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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Watched LBJ’s TV Speech

Fifty years ago this week — on March 31, 1968 — President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation on TV, and boomers of all ages were watching. The President began his speech with specific proposals about the war in Vietnam that he hoped would further the chance for peace talks. The President announced a halt to all air and naval bombing missions in North Vietnam (north of the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ]), as long as doing so did not endanger American troops. Secondly, he decided to send an additional 13,500 troops and third, he said he would request additional funding from Congress to bolster American efforts to assist the South Vietnamese army. He went on to talk about the divisive nature of politics and the war in the nation, and that he felt a responsibility to devote his time to the Office of the Presidency. At the end of his speech, he shocked the country by announcing, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

The Tet Offensive at the end of January, 1968 brought the bloody struggles happening a world away into the homes of Americans as pictures of fighting in the streets of Saigon countered the Administration’s optimistic pronouncements of a winnable war. Then the New Hampshire Primary, held on March 12, showed the President to be vulnerable in his own party. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had mounted a challenge based on his end-the-war stance. Though Johnson won the New Hampshire Primary, McCarthy picked up 42 percent of the vote and the majority of electoral votes for the state.

Despite his de-escalation announcement, Johnson remained dedicated to a military victory in Vietnam. The U.S. dropped more bombs into the DMZ in the three months after his speech than had been dropped in the previous years of the war.

Lady Bird Johnson recalled that she and the President discussed him not running for reelection as early as 1964. She was concerned about his health — particularly his heart condition. She was completely against him running for another term. Johnson himself said in his memoir, The Vantage Point, that he did not want to announce his decision not to run ahead of the speech. The line was not included on the teleprompter and he did not read it while practicing the speech the day before, but on the morning of March 31 he did inform Vice President Hubert Humphrey that he would include it if conditions were right — that is, no major attacks occurred in Vietnam or there was other world news leading up to the broadcast. He wrote that he did not make the decision to include the now-famous line about not seeking reelection until it was time for the televised broadcast.

A newly-minted teenage Mister Boomer sat with his family watching the speech as it aired. He was still forming his understanding of politics, though he was already certain that he wanted no part of any war. His elementary school days humanized war for him and his boomer classmates when bandaged, wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam — brothers and cousins of his classmates — came to thank the kids for sending them care packages from home.

In retrospect, Mister Boomer can point to this speech as a political awakening of sorts. He began paying much closer attention to the news and the campaigns of the 1968 Presidential Election. Though Mister B was still years away from voting age, the voices of the earliest boomers were about to be heard in one of the most tumultuous years in the country’s history.

Do you remember watching President Johnson’s speech on March 31, 1968, boomers?

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

Boomers Say Good-bye to More Generational Influencers

Boomers will remember 2017 for many things, not the least of which is the collection of notable deaths of movers and shakers that helped to form the cultural, political and technological landscape that was the Boomer Years.

Jeremy Stone (January 1, age 81)
A scientist, his pro-arms control and human rights advocacy landed him on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” in 1973. He authored two books in the 1960s: Containing the Arms Race: Some Specific Proposals (1966) and Strategic Persuasion: Arms Control Through Dialogue (1967). Stone served as president of the Federation of American Scientists from 1970 to 2000, contributing to policy debates on the nuclear arms race for more than 30 years.

Dick Gautier (January 13, age 85)
Boomers will best recall him as Hymie the Robot in the Get Smart TV series.

Mary Tyler Moore (January 25, age 80)
Boomers will always remember her on The Dick Van Dyke Show and of course, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was definitely a mover and shaker of the cultural zeitgeist. Mister B feels other sources can do far better justice to her importance than he can on this list.

Irwin Corey (February 6, age 102)
This comic was known to boomers as “Professor” Irwin Corey. Malapropisms, double-speak and mangled language defined his comedy on The Steve Allen Show and subsequent appearances on numerous variety shows throughout the 50s, ’60s and ’70s. Mister Boomer enjoyed his antics.

