Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Television in 1968: Boomers Watched Great Stuff

Despite talk of our current environment ushering in a new Golden Age of Television, you still hear people saying, “all those channels and nothing good is on.” Well, boomers recall when there were only three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — and they were in fierce competition with each other for the eyeballs of America. By the time TV hit the late sixties, audiences demanded more if they were expected to tune in on any given night, then wait a week for the next episode.

Fifty years ago, in 1968, TV was showing signs of hitting its stride. Its early days behind it, TV needed to become more entertaining and more socially relevant. A look at the top shows of that year illustrate the point. The top-rated shows were a mixed bag encompassing all that had become staples of TV, and on — to modern experiments in comedy, satire and story-telling. There were Westerns and folksy shows, family viewing options, cop and crime shows, musical variety shows that carried on the tradition from the 1940s and ’50s, to be sure — but there were also groundbreaking shows that have gone on to become classics. Take a look at the Top 10 shows of 1968 according to Nielsen Media Research:

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-73)
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-69)
Bonanza (1959-73)
Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71)
Family Affair (1966-71)
Gunsmoke (1955-75)
Julia (1968-71)
The Dean Martin Show (1965-74)
Here’s Lucy (1968-74)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71)

While reflecting the divided nature of its audience, the Top 10 was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to a medium that was coming to grips with a changing society and drifting generations. To bridge the gap, look what TV producers added into the group of the next ten top-rated shows:

Mission: Impossible (1966-73)
The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71)
The Mod Squad (1968-73)
The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78)
Bewitched (1964-72)
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69)
My Three Sons (1960- 72)
I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70)
Green Acres (1965-71)
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1961-69)

Four years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, TV portrayed black actors in starring roles, a barrier that had been broken with the introduction of I Spy in 1965 and Star Trek in 1966. Julia, a Top 10-rated drama, starred Diahann Carroll as a working single mother; she was a widow since her husband was killed in Vietnam, raising her son alone while maintaining a career as a nurse.

The Mod Squad attempted to bring hip to the small screen while addressing themes relevant to a new generation in the form of a reluctant police unit that the show described as, “one white (Michael Cole), one black (Clarence Williams III), one blonde (Peggy Lipton).” The show was the first to display an onscreen interracial kiss.

Shows Like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Mayberry R.F.D. were described as “rural TV.” They portrayed a friendly, folksy wholesomeness that many would have preferred rather than the backdrop of the evening news. A case in point is that despite it main character being a marine, in Gomer Pyle, Vietnam is never mentioned. Granted, it was a comedy, but one that takes place in an army camp.

1968 brought us groundbreaking satire and politically-charged comedy from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Some contend it was Richard Nixon’s cameo appearance on Laugh-In that helped him win the presidential election of 1968. The Smothers Brothers delved into such controversial territory that they were ultimately cancelled mid-season because they would not submit finished shows to the CBS network for editing and censoring in the allotted time. The irreverent attitude and eye-poking of The Man and Authority by both shows made them popular with boomers.

On the surface, I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched seemed like innocuous comedies. Yet both dealt with learning to live with people who were different than the “norm.” I Dream of Jeannie featured an astronaut in his time on Earth after being in space. His daily routine was not unlike any other American heading off to work each day — except that he had a female genie in a bottle to see him out the door. The supernatural superceded a sci-fi space world that was coming true; space travel was brought home to the everyday.

Bewitched can be seen as a mixed marriage where the human husband’s mother-in-law never fully accepts him while he struggles with his role as family provider with a wife who has far more capabilities than the average housewife. Thus she is forced to “help” her husband by doing little magical, witchy things behind the scenes — a very old-fashioned thought in 1968 disguised as a feminist choice.

Mister Boomer’s parents leaned toward the conservative side, but he watched most of the top shows on the family TV. In fact, Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers became favorites in the household. About the only shows that weren’t watched regularly by the family were Gunsmoke, Here’s Lucy and Mayberry R.F.D.

Mister B’s mom enjoyed down-home comedies and Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan, Gomer Pyle, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres brought that to her. Yet she also really enjoyed Bewitched and Mission: Impossible.

