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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers: Different Through Shared Experiences

Three items crossed the news desk at Mister Boomer headquarters this week that have direct connections to our boomer community. One is old news, one is recent, and one just happened this week. The juxtaposition of the three illustrate the expanse of the boomer generation and differences from early-to-late boomer tendencies.

Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum
This news is already seven years old. Somehow Mister Boomer may have heard that the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum was closing in 2010, but it didn’t immediately register on the scale of momentous boomer happenings; this is probably due to the fact that the TV and movie cowboy and his wife were never a big presence in Mister Boomer’s mid-era household.

Riding the wave of the popularity of Westerns in the 1930s and ’40s, Leonard Slye (later called Roy Rogers [1911-1998]) appeared in a multitude of western movies on his slow and steady rise, from being part of several bands on recordings and radio, then appearing with bands in movies and moving up to starring roles. Along the way he became a lead performer in a band called the Sons of the Pioneers. The band appeared with him in numerous movies, on records and in TV shows. By 1941, Roy Rogers had appeared in 39 films. The band, with Rogers, had several hits, most notably Tumbling Tumbleweed (1934), Cool Water (1941) and Ghost Riders in the Sky (1948). The songs became classics in the Country-Western genre and indeed, the Sons of the Pioneers released new recordings of them every decade through the 1960s.

Rogers’ first wife, Aline, died in 1946. He met Dale Evans (1912-2001) when the two of them were working the same rodeo in 1947. That year they were married. In 1951, The Roy Rogers Show debuted on TV. His wife, Dale, starred alongside him. Each episode, which centered around a rancher (Rogers) and restaurant owner (Evans), espoused their Christian values of fear of God and love of country. The scripts included ample space for musical numbers, and ended with the duo’s signature song, Happy Trails. The original show ran for six seasons. In 1962, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show appeared as a western comedy and variety show for one season.

Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, a vast blitz of Roy Rogers merchandising hit the marketplace, including toys, lunch boxes and more. This merchandise held as much interest for early-era boomers as Gene Autry and Davy Crockett items.

After trying to revive their TV career failed in a changing landscape that perceived them as old-fashioned and “square,” the couple retired and moved to the Apple Valley area just north of Los Angeles, California. In 1967, they established the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in nearby Victorville. In 2003, the couple’s children moved the museum to Branson, Missouri. After lagging ticket sales, the museum shut in 2009, with its contents auctioned off in 2010. Among the items sold at auction was Rogers’ trusty horse, Trigger. The horse appeared with him in numerous movie and TV appearances, and became as much a star for early boomers as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. When Trigger died, Rogers had him stuffed and placed in his museum. Trigger corralled $266,500 at auction. Contents of the museum brought in a total of $2.9 million.

Stanley Weston (1933-2017)
While later-era boomers didn’t know much about Roy Rogers, they knew even less about Stanley Weston. However, most boomer boys born after 1960 knew about Weston’s invention, G.I. Joe. Often called the “Barbie for boys,” Weston knew there was no way his toy would sell if he billed it as a doll for boys. He coined the term, “outfitted action figure,” to describe his poseable figure dressed in military garb. To increase the macho qualities, he gave the figure a scar on his left cheek. He quickly sold the toy to Hasbro for a flat fee of $100,000 in 1964. The original figure was 12-inches tall and could be purchased dressed in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

Weston cleverly saw the opportunity that accessories and different uniforms — like Barbie had shown the year before — could add to the continued sales of his creation. Far from a sure thing in the same year that U.S. soldiers began active fighting in Vietnam, the toy became one of the most successful of all time. The original G.I. Joe had no stated mission, no back story and no named enemies. In contrast, the G.I. Joe sold today is unrecognizable to boomers who had the original toy. The action figures sold today are more muscular — though smaller at nine-and-a-half inches, have a wide variety of weaponry and vehicles available, and are billed as terrorist-fighting men of action. The main adversary of all the ethnic varieties of G.I. Joe is Cobra, a terrorist organization whose goal, like James Bond villains, is to rule the world.

Stanley Weston went on to form a merchandise licensing company, Leisure Concepts. His company represented Farah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), Nintendo, the World Wrestling Federation and several TV shows, including Alf and Welcome Back, Kotter. He was inducted into the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Weston was also part of the team that created the popular ThunderCats TV cartoons.

