This week Super Bowl LI (51) was played. If the final tally of viewership turns out to be anything like the last three years, more than 110 million people tuned in to watch the Big Game, the commercials and the halftime show.
Here are some fun facts for you:
• Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest food consumption day in the US — only Thanksgiving tops it
• The game wasn’t televised before a true national audience until 1972; before then, the telecast was blacked out in the participating teams’ home cities
• The cost of airtime for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl I in 1966 cost $37,500; this year it will top $5 million for the same 30 seconds
Speaking of commercials, Mister Boomer has previously delved into the boomer-era history of the Super Bowl (Boomers Got Super-Sized), but have you ever wondered how the TV commercials got to be an attraction in and of themselves?
Most sports historians point to Super Bowl III as the turning point. That game, played in January of 1969, pitted the New York Jets against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts. A brash young quarterback, Joe Namath, guaranteed a win for the Jets. He was derided and ridiculed for his cockiness, but his prediction held true, with the Jets posting a 16-7 victory over the Colts. Interest in the game skyrocketed and viewers loved every minute of it, especially boomers. Namath became something of a folk hero among young boomers for his off-field antics, which earned him the nickname “Broadway Joe,” as well as his on-field play.
Namath’s celebrity status landed him a commercial for Noxema Shave Cream that aired during the 1973 Super Bowl. In it, Namath says, “I’m about to get creamed,” as a young Farah Fawcett covers his chin with the shave cream. It was quite a sensation, causing a sharp increase in sales for Noxema, and opening the door for memorable commercials in years to come.
In the years that followed, the country’s top businesses — including General Motors, Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, IBM, Xerox and a host of others — spent increasing amounts of money producing commercials that, in many cases, were intended to run only once. Viewership of the game steadily increased, as did the cost of the commercial airtime. Nonetheless, it took until Super Bowl XXIX (29) in 1995 before the cost of a 30-second spot topped $1 million. Of course, the entire reason for advertising during a Super Bowl is the size of the viewer audience. Two years ago during Super Bowl XLIX (49), an all-time high was reached with more than 115 million viewers.
For marketers, the game is truly a dream come true because it reaches every demographic from Baby Boomers right through the current generation, and many boomers will tell you they have watched them all. In addition, the number of women watching the game — and the commercials — has risen to just under half the total viewers at this point.
Some commercials were more memorable than others, and boomers all have their favorites. Here are a few of what most boomers regard as truly memorable:
• 1977 — A monks uses a Xerox copy machine to make manuscript copies with the tagline, “It’s a miracle.”
• 1979 — Mean Joe Greene, defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers starred in this one-minute spot for Coca-Cola. As Greene limps back down the tunnel to the locker room after an injury, a young boy (Tommy Okun, age 9) calls to him and tells him he thinks he is the best. Mean Joe doesn’t respond, and the boy hands him his Coke, which he downs in its entirety. As the kid turns and says, “See ya around,” Greene calls out to him, “Hey kid, catch!” tossing his game jersey to him. In 2011, Advertising Age voted it the number one Super Bowl commercial of all time.
• 1984 — Apple introduced the Macintosh computer with a memorable 1984-themed ad. In a play on the year and the George Orwell novel, the narrator announced, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”
• 1986 — The Budweiser Clydesdales made their Super Bowl commercial debut trotting through a snowy landscape. The iconic horses have since reappeared in numerous years.
There have been many more memorable commercials since then, but for boomers, the early days will always be the best. Mister Boomer sides with those who think the Apple Macintosh commercial was the best ever. The direction by Ridley Scott, dystopian theme and boomer-like revolutionary spirit propels that one to the top of his list.
What is your favorite Super Bowl commercial from our boomer heyday?
2016 was a tough year for boomers. We lost a massive number of historical and cultural giants that helped shaped our boomer years. Here are just some of this illustrious group:
Leonard White – January 2
As a television producer, Mr. White brought boomers the now-classic TV spy series, The Avengers.
Robert Balser – January 5
His name was hardly a boomer household word, yet boomers know his work. Balser was an animator who co-directed Yellow Submarine (along with Jack Stokes, who died in 2013). He also worked on the cartoon series Jackson5 and the animated movie Heavy Metal.