Mister B’s father liked all kinds of TV, but never could resist one that featured a pretty woman, including Diahann Carroll (Julia), Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) and Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad). His favorite shows, though, leaned to Dean Martin and Mission: Impossible. He also really enjoyed My Three Sons. Mister B also has nice memories of being able to laugh at the same things as his father when they watched Laugh-In.

What TV shows did your family watch in 1968, boomers?

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

Boomers Witnessed The 1968 Democratic Convention

The Republicans have finished their nominating convention, and it is the Democrats turn this week. That has prompted Mister Boomer to recall that there were many memorable political conventions from both parties during the boomer era, from Eisenhower to Kennedy, Johnson to Nixon and on to Carter. Yet none was more memorable — and infamous — than the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which took place from August 26 to 29.

The time leading up to the convention set the stage for conflict in all its forms. There was a Democratic president — Lyndon Johnson — who declined to run for re-election based on public protest of the Vietnam war; the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam proved the war was far from over, and the response was additional troops were committed; the country had experienced two years of race riots in major cities; and Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy, both proponents of the Peace and Civil Rights Movements, had been assassinated.

In March of 1968, representatives from more than 100 anti-war groups met in Illinois in an effort to coordinate protests during the convention. Their objectives were varied, but the common thread was “change” and especially, an end to the hostilities in Vietnam.

Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, was an influential leader of the Democratic Party. Together with President Lyndon Johnson, they effectively lobbied to keep the convention in Chicago when some party members suggested to moving it to Miami. Daley was known to run a “tight ship” when it came to control of his city, and his police force already had a reputation for strong-arm tactics before the delegates and protestors arrived.

Daley had the convention hall ringed with a fence topped with barbed wire, which afforded delegates only one way in and out. Protests were to be kept away from the arena area and any requests for permits to march near the hall were denied. A force, numbering more than a  thousand, composed of police, National Guard, army and Secret Service would be called upon to defend the hall space and “keep the peace.” To top it off, there was a taxi cab driver strike underway, and a heat wave caused sporadic outages of air conditioning inside the hall.

As protests grew in size and rancor outside, inside the hall there were protests among the delegates themselves. First, when a “peace plank” was proposed for the platform, party leaders postponed discussion for two days until protests inside the hall forced a debate. A representative from each side of the issue was selected to debate for one hour. Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was chosen to represent the Johnson-Humphrey argument for continued Vietnam intervention, while Representative Phil Burton (CA) spoke on behave of the peace plank, which would, among other things, call for an immediate halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. Party leaders gave the win on all counts to Muskie, so delegates from New York and California began singing We Shall Overcome. Since the convention was televised, this internal protest among Democrats was available for all to see.

Word was that Vice President Hubert Humphrey had already quietly locked in enough party delegates to secure the nomination weeks before the convention. Humphrey did not run in any state primaries. Since Humphrey was perceived as “Johnson’s man,” the Peace Movement delegates were opposed to his nomination.

Senator Eugene McCarthy (WI), a Peace Movement candidate, had won six state primaries, and Senator Robert Kennedy (NY) won four. Bobby Kennedy had just won the primary of the most populous state — California — when he was assassinated. Most of his delegates were picked up by Senator George McGovern (SD), a third peace candidate, but he remained uncompetitive. Behind the scenes, Mayor Daley had kept his controlled delegates uncommitted in the hope of persuading Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) to run, but Kennedy expressed no interest.

Nonetheless, in 1968, the Parties, and not the voting population, decided who would be the nominee. The Democratic Party chose Hubert Humphrey as their banner bearer. This enraged protestors outside, and violence — which was escalating throughout the week — increased in clashes between police and protestors. On the final day of the convention, Humphrey had chosen Edmund Muskie as his Vice Presidential running mate, while outside the hall it was to be the bloodiest day of an already bloody week as protestors attempted to get closer to the convention hall.

Reports indicated that police were taking off their identification badges when they took to swinging billy clubs at protestors, injuring hundreds in the process. The smell of tear gas entered the hotels of some delegates and members of the press were also attacked. Mayor Daley had let it be known he felt the press was as much a part of the problem as the protestors. Nearly two dozen reporters were seriously injured. Officially more than 500 people were arrested. A report issued by an Illinois businessman after the convention put the majority of blame for the violence on the police. Mayor Daley responded by giving the police a raise.

