Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Double-dating with Sinatra

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book I'm still writing about growing up in the '60s in the San Fernando Valley.  It's 1965 and I'm in high school.

Meanwhile, willowy 19-year-old actress Mia Farrow began dating a “real” senior – Frank Sinatra. He was 49 at the time. It would have been great to double date with them. Maybe go to the Friday night Taft football game, and grab a pizza at Shakey’s. You know what else Frank would like? A popular activity among the in crowd was TPing someone’s home. That meant showering the house with streams of toilet paper. I can just imagine Frank tossing a roll, saying this house looked vaguely familiar and then realizing, “Hey, this is where the kidnappers held my son!”

School rivalries were big in the San Fernando Valley, especially in the fall when football reigned supreme. Taft had two rivals – Canoga Park High and Birmingham High. Canoga was our nearest competitor. They had an older stucco campus and a much rougher, uh… diverse population. Families routinely avoided buying homes within Canoga Park High’s district just to spare their kids from having to be enrolled there. The rivalry would have been bigger had we not been scared shitless to set foot on the Canoga campus.

So we needed another rival more our socio-economic level. Birmingham High in Encino fit the bill. Good football program and instead of knife fights you just had Jews taunting each other that their temples had superior air conditioning.

It usually came down to Taft vs. Birmingham and this year the big game was held there, in their gleaming new stadium. The P.A. announcer was Dick Van Dyke whose son was a member of the “Braves.” Then they were the “Braves”; now they’re the “Patriots” – don’t you just love political correctness?

We won the big game and the West Valley title. Our road to the City Championship ended however in the first playoff game when Dorsey High from South-Central beat us by 50 points. 300-pound future NFL stars proved to be a tougher challenge than Dick Van Dyke’s offspring.


1965 was really the last year of the 1950’s. We still thought and acted like we were in The Donna Reed Show or Ozzie and Harriet. There was an innocence that steadfastly persisted despite pesky flashes of reality – riots, a war, civil unrest, drugs, teen rebellion.

We boomers were growing more and more uneasy, to the point where we had to finally take action. We sang. My generation could not have a thought or a feeling or bowel movement without singing about it. So out of this unrest came “the protest song”. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were the vanguards, but the tune that perhaps had the biggest impact was “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. Barry McGuire had been the lead singer of The New Christy Minstrels, a wholesome collection of apple-cheeked young goody-gooders who sang about hayrides and gooseberry preserves. McGuire veered somewhat from the Hootenanny by singing a tale of imminent world doom. Within weeks it was the number one record in the country. Written by P.F. Sloan, these were the catchy lyrics we were all singing along with:

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

That gives you an idea of the terror and foreboding fear we all lived with every single day… although it wasn’t so terrifying that we didn’t buy the record and dance to it at parties.


Max Clarke said...

Ken, I hope you'll record an audiobook of your 60s book as well. That's the one I'd like to buy, your re-living the events at the mike will no doubt be a great listen.

VP81955 said...

And 1965 was also the year that Bill Drake's KHJ "Boss Radio" was born.

Paul Duca said...

Going on a double date with Frank Sinatra seems only slightly more unreal than going to a football game and hearing Dick Van Dyke's voice over the loudspeakers.

William Howard said...

The Eve of Destruction - a great dance tune. Can't recall ever dancing to that one even if the title perfectly described my dance skills.

Ironically, The Ballad of the Green Beret became a number one hit about 5 months after Eve.

SeattleDan said...

I remember that '65 Taft-Birmingham game. I was sitting in the opposite bleachers from you. As I recall, it was a pretty good game, with Taft pulling it out in the last minutes of the fourth quarter. I also remember going to the sock hop afterwards and developing a crush on one of the Taft cheerleaders who'd come by to visit all her friends she went to Portola with. Good times! Thanks for the memories, Ken.

spreng said...

Ken, normally I would not mention this, but since this will become a book, I feel I must. You describe "Eve of Destruction" as "a tale of immanent world doom." That should be imminent.

Kirk said...

"although it wasn't so terrifying that we didn't buy the record and dance to it at parties."


Twintone said...

Question for Friday:

They never ordered any beer or alcohol by name on Cheers. The taps were always pouring mugs of beer brand beer. In real life, people actually order drinks and beer by name. I assume there would have been an issue to get clearance to name drop beers and booze? Was this tricky to work around?

Tom Quigley said...

Ken said:

"Meanwhile, willowy 19-year-old actress Mia Farrow began dating a “real” senior – Frank Sinatra. He was 49 at the time."

I remember on one segment of HOLLYWOOD SQUARES in 1968 after the couple's breakup, Peter Marshall asked Paul Lynde "Paul, in the musical CAMELOT, who sings 'I Wonder What The King Is Doing Tonight?'?"...

Paul's answer: "Oh! Mia Farrow!"

chalmers said...

Another Paul Lynde line about a willowy blonde:

Peter Marshall: Paul, Twiggy recently gave an interview where she said her bust had grown by one inch. How many inches is it now?

Lynde: One.

Roger Owen Green said...

I always thought the 1950s ended somewhere between November 22, 1963 and February 9, 1964.

aron pieman kay said...

summer 65 was a turning point for me!!!i was about to go to the b-10 at fairfax high school and it was the spawning of a new trip that was about to impact our lives....the byrds, bob dylan and folk rock was being heard on the airwaves....a new teen rebellion was happening in mid america!! we the children aka kennedy's children who were shocked by the events of 11/22/63 were at the forefront protesting racism and the vietnam war were witnessing lots of twisats and turns to come!!
that led me to helping green power focalize the griffith park love-ins leading me to my life as the yippie pie thrower

Jak said...

Hi Ken,

My take on the end of the 50's (and I got into radio in'64) was January of '67.

The hippies took over music, radio formats and dress codes. Probably would have happened just because of the war but there also was a changing of the guard. A new generation of 15- 21 year olds wanted their own voice in 1967.


Solymar said...

The 60"s began on 11/22/63 and lasted until Nixon resigned in 1974The fall of Saigon in 1975 was a forgone conclusion. I remember in1978, just after I bought my first 3 piece suit and joined corporate America taking a business client to lunch where he extolled the virtues of Ronald Reagan predicting his election in 1980. I thought at the time no way America will elect an actor. They're all actors now.