Guggenheim Museum

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In above photo taken in August 1945, architect Frank Lloyd Wright shows the plan of Guggenheim Museum to Solomon Guggenheim and Hilla von Rebay. Baroness Rebay, an avid art collector and a long-time friend and confidante of Guggenheim, was the tour de force behind the creation of the museum–she chose Frank Lloyd Wright herself to design the museum, and chosen the current site for the museum’s residence.

The project occupied Wright for 16 years (1943–1959). Of the idea to build the Guggenheim in New York, Wright objected in 1949, “I can think of several more desirable places in the world to build this great museum, but we will have to try New York.” As an architect, Wright frequently criticized New York’s skyscrapers and decided instead that the museum be a “little temple in a park.” When the design was unveiled (above), the divide it caused was astounding; it was hailed by some, but denounced as a “washing machine,” a “hot cross bun,” a “marshmallow,” by others. Even Wright’s stanchest supporters “shuddered” to envision the cylindrical museum beside staid, decades-old apartment buildings.

In 1953, he submitted the plans to the Department of Housing and Building, which refused to grant a license, citing it violated building codes. With a pliancy that was uncharacteristic of his reactions to criticism, Wright complied with the request to make a few alterations. He stood firm on others, such as a plexiglass dome for the building and glass doors. The plans to start building were delayed several times but, finally, the museum was in construction in 1956. In total, it took 700 sketches, and six sets of working drawings.

By this time Guggenheim had been dead for ten years and difficult and bossy Rebay (her nickname was ‘the B’ not for the Baroness) had been expelled from the board of directors by the millionaire’s heirs. When the museum was finally opened, she was not even invited. She never set foot in the museum she essentially helped create. Embittered, she retreated from public life and retreated to her estate in Connecticut, where she continued to meet many artists.

For Frank Lloyd Wright, the museum was his swan-song too. On April 9th 1959 (six months before the museum opened), the egomaniac wunderkind of architecture died in Phoenix, Arizona. To this day, the museum is still controversial. Wright’s devoted followers complain that when the museum was completed, a number of important details of Wright’s design were ignored, including his desire for the interior to be painted off-white. The artists contend that Wright’s spiral rump continuous gallery causes the pictures to be awry. (In his day, Wright noted that the grade of the ramp was no steeper than the grade of a sidewalk from building line to curb). The museum staff was also bitter about the ramp, and found serious fault with Mr. Wright’s lack of adequate provision for art storage and restorations.

The Museum opened on October 21st 1959, so today marks the 50th year anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim Museum. Happy Birthday!

Eric Gairy and UFOs

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He was tall, handsome and well-dressed. A working class hero, Sir Eric Gairy was fondly remembered for his legendary political career (“Gairyism”) in Grenada, but outside his insular nation, he was better known for his obsession with UFOs. (Gairy who spent much of his tiny country’s resources investigating the reason why Grenada was a favorite landing point for flying saucers).

De facto ruler of Grenada since 1950, he led his nation to Independence from Britain in 1974; however his erratic administration provoked a group led by British-trained lawyer Maurice Bishop called the New Jewel Movement (NJM) to lead demonstrations against him. Gairy responded to the NJM by summoning his paramilitary unit, the “Mongoose Gang” to apply strong-armed methods often compared to Duvalier of Haiti’s “Ton-Ton Macoute”.

Gairy was convinced that mankind was threatened by extra-terrestrials arriving in flying saucers. He repeatedly called for a special group within the UN to investigate UFOs. The fact that the then-UN secretary general was a fellow UFO enthusiast Kurt Waldheim facilitated his proposal. In 1979, in Miami an ad hoc conference of UFO experts under the UN auspices was held. Attending were Gairy, Waldheim, and a trio of high profile ufologists who actively supported Gairy:  Hungarian military scientist Col. von Keviczk; American astronomer Dr. Josef Allen Hynek and French computer scientist Jacques Vallee.

