that day. It was the women too. The church doors were locked and only the minister had a key. Apparently, the minister, who earlier approved the conference, had changed his mind after talking to the elders of the church, all men of course. As one story goes, the women stood on each other’s shoulders, managed to open a window shutter, climb inside, and open the doors. Nothing more was reported of the minister’s emphatic reversal after that.
Mott was a very good speaker, a rarity for a woman. Not that she was well-spoken, many were, but that she had the natural ability to express her views in front of a large audience. Public speaking was not something a woman could practice at the time. James Mott, her husband would hold order since by law, women could not. The ladies were there to change the laws, not break them.
By the end of the two days and nearly 18 hours of speeches, debates and readings, most of the women including Woodward signed a document titled “Declaration of Sentiments,” similar to the Declaration of Independence. The 1000 word document began with an opening statement that revised text from Thomas Jefferson’s original declaration and first sentence. It read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.” The two added words were obvious.
The statement ended this way:
“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”
And then came the point of the conference, the sentiments, or “facts.” These were the rules that must change. Among them were disapproval’s of common law, mostly taken for granted by men. “He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns,” read one. “He has compelled her to commit to laws in the formation by which she had no voice,” went another. “He has made her, in marriage, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.”
Only one sentiment was a sticking point for the women. It read: “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” This was a social decalration, some argued, not a political one. The right to vote would likely get the least support from men. And besides, it might be the one sentiment that men were so strongly against that they would ignore all the others. After much debate, most of the women wanted the voting rights stricken from the document. But Frederick Douglass, a self-educated former slave, spoke in favor of its inclusion. “In this denial of the right to participate in government,” he eloquently stated, “not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the meaning and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government – of the world.”
Later, Susan B Anthony, who was not at the conference, would make voting rights the cornerstone of the suffragette movement, a debate that became more contentious after the Civil War ended and freed slaves also demanded the right to vote. Once again, Douglass was at the forefront. But it was not an easy sell, especially for women whose efforts to that point had been one frustrating roadblock followed by another.
In 1866, Anthony’s mouthpiece, the outspoken Stanton, went too far. She called former slaves “ignorant(s) and foreigners,” and chastised Douglass and others for putting blacks rights before a woman’s. Douglass, who to that point supported suffrage, angrily countered: “When women, because they are women, are hunted down…when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lampposts, when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed upon the pavement, when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn, when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads…then they will have the urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.” In the end, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed which included race, but not gender. In principle, blacks could vote, but not black women.
But that fight would come much later. In 1848, Douglass’ words about women being “one-half of the moral and intellectual power of government” rang true. The call for men to integrate women in elections was included in the “sentiments” and the resolution passed.
When it was over, most men were apathetic. Some sarcastically called the two days of meetings a “Hen Convention” and mocked the proceedings. “If there is one characteristic of the sex which more than another elevates and ennobles it,” one newspaper editor, obviously a man, wrote, “it is the persistency and intensity of a woman’s love for man. The ladies always had the best place and choicest tidbits at the table.”
But despite the protests, the convention sparked more debates, more meetings and a movement which would last for years.
Woodward had no idea how that day would change her. She eventually joined Anthony’s suffrage camp and spent the rest of her life fighting for the right to vote.
Finally in 1920, after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, she had the chance.
Sadly, though, she never got to cast that first – or any – ballot.
Charlotte Woodward Pierce, her married name, was the youngest to sign the “Declaration of Sentiments” and now some seven decades later, of the 68 women who participated in Seneca Falls, she was the sole survivor.
On election day 1920, she fell ill and stayed home. The next year, her eyesight went bad. “I’m too old,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll never vote.”
That same year she died at the age of 92.
(Sources: Judith Wellman, Historian Historical New York; “The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age” by Myra MacPherson)
By Ken Zurski
In 1920, starting with the election of President Warren G. Harding, a weekly magazine called The Literary Digest correctly picked the winner of each subsequent presidential election up to and including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decisive victory over Herbert Hoover in 1932.
Quite an impressive track record by a magazine founded by two Lutheran ministers in 1890. The Literary Review culled articles from other publications and provided readers with insightful analysis and opinions on the day’s events. Eventually, as the subscriber list grew, the magazine created its own response-based surveys, or polling, as it is known today.
The presidential races were the perfect example of this system.
So in 1936, with a subscriber base of 10 million and a solid track record, the Digest was ready to declare the next president: “Once again, [we are] asking more than ten million voters — one out of four, representing every county in the United States — to settle November’s election in October,” they bragged.
When the tallies were in, the Digest polls showed Republican Alfred Landon beating incumbent Roosevelt 57-percent to 43-percent. This was a surprise to many who thought Landon didn’t stand a chance.
Roosevelt was a progressive Democrat whose New Deal policies, like the Social Security Act and Public Pension Act, passed through Congress with mostly bipartisan support. Soon, millions of Americans burdened by the Great Depression would receive federal assistance.
Landon, a moderate, admired Roosevelt but felt he was soft on business and yielded too much presidential power. “I will not promise the moon,” he exclaimed during a campaign speech and warned against raising payroll taxes to pay for benefits. It didn’t work. Roosevelt won all but two states, Maine and Vermont, and sailed to a second term with 60-percent of the popular vote.
Even Landon’s hometown state of Kansas, where he had been Governor since 1933, went with the President. In the end, Landon’s 8 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 532 – or 98-percent – made it the most lopsided general election in history.
In hindsight, poor sampling was blamed for the Digest’s erroneous choice. Not only were subscribers mostly middle to upper class, but only a little over two of the ten million samples were returned, skewing the result.
The big winner, however, besides Roosevelt, was George Gallup, the son of an Iowa dairy farmer and eventual newspaperman, whose upstart polling company American Institute of Public Opinion correctly chose the President over Landon to within 1 percent of the actual margin of victory.
In 1948, the validity of public opinion polls would be questioned again when Gallup incorrectly picked Thomas Dewey to beat Roosevelt’s successor by death, Harry S.Truman.
Since it was widely considered Truman would lose his reelection bid to a full term, Gallup survived the scrutiny.
Even the Chicago Tribune got it wrong, claiming a Dewey presidency was “inevitable,” and printing an early edition with the now infamous headline of “Dewey Defeats Truman.” A humiliation that Truman mocked the next day.
The Literary Digest, however, had no say in the matter.
In 1938, the magazine merged with another review publication and stopped polling subscribers.