There’s a Kind of Crush, All Over the Boomer World

In the decade of the sixties, women on TV began to be portrayed as more powerful, independent characters. At the same time, though, their sexuality was amped up to, in some cases, comic book extremes. For boomer boys hitting their double-digit years, the latter was of particular note. It was a time of infatuation that spawned many a boyhood crush. Mister Boomer was among those boys with eyes glued to their TV sets, drinking in as much feminine pulchritude as his eyes would store. Among the group of battling beauties of sixties TV, six stand out as exceptional for Mister B.

Linda Evans as Audra Barkley; The Big Valley (1965-69)
There was plenty for young boomer boys to like about The Big Valley. It was a Western, and that meant there were horses and plenty of fighting and gunplay. The show was popular with Mister Boomer’s parents. Yet the character Mister B focused on was Audra. Mister Boomer sat dreamy-eyed, watching Linda Evans mount and dismount her horse in each episode. Always crisply dressed, she was the modern incarnation of Western fashion. Crisp white shirts were kept open at the collar by not one, but two buttons. Knee-high leather boots covered form-fitting riding pants in just the right shades of dark gray. Even though the show was filmed in color, Mister B’s family didn’t have a color set until the late 70s, so she was always dressed in shades of glorious gray. Despite her fashionable charm, a young Mister B got lost in her flowing blonde locks.

Anne Francis as Honey West; Honey West (1965-66)

Mister Boomer knew about Anne Francis from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, which he had seen on TV; it instantly became one of his all-time favorites. She was probably the curviest actress he had ever seen at the time, and therefore the most overtly sexual. In Honey West, Ms. Francis played the title character, a private eye with a pet ocelot and animal-print wardrobe. She was the first female private detective on TV, which was as spin-off of an episode she appeared in on Burke’s Law. She was tough as nails in her job, yet always reminded us she was a woman by painting her nails on-screen. Honey drove a sports car and carried James Bond-style gadgetry, often dispatching bad guys using her black belt knowledge of Judo. What was not to like? Mister B always remembered the opening sequence where her sports car zips into the frame, camera zoomed in on the car door. As the door opens, two incredible legs appear, followed by an ocelot on a chain, then the amazing rest of Miss West. She sported a “beauty mark” near her lips, but that was somewhat distracting to Mister B., he would have preferred her face be clear of such blemishes. Anne Francis passed away in January of 2011.

Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel; The Avengers (1965-68)

After airing for three years in Britain, ABC brought The Avengers to American audiences. Like many other shows, it capitalized on the popularity of the James Bond films. Unlike Bond, though, far-out notions of cyber-robots and such helped the series to spawn was what to become known as the spy-fi genre. Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel was the assistant to John Steed, played by the actor Patrick Macnee. She wasn’t the first actress to play the part of his assistant, but the first introduced to American audiences. And what an introduction! Mrs. Peel had it all: modelicious good looks, martial-arts fighting ability and sharpshooter skills delivered with a sly smile and witty banter not previously experienced on American TV. But the thing young boomers boys will remember the most was her skin-tight catsuits. She fancied them for all her spy work, giving a whole new meaning to “form follows function.” Like Honey West (which had been called the American answer to The Avengers before the show reached the U.S., causing the cancellation of Honey West), Emma Peel drove a fast car and kicked on-screen butt alongside her ever-suave and superbly dressed supervisor, John Steed. Even as a very young man, though, Mister Boomer became infatuated with her Mona-Lisa smile and witty charm as much as her curves. This propelled Mrs. Peel to near the top of the crush list for the duration of his formative years.

