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Boomers Watched Scary Weekend Late-Night TV Programs

At the beginning of the Baby Boom, television broadcasting expanded to make boomers the first TV generation. By 1955, half of all U.S. homes owned a TV, so the next issue for broadcasters was to fill the programming day. From the early days of four-hour prime time broadcasting (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.), the burgeoning networks had grown the broadcast day to twenty hours, signing off the air at 2 a.m.

The dilemma broadcasters faced was what to put on the air after 11 p.m. on weekends, when most people (and all good Baby Boom children!) were already in bed. While the networks experimented with late-night programming during the week (i.e., Broadway Open House in 1950, The Tonight Show in 1952), it wasn’t as lucrative to them in terms of advertiser sponsorship. For the most part, late-night broadcasting was left up to locally-owned stations. The cheapest way for them to fill the time was by airing old movies.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, many stations were airing syndicated segments of movies from the horror genre on weekends in the time between midnight and 2 a.m. Some had a voiceover actor to introduce the film, then disappear until there was a commercial break or the film ended — whichever came first since it was difficult to sell late-night ad space. Most had a local host or hostess who was often dressed as a ghoul, vampire or monster themselves to introduce the movie of the night. While the hosts may have been adept at slapstick and schlock with a distinct feeling of improvised scripting, the movies were from Hollywood — often B movies but also top-rated films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Various regional favorite hosts emerged (such as Vampira on the West Coast).

Their success drew copy cats from other regions, to the point that several used the same titles for their programs even though each region generated their own content on either end of the movie being aired. Some of these program titles included Nightmare Theater, Creature Features, Chiller Theater and the most famous of them all, Shock Theater. Shock Theater became synonymous with the genre, so much so that the title is now considered a generic name for programs airing late-night movies from classic horror films of the 1930s and ’40s to the sci-fi and Japanese monster movies of the ’50s and ’60s.

Shock Theater began as a syndicated package of Universal/Screen Gems classics. The originally syndicated package ran from 1957 to ’59. There was a version of the movie package under the umbrella title of Shock! airing until the 1980s. Mister Boomer and his siblings were in bed long before the shows came on, though his father was a late-night TV watcher/sleeper. Mister B, a light sleeper, would wake up when the TV broadcast ended and white noise filtered into his bedroom down the hall. He’d turn off the TV and shut the light, then head back to bed.

Mister Boomer saw his classic horror films mostly at Saturday matinees at the movies, but later enjoyed them on TV during daytime or nighttime broadcasts. He was well-versed in everything from Abbott and Costello Meets the Mummy to creepy Vincent Price movies like House of Wax. There is one time, however, that Mister B recalls seeing Shock Theater. He believes he was in the third grade when a classmate held a sleepover with Mister B and a couple of his friends. After the boy’s parents went to bed and the house was dark, the group made their way to the TV to watch Shock Theater. Mister Boomer was frightened that the boy’s parents would get up and be angry with them, but that did not happen. Mister Boomer would view a Shock Theater program.

Mister B remembers that the movie that night was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It didn’t matter that the film was in black & white (as was the capability of the TV set); the movie scared the bejeebus out of him. There was no other movie that gave him more nightmares than that one episode of Shock Theater, watched in the dark in a strange home in the middle of the night.

Did you watch Shock Theater or weekend late-night scary movies in the 1950s and ’60s, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Watched Scary Weekend Late-Night TV Programs

Boomers Got Penicillin Shots

It’s cold and flu season once again, and according to the Center for Disease Control this is a particularly bad season for the flu. When boomers got a bad cold or the flu, our parents took us to the family doctor who, after a cursory exam, would administer a penicillin injection. The next day, or certainly within two days, we’d be right as rain and back in school. Around the 1970s and into the ’80s, the use of penicillin — given both orally as a pill or as an injection — started to wane. Penicillin use is far from the norm today.

The Mayo Clinic says penicillin was never the right course of treatment for colds and the flu. The reason is the drug is useful for bacterial infections, but is not effective for viral infections like colds and the flu. This would have been known from the start, so family doctors in the 1950s and ’60s would have had this knowledge. Then the whole antibiotic-resistance evolution enters the picture. Today’s bugs are much more resistant to the antibiotics that were regularly distributed during our boomer years. But what goes on here? Every boomer Mister Boomer knows recalls getting better very quickly when given a penicillin shot in their school years, though most of us hated the experience. Surely it can’t be a placebo effect for an entire generation, can it?

Penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. The use of the drug was vital during World War II to fight infections in the wounded, but mass production proved a daunting task. The great need during the War spurred development and its use in the military became widespread — for a narrow range of bacterial infections — around 1942. After WWII, Australia became the first country to make penicillin available to the general public. The U.S. followed suit in 1945. The drug also was used to treat syphilis and gonorrhea and is credited with widely reducing the spread of STDs in the post-war 1950s.

Yet for boomers, it was a shot in the arm, from a doctor who was usually an older man, who asked your parents if the child before him was allergic to penicillin. Since an injection could cause slight pain and discomfort for a couple of days, Mister Boomer usually offered up his left arm for the intra-muscular injection. Inevitably, that evening, Brother Boomer would find an excuse to somehow bump or hit the “shot arm.” Cries of “Mom, he hit my shot arm,” could be heard from Mister Boomer or his sister. After a drag on her cigarette, his mother would tell the older brother to leave his brother or sister’s “shot arm” alone. Often the next day, it was back to school. Did penicillin do its job?

Mister Boomer has a theory about the disconnect between the effectiveness of penicillin on colds and flu, and what we experienced as near-miracle recovery times with what was thought of as Modern Age treatments. His theory is two-fold; first, penicillin was effective on certain infections such as strep throat, so what was thought to be a cold or flu may have been a different type of bacterial infection altogether that the penicillin could attack. Second, it was an age of paternalism in the medical world. Doctors didn’t tell patients all that much since he — the doctor was almost always male — could be trusted to know more than his patients. There were very few Marcus Welbys out there. Some were downright condescending. Under this portion of Mister B’s theory, these egotistical medical professionals said they were administering penicillin because the general public had heard of and knew about the drug. Old man doc may have had any number of other drugs in his syringe.

Today we are in a world of bacteria that is increasingly resistant to the antibiotics that were common in our boomer years, so the development of new treatments is an ongoing process. In our boomer years, a shot in the arm was an unpleasant experience, but usually did the trick.

Do you remember getting penicillin shots for colds and flu, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Mister Boomer Tips His Hat to Elon Musk & SpaceX

When carmaker and space entrepreneur Elon Musk was born in 1971, the Space Race was long over; the U.S. was declared the underdog victor when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in July of 1969. Interest in manned missions to space peaked around that time, but support for continuing manned space exploration was bolstered by the introduction of the first Space Shuttle in 1976. Appropriately christened “Enterprise,” it was named after the boomer-favorite spaceship on the TV show, Star Trek. For the first time, boomers could see a spaceship that could fly into orbit and land back on Earth, ready for another flight.

Deep budget cuts to the Space Program and a public that no longer stopped whatever they were doing to watch rocket launches — like we did during the 1960s — made it difficult to maintain an ambitious program to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off in January 1986, it became evident that progress from here on out was going to be slow and deliberate.

The International Space Station missions (1998 to present) kept our toes in the water, but many boomers, like Mister Boomer, longed for the thrill of big missions where brave men and women zipped across the universe the way we had seen in the TV shows and movies of our youth. Fast forward to February 6, 2018, when Elon Musk’s SpaceX team launched the Heavy Falcon rocket from the same Cape Canaveral launchpad that had propelled NASA astronauts to the moon, rekindling the hopes and imaginations of the Boomer Generation who sat on the edge of their seats while watching the space launches, from the earliest manned Mercury missions that began in 1961 to landing on the moon, as President Kennedy had challenged, “before the end of the decade.” People had camped out for two days to watch the Heavy Falcon launch along the same highway where boomers and their families had watched the Apollo launches. This SpaceX three-booster system doubles the liftoff capacity of what current rockets can muster, expanding the payload possibilities for future missions.

To, as our sixties lingo would put it, blow our minds even more, the three Heavy Falcon booster rockets were not designed to fall off into the ocean, never to be used again. No, Musk’s company has spent the past decade engineering the booster rockets so that they land safely on Earth and are able to be refueled and used again. The two side boosters did just that, landing back at Cape Canaveral in a synchronized event that looked like something from a Buck Rogers episode. The largest booster, the center rocket, was supposed to land on a drone ship platform in the Atlantic ocean, but missed it by 100 meters. Preliminary reports say the rocket didn’t have enough remaining fuel to execute the landing maneuver.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Musk had another surprise for us. The spacecraft that was launched by the Heavy Falcon boosters was intended to head for an orbit around Mars. When the nose cone of the craft opened, it revealed a red convertible Tesla Roadster with a mannequin in a spacesuit behind the wheel. As strains of David Bowie’s Life on Mars emanated from the car’s sound system, the mannequin — dubbed “Starman” by Musk — had his left arm resting on the car window while the right hand “steered” through space. The car’s electronic readout screen posted the message, “Don’t Panic,” and a copy of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was in the glove compartment. The latest reports say that Starman will miss his orbit trajectory for Mars, and is headed toward the Asteroid Belt. Sweet boomer dreams are made of this!

