Friday, February 22, 2013

How the summer of 1968 shaped one woman



THE SUMMER of 1968 was a memorable one for this reporter.
Cookie poses at the Playboy Club, September
She was a Playboy Bunny for a day,
and also 
covered the protests at the Miss America
interviewing Gloria Steinem and Flo Kennedy.  

   I was not yet 20, but that year I fell in love with my writing professor, traveled to Europe with a girlfriend, covered the Miss America pageant, joined a women's rights protest, interviewed Playboy Bunnies and danced with Diane Keaton on the stage of "Hair."
   In Atlantic City, I knew that joining a protest against the pageant I was covering was an unorthodox undertaking.  Could I both cover the pageant objectively and raise my poster and shed my bra in protest of what the pageant represented?
   Yes! I could, I reasoned.  I would, I did.
   I WROTE an unbiased trio of pieces on the pageant, interviewed Miss Montana for the hometown folks, met Bert Parks at a reception (he was charming) then put down my reporter's notebook to join Gloria Steinem and Flo Kennedy during the protests. My meeting with Steinem led to my writing several pieces for Ms. Magazine in its early years.
We tossed our bras in this can
on the Boardwalk. We didn't burn them.
That September weekend was the beginning of something big for me and the world. I would be an avowed feminist the rest of my life, hoping I'd live long enough to see a woman elected president of the U.S. What a wonder that will be for millions of us whose grandmothers were born before women could vote.
I SMILE when I think of that summer and the juxtaposition of events. I was a Playboy Bunny in Chicago, interviewed Hugh Heffner (also charming) and although I did not personally burn a bra at the pageant demonstrations (none of us did), I was part of the day which included trashing a collection of "girl stuff" -- mops, false eyelashes, high heels and lingerie, and, ironically, copies of "Playboy." After I filed my Miss America story, I joined the group of several hundred women
The Miss America pageant of 1968 provoked protests in which Cookie
 took part.  She also covered the pageant for three days.
 for our symbolic "tossing" into a "freedom trash can" on the famed Atlantic City boardwalk.
THE EVENT brought international attention to the Women's Liberation Movement.  I can assure you there weren't many "women's libbers," as we were called, back home in Montana. (Montana does have a proud heritage of independent women thinkers, though, including Jeannette Pickering Rankin, the first woman in U.S. history to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.)
 WHILE IN New York City, I made news myself when I judo-chopped a world-be mugger at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Times Square. He dropped my purse and ran.
Always a theater maven, I saw several new Broadway plays, including a memorable performance of "Hair" at the Biltmore Theater.  Diane Keaton was among the emerging stars, mostly unknowns.
Diane Keaton, above top in "Hair," part of
Cookie's memorable summer of 1968.
 I danced in the aisles with the performers and was beckoned on stage afterwards during the standing ovation. When I interviewed Keaton later for "Annie Hall," we both giggled about those days.
Hugh Heffner welcomed Cookie at the Playboy Club
in Chicago, where she learned the bunny dip and wrote

about the bunnies. Her byline was Chris Cosgriffe,
but an editor insisted on changing it when she married.

