The fifties; men wearing hats to work and Stepford-type wives discovering Valium. It was all about noir without anyone realizing that it was all about noir. It was “back in the day. " Returning servicemen. Happy times. The baby boom was underway. . . Levittown…people could afford single family dwellings and suburbia was born. College. A privilege instead of an entitlement. The smell of burning leaves on a crisp fall day. Schwinn bikes. Drive-in movies. “I like Ike" memories. Happy times.
Terms like dysfunctional families, attention deficit and bipolar disorders were unknown. Those who suffered under them did so in silence without awareness, recourse or remedy. Back then, no one used words like “dysfunctionality" or “depression. " Many were consumed by emotions that were kept closeted and could not be articulated.
No graffitified tenements, sinking potholed streets or garbage strewn parks, but the smell of winos and urine in the subways also existed back then and there were plenty of slums to go around.
Chopped and channeled Merc Coupes and rumbling duel pipes. Drag races. Outlaw biker gangs. 1 percenters. Rebels with no causes. Leather jackets, engineer boots and skin-tight Levi’s or khaki’s and loafers. Blue suede loafers. Greasers and mods. “Hollywood" and “Detroit" hair styles or flat tops or crew cuts…split the difference with a “Duck ‘s Ass. "
No political correctness back then, You ate what you wanted to eat and smoked where you wanted to smoke. No seat belt laws because there were no seat belts. Lardy chili and greasy bacon and eggs in diners late at night. Apple pie with a piece of American cheese. The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports on the 9’ Admiral TV. The Kinsey Report findings. *** awareness out of the closet.
City kid went to “Geek" shows in the early 50’s that were featured in some of the traveling carnivals that came to the outskirts of urban centers. These geeks, however, were not like today’s. Stag films. Precursors to *** .
“The Wild One, " “Blackboard Jungle. " Brando and Dean, and Sidney Portier calling Glen Ford “Mr. Daddio" in “Backboard Jungle. " Joe Louis, Marciano, Joe DiMaggio, Sugar Ray and Ted Williams. Marilyn Monroe, Gable, Bogart s. “Bad Day at Black Rock, " Spencer Tracey, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Anne Francis, and Walter Brennan. The pure noir of “The Killing" and “The Sweet Smell of Success. " “12 Angry Men. " Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Jack Klugman, E. G. Marshall, Jack Warden and Robert Webber all in the same room. “On the Waterfront“…. mob violence and union corruption. “A Streetcar Named Desire" and “Death of a Salesman. " Heady stuff.
“The Organization Man “, Ayn Rand, “The Affluent Society, " “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. " The Martian Chronicles, " The Catcher in the Rye, Jack Kerouac, “The Lonely Crowd. " Stuff staring to happen. Beats and Beatniks coming out.
Ike, The H Bomb, and a fragile peace. Not everything was Pollyannaish. Some things seemed to have a noir-ish, gangster-ridden quality that had a palpable existence. Modern jazz…Bird, Miles, Stan Kenton , Chet; Chicago blues performed by blacks who traveled North from the Delta on the Illinois Central. Little Walter, Howlin Wolf, Jackie Wilson, Fats, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Big Bopper, Doo Wop. Honky Tonk. The sound of the harp. Hard bop, rebop, West Coast Jazz and Delta Blues were the 50‘s.
A time of extreme anti-communisms suspicion. McCarthyism became synonymous with demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations. Black lists. The 50’s version of the Patriot Act. Decency finally wins out. Senator Joe censured into obscurity.
The Korean War…the “Forgotten War, " June 1950 - July 1953. Recalled by MASH on television. A footnote in our history. Veterans of that intensive and deadly conflict wore jackets from Rhein-Main, Quantico, Paris Island, Great Lakes, Fort Leonard Wood, and Cherry Point. Tough guys who did their duty without complaint and paid dearly for it.
Racism undergoing subtle changes for the better. Still, it rears its ugly head far too often in the North. Callous cruelty and unfairness commonplace until the 60’s. Being called a “kike, mick, “wop" or “polack" an everyday experience. Many first generation Americans suffer quietly. Scary white sheets and burning crosses. Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Then 1964 and civil rights and hope. Martin Luther King. Malcolm. Rosa Parks. The Little Rock Nine
The 50’s, a time mixed with equal portions of love, fear and loathing. Of course, looking in the rear view mirror through the prism of nostalgia makes everything look better. The innocence was soon replaced with a grim reality, turbulence and cynicism that manifested itself through the next decade. A Cuban missile crises, Viet Nam , the draft, multiple assassinations, hippies, drugs, protests, riots…and racial unrest that exploded.
“…colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets is each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness. . . " Jack Kerouac
I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ted Sares, PhD. , is a syndicated writer who writes columns, essays, articles and short stories for a number of different publications. He is also a well-known boxing writer and boxing historian.