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Posts Tagged ‘1964’

It’s that time of year when high school kids wrap up a lot of the year’s business. Calendars are full of AP exams; proms; musicals; championships in various athletic and intellectual competitions; and like that.

This week we return to an end-of-year ritual that, while relatively new at the time, might have felt to its participants awfully like old news:

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May 8, 1964. The Mets win. So do the Yankees, beating a young, unknown, but strong-armed and healthy Cleveland Indians pitcher named Tommy John.

My dad apparently won the Masters this week, because he got a green jacket delivered to him … but that’s not the subject of this post.

The weather was remarkable, and not just in Stamford. Tornadoes damaged Midway Airport in Chicago and killed 12 people in Michigan. But that’s not what we’re focused on this week either.

No, my aunt’s writing at the top of this week’s calendar entry is what we’re interested in. I don’t know if she was participating in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” or just wanted to go to support friends, but it was prominent enough on her social agenda to mark on the family calendar.

(I would guess that she was just watching the show, because if she were participating, the whole family would have gone to support her, and then my grandpa would have marked it on the calendar. But I’m just spitballing with that.)

“Bye Bye Birdie,” for those unfamiliar with the plot, is based loosely on the induction of Elvis Presley into the Army in the 1950s.

In the musical, flamboyant young rock singer Conrad Birdie gives “one last kiss” as a publicity stunt to a randomly selected all-American girl on The Ed Sullivan Show just before being inducted. This event precipitates all manner of chaos into the lives of Birdie’s manager; the girl; her boyfriend and family; and others.

This pop-culture confection, introduced on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera in lead roles, was a Tony Award-winning sensation. A movie adaptation starring Ann-Margret hit paydirt too, becoming the most popular movie in America for four weeks in April and May of 1963.

But something happened between May of ’63 and May of ’64. Specifically, a little something called the Beatles.

John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in the U.S. in January and February of 1964, and in no time at all, they owned American charts and minds.

During the week this musical was staged — presumably at Stamford’s old Rippowam High School — New York City’s WABC (“W-A-Beatle-C”) listed three Beatles tunes in its top 20. Just a month before, the Fab Four had attained the legendary feat of holding down the top five spots on Billboard’s national chart in the same week.

Elvis, in contrast, had simmered down considerably since his release from the Army in 1960. He’d starred in forgettable movies like Fun in Acapulco and It Happened At The World’s Fair, and he’d released a series of toothless (if sometimes successful) singles that lacked the rebellious punch of old.

That makes me wonder if “Bye Bye Birdie” had a bit of a faded feeling about it to its teenage participants in May 1964.

Wiggling hips? Sneering? A U.S. Army draft notice? Maybe your older sister got worked up about such quaintnesses. The real heartthrob action on every teen’s mind in May ’64 spoke with working-class English accents and bore no obligation to Lyndon Johnson’s Army. (Nor the Queen’s, either.)

As it turned out, time would be merciful to both “Bye Bye Birdie” and Elvis.

Less than two weeks after the Stamford performance of “Bye Bye Birdie,” the once and future King proved he wasn’t washed up by releasing Viva Las Vegas, the vibrant and energetic high point of his post-Army film career. (In a mild irony, the female lead who brought out his best performance was Ann-Margret.)

And, despite the eventual fading of Elvis, “Bye Bye Birdie” managed to survive through the years as a staple of the teenage musical repertoire. The young thespians of Rippowam — it’s a middle school now — put on an age-appropriate version of “Bye Bye Birdie” as their spring musical just a year ago. Elvis’ induction into the Army is ancient history now, but apparently, the tunes are timeless.

I’m not sure any of that could be predicted in the specific window of time we’re visiting this week, though.

I wonder if the folks who’d written “Bye Bye Birdie” were looking out upon a Beatle-obsessed nation and thinking, “Well, it was a fun ride while it lasted.”

And, I’m imagining an auditorium full of teens sitting through the fictionalized story of Elvis … then stepping out into the still-humid night, starting up their cars, rolling down the windows, and singing along to the radio with a single voice:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

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This past week marked the 62nd anniversary of the first issue of Sports Illustrated — the magazine that became must-read fare for American sports fans, despite being ridiculed by Time Inc. highbrows who called it names like Jockstrap and Sweat Socks.

My grandfather the Time Inc. employee, perhaps attuned to the great possibilities ahead, saved not only that first issue from August 1954 …

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Wes Westrum of the Giants, catching, was the Giants’ manager at the time of SI’s 20th anniversary in August 1974. Eddie Mathews of the Braves, at bat, managed the Braves in 1972-74 but didn’t quite make it to the anniversary: He was fired in late July.

… but also the first of several pre-production mockups, or “dummies,” from the previous December.

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Not a swimsuit in sight.

The SI saga is interesting enough … but really, an enterprise as entrenched and successful as SI doesn’t need me to tell its story.

Instead, we’ll look at a note from my grandfather’s personal journal, which documents a different, less successful Henry Luce magazine venture … one that my grandpa never bothered saving souvenir copies of.

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This journal entry was clearly revisited and revised several times; I’m assigning it a date of 1964, for reasons that will become apparent.