David Bowie – January 10
A colossus among boomer-era rock musicians, Bowie was ever inventing and showing us another side of his collection of talents, from singing to song writing, acting to producing, ever the supreme showman. Here is what Mister Boomer had to say about one of his recordings: “Wild Is the Wind”: A Boomer Story.
Glenn Frey – January 18
Frey, a boomer himself, was the founding member of the Eagles. The band’s southwestern-rock style was present in multiple hits in the 1970s, making them a favorite of many later-era boomers.
Paul Kantner – January 28
In 1965 Marty Balin approached Paul Kantner to join his new band, the Jefferson Airplane. The band, fronted by lead singer Grace Slick, went on to become a symbol of the psychedelic scene in San Francisco during the Summer of Love with the blockbuster boomer hits of Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. Kantner wrote music himself, but the closest he had to a hit was the song Wooden Ships, which he co-wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. After the dissolution of the band, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship. Mister Boomer was not a big fan of Starship, but thoroughly enjoys Airplane to this day including Today, a Kantner-penned song featured on the Surrealistic Pillow album from 1967.
Maurice White – February 3
The co-founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, White was the band’s lead singer. He also co-wrote many of their hits, including September, Sing A Song and Shining Star. In the dark days of disco (in Mister B’s estimation), Mister B would request Earth, Wind & Fire songs from the DJs to avoid having to hear disco music.
Harper Lee – February 19
Boomers will recall Lee as the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel about race and class in the Depression-era South. In 1962 it was made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck. Many early boomers read the book in school, but most boomers saw the film at some point in their developing years.
Nancy Reagan – March 6
Born Anne Frances Robbins, Nancy Reagan was a film actress before boomers knew her as Ronald Reagan’s wife and America’s First Lady. She was an influential figure in Reagan’s White House, and boomers will recall her role in creating the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.
Keith Emerson – March 11; Greg Lake – December 7
Two-thirds of the iconic group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer died this past year. Emerson was the founding member and keyboardist of ELP and before that, the Nice, which also featured a blending of rock, jazz and classical music. Bassist Greg Lake met Emerson while the Nice was touring with King Crimson. Together they formed ELP, and recruited Carl Palmer on drums. Their first record was released in 1970. Mister Boomer was a big fan of music that fused other genres, especially jazz and classical.
Patty Duke – March 29
Boomers will always remember Patty Duke for her Academy-Award winning performance in The Miracle Worker, and, of course, for the television series that bore her name. Read Mister Boomer’s take on the show: Boomers, Now Isn’t That Special (Effects)?
Prince – April 21
Prince Rogers Nelson was himself a Baby Boomer, having been born in 1958. A musician, songwriter and musical innovator, he burst onto the music scene in 1976, influencing countless legions of musicians who followed.
Muhammad Ali – June 3
Boomers first knew him as Cassius Clay, a boxer of immense talent who became the Heavyweight World Champion, but was willing to give it all up by declaring his conscientious objector status for the Draft in 1967. He took the name Muhammad Ali in 1964. Boomers will always remember and respect him for his support of the Civil Rights movement and anti-war stance, aside from his being “the Greatest” in the boxing ring.
Glenn Yarbrough – August 11
Yarbrough began his musical career as lead singer for the Limeliters (1959-63), but most boomers will always remember his classic hit, Baby the Rain Must Fall, from 1965.
Gene Wilder – August 29
Like most boomers, Mister B first heard of Gene Wilder from his starring roles in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and two of Mister B’s favorites, Young Frankenstein and The Producers. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Wilder did a series of films with Richard Pryor that are beloved by later boomers, including Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. He married Gilda Radner, one of the original cast members from Saturday Night Live, in 1984.
Edward Albee – September 16
This American playwright brought us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which ultimately became a boomer cultural phenomenon as a film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Arnold Palmer – September 25
Considered one of the greatest professional golfers who ever lived, most boomers will recall their fathers sitting in front of the TV on weekends in the 1950s and ’60s, a beer in the hand while watching Arnold Palmer on the PGA circuit. Arnold Palmer also gave us the drink that bears his name, a mix of lemonade and iced tea.
Tom Hayden – October 23
Boomers will recall Hayden as the radical founding member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s. Known for his activism in Civil Rights and against the war in Vietnam, he went on to marry Jane Fonda and from 1993 to 200 served in the California state legislature, first as an assemblyman, then as state senator.
