John F. Kennedy, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents, Sports

Do You Remember January 22, 1973?

jan 23, 1973

Original publish date:  January 22, 2019

Were you alive on January 22, 1973? If so, consider this a reminder, if not, let me show what a typical day was like for a late-stage Baby Boomer like me. January 22, 1973 was a Monday in the Age of Aquarius. All in the Family was # 1 on television and The Poseidon Adventure was tops at the box office. Carly Simon was riding the top of the charts with her hit song “You’re so vain.” A song that has kept people guessing who she’s singing about to this day. Is it Warren Beatty? Mick Jagger? David Cassidy? Cat Stevens? David Bowie? James Taylor? All of whom have been accused. Carly has never fessed up, although she once admitted that the subject’s name contains the letters A, E, and R.

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The month of January 1973 had started on a somber note with memorial services in Washington D.C. for President Harry S Truman on the 5th (he died the day after Christmas 1972). Then, Judge John Sirica began the Nixon impeachment proceedings on the 8th with the trial of seven men accused of committing a ” third rate burglary” of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate. Next came the Inauguration of Richard Nixon (his second) on the 20th. Historians pinpoint Nixon’s speech that day as the end of the “Now Generation” and the beginning of the “Me Generation.” Gone was JFK’s promise of a “New Frontier,” lost was the compassionate feeling of the Civil Rights movement and LBJ’s dream of a “Great Society.” The self-help of the 1960s quickly morphed into the self-gratification of the 1970s, which ultimately devolved into the selfishness of the 1980s.

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The line between want and need became hopelessly blurred and remains so to this day.
Twelve years before, John F. Kennedy decreed, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” On January 20th, 1973, Richard Nixon, purposely twisted JFK’s inaugural line by declaring , “In our own lives, let each of us ask—not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” At that moment, the idealism of the sixties gave way to narcissistic self-interest, distrust and cynicism in government of the seventies. Although it had been coming for years, when change finally arrived, it happened so fast that most of us never even noticed.
January 22nd was warm and rainy. It was the first Monday of Nixon’s second term and it would be one for the books. That day, Nixon announced that the war in Vietnam was over. The day before, his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Lê Đức Thọ signed off on a treaty that effectively ended the war; on paper that is. The settlement included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam. It addition, the United States agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisers (totaling about 23,700) and the dismantling of all U.S. bases within 60 days. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war. It was agreed that the DMZ at the 17th Parallel would remain a provisional dividing line, with eventual reunification of the country “through peaceful means.”
That same day, the United States Supreme Court issued their landmark decision 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Better known as Roe v. Wade. Instantly, the laws of 46 states making abortion illegal were rendered unconstitutional. In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to privacy extended to her right to make her own medical decisions, including having an abortion. The decision legalized abortion by specifically ordering that the states make no laws forbidding it. Rove V. Wade came the same day as the lesser known ruling, Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), which overturned the abortion law of Georgia.

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The Georgia law in question permitted abortion only in “cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother.” Other restrictions included the requirement that the procedure be “approved in writing by three physicians and by a three-member special committee that either continued pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman’s life or “seriously and permanently” injure her health; the fetus would “very likely be born with a grave, permanent and irremediable mental or physical defect”; or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.” Only Georgia residents could receive abortions under this statutory scheme: non-residents could not have an abortion in Georgia under any circumstances. The plaintiff, a pregnant woman known as “Mary Doe” in court papers, sued Arthur K. Bolton, then the Attorney General of Georgia, as the official responsible for enforcing the law. The same 7-2 majority that struck down a Texas abortion law in Roe v. Wade, invalidated the Georgia abortion law.
The Roe v. Wade case, filed by “Jane Roe,” challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman’s life was in danger. Roe’s life was not at stake, but she wanted to safely end her pregnancy. The court sided with Roe, saying a woman’s right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Dozens of cases have challenged the decision in Roe v. Wade in the 46 years since the landmark ruling and the echoes of challenge are heard to this day.

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And what did Nixon think about that day’s ruling? The same Oval Office taping system that would bring about his downfall in the Watergate Scandal recorded his thoughts on Roe V. Wade for posterity. “I know there are times when abortions are necessary,” he told aide Chuck Colson, “I know that – when you have a black and a white, or a rape. I just say that matter-of-factly, you know what I mean? There are times… Abortions encourage permissiveness. A girl gets knocked up, she doesn’t have to worry about the pill anymore, she goes down to the doctor, wants to get an abortion for five dollars or whatever.” Yep, that was the President of the United States talking. And his day wasn’t even over yet.
At 3:39 p.m. Central Time, former President Lyndon B. Johnson placed a call to his Secret Service agents on the LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas. He had just suffered a massive heart attack. The agents rushed into LBJ’s bedroom where they found Johnson lying on the floor still clutching the telephone receiver in his hand. The President was unconscious and not breathing. Johnson was airlifted in one of his own airplanes to Brooke Army General hospital in San Antonio where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Johnson was 64 years old. Shortly after LBJ’s death, his press secretary telephoned Walter Cronkite at CBS who was in the middle of a report on the Vietnam War during his CBS Evening News broadcast. Cronkite abruptly cut his report short and broke the news to the American public.

