Week of February 17, 1947
Oil and Saudi Arabia
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...) Can anyone tell us more about this august institution?
We would LOVE to hear from you if you have some observations,ccomments or direct personal experience with any of the subjects treated here. Contact us by clicking here.
Click here to see excerpts from other LIFE magazine issues during 1947
Thanks to Google Books, you can click here to read the entire February 17, 1947 issue of LIFE Magzine. You can look at some of the images that we refer to but cannot post due to copyright.
The February 17 issue featured the lovely Nance Stilley of Florida who posed for some stunning photos on water skis. According to LIFE, Ms. Stilley was 5 feet five inches in height, weighed 105 pounds and owned 20 bathing suits. This was a wonderful example of not one but two of LIFE's approach to publishing: First, LIFE missed no opportunity for cheesecake. Second, they alway plugged the products of their advertisers. In this case, the lovely Ms. Stilley is photographed in Jantzen bathing suits, and the company's logo (a silhouette of a diver) is visible in every photo, even the cover (above). Jantzen had run a full page ad for their new line of foundation garments just last week.
Jantzen was a regular advertiser in LIFE
King Ibn Saud visited his American partners in the development of Saudi Arabia's vast oil property. At the time, the Arab-American Oil Company (Aramco)was owned by Americans and paid royalties to the King. At the time, the Dharan field was producing 200,000 barrels per day, and paid a royalty of 22 cents per barrel, yielding $44,000 per day for the king. Strangely, when quantities are adjusted for inflation (multiply by 20) the royalty share would still yield about the same value. Of course today, the king owns it all.. But, back in 1947, the Saudis were portrayed as bumbling rustics. The Texas Co. (Texaco) and Standard Oil (Exxon) had invested $200 Million in the Dharan field; at the time, most of the production was targeted toward the needs of the US Navy. Ibn Saud was 67 and half blind, but he made his way to Dharan for a visit. LIFE was pleased to portray Saud and his court as bumblers who slept in tents and ate whole sheep. They noted that the king even talked to unveiled women and children when he visited the American compound. LIFE commented that: "Old Arab hands were quick to sense that this might be the beginning of the end for an ancient Arab taboo. The word was sure to spread quickly through Saudi Arabia that Ibn Saud, who holds the power of life and death over 6,000,000 subjects is now ready to receive women with unveiled faces". Once again, LIFE was dead wrong. The House of Saud still has absolute power and now American oil executives (an most everyone else in the Western world) dance to the Saudi tune.
Meanwhile, most of Europe was suffering the privations associated with the destruction caused by WWII. A big part of this was a shortage of warm clothes for the winter of 1946-1947. An enterprising designer named Emily Wilkens created a pattern for a suit and coat that could be made out of one standard army blanket. The pattern, accompanied by thread, buttons, pins and scissors were widely distributed within Europe; the occupation army provided its spare blankets.
LIFE editorialized on Democracy. This was a big topic at the time, because our foreign policy -- then as now -- was based on bringing democracy to the World. The only problem was that some of the people we were supporting (like Ibn Saud, above) were pretty far away from the ideal of Democracy. Even in this country, large groups of people (i.e. African Americans) were largely disenfranchised and the memory of imprisoning whole ethnic groups (i.e. the Japanese) in concentration camps was still fresh. There was a lot of soul-searching about the actual meaning of Democracy. LIFE noted that at the very peak of Athenian democracy, the Hellenic civilzation began to deteriorate because it had failed to create a World Order that permitted it to survive. The notion that America could only survive if the rest of the World was made safe came to be the cornerstone of our postwar philosophy that reversed our traditional isolationism. In this philosophy, there was a strong emphasis on free trade and unfettered commerce that was summarized in the phrase "One World." In the years to come, the Eastern intellectuals who created the "One World" philosophy would rub against the Western isolationists, a trend which culminated 33 years later with the election of Ronald Reagan as president; ironically, a series of "conservative" Republican presidents, beginning with Reagan, have brought us very close to the "One World" ideal, mainly because that ideal is good for business.