Robert Vaughn – November 11
Best known to boomers for his starring role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., this actor became part of the pop culture landscape.
Florence Henderson – November 24
Ms. Henderson had appeared in numerous movies and TV shows as both an actress and singer during our younger years, but most boomers will always remember her as the mom on The Brady Bunch.
John Glenn – December 8
One of the original seven U.S. astronauts, boomers watched as he became the first American to orbit the Earth (1962). In 1974 he became a U.S. Senator, representing his home state of Ohio, where he served for 24 years. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man to travel to space, going up a second time with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery. After John Glenn, Mister B and his teammates on a city league baseball team called themselves The Astronauts.
Henry Heimlich – December 17
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because we boomers were around before Dr. Heimlich came up with the life-saving maneuver that bears his name. Boomers saw the adoption of the method for helping choking victims and the signs posted at every restaurant and government building.
Carrie Fisher – December 27
What else can be said about Carrie Fisher? Boomers knew her for Star Wars, of course, but also as the once-wife of Paul Simon.
There were many others who passed on this past year, of course, who made their mark in the annals of boomer history. We have, as the old saying goes, lived in interesting times.
While recently walking to meet friends in a nearby park, Mister Boomer happened upon a Little League baseball game in progress. It immediately transported him 50-plus years back to his stint in Little League in the early 1960s.
Boys in Mister B’s neighborhood were obsessed with baseball in any form, from sandlot to Little League to the majors. Baseball card collecting was a huge part of their daily discussions. They’d trade cards among themselves and put duplicates or lesser-player cards in the spokes of their bicycles, which they rode to the baseball fields for all-day games during the summer. So it was understood that the first chance a boy had to play team baseball, he’d try out. A boy could play four years of Little League, then go on to Pony League play as a teen. Worst case scenario, city recreation baseball was open to all, regardless of ability.
Thus it was that Mister Boomer came to play organized team baseball. He had tried out for Little League, but failed to get picked up by a team. Instead, he and a couple of school friends signed up for the city league. The teams in the city league could choose their own names, so after much debate, the boys decided on a name that was inspirational and timely; they would be known as The Astronauts. While the season gave Mister B practical team experience, it wasn’t Little League, with their formal uniforms and dedicated practice times. So the following year, Mister B tried out for Little League again, and this time, was put on a team that was sponsored by a local drug store.
A neighborhood kid was on the same team, so the boys would ride their bikes to practices and games together. The season started before school was out for summer, so time was tight getting home from school, wolfing down some dinner and riding to the field. Most of the team was already at the field when Mister Boomer arrived and parked his bike. A few minutes later the coach called the boys together to announce the line-up. His side was to be the home team in this game, so they would be in the field first. Mister Boomer was assigned right field, and would be batting fifth.
The first inning began without incident, and in short order Mister B’s team was at bat. The lead-off boy hit a ground ball up the middle and was safely on first base. The second batter hit a pop-up fly ball for the first out. The next batter hit another single, advancing the original runner to third base. Mister Boomer waited in the on-deck circle, wondering if he would get his turn at bat when the fourth batter was given a walk. That meant as Mister Boomer stepped into the batter’s box for his first official Little League at bat, the bases were loaded with one out.
Mister Boomer felt his heart racing, and, as many movies have described, he experienced a slowdown in time. He watched as the pitcher did his wind-up, but it appeared to be in slow motion. Mister Boomer glanced at the first base coach, as instructed, and was given the go-ahead to hit at will. Mister B hated to let any ball go by if he thought it was within his hitting range. He watched as the ball left the hand of the pitcher and was coming in a little high and to the outside of the strike zone, but Mister B was determined to give it a swing. Visions of hitting a ground ball to the infield that could be turned into a double play and end the inning rushed through his head, but he powered the bat in an arc that just barely missed the sweet spot. As a right-handed batter, the slight undercut of the ball, coupled with a minute late swing, caused it to acquire a fly ball trajectory into the opposite direction — right field.
