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Mr. Pop Culture Presents 1960 Week-By-Week

Overview by Robert Neill

The popular generic conception usually offered up of "The 1960's" is a swirling, colorfully psychedelic montage of long-haired hippies protesting against war, listening to drugged-out musicians, pursuing inner enlightenment through exotic foreign philosophies and dodging tear-gas canisters lobbed at them by disapproving, uniformed authoritarian figures.

While these sorts of events did characterize the latter half of the decade, the Pop History of the first half of the 1960's doesn't fit that popular imagery at all. Rock and roll music even softened somewhat in 1960, with the wild rockabilly rebels and R&B cats of the late 1950's fading out in favor of wholesome teen idols and other more sedate forms of pop music.

Another popular myth worth busting is that the TV western was "killed off" by the very popular, humorous "Maverick" TV series that mocked cowboy cliches. At the start of 1960, Maverick had been on the air 2½ years, but the Western genre still thrived on all three television networks and on all 7 nights of the week. In 1960, tough-guy cops and private investigators were also still a TV staple. The networks' prime-time schedules also included sitcoms, game shows, dramatic anthology series (like "Shirley Temple's Storybook" and "The Twilight Zone") and even the cartoon "Flintstones" family. Numerous weekly musical-variety or comedy series were built around popular entertainers like Perry Como, Red Skelton and Dinah Shore. The long-running variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan had already been on Sunday nights for over a decade by 1960.

By 1960, movie audiences were long-since accustomed to seeing feature films in color, but it was still not really all that unusual for movies to be released in black and white, though that option almost completely died out by the end of the decade. (The Best Picture Oscar Winner from 1960, for example, was the sardonic black and white comedy "The Apartment.")

Explicit nudity and sex had not yet become as commonplace in Hollywood films in 1960 as they would be later in the decade. In 1960, movie characters would sometimes openly discuss such formerly-forbidden risqué matters, but the sexual acts generally still took place off-camera. 1960 film genres ranged from epic historical dramas (such as "Exodus" and "The Alamo") to weepy sudsers (like "Butterfield 8" or "From The Terrace" or "All The Fine Young Cannibals") to wacky comedies (Jerry Lewis' "The Bellboy") to rockin' musicals (like "G.I. Blues" with Elvis Presley or "Where The Boys Are" with Connie Francis) to low-budget horror films to gangster melodramas to patriotic war stories to films for just about any imaginable taste. One especially seminal film of 1960 was Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," which inspired countless imitations throughout the 1960's and single-handedly established many of the traditions (and later cliches) of the enduring stalker / slasher movie genre. "Psycho" has continued to be copied and / or parodied ad infinitum ever since and may have turned out to be the most influential film of 1960.

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