A chat between Avocado Memories' Wes Clark and Hal Lifson, author of Hal Lifson's 1966.
Introductory piece about Hal Lifson's 1966 by Liz Smith:
Liz Smith, February 19, 2003
REMEMBER 1966? It was the year of "Batman," "The Monkees" and "Star Trek." It was the year Frank Sinatra married Mia Farrow ... the year Raquel Welch burst out in "Fantastic Voyage" ... the year the Beatles released their "Revolver" album ... the year Nancy Sinatra put her stomp on pop music with "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." All these events and much more are covered in "Hal Lifson's 1966," a zippy and colorful look at this watershed year. Lifson, a PR guy from way back, covers everything '66 - movies, music, TV, advertising, toys, food, etc. Adam West, Batman himself, wrote the foreword, and Nancy Sinatra provides the introduction.
We thought pop culture and moral standards had gone as far as they could go, back in the swinging mid-'60s. Those days seem almost Victorian now.
Wes: So, Hal, 1966. You've got a book and a CD on Varese Sarabande out about it. I was ten in 1966; it was a wonderful year. As I recall it was a banner year for comic books, what with the ABC-TV "Batman" premiering in September of that year. I well recall the initial episode cliffhanger with Batman and Robin being strapped to spinning tables of centrifugal death by the maniacal Riddler. I was deeply into comic books just before this, and the TV show seemed like a Godsend. That is, until I realized it was being played for camp and got a look at the "Batusi." Eccck. Anyway, what prompted you to select that particular year?
Hal: I was 5 and 6 in 1966. (My birthday is July 16, 1960.) 1966 was my favorite year as a kid. More things happened in pop culture that year that have stayed with me my whole life than any other year. I loved Batman, despite the spoof angle. I loved the colors. What stood out about the Sixties in general was color. I tried to make my book very colorful; almost all the photos are in color.
In 1966 there was the Pet Sounds album by the Beach Boys, which I loved, even as a kid. It has a very childlike sound to it. Brian Wilson wrote a quote for me in my book that says, "1966 was by far the most creative year of career."
The Green Hornet came out that year. I loved that show. I bought a '66 Chrysler Imperial years later because it was the car they used to build the Black Beauty which Kato chauffeured.
1966 was the year of the Beatles' Revolver, Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, and the debut of The Monkees. Thunderball played in theatres that year, and of course, Star Trek, which I was not a huge fan of, but respected as a well-written show.
Most of all, that was the year I got my lime green Schwinn Sting Ray. It changed my life to be able to "drive" around the streets of Encino in such style!
Wes: I remember staying up late one Friday night watching the Green Hornet promos on ABC. I was fascinated with that turntable used to conceal the Black Beauty upside down in an area under the garage, and recall trying to build one with my Lego set (and failing abysmally).
The James Bond film Thunderball was very important to me; my friend and I watched it many times. (In fact, themes from the John Barry score still float around in my head.) Once again using the building materials at hand - Lego blocks - I built all sorts of spy gear for when we became neighborhood spies. It helped that my family had an above-ground pool in the backyard - it was thus easy to play out some of the underwater sequences in Thunderball! It wasn't until sometime later that I realized what an unrealistic role model James Bond was for common American boys. Slapping schoolyard girls on the fanny usually resulted in a painful punches on my shoulder.
Were you much of a comic book reader in 1966?
Hal: I loved comics in 1966! Mostly D.C. titles, Archie and Harvey. My favorites were Sad Sack (goofy army antics, reminiscent of Gomer Pyle), and his buddies Slob Slobinsky and Hi Fi Tweeter. There was also a Sad Sack spin-off comic that began in 1966 called Gabby Gob (the Navy version). I loved The Green Lantern, Batman, Superboy and the Teen Titans. Also, I liked the D.C. humor titles like Swing With Scooter and Bob Hope comics. I liked Marvel comics too, but mostly to look at the images. The story lines were a bit heavy-handed for me at six years old. I loved the Marvel Superheroes cartoons, though.
