Paul Newman 1968

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968The big news was that Paul Newman was coming to the Ohio University campus in January of 1968 to stump for Eugene McCarthy. I covered the event for The Ohio University Post.

Some bios say that Newman was a student at Ohio university and lived in the very same Scott Quadrangle dorm I did. [He couldn’t remember where his room was; I asked.]

Some say he left the school to join the armed services in 1942. He wanted to be a pilot, but washed out because of color blindness. He served as a turret gunner on an Avenger aircraft. Because of a twist of fate – his pilot developed an ear infection and was grounded – he was not on the USS Bunker Hill when it was hit by kamikaze attacks that killed more than 300 sailors.

Was a keg involved in his departure?

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Other bios say that he was invited to leave the university after he rolled a beer keg down Jeff Hill and bounced it off the president’s car. He mentioned “It’s good to be home” in his remarks, but he did not bring up anything about an errant beer keg.

Students mobbed the car carrying Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, when they arrived.

Jon Webb doing Hail Mary

Jon Webb covering  Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Jon Webb was the photographer at The Athens Messenger who started the daily picture page. I idolized the guy’s work. Still, it gave me a small amount of pleasure to see him doing a Hail Mary shot, something photographers do when they are out of position or hemmed in and need to try to get SOMETHING.

The story in The Post

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Here is the story that appeared in The OU Post, along with two of my photos:

“It’s good to be home,” Paul Newman said as he walked up to the microphone on the stage of Memorial Auditorium yesterday after being mobbed by students outside.

The former Ohio University student who dropped out of school to join the armed forces in 1942 urged a crowd of some 3000 students to make “a rich physical commitment” to the presidential candidate of their choice.

Young people are McCarthy’s capital

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Urging the crowd to help campaign for Eugene McCarthy in Indiana this weekend, Newman said, “We can’t afford to pay your way like some of the other candidates. We don’t have the capital – you young people are McCarthy’s capital.”

Newman at Press conference

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968In a press conference, Newman said he supports the Minnesota senator because “his credentials are better than anyone else and he has demonstrated his courage.”

“McCarthy rises above politics to become a statesman. He deals with things on a higher level: an intellectual strategy, not just a political strategy,” the actor continued.

Wanted to say he was part of his time

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968“I don’t know if my campaign will persuade anyone, but that’s not going to stop me,” he said. “I have six kids and I don’t want them to say I was never part of my time.”

Newman, who also visited the Ohio State and University of Cincinnati campuses yesterday, was presented with an Ohio University sweatshirt by students in the crowd.

A Harry & Son encounter

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968

For the record, I don’t recognize Mr. Cool, the photographer on the right. He wasn’t on the staff of the newspapers nor yearbook. He must have been one of the Fine Arts students.

I brought up another Paul Newman anecdote when I wrote his obit on my bike blog.

Newman arrived in Lake Worth, Florida, to film Harry & Son in 1984. I went to the set, not to take pictures, but to ask the movie crew if they could switch to a different two-way radio frequency because it was interfering with The Palm Beach Post’s radio system. That was a particular problem that morning because a an airliner inbound to Palm Beach International Airport had declared a mechanical emergency. The reporters and photographers scrambling to get into position were being overridden by the movie crew.

It happened because the FCC assigned newspapers and movie crews a shared group of frequencies in the 173 MHz range. Movie companies would frequently rent their radios from a Ft. Lauderdale company and pick a channel at random. In this case, they grabbed 173.275, which we used.

They were nice enough to switch when I pointed it out. (The plane landed safely, by the way. It was a faulty indicator light in the cockpit.)

 Paul Newman photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images.

Silver Bridge Collapse

Model of Pt. Pleasant Silver Bridge 08-10-1968Chuck Beckley, who was a high school kid working as a lab tech at The Athens Messenger  47 years ago, posted a photo to Facebook of a roadside marker that read:

Silver Bridge Collapse

Constructed in 1928, connected Point Pleasant and Kanauga, OH. Name credited to aluminum colored paint used. First eye-bar suspension bridge of its type in US. Rush hour collapse on 15 December 1967 resulted in 31 vehicles falling into the river, killing 46 and injuring 9. Failed eye-bar joint and weld identified as cause. Resulted in passage of national bridge inspection standards in 1968.

The model above is one that was exhibited at a fair I covered in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Who covered it?

Silver Bridge piers 12-06-1969Churck asked Bob Rogers, “Did I pick up film from the bus station for you and Jon [Webb], or Ken for this?”

It wasn’t me. I didn’t start working for The Messenger until the summer of 1968. On that particular day, I was on a train about half-way to Cincinnati headed back to Cape for Christmas break. At one of the stops, a passenger got on and started spreading the word about a big bridge collapse in Point Pleasant. He didn’t have a whole lot of details, and I was anxious to get home to see family and Girlfriend Lila, so I didn’t give it much thought.

I spent a lot of time later covering the building of the new Silver Memorial Bridge. Here are the piers of the old bridge. If the railroad bridge in the background is indicative of how well bridges were maintained in those days, it’s no wonder the bridge went down.