Gregg Allman (1947-2017)
News arrived this week of the death of fellow boomer Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. The singer, guitarist and keyboardist had his mind set on medical school when his brother, Duane, convinced him to join his band on tour in 1969. Allman agreed to a two-year stint, but continued for the next forty years. The band helped define Southern Rock with their own blend of blues, rock and country.

In October of 1971, his older brother, Duane, died in a motorcycle accident. Four months later, in February 1972, the band returned to touring. By then the band had several hits, including Melissa and Whipping Post, both written by Gregg Allman.

Gregg Allman, already a household name among the majority of boomers before 1970, watched his celebrity kick up a notch when he married Cher in June of 1975. The marriage lasted three years. In total, Allman was married six times, producing four children from different mothers.

In 1995 the Allmann Brothers Band was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and granted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2012.

His addition to heroin and abuse of alcohol and cocaine sent him to rehab 11 times until he became sober in 1995. By then his drug abuse contributed to liver cancer, diagnosed in 2008. He had an unsuccessful liver transplant in 2010. Despite growing health issues, he continued to tour with the latest incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band. His last live performance was in July of 2016.

Mister Boomer’s involvement with the work of the three men had been fleeting. He would have been too young to remember reruns of the first Roy Rogers Show, and his family was more of a Hollywood Palace watching family than the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. Mister B also did not have a G.I. Joe. He was already aged in double-digits when the action figure appeared, though he recalls a neighborhood kid having one. As far as the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman, Mister Boomer heard them on the radio but didn’t like the band enough to merit adding their records to his collection. He did like several of their bluesy tunes, but to this day he owns no Allman Brothers vinyl, and only one Gregg Allman song appears in his electronic music collection: Whipping Post.

How about you, boomers? Did you have a Roy Rogers lunch box, a Trigger toy horse, or a G.I. Joe? Did you go to an Allman Brothers concert or own their hits on vinyl?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,Toys,TV and have No Comments

Polio, the Scourge of Baby Boomers, Now Eradicated in U.S.

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced in a press conference at his research facility at the University of Michigan, that tests of his vaccination for poliomyelitis had been successful. At the time, polio was reported to be as feared by the general public as the atomic bomb. The road to the release of the first polio vaccine looms large in the history of the Baby Boom.

Polio is a contagious viral disease that mainly affects children under the age of five. It usually affects the lower extremities, consequently inducing paralysis of the legs. For these reasons it is associated with infantile paralysis. Like most diseases, there are different strains. When the disease embedded itself in the breathing system, it caused death in five to 10 percent of people (mostly children) who contracted that form. The Iron Lung was primarily developed to assist the breathing of people with this form of polio.

The first significant outbreak of infantile polio struck the U.S. in 1894; it was not known to be a virus until 1908. After an epidemic hit New York City in 1916, research for a cure was accelerated. By 1933, 5,000 cases of infantile paralysis were reported in the U.S. In 1946, the number had jumped to 25,000, and by 1952, it more than doubled to 59,000. This precipitous rise became a significant concern for parents of the burgeoning Baby Boom. In some areas that had outbreaks, panic caused people to desert public pools and large gatherings.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 39 in 1921, a rare occurrence of an adult onset of the disease. As President of the U.S. in 1938, his personal experience with polio caused him to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. This organization, focused on polio research, later became the March of Dimes. During World War II, FDR was wheelchair-bound due to the disease, though he had made an agreement with the press not to release photos of him in his chair lest he be perceived as a wartime president in a weakened condition.

Several scientists around the world were working on developing a vaccination for polio as far back as World War I. Work on developing a flu vaccine by a host of researchers, including Dr. Jonas Salk while he was a med student, became the basis for the research of a polio vaccine. There are two main approaches to developing vaccines: one takes a lesser strain of the live disease and introduces it into a patient to develop an antibody resistance to the disease before a stronger strain can strike. The other method is to inject an inoperative, “killed” version of the disease cells to the patient so the body recognizes the intruder and desensitizes the patient to the disease. Dr. Salk took this second approach. Taking the other approach around the same time was Dr. Albert Sabin, a Polish researcher.

Early boomers, including Mister Boomer, recall the March of Dimes campaigns throughout the 1950s and ’60s in practically every retail establishment. Cardboard cards were displayed by every cash register, with each card having slots to hold dimes. When a customer received change, he or she could slip a dime or two into the card for polio research. Each year the March of Dimes conducted a fundraising drive in the schools, too. Boomers were encouraged by their teachers to contribute their saved dimes, and collect dimes from family and friends, to give to the March of Dimes and their quest to develop a vaccine. Classrooms would compete with one another for having the most money collected. The March of Dimes was the primary foundation that funded Dr. Salk’s experiments.