As Mister Boomer dropped the bat and ran furiously toward first base, he could see the surprised look on the right fielder’s face as the ball sailed over his head. The first base coach was signaling Mister B to “go, go, go” as the right fielder picked up the ball in the grass and threw it as hard as he could — toward first base but over the first baseman’s head. Team members scrambled to get the ball, which was now in the area where parents had parked their folding chairs. Mister B could hear the air rushing through the earholes of his helmet as he peered back to see what was going on, and promptly tripped over second base. Falling face first into the dirt, shouts of “Get up! Go, go, go!” echoed though his head as he got to his feet and ran toward third base. The throw was nowhere near third base, and ended up in left field as Mister Boomer saw the third base coach waving him in to home with a windmill turn of his arm. Mister B kicked it into high gear and stepped across home plate as the throw came in to the catcher. He had a hit at his first time at bat in Little League, and it was an inside-the-park home run.
More than a home run, he had a grand slam home run, with four runs being scored. He was elated as he was greeted by his teammates and parents of fellow team members cheered. Mister B played the rest of the game in a fog, despite getting a couple more hits. His team won handily, but after the game was over, he was informed that his grand slam was the result of the other team being charged with three errors, and that took a little wind out of his sails. But he was happy he had a hit in his first at bat, and it was a home run.
Mister Boomer went on to play three years in Little League on the same team, and had the chance to play every position but catcher and pitcher. His combined batting average was over .400 and he learned to bat equally well as a left hander as right, giving his coach another weapon in the battle for diamond supremacy. In his second year, the team made it to the playoff games. Mister B was proud to be able to move to a field with real team dugouts, visitor stands and beautifully manicured grass, but his team was eliminated in the first round.
Baseball was a big part of Mister Boomer’s early life, but as soon as he entered high school, he stopped playing in any form, as neighborhood kids were all off in different directions, and dreams of learning how to drive appeared on the horizon.
Did baseball — or another sport — occupy your summer vacations, boomers?
There were many people in music, TV, movies and politics who held great significance to the Boomer Generation who passed on in 2014. Here are some who played a role in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood.
Phil Everly (born 1939) – Jan. 3
As half of The Everly Brothers duo, Phil Everly made his indelible mark on the Boomer Generation, and Mister Boomer. He wrote about Phil Everly on January 12 last year: Bye, Bye Love: Another Boomer Icon Has Passed
Russell Johnson (born 1924) – Jan. 16
Boomers knew Russell Johnson as the Professor on Gilligan’s Island (1964-67). Mister Boomer watched all of the Gilligan’s Island episodes with his siblings. He has thought that even though the Professor could make a radio out of coconut shells, why would he want to fix the boat and leave the island when he was marooned with the likes of Mary Ann and Ginger?
Pete Seeger (born 1919 ) – Jan. 28
Pete Seeger became one of the top voices of folk music in the 1950s with the band the Weavers, and a voice of protest in the 1960s. Several of his songs are now forever etched in boomer minds as he penned the classics, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (with Joe Hickson), Turn! Turn! Turn!, If I Had a Hammer and many others. It was Seeger who championed a young Bob Dylan, inviting him to appear at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan and many other musicians named Seeger as a big influence on them. Seeger was a life-long activist, supporting causes for civil and labor rights, racial equality, international understanding, and anti-militarism and especially in his later years, environmental concerns for clean waterways.
Shirley Temple Black (born 1928 ) – Feb. 11
Like Tarzan movies, Shirley Temple movies were a staple on TV in the early days, despite having been made decades earlier. That is where Mister Boomer and probably a host of other boomers first became acquainted with her. She later served as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
Sid Caesar (born 1922) – Feb. 11
Mister B watched repeats of Mr. Caesar on TV with his parents for years (Your Show of Shows [1950-54] and Caesar’s Hour [1954-57]), but what sealed the deal and made Mister B a lifelong fan was Caesar’s performance in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963. Mister B feels he was one of the greatest comedians ever.
Bob Casale (born 1952) – Feb. 17
Most boomers became acquainted with Bob Casale, himself a boomer, from his bass playing for the band, Devo. When Devo released their first album in 1978 (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo) Mister Boomer bought the vinyl and became a fan.