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His death meant that for the first time since 1933, when Calvin Coolidge died during Herbert Hoover’s final months in office, that there were no former Presidents still living; Johnson had been the sole living ex-President Harry S. Truman’s recent death. Johnson had suffered three major heart attacks and, with his heart condition recently diagnosed as terminal, he returned to his ranch to die. He had grown his previously close-cut gray hair down past the back of his neck, his silver curls nearly touching his shoulders. Prophetically, LBJ often told friends that Johnson men died before reaching 65 years old, and he was 64. Had Johnson chosen to run in 1968 (and had he won) his death would have came 2 days after his term ended. As of this 2019 writing, Johnson remains the last former Democratic President to die.

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Nixon mentioned all of these events (and more) on his famous tapes. All the President’s men are there to be heard. Along with Colson, Nixon talks with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman (whom ha calls a “softhead” that day), Bebe Rebozo, Ron Ziegler, and Alexander Haig. Haldeman is the first to inform Nixon of LBJ’s death in “Conversation 036-051” by stating “He’s dead alright.” For his part, Nixon states in “Conversation 036-061” that it makes the “first time in 40 years that there hasn’t been a former President. Hoover lived through all of 40 years” and then refers to the recent peace treaty, “In any event It’ll make him (LBJ) look better in the end than he would have looked otherwise, so… The irony that he died before we got something down there. The strange twists and turns that life takes.”

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Another event took place that night to round out the day, but unlike the others, you won’t find mention of it on the Nixon tapes. In Jamaica, a matchup of two undefeated heavyweight legends took place. Undisputed world heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier (29-0) took on the number one ranked heavyweight challenger George Foreman (37-0) in Jamaica’s National Stadium. Foreman dominated Frazier by scoring six knockdowns in less than two rounds. Foreman scored a technical knockout at 1:35 of the second round to dethrone Frazier and become the new undisputed heavyweight champion (the third-youngest in history after Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay). This was the fight where ABC’s television broadcaster Howard Cosell made the legendary exclamation, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
“This is a peace that lasts, and a peace that heals.” Nixon announced to the American people the next day. The announcement came exactly 11 years, one month and one day after the first American death in the Vietnam conflict: 25-year-old Army Specialist 4th Class James Thomas Davis of Livingston, Tenn., who had been killed in an ambush by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon on Dec. 22, 1961. For you budding numerologists out there, that translates to 11-1-1. It was all downhill from there. LBJ’s death precipitated the cancellation of several Inauguration events and a week later, on January 30, former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, James W. McCord Jr. and five others were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. The dominoes were falling and eventually “Down goes Nixon! Down goes Nixon!”

Disney, Politics

Walt Disney Meets LBJ.

