Boomers Were Dialed In

Fifty years ago this week — April 3, 1973 to be exact — a historic event took place on a sidewalk in New York City. There, on Sixth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Street, Martin Cooper, an engineer for Motorola, placed the first mobile phone call. He was holding a device approximately the size of your forearm, that more resembled a field communications radio from WWII than what we now know as a mobile phone. He was calling Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, holding a prototype DynaTAC 8000X, which weighed in at 1.1 kilos — that’s approximately two and a half pounds. It would take another decade before mobile phones were available to the public, but this successful call paved the way for the mobile industry that boomers live in today. In the boomers’ adult lifetime, the world went from no mobile phones to what was estimated to be 67% of the world’s population in 2019 owning a mobile phone.

From push-button phones to 8-tracks, VCRs to cassette tapes, the record shows that boomers embraced new technology faster than previous generations. Yet some boomers hesitated to hop on the cell phone bandwagon, and Mister Boomer was one of them. Mister B recalls it seemed like an unnecessary extravagance in its early days. After all, phones were readily available at home and in businesses. However, as time went on, Mister B saw the advantage of having a phone in one’s own pocket. He clearly remembers the event that pushed him into the age of mobile phones.

In the late 1990s, Mister Boomer traveled a bit for the job he had. In one such business trip, he was instructed to call colleagues when he landed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport so a ride could be arranged. When Mister B deplaned and walked through the maze of hallways to the passenger luggage area, he looked for a pay phone to make his call. There were none to be seen. After far too long a time searching in all the likely spots, he asked an airline employee where he could find the pay phones. “You’ll have to go to the next terminal,” was the response. It was only the 1990s, but already, pay phones were disappearing. Mister B grabbed his luggage (which did not have wheels) and hoofed it over to the next terminal, where he found a small bank of lonely pay phones.

When he returned home and relayed his story to Mrs. Boomer, she cajoled him by saying it was time he got with it, man. She was ready for an upgrade, and offered him her hand-me-down. So it was that near the end of the 1990s, Mister Boomer joined the mobile phone world with a palm-sized device that featured familiar number/letter buttons, but had only a tiny screen that displayed the number being called. It did, however, have a permanent antenna jutting out of the upper right corner.

For now Mister Boomer still has a landline, which is the label people use to describe the wired-into-the-wall home phone that boomers knew their whole lives. In Mister Boomer’s home, that phone sits on a telephone stand. It’s the place he sets his mobile phone down when he arrives home, as well. Old habits are hard to break.

Additional reading about telephones from Mister Boomer:
For Boomers, Phone Followed Function
Boomers Called Long Distance
Boomers Tossed the Party Line

How about you, boomers? Were you an early cell phone adopter, or did you wait a while to get yours?

Boomers Bid Farewell to More Icons and Influencers in 2022

As is Mister Boomer’s tradition when a new year arrives, here is a listing of just some of the movers and shakers who helped shape our boomer years, and have passed on in 2022. As always, there were many, many more. Mister B has selected some that were of particular interest to him in his youth, or those who contributed greatly to our society and culture of the time.

Sidney Poitier (February 20, 1927 – January 6, 2022)
To say that Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to receive an Academy Award doesn’t begin to describe his presence and influence in movies in the boomer years. Mister Boomer first saw Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field at a drive-in movie theater with his family in 1963. Poitier won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in that film. He appeared in one memorable role after another in the 1950s and 60s, including Blackboard Jungle (1955); Porgy and Bess (1959); A Raisin In the Sun (1961); Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967), with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn; To Sir, With Love (1967); and Mr. B’s personal favorite, In the Heat of the Night (1967). In the first ten years of his career, his salary quadrupled, and by 1967, he was one of the first actors to receive a percentage of a film’s gross, in addition to a six-figure salary.

Peter Bogdanovich (July 30, 1930 – January 6, 2022)
Boomers certainly knew the works of Peter Bogdanovich. He began his movie career as an actor in the 1950s, then programmed movies for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, concentrating on presenting films by American directors. His own directorial debut came in 1968, in unmemorable Roger Corman films. It was The Last Picture Show (1971) that won Bogdanovich critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination as Best Director (the film won as Best Picture). He followed his success with What’s Up Doc? (1972) starring Barbra Streisand, and Paper Moon (1973) starring Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal.

Michael Lang (December 11, 1944 – January 8, 2022)
Boomers best remember Michael Lang as the co-creator of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival in 1969. Soon after Woodstock, Lang began managing Joe Cocker, a business pairing that lasted more than 20 years. He also managed Rickie Lee Jones, Willy DeVille, and others, under the auspices of his record company, Just Sunshine Records.

