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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Watched LBJ’s TV Speech

Fifty years ago this week — on March 31, 1968 — President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation on TV, and boomers of all ages were watching. The President began his speech with specific proposals about the war in Vietnam that he hoped would further the chance for peace talks. The President announced a halt to all air and naval bombing missions in North Vietnam (north of the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ]), as long as doing so did not endanger American troops. Secondly, he decided to send an additional 13,500 troops and third, he said he would request additional funding from Congress to bolster American efforts to assist the South Vietnamese army. He went on to talk about the divisive nature of politics and the war in the nation, and that he felt a responsibility to devote his time to the Office of the Presidency. At the end of his speech, he shocked the country by announcing, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

The Tet Offensive at the end of January, 1968 brought the bloody struggles happening a world away into the homes of Americans as pictures of fighting in the streets of Saigon countered the Administration’s optimistic pronouncements of a winnable war. Then the New Hampshire Primary, held on March 12, showed the President to be vulnerable in his own party. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had mounted a challenge based on his end-the-war stance. Though Johnson won the New Hampshire Primary, McCarthy picked up 42 percent of the vote and the majority of electoral votes for the state.

Despite his de-escalation announcement, Johnson remained dedicated to a military victory in Vietnam. The U.S. dropped more bombs into the DMZ in the three months after his speech than had been dropped in the previous years of the war.

Lady Bird Johnson recalled that she and the President discussed him not running for reelection as early as 1964. She was concerned about his health — particularly his heart condition. She was completely against him running for another term. Johnson himself said in his memoir, The Vantage Point, that he did not want to announce his decision not to run ahead of the speech. The line was not included on the teleprompter and he did not read it while practicing the speech the day before, but on the morning of March 31 he did inform Vice President Hubert Humphrey that he would include it if conditions were right — that is, no major attacks occurred in Vietnam or there was other world news leading up to the broadcast. He wrote that he did not make the decision to include the now-famous line about not seeking reelection until it was time for the televised broadcast.

A newly-minted teenage Mister Boomer sat with his family watching the speech as it aired. He was still forming his understanding of politics, though he was already certain that he wanted no part of any war. His elementary school days humanized war for him and his boomer classmates when bandaged, wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam — brothers and cousins of his classmates — came to thank the kids for sending them care packages from home.

In retrospect, Mister Boomer can point to this speech as a political awakening of sorts. He began paying much closer attention to the news and the campaigns of the 1968 Presidential Election. Though Mister B was still years away from voting age, the voices of the earliest boomers were about to be heard in one of the most tumultuous years in the country’s history.

Do you remember watching President Johnson’s speech on March 31, 1968, boomers?

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

Hey, Hey, Boomers Loved “The Monkees”

Next week marks the fiftieth anniversary of a boomer-era TV anomaly: the final episode of The Monkees TV series was aired on March 25, 1968. Many boomers have forgotten or perhaps did not know that the group was actually made for the TV show, and not the other way around. The concept for the show was to be about a rock ‘n roll band looking for their big break. An ad was published in trade publications and hundreds of musicians and actors auditioned for the parts.

The four selected to play the band members were Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith — two actors and two musicians. Micky had previously appeared in the TV show, Circus Boy (1956-58), but he also sang and played guitar with several bands in the early ’60s. Davy gained his acting chops by playing The Artful Dodger in Oliver! (1964) on the London stage, and later, on Broadway. Peter was a musician who was recommended for the role by Stephen Stills. Stills was offered the job, but didn’t have any interest in doing a TV series. Instead, he took Peter Tork to the audition, telling the producers that Tork was often mistaken for him. Michael was a musician who rode to his audition on a motorcycle. He wore a wool hat to keep his hair out of his eyes on the ride, and kept it on for his screen test. The casting directors thought it was a nice quirky addition and nicknamed him “Wool Hat.” The first episode of the show refers to Michael with that nickname, and Michael’s hat became part of his persona.

NBC bought the concept in an effort to appeal to young viewers — boomers. The concept was developed and the pilot episode was written by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker. It aired September 12, 1966. After the initial episode, NBC took control of the writing and Mazursky and Tucker were left out. Mazursky and Tucker went on to write the film, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) for which they were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The duo also was responsible for I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968) and had many other writing, acting and directing credits.

The Monkees was conceived as absurdist, surreal humor — sort of like The Marx Brothers on acid. It emulated avante garde films of the day with quick cuts, ample improvisation and breaking the fourth wall. Critics quickly compared The Monkees to The Beatles characters in A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Many saw Mickey as John, Davy as Paul, Michael as George and Peter as Ringo. The writers agreed they had been influenced by the Richard Lester film.

The boys were coached on comedy improvisation, but since it was increasingly improvised, early episodes placed sections of the four actors’ screen tests or short Q & A formats to fill remaining time. As the show progressed, time was filled with the band singing. It was those song “videos” that Mister Boomer and his sister would wait for.

