Part 4—Ages, 44 and 19: Long ago and far away, the Washington Post established the lens through which today's Alabama Senate election would be viewed.
More precisely, it happened on November 10 (on-line, November 9). On that day, the Post reported that an Alabama woman, Leigh Corfman, was accusing Moore of molesting her in 1979, when she was 14 years old.
That was a very serious charge. Instantly, the Post injected a note of confusion into the proceedings. It did so by including reports by two other women who said that they had dated Moore during that same time period, when they were 17 and 18-19 years old.
These women said they had dated Moore with their mothers' enthusiastic consent. It seemed their mothers had been hoping that the dating might lead to marriage. Pundits disappeared this fact, which didn't support the moral stampede they would now perform.
The Post seemed to think that these reports of dating supported the charge of molestation. Our journalists tend to reason that way when their stampedes are on.
Had Moore been accused of assault, or did he stand accused of dating? We mention this point of confusion because of several subsequent phone calls to C-Span's Washington Journal.
That Sunday, two amateur anthropologists telephoned the venerable program to offer a bit of cultural context. One caller seemed partisan; the other didn't. At roughly 7:25 AM, the first caller offered this:
CALLER FROM CALIFORNIA (11/12/17): This whole controversy about Roy Moore is really ridiculous. The age of consent in the South has always been younger than urban areas..."My grandparents were Christian," the caller said. "It was honorable. They were married in a church. You guys just are making a mountain out of a molehill...to mess up Alabama's choice of who they want for senator."
I'm from Missouri originally, and my grandfather married my grandmother, he was 28 and she was 15, that's just how it was done. They had ten children, there were married for sixty-plus years. It was not uncommon....
That caller sounded partisan. Five minutes later, another such caller pretty much didn't:
CALLER FROM PENNSYLVANIA (11/12/17): I wanted to say that I know, today's standards, this kind of thing is definitely not acceptable, but many years ago, particularly in the South and Midwest, there was a culture that adult men married young teenagers. My grandmother was 15 and my grandfather was in his 20's when they got married. They stayed married for 70-something years. I know it's not, today it's not acceptable, but there was a time...This second caller may have been a bit sanguine about what we do today. Just this summer, the state of New York "raised the age of marriage to 17 in an effort to prevent child marriage."
It's not right today. Things have changed. We don't do those sort of things today.
We're quoting the Associated Press report on this legislative breakthrough. "The change took effect Thursday, a month after lawmakers voted to rewrite a state law that had allowed children as young as 14 to legally wed," the AP further reported.
"Fourteen was just ridiculous,” a thoughtful Democratic assemblywoman told the PBS NewsHour at that time.
In that same report, the NewsHour noted that New Jersey governor Chris Christie had just "vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey the first state to outlaw marriage for anyone under 18." In New Hersey, it remains legal for people under 16 to wed, but they do need a judge's permission.
In fact, we do still do it today! According to that AP report, "more than 3,800 minors were married in New York between 2000 and 2010."
None of this has anything to do with the charge that Moore molested Corfman when she was 14 years old. Those C-Span callers were discussing dating and marriages conventions, not the question of (statutory) assault.
The callers were tumbling through the confusion which had been introduced by the Washington Post. That said, they offered a bit of cultural context concerning the "accusation" that Moore had dated someone who was 19 when he was 30 years old.
They also offered a bit of context concerning the fact that the mothers in question cheered Ol' Roy on when he dated their teenage daughters. Since much of the press corps has seemed to be more concerned with the dating than with the alleged assaults, those callers help us see the congenital parochialism which has afflicted our upper-end press corps on its many stampedes over the past many years.
When our press corps stages a moral panic, they tend to ignore all cultural context. Examples:
In 1987, they began calling around to see if various presidential candidates may have smoked marijuana—AKA, Mary Jane—when they were teenagers.
You had to be stupendously dumb to care about nonsense as that, but the press corps was up to the challenge. When they called us about one of the candidates, we were struck by their cultural myopia.
