Magazines Were Boomers’ Windows on the World

It may be hard for today’s generation to believe that before the advent of the Internet, boomers got the bulk of their information about everything from pop culture to international affairs through newspapers and magazines. Newspapers were as necessary as the delivery from the milkman, but it was magazines that truly captured the hearts and minds of boomer families. Television programming began to cut into the circulation of magazines, but Mister Boomer is pretty sure if you ask any boomer, he or she will tell you that their family subscribed to several magazines that were promptly delivered to their mailbox.

There was a magazine for every possible constituency, gender and age. Many had already been active for decades, while others got their start in the Boomer Era. For boys, there was Boy’s Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America (since 1911). As they grew to be teens, they might share dad’s copy of Popular Mechanics (since 1902). Burgeoning car enthusiasts had Hot Rod, first published in 1948, making it a true boomer publication. Road & Track joined the fun in 1952, having been sporadically published between 1947 to ’49.

Young girls read Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine. Fashion tips could be procured from Seventeen as girls became teens.

The fathers of boomers had a series of magazines aimed solely at the male market. Among the most popular were Esquire (first published in 1933), the aforementioned Popular Mechanics and Playboy (first published in 1953). There were also a host of other men’s magazine that included racy photos of women (for the time). Some may have piqued the interest of boomer boys when they discovered where their fathers kept their archive (but not Mister B or Brother Boomer; their father did not subscribe to any of them). Many of the magazines, such as Esquire, featured fiction by some of the up-and-coming writers of the day, including Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, among others.

Boomer mothers had a treasure trove of magazines designed just for them. Centered around family life, child rearing, cooking and house organizing, these included McCall’s (1897-2000), Good Housekeeping (since 1891), Family Circle (since 1932), Better Homes & Gardens (1925) and Ladies’ Home Journal (1891).

Then there were the magazines shared by the whole family. These were either general interest, photo-heavy magazines like Life (1936-72), Look (1937-71) and National Geographic (1888), or news magazines like Time (1923), Newsweek (1933) and U.S. News & World Report (1933). Many families added Consumer Reports (1936), the first magazine to offer unbiased product testing, a handy resource in the age of boomer consumerism.

If there was a single magazine that bridged the gap among boomers of all ages, it would have to be Reader’s Digest (1920). Designed with 30 articles per issues, so people could read one a day, the magazine became the best-selling publication in the country for decades. Many boomers will recall their parents enjoying the columns, “Humor in Uniform” or “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Many boomers will also recall that their friends and relatives, if not their own parents, kept the current issue in the bathroom for “library” reading.

Mister Boomer’s family subscribed to many magazines through the years. Mister B’s mother was partial to Good Housekeeping and McCall’s while his father enjoyed Life and Look, as well as Reader’s Digest. Brother Boomer got a Newsweek subscription when he was in high school. Mister Boomer and his sister did not subscribe to monthly magazines, but bought them on occasion. Mister B paged through Life and Look, and often used the photos for art projects for school, but his favorite was Mad, which he purchased sporadically between 1962 and ’68. His sister liked the celebrity photos of the Beatles, Bobby Sherman and Richard Chamberlain that she could get in Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, when the mood struck her to purchase them.

How about you, boomers? What magazines did you and your family subscribe to?

Boomers Loved Broadway Music

It’s Tony Award season again on Broadway, not something typical boomers paid much attention to in their early days. If Mister Boomer’s experience is any indication of the relationship of boomers to the Broadway stage, then boomers had virtually no connection to what was happening on the Great White Way. Or did they? There is a long tradition of popular music coming from the stage. Vaudeville songs became hits as sheet music was sold at the turn of the century, then music from the stage was heard on the radio and records in the 1920s, helping to propel songs such as such as Ol’ Man River from Show Boat (1927) into the realm of popular hits. By the time the parents of boomers had entered the 1940s, songs from Broadway musicals became regular fixtures on the radio.

Summertime from Porgy and Bess (1933), was not only a hit in the 1930s, it was recorded by numerous boomer-era musicians, most notably by Janis Joplin (1968). The George and Ira Gershwin tune, I Got Rhythm, from Girl Crazy (1930) became a hit for The Happenings in 1967. Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific (1949) was recorded by numerous artists, among them Frank Sinatra, who released the song three times (1949, 1963, 1967)! A version by Jay & the Americans reached No. 13 on the Billboard charts in 1965.

Here are some other Broadway songs that boomers heard on their radios:

Stranger in Paradise from Kismet (1953, became a film in 1955) was a hit for Tony Bennet that same year. Other stars who recorded it that are known to boomers include Johnny Mathis, Englebert Humperdinck, Percy Faith, Isaac Hayes, the Ink Spots, Jack Jones, Sun Ra and the Supremes, among many others.

Boomers recall Robert Preston’s version of Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man (1957) and subsequent film (1962), but how many recall that Spanky and Our Gang released a version in 1967?

Broadway’s West Side Story (1957) and film (1961) spawned multiple hits for multiple artists, including Tonight and Maria. Aretha Franklin gave us her own version of Somewhere in 1973. Little Richard, of all people, recorded I Feel Pretty in 1966 (granted, it was not a hit for him). The Supremes sang the same song on Ed Sullivan and Hollywood Palace, and even though they had recorded it in 1965, it wasn’t released until 2004.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses bolstered the popularity of Ethel Merman in Gypsy (1959). Many others recorded the tune, including Johnny Mathis (1960), Bobby Rydell (1961) and Shirley Bassey (1965).

The Sound of Music (1959) gave us several hits, and of course, a movie (1965) that most boomers saw at an early age. Climb E’vry Mountain was recorded by Andy Williams in 1960; My Favorite Things became a jazz standard after John Coltrane’s version was released (1961). Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass recorded it in 1969. Numerous artists have sung the song on TV Christmas specials throughout the boomer years.

Fiddler on the Roof (1964) brought us If I were a Rich Man, which was subsequently recorded by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (1966), Roger Whitaker (1967) and Sergio Franchi (1968).

Cabaret from Cabaret (1966) brought us several versions on the radio, including the Liza Minnelli soundtrack from the film (1972), and some unlikely song stylists like Brenda Lee (1968), Ella Fitzgerald (1970) and Bing Crosby (1976).

Hair (1968) brought us several hits, including Aquarius for The 5th Dimension (1969). Mister B has mentioned the influence of this musical in an earlier post. See: Boomers Dug Songs from “Hair”

Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music (1973) was not a hit when it became known to audiences on Broadway. Bobby Short became the first to record it (1973) but it took Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins to make it a hit. Sinatra’s version came first in 1973, and Collins released her version two years later.

The Wiz brought us Ease on Down the Road (1975) on the original cast album that featured Stephanie Mills, but most boomers will recall the later version, a duet by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (1978) that was released as a single release in conjunction with the opening of the movie.

Of course, there were many more. What Broadway songs found their way into your home and record collection, boomers?