The most famous of the arrested protesters became known as the Chicago 8. They were the first people tried under the 1968 Civil Rights act, which made it a federal crime to cross state lines to incite a riot. They were Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (leading members of the Youth International Party [YIPPIES]); David Dellinger (chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam); Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden (members of the Students for a Democratic Society [SDS]); Lee Weiner (a research assistant at Northwestern University); John Froines (a professor at the University at the University of Oregon); and Bobby Seale (a founder of the Black Panthers). The group was tried together. In the courtroom, the defendants were intent on voicing their displeasure at their arrest and treatment. Bobby Seale became so disruptive that the judge had him bound and gagged, and tied to a chair. He then was separated from the others and given his own trial. In the end all were convicted for either contempt of court or crossing state lines to incite a riot.

In November 1968, Humphrey was soundly defeated by Republican Richard Nixon. The voices of unhappy Democrats caused the Party to develop the current system of primaries, and during the 1972 election, added superdelegates. 1968 was to the be the final convention where the Party chose the nominee. Nixon pursued a “peace with honor” strategy in Vietnam but the U.S. finally left when the Viet Cong took Saigon in January of 1975.

In 1968, Mister Boomer was a mid-teen. He was a sheltered Midwesterner who did not understand the complexities of the situation. He saw the violence from Chicago on TV and could not comprehend the whys and wherefores that led to these clashes. Four years later, in 1972, he had registered for the Draft, the Vietnam war was still ongoing, and he saw Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in concert. He had already purchased the album 4 Way Street, and the protest songs on the album, Chicago, about the ’68 convention, and Ohio, about the shooting of unarmed protestors at Kent State University in 1970, struck a chord with Mister B. It was the spark that initiated his political awareness.

What do you recall about the 1968 Democratic Convention, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Boomers Witnessed The 1968 Democratic Convention

Boomers Wanted to Buy the World A Coke

The Boomer Generation grew up with commercial jingles being the norm. In contrast, much of today’s TV and radio uses existing songs (even from the boomer era!), but in our day, music in commercials was composed specifically for the product or service. Many boomers will recall several of these classic jingles to this day. One jingle that reached the ultimate pinnacle of success during the boomer era was written for Coca-Cola.

It was July 1971 when Coca-Cola released their I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke commercial in the U.S. The commercial featured hundreds of people from around the world on a hillside, singing about buying the world a Coke as a way of promoting world harmony. The company had first aired the jingle on the radio in February of that year, but it failed to catch attention of the Coca-Cola bottlers. On TV, though, the entire message was immediately embraced.

The story of how the commercial and jingle came to be is a fascinating one. Bill Backer, ad agency McCann Ericson’s creative director for the Coca-Cola account, was flying to London to meet with Billy Davis. Davis was the musical director for the account, and they were to discuss ideas for a jingle that was to be recorded by the New Seekers, a group popular in Britain at the time. Fog forced Backer’s plane to land in Shannon, Ireland, where the passengers were required to deplane. Backer said he observed how angry the passengers were at the lack of accommodations during their impromptu stay; they were required to remain close by in case the fog lifted. It would be twenty-four hours before that would happen.

The next day Backer saw the same group of people from the night before, only now, having been brought together under the circumstance, were talking and laughing among themselves as they munched snacks and drank Coca-Cola. It was at that moment when Backer sparked the idea that a Coke could be more than “the pause that refreshes,” the previous tagline for the soft drink giant. A world-wide product such as Coke, in his estimation, could become a symbol for a universal commonality among people.

When Backer met Billy Davis, he told him about the scene at the airport and Davis was not impressed with the notion. After further discussion Backer asked Davis what he might do for the world if he could. Davis talked about making sure everyone had a home and would share peace and love. Backer asked him to write a song that expressed those sentiments.

Roger Cook and Roger Greenway were enlisted to assist Davis in composing the song. The trio already had a reputation for hit songs, having written This Golden Ring, Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress), You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve Got Mine, Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again, and more.

