There’s a Kind of Crush, All Over the Boomer World

In the decade of the sixties, women on TV began to be portrayed as more powerful, independent characters. At the same time, though, their sexuality was amped up to, in some cases, comic book extremes. For boomer boys hitting their double-digit years, the latter was of particular note. It was a time of infatuation that spawned many a boyhood crush. Mister Boomer was among those boys with eyes glued to their TV sets, drinking in as much feminine pulchritude as his eyes would store. Among the group of battling beauties of sixties TV, six stand out as exceptional for Mister B.

Linda Evans as Audra Barkley; The Big Valley (1965-69)
There was plenty for young boomer boys to like about The Big Valley. It was a Western, and that meant there were horses and plenty of fighting and gunplay. The show was popular with Mister Boomer’s parents. Yet the character Mister B focused on was Audra. Mister Boomer sat dreamy-eyed, watching Linda Evans mount and dismount her horse in each episode. Always crisply dressed, she was the modern incarnation of Western fashion. Crisp white shirts were kept open at the collar by not one, but two buttons. Knee-high leather boots covered form-fitting riding pants in just the right shades of dark gray. Even though the show was filmed in color, Mister B’s family didn’t have a color set until the late 70s, so she was always dressed in shades of glorious gray. Despite her fashionable charm, a young Mister B got lost in her flowing blonde locks.

Anne Francis as Honey West; Honey West (1965-66)

Mister Boomer knew about Anne Francis from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, which he had seen on TV; it instantly became one of his all-time favorites. She was probably the curviest actress he had ever seen at the time, and therefore the most overtly sexual. In Honey West, Ms. Francis played the title character, a private eye with a pet ocelot and animal-print wardrobe. She was the first female private detective on TV, which was as spin-off of an episode she appeared in on Burke’s Law. She was tough as nails in her job, yet always reminded us she was a woman by painting her nails on-screen. Honey drove a sports car and carried James Bond-style gadgetry, often dispatching bad guys using her black belt knowledge of Judo. What was not to like? Mister B always remembered the opening sequence where her sports car zips into the frame, camera zoomed in on the car door. As the door opens, two incredible legs appear, followed by an ocelot on a chain, then the amazing rest of Miss West. She sported a “beauty mark” near her lips, but that was somewhat distracting to Mister B., he would have preferred her face be clear of such blemishes. Anne Francis passed away in January of 2011.

Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel; The Avengers (1965-68)

After airing for three years in Britain, ABC brought The Avengers to American audiences. Like many other shows, it capitalized on the popularity of the James Bond films. Unlike Bond, though, far-out notions of cyber-robots and such helped the series to spawn was what to become known as the spy-fi genre. Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel was the assistant to John Steed, played by the actor Patrick Macnee. She wasn’t the first actress to play the part of his assistant, but the first introduced to American audiences. And what an introduction! Mrs. Peel had it all: modelicious good looks, martial-arts fighting ability and sharpshooter skills delivered with a sly smile and witty banter not previously experienced on American TV. But the thing young boomers boys will remember the most was her skin-tight catsuits. She fancied them for all her spy work, giving a whole new meaning to “form follows function.” Like Honey West (which had been called the American answer to The Avengers before the show reached the U.S., causing the cancellation of Honey West), Emma Peel drove a fast car and kicked on-screen butt alongside her ever-suave and superbly dressed supervisor, John Steed. Even as a very young man, though, Mister Boomer became infatuated with her Mona-Lisa smile and witty charm as much as her curves. This propelled Mrs. Peel to near the top of the crush list for the duration of his formative years.

Barbara Eden as Jeannie; I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70)
If ever there was a sexy genie, it was Barbara Eden. Her character was introduced as astronaut Captain Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) splashed down off-course on a deserted beach, and came across her bottle. She was always pictured in her rather revealing harem outfit, which caused a stir at the time. Though she was allowed to show her midriff, the TV censors drew the line at showing her belly button. The Internet has several references to episodes in which we can sneak a peek at said belly button, though. Jeannie was as friendly a woman as a young boomer was going to find; always accommodating and eager to please, she was the idealized fifties housewife in a bottle. With no real costume changes and a one-note character, Mister B’s interest in Jeannie didn’t last. Besides, Barbara Eden was older than some of the other TV beauties of the time.

