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The year 1964 is so much in the news right now. This has driven me to search through lots of old files. I practice what I preach to my writing students: don’t throw anything out. You never know when you might need those notes, your journals, first drafts of stories and essays, or those photographs.

On January 14 PBS featured a documentary on “1964” as part of The American Experience series. It happens that the sequel to my memoir, Only You, is rooted in 1962-1964, and that era is always fascinating to me.

In the early ‘60s I worked for The New York Times Information Bureau. If you called during those years and asked a news-related question, I might have been on the line: “Information Bureau, may I help you?” My co-workers and I spent our days on the third floor in The Times Building on West 43rd Street in Manhattan, near the morgue and the newsroom. For a young woman – the youngest person on staff — this was a heady experience. The Times’ publisher, “Punch” Sulzberger, would sit and chat with my boss, Chester Lewis, the Chief Librarian, in a glass-boxed area a notepad’s throw from my desk. I would interact daily with the morgue crew, reporters and editors.

The 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in New York on February 7, 1964 is very big news at this time. And where was I? At my desk in the Information Bureau, of course. I wasn’t a Beatles fan yet. They would have to grow on me – and they did. On Sunday, February 9 The Fab Four appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and “the country has never been the same,” according to one journalist. Their debut in the States and their effect on popular culture remains imbedded in our minds, along with other events of that year — the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, the swelling of the civil rights movement, the military buildup for the war in Vietnam, and the presidential race between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson.

Historic facts and trivia not mentioned on PBS:

January 6: Pope Paul VI was the first pope ever to fly on an airplane when he visited the Holy Land (Jordan and Israel).

March 15: Elizabeth Taylor married Richard Burton, her fifth husband.

March 27 (Good Friday): The worst earthquake in U.S. history hit southern Alaska.

April 13: Sidney Poitier won the Academy Award for best actor – the first black man to be so honored.

April 22: President Lyndon Johnson spoke on opening day of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Admission to the fair: adults: $2.00; children, $1.00.

May 19: American wrecking crews uncovered over 40 microphones embedded in the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

July 28: Sir Winston Churchill retired after serving in Parliament for 64 years.

October 16: China exploded its first atomic bomb, becoming the fifth nuclear power.

December 10: Jean Paul Sartre won the Nobel Prize for literature, which he turned down, concerned that the award would turn him into “an institution.”

Also during the year: Kellogg introduced Pop Tarts; Pepsi announced its lo-cal Diet Pepsi; General Electric offered a new electric knife, and Cadillac featured an automatic “Climate Control” air-conditioning system.

Books included Saul Bellow’s Herzog; Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, and Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies topped softbound sales.

At the movies were Dr. Strangelove, Goldfinger, Mary Poppins, The Pink Panther, and Zorba the Greek.

Some TV debuts that year: The Addams Family, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, and Peyton Place.

Broadway welcomed Hello, Dolly, Any Wednesday, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof.

Among the songs that charted in 1964, besides six Beatles hits, were “Everybody Loves Somebody” by Dean Martin, “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys, “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, and ”Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison.

New words in the lexicon: Appalachia, au pair girl, isometrics, WASP, nuke.

Deaths during the year: Peter Lorre, March 23; Rachel Carson, April 14; Ian Fleming, August 12; Herbert Hoover, October 20; William Bendix, December 14.

As for the Beatles, a front-row ticket to their first concert in America cost $4.00. And the fee they received for performing three times on the Ed Sullivan Show was $10,000.

Many friends from my old candy store crowd will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries this year. Four of my cousins welcomed babies into their lives during 1964 and, in December, the first of my two children was born.

Yes, indeed, it was a very big year!

And what were you doing in 1964? What news do you recall that others may not?

 

30 Responses to 1964 – It Was a Very Big Year

  1. I remember it well since I graduated from high school that year. Several of my classmates immediately joined the military and were sent to Vietnam. Two of them did not come home. In September, quite a few of my classmates and I will celebrate this anniversary. And I can’t wait to see everyone again.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Memories you’ll never forget, Lorna. I’m so glad you’re still in touch with your old classmates and that you’ll celebrate with them. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. marta chausee says:

    Lovely post, with just the right blend of nostalgia and information. What was I doing in 1964? No idea. I wasn’t aware of just about everything you mentioned. Now I’m sad that Ian Fleming died in 1964. I wish he had written more Bond books. I’ve been unhappy with all the movies not based on one of his books.