Mickey Rooney (born 1920 ) – April 6
Mister Boomer first saw Mickey Rooney in old movies on TV. Rooney had been performing since he was a child, with his first performance at the age of 17 months when his vaudeville actor parents included him in their show. Many boomers will recall Rooney from the Andy Hardy series of movies, though Mister B didn’t watch them. More than likely he first saw Rooney in Babes in Arms (1939) as he recalls Judy Garland with Rooney, and with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944). Rooney had carved out an image of the ultimate actor, being able to portray comedic and dramatic roles with equal aplomb. During the height of his popularity he went on to make forty-three movies before being drafted into the army during World War II. In the prime boomer years, Rooney received acclaim for his roles in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
Ann B. Davis (born 1926) – June 1 The Brady Bunch wasn’t a show Mister Boomer’s family watched with any regularity, but every boomer knew of Ann B. Davis and her character, Alice, who was the maid for the Brady family. Early boomers may also recall her role as Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz in The Bob Cummings Show (1955-59). Mister B does remember his parents watching that show in glorious black & white.
Chuck Noll (born 1932) – June 13
Mister B learned about Chuck Noll when he was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. He led the team to four Super Bowl wins. Though not a huge football fan himself, Mister B’s pals were big on the Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. In the 1970s, Chuck Noll’s Steelers were synonymous with pro football; early in his tenure the Steelers acquired “Mean” Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw, who became household names and are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Casey Kasem (born 1932) – June 15
If not his face, boomers certainly knew Casey Kasem’s voice. He hosted and co-founded the radio program, America’s Top 40 (1970-88; then again1998-04). Boomers also knew him as the voice of many cartoon characters in movies and TV, most notably “Shaggy” Rogers on Scooby-Doo (1969-97; then again 2002-09). Eli Wallach (born 1915) – June 24
An actor who made his Broadway debut in 1945, Mister B first saw Eli Wallach in the classic movie, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and knew he was something special. Six years later he starred opposite Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). It is probably no coincidence that Wallach is in two of Mister B’s favorite Westerns of all time.
Paul Mazursky (born 1930) – June 30
Some of Mister B’s favorite movies of the 1970s were directed by Paul Mazursky. He was able to capture the zeitgeist of the era with films like, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Harry and Tonto and An Unmarried Woman. He began his career as an actor before he become a popular director. In his later years he returned to acting, appearing on The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Mister B had a special connection to Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, since he saw the film at a drive-in on a double date with his brother and his girlfriend. (Boomers Loved The Ford Mustang)
Robin Williams (born 1951) – Aug. 11
Himself a baby boomer, Williams hit Mister Boomer’s radar when he appeared as the alien Mork from Ork on Happy Days (1974). His recurring role landed him a spin-off show where he reprised his alien character role. Mork & Mindy debuted in 1978 with Pam Dawber as the Earthling who learned Mork’s identity and allowed him to move into her attic. Mork’s signature “Nanu Nanu” phrase was constantly repeated by boomers around the schoolyard. Though Mister Boomer enjoyed Robin Williams’ off-the-wall improvisations — as he did Jonathan Winters prior to Williams — he wasn’t a fan of Mork & Mindy.
Williams went on to numerous film, TV and stage roles, both comedic and dramatic. A couple of Mister B’s picks include Moscow on the Hudson (1984), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989), Hook (1991) and Aladdin (1992). Most boomers would probably include Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996) and Good Will Hunting (1997).
Lauren Bacall (born 1924) – Aug. 12
Somewhere in the ’60s Mister Boomer watched Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the movie, To Have and Have Not (1944) on the family’s black & white TV. Her sultry voice and good looks made her a natural pairing with the rugged Humphrey Bogart, despite their age difference — she was 19, he was 44. The two hit it off on the set and were married in 1945. Mister Boomer’s school chums would renact the movie’s “whistle” scene when the female objects of their desire walked by. A true legend to boomers and beyond, there was no doubt to Mister B that Lauren Bacall was a real-deal movie star.
Richard Kiel (born 1939) – Sept. 10
Best known to boomers as the actor who portrayed the character Jaws in two James Bond films: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). Due to his height (7 ft. 1.5 in.) and ghostly appearance, he most often was cast as assassins, aliens and outcasts. He added an additional touch of humor to the tongue-and-cheek action of the Bond films of that time.
