March 3, 2021

Great Lives Continues with JFK and James Bond, Francis Gary Powers

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues this evening, Jan. 30, with a look at the handsome, young president who was the epitome of masculinity in the early 1960s and the debonair spy who captivated fiction readers and filmgoers, including JFK himself. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The John and Linda Coker Lecture.

Steven Watts’ JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier argues that John F. Kennedy may best be understood as a cultural rather than a political figure. A widespread crisis of manhood in the 1950s pictured American males as falling victim to the drudgery of bureaucracy and the softness of consumerism. The fighting man of World War II had given way to the timid, domesticated suburban father and husband in the Age of Eisenhower. Then the youthful, vigorous JFK burst on the public scene as the picture of male physical fitness and glamour. His ethic of “tough-mindedness,” energy, and “cool” promised to regenerate American public life as he swept into the presidency.

JFK’s masculine mystique was heightened by his association with virile icons such as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Norman Mailer, Hugh Hefner, General Maxwell Taylor, the Green Berets, and the Mercury 7 astronauts. But the New Frontier’s vigorous masculinity was nowhere better reflected than in a British writer, Ian Fleming, who became friends with the young president, and his creation, James Bond, a fictional secret agent who starred in some of Kennedy’s favorite books.

The Great Lives series will continue on Tuesday, Feb. 4, with Spy Pilot, about the life of American pilot and Cold War captive, Francis Gary Powers. The lecture will be given by his son and biographer, Francis Gary Powers Jr. The Community Bank of the Chesapeake Lecture.

One of the most widely discussed and controversial events of the Cold War was the downing of the American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The event was recently depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies. Powers was captured by the KGB, subjected to a televised show trial, and imprisoned, all of which created an international incident. Soviet authorities eventually released him in exchange for captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. On his return to the United States, Powers was exonerated of any wrongdoing while imprisoned in Russia, yet a cloud of controversy lingered until his untimely death in 1977.

His son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., has written a new account of his father’s life based on personal files that have never been previously available. Delving into old audio tapes, the transcript of his father’s debriefing by the CIA, other recently declassified documents about the U-2 program, and interviews with his contemporaries, Powers sets the record straight. The result is a fascinating piece of Cold War history which will be the focus of this lecture — one proving that Francis Gary Powers acted honorably through a trying ordeal in service to his country.

Great Lives continues on Thursday, Feb. 6 with The Beach Boys, with author Peter Ames Carlin.

Great Lives Series Continues with Tiger Woods, D-Day Girls

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues this evening, Jan. 23, with a look at PGA Champion and one of the greatest golfers of all time, Tiger Woods. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The sPower Lecture.

In their 2018 New York Times bestselling biography Tiger Woods, authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian wrote that “in 2009, Tiger Woods was the most famous athlete on the planet, a transcendental star of almost unfathomable fame and fortune, living what appeared to be the perfect life. Married to a Swedish beauty and the father of two young children, he was the winner of fourteen major golf championships and earning more than 100 million dollars annually. But it was all a carefully crafted illusion. As it turned out, Woods had been living a double life for years – one that unraveled in the aftermath of a Thanksgiving night car crash that exposed his serial infidelity and sent his personal and professional lives over a cliff.”

In their book, based on hundreds of interviews with people from every facet of Woods’ life, and extensive and careful research, the authors have uncovered new and surprising details about the man behind the myth. The resulting biography—upon which Benedict’s presentation is based—presents a sweeping, revealing, and defining biography of an American icon.

The Great Lives series will continue on Tuesday, Jan. 28 with D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II, with author Sarah Rose. The Chancellor’s Village Lecture.

In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was fighting. Churchill believed Britain was locked in an existential battle and created a secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharp-shooting. Their job, he declared, was “to set Europe ablaze!” But with most men on the frontlines, the SOE did something unprecedented: it recruited women. Thirty-nine women answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France. Half were caught, and a third did not make it home alive.

Sarah Rose draws on recently declassified files, diaries, and oral histories to tell the story of three of these women. There’s Odette Sansom, a young mother who feels suffocated by domestic life and sees the war as her ticket out; Lise de Baissac, an unflappable aristocrat with the mind of a natural leader; and Andrée Borrel, the streetwise organizer of the Paris Resistance. Together, they derailed trains, blew up weapons caches, destroyed power and phone lines, and gathered crucial intelligence—laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.

