September 13, 2019

FTV: Life in 1953

     Ten years ago, my wife and son got me one of those birth year cards entitled, “1953 – Remember When . . . A Nostalgic Look Back in Time”.  I rediscovered it in the summer of 2018 while rifling through miscellaneous files of cards and things that had been waiting for me to sort out when I retired.  Most of the pile got the once over look-see before getting tossed, but this card I had to save. It is always fascinating to look back at was going on in one’s younger years, but especially at the events that were taking place when one was too young to notice let alone remember.  What follows is a summary of things that the Remember When . . . card tells me about the year I was born.  Some of the things discussed are still with us while some have disappeared into the dustbin of history, but as the subtitle of this little pamphlet so elegantly states, “The richness of life lies in the memories that we have forgotten.”

     The Timeline of 1953 presented at the beginning tells us that “Vending machines have their best year in the U.S., grossing $1.25 billion.”  September touts, “AT&T reports 41 new TV stations in 35 cities were added to the Bell system and December reports that, “(the) F.C.C. rules that color TV can go on the air.”  JFK and Jackie announced their engagement in June and the ever popular school aid Cliff’s Notes were first unleashed in May.  In baseball news, the NY Yankees would collect their fifth World Series title in a row in September while October would see the “sacrifice fly” rule reactivated in Major League Baseball (which, of course, I never knew had gone away to begin with).

     The advertisements included remind me of many things that I do remember from my early days.  The one for Betty Crocker cake mixes shows a lovely pink frosted two decker that makes me wonder if this is where I got the idea that I wanted a cherry chip cake for my birthday each year.  The picture of a bright yellow McCulloch chainsaw (“Weighs only 20 pounds complete!  Only $225 f.o.b. Los Angeles”)  really hit home because it is the same model I remember my dad using.  To me, 20 pounds felt like 20 tons when I tried to hoist it, but dad always assured me that it was a big improvement over cutting firewood with a crosscut saw.  I only wish I could still lay hands on the 33 page Woodcutting Manual they advertised on the same page:  “Use handy coupon to order – please enclose 10 cents to cover postage and handling.”  Let’s not forget the advertising pages for those other modern marvels from 1953: Westinghouse TVs, “good hot soup” from Campbell’s Soup, Kohler Plumbing Fixtures, and Kodak Cameras.

     From the world of entertainment, 1953 saw a variety of actors and actresses born including

John Malkovich, Kim Basinger, Louie Anderson, Mary Steenburgen, Joanna Kerns, and Rick Moranis.  As of this writing, all of them are still with us and from what I can tell, still working. From the world of motorsports, Indy-car driver Bobby Rahal made his appearance in January and another kind of ‘actor’ appeared in May;  British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Let us not forget that “Little Ricky” was also born on the I Love Lucy TV show in 1953.  Miss America for that year was a Georgia Peach named Neva Langley and Papa Ernest Hemingway collected the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea.  Reality TV star Duane “Dog” Chapman (Dog the Bounty Hunter ran on A&E from 2004 to 2012 and recently returned to the air with a new program called Dog’s Most Wanted) was born in February of 1953.

     Politically speaking, Dwight Eisenhower (Ike to the masses) was sworn in as the 34th President  of the United States, and his second in command was Richard Nixon. Later known as ‘Tricky Dicky’ to the 1960s generation, Nixon would later have a presidential career hat trick when he was defeated by JFK, elected over HHH, and finally resigned the office after the Watergate scandal.  The speaker of the House of Representatives at the beginning of the year was Democrat Sam T. Rayburn before the title was passed to Republican Joseph W. Martin. Earl Warren was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Uncle Sam created a new department called The Small Business Administration.

     Among the world and national headlines were some interesting tidbits.  The state of New York adopted the three color light traffic signal in 1953 (presumably starting another New York trend that would spread across the country like wildfire).  The television industry was reporting record breaking revenues, much of it generated by the sponsorship and advertising from the burgeoning post-war cigarette boom. TV Guide began in 1953, and if the previous sentence is any indication, it had more than a few tobacco related advertisements within its pages.  Elizabeth II was crowned in England while her countryman Edmund Hillary (along with Tenzing Norgay) made the first successful summit of Mount Everest.  Watson and Crick unraveled the mystery of DNA’s double helix. Georgi Malenkov took over the chairmanship of the Council of Ministers after Josef Stalin died (both historical events included in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire and now clarified for me).  Marshal Tito is named the president of Yugoslavia after they adopted their new constitution.  

     Scanning the calendar included with this 1953 summary, I noticed that New Years Day was a Thursday, the Fourth of July was a Saturday, my birthday fell on a Sunday (as did Halloween), and Christmas was observed on a Friday.

     Popular music selections for 1953 were definitely in the pre-rock genre.  The ten titles presented include Patti Page’s The Doggie in the Window, Perry Como’s Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes and No Other Love, Eddie Fisher’s I’m Walking Behind You,  Rags to Riches (Tony Bennett), St. George and the Dragonet (Stan Freberg), Where is Your Heart (Percy Faith), Till I Waltz With You Again (Teresa Brewer), May God Be With You (Les Paul and Mary Ford), and The Ame’s Brother’s You You You.

