Race, Rebellion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Daelyn Griswold
A review of Glenn Altschuler’s All Shook Up: How Rock ‘N’ Roll Changed America
The essence of rock 'n' roll was believed to be "a cannibalistic and tribalistic form of music that appealed to the insecurity and rebelliousness of youth” and a “communicable disease” when it began.1
This was the typical label that this genre of music obtained at its emergence in the 1950s. In All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America, Glenn C. Altschuler writes of the development and overall revolution of the rock ‘n’ roll era. Being that “rock ‘n’ roll generated sound and fury,” the start of this new age in music sparked an abundance of controversy.2
Rock 'n' roll had the most highly disputed
issues presented in the fact that the music was practiced by people of all races, specifically African
Americans. There were also issues over the sexually suggestive content the music contained. This was
seen in the lyrics of the songs, as well as in the performances from the singers themselves. The socalled
“dangers” of rock ‘n’ roll caused many broadcasting networks to closely monitor the music that was
allowed on air and led to new rules and regulation that were instilled by federal industries. Altschuler’s
book extends into the early 1960s, the time when rock ‘n’ roll began to lose its glamour and eventually
In chapters one and two of his work, Altschuler begins with the commencement of rock ‘n’ roll.
From its beginning, this genre of music was seen as threatening, not only due to its indirect involvement
in controversies, but also due to its conflicts regarding the race the music was popular with. With this
being the case, “rock ‘n’ roll was especially unwelcome to those who asserted that ‘ the Great Boom’
that followed the Depression and World War II had ushered in a ‘dream era.’ ”
Along with the
hesitations over the advent of this new form of music, rock’n’roll conflicted with “the ‘great
expectations’ Americans had for the future” which “depended on stable, nuclear families with each
member performing his or her assigned roles.”
Also from the start, African Americans began with their
own take on rock ‘n’ roll. When World War II ended, African Americans developed their own form of
rhythm and blues, which became known as “race records.” These new types of records produced a
new dynamic tone that had a harsher sound than original gospel and jazz music. Fundamentally, rhythm
and blues consisted of three main controversial strains, known as “jump blues, “doowop”, and
“shouters,” which in the early 1950s, found their way onto radio stations. The appearance of African
American music on the radio was seen as a “danger” as it involved blacks recording and performing
their music publicly. By 1956, 68% of DJs played rock ‘n’ roll music on radio stations, despite the
claims that rock ‘n’ roll was a white imitation of Negro sound. In the South, rock ‘n’ roll sparked
segregationists who associated this racial mixing in music as unethical. However, attacks and criticism on
black performers only raised the desire for civil rights. African Americans continued to embrace the
rock ‘n’ roll era as a means of promoting racial harmony. The racial controversy with this music was
only one phase of the growing troubles associated with rock ‘n’ roll.
In chapter three of the book, Altschuler discusses further American discontent with rock ‘n’ roll
because of its implied sexuality. There were numerous claims that “rock ‘n’ roll had become the focal
point for anxiety since cultural life in the United States had become sexualized” and consisted of
“teenagers addicted to the pleasures of the body.”
Politicians, professionals, and parents of teens were
convinced that intercourse among teens would result in emotional instability. Adults began to seek ways
in which to help young men and women to follow and understand the “norms” of sexual behavior, without the taint of the crude conduct suggested by rock ‘n’ roll advocates. Early marriage became a
reward to teens who resisted engaging in premarital sex. Provocative lyrics in R&B caused DJs to
refuse to play songs with this content on the radio. Music industries were threatened if they continued to
produce inappropriate records, regardless of whether or not they allowed for fast and easy sales. Music
censorship picked up steam as “groups as diverse as National Piano Tuners Association, the National
Ballroom Operator Association, and the Catholic Church” were quickly set in motion to combat the
In 1958, the Catholic Youth Center in Minneapolis required DJs to cease playing
music that included any sexual material, which prompted Pat Boone to speak and write about his ideals
of love, marriage, and sex. He stated that teens should still be able to take their steps into adulthood, but
at a slower pace. Boone’s opinions, by no means, stopped teens from exploring new interests. During
this time women also became the newfound interests of many up and coming artists. As a result women
became the subject of songs and the main objects of affection, jealousy, or betrayal. Aside from being
featured in songs, the only other place women had in rock ‘n’ roll was in the audience. Their attendance
at shows helped to popularize the rock ‘n’ roll musicians of the era. When Elvis Presley entered the
rock ‘n’ roll scene, he brought with him his own controversy. Elvis aroused advocates of sexual
containment, as his appeal was more anatomical than musical. In addition, his on stage dance moves
were viewed by many as promiscuous and inappropriate for the previously conservative society of
America. Another performer, Jerry Lee Lewis, was also viewed as a sexually provocative performer
because of his provocative movements when playing the piano. Troubles would only continue to grow
with this new generation of music.
In chapter four, parents of the 1950s continued to struggle with the influences that rock ‘n’ roll
had on their teens. Rock ‘n’ roll was believed to provoke conflict among teenagers and their parents.
Dwight Macdonald deemed this tension between parent and teen as a form of defiance on the child’s
part against the control of adults. Because parents at the time did not do much to encourage the strict
adherence of behavioral norms, many teens became reckless and violent when exposed to the chaos of
rock ‘n’ roll. To counter this, psychologist and educator G. Stanley Hall helped guide families to
promote more appropriate behavioral means “since he believed that civilized people should exercise
sexual restraint” and he “advised adults to provide an environment in which young people could grow
into maturity by learning to channel their erotic energy into religious, athletic, and aesthetic activities.”
Along with Hall, traditionalists demanded that parents take control of their children’s actions. However,
adult opinions had little regard for what the teenagers wanted. Parents viewed rock ‘n’ roll as a
distraction from their teen’s academic work and a negative influence on their overall behavior, while
teens saw rock ‘n’ roll as an opportunity for freedom and greater selfexpression. Edgar Z. Friedenberg
noticed that “in defending what they believed to be their rights and prerogatives, young people tended
‘to be pugnacious and quarrelsome’ and sometimes ‘naive and reckless.’”
Industries saw this
vulnerable time of teen transition into adulthood as the perfect opportunity to propagate their products
and ideas. Since teenagers were left to their own devices, they were very impressionable and were often
fickle and reckless, proving to be the perfect targets in marketing aims. Manufacturing companies were
successfully able to lure teens into purchasing their advertised products by using rock ‘n’ roll as a sales
means. Additionally, peers had the greatest influence over other teenagers, not their parents. Teens
during this time period would often ask each other for advice or tips on dating or social difficulties rather
than their own families. Through its inherent popularity among the youth of the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll
remained the music of teens lives. Rock ‘n’ roll’s main impact on teens was in providing them with ways
in which they could develop their own distinct personalities. In chapters five and six, rock ‘n’ roll found its place in American pop culture, however it began
to face much controversy. Radio had reached its peak of prosperity, as it began to replace “live
musicians, comedians, and actors in soap operas,” even though television was the main source of
entertainment at the time.”
In response to this threat of competition, TV networks began to play more
shows revolving around rock ‘n’ roll to entice younger viewers, however, in order to broadcast the
music and footage, networks had to pay a large fee. As rock ‘n’ roll programs began to take over the
television world, the Federal Communications Commission was formed to maintain control over the
explosion of these programs. However, in time, and with stricter regulations, rock ‘n’ roll music began
to recede in the United States, with only rhythm and blues maintaining their status in the entertainment
industry. Rock ‘n’ roll had reached its end in society’s reaction to the posed threat and its haste to
suppress radical ideas.
Glenn C. Altschuler’s main point in the book was that the era of rock ‘n’ roll was a chaotic time
for America. Being that it was believed to cause trouble for some and benefit others, “the influence of
rock ‘n’ roll was not always pivotal” and “although it accelerated the pace of integration in the
entertainment industry and raised the questions about racial boundaries in the United States, the civil
rights movement would have unfolded as it did without rock ‘n’ roll.”
Altschuler mainly writes about
the struggles rock ‘n’ roll posed on the nation, struggles which acknowledged racial conflicts and civil
rights movements of the time period. Additionally, he describes how teenagers’ strong ties to the music
kept the age of rock ‘n’ roll alive. Since most teens centered their lives around rock ‘n’ roll and its
implications, the movement found a home in the lives of the impressionable youths. Altschuler then
transitioned into acts of censorship in broadcasting, which eventually added up to the decline of rock ‘n’
roll in the early 1960s. Rock ‘n’ roll was a turbulent time in music history, but one that the author
described to have significantly contributed to American culture today.
Glenn C. Altschuler is an author who is typically noted for his work on covering American pop
culture. Since he had the most success and interest in pop culture, his desire to discover more about the
history and roots of the rock ‘n’ roll era was not heavily discussed. As an acclaimed professor of a year
long course in American Pop Culture at Cornell University, it is apparent that Altschuler has taken the
greatest interests in the topics discussed in his work. During the time he wrote All Shook Up, new
generations of music were beginning to emerge, and piqued by his curiosity, Altschuler traced the music
back to its origins and influences, finding himself amidst the phenomena that was rock ‘n’ roll. Even after
rock ‘n’ roll’s decline “in the ensuing decades, rock ‘n’ roll demonstrated its persistent power and its
protean appeal. Rock ‘n’ roll was present at the creation of the 1960s, when the ‘all shook up’
generation transformed an inchoate sense of disaffection and dissatisfaction into a political cultural
The author makes the conclusion that the influence of this music has stuck throughout
history, providing inspiration for recording artists today and generations to come.
Critics’ reviews of All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America all
expressed positive comments on Altschuler’s success in discussing the details of the events during this
period of time. Thomas Doherty of Brandeis University stated that the book was “a soulful, scholarly,
and thoroughly fascinating examination of the transforming power of rock and roll in American
culture...Altschuler nimbly tracks the rockpropelled revolutions in manners and morality that first
rumbled forth from the 1950s…”
Altschuler’s writing is further reviewed as a reliable extensive
research that incorporates quotes from music critics on the issues of race and legalities. Overall, the
book was received in a positive light, with Eric Alterman of The Atlantic Monthly writing that
Altschuler “tells a story of liberation and fear, of inspiration and exploitation.”
13 The book itself was well written and very intriguing. It was enjoyable to read, however, there
were times when it dragged on with an influx of details that took away from the main point of each
chapter. Though the book was short, it revealed enough information for the reader to get a feel for the
rock ‘n’ roll generation. The author did a great job separating each chapter into topics by what events
were occurring at the time. The first two chapters dealt with African American performers and the
controversy they stirred when their music was released. These first two chapters provided a greater
insight into the origins of rock ‘n’ roll, as well as possible struggles that the music had during the time.
Along with the racial aspects of the music being seen as a danger, the book did well with describing the
threats believed to have been posed on the young teenage generation. With its ongoing controversies
over sex, Altschuler was said to push the limits of how teens viewed the “context of love and
By the end of the book, the author outlined the issues regarding censorship and revealed
that in the early 1960s, rock ‘n’ roll music faced many opponents. Overall, the descriptions of how rock
‘n’ roll became an important component of the lives of many Americans is what made this a great book.
The 1950s has made its mark as being a time of conservatism. Americans during this period
when rock 'n' roll was emerging were fearful of this movement. They remained cautious about the
ideology and influences rock 'n' roll had on the nation. Whether it was good or bad, America was not
used to the changing environment around them. During most of this period, “rock ‘n’ roll was a social
construction and not a musical conception” meaning that it was not something that was easily accepted
by the public.
This concerning change is what caused Americans to believe that the music was
dangerous because they had no idea what the music would bring or what revolutions it would spark.
Therefore, Americans that were affected by rock ‘n’ roll found it in their best interests to revert back to
the comfort of their traditional ways. Thus, rock ‘n’ roll could not last long in the face of extreme
censorship and bitter resentment.
The period rock ‘n’ roll was “a meeting place, a breeding ground and a staging era.”
A time of
struggles and conflict over the acceptance of this new genre in music, the nation experienced revolutions
it could not anticipate. Overall, rock ‘n’ roll was a pivotal event in American pop culture that brought
about monumental changes in societal ideology.
1. Samuels, Gertrude. Why They Rock ‘n’ RollAnd Should They?. New York Times Magazine,
January 12, 1958. 6.
2. Altschuler, Glenn C. Oxford University Press: 2007. 6.
3. Altschuler, Glenn C. 9.
4. Altschuler, Glenn C. 9.
5. Altschuler, Glenn C. 67.
6. Altschuler, Glenn C. 74.
7. Macdonald, Dwight. A Castle, a Culture, a MarketI, 58. 100.
8. Friedenberg, Edgar Z. The Vanishing Adolescent. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959. 105.
9. Altschuler, Glenn C. 131.
10. Altschuler, Glenn C. 185.
11. Altschuler, Glenn C. 186.
12. Doherty, Thomas. Brandeis University
13. Eric Alterman. Atlantic Monthly
14. Altschuler, Glenn C. 67.
15. Altschuler, Glenn C. 25. 16. Altschuler, Glenn C. 185
The Game Changer by Sean Choi
A review of Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis delves deep into the rise, the life, and the genius of Elvis Presley. A well-written objective biography of Presley, the book scrutinizes the circumstances and environment that allowed for Elvis’ rise to prominence and his impact in the music industry. Guralnick reveals the passionate and pure Elvis who made music because he loved it, regardless of those who opposed him. Despite his many failures and shortcomings, Elvis Presley achieved many accomplishments that changed the face of music, revolutionized the modern music industry, and paved the way for the rise of future genres.
Guralnick begins his book by focusing on Presley’s childhood and how it catalyzed the beginning of his career. Born in Tupelo, Tennessee to Vernon and Gladys Presley, Elvis was the surviving baby of twins. Because his twin died at birth, Elvis’ parents loved him especially more: “He was...unusually close to his mother.”1 His parents seemed to worship him, which helped to strengthen the bonds within his family. As a child, Elvis never stood out amongst his peers as a superstar and was described by a fellow classmate as a “loner.”2 However, even as a child, Presley obsessed over music; “he’d bring his guitar” everyday to school and play it.3 Not everyone appreciated his music, but Elvis did not let them stop him. In the middle of his schooling, Presley’s family moved to the Courts where Elvis attended Hume High School. In the Courts, he met three other students--Buzzy Forbess, Paul Dougher, and Farley Guy--all of whom he became friends with. During his junior year, Elvis changed drastically. He dressed differently--flamboyant, with a change in hairstyle and demeanor-- and overcame his shyness. Meanwhile in Memphis, Sam Phillips and Sun Records dominated the radios with black music. Hoping to make a career in music, Elvis went to the record studio to record his own song. However, after singing “My Happiness,” he was let go and did not receive a call back “for the longest time.”4 Despite this setback in 1954, he met his first love, Dixie Locke. Both fell madly in love and became the couple that could never be separated. Luckily, Sam Phillips finally gave him a call back since Sam felt that “there was something about [his voice].”5 So Elvis returned to the studio and attempted “Without You,” which once again did not turn out well. However, Sam Phillips kept faith in Elvis, faith that would eventually pay off.
