‘How to Steal an Election’: The dirty politics musical of 1968!

Like science fiction becoming reality, or worse, satire becoming reality, this 1968 off-Broadway musical—or to quote the subtitle, this “dirty politics musical”—immediately opens eyes very wide in the ironic early days of America 2017. Some things never change, they just get worse.

In a New York Times review of a revival of the play in 2000, Scarlet Cheng wrote:

In the year of Richard Nixon vs. Hubert H. Humphrey vs. George Wallace, “How to Steal an Election” offered a compact off-Broadway primer on presidential elections bought, bartered and swiped throughout American history.

Librettist William F. Brown and composer-lyricist Oscar Brand had the notion of Jazz Age prez Calvin Coolidge materializing in the present day (that is, 1968). There he meets a couple of fervent young protesters, just back from the skull-cracking Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Disillusioned, these two have no taste for the political machine. But what’s wrong with pragmatism, Coolidge wonders? What about learning to work within a corrupt system? Thus Coolidge begins his history lesson, with vignettes and songs depicting cynical power grabs of yore.

The two stars were Carole Demas who was the original Sandy in Grease on Broadway, even before it was turned into the musical we know now (It was originally a much darker, dirtier production). The cast was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (don’t even get me started). She was also one of the two strange hippie hostesses of the weird early seventies TV show The Magic Garden, a program that even as a child had me running for the remote (not that we even had a remote) to avoid twee folk songs sung to flowers.

Also starring was Clifton Davis who appeared in countless films and television shows, making all the Love Boat/Vega$/Police Story rounds right up to the present. His TV biggie was co-starring on The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show in 1972 (or perhaps the That’s My Mama sitcom in 1974). His lifetime biggie was that he wrote the huge hit “Never Can Say Goodbye” for The Jackson 5! Now he’s a minister.

Oscar Brand who passed away last year at 96 was an original folkie who, among many other things (he wrote a hit record for Doris Day, collaborated on musicals, had a TV show called Let’s Sing Out, wrote children’s records, etc.) had the longest running radio show in history.

He hosted the radio show Oscar Brand’s Folksong Festival every Saturday at 10 p.m. on WNYC-AM 820 in New York City, which ran into its 70th year. The show ran more or less continuously since its debut on December 10, 1945, making it the longest-running radio show with the same host, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Over its run it introduced such talents to the world as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger and The Weavers. In order to make sure that his radio program could not be censored he refused to be paid by WNYC for the next 70 years.

Brand, whose radio show was referred to as a “pipeline of communism” by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and who told stories of buying food for Leadbelly when the two traveled together in segregated areas, also participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. He said the character of Calvin Coolidge in the play was originally written by him to be Satan.

...he was Satan, who had decided that the electoral process was the most interesting thing he could join in on since he got kicked out of heaven.

The producer of the play Steve Mellow had this to say:

I was the producer of this play Off Broadway in 1969. It was a labor of love. I got the idea from my uncle Jake Arvey, who was a powerful political broker in Chicago.The play took three years to get on and went thru five different authors. Oscar Brand was with me from the beginning. He has written many political campaign songs over a period of seventy years. Nixon was running for President. His campaign manager asked what we were doing on him in the play. I told him to buy a ticket.

If all this sounds classic, the fate of the show is a true tale of American-style “land of the free” business Hell.

From the New York Times:

“How to Steal an Election” opened to favorable reviews and was packed nightly. After 50 performances, the show was set to move to Broadway. But there was a glitch. Turns out, says Brand, the $80,000 lined up for the move was mob money, and it would only be delivered after someone on the production helped with some securities laundering. The producer ducked out, and Brand refused to cooperate. End of deal, end of production.

And that’s no trumped up charge.

More after the jump…

Posted by Howie Pyro
09:50 am
10 minutes with Tony Hawk
12:37 pm

Tony Hawk is synonymous with skateboarding, a living, breathing human trademark for his sport. An icon, he’s also a brand, running a business empire with tentacles in video games, amusement park rides, action sports exhibitions and his new YouTube channel, RIDE, which features Hawk himself in “Tony’s Strange Life.” He’s also known for his philanthropic activities, helping to build skateparks in low-income areas with his Tony Hawk Foundation, which has given away more than $3.4 million to help construct over 400 parks around the US.