WaltAndLBJOriginal publish date:                October 29, 2014

Mid-term elections are over, so I figure it is once again safe to write about politics. Well, sort of anyway. One of my favorite political stories involves a pair of baby-boomer heroes on the eve of the seminal 1964 Presidential election. On September 14, 1964, Walt Disney received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, from Lyndon B. Johnson. The award recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”
There can be little doubt that Walt Disney deserved the honor, but controversy revolves around what Mr. Disney was wearing when he received the medal from President Johnson that day. Controversy from the man who brought us the happiest place on earth. What could that possibly be? Well, when Walt met Lyndon, he was wearing a Barry Goldwater for President button on his lapel. The lapel opposite the one that LBJ would pin the distinguished medal to.
The White House announced on July 3, 1964, that Walt would be a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. It was during the Goldwater campaign, and Walt Disney and his entire family were all united in their enthusiastic support of the Conservative Arizona Senator. Walt felt that it was all a ploy to surround the incumbent Democrat LBJ with people judged to be outstanding Americans for a powerful photo op during the campaign. The invitation came at a time when Walt Disney had bigger things on his mind: the New York World’s fair opening, the first death at Disneyland (Mark Maples on the Matterhorn) and the United States Lawn Bowling Championships. Wait, what? Lawn Bowling?
Betcha didn’t know that Walt Disney was one mean lawn bowler did ya? The White House ceremony was scheduled the Monday after the U.S. Lawn Bowling Championships at Buck Hill Falls, in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania near Scranton. The White House ceremony came at the end of a cross country journey Walt had arranged to take his Beverly Hills lawn bowling team back east to play in a few tournaments. Disney was passionate about lawn bowling at this time in his life. Walt bowled in the championships at Buck Hill Falls surrounded by, and competing against, just plain folk less than a week before he would meet the President of the United States.
At some point during his bowling sojourn, Walt decided he wanted to wear a Goldwater button to the White House. He asked an aid to get him a Goldwater pin. They got him two; a large 3″ pin with the slogan “Go-Go Goldwater” and a small tie-tac sized metallic gold metal lapel pin that combined the letter “G” and the numerals “64” as shorthand for “Goldwater in ’64”. Walt wore the big button on the plane going to Washington and joked to friends that he was going to wear it to the White House, although no-one really thought that he would.
Here’s where the story gets a little confusing. Some say that Walt wore the small “G ’64” pin in full view on the front of his lapel while others say he wore it pinned upside down under his lapel. Some of Walt’s friends say that he left the larger pin in his pocket while still others claim that he wore it pinned under his lapel. The very lapel that LBJ would pin the medal onto.
When Walt went to the podium to receive the medal from the President, he in some way tried to let Johnson know that he was wearing the Goldwater button. One account has LBJ discovering the pin while pinning the medal on. At the point of feeling the obstruction under the lapel, Walt flipped the lapel up to show the President the pin. Another states that LBJ saw the smaller tie-tac pin while initially pinning the medal onto the opposite lapel. Still another account claims that while Walt was on the podium and at a point when he and the President were face to face, Walt flipped up his lapel to reveal the pin.
For decades, this episode was viewed as an urban legend. It’s only recently that accounts from eye witnesses have surfaced confirming the incident. Although the exact details may remain fuzzy, the event itself has not been denied. Some members of the Johnson administration came forward to admit that LBJ “was not very happy about it…but I don’t think anything was said between them” and that “Johnson did not take Walt’s political commentary with good grace at all.”
One account of the incident comes from Emile Kuri, a longtime set decorator for the Disney live-action films. Kuri was a regular travel companion of Walt’s in the 1960s. Kuri recalls: “Walt didn’t like Johnson at all and he was wearing a Goldwater button. I was wearing the same button. But before I entered the White House, I took the button off. Walt didn’t. When he went into the White House, the aides to Johnson said, “Mr. Disney, please take that off.” He said, “Why should I? I’m voting for him.” You know he had the courage to do that. I didn’t. I had to take my button off. That man had such tremendous courage.”
2013GoldwaterLine-1x10Back in Los Angeles, Walt told his daughter that he had worn the small button openly and that he had worn the larger “Go Go Goldwater” button on the underside of his lapel. He explained this double placement as “So if anyone said anything about it [the small button], I’d flash this [the larger button]… as if to say, ‘which one do you prefer I wear?’ Wearing an opponent’s button visible to LBJ would seem to have been a slap in the President’s face, a rude gesture difficult to reconcile with the Walt Disney legend.

Walter Elias Disney, was born in Chicago and grew up in Missouri. He was a very devout Congregationalist Christian, the religion of his family, and was named after the family minister. Walt’s political leanings are well-known to be conservative, anti-union, and vehemently anti-communist. Disney was a close ally of “Red Scare” zealot Joe McCarthy. Walt even testified against some of his Hollywood peers in McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. But was Walt Disney a boorish, ungrateful guest in the People’s House receiving an award so prestigious that- like the comparable Congressional Medal of Honor- it must be bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress?
Whatever the exact nature of Walt’s gesture, it was not defiant or insulting. It was more of an expression of Walt’s Midwestern sense of humor. If Walt said anything to LBJ about the incident, it would have surely been in jest. LBJ was well aware of Disney’s support for Goldwater before he bestowed the honor upon him. The subject of Walt’s support for Goldwater came up in one of LBJ’s recorded telephone conversations on September 6, 1964, eight days before the Medal of Freedom ceremony.
Disney was by nature an enthusiast, and in 1964, politics had become one of his enthusiasms. He had gotten to know General Dwight Eisenhower on social occasions at Palm Springs, and in July 1964, just a few days after the Medal of Freedom announcement, he visited the GOP national convention in San Francisco and was photographed there with Ike and his son, John. By wearing a Goldwater button, Walt may have been sticking up for his friends. Probably a mix of motives was at work: loyalty to fellow Republicans, sharp political differences with Johnson, and, perhaps most importantly, a once in a lifetime opportunity to pull the ultimate prank.
Years later, Walt’s daughter Diane said, “It was in bad taste not to remove it when he was received by the President. Dad did not respect Johnson, but did have great respect for the office he held. I was uneasy about what he said he’d done, but I did not let on. Rather, I probably said, ‘Good for you!’ or something like that. Alas, your animated man was not a perfect man. But he was not a coarse man. He did like to do the little unexpected ‘cute’ things like the bride and groom he designed for our wedding cake [the bride figure, representing Diane, was dressed in Levi’s, and the groom figure, representing Ron Miller, was dressed in Bermuda shorts and bare feet—and a football helmet]. He was the consummate gag man.”
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Whether you believe Walt Disney was making a political statement or just pulling a gag, this little known episode from the real life of a man whose name, like Ford, Hershey or Firestone, has become an iconic American brand, must surely make you smile.