Baby Boomers Turned Seniors: 65 This Year
Original Boomer Vintage 1946....
The Original Boomers:Growing-Up With TV
It's somewhat strange to see the term Baby Boomers and the number 65 together, particularly for those of us who fall into that category. (Wasn't it just a few years ago that 65 and Ancient Mariner seemed synonymous?) We can't ignore realty, though; this is the year that the first members of that particular generation officially enter the questionably hallowed halls of the Senior Citizen and all that brings with it: Social Security, Medicare, a plethora of senior discounts, and kudos from AARP.
The advances in so many areas and monumental events that we have witnessed could fill volumes. (After all, we were the ones who marked the end of World War II, with the return of the soldiers and the subsequent BOOM in population.) This will be the first of several Hubs about some of the monumental changes and the events to which the first Boomers were witnesses, particularly during their growing-up years, the nineteen fifttes and sixties.
PART I: What Did Anyone Do Before There Was Television?
The decade of the fifties, during which the first Boomers spent most of our childhood, saw so many "firsts," not the least of which was the meteoric rise of television to the position of necessity . Few of us can remember a time without a TV in the home, but our parents certainly could. In 1946, the year which marks the birth of the original Baby Boomers, only .5% of American families had a TV set. Less than 10 years later, that number had grown to almost 56%, and, in the 1960s, to 90%.
TV In The 1950s
It's difficult to imagine some of the first TV's, which consisted of tiny screens encased in relatively huge wooden cabinets. (Flat screen TV, a prototype of which was envisioned by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, was decades away.) I remember them, though; my aunt and uncle owned one. It's also amazing to recall that anyone who owned a TV in the 1950s had an aerial akin to an alien poking out of his roof. There were only three channels/networks back then, but somehow we survived.... except on Saturday afternoons, when the schedule featured.... bowling. The morning cartoons made up for it, though.
In addition to watching cartoons, children back then watched shows like Bertie the Bunyip, Rudy Kazootie, Sally Starr, and the venerable Howdy Doody. (Anyone remember Princess SummerFallWinterSpring?) Of course, the shining star on the 50s kids' TV lineup was The Mickey Mouse Club ("Hi, I'm Annette"; "Hi, I'm Bobby", complete with those great ears), beloved for many years by millions. The current version of the show is cute (animated, of course) but bears little resemblance to the original. Annette, Bobby, Corky, etc. (plus Spin and Marty , of course) could have been the '50s kids next door.
For teens, American Bandstand , hosted in Philadephia by the venerable Dick Clark, set the standard for years. Adults watched The Ed Sullivan Show, Art Linkletter's People Are Talking, The Dinah Shore Show (I can still hear her singing, "See the USA in your Chevrolet...."), and, if they liked movies, The Early Show and The Late Show . Viewers of all ages enjoyed Roy Rogers (with his wife, Dale Evans and his horse, Trigger), Gene Autry (with sidekick Pat Buttram providing comic relief) The Lone Ranger ("Hi Ho, Silver!"), and Leave It To Beaver ( with the ever-cheerful June Cleaver, in her shirtwaist dresses and high heels, as the Perfect Mom). My personal favorite was the sci-fi-with-a-message series The Twilight Zone, which, despite the fact that I've seen most episodes more than three times, I still look forward to watching each New Year's Eve and Fourth of July, when Twilight Zone marathons are televised. For me, Rod Serling, who wrote many of the episodes and introduced all of them, remains the iconic TV pioneer of the sci fi genre.
Moving on to the '60s....
The 1960s brought some changes to the TV scene. Appropriately, the '60s marked the advent of 60 Minutes , the popular news show that continues to this day. Situation comedies like The Andy Griffith Show , with the kid who grew up to be actor- director Ron Howard, gained in popularity. Included in the situation comedy category are The Dick Van Dyke Show , where Mary Tyler Moore began her prolific TV career; The Doris Day Show; My Three Sons , with Ed McMurray; Gidget ( for the teen set); and The Patty Duke Show , in which the title character played twins. ( Patty Duke, incidentally, is an Original Boomer.) Then there were the situation comedies with a twist: The Beverly Hillbillies , whose behavior reflected the title of the show; The Flying Nun (imagine the same Sally Field who plays the matriarch in Brothers and Sisters flying into your home each week); Bewitched , featuring the trials and tribulations of the everyday witch; The Munsters, about the trials and tribulations of everyday monsters; and Man From UNCLE and I Spy , which managed to do an admirable job of combining comedy and drama. The dramatic series Julia , which starred Diahann Carroll, was particularly unique and indeed struck a triumphant chord for the '60's, since the main character was an African-American nurse, The recently-revived Hawaii Five-O and The Fugitive ( where was that one-armed man?) set the standard for action dramas.
