August 12, 2013

1958. Bill Downs on Time Magazine's "Man of the Year"

"One man's 'Man of the Year' is another man's bum"


Good evening. This is Bill Downs in Washington, substituting for Eric Sevareid. We are approaching that time of the year when news editors sit down and choose the ten biggest news stories of 1958, and Mr. Henry Luce's news magazine goes through the annual ritual of picking the so-called "Man of the Year."

It occurred to us that, if Mr. Luce can have a "Man of the Year," why can't everyone else? Republicans and Democrats; scientists and dolts; politicians and voters. We were kicking the idea around with some of our Washington colleagues the other day, and it was agreed that the true men of the year are seldom given proper credit—those characters in the background who initiate or embellish a story or event.

A staunch Democrat president said his party should nominate Harold Stassen for the honor, but another partisan said no; the Man of the Year of the Democratic Party should be that Andean hunter who shot the vicuña that got to the house of Goldfine. Someone then asked, who should be the Man of the Year for the Republicans? Well, our GOP colleague on hand, still suffering from November's election buffeting, thought long and deep. "It's obvious," he said finally, "the Republican Party should make their 1958 'Man of the Year' honor a posthumous award to the late John D. Rockefeller for having the foresight to sire a son named Nelson, although we don't know yet where Nelson's going to stand with the Dirks and Bridges wing of the party."

Well, as such discussion will go, the talk turned to international affairs and who was really this year's unsung "Man of the Year" in the Soviet Union. The Russian who makes Khrushchev's vodka was considered and rejected. So was Mrs. Khrushchev. But this informal board finally agreed that the West really owes the "Man of the Year" honor to the Russian official who read Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. This unsung hero, by banning the book, the Nobel Prize, and attacking the author, struck a blow for freedom that rang around the world.

When the informal nominations got into the field of arts and sciences, there immediately came to mind a man from Memphis, Tennessee. That unknown lover of good music: the chairman of Elvis Presley's draft board. And what explorer would not endorse for the "Man of the Year" that perceptive sailor on the nuclear submarine Nautilus who remembered to take aboard a load of ancient North Polar ice for the admirals' cocktail parties back here in Washington?

But here we got on—got one objection from a Marine correspondent, naturally. "If there's to be a military 'Man of the Year' for 1958," he declared, "then surely it should go to that little Lebanese boy who greeted the advance Marine detachments which landed on the shores of Lebanon last July 15. This Beirut youth set up a cold drink stand to slake the thirst of US fighting men, he proved the efficacy of individual ambition and free enterprise, and so overcharged the leathernecks that they had little money left to get into trouble with. A true advocate of Arab-American understanding.
This truly has been an eventful year. With segregation and satellites filling the headlines. With recession and rock 'n' roll badgering the citizenry. One man's "Man of the Year" is another man's bum, and we give fair warning to Mr. Henry Luce that if he's smart this year, he'll stick to Santa Claus.