Television

Vintage 1957 – Wow! Aftershave

 

In 1957, some men still shed their whiskers with safety razors and Barbasol. My father and grandfather had converted to electric razors that plugged into the wall with springy cords like telephones.

I never watched my father shave. He was, and continues to be, a very private man. But I have very fond memories of my grandfather singing in the bathroom, accompanied by a fiercely businesslike buzzing.

When I was a young child, I lived with my grandparents on the weekends. I the mornings, I would keep my grandmother company in the kitchen while she made breakfast. There was a small bathroom off the kitchen at their house, between the kitchen and the stairs – down to the basement or up to the garage. While my grandmother made poached eggs and toast, my grandfather would pass through the kitchen and go into the bathroom, which was flooded with sunshine early in the day. Fit and trim, he would be wearing a white ribbed tank top and pleated tan trousers held up by suspenders. He was always a dapper guy.

He was also a barbershop tenor and not shy about filling the house with song. His singing, the buzzing shaver, and the warm smells of breakfast combined into feelings of joy. My grandfather and I had a little ritual after he was done shaving that we truly relished. It had started somewhere back in my fuzzy past (fuzzy to me). When the shaving was done, he would splash aftershave on his hands and briskly pat his cheeks and neck. He would come out into the kitchen and let me smell his aftershave, and then we’d say together, “WOW!” At some time, little me had wow! about his aftershave, and it stuck.

As for brands of aftershave, my father used Old Spice (which I just learned was originally intended as a fragrance for women).

My grandfather was always – as the ads used to say – an “Aqua-Velva Man.”

I miss you, Pop.

 

 

Vintage 1957 – Vintage 2018

Two questions to ponder:

How is life in America significantly different than it was in 1957? How is it significantly the same?

First, a significant difference: our political climate in 2018 is hyper-polarized. Politicians and pundits pride themselves on their strongly-held views, whether liberal or conservative. They stress their unwillingness to compromise, seeing it as a matter of integrity and dedication to principle. Voters use litmus-test issues to guide their choice of candidates. Tendencies for media outlets to lean left or right have led to charges of “fake news” and growing distrust in reportage in general.

In 1957, President Eisenhower was serving his second term, having been elected in 1952 on a deliberately moderate ticket. He promised to “get things done” by working cooperatively with those in his party and across the aisle. Strong anti-Communist Richard Nixon was added to the ticket as Vice President in a token nod to the more conservative side of the Republican party. Eisenhower did not particularly like Nixon nor seek his input. The memory and record of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was still widely respected by the public. Americans counted on the news – think Walter Cronkite – for fair and impartial information.

Next, a significant similarity: advances in technology were both eagerly welcomed and deeply feared. Today, new Apple products and other high-tech gear are embraced quickly. Brand loyalty and identification create communities of adherents. Social media, online banking, self-driving cars, drones, video-streaming, and fitness trackers all have a following. And yet, we are wary of what might happen with our digital footprint if bad actors gain access. How safe are we? Who is listening and watching and what will they do with what they learn?

In 1957, Americans were also eager adopters of new high-tech products. Food industry innovation responded to the consumer desire for convenience foods. New packaged products included Minute Rice, canned tuna, Jif peanut butter, and Tang. New cold-processing technology made frozen dinners, fruit and vegetables, waffles, and turkeys ready to purchase year-round. Developments in the space program were counting down to putting a man in orbit. Television broadcasting expanded into almost every living room and kitchens began humming with appliances. And yet, it was the Atomic Age of nuclear weapons – and there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. More powerful bombs were being developed and tested and stockpiles were growing. The Soviet Union was a direct Cold War threat, looming over the Artic pole. The potential for incoming ICBMs had everyone practicing “duck and cover”.

Would the Americans of 1957 be surprised that we haven’t found a way to better cooperate politically? Would they also be surprised that we still haven’t better resolved our love-fear relationship with science and technology?

Image Credits: Swanson; Apple

 

August 5, 1957 – American Bandstand Goes Coast-to-Coast


On August 5, 1957, WFIL-TV Philadelphia’s local weekday afternoon broadcast, Bandstand, went national on ABC, with 27-year-old Dick Clark as host.  Filling the 3:30 PM time slot, American Bandstand was the newly re-named, hour-and-a half-long celebration of all things teen and Top-40.  It continued to be broadcast from Studio B, 4548 Market Street, Philadelphia, an 80′ by 24′ by 20′ room which would become jam-packed with bleachers, cameras, and teens be-bopping to recordings of the latest pop hits.  Like its original incarnation, American Bandstand included musical film clips – early MTV-type material – during breaks in which another waiting set of 200 teens would be admitted to the studio to replace the previous group.  Regulars quickly became recognizable to the viewing audience, who could follow couples getting together, breaking up, and showing off new steps in the process.  Clark would also interview the teens, getting their feedback on the latest songs.