    Love you, Eileen. You’re the greatest and, boy, do I envy the life you had in The Times Building. Just at the time the Mad Men years were turning into something COMPLETELY different. Lucky lady– you were there.

    Marta

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’ve written quite a lot about those New York Times years in the new memoir (which I wrote quite some time ago, but it’s still being worked on). The Mad Men were in NYC; two of them, now retired, are fellow writers. I’m glad I didn’t work in that world, however. Love you too, Marta!

  3. Dac says:

    That was a troublesome year for me. Oppressive tactics at my job and difficulties at home. Trying to integrate two families – my six-year-old daughter and two teenage stepsons headed for trouble.

    I did not appreciate the Beatles. I was still trying to understand all the fooraw about Elvis. I was living in Knoxville, where you could hear some really good guitar music (think Chet Atkins). I thought that all that Beatles crap would fade away when those young groupies went through puberty.

    Just goes to show. I still get together with some good acoustics musicians on Thursday nights. We play old tunes. No Beatles.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      The year was personally difficult for me too, Dac. I’ve written about it in detail in another memoir called “Losing Faith.” The book needs work but I hope to finish it while I still have my memory intact. I love the Beatles now, but it took a while to appreciate them. I’ve been an Elvis fan since he first appeared on the scene. Thanks for writing.

  4. JoAnn Phoenix says:

    As always, Eileen, this was delightful. I remember the year well. I was a young teen at the time and a Beatle fan. I can’t believe it was 4.00 for a ticket…..front row yet!! I was cheated out of that experience!!!! Thanks for sharing. JoAnn

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are supposed to be on tour this year because of all the media deluge. What do you think – $150 for a ticket? More? Good to hear from you.

  5. 1964 was the year I graduated from college and got married for the first time. Major milestones!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      John, I had just started college (how I got that job at The Times without a degree is in the sequel to Only You) and got married for the second time. Still too young, as in marriage #1!

  6. Joseph Bonelli says:

    Very well done Eileen. I think you know I have fond memories of the first half of the 1960’s. I was also enamored with Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. I had friends call me “Bonn, Joe Bonn”

    As a young musician I was fascinated with the Beatles and their music. I have the DVD set of all of their appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Comedian/Impressionist John Byner appeared on that first show from New York. Actress Mitzi Gaynor danced and sang on the second show broadcast from the Doral Hotel in Miami Beach.

    President Johnson also worked hard to get passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

    I am so thankful for meeting you and participating in your writing classes. I have enjoyed your newsletters and now enjoy your blog.
    Joe B.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Oh, I appreciate these memories of yours of that era, Joe. Musicians have their own special take on the music of the day (see Dac Crossley, another musician, on this page). You can see the PBS documentary right on your computer if you haven’t seen it already: http://www.pbs.com. See you and the gang next week!

  7. I missed out on those things happening in this country in 1964. In the first half of the year, I was still editor of the 1st Cavalry Division newspaper. Later I was a copy editor for North Asia Press in Seoul, Korea, and also a free lance correspondent for a variety of news venues. I was also newly married. So I guess, all in all, it was a memorable year for me, too.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      It sure does sound like a memorable year. Totally different experiences from mine but strong and unforgettable. Big year for marriages: you, John Daniel, me (my second).

  8. Mickey Quinn says:

    I was the youngest of 5 and only 7 years old then. Didn’t even know the Beatles were on TV and heard about it the next day in 2nd grade! Like you though, they grew on me and I agree that the world has never been the same…almost like we needed that after the tragic end of the ‘Camelot Era’. Funny how things happen for a reason. Thanks for this look back….

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Very well said, Mickey! That Camelot era was oh so brief, and then the craziness of civil rights “war” and the Vietnam war was on. We needed the Beatles and the whole British invasion to add some levity to what was going on, in my opinion.

  9. Wow! A lot happened in 1964! That New York Times gig must have been really cool. I was 3 years old, so maybe pooped in my sand pail or something like that.

