First Wave Boomers reach high school and crave Puberty Pop. U-2 Spy Plane and Candid Camera. Dick Clark is praised…Freed crucified in Payola hearings. First birth control pill is released and the role of wife/mother disappears from new family sitcoms. Restless America turns to JFK.
The pig in the python reached high school, and Boomer kids faced the same old problems… crowded classrooms and not enough textbooks or teachers. For the ninth consecutive year, we caught the public school system completely by surprise. One would have thought that educators would have picked up on a pattern by now, and plan ahead for our arrival one of these years, but it never happened. The freshman class doubled the size of that of 1959, and from 1961 until the end of the ‘70s, Boomers teens made up the majority in every high school in America.
Puberty Pop dominated the airwaves with pimply whines of self-pity like Puppy Love (Anka), Teen Angel and Because They’re Young. Brian Hyland hit it big with Itsy, Bitsy, Teeny, Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (about an insecure teenybopper who was too embarrassed to come out of the water in her tiny new bathing suit).
The most important social responsibility in the life of most 14-year-olds was to learn the new dance craze on Bandstand. Dick Clark recognized this youthful obsession and created a dance specialist out of ex-chicken plucker, Chubby Checker. Fats Domino must have wondered about the choice of stage name for Ernest Evans, and Dick’s choice of music probably surprised Hank Ballard as Checker appeared on Bandstand to demonstrate “The Twist.” Ballard recorded the original version two years earlier, but didn’t have Clark behind him, and the record saw little action. Now, the whole country twisted.
Eisenhower certainly twisted on May 1st, as he heard that Gary Powers hadn’t returned from a spy mission over Russia in a U-2 plane. “But surely,” thought Ike, “if a brave American pilot was about to be captured by the Commies, he would have done the right thing… the patriotic thing. After all, Power had been given a chain to wear, with a silver dollar, hallowed out to hold a tiny needle treated with curare poison. One tiny prick and you’re dead instantly.” On May 5th, Khrushchev appeared on TV and accused the USA of “aggressive acts and serious aerial violations” of Russia’s borders. He offered no details. Within hours, our government explained to the world that a “malfunctioning oxygen system probably caused the pilot to black out and fly inadvertently into Russia.” Nikita displayed fragments of the U-2 plane the next day, and released the full details of the spy mission, which Powers had willingly volunteered to his interrogators.
Candid Camera (“The show that catches you in the act of being yourself”) became an instant hit. Network schedulers again displayed their amazing historical insight this season as The Twilight Zone followed a new show called Eyewitness to History.
With the Quiz Show Scandals out of the way, the American government took aim at payola in Rock & Roll, as they opened hearings on the subject on February 8, 1960. On March 4th, testimony revealed that John C. Doerfer, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, had just returned from a six-day vacation toFlorida, courtesy of Storer Broadcasting Company. Ike realized that this was an election year, so he asked for Doerfer’s resignation.
Dick Clark appeared before the Harris Subcommittee in April. The court had ordered Dick to get rid of his shares in record labels and music publishing houses and he sold, at a huge profit, whole or part interest in 33 different music-related businesses. Clark still owned the rights to 160 songs, 143 of which he claimed “had been given” to him. He denied ever plugging any of his own tunes “consciously” on Bandstand. Dick’s company, Jamie Records, had been caught red-handed passing out $15,000 of payola, butClark said that he never accepted any bribes.
The Committee questioned Dick as to why tunes by little-known artists, like Duane Eddy, received more airplay on his show than King Elvis.Clarkadmitted that Eddy recorded with one of his labels, and was managed by SRO (a company he owned half of), but stated that those coincidences had no influence on his play list. Dick explained that he always devoted a spot on his program to instrumentalists, like Eddy, and that “there were darn few good ones around.” (Remember, this little piece of quick thinking happened years before Nixon earned the title of “Trickie-Dickie.”)
Clarkcharmed the Subcommittee. This wholesome, clean-cut TV host couldn’t possibly be out to corrupt the youth ofAmerica… he was simply a hard-working entrepreneur trying to turn a nice profit. What’s wrong with that? It’s the American way. Representative Harris called Dick “a fine young man,” and the Committee dismissedClark.
On May 19th, Joseph Stone’s grand jury in New York subpoenaed only one DJ: Alan Freed. For the next two-and-a-half years, the US government questioned and harassed Freed. Radio and television stations refused to even talk to, let alone hire, Alan during that period. Freed finally stood trial in December of 1962, and pleaded guilty to two counts of commercial bribery. The judge fined him $300, and gave Alan a six-month, suspended sentence. This marked the end of Freed’s career, but the government wanted to play with their mouse a bit longer. On March 16, 1964 (immediately following the British Invasion by the Beatles) another grand jury indicted Alan for income tax evasion. The IRS claimed that he owed $37,920 on $56,652 of unreported income for the years of 1957-9. Freed, already poor, unemployed and unemployable, entered a hospital, suffering from uremia. Three weeks later (January 20, 1965) Alan Freed died at the age of 43.
