the 1950s part 2

The 1950s, part 2



crisis patriotic Great Depression
oblige blockade turn back the clock (2)
quarter wear on it turned out
wage transform to have the last word
starlet incredible self-confident
labor consumer white-collar
prefer plug (2) depression (2)
rule follow (2) miracle (2)
team attention call attention to yourself
norm deviate cookie cutter (2)
expect consider good-looking
remote care (2) couple (2)
propel barbecue second thought
era frontier crabgrass
tract custom conformity
suburb embrace challenge (2)
bleak boom (2) what’s the matter
rate stability obstetrician
offer block (2) restriction
violate core (2) right angle
refuge fabulous affordable
extra divorce merchandise
pace match (2) keep with with
deliver intense love affair
bright blossom shadow (2)
rapid territory overwhelming
flaw gear (2) integral (2)
tube chance potentially
staple amazing status quo
nimble transition abandoned
glow sandbox three-quarters
lure captive window (2)
air (2) target (2) oppressive
dare obscenity underneath
pinup manual playmate (2)
notion root (2) sensational
risky issue (2) point of view
live (2) virtually traditionalist






By 1953, the American people had been dealing with one crisis or another since 1929: the Great Depression…World War Two…The Berlin Blockade…and then Korea.

Eisenhower felt it was now time to turn back the clock of the America of his childhood, a simpler country where it turned out White males had the last word and where women kept the home fires burning, and the business of America was…business.

At first many Americans were happy to oblige. But as the decade wore on,
Eisenhower and they would discover that not everyone was ready to return to the old way of doing things.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .


By 1953, the economic boom that had arrived after the Second World War had already transformed the country.

Man One: “We were a self-confident people for the first time since 1929: People putting money in the banks, real wages were going up 4.5% a year. It’s just incredible to think about that now.”

America in the 1950s was very rapidly becoming a consumer society. People were buying more and selling more than ever before in history. For the first time, more Americans were doing white-collar work than manual labor: advertising, marketing and public relations were now the preferred professions.

In the shadow of the Cold War, it seemed almost patriotic to be part of the American economic miracle, to be a member of a corporate team and follow its rules.

Man Two: “I became a salesman. You called attention to yourself if you deviated from the norm, and nobody did. Nobody did. We all looked the same.”

Jack Trachsel: “I think people kind of like to be dressed alike and follow the same sort of social customs. You were expected to have at least two drinks at lunch, preferably martinis. If anyone said, ‘I’ll have a Perrier,’ they would have been laughed at.”

And when they advertised for secretaries, they specified “good-looking”; It was not a good time for women in the workplace.

Ray Moskow, Former IBM Salesman: “There were no female managers. None. It wasn’t even considered.”

In the 1950s, the woman’s place was in the home, in the embrace of a loving husband. By 1957, 97% of all marriageable men and women were married — and if they cared to have a social life, they stayed that way.

Harriet Osborn: “It was a couples’ society; we did things in couples —barbecues, and it’s always couples. If we knew that the person was divorced, we might have a second thought about asking them.

The thing was to be married and keep the home together.”

More and more, that home was on America’s new crabgrass frontier. In an era that favored conformity, it was perhaps no surprise. And by the end of the decade, a quarter of the population lived in the tract homes of the modern suburb.

Hal Lefcourt: “Moving in for us was the beginning of a happy experience; of a challenging experience. Everything was similar.

One of my friends, Ruby called me. He said, ‘Hal, I have a problem.’ I asked, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I can’t find my house.’

It seemed kind of remote and bleak, if you look at them from the air.

But in those little cookie cutter houses on those straight streets at little, right angles, a lot of good things were happening.”

Harriet Osborn: “Children were being born at a very fast rate. There were three obstetricians, and the obstetricians were open till two am in the morning.

This was the place to raise children, because it offered everything that they could want.”

Donald Walde: “I was here at my own home, across the street at the neighbor’s home, down the block at my friend’s home without any restriction, but without any feeling that I was violating anyone’s territory.

The emotional core of the early 1950s was all about stability. Both my parents had experienced the Depression. Both my parents had experienced the war.

I know that they looked upon their little house in Lakewood as a refuge from many of the things that had troubled their early lives.”

Harriet Osborn: “The activities were centered around the home. We had a lot of parties.

Hal Lefcourt: “People were of the same age. Our interests were alike. We came together that way. We seemed to be interested in what we were doing for the good of all of us.

Harriet Osborn: “It was a fabulous life.”

And life was getting better for a lot of American families. Propelled by the powerful economy, they were stepping into the middle class at a rate of more than a million a year.