Shows featuring songsters like Andy Williams and Bing Crosby were extremely popular in the '60s. Live comedy shows also claimed a large portion of the viewer demographic. Laugh-In (which introduced Goldie Hawn, also a Boomer) and The Smothers Brothers held an admirable share in the comedy market, but The Carol Burnette show might have sustained a slight edge. Game shows such as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game began to appear, as did sci-fi icons Fantasy Island, Mission Impossible, and Star Trek (decades later, Captain Kirk was transformed into lawyer Denny Crane). The sci-fi series Outer Limits seemed to have been inspired by its predecessor,The Twilight Zone.
Soap operas (so named because they were designed to sell soap and other household products to their daytime viewers) like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital joined their forerunners, such as Guiding Light ( which continued until September of '09) and As The World Turns (which lasted until September of 2010). Dark Shadows, with eerie characters like Barnabas Collins and company, took soap operas to a new level, as Rocky and Bullwinkle did for the cartoon genre. (I still remember the kid who sat behind me during my once-a-week high school study hall practicing his Bullwinkle impersonation.)
The Lawyers of the 1970's ushered in the bevy of shows about attorneys and their clients that appeared decades later, while Ben Casey; Dr. Kildare ( Richard Chamberlain, who played the title character, currently appears on Brothers and Sisters); and Marcus Welby (Robert Young is still my idea of the ideal physician) introduced the medical drama format that became so popular. You can still hear, "LIVE- It's Saturday Night!" on the ingenious, timeless comedy of the same name. Oh- "Do you know how to get to Sesame Street ?" You might, since it's lasted all these years as arguably one of the best- if not the best- children's shows of all times. Who isn't familiar with Cookie Monster, good buddies Burt and Ernie, grouchy old Oscar in his garbage can, adorable little red Elmo, and the biggest Bird of all?
Imagine, all those unforgettable TV shows carried the Original Boomers only a year or two beyond college (if that was their chosen path, of course). Still to come in the '70s were The Muppet Show, M*A*S*H*, Happy Days (with a teen-aged Ron Howard), The Electric Company, The Brady Bunch, The Incredible Hulk, Mork and Mindy ( Robyn Willams' still wows the crowd with his comic genius), Sanford and Son, Wonder Woman, Little House On The Prairie , Charlie's Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man, Family Feud, The Rockford Files, The Odd Couple, The Waltons (" 'Night, John Boy."), et al. The '80s brought soap operas The Bold and the Beautiful, Falcon Crest, and Baywatch plus a bevy of comedies: Full House, Quantum Leap, Night Court, Bosom Buddies, Matlock, The Cosby Show, and Family Ties. The same decade saw a revival of The Twilight Zone plus Star Trek Next Generation, and many shows, like Bosom Buddies, Cagney and Lacey, and Kate and Allie, that featured women as main characters. The hospital-based St. Elsewhere ( which introduced both Denzel Washington and Howie Mandel) showcased superb writing throughout its TV run, right up until the incredible finale. Speaking of finales, the 1980s ushered in perhaps the most-watched afternoon TV show ever:The Oprah Winfrey Show , which currently is celebrating its 25th (and final) season with an impressive line-up.
The list goes on and on. I'm sure you remember many shows from the '90s: Seventh Heaven, Ally McBeal (introducing Callista Flockhart), Seinfeld ("No soup for you!"), Chicago Hope, ER, Providence ( Hello, Melina Kanakaredes), Friends, and many more. The turn of the century ushered in the hallowed Reality Show Concept: American Idol, Survivor, Dancing With the Stars, The Biggest Loser, The Apprentice, the Bachelor, the Bachelorette, etc., etc., etc., plus unique new twists on old ideas, like Everybody Loves Raymond, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, CSI, The West Wing, and Deal or No Deal. In the final analysis, though,the shows that probably had the greatest effect on the Original Boomers are those from television's infancy, when both the shows and the Boomers were still.... well, innocent.