One week after the incredible SpaceX test of the Heavy Falcon rockets comes news that our government is poised to end funding of the International Space Station in 2024. Reports indicate a desire of the current Administration to turn it over to private industry. While boomers like Mister B might question the wisdom of such a decision, one can only hope that if privatization is the future of space exploration, the International Space Station won’t become a floating hotel with a certain president’s name on it, but rather placed in the hands of visionaries like Elon Musk. Think of the possibilities of building interplanetary craft in space instead of engineering bigger rockets to send the immense size and fuel supply that will be necessary for such travel directly from Earth. While you’re at it, Mister Musk, could you please begin the work on a Warp Drive, and oh, if we had a way to beam up to the Station, that would be super! To infinity and beyond!

What did you think of the SpaceX test launch, boomers? Did it remind you of the excitement we felt in the early days of the Space Program?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Space and have Comment (1)

Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone

In the past two weeks, boomers have lost two greats from the world of music: Dennis Edwards and Hugh Masekela. Widely different in their approach to music, both musicians presented socially-conscious songs of the era along with other pop selections. Boomers were all the more appreciative for it, including Mister Boomer.

Dennis Edwards – February 2
Born in Alabama in 1943, Edwards grew up in Detroit. Like most of his musical contemporaries, he sang gospel and studied music as a teen. In the early sixties, he was a member of the Contours, best known for Do You Love Me (1962). After the Temptations fired David Ruffin in 1968, Edwards became the lead singer. His gritty vocal moved the band’s sound to a more bluesy, soulful direction, inspiring the group to pen more socially-conscious songs.

Edwards presided over some of the Temptations biggest hits, including Cloud Nine, Psychedelic Shack, Ball of Confusion, I Can’t Get Next to You and Papa was a Rollin’ Stone (Mister Boomer’s favorite). Edwards left the band in 1976 following their separation from the Motown label. During his tenure, every album the band released made it to the Top 40, with several entering the Top 10. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, along with the Temptations.

He released several albums on his own, but none crossed over from R&B to the pop charts. He rejoined the band when they returned to Motown in the early ’80s, then left, then came back for another year in 1986 for one album. Finally, he rejoined the band one more time from 1987 to 1989.

Hugh Masekela – January 23
Mr. Masekela began life in South Africa in 1939. At the age of fourteen, he showed a keen interest in music, but his family could not afford an instrument. A local minister, on tour in the U.S. promoting his book, mentioned Hugh’s predicament to a radio host. The man suggested he get in touch with Louis Armstrong. The minister did just that and Armstrong agreed to give him a trumpet to give the boy back in South Africa. From then on, Hugh Masekela was never separated from his music. By the 1950s, he began to develop his brand of Afro-Jazz. Years later he would be known as the Father of South African Jazz.

After criticizing the South African apartheid government with his music, he left for New York in 1960 for what would become a 30-year exile. In New York he enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music and was a big fan of the city’s jazz scene. He frequented the jazz clubs to see Miles Davis, John Coltraine, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. Subsequently he became friends with Dizzy Gilespie and Louis Armstrong, who suggested he draw on his African experiences rather than rely on influences from American music.

Masekela’s debut album, Trumpet Africaine: The New Beat from South Africa, was released in 1963. In 1964 he married singer Miriam Makeba, but divorced two years later. By 1967 he was living in Los Angeles, having befriended David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young and others. His LA friends got him a slot in the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

His biggest break came in 1968, with the release of Grazing in the Grass, an instrumental composed by Philemon Hou. The song reached number one on the Billboard charts, crossing all boundaries between rock, jazz and pop. Mister Boomer recalls his brother bringing the 45 RPM record home. It was a catchy tune that all members of the Boomer household could enjoy. Mister B has that 45 in his collection today.

One year later, Harry Elston of the band, The Friends of Distinction, wrote lyrics to the tune. Their cover of the song peaked at number three in the Billboard Top 100 in 1969. Lyrically a throwback to the vernacular of the time, the song featured such mind-blowing phrases such as, Grazin’ in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it. Mister B will stick with Masekela’s instrumental, thank you.

Hugh Masekela was a bandleader, composer, singer, trumpet player and flugelhornist. In 1977, He wrote Soweto Blues about the 1976 uprising in Soweto, South Africa, a song that his ex-wife went on to sing at the beginning of the Paul Simon Graceland tour in 1986. Masekela had been criticized for collaborating with Simon on the Graceland album, and the tour got a smattering of a few hundred protestors in London, because some people felt Simon’s work for the album in South Africa violated the United Nations cultural boycott against that country. Masekela insisted that Simon’s album did the opposite, bringing the plight of his beloved South Africans to the forefront of world discussion.

