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: THE DEFINING GENERATION is a project begun by Doug and Pam Sterner in 2002 and completed in 2006. Initially is was prepared for publication as a book, however with their changing focus to development of a database of military awards, was postponed indefinitely so they could concentrate on that larger, more important work. The stories found herein however, need to be shared, and they have consented to make this compilation available in this format. While each story can stand alone, it is recommended that for continuity, readers will be best served by reading the chapters sequentially from first to last.


The Defining Generation


Defining Entertainment

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner


"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is about truth and hypocrisy in the most wonderful country in the world. Given the times we live in, and the conditions of this country and the world, the essential story is still extremely timely. We need to look inward at ourselves to see who we are as Americans at our core. Are we who we say we are? Do we live the lives we dream about? This story is a delicate balance of comedy and drama on a search for personal truth. What a wonderful opportunity to rediscover and take a fresh look at this iconic work." 

Kenny Leon, 
Director Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 
2008 Broadway Version


In 1955 a 14-year old Black teen left Chicago with a cousin to spend the summer at his great-uncle Moses Wright's home in the Mississippi Delta town of Money . Before leaving home Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till's mother warned him of the danger race relations in the South could pose and advised him to "mind your manners." While certainly there was also racial prejudice and violence in Chicago where Till grew up, the Deep South was an especially dangerous place for a Black kid unacquainted with local custom and conditions.

On August 24, three days after Till arrived, he went with several of his friends to visit the local store operated by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, a while couple who operated the market that catered to local sharecroppers. All of the children that came that day were Black, all were under 16 years of age, and most of them had been picking cotton all day and were hot, sweaty, and eager for ice cream. They left the store in a jovial mood, laughing and joking among themselves like typical kids of any race.

Exactly what set in motion a tragic series of events was later subject of dispute, but it was generally agreed that during that departure 14-year-old "Bobo" whistled teasingly at Mrs. Bryant, who was working the store alone that day while her husband was out of town. She stood up, stormed to her car and raced away. The kids thought perhaps she was going home to get a gun and ran away in fear. Wheeler Parker, Jr., who was among the kids that day and who was Till's cousin, later said "Bobo's actions were innocuous. "He loved pranks, he loved fun, he loved jokes ... in Mississippi, people didn't think the same jokes were funny."[i]

By the time Roy Brant returned two days later that joke had become the talk of the town. Shortly after midnight on August 27 Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett Till from his great-uncle's house. After savagely beating the young boy they weighted his dead body with a fan and dropped him into the Tallahatchie River near Glendora . They immediately became suspects when Till's body was discovered, and were charged with murder two days later. The two men defended themselves by claiming the recovered body was not Till…that the boy had returned home to Chicago and the body found in the river must be someone else. The fact that the teen had been so brutalized that he was unrecognizable might have lent credence to their argument, save for a ring on the dead boy's finger that identified him.

Till was buried in a simple pine box in Mississippi but his mother Mamie Till insisted that the body be brought back to Chicago for burial. When she at last saw the brutalized body of her son she asked that the casket be left open for viewing before burial, and allowed photographers to take pictures of what two White men had done to her Black son for simply whistling at a White woman. On September 26 a Mississippi jury of 12 White men acquitted both Bryant and Milam of the murder of Emmett Till after little more than an hour of deliberation. That act outraged a nation, Black and White, almost as much as the murder.

The tragedy that befell Emmett Till galvanized a growing Civil Rights movement that was only a few years from exploding on the American conscience. His was not the only such case to illustrate a racist philosophy that saw something of blasphemy in any but the most cursory contact between a White woman and a Black man. Well into the 1960s other Black men were beaten, castrated, and even murdered for simply looking at a White woman. It was a part of the culture of Southern Gentlemen in protecting the innocence and virtue of their White women.

The problem was not limited to the South; it was symptomatic of perhaps a more subtle but equally abhorrent view of interracial mingling that was a national issue. Until 1948, 30 of our Nation's 48 states virtually made it illegal for a White citizen to marry a Black person, or in many cases, other ethnic minority. These were called "anti-miscegenation laws." In the South, other efforts to "protect white women from Black men" were blatantly evident in Jim Crow laws similar to one in Alabama that specified "No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which Negro men are placed."

This, then, was the climate of thought in a large part of America when the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was released. Director Stanley Kramer's biting comedy in which Joanna "Joey" Drayton, a young white woman played by Katharine Houghton comes home to tell her parents she has fallen in love with a Black man, Dr. John Wade Prentice played by Sidney Poitier, opened in 1967 amid serious questions about how it would be received in America.

Kramer was already viewed among movie critics and in Hollywood circles as a filmmaker who was inclined towards "message films," having already directed Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Though those movies had limited success there was a general disdain in most entertainment circles for cinematic treatment of controversial or painful issues like the teaching of evolution or the prosecution of war crimes in the earlier war. In fact, the concept for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" initially didn't address interracial marriage in the United States at all but in Africa . Kramer later recalled that the idea for the film came one evening while he was on an evening walk in Beverly Hills with friend and writer William Rose. Rose shared a story, mostly a comedy, about a white South African man who was very liberal and whose daughter falls in love with a Black man. "Geez, we out to set the story here in this country, in this background…I thought to myself," Kramer later noted. "What a sorry sight to see a front-line liberal come face to face with all his principles right in his own house."[ii]

That the film would garner a box-office audience despite its potentially controversial theme was virtually assured by the key roles of two of America 's most-loved actors. Even before he had money or a script Kramer approached two legendary performers for the project. As the tale of two young people in love, one Black and one White unfolded, it was impossible to hate anyone in the story. One could readily appreciate the moving and supportive actions of Joey's mother Christina Drayton, played with sincere emotion by Katharine Houghton's aunt Katharine Hepburn. Joey's father Matt Drayton, a successful San Francisco newspaper publisher who proudly identifies himself as a "Liberal" and who subsequently has to wrestle with the emotional issues of his only daughter falling in love with a Black man became poignantly reasonable thanks to one of the greatest performances of Spencer Tracy. The emotion evoked in audiences by "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was further heightened by the fact that it was Tracy and Hepburn's last movie together. Tracy died ten days after filming ended.

Casting the role of the Black man that would become the focus of the story line was one of Kramer's most astute and successful decisions. After confirming Tracy and Hepburn he approached Sidney Poitier, a handsome 40-year-old star who had already endeared himself to American audiences. From 1950 to 1967 Poitier had starred in more than two dozen movies and in "unusually-meaty" roles for a Black actor. His performance in 1958's The Defiant Ones netted him a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, the first Academy nomination for a Black actor for a competitive Academy Award. Five years later he became the first Black actor to WIN that award, this time for his moving performance in Lilies of the Field.

When the film opened it was generally widely praised, both for its all-star "dream cast" and for its delicate but poignant treatment of a divisive issue in America . Generally, those who found fault with the movie did so based upon Kramer's development of the character of Dr. John Wade Prentice, brought to life on film by Poitier. The object of the Black/White controversy was a renown doctor and humanitarian who is working with the World Health Organization to assist people abroad in underdeveloped nations. Further, his educational credentials are impeccable,  he is vocally eloquent, and in one scene after using the phone in Matt Drayton's study to make a long distance call to his parents Dr. Prentice even leaves money in a tray to reimburse the cost of the call. In yet another scene Joey divulges that the two have not engaged in pre-marital sex… Dr. Prentice wouldn't. Another scene evokes empathy from the audience when Joey explains to her mother that her fiancé lost of his first wife and a son in a train wreck eight years earlier.

The simple fact that Tracy and Hepburn brought this story to the big screen was enough to overcome the resistance of even the more conservative in America . Watching the film on screen a mother and father who might otherwise have resisted the concept of an interracial marriage are apt to find themselves saying, "Gee, if my daughter came home with someone who looked like Sidney Poitier and had those kind of credentials, I wouldn't care if he was green!" Towards that end some critics accused the movie of being too sugar-coated…"too perfect."

On the other hand, Kramer pointed out that he and screenplay writer William Rose purposely created Dr. Prentice as idealistically perfect so that the only possible objection to him marrying Joey would be either his race or the whirlwind nature of their romance.[iii]  In that effort they were certainly successful. Furthermore, they set out to illustrate that prejudice and objections to interracial marriage were not a White-only matter. The most stinging objections to the marriage of Joey and Dr. Prentice come from the Drayton family's Black housekeeper and cook Matilda "Tillie" Binks, played by Isabel Sanford. More like a family member than an employee, Tillie loves Joey and reacts to the arrival of Dr. Prentice with an "All hell's dun broke loose now" warning. Later while watching the family agonize over their daughter's situation she remarks, "Civil Rights is one thing but this here's something else!" The solitary use of the "N" word is an epithet thrown at Dr. Prentice by Tillie who also privately tells him early on, "I don't like to see a member of my own race getting above himself."

The character at the center of the premise around which the plot revolved was, of course, the young daughter of Matt and Christina Drayton, Joey Drayton played by Katharine Houghton. In both the movie and in "real life" she was the only "baby boomer" with a major role and her character fell victim to perhaps the movie's most glaring error. Young women of our generation, especially those from middle and upper-class homes like the Drayton family, were generally college-educated, articulate, capable and possessed opinions of their own. Joey Drayton's character however, was crafted in the traditional mold of a simple-minded woman enamored with love. Houghton told CNN's Larry King, "I was politically liberal, and may still be. But I thought it was terrible that my character never had anything to say for herself of a political nature."[iv]

Houghton recalled that screenplay writer Bill Rose wrote a scene involving dialogue between Joey and her father, "And I got to say wonderful, wonderful things, all the things that I had been dying to say through the whole film."[v] Kramer shot the scene but it was left on the cutting room floor. When questioned about it he told her, "Your character becomes too intelligent. And it's important that you are a symbol of youth and loveliness and hope and so on. And for you to be too articulate is going to be…."[vi]

While the decision was one that bother's Houghton to this day, she did portray well the character Kramer crafted her to be and, immersed in her youthful idealism is a certain demonstration that she didn't even recognize that skin color was a barrier. It was exactly what her parents had always taught her and what she had come to believe. Conversely, Dr. Prentice was astute enough to understand that their racial difference might be a problem to others, including his own parents (as well as Joey's), while in fact it was not for himself or for Joey.

Houghton herself, in reflecting on the message of the film, doesn't believe that the movie impacted the Civil Rights movement to any major degree. She told Larry King, "I think that anybody whose ever been involved in an interracial marriage of any sort, or even a gay relationship, any kind of relationship that's not approved of, that movie became metaphor for those kinds of situations…It was a breakthrough in that regard. But I think it was a movie mainly for white people."[vii]

Certainly Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in and of itself was insufficient to change the bigoted opinions of anyone opposed to Civil Rights for Black people. In fact the overtly racially prejudiced probably refused to watch the movie on principle. But the movie did speak to a number of different segments of its audience.

Joey Drayton's idyllic acceptance of her fiancée's love, never seeing his ethnicity or contemplating the problems of an interracial marriage, did illustrate the danger of taking naïve approach to those of us who were then young and developing our own opinions. It said that interracial marriage is okay but cautioned that such actions may meet opposition from some of the most unanticipated sources. Further, the lovable and insightful characters of Joey's parents illustrated that questions about interracial marriage were not necessarily reflective of prejudice but rather could also come from concern and even custom. While it is appropriate to hate bigotry and prejudice, such character weaknesses could be found in otherwise very good and lovable people.

The opposition of Dr. Prentice's Black parents most likely gave few Black men and women of the older generation cause to rethink their own personal prejudices, but it did serve to point out that racial prejudice can be a problem for both Black and White people. In that, perhaps, is the most effective message older White Americans learned about their own feelings. It was a lesson that may have caused some older White members of the audience who may have felt uncomfortable at the concept of interracial marriage to say to themselves, "Gee, I never thought that they other side would feel the same way I do." Soon they found themselves personally identifying with people of color.

One of the most poignant lines in the movie is spoken during a conversation with Dr. Prentice (Sidney Poitier) and his father Mr. Prentice (Foy Glenn). The elder is a retired postman, a hard-working but middle-class Black man who invested his time and efforts, sacrificing with his wife to give the couple's only child an education that would open doors of opportunity. After explaining that this (proposed marriage to a White girl) is the first time the father has ever had cause to be ashamed of his son Potier responds, "You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation  believe that the way it was for you is the way it's got to be. You've got to get off my back. You think of yourself as a COLORED man--I think of myself as a man."

This further illustrated the widening gap between the generations, visible in so many ways during the '60s and put a positive spin on it. To the older generation it said, "Your lack of comfort with an interracial society is understandable…it is what you have been taught and all that you have never known. While that feeling may be understandable, do not judge the young who are growing up in a new day, questioning old traditions, and thinking in revolutionary but more appropriate manners."

While dealing with such issues the movie remained a true comedy and any lessons learned were gained as those who watched it identified with characters and situations. The basic plot evolved from the idea of a liberal man being forced to confront a test of his beliefs. At the time there were many in both the older and the younger generation who believed themselves liberated from racial prejudice. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner forced them to laugh at the potential of having to deal with their beliefs in a potentially real situation. It also forced them to question just how strongly they believed in a raceless society.

Spencer Tracy certainly turned in one of his greatest performances as he agonized with his character's life-long belief that all people should be judged by their character and not the color of their skin. His daughter's naiveté about race is laid at the doorstep of his core beliefs…"This is how you raised your daughter." The audience is drawn to him throughout his performance, struggling with his own turmoil, and hoping to see him prove himself true to what he has always believed.