Great Lives’ 17th Season Kicks Off Jan. 21 with Ronald Reagan

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series kicks off on Tuesday, Jan. 21, with a look at Ronald Reagan. Craig Shirley, author of “Rendezvous with Destiny: Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America,” will provide unique insight into the life of the 40th president and one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century. The Virginia Partners Bank Lecture. 

This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. Great Lives will continue on Jan. 23 with Tiger Woods biographer Jeff Benedict.

Forty years ago, few thought Reagan would be a great president, or even president at all. So much so that many, even from within his own party, sought to destroy his 1980 campaign from its earliest days. Make no mistake about it; the GOP establishment loathed Reagan, hated Reagan.

He’d tried in 1968, losing the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon. He narrowly lost to Gerald Ford in 1976. But by 1980, he was the marginal frontrunner for the nomination, but nearly lost to Ambassador George Bush. Reagan righted his campaign, got focused, and charged to the nomination, at long last.

Winning the 1980 GOP nomination, however, was only the first step. He then had to face the juggernaut of incumbent President Jimmy Carter. By common agreement, Carter was a mediocre president and was presiding over a poor economy and an even worse foreign policy — but as a fierce campaigner, he was without peer.

For most of the fall 1980 campaign, Carter maintained a lead over Reagan. Americans did not like to kick elected presidents out of office, only doing so in 1912 (which was anomalous with William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson all running) and 1932, when in the face of the terrible Great Depression, FDR defeated the hapless Herbert Hoover. Thus the odds were stacked against Reagan.

But in the one and only debate, in Cleveland, Reagan zinged Carter with his immortal line, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” One week later, Reagan won one of the largest landslide elections in history and in so doing, changed history.

The era of Reagan had begun. Without guile, without hatred, and without deception, Reaganism would prove to be the remedy America and the world needed forty years ago — but whose legacy still casts a long shadow over all of us.

Craig Shirley will analyze the Reagan Presidency and its legacy, including comparisons with Donald Trump.

UMW’s Great Lives Lecture Series Announces 17th Season

Professor Emeritus William Crawley, founder and director of Great Lives, announces the 17th season of the biographical lecture series to a packed reception at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Professor Emeritus William Crawley, founder and director of Great Lives, announces the 17th season of the biographical lecture series to a packed reception at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Hollywood actress-turned-inventor Hedy Lamarr and children’s author Theodor Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss – are among the prominent individuals to be featured in this year’s William B. Crawley Great Lives lecture series.

Now in its 17th year, the stellar season was revealed to a packed reception Wednesday evening at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center. Lectures will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, from Jan. 21 to April 14, at the University of Mary Washington’s Dodd Auditorium on the Fredericksburg campus. They are free and open to the public without admission tickets.

Bestselling biographers – many of whom are distinguished historians and award-winning journalists – have spent countless hours chronicling the fascinating lives of their iconic subjects. At UMW, they’ll showcase these celebrated historical figures – notorious, in some cases – and provide illuminating insight into their lives and loves, successes and failures, strengths and struggles.

“I always say this, but this season is probably the most impressive lineup ever,” said Professor Emeritus William Crawley, Great Lives founder and director, who added he is confident that audiences will find multiple topics of interest. Read more. 

C-SPAN to Broadcast Great Lives Lecture, April 7

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt.

If you missed the March 19 Great Lives lecture on the Rocket Girls, you’ll still have a chance to watch it when C-SPAN airs it on Sunday, April 7 at 9 p.m. ET on C-SPAN3. The segment will also be available to view online at https://www.c-span.org/video/?458921-1/women-jet-propulsion-laboratory. The lecture was presented by science writer Nathalia Holt, author of the book Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

The spring 2019 Great Lives lectures conclude soon with Helen Rappaport, an expert on Russian history and author of The Race to Save the Romanovs, on Thursday, April 4. Heath Hardage Lee, historian and author of The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home from Vietnam, tells the story of POW wives on Tuesday, April 9.

This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall.  Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing.

Crawley Appears on WFVA Radio

William B. Crawley, professor of history emeritus and director of the William B. Crawley Great Lives lecture series appeared recently on WFVA’s Town Talk to talk about the 2019 season that began earlier this week. Listen to his interview at https://www.newstalk1230.net/episode/town-talk-jan-14-2/.