The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1962 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1962

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Title Page | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963 | 1964-1989 (Part 1) | 1964-1989 (Part 2) | 1964-1989 (Part 3)
Lawrence of Arabia,
British Beatlemania,
Ole Miss, John Glenn
Liston beats Patterson

While Billy Joel remembered a man orbiting the Earth, President Kennedy promised the world that the Americans would be on the moon by the end of the decade. Those looking skywards in 1962 would also see Neptune and Pluto align. Luckily they didn't also see any Cuban missiles...

Lawrence of Arabia

The patrons who attended The Royal Film Performance held in London on 10 December, 1962 were in for a long night - 216 minutes. They had paid to view the premier of a film based on the exploits of TE Lawrence who, since the publication of his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, was more commonly known as 'Lawrence of Arabia'. The man, the book and the film all capture the imagination.

The Man

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in North Wales on 16 August, 1888. He was the second of five illegitimate sons born to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner, who had previously been employed in the Chapman household as governess. They eloped and adopted the surname 'Lawrence'. The family moved to Oxford and TE won a scholarship to study history at Jesus College, Oxford. During his course he was lucky enough to undertake research in Palestine and Syria. This fostered an interest in archaeology which he pursued after graduation by working on the British Museum excavation of the Hittite city of Carchemish, on the River Euphrates. Here he managed the local workforce and learned an invaluable lesson in how to motivate the Arab peoples.

When war broke out in 1914, Lawrence joined the Geographical Section of the General Staff, soon became bored and moved on to the Military Intelligence Department in Cairo. He was soon cited as an expert on Arab matters and, in October 1916, he was sent on a fact-finding mission to the Hedjaz, where Sherif Hussein of Mecca had rebelled against Turkish imperial rule. The onset of the Arab Revolt found him serving as liaison officer with the forces led by the Emir Feisal. He effectively cut off the Turkish forces in Medina and, seeing the need to set up a safe supply route to Akaba, crossed the desert to defeat the strong defences based at the pass of Wadi Itm. His affinity with the Arabs enabled him to cut the Turkish supply route offered by the Hedjaz railway by inciting the locals to revolt at exactly the same time the railway was attacked. The Turks were defeated and, with the capture of Damascus, the war in the desert effectively over. Lawrence returned to England and worked tirelessly to promote the cause of Arab independence in which he had come to believe passionately.

The Book(s)

In 1919, American journalist Lowell Thomas arrived in London. He had been present at Akaba and, encouraged by Lawrence to promote the Arab cause, produced a lavish show encompassing a lecture, slides, films, music and dancing. After the austerity of the war this presentation grabbed the public imagination and made Lawrence into a hero. Although useful to promote his political views he found the attention overbearing and retreated - first into the RAF under an assumed name and then to write his memoirs. Seven Pillars of Wisdom was completed in 1926 but the detailed prints were so expensive and the production costs so high that a rewrite was required, leading to the publication of an abridged version, Revolt in the Desert, at the end of the year. Both versions were succesful but the graphic details of his capture, flogging and violent male rape in 1917 plus the absence of any noticeable lady friends led to the misperception that he was homosexual1. He followed this by writing about his experiences in the RAF but this book, The Mint, caused such anxiety that it would damage the reputation of the service that he withdrew it and stipulated that it shouldn't be published until 1950. Lawrence retired from the armed forces in 1935 and, shortly after, was killed in a motorbike accident.

The Film

In deciding to create a film based on the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, David Lean was confronted with a problem. Telling the story of a man widely believed to be homosexual and who described in detail scenes of violence, beating and male rape, was not an option in 1962. So he had to attempt to portray him as an unconventional man without labels or comment - make the man an enigma. He chose, instead, to focus on the vastness of the desert, the enormity of the task of uniting the disparate nomadic, warring tribes and the battle of one man against the elements. To this end he couldn't have chosen a better leading man than Peter O'Toole. A comparative unknown, O'Toole managed to portray the man in all his conflicting moods - courageous, compassionate, ruthless, determined, suffering. He was ably assisted in this by a strong supporting cast which included Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal, Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi, Jack Hawkins as General Allenby, Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, Anthony Quayle as Colonel Harry Brighton and José Ferrer as Turkish Bey. Memorable moments included the massacre scene when Lawrence discovered that he became an 'unfeeling' mass of blood and the explosive scene of masochism and (implied) homosexuality between Lawrence and Turkish Bey.

