The publicity bandwagon for the new movie Julie & Julia has been rolling out for a few weeks, so I've decided to jump on it. *Julia Child may seem an odd choice as a 1968 cultural figure, but that year she was approaching the apex of her brilliant career. *Note: *"approaching" the apex, not yet at the pinnacle. Though she had already been on the cover of TIME (1966), she was not yet a parodied figure on Saturday Night Live or Sesame Street. In 1968, if you were a viewer of public television (still called "educational TV" back then), you would have known right away that something called The French Chef Cookbook would be related to the TV show of the same name: "The French Chef," which debuted on WGBH in Boston in 1963 when she was 50 years old. *This was her second book; her first, great book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, had been published in 1961. * The 1968 book was what would be instantly recognized today as a "TV tie-in" book: *it took all of the recipes from the 119 black-and-white episodes of the show and laid them out "as they were shown on the air, in order and without further comment," as she later wrote. *(The next series of 72 shows were in color, and gave rise to what is, in my view, her best book, *From Julia Child's Kitchen). *The cover of this 1968 book is thus appropriate: *a black-and-white photograph, framed as it it were a rounded television screen, depicting the gleeful and substantial (6'2") Mrs. Child wielding a mallet, about to smash into what appears to be a turkey carcass.
That this book should emerge in 1968 is a useful reminder of more than the fact that most Americans still watched black-and-white TVs that year. * * It reminds us of the diversity of the cultural landscape in that phenomenal year. *A cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook) topped the non-fiction bestseller lists that year. *Julia Child's popularity could be seen as echoing or presaging other cultural markers: *the rise of a new "middle-brow" culture, symbolized by the rise of the Public Broadcasting Service (Masterpiece Theatre's debut was barely 2 years away); the rise of a consumer-driven food revolution, which led to the eruption of fancy cheese stores and bakeries, trendy wine shops, and high-priced imported food equipment (the Cuisinart debuted in 1971); and the boom in jet-travel tourism that reached into the middle classes (especially Boomer college students) beginning in the 1960s, as millions of Americans jetted off to discover "real" French cuisine, "authentic" Tuscan farmhouses, and the like.
Are "the Sixties" unthinkable without Julia Child? *Well, the history of PART of the Sixties--the part that embraces Janis, Jimi, Fillmore West, dope-smoking, race riots and rebellion--can certainly be told without her. *But for a picture of ALL of the Sixties, she's an essential piece of the jigsaw.
Any single edition of a magazine or a newspaper is, self-evidently, a kind of undifferentiated anthology of events and attitudes of its particular day. *Jarring juxtapositions are to be expected. *But rarely have I found an "coincidence"(?) like the one in the July 1968 Esquire that I just wrote about yesterday. *The cover and the cover article (an interview with James Baldwin) are about the sharp polarities between black and white in America. It's hard to imagine another mass-market magazine of its day -- or even any magazine or newspaper today-- publishing something as bitter and pointed and extended as the comments by Baldwin in this piece. *Yet, less than 10 pages later there appears an article "A Whiter Shade of Black," by Lawrence Lasker, which documents the work of one Dr. Robert Stolar of Washington, D.C., a dermatologist who claimed to be able to Negroes into white people, at least those with the pigmentation disorder of vitiligo. *He's quoted: *"I don't just turn anybody white. *I guess two hundred Negroes have asked me to do it for them, but I usually don't take them unless they have vitiligo. . . I wish I could take them all, but I just can't. . . If it were easy to do, to turn white, I think a large number of Negroes would do it. *Black skin is their badge, and they suffer for it."
"The long, hot summer." *Americans heard a lot about that as the summer months approached in 1968, and it filled them with dread. *By 1968, just the word "summer" was conjuring not just beaches and vacations and re-runs on TV, but also what were almost universally known as "race riots," *events that today, with more circumspection, we call "urban rebellions." *Large swaths of Los Angeles were devastated in summer 1965; much of Newark and Detroit (and Buffalo, and Milwaukee, and Minneapolis) went up in flames in summer 1967. * *Experts who might be called meteorological criminologists were coming forth with pronouncements about the "temperature-humidity crime index," a bogus predictor of violence and lawlessness that added a layer of "science" to the accumulating lists of causes of civil disturbance. As it turned out, by the time the summer of 1968 rolled around, urban America had already been convulsed by the serious, destructive riots that occurred in the wake of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in early April. *Still, the fears of "worse to come" were there when the editors at Esquire planned the issue that would appear at the height of the summer. *The now-legendary art director George Lois conceived this brilliant photo shoot to announce the magazine's editorial coup of nailing an interview with no less a light than James Baldwin about what to expect in the summer of 1968. Seven young black men--anonymous, black-jacketed, smoking, staring at the camera--are assembled in an ice warehouse. *George Lois and photographer Carl Fischer pressed these men (actors? models? guys pulled in off the street?) into a single role, one with a long history in American popular culture--the Black Man who Terrifies White People. * Cool. *Insolent. *Arrogant. *Tightly wound. *"Powderkegs," each of them. *Still, the photograph manages to control them: *they are inside; trapped, in a way, in a space that could pass for a prison; like animals or carcasses in a meat locker; isolated from each other, not part of a larger group. *Not part of a community at all: no women, no children. *Just black male-ness, an immense threat to white American males, overwhelmingly the readership of Esquire, "The Magazine for Men," as it says just above the head of the black guy on the far right. James Baldwin's 1962 book The Fire Next Time had been widely noted for its disturbing warnings about the "cosmic vengeance" that black America was soon to wreak on white America, a prediction that seemed to come to pass a few years (summers) later. *Esquire, which had first published Baldwin in 1961, returned to him at "a time of fresh tragedy": *his typically contentious, take-no-prisoners interview was conducted just two days after the King's funeral, when several American cities were still burning. * Baldwin had famously said a few years earlier, when asked in general terms about "the Negro problem," that:*iItis not the Negro problem, itis the white problem. Iim only black because you*think youire white." *His long interview here bears up extremely well, even 40+ years on. *Calming the waters, cooling the heated situation? *No, neither. *Baldwin's eloquent, two-fisted answers probably left few people reassured about the summer of '68: *"When you, in the person of your President, assure me that you will not tolerate any more violence, you may think that frightens me. *People don't get frightened when
COVERING 1968 is part of THE 1968 PROJECT, an effort to recover and document the stories, images, sounds, and things of this sensational year. The PROJECT is a production of the Minnesota Historical Society, in partnership with the Atlanta History Museum, the Chicago History Museum, and the Oakland Museum of California. A nationally touring exhibition, an interactive website, and a three-year short film competition are all planned as part of THE 1968 PROJECT.
Brian Horrigan, principal writer on "Covering 1968,"*has been an exhibition curator at the Minnesota Historical Society since 1990.* In 1968, he graduated from high school in Houston, TX; headed off to Chicago for college; and turned 18 that October.