Dr. Salk wanted to test his theory and the efficacy of his working vaccine, so he petitioned the government to allow a nationwide study. In 1954 he was granted permission and 1.8 million Americans, mostly children, were enlisted to participate. It would be the largest medical research test ever conducted. Half were to be given the vaccine, while the other half received a placebo. Baby boomer parents, fearing a continued rise in polio rates, signed up their children with a simple form: “I give my consent to have my child participate in this experiment.” No one knew what to expect, or what would be the final outcome.

The study was immediately controversial. Polio had been affecting upper and middle class children disproportionately over poorer children. It was assumed that people in the lower-middle and lower classes were more subjected to a wider variety of germs, and therefore more apt to be able to fight off the disease before it took hold. The upper classes therefore had less effective immune systems. The public outcry worried that this inequality meant that only the upper classes would receive the actual vaccine dose while those less fortunate would be receiving the placebo. Dr. Salk’s group claimed the dosage was determined at random.

Despite Dr. Salk’s 1955 pronouncement that his injectable vaccine had proved to be 80 to 90 percent effective, the U.S. government did not immediately authorize its use. Instead, one by Dr. Albert Sabin, using the live vaccine and distributed though an oral ingestion — drops in a sugar cube — are what many boomers will recall receiving as kids. Parents and children alike lined up outside health centers and public schools to receive their vaccine dose. A small number of children acquired the disease from taking the vaccine, and questions arose about whether Dr. Sabin’s vaccine actually killed the virus; this caused Dr. Salk’s injectable “killed virus” vaccine to replace the oral application, though both remained available.

Due to the diligence of Dr. Salk, Dr. Sabin and a host of others, by 1961 the number of reported polio cases in the U.S. had dropped by 96 percent. The Center for Disease Control reported virtual eradication of the disease in 1979, though the last reported case occurred in 1991.

Polio continues to ravage other parts of the world, mainly in developing countries. Efforts are underway by the United Nations to get the latest generation of polio vaccines to the areas that need it the most. When this scourge of the Baby Boom is finally snuffed out, boomers will have had a direct hand in the process as both test subjects and funding contributors to one of the greatest medical victories of our generation.

What do you remember about receiving the polio vaccine, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have No Comments

Boomers Then and Now

In the immortal words of the Chambers Brothers, “Time …”; the youngest of the Baby Boom Generation will turn 53 this year. While it’s fun to take a look back, it can also be a little disconcerting because we need to come to grips with this next chapter of our boomer existence. That does not necessarily fit the pattern of what the generation who sang, “Hope I die before get old” had in mind. One way Mister Boomer addresses this passage of time is by injecting a soupçon of humor. So, in the spirit of Micky Dolenz and the Monkees  singing That Was Then, This is Now, let’s take a look:

THEN: I want to rock ‘n roll all night.
NOW: I want to sleep all night, and not have to get up to go to the bathroom.

THEN: Never trust anyone over 30.
NOW: Never trust anyone UNDER 30.

THEN: Pedal to the metal!
NOW: You left your turn signal on.

THEN: Turn on, tune in, drop out.
NOW: Turn on the TV, tune in to my favorite channel, doze off.

THEN: My heart aches.
NOW: My knees ache.

THEN: I have the munchies.
NOW: I have a coupon for the Early Bird Special.

THEN: Road trip!
NOW: Road trip to CVS

THEN: All you need is love.
NOW: All you need is a good retirement package.

THEN: Love the one you’re with.
NOW: Love is a many splendored thing.

THEN: Dropping acid
NOW: Popping antacids

THEN: Dude, where’s my car?
NOW: Where is my car?

THEN: Burger and fries
NOW: Meat loaf and mashed potatoes

THEN: I gotta get some bread, man.
NOW: No, really, I need a loaf of bread.

THEN: Power to the people!
NOW: Power to my hearing aid

THEN: Turn it up!
NOW: Turn it down!

THEN: Boone’s Farm Apple Wine
NOW: Metamucil

THEN: Hula hoops
NOW: Recliner

THEN: Sock it to me!
NOW: Hand me those warm socks.

THEN: Love beads
NOW: Life Alert

THEN: Drop and give me 20.
NOW: Drop ’em and let’s check your prostate.

