Boomers Remember Special Passings of 2011

As another year begins in the chronicles of boomer history, it is fitting for us to pause for a moment to remember many of the people who passed on in 2011. In their own way, each played an important role in the lives of boomers, or were boomers themselves.

Jan. 18: Sergeant Shriver
Though he was the former Ambassador to France, Shriver went down in history as the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate of George McGovern in his ill-fated bid for the presidency in 1972. He was 95 years old.

Jan. 24: David Frye
The comic Frye will forever be remembered by boomers for his spot-on satirical impersonation of Richard Nixon. He was 77.

Feb. 12: Joanne Siegel
The wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, Ms. Siegel was the original model for Lois Lane. Boomers loved the comic, and of course, Lois Lane, but perhaps what kept Superman at the top of boomers’ lists was the television series that ran from 1952-1958. She was 93.

Feb. 24: Suze Rotolo
Ms. Rotolo, an artist, was best remembered as the muse of Bob Dylan in his early years. She is pictured with him on the cover of the album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963). She was 67 years old.

March 23: Elizabeth Taylor
Boomers may best remember Liz Taylor as the come-hither queen in Cleopatra (1963), a socialite in Giant (1956) and as a young woman with her horse in National Velvet (1944). She won one of her three Academy Awards for her performance in BUtterfield 8 (1960).

March 26: Geraldine Ferraro
Ms. Ferraro was the first woman to be on the ticket of a major political party as the Vice Presidential nominee. She ran alongside Walter Mondale in 1984. The duo lost the election to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She was 75.

April 5: Gil Robbins
The father of actor Tim Robbins, Mr. Robbins was a folk singer in the band, The Highwaymen. The band had two Top 20 hits in the early 1960s. He was 80 years old.

May 4: Mary Murphy
It certainly helps to be remembered as an actress when you co-star opposite Marlon Brando. That being said, Mary Murphy starred opposite Brando in one of the best-loved boomer movies of its time, The Wild One (1953). She was 80.

May 5: Dana Wynter
An actress boomers will best recall for her portrayal as Betty Driscoll in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Dana Wynter was 80 years old.

May 17: Harmon Killebrew
Many boomers closely followed the career of Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. He played 22 years in the major leagues for the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. A consistent hitter through the 1960s, by the time he retired from baseball in 1975 he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League career home runs. Killebrew was 74.

June 3: James Arness
James Arness is the actor boomers recall as Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke (1955-1975). He was 88.

June 12: Carl Gardner
Carl Gardener will best be remembered as a member of The Coasters (Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown), which was the first vocal group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was 83.

July 8: Betty Ford
The First Lady when husband Gerald Ford became president after Richard Nixon’s resignation, she went on to found the Betty Ford Clinic for the treatment of chemical dependency. She was 93 years old.

July 28: Bill O’Leary
A scientist, Mr. O’Leary was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1967. He resigned in 1968 for many reasons, including the cancellation of NASA’s Mars program. He was also known for his strong political views. He protested the incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War in 1970, and was an outspoken opponent of the weaponization of space. He was 71.

Oct. 5: Steve Jobs
Read Mister Boomer’s take on the death of Steve Jobs at: Another Boomer Legend Passes On: Steve Jobs

Nov. 7: Joe Frazier
A heavyweight boxing champion in the 1960s, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier went on to defeat Muhammad Ali in 1971. He later lost to him in a rematch in 1973. He was 67.

Dec. 7: Harry Morgan
Which Harry Morgan will boomers remember best: Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet (1967-1970) or as Colonel Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H (1974-1983)? Both long-running TV shows were a favorite for many boomers. He was 96.

Dec. 18: Ralph MacDonald
A songwriter and percussionist, Mr. MacDonald is perhaps best known for his song Just the Two of Us, a hit for Bill Withers in 1981. He also co-wrote Where Is the Love, which was recorded by Roberta Flack in 1971. He recorded with a host of boomer favorites over the past four decades, including David Bowie, Carole King, James Taylor, Ashford & Simpson, The Average White Band, Art Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and a long list of others. His age was 67.

There were many other famous and not-so-famous musicians, artists, authors, singers, actors, politicians, sports stars and more who passed on in 2011. Boomers appreciated and emulated them, and they will be missed.

Which celebrity passing of 2011 caused you to flash back to your youth, boomers?

 

Why Boomers Love “A Christmas Story”

We may have grown up watching “A Christmas Carol” in glorious black and white — both the 1938 version and the Alistair Sims 1951 version — but the Dickensonian milieu of the movie is not what boomers associate with their Christmases. For that, we prefer “A Christmas Story.” In fact, we love it.

