A host of eccentric characters populated Hooterville, the fictional setting of the hit 1960s TV sitcom Green Acres about a lawyer named Oliver Wendell Douglas who flees New York City to pursue his pipe dream of rural life. Hooterville’s daffy denizens included Sarah, the elderly switchboard “oppa-ray-TOR” who tended to turn calls through the town’s antiquated party-line system into a variation on the telephone game.
In the character’s debut episode, Sarah (played with guileless gusto by Merie Earle) began her day by patching her percolator in to the switchboard slots for two neighboring towns — perhaps the reason she misdirected all her subsequent calls. She also insulted her new boss at the Hooterville Phone Company, Mr. Douglas (played by Eddie Albert), who’d purchased the enterprise from Sarah’s brother, Roy, only to learn he’d acquired a dilapidated, money-losing operation. To the annoyance of Mr. Douglas, Sarah never rose above her initial level of incompetence.
Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as the 37th U.S. president on Jan. 20, 1969. Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the United States, administered the oath of office in front of assembled dignitaries including outgoing president Lyndon B. Johnson and his vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey. Nixon had defeated Humphrey in the previous November’s presidential election, and Humphrey’s loss was widely interpreted as a repudiation of Johnson’s conduct with the Vietnam War.
As Nixon wrote in one of his memoirs, peace — both domestic and international — was the main theme of his 17-minute inaugural address, which referenced the ongoing Cold War against communism, the Vietnam conflict and racial turmoil. In one of the speech’s oft-quoted passages, Nixon sampled Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address, suggesting that good things transpire when Americans listen to “the better angels of our nature.” Referencing antiwar and civil rights protests, like the acts of defiance that took place in the nation’s capital immediately before and after the inauguration, Nixon declared that Americans should “lower our voices.” Nixon promised that in response, the U.S. government under his administration would listen better.
You’ve probably already stocked up on chips and guac in preparation for this Sunday’s Super Bowl. But while Peggy prepped ads for the “big game” in Mad Men‘s Season 6 premiere, the annual tradition has only been around since 1967. The game’s origins lay in the mid-’60s, as the National Football League faced growing competition from the American Football League (which debuted in 1960). Rather than divide the marketplace, the two leagues merged, then created a championship game which pitted each league’s winner against the other’s.
Today, the Super Bowl is big business — the average cost of a 30-second commercial is around $4 million — but the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game didn’t even come close to attracting a sellout crowd. Far from it: On Jan. 15, 1967, only 62,000 fans showed up at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, leaving 35,000 seats empty. The game was close in the first half, but the NFL’s Green Bay Packers ended up beating the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. For the first and only time in Super Bowl history, two networks broadcast the event: CBS representing the NFL, and NBC the AFL.
The second Super Bowl was played Jan. 14, 1968, in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The Packers emerged victorious again: 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders. The “Super Bowl” became the official name for the third game — memorable for quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath’s pre-game guarantee that the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts. They did: 16-7.
Alluded to in Mad Men Season 4 Episode 12, the film Mary Poppins opened in theaters September of 1964. Starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the movie was a major hit with audiences as well as critics, who swooned over the visual effects. Never before had live-action characters appeared alongside animated characters to such a believable degree.
Bringing Mary Poppins to the big screen was no easy feat for Walt Disney, who spent 15 years wooing Travers before she reluctantly agreed to let his studio adapt her stories. In return, she received $150,000, a percentage of the gross and approval of the script. She also demanded that the movie be live action, not animation. As production progressed, however, Disney and Travers’ relationship grew strained. Travers was ultimately unhappy with the final product, believing that it strayed too far from the spirit of her books.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a spy television series that aired on NBC from September 1964 to January 1968. Described by the New York Times as a “smooth, bland brew of contemporary sleuthing that stirs in a heady serving of James Bondish fantasy, gadgetry and voluptuous girls,” the show helped launch the careers of its stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.
The show followed the adventures of Napoleon Solo (Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (McCallum), agents in an international organization called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). The series was originally conceived as a solo vehicle for Vaughn, but when audiences responded positively to McCallum’s role as a Russian agent in the series pilot, he was soon promoted to co-star status. Some considered it a bold move to pair up an American with a Russian agent at the height of the Cold War.
Poor initial ratings prompted MGM, which produced the series, to tweak the writing and shift the air date from Monday to Tuesday nights. MGM also sent the handsome stars on a nationwide tour to promote the series. It worked: “The reaction to their visits has been clamorous,” wrote the Associated Press. “Industry sources credit these tours with playing a large part in achieving a renewal of U.N.C.L.E. for next season.” By January of 1965, 20 million fans were tuning in every week.
