NINETEEN SIXTY EIGHT
In 1948, George Orwell wrote “1984.” It was a depiction of a frightening year, not unlike what was happening behind Russia's iron curtain in 1948, and predicted that the same thing would be happening by 1984, all over the world. As the 1984 date grew closer, many people were getting anxious as to whether Orwell’s novel was truly precognitive.
Fortunately the date came and went without the sky falling in and few people remembered anything at all unusual about the year 1984. That is, if they remember the date at all.
But everyone who was around in 1968 remembers that year quite well.
In an LA Times article, January 5, 2008, Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, wrote:
“The coming year (2008) will be chock full of 1968 commemorations.
“It was, after all, the year of the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the My Lai massacre, Columbia University's uprising, President Johnson's decision not to run for a second full term, Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, scores of subsequent riots, Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, the Chicago Democratic Convention riots, the Miss America protest in Atlantic City, Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and election, -- not to mention Prague Spring, the French student uprising, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and, in Mexico City, the massacre of protesting students and the black power salutes of Olympic athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith.”
Now add to that, 1960 to 1968, which included: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1963), massive student demonstrations beginning in 1964 against the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and riots (The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964), the Watt’s Riots (1965), the riots on the Sunset Strip (1965), and, don't leave out, The Lloyd Thaxton Show (1961-1967).
Forget 1984, 1968 was, as Todd Gitlin put it, “the pivotal year in which the convulsions of a decade converged and the country slouched over the edge of a precipice.” Whoa Nellie!
There is no way one could forget where they were and what they were doing in 1968.
I was hosting the TV show Showcase ’68. It was a summer replacement for The Jerry Lewis Show on NBC.
The show came pretty close to causing a 1968 event all by itself; “The Showcase ’68 Berkley Riots.” Showcase ‘68 was a traveling talent show, somewhat like American Idol. During the summer it visited ten cities searching for and presenting new young professional talent. There were also special guest stars like Neil Diamond, Tammy Wynett, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Goldsboro, and Della Reese, who appeared throughout the 10-show series. The contestants included, among many others, Sly & The Family Stone and The Chambers Brothers.
The first show we did was at The University of California at Berkeley. California in “The Greek,” Berkley’s cavernous outdoor amphitheater. Remember this was the 60s, and this was BERKELEY. During the pre-show set-up and rehearsal, the student audience started filing in. Berkley was the home of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and their members chose to sit in the front rows right up against the stage. There was a hint of cannabis in the air and everyone was having a high time.
Just before the show was to start taping, the leader of the SDS suddenly stood up and said that NBC was exploiting the students. It seems like one of the flyers distributed before the event in order to get an audience, listed one of the contestants on the show, The Chambers Brothers. They had just released their first giant hit, “Time Has Come Today," and the students were under the impression that they were there to watch a concert featuring The Chamber Brothers.
When they found out it was a TV show and the Chambers Brothers were only contestants in a contest, they (sort of) rioted (more of a "hissy fit). They grabbed and tore up all the show's cue cards (I was speechless), stood and chanted "No show. No show!," and would not let the show continue unless NBC donated $1000 to the student union and that, after the TV show was finished taping, the Chambers Brothers would give a one hour concert just for them.
After much deliberation between NBC and the SDS, the producer of the show agreed to the $1000 donation and The Chambers Brothers to the concert and the show went on.
The Chambers Brothers won the contest at Berkley, but, as karma would have it, in the finals held in Columbus Ohio, they were beat out by none other than Sly and the Family Stone.
It was a very interesting summer.
But, what I REALLY remembered about 1968 is that it was on Showcase ’68 that I first met and dated my beautiful future wife, Barbara.
In 1968, THAT was the date to remember.
And ... we lived happily ever after.