By the 1990s, Hugh Masekela had been married four times. His lack of success in marriages was countered by his musical prowess. He released over 40 albums, and worked with many of the top artists of the time, including Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder, among others.

The passing of these two musical giants once again illustrates how musical genres criss-crossed among pop, rock, R&B and jazz in the sixties, especially on the radio; the same stations that played 1910 Fruitgum Company and Cream would also play Ray Charles and Hugo Montenegro. Consequently, boomers were exposed to artists and sounds from around the globe to build what became, in Mister Boomer’s opinion, the greatest decade of American music in history.

Did you have the chance to see Dennis Edwards or Hugh Masekela in concert, boomers? Which records do you cherish?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone

Boomers Remember Things Costing Less Than a Dollar

Mister Boomer’s latest trip to the supermarket to get the ingredients for his delicious homemade chili sent him on a flashback when he found 26 oz. cans of tomato sauce for 48¢ each (with the supermarket bonus card, of course). Mister B, for one, longs for the days when every can and package — and even produce and some meats — were less than a dollar. He was wondering how long it has been since the price of practically every food item in the supermarket crossed the one dollar line.

In the Boomer Years, food items were often less than a half dollar. Prices for cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup averaged 10-15¢ each fifty years ago, in 1968. The cost of a can of tomato soup didn’t reach the dollar mark until the early 1980s. The same is true for Nabisco Oreos — 45¢ for a 16 oz. pkg. — and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes –– 39¢ for an 18 oz. box. At the same time, bread was around 20 to 25¢ per 1 lb. loaf, and a dozen eggs were in the range of 60¢. Ground beef was less than a dollar a pound, and most fruits and vegetables were 20 to 30¢ per pound. However, there was one item that was more than a dollar in 1968: a gallon of milk.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that by 1968, inflation caused food prices to go up about three percent a year. This annual rise remained relatively steady until the end of the 1970s; between March of 1979 and March 1980, there was nearly a 15 percent rise in food prices, which accounts for many more things costing more than a dollar each as 1980 arrived.

Mister Boomer recalls going on shopping excursions with his father — the food buyer-in-chief in the Boomer household. When things were on sale, items were often four or five for a dollar. Since Mister B’s mom and sister liked Campbell’s Tomato Soup, the shopping team hit the jackpot when the soup went on sale, 10 for $1.00. Jell-O was another packaged food that Mister B remembers his father buying on sale at 10 for $1.00. It was a struggle to try to get the most desired flavors like cherry and raspberry since the shelf emptied out quickly, even though Jell-O was an economical dessert before any sales prices kicked in. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was often 4 for $1.00, and Banquet Pot Pies could be purchased at 5 for $1.00. The same was true for cans of Del Monte Corn and Green Beans, Campbell’s Pork & Beans and a host of other packaged, bottled and canned foods that had become staples in Mister B’s household, like many other boomers’ homes.

Supermarket sales such as these were the thing that enabled Mister B’s father to afford the brand name products over the lesser-priced brands. There were still compromises in food purchases, though, such as Banquet Pot Pies. Banquet was a cheaper alternative to Swanson or Morton pot pies, introducing their frozen meat pot pies in supermarkets in 1954. To feed a boomer family of five for one dollar was a welcome change. Mister B heard stories of these other brands having great flavor, and, most notably, more meat and veggies. Mister B would not know about that, since the family had a financial loyalty to Banquet.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mister Boomer’s mother would take the frozen pot pies from the freezer (usually chicken for the family), place them whole in their aluminum pans on baking sheets, pierce the tops of the crusts with a fork or knife and pop them into the oven. Forty-five minutes later, dinner was served. Mister B enjoyed his pot pies for the most part, though he always wanted more peas and chicken than was inevitably inserted. Then there was the matter of the crust. The top was always nice and toasty and crunchy, but the bottom could be anywhere from soft and mushy to outright uncooked. Mister B’s mother blamed the oven. Somewhere down the line, the company folks decided that an economical brand such as Banquet didn’t really need an entirely dough-enclosed pot pie and only the crust top remained. That solved Mister B’s bottom-of-the-pie dough dilemma, but the economical nature of the product was compromised in his view. The family noticed but continued to purchase the product, the prevailing argument being the price.


Fifty years ago, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac. Hardly a supermarket product, it was, however, sold for 49¢. Little did boomers know how short-lived it would be that a wide variety of products would cost less than one dollar.