Stephanie Powers as April Dancer; The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966)
Another spin-off, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. found its origins in the very popular The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Right from the start, however, the character played by Stephanie Powers was going to be infinitely more feminine and not as stuffy and dramatic as her male counterparts. She sported a super-cool Carnaby Street mod wardrobe of miniskirts and wonderful color-block coats and dresses (which were always in black and white to Mister B). Almost as a throwback to a previous decade, the character wasn’t allowed to dispatch the bad guys under her own power. Rather, it was her penchant for disguises (such as harem girl) and ability to speak in accents, coupled with a real-life dance background, that enabled her to snare the evildoers. They could then be handled by her male partner, Mark Slate (as played by Noel Harrison, the famous actor’s son). The mod fashions were a big draw for Mister B. She was cute. Darn cute to a young boomer.

Peggy Lipton as Julie Barnes; The Mod Squad (1968-73)

As a model turned actress, Peggy Lipton was paired with two men in this police drama with the tagline: One White, One Black, One Blonde. The trio were hipsters given chance to fight crime or be incarcerated themselves. Now crimefighters, their previous crimes were of little consequence. They became the first counterculture characters working for The Man in a TV show aimed at the counterculture. It regularly dealt with social and racial issues, and was regarded as a seriously-acted show. In fact, Peggy Lipton garnered four Golden Globe nominations during her tenure as Julie. Mister Boomer wasn’t watching Peggy for her acting abilities. Her straight, blonde hair and model physique sent Mister B’s heart a-fluttering. She was a beautiful black-and-white gazelle bounding across the Sylvania screen. To his young eyes, she was at once vulnerable yet approachable, young and ever-so-vibrant. The occasional scene in a bikini sure didn’t hurt any, either. To a young Mister B, she was the quintessential sixties woman.

Of course there were more, but for Mister B, the top six were Audra, Honey, Diana, Barbara, April and Julie. By this point, the sixties were turning into the seventies, and how women were portrayed on TV would change again. New shows were setting new beauty standards as a way to further social causes, such as Angie Dickenson’s Police Woman (1974), while late-boomer boys could have a front row seat to a series of “jiggle” shows that left no doubt about the subject. Mister Boomer is glad to have experienced the more innocent time when women were first being shown as able to do anything a man could do, and look a lot nicer while doing it.

What about boomer girls and their crushes? Mister Boomer has heard young boomer girls went all doe-eyed over the likes of Kookie (Edd Byrnes; 77 Sunset Strip, 1958), Dr. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain; Dr. Kildare, 1961) or Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum; The Man from U.N.C.L.E., 1964). But alas, what does Mister Boomer know?

How about it, boomers? Did you have a crush on a sixties TV star?

Boomer Turkey Days

The Thanksgiving holiday is this coming week. Recently, Mister Boomer ran across an advertisement from 1935 which read in part, “We may not all be able to afford a turkey this Thanksgiving, but we have much for which to be thankful.” That got Mister Boomer in a pensive mood. As boomers, we certainly have much to be thankful for. Parents of boomers lived through Thanksgivings in the 1930s, which was during the height of the Great Depression. Just when the country was pulling out of its worst economic maelstrom ever, World War II knocked on the door. World events didn’t exactly give our parents happy Thanksgivings through their formative years, certainly by today’s standards.

It’s Mister Boomer’s theory that their experiences had a direct impact on how the holiday would be celebrated with their boomer children. As boomers were being born after the War, these new young families set out to make a better life for their children than what they and their parents had — the mantra of every parent. The country’s economic engine was churning as the nation recovered, highways were being built, and suburban sprawl meant a home of one’s own was within reach. It is likely that that new home looked like a modern, idyllic paradise to young parents anxious to begin a new chapter of their lives. It was also something to be thankful for.

Mister Boomer’s Thanksgiving memories go back into the Eisenhower era. At that time, Thanksgiving and the Christmas season weren’t complete without the requisite trips Downtown, beginning with the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. In Mister B’s household, the children would be awakened at the crack of dawn. Sometimes there would be snow flurries, sometimes freezing rain, but always there would be cold. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal, the children were dressed in multiple layers to ward off the frigid November Midwest air and whisked into the family car. Mister B’s mom stayed at home tending to the meal, as was the custom of the era.