Chuck Berry (March 18, age 90)
Boomers first heard Berry when Maybellene was released by Chess Records in1955. He wrote and recorded Johnny B. Goode in 1958, a genuine rock classic. It was chosen to be on the Golden Record that contained sounds of human achievement and went out with the Voyager I spacecraft launched in 1977. Chuck Berry was the first inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986. Hundreds of musicians, including The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, said they were greatly influenced by his music. Stars of the boomer era don’t get much bigger than Chuck Berry.

Sylvia Moy (April 15, age 78)
Boomers probably don’t know her name, but they know her music. She was a producer for Motown and wrote many hit songs, including Uptight (Everything’s Alright), I Was Made to Love Her and My Cherie Amour, all of which were hits for Stevie Wonder.

Victor Gorbatko (May 17, age 82)
While the U.S. had their original group of seven astronauts, the Soviet Union had their cosmonauts. Major General Gorbatko was one the original group of cosmonauts. He began his training in 1960, but didn’t make it into space until 1967. He went back into space, as a research engineer, in 1977 and 1980. Without our Soviet counterparts, there would have been no Space Race, and arguably, no moon landing to finish the 1960s.

Sheila Michaels (June 22, age 78)
A member of the Congress of Racial Equality, Sheila Michaels began using the title “Ms.” in 1961. When she was introducing the term on a New York radio station in 1969, Gloria Steinem heard the broadcast and named her magazine Ms., in 1972.

George Romero (July 16, age 77)
Boomers knew Romero as the film director who made scary movies. He is known as the Father of the Zombie Film after releasing Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Mister Boomer recalls the film as one of the scariest he ever experienced in that time.

June Foray (July 26, age 99)
Ms. Foray’s death struck a personal chord with Mister Boomer when news broke. See Boomers Lose a Giant Voice of Their Cartoon Youth.

Jerry Lewis (August 20, age 91)
Love him or hate him, Jerry Lewis became a part of the comedic fabric that formed in the boomer years. Mister Boomer, for the most part, hated his comedy. The only thing Mister Boomer liked him in was The Nutty Professor (1963).

Joe Bailon (September 25, age 94)
Born in 1923, Bailon is one of those people who worked behind the scenes, though his name was well known to boomer custom car enthusiasts. It was Bailon who was credited with creating Candy Apple Red, the quintessential hot rod color of the 1950s and ’60s. The shimmering, metallic look was achieved with a three-coat process of a base coat, color coat and clear coat. Joe Baillon went on to create a series of metallic colors. The boys in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood talked admiringly about Candy Apple Red cars they saw, and how they would use the Testor’s paint version on the model cars they were building.

Hugh Hefner (September 27, age 91)
Boomers everywhere remember Hefner as the publisher of Playboy magazine. For many boomer boys (not Mister Boomer, however), the centerfolds of their father’s Playboys were their first glimpse at the unclothed female form, thus the beginning of their sex education. For many boomer girls, the magazine and Hefner’s Playboy Clubs exploited women and propagated the notion of male dominance in the society.

Fats Domino (October 24, age 89)
A giant star who helped to break color barriers in the early days of rock ‘n roll, Fats Domino gave the world hits such as Blueberry Hill and Ain’t That a Shame in his own New Orleans-inspired style. An influencer of the nth degree to early rock and first-decade boomers, he had the first rock record to sell more than 1 million copies (The Fat Man, 1949).

Robert Blakeley (October 25, age 95)
Another man whose name was hardly a household word, but his work was known by every boomer. Blakeley was given the task of designing the first Fallout Shelter sign. He suggested the image of the three upside-down equilateral triangles and the orange-yellow and black color scheme in 1961. The signs would be painted in reflective paint so that they could be seen in subdued light with only a flick of a lighter.
Recently, New York City announced it would be removing most of the Fallout Shelter signs in public spaces, because their rusted and deteriorated condition now presents a hazard in themselves, and the info they intended to relay was misleading and incorrect from the start. (See Mister Boomer’s post: Signs of the Times: Fallout Shelter Signs Were A Common Sight for Boomers)

Charles Manson (November 19, age 83)
The horrific murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969 brought Manson to the boomer public. His cult-control over his followers turned them into cold-blooded killers. Manson and many of his followers were convicted and jailed, and Manson given a life sentence.

