Boomers Continue to Live in “Interesting Times”

As this year inches toward its inevitable calendar end, it has certainly been one for the history books. This is nothing new to boomers; the old sentiment of May you live in interesting times appears tailor-made for our generation. Boomers have been eyewitness to history since the first boomers appeared in 1946. Our current historical happenings continue the trajectory.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about what happened 50 years ago. It blows Mister B’s mind to contemplate that the year 1970 was 50 years ago! Here are a few interesting tidbits of history from 1970 –– and especially from November of 1970 — 50 years ago this month. See if you remember:

• The population of the country, according to the 1970 U.S. Census, was 204,765,770.

• The median price of a home was between $22,000 and $25,700.

• Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company) was chartered by Congress.

Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture.

• The final episode of I Dream of Jeannie aired, after a five-year run on TV.

• The first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in the U.S. was unveiled at a bank in Buffalo, New York.

... and in November of 1970 …

• Tom Dempsey set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in a game against the Detroit Lions (November 8). Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and had a special shoe created, which enabled his record-breaking kicking career.

Layla by Derek & the Dominoes (featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman) was released (November 9). Written by Eric Clapton, it was featured on the double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

• Charles de Gaulle died (November 9). He was a general who led the French forces against the Nazis during WWII, and became part of the provisional government of France after the war. Mister B’s only connection was that his family was on vacation, visiting Expo 67 in Montreal when Charles de Gaulle appeared there and said, “Vive le Quebec libre!” (“Long live free Quebec!”) to the assembled crowd outside Montreal City Hall. It caused a great deal of consternation because there was a separatist movement in French-speaking Quebec at the time.

• The Soviet Union successfully launched, landed and deployed a robotic rover on the moon, Lunokhod 1 (Moonwalker 1; November 17). Just one year after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, it was the first such device employed on the moon. Nicknamed “the bathtub” for its shape and size, its mission lasted ten months. Powered by solar energy, the rover took the nights off, using a thermal energy heater to keep from freezing. The rover was controlled by operators in the Soviet Union, paving the way for future non-manned missions by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon and beyond.

• The court martial of Lieutenant William Calley began (November 17). He was the U.S. Army commander during the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam in March of 1968, when Calley and soldiers under his command were accused of killing 300 unarmed civilian men, women and children in the village of My Lai. Calley had asserted his orders to destroy the village came from his superior company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, who was nearby. Calley was the only person put on trial for murder. In all, thirteen officers and enlisted men were tried for war crimes, and another twelve officers were charged in the coverup that followed. After being convicted in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison, his sentence was reduced to twenty years, then again to ten years, following appeals. Calley was released in 1974.

What events stick in your mind from 50 years ago, boomers?

Boomers Watched the First Presidential TV Debates

We are well into the 2020 presidential election with more than an estimated 6 million people having already cast their ballots in early voting as of this writing. We have had one televised presidential and vice presidential debate each, already. There was to be a televised debate this week, which was to be a town hall format and was cancelled for health reasons. There is still one more planned for next week.

The situation could not be further from what transpired 60 years ago, the first year that presidential debates were televised. However, an examination of the history shows that spats between the two parties appeared from the very first of the TV debates. Mister Boomer has written about that very first debate, which aired on September 26, 1960, between then Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy (The First Televised Presidential Debate was Broadcast In Our Boomer Years).

Nixon and Kennedy had agreed to three debates. Consensus in the press put Kennedy as the victor in the first debate. Kennedy had talked to TV producers to get some pointers on what to wear. The vast majority of viewers would be tuning in on black & white TV sets, and the background was light, so they suggested he wear a navy color suit to stand out in contrast. He also asked about camera angles and lighting. In other words, he tried to prepare for his appearance in this new medium. Nixon was caught off guard in his gray suit and blended into the gray background. Worse yet, unaccustomed to studio lighting and recovering from the flu, close-up shots showed him sweating profusely on his upper lip. Nixon did not fare well in his first TV appearance.

For the second debate on Friday, October 7, 1960, Nixon’s staff got to the TV studio early and turned the thermostat down so their candidate would not be shown sweating. When Kennedy’s people arrived, the studio temperature was described as “frigid.” They went to the thermostat only to find it guarded by Nixon’s people. A discussion ensued and a more reasonable temperature was agreed upon. Most press at the time placed Nixon as the victor in round two.

The third of the debates on October 13, 1960, had the scintillating topic of whether military force should be used to prevent two islands off the coast of China from falling under Communist rule. Now, 60 years later, what is fascinating about that debate is that due to scheduling difficulties, the candidates could not appear in the same studio. Both were on the campaign trail, so Kennedy appeared in a New York studio, while Nixon was in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the debate moderator and panel of questioners were in Chicago. It was real TV history — a broadcast from three combined locations that was beamed to the TV audience on all three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). The background was the same for each candidate, so on a split screen the two appeared as if they were in the same studio. The press called this one a draw.

Both parties were exhausted from the rigors of what the televised debates placed on them in the last weeks before the election. Nixon, especially, was said to be devastated by the experience. As a result, there were no more televised presidential debates for three election cycles. Lyndon Johnson refused to participate against Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Richard Nixon declined to participate versus Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and again versus George McGovern in 1972. The next televised debate would not appear until then President Gerald Ford debated former Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Boomers had a front row seat in their living rooms for this historic series of events. Mister Boomer certainly recalls those first TV debates, and remembers having to write about them in Civics class in school. How about you, boomers? Do you remember the first televised presidential debate you watched with your family?