There have been great years in Hollywood history-- 1939 is legendary, of course-- and there have been many books about the Oscars, but there may be only one year about which an entire book has been written about the year's Oscars: 1968.
Mark Harris' wonderful Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (NY: Penguin, 2008) examines the production history and critical reception of the five movies released in 1967 that were nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award in 1968: Bonnie and Clyde, Dr. Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and In The Heat of the Night.
The nominations were announced on February 20-- about the same date as this year's actual awards are being presented--and the ceremony scheduled for April 6. It was postponed to April 10th that year, out of respect for the memory of Martin Luther King, assassinated on April 4, and buried on the 8th.
About the 1968 nominees, Harris writes:
"Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate were game changers, movies that originated far from Hollywood and had grown into critics' darlings and major popular phenomena; In the Heat of the Night, a drama about race, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a comedy about race, were middle-of-the-road hits that had, with varying degrees of success, extended a long tradition by addressing a significant social issue within the context of their chosen genres; and Dr. Dolittle was a universally dismissed children's musical that mos observers felt had bought its way to the final five."
The question asked by this line-up was, according to Harris: "What was the American film supposed to be? The men running the movie business used to have the answer; now, it had slipped just beyond their reach, and they couldn't understand how they had lost sight of it. . . . The old and the new existed in uneasy proximity, eyeing each other across a red-carpeted aisle that was becoming easy to mistake for a battle line. A fight that began as a contest for a few small patches of Hollywood turf ended as the first shot in a revolution."
Later on tonite on Turner Classic Movies: Bonnie and Clyde, one of nine films in history to have been nominated for five awards in the four acting categories. (Only Estelle Parsons won, for supporting actress.) And that LIFE magazine cover up there features Faye Dunaway, whose sexy and stylish Depression-era Bonnie Parker set the fashion world on fire.
Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, "It Takes People Like You to Make People Like Me," 1968
Buck Owens--clean-cut but flashily dressed--pretty much defined what came to be known as the "Bakersfield Sound" in country-and-western music in the 1960s. And he managed to have a huge music career without also having a career in drug abuse, alcohol, or bad behavior, and without succumbing to an early demise caused by one of those other things. (He died in his sleep at age 76 in 2006, just hours after performing at his club in Bakersfield.)
Buck Owens‚Äô first number-one hit single came in 1963, with ‚ÄúAct Naturally,‚Äù which was covered two years later by none other than the Beatles, giving Ringo Starr one of his few hit vocals. Buck and the band followed up this success quickly with hits like ‚ÄúCrying Time‚Äù and ‚ÄúTogether Again,‚Äù which also became hits for Ray Charles (who, we should remember, could be as Country as he was R&B). A Carnegie Hall smash-hit concert in 1966 was followed in 1968 by a White House appearance in front of Buck's fellow Texan, Lyndon B. Johnson. Buck was a prolific and influential songwriter; on this album, for example, he wrote or co-wrote (with fellow guitarist and friend Don Rich) every single one of the songs.
Is there anything of "the Sixties" in Buck Owens‚Äô work? Well, maybe: The lyrics of the title song here are a little like the ‚ÄúUp with People‚Äù anthems of the day, or even Woody Guthrie‚Äôs ‚ÄúThis Land is Your Land,‚Äù written in 1940, but a staple at 1960s folk-music hootenannies, peace marches, and college dorm rooms. And, in 1969, Buck became the first co-host of the ‚Äúcorn-pone‚Äù television variety show ‚ÄúHee-Haw‚Äù‚Äîa Middle-American answer to the countercultural ‚ÄúLaugh-In,‚Äù 1968‚Äôs breakout hit.
Listen to the album's title track in a performance from "Hee-Haw":
The Reagan Centennial
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan (this Sunday, February 6--competing with the Super Bowl). It will probably come as no surprise that there is a Reagan Centennial website, nor to remark on such unremarkable facts as "FOX News to Celebrate Reagan Centennial;" nor to discover that former governor of Alaska and self-styled inheritor of the Reagan mantle Sarah Palin will be delivering the keynote address at the centennial celebration in California. Reagan's presence in our national discourse to this day is enormous--far exceeding that of any of his successors--and no doubt will continue to grow, even up to and beyond what seems to be the inevitable Reagan memorial on the National Mall. (Renaming Washington's airport after him will probably be deemed inadequate as a tribute.)