Barbara Eden as Jeannie; I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70)
If ever there was a sexy genie, it was Barbara Eden. Her character was introduced as astronaut Captain Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) splashed down off-course on a deserted beach, and came across her bottle. She was always pictured in her rather revealing harem outfit, which caused a stir at the time. Though she was allowed to show her midriff, the TV censors drew the line at showing her belly button. The Internet has several references to episodes in which we can sneak a peek at said belly button, though. Jeannie was as friendly a woman as a young boomer was going to find; always accommodating and eager to please, she was the idealized fifties housewife in a bottle. With no real costume changes and a one-note character, Mister B’s interest in Jeannie didn’t last. Besides, Barbara Eden was older than some of the other TV beauties of the time.

Stephanie Powers as April Dancer; The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966)
Another spin-off, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. found its origins in the very popular The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Right from the start, however, the character played by Stephanie Powers was going to be infinitely more feminine and not as stuffy and dramatic as her male counterparts. She sported a super-cool Carnaby Street mod wardrobe of miniskirts and wonderful color-block coats and dresses (which were always in black and white to Mister B). Almost as a throwback to a previous decade, the character wasn’t allowed to dispatch the bad guys under her own power. Rather, it was her penchant for disguises (such as harem girl) and ability to speak in accents, coupled with a real-life dance background, that enabled her to snare the evildoers. They could then be handled by her male partner, Mark Slate (as played by Noel Harrison, the famous actor’s son). The mod fashions were a big draw for Mister B. She was cute. Darn cute to a young boomer.

Peggy Lipton as Julie Barnes; The Mod Squad (1968-73)

As a model turned actress, Peggy Lipton was paired with two men in this police drama with the tagline: One White, One Black, One Blonde. The trio were hipsters given chance to fight crime or be incarcerated themselves. Now crimefighters, their previous crimes were of little consequence. They became the first counterculture characters working for The Man in a TV show aimed at the counterculture. It regularly dealt with social and racial issues, and was regarded as a seriously-acted show. In fact, Peggy Lipton garnered four Golden Globe nominations during her tenure as Julie. Mister Boomer wasn’t watching Peggy for her acting abilities. Her straight, blonde hair and model physique sent Mister B’s heart a-fluttering. She was a beautiful black-and-white gazelle bounding across the Sylvania screen. To his young eyes, she was at once vulnerable yet approachable, young and ever-so-vibrant. The occasional scene in a bikini sure didn’t hurt any, either. To a young Mister B, she was the quintessential sixties woman.

Of course there were more, but for Mister B, the top six were Audra, Honey, Diana, Barbara, April and Julie. By this point, the sixties were turning into the seventies, and how women were portrayed on TV would change again. New shows were setting new beauty standards as a way to further social causes, such as Angie Dickenson’s Police Woman (1974), while late-boomer boys could have a front row seat to a series of “jiggle” shows that left no doubt about the subject. Mister Boomer is glad to have experienced the more innocent time when women were first being shown as able to do anything a man could do, and look a lot nicer while doing it.

What about boomer girls and their crushes? Mister Boomer has heard young boomer girls went all doe-eyed over the likes of Kookie (Edd Byrnes; 77 Sunset Strip, 1958), Dr. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain; Dr. Kildare, 1961) or Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum; The Man from U.N.C.L.E., 1964). But alas, what does Mister Boomer know?

How about it, boomers? Did you have a crush on a sixties TV star?

Technology Was No Stranger to Boomers

A good part of our formative boomer years was spent dreaming about the future. After all, we were the first generation that had a realistic hope of achieving some of those dreams. Our parents’ generation lead the way with innovations throughout the boomer decades. Boomers picked up where they left off and created the technological world we live in today.

Boomers were introduced to technological fantasies at an early age, beginning with cartoons and a variety of TV series. Shows like Supercar (1961) featured puppets, like most kids’ shows of the day, but in this series, the main character, Mike Mercury, drove a flying car. Even when the car was driven on land it didn’t need wheels. Instead, it hovered on a cushion of air. And, oh yes, it could also travel underwater. The Flintstones put the idea in our tiny little heads that technology — from TV to record players, cars to telephones — had always been around, even if in “rock” form. Then we looked headlong into the future with The Jetsons (1962). In this cartoon series, a typical 21st Century American family lived with a vast array of technology at their disposal, from treadmills for walking the dog to video phone conferencing; microwave-style ovens to people-moving sidewalks; flying cars to reach their apartments in the sky to a robot named Rosie, replete with human foibles. Of course, there were numerous other cartoons where technology played a key role.

