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Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World's Fair and the Transformation of America

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Overview

Motivated by potentially turning Flushing Meadows, literally a land of refuse, into his greatest public park, Robert Moses—New York's "Master Builder"—brought the World's Fair to the Big Apple for 1964 and '65. Though considered a financial failure, the 1964-65 World' s Fair was a Sixties flashpoint in areas from politics to pop culture, technology to urban planning, and civil rights to violent crime.In an epic narrative, the New York Times bestseller Tomorrow-Land shows the astonishing pivots taken by New York ...
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Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World's Fair and the Transformation of America

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Overview

Motivated by potentially turning Flushing Meadows, literally a land of refuse, into his greatest public park, Robert Moses—New York's "Master Builder"—brought the World's Fair to the Big Apple for 1964 and '65. Though considered a financial failure, the 1964-65 World' s Fair was a Sixties flashpoint in areas from politics to pop culture, technology to urban planning, and civil rights to violent crime.In an epic narrative, the New York Times bestseller Tomorrow-Land shows the astonishing pivots taken by New York City, America, and the world during the Fair. It fetched Disney's empire from California and Michelangelo's La Pieta from Europe; and displayed flickers of innovation from Ford, GM, and NASA—from undersea and outerspace colonies to personal computers. It housed the controversial work of Warhol (until Governor Rockefeller had it removed); and lured Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Meanwhile, the Fair—and its house band, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians—sat in the musical shadows of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who changed rock-and-roll right there in Queens. And as Southern civil rights efforts turned deadly, and violent protests also occurred in and around the Fair, Harlem-based Malcolm X predicted a frightening future of inner-city racial conflict.World's Fairs have always been collisions of eras, cultures, nations, technologies, ideas, and art. But the trippy, turbulent, Technicolor, Disney, corporate, and often misguided 1964-65 Fair was truly exceptional.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Fifty-one million paying visitors attended the 1964 New York World's Fair, but Robert Moses was not pleased. He and his overworked staff had projected seventy million. His vision for the fair had begun with his grandest park project ever, but even before it had opened, this sprawling event was marred by an international dispute, architectural controversies, Disney encroachments, and accusations of racism. As Joseph Tirella's ambitious Tomorrow-Land shows convincingly, the World's Fair occurred at a major crossroads in our history; with the opening salvos of Vietnam and the hippie counterculture, and the first clicks of the computer revolution. Master power broker Robert Moses could not have realized that he was creating an event that could never happen again.