February of 1947 saw the birth of another organization devoted to democracy --- Common Cause. They had a little different definition of Democracy -- first and foremost, Democracy meant personal worth, that the state should serve man and not vice versa. Freedom of speech, thought and action were paramount. Equality, rule of law, public morality and individual responsibility were all rolled into one free democratic concept. This was a fairly radical position in 1947. Common Cause still exists with about the same platform, but now it is just one of many "good government" organizations
The march toward a strictly anti-communist foreign policy contiued. This week, LIFE profiled the life of Gerhard Eisler, "a professional Moscow-schooled revolutionary who is now charged with conspiracy against the government of the US." Once again, the Evil Communist was exposed before a congressional committee. This time, anit-semitism came into the picture. Eisler's supposed slavish devotion to Communism was theorized to be a reaction to the employment discrimination that his father had experienced in Germany. Eisler's life is fairly dull, that of a straightforward Moscow hack who even turned in his own sister. He seems to have been fairly ineffective, and the bulk of the article is devoted to the methods by which the Communists seek to undermine American socity including (1) the infiltration of labor organizations, (2) formation of "front" organizations and (3) involvement in negro issues. This catchall list was used for the next 50 years to tar anyone who was dissatisfied with the status quo. The unusual thing about the Eisler case is that he had never bothered to conceal anything -- he entered the country as an official of the Communist Party. But, we will see a string of stories like this all devoted to eliminating the remnant of sympathy for the Soviet Union left over from their role as our Allies in World War II. It didn't take long... But, make no bones about it - the Soviet Communists were authentic bad guys -- but that does not automatically mean that Civil Rights and Unions were wrong.
In France, Magda Fontages was convicted of being a collaborator with the Gestapo. She had been a mistress of Benito Mussolini. She was resigned to her 15 year sentence, hinting that she was relieved that she was not to be strung up in public like Il Duce and his (then) mistress Clara Petacci
LIFE did a photoessay on "The Peoples of New York" which looked at the ethnic minorities in New York City. The article counted 75 minorities and noted that they spoke nearly "all the languages known to man." The article was fairly comprehensive. New York had 57,000 Czechs and four newspapers in their language. There were 53,000 Greeks who tended to gravitate toward the food service industry. There were 412,000 Poles in the city. Most of the Russians came to the city before the 1917 revolution, and were devoutly anti-communist; this group of Russians seems to have gotten control of the A.F.L. House Wrecker's Union (Local 95). LIFE said, "Russians take naturally to house-wrecking and other tasks requiring brawn." Jews were portrayed as a nationality group, and Germans were portaryed as enjoying "Violent bavarian folk dances and huge quantities of beer." There were 1,095,000 Italians in the city including the Mayor, but the two chosen for the article were photographed while eating pasta; there were only 19,000 French in the city, but LIFE's photographer managed to find a Frenchwoman at a bar with a poodle. Similarly, the exemplar for the 123,000 Hungraians was photographed with a Gypsy violinist in the background. Apparently by 1947 the Irish had been civilized; LIFE wrote: New York's many Irish are now thoroughly assimilated Many of them become politicians or members of the city's police force." The list goes on, repeating stereotypes -- the Armenian is shown with a rug, the Swede is shown giving a massage and the Chinese man is shown in a laundry. You really have to see something like this once to get an idea about stereotyping and prejudice -- the photos of the ethnic minorities, generally in shabby circumstances stood in stark contrast to the "Americans" portrayed in the advertisements. LIFE's readers in Peoria or Dubuque could be even more certain that immigration should be restricted.
The January 20 issue highlighted the strategic importance of the Arctic region. This week, LIFE went into Alaska to take a close-up look at Army operations in the Arctic cold. In general, the cold played havoc on both men and materiel. Tanks promptly broke through the frozen Tundra and became hopelessly mired. The extreme cold made it difficult to execute even the smallest maneuvers with troops. At 55 degrees below zero, nothing seemed to work. LIFE noted that the US had much to learn about Arctic survival.
