Television

November 12, 1957 – Moorpark First Town Powered by Nuclear Energy

On November 12, 1957, the small town of Moorpark, California, became the first town in the United States to be entirely powered by electricity generated from a nuclear reactor.  At 7:30 PM, the lights went out for all 1100 residents of the rural Ventura County burg; twenty seconds later, when they came on again, history had been made.  Local farmers and townspeople, shop owners and newspaper editors, all had different reactions to the new technological marvel.  Barton Miller, Moorpark’s postmaster, was “pretty excited”.  “My wife and I drove up on a hill that night so we could see the town all lighted up.”  Grocery store owner Ruben Castro experienced the event as a “mystery”.  He admitted, “I didn’t know anything about atomic power, other than it was used for a bomb.  I guess I should have been happy that we were using this warlike energy for peacetime purposes.”  Whitaker’s Hardware owner James Whitaker felt let down by the whole event.  “It was very undramatic.  We were like, ‘Oh, so what.'”  An editor of the local newspaper was downright suspicious.  He accused the power company of indulging in “hocus-pocus” in a column titled, “Interesting No Doubt, but Partially Phony”.

Credibility and wider interest came with television coverage two weeks later on Edward R. Murrow’s See it Now program.  The footage obtained by a New York reporter and three-man camera crew put Moorpark on the map.  “We were more impressed with being on national television than about the event itself,” said resident and featured homeowner Charles Sullenbarger.

The Moorpark experiment had originated from President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, which sought commercial uses for the new atom-splitting technology developed for military applications.  All through the 1950’s, the federal government encouraged the national power industry to take advantage of nuclear power as a cleaner, more efficient alternative to fossil fuels for generating electricity.  Moorpark’s “nuclear-flavored electricity” was generated from a small reactor in nearby Simi Hills, operated by Atomics International, a division of North American Aviation, which eventually became Rockwell International.  Southern California Edison transferred the 6500 kilowatts of energy generated by 20,000 kilowatts of nuclear reactor heat to the entire town for only about one hour, although the reactor continued to fill part of the town’s electricity needs for years.  “It was a very successful experiment,” A.C. Werden Jr., an Edison engineer explained, “We proved we could do it.  We could furnish electricity to a community from a nuclear reactor.”

Hardware-purveyor Whitaker’s slightly humorous, slightly ironic assessment of Moorpark’s scientific milestone illustrated the disconnect that can exist between visionaries and grass-roots folks.  “There was a feeling around town that the whole thing had been much overrated,” he explained.  “It was just a short little zip on TV.”

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959. Photo: EnviroReporter website

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November 6, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Lori and Greg Singer!

The Singer Family in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1962: (Left to right) Jacques, Gregory, Lori, Leslie, Marc, and Claude (standing)

The Singer Family in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1962: (Left to right) Jacques, Gregory, Lori, Leslie, Marc, and Claude (standing). Photo: The Oregonian

On November 6, 1957, older brothers Claude and Marc Singer welcomed two new members to their extraordinary family – twins Lori Jacqueline and Gregory.  Their parents, Poland-born violinist and symphony conductor Jacques Singer and pianist and tall Texas beauty Leslie Wright Singer, were soon to oversee a household of budding prodigies.  Their talented offspring eventually found success in movies, music, dance, television, and modeling.

Embed from Getty Images

Lori Singer at the PGA Awards, January 22, 2011

Lori’s professional talent and accomplishments have been impressive; as a cellist, she made her symphonic debut at age 13, was accepted at the Julliard Performing Arts School in New York City, and won the 1980 Bergen Philharmonic Competition following her graduation.  In addition to school and music studies, she earned spending money as a model, represented by the Elite Modeling Agency in New York.  In her spare seconds, she began studying acting and made her debut on the television series Fame in 1982.  (Older brother Marc paved the way with star turns in the movie Beastmaster and its sequels, the television mini-series V, and many other silver- and small-screen performances, including American Conservatory Theater Shakespearean productions.)  Lori is perhaps best known for her role as pastor’s daughter Ariel Moore in Footloose with Kevin Bacon.  She also appeared with Tom Hanks in The Man With One Red Shoe, and received awards for her performances in Trouble in Mind and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.  She has appeared in several other movies, continued to perform in classical music venues, and in 2013 co-produced the award-winning documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.

