This Day in Counter-Culture History

by Kirk Curnutt

Kirk Curnutt is executive director of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society and serves as managing editor of The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review. He is professor and chair of English at Troy University. His office in downtown Montgomery looks out toward Pleasant Avenue, where Zelda Fitzgerald was raised. Curnutt is the author of The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald, among other books, and the editor of The Oxford Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Curnutt is also the editor of All of the Belles, the first collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Montgomery stories, which releases March 03, 2020. When it comes to history, Curnutt admits that he is really only interested in two similarly revolutionary periods: the 1920s and the 1970s.

His latest column

January 14, 2020 — 100 Years Ago Today

The always fun New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, headed by John S. Sumner, charges editor/publisher Guy Holt with obscenity for allowing James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen (1919) into an otherwise clean world. The charge comes after a Broadway press agent, Walter J. Kingsley, complains in The New-York Tribune on January 3rd questioning why Cabell was getting away with murder in the book by being so “naughty,” unlike Dreiser. The case won’t be resolved until 1922. Judge Charles C. Nott, the presiding judge, writes in his decision that “the most that can be said against the book is that certain passages therein may be considered suggestive in a veiled and subtle way of immorality, but such suggestions are delicately conveyed” and that because of Cabell’s writing style “it is doubtful if the book could be read or understood at all by more than a very limited number of readers.” What a writer always wants to hear!

A Senate subcommittee begins investigating the wave of lynchings and violence against African Americans that has been roiling across the country since the summer of 1919. The subcommittee does precious little to actually stop the racial terrorism.

Newspaper readers are fascinated by the remorselessness of Pearl Beaver O’Dell for murdering Edward Knelp shortly before her marriage to her husband, James, whom she says is innocent.

January 14, 2020 — 50 Years Ago Today

Leonard and Felicia Bernstein host a swanky fundraiser for the Black Panthers, attended by luminaries like Otto Preminger, Baba Wahwah, Sidney Lumet, and a certain Tom Wolfe. The Bernsteins are immediately vilified and ridiculed in the press, including in editorials in The New York Times. Then, of course… well, let tell the story:

“Five months later, the fundraiser was immortalized in a lengthy essay by Tom Wolfe in New York Magazine entitled, ‘Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s’ (June 8, 1970). Urbane, witty, and supremely derisive of Bernstein, Wolfe used the Bernstein ‘party’ to demonstrate what he saw as a trend among the wealthy, white elite to dabble in radical social causes and hobnob with extremists in an attempt to be ‘chic’—hence the term coined in the title. For twenty-nine pages, Wolfe dissected every detail of the evening, from the ‘million-dollar chatchka look’ of the apartment to the tactfully selected white servants, to portraying Bernstein as ‘the Great Interrupter, the Village Explainer, the champion of mental jotto’ who talked ‘jive’ with the ‘funky’ Black Panthers.”

Wolfe didn’t invent the phrase “radical chic,” but he certainly made it a chic putdown.

Also, Diana Ross performs for the last time with The Supremes to go solo: “On the night of 14 January, 1970, at the New Frontier Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas, Ross, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong (herself the successor to Florence Ballard, from 1967 onwards) gave their last concert together… Six days later, Ross was in the studio recording ‘Reach Out and Touch,’ and for Supremes fans, the 1960s were officially over.”

Raquel Welch is mobbed in Paris’s Orly Airport upon her arrival. Her future ex-husband, Patrick Curtis, is not.

See Kirk’s past columns.