TIME movies

When Mr. Smith Took Washington by Storm

'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'
James Stewart as Jefferson Smith in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Seventy-five years ago, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' premiered in D.C. — and not everyone in the audience was happy about it

In 1939, Frank Capra had just won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director with his film of the Broadway hit You Can’t Take It with You. His 1936 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town had also roused audiences with its story of Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a naive bumpkin who inherits a fortune and is beset by big-city predators, including the tabloid press.

Capra had some capital to spend, and he spent it in the Nation’s Capital. His new film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, would send a Deeds-like naïf, James Stewart’s Jefferson Smith, to the U.S. Senate, where his dewy ideals collide with the invested power of corrupt lawmakers. When the film opened 75 years ago, on Oct. 19, 1939, the TIME reviewer noted:

This new Capra fable is as whimsical, the Capra directing as slick, the script as fast and funny as in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The acting of the brilliant cast is sometimes superb. But Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is bigger than any of these things. Its real hero is not calfy Jeff Smith, but the things he believes, as embodied in the hero of U. S. democracy’s first crisis, Abraham Lincoln.

A U.S. Senator dies, and the state’s governor names Smith, editor of a Boy Scout-type newspaper called Boy’s Stuff, to fill the seat. That’s fine with Boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), who figures he can control Smith the way he has run, through bullying and bribes, the Governor, the local industry, the press, the state legislature and Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), the senior U.S. Senator. When Smith proposes a bill to set aside an area near Willet Creek Dam for a Boy Ranger park, Taylor instructs Paine to denounce Smith as “a contemptible young man with a contemptible scheme,” falsely charging him with secretly owning the land the park is to be built on. Scorned by the entire Senate, but encouraged by his wily Chief of Staff Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), Smith launches an all-night filibuster to prove his innocence and righteousness.

Arthur, who had starred in Mr. Deeds and You Can’t Take It with You, was top-billed, but Stewart carries the film in his first career-defining role. With a plangent voice always breaking as if he’s on the cusp of puberty, Stewart’s Smith proves how a young man’s ideals can trump his own ignorance and the infernal forces aligned against him. Seven years later, Stewart would play an older, more desperate Smith type as George Bailey in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, one of the all-TIME 100 Movies.

In the freewheeling, fire-breathing script by Sidney Buchman, Smith is an overgrown boy searching for a father figure; his own dad was “a struggling editor” whose efforts against men like Taylor led to his death — “slumped over his desk… shot in the back.” (If a politician thinks you’re in his way, he may kill you.) He thinks Paine might be a shining replacement, until he learns of the man’s craven fealty to Taylor. Paine’s rationalization — “I compromised, yes, so that all these years I could stay in that Senate, and serve the people in a thousand honest ways” — sounds like the forlorn words a weaselly Congressman shouts to himself in the bathroom mirror. Halfway through the film Smith realizes that his one and only father figure is the seated figure in the Lincoln Memorial.

Having castigated American governance as a do-nothing cabal of corruption (sound familiar?), Capra then had an even bolder idea: He would premiere Mr. Smith in a special showing hosted by the National Press Club in the capital, with members of the Cabinet and both Houses of Congress present. As TIME reported the following week:

When the picture was over, the audience applauded loudly. [But] Three Senators (who declined to be quoted) upheld Senatorial dignity with these pungent comments on the film: “Not all Senators are sons of bitches.” “Punk!” “It stinks!”

That translates as “How dare he!” — which had to be music to the nervy little Sicilian director. Like Jefferson Smith, Frank Capra had walked into the U.S. Senate, given it a stern civics lesson, endured the catcalls of its denizens and emerged triumphant. Mr. Smith would be nominated for 11 Oscars — winning only for Best Story (Lewis R. Foster) in the sweep year of Gone With the Wind — and became a popular, enduring hit. But Capra’s most savory memory had to be displaying the Senate’s venery to itself. What filmmaker today would have such big steels balls?

Read TIME’s full Oct. 1939 report on the D.C. premiere of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, here in the archives: Mr. Smith Riles Washington

TIME columbus day

See How Christopher Columbus Got His Own Holiday

The 15th century explorer is known for "discovering" the New World

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or at least, that’s what they told you in Kindergarten class.