Warren “Pete” Moore (November 19, age 79)
A singer with The Miracles, Mr. Moore was the composer of Tracks of My Tears, Ooo Baby Baby, Going to a Go-Go, I’ll be Doggone and Ain’t That Peculiar, all boomer and Motown classics, among many more. He was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (with the Miracles, 2001), Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame (2015) and retroactively into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2015) after a Special Committee reported the entire group of the Miracles should have been inducted when Smokey Robinson was inducted in 1987. He died on his birthday.

Jack Boyle (December 12, age 83)
A rock promoter who has been described as one of the architects of the modern concert industry, Boyle turned a small venue called The Cellar Door, in Washington, DC into a premier club for performers in the mid-60s. Among the acts he booked at the club were Miles Davis, Neil Young, the Mamas and the Papas, Kris Kristofferson, Richie Havens, B.B. King, Rick Nelson, Carole King, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and many more. After selling the club in 1981, he went on to form Cellar Door Productions to produce blockbuster rock tours that included The Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd and dozens of other boomer favorites.

Of course there were many, many more, including fellow boomer Tom Petty, Jim Neighbors, David Cassidy, Monty Hall, Dick Gregory, Glen Campbell, Adam West, Martin Landau, Gregg Allman (also the band’s drummer Butch Trucks), Roger Moore, Don Rickles, Al Jarreau, Barbara Hale, Heather Menzies-Urich (played Louissa Von Trapp in Sound of Music, 1965), Chuck Barris, astronauts Eugene Cernan (last man to walk on the moon), Paul Weitz (commander of the first Space Shuttle) and Richard Gordon (flew on Gemini 11, 1966; walked in space twice; flew around the moon in Apollo 12, 1969), to name but a few of the those who influenced our boomer landscape.

Which people who left us in 2017 will you remember, boomers?

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

Boomers Feared the Automation Reaper

The recent buzz about the coming round of automation is instilling fear and dread in the hearts of some, while fulfilling the promised dreams of a future world for others. The interesting thing to Mister Boomer is, like Yogi Bera said back in the day, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

This has all happened before. During the Industrial Revolution, thousands of jobs were rendered unnecessary in the wake of technological advances in modern machinery. At first, small jobs were automated — the types of jobs that could save a small business owner, farmer or homemaker hours of work — and were generally well received. In other words, these devices were viewed as labor savers rather than labor subtracters.

When steam-powered machinery entered the industrial world, things changed on a larger scale. One of the industries where jobs were particularly impacted by the automation of the late 1800s was the textile industry. Suddenly a single machine could replace hundreds that were needed to man looms to create fabric. The response from workers was predictably negative. Workers revolted, protested, sabotaged machines, and even burned down plants. Yet in the end, the jobs were lost as new methods replaced old. As time went on, new technology created more jobs than it eliminated, and the country prospered.

The end of World War II brought a new wave of innovation to the forefront in American business, and with it a national optimism for a new future that gave rise to the Baby Boom. However, a rising unease gripped the country by the mid-50s as automation found its way into offices and factories. The prevailing fear was that machines would be replacing people, and jobs would be lost. Ironically, in the decade after the War, the unemployment rate had steadily declined.

The auto industry, as it had done in the 1920s, brought a great deal of automation to their processes. Between 1951 and ’53, the Ford Motor Company constructed new automated stamping plants for engine parts in Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio, that the company hoped would relieve the stress of the strikes, outages and union negotiations experienced in the 1940s. Ultimately, it was discovered that people were still a necessary part of that equation at those plants — the loading and unloading of machines, and therefore the production pace of the machinery, needed to be managed by humans after all. It would be a couple of decades before robotic loading and packing could fully enter the process. While experiencing fits and starts with their automated processes, the auto industry had greater success in automating the dirtiest jobs, such as spot welding and spray painting.


Desk Set (1957) with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Isn’t it amazing that they got the automated function correct, but the computer now fits on a desk?