 

Accompanied by demonstrations of the Slop, the Bop, the Hand Jive, the Stroll, Circle or Calypso, a live singer or band would usually lip-sync their latest hit.  The first song played on the first national broadcast was Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shaking Goin’ On”

American Bandstand‘s theme song on August 5, 1957 (and up until 1969) was the absolutely unforgettable, almost culturally liturgical “Bandstand Boogie” by Charles Albertine.  Is there anyone out there in TV-land who can’t immediately sign along to the lyrics:

“We’re going hoppin’ (Hop!)
We’re going hoppin today
Where things are poppin’ (Pop!)
The Philadelphia way
We’re gonna drop in (Drop!)
On all the music they play
On the Bandstand (Bandstand!)”

Image Credits: ABC and WFIL-TV

August 3, 1957 – “Band of Angels” at the Bijou

On August 3, 1957, Robert Penn Warren’s novel about slavery and the Civil War in the American South came to life on the silver screen.  Directed by the legendary Raoul Walsh (White Heat, They Died With Their Boots On), Band of Angels featured Yvonne De Carlo as Amantha Starr, a privileged white plantation heiress who discovers after her father’s death that the plantation is mortgaged to the hilt, her mother was a slave, and she herself will soon hit the auction block to help pay off daddy’s debts.  On the way to New Orleans, Amantha’s slave trader tries to sleep with her, she resists and threatens to kill herself, and the trader backs off because he doesn’t want to lose his valuable merchandise.

In New Orleans, big man Hamish Bond (Clark Gable, age 56, still gamely playing romantic leads) takes pity on Amantha and buys her out of the clutches of a too-eager-to-inspect-the-merchandise slave-auction bidder and takes her home to his mansion.  Hamish treats Amantha like a lady, they fall in love, the Civil War breaks out, and their futures end up depending on the kindness of Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier), Hamish’s well-treated but conflicted ex-slave who fled to join the Union Army.

Variety noted in their review that, “Clark Gable’s characterization is reminiscent of his Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.”  According to the Internet Movie Database, Clark disliked the comparisons to his twenty-eight-year-earlier performance, and told his agent, “if it doesn’t suit an old geezer with false teeth, forget about it.”  IMDB also reports that Band of Angels gained the less-than-complementary moniker, “The Ghost of Gone With the Wind.”

De Carlo played the romantic partner to an intriguing variety of leading men.  In addition to heating up the screen with Gable, she toyed with the affections of Charleston Heston in The Ten Commandments, Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross, Alec Guinness in The Captain’s Paradise, and finally, in one of those wonderful twists of fate, Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) in the television series The Munsters.

Image Credit: Warner Brothers

July 29, 1957 – Jack Paar’s First Night on The Tonight Show

Jack Paar

Jack Paar

On July 29, 1957, Jack Paar took over the hosts’ chair on the set of The Tonight Show.  Steve Allen, the show’s first host from September 1954 to January 1957, had been instrumental in establishing the format of NBC’s successful late evening talk show: an opening monologue, celebrity interviews, audience participation, comedy bits in which cameras were taken outside the studio, and music with guest performers and a studio band.  Paar added his own touches to the show, including his signature quip “I kid you not” and surrounding himself with a group of regulars and semi-regulars (including Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Paar also started the tradition of having guest hosts, one of whom would go on to become the show’s longest-running host – for over thirty years – Johnny Carson.

Paar’s career had started in radio as an announcer and humorous disc jockey.  He was on the air on WGAR-Cleveland the night Orson Welles broadcast his famous War of the Worlds over the CBS network (WGAR was an affiliate).  Jack tried to calm panicked listeners by announcing, “The world is not coming to an end.  Trust me.  When have I ever lied to you?”  Paar was part of a special services company in the South Pacific entertaining troops during World War II.  He met Jack Benny in Guadalcanal in 1945, and Benny was so impressed he took the young comedian under his wing and sponsored Paar’s career at NBC on several occasions.