Scotty Moore, a young guitarist stopped by the union in the afternoon the day Elvis came to record. He, too, had come to check up on how his record was doing. Sam Phillips and Scotty “almost instantly hit it off.”6 Sam saw ambition in Scotty, and so he assembled Scotty, Bill Fitzgerald, another music manager, and Elvis together for a recording session. For hours, the trio recorded over and over hoping to create a hit, but for some reason, it just did not happen. Sitting in the control room, Sam became exhausted from the long hours of their futile efforts. Out of the blue, Elvis began to sing an oldie, “That’s All Right [Mama],” which sounded different, yet catchy, and when the other two joined in, to their surprise the music sounded better than anything else they had tried. Although Elvis was only fooling around when he sang the song, there was an “unabashed originality” to the song, an originality that “Sam sought in all the music that he recorded.”7 Although the song itself did not sound highly professional, the chemistry within the trio had made all the difference. Thus, Sam and the three tried recording “Blue Moon”--a 1949 hit--but made no progress. Dewey Phillips, another famous Memphis radio host, played Elvis’ recording, which helped Elvis garner even more popularity as even his fellow classmates discovered him. With all the commotion and hype for Elvis, Sam realized that he needed to quickly record a new song; “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was created. What was even better was that “everyone loved the was the way it sounded.”8 On Saturday, July 17, Elvis performed at the Bon Air Club. It was his first performance, which rendered him completely terrified because he never performed in such a large crowd. Meanwhile, “That’s All Right” became a hit in Memphis. Furthermore, Elvis’ character remained unchanged. Scotty and Bill both stated that “[Elvis] was just a kid”.9 Most people described him as somewhat childish, but they also knew that he was a genius in his own right, as described by Sam Phillips: “he damn sure wasn’t dumb, and he damn sure was intuitive.”10 The Elvis crew ultimately earned the opportunity to play at the Opry, which was a well reputed auditorium, and there they performed extraordinarily. With that, Elvis became the new rising star. Sun Records then came out with their next single, “Good Rockin Tonight.” With all these singles and performances, Elvis made quite a bit of money. At the start of 1955, Elvis formally signed with Bob Neal, a country music promoter. Meanwhile, Thomas A. Parker--who was an entertainment manager and also known as Colonel-- work with Sam Phillips to make Elvis big; Colonel’s job was to expand Elvis’ growth beyond that of what Sam could only hope to do. On Saturday, February 26th, Presley’s tour group made a trip to Cleveland--their first trip North--to play in the Circle Theater Jamboree. Since Sun Records did not extend their distribution far North, the people there only viewed Elvis’ hits to be “turntable hits.”11 After Cleveland, they flew to New York. Coming from the country, most of the group gawked and gaped at the massive skyscrapers. But this was only for a short time. The crew was always on the move, always going places to perform. On May 1, they traveled to New Orleans. They began that tour with the fourth single, “Baby, Let’s Play House.” Wherever they played, there would be near-riots because of all the fans that wanted to see Elvis--especially the girls, who went after Elvis like a pack of wolves. He loved the limelight and the attention. When he met publicist Mae Boren Axton, Elvis unintentionally surprised her by showing his true nature. She was surprised at how good-natured he was and how quiet he was. But everyone saw that he had changed when he returned..
Bob Neal was going to give up Elvis to Colonel because Neal’s contract was going to end soon. In addition, Elvis had been unfaithful to Dixie; the sad thing was that they knew that it was going to be over. Meanwhile Elvis’ growing popularity earned him a role in Cleveland DJ Bill Randle’s film. While all this was happening, Bill Neal and Colonel started to take control of Elvis’ contract, which angered Sam Phillips. But Sam knew that he couldn’t help Elvis’ future, so he sold the contract to RCA Records. With RCA records, Elvis published “Heartbreak Hotel.” It was gloomier than Elvis’ previous songs, so they deemed the song a failure. Much to their surprise when the songs hit the radios, people loved it, thus augmenting his fame. This led to his first television appearance. Despite his ever growing fame, Elvis dealt with mean who disapproved of his music. Mainly conservatives, they rammed him with religion and blamed him for his delinquency. In addition, some did not appreciate his different style, such as Frank Sinatra, who denounced rock & roll. The RCA recorded two new songs; “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Anyway You Want Me.” In the beginning, his opponents affected his performances, however, Elvis broke free from the judgment and became found his true self again.
Later on he produced “Love Me Tender.” With that song, people discovered the Elvis could sing ballads--really well. Furthermore, people discussed how Elvis would never stop singing like a kid, which belied his behavior when recording: in control. Although Elvis seemed extravagant, his team knew him as a simple boy with a simple family and not being too bad or too good. Next, Elvis starred in a Hal Wallis production called Lonesome Cowboy. Elvis’ fame also allowed him to meet famous people such as James Dean. He also improved as an actor. However, his love life deteriorated. He and June got into an argument and ended their relationship. Nonetheless, he still had a good heart. He wished to clarify to everyone that his music wasn’t intended to create problems, such as delinquency. He told Marion Keisker that his only response would be that “[people] didn’t know [him].”12 Elvis also met Dottie Harmony, who he thought was the most beautiful woman ever. They hit it off. Soon after, Elvis was given his very first genuine starring role.
The movie was titled Loving You. During this time, the criticism of Elvis reached a point where the Colonel said that “it was time for them all to step off the merry-go-round.13 Because of the movie, Elvis focused much time on acting--these included getting lessons. After his shooting, everyone felt proud of what Elvis accomplished. But they could see that he faced immense pressure. As for his parents, they moved to Graceland. Sadly for Elvis, Scotty and Bill resigned because they weren’t getting enough pay while Elvis was making millions. Elvis felt betrayed that they never consolidated with him. In addition, Elvis created “Jailhouse Rock,” which was a huge success. Despite his success, he received much criticism, even from Frank Sinatra, who denounced rock & roll. After a while, a devastating event occurred for Presley: his mother passed away. Having been so attached to his mother his whole life, Elvis couldn’t fathom her death...truly a great loss and change. Afterwards, Elvis enlisted in the army and served while putting his career on a little hiatus.
The author’s thesis addresses the following about Elvis: his childhood, his genius, and his love for music. The author splits Elvis’ childhood into three parts: infancy, middle school, and high school. Guralnick briefly mentions Elvi’s infancy and middle school years; he mentions Elvis’ close family bonds and childish behavior during infancy and school days and introverted behavior during middle school. In the high school section, Guralnick notes about Elvis’ few relationships with those around his age, his drastic change in demeanor, and his hidden passion for music. In addition, Guralnick points out Elvis’ genius. Elvis wasn’t an intellectual genius but a musical one. He would understand music like no other; he could even memorize music as if he had “photographic memory.”14 But not only was he brilliant, but he also loved music. His passion was what drove him to stardom. Elvis would always sing or make some sort of music, such as tapping his fingers against his legs, wherever he went.
Peter Guralnick was never the prolific writer. He wasn’t one to quickly finish a book and move onto the next. Instead, he would take his time absorbing the most information he could. Before writing Last Train to Memphis, Guralnick contemplated the work for years before actually beginning to write in the 80’s. Unlike most writers, Guralnick wrote very objectively about his subject to create a precise realistic image. Therefore, the time period’s attitudes on his subject did not matter because they did not affect him. In fact, the book is written like a history book: conclusions are made to end, not assume.
Malcolm Jones Jr. from Newsweek states that Peter Guralnick did satisfactorily in summarizing Elvis’ life, but was disappointing in truly talking about the boldness and raucousness of Elvis’ songs. He sees the greasiness of the music as essential to the growth of rock & roll, and Malcolm dislikes the fact the Guralnick does not include that aspect: “Guralnick is simply too nice--he’s not greasy enough.”15 Another critic, Jay Cocks, who is a famous film critic and motion picture screenwriter, mostly summarizes the book while praising it in one paragraph. He talks about Elvis’ experiences with his mother’s death, his fellow Memphilians, and his music. Cocks only praises Guralnick for his good point of view and respect for Elvis: “Guralnick paints this world with perspective, respect and great decency; it is one of the book’s triumphs.”16 Overall, Cocks’ opinion on the book is satisfactory.
Peter Guralnick does an excellent job in showing Elvis objectively. The biography talks about the cold hard facts and the well-evidenced opinions. Guralnick doesn’t stray from the topic and talks only about the things that actually affected Elvis’ life. He also describes Elvis’ music from a fairly non-critical stance. The book provides ample information on Elvis and deems fit for reference if one ever wished to study him. Because the book tends to focus on the minute details, the important events are clouded. For example, Guralnick mentions one detail where a “a brass band was rehearsing onstage, and Wertheimer decided it was a safe time to go to the bathroom.”17 However, because Guralnick so meticulously pointed out every detail, it was easier to understand the point of view and situation of Elvis Presley.
This book proves that the 1950s was a time of liberalism and progress; but this statement only applies to the music sect, whereas in sects, such as social norms (e.g. how women should behave in the household), conservatism and stasis marked it. As for music, when Elvis recorded it, he didn’t follow the conventions. Instead, he followed his own feelings and created a new form of music, a form that allowed all people who were tired of conformity the ability to release their inner frustrations. His targeted audience were mostly teens who wanted to stop the rigidness created from the society built after World War II. The author agrees with this contention by mentioning a quote about the nonconformity of the teens: “the generation that were children during the war, they had no music to identify with, they were looking for something they could identify with.”18
Reading this book helped in truly understanding what type of person Elvis Presley was. His soft, childish yet genius side was surprising as contemporary teens only know him as the crazy, rambunctious performer who loved to eat donuts and brought about the advent of rock & roll. This work helped shed light on the fact that nonconformity and rigidity creates revolutions, and in this case, Elvis’s influence in sparking a social revolution occurs only once in a blue moon.
Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: Boston, New York, Toronto, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1994. 13.
Guralnick, Peter. 26
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Jones, Malcolm, Jr. "Forever Elvis." Rev. of Last Train to Memphis.Newsweek 17 Oct. 1994: n. pag. Print.
Cocks, Jay. "Comet over Tennessee." Rev. of Last Train to Memphis. Time 21 Nov. 1994: n. pag. Print.
Guralnick, Peter. 292
Guralnick, Peter. 152
The West Coast Jazz Story by Rocky Mandayam
A review of Ted Gioia’s West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California (1945 - 1960)
“For a brief period following World War II, California captured the imagination of jazz fans around the world.”1 In West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960, Ted Gioia examines the origins, important events, significant figures, and decline of a short-lived golden era for jazz on the West Coast. From West Coast jazz’s modest beginnings until its demise which drove successful West Coast musicians to work odd jobs and to reject any West Coast label, Gioia reveals how many important events and people shaped an entire genre of music. The reader is left with a broader understanding of the development of West Coast Jazz from the late 1930s until the 1960s, rather than a rudimentary understanding based on brief catch-phrases or definitions.
Gioia walks the reader through the beginnings of West Coast Jazz in Central Avenue, Los Angeles, the success of West Coast bebop, important West Coast figures such as Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, and finally, Dave Brubeck’s career. Gioia describes Central Avenue, Los Angeles as an “elongated Harlem set down by the Pacific,” comparing Central Avenue on the Pacific Coast to Harlem on the East Coast during the Harlem Renaissance. A major shift in jazz on the West Coast occurred with Charlie “Bird” Parker’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s performance in December 1945 at Billy Berg’s club - a “milestone, a disjunction, a rupture with the past” in West Coast Jazz history.3 After several recording sessions with entrepreneur Ross Russell, many of which failed, Parker headed back east, and modern jazz stagnated in Central Avenue. However, Jack’s Basket (or Bird in the Basket), home to tenor saxophone battles and loud crowds, soon revived modern jazz through jam sessions. Some believed that the jam sessions at Jack’s Basket were “the jazz world’s equivalent of war,” which meant that “Jack’s Basket was a Waterloo for the Central Avenue scene…that, in retrospect, also seemed to signal the end of an era.”4 After the Central Avenue breakdown, the tenor battle survived and became “a modern jazz tradition, perhaps even a cliché.”5 Two of the most famous explorers of tenor battles were Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon. After Gray, also known as the Thin Man, settled on the West Coast, his career took off. Gray contrasted Parker well. Unlike Gray’s melodic solos that had a lighter, airier sound reminiscent of Lester Young (a Kansas City saxophonist who influenced many West Coast saxophonists), Gordon blended powerful rhythmic drive and severe hits. Gordon “developed one of the first great modern tenor sax styles, and…did so by borrowing only modestly from Parker and Gillespie….Dexter created a new approach to the tenor.”6 While Gordon revolutionized tenor saxophone playing, Gray left a unique legacy consisting of “neither swing nor bop, hot nor cool,” but “lyrical and driving at the same time.”7 Like Gray, pianist and composer Dave Brubeck developed a unique sound. Brubeck’s entire career “defied all the rules.”8 With no publicity campaign, no attempt to appeal to the mass audience, and no attempt to please critics, Brubeck blended classical piano training with jazz to achieve great success while creating some of the most controversial music in jazz history. Brubeck, unlike most piano players during his time, avoided the right-hand single-note lines popularized by pianist Bud Powell, and chose to use block chords more heavily. Brubeck, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, and others formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which achieved tremendous success, especially since Brubeck and Desmond complemented each other perfectly.
Ending the discussion of Brubeck at 1960, Gioia continues on to describe vibraphonist Cal Tjader in the 1950s, the Central Avenue survivors, and the big bands out west. Like Brubeck, Tjader defied many conventions in his rise to fame – Tjader’s Swedish-American ethnicity was not typical of Latin musicians, the West Coast was not heavily involved in the Latin world, and Tjader was initially trained in classical piano. Tjader’s vibraphone style was unique because Tjader played as a horn player would. Since the vibraphone does not require frequent breaths (unlike horns) and does not require “finger technique,” the vibraphone lends itself to overplaying.9 Tjader avoids this trap as well as the temptation from earlier training as a drummer to focus on rhythmic drive. Although the 1950s West Coast jazz centered on San Francisco, some Central Avenue survivors remained, including pianist Hampton Hawes and saxophonist Sonny Criss. Both Hawes and Criss studied under Parker. Hawes imitated Bud Powell’s fiery intensity like no other, but played with a distinct, crisp sound. Criss followed Parker’s bebop style more than any other West Coast saxophonist. In doing so, “Criss risked being the odd man out in a real-life version of musical chairs.”10 The popularity of cool melodicism meant Criss would lose that game of musical chairs on the West Coast (Criss refused to move east because he preferred to stay close to home). Cool refers to a type of jazz prominent on the West Coast, with slower tempos, a softer sound, a lighter tone, and more relaxed playing that contrasted the bebop and hard bop prominent on the East Coast. Although Criss imitated Parker’s musical style, Criss’s lines were longer and consisted of fewer abrupt rhythmic halts, with increased use of a gospel blues inflection. While struggling musicians joined smaller ensembles to survive, some dared to continue on in bigger bands. The Stan Kenton Orchestra managed to succeed during the harsh times, and for many this group became just the beginning of West Coast Jazz. Stan Kenton, who influenced many other West Coast bands, spread “‘neophonic’–...‘new sounds’–...either the tragic flaw or saving grace (depending to whom you talked) of much West Coast jazz during the 1950s.”11 Kenton preferred neophonic sounds, but every player in the Kenton group brought a different musical perspective. Although the musicians formed no unified musical conception, they created music that would invoke praise and criticism for years to come.
Gioia next discusses Chet Baker, the Lighthouse, album covers, and Shelly Mann. Chet Baker got his first break when he played with Parker in the Tiffany Club – Baker played well, so Parker let Baker tour with him for three weeks in California. Once in California, Baker sat in an ensemble led by the famous Gerry Mulligan group, and eventually played with Mulligan’s piano-less group to achieve fame unmatched by any other point in Baker’s history. Mulligan disliked the West Coast label thrust onto him. However, when Mulligan met the pianist Gil Evans and other musicians in New York, they formed a group later known as the “‘birth of the cool’ group.”12 Eventually, Baker’s drug addiction took over while his music deteriorated until death. His story was only one of the many West Coast musicians who participated in the battle between the East Coast and the West Coast. This battle was present in album covers – East Coast album covers portrayed intensity and hard work while West Coast album covers used whatever would sell. The Lighthouse albums exemplified the typical cool West Coast album covers. The Lighthouse also helped cast the cool West Coast style in the forefront ahead of the bebop style popular on the East Coast. The battle of the coasts also raged on with jazz drummers. The West Coast drummer lived in paradoxes. The rhythm section had to develop as a horn-like instrument – this gave rise to the antidrummer. West Coast antidrummers were criticized by many to be inferior to modern jazz drummers. Shelly Manne was one of the most famous antidrummers. Manne actually learned a lot from New York before his career on the West Coast, and eventually worked with Gillespie and Kenton.
