The 1954 Senate Hearings into Comic Books neither eliminated nor reduced the “Societal Harm” of juvenile delinquency. It did almost eliminate EC Comics, and actually did hasten the departure of some other comic book companies, 15 actually, and it resulted in the formation of the Comic Book Code.
The government did not impose this code. It was a voluntary pledge made by the major comic publishers, led by Dell and DC. It was a preemptory action taken by the industry to possibly prevent the Congress from enacting something even stricter, although this seems nearly impossible given the 41 rules the industry inflicted upon itself.
The Motion Picture Association had created a similar code in 1930. (It wasn’t strictly enforced until 1934.) This was called the “Hays Code” after Will H. Hays (right). In 1920 the Motion Picture Producers had brought him to clean up Hollywood films after a number of complaints about sex and violence on the screen, as well as the scandals involving Fatty Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor. They were following the lead of Major League baseball, which had hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis earlier that same year after the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. The code brought about a new look in screen fashion, as illustrated by the picture of Tarzan’s Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) before and after the code enactment. There were 36 “Don’ts” and “Cautions” to this code, a few less than the Comic Book Publishers imposed on themselves.
These changes hardly affected me. I was born well after the imposition of the Hays Code, which explains why I don’t remember “Jane” being as under dressed as she appears in the stills from Tarzan films I have scattered throughout my chapters and I had never really noticed any of Dr. Wertham’s claimed explicit sexual images buried in the pages of my comics, beyond my own drawings of Betty and Veronica. (Ironically, the Senate Committee had found “Archie” comics to be one that was acceptable for our young minds.)
I didn’t have any EC comics (“The Vault of Horror”, “Tales From the Crypt”). I had seen some of these when I visited Billy Smith several years earlier, but they gave me nightmares. The funny thing is that William Gaines brought out “Mad Magazine” and I began buying it. My mother and grandmother were shocked by the illustrations therein and aghast that I was reading this “trash”.
Just for the record, Mad Magazine first appeared in 1952 as a comic book. After the Senate hearings it was one of the few titles Gaines still was able to publish. He was at odds with the other comic publishers over the actions being taken by them and so he changed the format of Mad from a comic book to that of a magazine, thus avoiding having to be under the Comic Book Code.
I am not certain my autobiography posts would receive approvals under either the Motion Picture Producers Code or the Comic Book Publishers Code. (Both those codes are pretty much kaput today anyway. The Motion Pictures went through a serious of rating systems since and the comic book code disappeared in 2011.)
Comic book turmoil aside, my main interest was the ending of the school year and the three months of time off ahead.
Summer 1954 passed in its usual languid manner. I was in Junior High Band and we marched
I was in a few of the parades. In Grade School we kids would decorate our bicycles with crepe paper to ride in the parades. I also marched with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and the Junior High Band at one time or another.
Most of summer was free time, except for chores and picking up odd jobs here or there to earn some money. I needed money to join Stuart, Ronald, Teddy, Bill Brookover and other friends at the Farmers’ Market, which had become the main gathering place for a lot of the area teens. We spend a good many of the Friday and Saturday summer evenings playing in the Arcade. We would also grab something to eat throughout the night at the various food stands.
Our favorite pinball game was Baseball. It was the same size and shape as most pinball machines, but you didn’t send balls rattling off bumpers. The designer painted a ball diamond illustrated with players at the various positions on the board. There was a “bat” at the bottom controlled by a button, just like the flippers on the sides of the other games. You put a nickel in to play. You pressed a button and a pinball came up and out of the pitching mound shooting down the middle toward home plate. The object was to time it so you swung the bat and sent the ball back and into a slot that indicated how many bases your hit was worth. If you missed the ball it was a strike. If the ball went down a hole on a position player you were out. Three outs and the game was over. You got points for play. You earned a free play if you got a certain total. I got very good at the game, we all did, and we took turns playing free game after free game. Sometimes we would play all evening on one nickel.
We played the traditional pinball machines and some shuffleboard games as well. Another contraption that caught Stuart and my eye was the recording booth. You could go in this booth and actually make a little 78-RPM record. I have a stack of these things downstairs, but no longer have a record player that will play that speed record. Sometimes we stood in the booth and talked, trying to be funny. Sometimes we sang pop songs alone or in groups, although three was about the limit that could squeeze inside one of those things. Stuart and I did duets, even making up songs.
During the days I would be either at Stuart’s or riding into the hills with Ronald. Ronald visited my place more often now, as well as Stuart’s, since moving to Boot Road (left) even though the distance may have been further than from
movie house together on Saturday afternoon.
School began soon enough. Stuart and I again walked to the Junior High together. It was about a mile from my house, a little shorter from his. Sometimes others would join us. We went through downtown, turned up Park Lane, and crossed the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge over the Brandywine and then up Manor Avenue to the school.