A short ride later, Mister Boomer’s father would pull the car into a Downtown parking garage and the family made the walk to the Boulevard to stake their space along the parade route. Mister Boomer would stand there shivering, and wondering why he couldn’t have stayed in bed a while longer and watched the parade on TV. Aside from the cold, there was the viewing challenge. Mister Boomer’s family didn’t always get the best viewing spot. The Boomer children were considerably smaller than the sea of adults surrounding them, so at times seeing any glimpse of the parade at all meant crawling through legs to try and get to the street barricade. Mister B would observe how some fathers put their children on their shoulders, while others brought along step ladders, but with three children in tow, Mister B’s dad was not able to be among them.

As the parade marched on, Mister B did occasionally enjoy a colorful float and some of the marching bands — when he could see and if the bands’ cacophony didn’t hurt his ears, that is. By the time the star of the parade — Santa Claus — drifted by to mark the close of the parade, toes and fingers were numb. The crowd always stepped through the barricades at that point and followed Santa’s float to the big department store. There, a temporary second-story entrance to Santaland was installed in the side of the building. Santa would move directly up a staircase from his float to a platform decorated in full Christmas regalia, where the Mayor was waiting to give him the key to the City. Conveniently, it was also the key to the hearts of good little boys and girls everywhere, as the crowd was informed. After a hearty “Ho, ho, ho” and wish for a “Merry Christmas,” Santa retired inside to his home for the next four weeks, and the crowd slowly dispersed.

To avoid the traffic, sometimes Mister Boomer’s dad would take the children into a coffee shop. There, they’d attempt to warm themselves and their fingers with a cup of hot chocolate. Invariably, there would be a large swirl of whipped cream on top of the hot beverage, and a candy cane with which to stir it. The Boomer family children always ate the whipped cream on top first, leaving little to stir into the cocoa. Not being a fan of peppermint or hot chocolate, this was not a ritual that Mister B enjoyed. To this day he dislikes hot chocolate, candy canes, and the cold November air.

Boomer families were divided on the best time to serve Thanksgiving dinner, as families appear to be today. For some, it depended entirely on when the bird was cooked. If that was 1 p.m., then so be it. Dinner was served. Others had a more precisely timed approach, choosing 3 p.m. or even their regular dinner times. In Mister B’s house, it was the former rather than the latter. Dinner was almost always served by 2 p.m. — whenever the big bird was finished. It had been cooking away since 6:30 a.m. in the roaster that was kept in the basement. Meanwhile, a tablecloth covered the table, which only happened on holidays. It didn’t matter that the china arrived courtesy of a weekly discount purchase for shopping at the supermarket. It was special dinnerware for special occasions only.

Most of the time, some aunts and uncles or family friends were invited to share the feast, prompting the “children’s table” to appear. Who knows when the first children’s table was set up, but boomers are well acquainted with the holiday tradition. It helped keep the children separate from the adults by design, it would seem. Was it to get a moment’s rest for adult conversation to ensue or to keep fidgety, picky eaters out of a major sight line for a while? Inevitably, the mother, an aunt or older female cousin would tend to the children at their table, seeing to it that each had the meal they wanted.

In Mister Boomer’s family the bird was the star, followed by the stuffing, sweet potatoes and that wonderful can-shaped cranberry sauce that the family ate only once a year. Vegetables were clearly down the list. It would be many years later before Mister Boomer would learn that vegetables didn’t have to come from a can. That’s a trait shared by many boomers… was it because our parents lived through the Great Depression where every can was precious, or rather that in that time, in Cold War America, canned goods were the American thing to have on hand? In any case, there was always plenty of food and enough for leftovers. The meal would be capped off with pumpkin pie, banana cream pie and a pineapple upside-down cake.

Somewhere along the timeline, perhaps germinating in our youth, the meal gained in importance over the holiday sentiment. Boomers have changed the holiday from one of thanks to the one of over-indulgence that is celebrated today. Is it merely that boomer parents, like their parents and grandparents before them, want more and a better life for their children? Or have we gotten too comfortable in the lifestyle our parents’ generation worked so diligently to create for us?

Mister Boomer wishes you and yours a happy, thankful Thanksgiving. Now where is that can opener?