There was a bumper crop of Potatoes in 1946. The downside was that the US government was obligated to buy large amounts of the crop which had no market. After giving away as much as schools and hospitals would take, the government found that it had 20 million bushes of rapidly spoiling potatoes on its hands. They were spread on the ground in North Dakota and plowed under as fertilizer; they could not even be shipped to starving Europe because preservation techniques (freezing, dehydration) and shipping were too expensive. Thus, a hungry world got to look at pictures of potatoes being dumped
Last week, we made note of a small ad featuring the Crosley automobile. This month, LIFE magazine did a five page feature on the car's designer, Powell Crosley, Jr. As we said before, the Crosley was a fine car, well ahead of its time and very popularly priced. The only problem was that it was VERY small. Crosley created some of the best "popularly priced" consumer products that have ever been offered to the American public. Crosley radios are eminently collectible and even their 21st century reporductions are valuable. Almost everything that Crosley touched during his career turned into Gold. he was even able to buy the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and turn them into a pennant contender. His plan for a small economy car seemed to be flawless --- the entire US was hungry for cars since they had been unavailable during the war. The Crosley car sold for $500 when a Chevy, Ford or Plymouth cost $1,300. Alas, Crosby and LIFE misjudged the American public -- they wanted BIG cars that were sexy. They did NOT want sensible cheap transportation. Would that they had taken a cue from Ibn Saud (above...)
The Crosley Car
They lasted until 1953
A two page article profiled track star Gil Dodds who had just won the mile race at the New York Millrose Games. In today's days of marathons and triathalons, the mile is practically a sprint. Not so in 1947. The image was of runners collapsing at the end of the race. The "indoor mile" is run on small track, 1/16 th of a mile, so there are a lot of turns. Dodds won the mile in 4:06. Today, high school races have more than one runner coming in below four minutes. However, in the 1940s, the "Four Minute Mile" was something like the sound barrier. Dodds himself was a very interesting cahracter -- he was a preacher/evangelist who based his appeal to young men on his athletic ability. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Dodds in Wheaton, Illinois in 1961. I found him to be a very nice and sincere guy. His style was pretty "brute force" and was replaced by much more scientific conditioning. Dodds became a minister and missionary.
LIFE went to Austin, Texas to meet with the editor of the Texas Ranger, the humor magazine (mistakenly identified as a "student newspaper") at the University of Texas. The occasion was the paper's expose of academic cheating. A poll had shown that 66.8% of the 17,500 students had cheated and about 10% did it "frequently". Tricks that were used included writing answers on a scroll inside a fake watch, writing answers on a shirt cuff, and (of note to Lindy Hoppers) writing on the white part of saddle oxfords. Most ominously, girls were able to "tuck the answers in their stockings, above the knee," presumably where gentlemanly professors could not look for them... All of this was pretty lame stuff, and I think that the whole article was a prank played on LIFE magazine...
Here's the real story, embedded in this "history" of the Texas Ranger:
"... 'A cute little trick from St. Paul Wore a newspaper dress to a ball. The dress caught on fire And burned her entire Front page, sport-section and all.' - The Texas Ranger, December, 1938
"...Thus began The Age of Enlightenment that the University had unwittingly created. During its 49 year existence, the Texas Ranger annually groomed an imp-etuous staff of Rangeroos that published a magazine that ridiculed and pranked the institution that had conceived it. They were troublemakers and amusement was their top priority. The Rangeroos were creative journalists who sometimes got a little carried away with suppressing the forces of authority at the University of Texas. They meant no harm. There were some bad puns and several sexual innuendos, but the Rangeroos were dedicated to enlightening their readers, the students. In 1923 the Texas Ranger became the official humor magazine of UT. The cover of the debut issue featured Hairy Ranger, comic mascot of the publication, prancing with an attractive senorita. A fuss was made because in those years it was considered immoral for even cartoon anglos to mix with Mexicans.
"...Through the years, the Texas Ranger became notorious for printing 'unfit material,' including a detailed description in a 1947 issue on how to cheat. The University was perturbed with the article's claim that 66.8 percent of UT students cheat and they promptly disproved it with research data that only 55 percent of UT students cheat. The editor, Johnny Bryson, retaliated by selling the entire story to Life magazine and its millions of readers. In 1961, A. Y. McCown, dean of students, declared that the Texas Ranger was 'beyond the pale of good taste and decency' and it was a storehouse of 'gutter level' humor. The Rangeroos took revenge by publishing Dean McCown jokes. The Texas Student Publications Board, the governing body of all official student publications, frequently refused to approve Ranger material, including three pages of the 'Girl of the Month' pictures in 1964 which were deemed 'too risque' for student eyes.
