It’s February 11th, 1961. Maclean’s publishes a photo of an Alex Colville painting as its cover. It’s called Dog, Boy and School Bus. “Colville’s paintings…bring in as much as $2,000 each; he is almost certainly the most successful of the Canadian painters who draw what other people see.” He is 40 years old. He dies on July 16th, 2013 a rich and famous old man of 92. Peter C. Newman is the Ottawa editor of Maclean’s. Peter Gzowski and David Lewis are Preview editors. I’m fourteen years old and attending College St-Jean in Edmonton. I’m in grade 9. I’ve never heard of Alex Colville, Peter Gzowski, David Lewis or Peter C. Newman. Knowing of them would come later when they would all go on to greater things and I would go to university.
On November 22nd, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, President of the United States, John F. Kennedy is assassinated, but in the winter of 1961 that is not an event anyone would have anticipated except the planners of that event. He had been elected in 1961 and sworn in as President on January 20th, 1961. Kennedy was not in office a month when Maclean’s wrote: “Watch for John and Jackie Kennedy – in store windows. A U.S. mannequin manufacturer has started a line of store dummies modeled on the new president and his wife – and their famous hairdos.” It’s the only mention of the Kennedys in the February 1961 edition of the magazine.
The headlines (on the cover) for the February 1961 edition of Maclean’s are: From Latin America: The Revolution begins; An ex-convict tells of the fear of freedom; and The crime of keeping worn-out bodies alive. Cuba, led by Fidel Castro, had successfully fought against Fulgencio Batista, the then president of Cuba and a great friend of the American corporations who were finding Cuba a great place to do business. The nasty revolution thing was about to spread all over South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East and other countries here and there. Viet Nam was about to explode. The French colonialists had been kicked out in 1954 but there still raw materials to be had there and the Americans were interested. So were the Chinese. The Maoists were firmly in power in China. Capitalism eventually won in China mostly by attrition and bribes but that would take the death of Mao and great changes in the Chinese leadership. Maclean’s is greatly worried about South America and the nasty Venezuelan students bent on overthrowing president Betancourt. The tanks are on the streets of Caracas and surrounding the university where the ‘hothead’ students don’t really understand what’s going on and are challenging the authorities. They get clobbered but things eventually change as they must and old dictatorships fall grudgingly, slowly, but paving the way to the future with corpses of the poor piled deep. Maclean’s is nonetheless worried.
It’s also worried about Belgium where there are riots in the streets. The Flemish north is dominant but the French-speaking Walloon southern part of the country is angry and seething. The headline reads: BELGIUM: the violence is racial and religious. Canada be warned. Belgium is not unlike Canada and there could be trouble with those French speakers here too. Well, yes, but Trudeau took care of that when he replaced the mild mannered Lester B. Pearson as the 15th Canadian prime minister. The Front de la liberation du Québec (FLQ) put up a bit of a fight in the early 1970s, but nothing much came of it. Nothing much came of the ‘manifestations’ in Belgium either. It’s a nice little European country today without any colonies, but you win some you lose some. The beer is still good and the cafés full. What more could an American tourist ask for?
There are more stories in the February 1961 edition of Maclean’s. The one about the fear of freedom is a bit self-serving and strange as is the one about euthanasia. They shoot horses don’t they? Aside from the fact that there are cigarette ads in the 1961 copy and none in my 2013 copy as well as no ads for smart phones in 1961, the issues are still somewhat the same, just framed differently.
I love looking through old copies of popular magazines. They remind me of how strident we got about issues 40 or 50 years ago, how morally outraged we got and how little things have changed to make us calmer and more accepting. Well, capital accumulation proceeds apace and the problems of the 50s and 60s, although nasty in their own way are just a part of a process that is leading to some much nastier times before things get better and they will. I promise you that.