Frank Sinatra Meets LBJ

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“The next night, following a Big Brothers benefit, Drew Pearson and Humphrey took Sinatra to the White House for a late night visit with Lyndon Baines Johnson. Frank’s animosity towards Bobby Kennedy was the only thing that made him partially acceptable to the President, who had never forgotten Sinatra’s rebuke to his fellow Texan, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, nor his idolatry of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Johnson showed his disdain when Sinatra was ushered into the Lincoln bedroom well past midnight.

Lady Bird was already in her nightgown and the President was lying on a table getting a massage. Humphrey stopped by the canopied bed to talk to Mrs. Johnson while Frank walked over to the famous mantlepiece on which Jacqueline Kennedy had hung an inscribed plaque before leaving the White House. He looked closely at the inscription: ‘In this room lived John Fitzgerald Kennedy with his wife Jacqueline– during the two years, ten months, and two days he was President of the United States– January 20, 1961– November 22, 1963.’

President Johnson watched him examining the plaque. He then jumped off the massage table, grabbed an old souvenir booklet about the White House dating back to the Kennedy administration, and thrust it in Frank’s face.

‘I don’t suppose you read, but this has lots of pictures. Here’s something else,’ he added, handing Frank one of the presidential souvenirs he gave to his women visitors. ‘It’s a conversation piece,’ he said of the lipstick with the White House seal on it. ‘It’ll make a big man of you with your woman.'”

His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, Kitty Kelley, Bantam Books, 1986

Photograph: Frank Wolfe, 1972

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The Disposition of House Tigers

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“The first tiger, or rather tigress, in my life was the beautiful Tara. She was sold from Edinburgh Zoo in 1958, and I found her in a pet store near Regent’s Park. She was nine weeks old and cost me two hundred pounds… Tara was a mind opener for me. We raised her on the bottle and she slept in my bed for the first eighteen months. So sound was her character and so sweet and affectionate her nature that I supposed at first I had an exceptional animal on my hands. Experience subsequently told me that her qualities were typical of her species. To some extent I must have been suborned by the age-old propaganda against the tiger, because I remember being surprised that she never bore malice or resentment. Instinctively a man strikes back if he is hurt by a claw or bite, and when I first cuffed her in annoyance at some pain, she hissed and bared her fangs. A few minutes later the incident was forgotten, and slowly, as time went by, she learnt to play with retracted claws and restrained teeth. Through agreeably disposed towards mankind in general, she was not prepared to put up with any familiarities from outsiders. My butler panicked one lunch-time when Tara was idly playing with his foot, and he lashed out at her with a savage kick. After this incident, Tara released such terrifying growls of angers whenever he appeared that he gave his notice.”

The Best of Friends, John Aspinall, 1976, Macmillan London Ltd.

Leo Tolstoy’s Final Note to Sophia, October 28, 1910

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In 1910, eighty-two year old Leo Tolstoy famously fled his home in the middle of the night, leaving only a note for his wife Sophia. He visited his eighty-year old sister Maria at the convent of Shamardino, then decided to head for the Caucasus. He contacted pneumonia, and died at the Astapovo stationmaster’s house on November 20, 1901.

“My departure will upset you. I regret it, but understand me and please believe that I could not have done otherwise. My position at home was becoming– has already become– intolerable. Without mentioning anything else, I cannot continue living in the luxury which has surrounded me up to now, and I am doing what most old men of my age generally do: they give up the world to spend their last moments in solitude and silence. Please understand this, I beg you, and don’t try to find me, even if you discover where I am. Your arrival will only exacerbate your position and mine, and won’t alter anything in my position. I thank you for the forty-eight years of honest life you spent with me and beg you to forgive all the wrongs I’ve done you, in the same way that I forgive those you may have done me.”

The Tolstoys, Twenty-Four Generations of Russian History, 1353-1983, Nikolai Tolstoy, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

Democratic Convention Los Angeles Committee for the Arts, 1960

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The 1960 Democratic National Convention marked a watershed in the involvement of entertainers in politics. John F. Kennedy’s sister Pat’s husband Peter Lawford had formed the Democratic Convention Los Angeles Committee for the Arts with his friends. One-by-one, the performers walked onstage, formed a choir, and sang the national anthem.

