Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INT: But the sixties was a very different time indeed, because suddenly you had all these kids who were out spending their time in Berkeley protesting, in the ...... Ashbury, hanging out, taking drugs, free love etc. How did you feel about that?
ELLIOTT: Well it's interesting: I think the first reaction of most of us, who were veterans and were working hard and trying to raise a family - suddenly confronted with a generation that seemed not to give a damn. They wore beads and earrings, and they smoked marijuana, which was the thing to do, and they spoke a different language. Communication then became a much more complex thing between I think the kids growing up in that interval in the sixties. their antagonism toward Vietnam, and me, you know, in the defense industry - I looked on Vietnam initially as the country is potentially at risk, here's another opportunity to demonstrate strength to the communist world, as it were - our skills, scientific, technical, manufacturing, whatever it might be. What a wonderful opportunity. And then, as you began to see the horrors - remember I was I was flying in World War Two - in war I saw some distasteful things - nothing like what we then saw come back in TV footage and radio commentators' comments about what was going on in Vietnam. And my antipathy toward the hippies, and my hawkishness, relative to this country's inviolability and all that it stood for that was good, began to change a little bit. War is not a good thing. hippies dashing about not going to school isn't necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn't say that I was a complete convert to one way or the other, but my hawkishness disappeared pretty substantially, as I became much more realistic about what was happening. I don't think that the same level of diminishment occurred in my view toward hippies: I still felt that there was as huge pool of talent that was there, like at Berkeley - a very good school, very skilled students, and they were just frittering away in the, in the all the frees of the time, you know like free time, free love, free this, all of that; and I found that not too much to my liking, but, as I say, it was it was moderated for the time. the sixties are a fascinating period: I think the more you look back on it, the more you realize how much your attitude toward it was colored by everything that went before - certainly World War Two in my case; and the people who comprised that element of the sixties, the hippie movement so to speak, they were exercising their rights in a spirited way; they disavowed materialism. We were very materialistic in the sense that we knew what we wanted - we had a family to bring up. So materialism, not to a horrible extent, but to a reasonable extent, was not their bag - hence communes and groups and sharing, all the things that that we looked askance at during that period, and realized well that's, that was their life, that was the way they were rebelling in a way, to what was an extremely materialistic society.
INT: You told me a very funny play on words about communism.
ELLIOTT: Where we lived in Tustan, extremely conservative, extremely - and we, Leone says we lived across the street from these people, I thought it was next door; but they had a mail box, and it was "keep", "get rid of com U N ism", with the UN being very, very large. Now here we are next door, being proponents of UNICEF, which is the, for children's relief fund, and we believed in the United Nations - I mean that was how you saved the world, by getting people to communicate, to talk, to recognize their differences, and where to resolve them. it was horrifying; and then we lived just across the street from one of the ultra, ultra conservative congressman of actually assemblyman - they made him a state senator of California, John Schmidts, certainly far different politically from our thinking. And Leone and I went to a UNICEF or UN meeting at one of the halls in Newport Beach, and there were photographers taking pictures of everybody in the hall, because they wanted it to identify those of us who were there, as potential pinkos and communist. Oh it was a frightful period. It's as though you had to be careful of everything that you said. I guess in a way, being in the defense industry and doing what I was doing, was a refuge from people like that; but it was a bating time - McCarthy and the whole attitude toward, if you were, if you were not of our bent, a conservative, relative to the wonders of the United States, you were obviously communism, in love with communism or socialism or liberalism - they were all the same terrible thing. So there's, it was a very interesting demarcation, and there we lived on a block, populated dominantly by those people, including marines, and their nearby marine base - all very conservative.
INT: Can you tell me briefly what the Kennedy's really represented for you - and how you felt when John Kennedy was assassinated.
ELLIOTT: Well first the Kennedy election was a surge of youth into ancient politics. Yeah you've read about the old pals from the South, and in Boston and the Mid-West. This was different to many of us - this was our generation, this was a surge of political intelligence, skill being brought - it's like my wife used to say about Adelaide Stevenson, you know: a man that good can't get elected, you know, something like that. But Kennedy represented this surge of vigor, ideas, creation - all, nothing negative. I mean there are people who would decry the fact that he was Catholic, and that was a negative - that was nonsense; the main thing to look at is this individual, and the skills and energy that he brought into politics, into senior government politics. It's a dramatic change. So there was this upwelling of feel-goodism. And I was working at Electro-Optical Systems here in the Pasadena area at the time of his assassination, and it's just like a balloon being deflated, because all that you had built up, organized skillfully in your mind, and had put accolades attached to - suddenly pfut! it was gone, and who did you have now, but that old pal, you had Lyndon Johnson, and it was back to business as it was. And I think it was a great period of deflation. Also, it was a great period of recognizing that we were vulnerable. He represented the country, Kennedy - he was assassinated, we immediately thought of a communist plot, of course, multi-faceted communist plot - my God, we're vulnerable. They have attacked our shores. It was probably untrue, but it's the image that you conjure up in your mind, that this was a frightful thing, we're being attacked - not just we, our senior leader has been attacked, and destroyed all these Camelot ideals that we had at the time.
INT: Just out of interest, as a democrat throughout the whole period, how did you feel about the democratic convention of '68?
