Part two of James Kraus’ survey of what was happening in American culture from 1954-67, the heyday of the Ivy League Look.
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Favorable demographics and consistent sizable gains in productivity continued to fuel prosperity in the 1960s throughout the industrialized world. Between 1954 and 1967, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden suffered not a single year of recession. In the U.S. the mass migration to suburban living continued unabated.
The decade began with a bang in 1960 with the opening of the Playboy Club in Chicago and FDA approval of the Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill.
One result of the exuberant spending frenzy of the late 1950s was the growing elasticity of the boundaries of good taste. By the close of the decade many Americans from the canyons of Wall Street and boulevards of Beverly Hills to the materialism-renouncing members of the nascent Beat Generation began to eschew the more ostentatious flamboyance of the era. Change was in the air and tastemakers and manufacturers alike responded, led by the auto industry.
Beginning with their 1960 models, tail fins went on a diet, chrome trim was reduced and multi-color exteriors became a rarity. The transition from fifties extravagance to sixties elegance was exemplified by the graceful new 1961 Lincoln Continental. Its crisp unadorned flanks and timeless style would endure basically unchanged for five years.
A declaration by President Kennedy before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961 of his intent to land a man on the moon before the end of the sixties accelerated the Space Race and set an ambitious and optimistic tone for the nascent decade.
The excitement and allure of space exploration was enhanced further in 1962 with the launch of the Telstar communication satellite.
The satellite inspired an instrumental of the same name by a British musical group, The Tornados. The song, featuring the Space Age sound of the newly introduced Univox Clavioline keyboard, became a number one hit in both the U.K. and the U.S.
Even more so than in the late 1950s, fascination with jets, rocketry and interplanetary travel induced numerous manufacturers to name their products so as to infuse them with Space Age glamor.
Exemplars of the new fashion included the Ford Starliner, Oldsmobile Jetstar, Plymouth Satellite; Accutron Astronaut and Spaceview wristwatches, the Rolex Space-Dweller and the Seattle SuperSonics.
Conversely, a mere three months following the launch of Telstar atop a Thor-Delta rocket, the world faced the potential downside of rocketry in the form of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a battle of wits over Russian ballistic missiles in Cuba versus U.S. missiles in Italy and Turkey. Many Americans began considering or installing backyard bomb shelters.
Though resolved successfully, the event brought the Cold War to a head and created a dichotomy that smoldered in the subconscious of the later half of the heyday; the limitless possibilities of space exploration versus the possibility of instantaneous nuclear annihilation.
The same year; all but overshadowed, The Port Huron Statement was released by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a manifesto of policy recommendations. It would prove to be a portent of things to come.
To accommodate higher standards of living, suburban homes of the 1960s increasingly featured two-car garages and Family Rooms. The latter generally featured woodgrain paneling and acoustic tile ceilings. They became the nexus for nearly all home activities save for cocktail parties, which were often reserved for the more formal living room.
Kitchen appliances became more sophisticated with self-defrosting refrigerators becoming commonplace, along with ranges featuring dual high-level ovens. The promise of inexpensive nuclear power generation led to a nationwide promotion of the all-electric home. Developers would affix qualifying houses with a bronze Live Better Electrically medallion.
Steakhouses and temples of Continental dining began sharing the restaurant stage with a newcomer, Pacific Island cuisine, normally marketed as Polynesian or Tiki.
Descended from Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, Tiki dining exploded in popularity in the 1960s, gathering momentum after Hawaii became America’s 50th state. It was dining as spectacle, featuring exotic decorations, flaming entrees and fantastical rum-based drinks embellished with tropical fruits and fanciful mugs and swizzle sticks.
The public became enamored with Tiki, donning Hawaiian print shirts and applying Polynesian motifs to commercial establishments, apartment buildings and interior décor. Disneyland opened the Enchanted Tiki Room. Satellite imagery that began adorning modernist buildings in the post-Sputnik fifties increasingly had to make way for carved Tiki gods, in addition to two other newcomers: oversize chess figurines and large coach lamps.
Pop Art began displacing Abstract Expressionism in leading galleries. Appropriating imagery from advertising and popular culture, Pop was perfectly suited to the new decade of consumerism.
Helen Gurley Brown published “Sex and the Single Girl,” advising women how to enjoy the pleasures of single living and engaging in les affaires du coeur.
The British launched a four-pronged assault on worldwide culture with The Beatles, the Bond film franchise, Carnaby Street fashions and Twiggy, the Face of 1966. In-flight moves came to jet travel.
The years from 1962 through 1966 saw the release of films and television shows whose derivatives still account for virtually half of the current top six movie franchises: Bond, “Batman” and “Star Trek.” During the same period, Surf Music became a pop staple on the airwaves.
While record companies had courted youth culture in the 1950s with acts like Elvis Presley, the 1960s saw an explosion of consumer products directly marketed to the burgeoning youth market from soft drinks targeted at the Pepsi Generation to the Ford Mustang and Pontiac GTO.
Despite youth–targeted pop music dominating record charts, Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” climbed to Number One on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in July 1966, and became the second best-selling song of the year in the U.K. The same year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its peak for the decade.
The prosperity of the 1960s provided a veneer that masked festering social discontent on a number of fronts including concerns over civil rights and the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Tensions began coming to a head in the Watts Riots of 1965 and Newark Riots of 1967.
Environmental and automotive safety concerns were brought to the fore by two groundbreaking books, “Silent Spring” (1962) and “Unsafe at any Speed” (1965). Concerns over the issues raised would eventually culminate in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A convenient signpost for the twilight of the Heyday as we know it was the Monterey International Pop Music Festival of June 1967, it provides a clear illustration of what was, and what was soon to be. Looking at the documentary, one can see that while about three-quarters of the audience looked they could have stepped in from the world of 1963, the remainder appear to have travelled back in time from the future circa-1969, sporting early versions of what would quickly become widespread late-sixties wardrobes and hairstyles.
The world would never look the same; or be the same. The following year would see rioting occur throughout the United States, Italy and France, followed in 1969 by the Days of Rage in Chicago, Bloody Sunday in Istanbul, and unrest throughout Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile; as P.J. O’Rourke once stated, “Looking forward went out of fashion.” A predisposition to equate new and better swiftly evolved to new is suspect as tastes turned to Edwardian-influenced menswear and metal-framed granny glasses as well as more traditionalist automotive design and architecture, a trend culminating in the demolition of the Monsanto Home of the Future at Disney’s Tomorrowland in 1967.
Another victim of changing attitudes was the American Supersonic Transport (SST) project originally begun in the halcyon days of 1963, and defunded shortly after the close of the decade.
Nevertheless, not all aeronautical progress came to an end. On July 20, 1969, in view of 600 million earthlings, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would land on the moon, fulfilling the goal set by President Kennedy with five months to spare. — JAMES KRAUS