Tuesday, August 9, 2016


The Atomic Age Begins

On August 9, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, a major shipbuilding center. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 people were killed by the blast and its radioactive aftermath.

The first atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima, on August 6, had failed to induce the Japanese government to surrender. They did so just six days following the Nagasaki blast.

My childhood was shaped in no small part by those incidents, not least because of the fear that the Soviet Union might unleash such weapons upon the United States.

You couldn't grow up in the 1950s and 60s without experiencing that sense of dread, which was constantly reinforced by "practice" Civil Defense announcements on TV and radio and "educational" films produced by the Defense Department.

"And the horror movies...don't forget the horror movies."

Yes, there were certainly quite a large number of those...

Cultural Icon

Another big part of my childhood in the 1950s was Smokey Bear, a character created by the U.S. Forest Service to raise awareness about fire safety when visiting wooded areas.

On August 9, 1944 the first poster featuring the character made its debut. By the time
I was watching TV as a young child, public service announcements sponsored by the Ad Council and the Forest Service were making Smokey one of the most recognizable characters ever seen on American television.

Although the term "forest fires" has been replaced with "wild fires," Smokey is still being used today to remind us to be careful in the woods.

"I knew him back before he was a big star..."

You'll forgive me if I don't believe you...

Feast Day

Photograph taken in 1938
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a philosopher and teacher during one of the darkest periods of European history.

Born Edith Stein to Jewish parents in 1891 in Wroclaw, a city which was then a part of Germany, she was an atheist by her teenage years but converted to Catholicism in 1922 after being affected by the writings of St. Teresa of Ávila.

When anti-Semitic legislation enacted by the Nazi government forced her to resign her teaching position in 1933, Stein joined the Discalced Carmelite religious order, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Eventually, her order assigned her to a monastery in the Netherlands for her own safety, but after the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940 there was no haven. In response to a condemnation of their racism by the Dutch Bishops' Conference in July 1942, the Nazis arrested all Jewish converts to the Catholic faith, and sent them to Auschwitz. Edith and her sister Rosa died there on August 9, 1942, just one week after their arrest.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1987, and canonized by him in 1998. She is one of six patron saints of Europe, and is also considered the patron of Jewish converts to the faith.

Happy Birthday!

As "Mr. Blue" in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
On August 9, 1927 Robert Archibald Shaw was born in Westhoughton, England.

The son of medical professionals, after a brief career as a teacher and a stint in the Royal Air Force Shaw decided to try his hand at acting. It turned out to be a wise decision.

My first encounter with Shaw the actor was on the British TV series The Buccaneers, which I watched as a young boy. He played Captain Dan Tempest.

Although he enjoyed some success as a novelist and playwright (notably as the author of The Man In the Glass Booth), Shaw's primary claim to fame is as a film actor. He was the Bond villain Donald "Red" Grant in From Russia With Love (1963), King Henry VIII in A Man For All Seasons (1966), mob kingpin Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting (1973), and the shark hunter Quint in Jaws (1975).

Shaw is one of those actors I'll watch no matter what the vehicle. He died too young,
due to his chronic alcoholism, but he left behind a remarkable body of unforgettable performances.

It Was Bound to Happen Eventually

From the pen of Lisa Benson, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

It is possibly just a fault of perception, but my own sense of things is that a staggering number of popular music performers of my generation died tragically young in the late 60s and early 70s. In addition to the iconic performers my generation lost to drug overdoses, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Gram Parsons, we also lost Duane Allman and Berry Oakley to motorcycle crashes, and Otis Redding, Jim Croce, and three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in plane crashes.

One of those losses that hit me the hardest was the loss of trumpeter Bill Chase, who had played for a time with my jazz hero Maynard Ferguson and whose band bearing his name had burst on the scene just as I was nearing graduation from high school in April 1971 with the hit album Chase. I absolutely loved their blend of jazz and rock idioms.

The album's first single, "Get It On," spent three months on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, a very strong showing for what was basically jazz music. The band's second album, Ennea, didn't enjoy the same level of success. Their third release, Pure Music, was more popular, but still not the commercial success Chase had hoped for. Bill was continuing to play live gigs as he worked on a fourth album in 1974.

Original 1971 45 rpm single
On August 9, 1974 Chase and three members of his band, along with the pilot and co-pilot, perished in the crash of a Piper Twin Comanche he had chartered to fly to a county fair performance in Jackson, Minnesota.

The news got buried by the coverage of President Nixon's resignation, but I read about it the next morning, as I was preparing to marry my late first wife in the beautiful Rose Garden at Loose Park in south Kansas City.

Today's send-off is the original 1971 recording of "Get It On." I think it still holds up well, and I still listen to it often, despite the bittersweet memories it evokes. Enjoy...

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