Sharing the Burden and the Joy

Things were slow, as was the new usual, on Broadway on June 4, 1941.  With only a quarter of the number of new productions underway since the happier days of just 20 years prior, the district had turned to the more time-tested business of vice - burlesque houses and “adult entertainment” venues. 

But just two blocks off Broadway in the St. James Theater, Orson Welles’ production of Native Son had been playing for a month and a half and had garnered more than its share of expected attention.  And as the saying goes in the industry, any publicity is good publicity.  The Brooklyn Diocese had issued a boycott of the show almost immediately and the Legion of Decency had set up pickets on the sidewalk.  Yet the crowds still turned out and the theater filled up every night.  The presence of police, as well as some very conspicuous communist-hunting FBI agents prevented any incidents.
Because of the topic of the play, the audience was uncommonly mixed, meaning there were a few black people in the audience and during the intermission a young dark-skinned man made his way to a side exit and slipped outside.  His name was Harry.  He stood in the alley smoking a cigarette until he was met by a friend, Sidney, and after a few moments of animated discussion he handed his ticket stub to him.  Sidney then entered the theater to watch the rest of the show, briefed on what had already taken place.  Harry would be outside waiting when it ended, to be filled in on the second half.

It was in this way that Harry Belafonte, a janitor, and Sidney Poitier, a dishwasher, could afford to see the latest plays for the price of one ticket as they made their first inroads into acting.


The Theater of Provocation

A small ferry shoved off from the Charing Cross Pier and motored out into the Thames.  She was named the Queen Elizabeth and would be used in just two days to carry celebrants participating in the Silver Jubilee of her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II.

The boat continued downriver until it reached the Chelsea Bridge.  As it came about, a banner was unfurled: THE SEX PISTOLS “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.”  Amplifiers were flicked on and the feedback from an electric guitar shattered the eerie quiet of the foggy evening.  Johnny Rotten screamed out above the squeals: “God save the queen! She ain't no human bein’!” making a mockery of the planned river procession.  Police boats appeared and followed the Queen Elizabeth back upriver - “No future for you!” - past Parliament and Westminster – “No future for me!” - all the way back to the pier where a constabulary force was waiting to end the stunt.  A dozen arrests were made but authorities filed no formal charges against the band.

Although their single sold well amid the hype, their anarchic message was not generally accepted; most people at the time still carried a respect for their nation’s institutions.  Violent attacks on the band occurred everywhere they performed.  Before they disbanded six months later, Johnny Rotten remarked bewilderedly, "I don't understand it.  All we're trying to do is destroy everything."

Today, the Sex Pistols are actually remembered fondly enough that they were invited to participate in the 2012 Olympic ceremonies in London (though they declined), and ironically in the same year as their Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

On February 21, 2012, another punk band made their own protest against their nation’s institutions.  It remains to be seen if they will be remembered as fondly in a future Russia after serving their lengthy prison sentences.


A Revolutionary Idea

Nikita Khrushchev was a satisfied man as he boarded his TU-114 aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base on the evening of September 27, 1959 and prepared for the long flight back to Moscow.  His first visit, the first of any Soviet Premier to the United States, was by his judgment an enormous success.

Khrushchev had visited factories and farms and met with union groups across the country.  He’d gotten to explain the “Soviet way” through first person contact.  His regard for President Eisenhower had grown and he genuinely felt that real progress was made between the two superpowers, that a détente was possible over the issue of a divided Germany, and that the two nations could work together to build a future free of mistrust and enmity.  Unfortunately, a series of dangerous international gaffes over the next few years would put an end to such hopefulness, but for a short time, the future was indeed rosy.

It hadn’t been perfect though.  The incendiary speech by Mayor Norris Poulson that greeted him upon his arrival in Los Angeles nearly had him flying back home.  Luckily, Hollywood’s finest stepped up and smoothed things over.  His children especially enjoyed the dinner with Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, Marylyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor.
As the plane taxied to the runway, Khrushchev pulled a paper from his breast pocket and called his Chief of Staff over to him.
“Ivan, when we get back to the Kremlin, have your people begin working on this immediately.”
Ivan glanced at the paper and remarked, “Very interesting…”

Of all the modern ideas that he could have taken note of on his historic trip, Nikita Khrushchev was especially impressed by the IBM factory he visited in San Jose, but not by the computing machines.

“…a self-service cafeteria!  How efficient!”