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Boomer Fun in 1961

The vast majority of the 74 million boomers can vividly recall the year 1961. It was momentous for many reasons, but what boggles this boomer’s mind at this point in time is that it was 50 years ago! Set your Way-Back Machine and let’s take a look.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States. It was a big deal for many people, not the least of whom were the Catholic nuns at Mister Boomer’s elementary school. They were thrilled that “one of their own” was assuming the highest office in the land for the first time. Besides, like most women, they thought he was handsome. Have you ever seen a nun blush? Of course, they knew nothing of his extra-curricular activities.

It was 50 years ago this very month that the Soviet Union sent the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The launch heated up the Space Race (The Final Frontier), and the Cold War. A week later, our new president was forced to disavow any involvement in the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba; Fidel Castro had quickly put down an attempted revolution by Cuban exiles that had the backing and support of the CIA. Kennedy had some ‘splainin’ to do.

Things began to turn around the following month when Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space, as the Mercury space program took root. This launch was responsible for giving many a boomer the space-age bug, including Mister B. He would watch every launch of every mission from that point through the moon launch eight years later.

The world was changing in the decade of the sixties: Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps; gas was 27¢ a gallon; construction began on the Berlin Wall; Rudolf Nureyev sought asylum in Paris while on tour with the Russian Ballet; residents of Washington, D.C. were given the right to vote via the Twenty-third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and the Vietnam War officially began for the U.S. Meanwhile, the world of popular culture had begun a shift of its own. The Beatles had their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; Bobby Lewis captured the summer as Tossin’ and Turnin’ stayed number one on the charts for seven weeks; the film version of West Side Story won the Oscar’s Best Picture Award; Diana, future Princess of Wales, was born; Joseph Heller first published Catch-22, a novel which figured prominently in many a boomer’s education years later; Mattel introduced a boyfriend for Barbie, the Ken doll; Pampers disposable diapers were first sold; Libby’s Foods began marketing Sloppy Joes in a can; and Top Cat, the cartoon featuring the irreverent, irrepressible title feline, began its two-year run on TV (Which Cat Was the Coolest?).


In retrospect it sure looks like poor Ken didn’t have a chance right from the start. Can you say “emasculate,” boys and girls?

Yet Mister Boomer, like many boys of his age, didn’t know much about the serious goings-on of the outside world. It was much more interesting for a pre-teen boy to dream of space travel, follow Roger Maris’ march toward hitting his record 61st home run in his team’s (N.Y. Yankees) last game of the season, and tune into the latest rock ‘n roll on his portable transistor radio.

Certainly, the Mister Boomer household ate copious amounts of canned food, but Libby’s Sloppy Joes was not among them. Mister Boomer’s mother made a vat of sloppy joes once or twice a month in her electric frying pan using onions, green peppers, fresh ground beef and tomato paste. It was an inexpensive family meal and all she had to do was toss the ingredients into the pan, turn the knob to low heat and let it cook. Slap the hot concoction on a mashed white-bread hamburger bun and you’d be full before Wagon Train began.


Mister B wonders if today’s kids would buy such a blatant marketing ploy. Probably, but there would be some discussion as to who got to wear the “beef” T-shirt and who’d be the “pork.”

Mister B was a baseball fan as a youngster, so he was aware of Roger Maris’ record-breaking feat as the neighborhood scuttlebutt brought up the latest major league buzz. No player had been able to break the home run record Babe Ruth had set in 1927, until the year 1961. Yessiree, and Mister B had Maris’ baseball card that year, along with his teammate’s, Mickey Mantle. Unfortunately for Mister B’s collection, the cards were lost in a Midwest flood a few years later.

Baseball was near top-of-mind for a young Mister B from spring through fall, so when he didn’t make a Little League team in 1961 (Going Batty for Spring) he joined city recreation baseball. When it came time for the boys to give their team a name, they chose to go with their dreams: the team would be called the Astronauts, combining baseball with their other true passion. Dinosaurs were a big thing with young boys even then, but giant prehistoric animals could not compare with the imaginative stirrings that the Space Race had opened in their young minds.

Along with Tossin’ and Turnin’ emanating from Mister B’s burgundy radio (Boomers Strike Solid Gold), it was Pony Time with Chubby Checker, while the Shirelles wanted to know, Will Still You Love Me Tomorrow? Dion was telling us to stay away from Runaround Sue and Del Shannon sang about the Runaway. The top names on the charts still included the likes of Lawrence Welk, Pat Boone and Jimmy Dean — even Elvis and Roy Orbison still had number one hits — but the winds of change had begun to blow back in 1961.