Reagan waits his turn
The political biography of one-time movie star Ronald Reagan is well known: a rise to prominence after giving a red-meat conservative speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention where Barry Goldwater was nominated; election as California governor in 1966; a somewhat tentative run at the presidential nomination in 1968; then biding his time through the Nixon years, the Watergate debacle, and several election cycles until 1980, when he defeats incumbent president Jimmy Carter and heads into a transformative (scandal-ridden; turbulent: Pick your adjective) eight years in Washington.
"Reagan": a Work in Progress in 1968
Even though he was governor of the largest state in the Union, it seems safe to say that in 1968 his political persona was still a work in progress. The entity-- the "brand"--known as "Ronald Reagan" was being shaped throughout the year, even up to and including the Republican National Convention, held in early August in Miami (an event upstaged later that month--and trumped forever in historical memory--by the turmoil at the Democrats' meeting in Chicago). Though Reagan had clearly been a presidential "hopeful" throughout the early months of 1968, he did not officially declare for the nomination until August 5, 1968--the opening day of the convention itself. (It may be useful here to recall that Barack Obama declared his intention to seek the nomination for the Democratic ticket 18 months before the nominating convention in August 2008.) Richard Nixon (who also knew a thing or two about biding your time) appeared to have the convention sewn up, and indeed was nominated on the first ballot, with Reagan coming in third (behind RMN and Nelson Rockefeller) with 182 votes.
(This LIFE magazine "cover" is a fake, by the way: a piece of "counterfactual" history with Reagan becoming the president in November 1968.)
Mailer on Reagan
In late 1968, Norman Mailer, the novelist and political essayist, published a widely hailed book about the year's political conventions, Miami and the Siege of Chicago. It is remarkable to read his reportage on the Reagan presence at Miami-- it's like everything is flashing forward to the Reagan that everyone came to know many years later. Here is Mailer describing Reagan making a plea for party unity after losing to Nixon:
"For years in the movies Reagan had played the good guy and been proud of it. If he didn't get the girl, it was because he was too good a guy to be overwhelmingly attractive. That was all right. He would grit his teeth and get the girl the next time out. Since this was conceivably the inner sex drama of half of respectable America, he was wildly popular with Republicans. For a party which prided itself on its common sense, they were curiously, even outrageously, sentimental."
Launch of Apollo 7 on LIFE, October 25, 1968
Today's 25th anniversary of the disaster of the Space Shuttle Challenger has brought out numerous replays of that awful moment, soon into the launch, of the failure of the solid rocket boosters and subsequent explosion. By 1986, the year of the disaster, we had all gotten used to seeing those thrilling, fiery spacecraft launches. Except for the fact that the Challenger mission included an American schoolteacher as part of the crew, this mission was pretty routine, and people weren't really glued to their TV sets that morning, unlike earlier years.
There were two spectacular American space missions in 1968. The better known of the two, Apollo VIII, sent a crew of three on the world's first manned orbit of the moon. Just a few weeks earlier, NASA launched Apollo VII--the first manned mission of the Apollo program that was targeting an eventual moon landing. Apollo VII was also the first manned U.S. space mission since the disastrous command module fire of January 1967 that had killed the three-man crew of Apollo I.
This LIFE cover appeared days after the conclusion of the eleven-day Apollo VII mission (October 11-22, 1968), which had focused on testing new redesigned equipment during multiple orbits of Earth. The LIFE article features several stunning photographs of the launch. One of them has an eerie premonition of the Challenger disaster: "Thirty-nine miles up, 2 minutes and 45 seconds into the flight, came the fiery moment of separation, as the first stage was blown off Apollo 7."
The article also includes, oddly, a four-page, Hollywood-star type spread of the life and family of mission commander Wally Schirra--the only astronaut to fly missions in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts (i.e., one of those "Right Stuff" guys), Schirra was virtually a household name by 1968. In fact, this whole LIFE article is called "Wally Shoots for Three."