I’d heard of Time Inc.’s Big Four publications – Time, Life, Fortune and SI — three of which continue to publish today.

I wasn’t familiar with Architectural Forum, but its name made it easy enough to imagine — a specialized trade journal. (The New York Times’ obit of Luce said he bought Architectural Forum in 1932 because he was interested in the field.)

But what was House & Home? Was it a lifestyle and decorating magazine, of the sort that are a dime a dozen on today’s magazine racks? Did Henry Luce pioneer a publication America wasn’t ready for, but has since come to crave?

The answer turned out to be … no.

Various sources, including the obit linked above, indicate that House & Home was spun out of Architectural Forum in 1952. The new title was aimed at the building trade, not at home decorators. It targeted the booming residential construction market, while the older title continued to focus on commercial construction.

Time announced the new magazine’s arrival in January 1952 with a characteristically backwards-written blurb: “To more than 100,000 subscribers this week went a brand-new magazine : HOUSE & HOME, ‘for those who plan, build, buy, sell or finance new houses.’ “

And 10 years later, a full-page ad in Luce’s Life magazine touted House & Home as “the management magazine of America’s biggest industry,” full of house plans, construction products and methods, financing information, and other dope that would help professionals “design, build, finance, supply and sell houses that won’t be obsolescent before the first owner moves in.

(The cover of one issue, from April 1955, can be seen here.)

It actually sounds like an old issue of House & Home might be an interesting read, the way insider snapshots from the past sometimes are.

And, given all the houses that got built in America during those years, one would think such a magazine would thrive.

But it didn’t. Or, at least, it didn’t do well enough to be worth keeping around in the Time empire.

According to Luce’s obit, House & Home was sold to McGraw-Hill in 1964, the same year Architectural Forum was folded.

(The two decisions were apparently made separately — see how my grandpa reduced the number of Time titles from six, to five, to four.)

The name House & Home is still being used today, but the focus on the building trade was abandoned somewhere along the line. The current publication is very much in the mass-market home design tips-and-tricks bag, with a sideline in celebrity headlines like “Can You Believe A Jonas Brother Built This Jersey Home?”

Given the power of Henry Luce’s publishing empire back in the ’50s and ’60s, I wonder if Time Inc. could have created or defined the kind of home magazine America eats up today.

I’m sure ladies’ magazines over the decades have offered plenty of decorating tips, and Time would not have been the first publisher to enter the genre.

Still, since Luce and Co. dominated the newsmagazine and sports magazine fields, one imagines they could have owned home design and lifestyle as well, with a little bit of vision. All those new suburban homes could have been ripe targets for a well-pitched publication.

On the other hand, given the internal resistance to Sports Illustrated, imagining Time Inc. entering the home-design field might be farcical.

A company that scoffed at the idea of a magazine with Y.A. Tittle on the cover would probably have laughed itself hoarse at a cover piece on “Redecorating Your Farmhouse Colonial.”

So, who knows. Opportunities that seem evident in the rearview mirror are not always evident at the time.

Just ask the Time bigwigs who probably went to their graves thinking of Sports Illustrated as “Sweat Socks.”

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For those who like a good news-bath, there’s no richer fount of information than a Sunday New York Times.

Even in this vaunted journalistic age, the Good Gray Lady’s Sunday edition is still a potent collection of news, comment, wit, perspective, and what A.J. Liebling used to call “agglutinated sapience.” Few, if any, American newspapers can compare.

Our journey this week involves one of a million such dead-tree doorstops. Specifically, this one made its way to the dinner table of a draftsman and his family in suburban Stamford.

But why?

May 3, 1964.

May 3, 1964. The Mets have played 16 games – and are already eight games out of first place.

I’ve previously written that my grandfather’s newspaper loyalties lay primarily with the New York Daily News — “New York’s Picture Newspaper” — and with the hometown afternoon paper, the Stamford Advocate.

So why would he leave himself a special note to buy the New York Times?

I’m especially puzzled because I don’t think it was common newspaper practice back then to tease what you had coming up on Sunday.

Today’s newspapers are not shy about promoting upcoming stories. (Many of them will get anything really cracking up on their websites ASAP, rather than hold it.)

I don’t think that was as common a practice in 1964. Papers were more protective of their scoops — in part because many cities were still home to more than one paper, and they didn’t want to tip their hands to their rivals. Which leads me to wonder how my grandpa knew in advance that he had to have a copy of the Sunday Times.

Inevitably, this calendar entry sent me searching to find out what was in the May 3, 1964, New York Times that might have interested my grandfather.

I have a book of historic Times front pages big enough to land a Piper Cub on, and the May 3 edition is not reprinted in it. So there couldn’t have been anything truly historic on the front page that day.

The Web mentions a couple items that might have been interesting at the time, though I don’t think any of them would have enticed my grandpa to buy the paper:

– The weekly magazine ran A.M. Rosenthal’s “Study of the Sickness Called Apathy,” a follow-up article about the March murder of Kitty Genovese, who was reportedly stabbed to death while dozens of neighbors did nothing. (More recent accounts suggest that the Times sensationalized the case, and the paper’s initial reports — which fixed the details of the case in America’s national memory — were largely untrue.)