The above photo was taken at the Miami Conference. From left to right: American astronaut Gordon Cooper, Vallee, French space scientist Claude Poher, Hynek, Gairy seat to the right of Sec. Gen. Waldheim. It was at this meeting that a bloodless coup by the NJM put Maurice Bishop in power in Grenada and ousted Gairy. With the ouster of Gairy, the UFO talks stopped. After the coup Gairy remained in the United States, returning in 1984, a few months after the Bishop regime self-destructed. His party never won another election and he himself was defeated at the polls. He became Sir Gairy in 1976 and was affectionately known as “uncle” by the people of Grenada.

A Murder on the Snow

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Born into an upper-class, conservative family, Olof Palme became Sweden’s unabashedly socialist prime-minister in 1969. During his tenure which lasted 125 months–longest in modern Sweden’s history–he advocated for an alliance of neutral countries to balance against the two super-powers, and he himself worked hard to be neutral international affairs; Palme criticized the US for the Vietnam War and the USSR for the Prague Spring, Franco, Pinochet and apartheid regimes and opened talks with Cuba’s Castro.

In one of the modern tragic farces, Olof Palme was assassinated in 1986. Extremely popular, Palme usually travelled without any bodyguards; on the night of his murder, February 28, he was walking home from a cinema on Sveavagen, Stockholm with his wife, Lisbet (the movie, I stand corrected, was not a documentary, but a comedy about Mozart) while they were shot by an deranged assassin.

The Swedish police didn’t distinguish themselves in the aftermath. Palme was fatally shot at 11:21 pm. It took a taxi-driver to raise the alarm, and two young girls to help the prime minister, who was rushed to hospital, and pronounced dead on arrival at 12:06 am. The police didn’t issue the order to watch the roads until 12:50 am and not closed the airports until fifteen more minutes later. The forensic teams were not called in until much later and even then, two bullets that the assassin shot (a second wounded Lisbet) were handed in by passers-by.

Two years, 300-member investigation team and six million dollar manhunt later, a small-time criminal and drug addict was arrested but it turned out to be a false arrest. Lisbet Palme, who had beforehand been informed that the suspected killer was a drug addict, promptly chose the person who most closely resembled a junkie at the line-up. Olof Palme’s murder remains unsolved; since he made so many enemies abroad by his staunchly neutral policies, many conspiracy theories were put forward.

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The Marlboro Man

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He was the Most Influential Man Who Never Lived.  Though there were many Marlboro Man models over time until 1999 (factoid: but only three of them succumbed to lungs cancer), the original inspiration for the Philip Morris cigarette advertising campaign came through Life magazine photographs by Leonard McCombe from 1949.

Clarence Hailey Long (above) was a 39-year-old, 150-pound foreman at the JA ranch in the Texas panhandle, a place described as “320,000 acres of nothing much.” Once a week, Long would ride into town for a store-bought shave and a milk shake. Maybe he’d take in a movie if a western was playing. He was described as “as silent man, unassuming and shy, to the point of bashfulness [with a] face sunburned to the color of saddle leather [with cowpuncher’s] wrinkles radiating from pale blue eyes.” He wore “a ten-gallon Stetson hat, a bandanna around his neck, a bag of Bull Durhamtobacco with its yellow string dangling from his pocket, and blue denim, the fabric of the profession”. He said things like, “If it weren’t for a good horse, a woman would be the sweetest thing in the world.” He rolled his own smokes.

When the cowboy’s face and story appeared in LIFE in 1949, advertising exec Leo Burnett had an inspiration. Philip Morris, which had introduced Marlboro as a woman’s cigarette in 1924, was seeking a new image for the brand. The image managed to transform a feminine campaign, with the slogan “Mild as May”, into one that was masculine in a matter of months. The “Marlboro Cowboy” and “Marlboro Country” campaigns based on Long boosted Marlboro to the top of the worldwide cigarette market and Long to the top of the marriage market: Long’s Marlboro photographs led to marriage proposals from across the nation, all of which he rejected.

