The wOw Conversation: A Rememberance of Summers Past

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Mary Wells, Judith Martin and Liz Smith reflect on nearly three decades of media memories, from Woodstock to Judith Exner to Monica Lewinsky and more

MARY: Woodstock? It never happened to me. I had opened my own company in ‘66 and it was extremely successful, thank God. I was working 24 hours a day and Woodstock just sort of floated by me. People talked about it and I kept wondering what was so great. Everything I saw looked so messy, so muddy, so drunken … I couldn’t figure out what everybody thought was so important about it. But I guess it really was if you experienced it.

LIZ: Well, we were ladies who had been upwardly mobile from poor beginnings. And I know that in the 1960s, I was able to go to restaurants and not look at the price on the menu for the first time in my life. And I don’t think I was concerned about all of that youthful revolt going on around me. And I certainly didn’t want to wear those kinds of clothes because they reminded me of the clothes I’d worn during the Depression. We can’t deny that it was part of a whole moment, that it has an enormous effect – you still see people dressing that way on the street.

MARY: And they’re still thinking that way.

JUDITH: Well, Woodstock passed me by also, because we had our gatherings here that were not quite so jolly but were, I would think, a lot more interesting – protest marches, civil rights marches. Our living room was often full of people camping out because they’d come down from elsewhere to participate in this, and I was sent out to cover a lot of these things – or help cover. I was never the main person on them. But for us in Washington, it was a decade of political turmoil, the civil rights movement and the beginning of the feminist revival – not of “blissing out” or whatever the term was at the time.

LIZ: I thought that particular time was really quite newsworthy and I was riveted by all that was going on. There were the Manson murders, which changed the whole atmosphere of Hollywood. It made people afraid who had never been afraid before. And wasn’t that when Teddy Kennedy drove off the bridge, in 1969? That was really sort of the end of the ongoing Kennedy dynasty. I mean, they keep going but that was the end of having another Kennedy president.

MARY: Yes, the end of the dream.

LIZ: And The Apollo moonwalk. You know, there are still people who believe that was faked and there never were any people on the moon.

MARY: And the ten-year anniversary of Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury investigation where he finally admitted he had his relationship with Monica Lewinsky … and there’s Monica Lewinsky – she is now 38 years old – and she has disappeared, and no one knows where she is anymore.

LIZ: She took the brunt for women of all of the men and their wives who “denounced the other woman.” She was just a kid, for Pete’s sake. I knew Monica Lewinsky and I felt so sorry for her. I remember being with her at the Vanity Fair party right after all of that and, you know, she was just a curiosity with everybody lining up to be photographed with her. And she finally fled the United States and went to England and worked on a master’s degree in something or other. And I don’t know what has happened to her. But I think that she was really pilloried in that and you have to always remember – she never blew the whistle on Bill Clinton. He should have been so grateful to her. She just made the mistake of telling a friend about it, who taped it and blew the whistle herself.

LIZ: Americans are very forgiving. They have short memories. I think such a human failing as Bill Clinton’s was is forgivable even if stupid. He’s a dynamic, charming, brilliant figure and he’s risen above it. In a funny way, maybe it was chastising but was good for him in the end.

MARY: Well, when he was interviewed recently he said that this is the best time of his whole life.

LIZ: Yes. He’s raised millions of dollars to fight AIDS – millions. I think he’s bent over backward to do the right thing. But speaking of Monica Lewinsky, this is like what Judith Exner said to me about being Jack Kennedy’s mistress, from the years right before he was killed. She said, “Liz, I was 25 years old and I was in love and people expected me to behave better and know better than the president of the United States.”

MARY: Yes. Yes.

LIZ: You know. So I find it hard to put down these “fallen women.” I’ve been a fallen woman myself, so I know what I’m talking about.

9 comments so far.

  1. avatar Bonnie O says:

    Sad thing about summers past is the infiltration of drugs from the streets into the homes of the American middle class.  What was once thought of as “never could happen” did happen and most families of America have since come face-to-face with the drug cultrual as exploited at Woodstock.  Who does not have a child, sibling, friend or parent lost to the addiction of some illegal drug or brain draining high?

