Week of January 6, 1947
Date Night at the Academy
R.I.P. W.C. Fields
I was very fortunate to find a set of bound volumes of LIFE Magazine for the year 1947. Since 2004 is just beginning, I thought that it would be appropriate to meander through 1947 one week at a time to see how things have (and haven't) changed in 57 years. By the way -- the bound volumes came from the library of Bridgewater College (in Bridgewater, Virginia...) Are there any alumni out there who would like to share campus lore from this august institution -- especially during 1947?
Click here to see excerpts from other LIFE magazine issues during 1947
Thanks to Google Books, you can click here to read the entire January 6, 1947 issue of LIFE Magzine. You can look at some of the images that we refer to but cannot post due to copyright.
We are always glad to hear from our readers: e-mail us by clicking here
As far as LIFE was concerned, 1947 began with a lovely young couple on their way to a formal party at the U.S. Naval Academy. A very young Jeanne Maloney, then age 16 was escorted to the party by Midshipman George Dittman. By my reckoning, these folks are in their mid-seventies now; we'd like to hear about them if anyone knows what happened to them.
In fact, we heard from Mr. Dittman's grandson. He writes: "...Just surfing the web to find an issue of Jan. 6, 1947 Life as my father was on the cover. His name was George William Dittmann and later graduated from Anapolis in 1948. He passed away in January 1989...."
This issue contains a number of articles that are directly relevant to contemporary events. Of note is a rather lengthy article on the Sound Barrier. Experiments were just being conducted with the XS-1, the famous rocket plane, but the sound barrier had not yet been broken. This particular article discusses the technical aspects of travelling faster than sound, and notes that "the development of the amazingly simple jet engine has made unlimited power available and done away with the propellor." The photo spread shows some of the exotic shapes that were being considered for supersonic aircraft, some of which actually made it into production. Of course, the little XS-1 actually did break the sound barrier and is now enshrined at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum
BUT, there is an exotic footnote to the story that is directly relevant to 2004: directly after the factual piece on jet engines and the XS-1, there is a "science fiction" look at the supersonic airliner of the far-off future. LIFE notes that "Ten passengers - presumably in a hurry - could be whisked from New York to Havana in less than an hour and a half". The rated speed was 1,000 mph at 35,000 feet which is slightly less than the performance of SSTs. Of all things, the Concorde, a real supersonic transport ended 25 years of service and was placed in a museum that opened just before 2004 began. The airplane pictured in LIFE bears a resemblance to Concorde and certainly had the same major problem -- it would carry too few passengers to be profitable. The New York to Havana route is a throwback to much different times.
Both of the airplanes that, in 1947, were the bright shining visions of the future are now museum pieces.
The lead article is about the civil war that was raging in Greece. From the photos, it looks like the "war" was fairly low-tech and involved groups left over from the WWII Resistance. One group was funded by Moscow and the other was funded by Britain, and both had ambitions for running the country when the Nazis left. The story was fairly romantic in which the LIFE reporter managed to reach the leftist outfit high in the mountains. The photos show the reporter drinking Ouzo and smoking cigarettes with the bearded guerillas in a rustic hut. Alas, this was the prototype for a story that would be repeated over and over again in Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Eventually, the US sent enough military aid to help Greek King George wipe out the rebels. Democracy in Greece was fairly elusive until the early 1980s
An editorial looked at the state of US foreign policy in 1947 and the dominant theme was "Russian Aggression". It is clear that the seeds of the Cold War were being sown here, although there was some lip service paid to the "conditions" that breed Communism. (little things like poverty, corruption, oligarchy and tyrrany..) Of note is a continuing theme through 1947 that the State Department is too confused and incompetent to face the world and that the Army (in Europe) and the Navy (in the Pacific) was much more suited to face realities. The artcicle concludes with the statement: "There are no absolute guarantees of peace. We must go on winning our war with Russia even while we strive our utmost to prevent it" [This logic was in effect until about 1989]
The town of River Grove, Illinois was faced with a major crisis -- a fire had destroyed the local telephone exchange, leaving the small village bereft of communication. The article praises the local telephone company for heroic actions in returning service within 11 days
A ten page article looked at the condition of American public schools. The conclusion was that public education was going to hell in a handbasket. The troubles in 1947 were:
The article indicates that teachers in the 1940s made about $2,300 per year. This equates to about $30,000 per year in 2004 dollars. This is about the same as a beginning teacher makes today, although there is a career ladder to higher salaries. Complaints about the public schools remain the same today as in 1947. They will be the same in 2047.