Paul Revere (born 1938) – Oct. 4
Musician, bandleader and all-around rock ‘n roll crazy man, Paul Revere was the organist and bandleader of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Known for always wearing colorful Revolutionary-War style clothing, he fronted the band from 1960 to 1976, then again from 1978 to 2014. Mister Boomer used to watch the band on Where the Action Is (1965-67), where the band appeared regularly. He recalls one time of their purposefully bad lip-synching to a song on a beach while playing their instruments — which obviously were not plugged into anything. Mister Boomer heard his music through Brother Boomer, and became a fan. Today he has a Greatest Hits album in his collection, but Hungry (1966) and Kicks (1966) remain his favorites.
Ben Bradlee (born 1921) – Oct. 20
Most boomers first heard about Ben Bradlee when Woodward and Bernstein’s stories about the Watergate break-in were published in The Washington Post in 1972. Ben Bradlee was the executive editor who supported the reporters’ investigation.
Marcia Strassman (born 1948) – Oct. 24
Marcia Strassman began her acting career in the 1960s, appearing on The Patty Duke Show, among others. At the age of 15, she replaced Liza Minnelli in the Off-Broadway production of Best Foot Forward. Strassman had aspirations for a singing career, and had a couple of minor hits in the late ’60s before returning to acting. Boomers mostly knew Marcia Strassman as Gabe Kaplan’s wife on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79). She also appeared in several popular TV shows of the ’70s, including The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, and as recurring character, nurse Margie Cutler on M*A*S*H. She later appeared in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992).
Jack Bruce (born 1943) – Oct. 25
There probably isn’t a boomer anywhere who didn’t listen to Jack Bruce when he played bass for Cream. Some of Cream’s biggest hits — all favorites of Mister B — were written by Mr. Bruce, including White Room, Sunshine of Your Love and I Feel Free. He helped define post-British Invasion music for the Boomer Generation.
Jimmy Ruffin (born 1932) – Nov. 17
After signing with Motown in 1966, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted was released, became a hit and was forever enshrined in the hearts of boomers. His younger brother, David, was the lead singer for The Temptations. Mister Boomer inherited two of Ruffin’s 45 RPM records from Brother Boomer: in addition to What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, he has another of Ruffin’s hits, I’ve Passed This Way Before.
Bobby Keys (born 1944) – Dec. 2
The sax player for The Rolling Stones, his musical stylings helped make Brown Sugar a super hit for boomers. He had toured with Buddy Holly and played on John Lennon recordings, too. He takes his place among the rock royalty with whom he played.
Ralph Baer (born 1922) – Dec. 6
As the inventor of the precursor to Pong and pioneer in the field of video gaming, Ralph Baer is called the “Father of Video Games.” As an engineer and inventor, he was part of team that developed the first TV video game console between 1966 and ’67. His console system was licensed to Magnavox in 1972, which released their design as Odyssey. Baer held over 150 patents, mostly in consumer electronics and gaming. He made Simon, the electronic memory game that is still selling today. Mister Boomer recalls going to his local airport with friends, where there was a Pong unit. In those days, there was little security in the airport, and teenagers with drivers’ licenses were free to come and go.
Ken Weatherwax (born 1955) – Dec. 9
Another fellow boomer, Ken Weatherwax is best known for his portrayal of Pugsley on The Addams Family (1964-66). Pugsley was the oldest of the two children of Gomez and Morticia Addams. He and his sister Wednesday were always engaging in life-threatening situations which were the opposite of what boomers’ moms would tell their children. Mister B enjoyed these crazy scenarios of electric chair experiments and the like.
Joe Cocker (born 1944) – Dec. 14
Mister Boomer, like many boomers, first heard about Joe Cocker from his performance at Woodstock (1969). His unique vocal style and bluesy sound was something Mister B could latch onto, and his version of The Beatles’ With a Little Help from My Friends remains in Mister B’s music collection.
Of course, there were many others who struck a chord and made their marks with Baby Boomers. Which passings in 2014 hold a special memory for you, boomers?
The Summer Olympics are underway, giving viewers a great many memorable and historic moments. Before there was a Mark Phelps and Gabby Douglas, though, there were the Games of our boomer youth. Amazing feats of athletic prowess and political unrest peppered the Olympics we watched. As boomers, we were the first generation to be able to view the Summer Olympics on TV. How many of these historic Summer Olympic events do you recall?
1960: Rome — These games were the first to be telecast in North America. CBS won the rights to broadcast the Games for $394,000. Mister Boomer recalls seeing some of the Games on the family’s black and white Sylvania TV.