Gioia finishes by discussing Art Pepper, Los Angeles hard bop (bebop style at its extreme), Charles Mingus, and Coleman Hawkins. Pepper had an “unflinching honesty,” and was harsher on himself than others were.13 Also facing drug addiction, Pepper seemed to release stress when he wrote his autobiography. Pepper was one of the few people who did not think he needed to learn the lyrics of a song to play it, and he confidently admitted this. Pepper grew involved with Los Angeles hard bop for some time. However, trumpeter Clifford Brown from the East Coast fully embraced the bop style. Brown created an amazingly distinct sound and developed the ability to play fast while maintaining precision, an uncommon feat at the time. Brown joined with drummer Max Roach to form one of the best groups of the time. On the other hand, players such as Charles Mingus developed their style on the West Coast, but moved to the East Coast to advance their careers. Mingus played with West Coast influences, bebop influences, blues influences, and Latin influences, but was never considered to play in the cool style. Similarly, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins experimented with various styles. However, Hawkins emphasized melodic improvisation during his solos, but also embraced the extended harmonies of bebop. Hawkin’s break from Dexter Gordon’s revolution set a new standard for what the tenor saxophone could do.
Gioia aimed to present “a critical re-evaluation of” the development of jazz on the West Coast by starting “with the music itself, the musicians themselves, the geography and social situation, the clubs and culture....we need to see things with fresh eyes, hear the music again with fresh ears.”14 Gioia seeks to re-evaluate the West Coast scene since studies of the West Coast have been misguided or incomplete due to simple questions such as, “was West Coast jazz the last regional style or merely a marketing fad?” and “was there really ever any such thing as West Coast jazz?”15 Though these questions address some key points, they are ineffective questions when investigating the West Coast’s rich history. Gioia asks how any simple answer could have emerged for the question, “‘what was West Coast jazz?...when the same critics asking the question could hardly agree on a definition of jazz itself?”16 The inability to formulate an answer to this question “Was brandished as grounds for dismissing the whole subject.”17 By rejecting such questions to begin with, Gioia hopes to tell an entire story rather than just parts of the that address the questions or fit into a preconceived notion of what West Coast jazz was. This way, the reader will not have to define any type of jazz to understand an entire culture and musical revolution that took place – Gioia paints the picture, and the reader can try to answer these simple questions for himself or herself.
Gioia was influenced by his ethnicity and geographical journey. Gioia is white, so this may have affected his view on musicians of different ethnicities. He may have felt a racial link to cool players, since many cool players were white. Gioia also graduated from Stanford University and later created a jazz class at Stanford University. All this time on the West Coast may have stimulated Gioia’s curiosity about West Coast jazz and caused him to try to tell the lost “complex story” of West Coast jazz.18 Gioia rejects a Neo-Conservative historiography present in the 1990s by admiring the musical daredevils, both black and white, throughout West Coast history. Neo-Conservatism, a response to the New Left movement, stressed traditional American values, which naturally include racial assumptions. However, Gioia admires jazz musicians of multiple races, and the influence the black artist Hampton Hawes can be seen in Gioia’s playing.
Both the Journal of American History and the Library Journal offer insightful reviews of West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960. In the Journal of American History, Robert C. Post praises Gioia on his work. Gioia raises sensitive issues, portrays the postwar Los Angeles scene well, debates the West Coast uniformity, and the difference between black and white jazz. However, Gioia does not point out the fact that the most famous hot players were black and the most famous cool players were white, which some “might regard...as fundamental” to West Coast history.19 In the Library Journal Review, David Szatmary praises Gioia for avoiding the typical issue: “West Coast cool versus East Coast bop.”20 All the people that Gioia interviewed helped make this book into a more complete work on West Coast jazz. Gioia’s coverage of the vast variety of West Coast Jazz and the diversity of all its players makes this book a classic work.
Gioia’s book was eye-opening. Gioia showed the history of many now-popular players, teaching the reader to view these players in a different light or look for different aspects of their sound. Gioia teaches the reader about amazing albums and players that the reader would not have otherwise known about. As a reader, being exposed to the various histories of West Coast players adds a depth to these players when the reader hears their playing the next time. In addition, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 does an excellent job of educating the reader that West Coast jazz and cool jazz are not synonymous, as many people believe. Cool jazz is only one layer, one chapter in the long history of West Coast jazz. Gioia inspires hope in West Coast jazz fans by stating that “a new flowering of West Coast jazz is not beyond the range of future possibilities.”21 This means that West Coast Jazz does not have to be only history - it can be the future.
The 1950s was a decade of liberalism. It saw for once in history, the West Coast challenging the East Coast, a prominence of white players in cool jazz, continued drug addiction among top players, and the development of completely distinct styles of jazz. These are not necessarily examples of progress, but definitely of liberalism and change. Although drug consumption took root heavily in the 1960s, jazz reflected this drug consumption in the 1950s as well. After the Great Depression and World War II, many Americans sought comfort in the cool music of the West Coast – music that showed indifference and relaxation. This desire led to the popularity of cool jazz. The rise of white players in cool jazz indicates liberalism because it is a change, but this change was also conservative. Since white people in American history used to believe in racial superiority, the domination of cool jazz by white players could have heightened racial pride and tension. However, liberalism was exemplified by the “jazz innovation” that took place during the 1950s.22 West Coast jazz artists experimented with the new to create many unique sounds and legacies – Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Dave Brubeck, and Hampton Hawes are only a few great examples.
In tracing the steps of West Coast jazz from its 1920s origins till its decline, Gioia reveals the intricacies of a generally misunderstood history. The reader is made aware of numerous personas previously unknown to him or her, and learns more about the culture of West Coast jazz. Gioia dispels any false stereotypes that the reader may have held before reading the book, and admits finally that “no account of West Coast jazz can, however, shirk the subject of influence.”23 This is Gioia’s way of saying that no matter how much he tries to convey the entire story by avoiding the typical questions, West Coast jazz is a tale that no book can do justice to.
1. Gioia, Ted. West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1992, vii.
2. Gioia, Ted. 4.
3. Gioia, Ted. 16.
4. Gioia, Ted. 28.
5. Gioia, Ted. 28.
6. Gioia, Ted. 38.
7. Gioia, Ted. 31.
8. Gioia, Ted. 69.
9. Gioia, Ted. 103
10. Gioia, Ted. 122.
11. Gioia, Ted. 143
12. Gioia, Ted. 176.
13. Gioia, Ted. 283.
14. Gioia, Ted. viii.
15. Gioia, Ted. viii.
16. Gioia, Ted. viii.
17. Gioia, Ted. viii.
18. Gioia, Ted. viii.
19. Gioia, Ted. Post, Robert C. "West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960. by Ted Gioia." The Journal of American History 80.4 (1994): 1528-529. Print.
20. Szatmary, David. "West Coast Jazz : Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960."Southern Tier Library System. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2014. <http://starcat.stls.org/client/en_US/default/search/detailnonmodal/ent%3A%24002f%24002fSD_ILS%24002f206%24002fSD_ILS%3A206670/ada?qu=West+Coast+Jazz&dt=list&ps=300>.
21. Gioia, Ted. 369.
22. Gioia, Ted. 368.
23. Gioia, Ted. 368.
The Truth About Jazz by Austin Coull
A review of Joe Goldberg’s Jazz Masters of the 50s
Jazz is a mysterious art that can be changed by improvisations and specific styles of the musicians'. Blues, Be-bop, Latin, and Big Band are all types of jazz, but true jazz is in its improvisation. With improvisation, each artist has their own style that defines the music they play. In Jazz Masters Of The 50's, Joe Goldberg writes about twelve different artists' styles and how their styles individually contributed to jazz in the 1950s. His book is a compilation of these twelve artists' lives, how they became who they were, and what jobs they acquired over their years in jazz music. In Joe Goldberg's introduction, he explains his purpose in writing the book: "this book clears up some of the existing misunderstandings about jazz, and it perpetuates no others."1 With this intention in mind, he constructs the book not centered around cold hard facts, but on the freeform music that is jazz.
After the introduction which states how jazz can sometimes be a business instead of an art, Goldberg focuses on the jazz musicians. The first three musicians are Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, and Art Blakey. The first musician, Gerry Mulligan, was born April 6, 1927, and fell in love with the art of jazz the moment he laid his eyes on the jazz buss of the famous jazz band Red Nichols. The first song he ever wrote was called "Lover," but his school rejected his song as improper material, causing him to doubt his writing abilities. Like most stars of the 1950s, Gerry Mulligan was involved in drugs; his drugs of choice were marijuana and heroin, but with help from Gale Madden, his friend who also introduced him to the piano-less rhythm section, he overcame his addiction. Following his triumph over drugs, Mulligan became a director that had the ability to bring out the best in his fellow band members, creating enchanting music. The second artist, Thelonious Monk, was a pianist that did not take another job to support himself, but relied completely on the income from his gigs and records. He played with a style that was unique to him, borrowing from jazz heard in the twenties and thirties, but making it modern simultaneously. Thelonious Monk was also entirely straight-forward, which was very useful in a band setting; he would help the artists by being direct with them, saying things such as "Stop playing all that bullshit, man' and 'Swing."2 Sadly, even with this effort towards swing, his best group only recorded a few albums, and only one album reflects Thelonious Monk's true playing style. The third musician, Art Blakey, was a drummer, who with his band, created a new form of jazz, which combined blues, gospel, hard bop, and post-bop. What made him unique is that he studied in Africa where he learned to hold his drum sticks loosely, which made his style of playing different from other drummers of the era. A unique aspect of his band is that no one person stayed in the band for long, as the band acted as a medium for musicians to come and learn the art of jazz before leaving to start their own career.
The next three musicians discussed in Goldberg's book were Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and The Modern Jazz Quartet. The fourth musician mentioned, Miles Davis, was a trumpet player who had his own persona on stage. After he played his solos, he would simply walk off stage until he had to play again; his reasoning, stated simply, is that "[he would] get off the stand during a set because when [he is] not playing, there's nothing for [him] to do."3 Miles goes on to say how if he stayed up on stage the audience might be more interested in him than the soloist, depriving the soloist of deserved attention and praise. He studied with Dizzy Gillespie, a famous and memorable trumpeter, and rose to popularity in a 1955 Newport Jazz Festival when critics admired the way that he played. The fifth musician, Sonny Rollins, was a famous sax player who abruptly decided to disappear from the public; in 1959, he removed himself from society and confined himself to his house where he had his phone line disconnected. The reason behind his bizarre disappearance was so Rollins could practice his instrument, as he felt the urge to accept all performances that were offered to him in order to please his fans. He took his leave from August of 1959 to November of 1961, and unknowingly his fans came to love him even more because of his mysterious disappearance. The sixth musician group, The Modern Jazz Quartet whose original members were Dizzy Gillespie's 1947 rhythm section, and the Quartet that played concerti grossi. The Modern Jazz Quartet's success was not achieved until their second album, when they began to gain more recognition. In their second album, audiences were amazed at their interpretation of classic compositions of jazz. This group redefined what quartets were supposed to sound like and still have an influence on quartets today.
The next three musicians were Charles Mingus, Paul Desmond, and Ray Charles. The seventh musician, Charles Mingus, was an intensely complex man, who could be characterized by his hostility toward others, his ability to be frank, and his rare affection toward others. When Goldberg asked Mingus to tell him about himself for the book Mingus simply stated, "say that I'm uncooperative, and that I don't want to be in the book. Besides, I'm not a jazz musician anyway," a statement which provided major insight into his character.4 Although he had a rough exterior and even went as far as pretending to write a book so that he could avoid conversation with others, Charles Mingus felt that the most important aspect about jazz was the actual music. The eight musician, Paul Desmond, who was an alto saxophone sideman to the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Unfortunately, it took the death of Bop King Charlie Parker to make Paul Desmond a recognized musician. He played the saxophone lyrically and although Miles Davis did not like the way that Desmond played, they interpreted and executed the blues similarly. Even with his growing recognition after the death of Charlie Parker, Desmond was never truly popular in the 50s, making life difficult for him. The ninth musician, Ray Charles, was one of the great jazz singers, equated to Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Mahalia Jackson. What made the way the Ray Charles sang special is that he connected to his audience through the way that he sang so that they too could experience the emotion behind his words. One of the biggest shocks of his career was his decision to change record companies. Ray Charles had been with Atlantic Recording Company for many years and the company was positive that he would continue with them, so it came as quite a shock when he chose ABC as his new recording company. Charles made this dramatic change because he believed it would help him succeed, but this decision also defined his carefree take on life, just living to be happy.
The last three jazz musicians that were discussed in the book were John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman. The tenth musician, John Coltrane's main problem was that his solos were not hum-able so listeners did not remember the key melodies of his solos. When he would try to fix this problem he would be praised by the audience after his solos because, although pleasant for the audience, he saw the solo as a failure. Coltrane was a very pleasant and sensitive man, contrastingly he was shy and extremely friendly off-stage so the only way one would know that he was successful was if one knew him or that one saw him smoke a cigar, which were expensive. The eleventh musician, Cecil Taylor believed that music was not music at all, but an attitude expressed through different notes and rhythms. He believed that since jazz was an expression of emotion, jazz music had to be "an expression of the American Negro" since they were the ones who invented jazz.5 The idea about jazz being an emotion changed his style greatly, allowing him to produce his own distinct sound. Even though Taylor was an extraordinary musician, he was not liked for his music in the 50s and finding work proved to be difficult. However, after he recorded and released his first record, Down Beat, a famous and highly accredited group of critics that judged music, voted that Cecil Taylor would to be the new star pianist. The final musician, Ornette Coleman, was one of the last true 50s jazz musicians. As he was not able to buy expensive instruments, he once bought a small plastic alto saxophone which became a trademark for him. Coleman was described as peaceful, complicated, sometimes naive, mystical, suspicious, and dedicated. He was very impartial to everything but music, he didn't care whether he was hurt, lonely, or happy as long as he could play his music.
Joe Goldberg's point in writing this book was to help readers understand the lives of twelve influential musicians. In many books the authors "overjustify themselves" because they want the reader to know that they, as an author, are an intelligent person.6 When the author is more concerned about proving their intellectual superiority rather than their insight, the importance of the topic is often jeopardized. Jazz is also what most people consider background music to other activities such as dancing or drinking, therefore making a book on such a topic seem superfluous to some readers. Since jazz is such a hard topic to write about, since the art of jazz is all about the free-form aspect which cannot be taught and in order to truly understand it one must be a musician on some level, Goldberg wanted to talk about the musicians that would be considered artists, and explain their lives and how they performed their specific style of jazz. Goldberg does this successfully by not going into too much depth with each artist in order to keep the topic of jazz the main concept. Also, keeping the artists connected to each other, creates an atmosphere of what life was like for the artists.
Since Goldberg grew up in the United States during the 1920s he had many opportunities to learn about jazz. From an early age, he learned to play the clarinet and saxophone and trained to be a professional musician. He even went to play for "Meyer Davis Orchestra in Hollywood, Florida in the early 1930's."7 Years after this, he got a job playing in the resident dance band at Greenbrier, which was a resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Goldberg even went to a prep school called Peddie School, in Highstown, New Jersey, for a year. While there, he met a person that introduced him to jazz, forever changed his life. When Goldberg graduated as a Radio and Communications major in the 1950s, he started a job at CBS-TV in Chicago, but eventually moved to New York where he tried his hand at writing. There, he realized that there were no jazz books that talked truly about jazz. Upon this realization, Goldberg attempted to write books that talked about jazz; he wrote Jazz Masters Of The 20's, Jazz Masters Of The 30's, Jazz Masters Of The 40's, Jazz Masters Of The 50's, and Jazz Masters Of The 60's. Since he had prior musical training, he was also able to work at magazine companies writing about jazz. These magazines would change how he wrote biographies for his books, which would then focus more on the musicality and less on the hard facts of the artists.