    What did Dickens write?  It was the best of times and the worst of times. 

  2. avatar Maggie W says:

    During the 60’s, I was just ” comin’  up” as my Southern relatives would say.  So I was curious about everything and everybody and so thrilled I no longer had to wear those gawdawful saddle oxford shoes. 

    I was very curious about what was happening with the civil rights movement and watched it on TV and on the pre movie reels at the Cole Theater.   My dad was a farmer and during  harvest time, seasonal help arrived on cue.  They were black and Hispanic.  They slept in the barns or under the trees on bedrolls.  That old farm house had a huge porch and when we sat out at night, we could hear them laughing and singing.   I could not understand how they could be so happy while just a couple states away, their friends and relatives were being attacked by dogs.   Little did I know then just how much I would learn  in the years to come about that horrendous time in this country’s history. 

  3. avatar Mary says:

    I was going to write about my Woodstock experience but see that it would not have been received well. On the other hand those who did not attend will never know how great a experience it was and that drugs even though they were there, were not introduced to the world at Woodstock.  If they had been, how is it that folks brought them with them to Woodstock?  It’s crazy how people perceive the experience and compare it to what is wrong today.  On the other hand……………Woodstock was not about drugs, nor was it about the mud, the sex, nor was it just about the music. It was about a generation of kids coming together spontaniously and making the most out of a weekend that was ill planned and working with what they had. It was about having the freedom that many of us did not have at home to express ourselves and to leave the pent up frustrations of the times for a few days and discovering that there were many out there that had the same dreams of living in peace and harmony and working together in pure joy and happiness.  We discovered it was possible. It energized us.

    Woodstock only lasted a few days, those of us who were involved in the civil rights movement, protesting the Viet Nam war, marching for womens rights, all the while passing the pipe were no less relevant than those who were on the outside looking in and making judgements about what they did not know.

    The summer of 1969 was like no other summer, nor will there ever be another quite like it.  Man’s walk on the moon, the war, the raging fires of cities burning for civil rights, the abortion issues, the equality of women in the workplace, sexuality, the awakening of rock and roll , the joys, the fears, the world for many upside down and being a part of it all .  How can that not be a great summer?

    • avatar Bonnie O says:

      I spent the mid-sixties in Berkeley.  No one need tell me what the protests and drugs were all about.  The mindless discussions of an Utopian Society were often interspersed with riots and violence. Too much violence and too many riots.  Most everyone of school age was reading Ken Kesey and listening to Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan.  Young men were flocking to Berkeley and San Francisco looking for free sex and available drugs.  Young women were burning bras and leaving homes where vaccuming and laundry were part of the daily chores.  Growing up fast and selling dead flowers on street corners.  Joining the Moonies or some other cult … looking for John Lennon’s world as he wrote in Imagine.  There is no such place.

      Some of us witnessed the revolution and joined the counter revolution.  Some of us were seduced by passionate oratory touting free speech.  Some just wanted to grow up fast and join what was thought as a young people’s political movement.  Idealist dreams of a student not yet an adult.

      At that age, I was just coming out of being enthralled with Ayn Rand and the belief that everyone could and should be self-sufficent.  I was beginning to learn  that many in our society are unable to be self-sufficient through no fault of their own.  I dismissed the aspect of Ms. Rand’s philosophy that taught all charity is wrong.  And then I visited the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland and talked with some of the dreadfully wounded vets returning from Viet Nam.  Any sympathies or slight understanding I had of the Berkeley protestors dissipated from that moment.  I grew up.

