By Ted Sares
…colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle class
non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets is each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness…- Jack Kerouac
I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their-Dwight D. Eisenhower
The fifties: Men wear dress hats to work and Stepford-type wives wait for them to come home as they discover Valium. It is all about noir without anyone realizing it is all about noir. It is “back in the day” and returning servicemen. It is happy times. The baby boom is underway-Levittown.-people can afford single-family dwellings and suburbia is born. College is a rare privilege; not an entitlement. The smell of burning leaves on a crisp fall day. Schwinn bikes, drive-in movies, and thick malts are “in.” “I like Ike” memories and at the hop. Red Prysock and Bill Doggett slam out the beat while Ray Charles sings “Mess Around” before anyone ever heard of him. He “lets “the good times roll.” So do Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond visit colleges.
Dysfunctional families, attention deficit, and bipolar disorders are unknown concepts. Those who suffer from them do so in silence without awareness, recourse or remedy. No one uses words like “dysfunctional” or “depression.” Many are consumed by emotions that are kept closeted and cannot be articulated. They suffer silently. There are no graphitized tenements, sinking potholed streets, or garbage-strewn parks, but the smell of winos and urine in the subways exists and there are plenty of slums to go around.
Chopped and channeled Mercury coupes and rumbling dual pipes. Drag races on city streets and old airport runways occur. It’s fast and furious before Fast and Furious. Outlaw biker gangs and one per-centers emerge; they are rebels without causes. Leather jackets, engineer boots, and skin-tight Levi’s or khaki’s and loafers and sometimes even blue suede loafers. Greasers and mods split the high school students. So do “Hollywood” and “Detroit” hair-styles or flat tops or crew cuts–split the difference with a “Duck’s Ass.”
No political correctness here. You eat what you want to eat and smoke where you want to smoke. No seat belt laws because there are no seat belts. People eat lardy chili and greasy bacon and eggs in diners late at night with no guilt. Apple pie with a slice of American cheese is yummy. The Kinsey Report findings shock, but maybe only the naïve. Sexual awareness comes flying out of the closet. In the early ‘50s, city kids go to “Geek” shows that are featured in traveling carnivals. These geeks are very scary; they are not like today’s nerdy hi-tech ones. Stag films are precursors to porn. Juke joints, gambling, even moonshine are all part of the scene.
The Wild One, “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” “Whadda ya got?” Brando and Dean, and Sidney Poitier calls Glenn Ford “Mr. Daddio “ in Blackboard Jungle. The heroes are Joe Louis, Marciano, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Sugar Ray, and Ted Williams. Marilyn Monroe, Gable, Bogart. Bad Day at Black Rock, with Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Anne Francis, and Walter Brennan all in one movie. They thrill. The pure noir of The Killing and The Sweet Smell of Success; Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden and Robert Webber are among 12 Angry Men, all in the same room. On the Waterfront— it’s about union corruption and violence. Boxing has its role as well. Abe Simon says “definitely” to whatever Lee J Cobb says. A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman. It’s heady stuff.
The Organization Man, Ayn Rand, The Affluent Society, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Martian Chronicles, The Catcher in the Rye, Jack Kerouac. The Lonely Crowd. Things are starting to happen. Beats and Beatniks are coming out wearing berets.
Sports in the ‘50s are synonymous with Willie Mays, Bob Cousy; Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Ted Williams, Dolph, and the Mick. TV makes pro football more popular than college football.
Not everything is Pollyannaish. The H-Bomb and a fragile peace co-exist. Some things seem to have a gangster-ridden, edgy quality that is palpable. Modern jazz is cool, man. The giants are Bird, Miles, Dizzy, Kenton and Chet. Chicago blues are performed by blacks who travel north from the Delta on the Illinois Central Railroad. The decade features Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Reed, Fats, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Big Bopper, and Doo-wop. Honky tonk is cool. The sound of the harp is in. Hard bop, rebop, West Coast jazz and Delta blues are the ‘50s. Here comes Elvis, Jerry Lee and rock and roll. The first rock and roll hit is from Bill Haley and his Comets. Grooving at the 708 Club on Chicago’s South Side where Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley reign supreme. “Hoochie Coochie Man, “I’m Ready,” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You” resonate as boys become Mannish Boys and then become men– many of whom soon fight and die in a faraway place called Korea.
The Korean War–June 1950 to July 1953– becomes the “Forgotten War,” but there are at least 36, 576 reasons never to forget it. It is later recalled by M*A*S*H on television, but it becomes a footnote in our history. Veterans of that intense and deadly conflict wear jackets from Rhein-Main, Quantico, Parris Island, Great Lakes, Fort Leonard Wood, and Cherry Point. Men who did their duty return without complaint. Many paid dearly–and silently.