Whether or not Goldberg completed his task of creating an explicit jazz book is interoperated by Virginia Kirkus and Sridhar Ramaswamy. Kirkus states that his book is "biographical and anecdotal" but "seldom analytical of the music" making his book not really about jazz itself but more along the lines of a biography.8 With this interpretation the book does not meet the standard that Joe Goldberg set for himself. However, Ramaswamy's review states that Joe Goldberg "examines the lives and the music, the crucial events and dominant forces" of the 1950s which makes the book more closely represent what Goldberg wanted it to.9 Kirkus interprets the book as well written but not fitting to Goldberg's thesis while Ramaswamy finds Goldberg's book to represent what jazz is about.
Joe Goldberg's book Jazz Masters Of The 50's completes its purpose by telling the story of jazz. Through Goldberg's use of anecdotes, he is able to connect the artists to the reader; and by interviewing people he makes the artists characters true to who they really are. Using words that the artists themselves actually spoke adds to the book as a record of jazz history rather than a biography. For example instead of stating that Charles Mingus did not write any of his music down he states that Charles "writes compositions-but only on mental score paper."10 Goldberg achieves his purpose through his accurate rendition of the various artists' careers and lives.
The 1950s were a time of progress and liberalism. With the jazz movement African-Americans could finally be thought of and respected for something other than slaves. Since jazz grew in the 1950s Goldberg would have to agree that the 1950s were a time of progress. Since he believed the 1950s to be a time of progress he included Cecil Taylor in his book to show this opinion. Cecil Taylor has a crucial opinion that shows Goldberg's thoughts without his having to sacrifice the style of the book in order to share his opinion. Taylor has ideas about the 1950s such as, "the Negro middle class, the best [he] can see, is very busy trying to emulate the white middle class" which shows a diffusion of whites and blacks.11 Although Goldberg does not specifically state his style because he wants to keep the book strictly about jazz the people he chose to be in the book, especially Taylor, helps formulate Goldberg's opinion.
Joe Goldberg describes jazz in his own way leaving readers speechless and satisfied. Goldberg talks about jazz as an art which is one of its three aspects "business, entertainment, and, more rarely, art."12 It is amazing that one author could consolidate all of what the 1950s jazz as an art had to offer into one small book, and Goldberg accomplishes this task extraordinarily well.
1 Goldberg, Joe. Jazz Masters Of The 50's. Macmillan: New York, 1965. 6.
2 Goldberg, Joe. 42.
3 Goldberg, Joe. 64.
4 Goldberg, Joe. 132.
5 Goldberg, Joe. 213.
6 Goldberg, Joe. 1.
7 Stokes, Royal W. "Joe Goldberg: 1932-2009." Joe Goldberg: 1932-2009. N.p., 15 Jan. 2011. Web. 11 June 2014.
8 "JAZZ MASTERS OF THE FIFTIES by Joe Goldberg." Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Media, n.d. Web. 06 June 2014.
9 "Jazz Masters of the Fifties." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
10 Goldberg, Joe. 137.
11 Goldberg, Joe. 221.
12 Goldberg, Joe. 2.
The Man Behind the Magic by Annette Nguyen
A review of Michael Barrier’s The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney
Michael Barrier’s The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney portrays the filmmaker’s transformation from a small-town rural boy to a fervent businessman to an ambitious animator to, finally, a large-scale entrepreneur. Walt Disney was a man that “drove himself right up to the end” with his 1966 death.1 Now universally known, Disney is considered by many a “fictional character” that “never really lived.”2 In Barrier’s predominantly objective biography of the famed animator, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, the life of Walt Disney is analyzed from beginning to end, revealing the man’s failures, successes, shortcomings, and strengths.
Walt Disney was born on December 5th, 1901 in Chicago to parents Elias and Flora Disney. When Disney was a toddler, his family of seven moved to a 45-acre farm in Marceline, Kansas then moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1911 when Elias Disney became ill. Walt began drawing at a very young age. When Walt reached the age of ten, although his family was previously highly religious, he stopped attending Sunday mass since he was always working, which was reflected in his academic grades. After the eighth grade, Disney’s formal education ceased, but he did attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts afterward for a very short while, and was a typical teenage cartoonist with awkward drawings and limited skills. An always happy and optimistic teenager and young adult, Disney did everything and anything as “everything was experience” to him.3 Disney began as an amateur cartoonist at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio and in 1920, created a company with his coworker called Iwerks Disney, transferred to the Kansas City Ad Company, and eventually ended up at Newman Laugh-O-Grams. When Disney later signed with Pictorial Clubs, he became “worse than broke” and went through his first and only true starving-artist phase.4 Still, he retained his endlessly optimistic attitude and stated “it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.”5 With the Disney Brothers Studio founded in 1923 in Los Angeles, California, Disney and his animators devoted more time to the cartoons’ stories and personalities to make their characters more real. This work can be seen in their first character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and in Mickey Mouse, his more famous “cute idea” that made his debut in the short episode “Plane Crazy.”6
Among Disney’s first cartoons with sound included Steamboat Willie, Opry House, Skeleton Dance, and Silly Symphonies. Despite being open to sound animation, Disney was hesitant to work with color, believing that comedy and personality were far more important. Eventually, after much resistance, Disney created his first colored film Flowers and Trees. As Disney and his animators evolved, so did the plots in their films, exemplified by Mickey’s Good Deed which was the first of their films to utilize a storyboard. Moreover, characters began to move in seemingly three-dimensional ways rather than existing within two-dimensional spaces. Additionally, his animators started studying real movement and psychology in order to put more emotions into their characters. The first breakthrough film which demonstrated these new improvements was Three Little Pigs, which had characters that had real feeling and charm. Disney’s powerful entrepreneurial drive and down-to-earth sensibility made him an inspiring figure and natural leader to his employees. As the studio became increasingly bureaucratic with over 250 employees by 1935, Disney evolved from a simple animator into a remote and intimidating coordinator. Still, he performed extremely detailed inspections and was very involved in the making of his films. This dedication was notably shown in the 1938 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length film in color with sound, Snow White became Disney’s most distinguished success and was even comparable to live-action feature standards. By this time, Disney was a celebrated man that monopolized the Academy Awards in the animated shorts category.
By 1938, though Disney was more of a celebrity than an animator, he never wholly left his work behind, as he transformed his studio into a feature-film factory. In Disney’s eyes, there was no distinction between himself and his studio of 675 employees. The Disney feature-film factory struggled with box office failure animations like Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi which were not under Disney’s complete and intimate scrutiny and nowhere near as successful as Snow White. By 1940, the studio was equipped with 1,200 employees and Disney was more distant than ever. The newly opened Burbank studio emphasized a blatant hierarchy, frustrating the employees who began to unionize into the Federation of Screen Cartoonists which later became the Screen Cartoonists Guild. The studio underwent a period of turmoil which commenced with the guild employees’ withdrawal from Disney. In an interview, Disney states seemingly as a Social Darwinist that “it’s the law of the universe that the strong shall survive and the weak must fall by the way.”6 With a severe economy causing multitudes of Disney studio layoffs, anger among the Screen Cartoonists Guild led to their decision to strike. This resulted in a tight financial situation, slow production, and arbitration hearings in which Walt Disney himself was absent. The Disneys took a “field survey” trip to South America which turned out to be “a godsend;” post-trip, though the film Dumbo had a modest budget, it became largely successful as work was smooth (unlike Bambi).7 After the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Hawaii, Disney Productions changed and the studio started to work on propaganda and military training films; Disney stated that “wartime was a poor time for us.”8 Too financially weak to produce more feature films, the studio began to crank out more and more commercial work. Fortunately, Walt Disney Productions was able to recover by 1948 to make another feature film; “Cinderella” was the greatest feature film and overall accomplishment since Snow White. In addition, Disney was determined to enter the TV medium as a source of advertisement, and NBC aired One Hour in Wonderland to promote the new feature film Alice in Wonderland. Disney’s interest not only grew in television but also in miniature trains; he attended the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948 and the entrepreneur set out to make a “Mickey Mouse park” on 16 acres of the Riverside studio, then altered the plans to make a “Disneylandia” on 50 acres in Los Angeles.9 Disneyland became a very real possibility, Disney commissioned a master plan from the architectural firm Pereria and Luckman for the amusement park. However, the project required more land than Riverside or Los Angeles could offer and funds that Disney could not provide; the studio’s principle asset became Walt Disney Productions stock. Finding 160 acres of land in Anaheim in Orange County of California suitable, Disney set out to find solid financial backing from the television program ABC and Disney’s new television program “Disneyland” was a hit in the 1950s. In July of 1954, on-site construction of the Disneyland amusement park finally began; Disney explained that the “park will never be finished” which was his reasoning behind the park’s $17 million price tag.10 Disneyland opened for the first time on July 17th, 1955.
After the creation of Disneyland, Walt Disney Productions shifted its focus toward live-action features, amusement parks, and television. Disney’s weakening grip on each feature, animated features, showed in the differing box office returns. For example, Sleeping Beauty showed poor box office returned as it was apparently doomed from the start while One Hundred and One Dalmatians was loved by all. Constantly comparing each and every film to his biggest success Snow White, Disney dreamed of creating a new art of motion pictures. Despite winning many Oscars and being the most widely read, traveled, and articulate man in Hollywood, Disney was never taken seriously as a live-action filmmaker. His down-to-earth and optimistic attitude appealed to the masses and contributed to his success. Walt Disney became a sort of real estate developer. When Disney created the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 1965 northwest of Los Angeles in order to teach all of the arts on one campus, he said that “we need all the arts . . . [and] we need artists to help visualize things.”11 Even before Disneyland was built, Disney aspired to build a second version of the theme park in Florida. Furthermore, Disney aimed to build a utopian city with universal employment, no property ownership, and no slums called EPCOT (“Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”). Additionally, Disney came up with the idea in 1960 of building a ski resort in the Mineral King valley in California. His health rapidly deteriorating––with his “nervous cigarette cough” becoming more frequent as he was diagnosed with lung cancer and given two years to live––and his marriage under a strain Disney still worked harder than ever before. Toward the end of his life, Disney’s awards quickly piled up and he was revered and honored “to the point of absurdity.”12 Disney died at Saint Joseph’s Hospital on December 15th, 1966 as he “drove himself right up to the end.”13 With his death, his idea of “Progress City” (EPCOT) was scrapped, CalArts opened in Valencia just four years later, the television company ABC was given to Disney Productions, and Disney parks were also open in Europe and East Asia forty years later. Still, the Walt Disney Company’s firm grip on animation held.
Michael Barrier’s aim in The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney is to portray the life of the famed Walt Disney as objectively as possible without delving too deeply into his psychological state of mind as many authors had done prior to Barrier’s biography. He does this by connecting the dots from both Disney’s personal and career lives “in a way that yields something close to the whole man” by “concentrat[ing his] attention on [Disney’s] work, his animated films in particular.”14 According to Barrier, “Disney has attracted other writers whose unsupportable claims and speculations . . . [portray him as] racist, misogynist, imperialist, sexually warped,” etc.15 With a meticulous knowledge of what makes films, specifically those that are animated, function, Barrier is one of few of Disney’s biographers that do not rely on dramatic theories but instead on analysis of his achievements through animation.
Barrier exercises nearly forty years worth of his own intimate interview archives of associates in the animation industry beginning in the late sixties, as well as the Disney studio’s archives in his biography of Walt Disney. In doing such, Barrier presents a factual representation of a perplexing, innovative visionary, and businessman as an ordinary man unattached to his prevailing myths. A young adult by the time of Disney’s 1966 demise, Barrier began his research in “1969 with . . . interviews with Ward Kimball, one of [Disney’s] best animators, and Carl Stalling, the first composer for his sound cartoons.”16 Due to the lengthy duration of his investigation with individuals that had close contact with Disney as well as his experience as the founder of the Funnyworld magazine dedicated to comics and animation, Barrier is considered one of the most accurate biographers of Walt Disney. Despite his efforts to create an unbiased biography, Barrier does have one major shortcoming––his animation-intensive knowledge led his book The Animated Man to be predominantly about Disney’s process of making animated films. Barrier claims in the preface of The Animated Man, “I have concentrated my attention on his work, his animated films in particular, because that is where I have found his life story most compelling.”17 This drawback in the book’s strength as a biography can be critically weak for the reader that would prefer a more detailed account of Disney’s personal life rather than entrepreneurial career; one review labels the book "more of a critical slam of Disney's cartoons and films than a useful biography.”18
While many reviews deem Barrier’s The Animated Man as the holy grail of Walt Disney biographies, there are some outlier book reviewers that do not agree. Martin Goodman from the Animation World Network reveres Michael Barrier’s work in The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney as “well versed not only in Walt Disney’s career but in animation history as well” showing “countless examples of Walt Disney’s influence on animation, recreation, culture, and television.”19 Interested primarily in the animation aspect of Walt Disney’s life, Goodman venerates Barrier’s thoroughly animation-based biography of the man. On the other hand, Kathy Merlock Jackson’s review of the book in the Journal of American Cultures reveals her standpoint as the average reader uninterested in the animation aspect of Disney’s life and more attracted to his personal life. Still, Jackson commends Barrier’s remarkable, writing, “Barrier is not so much concerned with large, sweeping analysis as he is with little details, exquisitely described.”19 Furthermore, she notes that his “commitment to accuracy is commendable” and that Barrier’s work “strikes a balance, neither deifying nor vilifying Disney and his enterprise.”20 Overall, both reviewers can agree that Barrier’s fastidious attention to details and facts rather than speculation make his biography of Walt Disney a fresh and precise approach.
Michael Barrier’s The Animated Man is an extensively informative read about the life of Walt Disney from his meek beginnings to unyielding end. Barrier’s emphasis on his broad expertise on the evolution of animation alongside Disney’s career, rather than on random speculative smear campaigns, make him as specific, rigorous, and factual as a Disney biographer can be. Throughout the biography, Barrier animates Walt Disney as more than a man that has “become a sort of Disney character himself.”21
The 1950s were a time of progress and liberalism as horizons for every subject were expanding. This era of new opportunities for all, technological advancements, and more time for leisure activities served as the optimum setting for Disney’s onslaught of live-action films, animated features, television programs, and amusement parks. This is especially true, as pointed out by Barrier, considering that the children resulting from the “baby boom” by 1954 were 8 years old––the general age audience aimed at Walt Disney Productions’ works. The fifties broadened the capabilities of the individual and of the masses, allowing Disney to “transform the American public’s conception of leisure and entertainment.”22 However conservative Disney was politically (he was “a founding member” of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals”), Disney and his company regularly took massive risks in filmmaking and real estate that each eventually paid off, contributing to American pop culture for several decades even after his death.23 Overall, even if there were prevailing conservative undertones present during the 1950s, its overall ambience was that of progress.
Ultimately, Michael Barrier portrays Walt Disney as a man that changed the face of America, and perhaps the world, with his artistic and entrepreneurial innovations. His endless optimism and ever-expanding learning capacity made him “the passionate young artist, the intense ‘coordinator,’ the man who scrutinized every frame of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a lover’s zeal” that the world can hardly imagine over the fictional man.24
Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. University of California Press, 2007. 317.
(Thomas, Bob. “Disney’s Brother Has Plans for Future,” Arkansas Democrat, 1967. 7.)
Barrier, Michael. 324
(“‘Walt’s Happy Place’: An Interview with Michael Broggie.” 14.)
Barrier, Michael. 23.
Barrier, Michael. 34.
(Smith, David R.. “Up to Date in Kansas City,” Funnyworld 19, 1978. 23-24.)
Barrier, Michael. 39.
Barrier, Michael. 56.
(Disney, Lilian. Martin interview.)
Barrier, Michael. 174.
(Walt Disney to Westbrook Pegler. 1941. WDA.)
Barrier, Michael. 185.
Barrier, Michael. 212, 232.
(Broggie, Michael. Walt Disney’s Railroad Story. 88-91.)
Barrier, Michael. 251.
Barrier, Michael. 299.
(“Jim Algar’s notes of call from Walt.” 1966. BU/RH.)
Barrier, Michael. 315, 307.
(Johnson, 1973 Bob Thomas interview.)
(Bart, Peter. “The Golden Stuff of Disney Dreams,” New York Times, 1965. sec. 2, 13.)
