By Joe Darby
Some time back I bought a set of 10 books, explaining life in the Good Ole USA, as it was originally reported in the Saturday Evening Post magazine.
The books, called “Live It Again,” feature lifestyles, sports, cartoons and the great photos and artist-drawn illustrations that the Post was so noted for. I received the books in the mail, about once every month or so, read them, enjoyed them and then put them on a top shelf of a closet.
But never one to let a good book sit idle too long, I got the set down a few days ago and my eye first settled on the :”Live It Again,” for 1949. Realizing that was exactly 70 years ago, I perused through it and thought I’d share some of its highlights with you. Some of you will remember 1949 (I do, but I was a seven and eight-year-old lad during that calendar year) and what you read below will be familiar to you. For you youngins’ you might get a taste of what life was like for grandma and grandpa.
The books are beautifully illustrated by the Post’s team of artists, including the incomparable Norman Rockwell. The paintings usually depict an ideal life, with scenes of happy families on vacation, going to church, enjoying outdoor recreation, men and women’s fashions (everybody wore hats), men and women at their jobs (with no women in executive positions, of course), some slightly sexy illustrations of loving couples, to illustrate fiction stories, etc. The artwork is a true joy to look at. One thing does stand out, however.
Depictions of African-Americans are almost totally absent. One would think that almost every American in 1949 was white. There was one black truck driver illustrated in a painting, trying to coax a mother bulldog out from under the truck so he could proceed. But that was about it. Even all the “extras” pedestrians shown walking along streets, were white.
But the book does have much to offer. It has news photos of activities of the President — Harry Truman, who had won a stunning upset victory in 1948, defeating Republican Thomas Dewey. It also covers the creation of NATO, which was formed in 1949 to counter the Soviet threat to Europe, as well as other national and international events..
The cars of 1949 are beautifully shown. Many of them have been long absent from American new car showrooms. Remember the Studebaker, the Hudson, the Nash, the DeSoto, Packard, Plymouth or the Kaiser and Frazier? They’re in museums or car shows, now.
Not so much in the South yet, but television was well on its way to becoming a center of family activities. Some of the favorite shows from that year were The Lone Ranger, The Life of Riley, Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, Martin Kane, Private Eye and the kids’ show, Howdy Doody.
Most TV sets were still pretty small and of course they had no remotes yet. When you wanted to turn it on or change a channel, you actually had to get up from the couch, walk across the room and move a dial. Also, the picture screens had been fairly weak, making TV viewing pretty much a night-time activity. So when GE came out with a set that could be watched in the daytime, they bragged about it in an ad!
Other “modern” conveniences such as Mixmasters, refrigerators with built-in freezers, fancy toasters, dishwashers, clothes dryers and gas ranges were advertised in the magazine.
What were folks going to see at the movies in 1949? Well, Samson and Delilah, Battleground, Sands of Iwo Jima, I Was a Male War Bride, Twelve O’clock High, Pinky and All the King’s Men were among popular flicks. Top songs included Ghost Riders in the Sky, That Lucky Old Sun, Mule Train, Some Enchanted Evening, Cruising Down the River and All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth. You could hear all of these on the new 33 1/3 rpm records, which you would play on your very own record player.
The year’s sports are covered and we learn that baseball was more popular than ever, with the New York Yankees besting the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Jackie Robinson was the National League’s best batter with a .343 average. Notre Dame went undefeated to win the national college football championship and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Los Angeles Rams 14-0 to win the NFL.
The Post’s cartoons were lots of fun. One, which reflected the times, shows two eagles high up in a mountain nest, watching two airplanes fly by. One eagle says to the other, “They must breed like flies. Twenty years ago you seldom saw one.” Other cartoons were classic but timeless. A guy goes up to the information booth in a department store and asks, “Why am I here? What does all this mean in the infinite scheme of things?” Another one I like shows a little boy sitting in class, saying to a friend, “Listen to this: ‘The brown dog walked down the big street.’ Is that important enough to be printed in a book?”
People born in 1949, who will turn 70 this year, include Jessica Lange, Billy Joel, Meryl Streep, Bill O’Reilly, Bruce Springsteen, Sigourney Weaver and Bonnie Raitt,
The book is the kind of thing that you would have to see to truly enjoy, of course, but I thought some of the above might jog some memories among us geezers and geezerettes as well as enlightening some of the younger set on what was happening 70 years ago.