1950 in history became symbolic for Communism’s deceit and duplicitous chicanery. I can think of no other phenomena or mortal creation that has been responsible for greater human misery, suffering and death than Communism in all its various forms. Mao Tse-tung’s quotation, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, clearly illustrates Communism’s guiding philosophy.
Stalin only deferred to American power and political views, and only respected his own commitments and international guarantees until he had his own atom bomb. Then he had a huge gun barrel and could do what he wanted, (sort of the present day North Korean and Iranian view of the world). Russian diplomatic techniques have not changed much in the interim – you go with what works, and Western leaders never seem to learn. Mr. Putin recently tore up his solemn guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty in return for the surrender of Soviet nuclear arms left in that country after the U.S.S.R. disintegrated. I don’t know why anybody bothers negotiating and entering agreements with a Communist dictatorship unless you have a bigger gun barrel, (and let’s not kid ourselves; Putin is a Communist dictator no matter what Angela Merkel thinks). Honor and reputation mean nothing to a dictator. But I digress.
On February 14, 1950 the Soviet Union and Peoples’ Republic of China signed the “Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance”. The treaty embodied recognition of the PRC and a loan to China. China issued a new postage stamp to commemorate the occasion.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Peoples’ Army crossed the 38th parallel, effectively invading South Korea. American forces had been withdrawn from the peninsula and the South Korean Army was badly overmatched. By June 28 Seoul had fallen.
The United Nations passed a resolution on June 25 condemning North Korea and authorizing a military response. American troops began arriving in July but were also no match for North Korean tanks and artillery and eventually were forced back to the Pusan Perimeter in the country’s south-east. U.N. troops within Pusan were reinforced from American armed forces in Japan while the NKPA had become severely depleted due to resupply deficiencies.
To relieve Pusan, General Douglas MacArthur in September ordered an amphibious allied landing at Inchon behind North Korean lines, with the result the NKPA was decimated when U.N. forces broke out of Pusan to meet the Americans at Inchon, and had to retreat back north of the 38th parallel. On September 25, Seoul was recaptured and on October 1 U.N. soldiers pursued the by now destroyed NKPA across the 38th parallel, taking Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on October 19. On October 25 the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army crossed into North Korea and joined the fray, pushing the allies back to the 38th parallel by the end of the year and changing the whole complexion of the war.
Kim Il-sung, the North Korean leader and author of the war, was humiliated and relieved of command of the Communist armies in December – from that point on, the war became a Chinese effort.
Prior to 1904 Tibet had been a province of China, however the British took and held control until 1917 when Tibetan independence was granted. Up until 1950 Tibet approximated a medieval theocracy, almost completely insulated from the rest of the world, and headed by a Buddhist monk known as the “Presence”, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
China was never completely reconciled to the loss of Tibet and in 1949 began agitating for its return. While determined to remain independent the Tibetan government entered negotiations with the newly created Peoples’ Republic of China, the results of which have never become clear. In October, 1950, the Peoples’ Liberation Army of China invaded a small portion of Tibet, surrounded and accepted the surrender of Tibet’s army. The Chinese paid the Tibetan soldiers a small stipend and sent them home, effectively disbanding any armed opposition. Tibet had to accept a de facto Chinese takeover, but China then pretty much left the country alone to rebuild a more Sino-friendly regime at its own pace. In 1956, disappointed with the rate of progress, China started to implement land reforms.
These were resisted by Tibetan militias and in 1959 China, fed up with Tibetan recalcitrance, dissolved the government and installed their own authority. The Dalai Lama fled to India and has since travelled the world over trying to win sympathy for Tibet’s plight. The movie “Kundun” does an excellent portrayal of this whole story.
Klaus Fuchs was a German-born theoretical physicist trained initially at the University of Leipzig, where he first began flirtations with communism. In 1933 he fled to England to escape Nazism, and earned a doctorate. In 1940 he was approached to work on Britain’s atom bomb program and almost immediately began passing scientific secrets to the Russians.
In 1944 he was seconded to work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University in New York, where he continued his espionage activities. His name came up during some undercover investigations and Fuchs confessed in January, 1950. After a 90 minute trial he was convicted and sentenced to 14 years, served 9 and left for East Germany where he continued his research undisturbed. Probably the only reason he escaped execution was that the Soviet Union was an ally during much of the period covered by Fuchs’ betrayal. The resulting damage was not more severe, as the infamous Lavrenty Beria, a politico almost as evil as Stalin who was head of the Soviet atom bomb program did not trust foreigners and failed to make full use of the information supplied. The British establishment at the time was riddled with communist sympathizers and
moles to the extent the United States stopped sharing secrets with them. It is indeed somewhat odd that nobody picked up on his communist leanings, as his background should have been well known.
