Everyone is always looking for the next big thing. In the 1960s, it was going into space. In the '40s and '50s, the frontier was technology, with a particular focus on "W… Read more
Youth defined the turbulent 1960s. In 1961, the youngest elected president of the United States, along with his beautiful wife and their adorable children, took up residence in the White House. Just three years later, four lads from Liverpool would help a nation forget the assassination of their handsome young leader the previous fall—for many, the February 1964 arrival of the Beatles in the United States marked the real beginning of the 1960s.
The counterculture that blossomed across the U.S. in the years that followed rebelled against the war in Vietnam, advocated for women’s liberation and civil rights, started speaking up for the environment, and generally challenged the status quo in every possible way. By the summer of 1967, tie-dyed kids with names like "Sunshine" and "Tree" had taken over the streets of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and adjacent Golden Gate Park. Today, many of these same flower children answer to "nana" and "gramps."
The decade began with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 orbit of the Earth. The United States scrambled to catch up as President Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. That challenge was met on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to leave footprints there.
Back on Earth, the first LEDs were created in 1962, British engineers laid the groundwork for fiber-optic networks in 1966, and in 1967, Texas Instruments introduced a prototype for pocket calculators called the Cal-Tech. By 1969, a UCLA student had sent the first message over Arpanet—the precursor to the Internet—to Stanford Research Institute (the system crashed after only two keystrokes).
The 1960s was also the decade when media became portable. The reason was the transistor radio. Even though the transistor had been invented in 1947 and transistor radios had been on the market throughout the 1950s, their rise in popularity in the 1960s was made possible by the steep decline in their price. Now just about anyone could afford a battery-powered radio to take to the beach.
At the beach, surfboards were the playthings of choice, at least in California and Hawaii. Surf culture also extended inland in the form of everything from skateboards (Makaha of Santa Monica hired surfer Phil Edwards to promote its skateboards) to the Beach Boys. Even Stingray bicycles, with their banana seats and high handlebars, exuded the surfer spirit and style.
When the water was too cold for surfing, Frisbees were tossed while onlookers captured the action with their instant-developing Polaroid cameras. And when the weather turned foul, kids headed indoors to race slot cars or read the latest Spider-Man or Fantastic Four comic books.
Car culture went in several directions. For some, the pinnacle of automobile status was an import from Europe, be it a quirky Volkswagen Beetle or a VW Microbus, the symbol of mobility for many free-spirited young people. Others went for classic 1960s muscle cars, spending weekends tuning and detailing their beloved Mustangs, Camaros, and Chevelles.
Film and television reflected the youth-oriented and counter-culture lifestyles. "Bikini Beach" (1964) and "Beach Blanket Bingo" (1965) were just two of the many films starring singer Frankie Avalon and former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer Annette Funicello—posters of these films are some of the coolest relics of this fun-loving era.
On television, "Gilligan’s Island" (1964-1967) spoofed the “perils” of living the beach-life fantasy 24/7, while "Flipper" (1964-1967) used sunny Florida as the setting for a boy’s friendship with his pet bottlenose dolphin.
Laughter was a constant in the 1960s. Both "The Carol Burnett Show" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" premiered in 1967; "Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In" followed in 1968.
Other types of entertainment were more traditional. Cowboy shows such as "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975) and "Bonanza" (1959-1973) ran the entire decade, while dramas such as "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (1964-1968) and comedies like "Get Smart" (1965-1970) betrayed the public’s fascination with spies and Cold War intrigue.
Hollywood was equally smitten. In 1962 the most famous spy series of all time was launched with the release of "Dr. No" starring Sean Connery as Bond, James Bond. Connery would go on to play 007 in four more Bond films during the decade—movie posters and memorabilia associated with Connery’s 1960s Bond films are highly collectible.
On television, the longest running sci-fi show in history, "Doctor Who," debuted in 1963. At the cinema, sci-fi films from the decade included the sex fantasy "Barbarella" (1968) and the special-effects epic "2001: A Space Odyssey," which came out the same year. Movies about criminals remained popular: "Bonnie & Clyde" (1967) was controversial for its frank portrayal of violence.
Then there were the music-related films and television shows, beginning with "American Bandstand" which had been broadcasting live since 1957 but achieved even more success when it went to tape in 1963. In theaters, "A Hard Days Night" (1964) and "Help!" (1965) capitalized on the extraordinary fame of the Beatles, as did "The Monkees" (1966-1968), a shamelessly corny TV show that tapped into the not-so-secret desire of most 12-year-old boys to be rock stars, albeit manufactured ones.