Fear of mass unemployment was growing as the 1950s became the ’60s and the country entered 10 months of recession. Lawmakers in Washington heard the buzz and wondered aloud what, if anything, they should do about it. President Kennedy addressed the public’s concerns in a speech he gave on May 25, 1961. The president proposed “… a new Manpower and Training Development program to train or retrain several hundred thousand workers particularly in those areas where we have seen chronic unemployment as a result of technological factors and new occupational skills over a four-year period, in order to replace those skills made obsolete by automation and industrial change with the new skills which the new processes demand.” Most people will not remember this part of Kennedy’s speech, because it is the same one in which he laid down the challenge to American science and business for “… landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth …” within the decade.

By 1964, concerns of automation causing unemployment had not been assuaged. This led President Lyndon Johnson to sign a law creating a National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress. The Commission released its report in February of 1966.
In addressing the situation on behalf of the American worker, the Commission recommended several steps be taken. Among them:
• a program of public service employment to provide work for “hard-core unemployed” in useful community enterprises
• a guaranteed minimum income for every family
• removing obstacles to education, including universal high school education and up to 14 years of schooling guaranteed
• a national, computerized job-matching service to provide information to workers on where jobs were available
• relocation assistance for families

Boomers hit the job market in the swirl of this automation tempest, only to become the engineers of the automated future we are now facing. Some prognosticators are now forecasting that automation will affect nearly half of all workers in the next decade. Many jobs once held by boomers have long since been replaced by automation, with more sure to come. How many boomers were pinsetters in bowling alleys? switchboard operators? typesetters? keypunch operators? The list continues to grow.

Automation did not adversely affect Mister Boomer’s working life. He, like many boomers, became adaptable as computers entered various fields. In fact, he credits his embrace of the personal computer for his later-life work success. Now that he is anticipating retirement, Mister B looks back with nostalgia, but is very glad he doesn’t have to face a job market rife with the prospect of diminishing career opportunities.

How about you, boomers? Did automation play a role in your working life?

posted by Mister B in Technology and have Comment (1)

Polio, the Scourge of Baby Boomers, Now Eradicated in U.S.

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced in a press conference at his research facility at the University of Michigan, that tests of his vaccination for poliomyelitis had been successful. At the time, polio was reported to be as feared by the general public as the atomic bomb. The road to the release of the first polio vaccine looms large in the history of the Baby Boom.

Polio is a contagious viral disease that mainly affects children under the age of five. It usually affects the lower extremities, consequently inducing paralysis of the legs. For these reasons it is associated with infantile paralysis. Like most diseases, there are different strains. When the disease embedded itself in the breathing system, it caused death in five to 10 percent of people (mostly children) who contracted that form. The Iron Lung was primarily developed to assist the breathing of people with this form of polio.

The first significant outbreak of infantile polio struck the U.S. in 1894; it was not known to be a virus until 1908. After an epidemic hit New York City in 1916, research for a cure was accelerated. By 1933, 5,000 cases of infantile paralysis were reported in the U.S. In 1946, the number had jumped to 25,000, and by 1952, it more than doubled to 59,000. This precipitous rise became a significant concern for parents of the burgeoning Baby Boom. In some areas that had outbreaks, panic caused people to desert public pools and large gatherings.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 39 in 1921, a rare occurrence of an adult onset of the disease. As President of the U.S. in 1938, his personal experience with polio caused him to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. This organization, focused on polio research, later became the March of Dimes. During World War II, FDR was wheelchair-bound due to the disease, though he had made an agreement with the press not to release photos of him in his chair lest he be perceived as a wartime president in a weakened condition.

Several scientists around the world were working on developing a vaccination for polio as far back as World War I. Work on developing a flu vaccine by a host of researchers, including Dr. Jonas Salk while he was a med student, became the basis for the research of a polio vaccine. There are two main approaches to developing vaccines: one takes a lesser strain of the live disease and introduces it into a patient to develop an antibody resistance to the disease before a stronger strain can strike. The other method is to inject an inoperative, “killed” version of the disease cells to the patient so the body recognizes the intruder and desensitizes the patient to the disease. Dr. Salk took this second approach. Taking the other approach around the same time was Dr. Albert Sabin, a Polish researcher.