The two Rogers played a melody they had been working on for Davis, that they had called Mom, True Love, and Apple Pie. They played the melody for Backer, who recommended it become the basis for I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke. The New Seekers recorded the jingle and it made its debut on American radio in February 1971. Though spurned by the affiliate Coke bottlers, stations began getting requests for the jingle. DJs told Coke executives they should record the song for public release. Coke got Bill Backer involved in trying to come up with a way to add a visual to the song so it might air on TV, and the hillside singing chorus concept was formulated.

Coke approved the idea and set a budget of $100,000 to film it. The original attempt was to be on the cliffs of Dover, with 65 schoolchildren lip-synching the song. However, it rained for three straight days, so the shoot was cancelled.

The second attempt was moved to Rome, where it also rained. The shoot was delayed but when the rain cleared, the final helicopter view of the 500 singing stand-ins was filmed. When Backer and his team reviewed the film, they discovered the rain had ruined the scene and lighting, and the shoot was scrapped again.

Backer convinced Coke that the concept was a winning one, so the budget ballooned to $250,000 — an unheard-of amount for commercials in 1971. The third try would be the charm. Close-ups of some of the 500 young people hired for the shoot were actually shot separately at a Rome racetrack. The commercial’s message of hope and peace, first aired 45 years ago this month, was a giant success.

In conjunction with the airing of the commercial, Billy Davis wanted to release a record of the song, retitled, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony). He approached the New Seekers to record it, but their manager intervened and said there were schedule conflicts that would preclude the group’s involvement in the project. Instead, Davis gathered a group of studio singers under the name of “The Hillside Singers” to record his song. Two weeks later, the New Seekers came back and recorded the song, which immediately became a Top 10 hit. Davis followed the successful New Seekers version by releasing the studio Hillside Singers rendition. That version climbed to number 13 on the pop charts.

All told, the commercial became an instant classic. It was the first instance where a commercial jingle birthed a Top 10 pop hit, instead of the other way around. It was recorded in several different languages, and became popular the world over. The sheet music for the song sold more than any other song from the previous decade.

The Coca-Cola Company signed an agreement with UNICEF that they would donate the first $80,000 in royalties from their writers and publishers — it was a work for hire and not the property of Davis, Cook and Greenway. In one tiny way, Coke was lending a helping hand to the world, yet still profiting from it.

Mister Boomer remembers the original appearance of the commercial. His opinion did not fall in line with the majority. He felt the song was sappy and overly optimistic. In his estimation, the message subverted a vision of world harmony by interjecting a capitalistic subterfuge that the sixties had fought so hard to break, man. But what did he know? People liked it. A lot. And certainly, Mister B enjoyed many a Coca-Cola in his days, especially icy cold 8 oz. bottles on hot summer days from the machine at the corner gas station.

In 2015, the commercial resurfaced as part of the finale for Mad Men. This TV show was, depending on your point of view, an homage or condemnation of the very type of ad agency that produced the Coke commercial. Using the real thing — the original ad — in a fictional story emphasized the impact this commercial had on the world, both at the time and now forty-plus years later.

Did you or someone in your family buy the I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony) record, boomers?

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

Boomers Were the “Peanut Gallery”

This week, Mister Boomer was thinking about the idioms spoken by our parents, and how we don’t hear many of them any more. Our parents would say phrases such as, “that’s the cat’s meow,” or “keep your shirt on.” It makes sense that so many of these common idioms we heard as kids have disappeared since they originated in the 1930s and 40s, or even earlier; as children grow, they hear and internalize the slang and catchphrases spoken by their parents, until they reach their teens and adopt the phrases of their own generation. (Mister Boomer has explored two slang words of our own generation that have, to some extent, survived to the present: Oh Man, Now That’s Cool!)

The phrase that sprang to mind this week was, “no comments from the peanut gallery.” As Mister B swirled the words around in his skull, like examining aged wine in a glass, he immediately thought the phrase had to originate in the Boomer Era with the Howdy Doody Show (1947-60). This TV show combined live actors with puppets, including the show’s namesake, a puppet-boy dressed in cowboy garb. Each show had a live audience of kids who sat on school-style bleachers that was labeled as the “Peanut Gallery.” Since “peanut” was a common slang term for “small” (like “shrimp”), it seemed logical that the Peanut Gallery would seat the little ones.