With extra money to spend and plenty of shiny new merchandise to choose from, people bought things whether they needed them or not, sometimes just to match the pace of their neighbors.

Harriet Osborn: “We had an eye for consumer goods, all the time. Keeping up with the Joneses when people would give us a call on the phone that the television set was just delivered, it wouldn’t be long before we’d be having soda, watching the new television.

And as soon as we left there, we’d say that’s what we have to have next.”

A new television was the thing that everyone had to have next.

It was in the early 1950s that one of America’s most intense love affairs blossomed most brightly.

Melba Beals: “We plugged this thing in and turn on this box, and then there were people there. Well, I’m going to tell you, we did not move for days.”

Neil Simon, Playwright: “You sat in front of that set even when there was nothing on but the test pattern. You thought you can’t tell the lab will put on something right now.”

Television sets were rapidly becoming affordable for the average consumer and as they did, the demand for new programming became overwhelming.

Most television programs aired live with all the flaws of the live performance. Yet even with mistakes, most viewers loved the tube.

Loomis Irish, Television Executive: “The television business was a sandbox, where you go in with almost any idea, and you have a chance to do it.

It was amazing.”

Radio, long the staple of family entertainment, was virtually abandoned.

Nimble talents like Milton Berle and the famous newscaster Edward R Murrow made the transition to the new medium.

Harriet Osborn: “It brought us news, it brought us dramas. It had become an integral part of our life. And it wouldn’t be unusual for you for your doctor to say, ‘I’ll see you at seven o’clock on Tuesday.’ And you would say, ‘I am very sorry. I Love Lucy is on, and I have to see I Love Lucy’.

By the mid-1950s, only a few years after their commercial introduction, television sets were in three-quarters of American homes. People now spent a third of their waking hours in the glow of the box.

Lured by entertainment, they became a captive audience for the salesmen.

Loomis Irish, Television Executive:: “These three windows, ABC, CBC and NBC, were a window on a world that a family could sit down and look out of and see what they didn’t have.

Commercial Announcer: “Ah, I know what you’re going to show us: a Westinghouse refrigerator.”
Housewife: “Um-Hm. A Westinghouse refrigerator with . . .”

Loomis Irish, Television Executive: “Everything that you did was geared at a family target audience.”

Hugh Hefner, Publisher: “It was very conservative, an oppressive time. But it was also a time that was the beginning of change. Underneath all the conformity, you would see the beginning of the change.”

Hugh Hefner was twenty-seven when he started Playboy Magazine, at the time a daring challenge to the country’s obscenity laws. His first Playmate of the Month was a rising young starlet named Marilyn Monroe.

But after that, the pinup was just as likely to be the “girl next door”.

Hugh Hefner, Publisher: “The ‘girl-next-door’ notion of pinup photography was rooted in the notion that nice girls like sex too, that sex was okay, and that in the fifties was a very sensational point of view — potentially a dangerous point of view.

It was risky darkslategrayenough so I didn’t put my name on the first issue.”

Within a year, Playboy was selling a hundred-thousand copies a month. And it was not the only thing threatening the status quo.

Nothing worried the traditionalists more than the new kind of music being performed by singers such as Lloyd Price.

Lloyd Price, Musician: “Well, it was really race music; and we had maybe two radio stations in New Orleans that played that music. It had no name to it. It was just music.”


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1. There was a great transformation in the United States in the late 1940s and 1950s. True or false? What had happened? Had people’s lives been transformed as well?

2. Were most people in a few industries, or was there a great variety of jobs?

3. Were people individualistic, independent and free; or did everyone have to conform to social norms?

4. Women had the same opportunities as men. Men and women were considered equal. Is entirely true, mostly true, in the middle, partially true, largely false or completely false?

5. What did they say about singles, divorce, cohabiting? Were these acceptable?

6. The “typical” family consisted of a husband (father), wife (mother) and two children. Yes or no?

7. Did most people live in apartment buildings? Were suburban family homes unique? Did people value privacy and isolation?

8. Were people thrifty and frugal, or consumerist (and materialistic)?

9. In the 1950s, the television had the same role as it does today. Is this correct or incorrect?

10. Was society conservative or liberal? What were some shockers during this time?


A. What do you know about the 1950s? Was this a “golden age”? What period is considered the “golden age”?

B. My parents and grandparents often talk about the past. Yes or no? Which do they like better, the past or present?

C. What do politicians, writers and academics say? Is there a lot of argument and debate?

D. Would you and your friends like to live in the past or present (or the future)?

E. Will you like things 20, 35 or 50 years from now? What might you tell your children and grandchildren?

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