Where Were You in October 1962?

Fifty years ago this month — October, 1962 — the winds of change were stirring the cultural cauldron. Teen idols, girl groups and instrumental easy listening music still dominated the airwaves, prompting some popular music critics to state that rock ‘n roll had run its course and guitar-based music would soon be a thing of the past. Into the fray the Beach Boys released Surfin’ Safari, their first album, and across the pond The Beatles’ Love Me Do, their first single, was released on the EMI Parlophone Record label. The flip side of the record was P.S. I Love You. Both songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Earlier in the year Decca Records had passed on signing the group.

In that same month The Beatles were one of the opening acts for Little Richard at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, and The Motown Revue began touring, with its first stop in Washington, D.C. The Revue featured Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, the Contours, Martha and the Vandellas and Little Stevie Wonder.

Meanwhile, Elvis’ Return to Sender hit number two on the Billboard charts, and the number one soundtrack album of October and the entire year of 1962 was West Side Story.

At the movies we saw our fascination with Cold War spy thrillers blossom with the introduction of James Bond to the silver screen in Dr. No, first released in London on October 5, 1962. Also in October, The Manchurian Candidate debuted in the U.S., presenting a much darker look at the spy game.

Sean Connery, in addition to starring as James Bond, had a minor role in another motion picture that was released in October 1962: The Longest Day. The movie told episodic stories about soldiers involved in the Normandy invasion during World War II and made a huge impression on future filmmakers. Laden with high-powered stars of the time, the movie became seriously influential in a string of war movies in the decades that followed.

In theater, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? opened on Broadway, challenging theater-goers and critics with sardonic humor and verbal abuse dished toward each other by the lead characters. At the same time Beyond the Fringe was being performed, echoing the dichotomy of all aspects of cultural history in 1962: the seriousness of Woolf was countered by the political humor of Fringe.

Television saw Johnny Carson replace Jack Paar on the Tonight Show in October of 1962. Earlier that year, we were introduced to McHale’s Navy and The Beverly Hillbillies.

October of 1962 sports headlines saw the New York Yankees in the World Series. To paraphrase Yogi Berra — the catcher for the Yankees at the time — who said years after 1962, will this year be “deja vu all over again?”

And so 1962 barreled on into the fall, presenting the public with striking contrasts that in retrospect were the harbingers of things to come:

  • While the Supreme Court ruled separate seating on public transportation was illegal, in the same year Bo Diddley had a hit with You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.
  • While Pope John Paul XXIII convened Vatican II, the first council to take a look at modernizing the Catholic Church in hundreds of years, the Mashed Potato was a big dance hit and the plastic wiffle ball and ball first appeared.
  • While the Space Race was heating up with the U.S. launching several successful missions orbiting the Earth, the Cold War was red hot with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. We’ll delve further into this event next week.

What memories of October 1962 come to mind for you, boomers?

When Boomers Welcomed New States

One historical event that occurred during the boomer years made us the last generation to witness this event up to now: that is, the addition of a new state to the Union, and it happened twice in the same year. No state had been added since our grandparents’ generation, when New Mexico and Arizona were added in 1912 to make the country the contiguous 48 states.

Alaska was the first state to be added; it was admitted on January 3, 1959, in the middle of the prime boomer years. Three months later, on March 18, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act that paved the way for statehood. A few months later, Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly, at 93%, to join the Union. On August 21, 52 years ago this week, Hawaii became the 50th state.

Like Alaska, Hawaii was not connected to another state by a common border. In fact, they were quite a distance from what became known as the Continental United States. But unlike Alaska, Hawaii could not be reached by land at all. It sat 2,390 miles from the coast of California, its nearest state neighbor. This distance, mixed with visions of an island paradise portrayed in the tales of servicemen coming home from World War II, would spark the imagination of the country and ultimately the new boomer generation. With the increased capabilities of air travel in the 1950s, the state of Hawaii was within reach for some boomer families. For others, a visit to this mysterious, far-off destination could only be a dream that would take a lifetime to fulfill.

The earliest memories of Hawaii for most boomers came from school. Teachers could latch on to information on pineapple farming, coupled with the same images of girls in grass skirts, dancing the Hula and wearing flower leis, that servicemen made famous in lamps and bobble doll souvenirs, and present them to students as the quintessential intro into the newest state. Such was the case for Mister B. No one he knew had ever been to Hawaii, or was going there any time soon. The closest he and his classmates could get were the Pan Am ads in Life and Look magazines.

One of the souvenirs brought back by servicemen lodged itself into the national psyche: the Aloha (or Hawaiian) shirt. Uniquely Hawaiian, the most prized were manufactured on the islands between the 1930s and the 1950s. Many noted celebrities from the era were fans of the garment. Elvis Presley wore vintage Hawaiian shirts in his 1961 movie, Blue Hawaii. Even John Wayne and President Harry Truman enjoyed wearing the shirts regularly.

Landing first in California along with the surfboard, the shirt was quickly adopted by the burgeoning West Coast surf culture. As the trend moved eastward across the contiguous 48 states in the 50s and 60s, imitations were made on the mainland for boomer boys and their fathers. Mister Boomer recalls his first imitation Hawaiian shirt: it was a muted yellow with island scenes of palm trees and coconuts drawn at seemingly random intervals. Brother Boomer had one too, but his was light blue and had a different pattern. Mister B’s father, however, didn’t join in.

Mister Boomer was able to see his early dreams of Hawaii come to life when he and the missus visited the islands to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. He found it to be every bit an island paradise as was described when he was a wee boomer. Ever since that time, he’s dreamed of returning to our 50th state.

What early memories of our Hawaii do you have, boomers?