In 1943, Howdy Doody was a children’s radio program. “Peanut Gallery” was a phrase used on the show to represent the listening audience of kids. When the program became a TV show in 1947, the term came with it, only then it was the literal representation of the kids in the audience. (Incidentally, Clarabell, one of the characters on the show, was a clown who spoke only by honking a horn. He was played by Bob Keeshan, who boomers will recall later became Captain Kangaroo.)

Mister Boomer’s earliest memories of watching TV was the Howdy Doody Show. The TV program, considered pioneering educational children’s programming at the time, was credited with helping sell more TVs in the 1950s than any previous program. As more boomer families bought TVs and watched, the show’s audience grew — and with it, their ability to sell advertising sponsorship to national brands like Kellogg’s cereal.

After a little investigation, however, Mister B found that “peanut gallery” did not originate with Howdy Doody. Au contraire, mon ami! Peanut gallery has been around for many decades. At the turn of the century, vaudeville theaters called the most affordable seats — usually the top rows of the upper balcony — the peanut gallery because the cheapest snack available for purchase there was peanuts. Since this echelon of theater-goers was considered the mostly uneducated and unruly, “comments from the peanut gallery” referred to the physically tossed peanuts and the verbal heckling that were hurled to the stage to express disapproval with the performers. So, if we boomers were riding in the car with our parents and one turned around to say, “Hey, I don’t want any comments from the peanut gallery,” they weren’t referring to the Howdy Doody Show, they were telling us to behave.

Howdy Doody’s Peanut Gallery did influence another player on the stage of boomer experience, though. The cartoonist Charles Schulz was about to syndicate his comic strip, Li’l Folks to newspapers in 1948. The comic syndicators thought the title of his comic strip would be confusing to readers since Little Folks and Li’l Abner already existed, so they suggested he change the strip’s title. Faced with a name change, Schulz chose Peanuts, a reference to both the Howdy Doody Show and the unruly commenters of vaudeville. His characters would be kids who made their comments on the cultural stage of the Boomer Era, without any adults present.

On rare occasion the term still pops up on the national stage, but one has to wonder if  Millennials, let alone their kids, have any idea what it means.

Did your parents use the idiom on you and your siblings, boomers? What are your recollections about the Peanut Gallery?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Were the “Peanut Gallery”

Boomer Influences Who Have Passed in 2015

Each of the people mentioned here, some boomers and some not, affected boomers in different ways, with each leaving their own mark on our generation and culture. Like every boomer, Mister Boomer had a front row seat when they rocketed onto the scene, forever finding a place in our shared memories.

Rod Taylor (January 11, 1930 – January 7, 2015)
Australian actor Rod Taylor first appeared in U.S. films in the 1950s, working his way up from supporting roles to starring as a leading man. He appeared in more than 50 films, but a few are particularly memorable for boomers: The Time Machine (1960); The Birds (1963); as well as the love interest for Jane Fonda in Sunday in New York (1963). He worked his way up from supporting roles in the 1950s to starring as a leading man. Mister B recalls seeing him in many films, most notably when he went to a Saturday matinee with Brother Boomer and his cousin, who lived in a neighboring city, to see The Time Machine. The notion of time travel was an attractive idea for a young boomer. A few years later Mister B picked up the H.G. Wells book, having been introduced to it through Rod Taylor’s portrayal.

Donna Douglas (September 26, 1932 – January 1, 2015)
Gary Owens (May 10, 1934 – February 12, 2015)
Leslie Gore (May 2, 1946 – February 16, 2015)
Leonard Nimoy (March 26, 1931 –  February 26, 2015)
Mister B felt compelled to write about these amazing individuals when they died at the beginning of the year. Truly they were all well known to boomers as TV and music stars. Here is a link to Mister B’s earlier post: Boomers Say Good-Bye to More Beloved Figures

Jimmy Greenspoon (February 7, 1948 – March 11, 2015)
Cory Wells (February 5, 1941 – October 20, 2015)
Jimmy Greenspoon and Cory Wells, members of Three Dog Night, both left us in 2015. The group had 21 consecutive Top 40 hits from late ’60s to mid ’70s. Greenspoon, a boomer himself, was a keyboard player and Wells was of three lead singers/guitarists in the band, something that made them stand out from many other bands. Mister Boomer wasn’t a big fan of the group, especially disliking Joy to the World (aka Jeremiah was a Bullfrog, released as a single in 1971), but did like Mama Told Me (Not to Come), a 1970 cover version of the song that was written by Randy Newman for Eric Burdon’s first solo album in 1966.

