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?

Boomers Remember Those Who Left Us in 2019

Another year has passed in the annals of Boomer History, and another group of people boomers found fascinating and inspiring have passed on. This is far from a complete listing, but samples some of the people Mister Boomer thinks had the most influence on fellow boomers.

JANUARY
Daryl Dragon (August 27, 1942 – January 2, 2019)
A musician best known for the group Captain & Tenille, which he formed with his then wife, Toni Tenille. They had a string of hits in the 1970s, which included a Grammy Award for Love Will Keep Us Together in 1976. It became their signature song for their musical variety TV show that same year. Many boomers may not know that Mr. Dragon was also a touring keyboardist for the Beach Boys from 1967 to 1972. He co-wrote several tunes with Dennis Wilson through those years as well.

Eric Haydock (February 3, 1943 – January 5, 2019)
A bassist for The Hollies from 1962-66, Mr. Haydock was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with the band, in 2010.

FEBRUARY
Julie Adams (October 17, 1926 – February 3, 2019)
Boomers probably remember Ms. Adams best as an actress in The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). She also appeared with Elvis Presley in Tickle Me (1965), among others.

Frank Robinson (August 31, 1935 – February 7, 2019)
Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Mr. Robinson began his Major League Baseball career with the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956, and went on to play for 21 seasons with the Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. Robinson became the first black manager in baseball when he managed the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Orioles and the Montreal Expos, and was also the first manager of the expansion team, the Washington Nationals. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Betty Ballantine (September 25, 1919 – February 12, 2019)
Wife of Ian Ballantine, together they formed the publishing team that created Bantam Books in 1945 and Ballantine Books in 1952. They helped popularize inexpensive paperback books in the 1950s, with a keen interest in promoting top science fiction authors of the day, such as H.R. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury. By 1953 they were the premier sci-fi publishers in world, releasing the first authorized U.S. edition of J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and was the original publisher of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Peter Tork (February 13, 1942 – February 21, 2019)
Long known as a singer-songwriter in the Greenwich Village Folk era that brought us Bob Dylan, among others, most boomers will always remember him as a member of The Monkees, where he played bass and keyboards.

Jerry Merryman (June 17, 1932 – February 27, 2019)
As part of a team at Texas Instruments in 1965, Mr. Merryman is credited as one of the inventors of the electronic handheld calculator. He held more than two dozen additional patents.

MARCH
Dick Dale (Richard Anthony Monsour) (May 4, 1937 – March 16, 2019)
Dubbed the King of Surf Guitar, Dick Dale and The Del-Tones pioneered the surf rock sound of the early sixties with Let’s Go Trippin’ (1960), considered the first surf rock song. His reworking of a traditional Middle Eastern folk song became a hit as Miserlou in 1963, The song was later introduced to a whole new generation in the film, Pulp Fiction (1994). He also performed music in several beach movies of the early sixties, including Beach Party (1963) and Muscle Beach Party (1964).

Scott Walker (Noel Scott Engel) (January 9, 1943 – March 25, 2019)
When Mr. Engel joined the Walker Brothers band in 1964, he officially changed his name to Scott Walker. As lead singer for the band, he forever became part of boomer history with a version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Make It Easy on Yourself (1965), which was previously recorded by Jerry Butler, and later became a hit for Dionne Warwick. The song that gave the band its greatest hit, and boomer notoriety, was The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) (1966).

APRIL
Dan Robbins (May 26, 1925 – April 1, 2019)
Mr. Robbins is known as the inventor of paint-by-number kits. See Mister Boomer’s remembrance at Boomers Painted By Number.

Charles Van Doren (February 12, 1926 – April 9, 2019)
Arguably, Mr. Van Doren would not have been a world-wide figure if it weren’t for the 1956 scandal of the TV quiz show, Twenty-One, He earned $129,000 as a contestant on the show, a record at the time. In 1959, he testified before Congress that he was given the answers, and pleaded guilty to lying before a grand jury.

MAY
Peggy Lipton (August 30, 1946 – May 11, 2019)
Ms. Lipton captured the imagination of many boomers for her portrayal of a police detective in The Mod Squad (1968). See Mister Boomer’s remembrance at Boomers Say Good-Bye to Two More Influencers.