The film, released in 1983, tells the story of Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsley) and his family at Christmas time, and how he got the gift he really wanted: a Red Ryder BB gun. Many people don’t know that the movie is actually a conglomeration of several short stories by humorist Jean Shepherd. Many boomers will recall listening to Jean Shepherd on the radio, which may be a contributing factor to our nostalgic enjoyment.

Mister Boomer’s theory of why the movie is tops with boomers is a simple one: the movie accurately portrays our early lives, especially those of us raised in the Upper Midwest. Though the movie takes place around 1940, much of the scenarios were customary in the fifties and early sixties, too. For instance:

Snow at Christmas
About two-thirds of the country experiences seasonal changes, including some snowfall. For us Midwestern boomers, though, it was more common to have snow at Christmas than not to have it.

Snow Suits
We laugh hysterically at Ralphie’s little brother in his snow suit. Ralphie’s mother (played by Melinda Dillon) dressed his little brother for the winter elements, wrapping him in so many thick layers (it was decades before lightweight, warm, synthetic fabrics) that by the time his one-piece snow suit was fitted over him he could no longer lower his arms. When he falls in the snow and can’t get up (actually, he was pushed, as the video reveals), it’s a “been there, done that” moment for many of us.

Dangerous Toys
Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas, but first his mother, then his teacher tell him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Thinking Santa would be on his side, he finally reveals to the not-so-jolly department store Santa his object of gift desire. Santa’s response was like the other grown-ups in his life: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Against the better judgment of the women and Santa, Ralphie’s dad (Darren McGavin) bought him the gun.

Most of us recall receiving all sorts of potential eye-shooter-outers at Christmas. Guns, bows and arrows, projectile-shooting robots and missile launchers that would be taboo today made their way to under the tree for boomer boys. Girls had to settle for choking hazards from doll accessories, tea sets and miniature everything. They seemed to be prone to only throwing things in anger rather than as a matter of course.

A Handyman Dad
Boomers grew up in a time when men were supposed to fix things around the house. The truth of the matter is, though, many men weren’t all that handy. Ralphie’s dad fell into that category. When the overloaded electrical socket blew a fuse, or the furnace was “on the fritz,” his dad trudged down to the basement. There, the family could hear him through the heat registers, clanging pipes and swearing profusely.

The Behemoth Furnace
Though the furnace is never shown in the movie, boomers can picture it exactly. There is no doubt it was a behemoth octopus of a contraption, with many arms reaching out to the different rooms of the house through the basement ceiling. As portrayed in the movie by the black soot blown through the registers, it was powered by coal. Many of us boomers played in the coal bins of our family’s or relatives’ basements, even after the coal furnaces were retro-fitted for natural gas.

The Department Store Santa
Boomers recall that many stores had Santas available for visits, but it was understood that the main department store in the area had the “real” one. As was the case with Ralphie, many boomers recall freezing up in the presence of the Jolly One, sometimes even becoming paralyzed with fear and driven to tears.

Restaurants On Christmas
When the neighbor’s dogs break into the house and attack the Parker family’s Christmas turkey, they were left with no choice but to go out to dinner. Boomers recall that when we were growing up, Christmas dinner was strictly a family affair. Restaurants were not open on Christmas Day. The movie accurately portrays the only area restaurant open was a Chinese restaurant, and it was empty when they walked in.

Homemade or “Useful” Gifts
Come Christmas morning, Ralphie and his brother opened gifts, quickly passing by the socks and pajamas to get to the good stuff. Ralphie had the misfortune of receiving a pink bunny rabbit suit from his aunt. His mother insisted he try it on, which he did reluctantly. Standing at the top of the stairs, his mother found him adorable, while his father recognized his humiliation.

Many of us recall aunts or grandmothers who knitted or sewed outrageous sweaters, vests, hats and mittens. And many of us were forced to wear the items, if only in the presence of the gifter.

Neighborhood or Schoolyard Bullies
In our day, every neighborhood had groups of kids that hung out together, but in every neighborhood and schoolyard, there were bullies. Fed up with getting pelted with snowballs and taunts, Ralphie went ballistic on his bully, giving the boy a bloody nose and making him cry. For many of us, that was a boomer vicarious thrill.

Boomer Mouthwash
When Ralphie lets loose the F-bomb in front of his mother, she shoves a bar of soap in his mouth. Nowadays a parent might get some unwanted legal trouble for this type of discipline, but boomers will recall that punishment as the norm for uttering “dirty words.”

In the end, the Parker family had a good, yet far from a Norman Rockwell, Hallmark kind of Christmas. That turns out to be another thing we boomers can identify with in the film. Mister Boomer knows other boomers who can recite swaths of dialogue from the movie. If by some crazy circumstance you’ve missed it on TV these past few years, pick up the DVD. It’s a fun trip down Christmas memory lane.

What’s your favorite Christmas movie, boomers?