Greg Singer. Photo: Manhattan Symphonie

Greg Singer. Photo: Manhattan Symphonie

Lori has been a tough act to follow for her brother Greg, even though she only got a 3 minute head start.  A very talented violinist and conductor in his own right, Greg’s progress as an artist always required more work and determination than the almost effortless success Lori enjoyed.  He also studied at Julliard as a teen, played with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and American Symphony Orchestras, and in Broadway shows, ballets, and operas.  He has managed the Naumberg Orchestra and New York City Symphony.  He currently lives across town from Lori playing his violin, conducting the Manhattan Symphonie, and running his own W. 80th Street shop, Gregory Singer Fine Violins.

I have a remote personal connection to Lori and Greg, from their years spent in Portland, Oregon while their father conducted the Portland Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1972. The twins attended Ainsworth Elementary School, where they became good friends with my trumpet-playing, wonderful future husband.  My future husband greatly missed Greg and Lori after they left for New York and Julliard.  In 2010, after almost forty years, he reconnected with the twins, spending a music-filled afternoon with Greg in his violin shop and speaking with Lori by phone.  We continue to wish them much success and happiness.

November 2, 1957 – Asian Flu Documentary Airs on ABC

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

On November 2, 1957, the ABC television show Johns Hopkins File 7 aired a documentary on the deadly influenza pandemic striking millions around the globe.  In the episode titled “Asian Flu”, host Lynn Poole and expert epidemiologist Dr. Charlotte Silverman traced the origins and spread of the H2N2 virus, first discovered in 1933.  Dr Silverman, chief of the Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases for the Maryland Department of Health, advised viewers how to avoid contracting the virus.  Actors demonstrated the debilitating symptoms of the grippe, as it was called then, and animation sequences depicted the effect of vaccines and antibodies (the “good guys”) against viruses (the “bad guys”).  Dr. Silverman made reference to antibiotics, “the new miracle or wonder drugs”, but explained that they were ineffective against influenza (and all other viruses).

Johns Hopkins University created more than 700 educational television films from 1948 to 1960, which aired on the ABC, CBS, and the former Dumont television networks.  They are currently collected in the university’s Sheridan Libraries.  The Johns Hopkins Science Review, one of the programs to air the films, was the first university-based series to appear on a national network and also be broadcast overseas.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957 was a serious public health menace.  By the time it had circled the globe, roughly 70,000 Americans had died, among over 2 million victims world-wide.

October 18, 1957 – The Frank Sinatra Show Debuts on ABC

On October 18, 1957 (“It Was a Very Good Year“!), the first episode of The Frank Sinatra Show was aired on ABC.  Viewers could be excused a slight feeling of deja vu (“A Foggy Day“?), however.  An earlier television show starring Sinatra had appeared on CBS between 1950 and 1952 – also called The Frank Sinatra Show (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me“).  ABC’s sequel (“The Second Time Around“) was to include thirteen variety shows (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance“), thirteen dramas starring Frank, and ten dramas hosted by Frank, all taped in advance at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood (Not “My Kind of Town“?) and lasting a half-hour (“Come Rain or Come Shine“).  Sinatra would have total artistic control (“I Did It My Way“) and receive $3 million (“Nice Work if You Can Get It“) for the series.