ELLIOTT: Oh the one in Chicago. Well my wife's from Chicago, so we were happy that the convention was going to be there; it was an explosion of brute force against a democratically, but crudely developed protest - the protest of basically of the hippie generation, if you want to look at it that way, by a very structured entity, that is the Chicago political machine; very structured, Chicago's a structured city, politically - and here is somebody, here's chance for that machine to show the world Chicago, in all its glory, and it's a wonderful place. And now here's this group of ruffians coming in, and they're disrupting our play, they're disrupting our opera - how dare they! Well we'll take care of this rather swiftly; and they did, and brutally - not realizing that the world now is quite capable of watching all of this, and drawing its own conclusions about city, politics, then the democratic convention, because that black brush did not just go across the Chicago political machine, but it went across the entire democratic party - 'cos after all, it was their convention; that it was Mayor Daley or not isn't material, it was, it was just lumped together, you know. So it was not a pleasant thing.
INT: So the sixties was a time of course when the whole question of race came to the forefront in politics. In the defense industry, what did you see as segregation?
ELLIOTT: Oh I didn't see segregation as such; it's just that technically speaking, it, the - remember that the defense industry is really based on scientific and technical aptitudes; very few people, African/Americans, blacks, were into technology. It somehow didn't evolve naturally - I don't know why, but it didn't. So there were very few - there were none that I can remember in my classes at school; we had one or two black fellows, actually one of them was British, who worked at Conder in San Diego - so there weren't many. So in time, there was a concerted push to get minorities - women were a minority also - minorities into the defense industry, and this got us really the quotas. It may sound ridiculous, but companies, and the Department of Defense, when they signed a contract, agreed to hire so many blacks, so many women - minorities; but it was clear what they were aiming for, and it was blacks and women, dominantly at that time. And Southern California eventually came to be Latinos as well - but blacks mostly. And as a consequence of this, competition was wondrous; not only that, it was more than just a competition to hire instantly at that time, and compete for the blacks - the so-called token black, as they used to call themselves; but also to go to high schools and colleges, and do recruitment training, not training but recruitment speeches. I gave a couple at P...... - we'd go to high schools and talk, dominantly those where there would be minorities in the schools, to try and enthuse people, to get them interested, very much into technology, engineering, science of some aspect, physics, chemistry, mathematics; but a lot of that, you have to remember, the teachers in schools which had a student body dominantly black, were not always the best or most stimulating teachers. You get what you sow - I mean you reap what you sow, and if you don't put good teachers there, you don't get a good base, and you end up with rather mediocre people; and why you are black, it doesn't make any difference what your color is, but there was a very intense desire to get more and more blacks and women; and I had to give Aerospace a lot of credit - the company I worked for - because women and minorities, all minorities, were promoted on merit. This was especially true when the very old guard moved out, who were much more protective of their rights, and the younger element, my generation and even younger, were very desirous - I promoted a number of women and blacks into appropriate positions - Asians as well, because then we began to get more Asians. Asians, much more driven toward education than were the blacks, and they had the basis for it as well - technically trained, mathematically trained. So it, but it still goes on today, by the way, to this very instant of time, there's a great, very great desire to make sure you have African/Americans in your technical staff; and not only that, but in positions of authority, where they actually direct things - same is true with women.
INT: You described the Kennedy's as coming in with great vigor, and Johnson followed with his great society program - it seems that it was a time of opportunity, of real change in America. How did you feel about that, as opposed to many of the race riots that swept through, and the Chicago convention of '68?
ELLIOTT: Well I have to confess that I did not think a lot about race at the time. I grew up in Northern New Jersey - if that's an, isn't a mixed bag, it doesn't exist. whether you're black, white, Polish, German - our neighborhood was a mix of everything. So for me, personally, it was a utter shock when I went into service, for example - got on the train, through train at 4.30 in the morning, and our first stop was some place in the South; and for the first time in my life I saw a drinking fountain for colored - and not sex, colored - and a bathroom door, "colored", and then "men" and "women", as though they were somehow separate. And I couldn't believe it. And it greatly affected me - still does, as you could obviously tell. I mean these are other human beings being treated essentially as a segregated entity, not worthy of us. never having been a racist, I'm not sure I fully tuned in to how people felt. There are some we ran into in the South - still do, by the way - who are very intense about race; but none of us were. We were just brought up differently.
INT: You told me about how the kids of the sixties went about having fun - your great story about hot-wiring your father's car.
ELLIOTT: When I was in high school there was one fellow who was sixteen, and he had his license, his permit to drive a car; and the other four of us were fifteen, and we did not have that lovely, wonderful piece of paper. So on Friday nights, particularly Friday nights, Bob's father always stayed home that night, and he garaged his car, two doors down from where they lived. And we would go into that garage, and it as a Ford automobile, and I became extremely adept at hot-wiring right across the ignition; but we didn't do it right off - what we did was roll it out on to the street, roll it about a hundred or two hundred feet up the road, and then I'd hot-wire it; we'd each put a nickel in the pot, because that bought 25 cents worth of gasoline, which was ample; we'd drive out to the Meadow Brook, about seventeen, and because we were high school students we got in to see Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, the Jimmy Landsford, all the big band, you know, the big banda - we got in free, because we were high school students, on our high school IDs; and we would stop at a place called Rutts Hut and have a hamburger, French fries, and a hotdog - French fries and a root beer, and we'd get home, and about two hundred feet from the garage, where we'd pull the wire out, roll the car back - and it took all, 'cos it was a sloping driveway, it took all five of us to really push that car up into the garage again. And I don't think we put much more than about twenty miles on the car, but fortunately Bob's father never guessed it. but when you have tech-, when you have talent, you have to learn how to use it. So you know, I was great at hot-wiring a car - not, not today's car.