By 2012 performers were giving speeches. In the audience at the 2008 DNC, actresses Anne Hathaway and Susan Sarandon looked like figures in a Renaissance painting experiencing the Rapture. At the 2012 Republican convention, Clint Eastwood scolded a chair he pretended was Barack Obama. “One advantage of being my age is that you know what they can do to ya?” he told CNN afterwards.

Frank Sinatra came out for both parties. He sang That Old Jack Magic at Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural gala and Nancy with the Reagan Face in 1980 (“I’m so pleased that you’re First Lady Nancy/ And so pleased that I’m sort of a chum/The next eight years will be fancy/ As fancy as they come”). Sammy Davis Jr., who was a member of the Democratic Convention Los Angeles Committee for the Arts, embraced Richard Nixon onstage at the 1972 RNC. “You’re not going to buy Sammy Davis Jr. by inviting him to the White House,” Nixon said during his speech, “You’re going to buy him by doing something for America.”

The most significant campaign appearance by a film star was when Ronald Reagan launched his political career with a speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater entitlted “A Time for Choosing.” Also known as “the Speech,” it was delivered on Rendezvous with Destiny, a half-hour television program paid for by Brothers for Goldwater (chaired by John Wayne).

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”

Democratic National Convention, 1960 (John F. Kennedy) 

Nat King Cole, Tony Curtis, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine

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Rendezvous with Destiny, 1964 (Barry Goldwater) Actor and ex-SAG president Ronald Reagan; “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.”

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Richard M. Nixon headquarters, Election night, 1972. Sammy Davis Jr.:  “I’m actually so jubilant about the whole thing I have nothing smart or funny or clever to say.”

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Republican National Convention, 1980 (Ronald Reagan) Frank Sinatra on the night Reagan accepted his party’s nomination.

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Republican National Convention, 1984 (Ronald Reagan)  Ray Charles performs America the Beautiful.

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Democratic National Convention, 1988 (Michael Dukakis) John F. Kennedy Jr. introduces his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy.

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Republican National Convention, 1992 (George Bush) Shannen Doherty leads the pledge of allegiance

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 Democratic National Convention, 2008 (Barack Obama) Jennifer Hudson sings the national anthem on the final day of the convention.

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Democratic National Convention, 2012 (Barack Obama)

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 Republican National Convention, 2012 (Mitt Romney)

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Sammy Davis Jr. at the Republican National Convention: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/sam-donaldson-reflects-sammy-davis-jr-richard-nixon-17099643

Seventies-speak

Disco Ball Sarah from Brizzzzzle, UK

“People did not speak in the 1970s as they had spoken before. Our language, even if we tried to resist the current tendencies, inevitably reflected the jargon of the period. This emerged from business, politics, and, above all, psychotherapy; regionally, the major source of seventies-speak was California, which now dominates the verbal language of the western world in the same way that it has, for a century or so, dominated our visual imagination. Some notes, for a future historian, on how we spoke as the 1970s drew to a close.

Different strokes for different folks:   Possibly the most odious of all 1970s expressions, implying, as it does, both an imitation down-home corniness and a phony urban sophistication. It means that some people like one thing, some another. Once used by the mayor of Toronto to suggest that body-rub parlours are okay.

Impact:  Its use as a verb was characteristic of the 1970s, as in ‘This will impact negatively on our sales picture.’

Hopefully: The most misused word of the 1970s, as in ‘Hopefully, we’ll have a good turnout for the rally.’ This is wrong, but the people who know it’s wrong are almost extinct. The correct use is in a sentence such as ‘He spoke hopefully,’ meaning he spoke with hope. No one says this anymore.

I could care less: In the past, there was an expression, ‘I could not care less,’ meaning, ‘I don’t care at all.’ Somehow, the 1970s transmuted this into ‘I could care less,’ which doesn’t mean anything at all. No one can explain how this happened, and there is not way to stop it.

