Schulenberg’s Page: The end of 1969

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The end of the ’60s! It had started out so promisingly with a handsome young president and his beautiful wife in The White House.

It had all started out so optimistically!

We started hearing about think tanks as President Kennedy gathered together groups of intellectuals and experts in specialized fields to work out goals to be achieved in a changing, challenging world.  His new Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow had called television “a vast wasteland” and instituted changes!

In his first speech to the world of television broadcasters he declared that television should have a higher goal than blood and guts violence, game shows and predictably and routinely unrealistic comedies.  Since his FCC had the power to issue or refuse broadcasting licenses, his words had an effect on the industry!

With the growing popularity of elegantly patrician Audrey Hepburn and the royal marriage of the American “aristocratic” movie star Grace Kelly, Americans were becoming aware of a new refined sophistication which was reflected in the First Family living in The White House.

Madame du Pompadour’s memorial portrait finished in 1764 after her death, by her favourite portraitist, François-Hubert Drouais.

Jacqueline Kennedy, an American aristocrat herself, had been an intern at Vogue magazine and being fascinated by the 18th century in France, and in particular Madame du Pompadour, decided to herself be a cultural influence.

Pompadour, a brilliantly artistic intellectual, had influenced the reign of Louis XV to the extent that Paris became the capital of taste and culture in Europe! She supported the major painters, decorators and intellectuals and even learned the art of engraving herself!

Jackie Kennedy decided that The White House was not sufficiently respectful of its past since during the Truman and Eisenhower years. It was described as being decorated like a government office building and decorated with furnishings from discount stores!  Mrs. Kennedy felt that it shouldn’t be redecorated but restored!

Fine Arts Committee for The White House was formed with the goal of attracting private funds for the restoration thus avoiding criticism of misspent taxpayer resources.  Furnishings, donated or purchased dating from the period of the building of The White House were also sought.

The society decorator, Sister Parish, was brought in to decorate the Kennedys’ private quarters but the French decorator, Stéphane Boudin, was chosen to do the state rooms. Sister Parish was not pleased.

Red Room of the White House, designed by Boudin.

Before the work was totally completed, in February of 1962 Mrs. Kennedy gave a CBS television guided tour of The White House, a tour that earned her an honorary Emmy.  The country was uplifted and inspired by the young, sophisticated First Couple and as frequently happens, the public attempted to emulate them with a seemingly more refined style.

Members of the Kennedy clan learned to dance the Twist and when some appeared at The Peppermint Lounge, the shabby club near New York’s Times Square that popularized the Twist, the club’s fame became international!

When JFK was murdered in Dallas, Texas everything changed!  Nothing was solved by the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and when Jack Ruby shot and killed him, there were only more questions! Questions that still exist to this day!

Some people have even thought it was a coup d’état planned by the CIA!

The decade had been subsequently marked by questions, protests and violence!  Starting out with the insouciant comparatively light hearted gaiety of a young, optimistic presidency in spite of incipient problems in Viet Nam and Cuba and the decade ending with a glowering President Nixon pointing  an accusing finger at student protesters and so-called Peaceniks (with the –nik suffiix hinting at possible Communist infiltration?) and a Vice President Agnew wildly hurling insults!  And oh yes! An increasingly out of control war in that very same Viet Nam!

So back to December, 1969, after a long late night somewhere I ended up with friends at a White Tower joint on Greenwich Avenue in the Village.  Their small hamburgers were unfamiliar to me as I’d never had one and being from California was used to the embellished giant hamburgers that were beginning to appear in Manhattan!  Fittingly, they were named California Burgers!

I was reminded of ordering a hamburger at P. J. Clarke’s when I’d only lived in Manhattan for about a month.  When the waiter brought it, a small, round sort of meatball on a small simile of an English muffin, I asked for a slice of tomato, a bit of lettuce and an onion slice.   He brought me a small salad!   Asking for mayonnaise or mustard might have gotten me thrown out!

But making everything better, I went to the State Theater at Lincoln Center for the annual production of The Nutcracker!  Immediately I was thinking what the west coast kids were missing during the Christmas holidays.  No Nutcracker tradition there!

But I guess each coast has its attractions!

After, we went to a party for the Carole Channing production of Hello Dolly at the Pierre! And what is a busy Manhattan night out without a finish at Elaine’s?!

And of course, making it all feel less like the end of a decade or the end of the world was Buzzy King who, in spite of the decade’s assassinations, bombings, war and protests, was always capable of lifting spirits!

If Elaine could have bottled him she would have been even more famous!

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