Gary Dahl (December 18, 1936 – March 23, 2015)
A copywriter turned entrepreneur by trade, Gary Dahl will be forever remembered by boomers as the inventor of the Pet Rock. His idea was said to be a joke, but when he found investors the idea became reality in time for Christmas shopping in 1975. The genius of Dahl was not in buying river rocks at pennies per pound and selling them for $3.95, but in the packaging: each rock came nestled on a bed of excelsior, surrounded by a cardboard box, complete with a handle and “air holes.” He sold millions of them to boomers and the children of early boomers. Later, Dahl was the book author of Advertising for Dummies. Mister Boomer did not own a Pet Rock, nor did his siblings or his friends, as far as he knows.

Cynthia Lennon (September 10, 1939 – April 1, 2015)
Cynthia Powell was the first wife of John Lennon and mother of Julian Lennon. The couple were married in 1963 when she was pregnant with son Julian. When The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in February of 1964, the camera “introduced” each band member, isolating them in profile. When John was pictured, “Sorry girls, he’s married” was placed below his name on screen. They were divorced in 1968 after John left her for Yoko Ono. Cynthia was the only wife who had her own fan club. Mister Boomer recalls early photos of her because she was always smartly dressed in groovy ’60s outfits.

Percy Sledge (November 25, 1940 – April 14, 2015)
A singer for the ages, Percy’s When a Man Loves a Woman became a no. 1 hit in 1966. When he died last April, Mister Boomer wrote: “…every now and then a song comes around that so describes its genre that it is forever identified with it as a quintessential example. This song … fits the bill. A slow dance tune for boomers, it is equally enjoyed across generations for its melodic tone and powerful lyrics.”

Jack Ely (September 11, 1943 – April 28, 2015)
Ben E. King (September 28, 1938 – April 30, 2015)
Jack Ely was THE singer on the Kingsmen’s Louie Louie record in 1963.
Ben E. King was lead singer for The Drifters. He lent his voice to the boomer classics Save the Last Dance for Me (1960), This Magic Moment (1960), Spanish Harlem (1960) and perhaps his best known song, Stand by Me (1961), which he co-wrote with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The Drifters were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Read more from Mister Boomer on these two unforgettable singers form an earlier post: Two More Boomer Icons Leave Us With Our Memories

Stan Freberg (August 7, 1926 – April 7, 2015)
Comic, satirist, radio personality, author, actor and voice actor, Stan Freberg is probably remembered in many different ways by boomers due to the depth of his presence from the 1950s all the way through the 2000s. Some recall his comedy records from the 1950s, including The Night Before Christmas/Nuttin’ for Christmas or his political parodies; others will recall his TV puppet show, Time for Beany (1950-53); others remember his voiceover work in animated cartoons for Warner Brothers and Walt Disney, including Lady and the Tramp (1955); still others will recall he played Deputy Sheriff in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Mister Boomer remembers most if not all of Freberg’s work, but he was most fond of his TV commercials. Having formed an ad agency in the 1960s, he was one of the first to try to inject humor into the TV ad game. For that he has been called  the “Father of Funny Advertising.” His commercials are now legendary, including some of Mister B’s favorites: A Jeno’s Pizza Rolls commercial that parodied a Lark cigarettes’ commercial use of the William Tell Overture that culminates with the Lone Ranger and Tonto eating pizza rolls; politically incorrect Chun King Chow Mein commercials and a campaign for prunes that tried to change people’s minds about eating them. One of the most memorable had very British actor Ronald Long saying, “They’re still rather badly wrinkled, you know.”

