Week of February 24, 1947
The Latest in College Fashions
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 recently got a letter from our reader Katie who runs a Bed and Breakfast in Brigewater, Virginia. Check out The Crimson Inn.
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 24, 1947 issue of LIFE Magzine. You can look at some of the images that we refer to but cannot post due to copyright.
This week, LIFE's cover was graced by blue-eyed blonde Gay Braun who was all of 19 and a senior at the University of Texas. She had only two hobbies -- "going out with boys and sailing." (I am not making that up!). In a world in which Britain was freezing and China was falling, LIFE had four whole pages to devote to Ms. Braun and her sorority sisters. But, we have seen that no road too long or no barrier too high for LIFE when cheescake was available. In the article, we learned that the trend was to neatness with cute little ribbon ties and attractively arranged scarves. In Texas, it was said, boys wear cowboy boot everywhere, even with tuxedoes. However, it was also fashionable to wear "odd" or inappropriate clothes as a lark -- the article described an outing to a "ritzy" hotel where all the kids wore ski clothes.
In a short period from January through March of 1947, the seeds of all our contemporary problems were sown. This includes:
This week, events began to move swiftly as our major allies in Britain became totally exhausted. They had to drop out of their role, leaving the United States as the sole bulwark against the ambitions of the Soviet Union. In backing out, our British friends left some messy problems behind: Moslems vs. Hindus in India/Pakistan, Greeks vs Turks on Cyprus, Jews vs. Arabs in Palestine and Blacks vs Whites in South Africa. These little "legacies" have continued to plague us for the past 57 years
We urge you to check out the actual source documents for these events as made publicly available by the Truman Library or a more recent site devoted to the Cold War. We guarantee that you will be astounded at how much of your life was influenced by 12 weeks in 1947
A photo of a broken railroad track stretching to the horizon hearlded an article that said "The US Reaches the End of the Line in China." Indeed, time was running out for the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-Shek in which we had invested so much money and prestiege. The year had started off with glowing reports about the state of Christianity in China A week later, LIFE reported that General Marshall had effectively ceased trying to prop up the corrupt and ineffectual Nationalist government. This was the beginning of the end for American influence in China. It was also the raw meat that the American right seized upon as evidence of America's lack of resolve. A year later, we would be drawn into a 6 year bloodbath in Korea and 15 years later into the debacle of Vietnam, largely because we had backed a dead horse in the Chinese civil war. For nearly 30 years, no president could back away from confrontation in Asia lest he bear the stigma of having "lost another China." Of all things (see below) one of those who REALLY lost China was an alcoholic ex mayor who had tried to take the Cable Cars out of San Franciso! There is nothing stranger than the truth!
This was also a very very bad winter for the British. The Conservative government of Winston Churchill had been turned out in favor of the Labor government of Clement Atlee. Labor's program was very close to socialism and included universal medical coverage and nationalization of the coal industry. A stretch of extremely cold weather had created intense demand for coal, but the country's mining industry was much too inefficient to meet the needs. Unusually heavy snow blocked rail transport of that coal which was available. The fishing fleet was unable to venture from port, so fish, a major component of the British diet was also in short supply. Conservatives mocked the government by suggesting that Labor had managed to produce shortages in an "island made of coal surrounded by fish." Indeed, England was on the ropes, bled white by WWII. To add to the misery vast amounts of money were going to the army to support a wide variety of anti-communist activities throughout the world including the Germany, Greece, Palestine and India.
Henry Luce, publisher of LIFE was a big Anglophile. He was actually born in China, the son of missionary parents. He advocated the rescue of England by America. Eventually, we supplied lots of money and allowed the Brits to pull 30,000 troops out of Germany. The British eventually gave up India. They were exhausted in Palestine and agreed to a partition between Arabs and Jews that created the State of Israel. The British coal industry remained a sore spot inthe economy into the 1990s. One of Luce's major errors was a suggetion to "convert England to Oil just like the US."
In Germany, the Nuremburg Trials were still going on, although the big fish had already been fried. This week, LIFE focused on the "Doctors" who conducted inhumane experiments using human guinea pigs. Deliberate infections, plunging in ice-water, decompression, one horror after another. Horrible behavior of mindless political hacks is one thing, but this kind of behavior from educated men is inexcusable. This would be one of the last times that LIFE would portray "evil Nazis" -- after our pals the British went bankrupt, we found that we needed the "Good Germans" to defend against the Russians. There has never been an accurate accounting of how many of these "scientists" came to work for the United States.