We sat with Tony Hawk and asked a few questions about where he’s been and where he’s going next.

I’ve read that you were a really hyperactive child and that discovering skating helped you burn off that excessive energy. Is this why it’s so important for your charity to build skateparks in needy communities? So that other kids might find that same kind of focus you found through skating?

Tony Hawk: Yes, but it’s also important to me because I grew up near one of the last remaining skatepark of the ‘80s and I only realized later how lucky I was. It was a huge part of my life and gave me the opportunity to practice my passion, while spending time and sharing ideas with other skaters. I want to help provide the same type of opportunities and facilities for youth in difficult areas.

How do you tame that same hyperactivity today as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in sports? What keeps you centered and on target at this stage of your life?

My kids. Keeping up with them while trying to manage a career in skateboarding is a constant challenge. But I enjoy the challenges that being an “elder” skater and entrepreneur provide. It’s a whole new era of skateboarding and I am living the dream.

Sponsorships are obviously a large part of the business of Tony Hawk and you’ve always had A-list companies behind you. Tell me about some of those relationships. For example, you’ve worked with Nixon for a long time. How did that come about?

I have always admired Nixon‘s products and marketing, even before I was sponsored by them. I might be the only skater that begged my way onto the team, and I am proud to fly the Nixon flag in all my endeavors; they truly understand our culture. 

What’s the project that’s currently got you the most excited?

My next video game, coming out in late 2015 for newer consoles. It’s already looking on point.

Sponsored by Nixon

Posted by Sponsored Post
12:37 pm
Making Waves with Rob Machado
09:52 am

Rob Machado is best known for his casual, Zen-like flow and abilities on a surfboard. He has been entrenched in the business for the better part of his life, giving him not only strong perspective on how it’s evolved, but also on the ripple effects of the sport and the different things it impacts. We sat down with Machado to hear more about his life at present, and to reflect a bit on all he’s learned over the course of his career.

We asked him to tell us about how he has been able to accomplish many of his milestones and goals, in and out of the water. What makes these things possible? How has he been able to reach his goals? He noted that one skill he has really mastered is that of acquiring sponsors, which has helped fund and bring notability to a lot of what he’s done. How does he evaluate which companies and corporations he’s willing to work with?

“Over the years I’ve learned how to identify the goals of a company, which is a huge part of the evaluation process.  I definitely have to work alongside brands that share my passions towards environmentally friendly practices.  It’s not always easy: take surfboards for example.  The main tool for what I do is probably one of the worst out there [environmentally], but it’s all about balance. Most of my sponsors I have had for the majority of my surfing career; by this point we’re in sync and work on some cool initiatives together. “

“Working with Nixon [Rob’s longtime watch sponsor] has been amazing. I’ve watched the brand grow from a garage in an alley to what it is now and it’s been fun to be a part of the ride.  They pay a lot of attention to detail and treat their athletes better than anyone I know. And at the end of the day, we have fun.”

His focus on the environment and on working with like-minded companies and individuals eventually impacted Machado’s desire to found and run a charitable organization focused on water availability, environmental impact, and caring for those in need. When he started his charitable foundation a decade ago, he was right in the thick of his busy professional career. Did the North County, San Diego local ever imagine then that he’d be spending so much of his time today being the leader of a clean beaches/fresh water advocacy organization?

“No—to be honest I didn’t really set out to be a leader,” he says. “I set out to make a change I was passionate about like lessening single bottle plastic use. I knew I eventually wanted to put my time and energy into the foundation because I had goals and projects that I wanted to see through. I knew I wanted to grow and accomplish more each year, but honestly it’s been a blessing to have completed this much with the foundation and of course the people who want to help and be a part of it as well.”

The Rob Machado Foundation distributes reusable water bottles to kids and installs refill stations at San Diego public schools and beaches.