Ronnie Spector (August 10, 1943 – January 12, 2022)
Among the multitude of great female vocalists in the 1960s, Ronnie Spector was a standout on any boomer’s list. Boomers first made her acquaintance as lead singer in The Ronettes. In 1963, the group cold-called Phil Spector and auditioned for him. He signed them immediately and became their sole manager, co-authoring several of their first hits, including Be My Baby (1963), Baby I Love You (1963) and Walking In the Rain (1964). Just 17 years old when Phil Spector signed them, she began an affair with the 24 year old producer. Ronnie did not know at the time that Spector was married. After his divorce, the two married in 1968, with Ronnie adopting Spector’s last name. The marriage, which lasted until divorce in 1974, has been described as violent and abusive. Ronnie said Spector threatened on many occasions, with a gun in hand, to kill her if she left him. Spector prohibited her from performing her hits in the divorce settlement, and she was coerced to forfeit all her future earnings to the songs. The Ronettes sued Phil Spector and after years of litigation, won lump sum payments estimated at more than $2 million, plus ongoing royalties. Ronnie detailed her life and times in the 1990 memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness. Rolling Stone magazine called it one of the greatest rock memoirs of all time.

Kerry Chater (August 7, 1945 – February 4, 2022)
Boomers may not recall his name immediately, but Kerry Chater was known to boomers as the bassist for Gary Puckett & the Union Gap. He went on to become a hot songwriter in Nashville. His songs were performed by George Strait, Joe Cocker, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Rich, Jennifer Warnes, and a host of others.

David J. Collins (February 11, 1936 – March 12, 2022)
An inventor and businessman, Collins was working for Sylvania in 1960 when he lead a team that developed the first bar codes. The first practical use of the technology was made tracking railroad cars. He subsequently left Sylvania and worked on developing laser scanners for the codes, setting the stage for the ubiquitous use of the codes we see today.

Eugene Parker (June 10, 1927 – March 15, 2022)
Dr. Eugene Parker was a heliophysics scientist who first proposed a mathematical theory of the existence of solar wind in 1958. In 1962, a NASA mission to Venus proved his theory of the constant flow of particles emanating from the sun’s surface to be correct. In 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, making him the first living being to witness the launch of a spacecraft bearing his name.

Bobby Rydell (April 26, 1942 – April 5, 2022)
Boomers immediately know Bobby Rydell’s Wild One (1960) and his many chart-topping hits of the early 1960s. It is estimated he sold more than 25 million records throughout his career, including 34 Top 100 hits. In 1963, he appeared in the movie Bye, Bye Birdie, but the advance of the British Invasion and The Beatles dampened his popularity. Nevertheless, he continued to tour throughout his life. For some reason, Mister B often confused him with Frankie Avalon.

Paul Vance (November 4, 1929 – May 30, 2022)
Boomers know Paul Vance through his songwriting from the 1950s through the 1970s. Along with writing partner Lee Pockriss, he was responsible for penning such hits as Catch a Falling Star (1957), which became a hit for Perry Como, and Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (1960). Brian Hyland’s version reached number one in both the U.S. and the UK.

Jim Seals (October 17, 1942 – June 6, 2022)
Known as one half of the duo Seals and Crofts, their Top 10 hit Summer Breeze (1972) was and is a song that boomers either loved or hated. (Does Blowing through the jasmine of my mind ring a bell?)

Larry Storch (January 8, 1923 – July 8, 2022)
If you were a fan of F Troop (1965-67), as was Mister B at the time, then you knew Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn on the TV series. “Zany” and “bumbling” were words used to describe the characters, including Corporal Agarn. Despite the series’ portrayal of caucasian army officers as bumbling idiots, it is a series that probably could not be made today for its stereotypical presentation of indigenous people.

Tony Dow (April 13, 1945 – July 27, 2022)
Boomers immediately recognize Tony as Wally Cleaver, brother to the Beaver on Leave It to Beaver (1957-63). Though he made numerous guest appearances on TV shows for the decades that followed, Tony would never receive the recognition he had when he played Wallace Cleaver. The series was revived as The New Leave It to Beaver (1984-89) with Dow and Jerry Mathers playing adult versions of their Cleaver brothers’ characters. Tony did go on to direct 5 episodes of Babylon 5 and one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also directed episodes of Coach, Swamp Thing and others.

Nichelle Nichols (December 28, 1932 – July 30, 2022)
Forever known as Communications Officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, on the original Star Trek (1966-69), Nichelle became one of the few black actors to have a major role in a TV series during the boomer years. Many boomers may not know that prior to her TV acting roles, Nichelle was a vocal performer, having toured with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. After Star Trek, she assisted NASA in recruiting minorities and women. She is credited with bringing Dr. Sally Ride (the first American female astronaut) and Colonel Guion Bluford (the first African-American astronaut) into the agency. Mister Boomer is and was a Trekker.

Bill Russell (February 12, 1934 – July 31, 2022)
Considered by most as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Bill Russell had a 13-year career from 1956-69. He was a key member of the Boston Celtics when the team won 11 NBA championships. Bill was also an outspoken advocate for civil rights, joining a small group of athletes who supported Muhammed Ali during his trial for refusing to be drafted into the army on religious grounds.