    Interesting post Eileen!
    Ciao
    Wanda

    • Eileen Obser says:

      You probably heard the Beatles through a radio while out there in the sand pail, Wanda. Maybe you even grew up to like their music, like millions of other people — of all ages.
      Thanks for replying.

  10. Karen L. Lew says:

    Nice piece of writing . . . and nostalgia, Eileen. By 1964, I had been married for two years and had my first two children (waited till 1965 for the third one). Thus, I was very caught up in being a wife and mother . . . or at least play-acting at it. But the death of JFK, and those of RFK and MLK in the next few years, plus losing a couple of friends to the Viet Nam war and having strong feelings about the civil rights movement also found time and space in my life. My only daughter was born in December 1963 with a full mop of black hair that never fell out (she is half Chinese), so we called her the “youngest Beatle after they made their appearance the following year. Yes, it was a full, and fraught, time of our lives. Thanks for the memories. Karen

  11. Eileen Obser says:

    Thanks for commenting, Karen. It’s great to hear from you. I love that you called your daughter the “youngest Beatle.” Hope all is well with you.

  12. Jerry Giammatteo says:

    Great retrospective as always, Eileen. I was only 8 years old at the start of the year, but remember the Ed Sullivan show vividly, and recall my parents appalled reaction with amusement. So naturally, I loved them. It was also my first sports hero, Mickey Mantle’s last great season in baseball. I also went to my first Mets game at Shea Stadium with my family after a visit to the World’s Fair in June. We simply walked across the street and under the El for my first of hundreds of visits to Big Shea. It was just before Vietnam escalated. To me, it was a turning point year for our Country, but not always in a good sense. Thanks for prodding the memory. Be well.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Good to have your input, Jerry. Of course, you would remember the sports news — and happily so. Those early memories led to your lifelong interest in sports, no doubt.
      There’s another Newsday essay in here for you . . .

  13. Marsha Kenny says:

    Eileen… in February 1964, the Beatles were in the background of my life as I waited to hear back on college applications. I do remember watching them on Ed Sullivan’s show with my parents who could not believe how long their hair was. I thought Paul was the cutest. Seeing the TV clips of screaming girls behind barricades, I have mixed feelings… did I miss out on history-in-the-making or was I just self-absorbed and itching to move on from high school? Fortunately, my Beatles awareness grew over time and my parents learned to adapt to even longer hair and Fu Manchu mustaches in the early 70’s. Happy New Year…

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Amazing how we all have different, specific memories of that year and that era, Marsha. I just love reading people’s various reactions to this blog. By the way, I still think Paul’s the cutest. He’s practically a “local” but I’ve never run into him. If I do, I’ll say, “Sir Paul, you’re still the cutest.”

  14. Ed Hannibal says:

    YOU SURE ABOUT “WASP”?

  15. Wonderful post, Eileen! I never realized that so many of the movies, television shows and plays that I love were made/introduced in 1964. I also get a kick out of knowing that Sartre had something of an existential crisis over being awarded a Nobel Prize. Thanks for taking the time to go through the history books and educate us with this delightful timeline of an important year.

  16. Eileen Obser says:

    Great to hear from you, Kathleen. I appreciate your input. It’s true that so much of the 1960s arts and popular culture has stayed with us. I had fun putting together the blog and am glad you enjoyed it.

  17. pat shevlin says:

    What a trip back! Thanks Eileen. Here’s another historic fact omitted by PBS for the month of February: Pat Shevlin celebrated her fourteenth birthday in the middle of Beatle Mania! As a freshman in an all girls Catholic high school, I can only say that we were all sinners in the eyes of the nuns for lusting for those mop headed Brits. I still had a time as I my love of music was Motown and Beach Boys as well. If Paul were only a Beach Boy instead of a Brit. Given that he lives out here somewhere – I think Amagansett – perhaps he did find his way to my way of thinking.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Great to hear from you, Pat. We miss you in the workshop. Yes, you were at the best age for enjoying those groups. Paul lives in Amagansett, and I’m hoping he shows up next Saturday night, Feb. 8,, at Bay Street Theatre. All the local musicians will be doing tribute versions of Beatles songs. Come on down!

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