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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Holy Schnikies, Batman is Gone!

Our boomer flags were lowered to half staff this week with the passing of Adam West. He was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington, but for boomers, he was and always will be, Batman.

Anderson’s mother moved him to Seattle after divorcing his father when he was 14, but he went back to Walla Walla after high school to attend Whitman College. After graduating with a degree in literature, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a radio DJ, before doing post-graduate studies at Stanford University.

When he was drafted into the Army, he worked as an announcer for American Forces Network television and was part of a team tasked to create TV studios for the military, first in California, then in New Jersey.

After leaving the army in 1954, an old friend from Walla Walla, Carl Hebenstreit, suggested he move to Hawaii. There, Hebenstreit was hosting a local children’s TV series called The Kini Popo Show with a chimpanzee as his co-host. Anderson got his first acting job when he signed on as a sidekick, and later replaced Hebenstreit as the host. He had never studied acting.

The same year he worked in Hawaii, he appeared in a series of roles on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. His first movie role arrived in 1957’s Voodoo Island, though his role was uncredited. After moving to Los Angeles in 1959 he changed his name to Adam West and quickly landed a contract with Warner Bros. There, he appeared in his first credited film, The Young Philadelphians (1959,) along with Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Brian Keith and Robert Vaughn. A series of Western roles followed, and a slew of television appearances that reads like a Who’s Who of popular boomer TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Maverick, The Outer Limits, Petticoat Junction and The Virginian, to name a few.

As a spokesperson for Nestle’s Quik in 1965, he had more than 70 roles to his credit. Casting agents saw him in a commercial and he became Bruce Wayne/Batman on the Batman television series (1966-68). His campy, deadpan delivery as Batman was the perfect nonsense to appear in a cultural landscape that was increasingly chaotic. The Generation Gap was widening between early boomers and their parents’ generation as the Vietnam War escalated to produce the beginning of the protest movement.

Mister Boomer was a teenager when the series began. He enjoyed the pun-filled dialogue, big star appearances and the tongue-in-cheek nod to comic books with OOF! BLAM! and POW! spinning onto the screen during the inevitable fight sequences. It would be a decade later before Mister Boomer saw the show in color, at which time he saw that the brightness of the colorful sets were clearly designed with comic books in mind. His whole family enjoyed watching Batman, but it was his sister who would walk around the house singing, Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da…Batman!

There may not be a boomer anywhere who didn’t enjoy some portion of what was clearly a ridiculous portrayal of the Dark Knight. Right from the start the show brought in big stars as villains; Burgess Meredith was the Penguin, Cesar Romero was the Joker, Frank Gorshin was the Riddler, Vincent Price was Egghead, and Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman. By the second season stars asked to be on the show. The list of stars looking to act alongside Adam West is long and impressive. (See Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … Guest Star!)

After the show ended in 1968, West was typecast and could not find work. It was two years before he was able to land a role on TV’s The Big Valley. After that he picked up where he left off before becoming Batman, making more than 80 appearances on TV shows and in movies. Boomers recognized his later cartoon voiceover work in SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and The Family Guy.

Adam West had an accomplished career in movies and television without his role as Batman, but would boomers everywhere remember his name and mourn his passing as they are now if he didn’t don those ill-fitting tights?

What roles do you remember Adam West in, boomers? Were you a fan of the Batman series?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments (2)

Boomers Were Milked for All They Were Worth

Boomers drank milk, every day. At breakfast, it was milk with cereal. During the school day there was a milk break and more milk with lunch. And a glass of milk accompanied every dinner. That’s just the way it was. Milk was the parents’ beverage of choice for kids throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Consumption started dropping in the 1970s, and has continued ever since. But what if our beverage of choice wasn’t exactly a choice? How did milk become so important to the parents of the Boomer Generation?

Our ancestors drank milk on occasion, but nowhere near the extent that boomers did. There were no government programs requiring milk in schools or ad campaigns reminding people of the nutritional value of milk. All that began to change during the Great Depression.

