One of the disturbing things about getting older is that all of your cultural references become obsolete. I’ll mention Leave it to Beaver, and get blank stares. Or I’ll suggest someone look at the colors of the Fillmore posters, and, once again the stare that says, “Wha’?” and, “You’re old.” Today I mentioned Pablo Ferro’s incredible title sequence for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and had a similar reaction. I love Ferro’s explanation that refers to the sexuality of the scene. Others might skirt the issue, or suggest the viewer can determine his or her own meaning. Pablo states blatantly, “Everything we do is always very sexual. A B-52 refueling in midair? Of course! It’s sexual.” The combination of the wonderfully immediate typography, easy listening music, and documentary footage creates a pornographic and sensual experience. Okay, maybe not hot, hot, hot pornography, but certainly sensual.
Forgive me, my mind is linear and it is stuck in a groove today. After yesterday's post about Adlai Stevenson, I spent all night thinking about Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Pablo Ferro's title sequence is sublime, and the dialogue is hilarious. President Merkin Murfley, played by Peter Sellers, is clearly based on Stevenson. The exchange between President Murfley and the Soviet Premier Kissoff is genius. To recap, a plane is on it's way to Russia to drop a nuclear bomb, under the wrong assumption that the US and USSR are at war. President Murfley is trying to negotiate the situation.
President Merkin Muffley: [to Kissoff] Hello?... Uh... Hello D- uh hello Dmitri? Listen uh uh I can't hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little?... Oh-ho, that's much better... yeah... huh... yes... Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri... Clear and plain and coming through fine... I'm coming through fine, too, eh?... Good, then... well, then, as you say, we're both coming through fine... Good... Well, it's good that you're fine and... and I'm fine... I agree with you, it's great to be fine... a-ha-ha-ha-ha... Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb... The Bomb, Dmitri... The hydrogen bomb!... Well now, what happened is... ahm... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing... Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country... Ah... Well, let me finish, Dmitri... Let me finish, Dmitri... Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?... Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?... Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello?... Of course I like to speak to you!... Of course I like to say hello!... Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened... It's a friendly call. Of course it's a friendly call... Listen, if it wasn't friendly... you probably wouldn't have even got it... They will not reach their targets for at least another hour... I am... I am positive, Dmitri... Listen, I've been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick... Well, I'll tell you. We'd like to give your air staff a complete run-down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes... Yes! I mean i-i-i-if we're unable to recall the planes, then... I'd say that, ah... well, ah... we're just gonna have to help you destroy them, Dmitri... I know they're our boys... All right, well listen now. Who should we call?... Who should we call, Dmitri? The... wha-whe, the People... you, sorry, you faded away there... The People's Central Air Defense Headquarters... Where is that, Dmitri?... In Omsk... Right... Yes... Oh, you'll call them first, will you?... Uh-huh... Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dmitri?... Whe-ah, what? I see, just ask for Omsk information... Ah-ah-eh-uhm-hm... I'm sorry, too, Dmitri... I'm very sorry... All right, you're sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well... I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don't say that you're more sorry than I am, because I'm capable of being just as sorry as you are... So we're both sorry, all right?... All right.
Last week, I found a set of slides from my parents’ wedding in a box with a batch of Eisenhower campaign materials. There was nothing particularly surprising to be found. The ceremony was held at my grandparents’ house. A good friend of the family, a judge officiated. Everyone wore tasteful summer wedding attire. The only odd part was that both sets of my grandparents were together. This rarely happened. I remember my paternal grandmother disagreed with my maternal grandmother’s resignation from the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) over their segregation policy until 1952. And they held polar opposite political views. My maternal grandmother, being a good Virginian, was an old guard Jeffersonian Democrat. My paternal grandparents were friends of the Reagans and staunch Republicans.
One of my maternal grandmother’s many cousins was Governor Adlai Stevenson, II. Until her last days, she lamented about “cousin Adlai’s” loss in the 1952 and 1956 United States presidential election. After she passed away, I found one of my favorite posters for Stevenson at her house. The poster is so unusual. It’s missing the red, white, and blue flag motif, and is candid. Of course, Stevenson is looking backwards, which maybe was a bad choice. In both campaigns he lost to Dwight Eisenhower. There has been conjecture that Stevenson was too much of an “egghead”. Or that he didn’t understand the importance of television as a medium (true). But it was highly unlikely he could win. There had been a Democratic president for almost 20 years, since FDR took office in 1933. The Republican Party needed to win the 1952 campaign to remain viable. And then, there was Eisenhower. After losing the 1956 campaign, Stevenson said, “Never run against a war hero.”
President John F. Kennedy appointed Stevenson as the US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1961. After the United States discovered offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting of the Security Council, challenging him to admit the existence of the missiles. This is the moment, for me, that defines my grandmother’s “Cousin Adlai.” Without Stevenson’s aggressive and intelligent confrontation, the crisis might have taken a fatal direction, and I would not be writing this post.