Barrier, Michael. ix.
Barrier, Michael. 324.
Barrier, Michael. ix.
Barrier, Michael. ix.
Ayers, Jeff. “The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney”. Library Journal, 2007. 92.
Goodman, Martin. "Book Review: 'The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney'" Animation World Network. ANIMATIONWorld, 19 July 2007. Web. 20 May 2014.
Jackson, Kathy. "The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney." Journal of American Culture 30.4 (2007): n. pag. Print.
Jackson, Kathy. Volume 30, Number 4.
Barrier, Michael. 323.
Barrier, Michael. 8.
Barrier, Michael. 200.
Barrier, Michael. 325.
Immaturity to Refinement by Kathrina Reyes
A review of Sig Mickelson’s The Decade That Shaped Television News: CBS in the 1950s
During the 1950s, receiving information by radio was common; as time went by, however, more and more people began to rely on television for reliable news coverage and entertainment. Television changed from an appliance made exclusively for the rich to a way of broadcasting information to the masses. Sig Mickelson’s book, The Decade That Shaped Television News tells the story of how the Columbia Broadcasting System News (CBS) network went through its experimental stages to become the broadcasting giant that it is today. The rise of CBS in television was “not the sole responsible stimulus, but … a major contributor” to the formulation of news practices, the creation of a new form of entertainment, and changes in American lifestyles.1
In slow but progressive steps, television news began to appeal more to the public; CBS officials and producers began grasping at any chance they could get to publicize their programs. In 1946, new programs were neither perfect nor well-organized. They were more of a hybrid of other programs; in fact, nobody knew what news programs were meant to show or how information were supposed to be broadcasted. Though CBS had initially filmed during World War II and had even broadcasted clips of the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor bombings, the network wanted to start anew once the war ended. With only a crew of 15 members, CBS was able to inform their watchers of the latest news by illustrating them with still photos, maps, and charts. Wanting to “out-chart” their competitor NBC in viewership, CBS performed several experiments that ranged from upgrading their technology to adding storytelling devices in order to make their news shows the most popular. However, even during these experimental stages, most people involved in news programming were not “quite sure what television news should be” because using televisions to share information was a new idea.2 Though not every experiment succeeded or improved the shows, these “failed experiments led to more efficient approaches”; such experiments like newsreel, a short film of news that saves the viewer the price and admission to travel to the location of the action, was constantly being improved to give cameras more mobility.3 In 1949, the utilization of developments like a 16-mm sound-on film camera and the TelePrompTer - a screen with words flowing up beside it to help newscasters remember their lines - improved news programs. Training personnel to be cameramen, newscasters, or technicians was a constant problem because they had no experience and there was no standardized system of training. Another problem about inexperienced workers was that many had recently returned from the war and had no idea how to even use a camera as such technologies like this were still new to most Americans. Later, CBS director Sig Mickelson created the position of “anchorman,” wanting a strong, central newscaster to consistently deliver the news on a show. Strong-willed and possessing a passion for news, Edward Murrow was first for the job. Eventually anchormen was used by news programs everywhere, including CBS’s competitor NBC. With their growing numbers of viewers, CBS wanted to establish a viewership that spanned from the East to West Coast. Even with AT&T’s long connection from one region to the next, the signal quality fell dramatically the farther broadcasts went out. During this time period, the idea of having technology connected communications across the nation was nearly impossible to even imagine until later in the decade. Trying to use whatever resources and equipment they had, CBS also wanted to recruit more crew members in Los Angeles, where the most film creators lived. Although they wanted to show the country the full scale of their vision of a national, high-quality news network, they were limited by the era’s technology.
Mobility, technicality, and lack of manpower were still obstacles to progress in the TV network business. The problems created by having small crews, inferior cameras, unreliable editing equipment, and declining financial support as too great to overcome by many; however, Fred Friendly, an imaginative thinker and a CBS producer, created new practices and innovations for CBS news that would later surmount those obstacles. He immediately created a production featuring Ed Murrow, a one-hour weekly radio news program which was a “long-form” or longer than 20 minutes of news, eventually named “Hear It Now.” By utilizing the power of television, Friendly was able to create a new medium of communication by combining print, sound broadcasting, film, and live television together in a short amount of time; the result was a much higher quality program. With creativity and some luck, Friendly was later able to create two ideal systems that have “broken ground and created new processes.”4 One system fused separate sound and picture tracks together and the other allowed anchorman Murrow to work in the control room along with the director and the full control room crew. Both these systems worked to save time and make broadcasting more efficient. In the early 1950s, CBS depended on the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for both live and recorded programming. Due to their lack of high-quality cameras and disinterest for new projects, IBEW became undependable and untrustworthy. Luckily, Hearst Metrotone from MGM “News of the Day” was willing to lend CBS his network’s camera teams, equipment, and facilities thus bypassing the contract with IBEW. Now with two groundbreaking ideas, superior cameras, new crew members, and a catchy new title - “See It Now” - CBS wowed their viewers and many critics “hailed [the network’s progress] as a demonstration of what television could do when [its] used [with] imagination and editorial judgment.”5 Eventually, television news became a hit, and more people tuned into television than radio because of its more appealing form of coverage. During the stressful period when President Truman seized control the nation’s steel plants to provide raw materials for the Korean War, president of the Steel Workers Union Philip Murray planned a press conference in Manhattan, New York in the Commodore hotel to inform the public and answer questions from the media; Don Hewitt and the staff of CBS were ready to deliver a full report prepared with sound-on film and mobile recording devices. Moving from one place to another with a heavy, bulky camera was difficult for a single cameraman, but with a prepared four-man crew – composed of the cameraman, sound man, reporter, and the porter - covering the conference was a breeze. During the conference, each member of the four-man crew was stationed at a corner in the room and their camera skills made Philip Murray the “star of the show” by capturing his every movement. This spotlight camera technique ultimately would come to be used in most CBS news programs as a technique to centralize attention on the newscaster.
Around 1952, a war between the departments of CBS began as television news continued to capture the minds of the public. After a stressful year of tedious news operations, the news crew realized and addressed their remaining problems of narration, capturing motion film, and utilizing graphics. In addition, CBS had to find a workable way to share its facilities and personnel with the CBS radio network’s more well-maintained facility. The two departments were in a constant battle for viewership and leadership. Eventually, the quarrel came to an end in July 1954, when Chairman William S. Paley and President Frank Stanton combined the two departments into a single integrated corporate department that reported only to them. However, after only several weeks after that quarrel was resolved, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), CBS’s overseas tie for foreign news coverage, wanted their news film exchange agreement to be terminated so they could become separate networks. Shocked by this “damaging blow to their pride” CBS was in dire need of finding another tie to the United Kingdom; luckily, CBS was able to find Independent Television News (ITN).6 With that problem solved, they focused on creating educational programs. Although educational programming was different from news programming, the fact that it appealed to the public was good enough to spark interest in CBS; but because their experience was limited to news coverage and documentaries, they did not know what to put in their programs to meet region-based curricula. Later, CBS eventually accepted the challenge of broadcasting educational programs by launching a fully scripted show. Increased viewership from the public allowed CBS to broaden their audience and attract a new, range of viewers that included schoolchildren, young teens and adults in college. Indeed this was a time of prosperity for CBS, but their internal problems were not over. The conflict between Edward Murrow and William Paley was ongoing and a fight was as “inevitable as a major earthquake on an unstable fault line.”7 The two clashed because the self-confident and strong-willed Murrow believed that broadcasting had an obligation to redress obvious wrongs, while Paley was conscious of the restraints imposed by the licensing of the broadcasting industry and disagreed. The animosity between the two eventually foreshadowed Murrow’s departure in January 1961 when tensions ran too high.
With superior cameras, scripted programs, experienced crewmen, and foreign ties now in their grasp, CBS entered its golden years in the mid- 1950s. CBS “began a slower, less aggressive effort to build a news organization” as the experimental era came to an end; crewmen began to focus on improving camera skills and creating higher quality programs.8 As news started to cover more than just politics, news programs became a mixture of hard facts and entertainment-based stories. In 1956, CBS made a bold move by deciding to cover sports, something a news network had never done before. The programming of “Sunday afternoon” sports revolutionized the lifestyles of many Americans who could now follow their favorite games closely; the massive popularity of sports programs “spurred television’s rapid growth in the late 1950s.”9 This revolutionized behavior patterns on Sunday afternoons as people would gather to watch the game and cheer for their favorite teams. The Olympics were one of the most popular international events that television broadcasted. While the opening and closing ceremonies were always the “must-see” event everyone wanted to watch, recording it was not as easy as it seemed. Despite having advanced equipment, CBS was unable to show the events live and had to wait a week until the arrival of the recorded Olympic events in the United States. Harsh weather prevented filming of the Olympics because climates varied in each nation and could potentially ruin the recording film and destroy the delicate camera lens. Though the Olympics were the one national event that brought the most viewers to CBS, it was also the most arduous to cover. As the decade ended, news and television programs had changed so drastically that they were “almost unrecognizable” to those who were accustomed to the older, experimental days of network programs.10 Though CBS had a bumpy, slow start, it was able to rise to the top of the charts and captivate the attention of hundreds of thousands of American viewers.
Television was a tool that helped transform news networks and their programs, and, but it was “not the sole responsible stimulus, [but rather] a major contributor” to changes in American lifestyles, new camera technicalities, and news network practices.11 Mickelson states that news changed itself from a mere apparatus for distributing war propaganda to programs intended to catch the public’s interest. In some ways, news helped revolutionize American habits by allowing people to gather for weekly Sunday night football.
The 1950s was a time of change in society, communications, and technology. Television was a new medium that effectively changed the nature of American entertainment. Now, people did not have to go to a stadium to watch a baseball game or go to a theater to watch a movie; instead, they could watch whatever program they wanted from the comfort of their own homes. Sig Mickelson was the president of CBS who directed the advancement of the network and created new practices that would change broadcasting. In this time of advancement in technology, he wished to improve the network with the help of his coworkers. Using the communications skills he obtained by working in several different universities, he knew how to capture his audience’s attention. He also knew how to appeal to viewers after having had several years of experience in radio production. With his experience and the skills of a good team, CBS was able to be successful despite its rocky start in the early 1950s.
John Bender’s review of The Decade That Shaped American News praises Mickelson’s skill in describing the history of television and ability to analyze the changes programs underwent, but notes that Mickelson’s reliance on “his own files and archives as primary sources…is a significant weakness” in the book.12 Although Mickelson’s insider knowledge of CBS allows him to provide insight into the inner workings of the network, it also makes him more biased by only telling CBS’s side of the story of the development of television news and ignoring his competitors. Critic Chris Allen somewhat agrees, saying that “the book provides a somewhat unflattering picture of CBS news” because the book is written in a way that makes CBS news seem weak and unappealing.13 Allen also states that the way “Mickelson jumps around in time” and fails to follow a chronological timeframe make the reader confused.14
The Decade That Shaped Television News by Sig Mickelson was informative about how television evolved from its immaturity to its refinement; from being a “rich man’s toy,” it now was an appliance in every family’s home.15 It was also interesting to note how people during that time were creative and managed to work around technological limitations. Even without a good cameras or professionally trained crewmembers, CBS and other networks were able to change and improve over time by experimenting with new inventions and technological advancements. Though talking about the same problems they had with technology and not stating how it was solved was slightly annoying, it was still interesting to see how news shows and technology have developed since the 1940s.
The 1950s was a time of progress because most Americans wanted to be away from war and wanted to start anew. Mickelson agrees that this was a time of change. One example was television because “news and information programs on television [became] almost unrecognizable” towards the end of the 1960s due to extensive experimentation and constant improvement.16 Technology as a whole changed over time, not only television and programs; news networks’ eagerness to try out new innovations also displays the progressive spirit of television in the 1950s. Another reason that it was a time of change was networks wanted to be more connected to the public and began providing a wide variety of programs for the public’s entertainment. Having improved the quality of its programs, CBS just needed to use communication to broadcast the right programs that would bring them more viewers. Such shows like “Sunday afternoon” sports shows and educational programs changed American life by placing massive amounts of information within reach of the average family.17 In addition, the rise of television also signaled a change in American behavior as entertainment was now available in one’s own home.
Throughout their years of constant experiments, CBS rose to prominence in the 1950’s despite technological limitations, rivalries with other networks, and various other bumps along the road. When CBS and other news programs acquired high-quality films and broadcasts, still photos were largely replaced by films and networks began to gain profit. Though initially television news networks had no idea how or what to broadcast on television, as time went on, creative people, like Fred Friendly and other news directors, pioneered new forms of communication and entertainment. Ultimately, it was the “ideas, innovations, and creativity of news networks” that allowed modern broadcasting to reach refinement.
1. Mickelson, Sig. The Decade that Shaped Television News: CBS in the 1950s. Prager, 1998. xiv
2. Mickelson, Sig. 3.
3. Mickelson, Sig. 5.
4. Mickelson, Sig. 47.
5. Mickelson, Sig. 48.
6. Mickelson, Sig. 123.
7. Mickelson, Sig. 142.
8. Mickelson, Sig. 154.
9. Mickelson, Sig. 173.
10. Mickelson, Sig. 207.
11. Mickelson, Sig. xiv.
12. Bender, John R. "Decade That Shaped Television News." Review. [Lincoln] n.d.: n. pag. Print.
13. Allen, Chris M. "Decade That Shaped Television News." Rev. of Questia. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (n.d.): n. pag. Print.
13. Allen, Chris M. 1.
14. Mickelson, Sig. 1.
15. Mickelson, Sig. 207.
16. Mickelson, Sig. 173.
17. Mickelson, Sig. 233.
18. Mickelson, Sig. 221.
Women on Repeat by Aimee Jurado
A review of Marsha Cassidy’s What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s
In Marsha Cassidy’s What Women Watched, the dissatisfaction of women with their roles in postwar society was both recognized and acted upon by the television industry in the 1950s. Post World War II, women found it frustrating to accommodate to the idea of “[equating] femininity solely with domestic fulfillment.”1 To cope with these expectations, women turned on the television. In her book, Cassidy writes of quiz and game shows, audience participation programs, and homemaking shows such as Glamour Girl, Strike It Rich, and Queen For A Day. These programs not only led the way as dominating genres of T.V in the 1950s, but also countered the idea that all T.V shows in the 1950s distracted women and kept them away from their responsibilities. Cassidy argues, “that this programing reflected the ambiguities and contradictions of 1950s femininity and its cultural standards.”2 In her book, Cassidy writes that despite the rise of “femcees” and their “facade of power in early television,” male emcees still dominated.3 T.V. industries had a “quest for daytime viewers within the...home” and “gender norms ultimately triumphed as women..were consistently objectified.”4
Since 1966, Marsha F. Cassidy has worked as a full-time lecturer at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Cassidy has also taught and lectured at Elmhurst College in Illinois and Augsburg college in Minnesota. A graduate from the University of Chicago, Cassidy has received a PhD in the department of English Language and Literature. Other works by Cassidy include: My Students And Betty White: American Television History in the Classroom, and Touch, Taste, Breath: Synaesthesia, Sense Memory, and the Selling of Cigarettes on Television.
Aimee Jurado was born on February 23, 1997. She lives with her parents, her brother Nathan, sister Nicole, and her two grandparents. Aimee Jurado has two dogs named Choco and Tuesday. In her free time Jurado plays water polo and swims. Jurado’s favorite food is cereal. Aimee Jurado is tired and does not want to do this anymore. Jurado is currently running out of words and does not even know if she is doing this right.