AT A STOP in Chicago to visit friends, I spent a day in the Playboy Club learning the bunny dip and interviewing bunnies, while taking a turn as a bunny myself.  The women made wonderful stories, because they were interesting, educated people in a well-paying club.  It was a thought-provoking counterpoint to the Pageant activities.
  The dip, which I perfected, involves a curtsy, knees bending together,  back straight, rear down, serving up cocktails with a smile.  Should the dip provoke a pinch or squeeze, the offending patron was removed from the club.
 MY SUMMER of 1968 was formative. I took a month's trip to Europe, but I didn't really want to be gone from my sweetheart.  I knew Bruce Kemp Meyers was "the one."  Our romance was set against the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and RFK, the Vietnam War's end and the planned moon landing, which we watched on separate TVs in July the next year -- he from his parents' home in North Olmsted, Ohio, and I at my family home in Columbus, Montana.
   What a summer.  It shaped so many elements of my life:  my interest in the opposite sex and decision to marry Bruce, my continuing love of contemporary poetry and women's literature, my writing style (Bruce was a marvelous editor), my political and musical preferences.  Bruce played fabulous country and folk guitar, and was a jazz lover.  "BB" -- before Bruce -- I'd eschewed anything but classical music, jazz and Broadway scores. I was missing a world of tremendous tunes.
Bert Parks posed with Miss America contestants during the swimsuit
competition in Atlantic City, which "Chris Cosgriffe" covered for the AP.
   Raised by a liberated grandmother and unorthodox mum, both musicians, both educated, I grew up thinking women could do anything.  That summer sealed my feminist proclivities.
  THE EMOTIONAL cocktail of such diverse experiences -- falling in love, the beauty pageant and demonstrations, seeing a ground-breaking musical, the Playboy bunny time -- all encouraged introspection and evaluation.
   Growing up in rural Montana, with an adventuresome family, I always knew I'd forge a career.  As my relationship with Bruce deepened, he told me of his congenital heart defect, the possibility that he might need a valve replacement, and his lack of interest in having children. It paralleled mine!
   By the fates' luck, I shared his affections for literature, theater, travel, nature, dogs and other peoples' progeny. We decided that theater, travel and pursuit of our careers would be our children.
   We had nearly 24 years together -- 22 l/2 married, the other 18 months living in sin, or as my beloved gran said, "sharing one another's favors."
   THAT 1968 Europe trip was liberating and glorious.  At each port, I opened a three-page typewritten letter from Bruce. Each was rich with detail: his appreciation for Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, his reading of Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson, his preparation for his writing classes, reports on the Civil Rights movement, bulletins on our cats and the art center's foreign film series. How he missed me!  I've kept those  letters -- sent to Oslo, Copenhagen, Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Florence, Salzburg, Paris and London.
Cookie, Nick and Nora stop to smell the flowers.  You should, too!
                                                                                      --Photo by Robbie Townsley
   In return, long before e-mail, I wrote him daily, and sent my Kodak film back home to him --   slides taken with his favorite Canon camera.  As the trip progressed -- with concerts, hikes, plays and museums -- he paired the slides with my letter descriptions.
   We decided to marry.  Through the next months, we danced, romanced, cavorted, and planned our own trip to Europe for summer of 1970, a pre-wedding honeymoon, we coined it.
  FROM THE summer of 1968 to the autumn of 1970, I read Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Flo Kennedy and Bella Abzug.  I delved into the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, reveled in the writings of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, thrilled at my first bylines in national publications.  The first story I pitched to Steinem was about a young
Cookie and Keller on a recent trip to Europe, here Provence.
Miles City horsewoman who broke into an all-male rodeo competition and changed the guidelines for future horsewomen.
   I HAD NO criticism of the beauty queens I interviewed.  They were pleasant, well meaning people.  Some crafted careers. Some, I'm certain, were influenced by the protests.  That turbulent summer shaped the pageant.  Within the next couple years, contestants were tottering out on controversial limbs to defend the equal rights amendment and proclaim pro-choice leanings.  That would not have happened in the 1950s or even the mid-1960s.
   I had a wonderful time as a Playboy Bunny.  I read a biography on Eleanor Roosevelt that same week, found a first edition of "A Room of One's Own" and received a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift from the Sea" from my future mother-in-law. As my late nephew Eric said, "It's all good, Auntie."
  Today, on the 23rd anniversary of Bruce's death, I thank those smiling gods and goddesses of fate for finding a way to put us together. I thank them, too, for letting me share part of Bill Jones' life, and after his death, for leading me to Bruce Keller for as long as we might have together.
   THE SUMMER of 1968, I pondered my future and polished my belief system. While man would soon land on the moon, I was finding my place on planet Earth. What I learned then was complex and has shaped my life.  Chiefly, that it is possible, even advisable, to inhabit many worlds.  That we are all creatures of intricacy and contradiction. A few other Cookie pointers, to adapt, toss or share:
   * Don't be quick to generalize (a playboy Bunny might be working on her doctorate).
   * Most issues are complex. Ditto, people.
   * Forge your personal philosophy of life by borrowing from many influences and cultures.
Hillary Clinton, 1968. History in the making.
   * Avoid being predictable.  Follow your instincts. Taste of all foods, imagine, drink a bit if you can.
   * Don't fall into the trap of grudge-holding. Be kind. Forgive others. Take the high road and pick your battles.
   * Develop friends of all viewpoints. Listen to them, consider their opinions. Use what works.
   * Don't be rigid.  Be open to change or the spontaneous dinner, movie or weekend jaunt.
   * Read, read, read.  See as many plays and concerts as your budget allows.  Get a library card. Travel.
   * Don't let technology leave you in the dust.
   * Step outside for at least a half-hour every day, even when it's cold. Breathe deeply. Pet a dog or a child.
   * Pick a flower, write a letter, paint a picture, fall in love. Or stay there if you've already tumbled!
   * Laugh about something. Even yourself. Deep in life's challenges, there is much to smile about.  
* Consider voting for a woman for U.S. President, following suit of other countries in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East. Remember, we are excellent at multi-tasking.

   UP NEXT: Cookie shares a photo essay with tips on some of the sunny spots she's discovered with Keller in his native San Diego.



  1. This made me smile, love it <3

    1. Love your comment...... nice to be appreciated by the younger generation, particularly when we share DNA. Love you, honey, and proud of you, too.

  2. Pro-choice and proudJune 9, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    What fun to revisit these exciting, turbulent days of yore, and to have this provocative and colorful reminiscence.

  3. All true, and laced with love and humor.

  4. This was fun to re-visit. Do hope you have a book in mind.