1956 was memorable year for all us Iowans
As I look back over my long life, I feel great affection for one year in particular – 1956. A lot happened in America, and to me personally, that year. Here are some of the events from 1956 that left very strong impressions on me, as I became a teenager while living in Waterloo, Iowa.
- Elvis Presley exploded onto the music scene with his first No. 1 hit, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and his first movie, “Love Me Tender”. He also made his first of five appearances in Iowa that year (May 22 in Des Moines);
- Rocky Marciano retired in April as the undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world (and died 13 years later in a plane accident in Newton, about two miles from where I now live);
- My favorite baseball player, Mickey Mantle, won the Triple Crown, leading the American League in home runs (52), batting average (.353) and runs batted in (130);
- Lou Thesz was the world heavyweight wrestling champion (and became one of my best friends later in life, spending a great deal of time here in Newton with me and my wife, Bev);
- Iowa’s basketball team, known as the Fabulous Five and coached by Bucky O’Connor, made it to the finals of the NCAA tournament before losing to the University of San Francisco. It is still the best finish ever for a Hawkeye basketball team;
- Gordon Scott, one of 19 actors to play Tarzan in 52 films, appeared at the Waterloo Theatre in one of the best Tarzan films ever made, “Tarzan and the Lost Safari” (in 1997, I brought Gordon Scott to Newton for a national Tarzan convention);
Most of my memories revolved around sports figures, expect for Elvis and Tarzan. But there were two other developments in 1956 that I was only vaguely aware of at the time – but became much more interested in decades later. And I am pleased to bring them to your attention in this issue of Iowa History Journal.
In July of 1956, a stunning young lady from Ottumwa, Iowa, strolled majestically onto the national and world scene when she was crowned Miss Universe. Three months later, another beautiful Iowan, Jean Seberg, put Marshalltown on the world map when she was selected for the starring role in “Saint Joan”.
Seberg was picked from over 18,000 candidates by famed director Otto Preminger to star in the film about the legendary French heroine of the early 1400s, who was burned at the stake at the age of 19 and later became a saint in the Catholic Church.
These two young Iowa women – Carol and Jean – were in the news constantly, with photos and stories on the cover of international newspapers and magazines. Seberg went on to a two-decades long career in films before her tragic and suspicious death in Paris in August of 1979, at the age of 40.
About a month ago, the Orpheum Theatre Center put on a stunning tribute to Jean’s memory. Behind the leadership of Pip Gordon, an extremely talented and energetic director, the beautifully refurbished facility was filled with huge photos chronicling Seberg’s career, and showcasing the most important moments of her life. Several movies were shown during the three-day event – including “Saint Joan”, “Breathless” and “Airport”, in which she shared top billing with film icons Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin.
Jean’s brother and two sisters were among family members that attended the affair, which was billed as the “Jean Seberg International Film Festival” and will become an annual event.
After winning the Miss USA and Miss Universe titles in 1956, Carol Morris had a brief career in film and television, then married a Texan and began her “second life” as a mother and homemaker. Today, she still lives in Texas with her second husband and was gracious enough to give an interview to Michael Swanger for Iowa History Journal. She adorns our cover this issue and there are some marvelous photos of her along with Michael’s story, beginning on page 4.
Yes, 1956 was a special year for me in many ways … and for two beautiful Iowans, and the millions of fans they created nearly five decades ago.
We hope you enjoy the feature story on Iowa’s only Miss Universe, and we look forward to bringing you a long feature story on the life and times of Jean Seberg in some future issue.
(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)