In chapters two and three, Cassidy highlights the influence of the competitive environment that emerged from the creation of women genres in television, the power struggle between network producers and their emcees, and the new femininity of the 1950s. The biggest influence on the course of daytime television came from the competition between NBC and CBS. Programs like these fought for female viewers, and in doing so, brought forth multiple representations of postwar womanhood. In this beginning of daytime television, male emcees became vital in attracting female viewers. Other major networks like ABC, Dumont, and Mutual were prominent in the development of daytime television. Cassidy starts with the network Dumont, the first network to have a full daytime schedule. By watching Dumont’s most popular program, Okay Mother, homemakers could take a break from being housewives and watch a show where the ideas of women mattered. Julia Meade, a trendy and chic “femcee” for Okay Mother, “foreshadowed the score of glamorous women” in television, as did Dennis James from Okay Mother who “presaged the string of male hosts who would radiate..[a] more subdued masculinity in the decade ahead.”5 Dumont’s biggest influence on television included: “[putting] into motion the...initial drive into daytime scheduling, experimenting with modes and genres designed to please women viewers, and provoking competition that stimulated the steady growth of daytime programming.”6 Another television program, The Mutual Broadcasting System, showcased their most popular show, Queen For a Day, which represented “the decades clash of unequal powers in the quest for daytime properties.”8 For “femcee” Julia and “charmboy” James there was always a constant power struggle not only with each other but also with their producers and sponsors. Other networks similar to Mutual, such as NBC also emerged in the 1950s. With the rise of NBC in early daytime, came a rise of Kate Smith, a heavy set “femcee” who brought forth a new sense of femininity. Although her show failed, Smith’s confidence with her image “served to represent, unite, and comfort the nation.”9 However, Smith’s image soon grew old as skinny and young became the new ideal for women, and Smith could no longer please her sponsors. The failure of Kate’s show, The Kate Smith Hour, “underscored the cultural imperatives that were rapidly defining how American femininity would be constructed on the new medium.”10
Cassidy uses chapter four and five of her book to show the rise of male emcees in television and the problems that came with misery shows. Unlike Kate Smith, “the charm boys,” who were charismatic male emcees, worked well with their sponsors, and possessed a sense of naughtiness, a “next door neighbor feel,” and both masculine and feminine characteristics. “Charm boys” such as Garry Moore, Arthur Godfrey, and Art Linkletter moved from dominating radio to dominating television by “[translating] to television..strategies that had triumphed on radio.”11 Beginning with “charm boy” Garry Moore, the Garry Moore Show debuted in October, 1950. Moore, known for his “feminine” qualities and attentiveness to female viewers, made it a point to not build barriers with his viewers. Moore in the 1950s, “prospered in the daytime sphere of women and..succeeded in validating [male] control”12 over women. Another “charm boy,” Arthur Godfrey of Arthur Godfrey Time,served as the spousal substitute for women when their husbands were not home. Godfrey, like Moore, “perpetuated the television hierarchy of gendered power.”13 The last “charm boy” Cassidy highlights, Art Linkletter of Art Linkletter’s House Party, found the interview method effective in attracting more female viewers and keeping the show lively. In Linkletter’s program, children and women were interviewed and asked to express their thoughts and stories with the audience. In misery shows such as Strike it Rich and Glamour Girl, contestants represented the failures of postwar America, and thus offended social critics. Misery shows faced much controversy in that many found it demeaning to watch the poor and desperate attempt to win money. In the show Strike It Rich for example, viewers also found the concept of the needy trying to win money for survival unethical. Some misery shows however, such as Glamour Girl, justified this concept by saying the makeovers they provided for women was a form of therapy. Eventually, misery shows were associated with vulgarity and bad taste.
Arlene Francis, like Kate Smith, brought forth a new sense of femininity. Unlike Smith however, Francis represented a more modern version of women, a chic version with a slender body. Alongside this came the idea of women who were “free to pursue nondomestic activities...if they upheld their responsibilities as wives, mothers, and lovers.”14 Cassidy continues the section by writing about the postwar trend to professionalize homemaking with new technology, as shown on television. The soap opera Home, contained a revolving stage, an example of women using new technology in the 1950s which represented that modern woman was industrial. Cassidy continues saying that “the Home show [casted] doubt on homebound femininity.”15 After going further into the benefits of motherhood versus the freedom of careers, Cassidy concludes by saying that “the program’s staging and production style..communicated theatricality, self-reflexion, and masquerade.”16 Continuing on the subject of soap operas, Cassidy writes on the emergence of Matinee Theatre and the growing theory that “Matinee [Theatre] was..to elevate day-time entertainment.”17 Matinee Theatre’s goals were to distance themselves from the perceived taint of daytime broadcasting, with a mission to continue pursuing the acceptance of women and to guarantee that “‘moral standards’ on the series ‘are and will continue to remain high.’”18 Matinee eventually diminished on the east and west coast.
Popular programs in the second half of 1950 such as Queen For A Day, It Could Be You, Who Do You Trust? and The Big Payoff reflected remarkable numbers in terms of popularity, and consistently broadcasted happy and energetic females who shared their thoughts and stories with the audience. This happiness and openness of women on television however was not genuine. As observed by writer and critic Gilbert Seldes, misery shows like Queen For A Day imitated melodramatic scenarios similar to those shown on soap operas. Women who participated in shows like Queen For A Day were not only encouraged, but expected to share their personal lives with the audience. These narratives however, “were controlled, interrupted, and reworked”19 to highlight this idea of melodrama. Competition between women on misery shows like Queen For A Day also “tied the reconstitution of distressed women to material goods and beauty.”20 Despite their occasional prank on the audience, T.V. program It Could Be You was meticulously practiced and planned beforehand. On Who Do You Trust? spouses were partnered together to answer questions for prize money. Although much of the show was pre planned and the spouses were pre interviewed, the show commended itself for “much of [the show] was spontaneous.”21 In these last few chapters, Cassidy uses past scenarios to prove that television in the second half of the 1950s actually silenced the voices of women because of their compliance to television producers, eliminating daytime television’s role in the rise and voice of women in the 1950s.
Cassidy writes in her conclusion that she had tried to answer the postwar question all women had attempted to answer, and to which they had turned to the television for the solution: “What does it mean to be a woman in America?”22 To answer this, Cassidy studied the ways in which “industrial forces, the genres of broadcasting, and a woman’s revised position within American patriarchy” created an illusion of the dominance of women in postwar America.21 In chapters two and three of her book, Cassidy uses the competitive tactics of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Dumont to represent the complex and intense competition for female viewers. Cassidy also mentions several different genres of television in the 1950s that made their impact on women including participation shows, misery shows, soap operas, and homemaking programs. As described by Cassidy, each genre highlighted the different faces of femininity. Misery shows, although controversial for being “low brow,” because of their exposure of postwar failures, remained a dominant genre. Homemaking and cooking programs promoted the connection between homemakers and their domestic responsibilities to the leisure of television. Misery shows later followed the melodramatic storylines of soap operas, silencing the voice of women during the time.
Cassidy, an accredited professor at University of Illinois, writes What Women Watched based on her knowledge of social trends. Cassidy was also influenced from her experiences of when she “wrote, directed, and produced for WGN Radio.” 22In her book, Cassidy describes the shift from radio to television in the 1950s and its effects on society. From her other book, readers understand that Cassidy has studied this part of history from several different angles and perspectives. What Women Watched was published in 2005, a time when social networking sites such as Youtube were first being launched, making broadcasting available to everyone. 2005 was also a time of international problems, natural disasters as well as broken records such as the ones under the cyclist Lance Armstrong and the fiftieth anniversary of the Disneyland resort. With many monumental events being broadcasted on television, Cassidy was urged to write about the social impact of television. These events relate to genres of television in the 1950s in that they emphasize people competing for status, titles, and drama. Television in 2005, like television in the 1950s, was exciting and constantly changing and progressing to conform to the interest of society.
Critique Hazel Dicken-Garcia, a professor from the University of Minnesota, found that in the book, it is implied that “voices of women viewers are missing, of course, except for ‘programmed’ statements of ‘ordinary’ participants drawn from audiences.”23 Dicken-Garcia continues by commending Cassidy for her research, specifically in which she talks about the “charm boys” and male dominance in early daytime television in the 1950s, and that the focus of “femcees” had been concentrated solely on beauty and apparel. As reviewed by Christine Becker, from the department of film and television at the University of Notre Dame, Becker writes that “each chapter..explores how daytime producers tried to exploit the economic value of the programs, especially their suitability for selling consumer products.”24 Becker continues by emphasizing that the programming reflected the ambiguities and contradictions of 1950s femininity. Becker concludes her review on Cassidy’s book by agreeing with Cassidy that the goals of television producers of the 1950s were to make profit. Becker also recognizes the neverending cycle of male dominance.
From scenarios provided by Cassidy, readers see that “the industry’s quest for daytime viewers”25 was made easier because of the abundance of postwar homemakers. Daytime television gave women a voice and new sense of power in society in the 1950s. Through different genres of television, women were able to express themselves and bring forth new forms and faces to femininity. In the second half of daytime television in the 1950s however, misery shows such as Strike it Rich and Glamour Girl exposed the rigidities and struggles of Americans postwar. Misery shows soon followed the footsteps of soap operas in requiring melodrama in their program. From this, readers see that the only role women played in daytime television was tuning in to watch, and daytime television was a false rise of femininity in the 1950s.
In her writing, Cassidy expresses that daytime television in the 1950s provided false progress for postwar women. As she writes, Cassidy leans more toward the “‘victim’ approach to feminist history,” stating that women would “‘experience the conundrum of televised femininity’”26 themselves. In her book, Cassidy mentions prominent “femcees” who all altered the image of femininity. Despite these monumental women however, daytime’s “charm boys” not only proved more successful, but demonstrated how traditional gender norms triumphed. Cassidy elaborates on this in chapter four by writing about how characteristics from the “charm boys” and their accommodation from sponsors led to their overall success. Cassidy concludes with an emphasis on the fact that history repeats itself- men and women are locked in a never- ending cycle of tradition.
Cassidy expresses the conundrum of gender norms in her book, What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s. Cassidy writes of select celebrities and programs to “[trace] the phantasms of those everyday women who spoke, laughed, sighed, and wept on the decade’s luminescent screen.”27 Cassidy’s book makes it evident that throughout women’s history the truth is often hidden from the public eye, even when this truth is broadcasted on television.
1: Cassidy, Marsha. What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. 3.
2: Cassidy, 2005, 7
3: Cassidy, 2005, 14, 15
4: Cassidy, 2005, 17
5: Cassidy, 2005, 33
6: Cassidy, 2005, 37
7: Cassidy, 2005, 45
8: Cassidy, 2005, 49
9: Cassidy, 2005, 55
10: Cassidy, 2005, 70
11: Cassidy, 2005, 72
12: Cassidy, 2005, 78
13: Cassidy, 2005, 83
14: Cassidy, 2005,90
15: Cassidy, 2005, 94
16: Cassidy, 2005, 99
17: Cassidy, 2005, 103
18: Cassidy, 2005, 111
19: Cassidy, 2005, 130
20: Cassidy, 2005, 155
21: Cassidy, 2005, 200
22: Cassidy, 2005, 1
23: Dicken-Garcia, Hazel. What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s (review). 2008. 1.
24: Becker, Christine. What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s. 2008. 1.
25: Cassidy, 2005, 12
26: Cassidy, 2005, 216
27: Cassidy, 2005, 217
Sunset Boulevard by Justine Nong
A review of Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair’s The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties
Hollywood began its decline in the fifties – with the war now over, all that resided was the fear of the possibility of a red America. However, delusional movie studio executives and producers denied the decline of the city, as famously chronicled in the film, Sunset Boulevard, in which aging actress Norma Desmond drags screenwriter Joe Gillis into her fantasy world as her career declines due to the development of “talkies” and television. In Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair’s book, The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties, it is stated that the work “is a snapshot of Hollywood during the era of Joe McCarthy, and the blacklist, a chronicle of its film stars and bottom-feeders, its icons and illusions.”1 Rather than remember the 1950s for some of it best works such as Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest or epics like Ben-Hur, Kashner and MacNair chose to chronicle Hollywood through its exploitation of the movie industry and the events that circulated around its actors and actresses.
Kashner and MacNair begin by reflecting upon the fears of 1950s America that were prevalent in Hollywood’s culture. Hollywood had become a center of celebrity gossip and scandal in the fifties. In December of 1952, Robert Harrison founded Confidential magazine, a “keyhole look at the nation’s secret fears, unspoken desires, and paranoid nightmares” according to Kashner and MacNair.2 Harrison made it his goal to expose the unexposed, publishing headlines that told of which celebrity was in bed with which or which celebrities were closet homosexuals. Hollywood’s homosexual population, dubbed “the lavender closet” was a favorite target of Confidential. The most notable targets of the magazine were Bill Tilden, a tennis coach to the stars whose career was marred by his many arrests, actress Lizabeth Scott, and actor Tab Hunter, whose new movie release was overshadowed by the arrest of his boyfriend. With the hiring of infamous reporter Howard Rushmore, Confidential also began to hunt the Communists hidden within the stars and producers. This included Alvah Bessie, screenwriter and part of Hollywood’s Unfriendly Ten, Lee J. Cobb, actor turned House of Un-American Activities Committee informer, and actor Edward G. Robinson, who was persecuted by HUAC for three years before it was revealed that the committee had no standing evidence against him in the first place. HUAC and the blacklist in Hollywood would ruin the lives of many, driving multitudes of unfortunate actors into the ground, those whose careers had taken off during the war film era of the 1940s. One of the most prominent features that Confidential loved to cover was the lives of Hollywood’s own juvenile delinquents – the children of big-name stars. With the expectation to meet the standards that their own famous parents had set for them, Manny Robinson, Sydney and Charlie Chaplin Jr., and John Barrymore Jr. would all have their personal failures and mistakes recorded by gossip magazines. For example, Manny Robinson was often exploited by the press after the fallout of his short-lived acting career. Confidential not only played a large role in the chronicling of the lives of the stars, but also in the development of the American mindset.
In the next section, Kashner and MacNair shifted their attention to the more cultural side of Hollywood, focusing on growing trends and attitudes. The rise of the juvenile delinquent was marked by Nicholas Ray’s film Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. What made the film special, however, was how Ray produced the film. Filmed at the same mansion as Sunset Boulevard, Ray “flout[ed] convention as he cast and directed his actors…giving his young stars…free rein in the creation of their characters.”3 Rebel Without a Cause was a Hollywood reflection on the growing sentiment that the youth of the fifties were rebellious and troublesome, thus confirming the worst fears predicted of the baby boomer generation. In the early fifties, Reverend Billy Graham would kick off Hollywood’s religious revival with his two films, Mr. Texas and Oiltown U.S.A. The spread and popularity of the so-called “film ministry” inspired the production of The Robe in 1953, starring Richard Burton. The box-office success of The Robe brought other producers into the biblical genre of movies in the late fifties with epics such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. Meanwhile, “the mostly B-movie studio Universal [would turn] into a formidable commercial player” with the help of director Douglas Sirk and his newfound star, Rock Hudson.4 Despite Hudson’s homosexuality, Sirk often cast him as a “normal” man on the straight and narrow. However, the lengths that Universal went to in order to hide Hudson’s sexuality (going as far as to forcibly marry him to his agent’s secretary) ultimately failed when Hudson died of AIDS, an STD commonly associated with homosexuality at the time, in the late eighties. Also in the fifties came an isolationist attitude within the movie studios towards European directors. While the European film community felt that they could appreciate film “at home in their own language,” American studio executives felt that European directors were “too difficult and demanding.”5 Thus, European directors and actors such as Fritz Lang, Erich von Stroheim, and Josef von Sternberg found themselves ill-treated by their American counterparts. However, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer produced a movie based on Hollywood’s vision of Europe as a way of flouting American superiority. In 1951, MGM would release An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and pianist Oscar Levant in an homage to George Gershwin’s work. The success of the film was seen as a win for the American studios and producers, yet a loss in the European world, as it supported the idea of an American-dependent Europe. Despite the loss of the European community in Hollywood, there was no lack of talent among American actors and actresses.
