Don’t think you have to watch the whole grainy 16 mm pageant, but I’d like to share a fascinating black & white video fossil I found, to my astonishment, floating around Youtube. It’s from the most memorable, beautiful, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic– though, for me, ultimately complicated, even painful — summer of 1964 in the Great Lakes. I was 17.
I’m not in the video, for various reasons. But I see many familiar young lost faces, spawning a lot of memories. And at least one future-famous person can be seen singing about a brighter tomorrow. She is Glenn Close — you’ll find her about 27 minutes in. (NOTE: the video may start in the middle…just scroll it back to the start and the introduction by the daughter of Cecil B. DeMille. Glenn is the pretty, preppy natural blond next to the older, guitar-strumming blond with the more dramatically blond 60s hairdo.)
This is a full recording of a teenage musical called “Space is So Startling,” performed by attendees of The Conference for Tomorrow’s America, a youth leadership conference held on Mackinac Island, Michigan. (Tomorrow’s America is here, of course, and space is more “startling” than ever. Note the Webb Telescope pictures. But we weren’t destined to live in the perfect moral universe these idealistic teen colleagues of mine were trying to sing into existence 58 summer ago. Just think of the morally complex universe of “Fatal Attraction” etc. that awaited the future Glenn Close.)
Glenn Close was a shy, talented, dedicated WASPY teen from Greenwich, CT. at the time. Along with her parents, she was devoted to the worldwide Moral ReArmament movement, the sponsors of the conference. She and her family left the MRA movement, deciding it was a cult. She rarely speaks of that period of her life. About ten years ago, I managed to contact her father, who was conference physician and a beautiful man. We chatted about those times, briefly. He was writing books, and sent me all of them. He’s now deceased.
I broke away from the conference after two short months — being pressured into leadership roles of a program that seemed superficial and propagandistic, discouraged contrary or questioning attitudes and felt quasi-religous. I already had a religion. I was also falling into deep mourning over the loss of my father who died the day after I gave a speech on behalf of American youth in honor of the late JFK at the end of May. It was that speech that broght me to the attention of conference organizers. The pressure and the grief was crushing me. But there were very good people in the movement, including a pair of Gold Medal Olympic rowers, playwrights, performers. I had many fervid, slightly contentious chats with 19-year-old Catalina Quinn, daughter of Anthony Quinn. Her snarky, precocious 11-year-old sister, upon hearing my name, Greg Wayland, insisted on calling me, “Grey Wasteland.” Ha!
Glenn Close is seen here performing with the Green Glenn Singers. She was the Glenn; the Green was Kathi Green, the tall, ponytailed, daughter of West Side Story orchestrator Johnny Green.
I was, as I said, 17 that summer, headed into my senior year of high school in South Boston. The conference, combined with the death of my father, were life-altering events for me.
Stumbling on this video was, for me, like biting into a madeleine. Suddenly I’m Proust with vivid (if black and white) ghosts all around — and happy, colorful memories, too — being master of ceremonies of a showboat that traveled around to lakefront Michigan cities, and having African-American and Native-American roommates, meeting kids and interesting, multi-ethnic, accomplished adults from around the world, including Ghandi’s grandson. World-battered calebs and swells saw MRA as a lifeboat in their often morally dubious world. It was good in many ways. It morphed into the positive, idealistic traveling show, Up With People! — now also defunct.
Someday I’ll write a book about that summer. Ah..I think I just did. Sorry. Enjoy seeing Glenn and company. (I always hoped I’d get to talk to Glenn about that summer…closest I ever got was the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston at which I was a reporter. She was there, but, alas, our paths never crossed. She is a brilliant actor — and miles and lightyears (speaking of space) from the Straits of Mackinac (pron. Mackinaw).
Here’s the link…posted on YouTube by somebody, I wonder who? Remember, ignore any ad, scroll to the start: