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Sermon From Detroit

Cabbages and Kings

By Richard A. Burgheim

Although it was held in the Commonwealth Armory instead of a tent and sponsored by General Motors President Harlow H. Curtice instead of Billy Graham, "Motorama of 1955" could be best described as a revival meeting. To the 150,000 Bostonians who made a pilgrimage to the Armory over the weekend the 100 exhibits were so many sacred objects. Their devotion was often too deep to remain silent, and some of them hoped against against hope that Providence (or Detroit) might see fit to bestow one of these blessings on their family.

"Just a Chevvy," dreamed one young man as he elbowed his way toward the solid gold Chevrolet display, which commemorated G.M.'s fifty millionth vehicle. Meanwhile, another worshipper who already owned one of the fifty million asked the way to the Oldsmobile exhibit, and a man who had driven to the show in an Olds spent his time in the Cadillac section of the hall. He couldn't take his eyes off the $15,000 model. One was crmine-lined; another had a television set, telephone, and tape recorder in the back seat. The man was so absorbed by the Cadillacs that he didn't see his wife disappear into the swirling mobs until he found her ten minutes later looking wistfully at the station wagons.

Only the thousands of children seemed to thrive in the suffocating atmosphere. "Yes, sonny, you can touch everything," answered the G.M. attendant while adding in an undertone to the father, "Everything but the G.M. chorus girls." And sonny did touch everything; he wasn't bothered in the least by the scores of attendants who wiped away his greasy fingerprints as soon as he moved on to touch the next thing. The clean-up staff was thoroughly decent about the situation, however, and no less friendly than the G.M. lawyers who undoubtedly waited in the wings to take care of sonny if he caught his hand in a Buick door.

But the most friendly employees of all were some Ivy League types in dinner jackets, who stood on pulpits in one corner of the Armory to sermonize about the so-called "dream cars of tomorrow." General Motors was giving America the future as it had given the past--designed by M.I.T. men and sold by Yalies, and for awhile the audience couldn't get enough of it. The figures about compression ratios were just as dazzling to those who didn't understand them. But the statistical inspiration finally got tedious, and no one was sorry to see the General Motors Philharmonic take their seats in the 13-foot high choir loft to begin the G.M. Broadway revue called, "Looking at You."

It was the sort of thing one can get 24 hours a day by turning on his television set, but at the Armory there was no way to turn it off. For 40 minutes, tumbling acts, ballets, production numbers, and fashion shows took turns on the stage with message from the sponsor smoothly lubricated in at 10-second intervals. The import of the lyrics concocted by the corporation-owned Joyee Kilmer was that only Fisher can make a body.

But the main theme of the G.M. poet laureate was that General Motors had the power--power in the brakes and steering on exhibit and hundreds of horses of power in every engine. None of the enraptured Bostonians would deny that G.M. had the power; in fact, they took a pilgrim's pride in it. From the admiration on their faces, one saw that General Motors also had the glory--forever and ever, one might add, after looking at the children no less transfixed.

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