"...The 60s were a traumatic time for the Texas Ranger. The Vietnam conflict erupted and suddenly the student body was more serious; the Ranger became irrelevant. The humor magazine lost its satiric edge and began to focus on more topical subjects. And so in 1972 an age of enlightenment came to an end and the Texas Ranger was put to sleep..."
An obscure African American comedian named "Dusty" Fletcher set an old Vaudeville bit to music and created a national fad. The song was Open the Door Richard, selling 400,000 copies in one week. At the time, the nation seemed to move from one screwy "catchphrase" to another. See the February 3 issue on Artie Auerbach's "Pickle in the Middle" fad. largely, the story is about a drunk who comes home late at night and beats on his own door demanding to be let in, a physical impossibility since he is knocking on his own door... Of all things, the song was performed on nationwide radio by noted opera star Lauritz Melchior.
LIFE visited a recherche New York restaurant called El Borracho (Spanish for "the Drunkard"). This place specialized in quirky gimmicks. For example, there was a "Kiss Room" decorated with 14,823 lipstick prints donated by obliging female guests. There was a "Room of Romance" in which romantic inscriptions left by amorous patrons covered the walls; some 23 languages were represented. The Bar featured a talking Mynah bird who insulted the guests; the bird was also on the menu, priced at $4,127.82. The bill of fare also offered a "Siamese Fish" at $6,283.75 - this was, in fact a double-headed creature made by sewing two fish together. Most of the other entrees were priced at $5 ($100 today...). This type of thing must have been appealing to someone, but the whole idea leaves me cold.
An enterprising advertising executive bought three spare "blimps" from the Navy and turned them into flying billboards. The "Goodyear Blimp" that is so familiar at the Super Bowl got its start in 1947. Each of these blimps was equipped with an array of 11,000 light bulbs that can be programmed (using about a mile of punched paper tape...) to spell out various advertising messages
A regular feature was photo coverage of a celebrity party. This week, LIFE went to Trenton, New Jersey where a group of students pledging the Phi Sigma Nu fraternity at Rider College re-enacted Washinton's crossing of the Delaware in 1776. There was actually ice on the river and the actor portraying George Washington actually stood up in the boat just like in Emanuel Leutze's famous painting. However, the latter day Washington was "skittish" about horses and chose to lead his troops on a bicycle. Indeed, the re-enactment was authentic as the troops stopped for beer at the Bear Tavern (Decorated as "USO 1776") The active Brothers got a more sedentary role, portraying the drunken Hessian garrison at Trenton. LIFE observed that, "They played their part well." Since guns were out, the re-enacted Battle of Trenton was fought with pillows. The Phi Sigma Nu pledges were drafted to clean up the feathers.
Of all things, we received a note about the Trenton re-enactment from our reader, ,who wrote:
"... In 1947 I was the manager of Phi Sigma Nu whose pledges crossed the Delaware. I was the Hessian commander surrendering to George Washington in the last act, and only appear in the photo as a tiny profile. I donated fifteen 8 x 10 photos and related news articles to the Rider College archives two years ago. Sadly Phi Sigma Nu no longer exists on the Rider Campus. They became affiliated with Tau Kappa Epsilon decades ago, were removed from the campus for inappropriate behavior and killed our tremendous WW2 era history. The chapter, Phi Sigma Nu, was rescued by a native american fraternity at the Universiy of North Carolina and is still Phi Sigma Nu today. I have emailed them repeatedly offering our historical records, but have not been answered. The LIFE Magazine with the girl water skier on the cover is very familiar to all of my family..."
A seven page article -- with no ads -- profiled the work of emerging artist Stuart Davis. In a larger sense, the article began the process of legitimizing abstract art for the masses. This is in fairly direct contrast to the somewhat skpetical look at Henry Moore presented in the January 20 Issue, only a month before. Hitherto, LIFE had taken the position that "Modern Art" was some kind of code that had been developed by an elite in order to bamboozle the ordinary man, a practical joke on the middle class if you will. This week, LIFE began to talk with a new voice: "the esthetic is a well-known formula among American artists, who refer to it as abstraction. It is so well known that it is continually used in popular media such as posters and smart advertising layouts". Indeed, we note that this issue began with a "smart advertising layout" for Philco radios that featured abstract art signifying upper class taste. LIFE explained the trend toward expressionism as a reaction against photography (LIFE's bread and butter...). Briefly, the camera had supplanted the painter as an accurate recorder of contemporary events. Having lost his role as a documentor, the artist supposedly withdrew to a realm that the camera could not follow. With that, Modern Art was all of a sudden acceptable in Peoria.
