Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘Vietnam’:

Jane Fonda at the Chelsea Hotel

Back in October, the AP wire carried a story about the possible sale of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. Located on West 23rd Street, the Chelsea may not be as well known as the Plaza or the Waldorf-Astoria, but its history is filled with the names of a lot of artists who called it home since it was built in 1883.

Chelsea Hotel

It’s an elegant structure, built in the Queen Anne style, with a mix of transient rooms and residential units, and here are a few of the artists who have lived there for varying lengths of time – Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, R. Crumb, Dylan Thomas – you get the picture. It’s also where, in 1978, the girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious was stabbed to death. Now the family that has owned the hotel for 65 years has put it up for sale, and The New York Times reports that the price is expected to be in the range of $100 million.

The only reason that I’m writing this, though, is my one connection with the Chelsea –

During the Vietnam War in the early ‘70s, an anti-war theatrical troupe toured the U.S., Canada, and a lot of military bases. It was called F.T.A. On one level, those letters stood for ‘Free The Army,’ but in reality it was ‘F*** The Army’. Its most famous performers were Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, and on assignment for a German magazine, I met them on a rainy night as they arrived at LaGuardia Airport and spent the next three days and nights with them in NYC.

They all stayed at the Chelsea, and I thought this photo of Jane, then in her early thirties, in her room at the Chelsea Hotel deserved another look. If you do a search of FTA and Jane Fonda, you’ll find a great deal of information about those days, and  a lot of anger still directed at “Hanoi Jane.”

Jane Fonda at the Chelsea Hotel

The last bit of  trivia tied to all this – a few years ago, my wife and I were invited to an arts benefit and performance in New York. Waiting to enter, I saw that we were standing next to Jane and her husband, so I began a short conversation with the cliché ‘…I know you won’t remember me …’ and of course she didn’t, until I mentioned F.T.A., the magazine piece, and the time we had all spent together at the theater and the Chelsea Hotel. Then it all came back to her, and to me, and she reminded me of things from those days that I had forgotten.

Photos from the Watergate Hearings

The latest excursion into my photo archives took me back 37 years, to the Senate Watergate hearings in the spring and summer of 1973. And from there, to the botched break-in the year before at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, eventually leading to the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974.

Daniel Ellsberg

In many ways, the story really began in June 1971, with a former Marine officer and Vietnam veteran named Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg, working as an analyst with the RAND Corporation, had access to classified military documents and leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan of The New York Times (and a number of other newspapers.) Those documents disclosed much about Vietnam War strategy during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. Simply put, the thousands of pages that comprised the Pentagon Papers showed top officials’ belief that the war could not be won and that casualties would be far higher than ever publicly speculated. Ellsberg’s actions caused Nixon and his top aides to establish a secret group, known as the “White House Plumbers” (since they would stop leaks), who used both legal and illegal methods to investigate Ellsberg and anyone he worked with.

Robert Odle being sworn in at the Watergate hearings, Summer 1973Nixon’s well-known insecurity (you may recall his famous ‘enemies list’) combined with the eagerness of his top aides to fan the flames of his paranoia. So as Nixon’s “Committee to Re-Elect the President” (known by its unfortunate acronym CREEP), took on the 1972 campaign, the Plumbers went to work again. After the break-in at the DNC’s offices was revealed to be far more than a ‘third-rate burglary,’ Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post were off and running with the story that would end with Nixon’s resignation.

The Watergate hearings began on May 17, 1973, and one of the earliest witnesses was Robert Odle, 29, who was CREEP’s personnel director. As photo assignments go, this was not difficult work. The Senate Caucus Room was lit for national television; photographers were not ducking for cover; the off-mike huddles of senators and staff made for riveting pictures. Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC), chaired the committee and was a great subject, as was the Vice-Chairman, Howard Baker (R-TN), who famously asked during the hearings, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Here’s Baker (l.), Ervin in the middle, and the committee’s Chief Counsel, Samuel Dash (r.) during one of their many huddles.

Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) at the Watergate hearings, Summer 1973

But if you had any sense of where this might lead, coupled with a strong interest in national politics, that summer, Washington was definitely the place to be. On a personal note, I spent so much time in Washington that summer that my three-and-a-half year old daughter saw far more of me on television (in the wide shots of the hearing) than she did in person.

So when I watch current hearings in Washington, whether about the conduct of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or the banking crisis, or the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I think back to 1973 and the competition to produce better images, different images than everyone else. Some things never change, but most important for me, it was the chance to bear witness to history. In August 1974, the Watergate story came to an end… but I’ll leave that to an upcoming post.

Robert Odle explaining the CREEP org chart at the Watergate hearings