THEN: Pass that joint.
NOW: Crack those joints.

THEN:  Charlie’s Angels
NOW: Columbo reruns

THEN: Easy Rider
NOW: The Bucket List

THEN: Jeans
NOW: Sweat pants

THEN: Rock concert
NOW: Philharmonic

Yep, that was then; this is, increasingly, now. What is your Then and Now to add to the list, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have No Comments

Boomers Banked the Old-Fashioned Way

A major financial institution announced this week that it was rolling out a new smartphone app that could control all functions of their ATMs. For several years now banks have accepted check deposits through their smartphone apps when the consumer takes a photo of the check. This announcement, however, eliminates the need for a physical ATM card altogether. You don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. The writing appears to be on the wall as we inevitably move toward a future where all monetary transactions are handled through some personal electronic device.

That dots the “i’s” and crosses the “t’s” for placing the boomer generation as the last to be required to visit a bank teller in person to do routine banking functions such as deposit checks and withdraw funds. Banks have been discouraging the traditional face-to-face bank teller visit — the one boomers recall — for nearly 40 years now. They have trained us to use the ATM instead. Now they want to come one step closer to eliminating the need for an ATM at all.

What triggered this latest nostalgia bomb in the mind of Mister Boomer was that recently he and his spouse opened an account at a neighborhood bank for the sake of convenience. This particular bank is a little unlike others in that there are no bullet-proof partitions separating customer from teller, so there is no need to shout through a hole to relay one’s reason for today’s banking. This was much more like the banks of yore.

Mister Boomer was probably around six or seven years old when his mother brought him and his brother, with his sister in tow in the kids’ wagon, to the neighborhood bank. This visit was to open an account for Mister Boomer. The nice lady behind a desk got the pertinent info, Mister B’s mom handed over a couple of dollars — more than likely the contents of a birthday card from his grandmother — and then went behind the teller counter to finish the transaction. When she returned, she handed Mister B the book — which he was now informed was a “passbook” — and was greeted with a “Welcome to the Bank, Master Boomer.” That was the way it was — men and women would be addressed as “Mister” or “Missus,” girls as “Miss” and boys under the age of twelve as “Master.”

For the next twenty years Mister B banked at that branch. Each time he produced his passbook, where tellers dutifully recorded deposits and withdrawals by stamping the date and amount. When the pages of one book were filled, another was given to take its place. The tellers knew your name when you walked through the door, and they were always happy to see you. It was like Cheers — a place where troubles were all the same, and everybody knew your name.

Of course, boomers did not have a choice but to visit a bank weekly, at the very least. We had to stand in line with all the other people who just got their paychecks in order to deposit part and take back the cash we would need for the week. There was no such thing as “direct deposit.” This might result in lines of 45-minute waits or longer, despite a full complement of tellers for every window. It meant a race to the bank after work if you wanted to cash your paycheck, or using a lunch hour to do so instead. Some banks began to open one day a week a little beyond their usual 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours (known as “bankers hours” to boomers) to accommodate the weekly crush. Others established drive-through windows to increase the number of tellers and lessen the lines, only to have long lines at the drive-throughs.

Mister Boomer’s neighborhood bank wasn’t much bigger than the size of a gas station. It was dwarfed by the size of its parking lot, which was easily double its size. Drive-through windows first appeared in the late 1920s, when people began owning more cars than horses, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s when Mister B’s bank installed drive-throughs. The bank’s main branch had them probably since the building was built, which looked to be the 1950s. But Mister B’s branch was old-fashioned. Following suit, Mister Boomer didn’t use the bank’s drive-throughs until the bank established Saturday morning drive-through hours in the early 1970s. If you couldn’t make it to the bank on Friday payday, the Saturday drive-through window was going to be a life-saver.

Like most boomers at this time in history, Mister Boomer has moved along to embrace whatever ways the banks have laid out for us to give them our money. Forty years ago, would any boomer have envisioned a day when we could make bank transactions and bill payments by computer, let alone a smartphone? Mister Boomer, though, wouldn’t mind banking at a place where everybody knew his name.

Do you remember banking in our boomer days fondly, or as a necessary evil?

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

Boomers Welcomed Spring Their Way

As winter’s thawing tentacles recoil and thrash, intent on crushing the young ambitions of budding crocuses, a wellspring of thoughts gurgle with the notion that spring will — no, must — arrive soon.

