The years leading up to the original production of Pippin were restless, violent, and transformative. There are several key parts of Pippin that connect directly to the time period it came out of: The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, assassinations, and mental health.
The Vietnam War and Protesting
The Vietnam War began when North Vietnam attempted to unify the country under communism by conquering South Vietnam. Russia and China joined forces with the North Vietnamese. In a longtime effort to end communism, the U.S. sought to aid South Vietnam, making a proxy war so that they could also fight communism in China and Russia without fighting these super powers directly. American troops appeared in Vietnam as early as the 1950s, but President Johnson did not send troops to “war” until 1964. Ultimately, U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1973.
Unlike previous wars, the Vietnam War and American soldiers fighting in the war were not met with support or pride from the civilians at home. Many Americans, particularly the youth, were actively against the war. Men burnt their draft cards, choosing jail over being drafted. Large marches and rallies were held in protest. When soldiers returned from Vietnam, they were not met with respect, but disgust.
Two primary reasons for the anti-war movement were that unlike the World Wars beforehand, Americans did not believe they should be fighting a war for a place which they had never heard of. Another aspect was the televising of the war. For the first time in American history, civilians were watching graphic violence on television and getting relatively constant updates from the journalists in Vietnam. These images shattered the idea that the battlefield was a place of glory. Now knowing the brutality of war, Americans wanted peace.
Though Schwartz was not marching, he was using art as a means of protest. The Manson Trio and “Glory” are scenes from Pippin, in which anti-war sentiments are portrayed. Whilst the players engage in riveting dance and song, brutal deaths appear in the background. This contrast allows audiences to make assumptions about the glorification of war.
African Americans before the 1960s were forced to live by Jim Crow laws, segregation laws that separated white and black schools, buses, restrooms, water fountains, etc. The fight for African American rights took a turning point in 1954 when the “separate but equal” laws allowing for segregated schools were revoked as a result of the court case Brown v. Board of Education. As this case shed light on civil rights issues, African Americans and their allies took to the streets in peaceful protest and civil disobedience to continue the momentum. This led to such famous events as the “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 and Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat in 1955. As a result of the movement, President Johnson signed two significant laws. The first was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned literacy tests designed to block African Americans from voting. The second was the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This prohibited discrimination in real estate, providing equal housing opportunities.
Small pieces of Pippin wink at the civil rights movement. For instance, one script has Leading Player saying “Black Power” dressed like a member of the Black Panther Party. The most recent script includes the line “Don’t forget about prejudice” while Pippin lists the ways in which the Charlemagne’s rule is tyrannous. While Pippin does not directly engage with civil rights, casting Ben Vereen in the role of Leading Player was significant. In fact, when Bob Fosse approached Vereen about the role (which was a far less important role than it turned out to be when it hit Broadway), Vereen’s agent told him not to take the part. However, Vereen stuck with the role knowing that that role could have gone to a white man. Now, Leading Player is almost always played by an African American or another minority.
The second wave of feminism grew in the 1960s from women who were tired of the limitations of their lives. Women were expected to be housewives and mothers. Those who sought a life outside of the home were limited to jobs as teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Women first tried to work through the legal system, creating the National Organization for Women in 1966, which lobbied at Congress for anti-discrimination laws for salary and access to better jobs.
- 1960 Statistics:
- 6% of doctors were women
- 3% of lawyers were women
- Less than 1% of engineers were women.
- According to CNN, women could not get a credit card, serve on a jury, go to an Ivy League school, or earn equal wages to men, calculating that women earned 59 cents to the man’s dollar.
The women’s liberation movement was a group of more radical protestors. They sought to dismantle more than workplace equality including women’s sexuality, birth control, abortion, body image, and familial issues. These women took action by burning their bras to symbolize their freedom. Reproductive rights were a large part of the protests in the early 1960s. When birth control was released in 1960, it was widely limited. By 1965, 6.5 million women used birth control in America. Despite being cleared by the FDA, there was controversy over whether or not the pill was safe for women’s use due to side effects. The religious community argued that the pill was unnatural and “committing genocide.”
The women’s movement was successful in the courts. They managed to have three major bills passed: Roe V. Wade, Equal Rights Amendment, and Title 9.