Patti Page had been recording with modest success since 1946. Near the end of 1950 she recorded her biggest hit which also became her signature tune, and one of the most popular songs of the 20th century, the “Tennessee Waltz”. Surprisingly it charted #2 for the year, behind Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa”, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was the theme song for an otherwise forgettable,
(although it starred war hero Alan Ladd), movie named “Captain Carey, U.S.A. The tune’s silky orchestral arrangement was done by Les Baxter’s Orchestra and it was actually the B-Side for “The Greatest Inventor of Them All”.
The song that spent the longest time on the Billboard charts was Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers’ remake of Leadbelly’s 1933 song “Good Night Irene”. The Weavers were one of the first folk groups, one of whose founding members was Pete Seeger. The group always had a proletarian pro-Soviet flavor about it, as a result of his political views. Many of their songs bore a left-wing tilt and during the “Red Scare”, (more commonly known as McCarthyism), of the early Fifties Pete Seeger was branded a “Communist” and the Weavers black-listed, making them completely commercially unviable. They disbanded in 1952, but regrouped later in the decade and today have been largely rehabilitated.
Gordon Jenkins was a band leader who played no part in any of this political nonsense.
Interestingly, singer Jo Stafford began working pro bono for “Voice of America” in 1950, broadcasting U.S. programming into Eastern Europe so as to help subvert communism. Collier’s magazine published a piece in 1951, lauding her work under the title “Jo Stafford: Her Songs Upset Joe Stalin”. Of Course the U.S. Communist newspaper, “The Daily Worker” was apoplectic.
Georgia Gibbs was one of those white singers who sometimes remade and popularized black songs in what was known derogatorily as ‘whitewashing’. LaVern Baker and Etta James were often replicated in this fashion. LaVern made Georgia a beneficiary of a life insurance policy she bought before a flight to Australia, saying, “… if anything happens to me, you’re out of business”.
This was a bit unfair, as she did lots of original songs as well, but her aptitude for rock ‘n’ roll made her a natural for R&B covers.
Al Cernik had sung with some big bands after the war and had a few minor acting roles but got his big break in 1950 when he was discovered by Mitch Miller who changed his name to Guy Mitchell. His first gold record came in 1950 with “My Heart Cries for You”, but he went on to have further notable success during the rock era – his “Singin’ the Blues” was #1 for 1956 and “Heartaches by the Number” reached #1 in 1959.
A couple of novelty songs deserve mention. Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, originally released “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for Christmas, 1949, and it charted every year throughout the 50’s and 60’s. For an encore in 1950 Gene recorded “Frosty, the Snowman”. Both songs became much beloved Christmas institutions that have lived on ever since. The #3 charting hit for 1950 was “The Thing” by Phil Harris, a song about a mysterious discovery on the beach that ruins the narrator’s life. Although its identity is never revealed, the concept spawns many science fiction TV shows and movies.
The motoring public had embraced the 1949 Mercury with a gusto sufficient to gladden the heart of even the most hard-boiled Madison Avenue pragmatist. Fortunately, proposed styling changes for 1950 were minimal. An aficionado could tell the difference but he would have had to look pretty closely. The chrome trim along the side bore a more spear-like appearance, but was situated identically to the previous year and carried MERCURY 8 in block letters impressed and highlighted in black near its front end. The hood fascia still displayed a plastic Mercury “shield” medallion, but for 1950 it topped a broad horizontal chrome bar running the width of the hood and into which MERCURY had been stamped and picked out in black. The circular front signal lights were embedded in a rounded square decorative device which appeared to be integral to the grille.
This year’s grille centerpiece affected a vertical ridge where letters spelled EIGHT in 1949. Rear deck badging was changed to resemble a semi-circular medallion in which the Mercury head appears t in relief on a red background. Front and rear bumper guards remained unchanged except for 1950 the latter’s cross-piece was stamped MERCURY in black. The front windshield was still two-piece, however the backlite was now a single curved pane, outside door handles had become push-button – and that was about it for the exterior.
The interior was completely remodeled, starting with a new dashboard critics alleged was a blatant rip-off of the same-era Cadillac. There are similarities but outright theft – I don’t think so.
All controls are contained within or under a large rectangle comprising two-thirds of the entire dash board, called the Safe-T-Vue dash. Gauges are all found closer to eye-level across the upper portion, directly in front of the driver and are indirectly lit to reduce glare. The speedometer is encased in a semi-circular housing partially shielded by a prominent brow surmounting the dash, and across which the indicator needle sweeps to show speeds up to an optimistic 110 mph. Rectangular gauges for oil pressure and fuel are located left of the speedometer, engine temperature and battery charge/discharge to the right. The electric clock, if so equipped, is to the right again and the push-button radio is in the middle of the dash.