Other drugs of that era were much scarier than marijuana. But when the journalists asked about "Mary Jane," they never inquired about them!
Five years later, the moral panic involved Candidate (Bill) Clinton's attempt to avoid being shipped to Vietnam in 1968. Again, we were stuck by the depth of the reporters' parochialism.
Reading their accounts of this matter, a person might have thought that everyone except Bill Clinton had been eager to serve. In fact, the vast majority of male university students were seeking ways to avoid Vietnam as of 1968. Clinton's behavior had been completely routine—unless you were reading a major newspaper, where intrepid reporters seemed to have no awareness of this fact.
(We're still amazed, and disappointed, when we see fiery corporate liberals talk about Donald J. Trump's "five deferments." We keep searching for Joy-Ann Reid's record of military service before or after her four years at Harvard, but no such record exists. Sad!)
Alas! Our parochial press corps began a stampede about Roy Moore's dating practices. Again and again, they've seemed to be more concerned with his dating than with the two alleged assaults.
Instantly, they disappeared the fact that those mothers had enthusiastically seen this dating as a possible route to marriage. This fact would undermine their panic. It had to be destroyed.
Future anthropologists, speaking from caves, have identified this incessant parochialism as one of the factors which led to the conflagration they refer to as "Mister Trump's War." Today, let's explore the cultural context surrounding Roy Moore's dating in the 1970s, the ridiculous topic on which our press corps has incessantly chosen to focus.
Why did those mothers hope that Moore might end up marrying their daughters? Why did they jump with joy when he started dating their daughters? What was the cultural context surrounding those unrequited dreams?
To answer your questions, we'll start with a headline which appeared just three years ago, in August 2014. Though it appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, the sentiments this headline expressed were seconded everywhere mainstream press bullshit is sold.
Gushingly, the headline referred to "the best love story, ever." The full headline said this:
This Is Why Bogie and Bacall Had the Best Love Story, EverLauren Bacall had just died; she was 89 years old. According to that childish headline, her love affair with Humphrey Bogart had been "the best love story, ever."
Was it really the best such story ever? We doubt there's any such critter. At any rate, this "best love story" included a wedding when Bogart was 45 years old.
His blushing bride had been 20! When this "best story" began on the set of a film, she was just 19 years old.
The mothers of the women Moore dated had come of age on such "best love stories, ever." Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall tied the knot in 1945, creating a long-bruited tale.
That same year, Charlie Chaplin married Oona O'Neill, daughter of the famous playwright. The blushing bride was 18 years old; Charlie was 56. The pair remained married until Charlie's death, raising eight children together.
People, we're just saying! This is part of the cultural context which led to those mothers' attitudes about datng and marriage—and also, perhaps, to Ol' Roy's!
As those C-Span callers suggested, there was a time when women tended to marry very young—and not uncommonly to older gentleman callers. In the case of Lauren Bacall, it wasn't just The Hollywood Reporter which gushed about her best love story ever.
It was also the Washington Post, the very newspaper which set off this year's moral panic about the past dating game. This is the way the Washington Post gushed about the "giddy" way this "teenage girl" fell in love with way-cool Bogie.
Exciting Post headline included:
MCDONALD (8/13/14): The magnetic mystique of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren BacallRead on for the good parts! Meanwhile, what was happening on the set? Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh! The Post explained it thusly:
He was 25 years her senior.
She wielded side-eye the way medieval knights wielded maces.
Together, they were “the most gossiped-about couple of the Forties.”
Bacall was his fourth wife, and yet Bogart was so undeniably smitten, Bacall was probably the only woman who had the power to render even Marilyn Monroe about as appealing as a bowl of chopped liver.
In February 1987, Orange Coast magazine ran a quote Bogart gave about stardom decades earlier: “It ruins so many people—particularly actresses,” Bogie said. “Ninety percent of them are the dullest broads in town. They have no appeal for me whatsoever, and that goes for Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Gina Lollobrigida. In fact, the only actress in town with any true allure is Lauren Bacall.” Theirs wasn’t any old kind of love affair—it was aspirational.
