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1959: Sex, Jazz, and Datsuns


A New Form of Fame

On October 21, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened, looking like nothing else around it, and maybe nothing else in the world. Frank Lloyd Wright modeled the building after the ancient ziggurats of Mesopotamia. Critics likened it to an upside-down cupcake. But visitors flocked to the place as they had to no other art museum. The design might never have gone beyond blueprints were it not for Robert Moses, Wright’s distant cousin. “Damn it,” he told the Buildings Department, “get a permit for Frank, I don’t care how many laws you have to break.” Sol Guggenheim had collected Old Masters until he fell for the Baroness Hildegard Rebay von Ehrenwiesen, a surrealist artist half his age who turned his head to “nonobjective art”—paintings by Kandinsky, Klee, Léger, and herself. A museum of these works, she told Sol, would serve as “a temple to the spirit.” Wright also wanted to create a temple, but to the primacy of architecture—“the Mother-art,” he once said, “of which Painting is but a daughter.” Ada Louise Huxtable called it “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright,” and it spawned the age of the superstar architect.

Mailer’s Recovery

On October 30, Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself hit bookstores, marking a bold new step in the author’s career and a new literary genre—the New Journalism—that would transform American writing: a compilation of his short stories, essays, and blunt commentaries, interspersed with prefaces on how he came to write the pieces and retrospective appraisals of their merits, often reprinting the most blistering judgments by others. It had been a dozen years since Mailer wrote The Naked and the Dead, hailed as the finest novel to come out of World War II. In the interim, he’d written two novels that didn’t fare so well, fallen into a fit of depression, discovered the magical combo of jazz and marijuana, and reemerged, keen to cultivate an image as a “psychic outlaw” of his time, the “philosopher of Hip.” He wrote that he detected “the hints, the clues, the whispers of a new time coming … a universal rebellion in the air,” in which “the frantic search for potent Change may break into the open with all its violence, its confusion, its ugliness and horror, and yet … there is a beauty beneath.” This book—with its links between nihilistic hipsters and the omnipresent A-bomb—lit the fuse.


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