The government began boosting milk with a WPA ad campaign through Roosevelt’s New Deal with images of the benefits of drinking the white stuff. However, the main goal of this program was not to make healthier children, but to increase demand in order to boost a flailing dairy industry and keep people — including the WPA artists — working.

Federal Art Project, S. (1940) Milk — For Health, Good Teeth, Vitality, Endurance, Strong Bones. Ohio, 1940.

In 1940, the first government program was instituted, providing federal assistance to supply milk to school children in the Chicago area. This was an effort to boost nutrition and health, especially among poorer families. Children whose parents could not afford the penny for a half pint were given the milk free in a partnership of government and private organizations that footed the bill.

In 1946, the National School Lunch Act was signed into law by President Harry Truman. Having just fought a World War that relied on healthy young men to serve as soldiers, Congress was motivated to support a program for nutrition in schools as an important component to the health and well-being of the nation. It being Congress, the Act also encouraged consumption of nutritious domestic agricultural and dairy products that just happened to benefit their voting constituents. Included in the program was the mandate that each lunch contain between one half to two pints of whole milk.

Enter the Baby Boom
So the milk stage had been set before the first Baby Boomers arrived, but a technological advancement helped take milk to the boomer finish line: square milk cartons. Up until that point, milk was delivered in glass bottles or large metal canisters. Now, convenient quart or half-gallon cartons could be purchased and brought home, while schools could offer milk in half- and full pint containers. They no longer had to deal with bulk glass bottles that needed washing and storing.

This is the era Mister Boomer remembers. His school sold milk in half-pint glass bottles that had a cardboard stopper in the top. If a boomer was careful, he or she could lift the tab on the top and pull the stopper straight out. More often than not, the cardboard tab tore, so it took a little fussing to get the bottle open and still have time to drink it in the allotted break time. Mister Boomer was thrilled when the milk began to arrive in cool three-sided triangle-shaped cartons. A straw was attached to each carton that was used to puncture a designated hole.

The price of the half-pint was two cents in Mister Boomer’s earliest memories, jumping to five cents in a couple of years. His father, like all the other boomer fathers, gave Mister B and his siblings “milk money.” Despite the mandate and endorsement from parents, Mister Boomer was not a milk lover. He tolerated it in cereal, but when it came to drinking it straight, Mister B had two stipulations: first, it had to be ice cold; and second, if at all possible, it had to be chocolate milk. Fortunately, his parents agreed to let him have chocolate milk at school. Mister Boomer recalls the cases being delivered into the classroom. There were only three chocolate milk drinkers in his class of 30 kids. For years, Bosco and Nestle’s Quik saved him from the taste of plain white milk at home.

The beat went on in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Child Nutrition Act that authorized a Special Milk Program. This Act incorporated the text from the National School Lunch Act of 1946 that provided free or low cost milk to children, regardless of whether their school participated in the federal child nutrition meal service programs. The government reimbursed schools for distributing milk. The result was that milk consumption increased by ten times since the dawn of the Baby Boomers.

After the Boomer Generation, milk wasn’t pushed on families as much as the previous three decades and consumption dropped. That’s when the dairy industry began its now-famous milk campaigns of the 1980s and ’90s. First was the Milk. It does a body good. campaign that, like Wonder bread in the decades before, stressed the bone-building calcium and protein aspects of building a strong body. That was followed by the got milk? campaign in 1993, that tried to put milk in the indispensable category for every home. The milk mustache off-shoot of that campaign — featuring loads of celebrities with milk mustaches — attempted to add a cool factor to drinking milk. Currently, the campaign is attempting to say milk is integrated into a healthy lifestyle with a Milk Life tagline. The dairy industry has spent over a billion dollars on advertising milk since the 1980s. And milk consumption continues to fall.

Some say the nutritional value of milk was overrated as far back as the 1950s. Today we know a lot more about the fat content and nutritional value — or lack thereof — in a glass of milk. Vitamins once thought critical for growing bodies can be acquired through any number of good food choices. If only Mister Boomer knew he could eat fresh vegetables instead, he could have avoided a lot of sour-faced gulping to finish a glass.