For many, however, the winning features of this film were the wonderfully evocative desert scenes, which captured precisely the feeling of emptiness, violence and despair, coupled with the brilliant music score penned by Maurice Jarre. One such scene was when Sherif Ali appeared far off on a camel in the desert. Lean, employing an extremly long shot coupled with a sense of threat, caused the figure to disappear in a mirage and then, as he approached, made him frightening. As the character of Lawrence said in the film when asked why he was drawn to the desert: 'It's clean!'

A week after the premier in London it opened to critical acclaim in the USA. The following year it was awarded 7 Oscars including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Music (Score) and Best Picture. Peter O'Toole (Best Actor in a Leading Role) and Omar Sharif (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) were nominated but didn't win, although O'Toole did win the BAFTA for Best British Actor. Other BAFTAs won included Best British Film, Best British Screenplay and Best Film from any Source.

British Beatlemania

The phenomenon of The Beatles was something that the British music industry had never previously seen, nor has it seen since. The Beatles set the standard for show business popularity that fan clubs of every singing sensation since have failed to reproduce. Wherever you see limosuines pursued by girls throwing underwear; teenage girls screaming crazily until their bladders give way; radio promos; crass advertising; cash-in films and colourful album covers, you can be sure the precedent was set by John, Paul, George and Ringo.

So little remains to be said about the Beatles' music that adding to the mounds of commentary here seems pointless. But it was the Beatlemaniacs who invented the likes of the 'Paul is Dead' myth2, and it was the hundreds of copycats who converted Eastern mysticism into the psychedelic movement of the late 1960s. Beatlemania was about far more than music, it was a worldwide cult. The fans' support was much greater than idolisation, it went on to establish a new status for celebrities and public icons.

Ole Miss

He went down to Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed him down
All because his face was brown
- from 'Oxford Town' by Bob Dylan, 1963

James Meredith was expecting trouble, for just days before submitting his application to the University of Mississippi (commonly called 'Ole Miss') he sent a letter to Thurgood Marshall of the Legal Defense and Education Fund requesting legal assistance should it be necessary. Meredith was a student at Jackson State College, an all-black school, when he made his first application on 31 January, 1961 for the spring semester. The application was neither denied nor accepted, but the school stalled until it was too late to register for the semester. Immediately Mr Meredith sent a letter to the US Justice Department asking them to intervene on his behalf, then reapplied to the university for the summer session. When his second applicaton was also stalled, he and the NAACP3 filed suit in US District court in May 1961 alleging that the school was denying his application on the basis of race.

After more than a year in the courts and numerous appeals, the US Supreme Court found in favour of Mr Meredith on 10 September, 1962. The school was ordered to allow Mr Meredith to register, yet Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett continued to bar his admission. The Supreme Court ruling sparked ire with state officials, residents and Ole Miss students who began gathering to protest against the integration of the school. Attorney General Robert Kennedy dispatched more than 500 US Marshals, border guards and prison guards to the university on 30 September to hold the peace, instructed not to fire on the crowd but to use only tear gas. The gathered mob of more than 2,000 rioted against the guards, and as the violence escalated President John F Kennedy sent 16,000 Army and National Guard troops to the campus.

In the end the riot left two people dead, 28 US Marshals with gunshot wounds and 160 injured. James Meredith attended his first class at Ole Miss on 1 October, 1962 amid an escort of federal officials.

James Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss is largely seen as a landmark civil rights event, but Mr Meredith doesn't associate himself with the civil rights movement. His stated goal was to get the government to use the military to enforce his rights as a US citizen; he considers his actions to be more a strike against 'white supremacy' than anything to do with civil rights. In 1966 Mr Meredith published Three Years in Mississippi about his experiences attending school at Ole Miss.

John Glenn

John Herschel Glenn, Jr was born 18 July, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio and attended primary and secondary schools in New Concord, Ohio. Showing a propensity for the sciences at an early age, he went on to study engineering at Muskingum College in New Concord graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in that subject.

In 1942 he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and, after graduating, received a commission in the Marine Corps in 1943. He then went on to join Marine Fighter Squadron 155 and spent a year flying F-4U fighters in the Marshall Islands. He flew a total of 59 combat missions during WWII and then joined Marine Fighter Squadron 218 based on Guam, patrolling the North China Seas. The next move, in 1948, was to Texas where he was an instructor in advanced flight training. He furthered his experience by undertaking Amphibious Warfare training and then saw action in the Korean War, flying 63 missions for Marine Fighter Squadron 311 and 27 for the Airforce in an F-86 Sabrejet.

