As the 1970s troubadour Steve Miller so aptly observed, “Time keeps on slipin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future…” As aging boomers wrestle with the notion of their own linear timelines, the passing of beloved figures brings things into generational focus. Four of them in particular caught the attention of Mister Boomer.
Donna Douglas (died January 1, 2015)
Mister Boomer, like many other boomers, will forever remember Donna Douglas as Ellie May on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71). As a young man Mister B was drawn to her imposing figure, which was the focus of several memorable episodes. In one, Miss Hathaway attempted to get Ellie May to wear a bra to become “more lady-like.” Ellie May took the bra and made it into a double-barrelled slingshot. It was the kind of homespun humor we expected from The Beverly Hillbillies, and the naive yet practical Ellie May.
In 1966 Douglas co-starred in Frankie and Johnny opposite Elvis Presley. Despite having impressive screen credits before The Beverly Hillbillies, appearing alongside Elvis did not boost her screen career as she never attained star status outside of the TV show.
Gary Owens (died February 12, 2015)
A radio DJ and voice-over actor, Gary Owens began his career in 1952. By the time he moved to California in 1961, Owens was known for his off-the-wall humor and punning ability. He invented nonsense words, often inserting them into sentences as if they belonged there.
He made his television debut in a recurring role as a radio announcer on The Green Hornet (1966-67). During this time he began voicing cartoons, most notably, Space Ghost and Roger Ramjet. Owens was still performing his daily radio show when he took the job as the zany announcer on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-73). He was one of only six actors who appeared throughout the show’s run.
Gary Owens appeared in more than 30,000 commercials and cartoons too numerous to mention, from the Boomer Era and beyond. He was a screenwriter for Jay Ward Productions, appeared in several Disney films and had guest shots on McHale’s Navy, I Dream of Jeannie and The Munsters. Boomers couldn’t get away from Owens’ voice even if they wanted to — he was everywhere they wanted to be.
Mister B was aware of some voice-over personalities at the time, his favorites being Mel Blanc and Hans Conried, but he certainly knew Gary Owens through Laugh-In. Always with a hand to his ear, Owens would announce useless information and nonsense phrases such as “You bet your sweet bippy,” all with his inimitable baritone voice. Kids would do their best to repeat the phrases uttered by Mr. Owens, all with the in-the-know hipness of popular culture.
Lesley Gore (died February 16, 2015)
Hitting the music scene while still a high school junior, It’s My Party was a huge hit for Lesley Gore in 1963. She went on to collect more hits, with Judy’s Turn to Cry (1963), That’s the Way Boys Are (1963), Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows (1965), Maybe I Know (1964) and perhaps most significantly in retrospect, You Don’t Own Me (1963), which Mister B has mentioned in a previous post (Boomers Challenged the Male-Female Status Quo … Slowly). She was one of the few artists who challenged The Beatles for the top spot on the charts in the early ’60s.
Mister Boomer listened to these and other songs on his transistor radio, never knowing a thing about Ms. Gore’s sexual identity or, in those early days, feminist philosophy. It didn’t matter. The lyrics were fun and the songs had a beat you could dance to. They were songs by boomers for boomers. As an adult, Mister B enjoys hearing Lesley Gore tunes as much as or more than while first listening in his pre-teen days.
Leonard Nimoy (died February 26, 2015)
What can be said about Leonard Nimoy except he was the supreme Renaissance man who many boomers emulated beyond his portrayal of Mr. Spock. Actor, musician, poet, photographer, patron and lover of the arts, Nimoy had a six-decade career to which today’s up-and-coming stars can only aspire.
Nimoy continues to be a pop culture icon for the next generation.
Mister B was a big fan of Mission: Impossible (1966-73), but admittedly knew the series stars Peter Graves and Barbara Bain better than Nimoy’s character. Once Star Trek aired in 1966, though, Mister B diligently practiced the Vulcan “live long and prosper” salute and became a life-long fan of Mr. Spock. He was cool, calm and collected and intelligent beyond human understanding — in short, everything a young geek could wish to be.
Each of these stars touched the lives of Baby Boomers in different ways, yet each was known far and wide. Their art echoed the changing times while inspiring the dreams of what was yet to come. We are fortunate to have records of their work so future generations can see the joy these lives brought to the boomer experience.
Do particular memories come back to you regarding Donna Douglas, Lesley Gore, Gary Owens and Leonard Nimoy, boomers?