By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
THE FABULOUS FIFTIES
between the cataclysmic, war-torn 1940s and the explosive 1960s, (which
for the first time in U.S. history pitted one generation of Ameri-cans
against another), the 1950s initially seemed a rather drowsy decade.
But the passage of almost a half century has
altered that perception, and part of this change can be attributed to
books such as The Fifties, written by David Halberstam, one
of the world’s preeminent authors, who earlier won the Pulitzer
Prize for The Best and the Brightest.
In retrospect, it seems incredible that the
Fifties should have originally been given such short shrift, for much
of what happened during that decade greatly determined what American
society is (both good and bad) today. It was an era which featured powerful
personages who will not soon be forgotten.
—Dwight Eisenhower, the former Allied
Supreme Commander during WWII, and later President of the United States,
whose common decency and fair-mindedness set the bar higher for all
future political leaders.
—John Foster Dulles, Eisen-hower’s
Secretary of State, whose arrogance caused ruptures in relations with
Latin American countries which to this day have not entirely healed.
—General Douglas MacArthur, perhaps the
most brilliant military strategist in American history, first won and
then lost the Korean War when his ego overwhelmed his good judgment.
—President Harry S. Truman, who left office
in 1952 with an approval rating of only 27%, but who is today regarded
a near-great president.
—Harley Earl, the GM marketing whiz who
put tail fins on cars, and forever cemented America’s love affair
—Martin Luther King radically changed
the way America looked at itself, and in the process he gave the country
—Elvis Presley brought a brand-new beat
to American music, and left an unforgettable legacy to the entertainment
—Gregory Pincus, whose scientific team
perfected the Pill, thereby forever transforming the sexual habits of
a nation, and eventually that of the entire world.
—Marlon Brando, the greatest actor of
his generation (and perhaps any other, as well), who along with three
other monumental talents in the ‘50s, director Elia Kazan, writer
Tennessee Williams and actor James Dean, forever changed the face of
film in the United States.
—Senator Joseph McCarthy, who splintered
an entire country with his self-promoting accusations about alleged
pro-Communist “traitors” (even branding WWII hero and former
Secretary of State George C. Marshall a “conscious agent of the
Communist conspiracy”), died an alcoholic in a gutter of his own
—Marilyn Monroe, whose rise and fall (self-imposed?)
made her an icon whose luster burns brighter than ever, some 40 years
after her death.
—Mickey Mantle, dubbed “The Natural,”
was the New York Yankee center-fielder whose assault on many of baseball’s
most hallowed records was thwarted only by a series of debilitating
—Lucille Ball and Milton Berle changed
the night-time habits of an entire nation, and along with a dozen others,
made television a vibrant new force in America.
The First Presidential TV Debate, Kennedy vs.
Nixon, the night image forever replaced the printed word as the natural
language of politics.
A pretty interesting cast of characters for
a so-called “drowsy decade,” and only a small fraction of
those in Halberstam’s book. If the Fifties was anywhere close
to your decade, do yourself a favor and check out this memory-lane of