Publishers Weekly
10/14/2013
In this ambitious, hectic popular history, journalist Tirella shows how various events affected the creation and success of the eponymous fair. “New York’s Machiavellian Master Builder” Robert Moses managed to be named head of the World’s Fair Corporation in 1960 and became its mastermind. His grand design was challenged along the way by Walt Disney, looking to expand his entertainment empire, and by civil rights activists unhappy with the lack of racial diversity on the fair’s board of directors and its work crews. Even popular music aficionados tried to tell Moses his business, pressuring him to hire the Beatles to perform—to which he responded: “Absolutely nothing doing.” But Moses couldn’t control everything. A civil rights protest cropped up inside the fair on its opening day and Harlem erupted in race riots that summer, interfering with fair attendance. Ken Kesey bused in his Merry Pranksters and declared the fair a flop. The press mostly agreed. The most exciting event took place near the fair, rather than at it: the Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium concert. In trying to ignore the culture of the 1960s to introduce fairgoers to Tomorrow-Land, Moses nearly killed his beloved fair. In attempting to pack all the major events of 1964–1965 into his book, Tirella overstuffs an otherwise intriguing story. Eight-page photo insert. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
A New York Times Bestseller!"Tirella explores the contrast between the purported idealism of the 1964 World's Fair and the conflict and compromise that surrounded the event…. The Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, rising urban crime and racial strife provide the backdrop for Tirella's detailed history." —The New York Times Book Review"In an interesting and original way, Joseph Tirella has used the storied setting of the 1964–65 World's Fair in New York to describe the entrepreneurial spirit, the criminal nature, the egalitarian tendencies, and inevitable compromises that characterized a complex and important period in the history of the city and the nation." —Gay Talese, author of The Kingdom and the Power, The Bridge, and A Writer's Life"Literary lovechild of: Robert A. Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York and Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America." —Slate"Just in time for the 50th anniversary of opening day, Joseph Tirella, in this carefully detailed account, explores the fair itself and, perhaps more important, uses that extraordinary event as a lens through which to view one of the more critical junctures in American history…. [A] a fascinating trip back to what the fair's mastermind, Robert Moses, dreamed would be the "greatest single event in human history," during one of the most tumultuous periods in recent memory." —The Weekly Standard"As much a history of mid-Sixties America as it is a history of the World's Fair in Queens, New York, Joseph Tirella's entertaining and impeccably researched Tomorrow-Land brings the forces and players of that turbulent era crackling to life." —Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora"With Tomorrow-Land, Joseph Tirella makes a riveting case for Queens, New York, as the origin of all that is great and modern in today's America. If you've ever wondered what Robert Moses, Andy Warhol, and Malcolm X have in common, this book connects the dots and more. Tirella breathes in all the tumult and cultural vertigo surrounding the 1964 World's Fair, and exhales an intoxicating swirl of pure possibility." —Alec Foege, author of The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great"This book is filled with fascinating stories about global political contests between the Soviet Union and the United States, domestic protests against social inequality, the politics of massive resistance waged by conservatives of both major parties, corporations playing social engineering games, America becoming a multicultural nation, and New York City experiencing massive physical change. Joseph Tirella's Tomorrow-Land takes us back in time fifty years and documents through thorough research and wonderful narrative how the World's Fair fell short of its goal to promote, 'Peace Through Understanding,' but still managed to give America an accurate vision of its future self." —Brian Purnell, Africana Studies and History, Bowdoin College, and author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn"First-time author Tirella, a former reporter for the New York Times, adroitly switches focus from [Robert] Moses and the fair to external events in the city, nation and world and back again, following several disparate threads—the civil rights dialectic between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., a New York City obscenity crusade that targeted Lenny Bruce and the gay bohemian subculture, the parallel paths of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the escalation of the Vietnam War—and never losing control of the narrative's forward momentum…. [T]he World's Fair provides an excellent perspective on the 1960s in America…. Top-notch popular history." —Kirkus Reviews"A model of accessible narrative, showing the author's immersion in archival research, this book will be appreciated most by those who love reading about Sixties or New York City history or, of course, world's fairs." —Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-28
The story of New York's second World's Fair in the context of its tumultuous times. Robert Moses, the city's bullish master builder who was responsible for several of its colossal bridges, tunnels, parks and parkways and who had a hand in the construction of the first World's Fair in 1939, maneuvered his way to power for the entire 1964-1965 version. His ultimate goal was to turn the fair's grounds in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens into a rival for the jewel in Manhattan's crown, Central Park. But Moses' Eisenhower-era sensibility and the park's Kennedy-esque theme of "peace through understanding" would collide with the reality of post-assassination politics and a cultural revolution in mores inspired by the underground and popular arts. Signs of troubles ahead included a threatened opening day "stall-in" on the highways leading to Flushing Meadows by local civil rights groups to protest Moses' poor record in hiring minorities to build, staff and administer the fair and a disastrous convocation speech by President Lyndon Johnson that was interrupted repeatedly by catcalls from college students, many of whom would go on to form the Students for a Democratic Society. First-time author Tirella, a former reporter for the New York Times, adroitly switches focus from Moses and the fair to external events in the city, nation and world and back again, following several disparate threads--the civil rights dialectic between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., a New York City obscenity crusade that targeted Lenny Bruce and the gay bohemian subculture, the parallel paths of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the escalation of the Vietnam War--and never losing control of the narrative's forward momentum. With a huge cast of characters that includes Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali and the pope, the World's Fair provides an excellent perspective on the 1960s in America. Top-notch popular history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762780358
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 108,116
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Tirella
Joseph Tirella wrote about Queens for The New York Times's much-missed City Section, and penned pieces for the paper's Metro and Business Sections. He has been a contributor to Portfolio.com and MSN.com, where he wrote about the arts and business. He was a Senior Editor at Fortune Small Business, where he was in charge of the magazine's Off Hours section, as well as contributing features and editing cover stories. His work has also appeared in People, where he wrote and reported stories on a vast array of topics, including the paparazzi who chased Princess Diana in her last hours, the reemergence of Tawana Brawley and an exclusive three-hour interview with the late Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana, at their Westchester home. His work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, Vibe, Esquire, Reader's Digest, the New York Post, and the Daily News among other publications. He lives in Queens with his family.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Joseph Tirella, Author of Tomorrow-Land

At the center of Tomorrow-Land is a World's Fair, an enormous and expensive showpiece for New York City and America placed upon on the world stage during the challenging 1960s. What was your approach to narrating such a complex historical flashpoint?

