Few movies in the 1950s caused as much pop culture buzz and dismay as The Blackboard Jungle.
While television celebrated an idyllic baby boomer suburban life, the big screen told a story of youth anger, rebellion and crime.
Which was the real baby boomer America? Both.
Throughout the 1950s, “juvenile delinquency” and adolescent “crime waves” dominated headlines, usually focusing on traditional Caucasian neighborhoods. In the public mind, anti-social teen behavior in America’s largest ethnic communities – Latino and Black – was still peripheral.
Three hit movies showcased this dark baby boomer reality. Young celebrities were building a career as troubled boys and girls.
The Wild One portrayed an untamed, unexplained primal force of restless youth. Rebel Without A Cause unveiled the free-floating, equally mysterious angst that infected middle class kids. James Dean became the tortured symbol of the newly-coined “teenager.”
Blackboard Jungle was set in a tough urban environment that might be expected to breed disillusionment and bad behavior. The most violent and disturbing of the big three, the movie was banned in some cities. President Eisenhower intervened to prevent it from inclulsion at the Venice Film Festival.
In England and America, there was scattered unrest verging on riots by young Blackboard theatre-goers. The first movie to use rock n’ roll as the sound track, some adults blamed the music for stirring up wild emotions. The theme song – Rock Around the Clock – quickly became a national teen anthem.
Beatniks added to the sense of malaise. For many parents, the Beat Generation wasn’t a harmless Maynard G. Krebs rebellion that would pass over baby boomers like a quick shower, but instead a sea of turmoil and crime, even revolution.
Critics wrote of a dangerous undercurrent of sullen, defiant baby boomer discontent, as if society were sitting on a powder keg. We were. Few imagined what form the explosion would take.
~ Dick Clark was well aware of how upset parents were with the new music. American Bandstand drew its studio dancers from Philadelphia high schools, not all that different from the streets of Blackboard Jungle. The young host enforced dress and behavior codes to assuage parent’s fears.
~ There was a steady flow of “B” juvenile delinquency “exploitation” movies. The best known:
~ By the 1960s, juvenile delinquency was knocking on mainstream hip, and Hollywood co-opted the public fascination into the elegant musical hit, West Side Story.
Baby Boomer Trivia Questions
►What was the original name of Bill Haley and the Comets?
The Four Aces of Western Swing
Sons of the Pioneers
►Boomers in Common: What did these three stars of Rebel Without a Cause share with Vic Morrow, co-star of Blackboard Jungle?
►Who coined the phrase rock n’ roll?
DJ Alan Freed
DJ Wolfman Jack
►Where is the Rock n’ Roll Museum located?
Answers at end of post
This Day in Baby Boomer History
2010: Christie’s sets a record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction – Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust for $106 million.
1991: Mo Udall, Representative from Arizona and former Presidential hopeful, resigns due to Parkinson’s disease.
1991: President Bush is hospitalized for an erratic heartbeat. Vice-President Dan Quayle stands by, as does a nervous nation.
1976: Kiss performs its first concert.
1973: Hardly anyone noticed. First network television female nudity scene occurs in the little-known PBS Steambath – Valerie Perrine stars and shows.
1970: Everyone noticed. National Guard kills four students at Kent State in Ohio during an anti-war protest.
1965: Willie Mays 512th home run breaks Mel Ott’s National League record.
1964: Soap operas Another World and As the World Turns make their television debut.
1961: The first group of “Freedom Riders” begin their bus trip through the South to protest segregation in public transportation.
1959: The first Grammy Awards:
~ Best Male Vocal Performance: Perry Como, Catch a Falling Star
~ Best Female Vocal Performance: Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Sings Irving Berlin
~ Album of the Year: Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn
~ Record and Song of the Year: Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu
~ Best Recording for Children and Best Comedy Performance: Alvin and the Chipmunks
1953: The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to Ernest Hemingway for Old Man and The Sea.
Answers to Baby Boomer Trivia Questions
The former Four Aces of Western Swing
(If The Quarrymen sound familiar, it was a name used by four lads before they became The Beatles.)
►Boomers in Common: All died young and tragically:
Sal Mineo, murdered in an armed robbery.
James Dean, killed in a car crash.
Natalie Wood, fell off boat and drowned.
Vic Morrow, killed in helicopter accident while filming Twilight Zone movie.
►Pioneering disc jockey Alan Freed was one of the first to popularize the new baby boomer music, and coined the term rock n’ roll. He worked in Cleveland until moving to New York in 1954. Cleveland houses the Rock n’ Roll Museum.