– In the world of arts, Howard Taubman reviewed a production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie,” telling readers in New Canaan and Mount Kisco that “Mr. Baldwin speaks fervidly for the Negro’s anguish and passion, and none of us can afford not to heed him.” (However earnest Mr. Taubman’s prose might have been, getting an actual Negro to review the production seems in retrospect like a worthwhile step.)

– Timesman McCandlish Phillips — who became better-known the following year after he unmasked the Jewish background of a prominent Klansman and American Nazi — contributed a story about the high cost of food at the recently opened 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Wikipedia says the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place May 3, 1964, in several locations including Times Square. Maybe that got covered in advance somewhere in the Sunday Times.

Perhaps there was a letter from a Stamfordite, or a feature story about Stamford, somewhere in that Sunday’s Times. Again, I’m not sure how my grandpa would have known about that, but maybe some sort of grapevine informed him.

Given the sheer heft of a Sunday Times, I guess it’s impossible for me to surmise what my grandpa would have considered must-read about it. Unless the Internet gods drop a vintage copy in my lap, I’ll probably never know.

(Note to the Internet gods: If you have a copy, try to drop it on me from a low altitude. Catching those Sunday editions upside the head sure does sting.)

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I don’t know that much about the sibling relationship between my dad and my aunt when they were growing up.

I have never heard reference to any great tension; and in any event, the Blumenau household on Hope Street seemed like a pretty low-drama place. So I imagine my dad and his little sister got along well enough.

Except maybe for the occasional dig at each other — like on this week’s calendar entry.

"March 32, 1964."

“March 32, 1964.”

The addition of an extra day to the calendar proves that my grandfather’s puckish sense of humor was passed on to his son. The carefully drawn numbers suggest that my dad also inherited his attention to detail.

As for the wisecrack about the wig-fitter, I have no idea whether that was inspired by a real-life haircut, or was just a big-brotherly twack on the nose. Perhaps my father and aunt remember; perhaps they don’t.

I see Aunt Elaine got a little of her own back the next “day,” underneath the comment about buying presents for Rod’s birthday (roughly two months in the future at that point).  Serves my dad right for getting in a second jab.

I was going to say that this is a rare entry because it shows my dad and aunt seizing total control of the family calendar — generally the terrain of my grandfather.

But my grandpa’s presence makes itself known through the “recess” marking (presumably my dad’s college recess — I bet Aunt Elaine was glad when he went back to school) and a reminder to himself to get a new tailpipe put on my dad’s crungy old Plymouth.

He seems to have taken no notice of his kids’ sniping. Maybe he let it pass by unreproached because it wasn’t interfering with a real calendar day.

Dad and Aunt Elaine, if you want to share any memories of this entry in the comments, please do.

But keep it civil, won’t you?

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Two years ago in this space, I set the scene as a three-generation American family sat around its TV set and met the Beatles.

This week, we watch as the Beatles’ cultural influence — the stamp their words and actions would leave on daily American life — starts to sink in and take root.

It starts with a rare thing among these calendar entries: a direct written exchange between two family members.

Usually these entries are declarative statements, almost always by my grandpa. But here we have actual interaction. (This is like an archaeologist finding the Lascaux cave paintings, and discovering that someone had crossed out all the bulls and re-drawn them.)

February 27 and 28, 1964.

February 27 and 28, 1964.

Something — perhaps two inches of snow, or perhaps a visit by her boyfriend Jess — has motivated my Aunt Elaine to scrawl “YEA” in big blue letters, with a pint-sized “H” added as a humorous coda.

My grandfather, apparently ruffled by such adolescent outbursts, responds, “ERASE THIS IMMEDIATELY!”, with an exclamation point as large as the H in “YEAH” is small. To which my aunt vehemently replies, “NO!”

(And she didn’t erase it, apparently, since here we are 50 years later looking at it under a microscope.)

But the real meat of the story is on the 28th and 29th (and a happy leap year to you, too):

February 28 and 29, 1964.

February 28 and 29, 1964.

Someone has added two more YEAHs (in their compressed form, YA) to the calendar, turning my aunt’s exclamation into that most topical of phrases: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Who was it? Not my great-grandma. Not my dad, who — as the calendar indicates — was off at college pounding keg beer on Saturnalia.

I’m guessing not my grandma, just because she didn’t write on the calendar that much. And it wasn’t my aunt, because that’s her handwriting asking, “Is this supposed to be funny?”

That leaves my grandfather … and a scenario falls into place nicely. Here’s a father on the old side of the generational divide, gently needling his daughter on the younger side, evoking something she’s crazy about and that he doesn’t get at all. It’s a nice bit of cross-generational interaction.

But, to come back to where I started, the exchange tells us something else. It tells us that the Beatles, just a few weeks after “meeting” most Americans, were already inescapable.

I’m sure there are parents of Justin Bieber or One Direction fans who can’t sing any of their daughters’ favorite songs. My grandpa’s generation had no such choice in 1964, it appears: Like it or loathe it, everyone had the yeah, yeah, yeah chorus in their ears.

There would be more such choruses to come.

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