In fact, that’s probably all you really remember about the Genoa-born explorer, Christopher Columbus — and only when Columbus Day rolls around, if you’re fortunate enough to get a day off for it (Only 23 states give their workers a paid day off to celebrate it, according to a 2013 Pew poll).

So you may be wondering how Columbus Day actually became a federal holiday, and who celebrates it. Watch the video above to find out.

TIME History

New York Opens Oldest Known Time Capsule, Dating Back to 1914

The bronze time capsule was originally slated for opening back in 1974

The oldest known time capsule was opened in New York City on Wednesday; its contents date back at least 100 years.

The New York Historical Society, which possesses the bronze capsule and hosted a ceremony for its opening, says the capsule was created in celebration of the tercentennial of the New Netherland Company charter back in 1914. According to a NY Historical Society blog post on the capsule, its original to-open date was back in 1974, but past curators neglected to do so.

In celebration of the opening of the oldest-known time capsule, student-interns at the Historical Society are creating a time capsule of their own—one can only wonder what artifacts they’ll use to represent 2014. A cronut recipe, perhaps? A series of Snapchats? All of which will surely look ancient when the capsule is opened in 2114.

TIME Books

Drunk Poetry Fans and the First Reading of ‘Howl’

Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg in 1965 Jim Johnson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

Oct. 7, 1955: Allen Ginsberg reads 'Howl' for the first time, at San Francisco’s Six Gallery

Before Allen Ginsberg invoked the ire of authorities with the frank (and frequent) depiction of sexual acts in “Howl” — “in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too” — he stunned a crowd of drunk poetry fans at San Francisco’s Six Gallery.

On this evening in 1955, Oct. 7, Ginsberg performed the piece in public for the first time at a poetry reading which had been advertised by a postcard proclaiming: “Remarkable collection of angels all gathered at once in the same spot. Wine, music, dancing girls, serious poetry, free satori.”

The wine and the satori — deep understanding, in the zen sense — went hand in hand. In his novel The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac fictionalized the event with a description of circulating gallon jugs of California burgundy among the increasingly raucous crowd, “getting them all piffed so that by eleven o’clock when Alvah Goldbrook [Ginsberg's stand-in in the novel] was reading his wailing poem ‘Wail’ ['Howl'] drunk with arms outspread everybody was yelling ‘Go! Go! Go!’”

Those who were there said the reading felt like a revolution — poet Michael McClure said that it pushed the art form past the “point of no return” — but critics gave the poem mixed reviews. The poet James Dickey called it “a whipped-up state of excitement,” but scolded that “it takes more than this to make poetry.” Poet and critic Paul Zweig was more reverential, saying that “Howl,” “almost singlehandedly dislocated the traditionalist poetry of the 1950s.”

Government officials, meanwhile, found it intolerably vulgar. When it was published about the year after that first reading, U.S. Customs agents seized Howl and Other Poems when it arrived from its London-based printer on grounds that it was indecent and obscene; San Francisco police arrested Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published it, and Shigeyoshi Murao, manager of City Lights Books, who sold it.

Mid-century America simply wasn’t ready yet for Ginsberg’s offer of free satori, it seemed. In 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the poem’s obscenity trial, Ferlinghetti told the New York Times he believed the charges were related less to the poem’s four-letter words than to the revolutionary ideas it expressed.

A San Francisco judge (and Sunday school teacher) later exonerated both the men and the poem, ruling that Howl had “redeeming social importance.” He may not have supported its ideas, but he was a stickler for self-expression: “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemism?” the Times story quotes from Judge Horn’s 1957 opinion. “An author should be real in treating his subject and be allowed to express his thoughts and ideas in his own words.”

Hindsight would confirm the judge’s wisdom. In 1985, TIME’s R.Z. Sheppard noted that, “the man once feared as a weevil in the nation’s moral fiber is in a disarming state of equilibrium. Cultural norms have adjusted in Ginsberg’s favor since 1956, when he disturbed the peace with Howl.

Read the 1985 piece about the poet, here in TIME’s archives: Mainstreaming Allen Ginsberg

TIME faith

The Hajj Airlift You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Hajj
Pilgrims arriving at Mecca's Grand Mosque on Oct. 10, 2013, during the hajj pilgrimage Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

After thousands of pilgrims were stranded in Beirut on their way to Mecca, one American diplomat saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand.

The annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca kicks off this week, with some 2 million people expected to join. The religious occasion is considered to be the largest annual mass gathering in the world and is, unsurprisingly, accompanied by a litany of logistical hurdles, ranging from transportation to accommodations.

But it could be worse: in 1952, the problem was particularly acute. As TIME reported then, far more pilgrims were headed for Saudi Arabia, where Mecca is located, than had been expected, in part because Saudi Arabia had waived an entrance fee for pilgrims that year. As a result, flights from Beirut–a common layover–were overbooked, and thousands of people found themselves stranded in Beirut on their way to Mecca.

One American diplomat in Lebanon, Harold Minor, saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand and, in so doing, also attempt to mend the U.S.’s then-shaky relations with the Arab world. Here’s TIME’s account of the ensuing “miracle in Washington:”

Minor promptly dashed off a “night action” (most urgent) cable to Washington, pointing out that here was a real chance for the U.S. to make friends in the Arab world. Something of a miracle then happened: the State Department got the point. At Rhein-Main airport in Wiesbaden, Germany, at Wheelus Field in Tripoli, at Orly Field in Paris, U.S. airmen were suddenly alerted for special duty. Three days later, the first of 13 huge U.S. C-54s landed at Beirut’s airport. Next morning Operation Hajj was under way…

Five days later the last of 3,763 stranded pilgrims was loaded aboard the last flight. The airlift had traveled a total of 121,800 miles. Some of the U.S. airmen had spent 27 out of 40 hours in the air, but the trips had been more than worth it. The pilgrims’ airlift had done more good than any other act of the U.S.’s otherwise fumbling and unimaginative action and inaction in the Middle East. It was the one success U.S. diplomacy could claim in a week of continued crises.

The operation was reportedly a huge success and drew praise from Arab leaders and TIME readers alike. Wrote one reader, Nashville resident Robert Alvarez:

What a thrill—to read of our big, bumbling State Department actually showing a little imagination. This is the kind of thing they ought to be doing every day in the year—instead of once a decade . . .

Read the 1952 story about Operation Hajj: Airlift for Allah

TIME Civil Rights

Hear Cornel West Recount His First Political Memory

The activist and commentator talks about Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of justice

In new book Black Prophetic Fire, renowned speaker, activist and social commentator Dr. Cornel West discusses the black prophetic tradition.

Working with editor Christa Buschendorf, West discusses six key figures: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells and Martin Luther King Jr., the latter of whom makes up his first political memory.

In an interview with TIME, West recalled getting to see the Civil Rights icon speak, when West was just 10-years-old. But even though he was so young at the time, West remembers knowing that “this brother was for real when he talked about love. And he knew justice is what love looks like in public.”

West went on to discuss some of King’s later writing, in which he heavily criticized the Vietnam War. “He’s always maladjusted to injustice,” West said.

TIME History

Archaeologists Believe They Found Dracula’s Dungeon

Circa 1450, Portrait of Vlad Tepes 'Vlad the Impaler'(c 1431-1476), from a painting in Castle Ambras in the Tyrol.
Circa 1450, portrait of Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, from a painting in Castle Ambras in the Tyrol Stock Montage/Getty Images

The dungeon believed to have held Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for the blood-thirsty character, was recently discovered in Turkey

Archeologists in Turkey have reportedly made a spooky discovery, just in time for the start of Halloween season: the dungeon where the real-life basis for Count Dracula was held.

The cell where history’s Dracula, the Romanian prince Vlad III (nicknamed Vlad the Impaler for his gruesome tendency to impale his foes), was recently discovered during a restoration project, the Turkey-based Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Researchers are reportedly restoring the ancient Tokat Castle, where the Ottomans imprisoned the infamously cruel figure, in the mid 1400s. The team there evidently discovered a tunnel leading to two dungeons — one of which is likely to have housed Bad Old Vlad.

TIME India

See the History of U.S.-India Relations in 12 Photos

The United States and India have had a tumultuous relationship over the past six decades. As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues his first visit to the U.S. as head of state, take a look back at the relationship between two of the world's largest nations. 

TIME White House

Behind the Scenes: The Complete Kennedy Assassination Story in 9 Pages

Oct. 2, 1964, cover
The Oct. 2, 1964, cover of TIME TIME

Looking back on the Warren Commission Report, 50 years after its findings on the Kennedy assassination were released

Only a week had passed since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination when his successor in the White House, Lyndon B. Johnson, appointed the Warren Commission to investigate the crime. The nation and its government wanted answers about what had happened, and the Commission was given the task of finding them, releasing their report 50 years ago Wednesday on Sept. 24, 1964.

