Going Batty for Spring

It was mid-March of 1962 when Mister Boomer and two of his neighborhood friends decided to try out for Little League Baseball. All the leaves were still brown, and the sky was gray on the day they would be tested. It looked like a November day rather than March, but that’s the thing about winter in the Midwest: it’s never over ’til it’s over. A crisp wind blew across the boys’ faces as they piloted their bikes to the try-out location.

There was already a big crowd of boys behind the backstop as they parked their bikes and went to the sign-up sheet. With coats, zipped high and fingers gloved, they waited until their turn at fielding and batting. Mister Boomer hated the idea of trying to play baseball in the cold. He’d have to remove his gloves to slip on the baseball mitt, and he knew one line drive in the pocket could send a frigid tingle up the arm. Batting was even worse. Each crack would sting his hands like the jolt of a live electrical wire. Nonetheless, he was determined to do his best.

After fielding — and flubbing — a few fly balls, line drives and grounders, Mister B was sent to the plate for his turn at bat. Six short pitches later, his try-out was finished. He had gotten a glove on almost all the balls hit his way, and successfully hit every pitched ball out of the infield. Now he’d have to wait to see if he’d make a team. His two neighbors did about the same, except the portly boy hit the ball a little higher and farther.

Little League was a big deal for young men. It was the first chance they would get to test their mettle among a group of peers. It was, according to the Little League credo, instilling sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork into young minds. We didn’t care about all that. We just loved baseball and wanted to play. As it turned out, Little League in the 1950s and 60s was much more than that.

Carl Stotz is credited with establishing the first Little League teams in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1939. By the 1950s, his organization had grown beyond the borders of the U.S., and the official organization had, for the first time, professional business people and government officials on their board of directors. Mr. Stotz fought constantly with the board, wanting to keep more control over every aspect of the organization, from rules of the game that he had written to the expansion of franchises, but the board stymied him every step of the way. Finally, by the mid-50s, Carl Stotz was embroiled in a legal battle with his own organization that was now being wrenched from his hands. Ultimately, he set up a rival league, composed of the first three teams of his original organization, and went about recruiting Little League teams to defect. By 1956, after numerous legal battles, Mr. Stotz was forced to capitulate. He agreed to drop his rival league and opposition to the board if three conditions were met; first, the organization had to remain headquartered in Williamsport; second, he insisted on more representation for field volunteers; and third, he did not want to be contested as the founder of the Little League Baseball program.

It seems Mr. Stotz was not all that paranoid about the infiltrators of his fun, recreational organization for boys. Some of the biggest names of the day were seeing Communists at every turn, and now saw Little League as a tool to mold impressionable minds into the American Way of Life. None other than J. Edgar Hoover himself sat on the board of directors, along with prominent business people who recruited conservative sponsors for the League. Herbert Brownell, Jr., then the Attorney General of the United States, summed up the feeling of the day in the Little League World Series Official Program of 1954. He wrote, “The young Americans who compose the Little League will prove a hitless target for the peddlers of godless ideology.”

By the mid 60s, there were nearly 7,000 leagues chartered worldwide, spreading the baseball diplomacy of Americanism to all parts of the globe. Today, Little League Baseball is played in all 50 states and in 80 countries. There are nearly 200,000 teams. But Mister Boomer and his neighbors didn’t know anything about propaganda intent. They wanted to know if they made a team.

A week after the try-out, they rode their bikes to the city’s community center to see the posted lists of Little League teams on the wall. They combed through each team, searching for their names. Finally, one of the boys found his name on a team sponsored by a local furniture store. Mister B and the other boy’s name were not there. Only one of the three boys would play in Little League that year.

A year later Mister Boomer tried out again, and this time made it onto a team. He would play on that team for three years, racking up some respectable numbers, such as being one of the top base stealers of the local League, playing every position except catcher and pitcher, and having a career batting average over .400. He also helped set some records on the low end, when his team committed 26 errors in a single game. Six belonged to Mister B.

None of his acts on the diamond were as memorable as his first time at bat. Being one of the newbies on the team, he batted low on the roster. Yet, as luck would have it, the bases were loaded as he walked to the plate, hands sweating, as a chorus of “Please don’t strike out! Please don’t strike out!” ran through his helmeted head. The sidelines grew quiet as the first pitch came over the plate. The manager had signaled to take the pitch, and it was strike one. He gave the signal again, and ball one was outside. Then he gave Mister B the hit sign. The pitcher tossed the next one just where he liked it: a little outside and letter high on the jersey. Mister B whipped the bat around, a little late as was his custom at the time. The ball met the bat with a satisfying crack and it flew into right field, over the head of the unsuspecting fielder.

“Run! Run!” was the frantic call from the bench as he rounded first and headed for second. The fielder grabbed the ball and threw it in the wrong direction, committing the first of his team’s errors. As Mister B reached second base, his helmet shifted on his head and blocked his vision, causing him to trip and fall over the base. “Run!” came the call. He stood up and ran as fast as he could, not knowing where the ball was. Two errors more and Mister B was heading for home plate. With the help of the other team, he had just hit his first Grand Slam. Despite the requirement of the team reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and a pre-game prayer before each game, he was playing baseball. And that was all he wanted to do.

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?