As I quickly approach the 1/2 century mark, I thought it would be fun to see what was happening in 1959, the year I was born. Here's my list of 13 interesting facts from 1959. (I'm a bit ahead of schedule, but tomorrow is my last teaching day for the semester -- for my career! -- and I have some work to get done this evening.)
Rock Around the Clock in 1959
#1 Barbie is "born." Not only did my mother buy me a Barbie that looked just like the one in the photo, but she also sewed and knitted an entire wardrobe for her! Even more cool is that Mattel, the company that manufactures Barbie, was located in my hometown (also the hometown of the Wilson brothers of the Beach Boys fame). As kids, my sisters and I toured the factory many times and were given the chance to be toy testers for the company.
#2 The U.S. grows by two. Alaska and Hawaii join the Union as the 49th and 50th states respectively. Alaska became #49 on January 3rd, and Hawaii took the 50th spot on August 21st. Just think of the economic boom this provided to flag manufacturers!
#3 Ronald Reagan is a Democrat. Even more interesting to the younger folks who know him only as a Republican is the fact that as part of his deal with General Electric, the sponsor of the show he hosted on television, Reagan was required to tour GE plants and give speeches. Thus in 1959, former President Reagan delivered more than 200 speeches as a "Democrat for Nixon." He switched his party affiliation in 1962, after GE fired him for making "controversial" speeches.
#4 Malcolm Little is born on May 19. In addition to sharing a birthday with Malcolm X, as he was later known, Nicole Brown Simpson was also born on May 19. Yikes -- they were both murdered! I also share my birthday with Pete Townshend, Jimmy Hoffa, Nora Ephron, Nancy Kwan (I love Flower Drum Song, by the way!), Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Nellie Melba (of the peach dessert fame), and Johns Hopkins (of university and hospital fame).
As part of the circle of life, there were also some famous deaths on my birthday: Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ogden Nash, Nathaniel Hawthorne (my very favorite American author), and Anne Boelyn.
#5 Oklahoma ends Prohibition! The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbidding the manufacture, sale, transport, and consumption of alcohol, began as "The Noble Experiment" 0n January 16, 1920 (it passed Congress in December 1917 and took a while to get the 2/3 majority ratification by the States to actually pass), despite Woodrow Wilson's presidential veto. The National Prohibition Act was seen as the answer to the issues of domestic violence, crime, and poverty, which the Temperance Movement argued were destroying the fabric of American society. Ironically, instead of curing the social ills that led to its passage, the Eighteenth Amendment contributed to an alarming increase in gang activities by creating a violent but extremely profitable black market for booze. Despite the increased crime rate across the country, it took 13 years before the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth. Ok, but that was 1933, so what happened to Oklahoma?
The Twenty-first Amendment allows individual states to control the sale of alcohol. That's why many Southern states (there was an incredibly strong Temperance Movement in the South) have "dry" cities and/or counties wherein alcohol cannot be sold. Oklahoma finally ended 51 years of Prohibition in 1959, but Mississippi didn't end it until 1966.
#6 Sexy Siren Steals Singing Sweetheart's Spouse! On May 12, 1959, Elizabeth Taylor married Eddie Fisher. Fine, so what? It's just another marriage made in Hollywood Heaven, right? Not on your life! Taylor, the sultry siren, stole her man from America's singing (in the rain) sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds. According to Hollywood gossip rags, the death of Mike Todd, best friend to Fisher and husband to Taylor, hit Elizabeth quite hard. Like any best friend would do, Eddie Fisher consoled the grieving widow. Consolation soon became consummation, ending the Fisher-Reynolds union and creating the Fisher-Taylor nuptials in Las Vegas.
#7 A 7.1 earthquake shakes Yellowstone. Much has been made recently about the geothermal nature of Yellowstone National Park and the likelihood of a Super Volcano erupting there in the not so distant future. If the Hebgen Lake earthquake of August 17, 1959 is an indicator of what will herald this cataclysmic event, then I say head for the hills! No, wait, mountains are created by volcanoes and earthquakes -- head for the desert instead. Oops, forget that advice -- America's largest desert is full of earthquake faults! What the heck, hang around and see if Yellowstone gets another land feature like Quake Lake.
In addition to Gidget, some of my favorite movies were released in 1959: Pillow Talk, The Shaggy Dog, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Ben Hur, Sleeping Beauty, and Some Like It Hot
#9 Bozo the Clown Premiers on TV. The very first Bozo the Clown show aired on KTLA (channel 5), a local Los Angeles station on January 5, 1959. Along with Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room and Sheriff John, Bozo was an integral part of my early childhood. Did you know that Bozo actually began as a character in a children's book that its creator, Alan Livingston, marketed and sold to Capitol Records in 1946? The Bozo books were immensely popular and in 1949, Livingston began marketing the character for use in product endorsements and programming on independent television stations. Again, Los Angeles carried the torch with the very first televised appearance of Bozo the Clown on KTTV (channel 11, currently the FOX Network). In 1956, Larry Harmon, one of the actors who played the role of Bozo, bought the rights to the character, redesigned the wig and costume so that it more closely resembled the Bozo of the books, developed his own production company, and sold franchises of the character to television stations around the country. The rest, as they say, is children's television history.
#10 Declaration of the Rights of a Child. On November 20, 1959, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared that "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care" and to protect those special needs, declared some universal rights for all children. Among them are (a) the right to a name and a nationality, (b) opportunities to aid in development, (c) free education (through elementary school at the very least), (d) adequate nutrition, housing, recreation, and medical services, (e) protection against neglect, cruelty, and exploitation, and (f) love and understanding. Read the entire document here.
#11 Old Blue Eyes wins his first Grammy Award. The Best Album winner at the 1959 Grammy Awards was none other than Frank Sinatra for Come Dance With Me. Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" won for Best Record.
#12 Motown record label is founded in Detroit, Michigan. Remember Debbie Reynolds from #6? Well, did you know that Berry Gordy, Motown's founder, originally wanted to call the record label "Tammy" after the famous Debbie Reynolds song from the movie Tammy and the Bachelor?
#13 He's in the Army now. Who? Why, only the most popular heartthrob of all time, Elvis Presley! Interestingly, although he was drafted in 1958, Elvis was still a chart-topper that year with songs like "Don't," "King Creole, " "A Fool Such as I," and "Hard Headed Woman." And when he was discharged in 1960, Elvis returned to the top of the charts with "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," "It's Now or Never," and "Stuck on You" among others.
But 1959 was a completely "dead" year for the King in terms of music. Kinda makes me think of Don McLean's lyrics about "the day the music died."
Take a look at other Thursday Thirteen entries here.