What products do you remember at prices less than one dollar, boomers? Did your family stock up on food supplies when there were supermarket sales that would offer four or five for one dollar?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Liked Some Spiritual Messages Mixed in With Their Pop Music

Edwin Hawkins passed away last week at the age of 74. If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you are a boomer who recalls Hawkins’ one hit, Oh Happy Day, from 1969.
He wrote the song as part of an album intended to be sold as a fund-raiser for his church to attend a gospel competition. A local San Francisco radio station began playing the song and it got the attention of listeners. The song was re-released under the group’s new name, the Edwin Hawkins Singers. It sold more than seven million copies and won a Grammy Award for best soul gospel performance. Though it was the group’s only Top 10 hit, they toured, sang gospel and in 1970, backed up Melanie on her hit, Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).

Rock music was always an amalgam of gospel, rhythm & blues and jazz from the start. Many of rock’s earliest stars — including Elvis Presley — got their start singing gospel in their churches. The country had self-identified as predominantly Christian for a few decades before the Boomer Generation. According to a Gallup poll published in 2005, the U.S. Christian population peaked in the mid-50s at around 92 percent. So it should come as no surprise that gospel-tinged tunes found their way into the charts during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Here are a few of the many that got the attention of boomers listening to their transistor radios and 45 RPM records:

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
Written by Pete Seeger in the 1950s, it was first released on an album by the Limeliters in 1962, then by Seeger himself, then the Byrds had a Number One hit with it in 1965. The lyrics were adapted from the English version of the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. No boomer collection of Byrds tunes would be complete without it.

People Get Ready
Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions recorded this tune in 1965. The soul and gospel-tinged song has an overtly Christian religious theme but Mayfield himself said he wrote it as a response to what was happening in the Civil Rights Movement after he attended the March on Washington, heard Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, and the subsequent church bombings in Alabama. Ultimately, it was a song about redemption and triumph over evil. Mister Boomer always enjoyed the melody and Mayfield’s soulful voice.

Sympathy for the Devil
The Rolling Stones released this rock classic in 1968. Mick Jagger sang as the devil in this song about temptation. The lyric content took a back seat to an incredibly danceable beat.

Spirit in the Sky
It was the infectious and memorable fuzz-guitar theme that propelled Norman Greenbaum’s one-hit wonder to the charts for sixteen weeks spanning the two decades between 1969 and ’70. It sold over two million copies. Mister Boomer’s sister bought the 45 RPM, and it is now in Mister Boomer’s collection.

Put Your Hand in the Hand
Written by Gene MacLellan, it was first recorded by Canadian artist Anne Murray for her third album, Honey, Wheat and Laughter in 1970. It became a hit for fellow Canadian band, Ocean, in 1971. A slew of popular recording artists released their version of the song in the years that followed, including Bing Crosby, Joan Baez and Loretta Lynn, to name a few.

Jesus Is Just Alright
The Byrds released the tune in 1969, but most boomers will remember the re-recorded 1975 version by the Doobie Brothers. As with all of the spiritually-themed music of the era, it was the music and not the lyric content that caught the ear of boomers. Catchy tunes climbed the charts, regardless of whether they had any spiritual message.

There were dozens of other songs that mentioned God or the Christian religion in some way, by almost all of the popular recording artists of the day. As the stream of these tunes on the charts started to fade in the late sixties, some say the excesses of “free love” and “turn on, tune in, drop out” culminated with the rock musical Hair in 1968. That counterculture was then countered itself with more religious-themed rock of the 1970s. As art imitates life, it brought us the Broadway musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970 and Godspell in 1972. Anne Murray’s version of the title song Jesus Christ Superstar was on the charts in 1971 and then was followed by covers by several people. I Don’t Know How to Love Him from JC Superstar was also on the charts in 1971 and the Broadway cast performance of Day by Day from Godspell hit Billboard’s #13 in 1972.

The numbers of almost all religious denominations has been steady falling since the end of the Boomer Generation. The number of people in the U.S. identifying as Christian has dropped to around 70 percent as more people are checking the “no religious affiliation” box these days. It is Mister Boomer’s contention that it was always the criteria that kids used on American Bandstand to rate records that indicated which songs made it to the Top 10: is it a catchy tune and can you dance to it? Nonetheless, you’ll find predominantly Christian religious-tinged tunes still hitting the Top 10 from time to time, on the Rock, Rhythm & Blues and Country charts.

Do you own any of the religious-themed records from the fifties, sixties or seventies, boomers? Did you buy them for the music or religious content?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)