LIFE looked south to our neighbor Mexico. The article began with a photo of a peon with two burros outside an art deco office building. During the war, we had made considerable use of Mexican natural resources and (to an extent) labor. Indeed, industrial production had begun to increase, but since Mexico is largely an agricultural economy, inflation soon outpaced wages, and a serious recession was looming. The occsaion for this article was an upcoming vist by President Truman. Prior to 1947, no American president had ever visited Mexico. With brief mention of industrialzation and economics, the article quickly moved on to charming photos of touristy locations. The cliff-divers of Acapulco got their share of coverage. LIFE also mentioned that there were certain restaurants in Mexico City where you could getthings like Hamburgers and pancakes, jus so that tourists wouldn't feel too far away from home... The obligatory photos of Toltec and Aztec ruins were included.
LIFE went to San Francisco where Mayor Roger Lapham was trying to get rid of the city's Cable Cars, saying that they were "costly and outmoded." Led by Friedel Klussman, civic minded San Franciscans and sentimental people all over the world denounced the mayor. This may be one of the very first successful urban preservation drives. The Cable Cars are still a focal point of San Francisco and Mayor Lapham has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Of all things, LIFE managed to get in a cheesecake photo of lady passengers baring their legs for a publicity photo. Mayor Lapham seems to have been up to his ears in trouble -- he looms large in the Raker Act scandals involving private industry subversion of cheap public power and even shows up as a hard-drinking fool in the last minutes of our abortive attempts to prop up the Chiang Kai-shek government in China! What a sleaze!
While the economics of Cable Cars were being debated, the Railroads were dying, but the public and Wall Street didn't quite yet realize it. LIIFE profiled Robert R. Young, the "upstart" owner of the C&O Railroad. In fact, Young was a promoter who had used OPM (Other People's Money) to wangle his way into the railroad business. he was smart enough to get good government cover for his shenannigans. His goal was to create a national railroad company with track rights from coast to coast. His vehicle was a neo-populist group that was supposedly fighting for "passenger rights". Along with this, Young offered visions of the "Train of the Future", with grand Art Deco styling and phones, secretaries, movies, gyms and Lord knows what else. Along the way, this Texas "poor boy" had managed to acquire luxury homes in newport, R.I. and Palm beach, Florida. The LIFE article detailed his plans to win the New York Central from the Morgan and Vanderbilt interests. The article is remiscent of the "puff pieces" that appeared during the "dot-com bubble" when CEOs were folk heroes. Passenger rail service was dying because it couldn't compete with air travel. The Youngs, Morgans and Vanderbilts managed to milk all the cash out of the railroads before they turned over a broken down hulk to the government that became Amtrak. The big losers were pension funds and little guys like my Fraternity. When I was elected an alumni Trustee in 1965, I was given an overview of "the portfolio" by one of the really old alumni. He was very proud of the fact that the Fraternity's funds had been "conservatively invested" --- they were all in Railroad and Steamship lines. The CSX website (CSX is what became of C&O) has a moderately more favorable opinion of Young's tenure. If you buy this video you can see Young himself declaiming on the future of American railroads.
In Washougal, Washington, a gasoline tanker and a hay wagon met in the middle of a small rural bridge. LIFE says (and this is a direct quote): "like two flatulent hogs in a stockyard, they honked at each other and then sideswiped." While they were stopped, a second gas truck rear-ended the first. A total of 9,000 gallons of gas burst into flame and more-or-less melted the bridge. LIFE's photographers were able to record almost the entire event. This kind of "on the scene" coverage was a major part of the appeal of LIFE Magazine. Of all things, in 1999 the University of Oregon held a Design Competition for a bridge over the Washougal River, making sure that the design would be fireproof.
In the midst of all the international involvement that was headed to the US, LIFE focused on the Berlitz Language Schools that had been teaching people to speak new languages since 1878. Key to the Berliz Method is total immersion in the language -- students paid from $4 to $6 per hour to sit with a teacher who was forbidden to speak English. Everything is learned from demonstrations and conversation. About 20 sessions of oral confusion are needed before the student can be introduced to the written language. About 400 hours are necessary to become proficient in the language.
