5 Events and Incidents That Never Happened
Remember when they booed Bob Dylan for going electric at the Newport Folk Festival? And isn’t it disgusting how military personnel returning from serving in the Vietnam War were routinely spat on by antiwar protesters?
Those were more or less reprehensible behaviors — or they would have been if they had actually occurred. But these incidents, and a few others also outlined below, are all overstated or outright fabricated, loosely based on actual events but bearing little or no resemblance to them.
1. Electric Dylan
The accounts that suggest that Bob Dylan was not well received the first time he, backed by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, played live with an electric guitar stemmed from Dylan’s own misperception of the audience reaction and some faulty memories. Some audience members were upset, but only because Dylan’s set was so short. And master of ceremonies Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame), who was said to have been incensed at the sound, was not angered by electrified Dylan but by the poor quality of the amplified sound.
Some concertgoers and critics alike did later complain about Dylan, but it was his perceived shift toward more commercial songwriting that caused their ire, with perhaps some confused bandwagon-jumping criticism of his amplification.
2. Spitting on Veterans
There were isolated incidences of hostile behavior toward soldiers returning from tours of duty in Vietnam, but their reception was generally very positive. Only later, when antiwar sentiment grew and some veterans traumatized by having fought in a hellish war — and doing so on the losing side — returned Stateside, did a few of them and their sympathizers begin to embellish these anomalous events and conflate them with isolated nonexpectorating protesters into a frequent and widespread occurrence.
3. Bra Burning
In September 1968, in Atlantic City, a group of female protesters symbolically shed their adherence to society’s standards for femininity by tossing bras, girdles, cosmetics, and other beautification accouterments into a garbage can. Though there was supposedly a suggestion that the accumulation be ignited, no bras were burned at this seminal feminist event.
Two years later, in Berkeley, California, a similar event that took place did involve combustion, but no widespread bra burning ever took place. (At neither event were bras actually removed and discarded.) One journalist’s metaphorical association of the demonstrators with draft-card burners apparently gave rise to a widespread misunderstanding that numerous such conflagrations occurred.
4. Hats Off
It was once widely believed that just as Clark Gable, by not wearing a T-shirt under his dress shirt in the early screwball comedy It Happened One Night, supposedly inspired men to refrain from buying undershirts, with catastrophic results for their manufacturers, John F. Kennedy doomed the chapeau industry by going hatless at his inaugural ceremony.
It’s easy to believe that if he did indeed go bareheaded, he was only following, and not precipitating, a trend, because hats were already going out of fashion. However, the entire premise is false: Multiple photographs depict him wearing a silk top hat as part of his formal attire throughout that day.
5. “Try Acting”
Sir Laurence Olivier supposedly derided Dustin Hoffman’s efforts to prepare for the torture scene in the political thriller Marathon Man by going without sleep, asking him, “Why don’t you try acting?”
In truth, Hoffman, whose first marriage was failing while he was filming the movie, showed up on the set one day looking bedraggled after partying at Studio 54. When Olivier, his costar, noticed his condition, Hoffman evasively said he had been staying up all night to get himself in the mind-set for a grueling scene. Olivier did offer the advice “Why don’t you try acting?” but it was in jest, and they shared a laugh over it.
Relation to Writing
So, what do these corrections have to do with writing? A great deal, it turns out. These myths and misperceptions were largely perpetuated by writing — by people distorting facts in articles, books, and other written accounts of the events, followed by others regenerating the errors. The lesson to be learned is this: When you write about something, be sure you know what you’re writing about. Do not bolster fallacies by blindly accepting what you read or heard. Before incorporating historical events great or small into your fiction or nonfiction, investigate and corroborate.
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