Bill Haley and His Comets

Bill Haley and His Comets

It’s easy to guess a person’s approximate age by things they can remember from when they were young.

You’re getting along there in years, if you easily remember the 1950s, when automobile bodies had “tailfins."
In 1954, rock group Bill Haley and His Comets recorded the song “Rock Around the Clock.” It was used in the 1955 movie “Blackboard Jungle,” and New York disc jockey Alan Freed named and popularized the name “rock and roll” for that kind of music.
Professional sports began to be shown on television then. The Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper, the first African-American on a professional basketball team.
A television set with a huge picture tube, 21-inches, black-and-white of course, cost about $350; it had 23 smaller tubes and two “rectifiers.” Rin Tin Tin and Lassie (dogs) starred in television series.
Women were wearing poodle skirts, wide and flaring out at the knees. The name came from the first ones, which had appliques of poodles on them for a reason known only to garment designers. Also popular were the opposite long, tight pencil skirts.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy tried to investigate communists in the film industry, and only one of the 11 Hollywood persons he summoned would testify. Eventually, more than 300 actors and other entertainment professionals were placed on his industry blacklist, but it ended when the Senate voted to censure McCarthy for his activities.
Those were the days when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.
McDonalds still peeled and cut fries on the premises.
If your grown-up memories hang around the Forties, they tend to be about World War II. Young men remember going off to war, and women remember unexpectedly going into the work force.  Folks who were at home recall dealing with rationing of food and clothes, and practicing air raid blackouts.
Hitler’s Germany was taking over Europe, and Japan attacked the United States, and so half of our decade was war time. We fought, and devised the atomic bomb.
But other things to remember were happening. DuPont invented nylon stockings. The Polaroid camera and the Bikini bathing suit came along. Warner Brothers started making cartoons about a Bunny named Bugs.
Forrest Mars Sr. patented a candy called M&M’s, and Cheerios started as a cereal called CheeriOats  (but later took the oats out of it.)
Mount Rushmore’s faces were finished. The first electronic computer was demonstrated. The ballpoint pen was devised. At Gimbel’s in Philly, they demonstrated a toy called the Slinky.
And if you can recall the Thirties, you’re pretty darned old. The year began with five million people unemployed (out of a population of 123 million} because of the 1929 stock market crash.
Astronomers discovered a ninth planet, which they named Pluto. The 1930 Census asked if you owned a radio. Congress approved the Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem. Beer became legal, after 15 years of Prohibition.
In 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly an airplane alone across the Atlantic. In 1937, she disappeared while attempting to be the first woman to fly around the world.
I remember that last one. Want to guess my age?
Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.

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