Burning dresses: the National Institute of Dressmakers was very concerned about flammable clothing. Each year about 100 ladies found themselves in flaming frocks. LIFE mentioned one debutante who found herself aflame after her gossamer gown trailed over a lighted cigarette on the floor... Sveral dresses made of fire-resistant nylon tulle were shown. This is the same "nylon net" that Heloise uses for everything
Boys and Calves: The Houston Livestock Show is generally considered to be the apex of the cattle "bidness" (as they say in Texas...) A tradition at the show is the "calf scramble". 150 young cows are let loose in an arena and were chased down and roped by 300 young boys. Everyone who was able to capture a calf got to keep it, fatten it up and bring it back to the show next year. A calf weighs about 200 pounds; in a year, it could gain nearly 800 pounds. Of note, LIFE indicates that a 970 pound steer sold for $1 a pound. A talk with my local butcher indicated that about a third of the cow can actually be sold for meat, which would indicate that the wholesale price of beef in 1947 was about $3/pound. A check with the local commodities price listings in the paper indicates that the price in 2004 is about that. So, there really hasn't been much inflation in beef prices since 1947.
In Brooklyn, a fellow named William Hobart Royce had spent the bulk of his life trying to duplicate in his own person the mind, body and spirit of 19th century French novelist Honore de Balzac. (This is roughly akin to trying to relive 1947) He ate the same food, drank the same beverages and smoked the same tobacco as Balzac -- he heven took to wearing monk's robes like his hero. Needless to say, he had become quite an authority on Balzac. When he wasn't imitating his hero, he was a rare book dealer of some repute and is credited with the definitive bibliography of Balzac's works. He confided that, although they did not exist in the 1800s, Balzac would have frowned on chewing gum, comic strips and radio commercials. How about that...
Corporal Clint Hartung, "The Hondo Hurricane", had an astounding career playing baseball in the Army service leagues -- he pitched and won nearly 50 games and had a batting average of 0.567. The Giants paid $35,000 for this wonder boy. In an interview with reporters, he said that he hoped to pitch 30 winning games and hit 75 homers.... Guess What... Poor Clint spent only 4 years in the majors, pitched 160 games, won only 29, and finished with an ERA of 5.0; his batting average was 0.238 and he hit a lifetime total of 12 home runs. Hartung had such a spectacularly unsuccessful career that his name has become synonymous with overinflated expectations. Witness this commentary about another promising rookie: "IF THERE IS a stranger case in I baseball right now than Dave Kingman, I don't know about it. He's either the next Henry Aaron or the next Clint Hartung" At the same time that the "Hondo Hurricane" was being snapped up for big bucks, Black ballplayers like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige were strictly off limits. Racism is stupid and in this case, it cost the Giants $35,000.
Mildred Douglas, daughter of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas got a job as a soda jerk at a Peoples Drug Store on Capitol Hill. She earned $0.65/hr. Her dad earned $25,000 a year. Justice Douglas is well-known for his hard-drinking, womanizing, liberal opinions, and for almost singlehandedly saving the C&O Canal. Mildred was 17 at the time this article appeared. In 1973, Justice Douglas married his fourth wife, who was born in 1947.
A regular feature was photo coverage of a celebrity party. This week, LIFE visited Washington DC to attend several political cocktail parties and receptions, including one thrown by famous hostess Perle Mesta. A spceial photo noted that "Prize catches for Mrs. Mesta are handsome Presidential Adviser Clark Clifford and his wife" (Clifford was profiled in a previous issue of LIFE.) The parties ranged from a formal diplomatic dinner where guests were seated in strict order of their rank. A variety of receptions and buffets were also shown. It was estimated that guests moved through these affairs at a rate of three feet per hour. Harry Truman was so enthused about Perle Mesta that he appointed her the Ambassador to Luxembourg; her shennanigans in Europe were the fodder of opposition newspapers and formed the basis for the Irving Berlin play, Call Me Madam. Apparently most reviewers agreed that Ethel Merman did a dead-on imitation of Mrs. Mesta.
It was noted that Mrs. Mesta had a young rival, Mrs. Morris "Buffy" Cafritz, who lured guests to her ultra-modern Foxhall home by serving "more caviar than the Russians and more champagne than the French". Buffy succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. She passed away recently and tried to leave the Foxhall home to the District of Columbia as the mayor's residence. This did not fy.