Early boomers, including Mister Boomer, recall the March of Dimes campaigns throughout the 1950s and ’60s in practically every retail establishment. Cardboard cards were displayed by every cash register, with each card having slots to hold dimes. When a customer received change, he or she could slip a dime or two into the card for polio research. Each year the March of Dimes conducted a fundraising drive in the schools, too. Boomers were encouraged by their teachers to contribute their saved dimes, and collect dimes from family and friends, to give to the March of Dimes and their quest to develop a vaccine. Classrooms would compete with one another for having the most money collected. The March of Dimes was the primary foundation that funded Dr. Salk’s experiments.

Dr. Salk wanted to test his theory and the efficacy of his working vaccine, so he petitioned the government to allow a nationwide study. In 1954 he was granted permission and 1.8 million Americans, mostly children, were enlisted to participate. It would be the largest medical research test ever conducted. Half were to be given the vaccine, while the other half received a placebo. Baby boomer parents, fearing a continued rise in polio rates, signed up their children with a simple form: “I give my consent to have my child participate in this experiment.” No one knew what to expect, or what would be the final outcome.

The study was immediately controversial. Polio had been affecting upper and middle class children disproportionately over poorer children. It was assumed that people in the lower-middle and lower classes were more subjected to a wider variety of germs, and therefore more apt to be able to fight off the disease before it took hold. The upper classes therefore had less effective immune systems. The public outcry worried that this inequality meant that only the upper classes would receive the actual vaccine dose while those less fortunate would be receiving the placebo. Dr. Salk’s group claimed the dosage was determined at random.

Despite Dr. Salk’s 1955 pronouncement that his injectable vaccine had proved to be 80 to 90 percent effective, the U.S. government did not immediately authorize its use. Instead, one by Dr. Albert Sabin, using the live vaccine and distributed though an oral ingestion — drops in a sugar cube — are what many boomers will recall receiving as kids. Parents and children alike lined up outside health centers and public schools to receive their vaccine dose. A small number of children acquired the disease from taking the vaccine, and questions arose about whether Dr. Sabin’s vaccine actually killed the virus; this caused Dr. Salk’s injectable “killed virus” vaccine to replace the oral application, though both remained available.

Due to the diligence of Dr. Salk, Dr. Sabin and a host of others, by 1961 the number of reported polio cases in the U.S. had dropped by 96 percent. The Center for Disease Control reported virtual eradication of the disease in 1979, though the last reported case occurred in 1991.

Polio continues to ravage other parts of the world, mainly in developing countries. Efforts are underway by the United Nations to get the latest generation of polio vaccines to the areas that need it the most. When this scourge of the Baby Boom is finally snuffed out, boomers will have had a direct hand in the process as both test subjects and funding contributors to one of the greatest medical victories of our generation.

What do you remember about receiving the polio vaccine, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Polio, the Scourge of Baby Boomers, Now Eradicated in U.S.

Boomers Both Feared and Laughed at Russia

Spying and hacking and meddling … oh my! Russia is in the news again, but that is nothing new to boomers. We lived with practically daily news about the country and people we were told were our biggest adversaries.

There are famous stories of General George Patton advocating war with Russia at the end of World War II. His rationale was that it was inevitable that we would face the country some day, and at that point we had troops and equipment available in the area already. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, but just four years after the end of the war, the first salvo of the Cold War was hurled when the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear bomb.

We tended to use the terms “Russia” and “Soviet Union” interchangeably, though there was a difference. Russia was and is a country in and of itself, but the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was a collection of Country/States that comprised the Soviet Union, until its dissolution in 1991. The U.S.S.R. was under the control of the Communist Party, headquartered in Moscow, Russia.

