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United They Fell Recalling a Utopian Dream Scheme That Was Over Before It Started

December 17, 1989|JACK SMITH

CALIFORNIA, and especially its southern end, has always been fertile soil for crackpot political ideas.

Upton Sinclair, the Socialist writer, was almost elected governor in the Depression 1930s on his EPIC (End Poverty in California) plan for back-to-the-land and back-to-the-factory production for use, not profit.

In the same era, Dr. Francis Townsend took in $1 million in contributions for his OARP (Old Age Revolving Pensions) plan; two Hollywood advertising men concocted a fantastic scheme called "Ham and Eggs," which would have paid old people "Thirty Dollars Every Thursday" and almost had it adopted in a special election; this region also gave enthusiastic support to Technocracy, a movement that advocated turning the country over to technicians, who would know how to manage our technological society.

Harry Cimring, who does not subscribe to the notion that yesterday's newspaper is passe, sent me a clipping from The Times of April 29, 1970, about what must surely have been the most bizarre and shortest-lived of our many utopian dreams.

The story reports an announcement by James F. Andrews, a Malibu Democrat, and Floyd J. Bero, a Garden Grove Republican, both 32, of a grandiose idea for "bringing America together."

One week earlier, the two had taken out a full-page ad in The Times to introduce what they called Yuni--an abbreviation of "You and I." So far, they said, they had received 5,000 letters and post cards pledging support.

Their plan was simple, if wildly presumptuous: They hoped to enlist 2 million supporters, at which point they would ask 10 prominent persons (nine men and one woman) to serve on their board of directors and "take the first step toward the creation of a master plan to solve the critical problems facing America today."

The 10 persons, none of whom, evidently, had ever heard of Yuni until they read their names in the paper, were certainly among the most distinguished figures in the country.

They were Simon Ramo, Buckminster Fuller, William Pickering, John Diebold, Thomas J. Watson Jr., Walter Cronkite, Bill Cosby, Corita Kent, Ricardo Montalban and Norton Simon.

The story said that those of the 10 who could be reached by telephone said they had never heard of Andrews and Bero, nor of Yuni, and had not been approached by them.

The chutzpah of the two young men is evident in their explanation that they had indeed nominated the 10 without their prior knowledge, but that they were "quite encouraged that we haven't heard from any of them" demanding that their names be withdrawn.

Andrews and Bero said they had quit their jobs and spent $25,000 of their own money on the plan, and that they did not intend to solicit contributions. They declined to define their goals, saying only that they would be left up to the board.

"We have no idea what their program will be. It's irrelevant and a waste of energy to argue about which method is really right when America is so critically out of balance.

"We must get on with it and find the people who can bring us all together. We only need a master plan."

It was simply an appeal to our elders to lead us out of the wilderness.

Wondering what had happened to Yuni, I asked The Times' library to see if we had carried any later stories about it.

Alas, on May 31, only 32 days after the first story had appeared, a second story reported Yuni's sad demise.

The headline said: "Yuni Dies--and With It a Quixotic Dream."

The story reported that "the lease expired at the Yuni Co. office Saturday, and Bero was trying to figure out how to sell the office furniture to pay the phone bill. . . . Gloom dominated . . . as Bero waited, not really expectantly, for some famous American to walk through the door and solve all the problems. No one came."

Of the 10 prominent persons nominated to serve, only three--Montalban, Simon and Watson--had acknowledged Yuni's invitation. They said they did not wish to participate.

Cimring notes, philosophically, that on the day the first story appeared, the Dow Jones average was 711 (contrasted with a recent 2,700-plus), and the volume of stock traded was 12.62 million shares (contrasted with 160 million-plus).

Thus, to EPIC, OARP, Ham and Eggs, Thirty Dollars Every Thursday and Yuni--R.I.P.

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