Boyd Bennett
Fifties Life Nostalgic Newsletter 

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Ah, The 50’s. What a time to be alive!

This surely was an era of innovation, invention, peace, prosperity and downright consumerism. This emerging generation of people in their twenties and thirties, suddenly found it’s voice and yelled out loud, "We are sick of war, death, prejudice and hatred. We want to party, enjoy ourselves and raise a family!" They were ready to enjoy themselves without the fear or doubt of their parents who had struggled through the Great Depression and World War I…a bleak and terrible time by any standards. Sacrifice, poverty, fear of unemployment and suffering was burned into the minds, hearts and souls of the most families who survived this difficult time.

The event that transformed the world was both terrible and wonderful at the same time.

World War II was the "war to end all wars". When it reared its ugly head, German Nazism, Japanese imperialism, and Italian fascism emerged as the monsters of the age…like the fabled dragons of times long past. Americans united against a common enemy that was murdering innocent men, women and children in the name of racial purity, prejudice and military expansion. The greed for power and wealth fueled unspeakable atrocities around the world.

Never before was war perpetuated on such a global scale.

What an opportunity to righteously battle against the diabolical forces of evil. Teenagers had the opportunity to mature overnight, work with members of other races, see the world, experience other cultures, dine on different cuisines, meet future husbands and wives and earn a steady pay check. The price of victory was high…hundreds of thousands dead, mutilated and injured, but the good guys won after paying a horrible price in human suffering. For the first time in many years, there was peace throughout the land. Hope for a brighter future infected everyone. Surely, since the dawn of time there was no more peaceful and prosperous time for everyone at all levels of society.

Optimism ruled the land.

Truth, honesty, integrity and justice inspired the minds of a generation dedicated to God and country. This was the new "American Way". Everyone was happy and felt safe. In most areas of the country, people did not lock their cars or remove the keys in the ignition. The doors to their houses were wide open, ready to welcome visitors. Few parents questioned the freedom to send their children out to play in their own yards or just down the street to the neighbors.

The nation was expectant, swelling with pride over the massive war effort on the part of all men and women.

People believed the world would become even a better place to live. Yes, there was still prejudice, especially concerning African Americans in the South, but overall people trusted people and helped each other…although times were changing radically. The battle to end racial prejudice was getting ready to explode. The GI Bill of Rights dramatically affected veterans by providing them the opportunity to study in colleges, technical schools and agricultural programs. This created a prosperous, upwardly mobile generation of educated and ambitious veterans. Nearly 6.4 million veterans, almost half of all who served during WWII, took advantage of this generous program.

Religion played an important role in the lives of the families.

 They attended church, loved and disciplined their children. There were certain boundaries, based on the black and white ethics and morals. Adults and children alike were expected to "toe the line".

The cost a first-class mail was three cents until 1958 when it increased a penny for the first time in 26 years.

People have money in their pockets and were possessed by a fever is ferocious urge to spend it. Easy credit made it possible for many, to buy a new home, appliances and cars of their dreams. Diners Club, the first credit card appeared in 1950. This signaled the onset of the "buy now---pay later" mentality that resulted in endless installment plans. No more scrimping and saving that kept their parents and grandparents afloat during the Depression. Personal al indebtedness more than doubled during this time of outrageous spending, fueled by the advertising media’s blitz about "Keeping up with the Joneses."

The newest invention, black and white TV transformed and transfixed the nation.

A full one-third of the people, in 1953, almost 44 million men, women, and children out of a U.S. population of 158 million, watched expectantly, while on the edge of their seats, as Lucille Ball, of the incredibly popular "I Love Lucy Show" expected the birth of her first child, "little Ricky Ricardo". Television changed the minds and hearts of the nation like no invention since the automobile. "Middle America" was born! Public opinion polls found that 3 out of every 4 Americans considered themselves as middle class. Television programs and commercials bombarded viewers with perpetual images of extravagant consumerism. TV and radio advertisers realized the power of this new medium and doubled their expenditures during the decade. "Buy, buy, buy today, the newest car, the most technologically advanced appliance or device, whether you need it or not. Be the first to own the latest gadget or widget on your block to impress all your friends."

During the 50’s, families grew by leaps and bounds.

The baby boomers were given life by prolific parents who ardently pursued the "American Dream"…three kids, two cars, one TV and a house is the suburbs. These times were immortalized in the sixties by the TV show "Happy Days" and movie "American Graffiti". Moms stayed home and raised their kids. They attended PTA and church meetings. Wives were characterized as naïve, scatterbrained or both. Husbands were supposed to know everything. Houses were kept spotless, lawns mowed and yards trimmed.

The automobile, the huge, high-finned road sharks prowled the highways and side streets, guzzling cheap gasoline at only 25 cents a gallon.

Lead-footed drivers gleefully burned rubber as big fat wheels squealed from intense application of torque generated by massive 8 cylinder behemoths. The car quickly emerged as the new status symbol. In 1955, Americans bought 7.9 million new automobiles. Auto sales and accessories accounted for an astonishing one-fifth of the gross national product. Superhighways were created to accommodate these new land cruisers. Every part of the nation soon became linked together. Innovative enterprises such as motel chains like Holiday Inn, coddled this new class of transcontinental traveler. Cars were finally powerful and big enough, the entire family could now drive cross-country to see grandma and grandpa and visit other unsuspecting relatives who might provide over-night accommodations.

You had to feed these perpetually migrating masses.

 "Fast-food restaurants" soon started popping up like muffins in a hot oven. Ray Kroc and his McDonald’s Restaurants dominated the industry in a few short years, serving hamburgers, cokes, fries, and shakes to a ravenous public. Soon there was a cry for family fun. Walt Disney was happy to provide a new vision of family entertainment at Disneyland, in California. Other parks, like Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World jumped on the lucrative bandwagon.

Little thought was given to any downside.

Air pollution, thousands killed in auto accidents each year, the problem of getting rid of old used tires and abandoned rusting cars perpetuated the decay of the central city. The exodus to the suburbs continued unabated. Few noticed or cared that in decade of the 50’s, more Americans died in auto accidents than in all of World War II.

Music was a major catalyst for change.

Singer and songwriter Boyd Bennett and His Rockets pioneered the teenage rock and roll pop music sound. His songs Seventeen and My Boy Flat Top struck a resonant chord with teenagers seeking their own identity and music they could declare their own. These two songs, especially Seventeen that sold over 3 million records, transformed the music industry. Suddenly, greedy record executives like Sid Nathan that previously would not give bands like Boyd Bennett and the Rockets the time of day realized teenagers from middle class families were a new source of income. Elvis Presley, with his rebellious attitude, pelvis-gyrating moves, sultry good looks and stimulating music inspired the fifties generation. His movie idol status insured rock and roll was here to stay.

Sex as recreation and visual entertainment emerged during the fifties.

Alfred Kinsey’s, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, shocked the nation; Hugh Heftner's new magazine Playboy, exposed the female body as art and promoted sex as healthy recreation. Betty Friedan, author of the article, Women Are People Too, that appeared in the September 1960 issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine, set the stage for the rise of feminism when she described how women were frustrated and unfulfilled in their traditional female roles.

The fifties was a time of monumental change.

The seeds of rebellion and the insurrection of the baby boomers transformed into the "Flower Children" of the late sixties and early seventies were sown during this time, but that is another story. The next 50’s Nostalgia Newsletter will focus on the major events that occurred in 1950.

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