     The movie houses were abuzz with some titles that are still considered classics today.  At the top of the list was the Academy Award winning From Here to Eternity.  Eternity’s cast included Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed.  There is no doubt that this stellar cast did not hurt the film’s chances to pick up an Oscar. Other notable movies of the year included Peter Pan, The War of the Worlds,  Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, Shane, and How to Marry a Millionaire.  The lavish, colorful poster for the last title made good use of the three main female leads (Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall).  The poster heading called attention to the great improvement in cinematography that could be seen in the film by bragging, “The Most Glamourous Entertainment of your lifetime in CINEMASCOPE – You see it without glasses!”  It sounds to me like CINEMASCOPE was to movies in 1953 what 3-D is to film these days, the only difference being one does need the (3-D) glasses to see the latter.

     There was one other 1953 birth that didn’t make this booklet but he bears mentioning because we have a connection of sorts.  His name is Howard Schultz. When Dick Frantti retired from the Ontonagon Area Schools, it was my pleasure to present him with one of his retirement gifts from the school staff.  This duty traditionally included a short ‘roast’ of the person retiring. I announced Dick’s retirement by mentioning that there were three important graduates from Northern Michigan University in 1975.  They were Dick, Howard Schultz, and me (remember, a ‘roast’ is meant to be a bit of fun, so don’t get the wrong idea about my inclusion on this list). As I told the assembled revelers, there were a lot of similarities in the career arcs of this ‘Big Three’:  We all worked with countless numbers of young people, we all worked the majority of our careers with the same organization, and the places we worked sported cool logos. I concluded this little send up by saying, “Speaking from experience, I don’t think that Howard could have gotten as much personal job satisfaction as the CEO of such a large company as Dick and I did working in a smaller arena.  Of course, Howard also earned $27 million as the CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company this year,” to which Dick chimed in, “You can buy a lot of job satisfaction for $27 million”.

     I was not aware of Howard Schultz until Starbucks made plans to put one of their coffee shops on the Northern Michigan University campus.  The announcement caused a brief uproar in Marquette when some protested that the presence of a Starbucks outlet on campus would put all the mom and pop coffee shops in town out of business.  Following this conversation in the press was the first time I heard about Howard’s connection to Northern. As a student, he worked as a bouncer at an establishment we used to frequent, so he may have checked my ID at some point, but there was no personal interaction with him.  We probably sat in the same row during our May 1975 graduation ceremonies, but who knew that when he left NMU to work for a small coffee distribution company in Seattle that he would end up heading a vast empire.

     When Schultz went to work for Starbucks, it was a small company that roasted and distributed whole coffee beans.  While traveling in Italy, he was struck with the sense of community that existed around the small espresso shops he visited.  The idea led to him form a small coffee shop company of his own called Il Giornali.  When the original owners of Starbucks decided to sell the business, Schultz put together an investment team, merged the companies, and laid the foundation of Starbucks with 11 stores.  By the time Starbucks was planning to invade Marquette, Schultz had grown the company into a world-wide venture over more than 16,000 stores employing hundreds of thousands of ‘partners’ and ‘shareholders’.  The Starbucks outlet at NMU was the first to appear on a college campus, something that has become quite common world-wide.

     Other than seeing outlets at various airports when traveling, I can’t say that I was ever much of a Starbucks customer.  Usually the lines were out the door and it was easier to find a cup of coffee at other establishments. My only thought at the time was, “When a multi-millionaire business person wants to set up shop at their alma mater, does it make sense to say ‘No!’?  Who knows what other ventures they may be willing to engage in once they have a foot in the door.” I should note that at last count, Marquette has three different Starbucks outlets and all of the mom and pop operations are still doing brisk business as well.

     During the process of summarizing the events of 1953, I happened to read a book about Schultz entitled Onward (Rodale Books, 2011, by Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon).  The book is Howard’s accounting of his return as the companies CEO in 2007.  Schultz had stepped down from leading the company and after seven years of serving only on the Board of Directors, he felt the company had lost its way.  Profits were down and rapid expansion had diluted what he felt were the core values of the corporation. After he returned as CEO (sorry, ‘ceo’ as they do not capitalize titles at Starbucks), he began a two year plan to revitalize the company.  The multi-tiered plan is too complex to present here, but suffice to say I now have a different view of what I call ‘The Starbucks Mentality’ that I used to shake my head at when observing those long lines of customers waiting for their Starbucks fix at the airport.  Yes, Howard Schultz is the head of a very large and successful corporation, but the environmental, commercial, and personal ethics of Starbucks are something that other corporations would do well to emulate. Certainly, he has that certain ‘kutzpa’ needed to run a big corporation but I can’t say that this would necessarily translate into being an effective president (something he has mused about more recently).

     There you have it;  1953 in a nutshell. If you are seeking a birthday gift that will tickle the fancy of just about anyone, look into the Remember When…booklet/cards. 

Top Piece Video:  Here are some Top songs from across the pond from 1953