During the riots in the black Watts district of Los Angeles in 1966, a 72-year-old man named Albert L. Hertz, of Alhambra, a white suburb of that city, fearful for his family, walks into a sporting-goods store and, with no questions asked, buys a .22-caliber, eight-shot revolver made by Iver Johnson's Arms and Cycle Works in Fitchburg, Mass. He has it wrapped as a gift for his wife . . .
Mr. Hertz is astonished to learn, later, that his wife was afraid of the gun and gave it to their daughter, in Woodacre, in Marin County, north of San Francisco, to get it out of the house . . .
The daughter, Mrs. Robert F. Westlake, who has sons of nine and five years old running around her house and poking into drawers, is also terrified of the gun, and she gives it to a family friend, George C. Erhard, 18, of Pasadena, "a nice boy who collects things." . . .
George sells the gun to a bushy-haired fellow in Pasadena named Joe . . .
Joe gives the gun to one of his brothers, the one who wants to be a jockey and has a job at Hollywood Park asks "hot walker," riding sweaty horses to cool them off . . .
At 13 minutes after midnight on the evening of June 5, 1968, the gun is in the hot walker's hand as he stands different since then if he had? Who can tell? Now he was dead.
John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy. What the hell kind of a country was this?
We had reached a stage of utter incoherence. Our citizenry was the rattled audience of the Living Theater of Tragic News. What we saw each evening on our television sets seemed to want to imitate the grotseque art, if it could be called art, on the stages of our foremost center of culture, New York City:
The play called Loot , Biltmore Theater. Two young men have stolen heaps of money and decide to hide it in the coffin of the mother of one of them, just dead, and the loot is bulky, so there's a problem of what to do with Mom. The author of this play had been bludgeoned to death by his roommate sometime before the opening . . .
Linoleum , at Bert Stern's studio. A girl in an old white lace gown is sitting on an antique high-backed chair with a mass of spaghetti in her lap. Her chair is on a platform on wheels pushed around by another girl, dressed in transparent plastic, possibly Saran Wrap. Another vehicle has a man lying prone inside a 16-foot tube of wire mesh which also contains six live chickens . . .
Orgy-Mystery Theater; Cinemathique. Some men, led by Austrian Hermann Nitsch, hack up and disem-bowel the carcass of a sheep and hurl hunks of flesh and guts at, and pour gore on, fellow actor Jon Hendricks. Their activities, by their account, provide "a descent into subconscious regions."
As Robert Kennedy's funeral train moved slowly across the land, it seemed that the Theater of News, even more than the stage, had fallen under the influence of Antonin Artaud, the theoretician of the Theater of Cruelty - "victims and executioners, signalling through the flames."
After Robert Kennedy's death, the nation scrambled to look to its sanity. The day after the assassination, the president set up a Commission on Violence "to find out why we inflict such suffering on ourselves," and Congress tumbled, ass over teakettle, in its haste to pass the Safe Streets Act, which had been stalled for months. The Act fell far short of registration of small arms; it contained a mild prohibition of interstate mail-order sales of handguns - but, thanks to the massive orchestrations of the National Rifle Association, placed no control on the weapon that had killed Martin Luther King. Three days after King's death, President Harold Glasson of the NRA had said, "A sick-minded assassin, determined in his warped way to break the highest law of God - thou shalt not kill - is not likely to pause or be deterred by any man-made law." Congress preferred this reasoning of the President of the NRA to that of the President of the USA, who, having succeeded to power through assassination, argued for stronger controls and now asserted that of 15 nations reporting on homicide by gunfire, the U.S. ranked the worst - 2.7 gun murders per 100,000, as compared with 0.03 in the Netherlands, 0.04 in Japan, 0.05 in England.
Television felt the guilt of its immediacy, and producers went into a pinwheel summer of revising scripts for new shows and reshooting scense already in the can, to reduce the number of murders and assaults in their shows for the fall. The effect for the next year promised to be even greater: of the 65 programs, more or less, on the drafting boards for 1969-70, almost none had story lines that used force. But television still had in store for the kiddies, in 1968, its most shocking direct view yet of incoherent violence.
James Earl Ray is nabbed in London - how could he have afforded to flee first to Canada, then there? . . . Rosemary's Baby is released . . . Dr. Spock and friends are convicted . . . Lee Trevino, a relative new-comer, wins the U.S. Open . . . Bonnie Prince Charlie gets the Order of the Garter . . . Evictions close the dismal swamp of Resurrection City; the Poor People are not richer . . . Warren resigns as Chief Justice; Johnson nominates Abe Fortas . . . A freak storm drops Sahara sand on London . . . 62 nations sign the non-proliferation treaty, and one week later that old beacon France tests an atom bomb; seven weeks later, a hydrogen bomb . . . propped up on the base of a tray-stacking frame at the edge of a crowd in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, when the successful candidate comes through, taking a shortcut to the improvised press room beyond. Mutual radio reporter Andrew West asks the candidate a question. The candidate answers. Now, as the young man jumps down from the tray-stacker, the gun is held high, in his hand, over the shoulder of assistant maitre d'hotel Karl Ueker. It goes off. Again.
Ueker and the candidate's huge bodyguards, Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and pro football lineman Roosevelt Grier, pin the man against stainless-steel steam tables and try to get the gun, but the young man's arm is like the business end of an unheld fire hose; the gun goes off again and again.
"I am right here," West shouts in his microphone, "and Rafer Johnson has hold of the man who apparently has fired the shot! He has fired the shot . . . He still has the gun! The gun is pointed at me right at this moment! I hope they can get the gun out of his hand. Be very careful. Get the gun . . . get the gun . . . get the gun . . . stay away from the gun . . . his hand is frozen . . . get his thumb . . . get his thumb . . . get his thumb . . . get his thumb . . . get his thumb . . . get his thumb . . . take hold of his thumb . . . and break it if you have to . . . get his thumb . . . Get away from the barrel! Get away from the barrel, man! Look out for the gun! Okay, all right. That's it, Rafer, get it! Get the gun, Rafer! Okay, now hold onto the gun. Hold onto him. Hold onto him. Ladies and gentlemen, they have the gun away from the man . . ."
What the hell kind of a country was this?
Bobby Kennedy seemed to have come so far in the short weeks of the primaries, from a ruthless attorney-general type with a dangerous, beaverish bite, to a man reaching for compassion, humor, and melancholy warmth. He might have made it all the way - and might everything have been