I approached writing Tomorrow-Land like I was writing a novel, albeit a completely factual one. The narrative spine is the World's Fair and the central character is Robert Moses, the president of the World's Fair Corporation, a titanic figure in the history of New York City, and in America. Moses held a dozen positions in New York City and State before taking over the Fair. He was best known as Parks Commissioner of New York City and New York State, and as the head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. He was by any measure one of the most powerful men in the city—far far too powerful. He casts a shadow over New York City at least as large as the Manhattan skyline. All the book's other real-life storylines—the emergence of the Beatles and Bob Dylan; Andy Warhol and the emergence of Pop Art; the crackdown by New York City officials on downtown bohemians; the national Civil Rights Struggle, particularly how it affected race relations in New York; and the first rumblings of the drug culture—intersect with the World's Fair. And all these other events, which were happening somewhat independently of each other, comprise an almost separate or alternative World's Fair; one completely beyond the control of Robert Moses.

Drop some more names for us—who were some of the politicians, religious leaders, power brokers, entertainers, and other well-known figures who appear in the story of the 1964-65 World's Fair?

It was a veritable Who's Who. Jackie Kennedy took her daughter to the Fair (one of her first public appearances after her husband's murder); Bobby Kennedy took his children there, too; Billy Graham had his own pavilion. Pope Paul VI arrived in the final weeks of the Fair after giving his historic U.N. speech—he was the first Pope to come to America. Lucille Ball. Jonathan Winters. Every major politician, including President Johnson (who came twice), and Vice President Hubert H. Humphreys. Richard Nixon made an appearance, too. In fact, his 1968 Presidential campaign really began at the Fair. Politically, Nixon was considered done. Finished. Then one of his top fundraisers saw the hero's welcome he got from the crowd. Right in the middle of working class Queens, he was treated like a superstar. The next day, his fundraiser, who had also thought Nixon's political career was over, started raising money. Tricky Dick was back. Martin Luther King took his family to the Fair, as well. Supreme Court justices. Everyone came to the Fair. Hundreds, if not thousands of VIPs got free tickets.

And millions of regular people still remember going to this World's Fair, too. But they might not remember the preparations for the Fair. What would surprise them about what the World's Fair Corporation, New York City, and the U.S. Government did to prepare for the Fair?

Well, I think people would be amazed to see just how much public money—millions and millions of dollars—was spent in preparing New York City for the Fair. Millions were spent on public works projects—many of which were scheduled to happen at some point anyway—but Robert Moses used the Fair as a way to speed up the process. I think people would also be shocked—I certainly was—by how New York City officials, urged on by local religious leaders, cracked down on bohemians and artists and the downtown establishments they frequented in order to "clean up" New York City for the millions of tourists they expected for the Fair. There was a very homophobic undertone to their campaign. I still find it quite shocking that such a thing happened, of all places, here in New York City just fifty years ago.

Which makes "Peace Through Understanding," the motto of the 1964-65 World's Fair, seem misapplied. Based on what you discovered while researching and writing this book, did the Fair live up to that motto?

No. Peace Through Understanding, while a noble goal, was impossible to achieve at a World's Fair held in New York City—or anywhere in America—during the years 1964 and 1965. Millions of Americans didn't have their civil rights, segregation was still the law in the South, people had to fear for their lives on many city streets, and soldiers were being drafted to fight what was, essentially, a civil war in Vietnam; and, for that matter, the whole world lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

But what the World's Fair did offer was a glimpse of a 21st century multicultural America, and of the larger multicultural world—you could say, a less Eurocentric world—one in which nations from Asia and South America and Africa and the Middle East, would play an increasingly important role in global affairs. And that world, which was on display for the first time at the Fair in 1964, is now the world we live in. But as I say in the book, Peace Through Understanding continues to elude us. And seems like it will for some time to come.

Protests, politics, and controversy were staples of this World's Fair and its surroundings. What took place inside the Fair's gates and just outside?