Once the Soviets became the second state to possess nuclear capability, fear spread across the U.S. Boomers recall the Duck and Cover government educational film (1951) and the craze of people building home fallout shelters (See: Signs of the Times: Fallout Shelter Signs Were A Common Sight for Boomers). In the beginning we were told we’d survive a nuclear attack if we were at school, simply by sliding under our school desks. At home, we could survive indefinitely inside shelters that were either pre-made and installed, or custom made by the homeowner. These shelters were stocked with water, canned goods and everything a family might need to remain locked away underground until nuclear fallout clouds might dissipate. Information at the time thought that might not take more than a month — at least that is what the government was saying aloud.

Soon after the Soviets’ first nuclear test, the country was gripped by McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and the congressional hearings he chaired on the possible infiltration of Communists into the U.S. (1950-54). His first inquiries concerned the loyalty of government employees, then he targeted the film and TV industry.
The same year McCarthy began his “Red Scare,” the U.S. entered the Korean conflict, ostensibly to stop the spread of Communism.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a speech in 1956 that he felt the Communist system would outlast the western Capitalism system by saying, “We will bury you.” He repeated the phrase at the United Nations in 1960, pounding his fists and ultimately, his shoe, on his desk. The line elicited front page news for the American press. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 added more fuel to the fire of nuclear fear (See: Boomer History: The Cuban Missile Crisis).

Meanwhile, the film and TV industry was busy doing what people always do to their adversaries — demonize and make fun of them. Some of the most popular movies and TV shows referenced the Soviet Union in an adversarial role. Most, however, may have made allusions to Russian spies and meddling, but the foes were more often super villains from international crime syndicates as opposed to state operators. Here are a few of Mister B’s Cold War favorites:

James Bond — The first James Bond film was released in 1962. The books, authored by Ian Fleming, did plot U.S. and Soviet spies against each other on occasion, but the movies seldom did. In From Russia with Love (1963), James Bond “must” seduce a beautiful Russian agent in order to acquire a decoder device. In You Only Live Twice (1967) super-villain Blofeld is capturing Soviet and American satellites in an effort to start a war between the two countries. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), British and Russian submarines are being hijacked, so the two countries’ governments combine forces to investigate. Heading into the 1980s and ’90s, the Soviets and British (and by proxy, Americans) appear in an adversarial role in several Bond films, but that is out of the range of the prime boomer years, so Mister B will leave that for your own research.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – This movie set up a “what if” scenario of a rogue American general intent on starting a war between our two countries. In the movie, the U.S. President reaches out to the Soviet Ambassador to try to explain the situation and brings him into the top-secret War Room in the process. There, the Ambassador, skeptical of U.S. motives, is busy taking pictures of his surroundings. The satire showed the absurdity of our mutual distrust in the face of total annihilation.

Fail-Safe (1964) – Like Dr. Strangelove before it, this film creates a scenario where a nuclear exchange between the two countries is frighteningly close at hand. In this film, though, American bombers are accidentally sent to destroy Moscow due to electrical and computer malfunctions. The U.S. asks the Soviet Union for help in averting a worldwide crisis. Unlike Dr. Strangelove, this was serious drama. Mister Boomer had read the book in school before the movie was made.

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) – When a Soviet submarine accidentally runs aground off the coast of a small New England town, members of the crew realize they have no choice but to go ashore and seek help to free their vessel. Reflecting the paranoia of the day, townspeople mistake the small boat as a Russian invasion force. Merriment ensues.

Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale – Cartoon characters on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), these spies and dastardly do-no-gooders were actually from Pottsylvania, despite their obvious Russian names. Their superior was known as Fearless Leader. Boris’s name is a play on the name of Boris Godunov, a 19th century Russian tsar who instituted a spy system to protect his power from internal and external enemies. Boris Badenov proclaimed himself the “world’s greatest nogoodnik,” another reference to the Russian language.

Much taller than Boris, Natasha Fatale was his partner and evidently the brains of the operation. She appeared to hold some affection for Boris and often saved him from his own misdoings. Like Boris, she spoke in a broken English reminiscent of a Slavic-Russian accent.