Mister Boomer hated this time of the season, that interval of neither here nor there. The time when you needed a winter coat for the walk to school in the morning, but by the time school let out, the temperature had risen 20 degrees. Still cold enough to require a jacket, Mister B and his siblings would have to strip off their hats and gloves and unzip coats to maintain a comfortable equilibrium with the day. He hated that.

Mister Boomer’s mom, like many boomer moms, was motivated by the coming of spring. Her actions on spring motivations began with the seasonal change of outerwear. Since a family of five had to share one small coat closet, a move to storage was always in order when the next season arrived. Winter coats, scarves and gloves were transferred to a basement chifforobe. It was a tall, wooden, rounded-cornered affair, probably dating from the 1930s or ’40s. Mister Boomer thought it must’ve been part of his parents’ bedroom set when they were married, a hand-me-down gift from one of their parents or siblings. However, Midwest springs being what they are, seasons can come and go in a matter of hours. Inevitably there were days when Mister B would have to make the trek to the basement to retrieve winter wear that was prematurely sent to the off-season storage. He hated that.

What’s more, the season ushered in annual spring cleaning chores, especially for the Boomer Brothers. Once Mister B’s mom had the hall closet switched to spring jackets, she’d enlist the help of the boys in various chores around the house. His sister was often exempt from participating. Mister B hated that. (See: Spring Cleaning for Boomer Youth)

T.S. Eliot may have christened April the cruelest month, but then, he may never have had to go to baseball tryouts in the Midwest in March. Mister Boomer didn’t make a Little League team his first year, but did the next three. Tryouts, though, in Mister B’s estimation, were problematic due to seasonal conditions. The air was far too crisp for Mister Boomer, the ground far too soft, the sky far too grey. Then there was the sting of catching a ball in a cold glove, and the zap running up each arm, like brain-freeze for extremities, when the ball made contact with the bat. Even as he took his place at the plate, Mister B knew that somewhere in this favored land, the sun was shining bright, but right there on that day, the weather had struck out. Mister B hated that. (See: Going Batty for Spring)

Mister Boomer has mentioned many times that he, like most boomers, spent a good portion of his time outdoors. As far as Mister B was concerned, he could layer up for winter, but this early spring business confounded his selection of outerwear and made it the most uncomfortable season to play in, in the Great Outdoors. One of the first spring activities in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was kite flying, to take advantage of the seasonal wind. Like baseball tryouts — air, crisp; ground, soft; sky, grey — wasn’t Mister Boomer’s idea of a good time. He hated that. (See: Boomers Go Fly A Kite)

Meanwhile, back at school the march continued toward summer vacation at a snail’s pace. After all, what was spring to a school kid but the gateway to a summer of fun? It would be Memorial Day before Mister B could hope for a full day off for basking in the warm rays of late spring sunshine. Sure, he had a break over Easter, that strange holiday that hopped around the calendar like a crazed bunny hyped up on sugar. It could be a pleasant week off from school one year, depending where it was in the month, or it could snow. Mister Boomer hated that. (See: Our Sunday Best for Easter)

As the passage of time becomes more prescient to an aging Mister B, he hasn’t mellowed much in his thoughts on early spring days. However, hope springs eternal as March has a way of becoming April, which paves the way to May and on to June. Before you know it, we’re in a Frank Sinatra song singing about the autumn of our years. Mister B hates that.

How did you feel about early spring, boomers? How do you feel now?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Seasons and have Comments (2)

Boomers Both Feared and Laughed at Russia

Spying and hacking and meddling … oh my! Russia is in the news again, but that is nothing new to boomers. We lived with practically daily news about the country and people we were told were our biggest adversaries.

There are famous stories of General George Patton advocating war with Russia at the end of World War II. His rationale was that it was inevitable that we would face the country some day, and at that point we had troops and equipment available in the area already. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, but just four years after the end of the war, the first salvo of the Cold War was hurled when the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear bomb.

We tended to use the terms “Russia” and “Soviet Union” interchangeably, though there was a difference. Russia was and is a country in and of itself, but the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was a collection of Country/States that comprised the Soviet Union, until its dissolution in 1991. The U.S.S.R. was under the control of the Communist Party, headquartered in Moscow, Russia.

