When Richard Condon’s novel, The Manchurian Candidate was published in 1959 it became an instant bestseller. Three years later it formed the basis of an award-winning movie of the same name, which has become something of a cult classic. Recently two Pulitzer-Prize winning songwriters, Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, composed an opera based on the novel, which the Austin Opera Company performed at the Long Center in Austin on September 17. In the run-up to that performance, the Briscoe Center teamed up with the College of Fine Arts and the UT Sage program to present an afternoon-long interdisciplinary program, Cold War and Conspiracy: A Look Inside the Making of The Manchurian Candidate. It was my pleasure to participate in the program by giving a talk on the history of the novel and its author. I also enjoyed collaborating on the program with my university colleagues Mark Lawrence from the Department of History and Tom Schatz from the Radio, Television, and Film Department.
The book is a political thriller that struck a chord at the time, and still resonates today. Both President Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been accused of being “Manchurian” candidates. It is an exemplar of how political demagoguery as well as the Red Scare of the 1950s have inspired a number of significant characters and plot lines in American fiction. Both the book and the film are worth revisiting today and I’d like to thank Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, for inviting us to participate. It was a wonderful example of how different disciplines at the university can pool their expertise to produce first-class public programming.
Earlier this week, members of our advisory council and those who have donated to the center’s annual fund were treated to a hard-hat tour of the center’s renovation project and a curator’s tour of our new exhibit, 25 Years/25 Treasures. It was a timely reminder of how close we now are to reopening (April 2017) and the reason for undergoing such a comprehensive renovation, which is to make the center’s collections more visible and accessible.
Those collections have been enriched recently by the arrival of writer and editor Terry McDonell’s papers. Terry, now a member of the Briscoe Center’s advisory council, is the former editor of Rolling Stone, Esquire, Men’s Journal and Sports Illustrated. His papers, which document the golden age of the American magazine industry, will be an indispensable resource for scholars who seek to understand the editorial workings of the business. Earlier this month, the center hosted a dinner to thank Terry for donating his papers and to celebrate the opening of the center’s Treasures exhibit. I am pleased that Dr. Maurie McInnis, the university’s new provost, was able to attend and speak at the dinner.
Dr. McInnis is the university’s chief academic officer and an expert in the history and culture of the slave South, with a focus on the relationship between politics and art. She is the author of “Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade.” When Dr. McInnis spoke to us, she expressed her appreciation of institutions like the Briscoe Center — places that care for the “stuff” and “things” of history. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. McInnis — the evidence of history is powerful and worthy of both preservation and sharing. This evidence has a capacity to inspire not simply a love of history, but also a drive to affect the present.
UT’s president, Gregory L. Fenves, eloquently spoke to this idea in his recent State of the University address:
This year I led a delegation of more than 40 — including faculty, researchers, and deans — to a familiar place from my youth, Mexico City. In the 1960s, I spent several summers there when my father taught engineering courses at UNAM, La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. That early experience expanded my horizons and helped me appreciate that, although cultures may be different, there are connections across them.
Our delegation in Mexico City saw a 16th-century book preserved at the National Archives, handwritten from the office of the King of Spain. It contains the king’s instructions to colonists for exploring the upper reaches of Northern Mexico, what is now Texas.
Just as the quest for knowledge transcends these borders, so do the obstacles posed by health, economic inequity, energy and water needs, and injustice. The University of Texas is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in addressing those challenges.
As we look forward to the completion of our renovation, I’m glad that the university has a president who is moved by encounters with the “stuff” and “things” of history. And I’m glad that we have a provost who has spent many an hour working in history research centers like the Briscoe Center.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History