A new kind of acting would spark a movement among actors and actresses such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe. Known as method acting, in which the actor attempted to embody the thoughts and feelings of their roles in order to produce a more realistic performance, this theatrical movement found its place in critically acclaimed movies such as A Place in the Sun and The Night of the Hunter. However, the many production changes to A Place in the Sun earned the movie harsh critiques from fans of the book, while despite the excellent script and directing of The Night of the Hunter, religious groups would protest that the movie’s portrayal of the Church was sacrilegious, causing the movie to become a box-office flop. Additionally, the largest love scandal in Hollywood debuted during this time, and “like all great love stories, it was doomed from the start.”6 In an era where segregation still existed and feelings of anti-Semitism still lingered, the love affair between Jewish actress Kim Novak and Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. was perhaps the most scandalous affair of the entire decade. While gossip magazines had a field day with their illicit affair, Novak and Davis bonded over discrimination – sexism towards Novak and racism towards Davis. In the end, however, the pair split when mobsters hired by Novak’s director, Harry Cohn, threatened to harm Davis unless he stayed away from Novak. Meanwhile, the film Sweet Smell of Success explored the decline of New York as Sunset Boulevard had done for Hollywood. Written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, control over Sweet Smell of Success was fought over between Lehman and the production company of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. Eventually directed by Alexander Mackendrick, the movie depicted the power of gossip columnists, most notably Walter Winchell, and their influence over the lives of others. In yet another screenplay based on a novel, actress Lana Turner was able to revive her career after producing a number of sleazy romance films. Peyton Place, a romance novel by Grace Metalious, gave Lana Turner the push that she needed to get back into big name pictures. Although the movie did the book no justice, Turner earned the nomination for best actress and would later go on to star in Imitation of Life, which, true to its name, was strangely similar to Turner’s own life. The main characters appeared to reflect the strained relationship between Lana Turner and her daughter, Cheryl. As much as Turner worked to keep her familial relationships out of the news, like with all other stars, it was the job of gossip columnists to expose the information, whether it be to the benefit or detriment of the targeted celebrity.
Amidst the many male producers, directors, and studio executives that held power in the movie industry was a small group of women that “wielded enough power to make even studio chiefs shiver with fear.”7 Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Sheilah Graham were gossip columnists who held the power to aid or destroy a star’s career simply by criticizing their actions in a measly two columns. Gossip columnists like Parsons and Hopper preyed on people like playwright William Inge, who struggled to balance keeping his homosexuality a secret with his depression and alcoholism. Inge continually pressured himself to top his previous hits, falling flat after the success of Splendor in the Grass. Meanwhile, older actresses Mae West and Gloria Swanson found themselves shut out from the big screen due to their age and decreasing popularity among a new, younger audience. While West found work in Las Vegas and later came back to Hollywood, Swanson’s career would climax with her role as Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and would continue to act – only to find that the public eye still saw her as Norma Desmond. As these elder actresses began to fall from the public spotlight, the classical era of American cinema would also come to an end.
Kashner and MacNair wrote this work with the intention of showing how Hollywood reflected American anxieties in the fifties. In fact, on his website, Kashner summarizes the book by stating that, “Hollywood was the window to America’s collective fears and fantasies…a bizarre juxtaposition of high and low culture… [yet] mainstream Hollywood films also dealt with challenging issues.”8 The fact that exposé magazines such as Confidential magazine were so popular due to their coverage of subjects such as racism, communism, and homosexuality among the decade’s celebrities shows the train of thought of Americans in the fifties. The comparison between high and low culture can be seen in the religious revival period of the fifties, where B-list films such as Oiltown U.S.A. and The Robe could compete at the same level with high production epics such as Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments. Lastly, films did deal with controversial issues of the time, in fact both reinforcing and challenging issues simultaneously. For example, Rebel Without a Cause challenged the issue of restrictive sexuality – with Sal Mineo claiming that his character, Plato was, “the first gay teenager in films” – and reinforced the idea that teenagers of the fifties were rebellious and troubled, and purposely fought against societal norms.9 Thus, the topics that Hollywood’s press and movies covered illustrated American apprehensions in the fifties.
In their introduction, Kashner and MacNair mention that their work is not “a comprehensive history of Hollywood in the 1950s, but a kind of archaeological dig by two writers too young to have experienced the decade firsthand.”10 Therefore, both writers admit that their work is not a nostalgic piece nor a complete and thorough examination of 1950s Hollywood, but rather an investigation into the intricacies of the decade. Kashner - as a writer for magazines GQ and Vanity Fair, poet, and author of several historical nonfiction books about Hollywood - in collaboration with MacNair , a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism and editor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, takes the side of the artists rather than the critics, which can be seen as they make clear the cruelties and control studio executives and acting agents had over the lives of their clients - for example, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster’s treatment of screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Also to be taken in consideration in terms of perspective of the book The Bad and the Beautiful is the year of publication – 2002. During this time, history was seen as a reflection of actions and events of the past. Thus, as historians of this era, Kashner and MacNair take a stance against the views of the fifties, which was intolerant in the matters of race, sexuality, and political affiliation. Ergo, not only are Kashner and MacNair’s perspectives influenced by their career choice, but by their generation and the times in which they wrote this work.
The Bad and the Beautiful was reviewed by several magazines and journals, including Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Both Sarah Gold of Publishers Weekly and Stephen Rees of Library Journal complimented Kashner and MacNair on their decision to focus on the darker side of the 1950s rather than what Gold calls, “a peaceful interval between the war-ravaged ‘40s and the socially stormy ‘60s.”11 Both reviews also praise the chapter on Nicholas Ray and Rebel Without a Cause, with Rees noting that the two writers, “write most perceptively on the era’s classics…and the best chapter describes how director Nicholas Ray forged his timeless portrait… Rebel Without a Cause.”12 Although Gold continually praises the book as a combination of amusing and well-known stories with gritty recollections of celebrities’ lives, Rees criticizes the novel for its more out-of-place chapters, such as the ones on the children of Hollywood or Hollywood’s elder celebrities. However, both reviews commend the book for recognizing that there was more to the fifties than suburbia and conformity, and recommend that readers add it to their collection.
Kashner and MacNair write in a vignette style, which helps to keep the book flowing and interesting. Their most detailed writing appears when describing a movie, with them going into intimate detail on the cinematography and symbolism of the movie. In describing The Sweet Smell of Success, they mention how the glasses that Burt Lancaster wears in the film are used to “create a man who wasn’t physically powerful, [but]…had a violent presence.”13 However, the only qualm with this work is that it focused on more minor events of the fifties rather than on the best hits of the decade. While Sunset Boulevard is used as a major symbol of Hollywood’s decline, Kashner and MacNair only brush upon classics such as Ben-Hur and North by Northwest (among many Hitchcock classics). Their work leaves out any mention of other classics, such as 12 Angry Men or Seven Samurai, when covering the end of Hollywood’s classic film era. However, this may be justified as Kashner and MacNair seemed to focus more on the films that revealed American society’s flaws. Despite these short-comings, their story is successful in detailing the personal lives of Hollywood celebrities, revealing truths not as well-known to the public as Lana Turner’s return to stardom or the Davis-Novak affair – thus keeping the reader thoroughly engaged throughout the book.
According to Kashner and MacNair, the 1950s was a time of conservatism and decline in the world of movies and film. The rampant fear of communism that bled into Hollywood helped to create the blacklist - a list of actors, actresses, producers, writers and directors banned from working in Hollywood due to accusations of having ties to Communism - which in turn hurt the film community. Racism, sexism, and discrimination from the previous era remained prevalent, as seen in the Davis-Novak affair and as indicated by the popularity of Confidential’s coverage of stars in the “lavender closet”. Although some movies did challenge some of these conservative ideas, the majority reinforced them, complying with the conformity of the fifties. The most serious reason for the decline of Hollywood films, however, was due to the rise of television, which weakened the grip studio moguls held over the city and put many directors, writers, actors and actresses out of work. As Norma Desmond declared in Sunset Boulevard, “It’s the pictures that got small.”14
Although it was able to produce many classics over the course of a decade, Hollywood experienced a large and unwanted change. In keeping with the times, “Hollywood in the 1950s…wanted to cling to the past” but by the end of the decade, Hollywood had adapted to the changing attitudes – just as the rest of American society had done.15
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. 12.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 17.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 99.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 139.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 158.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 196.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 275.
Kashner, Sam. "Bad and the Beautiful - Sam Kashner." Sam Kashner. N.p., 7 Dec. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. <http://www.samkashner.com/portfolio/bad-and-the-beautiful/>.
Kashner, Sam, and Jennifer MacNair. 102.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 12.
Gold, Sarah F. “The Bad & the Beautiful (Book).” Publishers Weekly 249.16, 2002.
Rees, Stephen. “The Bad & the Beautiful (Book).” Library Journal 127.8, 2002.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 231.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 13.
Kashner, Sam and Jennifer MacNair. 13.
Hollywood’s Rebel by Allison Ko
A review of David Dalton’s James Dean: The Mutant King
“If you want to act, you have to give up everything for your acting” was the motto James “Jimmy” Dean lived by.1 Appearing tough and confident on the outside, Dean was actually an anti-social country boy who quickly rose to fame during the 1950s. From the very beginning, Dean aspired to become a widely known star, and thus his whole life revolved around this one goal. He expressed his painful experiences of losing his family through the characters he portrayed, and often looked for parental characteristics in the people he met since he could not receive the affection he yearned for from his parents. In the short amount of time he was exposed on the big screen, Dean was able to successfully create a lasting impact on the entertainment industry.
James Dean was born on February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana. However, it was Fairmount, Indiana where James Dean considered home. Unlike with his father, Dean shared a close relationship with his mother. She was the first to introduce him to the world of theater by creating mini cardboard theaters, in which he could reenact the plays he had invented. Fairmount, Indiana became Dean’s new home when his mother, Mildred Wilson, passed away in 1940 from cancer and his father had decided that he could not care for him anymore. Throughout his life, he was monumentally affected by his mother’s early death and would constantly look for motherly characteristics in the women he developed close relationships with. Winton Dean, Jimmy’s father, sent him to live with his sister and her husband, Ortense and Marcus Winslow. While attending school, Dean was described by his teachers to be “sometimes moody… and unexplainably stubborn.”2 In addition to his disagreeable personality, he was often teased by his classmates since he lived with his relatives instead of his biological parents. Thus, he was reminiscent of a mutant; he was “torn from his roots and a stranger in a new land… a bridge between where he was come from and where [he was] going, yet [belonged] to neither.”3 James DeWeerd, a pastor of Fairmount’s Wesleyan Church, was the person to guide Jimmy to his destined path. He introduced Dean to the world of art and classical records. While introducing Dean to the world of acting, DeWeerd also taught him how to drive, the dangers of driving, and the possibility of a sudden death. Even though Dean was a troubled student, he had an optimistic mindset—he wanted to be the best in everything while hiding his weaknesses.
Dean’s life turned around in 1949 when he arrived in Los Angeles for school. Jimmy was sure of his ambition for acting, but his father strongly opposed. Winton Dean wanted Jimmy to enroll at Santa Monica College and major in physical education. At first, Dean complied, but in the fall of 1950, he transferred to UCLA as a theater arts major. He took the first step in his acting career by appearing in a Coca-Cola commercial. The director of the commercial decided to cast Dean because of his appearance as a typical “American Boy.” Wearing his signature blue jeans and white shirt, Dean spent most his free time in Hollywood and Burbank looking for contracts with major studios. He temporarily had a job as an usher, but was soon fired after a week. After getting involved in a fight with his roommate and close friend, Bill Bast, Dean moved in with Rogers Brackett, a CBS director, who helped Dean earn small roles in movies. However, Dean soon realized that the only place where acting was taken seriously was New York. Therefore, with Brackett’s encouragement, he arrived in New York City in the fall of 1951 to find work and discover himself through acting. Immediately, he fell in love with New York’s fertility, its world of entertainment, violence, and community. In the beginning, he was often rejected by many agencies for wearing glasses, being too short, or being sloppily dressed. Thus, he struggled economically in New York, but still refused to become a burden on others. On one occasion, when Dean did not have the money to buy new glasses for an audition, he decided to just memorize his lines out of respect for the director who gave Dean another chance. In 1951, it was Jane Deacy who recognized the potential in Dean and decided to start a business relationship with him. She helped Dean showcase his acting abilities on television. The arrival of TV broadcasting in the early fifties was welcomed instantly. TV provided the entertainment industry with new actors, more roles for actors, and more opportunities for writers to publish their scripts.
Dean made his first television debut on May 11, 1952, in a NBC show Prologue to Glory. He received mostly enthusiastic responses for his performance and was able to obtain his first major television role on A Long Time Till Dawn. Backstage, many of his fellow actors described him as “solitary, awkward, and shy at rehearsals.”4 However, Dean had the reputation of being a troublemaker who, although he was social, liked to cause disturbances by arriving late to film sessions. Between 1952 and 1954, Dean spent most of his time appearing on TV and auditioning for Broadway shows. It was after his portrayal of Bachir in The Immoralist that he caught of attention of Kazan, a movie director every New York actor dreamed of working with.
East of Eden, Kazan’s most controversial film is based on Steinbeck’s novel that revolves around the themes of rebellion and the father and son relationship. It is a “romantic evocation of a paradise lost in a mechanical world.”5 Because Kazan appreciated Dean’s unlikable traits- his sulkiness, rebellion, and overwhelming pride, he decided to cast Dean to play Caleb Trask. To Dean’s disdain, he was required to get a suntan, a haircut, and gain weight in order to fully embody the character of Caleb. This movie marked the beginning of Jimmy’s movie career. Through the character of Caleb Trask, Dean was able to fully convey the pain and rejection he felt in life, but was not able to express. With the success of East of Eden, Dean was considered Hollywood’s Terminal God because he arrived at a time when the movie industry desperately needed a star and was able to successfully channel his personal life into a performance. Not only was he adored by thousands of fans throughout the world, he was also romantically linked with numerous movie stars. His most well-known relationship in Hollywood was with an Italian actress, Pier Angeli. They were popularized as star-crossed lovers due to Angeli’s mother’s disapproval of Dean. Her mother did not appreciate his informal appearances, inability to arrive on time, obsession with cars, and mostly the fact that he was not Catholic. Their romance came to an end when Angeli announced her marriage to singer Vic Damone. Moving forward in his life, in the March of 1955, Jimmy was cast to play his most famous role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. The movie told the story of a boy’s adventures, travails, and triumph on his first day at a new school. It turned out to become the perfect role for Dean where he did not even have to “act,” but simply express his inner-self. According to Dalton, Dean “dominated, absorbed, and incorporated [the movie’s] drama as its dynamic instrumental force.”6 Jimmy also made a personal connection to the movie by creating an idealized family from his cast members to fulfill his desires of what he had always expected his parents to be.
Dalton concludes his book with Jimmy’s last movie before his death, which was Giant. During this time, Jimmy decided to invest more time and money into satisfying his obsession with cars and racing. Due to his positive reputation and success as a celebrity, he was able to own numerous cars in Hollywood and enter competitions where he would be able to exhibit his prized possessions. When he raced, Jimmy did not care for his life, but instead cared more for the safety of others. In fact, Dean had always been nonchalant about the the idea of death throughout his whole life. His most practiced quip was “Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse” and ultimately died by these words.7 Because of his constant conversations dealing with an early death, there has been much speculation that Jimmy’s speeding that led to his death may have been an act of suicide. On September 30, 1955, Dean, with Rolf Wütherich in the passenger seat, was speeding in his Porsche when he suddenly collided with Donald Turnupseed. Although Turnupseed escaped with minor injuries, Dean was trapped in the driver’s seat and died almost instantly. The dominant reaction to his death was disbelief and many fans continued sending mail to his dead body. Many fan clubs that were overwhelmed with his sudden death invented and spread false rumors accusing the Warner Brothers of faking Dean’s death in order to increase his popularity. Even after his death, Dean was honored for his acting through nominations for several awards.