Paar was unpredictable and emotional.  His pointed jibes at commanding officers in the Pacific repeatedly got him in trouble.  He feuded publicly with Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell.  He asked Mickey Rooney to leave the show one evening when Rooney arrived in an inebriated state.  After a questionable joke he made regarding a “W. C.” was cut by censors, Paar walked off The Tonight Show set in mid-show.  He returned three weeks later, explaining, “Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing.  I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again.  I’m totally unable to hide what I feel.  It is not an asset in the show business, but I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past.”

During Paar’s tenure, NBC’s policy was to videotape The Tonight Show and tape new broadcasts over old ones.  Only a few minutes of tape now exist of The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar.

Image Credit: pbs.org

July 28, 1957 – “The Voice of the White South” on The Mike Wallace Interview Show

 

Senator James Eastland

Senator James Eastland, D-Mississippi

On July 28, 1957, Mike Wallace interviewed anti-civil rights Senator James Eastland of Mississippi on his CBS show.  The Civil Rights Act of 1957, primarily a voting rights act with the goal of ensuring all African-Americans could exercise their right to vote, was under consideration in the Senate.  Sen. Eastland headed up the judiciary committee, where the bill was in the process of being significantly altered to achieve compromise between pro- and anti-rights factions.  Wallace refrained from questioning Eastland about the pending bill, seeking his opinions on segregation, slavery, the Soviet Union, voting rights laws, and the Ku Klux Klan during the hour-length show.

In this post, I will quote Eastland accurately, as offensive as that may be.  Wallace used the term “Negro” to refer to African-American citizens in 1957; Eastland used both “Negro” and “Nigra”.

Sen. Eastland’s statements included:

“This doctrine of the separation of the races has been involved over many years by both races.  It’s not something that one race has imposed on another race.”

“After the south was defeated [in the Civil War], when the white people were disenfranchised and could not vote, the first reconstruction legislature of my state controlled by members of the Nigra race passed three laws: one, that there be segregation on trains and in public transportation; two, that there be a separate school system; three they levied a poll tax; four, they made it a felony for the races to intermarry and provided a life sentence in the penitentiary for one who crossed that line.”

“The vast majority of Negroes want their own schools, their own hospitals, their own churches, their own restaurants.”

“I’m suggesting . . . 99% of Negroes in the south want segregation, certainly.”

“The war between the states was caused by other reasons [than the abolition of slavery].”

“I don’t think . . . where there is a real racial problem . . . that [school integration] will work.”

“[Negroes] do not vote [in Mississippi] because they have a long history of Republicanism, they are members of the Republican Party, and of course they cannot vote in the Democratic primary which is the election in our state.  The Republican Party doesn’t even run candidates.”

“Segregation in the south . . . is to protect both races.”

And, finally, Wallace asked, “Do you think, Senator, the day will come in your lifetime when we will see an integrated south?”

Eastland’s reply: “No.”

Image Credit: Mississippi Department of Archives and History

July 20, 1957 – Hank Aaron Visits Captain Kangaroo

Bob_Keeshan_Hugh_Brannum_Captain_Kangaroo_1960

Shhh! Mr. Green Jeans has a surprise cake for Captain Kangaroo in 1960.

On July 20, 1957, future Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Hammerin’ Hank Aaron stopped by the Treasure House of Captain Kangaroo. Aired live daily by CBS and now in its second year, Captain Kangaroo was conceived by and starred Bob Keeshan. Bob based his role as the Captain on “the warm relationship between grandparents and children.” Bob was joined by Hugh Brannum and Cosmo Allegretti, who between them played fifteen different supporting roles.

In 1957, Aaron and his team, the Milwaukee Braves, were in the middle of a great season and on their way to winning the World Series against the Yankees. Hank himself would win the National League MVP award, batting .322 (third in the league) and leading the NL in home runs and RBIs. You can be sure that Little Leaguers across America were listening carefully when Mr. Green Jeans (Brannum) asked Hank for some baseball tips.

Bob Keeshan would continue as Captain Kangaroo until the multiple-Emmy-winning series ended in 1984, a 29-year run. Several writers and producers of Captain Kangaroo went on to work on the longest-running, highly-awarded children’s series, Sesame Street.

Hank Aaron continued to play for the Braves until 1974 (a 20-year run), moving to Atlanta with the team for the 1966 season. On April 8, 1974, Aaron hit career home run 715 to break Babe Ruth’s iconic record. After two seasons as a Milwaukee Brewer, Aaron retired and joined the front office of the Atlanta Braves organization. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Milwaukee Braves Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron heads to first base (and the World Series championship, the NL MVP, and Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House) during spring training, March 30, 1957.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain; John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated