December 31, 1969, was a Wednesday. Although the crime won’t be discovered until next week, union leader Jock Yablonski, his wife, and their daughter are murdered tonight in their Pennsylvania home. Earlier this month, Yablonski lost a controversial election for the presidency of the United Mine Workers union to the current president, Tony Boyle. Vice President Spiro Agnew, currently on a tour of the Phillippines, will make a brief stop in Vietnam tomorrow to meet with President Thieu and American soldiers. Vietnam continues under a New Year’s truce, although each side charges the other with violating it. The Army orders that SSgt. David Mitchell be court-martialed for intent to murder 30 civilians in Vietnam at My Lai. He’s the second soldier bound over for trial, after Lt. William Calley. Tonight, NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report airs a feature on the mating habits of college students amid the growing number of co-ed dormitories. Another NBC story discusses the perception that long hair equates with degeneracy, rebellion, and disrespect for American ideals. ABC concludes its evening news broadcast with commentary by anchors Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith bidding farewell to the 1960s. Reynolds closes the broadcast by saying, “And that’s the way it is . . . good night Walter, good night Chet, good night David, and happy new year everybody.”
The college football postseason continues tonight with the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in the Houston Astrodome, where the University of Houston defeats Clemson 36-7. Four of the season’s 11 bowl games will be played tomorrow. Undefeated Texas will try to claim the national championship with a win over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame has changed its no-bowl-games policy and is playing in one for the first time since 1925. Also tomorrow: Penn State vs. Missouri in the Orange Bowl, USC vs. Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and Arkansas vs. Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl. Four games are played in the National Basketball Association tonight. Among them, the Milwaukee Bucks get 35 points from Lew Alcindor, 32 from Flynn Robinson, and 28 from Bob Dandridge to defeat the San Diego Rockets 143-126. Elvin Hayes leads the Rockets with 26 points.
Even though it’s New Year’s Eve, the TV networks roll out first-run episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Medical Center, Hawaii Five-O, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Room 222, Then Came Bronson, and The Virginian. Jimi Hendrix and his Band of Gypsys open a two-night stand at the Fillmore East in New York City with two shows. After a countdown to the new year, Hendrix and the band play “Auld Lang Syne.” After the show, Jimi goes to a bar in Greenwich Village, where he jams with the James Cotton Blues Band.
The top movie of 1969 is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although it’s been out only since late October, it’s outdistanced the year’s other top films, which include the Disney comedy The Love Bug, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, True Grit, and Goodbye Columbus. Only four books led the New York Times‘ weekly list of fiction best-sellers this year: The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes, in which government agents pursue Nazi-era secrets; Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth; The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann; and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The year’s top nonfiction books include Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) by Dr. David Reuben, and The Sensuous Woman, by an author identified only as “J.” On television, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In ended the 1968-69 season at #1 and is on its way to leading the ratings for the 1969-70 season now in progress. Other top-rated shows this year include Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry RFD, and Gomer Pyle USMC, which ended its five-season run in May second only to Laugh-In in the ratings. Around the country tonight, radio stations spotlight their top hits of 1969.
Perspective From the Present: The Yablonskis were murdered on the orders of Tony Boyle, who eventually died in prison. David Mitchell was cleared of charges in the My Lai massacre. Texas was voted college football’s national champion by the Associated Press after its come-from-behind 21-17 win over Notre Dame, although other voting bodies awarded titles to Nebraska and Ohio State.
After watching the Bluebonnet Bowl at my grandparents’ house, to which we were usually packed off on New Year’s Eve so our parents could celebrate my father’s December 31 birthday and the new year, I watched the last 10 seconds of 1969 tick away on the clock that sat next to Grandpa’s chair in the living room. As it hit midnight I said to myself, “Now it’s 1970.”
Buckle up, kid. The next
10 50 years are gonna be quite a ride.