By the time the Marlboro Man went national in 1955, sales were at $5 billion, a 3,241% jump over the previous year. Over the next decade, Burnett and Philip Morris experimented with other manly types — ball players, race car drivers and rugged guys with tattoos (often friends of the creative team, sporting fake tattoos); all worked, but the Marlboro Man worked the best. By the time the first article linking lung cancer to smoking appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1957, the Marlboro sales were at $20 billion. Before the Marlboro Man, the brand’s U.S. share stood at less than 1%, but in 1972 (a year after the cigarette ads were banned from American televisions) it became the No. 1 tobacco brand in the world.

How Life Begins

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Hailed as Sweden’s first modern photojournalist, Lennart Nilsson used his background as a scientist to reveal a side of human life heretofore considered unseenable. Starting in the mid-1950s, Nilsson began experimenting with new photographic techniques to make extreme close-up photographs. These advances, combined with very thin endoscopes that became available in the mid-1960s, enabled him to make groundbreaking photographs of living human blood vessels and body cavities.

He achieved international fame in 1965, when his photographs of the beginning of human life appeared on the cover and on sixteen pages of Life magazine. They were also published in Stern, Paris Match, The Sunday Times, and elsewhere. The photographs made up a part of the book, A Child is Born (1965); image from the book were reproduced in on the cover of April 30 1965 edition of Life, which sold eight million copies in the first four days after publication. Life advertised the photo of 18-week old embryo as an ‘Unprecedented photographic feat in color’.

Although Life claimed to show a living fetus, Nilsson actually photographed abortus material obtained from women who terminated their pregnancies under the liberal Swedish laws. Working with dead embryos allowed Nilsson to experiment with lighting, background and positions, such as placing the thumb into the fetus’ mouth. Over the intervening years, Nilsson’s painstakingly made pictures were appropriated for purposes that Nilsson never intended. Nearly as soon as the 1965 portfolio appeared in LIFE, images from it were enlarged by right-to-life activists and pasted to placards. Some photos were also later included on both Voyager spacecraft, as the part of the golden record that contains pictures, symbols and sounds of Earth and her inhabitants.

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Leopold III abdicates

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On July 16, 1951, King Leopold III of Belgium renounced the throne of Belgium, the throne he hadn’t occupied since the end of the WWII. Following the liberation of Belgium, the king was unable to return to Belgium due to a political controversy surrounding his actions during the conflict; many accused him of having betrayed the Allies by a premature surrender, and of collaborating with the Nazis. There were many personal attacks on the King and his second wife, a commoner Mary Lilian Baels.

The royal family lived in Switzerland, in exile, and Leopold’s younger brother, Charles of Flanders, was made Regent of the country. Leopold was eventually completely exonerated of all charges, but his return was faced with political agitation and civil disturbances. As a result, on July 16th, Leopold III (left) abdicated in favor of his 21-year-old son, Prince Baudouin (right).

When Prince Baudouin was born, he was invested with six names, honoring both his parents’ royal families. However, the Belgian editors were scandalized that the name of the founder of the Belgian royal house, Leopold I had been omitted. Next day little Prince Baudouin was officially amended to be entitled: “Baudouin Albert Charles Leopold Axel Marie Gustave.” On the 120th anniversary of Belgium’s birth as a nation, Baudouin ascended to the throne as the fifth king of the Belgians and read from a script held in a trembling hand, a message to his people first in Flemish, then all over again in French.

However, Belgium’s national nightmare was long from over. The Catholic Church, always staunchly behind the Divine Right of Kings, protested against the abdication. Catholic Premier Pholien’s fence-sitting cabinet resigned and soon be replaced by a Socialist-Catholic coalition. The abdicated king (who got an annual pension of $120,000) and wife lodged in the Royal Palace until Baudouin married. Baudouin himself was extremely distressed by the treatment that his father and idol received at the hands of his countrymen. On the day of his accession, some 12,000 soldiers and police lined the streets to protect the King they scarcely knew. Some 60,000 awaited the king under the palace balcony but the king appeared for less than a minute; neither the pocket mirrors used to flash the rays of the brilliant July sun at the palace windows, nor loud chants caused the king to reappear again.