The Beverly Hillbillies, the popular TV sitcom, debuted on Sep. 26, 1962. About 35 million people tuned into CBS to view the story of the Clampetts, a likable family from the Ozark hills who became rich from oil and took up residence in a California mansion. Though critics and industry folk derided The Beverly Hillbillies as “waist-deep in corn” and possibly “the worst program, artistically, in the history of television,” the show finished number one in the ratings each of its first two seasons and remained popular throughout the 1960s. Its memorable theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” was the first bluegrass single to top Billboard magazine’s country-music chart.
Typical Hillbillies plots involved clashes between the Clampetts and their snobby Beverly Hills neighbors, most notably the wife of their greedy banker, Mr. Drysdale. Though he also treated the Clampetts like ignorant hicks, Drysdale declared them, his biggest depositors, “my kind of people — loaded” and spent nine seasons attempting to prevent homesick patriarch Jed Clampett from withdrawing his funds and relocating his clan back East.
The 1960s were replete with one-hit wonders, but few performers experienced as meteoric a rise and fall as John F. Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader. In November 1962, The First Family, his lightly satiric album about the Kennedys, set a Guinness World Record by selling more than a million copies within two weeks of its release. A concert tour, a reported $22,500-per-week run at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and other high-profile television programs quickly followed. When JFK was assassinated the following year, Meader’s album and its sequel were withdrawn from sale out of respect, and his nightclub bookings were canceled or postponed. Meader recounted that he knew his career was in trouble when, after the assassination, fans reacted to him with pity — which he acknowledged, “is death for a comedian.”
Few pop stars of the late 1960s were more visible than Mark Lindsay, the lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders, which shot to fame as the house band on ABC’s musical-variety show Where the Action Is. Five afternoons a week, the Raiders played covers and Top 40 singles — “Just Like Me,” “Kicks,” “Good Thing”… — and engaged in antics inspired by the Beatles’ movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help. The Fab Four connection was no coincidence. Action‘s producer Dick Clark marketed the Raiders as America’s response to the “British invasion”. With their Revolutionary War get-up and Lindsay’s trademark ponytail, the Raiders certainly looked the part.
Lindsay’s good looks inspired much breathless prose in 16, Tiger Beat, and other teen mags. The writer of a typical piece contrasted the “smiling, happy, dashing, gallant, laughing, care-free and outgoing” facade Lindsay maintained publicly with the off-screen “torment and confusion of a young man searching for his name and meaning in a very nameless world of labels.”
The 1968 Democratic National Convention, which took place in Chicago, was one of the most contentious events in American political history. The months leading up to the convention had seen an incumbent president decline to run for reelection, two major assassinations, rioting in more than 100 cities, and increasing dissent about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. When antiwar activists announced plans to protest at the convention, Chicago’s “law and order” mayor, Richard J. Daley, warned them not to come — and met the ones who did with a display of force that shocked the millions of Americans watching the spectacle on television. As many historians have since reflected, what took place outside the convention hall played as significant a role in determining outcome of the 1968 Presidential election as the political maneuverings inside it.
Throughout the convention, about 12,000 Chicago police officers, reinforced by several thousand Illinois National Guardsmen, an equal number of U.S. Army soldiers, and 1,000 Secret Service agents, kept the protesters (who at most numbered 10,000) away from the hall, which was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. The government commission that later investigated the daily clashes assigned blame to both sides, though it pointedly described the skirmishes of Aug. 25 and 26 as a “police riot.” Things were no calmer on Aug. 28, the day convention delegates voted down a plank for the Democratic Party platform opposing the conduct of the Vietnam War. The protesters headed for the hall but ended up in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, the headquarters of both the delegates and the media. Television cameras captured the confrontation between the protesters and police, and about 18 minutes of footage was broadcast unedited. Many shots showed officers clubbing seemingly defenseless protesters, news gatherers, and onlookers.
Roger DeKoven was a character actor whose career on Broadway and in radio and television spanned seven decades. Among his high-profile credits were the widely praised Against the Storm, a thinking-housewives’ daytime radio drama that debuted in 1939, and the original 1964 Broadway production of Funny Girl, in which he played the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. to Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice.
As did many New York actors of his generation, DeKoven supplemented his income from stage work with appearances first in radio and later on TV. In Against the Storm, he played lead character Jason McKinley Allen, a sensitive college professor. The 15-minute serial had its share of soap-operatic situations, but its scripts also reflected on the issues of the day. After the Second World War broke out but before the United States became involved, for instance, an entire episode was devoted to the professor’s ruminations on the futility of armed conflict. Against the Storm won a 1941 Peabody Award for Outstanding Entertainment in Drama — the first, and for years only, daytime show to earn the honor. Procter & Gamble canceled the show a few months later, though it was revived two more times.