LIFE devoted six pages to The Yearling, the story of a backwoods Florida boy who adopts a pet deer. The film explores a child's progress to adulthood in the sometimes harsh frontier millieu of the 1870s. The film was very highly acclaimed, and the child actor who plays the lead (Claude Jarman) won the Oscar for best actor. This film is just a bit sentimental for today's tastes, although it remains well-liked by critics.
Ads for the following films were run:
Philco presents an ad for a radio-phono combination that shows off some avant garde 1940s interior decoration. Many of these objects were "radical" or "novel" in the 1940s, but went on to be the cliches of the 1960s. For example, the Philco 1213 is used as the pedestal for a sculpture that shows the strong influence of Henry Moore; in the backgtound is a neo-impressionist Paris street scene, reminiscent of Stuart Davis. The coffee table is a clear glass oval supported by a piece of driftwood. This is clearly an upscale statement -- even though LIFE was somewhat skeptical of Henry Moore in the January 20 issue and only mildly more enthused about Stuart Davis in this issue. This form of decor became wildly popular and became a cliche even faster.
The 100th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Graham bell was coming up, so the Bell System ran a full page"institutional" ad touting the vision of Mr. Bell and the social consciousness of the Bell System
Kreml shampoo suggested that their product was "how Powers Models keep their hair shining for days with natural glossy beauty Those of you who have been following this series know that almost every issue of LIFE made reference to the famous Powers Models.
The Book-of-the-Month Club was pushing The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam. Apparently, the "Jug of wine and Thou" was necessary to complete a "distinguished" Home Library. The fact that they were "Deluxe Editions in Fine Buckram" would also help add tone to the "Home Library."
The Stinson Aircraft Company took out a full page ad touting their latest model aircraft as the "Flying Station wagon"; as we have observed before, this is the last gasp of LIFE as an advertising medium for upscale products.
Record Ads: Columbia Masterworks was featuring cclassical music this mointh with a full page ad for Fritz Reiner conducting Beethoven's Symphony No. 2; also mentioned was Maurice Evans reading Hamlet in six "spoken word" discs. You can get whiplash going from cultural polar extremes as fast as you turned the pages. On the other hand, RCA VIctor ran a full page ad for a Tommy Dorsey "biggest Hits" collection; the ad also contained a plug for the biopic The Fabulous Dorseys which was in the theaters at the time.
Get the Girl Ads: Vitalis hair tonic promised that you could turn heads with a "60 second workout" for your hair.
Ladies in Undergarments: Mojud Stockings ran one of their famous ads (copied today in Atomic Magazine) which showed a model psing with one leg in the air and the company's logo in a strategic place. Kleenex had an ad with a lady in seamed stockings ("tell your eyes what your skin has always known". Johnson & Johnson had an ad for Band-Aids (of all things) that suggested that those nasty razor cuts from leg-shaving deserved a "flesh-colored" bandaid. General Electric ran an ad showing a lady with a GE space heater warming her exposed thighs in her boudoir. Formfit Creations showed a drawing of a lady in a "floor to ceiling" foundation that was accompanied by the copy "Yours for a glorified lifeline". The entire figure was shaped by this contraption.
Mojud Stockings Ad
There were a number of letters about LIFE's January 27 article on The Atlantic Coast In general, the writers took the magazine to task for not including their particular home town in the story.
One letter illustrated another gimmick used by LIFE. With reference to the January 27 article on college student ski trips, the writer suggested that a photo of a young lady wearing ski goggles would look much better without the eyewear. LIFE obligingly published a photo of the attractive coed.
There was a great outpouring of outrage about the ghastly January 27 article on the use of laboratory rats in studying radiation sickness. This was really a horrible article...
This was another in the series that inspired the cancer litigation of the 1990s. "More Doctors smoke Camels than any other Cigarette -- like most of us, doctors smoke for pleasure... three independent research organizations surveyed 113,597 doctors in all branches of medicine.... here is the full Text of a commercial that described the survey.
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