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Jack Smith

Tout of the Past : In Reading Old Newspaper Ads, We Get a Feeling of Missed Opportunity

July 17, 1988|Jack Smith

THERE IS NO better window on the past than an old newspaper. Almost everybody has one about somewhere--under the refrigerator, lining a trunk, saved in a carton for some long-forgotten reason.

Of course, old newspapers are available. Libraries keep originals or have them on microfilm. But there is more surprise in finding one you haven't been looking for.

Alyce M. Hall sends me the back end of the L.A. Daily News for Oct. 11, 1954. She found it lining a box in a little-used closet. Reading the ads, she had a feeling of missed opportunity.

"Take the rubber wading-gardening boots for $2.95. My husband just bought a pair last month and paid $29.95 for them. Should we have been aware that prices were going to change that much and put an extra pair away for future use?"

There is an old movie about a man sitting on a park bench who finds a copy of the next day's newspaper--with the stock reports and the results of horse races. Alas, in finding an old newspaper we have no such advantage; we can merely recognize lost chances.

The news pages are missing from Mrs. Hall's old Daily News, except for the back end of the full text of an Adlai Stevenson speech. Remember him? His final paragraph is not without meaning for today:

"And even the most fanatical ideology must adjust itself to revealed truth or perish. The job is to cling everlastingly to the truth; to try everlastingly to find it in the clatter and confusion of these times--and to find it even in the storm of words of a political campaign." (In 1954 Stevenson was halfway between two defeats by Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential elections.)

The inevitable piece of studio cheesecake is positioned right next to the Stevenson story. It shows a bathing-suited starlet--"pretty Olive Sturgess"--looking over a shoulder in the famous Betty Grable pose, and the caption notes a political connection: "She's 21 and can vote.")

The Stage and Screen section is intact, and Mrs. Hall says she is "sobered" by the number of stars who have died since 1954. In life, we can't believe that screen stars will ever die. Mentioned are William Holden, Jack Webb, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable in "Gone with the Wind" and Marilyn Monroe in "How to Marry a Millionaire." All gone.

A review by Walter Kerr of a New York play shows that critics were no kinder then than now: "The new play at the Lyceum is all about a Renoir nude with which there is absolutely nothing wrong except that it's fake. And 'Reclining Figure' strikes me as a comedy with which there is absolutely nothing wrong except that it's not terribly funny. . . . "

At the New Follies on Main Street, Busty Brown was appearing in her final week as "Miss Anatomy," Helen Hayes was appearing at the Hartford in "What Every Woman Knows" and Patti Waggin, "that beautiful black Mariah," was starring at Strip City at Western and Pico.

The sports section is also complete, the main story being that "Detroit Smothers Rams, 21-3."

A story from Milwaukee reported that the legendary Y. A. Tittle had come off the bench in the fourth quarter to save the 49ers from an upset by the Green Bay Packers, 23-17. In Washington, the great Charley Conerly bombed the Redskins with four touchdown passes, 51-21; in Cleveland, the Browns ground the Chicago Cardinals in the mud, 31-7. Chicago Cardinals?

In tennis, those handsome young Americans, Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert, reached the quarterfinals of the Pan-American Tennis Championships in Mexico City.

A Southern Pacific Railroad ad shows a family of four boarding the Golden State for Chicago, taking advantage of SP's new family-fare plan. At the May Co., a cold-wave permanent cost $5.95; you could dine at Ciro's for $3.25; lunch at the Vagabond House was 65 cents to $1.25.

The miracle-cure ads showed that people suffered from bladder weakness, stomach gas, rectal trouble, piles, itching skin, prostate problems and constipation.

Some things never change.

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