In 1960, the cruel hand of fate reached all the way across the Atlantic to crush two second-tier Rockers. A taxi accident in London killed Eddie Cochran and crippled Gene Vincent.
The FDA licensed the first birth control pill, Enovoid, on May 9, 1960, and soon after, it hit the market… just as two million ripe, little 14-year-old teenybopper Boomer girls entered high school. (Remember Jerry Lee and 14-year-old Myra, an international scandal in 1958). Although it would take nearly four years for the pill to show a noticeable effect on America’s birth rate, Enovoid caused an immediate generation gap of misunderstanding between Boomer girls and their mothers. Eventually, the pill gave Boomer women a lifestyle completely alien to that of all the generations of American women before them; in fact, different from any period in millions of years of Human Herstory.
The two most popular new TV sit-coms of 1960 shared an important quirk in casting. The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons presented us for the first time with television family units that didn’t contain a wife and mother. Andy Taylor and Steve Douglas were in no big hurry to find a woman to replace their deceased mates for the sake of the children. The two fathers enjoyed their bachelorhood, and with the help of Aunt Bee and Uncle Charlie, their homes ran quite smoothly without Mom. Was television trying to drop a subtle hint, like “Hey, Ladies, get out of the house… Go get a job and stop making so many babies”? Steve had three kids; Andy had one, for an average of two. Most Boomer families had at least four children.
Andy Taylor’s new approach to law enforcement seemed just as strange and innovating as his no-Mom home. Law and Order shows reached a furious climax the previous season, with Elliot Ness and company slaughtering vast numbers of bad guys. In 1960 Andy didn’t even carry a gun to protect the sleepy little town ofMayberry. Good old common sense worked just fine. He scorned new criminal investigation methods and technology, and always outwitted the crooks and solved the crime before the finest criminologists from the big city even had a chance to unpack their fancy, high-tech equipment.
The whole Law and Order genre underwent a drastic transformation in 1960, with fewer tough-guy Westerns, and more cerebral detective programs, and funny cop sit-coms. Collecting clues and solving the crime became the emphasis, rather than just spotting a guy in a black hat and blowing him away. The world grew more complicated now. Was it Rod Serling or Gary Powers who really made us see that middle ground between light and shadows… between right and wrong?
The migration westward from the urban centers in the East slowed, and that caused a sagging interest in television Oaters. Most of the young couples that could had already made the move. The romantic notion of heading West to the wide-open spaces, “where a man can be a man” for many, turned out to be a mirage by 1960. Tract housing swallowed up the wide-open spaces. Rugged individuals commuted to Western urban centers, where a man was still an insignificant cog in the corporate machine.
The big push westward in the ‘50s created a need for more, and bigger, cars and highways. Most Americans became mobile as never before by 1960, and many of them arrived on the West Coast for the first time on their dream vacation. A popular cartoon at the time showed two old ladies looking out at the Pacific Ocean. One of them remarked, “I imagined that it was much bigger.”
Television also gazed out over the Pacific in the fall of 1959 and gave us Adventures in Paradise and Hawaiian Eye. In 1960, the fickle mood of the country changed again and this restlessness resulted in a new type of TV program. In Route 66 two young men wandered aimlessly around America in search of adventure in their snazzy, red Corvette. They, too, had reached the last frontier, had seen the Pacific, and asked, “Is that all there is?” The boys, disillusioned and restless, decided to retrace their steps to see if they hadn’t missed something bigger and more important along the way (Okay, so the show wasn’t Kerouac’s On the Road but it did reflect the restless mood of the country).
Sci-fi films in 1960 took us back to prehistoric times with the Lost World, and far into the distant future in the Time Machine. Is that all there is? The public wanted more. Millions of devoted fans had been waiting patiently for two year for the Second Coming of the King. Surely He would provide a cure for our restlessness. Instead, the Army released Elvis, and he soon hit the movie screens with G.I. Blues, cast as a boring, toned-down, ordinary guy. To make matters worse, Presley soon after appeared on a television special in a tuxedo with Frank Sinatra. To the horror of the faithful, the two smoothies crooned each other’s hits. What happened? Did the government perform a lobotomy on Elvis during his hitch in the Army, or had they pulled a switch? Where was the real Elvis the Pelvis? His loyal fans stood by the King until the bitter end, but the rebellious, pre-Army excitement never returned to Presley’s music.