Frank’s guests were a stellar bunch.  Bob Hope (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin“), Kim Novak (“The Girl Next Door“), and Peggy Lee helped Sinatra kick off the series opener, one of the variety offerings.  Other big names during the season included Dean Martin (“I Get a Kick Out of You“), Bing Crosby, Robert Mitchum, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eddie Fisher (“Love and Marriage“), Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Wood, Van Johnson, Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Shirley Jones, the McGuire Sisters (“Young At Heart“), Ann Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and his daughter, Nancy Sinatra (“Nancy“!).

Low ratings for the drama offerings led to schedule adjustments (“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“?).  ABC switched to more variety shows, and a majority of them ended up being live broadcasts (“The Way You Look Tonight“).  By the time the series ended in June of 1958, fourteen live variety shows had been broadcast, eight filmed varieties, four dramas starring Sinatra, and six dramas which Frank hosted.  Critics weren’t generous to Ol’ Blue Eyes (“Please Be Kind“!)- and Frank doesn’t seem to have put his all into making the show a success (“Fly Me to the Moon“!).  Reports were he hated to rehearse (“Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad“).  As a result, filming for eleven shows was shoehorned into fifteen days (“Luck Be a Lady“), with an understandable but unfortunate loss of quality (“The Best is Yet to Come“?).

Despite the series’ cancellation, Sinatra’s successful career would continue for decades (“Pocketful of Miracles“).  Frank always remained a great favorite with the American public (“Let’s Fall in Love“!)(“All the  Way“!)

October 13, 1957 – The Edsel Show Broadcast

Louis Armstrong; Frank Sinatra; Rosemary Clooney; Bing Crosby. Photo: CBS

On October 13, 1957, CBS aired a live (on the East Coast) broadcast of The Edsel Show, essentially a one hour “infomercial” promoting the recently released-but-doomed new Ford Motor Company brand.  The broadcast is now primarily famous not for the car, and not for the impressive list of musical talent involved, but for the fact that it is the oldest surviving television show on videotape (made for the three-hour air delay on the West Coast).

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra hosted the star-studded evening which included musical performances by Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, “mystery guest” Bob Hope, and the Norman Luboff Choir.  The Edsel Show, a one-time special, replaced CBS’s usual Sunday night powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show.  “Edsel: The Show”, as opposed to “Edsel: The Car”, was ironically one of the year’s most successful and popular broadcasts.  The show served as Bing Crosby’s television breakthrough, after which he signed a two-special-a-year, highly-compensated contract with ABC.

The real star – the car! Photo: CBS

Rosemary Clooney reported in her autobiography, Girl Singer, an amusing (or embarrassing) moment on the day of the show.  “The only Edsel I ever saw was one they gave me to drive while I was rehearsing.  I came out of the CBS Building, up those little steps to the street where my purple Edsel was waiting, like the Normandie in drydock.  Mr. Ford was right behind me, heading for his Edsel.  I opened the door of my car and the handle came off.  I turned to him, holding it out to him.  “About your car . . . .”

October 12, 1957 – General George Kenney on the Mike Wallace Interview Show

General George Kenney. Photo: US Air Force

General George Kenney. Photo: US Air Force

On October 12, 1957, Mike Wallace opened his Interview television broadcast with the following dramatic words:

“Tonight we had planned to interview one of the great fighters of our time, Sugar Ray Robinson.  But because of the alarming turn in world events this week, Sugar Ray has consented to a postponement of his interview so that tonight we can go after the story of the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for control of outer space.”

Instead of a champion of the boxing ring, Mike hosted a champion of World War II’s war on Japan: retired Air Force General George Kenney, Commander of Allied Air Forces under General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific.  MacArthur said about Kenney: “General Kenney has no superior as an air commander.  His creative imagination and his brilliant leadership mark him as one of the unique figures in aviation.”  Wallace also credited Kenney with “a reputation as a fearless military analyst”.

The alarming world event Wallace was referring to was the recent successful launch of the USSR satellite, Sputnik 1.  Mike lost no time in getting right to the point with Kenney: How serious was the threat posed by Sputnik, and how should the United States – and the world – respond?