Did milk do your body good, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

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 Comments Off on Boomers Then and Now

Boomers Watch As Things Disappear

When contemplating the rate at which things we once thought commonplace are disappearing, Mister Boomer was reminded of the lyrics to a song by Badfinger (1970):

If you want it, here it is, come and get it
But you’d better hurry ’cause it’s goin’ fast

You’d better hurry ’cause its going fast

Mister Boomer has chronicled the field of disappearing things before, including phone booths and TVs with dials. Here is an update to add to the list:

Steering Wheels
Unlike the flying cars we were promised in our youth, the driverless car is becoming a reality faster than many boomers could ever dream. Now word comes from the Ford Motor Company of their plans to start production on an autonomous vehicle in 2020! Cars may not be disappearing any time soon, but over the next decade cars with steering wheels and pedals will. That means boomers who probably learned how to drive on a car with no power steering will now live long enough to see cars on the road without a driver — and no need for a steering wheel.

Wallets with change pockets
For decades, women’s wallets came equipped with a change pocket, and many men’s wallets did, too. Mister Boomer’s very first wallet had a leather change pocket built in. The problem these days is, of course, that young people do not carry change. It may drive Mister Boomer crazy to see a Millennial pay for a pack of gum with a debit card, but that is the way our society is heading. To be fair, in our day a package of gum was a nickel or dime; today it’s over a dollar. We may not only see change pockets and change disappear, but paper money as well.

Postcards
When people were off seeing the U.S.A. in their Chevrolet in the decades before the Internet, e-mail and social media, they sent postcards to friends and family to tell them, “Wish you were here.” The cards were individually handwritten and stamped with the proper postcard postage, then whisked on their way courtesy of the U.S. Post Office. Sometimes the sender could return home before the postcards arrived, but it was a normal practice to send and receive postcards to/from family and friends when traveling. Some people sent holiday postcards rather than deal with envelopes; they were cheaper, too. Now, they are disappearing because with a click a message, photo or video can be sent to anyone in the world, no stamp necessary.

Celebrity Autographs
Since the dawn of celebrity, when people saw their larger-than-life stars, there is only one request they would make of them — an autograph. Many boomers will recall their mothers and some fathers having autograph books designed just for the that purpose, and some boomers carried on the tradition. Now, what people want from celebrities is a selfie more than an autograph. A selfie plays better in the show-and-tell social media landscape, much better than an “I got so-and-so’s autograph today!” message.

CDs
Boomers saw 8-track tapes come and go, then cassette tapes, then the decline and fall of vinyl records (even though vinyl is on a bit of a comeback tour right now). CDs were a latecomer to the music party, and are now disappearing. Music is easily downloaded or  listened to on any number of devices. The CD, we’ve come to learn, is not as stable a medium as vinyl records were, so many have already degraded to the point of being unplayable. Can you say “planned obsolescence?”

Personal Ownership
The shared economy is upon us. For many years now a plethora of boomers have accepted the fact that they would lease their cars instead of buying them. The reasons are simple: lease payments are often cheaper than ownership payments and the cost of operation can be lower, too. With the advent of car services available at the click of a button and driverless vehicles on the horizon, are car ownership days on the wane? We’ll know which way the wind blows in the next decade.

Boomers loved buying records. We went out to get 45 RPMs and albums from our favorite artists on the day they were released. And the beauty is, now that we are approaching our old age, many of us still have those records. Boomers watched vinyl get replaced by cassettes played on a Walkman, only to be replaced by CDs; then CDs replaced by downloadable music played on an iPod. The iPod started its decline when music could be stored and played on a smartphone, and now, music streaming is threatening to hasten the demise of personal music ownership altogether.

