Friday, March 17, 2017

Presidential Profile Wax

The Ohio Irish Five
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Did you know that 22 U.S. Presidents had Irish roots? Five of them were from Ohio! More than any other state. I know what you are thinking though. You see Ben Harrison to the left and are wondering why William Henry isn't there. Ben was Irish on his Mothers side.
This concludes the Irish portion of the post. Feel free to use this trivia at your St. Patrick's Day shindig tonight.

Last Summer I became aware of a collection of 35 “Presidential Profiles” 7-inch vinyl 33 1/3 RPM records from 1966 that were released with their very own coin! This was very exciting.
Each one commemorates President’s Washington through Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was POTUS #36 but non-consecutive Grover Cleveland was included once. As he should be.
Being a fan of oddball Presidential items, I managed to score a set (minus the original medallions) for the low low price of $22.49. That was a pretty good buy since a single record seemed to be selling anywhere from $5 to $25. The pricier ones were usually sealed and contained the 1.25-inch high relief bronze medallion. Each coin has a profile of the President on the obverse and an eagle and the words “Presidential Commemorative Medallion” on the reverse. Still yearning for a sampling of the coins I found a lot of 12 being sold separately for $10.95. That would have to do. So $33 bucks overall and some change still wasn't bad.
For as many of these I found on eBay, there was very little information found online about them but I did manage to dig up some details.
William Henry Harrison reverse
These were given out to children as promotional items by savings and loan banks. I guess this was to get kids interested in opening savings accounts and making going to the bank with their parents exciting by studying Presidential history. It's hard to believe this didn't catch fire. "Get the new Beatles record or go to the bank with Mom?...hmmm"

The recently martyred Kennedy kicked off the series in April 1966 and then it's random batches, Jackson, B Harrison, Jefferson, JQ Adams, Grant, Tyler, etc. I suppose the release order was chosen to prevent a run on the "big" Presidents like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc. and then have a drop off for more obscure Presidents like Harrison, Tyler, Polk, etc. This went on until ending with the current LBJ in July 1966.

The records were released by a company named Kayson’s International Ltd. I can’t find much info on Kaysons but they seemed to be a Japanese based company that also sold china in the 1960s. This may have been the company's only foray into record distribution as I don’t see any other titles with their label other than this series.

The material itself was written by Walter C. Dallenbach (1937-2014) who later became the Southern California Press Secretary for Senator Eugene McCarthy in his '68 Presidential Campaign. He eventually broke into Hollywood and wrote scripts for hit shows such as Adam-12, Rockford Files, Law and Order. Based on the time-line, this stuff was probably some of Walter's first script writing.
bronze coins included with each record

The narration was done by the then well-known Art Baker (1898-1966) who appeared in over 40 films but was best remembered as the host of the 1950s television program "You Asked for It". It looks like Art died the year they were released making this his swan song.

The foldout sleeve includes important dates in the president’s life and while in office. Each record had an original color portrait of the President painted by Reynold Brown (1917-1991). Mr. Brown produced US Government posters during WWII and over 250 movie posters between1951 and 1970 such as Mutiny on the Bounty and Creature from the Black Lagoon. When you look at the portraits you can definitely see that influence and style. Have a look at them all here.

I had to borrow a turntable to listen to them so I went ahead and converted them to MP3s while I did that. Now you can listen to them too! I wish I kept better notes along the way but hearing them was like stepping back in time to those old grade school documentaries. Overall the audio style was very atypical of their period with the lordly narration and corny music. I didn't denote any political bias of any particular President. One thing I jotted down in a scribbled note was the complete lack of any mention of Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policy. Not a word.
Each track follows the same pattern where we eventually hear, as the subtitle suggests, each president "speak". Other than Art's narration no one is credited for the other voice work and we don't hear the actual President's voice until Hoover. The first President to be recorded was in fact  Benjamin Harrison in 1889. I imagine there wasn't enough material or good quality material until the 1920s.
1975 Bicentennial LP re-issue
There are a few mistakes on the liner notes. Again with Jackson, he was "Old Hickory" not "Old Rough and Ready", which was Zachary Taylor. Andrew Johnson is listed as Republican. While Johnson was the VP for Republican Lincoln, Johnson was a Democrat. This was a choice to help ease tension with the South. That seemed like a pretty big mistake on both counts.

In researching I learned that the records were repackaged in 1975 as twelve LPs or cassettes (with no medallions) for the upcoming US 1776 Bicentennial with the tag-line "American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976". Featured prominently on the originals, there is no mention of Art Baker on the 1975 LPs. That made me kind of sad to discover but I suppose they didn't want these 10 year old records to seem so dated for a new generation. Kids must have wondered what happened to Nixon and Ford.
This was a fun little project. I always enjoy seeing how history was portrayed in other time periods. As I mentioned before, it was interesting that Jackson's Indian Removal policy was not mentioned in his legacy. This was 1966 after all. While some controversies were noted, these biographies do read, or rather listen, a bit like the safe naiveté of a pasteurized 1950s era text book.
In case you missed the links above, listen to the MP3s here and view the full gallery here.

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