  4. avatar Mary says:

    Bonnie , life on the West Coast, esp. Berkley, Ca. was much different than life on the East Coast in regards to revolutions and moonies and deep thoughts etc etc and it was very different a few years earlier than it was for me at age 17 in 1969.  I was one of those girls who was doing those chores and living in a world where my parents were taught to believe that our “leaders” would take care of the problems and we should just all try to get along.  Well that isn’t exactly what they were thinking but that is what they wanted us to believe.  They wanted us to do those girl chores so that we could grow up to have that kind of married life where the wife continues to do those chores to make her husband happy and then a happy home makes a happy life and on and on.  It would all be so much easier if only we just would follow their lead. 
    The problem with that way of thinking was that you couldn’t ignore it.  My brother was killed in Viet Nam in 1968.  I met so many young men that knew him and who were sentenced to life without limbs because of that war.  Be that as it may the times were very different and all of the garbage that we had been taught all of our lives was just not true.  We wanted our parents to stand up and be truthful or at least open their minds to the possibility that life as they wanted it to be and pretended it to be was all a lie that needed to be changed.  Whether it was destined to change or the change needed to happen so that we could move on was beside the point, my peers just wanted the admission that we were on to the idea that we were not the children of the Ozzie and Harriet  Nelson wanna bees.  Growing up in a WASP family was not something you wanted to admit, and yet there it was. 

    Then there was College, the age of enlightenment and trying hard to not only get a education and participating in the act of growing up in the middle of a city where we had curfews because of the riots that were only two blocks away.  Seeing the army tanks rolling down the middle of the streets and seeing the flames shoot up over the skyline .  Getting into a elevator and being threatened because you were a white girl and learning early that life had little meaning in the midst of all the hatred and fear.  During the day the demonstrations against the war and night the riots over basic human rights.  One has to wonder if we would survive it today.

    What we knew then and what we know now are two different things and what was happening in Ca. and what was happening in N.Y. were very different yet all leading to the same ending. 

    • avatar Bonnie O says:

      Mary –  I am very sorry about your brother’ death.   Too many of my high school friends went.  The boys who were in college or at university dreaded the draft and then the lottery for the draft.  I often thought Berkeley was the front line of that war and in some ways it was.

      Isn’t it strange that those “chores” we talked about still need to get done.  The carpets still need to be vacuumed and the laundry must be sorted.  When one has a perspective of life then perhaps doing household tasks is not such a bad thing after all.  Or maybe it is because it is now our carpets and our laundry.

      The comparison between West Coast and East Coast living during the 60s and 70s is very interesting.

  5. avatar Rho says:

    Guess I’m old.  My summer memories are the Catskill Mountains (Borscht Belt), Lido Beach, LI, and Fire Island, LI.

    Fun, fun, fun!!!

  6. avatar Jane H says:

    ’65 aunt died, ’66, grandfather died, ’67 cousing murdered, ’68 brother died in the line of duty, ’69, grandmother died – ’69 locked up in a psych ward given ect…. the 60’s were a blast

  7. avatar Linda Myers says:

    I wasn’t sure whether to enter into this conversation since I did not begin Kindergarten until the early sixties, so my memories are not of being the adult. Vietnam was part of my early years and the memories gathered as a child. My brother served in Vietnam and thankfully made it home again. I remember the names at night scrolling on the TV of wounded and casualties of the war. Walter Cronkite bringing the news from this world into our house and seeming to become familiar from being a nice guy.

    We lived in a post WWII suburbia close to other little towns dotted around us. I definitely remember Peg Mullen from the time she first started talking of Michael Mullen’s death of friendly fire long before it became a national topic. The family lived not too far from us in the next town. I watched the protest and really loved the music of the sixties and anti-war songs of that time. I still feel wars are never “won”, rather a tolerance conceded to one side or the other.

    Mary Poppins was my favorite movie, along with watching the Wizard of Oz every year on TV like an event waiting to happen. The only funeral I attended in the sixties was for a family friend about my age who was killed on the highway by a drunk driver. My first experience of really understanding what grief was all about.

    I remember a freedom in that time to be a child able to explore life from the back of a horse. Protected possibly in being excluded at the time from an urban life – I would not trade growing up in the sixties from the perspective of my world as a child.