The lower two-thirds of the control panel is decorated with a grille-like layout having thin chrome vertical slats alternating with a gold-painted background. The radio speaker is located behind the right side of this grille, while the ash tray is between the speaker and steering wheel. The ignition switch is in the grille above the ash tray. A horizontal chrome strip bearing the starter button as well as labeled controls for headlights, windshield wipers, heater fan and cigar lighter separates the gauges from the grille. Vertically sliding “aircraft” styled levers left and right of the steering column control temperature and air flow. From left to right below the dash we find the hood latch and parking brake releases, and the overdrive handle. The glove compartment is in front of the passenger, topped with a thin horizontal chrome molding in which MERCURY is written in script.
The black bullet centred steering wheel was huge – presumably to give the driver sufficient leverage while maneuvering – and had a full horn ring. For some reason these cars often had those after-market “suicide” knobs on the steering wheel. My grandfather had one on his 1952 Ford wagon and he was very fond of telling me it was illegal and only specially trained people knew how to use them – I got the impression it was one of those secret rites only Masons knew about. In any event, whenever he had to make a quick turn, the flailing and careening were truly impressive.
My grandfather needed to make several trips a month across the U.S. border south of Vancouver as part of his work, and I usually got to go along for the ride. I was duly apprised of the serious nature of crossing an international border and the risks of being whisked off to jail for certain never specified breaches of diplomatic protocol. I was assured of my personal safety while in his company however, as he knew the “secret handshake”. I wonder if he also knew how many nightmares I had concerning the possibility of being forced to cross the border by myself.
Mercury continued to use the 255.4 cid L-head V8 of 110 bhp, essentially unchanged from 1949, and persevered with its claim respecting the superiority of its V8 engines versus the in-line sixes of the competition.
Ford also kept on with carburetion research on its historical vapour lock issues and by 1950, it appeared the dual, concentric type system had the problem resolved. Some still did not see the automatic choke as a worthwhile advance although Mercury maintained cold weather starts were actually easier. Another technical innovation this year was embodied in the introduction of two high capacity water pumps, (one for each cylinder bank), which vastly improved engine cooling. Advances in spark timing, valve precision engineering, high pressure internal lubrication and piston ring efficiency further improved engine operation. Revamped fan, water pump and generator belt drives pretty much complete engine advances. Finally, the accelerator linkage was reworked to fix a complaint concerning “stickiness” during hard acceleration.
This engine had been unique to Mercury in 1949, but in 1950 it became available as part of the “Police Interceptor” package in Ford law enforcement vehicles where it performed yeoman service as “America’s Badge of Authority”.
Transmission linkage was enhanced to make gear changing more effortless, while Touch-o-Matic overdrive continued to be promoted as an extra cost option that could reduce your gasoline bill by 20%. This was the era of gasoline at 20 cents a gallon so the economy craze wouldn’t take hold for another 10 years, but even if that didn’t grab your attention, a higher top speed should have been of interest.
The 1950 Mercury won its class in the then-noteworthy and much-quoted Mobilgas Economy Run, coming in at 26.35 mpg, only .05 mpg behind the overall winner. Credit was duly given to the Econ-o-Miser carburetor and Touch-o-Matic overdrive.
The advent of “Merc-o-Therm” in 1950 was an occasion much hyped by the Madison Avenue boys. In truth the interior heating/ventilating system thus named had been introduced in 1949, but was being advertised as “new” in 1950. The pop-up fresh air intakes in front of the windshield were replaced by screened ducts behind the grille leading into the car. If you purchased the extra-cost heater, fresh air could be heated as it entered and then directed towards the floor or to the defroster.
In 1946 Chrysler pioneered the idea of a pillarless hardtop with its Town & Country. General Motors started introducing the new hardtops to its line-up in 1949, beginning with Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile. By 1950, the new design concept had been adopted by Pontiac and Chevrolet, and by the three senior Chryslers as well, catching Ford completely looking the other way. They were able to mitigate some of the damage to their honour with the hasty introduction of the Ford Crestliner, Lincoln Lido and Capri. Mercury acquired the new Monterey – the first Mercury with a model name. It was a Club Coupe and came in your choice of three exclusive colours – Turquoise Blue with dark blue top, Cortaro Red metallic with black top, and Black with yellow top – with the dashboard painted two-toned to match the main body colour.