Doris Day (Mary Ann Von Kappelhoff) (April 3, 1922 — May 13, 2019)
Starting as a dancer, it was a car accident at the age of 12 that steered the young Ms. Kappelhoff toward music, and later, acting. See Mister Boomer’s remembrance at Boomers Say Good-Bye to Two More Influencers.

Tim Conway (December 15, 1933 — May 14, 2019)
Actor, comedian and six-time Emmy Award winner, boomers will recall Tim Conway for his long run on The Carol Burnett Show (1967-75). Mister Boomer liked him better as Ensign Charlie Parker in McHale’s Navy (1962-66).

Bart Starr (January 9, 1934 – May 26, 2019)
Known as Mr. Nice Guy, Bart Starr was an NFL quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, where the team won five league championships in the sixties, including winning the first two Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

JUNE
Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) (November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019)
Mr. Rebennack started his musical career as a guitarist, but an injured finger made him switch to keyboards. He became a member of the famous group of studio musicians, the Wrecking Crew, in the mid-60s, backing several Top 40 hits. Winner of six Grammy Awards, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Boomers may best remember his hit, In the Right Place (1973).

Franco Zeffirelli (February 12, 1923 – June 15, 2019)
Italian actor turned director, designer and opera producer is best known by boomers for his romantic interpretations of Shakespeare plays on film; most notably, Taming of the Shrew (1967) with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and Romeo and Juliet (1968) starring Olivia Hussey.

Gloria Vanderbilt (February 20, 1924 – June 17, 2019)
As the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ms. Vanderbilt was caught in the middle of custody battle and control of her multi-million dollar trust fund in the 1930s between her mother and aunt. Through the trial she was called the “poor little rich girl.” After having some minor success as a writer and actress in the 1950s, she went on to form a fashion empire based on designer jeans in the 1970s.

JULY
Lee Iacocca (October 15, 1924 – July 2, 2019)
The inventor of the Ford Mustang was known to boomers from the ’60s through the ’80s. See Mister Boomer’s take on his influence at Boomers Lose More Cultural Influencers.

Arte Johnson (January 20, 1929 – July 3, 2019)
Mr. Johnson is best known to boomers for his stint on the TV show, Laugh-In (1968-73). See Mister Boomer’s exploration at Boomers Lose More Cultural Influencers.

H. Ross Perot (June 27, 1930 – July 9, 2019)
Boomers best remember Mr. Perot as the multi-millionaire businessman who ran for president as an independent in 1992. Many blamed his candidacy for George H.W. Bush’s defeat, by filtering off votes for the incumbent president. He picked up 18.9 percent of the vote, a record for an independent candidate. After his loss, he created the Reform Party and ran again in 1996.

John Paul Stevens (April 20, 1920 – July 16, 2019)
A retired Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens was nominated by President Gerald Ford in 1975.

David Hedison (May 20, 1927 – July 9, 2019)
An actor boomers will recall in many movie and TV roles, he is probably best remembered as the scientist in The Fly (1958) and as Captain Lee Crane on the TV series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68).

Art Neville (December 17, 1937 – July 22, 2019)
Known as Poppa Funk, Mr. Neville was a keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter who toured with the Rolling Stones in the band, the Meters. In 1977, he joined forces with his three siblings to form the Neville Brothers, in New Orleans.

AUGUST
Peter Fonda (February 23, 1940 – Aug. 16, 2019)
Best known to boomers as an actor in Easy Rider (1969), Mr. Fonda was also an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for the film.

Valerie Harper (August 22, 1939 – August 30, 2019)
Ms. Harper was a Broadway dancer with Lucille Ball before she broke into television as Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-74). She got a spinoff of her own based on her character, Rhoda (1974-78).

SEPTEMBER
Carole Lynley (February 13, 1942 – September 3, 2019)
An actress known to boomers for a variety of roles, Ms. Lynley appeared in Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) with Kirk Douglas, and as Jean Harlow in Harlow (1965). She played a performer onboard the ship in The Poseidon Adventure (1973), singing The Morning After, which won the Oscar for Best Song that year. Years later, however, it was revealed that the song was dubbed and the voice heard onscreen was that of studio singer, Renée Armand.

Eddie Money (March 21, 1949 – September 13, 2019)
A boomer himself, Eddie Money had a string of hits in the ’70s and 80s, most notably, Two Tickets to Paradise (released as a single in 1978).

Rick Ocasek (March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019)
A co-founder of The Cars, boomers of many stripes enjoyed his music, starting with the band’s debut album in 1978. He and the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

Cokie Roberts (Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne) (December 27, 1943 – September 17, 2019)
A pioneer female broadcaster in a world of mostly men, boomers recall Ms. Roberts as a consummate journalist and political commentator. She worked for ABC News and then PBS, and won three Emmys. She was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2008.

OCTOBER
Diahann Carroll (July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019)
Ms. Carroll is known for acting and singing on stage and in movie and TV roles, to be sure, but she was also the first black woman to have a middle-class female role on TV in Julia (1968). She was also the first black woman to win a Best Actress Tony Award (in Richard Rodgers’ No Strings, 1962).

Karen Pendelton (August 1, 1946 – October 6, 2019)
A true boomer herself, Ms. Pendelton was one of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-59) TV show. She was one of only nine kids chosen for the group that included Annette Funicello. She was often paired for duets with Cubby O’Brien to finish shows.

Alexei Leonov (May 30, 1934 – October 11, 2019)
A Soviet Cosmonaut, Mr. Leonov became the first person to perform a spacewalk. See Boomers Greeted 1969 With Hope and Trepidation.

Ginger Baker (August 19, 1939 – October 6, 2019)
Considered by many to be among the best drummers who ever lived, boomers will forever remember him as the drummer for Cream, the band he co-founded with Eric Clapton in 1966.

Elijah Cummings (January 18, 1951 – October 17, 2019)
Another boomer who rose to prominence, Representative Cummings was born the son of sharecroppers. He was a civil rights activist and a lawyer who practiced in Maryland from the time he passed the bar exam in 1976 until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. In 2010 he was named chairman of the House Oversight Committee, a position he held until his death.

Bernhard Slade (May 2, 1930 – October 30, 2019)
Mr. Slade wrote the play, Same Time Next Year (1975), but his influence on boomers came from his TV work. He created The Flying Nun (1967) and The Partridge Family (1970), and also wrote for Bewitched (1964), among other movies, plays and TV shows.

NOVEMBER
Michael J. Pollard (May 30, 1939 – November 20, 2019)
A character actor, Mr. Pollard debuted on Broadway in Comes the Day (1958), which starred George C. Scott. His unique looks and speech mannerisms often got him roles of mischievous or eccentric characters. He appeared in dozens of top boomer TV shows along the way, including Star Trek, The Virginian, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Gunsmoke and I Spy, to name a few. Boomers may best remember him for his role in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), for which he received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Edward Dee (October 2, 1924 – November 18, 2019)
While boomers may not know his name, they know his creation. Mr. Dee was the inventor of Smarties and founder of Smarties Candy Company shortly after immigrating to the U.S. in 1949. Smarties was always one of Mister Boomer’s favorite Halloween candies.

DECEMBER
Robert Walker Jr. (April 15, 1940 – December 5, 2019)
The son of Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, boomers will recall Mr. Walker for a variety of his acting roles. He appeared in Easy Rider (1969) and Ensign Pulver (1964), and certainly Mister Boomer remembers his role in the second episode of Star Trek (1966), the original series.

George J. Lauer (September 23, 1925 – December 5, 2019)
A senior engineer for IBM, Mr. Lauer was the co-inventor of the Universal Bar Code (UPC) symbol in 1973. His fellow employee, Norman Woodland, had patented the concept in 1952, but no low-cost lasers and computers existed to read the code. Lauer helped develop a scanner to read it. In addition, he held 25 patents.

Allee Willis (November 10, 1947 – December 24, 2019)
A boomer herself that may not have been a household name for boomers, Ms. Willis wrote September for Earth, Wind & Fire (1973) and the original theme song for TV’s Friends (1974). She was inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame in 2018, and nominated for co-writing the Broadway musical, The Color Purple (2005). She also wrote for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jennifer Holiday, Pattie LaBelle, Herbie Hancock, Rita Coolidge and more.

Sue Lyon (July 10, 1946 – December 26, 2019)
A boomer who had small parts on the TV shows Dennis the Menace (1959) and The Loretta Young Show (1953), she landed a starring role in Stanley Kubrik’s Lolita in 1962 at the age of 16. Five years later, she appeared in boomer-known films, Tony Rome (1967) with Frank Sinatra and The Flim-Flam Man (1967) with George C. Scott.

Which of these illustrious people will you remember best, boomers?