Wilma Rudolph was proclaimed the fastest woman in the world, winning three gold medals in track and field.
Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) won gold in the boxing light-heavyweight division.
The U.S. basketball team, including future hall-of-famers Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, took home the gold, extending the U.S. dominance of Olympic basketball to five in a row.
Rafer Johnson won the decathlon gold, considered by many to be the greatest decathlon event in Olympic history.
1964: Tokyo — These were first Games to be telecast internationally, making its way to the U.S. via use of the first geostationary satellite, Syncom 3. It was also the first live telecast broadcast in color via satellite.
Billy Mills won gold in the men’s 10,000 meter distance running race. It was a shock to the world because he was little known, and no American had won that race before — or since.
Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina finished her Olympic career, adding two gold, a silver and two bronze medals to her career total of 18 medals. That record held until this past week when Michael Phelps broke her record in London.
Don Schollander won four gold medals in swimming events.
Bob Hayes equaled the world record of 10 seconds, winning gold in the 100 meter sprint. The Games at Tokyo were the last to have cinder running tracks.
Joe Frazier won the heavyweight division in boxing.
1968: Mexico City — That year was hugely tumultuous in the lives of boomers. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in March of 1968, and Bobby Kennedy, campaigning for the office of President of the United States, was gunned down in June. Protests against the Vietnam War continued practically non-stop and race riots occurred in several states. Against this backdrop the Games were only the third in history to be held in autumn (October), and they were the first be be held in a Spanish-speaking country.
Al Oerter won gold in the discus for the fourth consecutive time.
Bob Beaman won the long jump, setting a world record that surpassed the former by 22 inches. His record of 29.2 ft. held until 1991.
Dick Fosbury, inventor of the Fosbury flop, won gold in the high jump with his back-first technique. His method is now used as the standard for the jump.
At the age of 16, Debbie Meyer won gold in three swimming events: the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle swimming.
In perhaps the most well-remembered event of the Games, as the gold medal winner Tommie Smith and bronze medal winner John Carlos stood on the podiums to accept their medals for the men’s 200 meter race, they lifted black-gloved fists into the air during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in sympathy, as did the other two medalists. Their gesture was interpreted as a Black Power salute, but Tommie Smith stated in his autobiography that it was a human rights salute. The International Olympic Committee considered the gesture to be a domestic political statement which was not in keeping with the Olympic apolitical spirit. As a result, the two were banned for life from competing in future Olympic Games.
1972: Munich — This was the first time the Games had returned to Germany since Hitler’s infamous Games of 1936 in Berlin. The single-most remembered event of the Games was the massacre of nine Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists.
The men’s basketball team lost to the Soviets in a controversial game where confusion over the official time resulted in a replay — twice — of the final three seconds of the game. The U.S. believed they had won the game, but the Soviets prevailed in the game’s three-second replay, winning 51-50. The U.S. team declined to accept their silver medals, leaving the podium empty at the ceremony.
Before the massacre overshadowed all of the Olympic events, swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, a record that held until Michael Phelps won eight in Beijing in 2008. Spitz won the medals while sporting long hair and a ’70s-fashionable moustache at a time when the prevailing thought was that facial hair would cause drag that could slow down a swimmer. Despite a complete lack of contemporary swimsuit technology and his added facial hair, Spitz set world records in all seven of his wins.
The 2012 Games have been exciting to watch, but as a boomer, Mister B can’t help but remember the Games we watched in our younger days. Seeing these amazing athletes perform at the highest levels illustrates the constant progression of modern technology, training and evolution of our species (faster, bigger, stronger, and we have the technology!). It is a bit unsettling, though, to realize that these fantastic athletes setting historical records on our TV screens are young enough to be our children, and in some cases, grandchildren. Let’s at least take some solace in remembering that we are the generation that has begat these next-generation superstar Olympians, who are now carrying the torch into our future.
What memories do you have of watching Summer Olympics, boomers?
Super Bowl XLVI will be played next week, so that got Mister Boomer thinking that it was yet another in a long line of inventions that were a part of our young boomer experience. There were a lot of “supers” in our boomer youth: Superman, Super Car and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious among them, but in professional sports, there was only one Super Bowl.