Before World War II home ownership was far from a given, especially for the lower and middle classes. Less than half of the population owned their homes. The Baby Boom changed that by a full ten percent in one decade after the War, thanks to the GI Bill and VA loans. Today more than one third of the population still does not own a home. In California, our most populous state, home ownership peaked in 2008. The Great Recession and Millennials rethinking the need to own a home is changing the game once again. How long will it be until owning a home is no longer part of the American Dream?

The rate at which things we once thought commonplace are disappearing seems to be accelerating. So how about it, boomers, do we hang on to what we had as long as we can or go with the flow and embrace the new?

Read Mister Boomer’s other posts on disappearing boomer stuff:
Going, Going… Gone?
Boomers Watched Things Come and Go
Boomers’ Labor Love Lost

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History,Technology and have Comments Off on Boomers Watch As Things Disappear

Boomers Wore Nehru Jackets … Temporarily

The style that came to be known in the Western World as the Nehru jacket came to the Boomer Generation in variety of ways. The fashion item itself had its origins in Asia thousands of years ago. Most of Asian cultures had a variation on the straight, thigh-length jacket with a collarless neckline. The jacket, so called because it was worn over a shirt, was generally reserved for the noble class or used as ceremonial garb.

The garment we knew as the “Nehru jacket” was so named after India’s political activist and first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964). As a constant reminder of his objection to British rule, he wore a traditional coat that resembled the styles of Achkan, Sherwani or Bandhgala designs that spoke of Indian culture in the years immediately before and after India gained its independence in the 1940s.

The U.S. got its first-hand look at Nehru’s mode of dress in 1962. China had just acted aggressively by moving troops into northern India, alarming world leaders in the process. In an effort to sway Nehru into joining the fight against Communism, President Kennedy invited him to visit the White House. A pacifist at heart like his co-activist friend Gandhi, Nehru called China “India’s brother.” Shortly thereafter China withdrew its troops. Photos of the President and the First Lady with the Prime Minister and his wife fascinated fashionistas in Britain and the U.S.

One of the earliest commonly-viewed influences of the style turned up in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). The title character (played by Joseph Wiseman) wore a Mandarin collar jacket that was probably more Chinese-influenced than Indian. As the villain in the film, he was the antithesis of India’s Prime Minister.

A burgeoning counterculture fashion industry and a growing number of disaffected youth  began looking to the East for guidance, after rejecting “Western values” as they saw them. They coalesced when the Beatles began wearing collarless suits in the early 1960s; the Beatles had a huge influence on the elevation of the Nehru jacket, but not in the main form Mandarin collar we recall from the era. Rather, British designers used the style as inspiration for collarless suit jackets. Before the Beatles, it was common for rock ‘n roll band members to wear business suits and ties. The Beatles were among the first to straddle the line between respectable and irreverent by wearing collarless suit jackets.


Timothy Leary wore a collarless Asian-style garment in the days of his Hippie influence.

In 1966 the Beatles visited India to study meditation. By the time they returned to Britain, Eastern philosophy and style had permeated the counterculture, especially the Hippies. British designers, keen on expanding the new Age of Fashion, seized the moment and produced variations of their own on a jacket they now labelled as “Nehru,” both to honor the pacifist man and give a Western name to an Asian style. Nonetheless, even though there are photos of John and George wearing Indian-style Nehru jackets around the time of their India trip, it is worth noting that the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album (1967), the first released after their trip, does not depict the Fab Four wearing Nehru jackets. Rather, they are dressed in military-style band uniforms that do have a collarless neckline.

Fashion followers say the popularity of the jacket, which had been on the rise up to the Summer of Love in 1967, took a nosedive after celebrities such as Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joe Namath began wearing the style on a regular basis, often paired with a turtleneck and beads or a medallion necklace. By that point — around 1968 — jackets, vests, shirts and blouses sporting the Nehru collar were available across the consumer spectrum for men, women and children. The Nehru was doomed to be a fashion fad in the Western world, though it still turns up as hip wear for some popular musicians.