Over in less than a minute

Silver Bridge piers 12-06-1969Even though I didn’t cover the actual tragedy, I’m haunted by the gouges and scars on this pier. In other photos on that roll, you can still see cables and wires dangling down into the water.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology website explained it in chilling detail:

On December 15, 1967 at about 5PM the traffic signal at one end of the Silver Bridge turned red. The rush hour traffic, together with the Christmas shopping traffic, completely occupied the main span of the bridge connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Kanauga, Ohio. Suddenly a loud cracking sound was heard and one of the main towers began to twist and fall.

In less than a minute, all three spans of the bridge collapsed into the icy Ohio River, carrying with them all the cars, trucks, and people. Forty-six died.

[The failure of an eyebar set the chain of events in motion] Once this eyebar failed, the pin fell out, unpinning this part of the suspension chain. The adjacent tower was subjected to an asymmetrical loading that caused it to rotate and allow the western span to twist in a northerly direction. This span crashed down on the western shore, folding over on top of the falling cars and trucks. Loaded by the whole weight of the center span, which had now become unsupported on its western end, the east tower fell westward into the river along with the center span. Finally, the west tower collapsed toward Pt. Pleasant and into the Ohio River, completing the destruction of the Silver Bridge.

Two bodies were never recovered.

 Silver Memorial Bridge

Silver Memorial Bridge 12-06-1969I took this photo of the new Silver Memorial Bridge on December 6, 1969. The replacement bridge opened on December 15, 1969, exactly two years after the collapse.

When I went through that area last summer, I looked for any remnants of the old Silver Bridge. Either I was in the wrong place or every trace of it has been removed. I still think about what it must have been like to have been stuck in that traffic jam nearly half a century ago.

James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website has more information on the bridge and its collapse.

Dick Gregory for President

 

With all of the controversy about whether or not Cape Girardeau’s Rush Limbaugh should be in the Hall of Famous Missourians, I stumbled across a Show Me state resident who deserves a nomination – Dick Gregory. I was looking for something else the other day and stumbled across these photos of Gregory speaking at Ohio University in 1968.

I was surprised to find that (a) he was from St. Louis and went to school at Southern Illinois University and (b) he was still alive.

The Black Mort Sahl

The biography on his website says that he was African American comedian and civil rights activist whose social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African American comedians.

He was part of a new generation of black comedians that includes Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge. They broke with the minstrel tradition, which portrayed blacks as stereotypes.

Gregory, who had a dry, satirical wit, came to be known as the “Black Mort Sahl.” (Friends of Gregory would refer to Sahl as “the White Dick Gregory.” I was fortunate to cover Bill Cosby when he played Ohio University at about the same time.

Nigger” was best-seller

I bought his autobiography, Nigger, when it was published in 1963 (when it was on its way to becoming the number one best-seller in the country), but I never felt comfortable walking around with the cover showing, even though he explained in his forward that he had written a note to his mother saying, “Whenever you hear the word ‘Nigger,’ you’ll know they’re advertising my book.”

Routine impressed Hugh Hefner

He got one his earliest breaks when Hugh Hefner heard him perform this routine in front of a mostly white audience when he had been brought in as a last-minute replacement:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you”. So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”

His temporary gig at the Chicago Playboy Club lasted three years.

Gregory changed my career

I was covering the event for The Ohio University Post. Much to my surprise, I got a call from The Athens Messenger, the local paper, asking if they could run my photo taken of Gregory while he waiting to go on. It was a surprise because I had seen photographer Bob Rogers at the press conference earlier that day, and I assumed that he must have covered the speech as well.

See, newspapers HATE to pick up something from a competitor. Now, The Post was the university student newspaper and The Messenger was the “real” paper, so we weren’t exactly competitors, but I always looked to see how I had stacked up against Bob or Jon Webb when we had been at the same event.

I was flattered that they wanted the art, so I offered it up quickly. I think that’s probably what led to them offering me an internship that summer. When they couldn’t find anyone who would work as long, hard (and cheap) as I would, it turned into a full-time job. When Bob moved on, I became chief photographer.

 Write-in Candidate for President

Gregory ran for president in 1968  as a candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter group of the Peace and Freedom Party. His button reads, “Write in Dick Gregory President for Peace in ’68.”

I guess I can add him to the list of presidents and presidential candidates I’ve covered.

Standing ovation

Gregory’s speech was well-received by the mostly white audience. Even though I was busy shooting the event from a multitude of positions, I heard enough to be impressed by the way he managed to get his point across without stabbing anyone with it.

I think he opened some eyes that evening. Most of us hadn’t heard that perspective before.

This site has an interesting collection of Dick Gregory quotes. In some he’s funny; in others he’s ironically angry; in others, he’s thought-provoking.

Interesting body language

I didn’t notice it when I edited the film in 1968, but take a look at the photo gallery. There’s an interesting contrast in body language between the white students and the black students at the afternoon press conference.

I see a lot of crossed arms and furrowed brows. I’m not sure the black students were as receptive to Gregory’s message as the white students.

Dick Gregory Photo gallery

I included a bunch of press conference photos in the gallery to show some of the folks I worked with in those days: Bob Rogers, Tom Price, Ed Pieratt and some radio and TV guys who look familiar (but we print guys didn’t bother pay much attention to them). Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

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