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At Capote’s Ball

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Truman Capote’s legendary masked ball, at New York City’s Plaza Hotel on November 28, 1966, was a hyped-up media event meticulously masterminded by the self-promoting, social-climbing author of In Cold Blood. [From the moment that he styled himself as a male nymphet for his first novel’s jacket photo, Capote had shown a rare talent for self-promotion]. Capote dangled the prized invitations for months, snubbing early supporters like close friend and fellow writer Carson McCullers as he determined who was “in” and who was “out.” In choosing his guest of honor, Capote eschewed his carefully cultivated society friends, the flock of wealthy, elegant, ultra-fashionable society matrons whom Capote called his “swans” (Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, and Marella Agnelli) in favor of “dowdy” Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

The eventual guest list to so-called Party of the Century tallied 540, and included names like (newlyweds) Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, literary lions Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley, and various international crowned heads, Kennedys, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Whitneys. Halston and Adolfo. designed  the elaborate masks and headdresses. Wanting to keep the party mix interesting and unpredictable, Capote also invited people from the town where the murders from In Cold Blood occurred, publishing types, and even the doorman from the U.N. Plaza, his apartment building, who danced the night away with a woman who didn’t know his pedigree; and Norman Mailer sounded off about Vietnam. Actress Candice Bergen was bored at the ball, and the photographer Elliot Erwitt captured her above.

[The snubbed replied their own superior-than-thou message on the cover of December 1967 Esquire issue. Under the title “We wouldn’t have come even if you had invited us, Truman Capote” pictured a surly-looking group comprising Jimmy Brown, Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Pat Brown, Ed Sullivan, Pierre Salinger, Lynn Redgrave and Casey Stengel. Inside William F. Buckley dissected the politics of the party one year on.]

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Bourke-White at Buchenwald

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At the end of WWII, impending Allied victory was sobered by the grim facts of the atrocities which allied troops were uncovering all over Germany. Margaret Bourke-White was with General Patton’s third amy when they reached Buchenwald on the outskirts of Weimar. Patton was so incensed by what he saw that he ordered his police to get a thousand civilians to make them see with their own eyes what their leaders had done. The MPs were so enraged they brought back 2,000. Bourke-White said, “I saw and photographed the piles of naked, lifeless bodies, the human skeletons in furnaces, the living skeletons who would die the next day… and tattoed skin for lampshades. Using the camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me.”

LIFE magazine decided to publish these photos in their May 7, 1945 issue many photographs of these atrocities, saying, “Dead men will have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them.”

The Execution of Leonard Siffleet

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Australian Sergeant Leonard Siffleet was part of a special forces reconnaissance unit in New Guinea, then occupied by Japanese Imperial forces. He and two Ambonese companions were captured by partisan tribesmen and handed over to the Japanese.

All three men were interrogated, tortured and confined for approximately two weeks before being taken down to Aitape Beach on the afternoon of 24 October 1943. Bound and blindfolded, surrounded by Japanese and native onlookers, they were forced to the ground and executed by beheading, on the orders of Vice-Admiral Michiaki Kamada. The officer who executed Siffleet detailed a private to photograph him in the act. The photograph of Siffleet’s execution was discovered on the body of a dead Japanese soldier by American troops in April 1944.

As a part of a propaganda effort, it was published in many newspapers and in Life magazine but was thought to depict Flight Lieutenant Bill Newton, VC, who had been captured in Salamaua, Papua New Guinea, and beheaded on 29 March 1943. The photo became an enduring image of the war.

(Siffleet’s executioner, Yasuno Chikao, has been variously reported as having died before the end of the war, and as having been captured and sentenced to be hanged, with his sentence subsequently commuted to 10 years imprisonment. In Europe, the mortality rate of the Allied prisoners of Germans was 1.1%, while it was 37% for the Allied prisoners of Japanese).

Jackie Kennedy at JFK’s Funeral

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Think of Elliott Erwitt, and the iconographic image that probably comes to mind is his photograph of a small, anxious chihuahua dwarfed by the boots of his owner and the colossal front feet and legs of a Great Dane.