After Korea he trained as a test pilot and became a project officer on a number of aircraft. Not content with this he also attended Maryland University. Whilst he was a project officer of the F8U Crusader he set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York, thus becoming the first person to average supersonic flight crossing from one side of the US to the other.

In 1959, John Glenn was selected as a Project Mercury Astronaut and was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia in April of that year. When the Space Task Group moved to Houston in early 1962 it merged with the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center. He travelled to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida and, on 20 February, 1962, piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 'Friendship 7' spacecraft on the first manned orbital mission of the United States. He completed three orbits of the earth at a height of around 162 statute miles and averaged a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. The total duration of the mission from launch to landing was 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. Although this represented a tremendous achievement, do not forget that, in May 1961, Alan B Shepard, Jr had piloted the 'Freedom 7' MR-3 to a height of 116.5 statute miles thus becoming the first American in space and setting the scene for later space travel.

Liston beats Patterson

At 2:06 of round number one, boxing's worst nightmare became a reality. In the same stadium where forty years previously Joe Louis washed clean the sins of Jack Johnson, Sonny Liston rekindled the flame of hatred that had burned so brightly in opposition to Jack Johnson that a quarter of a century passed before a black man was allowed to fight for sport's most cherished crown. Now the spectre of another 'bad black man' was spectre no more. He was real, and his name was Charles Sonny Liston.
- Poster

At Chicago's Comiskey Park, on the evening of 25 September, 1962, virtue met vice. And two minutes and six seconds into the first round, vice abruptly came out on top.

It was a bout for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, pitting 30 year-old contender Sonny Liston up against reigning champion Floyd Patterson. In the subsequent vernacular of one Cassius Clay, it was The Big Ugly Bear up against The Rabbit.

Possibly, the belt was Liston's before even the weigh-in. Under advice from his manager Cus D'Amato, Patterson had until then avoided fighting the cold-staring Liston, ostensibly on account of the latter's criminal past (he'd spent time inside Missouri State Penitentiary for armed robbery) and connections with the mob, but perhaps it was Liston's gigantic 6ft physical presence, crushing left hook and great ability to take punches that kept the Patterson camp's guard up. But Patterson however was under public pressure to face the number one contender.

At 21 years and 11 months old, former Olympic middleweight champion Floyd Patterson had become in 1956 the youngest ever holder of the world heavyweight crown when he put Archie Moore down in the fifth. After a spate of successful defences, he lost a title fight in 1959 to Ingemar Johansson, but a year later regained the title, thereby becoming the first boxer to regain the world heavyweight crown.

Meanwhile, ex-con Sonny Liston was careering through the heavyweight division, having turned pro in 1953 after winning the National Golden Gloves title for that year. Opponents described his blows as paralyzing or excruciatingly painful. In 1958, boxing journal The Ring ranked him as the ninth-best contender; by 1960 he was number one. Floyd Patterson had no choice but to fight Sonny Liston.

The Chicago fight was a two-minute disaster for Floyd. Liston had a pile-driving jab, a great left hook, a strong right, and outstanding boxing skills. Sports writers of the time were convinced that he was unbeatable.

It happened twice of course, Liston beating Patterson. And both times it took not even a single round. Ten months after the Chicago fight, on 22 July, 1963 Sonny Liston met Floyd Patterson in a rematch, at Las Vegas Convention Centre, Nevada. This time, the fight lasted only two minutes and ten seconds, a mere four seconds longer than the first.

'Floyd can't beat Sonny at anything but a spelling bee,' wrote Jim Murray in the Los Angeles Times. 'Liston could probably knock him out via smoke signals, and Floyd will probably get woozy if Liston just drove past his house in Scarsdale. You knew the fight was over as soon as you saw Floyd had forgotten a sledge hammer.'

Nineteen months later however, on 25 February, 1964 Liston too met his match, throwing in the towel between the seventh and eighth rounds against brash young challenger Cassius Clay.

1It is possible that he was gay, but there is no real evidence to substantiate this view.2The myth was based on several 'clues' in the Abbey Road album, not least the one that the front cover resembled a funeral procession.3National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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