One year later, Mister B’s family would visit Washington, D.C., where they paid a visit to the White House. Standing in line, the tourists were all abuzz, hoping they would catch a glimpse of the First Lady or maybe even the President. It was not to be, but Mister B thoroughly enjoyed his visit and it ultimately stoked the embers of his life-long interest in history. Less than a year after that visit President Kennedy was assassinated, changing many boomers’ lives forever… but that was not 1961. 1961 was a time for fun in a young boomer’s life, filled with promise and imagination.

How about it, boomers? What memories help you define 1961, that year now 50 years past?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Fun,Getting Older,Music,Pop Culture History,Space,Sports,TV and have Comment (1)

Going Batty for Spring

It was mid-March of 1962 when Mister Boomer and two of his neighborhood friends decided to try out for Little League Baseball. All the leaves were still brown, and the sky was gray on the day they would be tested. It looked like a November day rather than March, but that’s the thing about winter in the Midwest: it’s never over ’til it’s over. A crisp wind blew across the boys’ faces as they piloted their bikes to the try-out location.

There was already a big crowd of boys behind the backstop as they parked their bikes and went to the sign-up sheet. With coats, zipped high and fingers gloved, they waited until their turn at fielding and batting. Mister Boomer hated the idea of trying to play baseball in the cold. He’d have to remove his gloves to slip on the baseball mitt, and he knew one line drive in the pocket could send a frigid tingle up the arm. Batting was even worse. Each crack would sting his hands like the jolt of a live electrical wire. Nonetheless, he was determined to do his best.

After fielding — and flubbing — a few fly balls, line drives and grounders, Mister B was sent to the plate for his turn at bat. Six short pitches later, his try-out was finished. He had gotten a glove on almost all the balls hit his way, and successfully hit every pitched ball out of the infield. Now he’d have to wait to see if he’d make a team. His two neighbors did about the same, except the portly boy hit the ball a little higher and farther.

Little League was a big deal for young men. It was the first chance they would get to test their mettle among a group of peers. It was, according to the Little League credo, instilling sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork into young minds. We didn’t care about all that. We just loved baseball and wanted to play. As it turned out, Little League in the 1950s and 60s was much more than that.

Carl Stotz is credited with establishing the first Little League teams in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1939. By the 1950s, his organization had grown beyond the borders of the U.S., and the official organization had, for the first time, professional business people and government officials on their board of directors. Mr. Stotz fought constantly with the board, wanting to keep more control over every aspect of the organization, from rules of the game that he had written to the expansion of franchises, but the board stymied him every step of the way. Finally, by the mid-50s, Carl Stotz was embroiled in a legal battle with his own organization that was now being wrenched from his hands. Ultimately, he set up a rival league, composed of the first three teams of his original organization, and went about recruiting Little League teams to defect. By 1956, after numerous legal battles, Mr. Stotz was forced to capitulate. He agreed to drop his rival league and opposition to the board if three conditions were met; first, the organization had to remain headquartered in Williamsport; second, he insisted on more representation for field volunteers; and third, he did not want to be contested as the founder of the Little League Baseball program.

It seems Mr. Stotz was not all that paranoid about the infiltrators of his fun, recreational organization for boys. Some of the biggest names of the day were seeing Communists at every turn, and now saw Little League as a tool to mold impressionable minds into the American Way of Life. None other than J. Edgar Hoover himself sat on the board of directors, along with prominent business people who recruited conservative sponsors for the League. Herbert Brownell, Jr., then the Attorney General of the United States, summed up the feeling of the day in the Little League World Series Official Program of 1954. He wrote, “The young Americans who compose the Little League will prove a hitless target for the peddlers of godless ideology.”

By the mid 60s, there were nearly 7,000 leagues chartered worldwide, spreading the baseball diplomacy of Americanism to all parts of the globe. Today, Little League Baseball is played in all 50 states and in 80 countries. There are nearly 200,000 teams. But Mister Boomer and his neighbors didn’t know anything about propaganda intent. They wanted to know if they made a team.

A week after the try-out, they rode their bikes to the city’s community center to see the posted lists of Little League teams on the wall. They combed through each team, searching for their names. Finally, one of the boys found his name on a team sponsored by a local furniture store. Mister B and the other boy’s name were not there. Only one of the three boys would play in Little League that year.

A year later Mister Boomer tried out again, and this time made it onto a team. He would play on that team for three years, racking up some respectable numbers, such as being one of the top base stealers of the local League, playing every position except catcher and pitcher, and having a career batting average over .400. He also helped set some records on the low end, when his team committed 26 errors in a single game. Six belonged to Mister B.