There were civil rights protests inside the World's Fair on opening day—April 22, 1964. The Brooklyn Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, a national organization, threatened to stage a "Stall-in"—that is, instead of a "sit-in" they would clog all the expressways and highways that lead to the World's Fair in Queens by running out of gas or just stopping their cars—thus pulling the plug on the Fair's opening day. It would have been the largest traffic jam in history. And while it never happened—people refused to sacrifice their cars—city and state officials, not to mention President Lyndon B. Johnson, had to take the threats seriously. It became a national story, and one that represents a fracturing among younger activists and the established leaders of the civil rights moment. This fracturing would later have repercussions for the movement. And it started because of the World's Fair.

Take us inside the Fair's gates. "Tomorrow-Land" was an advertising label applied to General Motors' Futurama II pavilion, but in a sense it applied to many of the Fair's exhibits. How would you describe this mid-1960s Fair's vision of the future? What did they get right, and what did they get wrong?

There is this conventional wisdom that World's Fairs were more altruistic before the 1964-65 World's Fair, and that Robert Moses' Fair was simply out to sell people products. But all World's Fairs are out to sell you something. The 1939-40 World's Fair was selling Depression-era Americans home appliances and this grand vision of the "World of Tomorrow." But what was the World of Tomorrow in 1939? According to GM's Futurama exhibit, it was a world of superhighways, taller skyscrapers, and cars (it was a GM exhibit after all). In 1939 that must have been something to see, but in the 21st century we recognize it as urban sprawl and soul-deadening architecture. In 1964, Futurama II showed underwater hotels and lunar range rovers. Pure science fiction eye-candy for the Space Age. I doubt anyone, other than the children in the audience, who it was meant for, took it very seriously.

The 1964-65 World's Fair, as Robert Moses wanted it to, shied away from grand visions. What it offered—and not necessarily on purpose—was a glimpse of the chaotic and cacophonous multicultural world in which we now live. I don't think that the critics, or many of the people who attended, understood at the time what they were seeing. I imagine that in 1964 it was nearly impossible to see a world that wasn't dominated by the Cold War. Moses said his Fair had "something for everyone." And literally, it did. Walt Disney used the World's Fair as a testing ground for his particular brand of entertainment. The rides Disney created for the Fair—It's a Small World, the Animatronic Abraham Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, all went on to live at his theme parks. The Fair had Michelangelo's La Pietà; it had the Unisphere; it had pavilions from throughout Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa.

What makes this Fair and the two years of its run "transformative," as the book's subtitle indicates?

It was held at such a unique moment in American history. The country was changing. Robert Moses took charge of the Fair in May 1960. Within a few months, Kennedy is President. Almost immediately Moses meets with JFK and gets his blessing. Kennedy knew that the Fair would be a public relations bonanza for the American Way of Life versus the Soviet Union. From the word "go," the Fair was a peaceful battleground in the Cold War—one we could win without firing a bullet. As we all know, the Kennedy years were not uneventful ones in America: Civil Rights, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis—all these things were happening while the Fair was being created from 1960 to 1964. Then Kennedy is assassinated; the Beatles arrive in the U.S.; a folk singer named Bob Dylan starts to change popular music; the Civil Rights bills are passed; Malcolm X; Pop Art; Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who got on their psychedelic bus specifically to go to the World's Fair—all these things were happening outside the Fair's gates. While Moses was putting on a World's Fair, there was a cultural revolution exploding outside the Fairgrounds and it was transforming the country and that transformation just seemed that much more radical in comparison to the World's Fair.

Who have you discovered lately?

Since finishing Tomorrow-Land I've been focusing on writing fiction so I've been reading mostly novels and short stories. One writer that I've discovered in the last year who has made a tremendous impression on me is Flann O'Brien. I can't recommend his novels The Third Policemanand Two Birds—At Swim highly enough. His writing is musical and magical and wonderfully playful yet completely humorous. I've also spent the last several months rediscovering a lot of music from the 1990s, such as Pulp, the great Brit Pop band. Jarvis Cocker, the band's front man and lead singer, has put out some outstanding solo albums over the last few years that I've become obsessed with. In fact, a few other musical acts from the 1990s like Tricky and My Bloody Valentine also came out with some wonderful albums last year [2013]. It's been a long time since I've bought CDs; yes, that's right: I still buy CDs.

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