B.B. King (September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015)
The “King of the Blues” had serious influence on rock guitarists throughout boomer era.  Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan are among the rock and blues guitarists to credit King as an influence in their styles and careers. B.B. King began recording in 1949, and had multiple hits in every decade of the fifties, sixties and seventies, including one of Mister B’s favorites, The Thrill is Gone (1971).

Christopher Lee (May 27, 1922 – June 7, 2015)
Mister Boomer reported on Christopher Lee’s death back in June: Boomer-Era Villain Christopher Lee Dies

Patrick Macnee (February 6, 1922 – June 25, 2015)
An accomplished actor in both film and on television, Patrick Macnee is best known to boomers as John Steed in The Avengers TV show (1961-69 in England; 1965-68 in the U.S.) The U.S. version of the British show had him playing Mrs. Emma Peel’s (Diana Rigg) suave, British gentleman supervisor in the spy-fi show. Always pictured with a bowler hat and umbrella, Steed was the antithesis of the overtly physical James Bond — yet just as effective.

Omar Sharif (April 10, 1932 – July 10, 2015)
Appearing in dozens of movies during the boomer era, Omar Sharif got boomers’ attention in a big way in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Funny Girl (1968). His foreign “good looks” made him a favorite of many boomer girls — and their moms. Mister Boomer’s mom made remarks about only two actors back then: Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif. Such was the attraction of this Egyptian-born actor. Nominated for his performance in Lawrence of Arabia, Sharif did not win an Oscar, but did take home a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor in Lawrence of Arabia and another Golden Globe as Best Actor in Doctor Zhivago.

Judy Carne (April 27, 1939 – September 3, 2015)
A dancer, comedian and actor, Judy Carne was best known as the Sock-It-To-Me girl in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-73). She was married to Burt Reynolds from 1963-65, then to producer Robert Bergmann from 1970-71. Read some of Mister B’s remembrances of Judy Carne in his exploration of Laugh-In phrases: Want a Walnetto? You Bet Your Sweet Bippy!

Yvonne Craig May 16, 1937 – August 17, 2015
Yvonne Craig was an American ballet dancer and actress who first caught boomers’ attention when she was dating Elvis Presley in the early sixties. With a little help from the King she landed a supporting role in two Elvis movies: It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). It was, however, her role as Batgirl — whose true identity was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter — in the Batman television series (1966) that forever cemented her into the minds of boomers. By the time she appeared as Marta, an Orion slave girl who danced her way into Captain Kirk’s heart in the Star Trek episode, Whom Gods Destroy (1969), boomers knew it was Yvonne under that green make-up. She also made an appearance on The Six Million Dollar Man (1974).

Warren Mitchell (January 14, 1926 – November 14, 2015)
Mostly an obscure actor by face to boomers, Warren Mitchell appeared in extremely influential film and TV shows during the boomer era. Some boomers will recall he played the character Abdul in The Beatles’ film, Help! (1965). Perhaps due even more to boomer influences, he created the character of Alf Garnett in the British TV series, Till Death Do Us Part (1966-75), which TV aficionados will know became the inspiration for the Archie Bunker character in All In the Family (1971-79).

Meadowlark Lemon (April 25, 1932 – December 27, 2015)
George Meadowlark Lemon  was known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball” when he played for the Harlem Globetrotters (1955-83, then toured with them again in 1994). Can anyone ever hear Sweet Georgia Brown without thinking of Meadowlark’s antics on the court? After retiring from the Globetrotters, he became an ordained minister in 1986. Mister Boomer saw the Harlem Globetrotters as a teen. Meadowlark Lemon performed all the tricks he was known for: amazing shots, antagonizing the referee and of course, pretending to toss a bucket of water on the ref — with the audience directly behind him — but the bucket was instead filled with confetti. A true entertainer, Wilt Chamberlain once named him as the greatest basketball player who ever lived.

Natalie Cole (February 6, 1950 – December 31, 2015)
The boomer daughter of Nat King Cole, she was forever in the shadow of the man who lent his voice to The Christmas Song. She began her music career in the 1960s and was immediately compared to Aretha Franklin for her powerful voice. She had a string of hits in the seventies, especially This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) (1975). In 1991, she grabbed the technology of the day and sang a duet with her long-passed father in what was then a groundbreaking video event. By splicing in film from her father and adding her own vocal performance to the song, Unforgettable became her biggest hit.