It’s a time of extreme anti-communist suspicion. McCarthyism becomes synonymous with demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations. Black lists. It’s the ‘50s version of the Patriot Act but far worse. Decency finally wins out. Senator Joe, a gifted demagogue, is censured into obscurity by a vote of sixty seven to twenty two, as an attorney named Joseph Nye Welch goes after him in the Army-McCarthy hearings. Roy Cohen lurks.
Racism undergoes subtle changes for the better. Still, it rears its ugly head far too often. Callous cruelty and unfairness are commonplace until the ‘60s. Being called a “kike,” “mick,” “wop,” “Polack” or “spic” is an everyday experience. Many first generation Americans suffer quietly. There are scary white sheets and burning crosses. The Ku Klux Klan is nasty and deadly. Then 1964, civil rights and hope. Martin Luther King. Malcolm, Rosa Parks, and The Little Rock Nine all mean hope.
Boxing, thanks to television, is big in the ‘50s. Names like Stillman’s Gym. Whitey Bimstein, Fred Abatello, Arthur Mercante, Artie (counting at the bell) Aidala, Johnny Addie, Don Dunphy, Jimmy Powers, and Ruby Goldstein are hip. Unlike today’s motor mouths, Dunphy understands that his primary purpose is to describe the ring action and to do it with minimal intrusion on the real attractions, the fighters. Johnny Addis’s smooth tenor holds court at New York’s Madison Square Garden. When he surveys the crowd and declares, “everybody is here tonight,” shivers of anticipation go down spines. It never gets any better.
Everyone watches boxing “with his dad” on the Friday Night Fights and the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. It’s macho before macho. Standing outside a department store window where a nine-inch Admiral TV set allows fans to watch Teddy “Red Top” Davis fight Paddy DeMarco is a real treat even during ten degree Chicago weather. We drink hot coffee mixed with something stronger and boys and men bond without knowing they are bonding. The Friday Night Fights often feature Gaspar Ortega vs. Isaac Logart. Yama Bahama from Bimini is another favorite. Other regulars include Kid Gavilan, Joey Giardello, the rugged Fullmer brothers, Carmen Basilio, and middleweight Joey Giambra.
This is a golden age of boxing if ever there was one. Guys like Davis fight over 100 times. Names like Billy Graham, Sandy Saddler, Carl “Bobo” Olson, Orlando Zulueta, Tony DeMarco, Ralph Dupas, Wallace “Bud” Smith, Johnny Saxon, and Johnny Bratton become commonplace. They appear in the early days of televised boxing, on Monday nights from St. Nicholas Arena or the Sunnyside Gardens. LaMotta, Castellani, Basilio, Marciano, LaStarza, Janiro, Durando, Fusari, Giardello and others add Italian spice to the multi-ethnic mix. Sugar Ray dazzles. Many engage in over 100 fights; they are sportsmen who respect one another and don’t talk trash. These are ring-tested warriors who meet one top ten contender after another to earn a championship opportunity. Fighting fifteen times a year is not uncommon.
LaMotta, far behind, KO’s Laurent Dauthuille with just thirteen seconds remaining in the fifteenth round in Detroit to retain the middleweight title. Joey Maxim retains the light heavyweight title when middleweight champion Ray Robinson collapses from heat exhaustion and dehydration and is unable to come out for round fourteen in New York. The defeat will be the only time in the twenty-six year career of Robinson that he is unable to finish a fight. In a classic between two great champions, Rocky Marciano gets off the deck in the second round and floors light heavyweight champion Archie Moore multiple times, knocking him out in the ninth round. It’s Marciano’s forty ninth consecutive victory and his last.
In the greatest fight of his career, Archie Moore, down three times in the first round and once in the fifth, comes back to floor Yvonne Durelle three times before taking him out in eleven rounds in Montreal to retain the light heavyweight title. It may be the greatest fight of all time.
Eugene “Silent” Hairston appears regularly and is a great fan favorite. Good God, he is legally deaf and needs lights to flash from the ring corners to signal the end of a round. The ‘50s are not without ring tragedies. Nine fighters lose their lives in the decade alone.
Patterson and Johansson start what will be a memorable piece of boxing history. They finish it in the next decade. Meanwhile, Sonny Liston destroys his opposition, and Harold Johnson, Joe Brown, and Jose Becerra show their stuff. This is the ‘50S. Chico Vejar is pure ‘50’s
The ‘50s are a time of laid-back innocence, but a time mixed with portions of fear and loathing as well. Of course, looking in the rear view mirror through the prism of nostalgia makes everything look better. The innocence is soon replaced with a grim reality, turbulence and cynicism that manifest itself through the next decade. A Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, the draft, multiple assassinations, hippies, drugs, protests, riots and racial unrest that explodes. The ‘60s vibe big trouble–very big trouble.