One year they renovated the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge, which was a metal girder bridge with a macadam driveway and cement sidewalks on both sides. This renovation was basically a new bridge. They torn down the roadway and cars couldn’t go that way while construction went on. They also removed the sidewalks. They placed a series of planks over the creek for the workman and any pedestrians to walk across, except I couldn’t because of my fear of height. Here were these wooden boards about a foot wide nailed to supports. You had no handrail and you could see down to the water several feet away. My friends skipped across easily. They would beckon and urge me on, but I couldn’t do it. To make matters worst, once I tried and stepped gingerly out to a distance of four feet. Gary Kinzey began to jump up and down on the far side, making the boards vibrate and I had to flee back to land. My friends would go to school this way; I ended up having to walk the long way up Lancaster Avenue.
There was a stonewall along Manor Avenue, similar to the stonewall fronting the library, but higher by a couple of feet. I would walk on the top of the library wall, but this one was too high for me. My friends occasionally climbed up and walked its length, teasing me for my fear.
Between that wall and the school was a large cow pasture. There was no fence, only a thin wire running alongside the field. A bunch of us were walking by one day. I looked at the cows milling about. That wire did not look as if it would restrain animals of such size and I asked the question, “I wonder how they keep the cows in?”
Stuart laughed at that.
“Sheer terror,” he said and grabbed my hand.
He proceeded to grab the wire alongside the field, but right before he grabbed it I grabbed Ronald’s hand. An electric charge passed through Stuart and me, but gave Ronald a shock and he jumped and yelped in pain. Stuart let go of the fence and Ronald yelled at him, “’Maphrodite!”
Stuart snapped, “What’s that mean?”
I said, “He’s calling you a hermaphrodite. It means…”
I was stumbling for an explanation of something I can’t believe I knew at that time. The could come was to relate it to the sex of flowers. “It means you’re perfect,” I said.
Stuart began shouting and pumping a fist in the air as he walked along. “I’m a ‘maphrodite,” he yelled, “I’m a ‘maphrodite.”
Other kids were beginning to look at us. I waved my hands, “No, perfect like a flower. You know, like a flower…?”
Stuart shook his head.
“Perfect,” I said, “both male and female sex organs.”
I believe we may have learned about the reproductive systems of plants in Mr. Ramsey Hipple’s Eighth Grade Science, although nothing about human hermaphrodites.
I seem to remember on one of Ronald and my bike excursions he had this magazine. I don’t know whether it was “Confidential” or something else. Ronald always was finding weird articles and bringing them up. I vaguely recall there was something about hermaphrodites or speculation about some movie star being one. It was confusing to us. I don’t think we discussed this in terms of sex at the time, but in terms of elimination, of urination.
Ronald insists I told him how people reproduced around this time of our life. He said he still believed the story that the stork brought the baby, but I told him the man put his penis in the woman and that was how the baby got inside her. I still find it hard to accept I could have told him this so early. In the summer of 1954 I still didn’t know what was different in the anatomy of boys and girls, so how would I know about human reproduction methods? However, I do remember a conversation about babies being inside the mother and him being amazed about this idea.
“How does the baby get out?” he asked.
He deciding the baby must come out of the belly button.
“But why do boys have belly buttons?” I wondered.
We thought of one other possibility. Now, Ronald says when I told him about sex (which I don’t think I did) that he was appalled by the idea.
“You mean my dad pees inside my mom?” he claims he said to me in disgust.
I believe we were more appalled at the idea that the baby got out through the rectum.
Sex was such a hush-hush subject in the 1950s it gets difficult to know when I knew what. I know at some point in those years I discovered a small sex manual in my mother’s bookcase. I was looking for a book to read and came across it. No one was home and I sat down on the sofa with that little book and skimmed through it. It was pretty sketchy with some poorly drawn illustrations, but I learned what had come out of my penis that morning. It wasn’t pus. I probably did know enough to give Ronald an imperfect description of human sexuality. Still, I think I found that booklet when we lived in Bucktown two years later. I was still riding into the hills of Downingtown on my weekends at my grandparents even then, so the sexual lesson might have come later than in junior high.
It is quiet possible we had more than one discussion speculating on sex. There was a discovery we made in the winter on 1954 that might have spurred some curiosity. It occurred at a dump we came across. Among the trash was a magazine. I picked it up when I noticed the page showed a near naked woman on it. Ronald had his camera and he snapped a picture of me with the magazine as I tried to cover that picture with my hands. Could this have led to some sexual discussion?
These things become a big mish-mash in my mind after all these years.***
***In Ronald’s own writings about his sexual awareness, he has claimed he still believed in the “stork story” past junior high. He has said he believed to such an extent that he asked where the stork landing strip was when he went into the hospital for hernia surgery. The discovery of his double hernia came during his Army physical. He was at least 18 at that time and out of high school.
Eighth Grade was as hard on me as seventh had been. It wasn’t just the usual bullying or jibes from kids, now it was the teachers. I continued to have the same teachers for Shop, Gym and Art. I still had Band, keeping me locked in a separate section from most my friends who didn’t play instruments.
I finished the year with a 2.50 average, a B minus. I got straight A in Art with Louise Remetz teaching me for a second year. I finished with a B in both Band and Music, both led by Mr. Paltrone. Mr. Paltrone commented more than once on how well I was doing and that I didn’t make mistakes and promoted me to First Trumpet. I didn’t make mistakes because I didn’t play all the notes. I could not get the hang of playing sharps. It makes no sense, because I could play naturals and flats just fine. A trumpet only has three valves. It is a combination of fingering the proper valve and the amount of air you blow through the mouthpiece. Sharps should be no harder than any other note, but they eluded me. Whenever we played a piece calling for sharps I faked it. I simply didn’t blow any air into the horn on those notes.
