July 4, 1776 was not the birth of the U.S.A. It was the day that the colonists said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” After that, grab your guns ’cause war is a-comin’.
July 12, 1776 – The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were underway, approved for ratification in 1777, and formally ratified March 1, 1781. THIS could be an official birthday of the United States of America, which, before this date, were a loose collection of 13 colonies.
September 3, 1783 – Nine years later, the Revolutionary War officially ended, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and England recognized the 13 colonies as independent. THIS would be the birthday of the United States, in my opinion. Now we were an independent entity, as recognized by the world.
June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and formalized the central federal government of the Republic. This would be the birthday for the U.S. federal government, I suppose.
Dec. 15, 1791 – The first 10 amendments to the Constitution (collectively “the Bill of Rights”) was ratified, 15 years after a bunch of old fogies in Philadelphia decided to get uppity.
Ever since, it seems, the United States has been at war with one country, group, or other entity (primarily Native American tribes) over its entire lifetime, right up to the Korean War, which ended in 1953. For a brief time, we were at peace.
June, 1954 – I was born.
I have lived for more than a quarter of this country’s existence.
I have lived under 11 of the 44 presidents, soon 12 out of 45. I was named after the 34th president, in whose term I was born. Dwight Eisenhower, the first Pennsylvania Dutch president (look it up), had a long list of accomplishments, many impressive – from establishing the national system of highways to the creation of NASA. His vice president was Richard Nixon, and his nephew David would eventually marry Nixon’s daughter Julie. But I digress.
JFK, RFK, MLK, LBJ, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew… these are not historical figures to me; they were “current events” when I was in school. We researched the Cuban Missile Crisis in real time for class, using Time, Newsweek, and other magazines and newspapers printed on paper. The riots around the 1968 Democratic Convention, hippies, Viet Nam War protests, Kent State, Woodstock, the Cold War, all headlines in newspapers and network news of my youth.
Mine was the generation taught to cower underneath our school desks, in preparation for the day when a nuclear blast would vaporize us in about a tenth of a second. I remember exploring the fallout shelter in the basement of my junior high school, marvelling at all of the sealed drums of saltines and walls of toilet paper. (No, it would not have kept us safe from a nuclear strike OR fallout, but at least we could wipe our…uh…crackers.)
Although born in the 50s, I’ve always considered myself a “child of the 60s” (ages 6-16). These were formative years and an interesting time to be growing up in America. (White suburban America, I should point out.)
Television & Movies
The earliest movie I remember seeing was Babes in Toyland at the Lansdowne movie theater. Don’t remember anything about the movie, but IMDB tells me that it came out in 1961 (I was 7) and starred Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, and somebody named Tommy Sands. Ed Wynn, great character actor, was the Toymaker, and a very young Ann Jillian (would have been 11 or so) played Bo Peep. I don’t remember any of the movie, the plot, or the actors that were in it, I only remember that it’s the first movie I went to see.
Movies you see when you’re young and impressionable have a far greater impact than movies you see later in life. (“Get ’em while they’re young.”) Great movies of the 1960s include (in no particular order)
2001: a space odyssey
Lawrence of Arabia
The Sound of Music
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Cool Hand Luke
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Manchurian Candidate
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Planet of the Apes
The Dirty Dozen
Dr. No / Goldfinger / Thunderball / From Russia With Love
The Village of the Damned
The Jungle Book
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Original episodes of I Love Lucy aired during my lifetime, but I was two, almost three when the series ended and went into reruns. The Ed Sullivan Show owned Sunday nights, was the leading source of entertainment, and something we waited all week for. This was the show that introduced The Beatles to the U.S., showed Elvis Presley from the hips UP, and toward the end rocked the house with a 12 year old blind kid, Stevie Wonder. It would feature acrobats, spinning dishes on poles, dancers, and a haunting little sockpuppet, Topo Gigio.
One of my early TV favorites was (The Many Loves of) Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). (C’mon – Tuesday Weld was Dobie’s love interest.) My youth was a great time to be a young TV watcher – The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the original Star Trek, and a very young Robert Loggia in T.H.E. Cat (a series very few remember). Along with Star Trek, my other favorite series was I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill (before he was famous) Cosby. I loved Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Avengers (when I could see it – Diana Rigg), My Favorite Martian, The Green Hornet, a very bad Batman (not a fan of the Adam West series, in hindsight). The 1960s was prime television time.
The Dick van Dyke Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Addams Family
Hogan’s Heroes (yes, Nazis were funny in the 60s)
Leave It to Beaver
I Dream of Jeannie
Make Room for Daddy
Father Knows Best
My Three Sons
My Favorite Martian
Dennis the Menace
Car 54 Where Are You?
