Bill Steigerwald

The Soviets also made another marketing mistake by scattering guest books around for Joe Six-pack to scribble such comments as “This is almost as impressive as the Berlin Wall,” “No toaster, no microwave?” and “P.S.: Lenin needs a hair transplant.”

Few of these quipsters probably realized that the Soviets' hapless PR road show -- which naturally was slobbered over by L.A.'s media and civic booster elites -- was a perfect microcosm of the Soviet Union.

Totally controlled by government, saturated with propaganda and devoid of consumer goods, the exhibit was manned by overworked employees who during off-hours were imprisoned in their motel and forbidden to go anywhere alone.

In 1977, many experts who should have known better were saying the Soviets were winning the Cold War. But if those "experts" had looked behind the smoke and shiny Soyuzes at the Soviet exhibition, they would have seen many hints that, at age 60, the fearsome Evil Empire was a clumsy, senile and sickly superpower.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..