Davy Jones is quoted as saying, “Ours was the kind of show you could look at or look away from — it had no deep plot. If you missed five minutes while you ate your dinner you didn’t exactly lose the whole thread, you know what I mean? It was all harmless, happy fun. No hidden meanings.”*

Mister Boomer watched the show through its entire run, like other boomers. It reminded him of The Three Stooges, but with less violence. He hadn’t seen many Marx Brothers movies at that juncture. The all-around absurdity reminded him of the Adam West Batman series that aired during the same seasons as The Monkees.

There was a lot to like about the show for boomers; girls thought Davy was cute and hung up posters of him on their bedroom walls, while boomer boys bought models of the Monkeemobile. Then there was the music. Fifty years later, boomers can still sing more of The Monkees theme song than they can of Auld Lang Syne! Mister Boomer’s sister was partial to Daydream Believer and I Want to be Free, while Mister B liked (I’m not Your) Stepping Stone, A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You and Valleri. His mother was a fan of Last Train to Clarksville.

It was only years later that Mister Boomer could fully appreciate the artistry — if one can call it that — of their performances and that of their fellow actors on that show. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Mister B saw an episode in color!

Did you watch The Monkees on TV during its original run, boomers?

*Quote appears in Mutant Monkees Meet the Masters of the Multimedia Manipulation Machine! by Davy Jones and Alan Green; Click! Publishing, 1992
posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Got Tattoos — Or Did They?

The history of tattooing spans countries, cultures and generations. The early days of tattoos in the U.S. echoed the new country’s military beginnings, as tattoos were predominantly inked on male soldiers and sailors, who sported patriotic themes or regimental insignia. This same practice was reawakened during the Civil War, when tattoo artists would travel, even from Union to Confederate camps, to practice their art.

The Victorian Era saw acceptance of tattoos grow from the strata of the military and lower income classes to higher echelons of society. A New York newspaper at the time reported that as many as three quarters of the women of high society were tattooed for decoration, mostly with butterflies and flowers.

Like most trends in the U.S., the popularity of tattoos started on the East and West Coasts and moved inward, but times were changing. By the 1920s, tattoos and tattoo artists were equated with the excesses of the Jazz Age, and it fell out of fashion in the general population as part of the sweep of the Prohibition Movement. Tattoos on women were thought to be a sign of promiscuity. This forced some heavily tattooed women into working circus and strip-tease acts. Nonetheless, the practice continued. When Social Security was introduced in the 1930s, a minor trend appeared of getting your newly-issued Social Security number tattooed on your body so that you would remember it!

In the 1940s, many men still sought out tattoo artists. However, as the possibility of the U.S. entering World War II loomed large, the military would not accept individuals with images of naked women or pin-ups, popular tats of the day. Consequently, there was a surge in tattoo business nationwide as men had their tattoos “dressed” with nurses’ uniforms, bikinis or even Native American garb. During the War, it was mainly sailors — like the early days of the U.S. military — who received tattoos. And like the time of the American Revolution and Civil War, their tats were most often patriotic images or regimental insignia.

By the time the War had ended and the first boomers were born, tattoos were once again losing their status in society. Prisoners gave each other tattoos, often to reflect group affiliation, and thus a person observed with a visible tattoo was thought of as either a felon or under-educated. This rebellious reputation made tattoos more attractive for motorcycle clubs and Beatniks, though their chosen imagery differed greatly. Motorcycle club members often had a club logo tattoo in the 1950s, while the Beatniks preferred imagery that suggested Eastern mysticism.

In 1961, a hepatitis outbreak in New York City was traced to a tattoo studio in Coney Island. Consequently, a New York City law banned all tattoo establishments, and most of the country followed suit. (New York City didn’t repeal the law until 1997.) More underground than it had been in decades, tattoo artists worked illicitly. As rock ‘n roll established itself as the voice of the younger generation, some rock stars sported tattoos as a sign of their rebellious nature. Members of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, in particular, sported visible tattoos.

In Mister Boomer’s circle of family and friends, tattoos were a rarity. He only knew two people — both men — with tattoos. The first was his uncle, a veteran of World War II, who had his army division insignia tattooed on his arm. The other was a manager at the first retail job Mister Boomer worked. The man’s tattoo pictured snakes slithering down an anchor — he had recently left the Navy.

In Mister Boomer’s area, it was commonly said during the 1960s and ’70s that any tattoos or markings should be covered up for job interviews. It was not going to be easy to enter Corporate America if you had a visible tattoo. Thus the alienation between financial classes, heightened by level of education, could also increase over physical appearance. Many long-haired boomers will attest to this same form of discrimination. Consequently, tattooed boomers tended to work in factories, record stores or places where they would not be seen by the general public lest someone be offended.

Now it is said that the number of tattoo studios in the U.S. has doubled since the 1990s. Many corporations still frown on their workers showing tattoos, and tattoo concealer sales have grown to serve this market. At the same time, tattoo removal services have also grown exponentially. According to a 2006 study by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly a quarter of Americans between 18 and 50 have at least one tattoo.