The tops mentioned were Mercury’s first stab at vinyl covered roofs, and they appeared as canvas or leather-grained vinyl. To heighten luxury and prestige, interiors were offered in two-toned full leather or turquoise cloth with matching leather bolsters, and all interior moldings around the windows were chrome plated. Other standard accoutrements included simulated leather headliner, wool carpets, special black steering wheel, fender skirts, dual outside rearview mirrors, full wheel covers, a gold winged hood ornament and a gold Mercury head logo and stainless nameplate for the door. All this could be yours for a mere additional $165 plus $10 if you wanted an all-leather interior.
Montereys were rare when new and are even more so today – even given their special historical stature, several have fallen victim to the choppers’ cutting torch. One can’t help thinking the first Monterey was a coals-to-Newcastle gilding the lily kind of endeavor. You had a damn fine looking car that could compete with GM’s hardtops in the classy stylishness department on its own merits, without resorting to unnecessary frippery.
As well as the Monterey, other Mercurys available in 1950 include a four-door Sport Sedan, 2-door Club Coupe, two-door convertible and two-door station wagon. Halfway through the model year a Business Coupe was added, which was basically a stripped down Club Coupe. Absent were stainless window moldings, wheel hub trim rings and the rear side windows were fixed.
Paint selections numbered 9 for coupes, sedans and station wagons, and 10 for the convertibles. Running to grays, tans and beige, they were a pretty conservative array – you could order your new convertible in Mirada yellow, (the extra shade available only on that body style), if you were feeling particularly flamboyant. As well, 5 two-tone combinations could be chosen. We were still a few years away from the bright pastels and vividly hued cars for which the fifties were famous, but I do have one further interesting observation before we leave the subject. It was not unusual to see cars where interior and exterior colours did not match in the conventional sense – you could see a red or blue interior on a yellow convertible for example, but I’m not into judging our ancestors on the basis of today’s social mores.
A variety of matching and contrasting nylon and broadcloth fabrics in complementary colours could be had for the sedans and coupes, three choices of all-leather were available to swath the station wagons, and four full leather and one leather and nylon combination for the convertible. Convertible tops were obtainable in green, tan, black or black with red binding. Front door armrests, new courtesy lights and increased fiberglass roof and dash soundproofing were welcome additions in 1950.
Ford, including Mercury, was transitioning from true “woodie” wagons consisting of a wood frame and paneling applied over steel architecture in 1949-51, to all-steel station wagons with wood paneling and accents in 1952, eventually surrendering in turn to wood look-alike fiberglass frames and faux wood paneling appliques.
The 1950 wagon was still a Mercury front clip wedded to a Ford body and other than trim was little changed from its 1949 forebear until June, when the tailgate was replaced by an all-steel gate stamped with faux panel indentations. The folding second seat was also adopted at this time, and the exterior mahogany panels were replaced with DI-NOC grained steel having the happy side benefit of lowering the price by $155. The wagon could carry half a ton on its nine-foot deck, but this would mean removing the rear-most two rows of seats – no mean feat. Total cargo area was 118 cubic feet.
Conventionally, 1950 Mercurys had a painted dashboard, but the station wagon
complemented its wood exterior with a steel, simulated wood grain one. This motif carried on to the door panels, which also had a matching grain pattern. In the back, the side glass slid both forward and aft, allowing ventilation for the rear seats. The tailgate was counterbalanced to compensate for the weight of the spare tire mounted on the outside.
A 1950 Mercury convertible served as that year’s Indianapolis 500 pace car – always an illustrious accolade. Henry Ford II’s younger brother Benson was at the wheel. The tribute was announced on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” TV show, thus commencing Mercury’s long running relationship with the media personality. Actress Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan, also participated in Mercury advertising.
Contrary to popular belief, this was not the last year a flathead engine would equip the pace car – that honour would belong to the 1953 Ford. Lastly, the 1949 Mercs had played second fiddle to their Ford cousins in NASCAR competition, but a slight cam change for the 1950 models allowed them to win two Grand National races and regain some of their credibility. As well, Mercury finished a commendable five of eleven cars entered in the first Carrera Panamericana Mexican Road Race, a punishing test of endurance.
The 1949 sales year lasted from March, 1948 to November, 1949, while the 1950 model year ran from December, 1949 to mid-October, 1950. Despite the abbreviated time on market, the 1950 offerings managed to sell 293,658 units, including the millionth Mercury, a most creditable showing.
Two factors helped things along a bit. First, even though the 1950 car was technologically more advanced, Mercury managed to keep prices at 1949 levels. Second, the car-buying public feared another suspension of civilian vehicle manufacturing when North Korean troops poured over the 38th parallel to start the Korean War in June, 1950. 1942 was still fresh in everyone’s mind, so prospective purchasers consequently flocked to dealerships in a serious buying mood.