LIFE devoted 6 pages with no advertising to the remarkable cave paintings that were found in Montignac, in France. These paintings are so well-known today that they are almost a cliche. They even appear in the 2003 movie Mona Lisa Smile. Considering that they were done nearly 18,000 years ago, they are truly remarkable. Clearly the talent of artistic expression is almost innate. With rudimentary tools and pigments, these cave artists were able to make a dramatic statement before their society had developed any of the common accourements of civiliztion. Clearly, some humans are born to be artists. Here is a more scholarly discussion of the cave paintings.
LIFE covered three musicals that were sweeping the Big Apple. Beggar's Holiday was a modern-day update of the 18th century Beggar's Opera, reset from a world of thieves and trollops to gangsters and their Molls. Set in a Southern waterfront city, Beggar's Holiday takes a satiric-comic view of American morality in the obsessively materialistic post-war 1940's.Of interest is the musical score by Duke Ellington that astonished listeners by its range: not only jazz riffs but also marches, tangos, smoky blues, soulful torch songs, and some mock opera. The leggy dancers didn't hurt...
Finian's Rainbow was another matter -- it concerns a Leprechaun named Finian who comes to the US to hide his gold near Fort Knox in the belief that it will be finally safe from prying hands. His daughter can't help but mix in local events, drawing unwanted attention to her dad and his gold. Of note, there is one scene in which she turns a bigoted Southern senator (in the mold of Bilbo or Talmadge) into a Negro. This was heady stuff for 1947. The play introduced the song How are Things in Glocca Morra.
Intellectual theater-goers feasted on an adaptation of Elmer Rice's play Street Scene Kurt Weill did the music and Langston Hughes did the lyrics, and the performance was staged by the Metropolitan Opera.
Of the three, only Finian made it to the screen, and then in a fairly watered down version
Julie London was beginning to make a substantial impact on the recording industry when she landed a major part in a film called The Red House featuring Edward G. Robinson, and Rory Calhoun. She had been discovered running an elevator and was all of 20 when these remarkable photos were taken.
Julie London in 1947
Alas, this is NOT trhe fantastic picture in LIFE, but it gives you an idea...
In the LIFE photograph, she is shown in a strapless gown that "shows Off" a whole lot. She is posed on a Heywood-Wakefield settee, something that I really didn't notice until the 3rd or 4th glance... She went on to immortalize "Cry Me a River", and I could certainly feel the temperature rise when I turned to her photo...
Ads for the following films were run:
The B.F. Goodrich Co. was advertising a new synthetic leather-like material called Koroseal. This is the earliest picture of a chair upholstered in a gaudy orange version of this stuff. The big deal was that it cleaned with soapy water. I believe that this material is the grandfather of all the Naugas who had to die so that hides could cover bar stools, kitchen chairs and the seats of hot-rods. Welcome to the beginning of the "Synthetic is Better" phase of postwar life!
Meanwhile, the General Electric company was beginning to push the boundaries of good taste. Specifically, it had developed an electric blanket that had two sets of heating elements (left and right); hence, a couple sleeping in a bed could set each side to their desired temperature. This was a useful idea, but the only way that GE could promote it was to show a picture of a couple sleeping in a double bed. This was considered VERY RACY at the time, and this type of display was actually forbidden in the Movies and on Television.
The Toastmaster corporationhad a WONDERFUL 1/3 page ad for the 1947 Toastmaster "A Treasure for Toastmakers." As ususal, the ad was accompanied by a "Toastimonial" this time touting a toaster that had lasted twenty years, being used once a day by five people." The Toastmaster for 1947 was priced at $18.75, something like $360 today. This was a major purchase that had BETTER last forever. Check out our Toaster Page for some wonderful memories of a time when Toasters and Marriages lasted forever
The Borden's had another cute ad in which Elsie the contented cow went shopping with her gruff husband Elmer. Elsie wears a dignified hat, gloves and a necklace of daisies. (nothing else. Elmer is similarly in the buff, save for his fedora. In this ad, they only had one calf, a little girl. Later, they had a little bull, too. All that is left of the famous Borden's family is Elmer's Glue a product made from milk.
