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Video Memoir: The Fabulous 50s

Updated on January 8, 2011

Pat and Ben raised their family in the 1950s.

She stayed home and looked after the kids. He was a builder and helped provide housing for the ever-expanding city of Los Angeles. Together, they rode the post-war prosperity elevator right to the top.

And Ben captured most of it in Kodachrome with his 8mm camera, which later he turned into this charming family video memoir.

There was something about the 1950s. There was optimism and the promise of better days ahead.

The Second World War had ended back in 1945 and it seems like all of America just wanted to get back to the important business of raising families, keeping the garden neat, perfecting the golf game, and living well.

The suburbs were expanding, freeways were being built and there seemed to a job for everybody who wanted one. The nation's GNP grew an astonishing 250% from 1945 to 1960.

At the family level, every year brought more and better birthday toys. Pat and Ben's family had a dog and the kids all had bikes.

Pat had to mow the lawn (but Ben got real good at golf)

Pat and Ben have been together for over 60 years. They have that easy and well worn love and respect that allows them to bicker just a bit without every causing concern that there's any bitterness in their jibes.

In this next part of their video memoir, Pat recalls Ben's devotion to golf. He became extremely good she notes - but Pat was left to do all the gardening.

But I bought you the best lawn mower, he protests!

Ben was a home movie buff

Pat and Ben took a lot of home movies. Ben graduated from Caltech and had always been interested in photography. He was quick to jump into home movie making.

Like many fathers who spent a lot of time away, Ben compensated by capturing as much of the family as he could on video. It was a way of holding on to the good times, as they fast disappeared while he spent day after day building up his business.

Those videos - now incorporated into a detailed family history the subject of a one hour "video memoir" - are a priceless relic of a time long passed.

Because the 1950s were a whole other time and place.

And as we look back from the vantage point of 2011, it's hard not to be envious of the simple pleasures and the job security that the 1950s brought. With the economy in an ever expanding growth mode, jobs just never seemed to disappear.

So Pat and Ben's video memoir continues...

1950s life still had plenty of challenges

Women did not work that much in the 1950s. It wasn't even an option for some women. Suburban life with its "breadwinner" husband and "homemaker" wife culture was a powerful force keeping women at home.

The 1950s were not all beer and skittles. As well as gender inequality, there was the small matter of the US-Soviet tensions and the Cold War and the very real threat of nuclear Armageddon - not to mention the very hot war going on in Korea.

Ben had served in the armed forced in the Pacific in World War II. He was sent to Okinawa - but returned home safe and unhurt. He and Pat married just before he shipped out in 1944.

As Ben relates in the next chapter of his and Pat's video memoir, all that he had been through in the Navy was poor preparation for the real business of their life - the arrival of the children:

Seventy six million babies were born between 1946 and 1964, and Pat and Ben added 4.

America's Happy Days

Sandwiched between the Depression and the war of the 30s and 40s, and the social turmoil of the 1960s, the 1950s have long been associated with stability, traditional values and national consensus.

And as Pat and Ben's video memoir attests, the 1950s were a happy time for many. Not quite Leave it to Beaver, but not so far away either.

But in addition to the geo-political stresses that the nation faced, there were internal pressures that were building - such as race relations. The nation effectively operated a segregated military in WWII, which was only overturned by President Truman in 1948. But there was much work that still needed to be done: The Civil Rights Act was still a decade away.

These issues were in the background for Pat and Ben in the 1950s. Pat was too busy with the kids (and the occasional tennis game) and Ben was too busy building houses (and the occasional golf game). The day-to-day ruled their lives - as well as the lives of millions of others like them.

A cultural and technological bonanza

For a decade sometimes maligned for its conservatism and staidness - certainly compared to the jittery sixties - the 1950s saw an explosion of artistic achievement: Guys and Dolls, The Catcher in the Rye, On the Waterfront, Perry Mason.

Truman Capote was at his height, as was Dr. Suess, Tennessee Williams and Nabakov. And speaking of cultural bonanzas, the popular western Bonanza debuted in the 1950s as did Sports Illustrated.

Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio and Playboy helped launch sex into the mainstream. Which all just proves that the 1950s defy pat categorization.

Technologically, the 1950s saw massive innovation in air travel and space exploration. Out in the suburbs, cars were the machines of choice.

The 1950s were a decade in which the American love affair with the automobile was in full flower. And Americans were using them not just to travel to the store and to work - they spent entire vacations in and around the mighty auto. Pat and Ben were not immune from these forces, as the next chapter of their video memoir reveals:

Every decade is the 1950s

Really, nothing much has changed over the years.

As we can gather from their video memoir, what was important to Pat and Ben in the 1950s remains important to us today: caring for the next generation, the search for security and prosperity, duty, patriotism, and love.

And as successful as Ben became in business, and as good as his golf game got - for him and Pat it was all just about the kids.  It was only ever about the kids, and each other.

We are pretty simple creatures us humans, when it all comes down to it.

The video memoir process

Video memoirs are easy to put together.

The first step is gathering all the old photographs and videos. If you still have the old home movies you will need to get them digitized.

Photographs will need to be scanned.

Every home has a video camera these days and with the help of a tripod and some lapel mics you can film like a pro.

Editing video on a pc isn't at all hard. It does take some practice but a little perseverance and trial and error will have you up and running in no time.

And if you have the time and inclination, you should be able to write some words and add some voice over to tie the whole thing together.

In capturing stories for a video memoir of the old days, like the 1950s, there is really only one critical resource: your subjects.

Luckily, Pat and Ben are in fine shape. But none of us is getting any younger. Don't wait too long before starting your memoir project!


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    • JaneA profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from California

      What a lovely memory for you! I think of old family videos as an external hard drive for our memory - they help preserve our memories of events and people - and that is just so precious!

      Thanks for sharing.


    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Sometime last year, I watched old family movies that my father had put onto a video. I thought that I'd cry or get depressed due to the fact that so many of the people that I loved on that movie were long gone. But it made me so happy to see us all together, my mother still young and so pretty, my father running around, chasing us on the beach...keeping those old movies to watch is like visiting the past and seeing those dear people again.


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