Kenney, his words and manner confirming him to be a principled man of demonstrated ability, succinctly and persuasively made the following points:

  • The successful launch of Sputnik 1 proves that the USSR has developed the rocket technology necessary to propel an ICBM into United States air space, posing a serious threat to the security of our nation.
  • America has been too complacent and apathetic about the Soviet ability to develop weapons and produce them in quantity.
  • The day the Soviet political and military staff decide they can win a nuclear war, they’ll pull the trigger.  They follow the teaching of Marx and Lenin, which confirm this world mission.  Khrushchev reiterates this point in every speech he makes.
  • A preventive first strike (Wallace repeatedly proposed this option) is not the answer.  Like the sheriff of our western heritage, don’t shoot the bandit on first sight.  Warn him he has so much time to get out of town, and if he doesn’t leave and reaches for his gun instead, beat him to the draw.
  • We are behind the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons development because the American public has not taken the threat seriously enough.

Kenney, while not eager to lay blame anywhere for the United States’ having fallen behind in the Cold War arms race, stressed that US leaders mostly followed the desires of the electorate, based on the average voter’s priorities.  “If the people of this country really want defense they can have it,” he asserted.  “All they’ve got to do it demand it.  The feeling in Washington is that they wanted the budget balanced, want taxes reduced, they want bigger Social Security benefits,  more pensions, better roads, and all kinds of things.”

Kenney went on to make insightful and cogent remarks on a variety of issues related to American military defense, the performance of key government and military officials, and recent scientific research.  He shared his views on the stance the United Nations should take with member nations headed by dictatorships and explained why, in his opinion, the Russian government newspaper Isvestia had labeled him a “high ranking lunatic”.

General Kenney concluded the interview with a glimpse of his personal integrity.  He explained why he chose not to work for defense contractors after his retirement from the Air Force – “they would expect me to be down in Washington to help them sell their stuff and I couldn’t do that if one of the competitors of the company that I was working for had a better missile or a better engine or a better airplane”.  Kenney, instead, chose to spend part of his retirement contributing his time and talents to a cause he felt passionate about – the Arthritis Foundation.

Vintage 1957 – Play-Doh Fun

Play-Doh Fun! Photo: Hasbro for Play-Doh

Play-Doh Fun! Photo: Hasbro for Play-Doh

In the fall of 1957, the young (and maybe the young-at-heart) had fun squishing, rolling, stretching, and shaping one of the newest toys on the market, Play-Doh.  The non-toxic, easy-to-clean-up-after compound was first manufactured in the 1930’s as a pliable, putty-like wallpaper cleaner, created by Noah McVicker for Kutol Products.  Noah’s nephew, Joe, who also worked for the Cincinnati family’s soap company, discovered in the late ’40s that schoolchildren were using the compound to make Christmas ornaments.

Recognizing a promising business opportunity, Joe took the white concoction made of flour, water, salt, boric acid, and silicone oil to a school supply manufacturers convention.  Department store Woodward & Lothrup of Washington, DC became his first commercial account.  In 1956, the McVickers founded Rainbow Crafts Company to focus exclusively on Play-Doh production and sales, introducing colored dough with a three-pack of 7 ounce cans in red, yellow, and blue.  Retail behemoths Macy’s of New York City and Marshall Field’s of Chicago soon opened retail accounts and in 1957 a chemist named Dr. Tien Liu improved the product recipe by reducing Play-Doh’s required salt content.  Lowering the amount of salt “kneaded” in the clay allowed precious creations to dry without losing their color.

Also in 1957, the McVickers’ started advertising campaigns in children’s television programming.  Breaks during Captain Kangaroo, Ding Dong School, and Romper Room showed America’s children how much fun Play-Doh could be, and by 1958 Rainbow Crafts’ sales of Play-Doh had reached almost $3 million.  In 2003, the Toy Industry Association listed Play-Doh as one of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century.