And that is where Mister Boomer’s awareness entered. On a family trip to New York City in 1967, Brother Boomer slipped into a shop in Greenwich Village and emerged with the most beautiful Nehru jacket Mister B has seen to this day. It was jet black with a gold brocade paisley design that was all at once modern and timeless, classy and fashion-forward. When the family returned home, Mister Boomer kept an eye out for a similar garment for himself. The closest he came was a short-sleeve shirt that sported a Nehru collar. It was blue with a gold paisley pattern, but paled in comparison to the masterful garment his brother had procured. Mister Boomer did not get invited to many parties, but does recall that in his earliest high school days, he wore his short-sleeve Nehru to one. Needless to say, he was the only one dressed in that style.

How about it, boomers? Did you wear Nehru-style clothing? If so, was it a fashion statement or a cultural statement?

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

Boomers Sang, 1-2-3

Music in which a singer counts numbers didn’t start or end with the Boomer Generation, but Mister Boomer has noticed that there were an abundance of songs in the boomer years that used “1, 2, 3” (or “1, 2, 3, 4”) as an inherent part of a song’s lyrics. Sure there are loads of examples of a band member counting at a song’s beginning to get all the bandmates started at the same time (for example, I Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles comes to mind). And of course, there were the telephone number songs like The Marvelettes’ Beachwood 4-5789, but we’re talking about using number counting within a song.

A case in point is Wilson Pickett’s Land of 1000 Dances (1966). Before Mr. Pickett gives a shout out to a bunch of popular dances, he growls:
1,2,3
(Horns flourish)
1,2,3
Aow! Uh!
Alright! Uh!

Counting is natural to the beat of music, but in this case it also refers to the songs’ content — namely, dance. Here, 1, 2, 3 could just as easily be referring to counting dance steps. A great example of soul expression like this song could have him reciting numbers from a loading dock log and he’d still have us at 1, 2, 3.

In the song 1-2-3, as sung by Len Barry (1965), we see that another reason to count 1, 2, 3 could very well be that a lot of words rhyme with three. We hear here that falling in love is both elementary and easy:
1-2-3, that’s how elementary it’s gonna be
C’mon let’s fall in love, it’s easy (it’s so easy)
Like taking candy (like taking candy) from a baby

The Grass Roots gave us a classic counting song: Let’s Live for Today (1967). The count is situated at the beginning of the refrain. As such, are we to think the songwriter thought another line was needed, but he couldn’t come up with one, so he added the count? Or that the count of “1, 2, 3, 4” marks the passage of time, the ticking of the clock, the reason why we are advised to “live for today?” That’s for you to decide, boomers. What’s interesting to Mister B is that in the first chorus, “1, 2, 3, 4” is sung, but the next two times the refrain is sung, the singer drops the “one” and starts with “two” to sing, “2, 3, 4”:
1-2-3-4
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today
And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow hey, hey, hey, hey

Oh my! In retrospect as an adult, 1-2-3 Red Light, by the 1910 Fruitgum Company (1968) sounds positively predatory. This song was labelled “bubble gum” at the time, a musical confection so named for its pop beat and sound rather than its subject matter. In this song, the narrator/singer is pleading to his date. He states that when he makes a move, his counterpart flashes the red signal, staying “stop!” Our intrepid singer doesn’t stop there, though, as he tries to to plead his case:
Every time I try to prove I love you
1,2,3 red light
You stop me
Baby you ain’t right to stop me
1,2,3 red light

As we saw in Len Barry’s 1-2-3, the Jackson 5 found love as easy as ABC (1970), which we all know is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Here we may see a very similar sentiment but hear a completely different sound:
A, B, C — it’s easy as 1, 2, 3
As simple as do re mi
A, B, C, 1, 2, 3
Baby, you and me girl

And in Mister Boomer’s estimation, the mother of all counting songs: I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag, the anti-war ditty performed by Country Joe and the Fish live at Woodstock (1969):
And it’s one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die

What’s your favorite counting song, boomers? Would you care to add to this list?

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