From the beginning of the project itself Tracy 's health was a problem to the extent that Stanley Kramer was unable to even purchase completion insurance for the film. He and Hepburn placed their salaries into an escrow account as collateral in the event that Tracy died before shooting on the film could be completed. The 67-year-old actor lacked energy but worked hard, doing most of the filming in the morning. The film closes with Tracy, as Matt Drayton, giving a passionate address encapsulating the problems and the feelings of all the characters, tying them together into a powerful "sermon" that was not in the least "preachy." His message to the young is his admonition to Dr. John Prentice who had earlier indicated that without the blessing of Joey's parents their marriage would be off. "Where John made his mistake," Matt Drayton says powerfully, "was attaching so much importance to what (Joey's) mother and I think…what matters is what YOU think." It was a lesson to parents and an affirmation to the young.

Perhaps the most life-altering impact of the movie was not the effect it had on audiences, though it remained a memorable experience, but the impact it had on Hollywood . In the face of skepticism at the potential for "message movies" by people in the field and specifically by Columbia Studios that grudgingly released Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the response validated Kramer's genre. Grossing $25 million, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner became Columbia Studios' highest-grossing theatrical feature to date. The picture was nominated for TEN Academy Awards, earning the award for Writing Original Screenplay. Katherine Hepburn received the Oscar for Best Actress. The movie sparked a new train of thought in Hollywood , not only could "message movies" address societal problems, when properly done they could be successful on the financial level as well.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner marked the last pairing of Tracy and Hepburn. During Spencer Tracy's powerful oratory in the Drayton Family sitting room at the movie's end Katharine Hepburn listens to her on-screen husband with loving admiration and tearful eyes. They were not the tears of an actress playing a powerful role…they were real. Hepburn knew that Spencer Tracy was dying and that this would be their final picture together. Ten days later she was at his bedside him when he died. His last performance lives as a telling tribute to theAmerica that loved him, respected him, and was not undergoing great change.


[i] Wikipedia

[ii] Spoto, Donald, Stanley Kramer: Filmmaker, 1978

[iii] Wikipedia

[iv] CNN Larry King Live, "Interview with Katharine Houghton," June 19, 2003

[v] CNN Larry King Live, ibid

[vi] CNN Larry King Live, ibid

[vii] CNN Larry King Live, ibid



The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
All Rights Reserved


Cover & Introduction
Out With the Old
     The Defining Generation

I. - Defining the New
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy
     Roger H.C. Donlon
     Robert Robin Moore
     Barry Sadler
     The Green Beret

II. - Defining Equality
     When Worlds Collide
     Dr. Martin Luther King
     Jimmy Stanford & Vince Yrineo
     Milton Lee Olive, III
     Specialist Lawrence Joel
     Sammy Lee Davis
     Black MOH Recipients - Vietnam War

III. - Defining the Role of the Sexes
     Evolution of a Husband
     Remember the Ladies
     Rosie the Riveter
     Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
     Linda G. Alvarado
     Karen Irene Offutt
     Women in Military Service
     Lieutenant General Carol Mutter
     The Modern Woman in Combat
IV. - Defining Human Rights
     My Brother's Keeper
     Who is My Brother
     Christopher Dodd & Christopher Shays
     Peace Corps Politicians (Memories)
     Don Bendell
     Sir Edward Artis
     General Colin L. Powell

V. - Defining Entertainment
     Life Imitating Art
     Troubled Waters
     Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
     Brian's Song
     All in the Family
     Adrian Cronauer

VI. - Defining Dissent

     From Berkeley With Love
     The Pen and the Sword
     General David Shoup
     Muhammad Ali
     John Forbes Kerry

VII. - Defining the Future of Politics
     An Act of Congress
     All Politics is....Hereditary?
     Hillary Rodham Clinton
     Condoleezza Rice
     James Henry Webb
The next Section is scheduled for posting on May 20, 2011
VIII. - Defining Memories
     Jaime Pacheco
     The Glory of their Deeds
     Jan Scruggs
     Delbert Schmeling
     Peter C. Lemon

The authors extend our thanks to the following who granted personal interviews for this work
: Roger Donlon (MOH), Robin Moore, Don Bendell, Jimmy Stanford, Vince Yrineo, Sammy L. Davis (MOH), Linda Alvarado, Karen Offutt, Lieutenant General Carol Mutter, Sir Edward Artis, General Colin L. Powell, Katharine Houghton, Adrian Cronauer, Jan Scruggs, Delbert Schmeling, and Peter Lemon (MOH).
Our thanks to the staff of the following who either wrote or allowed reprint of their own works for this book: Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Don Bendell, Congressman Sam Farr, Congressman Thomas Petri, Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman Jim Walsh, Governor Jim Doyle, and Scott Baron.
Our special thanks also to the staff of the following who provided information and fact-checked the chapters related to their subject: Staff of Senator John Kerry, Staff of (then) Senator Hillary Clinton, Staff of Senator Jim Webb
A SPECIAL THANKS also to Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard for his assistance in writing and editing the entire section on the Role of the Sexes.


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Unless otherwise noted, all materials by C. Douglas Sterner

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