Courtship of Eddie’s Father
The Patty Duke Show
The Flying Nun
The Real McCoys
The Jackie Gleason Show
My Mother the Car
Lost in Space (ick)
The Twilight Zone
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
77 Sunset Strip
The Mod Squad (1968)
Westerns were big in the 60s:
Bonanza (No. 1 with a bullet)
Have Gun Will Travel
Death Valley Days
and, of course, The Wild Wild West
For laughs, let us not forget F Troop
In animation, we had Tobor, the 8th Man after school, Popeye, Mr. Magoo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Astro Boy, Jonny Quest, Underdog, Space Ghost & Dino Boy, The Road Runner, Spiderman, the original Jetsons and Flintstones (before they got cheap and cheesy) in the evenings, and a whole host of other cartoon shows beneath mention.
The very first Law & Order episode was still decades away.
Jean points out that television broke out of the studio in the 1970s in favor of the great outdoors – Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Baretta, Cannon (large man in a Lincoln, a Quinn Martin production), and the great Rockford Files.
We had four channels – NBC, CBS, ABC, and then WHYY (1963). I remember when networks would “sign off” at midnight, playing the Star Spangled Banner, before turning into a test pattern. Only Johnny Carson went a bit later. (Carson succeeded Jack Paar in 1962, so he was the first late show host I would remember.) When UHF was eventually added (along with circular antennae to augment the standard rabbit ears), we had several more channels (17, 29, 48, and later 57), even if reception was spotty at times. UHF was nothing more than reruns of broadcast series and old movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s; very little original programming. Still, two of these channels would grow up to be Fox and the CW. Although most broadcast stations would continue to sign off for the night (or go to infomercials), it was soon possible to stay up all night watching old movies, and I did. I think I saw every film ever made by John Wayne, Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford (my favorite), etc. Yes, of course, I had a crush on Doris Day and I thought that Hedy Lamarr had to be the most incredibly beautiful woman ever on the face of this earth. (Okay… Grace Kelly, the exquisite Elizabeth Taylor, and the woman who personified SEX to a lot of young teenagers, Marilyn Monroe. Let us not forget them.) I spent many a late night watching old movies. All in black and white on a 17″ television screen in the kitchen.
I did not see The Wizard of Oz in color until well into my teen years. Before then, I had no idea what all the fuss was about when Dorothy first opened the door and looked out on Oz.
When I was still very young (I want to say age 6), I appeared on a local WCAU-TV show as a pianist. The host would talk about classical music, and then I would play a short example. There was a script with the text and musical snippets, but it must be long gone by now. For my troubles, the station gave me a Sunoco-branded transistor radio, which was built to look like a miniature gas pump. No doubt, the TV station got them for free (promotional purposes), but I didn’t know or care. Loved it. (In retrospect, I’ve felt cheated ever since. Where’s the $$$? Shoulda joined the musician’s union.)
Since I was a classically-trained pianist until age 16, I was late coming to the popular music of the day. Missed the British Invasion by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but leaned toward more complex music, rather than the 3-minute, one-idea radio tunes. For a variety show in high school, I performed my own piano solo version of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas. (YouTube) Someone tried to indoctrinate me into the masterworks of a young Bob Dylan, but it didn’t take (did not care for his voice). Not long after, I was heavily into Genesis (with peter gabriel), Loggins & Messina, The Doobie Brothers. Late 60s to mid 70s was a glorious time of growth in rock, but it’s all just tailed off since then (in my not humble opinion).
I was about 16 when I first heard music in STEREO. It was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on an 8-track player in my brother’s old VW bug. The rotating drums at the end of Lucky Man was a revelation. The original Sony Walkman wouldn’t arrive until I was well into my 20s. My first car had an 8-track player (1972 Ford Pinto). Subsequent cars had cassette tape decks, and I made myself a million “driving mixes.” My son was born the same year the Compact Disc became widely available.
An older friend took me to the bar at the local Holiday Inn to hear a three-piece jazz combo. Like many a classically trained musician, I marvelled at how they could take a theme and then go off to heights unknown, without sheet music, without script, and then somehow manage to bring it all back to the beginning theme again. Ever since, I have made it my mission to be able to improvise freely, to “make it up as I played it.” Classical Gas may well have been the last piece of sheet music I ever used.
Needless to say, we did not have smartphones, CDs, VHS, or even computers. We had rotary phones (stick your finger in and rotate the dial). At the summer cottage in Maine, we had a party line – you could pick up the phone and hear your neighbor’s conversation.