A full page ad touted the virtues of Banff and Lake Louise, my favorite resorts. Hidden in the Canadian Rockies, both places simply exude class and elegance and the scenery is breathtaking!
The Book-of-the-Month Club was pushing... Well, this week, the Book of the month took a vacation and their place was taken by the Unicorn Press of Brooklyn who was touting the Funk and Wagnalls' New Standard Encyclopedia (Remember Laugh-in??) You got the first volume for a dime and about $2.00 for the other 26 volumes. It was guaranteed to be up-to-date, readable and good for the kiddies.
RCA Victor had a full page ad for several new portable radios that featured the "Golden Throat" sound reproduction system; the logo for this system was a drawing of a laurel-crowned Greek goddess and her shadow. The shadow shows a loudspeaker in her throat. (We have one of these radios, and attest that it does indeed have a very good sound.) Of all things, the ad features a drawing that is very similar to the work of Marc Chagall.
White Rock sparkling water used the Greek goddess Psyche as their trademark. Their ad campaign lasted for at least 20 years, and Psyche was always portrayed as topless. I guess that they could get away with this because she also had wings. However, in these ads she interacted with normal folks. This one was particularly unusual -- the first panel shows the husband and Psyche mixing some drinks. The wife walks in and asks "What are you two up to?" Psyche offers her a drink and she is converted. In the morning, the Husband says "Shall we let her stay?" The wife says "By all means --- on the label" This was a pretty risque ad for 1947... meange a trois and all...
Get the Girl Ads: Mennen Skin Bracer used a Gil Elvgrin pinup (in bare midriff yet) to suggest that "your chances ... are Better" when you use their product. A poor fellow said that "My sugar left me standing in the Rain" because he didn't use Colgate toothpaste. A lady with substantial decolletage said, "I'm reathless, you're Brushless" to a user of Barbasol Shave Cream
Ladies in Undergarments: Gotham Gold Stripe nylons had a pair of disembodied legs on a pedestal. Kayser Hosiery used a drawing of a lady clad in heels and garters casually reading a letter. Their "fit-all top" was particularly comfortable at the thigh, as shown in a second drawing. Flexees Girdles used a classical analogy showing Greek statuary and a fully dressed lady with similar proportions; a discreet drawing showed that her lovely figure was helped along by one of their products. Firestone introduced a synthetic fabric called Velon and showed a lovely young lady peeking out of a shower curtain made of that product; later, the same model was shown wearing a raincoat made of Velon. Stardust Bras showed a drawing of a lady wearing their productin a field of orchids; the product was guaranteed for a year and purchasers could enetr a beauty contest. Bestform showed a lady in her underwear at a dressing table with checkbook in hand; the copy read "No finer fit at any price."
Pseudo-Medical Ads: Listerine mouthwash portrayed a whole bunch of nasty germs as little paratroopers descending on their por victim. This week, they allowed that the common cold was caused by a virus that wouldn't be touched by their product; however, they touted its benefits against these "secondary invaders" from the sky.
Who was Endorsing Pens? (recall that the Fountain Pen was the status gadget of its time, sort of like today's PDA) This week, the Parker 51, priced at $15 ($300 today...) was endorsed by Albert Spalding, the "American born composer and concert violinist whose artistry is familiar to lovers of music the world over."
The article in the February 3 issue on Psychoanalysis sparked an unusual (and long) letter from a fellow named Michael Sanchez of Patterson, NJ. He claimed that bad digestion, fear of combat, and dizziness could be cured by broad-toed shoes. According to Sanchez, narrow or pointed shoes are the root of all nervous troubles. He advised that people should spend their money on custom-made shoes instead of Psychoanalysis. You know, there just may be something to that...
Another article in the February 3 issue dealt with "Peace of Mind", a concept very peculiar to the immediate postwar period. Writers seemed to be split evenly about whether altruism or religion was the path.
The article about Assuntina, the Italian girl who imitates olive trees while wearing a union suit. (February 3 issue) One fellow questioned her sanity, another felt that she had "set sex back 1000 years". Comedian Red Skelton sent in a photo with the caption: "I have a tree in my back yard that likes to imitate Italian Girls." (He had clothed it in a union suit...)
The back cover a lucky strike ad that duplicates the Back cover of the January 27 issue.
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