Remembering the Fifties
You really have to be over fifty to remember life in the fifties. There's a lot more to it than the birth of Rock 'n Roll. Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show even though the camera cut him off at the waist -- too much hip movement. So it really started for him in 1956 when he sold over $120 million dollars worth of albums and memorabilia. He wasn't the only one to gain fame in the fifties. There was Little Richard and Buddy Holly to name only two of the many. This isn't about Rock 'n Roll or music in the fifties but the fifties itself.
Some say the fifties was boring. Not much going on but that's not true a lot went on during the fifties. Television came into its own in the fifties. Game shows appeared on the scene and America loved them. The 64 Thousand Dollar Question, I've Got a Secret, The Price is Right, even What's My Line. Unfortunately by the late fifties people were learning some of the games shows were rigged. It was so bad Congress investigated. Of course there were no government laws about game shows but the studios realized this did not bode well for them and pulled game shows off the air for a while.
Cars in the fifties became classics and are still classics today. Who can forget the 1951 Cadillac or 1957 or 58 Chevy Impala? Each year car buffs would anxiously await the release of the new cars comparing them to last year's and to each other. It was a true car culture. Though there were resemblances among different makers (GM, Ford, Pontiac, etc.) it was the differences that made them special. When you saw a 58 Chevy riding down the road you knew it was a 58 Chevy, no guessing. "Tail fins" and lots of chrome were the marks of a great car. Roadsters and drag racing were a sign of the times and teenagers looked for long, straight stretches of road to hold their informal drag races.
I'm getting off track and spending too much time on the entertainment industry. What about the country? What was going on in America in the 1950s? Communism reared its ugly head high in the fifties. The Cold War was at its peak. Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Committee ran rampant looking for communists. For five years McCarthy threatened many, some on blacklists and others by guilt through association. A lot of people lost their jobs as a result of McCarthyism.
North Korea fought against South Korea. Unfortunately the Soviet Union and United States were as much at war as North and South Korea. On June 30, 1950 President Truman ordered American troops into South Korea. It was a hard war and not popular at the time. However, the US was not looked down on, by the rest of the world, for their participation. The war lasted three years and was finally ended when an armistice was signed setting up a Demilitarized Zone in Korea.
Hoola Hoops and coonskin caps were in. Davey Crockett made those coonskin caps the thing for all kids to wear. You watched Davey on Disney then had to have a coonskin cap! Poodles were also in vogue. Not just the dogs but anything with a poodle on it, remember the fifties skirt, the poodle skirt? Everyone had one and sometimes more. There was even a poodle haircut as sported by Lucille Ball! To this day, everyone owns a Frisbee. The fifties brought it about although its popularity really soared in the 60s. It is said the Frisbee name came from Yale University where students used pie tins to play catch. The pie tins were made by, you got it, The Frisbee Baking Company.
Remember Kookie? He started on 77 Sunset Strip, a TV show, his real name Edward Byrns. He was good looking and always combing his hair. Then he made a record, "Kookie Lend Me Your Comb." He was quite a fad and heartthrob through the fifties.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower...I like Ike, that's what his campaign buttons read. Even his opponent Adlai Stevenson said, "I like Ike." Thirty fourth President of the United States and a former Five Star General. During World War II he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
He won the election for President by a landslide. Seems everyone 'liked Ike." He helped removed Joseph McCarthy and stopped his witch hunt. He sent troops to Little Rock to end segregation. He authorized the Interstate Highway System looking at it as a building block for American growth. I believe he is in the top ten of most liked Presidents.
Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. ..Dwight D. Eisenhower
What about Tricky Dicky a/k/a Richard Nixon? We remember him from Watergate but he was Vice President under Eisenhower. Richard M. Nixon. He served as Vice President for eight years. He was 39 when Eisenhower was elected and was chosen because of his stance against Communism and his strong following in California. Before the election he was accused of having a special 'fund'. He went on TV to defend himself and it worked. As Vice President he attended Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. He visited Hanoi, Saigon and Indonesia and after that spent a lot of time on foreign affairs. In 1958 he and his wife went on a goodwill tour of Africa, and in 1959 he went to Moscow. Certainly not his first job in politics but the one that would lead him to the Presidency.
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 1 of 1953. Though basically a religious ceremony (coronation) it dates back to the consecration of an Anglo-Saxon monarch in 785. It was like a fairy tale, especially to Americans who have no experience with monarchy and were able to watch the ceremony on TV. She is the second longest reigning monarch in history. During her reign she has performed all the normal functions but has instituted a few of her own including her royal walk about.
Dr. Jonas E. Salk developed the polio vaccination in 1954. What a tremendous breakthrough in science. He announced, on radio, the success he had had with a small group of children and adults before the vaccine was available. His vaccine was licensed in 1955 and children were encouraged to get the vaccine through all kinds of campaigns. Today the vaccine is given routinely to infants along with their "baby shots".
What about 1950s makeup? Surely you remember the matte finish on all the female faces together with winged eyeliner, black mascara and bright red lips! Hair was curled and always looked flawless - well at least in Hollywood. It wouldn't be strange to see a teenager walking around with a kerchief tied around her head to hide the pin curls.
So much happened in the fifties that I can't even begin to scratch the surface here. I can only give you a tease so you can go forward and learn more. Perhaps you remember George Jorgensen who became Christine Jorgensen? A twenty six year old Bronx boy who had a sex-change operation in Denmark. Sex change operations were illegal in most places and certainly not available in America. With all the publicity Christine garnered, she began to enjoy it and often sought out the limelight. Her pioneering actually opened the door for others like her and helped them with their own conflicts.
In 1954 Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio. It was the second marriage for both but one that was highly publicized due their independent celebrity. Having them marry made America happy. It wasn't to last though. Joe didn't like the idea of Marilyn being in movies and wanted her to quit to raise a family. As things got worse it is reported he started smacking her around and their marriage was quickly in jeopardy. Nine months after the wedding Marilyn filed for divorce, Joe didn't even bother to show up. He admitted she made him mad and everyone knew he was hitting her. She made up her mind to go through with the divorce after a particularly bad incident after Joe saw the Seven Year Itch scene with Marilyn's skirt up in the air.
I probably should have called this "A Taste of the Fifties". There's no way to cover such a decade in only 1500 words or even 3,000 for that matter. The suburbs were born in the fifties, and backyard barbecues, wall-to-wall carpeting, outboard motors, swimming pools, things were booming and the family was the center of it all!
Martin Luther King, Nakita Kruschev, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Edward R. Murrow, Bishop Fulton J Sheen, The Martian Chronicles, I Robot, Grace Kelly married her Prince, grey flannel suits, Givenchy, Roy Rogers, drive-in movies, transcontinental television, Levittiown, ranch houses, and the list goes on. There's more about the fifties all over the Internet but those of us who lived it remember it with fondness and some sadness for its innocence lost.
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