The event had its origins in our formative years, with the first game played on January 15, 1967. Professional football had two competing leagues at the time: the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL). The AFL had been formed in 1960, and by the time of the first Super Bowl were directly competing for top college players and television contracts. The two leagues began merger talks in 1966, and agreed to play a championship game between league winners as a way of settling which team — and league — was the best. The name “Super Bowl” was first used by the owner of the AFL Kansas City Chiefs, and has been used ever since.
The first Super Bowl was played at Memorial Stadium in Los Angeles, California. It pitted the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs against the NFL’s (and legendary coach Vince Lombardi’s) Green Bay Packers. In the end, star quarterback Bart Starr prevailed as MVP as he led his Packers to a 35-10 victory. The Super Bowl trophy was named in Lombardi’s honor in 1971.
The game was simulcast by two television networks — NBC and CBS — with CBS gaining control over the cameras and supplying the feed to NBC. Each network used its own sportscasters, though. Ticket prices were $12, $10 and $6, which prompted an outcry over the “exorbitant” cost. Consequently, the game was not a sell-out, and the telecasts were blacked out in the Los Angeles area, as was the custom when football stadiums weren’t filled for a TV-scheduled game. Nonetheless, an estimated 60 million viewers tuned in.
The game was treated as just another championship game. There were no special commercials, and the halftime show featured trumpeter Al Hirt and marching bands from the University of Arizona, Grambling State University and the University of Michigan. Yet, just as the harbinger of change was blowing in the wind of the ’60s, the game wasn’t destined to be just an ordinary game. Players on the winning Packers team received a $15,000 bonus while the losing Chiefs players took home $7,500 each — the largest one-game pay of any sports event at the time.
Mister Boomer didn’t watch the first Super Bowl. In fact, football wasn’t really his thing; he was more of a baseball fan back then. By Super Bowl III in 1969, though, Mister B paid some attention when a brash young quarterback named Joe Namath of the AFL’s New York Jets “guaranteed” a win in the Super Bowl over the favored Baltimore Colts when he was heckled three days before the game. Namath was an outspoken, long-haired guy out of the University of Alabama who sported a stylish Fu Manchu mustache. The NFL was still stinging over his choice of an AFL team in the Draft of 1964, but still the prevailing notion was it would be years before an AFL team was considered of the caliber of an NFL team, let alone win a Super Bowl. Not since Babe Ruth pointed to a spot in the stands to which he would hit a home run had there been another sports proclamation with such bravado. Namath delivered on the promise and his team won the game, propelling him to celebrity status in the process.
A year later Broadway Joe, as he was called, was in the news again when he, along with some partners, opened a chain of bars called Bachelors III in Fort Lauderdale, Boston and New York. The NFL commissioner, citing reports that the bar was a hangout for members of organized crime, ordered Namath to divest himself from any interest in the bars. Namath, brash as ever, refused and instead chose to retire from football. The leagues (which were semi-merged and would finally complete their merger in 1970) panicked at the thought of losing a star player that helped bring in huge fan dollars and TV viewers, so a compromise was reached. Namath gave up his interest in the New York branch, but retained his partnership share in the remaining cities, plus any new locations that would open at a later date, and returned to football.
Namath was certainly not the first sports celebrity to cross over from sports to entertainment and other fields. He was, however, a phenomenon of the boomer era — even though officially he wasn’t a boomer himself, having been born in 1943. In the years that followed, he would appear as a sportscaster, appear in movies, and TV sitcoms and for one season hosted an eclectic talk show, along with Dick Schaap, called The Joe Namath Show.
By 1973, Namath was a superstar on and off the field, and the Super Bowl was growing in audience and influence as an event. It was in this year that Namath starred in a Noxema shaving cream commercial along with a then little-known Farah Fawcett that some say launched the beginning of the special Super Bowl commercial.
Mister Boomer has seen a few Super Bowls since then, but like most of us boomers marvels at the current ticket prices and cost of commercial time during the telecasts. From the humble beginnings of that game in 1967 sprouted an industry that is expected to reach $11 billion dollars this year, with each fan spending an average of $63.87 on merchandise, apparel and snacks. Somewhere between the parties and buying, a game will be played that had its origins in our early days.
What memories of Super Bowls past come to mind for you, boomers?