Head: In the 1950s a nice fellow was described as ‘a good head.’ The 1960s brought us a ‘head shop,’ which is where you brought has pipes. In the 1970s ‘head’ came into wider use: ‘This is where my head is at’ came to mean, roughly, that this is the way one was thinking. ‘Head space’ meant a mood, or a perspective on things, but as the 1970s closed it was fading fast. Don’t try to use it in the 1980s.

Lifestyle: The word was first used by a disciple of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but it did not achieve widespread currency until this decade. Now it can be used in literally any sentence describing one’s existence. ‘I have a basically yoga lifestyle.’ ‘My lifestyle is that of an IBM executive.’ It became the most-used word of the 1970s because it was the most democratic. Not everyone can afford a Jacuzzi or even a pair of cross-country skis, but the poorest of us can claim to have a lifestyle.

I know where you’re coming from: A leading California import. It means the same as ‘I understand you,’ but it implies profound depths of empathy.

Handling it very well: As the 1970s ground on, ‘cope, and ‘coping’ began to seem archaic. It was no longer enough, if your wife suddenly left you with three kids under five, to tell your friends that you were coping. So you learned to say, ‘I’m handling it very well.’ If a true 1970s person were to find himself the victim of a hydrogen bomb attack, he would explain that he was handling it very well.

Into: It was strong in the 1960s, but it was a gigantic force in the 1970s. To be ‘into’ something can mean obsessed by it, or involved with it, or simply interested in it. As in ‘I’m into Mozart,’ or ‘I’m really into mustard.’

At this point in time: Possibly the most flagrant word-waster of the 1970s, ‘in time’ is totally redundant. In the Watergate hearings many witnesses found they were unable to recall something ‘At this point in time.’ Half of the people listening thought this sounded silly, but the other half thought it sounded impressive and began using it whenever they could fit it in.”

Farewell to the 70s, Edited by Anna Porter & Marjorie Harris, A Discovery Book, 1979.

Photograph: Sarah from Brizzzzzle, UK

A Face in the Crowd: American Politicians Pointing

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The Compassionate Conservative: George W. Bush in 2004

A marker of America’s allegiance to individualism, pointing has been a bipartisan constant of the political landscape for twenty-five years. British politicians point at disaster zones and halibut stalls, while American candidates must master the art of pointing at a face in the crowd.

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A means of looking presidential, thanking a volunteer, or making an important donor feel extra special, Bill Clinton debuted his point when he introduced his running mate on the balcony of the Governor’s mansion.

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“I wanted a vice president who really understood what had happened to ordinary Americans in the last twelve years.” Bill Clinton introduces Al Gore in 1992

During the 2008 Democratic primaries, his wife Hillary made the gesture her own. It was as though no politician had ever recognized a face in a crowd before.

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“Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice. ” Hillary Clinton defeats Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary, 2008

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“GOP Beltway Boys, yeah, GOP Beltway Boys, you know that 2010 victory that swept you into power? You didn’t build that, the Tea Party did, so dance with the one that brought ya. ” Sarah Palin at CPAC 2014

 

“Les Mémoires de Madame Ludovica” Inspires “Madame Bovary”

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“Reducing Flaubert’s achievement to this outline, we can find factual sources such as the Delamare affair… But surely the most suggestive source is a curious manuscript entitled  ‘Mémoires de Madame Ludovica,’ a naive narrative of the adulterous loves and chilling debts of Louise Pradier, the sculptor’s estranged wife. In it there is even a judicial seizure of property, as in Madame Bovary; and when Ludovica’s confidant threatens to tell her husband about her debts, the erring spouse says she will kill herself. Ludovica’s story, put together by an unknown confidante, was among the manuscripts found in Flaubert’s possession after his death, together with his own notes on the techniques used by Ludovica to obtain money– many of which in turn became Emma Bovary’s techniques. Louise Pradier wrote Flaubert a letter offering information on how the property of ‘an easy lady’ was seized; she signed off with, ‘I gather up my energy and leap to [kiss] your neck.'”

Flaubert: A Biography, Herbert Lottman, Little, Brown and Company, 1989.

Photograph by Nadar, New York Public Library Archives