“My brother, sister-in-law and Mom have all worked within the local school system so I always seem to be at one of the schools for one reason or another,” Machado explains. “I couldn’t believe that the drinking fountains were the same as when I went to high school and that’s when I thought, why don’t we install new drinking foundations that the kids would want to use. We approached my sponsor Hurley’s H2O program and created Hydration Nation and the reusable water bottles were created to help eliminate the need for plastic. The whole goal is to eliminate plastic bottles from the schools; because fewer plastic bottles means more clean water for those in need. Hydration Nation works to install the water filling stations at schools, and then encourage the use of reusable water bottles. 

The foundation’s local initiatives in San Diego also work in conjunction with others to bring fresh, clean water to places that don’t have it.

“Sale profits and donations is what allows RMF along with Hurley H2O to deliver water filters to places with little to no clean water.  We work with my friend Jon Rose and Waves 4 Water and we’ve done some amazing trips. Every time I’ve gone on a trip to help deliver and set up filters I want to do another immediately after. To see people without one of the most basic necessities, water will inspire you for sure” he says.

Which brings up the question, what’s more important, local or global activism? Machado’s seen both.

“I’m not sure if one is more important than the other,” he pondered. “On one hand you have the importance of global activism which raises collective awareness which is massively important and helps build a large team of like minded doers.  Eventually it can lead to better resources and funding if needed. 

But to me, local activism is where it all starts.  Small groups and communities taking a stance in what they believe needs to be changed or bettered.

Really though it all starts with the individual.  It’s important to me to look after my home community, my own back yard. The foundation is a lot of both actually.  We do so much work locally with schools and beaches in the area, but then we have some global outreach through the Hydration Nation program.” 

Machado has taken his passion and transformed it into something larger, finding an ability to directly make a difference in people’s lives via his foundation. Even so, he knows his roots and has stayed true to the lifestyle and values that shaped him.

Sponsored by Nixon

Posted by Sponsored Post
09:52 am
The Phantom Museum: Reel-to-Reel History

In The Conversation, Gene Hackman’s character, Harry Caul used an Ampex AG-350 and German-made UHER units to bug unsuspecting couples. The UHERs were similar to those used during the Nixon administration to bug the Oval Office. Bugging is more ubiquitous than we think, for example, though cinema may try and convince pay-phones are the best place to make that discreet call, they are regularly bugged by intelligence agencies. This was particularly true for the UK and Northern Ireland during the 1970s, when covert surveillance was carried out on paramilitary organizations, those of certain political affiliation, union leaders, Communist Party members and even John Lennon and The Sex Pistols. It therefore must have come as quite a shock to the powers that be, when it was disclosed MI5 had bugged the Prime Minister’s office, at 10 Downing Street, for 15 years.

Over at the Phantom Museum there is an impressive on-line collection of 117 reel-to-reel recorders and 50 microphones, plus an extensive history of reel-to-reel and recording advertising from the late 1800s to present day.

The Museum was established by Martin Theophilus, who has been involved in audio production since 1964, and now runs the multi-media company Phantom Productions. Theophilus says the on-line Museum, “is for people who want to look back and see how recording has evolved.”

In an interview with The Bastrop Advertiser, Theophilus explained:

...recorders were in use as early as 1877 but that the Edison Player, which initially sold for $20 (cylinders were 35 cents), was the first device available to the public. The Edison machine etched microphone vibrations into grooves on spinning wax cylinders. Historically, recorders have used wire, vinyl and other materials.

Theophilus said that commercial and private use of reel-to-reel magnetic tape to record sound, a technique first developed by the Germans during World War II, began in California in 1946 where two captured German machines were reassembled.

The vintage reel-to-reels in Theophilus’ collection were primarily used by singers, musicians and song writers who could not afford to hire professional recording studios.

Beginning in 1948, when portable reel-to-reel machines became available to cash poor artists, they used them to make demos. The demos were distributed to help the artists get jobs. By 1955, portable reel-to-reel recorders, such as the Ampex, reproduced a sound as good as the products of recording studios.

The Phantom Museum can be found here, and the vintage reel-to-reel, radios and recorders catalogs and adverts here.

Bonus images from the Reel-to-Reel catalog after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:53 am