Mister B apologizes for the length of this clip, but there is fun and insightful commentary to be gleaned from this interview with the creators of The Jetsons.

Live-action shows and movies jumped on the bandwagon, often centered around secret agents utilizing technological gadgetry in their defender roles as a direct or vaguely-veiled reference to the Cold War. The James Bond movies entered the scene with Dr. No in 1962, but the famous Bond gadgets began showing their impact on the characters in the second film, From Russia With Love (1963). On TV, The Wild Wild West (1965) featured two secret service agents in the employ of President Ulysses S. Grant in the period after the Civil War. Their ingenious gadgets were often integral parts of the storyline. By this time, it was so natural for us to see “future” technology on screen that we could use it in the comedy of the day as well. Enter Get Smart, a 1965 TV series where the bumbling main character, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), has all the techno-gadgetry of James Bond, but none of the finesse. The character is most-often remembered for his shoe phone, a precursor to the cellphone.

Real-life technology that entered the consumer market in boomer years played a huge part in the way the entire generation would embrace it for the following decades to come. The list of innovations that began to appear — especially electronic innovations — is mind-boggling, even by today’s standards. The entire electronics revolution was made possible when the first integrated circuit was invented in 1958. Evidently, it was an invention whose time had come, since two men had come up with approximately the same idea at the same time. Both men, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, received patents for their inventions. Look at this partial list of electronic marvels that appeared during our early boomer years:

1962 – The first portable cassette recorder was introduced by Phillips.
1964 – Pentax marketed the first 35MM SLR camera.
1967 – Phillips sells the first battery-powered shaver.
1967 – Integrated circuit inventor Jack Kilby created the handheld calculator.
1968 – The Polaroid gave us the Swinger, the first instant camera, though prints were black & white only.
1969 – The telephone got a makeover as the Trimphone. Though created in 1964, it took a few years to catch on with consumers.
1969 – Dr. Christiaan Barnard pioneered and implanted the first artificial heart.
1971 – The first digital watch was created, though mass-production at an affordable price would have to wait another couple of years.
1972 – Color TVs outnumbered black & white sets in the home for the first time.
1972 – Pioneer releases the first home LP cassette recorder.
1974 – The first portable electronic calculator is marketed.
1975 – Home freezers were sold and quickly become a standard appliance in nearly 50% of homes.
1977 – Atari introduced the Atari 2600, the first video game player.
1977 – The Apple II computer was sold; the basic model was $1,300 with an external 5 1/4 inch floppy disk running at 1 MHz and housing 4 kB RAM.

Mister Boomer recalls watching all of those TV shows and movies, and dreaming of the day he’d own a flying car. We have chronicled the time Mister B and his brother received transistor radios in an earlier entry (Boomers Strike Solid Gold). A decade later his brother got a Polaroid camera for Christmas. It was truly amazing to see a picture in a matter of a minute or two, without having to drop off a roll of film at the local drug store to be developed. A few years later, Mister B was employed in a retail setting where all the guys started buying digital watches. The watch “dial” was an overall dull, dark gray circle, with a blacked-out rectangle situated in the top half. There was a side button to push in order to display the time — in numbers — within the blackened slot. A colorful leather wrist band helped give the technology not only a function, but a fashion statement as well.

We took a look at the future as boomer children, saw it unfolding in the gadgets made available to us and our families, and embraced it until it became synonymous with our generation. We may not have invented technological innovation, but we did elevate it to the level it is in the world today.

What do you remember of the early days of electronics entering your family’s world?