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?