Boomers Watched As Mankind Took One Giant Leap

It was a summer Sunday, but one that was destined not to be just any summer Sunday. The air crackled with the excitement of an approaching storm, waiting with anticipation for the thunder that follows the lightning. Fifty years ago, on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched on its mission to land men on the moon. A few days earlier, Brother Boomer blasted off in his 1965 Ford Mustang, headed for Cape Canaveral. He was determined to see this spectacle for himself; the beginning of the most momentous space exploration mission to date. The remainder of the Mister Boomer household would have to settle for watching on TV via the three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC.

Brother Boomer did make it down to Florida and observed the Apollo 11 launch. If Mister B recalls correctly, he was somewhere around Daytona Beach. From his vantage point, Brother Boomer watched as the Saturn V, the tallest and most powerful rocket ever built, spewed fire and smoke into the blue skies, arcing ever higher, until the first stage booster jettisoned off and fell into the ocean.

Ever since the first capsule rocketed into space, boomers were fascinated by the wonder and power of the booster rockets that propelled the brave astronauts into the unknown. Kits and models of all types were sold, including a replica of the Saturn V rocket that would hurl Apollo 11 into its trajectory to the moon. Brother Boomer had built his own Saturn V model kit, and now he was seeing firsthand the majesty of the real thing. Brother Boomer had a couple of model rockets. Mister B recalls one that was fueled by packing baking soda into the base. When Brother B dropped vinegar into the proper channel, the resulting chemical reaction sent the plastic rocket 30 feet into the air.

Having cleared the first phase of his mission to witness history, Brother B’s next phase was to return to the Midwest in time to see the first moon walk on TV. He docked with the home mothership on July 20.

Meanwhile, Mister Boomer does not recall any details of the early part of the day itself. It was a Sunday, so the family undoubtedly went to church in the morning, and like usual, visited both his grandmothers. His grandfathers had passed away within one year of each other in the early sixties, but the habitual Sunday visits to their homes continued. On returning home, he may have set out to meet neighborhood kids to play a game of catch, or perhaps watch someone launch a model rocket.

By 4 pm, however, Mister B knew exactly where he was: in front of the TV with his entire family, watching the live coverage. The streets were deserted as everyone had retreated inside to watch the drama unfold. Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached their destination on July 20, 1969. As Collins positioned the command module Columbia into lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module and took it to the surface of the moon. At 4:17 pm EDT, Neil Armstrong announced to a waiting world, “The Eagle has landed.”

It would be six hours later before Neil Armstrong climbed down the lunar module’s ladder to take the first step any person had done on the surface of the moon. At Mister Boomer’s house, a collective sigh and a grin came over his family when the Eagle touched down. His mother prepared dinner in the intervening time. It was a rare occasion when the television was left on while the family ate, but this was no ordinary Sunday, and no one wanted to miss a minute. Once dinner was consumed, the family all retired back to the living room to watch the coverage. Finally, the time came, and Mister B’s family watched a scratchy black & white picture of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder to utter his now famous quote, which he maintained throughout his life was misquoted due to a gap in the voice transmission. His correct quote added an “a,” to be ,“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

In 2006, NASA scientists analyzed the audio recordings of the moment, and found evidence of a 35-millisecond blip between “for” and “man,” long enough to have contained the missing “a.”

Brother Boomer recently told Mister B that he was so fascinated by the Space Race that he wanted to make his career in aeronautics, with a goal of working on space vehicles. Unable to gain access to relevant college courses in his area, he became a mechanical engineer instead. How many times did that story of inspiration repeat itself to shape the careers of other boomers?

There are many historical events that occurred during the boomer years, but the moon landing has to be at or near the top of the list. As a result, every boomer can answer, “Where were you when men walked on the moon?”

What’s your moon story, boomers?

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?