Spy TV Shows — A series of TV shows cropped up in the early ’60s that used the Cold War as backdrop, but again, seldom mentioned Russia and the Soviet Union by name — although there were instances where the two countries worked together to thwart a common enemy. Among them were The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68),  I Spy (1965-68), The Avengers (1966-69), Mission: Impossible (1966-73), The Prisoner (1967-68), and Get Smart (1965-70). All of them used at least some humor in their scripts.

What memorable laugh or fear-stricken book, film or TV show about the Russians do you remember, Boomers? (For further Mister B insight, see: Laughing Through the Cold War)

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

Boomers Witnessed Apollo 1’s Fateful Mission

January 31 is designated as an Annual Day of Remembrance for the brave men and women who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration and discovery. This year marks a fateful anniversary in that regard, as fifty years ago this week three astronauts lost their lives in a preflight fire aboard Apollo 1 (NASA titled AS-204).

Scheduled to launch on February 21, 1967, Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were to be the first crewed flight of the Apollo missions that would eventually take us to the moon.

This was to be Roger Chaffee’s first space flight. The other two, however, were veterans of the Space Program. Virgil “Gus” Grissom reached space in July 1961 aboard the Liberty Bell 7 capsule in the Mercury-Redstone 4 mission. After a 15 and half-minute suborbital flight, his space capsule sank in the ocean on reentry. Grissom was quickly retrieved by the US Navy. Edward White became the first American to perform a spacewalk in June 1965. He was one of two astronauts aboard Gemini 4. Pilot James McDivitt and White spent four days in space, on only the tenth manned spaceflight launched by the US.

On January 27, 1967, the Apollo astronauts suited up for a planned preflight test of systems in the Command Module, which was in place on top of the Saturn rocket (AS-204) at the launch site. At around 6:31 p.m. EST, the crew reported a fire inside their module. From the subsequent investigation and report to Congress, we know that a voltage surge was recorded around one minute before the fire was reported. The fire began beneath the Senior Pilot’s couch and spread through channels that were designed to deflect debris away from the astronauts during flight. It quickly surged through the Command Module, which contained 100 percent oxygen, consuming flammable materials and wiring and filling it with smoke. Pressure built inside the module with the heat from the fire, making it exceedingly difficult to open the inside of the two-layer hatch since it opened inward. The crew on the platform outside could not see the astronauts through the viewing window due to the smoke, and were not able to approach the capsule in time due to the heat. All indications pointed to the Apollo crew and platform personnel following procedures, but in less than twenty minutes, the crew was officially reported dead.

As a result, NASA grounded all flights while an investigation was conducted. It was to be nearly a year before the next launch, which was a severe setback in the middle of the Space Race. President Kennedy’s goal of getting a crew to the moon and back within the decade seemingly became an impossible mission.

In our day and age, it seems unbelievable that there wasn’t a system in place to handle such contingencies as an onboard fire before the spacecraft was launched. However, we need to remind ourselves that putting people into space was a completely new thing, and virtually every aspect had to be developed as the Space Program progressed. As a result of the investigation, NASA initiated major design and engineering changes before the first Apollo flight was launched. Among these changes were:

• An outward-opening hatch
• Mix of oxygen and nitrogen in the module
• Fireproof storage containers
• Protective covering over wiring and flameproof coating on wire connections
• Plastic switches were replaced with metal
• Emergency oxygen system to isolate crew from cabin emergencies
• Fire extinguishers onboard and on the launch platform

The deaths of Grissom, White and Chaffee hit the country — and boomers — hard. For boomers like Mister B who followed the Space Program through every mission, it was a devastating blow, like a member of the family had passed away. Mister Boomer recalls seeing pictures of the damaged module in Life magazine, along with photos of a subsequent zipline escape system installed on the launch towers. Though it was a severe setback for the Space Program, after NASA presented their findings and intentions for modifications to Congress in April of 1967, there weren’t many people ready to give up on achieving President Kennedy’s challenge that he made only six years earlier.

Do you recall hearing the awful news of the deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts from the first TV and radio reports, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Space and have Comments Off on Boomers Witnessed Apollo 1’s Fateful Mission