Political unrest was so heated that some were lead to assassinate major figures of activism and politics. The first assassination of the 60s was President John F. Kennedy in 1963. His murder, which was broadcast on television, led to nationwide shock and mourning. Two years later, Malcolm X, the leader of the Black Panther Party was assassinated. In 1968, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
These murders were impactful because, like many Americans, these leaders were attempting the change the world for the better. People saw the consequences of trying to make change. Even private citizens protesting were at risk of being murdered. In 1970, the National Guard fired on a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University, killing four and wounding 9.
This is, of course, present through Pippin’s assassination of Charlemagne. What Schwartz demonstrates is that assassinating one tyrannical leader leads directly to another tyrannical leader, even if their intentions are pure. Therefore, this violence is unnecessary.
Known for their peace signs, bare feet, and tie dye, the hippies were a movement that rejected all forms of “the establishment.” They were driven by their desire for personal freedom, expression, peace, happiness, and sexual freedom. Many were vegetarian, used psychedelic drugs, and listened to folk music. Events associated with the hippies are The Summer of Love (1967) and Woodstock (1969). This culture is displayed in “With You” as Pippin explores his sexuality and experiments with drugs.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a push to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill. As a result, what had been a private matter between families and institutions became a matter of public concern. At the same time, there was a shift from long-term to short-term psychotherapy due to an increase in patients who wanted to find relief from their everyday lives. Thus, the 1970s were labeled the Age of Depression due to its rise. In 1972, Wall Street Journal published an article on depression, which said, “For those who cannot find a cure, suicide is often the result. The suicide rate of known depressives is 36 times that of the general population.”
By working with Vietnam veterans, Terrence M. Keane was able to collect data on PTSD in the 1970s. As a result, Vietnam has become associated with this disorder, though it existed well beforehand. With this information, PTSD became officially recognized in 1980.
To read more about mental illness in Pippin, click here.
During Pippin’s tryout in Washington D.C. in 1972, the cast and crew of the production stayed at the Watergate Hotel as it was being investigated. A few months earlier, 5 burglars were arrested at the Watergate Hotel for breaking into rooms of the Democratic National Committee. Investigative journalists discovered a link to the Committee for the Reelection of the President (CRP.) It was discovered that they had been using a sledge fund to gather information by bugging the DNC. Despite Richard Nixon’s claims that he had no knowledge of the illegal activity, he was found guilty and impeached in 1974. Schwartz was admittedly against Richard Nixon and says that a great deal of his anger towards Nixon is weaved into Pippin.
- September 26, 1960: First televised presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon
- November 8, 1960: Kennedy elected, The Pill is available for married women to use as contraceptive.
- October 22-28, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis
- August 28, 1963: MLK “I Have A Dream” speech in Civils Rights March on Washington
- November 22, 1963: Kennedy assassinated
- August 2, 1964: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is passed by congress. President Johnson takes U.S. to war without a formal declaration.
- October 14, 1965: MLK awarded Nobel Prize
- November 3, 1964: Johnson elected
- 1965: Over 5 million American women are on the birth control
- February 21, 1965: Malcom X assassinated
- March 2, 1965: Operation “Rolling Thunder” begins
- March 24, 1965: First Anti-Vietnam protest has 3,000 in attendance
- August 6, 1965: Voting Rights Act is signed ending discrimination at polls.
- June 30, 1966: National Organization for Women is founded
- October 15, 1966: Black Panther Party founded
- 1967: Stephen Schwartz and Ron Strauss write Pippin, Pippin
- April 15, 1967: 400,000 protestors march to U.N. building
- April 28, 1967: Pippin, Pippin is performed at Carnegie Mellon
- August 30, 1967: Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American Supreme Court Judge
- January 30-31, 1968: Tet Offensive results in the loss of public support for the war
- April 4, 1968: MLK assassinated
- May 1968: Schwartz graduates from CMU
- June 6, 1968: Robert Kennedy Assassinated
- November 5, 1968: Nixon elected
- August 15-17, 1969: Woodstock
- October 15, 1969: Peace Moratorium
- May 4, 1970: Kent State University shooting
- 1971: Mental Health America released a film to “improve public understanding of mental illness and public acceptance of persons with mental illnesses.”
- March 10, 1971: Voting age lowered from 21 to 18
- June 13, 1971: New York Times and Washington Post publish classified Pentagon Papers
- June 17, 1972: Watergate crisis begins
- September 20, 1972: Washington Tryout
- October 23, 1972: Pippin opens on Broadway
- November 7, 1972: Nixon reelected
- January 27, 1973: Paris Peace Accords signed ending Vietnam War