May is the month of Taurus, my birthday is May 15, so I am appropriating the entire month and calling it The Month of the Minotaur. Two weeks ago I started posting new Minotaur visual art by me on the Art page, with more to come.
May 1954 has always seemed to me like a real pivot in history. It was the month the French military garrison at Dien Ben Phu (Vietnam) was overrun by the Viet Minh forces under the command of Ho Chi Minh. US forces were there assisting the French, with a large contingent of military operators in the employ of the CIA, flying rescue missions and providing cover for the French troops, but not enough to save the day. Sadly, as you history buffs know, the vacuum created by the departure of the French was soon filled by the US, and things turned out badly all around. I wrote about this for the History Channel years ago, an episode called Air America: The CIA’s Secret Airline.
Pretty good work, if I say so myself. The producer, Monte Markham, saw it as a labor of love because his older brother, Jesse Markham, flew for Air America and despite the many negative stories about that outfit, Air America pilots were generally well-intentioned cowboy flyers who wanted to help free Southeast Asians (in particular, the Hmong people) escape the violent takeover by the Vietcong and other communist forces in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. But again, things turned out badly for most everyone, and Jesse Markham was later reported missing during a mission for the CIA. The family learned no other details about his fate.
1954 was also the year Elvis Presley started getting somewhere with budding music career by hooking up with producer Sam Phillips in Memphis.
Like so many music careers, it started when he recorded a demo at Sun Studio and he passed the tape around to his friends, using it to get gigs, posted it on youtube and Facebook and got like, 10 million likes, and etc… Oh, wait a minute, wrong century.
As a sidebar, the iconic movie Jailhouse Rock was released in 1957. That film also starred a rising young dancer and actress named Judy Tyler, who died in a tragic car wreck shortly afterward. I only mention this, really, because I recently stumbled across pix of her on a cool French blog, and the blogger has a real eye for great noir, pulp fiction, and beautiful sex kittens, as they used to call them.
I mentioned in a recent post on the Austin Noir page that an Austin legend from the 1950s-60s, Don Jester, punched out Elvis after his show at the Coliseum with Hank Snow in 1956. Jester was a Golden Gloves champion in Austin, fighting in the youth heavyweight division, his last appearance in the Austin tournament coming in 1958. Jester was also a promising football player who excelled in just about every sport and was referred to by his coach at Austin High as “one of the most talented fullbacks I’ve ever seen,” and that was at a time when Austin High was a conveyor belt to the Texas Longhorns. Jester, however, had a reputation as a hothead and wasn’t much of a student, either. Actually, he really had a screw loose. He was recruited by Texas Tech and after graduating in 1958 (same class as his number one running buddy, Timmy Overton), he moved to Lubbock and started working out with the Raiders but did not last long. Some say he punched out the coach. Others say he picked a fight with fullback E. J. Holub (also known as a guy who threw one hell of a punch and didn’t mind doing it), and that Jester was badly injured in the altercation. In any event, Jester ended up back in Austin, running with low level thugs and drug addicts. He was in jail almost as often as he was out and although he did pursue his other avocation, singing and playing guitar, he flamed out and died of an overdose in a Ballard’s drive in restroom stall in March 1969.
Hey, I don’t know how these anecdotes keep taking a dark turn. Perhaps it is because, as Raymond Chandler said, in one of my favorite Chandlerisms, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”
Here’s another factoid or two for you about 1954, the year I was born: Marilyn Monroe married ball player Joe DiMaggio… Sen. Joseph McCarthy got slapped down in Congress during the Army hearings, which were this insane and bizarre show trial of his clownish imagination, and finally, intelligent people had had more than enough of his BS, which I am still confident will happen before long to those clowns in the GOP and the Tea Party who get all their facts from their own putrid imaginations and will believe anything as long as it fits with their racist tendencies or greed. If there was a Flat Earth Party, these guys would be charter members. You know, guys like Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, and pretty much the whole Texas Republican Legislature, Rick Perry, and this year’s crop of Texas GOP hopefuls.
Aha, back on the positive track, 1954 was also the year of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board, which decided that segregation was unconstitutional. Yes, the bad guys, including people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been trying to roll back the spirit and the intent of Brown v. Board, and one thing about the bad guys is that they keep on a-coming, but so do the good guys, so there’s always hope.
One final note about the fifties, pulp fiction, femme fatales and minotaurs. Check out this paperback novel by Edward S. Aarons. Does this look like Don Draper of Mad Men or what?
So, as you can see, I am in rare form, and 1954 was quite an important year.
It’s a beautiful weekend. Thanks for listening.