David Dalton utilizes the idea of a mutant to analyze Dean’s transformation from an unknown country boy with big dreams to an iconic American actor. He states that Dean always had the determination and will to become the biggest star and was willing to do anything to achieve that status. When Dean first arrived in New York, he began the habit of taking whatever he needed to complete the image that he wanted for himself. Dizzy “Elizabeth” Sheridan, one of the women Dean was romantically linked with, observed that he would copy other peoples’ voices and expressions by examining other actors. Like a mutant, his “face and body took on the fluid grace of flesh modeled by his changing shape.”8 Dalton believes that Dean’s early death completed the mutant that he had been creating from the beginning of his acting career.
Dalton has had previous experiences writing biographies of famous pop icons such as Andy Warhol and the Rolling Stones. He was born in 1945, which was around the time when Dean’s life started turning around and his acting career began to take flight. The author grew up during the 1950s, which heavily influenced his writing. The post-war time period saw a rise of leisure activities in areas such as film, art, and music. After the war, the American audience desired new symbols of rebellion and James Dean became that iconic God for them. He rose to fame at an opportune time, arriving in Hollywood when the movie industry was in extreme need of a star. Dalton believed that “adolescents rejected the repressive conspiracy of conformity… by living out their fantasies through movie stars.”9 The 1950s also was a time when the TV industry was in fierce competition with the movie industry. Therefore, in order to keep up with society’s demands, the movie industry started to improve their films by using color, bigger screens, and 3D effects. This period of rapid technology improvement also influenced Dalton while he was writing his book. Dalton concludes that Dean’s success was partially due to the modernization of American’s entertainment industry and its ability to promote his fame.
Dalton’s book received relatively positive reviews along with some criticism. A review by Laura Grande, a professor at the University of Michigan, reveals that his book was successful in offering “detailed accounts of the actor’s childhood”10 and Grande further praises Dalton for not only writing well about Dean, but also for portraying “both the light and dark within Dean’s personality.”11 Furthermore, she commends Dalton for not merely providing information about Dean’s background, but also adding bits of his own commentary in the book. However, Grande points out the flaws of his book. She found it incorrect in its use of second-hand accounts and eyewitness testimonials that dated about twenty years after Dean’s death, which Grande finds to be outdated. Another review by a well-known author and attorney, John W. Whitehead, had only praises for Dalton’s book. He recalls The Mutant King as “insightful, engaging, and enlightening… and one of the best books [he has] ever read.”12 Whitehead does not even consider the book to be just a biography on a famous person, but so much more than that. According to Whitehead, Dalton’s book is “in its own way, a biography on those of us who were there when St. Jimmy was and all who have been affected by the effervescent glow of his personality.”13
After reading Dalton’s detailed biography about James Dean, it is evident that the James Dean the world knew through paparazzi was not the “real” James Dean. Then and now, James Dean has been looked upon as a God who seemed to have easily accomplished his dreams unhindered by any obstacles. However, it is clear that Dean, just like everyone else, had insecurities and constantly struggled to hide his weaknesses. David Dalton’s book was truly effective in portraying Dean’s life because not only did he reveal the highlights of Dean’s legacy, Dalton also revealed the low points in Dean’s acting career that helped Dean to become the legend he is today. The book also contradicted with the way many people viewed Dean. He was often viewed as a trouble-maker, control-freak, and “too ambitious and impatient.”14 But underneath that thick layer of pride, Dalton reveals an anti-social country boy who desperately wanted to completely transform himself to become the biggest star in history.
The 1950s was mostly a time of progress and liberalism within the entertainment industry. After the war, Dalton believes that “James Dean… expressed a changing state of mind that audiences did not completely understand, but intuitively embraced.”15Due to television being popularized, more and more people were able to watch actors on screens instead of having to go to movie theaters. Furthermore, the expansion of the TV industry also called for new roles that provided for new opportunities for actors to increase their popularity. Dalton agrees that the fifties were definitely a time of change for James Dean because it was through Broadway shows and TV roles that Dean was able to branch out onto bigger screens. Dean had initially launched his acting career by appearing on TV shows such as Beat the Clock, which did not receive positive reviews, but nevertheless exposed James Dean’s talent to the world. Therefore, he was able to gradually earn more roles and ultimately was cast into several films that became the highlights of his career. This time of change and progress during the 1950s helped to boost Dean’s popularity significantly.
James Dean is considered “a primary folk hero of rock culture.”16 Just as acting had been a way for Jimmy to express himself and truly discover who he was; the actor James Dean became a symbol of rebellion and self-expression for all his fans.
1. Dalton, David. James Dean: The Mutant King. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1947. 41.
2. Dalton, David. 32.
3. Dalton, David. 33.
4. Dalton, David. 107.
5. Dalton, David. 157.
6. Dalton, David. 222.
7. Dalton, David. 274.
8. Dalton, David. 81.
9. Dalton, David. 332.
10. Grande, Laura. Book Review: James Dean: The Mutant King. Canada: Pretty Clever Films, 2013. 1.
11. Grande, Laura. 2.
12. Whitehead, John W. The Mutant King. Gadfly Online. 1.
13. Whitehead, John W. 1.
14. Dalton, David. 73.
15. Dalton, David. 332.
16. Dalton, David. 333.
Fact in the Fiction by Grace Yoon
A review of Sarah Churchwell’s The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe
“What makes the generation more than just an age cohort is [its] shared sensibility, unique worldview…historical memories [and] a set of norms and ideals to which most of its members generally subscribe.”1 The generation born in the early 1950’s is what Leonard Steinhorn describes in The Greater Generation. Rebellion against old norms, the need for change, and the call for acceptance all molded the beliefs of the Baby Boomers. After the end of World War II the cultural state of America was based on conformity and a desire to create order. “Diversity, feminism, multiculturalism, privacy, equal rights, individualism, transparency, social responsibility, [and] political correctness” were qualities that the baby boom generation strove to incorporate into American society.
From the prologue to the fourth chapter, Steinhorn describes the past generation of World War II veterans The Greater Generation. He aggrandizes them as the people who “sacrificed their blood, lives, and future to defend our country.”3 They sustained a certain respect that would follow them to their grave. They were not accepting of other cultures, however. When they claimed that they accepted black people, a leader of an Elk Club responded “We’re not racists, believe me, but we feel we’re a private organization and we have the right to admit who we want in our lodge,” when an African American applied to join the club.4 Steinhorn then goes on to relate this club’s position with many other work organization’s, club’s, and office’s policies. According to Steinhorn, women’s issues and environmental issues also aroused commotion in the 1960’s, when the baby boomers were old enough to understand and make decisions for themselves. Many people criticized Boomers for their modern image which supposedly masked their materialism and greed. People still living in the post-World War II era were afraid of the change that Boomers appeared to be bringing to society. Baby Boomers were typically huge advocates of liberal movements and as a result, seemed a huge threat to conservatives. These conservatives accused them as paupers, who fed off the “frugal, self-disciplined sacrificial generation of World War II” to get more popularity within the country.5
The Baby Boom generation was involved in the aid of many different aspects of respect and cultural development. Steinhorn developed this into 4 main points. The first was the Boomer’s lack of shame in questioning authority. Many television shows such as, M*A*S*H, Rebel without a Cause, Beach Party, The Graduate, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best, were all made to mock the “parents are the highest authority” ideal. They allowed the children to feel comfortable with the fact that questioning their parents was acceptable and sometimes even necessary. When it came to the question of whether or not Boomers should be allowed by their parents to consume drugs, they were met with constant hypocrisy. They saw glamorous celebrities and sometimes even their parents abuse sleeping pills and alcohol, so they thought it would be acceptable for them to do the same. His second point was that civil rights, Vietnam, and women’s liberation all influenced the Boomer’s lives. This allowed them to form “power relationships that shape the world.”6 They often referenced to the black experience, of discrimination and turmoil, as an analogy for women, gays, and anti-war protestors. His third point, was the notion that technology hurt the society. They felt as though technology would hurt the society and they wanted to return to a more nature full state. They believed that only teachers could prepare them for their future’s challenges and that this could not be done by the technological advances taking the world by storm. Steinhorn’s fourth point was to “never trust anyone over 30.”7 This ideal was fundamentally established to remind Boomers to promote youthful qualities, freedom, excitement, and open mindedness. Boomers developed this approach in response to the teaching of people over thirty to not express themselves and to believe that freedom, in the end, meant conformity and logical order.
In the last chapters, Steinhorn addresses the cultural and political aspects of life for the children of the Baby Boom in depth. He talks about how the Boomers supported women’s independence from the “stay at home” mom roles. They tried to help women gain equality in sports, medicine, higher education, and jobs. Another normalcy they broke was the discrimination in America. They wanted to promote the acceptance of gay, lesbian relationships and interracial marriages to life. Boomers use the media to casually bring up interracial marriages. Steinhorn said, “America has always been a diverse country. But only in the Baby Boom era have we stopped trying to deny it and sincerely tried to accept it; only in the Baby Boom era do people no feel the need to hide who they are.”8 Boomers preached equality like this not only to stray away for old norms, but to fight for something they believed was morally right. They used the media to portray this; for example, the show All my Children had its first lesbian kiss on daytime television. Another chapter is dedicated to the idea of “doing your own thing.” Boomers insisted on family bonding, but not only in the traditional ways that families were “supposed” to use. They searched for other ways that improve the relationship between parents and their children. Baby Boomers preached practices like, allowing kids to have more freedom, condoning premarital sex, not conforming to what everyone did, as fundamentally right. Films such as Rebel without a Cause featuring James Dean exemplified this ideal. Other media, such as the book The Catcher in the Rye and rock music were aided growing cause of individualism. Boomers also changed the way businesses worked by making it so that businesses focused not only on the income section of their jobs, but also on the customer and the general consumer. When Boomers were finally old in enough to work and own businesses, they made it their job to improve the lives of their employees and consumers. They believed that the workplace should be more lively and enjoyable. Environmental awareness was one of last ideals that Steinhorn went into depth about. “Should natural environments that support scarce of endangered species be left alone, no matter how much one’s community might benefit economically from developing them? About two-thirds of the Boomers and those younger say yes” this question not only applies to natural environments but also reflects the Boomers’ daily choices to recycle, buy environmentally safe products, and conserve the resources that they already had.9
In that last few chapters Steinhorn highlighted the changes the Boomers brought in the political spectrum. Steinhorn explains that Boomers, like himself, saw the financial interests of politicians blocking the environmental, health, and safety legislations needed for a better America. They thought that political parties, corporations, unions, and the military were too closed, insular, self-serving, and in need of drastic reform. He emphasizes the fact that the universities and colleges were no longer used for the purpose of teaching the younger generation how to live successfully through education, but instead were meant for collecting the money brought in by the younger generations. Steinhorn explains that this method “forced Boomers to reckon with the deficiencies in the education they were getting, [and] how it left huge gaps in preparing them to understand and examine different lives at and cultures abroad.”10 This allowed the reader to clearly understand the different types of college systems available to the Baby Boomers who were ready for the journey of college and facing upcoming changes, like no longer having the dependence on their parents for income and the need for them to become more mature. This also led Boomers to believe that people who are more educated have less of a focus on the racial, sexual, and world-wide problems around them.
Steinhorn’s thesis states that after looking at the past generation of World War II veterans, we can “understand how thoroughly the Baby Boom has transformed and bettered America.”11 In this book, Steinhorn recognizes the influences of the Baby Boomers in America, and how they took to reach their goal of equality and freedom. Steinhorn was a Boomer with personal experience on this situation that was seen first-hand, along with pride, this causes him to be very biased. He writes in his book that he “saw teachers and administrators not really educating them but preparing them to join the rat race and to fit into what Norman Mailer described as ‘cold majesty of Corporation.’12 Steinhorn did not like the fact that teachers were no longer concerned with the well-being of the students and were instead only teaching to receive an income. This brings upon the topic of historiography. This book was written in 2006 – a period that was led by New Left policies. Steinhorn was greatly swayed by the policies Bill Clinton and Al Gore to whom he served as a speech writer. Steinhorn tried his best to push the almost faded Boomer philosophies through Gore’s speeches and policies.
The review on Steinhorn’s book done by Cambridge Review analyzes its thesis, validity, and process for delivering his message. The review first talks about how Steinhorn “contends that the ‘Greatest Generation’ (born in 1911-24) was largely accountable for the sorry state of the nation that the Baby Boomers then purified and reformed.”13 In this way the review criticizes how Steinhorn often refers to the post World War II generation as “sorry”.14 The review then comments on how the “author tends to melt together many group in identifying who perpetuated and condoned the conditions which Boomers then has to solve – including the Lost Generation (1883-1900), the Interbellum generation (born 1911-24), and the Silent Generation (born 1925-45).”15 It talks about how the author states a bias in the favor of the Baby Boomers for being one, and that Steinhorn often denotes the “Greatest Generation” as older people that only believe that freedom is equal to conformity.
Steinhorn’s way of writing is interesting and has a very different take compared to history books on the cultural changes brought upon by the Baby Boom. As Steinhorn says, “reviving the Boomer legacy, [and] speaking with pride about bettering America, will remind us of how remarkably far we’ve come in just a few short years” he implies that the extent of America’s current freedom is partly due to the impact of the Baby boom.16 Steinhorn often seems very predisposed with the topic of the Baby Boom legacy. He talks about the great change that they brought upon the United States; beyond this, Steinhorn mentions that because he is a baby boomer himself, he is more determined to attract public attention to the Boomer’s history and impact on America. While his way of fulfilling his duty is questionable since he is an opinionated liberal, he believes that the creation of constant change in American is crucial for it to gain success politically, socially, and economically.
In the period of the 1950’s, there was much unrest in this country. The potential of communism spreading, the improvement of daily lives in the working industry and in home, and the eruption of the civil rights movement were a part of what made the 1950’s a crucial and unique part to history of the United States. The Baby Boom was the outlining cause to the constant unrest of this time period. People constantly wanting change and improvement in the society around them which made the 1950’s a time of great progress with liberal policies such as civil and women’s rights. Steinhorn explains that “Boomers must continue as an unflagging voice for women’s rights, and in the their graying years they have an opportunity to tackle one of the most stubborn and odious gender problems of all…hidden contempt for the older women and the discrimination that arises from it.”17 In stating that America’s Baby Boomers had to be the ones who changed American society, Steinhorn gives perfect example of how this time period was based off of progress. He believes that constant change brings upon the strength of the Grass-Roots nation, and allows the overshadowed to finally be heard. Steinhorn thinks that the way to succeed in America is to be a part of the constant change and to fight for something that benefits the way of living for everyone in society. The constant goal for the people at the end of the poverty chain to speak and be heard made this a time of growing liberalism. One underlining system that the African Americans, specifically Malcolm X, a black power activist, created was the Grass-Roots nation, which called for end of poverty within America. The philosophy that the Grass-Roots Nation is a big part of the campaign for votes had a hidden meaning that politicians did not understand. Boomers helped the minorities, blacks, women, gay/lesbian, Latino, and other cultures sprout up from the years of discrimination, hate, and inequality. The time for growing liberalism and great progress is really exemplified in the decade of the 1950’s. The ending of the Second World War was a time of liberation and the need for normality to come back to the old times. The Boomers had a different idea for what returning to normalcy meant, such as the bringing back the need for equality. Boomers knew that the old norms were not enough to create a stronger, more diverse America and because of this they aided in the changing of many policies.
The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy by Leonard Steinhorn was made to allow the people of the Baby Boom to be justified for the change in society. The constant thirst for change brought by the Boomers was highly achieved by the people of 1950’s. This work by Steinhorn was although quite biased, explained the reason for the change. Based on a firsthand account Steinhorn describes what the Boomers saw, experienced, changed, and dreamed of becoming. They impacted the liberal movement in United States and they caused many movements to travel full speed to road of equality. Many of the Boomers still live in a constant static of “But if we step back for a moment, block out the noise, and look at the society we’ve created, there is so much to celebrate, so much to admire, all because so much has changed,” the passion the has been created by the Steinhorn for his historical childhood will not be overlooked, and that is what the Baby Boomers ended it up living for.18
Steinhorn, Leonard. The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy. New York: Thomas Dunne , an Imprint of St. Martin's, 2006. Print. xiii
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