In retrospect, observers are forgiven for looking back on the 1960s and seeing only the Beatles and psychedelic rock. But the 1960s actually began with the return of Elvis Presley from service in the U.S. Army. Within days of his March, 1960 release from active duty, Elvis was in the studio and on the soundstage, cutting records like "Elvis is Back!" and acting in movies such as "G.I. Blues."
Meanwhile, in Detroit, the Motown sound of The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Diana Ross and the Supremes was taking hold. As with just about all forms of popular music from the 1960s, most Motown albums and 45s began as monaural recordings, switching to stereo only later in the decade.
The British Invasion unofficially started on February 9, 1964, when the Beatles performed five songs on "The Ed Sullivan Show." While on tour in the United States, the Beatles marketing machine shifted into high gear, producing everything from autographed beach hats for boys to vinyl handbags for girls.
At the same time, a folk movement was stoking the careers of artists such as Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, to name but a few. Dylan would break from the pack when he grabbed an electric guitar and joined members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band onstage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
That same year, the Grateful Dead formed in San Francisco, and by 1966 the San Francisco music scene was in full swing. Countless musicians launched their careers in incubators such as the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom, which promoted their shows via psychedelic posters created by Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, and many others.
By the end of the decade, in the summer of 1969, a who’s-who of musicians and artists converged in Bethel, New York for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. It was billed as three days of peace and music, and that promise was kept, as acts from The Who to Santana to Jimi Hendrix made musical and cultural history. But the same year, a free concert by the Rolling Stones resulted in bedlam, and a well-documented homicide, at the Altamont Speedway in northern California.
Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn kicked off the decade with their signature suits in pinks and pastels, but 1960s fashion really got going mid-decade with the British "mod" look. 1966 introduced the world to the mini skirt and vinyl Go-Go boots, and the hippie movement added flowers, psychedelic prints, and bellbottoms. One-piece jumpsuits in wild, colorful prints by Emilio Pucci vied for attention alongside double-breasted blazers by Pierre Cardin, and denim jackets were seen being worn over A-line dresses.
Up top, women wore turban-like bubble toques made of feathers, prints, or mesh. Zippered Bobbie helmets exuded a Carnaby Street vibe, as did patent-leather jockey caps, from jet black to bright yellow. Wide-brimmed straw Gainsboroughs were in again, entirely in step with the trend toward natural looks.
For footwear, round-toe Mary Janes were as common as mules and ballet flats. Platform sandals and oxfords were also popular, as were mid-calf boots in suede and vinyl for nights on the town, or thong sandals decorated with clusters of beads for trips to the beach or pool.
Even handbags and purses had a 1960s look. Mary Quant and Judith Leiber were among the designers who focused their efforts on stylish new handbags and purses for upscale clients. Black, white, and gold bags were formed into shapes the suggested the op-art of the day. And fancy duffle bags were all the rage, produced by Coach and other manufacturers.
Homes, too, were places where one could show off one’s sense of style. Sofas and chairs that had been sealed in the 1950s so they could be easily cleaned shed their plastic skins in a move toward less formality. Floor plans that had been typified by warrens of small rooms were replaced by the open layouts and indoor-outdoor design of Eichlers and other post-war tract homes.
Kitchens still featured Sunbeam Mixmasters, but now they sat on bright Formica countertops surrounded by oak cabinets with wrought iron handles. Meanwhile, in the living room, Danish modern furniture looked elegant on the throw rug, while atomic-style Mid-century Modern lamps and clocks provided light and kept the time.
In baseball, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals each won a pair of World Series titles. Famously, Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax sat out game one of the 1965 series because it fell on Yom Kippur, while hurler Bob Gibson led his Cards to victory in 1964 and 1967.
Beyond the World Series, the decade was notable for the 61 homers hit in 1961 by Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth’s record of 60. With the exception of 1967, the Boston Celtics owned the NBA, thanks in no small part to Bill Russell’s work at center and then as a player-coach after Red Auerbach retired in 1966.
Canadian teams won every Stanley Cup in the decade except 1961 (the Chicago Blackhawks took that one). And in football, Vince Lombardi and his quarterback Bart Starr led the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls ever played (1967 and 1968).
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