In the form in which it was delivered to Johnson, the Warren Commission Report was 888 pages long, including photos and diagrams and, by TIME’s count, 706 pages of text.

For the reporters and writers at TIME, that length meant that efficiency was of the essence to publish a response ahead of the magazine’s weekly deadline. As recounted in the publisher’s note from the Oct. 2, 1964, issue, the staff was given a small head start:

While printing presses ran day and night to reprint the full document in various editions, our job was different: we went to work to excerpt the report, cull its most significant detail, and summarize its meaning in a special nine-page section.

The task began on Friday morning, 54 hours before the report’s official release and less than 36 hours before this issue was to go to press. In the Indian Treaty Room of Washington’s old Executive Office Building, advance copies were being handed out to the press from three pushcarts. Near the head of the line that had formed was John Brown, a messenger working for TIME’S Washington Bureau. He placed ten copies in a suitcase and headed for the airport. Less than two hours later, copies were turned over to a team assigned to prepare the special section—Nation Editor Champ Clark, Writers Marshall Loeb and William Johnson, Researchers Harriet Heck and Pat Gordon. They closed their doors and started reading the nearly 300,000 words.

About seven hours later, they were ready for a dinner conference with TIME’S managing editor. The entire section was written, edited, checked and in type not long after our usual press time on Saturday night.

“We worked through the night and into a second night,” recalls Marshall Loeb, now 85. “The mood was one of determination to get the story done.”

In addition to recounting the events that surrounded the assassination, the Commission’s report debunked the major conspiracy theories that had emerged in the year after that day. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. He and Jack Ruby had no connection. There was no foreign conspiracy, nor was there a domestic one.

But what the report lacked in scandal it made up for in detail. “Its great value comes from the thoroughness with which the Commission carried out its investigation, from its laying to rest many malignant rumors and speculations, and from its fascinating wealth of detail by which future historians can abide,” noted TIME’s story on the report.

Among those details were many that Loeb and his colleagues decided were worth highlighting for TIME’s readers. There was the clear plastic bubble that could have covered the convertible in which the President was driving, had it not been such a nice day. The fact that the plastic wasn’t actually bulletproof in the first place. The “chilling re-enactment of the assassination” that the Commission staged in order to make sure the car would have been visible from the Book Depository window. The list of characteristics of Oswald’s home life: an unusual attachment to his mother, delusions of grandeur, insistence that his wife could not smoke or drink or wear make-up. The Secret Service agents who were out drinking the night before. The failure to secure the buildings along the motorcade route.

“The Warren Commission Report piece was to be the definitive piece for TIME on the Kennedy assassination,” Loeb says, and everyone working on it knew so.

After the special issue was published, Loeb, who had first joined TIME in 1956, would end up spending 30 more years at Time Inc., retiring in 1994 from his job as managing editor of Fortune magazine. Following his retirement, he became editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. So it’s only fitting that, when he looks back on the Warren Commission Report piece, it’s with an editor’s eye that he sees the way those 36 hours of work have stood the test of 50 years.

“I think it was a well-done job — one, to focus the material and, two, picking out which areas of the report to focus on. To this very day, if someone picks up the Warren Commission Report, which is like a big book, and picks up one of our stories about the report, it will look very good,” Loeb says. “There were no huge errors discovered afterward — I mean years afterward, when there was plenty of time to examine it.”

Read TIME’s special section on the Warren Commission Report, free of charge, here in the archives: The Warren Commission Report

Watch a video report on how LIFE acquired Abraham Zapruder’s film of the JFK assassination: How LIFE Brought the Zapruder Film to Light

TIME Scotland

Why Scotland Wanted to Break Up With England

The two countries fought for centuries before being united as part of the U.K.

It turns out that Scotland will be staying in the United Kingdom, but why did Scotland want to break away in the first place? Partially, it had to do with Scotland’s long-standing rivalry with England.

Before the neighboring countries were joined together by the Acts of Union in 1707, their history was marked by a slew of battles. Although the wars ended, their rivalry continued into to the modern era. Even with a “No” vote against independence winning, Scotland’s general distaste for the English is unlikely to fade.

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