At my age it's easier to look back and identify key moments in my life. Emotion often obscures objectivity, but after half a century one can pinpoint this or that moment as integral to one's development. For me, 1963 was one of those transformative years. On July 29th, my father surprised my brother Steve and me by taking us to a ballgame, the one and only time he would do so, I'm sure at the behest of my mother. We entered Yankee Stadium, the original stadium, and when we marched up the ramp from the darkness to our section, and came into the sunlight, I first saw that great, green expanse--the big, ball orchard in the South Bronx--and I was transfixed. Nothing memorable about the game. Al Downing pitched for the Yanks and lost a 5-0 decision to the mediocre Kansas City Athletics in a "manageable" two hours and five minutes! Today that might get you through the fifth inning. It was a sultry 92 degrees at game time, but we were out of the sun in lower reserved seats behind first base. The Yanks had nothing to worry about. They had won 64 of their first 100 games, so a loss in game 101 didn't mean much. They were well on their way to another pennant. Only 13,467 patrons filled seats in that cavernous edifice with the magisterial frieze. People forget how low baseball attendance was back in the day. There weren't many more fans on the day Roger Maris hit his 61st, less than two years earlier. Maris played that July day, but the Mick was out, injured again. Young Tom Tresh was filling in for him. Nothing memorable except that it further kindled my love for baseball; that passion still burns brightly until this day.
A few months later, President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas, on my birthday no less, and life as I knew it would never be the same. I was only then developing a political consciousness and sat glassy-eyed all weekend to watch the mourning and burial ceremonies on a grainy black-and-white Philco television set. I remember most the muffled drums and the caisson being drawn across the Potomac to Arlington.
I vividly remember the Army/Navy football game that had been postponed until December 7, and was almost cancelled due to the president's murder. But Jack Kennedy loved the clash of the two academies (obviously, as a Navy man, he had a favorite), and Jackie thought it best that the game be played. Many today view the game as therapeutic for the nation. Back then, the Army/Navy game rivaled the Super Bowl today. It was a tremendous contest that ended 21-15 for Navy, though Army was at the Midshipman goal line when time expired (the noise in Philadelphia was so deafening that Roland Stichweh's signal calling could not be heard). Future Hall-of-Famer Roger Staubach, Navy's QB, was outplayed by Army's Stichweh. Stichweh would get some retribution the following year. The game also boasts an historic footnote--it was the first time something called "Instant Replay" was employed!
(Below :a CBS promo photo for their special Marching On: 1963 Army Navy Remembered,
broadcast in 2013).
Army’s Ken Waldrop (42) falls 2 yards short of the goal line with 18 seconds left in 1963 Army-Navy game, and the Cadets can’t get off another play in 21-15 loss.
But by far the most transformative experience for me took place a week or two later. I don't know why (I'm guessing that my parents wanted a weekend to themselves), but my brother, my sister, and I were "farmed out" for a few days to the care of others. My brother Steve and I were taken to Elaine, a long-time friend of my mother. She had an apartment in Queens...Jamaica or Kew Gardens...I can't remember where. My brother and I thought it was very "cool" to be staying in an apartment. I don't know whether one morning we took the subway or the LIRR into Manhattan, but I was dumb- founded by the bustle of Pennsylvania Station. I experienced sensory overload at all the little shops and kiosks that we walked past. The frenetic pace of the commuters and travelers was an elixir.
The concourse in 1962. In 1963-64, the vaulted skylights and outer walls were demolished, and the concourse was renovated into its present configuration.
I don't know what phase of reconfiguration the station was in when I arrived, although I think I recall signs of construction. Given that the station once rivaled Grand Central in aesthetic appeal, it was truly a shame to demolish it. Soon Elaine took us, for the first time, to Radio City Music Hall. Back then, you got a movie in addition to the Christmas pageant with the Rockettes. Fortunately for me, the movie they screened that day was Stanley Donen's delightful thriller Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. No film has had a bigger impact on me, though I recognize that it is simply a well-made action-comedy in the Hitchcockian vein. There were those two stars--forty feet high! We were engulfed by the images on the largest screen I had ever seen! I fell in love with Audrey that day and wanted to be Cary. Fifty years later I have not changed those feelings a jot. The picture was notable for its charm, a sorely undervalued commodity in day-to-day living.
I don't really remember much about the Christmas show, except there was livestock on stage for a manger scene and, of course, the terpsichorean splendor of the long-legged Rockettes. What I do remember is that, when we exited the theatre, large snowflakes began to fall all around us, turning New York into a Winter Wonderland. I walked with my eyes upward, enthralled by the skyscrapers and the lights and the ethereal glow created by the snowfall. I stuck out my tongue and tasted them. They fell softly on my cheeks. I was in love. With movies. With Audrey. With Cary. And with New York.
Above: Images of Radio City, the stars of Charade on that week's copy of Look Magazine, and the title sequence from the film.