None of his acts on the diamond were as memorable as his first time at bat. Being one of the newbies on the team, he batted low on the roster. Yet, as luck would have it, the bases were loaded as he walked to the plate, hands sweating, as a chorus of “Please don’t strike out! Please don’t strike out!” ran through his helmeted head. The sidelines grew quiet as the first pitch came over the plate. The manager had signaled to take the pitch, and it was strike one. He gave the signal again, and ball one was outside. Then he gave Mister B the hit sign. The pitcher tossed the next one just where he liked it: a little outside and letter high on the jersey. Mister B whipped the bat around, a little late as was his custom at the time. The ball met the bat with a satisfying crack and it flew into right field, over the head of the unsuspecting fielder.

“Run! Run!” was the frantic call from the bench as he rounded first and headed for second. The fielder grabbed the ball and threw it in the wrong direction, committing the first of his team’s errors. As Mister B reached second base, his helmet shifted on his head and blocked his vision, causing him to trip and fall over the base. “Run!” came the call. He stood up and ran as fast as he could, not knowing where the ball was. Two errors more and Mister B was heading for home plate. With the help of the other team, he had just hit his first Grand Slam. Despite the requirement of the team reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and a pre-game prayer before each game, he was playing baseball. And that was all he wanted to do.

posted by Mister B in Seasons,Sports,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

The Boomer Endangered Species List?

Mister Boomer recently came across some startling statistics that made him think about growing older. We all know the history of what our grandparents and parents witnessed in their lifetimes; yet now, it appears, it’s our turn to look back at things that were but are no longer, or at least may not be much longer.

The biggest example, of course, is the 45 RPM record. It was an invention released during the boomer years, and now doesn’t exist at all. Broadcast TV was in black and white when we were young, but then color broadcasting slowly began to take over. Now, if a movie or TV show is in black and white, it’s either ancient or for art’s sake. There are more examples, to be sure.

The startling news Mister Boomer came across, however, had to do with bowling. Truth be told, not many of us have given the sport that much thought through the years. It was something that always appeared to be there, from our early days on through. It was a regular part of our cultural lexicon. Ozzie Nelson went bowling (without his tie, no less!). Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton were on a bowling team in a league. So were Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Bowling was just something the working class did. We even had a TV show called “Bowling for Dollars.”


Fred and Barney mix bowling with a commercial in the days before Flintstones vitamins.


This Brunswick commercial from 1961 shows how bowling had been advertised as a wholesome pursuit for boomers.

Mister Boomer did not join in any youth leagues during his Wonder Years, but his brother did. As a result, Mister Boomer often accompanied his brother to the local lanes where he went to practice. Mister Boomer was never a great bowler, but there was one day when the bowling gods smiled on his lane. Brother Boomer was a pretty good bowler, but on this particular Sunday, the strikes were flying. Eager for a second game, Brother B began with a strike. Mister Boomer stepped up and aimed at the pins. He released the black rubber ball and, after the familiar roll-rumble for a couple of seconds, watched as all the pins crashed down. Brother Boomer stepped up and rolled a second strike. Mister Boomer did the same. A third strike followed for his brother, and another for Mister Boomer. By this time, a small crowd had started to appear behind the boys. In the fourth frame, Mister Boomer’s brother smashed the pins like it was an everyday occurrence, much to the delight of the viewing gallery. Getting nervous from the onlookers, Mister Boomer took his time and did his best to concentrate. Boom! Four strikes in a row! Both Boomer Brothers were tied, but alas, it was not to be for Mister B. His streak ended at four, a personal best to this day. His brother, however, went on to number five, then six, then seven! The crowd went wild! But in the eighth frame, their glee subsided as he missed a strike by three pins. The crowd dissipated as the brothers finished their games.

Now there is news that bowling alleys that once took in 70+ percent of their revenue from league play have seen that revenue reduced to around 40 percent. In general, bowling attendance has dropped below that of previous decades. That explains the transformation of the “bowling alley” of our era to the “family fun center” that it is today. In Mister Boomer’s area, the bowling centers have gone so far as to drop the word “bowling” from their names altogether, though a couple still retain “bowl.” Most have gone upscale, with gourmet foods, redesigned interiors and prices to match. Those that have targeted families have been forced to present their venues as the ultimate place for children’s parties. One has to believe that Ozzie Nelson — family man that he was — might approve, but Ralph, Ed, Fred and Barney might prefer their bowling experience to be the male bonding experience they had enjoyed — without their wives and children.

It remains to be seen if the final chapters are being written on a sport that was so much a part of our youth. Who knows … the boomer generation may yet revive leagues, even if they only exist through a flat screen TV and a Wii console.

How about it, boomers? Do you still go bowling, or have your bowling bag and shoes been relegated to the garage or attic?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History,Sports,TV and have Comments (2)