These days it’s hard to turn practically anywhere without seeing people of both genders sporting tattoos. Male and female stars on all types of TV shows, movie stars and sports stars proudly display their tats. More establishments are relaxing their ban on tattoos in the workplace as the popularity seems yet to have reached its peak. Who knows where this will lead? Mister Boomer can’t help but wonder if the Boomer Generation didn’t set the stage for the level of freedom this current generation has to express themselves with their bodies.

While Mister Boomer doesn’t have any tattoos and doesn’t know tattooed boomers himself, he did run into one man in his daily work commute last summer who had a series of tattoos on both his arms and legs. The man appeared to be of boomer age and was dressed in shorts, so he may have been retired or worked as a corporate messenger since he was observed carrying large envelopes each time Mister Boomer encountered him on the train platform. The interesting thing about his tattoos to Mister Boomer, though — and what made him think the man was a boomer himself — was that virtually all of his tattoos were cartoon characters from our boomer days. The man had Mighty Mouse, Heckel and Jeckel, Huckleberry Hound, Popeye, Felix the Cat, Yogi Bear and Bullwinkle and Rocky inked on his arms and legs! While Mister Boomer isn’t of the mindset to ever get a tattoo of any type, this was one display he could appreciate. How is that for a rebellious boomer?

Did you know any fellow boomers who got tattoos back in the day, boomers? Have you jumped on the tattoo bandwagon yourself in subsequent years? Do your children have tattoos?

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

Boomers Saw Great Movies Win Oscars

It’s time for the Academy Awards once again. This year’s crop of nominated films is an eclectic bunch consisting of historical drama, fantasy, forbidden love and a large dose of social commentary. Much the same can be said of the Academy Awards of fifty years ago. The awards ceremony in 1968 honored the stellar films and performances from movies released in 1967. While movies then and now reflect the times, the 40th annual Academy Awards, scheduled for Monday, April 8, 1968, were postponed for two days due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4.

The nominees for Best Picture were:
Bonnie and Clyde
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
In Cold Blood
In the Heat of the Night
The Graduate

The irony of the situation was that two of the films — now ground-breaking classics — dealt with racial prejudice and were made just three years after the enacting of Civil Rights legislation. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner told the story of a white woman bringing her African-American fiancé home to meet her parents. This year’s nominee, Get Out, tells a similar story. While both were billed as comedy/dramas, both deal with the same subject fifty years apart.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starred Sydney Poitier, who was the first African-American Oscar winner in 1964 (for his performance in Lilies of the Field). The movie was directed by Stanley Kramer, and starred (in addition to Poitier), Spencer Tracy (in his last film role), Katharine Hepburn and her daughter, Katharine Houghton, as Poitier’s love interest. The film was released just six months after the historic Loving V. Virginia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled that the states that banned marriage between individuals of different races was a constitutional violation of the 14th Amendment. Up to that point, interracial marriage remained illegal in 17 states.

Likewise, In the Heat of the Night took the issue of racial prejudice head-on. Sydney Poitier starred in this picture (in two nominated films in the same year!) with Rod Steiger. Poitier played the role of a Philadelphia police detective, who, while waiting for a train in Mississippi, is mistakenly arrested for the murder of a wealthy Chicago businessman. During his interrogation, Poitier reveals to Police Chief Rod Steiger that he is a detective. When Steiger calls his captain for verification, the Philadelphia captain tells Steiger that Poitier is his best detective, and suggests he keep him there to assist in the murder investigation. The town and Police Chief fiercely distrust strangers, and the tension between the characters is what one might expect from a Southern town in that time. But Poitier demands respect when at one point he utters the now-famous phrase, “They call me Mister Tibbs!” By the end of the film, Steiger’s character has grown to respect Poitier’s abilities in solving the case.

A glance through the nominees in the acting, cinematography and costuming categories show the depth of talent displayed in the movies released in 1967. Other than the Best Picture nominees, there was Best Supporting Actor George Kennedy for Cool Hand Luke; Art Direction and costuming awards went to John Truscott for Camelot, plus Set Direction along with Edward Carrere and John Brown; Best Original Musical Score went to Elmer Bernstein for Thoroughly Modern Millie and the Best Directing Oscar went to Mike Nichols for The Graduate.

Mister Boomer must confess that he only saw two of the films nominated in various categories at the movies fifty years ago: In the Heat of the Night and Cool Hand Luke. As near as Mister B can recall, he saw them at a drive-in with his dad, sister and brother. When his mother had her women’s card night, his dad took the kids to the drive-in to get them out of the house. Mister B saw many of the classic movies of the ’60s this way. As a young teen, Cool Hand Luke in particular made quite an impression on Mister B; he logs it as one of his all-time favorite movies.

At various times in subsequent years, Mister Boomer has seen all of the films on TV that were nominated in the most popular categories fifty years ago. He recalls watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, Camelot and The Graduate in particular. This year there are nine films nominated for Best Picture; in 1968, there were six. Then as now, they are filled with memorable lines of dialogue from quotable scripts, unforgettable scenes and performances, and musical classics that are valued today and will be fifty years from now.

Did you go to the movies to see any of the best pictures featured at the 1968 Academy Awards, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies and have Comment (1)

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)