Once the Soviets became the second state to possess nuclear capability, fear spread across the U.S. Boomers recall the Duck and Cover government educational film (1951) and the craze of people building home fallout shelters (See: Signs of the Times: Fallout Shelter Signs Were A Common Sight for Boomers). In the beginning we were told we’d survive a nuclear attack if we were at school, simply by sliding under our school desks. At home, we could survive indefinitely inside shelters that were either pre-made and installed, or custom made by the homeowner. These shelters were stocked with water, canned goods and everything a family might need to remain locked away underground until nuclear fallout clouds might dissipate. Information at the time thought that might not take more than a month — at least that is what the government was saying aloud.

Soon after the Soviets’ first nuclear test, the country was gripped by McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and the congressional hearings he chaired on the possible infiltration of Communists into the U.S. (1950-54). His first inquiries concerned the loyalty of government employees, then he targeted the film and TV industry.
The same year McCarthy began his “Red Scare,” the U.S. entered the Korean conflict, ostensibly to stop the spread of Communism.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a speech in 1956 that he felt the Communist system would outlast the western Capitalism system by saying, “We will bury you.” He repeated the phrase at the United Nations in 1960, pounding his fists and ultimately, his shoe, on his desk. The line elicited front page news for the American press. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 added more fuel to the fire of nuclear fear (See: Boomer History: The Cuban Missile Crisis).

Meanwhile, the film and TV industry was busy doing what people always do to their adversaries — demonize and make fun of them. Some of the most popular movies and TV shows referenced the Soviet Union in an adversarial role. Most, however, may have made allusions to Russian spies and meddling, but the foes were more often super villains from international crime syndicates as opposed to state operators. Here are a few of Mister B’s Cold War favorites:

James Bond — The first James Bond film was released in 1962. The books, authored by Ian Fleming, did plot U.S. and Soviet spies against each other on occasion, but the movies seldom did. In From Russia with Love (1963), James Bond “must” seduce a beautiful Russian agent in order to acquire a decoder device. In You Only Live Twice (1967) super-villain Blofeld is capturing Soviet and American satellites in an effort to start a war between the two countries. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), British and Russian submarines are being hijacked, so the two countries’ governments combine forces to investigate. Heading into the 1980s and ’90s, the Soviets and British (and by proxy, Americans) appear in an adversarial role in several Bond films, but that is out of the range of the prime boomer years, so Mister B will leave that for your own research.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – This movie set up a “what if” scenario of a rogue American general intent on starting a war between our two countries. In the movie, the U.S. President reaches out to the Soviet Ambassador to try to explain the situation and brings him into the top-secret War Room in the process. There, the Ambassador, skeptical of U.S. motives, is busy taking pictures of his surroundings. The satire showed the absurdity of our mutual distrust in the face of total annihilation.

Fail-Safe (1964) – Like Dr. Strangelove before it, this film creates a scenario where a nuclear exchange between the two countries is frighteningly close at hand. In this film, though, American bombers are accidentally sent to destroy Moscow due to electrical and computer malfunctions. The U.S. asks the Soviet Union for help in averting a worldwide crisis. Unlike Dr. Strangelove, this was serious drama. Mister Boomer had read the book in school before the movie was made.

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) – When a Soviet submarine accidentally runs aground off the coast of a small New England town, members of the crew realize they have no choice but to go ashore and seek help to free their vessel. Reflecting the paranoia of the day, townspeople mistake the small boat as a Russian invasion force. Merriment ensues.

Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale – Cartoon characters on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), these spies and dastardly do-no-gooders were actually from Pottsylvania, despite their obvious Russian names. Their superior was known as Fearless Leader. Boris’s name is a play on the name of Boris Godunov, a 19th century Russian tsar who instituted a spy system to protect his power from internal and external enemies. Boris Badenov proclaimed himself the “world’s greatest nogoodnik,” another reference to the Russian language.

Much taller than Boris, Natasha Fatale was his partner and evidently the brains of the operation. She appeared to hold some affection for Boris and often saved him from his own misdoings. Like Boris, she spoke in a broken English reminiscent of a Slavic-Russian accent.

Spy TV Shows — A series of TV shows cropped up in the early ’60s that used the Cold War as backdrop, but again, seldom mentioned Russia and the Soviet Union by name — although there were instances where the two countries worked together to thwart a common enemy. Among them were The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68),  I Spy (1965-68), The Avengers (1966-69), Mission: Impossible (1966-73), The Prisoner (1967-68), and Get Smart (1965-70). All of them used at least some humor in their scripts.

What memorable laugh or fear-stricken book, film or TV show about the Russians do you remember, Boomers? (For further Mister B insight, see: Laughing Through the Cold War)

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