LIFE took a look at the Yale Record's parody of the New York Daily News. The humor is actually pretty lame, but it was 1947. There is an air of cynicism, but this lacks the savage flair of the National Lampoon's parodies in the 1970s. Of note to LindyHoppers: The parody of the Theater section offered both a Downtown Will Shakespeare's OMLET and a simultaneous Uptown production of The HOT OMLET. (Lest the humor be lost, there was a fad on Broadway of staging all-black cast versions of theatrical classics, such as The Hot Mikado. Generally, these shows featured zoot-suited casts delivering jive versions of classic lines.)
LIFE pioneered special photographic techniques. This week, they showed an x-ray photo of quadruplets in utero. The lucky mom was a Mrs. Dorothy Henn of Baltimore. Her husband Charles had to figure out how to raise the quads on a monthly salary of $195/mo (about $2,500 today)
LIFE took note of an unusual postwar phenomenon: prices of some commodities were actually falling after nearly six years of high prices, rationing and shortages. Butter was down to 80 cents per pound and fur-trimmed coats were selling from $65 to $130. The downside of this was the fear of deflation and depression. There was a small recession, but the country bounded right back
James Mason, the celebrated British actor was the subject of a six page profile. The young Mason was very popular among the ladies. The article seems to dwell on strange personal quirks such as his five cats, and a more-or-less permanent houseguest who serves as a confidante and bodyguard. (They even wrote parts for him into their plays and pictures.) Regardless of this article, James Mason went on to a very distiguished career in film and passed away in the 1980s
The magazine detailed the efforts of Capt. John Zolezzi of San Diego who catches seals and sea-lions to be trained as circus performers. Lord know that PETA would have had a field day with this article...
Ruth Gordon, then an ingenue, had just completed writin, directing, and starring in a Broadway play called Years Ago, depicting her very own childhood as the daughter of a foreman in a baby-food factory. Ruth began her career as the poster child for the Mellin Baby food factory. Her last film Rosemary's Baby
It seems that the end of the war and the return of prosperity also encouraged "New York Society" to resume having sumptuous debutante balls. This year, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stole the show by appearing at the NYC Debutante Cotillion. There is a wonderful picture of Wally and Eddie surrounded by apple-cheeked coeds from New York's elite families. In general, the Windsors were thorough twits, although they were always impeccably dressed. Edward always looks as if his clothes had sprung organically from his body. The photos of the Debs are anticlimactic. Sympathy for poor Patricia Geoghegan -- she had so many debutante parties that she did not get to bed before 3:00 am for a whole week. Awww...
The final article deals with the Toastmasters Club, where normal people learn the art of public speaking. The story follows Real Estate Broker Robert McNeill as he earnestly tries to learn a speech - he even drove out to the Hollywood Bowl (when noone was there) to practice his delivery. At the critical moment, he forgot everything.
W.C. Fields died on Christmas day, 1946. He had just completed a radio broadcast on the Edgar Bergen program. Charlie McCarthy (Bergen's ventriloquist dummy) quipped "You weren't born, you were squeezed out of a bar rag" That was a pretty concise eulogy. The article was quite nostalgic about Fields' acting triumphs and comedic genius.
An ad for Ipana toothpaste had a lovely lady who says "It's more fun being a mother than a Model" detailing her shift from a Powers Girl to a Darien, Ct housewife. She was pleased to choose Ipana for her little brood. This was typical of the postwar period when American society did its best to get women out of the workplace and back into the home. Later, Ipana marketed directly to kids with Bucky Beaver, a cartoon character.
A product called Sal Hepatica (Liver Salts) promised to get rid of constipation when you have a cold. For some reason, somebody thought that this would sell medicine. So much for "Good Taste" in 1947 merchandising.
The Phoenix Mutual company offered annuities that would enable you to retire on "$150 per Month". (That's about $2,000/month today or $24,000 per year.) The happy couple planned to do a lot of gardening and traveling on that vast sum. Their investment would have been honored -- the company is sill around, renamed Phoenix Wealth Management
An ad for Beltone hearing aids showed the latest model that almost fit in the hand of the model. And this was a third the size of the previous model...
The National Dairy Products Corporation forecasted that the new wives of 1947 are going to have more fun in the kitchen since previous cooking experience will not be necessary due to the wide variety of convenience foods being offered. In a photo, a young husband just home from the office asks his wife, "What's for Dinner, Duchess?"
Two full page ads, one for the American Railroad Council and another for Union Oil make the point that 6.6% profits are not excessive. Labor difficulties were just around the corner.
The back cover features one of those Camel ads that are the bane of the tobacco industry today -- it says "More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette".
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