Bacall was 19 when she and Bogart began work on “To Have and to Have Not,” their first of four movies together. When they fell in love, she fell with the giddy, unencumbered ease of a teenage girl, because she was one. At the time, Bacall was so new to adulthood that she was still keeping her relationship with Bogie a secret from her mother. When he called one night, she flew out of bed to meet him on Rodeo Drive, where he’d been drinking with Jackie Gleason. Her mother, Natalie, who moved in with Bacall, ordered her back into bed. The love-struck Bacall rushed out of the house, a story she related in her memoir “Lauren Bacall By Myself”...:
MCDONALD: “They really were smitten with each other,” said dancer Joy Barlowe in “Bogart.” “You could tell by the looks. He always had his hand on her shoulder. And he called her Baby. ... They were always disappearing."He called her "Baby"—and they kept disappearing! Heh heh heh heh heh!
The Washington Post thought it was "aspirational" when Humphrey Bogart, age 44, began pursuing a giddy teenage girl behind her mother's back. Three years later, the same newspaper set off a moral panic:
Ol' Roy Moore, ages 30 and 34, had dated two teenagers! He'd done so with their mothers' enthusiastic consent!
At age 44, Bogart was cool. At age 30, Moore was so old that he set off a panic!
Remember—this has nothing to do with the claim that Moore molested Leigh Corfman and violently attacked Gloria Young Nelson. We're speaking here about the Post's report that he had dated two young women who were 17 and 19 years old.
For our money, it wouldn't generally be a good idea for people to date or marry across that age divide. But it also isn't a good idea when our morally bankrupt corporate journalists touch off their moral panics—in this case, a panic they supported in the standard way, by disappearing a whole lot of relevant facts.
Why did those mothers hope that Ol' Roy might end up marrying their teenage daughters? Let us count several ways:
As everyone except journalists knows, women tended to marry quite young in the middle part of the last century. According to the Census Bureau, the average age of first marriage for women was 20.3 in 1950 and 1960. By 1970, that average age had climbed to 20.8 years of age.
That average age is much higher today. As a general matter, we think that makes better sense.
But in the era in question, many women married quite young. And in the years when those mothers came of age, youthful marriage to an older man was almost a cultural ideal, especially if you were reading movie magazines.
Those mothers were likely born around 1940. They would have been forming their cultural notions in the 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1950, Elizabeth Taylor starred in the semi-iconic film, Father of the Bride. According to the script, her character was 20 years old when she semi-iconically married.
In real life, Taylor got married that very same year—but in real life, she was just 18. Two years later, in 1952, she married for the second time.
By this time, she was 20 years old. Her second husband, actor Michael Wilding, was a well-seasoned fellow of 40.
This pattern wasn't unusual. During this golden age of teen marriage, movie magazines spilled with love affairs between very young women and older established men. (Such stories clogged film scripts of the 1950s. We'll save that story for another day.)
Hollywood's female stars married young, in some cases before they were stars. They often married older men.
Howe old were they when they first married? Judy Garland was 19. She married an established band leader, David Rose, who was 31.
(At age 17, she'd been thrown over by band leader Artie Shaw, age 29. After dumping Judy, he married Lana Turner, who was age 18.)
At age 23, Judy married again. This time, she married director Vincent Minelli, who was 42. (In the iconic film they'd been making together, Meet Me in St. Louis, the Garland character gets engaged when she's 17 or 18.)
That was Liz, Lana and Judy, but mid-century movie magazines spilled with stories of teenaged brides. Let's run through some ages:
Taylor married at 18, then again at 20. Janet Leigh married at 15, then again at 18.
Ava Gardner married at age 19. Her second marriage, at age 23, was to that man again, Artie Shaw, who was now 35.
