High Strangeness: When Worlds Collide

Thursday, May 7, 2015

When Worlds Collide

Ready for a break from the silly and dispiriting aftermath of the "BeWitness" unveiling of the "Roswell Slides"? I thought so. I am too.

That's why today I'm going to present a fun look back at a very unusual moment in UFO history... 

It took place on April 7, 1952, and it affected the entire country. "It" was the publication of the first article about UFOs to appear in a mainstream, mass-market national periodical, and the first to take the phenomenon seriously.

The periodical was the mighty LIFE Magazine, which, in 1952, dominated newsstands and water cooler conversations in America like no other magazine. When LIFE spoke, the whole country listened. And when LIFE spoke about flying saucers, then flying saucers really meant something.

In the opening paragraph of the story, entitled "Have We Visitors From Space," writers H. B. Darrach Jr. and Robert Ginna make their intentions clear:

“For four years the U.S. public has wondered, worried or smirked over the strange and insistent tales of eerie objects streaking across American skies. Generally the tales have provoked only chills or titters, only rarely, reflection or analysis.”
The story, which bravely delved into the 34 UFO cases that at that time remained unexplained by the Air Force's Project Blue Book, made waves because it actually promoted "reflection and analysis" in considering the UFO phenomenon. But if it wasn't for a strange twist of fate, the article might have gone completely unnoticed by the American public...

The article, you see, had the stupendous good fortune to be published in the April 7, 1952 issue of LIFE bearing a 3/4-bleed photo of the beckoning face and bare shoulders of Marilyn Monroe on its cover. In the first of six appearances the screen beauty would make on the cover of the magazine before her death, only two headlines appear alongside her image: one, quite understandably, reads “Marilyn Monroe, the Talk of Hollywood,” while the other, hovering in space above Monroe’s left shoulder, says “There is a Case For Interplanetary Saucers.” 

Today, LIFE’s website proudly describes the cover as “(W)hat might be the most incongruous clash of word-and-image ever to appear on the cover of LIFE—or on the cover of any magazine, for that matter.” It's hard not to agree.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined directing anyone's gaze above Marilyn Monroe's shoulder... It's a weird world, isn't it?

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