I’m shocked, shocked I say, to tell you math was my worse subject. The notation on my report card was “Preparation Irregular”, meaning I didn’t do my homework. I came to the conclusion math was beyond my ability. I am a bit surprised I did so poorly in eighth grade, because I considered my math teacher the best I ever had in public school.
We had started the year with a Mr. Sauerwald, who was quickly nicknamed Mr. Sourballs. He was rather dour looking, tall and thin. He was a fresh graduate of teacher’s college and the profession was obviously not for him. He was one of those who could not control the class.
He taught a class one day early in the year and his zipper was down. Notes were passed around and giggles filled the room, but he could not understand why the class was acting this way. After class ended, two of the girls went up and told him. The humiliation must have been too much. We never saw Mr. Sauerwald again. Charles Ax replaced him. Mr. Ax (pictured right) was a professional photographer and I believe his studio took the school photos each year.
Whatever Mr. Ax’s background, he was a good teacher. He made us see the practical side of the subject by taking us on field trips. He took us to Kerr Park and taught us how we could measure the height of the flagpole or the distance across the Brandywine using sticks, shadows and angles. I thought a lot of Mr. Ax. I don’t know why it didn’t take. As I said, though, by then I had come to believe I couldn’t learn math. I also admit I didn’t do my homework.
Ronald had a problem on the field trip to Kerr Park. He was struck by the curse of Mr. Sauerwald. His zipper broke and would not stay up. He was constantly hiding it behind his book. Zipper troubles plagued Ronald throughout his Junior High years. Meanwhile, Helen Burkhart in crossing a stream dropped her book into the water. The red ink of its cover floated in the current like blood.
I mentioned previously that Mr. Ramsey Hipple (pictured left) taught science. He was another tall and thin teacher. The kids called him Cowboy behind his back because he was bowlegged. I don’t really remember his classes. I got a B in science even though it was a subject I was interested in and was considering it still as a career.
I do remember Mr. Clifford Ratcliff (pictured right) , perhaps because of his name beginning with Rat. Naturally kids called him Ratty. He always had a pointer in his hand. It was Geography, he pointed to maps hanging over the blackboard a lot. I finished with a C in Geography and came away with a terribly distorted view of the world. Geography implied most countries of the world simply wouldn’t manage to exist if not for the United States. From the pictures in our text I thought most peoples of the world wore funny looking native clothes, danced a lot and carried everything on their head. The Dutch all wore wooden shoes and Argentines Gaucho Pants. I thought the majority of the world’s population lived in adobes, mud huts and maybe windmills. It wasn’t until satellites and the Internet that I saw what the world was really like. Why, most of the world was as modern as America!
The two main subjects in Eighth Grade were English and History. I honestly can’t remember whom I had that year for English, but the meanest teacher in the world taught history.
EXERPT FROM "PORTRAIT IN THE PARK"
From Currents of the Whiskeyrye and Other Creeks (2003)
Saturday was alive. The sky was lavender. The sun glowed like fresh coal. The monument glimmered above the deep-green maple trees. A cool breeze kissed the grass and stirred the cold blue water of the pool.
A great multitude followed the parade through the park to a makeshift platform decorated with flags and crape. The dignitaries left the convertibles that had carried them through the streets and climbed the steps to a row of folding chairs. There was the mayor and police-chief, the reporter and Hattie Darlington (a special guest by accident). Beside her sat the honored guests: the governor, a senator and a congressman. Each smiled at the crowd, warmed by thoughts of association with an important historical event and the votes it meant.
A brass band resplendent in blue and gold uniforms played the National Anthem and each of the luminaries stood to give bubbly speeches about the glorious town, promising it would live eternally in the scared pages of state history, taking its rightful place as a vanguard of freedom.
The speeches and the flashbulbs subsided and in a truck parked nearby a television announcer began to speak. He described the great men of state on the platform. He murmured above the hush that enveloped the crowd, giving a blow-by-blow description of the notables removing their shoes and socks.
The men left the platform and got into the pool. The reporter led them to the base. The governor followed next, carrying a huge wreath of Mountain Laurel to place at the pillar bottom. The police-chief and mayor walked side by side and then the congressman. Last came the senator with the official plaque to hang on the column.
The water rose as this mass entered and cold splashes splattered the people near the edge. The men reached the pillar and stopped. The reporter scrambled onto the base and got close to the faded name.
“It reads…”He wiped it with his jacket sleeve. “It reads...”
The crowd leaned forward. A hiss rose as many shushed others. All waited breathlessly to hear whom the portrait portrayed.
“In Lasting Memory of Willard Toebington.”
There was a release. People looked at each other.
“Who the heck was Willard Toebington?” shouted the senator. The mayor shrugged his shoulders. Each man stood still in the water, oddly shaped kneecaps peeking above the blue.