For entertainment, we would actually “go outside and play.” This was unscheduled, uncoordinated, unstructured playtime with no parental or adult supervision or oversight, believe it or not. Two-hand-touch football was a standard. Roof ball (bouncing a tennis ball off of the eaves of the house) was a constant. My favorite toy was a stick – it could be anything, from a sword to a rifle. I climbed trees a lot and basically just roamed around.
For a time in the mid-60s, I would take the old Pennsylvania Railroad into Philadelphia each week for piano lessons. Noisy, windy old rail cars in an ugly dark red color, occasionally an equally ugly dark green. We lived about equidistant from both the Overbrook and Wynnewood stations on the old Main Line (now Paoli-Thorndale route), so I would walk to one or the other. Wynnewood had the stores, but Overbrook was a better walk.
When I first became aware of cars, most families had only one, and we would laugh today at what was considered a traffic jam back then. There was no trouble at all finding an open road, and “the country” started much closer to town than it does today. I was 10 years old when I was first captivated by the all-new Ford Mustang. The Mustang just celebrated its 50th anniversary year. (I think I learned about a new “rock ‘n’ roll” group called The Beatles in that same year.)
Cars in the early 1960s reflected the country as a whole – wide open spaces. There was plenty of sheet metal, with plenty of gaps. Plenty of wasted space under the hood and within the cabin. Aerodynamics and wind drag wouldn’t come into play until the late 1970s. Vinyl-covered bench seats up front (without seat belts) let you slide from side to side in the turns. This is when you could squeeze four across, with extra bodies in laps, if necessary. Safety was not a concern, and it’s a wonder that the species survived this era. More and more attention was paid to power and acceleration, while the technology of stopping would lag behind.
The Philadelphia Suburbs
King of Prussia Mall opened in 1963 in the middle of nowhere. This was only what we call the Plaza today, more of an open-air shopping center, but understand that the Plaza has since been expanded, itself. There was a J.C.Penney anchoring one end, a cheapo department store E.J. Korvette, and an Acme. Later, Gimbel’s and Wanamaker’s would come in, and the mall would be enclosed. For Philly-area folks, there was no Blue Route. The best way to get to King of Prussia was to drive out Route 352 and then take King of Prussia Road (the back way). Or take Montgomery Avenue/Gulph Road all the way out.
Exton Square Mall would open ten years later in 1973, Springfield and Granite Run Malls shortly thereafter. Malls would become THE place to be, for everything, and then fall out of fashion, all since the 1960s. Times change.
Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.
Pre-dating the King of Prussia Mall was the Bazaar of All Nations in Clifton Heights (Baltimore Pike). This was an early attempt at a mall – a collection of shops all under one roof. The shops were ultra-quirky, but so were the customers. You could get a custom t-shirt imprinted or find those special frames for wall mountings. Didn’t much like the place, but there were times when I HAD to go there, for something you couldn’t find anywhere else.
The local Blue Laws were in effect for all of my childhood. This meant that almost nothing was open on a Sunday. This grew out of misguided christian thinking, which assumed that everyone was christian and/or all christians kept the Sabbath holy. (For instance, even still, Pennsylvania car dealerships are closed on Sundays.)
One of the very few stores open on a Sunday was Wawa Food Markets (“Mama, I want my Wawa.”). Back when my weekly allowance was a quarter (that’s right, 25 cents), I would go to Wawa on Sunday and pick up the latest comic book (12¢) and a TastyKake (10¢) and three pretzel rods out of the container on the counter (1¢ each). When I was 18, I was working at that Wawa, still the only thing open on Sundays. We were busy with a constant line of customers, all buying their Sunday papers*, milk and eggs, and sliced deli. For sure, the staff had to kick it up a notch on Sundays, but it was actually fun. The only game in town.
* By papers, I mean newspapers. These were oddly shaped, folded, thin paper reading materials that we bought to find out what was happening locally and around the world (“news”). Philadelphia had two major papers – The Philadelphia Inquirer (morning) and The Philadelphia Bulletin (evening). This was before the internet, before 24-hour cable news networks. The news in these newspapers could be as much as a full day old, but this is how we consumed our “news media.” In particular, the Sunday edition (which always came out on Saturday) would be three to five times as thick as usual, crammed with articles of local interest, sections on entertainment, style, living, and all of the advertising circulars and the all-important Sunday comics in color.
The Route 104 Red Arrow line ran on tracks from 69th Street all the way out to West Chester. (Think: day trip.) The trollies were replaced by buses in the year I was born. Still, Route 3 has seen a LOT of construction over the past 60 years. But I remember when there was NOTHING between Newtown Square and West Chester, except the Dairy Queen in Edgemont. Civilization is slowly creeping westward out of Newtown Square, but it may be rethought. It seems that the young generation is rediscovering city life, leaving the suburbs/mortgages/yardwork/cummuting/cars behind.
The more things change…