Americans searched for new horizons, a new quest, a new media leader to show us the way, and a bright young man appeared out of nowhere, and offered to take us to the “New Frontier.” John F. Kennedy lagged well behind Richard Nixon in the polls and remained relatively unknown by summer of 1960, but America was mired in an age of Teen Idols and instant mass-media superstars. The first of four “Great Debates” between the two presidential candidates took place on September 26, 1960, with a record-breaking audience of 75,000,000 home viewers. Nixon wore a light gray suit which caused him to melt into the background. His face was unshaven and Dick appeared nervous and his body tense and out of synch with his words. Forced smiles, stiff posture and a tightly clenched fist made Nixon look like a guilty man hoping for an eleventh-hour pardon. Kennedy, on the other hand, displayed charm, wit, youthful optimism and charisma. Dick Clark would have spotted it immediately… JFK had “the look.”America would find out much more about its youthful President during the next three years, but initially, it was his dynamic image on the little screen that carried JFK to the White House. Never before had a historic, live event like this been possible, and never again would the presidential debates on TV have such an impact on the national election.
The country was ripe for change, and JFK led the way. As only the second President to be sworn in on television, Kennedy delivered a powerful inaugural address, in which he advised, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” With the energy and zest of youth, Kennedy brought complicated problems out into the open, and demanded answers with what many called “a cool head and a warm heart.” He was the first President to allow live television coverage of White House news conferences… a refreshing change from Eisenhower, who usually refused public comment on embarrassing problems like McCarthy, Gary Powers and discrimination. The public thought of Ike as a father figure forAmerica, but by the end of his second term, the negative aspects of that title overwhelmed the positive. Like any good father in the ‘50s, Ike only told us as much as he thought our immature minds could handle. But we heard about the ugliness of Tailgunner Joe, U-2 planes andCubafrom other sources, and we wondered why Papa Ike hadn’t warned us. Kennedy acted more like a big brother… willing to include the public in an open discussion on any problem. And like a good big brother, JFK stood up to bullies (i.e. Khrushchev and Castro) in our behalf.
Kennedy, a Catholic, was the first non-WASP president, and the first born in the 20th Century. He projected new hope thatAmericamight finally deal with social problems concerning all citizens. JFK openly attacked racial discrimination, urban decay, and even the vehicle that he rode in on to the White House (television). Kennedy’s new chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, delivered this message to the National Association of Broadcasters, accusing them as the creators of a “vast wasteland.”
In its own diluted and slightly inadequate way, television tried to respond to the criticism. Several new realistic urban dramas dealing with contemporary situations premiered in 1961. Doctors, lawyers and other modern professionals replaced barbaric, frontier law-and-order types as our boob tube heroes. Interns, Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey appeared as young, bright, handsome and strong-willed… just like JFK. The networks reminded the audience, however, that the hardheadedness of youth needs the guiding hand of experience, in the likes of Senior Doctors, Gillespie and Zorba. The younger duo often lost patience, and occasionally patients, but could never be faulted for lack of effort.
The young attorneys on The Defenders were another hard working, dedicated, socially committed group. Even though they fought on the side of goodness and righteousness (like the new breed of TV doctors), they were human and sometimes failed… a refreshing change of pace from Perry Mason, who had not lost a single verdict during his four years in the courtroom on the same station.
Not all of Americahad converted to Kennedy’s “optimism in the face of crisis” by the end of 1961. A large segment of the population continued to experience a nervous, restless urge to put on their walking shoes, and that feeling was reflected in the media. The pop charts overflowed with “moving” titles like Runaway (Del Shannon), Running Scared (Roy Orbison), Traveling Man (Rick Nelson), Hit the Road, Jack (Ray Charles), Tossin’ and Turnin’ (Bobby Darin), and Exodus (movie theme).
Television couldn’t afford to lag behind. New shows offered us a chance to Follow the Sun, and to go on an Expedition. Wives and Mothers were conspicuously absent in Mayberry and the Douglas household in 1960, but in 1961, one woman returned with new plan in Mrs. G. Goes to College. (A “stop making kids, go back to school” hint from the networks?) Many people missed the old hardcore law and order shows, and TV reflected their concerns with Car 54 Where Are You? These cops arrived on the scene with the deadliest new weapon in TV’s arsenal… the laugh track.
Program schedulers demonstrated their usual insight, this time in recognition of the growing overpopulation problem (us Boomers): Checkmate followed Father Knows Best (Wed. CBS) and Eyewitness to History followed Twilight Zone, which in turn followed Father of the Bride. Why didn’t they simply title the entire evening: Big Families Are Out, So Stop Making Babies?