While the observant and eclectic eye of Erwitt (one of the last surviving photojournalists of that Golden Age of photojournalism) has often explored life at its most humorous, leading critics to label him as photography’s greatest comic, one has only to turn to another famous image to see a completely different side of Erwitt. At her husband’s funeral, Jacqueline Kennedy clutches the flag that draped his coffin to her chest as Bobby Kennedy looks on. Despite the black veil behind which she retreated to preserve a fragment of her privacy, Erwitt collides head on with the poignancy of a woman so lost in grief and confusion that the intimacy of the pain he captures pierces the viewer to the core.

It was one of the most memorable records of America’s national ordeal, not only Erwitt’s only memorable funeral image: earlier he had portrayed Robert Capa’s mother weeping over his grave.

The 40th anniversary of the Russian revolution

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Born in Paris to Russian parents, and educated in America, Elliott Erwitt took up photography before being drafted into the US Army in 1950. He made his name with photo-essays on barracks life in France then joined Magnum and travelled the world, capturing famous faces and places and producing quirky studies of dogs.

In 1957, Erwitt was covering the 40th anniversary of the Russian revolution for the American magazine Holiday. It was when the first Sputnik was launched; his photographs of a lecture at Moscow’s planetarium appeared on the cover of the New York Times magazine. Up to that point, no western journalist had managed to get pictures of the October anniversary parade (no foreigners were allowed to take part in the parade) but Erwitt tagged along with a Soviet TV crew and managed to pass five security lines, setting up his camera right by Lenin’s mausoleum: “Although I was questioned by a guard, I was able to convince them that I belonged to the parade. I shot three or four quick rolls and then raced to my hotel room a few blocks away, where I processed them in the bath.”

Above was his picture of the Red Army’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles. He went to Moscow with the intention to cover the 7th November parade and prepared an instant developing kit for it. He raced back to the Metropol Hotel where he was staying, sent a telex to New York saying he had something special, developed the film in his room, and caught a plane to Helsinki. There, Time magazine arranged a special lab for him, from where the pictures were developed and distributed all over the world. Several magazines displayed those pictures on their cover.

Mitterand’s Funeral

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Mitterand’s wife Danielle stands on the  left, his mistress Anne Pingeot (second from right) and illegitimate daughter Mazarine (third from right)

François Mitterrand served as the President of France from 1981 to 1995, the first left-wing head of state since 1957. He also holds the record of the longest-serving (almost 14 years) President of France. At his funeral in 1996, his wife Danielle and his long term mistress Anne Pingeot  stood side-by-side at the grave, accompanied by their respective offspring. Although the press made no comment, the existence of his daughter by Anne, Mazarine, was revealed by the popular magazine Paris-Match in 1994, just months before he left office. Mitterrand concealed the fact for years.

Photographer Nan Goldin chose the photo above, by Laurent Rebours as a favorite when asked by American Photo for their 20th century special issue in 1999: “I was impressed by this picture being widely published as it respected the reality of a man’s intimate relationships regardless of his position of power. The difference in Europe is that there is so much less hypocrisy and moral judgment about sexual and love relationships. I was moved by the fact that the grief of both his wife and his mistress at his funeral was acknowledged publicly. This is in sharp contrast to the absurd moral play enacted in the Clinton witch trials in the U.S.”

For more details on private life of French politicians, see Sexus Politicus (Dubois, Deloire), whose premise is that in France, a successful politician is also a seductive politician. Prime Minister Edgar Faure enthused when he gained the lofty title ‘President of the Council’, “When I was a minister, some women resisted me. Once I became president, not even one.” President from 1895 to 1899, Félix Faure (not a relation) died in the bed of his mistress. De Gaulle was the only post-World War II French leader to maintain a strict military discipline over his personal life. Giscard d’Estaing claimed he had as many mistresses as the salons of Paris, and noted, “When I was president of the republic, I was in love with 17 million French women. When I saw them in the crowd, they felt it and then they voted for me.”