Natalie Wood married at 19. (Robert Wagner, age 27.) This followed her earlier affair with director Nicholas Ray, 27 years her senior.
Marilyn Monroe first married at 15. When Rita Hayworth was 18, she married Edward Judson, an oilman turned promoter who was more than twice her age. Ingrid Bergman married at 21. Dr. Lindstrom was 30.
These stories helped set the cultural context as those mothers of the non-movement were coming of age. Then too, there were the examples from the world of popular music, especially Southern music.
When Elvis started dating Priscilla, she was just 14! (He was 24.) Loretta Lynn married at age 15—and please don't ask about Jerry Lee, who managed to take things too far!
When Jerry Lee Lewis married Myra Gale Brown, he was 23 years old. It was Jerry Lee's third marriage, though it was Myra Gale's first.
Uh-oh! As it turned out, His blushing bride was his first cousin once removed, whatever that means. But also, she was 13 years old! Apparently, she hadn't been removed from Jerry Lee's presence enough!
Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Gale Brown stayed married for 13 years, raising two children together. That said, Jerry Lee had apparently gone a bit too far in his choice of a 13-year-old bride. The marriage produced a great deal of pushback, damaging his career.
That said, teenage marriage was hardly unknown when Moore began dating the teenage daughters of those Moore-lover mothers. It was still entirely common for women to marry in their teenage years. Marriage to an older, successful man remained a type of cultural ideal.
"Old coot" marriage would remain a Hollywood staple. In 1965, Cary Grant married Dyan Cannon. He was 61, she was 28.
One year later, Sinatra may have topped him. At age 51, he married Mia Farrow. She was 21.
Should Ol' Roy Moore have dated those teens? Should their mothers, dreaming of marriage, have cheered the old goat on?
We can't answer those questions. We can tell you this:
The Washington Post touched off a panic about his dates with those teenagers. Waves of pundits formed a stampede. They did so in the stupid way they always behave at such junctures.
Many journalists seemed more concerned with Moore's dating than with the two criminal assaults with which he stands accused. Many journalists seemed to be unable to distinguish between these types of behavior.
As the journalists staged this panic, they may have convinced a few more people that they can't be sensible or fair, whether on a regional or on a political basis. The people who called C-Span that day already seemed to be impressed by the parochialism these unimpressive, upper-middle class strivers routinely display.
In the past month, the press has staged a moral panic about the way Roy Moore once "pursued" teenagers. They engaged in their usual group behaviors to pimp their story along.
Most strikingly, they disappeared the fact that the mothers of those two teenagers had been cheering Moore on. You weren't allowed to hear that fact. It undermined the panic.
What else did these idiots do as they staged their latest stampede? They tended to disappear the facts about those alleged assaults! When's the last time you heard someone describe the violent physical assault alleged by Beverly Young Nelson—a violent attack she says occurred when she was 16 years old?
The children have disappeared that. But also, they've almost completely disappeared the crazy views Moore has expressed, in the past twenty years, as a fully grown public figure. His lunatic views are boring. His dating behavior is not.
Moore qualifies as a genuine nut, but this fact has largely been ignored. The children were too intent on their latest moral panic, a moral panic which seemed to revolve around forty-year-old dating behavior.
Their moral panic was built around sex. Truth to tell, these deeply immature boys and girls want to discuss nothing else.
They are the fruit of a failing culture. Every night, future anthropologists, as if in a series of dreams, have been ever-so-sadly talking to us about this.
Bacall had married Humphrey Bogart! Why should their daughters be different?
Again, concerning the Washington Post: These are the views of the Washington Post concerning old men dating teenagers:
As of August 2014, it was the coolest thing ever! But just last month, in November 2017, it was such a hideous practice that it set off a panic.
You see, the Post didn't like Roy Moore! And when our "press corps" agrees on a target, this is the way they perform.
They didn't discuss his lunatic views; they wanted to talk about sex, nothing else. According to future anthropologists, it was the only thing that fired their jets in the years before Mister Trump's War.