Of course, there were many more memorable people — boomers and boomer influencers — who left our realm in the 2015. We could not have become the people and generation we are without them.

On a personal note, Mister Boomer lost a friend over the holiday weekend. He was a consummate boomer, having experienced events of the era first-hand. Michael, your wit, humor and encyclopedic knowledge in so many fields is already greatly missed.

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments (2)

Boomers Loved Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the 1939 creation of Robert May, a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward Company in Chicago. He penned the story of Rudolph as a poem for the store’s holiday booklet, an annual giveaway. Some folks thought the reindeer’s red nose would negate any positives of the story of a misfit as the terminology of the day saw someone with a red nose as a drunkard. May convinced his bosses by having Rudolph drawn as a young deer, too cute for anyone to object to. When the store discontinued the booklets in 1947, May acquired the rights to his work. He published the poem as a children’s illustrated book and sold one hundred thousand copies.

That same year, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, a veteran songwriter and radio producer, thought the poem might make a good song. May gave Marks the green light to give it a try. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came into being as a song and was pitched to some stars of the day; Perry Como rejected it when he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to change any lyrics, and so did Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby.

In 1947, Gene Autry was riding high off his Christmas hit, Here Comes Santa Claus. He was looking for another Christmas song to follow up on his success, but Rudolph wasn’t to arrive on his doorstep until fall of 1949. The Singing Cowboy made the song his own, and Rudolph was released as a single in Christmas week of 1949. The song shot to the top of the charts, partly due to shrewd marketers. Autry’s Here Comes Santa Claus had a colorful cartoon picture sleeve that helped propel its status among very young boomers. It was decided that Rudolph should also have a picture sleeve, paving the way for singles with picture sleeves for the next couple of decades. Since it remained in the number one spot through the week ending January 5, Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the first hit of 1950.

It seemed the timing couldn’t be better for becoming a beloved classic of a burgeoning Baby Boom generation. Stars leapt at the chance to record it for this new generation. The list of recording stars to croon their version of Rudolph over the next two decades reads like a Who’s Who of popular music. More than 500 recordings were made, including:

1950: Bing Crosby (just a few years after rejecting it)
1957: The Cadillacs did a doo-wop version
1959: Dean Martin
1960: Alvin and the Chipmunks
1960: Paul Anka
1963: The Crystals sang the first rock ‘n roll version
1964: Burl Ives sang it for the Christmas animated special
1965: The Supremes
1968: The Temptations
1970: The Jackson 5

The song went on to sell more than 25 million copies, second only to White Christmas.

As Rudolph soared into the zeitgeist of the Baby Boomer generation, it was only natural that the next step would be to bring the story to television. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was an animated TV special created by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass in 1964. Filmed as stop-motion animation, the characters were posed articulated models, shot frame by frame which were combined to form the full-length cartoon. The result was a very relatable homemade look that inspired many baby boomers to create their own animations with their families’ new Super 8 film camera.

The first airing of the TV Christmas special was on December 6, 1964 and it has been broadcast every year since. The show started out on NBC but has been airing on CBS since 1972. In other words, as boomers grew, it became an annual tradition that they now share with children and grandchildren. As to why it continues to strike a cord with boomers and non-boomers alike, well, Mister B feels it has to be the story. We boomers were carving a path of our own in the Brave New World of the 1960s. Rudolph, Hermey the elf and the Island of Misfit Toys were eminently relatable to a generation of underdogs.

Mister Boomer and his siblings watched the special every year since the first airing in 1964, naturally, in black & white. Brother Boomer was never much interested in the TV adaptation, but his sister really enjoyed it. Mister B did like the Misfit Toys, but especially liked the Abominable Snowmonster. By the time the Rudolph song was sung by Burl Ives at the end of the special, it was anticlimactic. Every kid had heard the song for years and knew the Rudolph story, though the TV special put a new spin to it, with memorable characters.

Did you listen to Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on your record player, boomers? And did you watch the Rudolph TV special every year?

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