Judith Durham (July 3, 1943 – August 5, 2022)
An Australian folk and jazz singer, Judith Durham became lead singer of the Seekers in 1963. With the Seekers, she recorded such classic hits as A World Of Our Own (1965), Georgy Girl (1966), and a little ditty called I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (1971), which was co-opted by a certain soft drink company for its advertising. Judith left the group to pursue a solo career in 1968, though she reunited with the band in 1993 for a reunion tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their final performance together. The Seekers sold more than 50 million albums in their career. Mister B’s favorite Seekers song was, I’ll Never Find Another You (1965).

Olivia Newton-John (September 26, 1948 – August 8, 2022)
A boomer herself, Olivia Newton-John rose to fame in 1970, when she had 14 Top 10 singles on the charts, including If Not For You and I Honestly Love You. She went on to sell more than 100 million records. In 1978, she starred on the big screen opposite John Travolta in Grease. The movie spawned several hits from the soundtrack, gaining her another group of followers, both boomers and beyond.

Bill Pittman (February 12, 1920 – August 11, 2022)
While his name may not immediately be recognizable to some boomers, his music was heard by all. Bill Pittman was a session guitarist who played on hundreds of recordings with other elite musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. He played on hit records for Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Jan & Dean, The Everly Brothers, The Ronettes, The Mamas & the Papas, James Brown, the Beach Boys, the Carpenters and The Monkees, to name a few.

Vin Scully (November 29, 1927 – August 22, 2022)
The voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers for 67 seasons, beginning in 1950 (when the team was the Brooklyn Dodgers!), Vin Scully was a constant throughout the boomer years. His play-by-play announcing made him among the best-known and best-loved sports broadcasters.

Queen Elizabeth II (April 21, 1926 – September 8, 2022)
The only Queen of England boomers ever knew, she was officially crowned June 2, 1953, in a televised coronation that many early-age boomers may recall watching.

Jean-Luc Goddard (December 3, 1930 – September 13, 2022)
One of the most influential film directors of the boomer era, Goddard was the founding member of the French New Wave movement, as demonstrated in his now-classic film, Breathless (1960).

Louise Fletcher (July 22, 1934 – September 23, 2022)
An actor boomers watched in 1960s TV shows such as Wagon Train, The Untouchables and 77 Sunset Strip, Louis Fletcher took a hiatus to raise children near the end of the decade. She made a triumphant return in movies to star opposite Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Her performance earned her a Best Actress Oscar.

Bill Plante (January 14, 1938 – September 28, 2022)
Bill Plante began his broadcast journalist career in Chicago radio in 1957. However, boomers may recall him as a reporter for CBS News, where he covered the civil rights movement in the 1960s. After serving and reporting during four tours in Vietnam, Bill Plante covered 13 presidential elections beginning in 1976. Ultimately, he became the Senior White House Correspondent for CBS.

Loretta Lynn (April 14, 1932 – October 4, 2022)
A superstar country music performer, boomers remember her big hits being played on the pop radio stations as well as country, including You Ain’t Woman Enough (1966); Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind) (1967); and Coal Miner’s Daughter (1970).

Jerry Lee Lewis (September 29, 1935 – October 28, 2022)
With a combination of gospel, honky-tonk and rock & roll, Jerry Lee Lewis burst onto the music scene in 1957 with two top hits: Whole Lot of Shaking Going On and Great Balls of Fire. Yet his popularity suffered a calamitous blow one year later when he married his second cousin, who was 13 years old at the time. His 1958 tour was canceled and records banned on the radio. He was blacklisted for many years. In response, Lewis switched to making country music in the 1960s. In 1986, he was part of the inaugural group of inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Robert Clary (March 1, 1926 – November 16, 2022)
An actor who survived the Holocaust in WWII as a child, boomers will remember Robert Clary for his role as Corporal Louis LeBeau in Hogan’s Heroes (1965). The comedy, featuring prisoners of war engaging in sabotage against their Nazi captors, ran six seasons.

Christie McVie (July 12, 1943 – November 30, 2022)
Is there a boomer who does not recall the splash Christie McVie’s vocals made with Fleetwood Mac in the early 1970s? Bill Clinton, the first Baby Boomer to be elected President, used Christie’s rendition of Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow in his campaign.

Gaylord Perry (September 15 – December 1, 2022)
Many boomers will recall major league baseball player, Gaylord Perry, as the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both the American (Cleveland Indians, 1972) and National (San Diego Padres 1978) Leagues.

Bob McGrath (June 13, 1932 – December 4, 2022)
A folksinger, Bob McGrath found himself as a singer on Sing Along With Mitch in the 1960s. Mister B recalls watching the Mitch Miller show with his parents. When Sesame Street was being developed in 1969, he was offered an on-camera spot. His stay lasted 45 years.

Barbara Walters (September 12, 1929 – December 30, 2022)
Ms. Walters was hired as a writer for NBC’s Today show in 1961, a TV show many boomers watched before heading to school in the morning. After years of being allowed to write only “women-related” segments, she rose through the ranks to become a co-host of the show. In 1976, ABC News lured her away from NBC and she became the first woman anchor in evening news. Boomers were witness to this history; Mister Boomer’s family TV was tuned to ABC News each evening.

Which influencers will you miss the most, boomers?