Wes: I liked Batman and Captain America the best; my friend Jimmy was a big fan of the Fantastic Four, who were famous for those heavy-handed (but wonderful) story lines you mention. I liked the 1966 D.C. super hero spoof The Inferior Five, which seemed new and inventive to me. Also, I got a kick out of the Metal Men, which was a great way to learn some simple chemistry. (Don't ever throw metallic potassium into water - it'll explode. Or will it? Who cares? It was a good story device.) Anyway, I had about 1,200 comics in a big trunk in my room - which was painted avocado.
1966 was the year we bought a new buttery-colored Ford Mustang; it was a hardtop six-cylinder, but it still accelerated pretty well. Owning a Mustang back then certainly had a novelty associated with it; I can recall waving and being waved to by other Mustang owners while on the road, as if we were all members of some sort of club. Our Mustang had a black interior. Jimmy and I used to pretend we were in the Green Hornet's Black Beauty when in the back seats, being chauffeured to crime scenes by my mother, who stood in for Kato. Later, when Mom and I drove home from the Hollywood Boulevard Cinerama after seeing "2001 - A Space Odyssey," I pretended I was in a space pod traveling into infinity. (It was hard to do. Our Mustang's dashboard looked nothing like the interiors of Kubrick's spacecraft.)
Hal: My family owned two cars in 1966: 1) A 1963 powder blue Ford Country Squire station wagon, and 2) A 1966 Chevy Impala - pale yellow with a black interior.
Years later I bought a '66 Imperial because it was the car used on the Green Hornet show for the Black Beauty. I loved his emerald green mask. It reminded me of the Green Lantern.
The Green Hornet and T.H.E. Cat were the two coolest shows of 1966. I liked Girl From UNCLE a lot too, mostly because of Stefanie Powers.
Robert Loggia was outstanding in T.H.E. Cat playing T. Huett Edward cat, former circus aerialist and jewel thief who had become a bodyguard for hire. He was dangerous and existential.
Wes: I remember T.H.E.Cat, but it wasn't a favorite of mine. In 1966 and 1967 I was heavily into Star Trek, which I loved. I have recently reflected about the irony of popular entertainment and my changing tastes. Back then, I loved sci-fi and fantasy genre stuff like Star Trek, the Time Tunnel and Batman, but what was popular was the film noirish cops and detectives stuff (1950's and 1960's crime dramas, in other words). Now, as an adult, there's all sorts of sci-fi and fantasy stuff for me to watch - but I am now heavily into film noir!
Hal: Do you remember the Adams Sour Fruit gums in the mid '60's; really tangy-tasting stuff from the company that made Black Jack and Teaberry?
Wes: I should say so, especially as my last name is Clark. The Clark's Teaberry Gum was a favorite - and yes, I recall the ad campaign for the "Teaberry Shuffle." In fact, I can still hum the Tijuana Brass theme from the commercial. I thought the little stylized teaberry tree looked classy; I am happy to see that the packaging hasn't changed.
Hal: Also, there was the Caravelle bar with Rice Krispies from Peter Paul. I know you liked the U-No bar. The Milk Shake car was great too! I loved the little bag of bubble gum in a cloth pouch I think from Leaf candy called "Bag O' Gold" or something like that? They were like little nuggets of gold like a leprechaun would carry around. Very Darby O' Gill.
Wes: Yes, and the idea has been appropriated by the people marketing Harry Potter candies. Last year for Christmas I bought my daughters "Gringott's Gold": foil-wrapped coins in the shapes of J.K. Rowling's fictional coinage. A good idea is adaptable forever! As far as the U-No bar is concerned, I haven't had one in twenty years or more. My mother in-law, however, says she had one in Utah recently - and it tasted nowhere as good as it used to.
Hal: Then there was Peter Pan peanut butter, definitely my favorite. I like the creamy version as it was so good on toast. It melted right away and was so different tasting from Jif and Skippy. I don't know why . I loved the packaging; the women dressed as Peter Pan. I pictured her making the sandwiches for some weird reason!
Wes: That whole Peter Pan-played-by-a-female thing confused me to no end when I was a kid. I remember the annual network broadcast of the Broadway musical "Peter Pan," who was portrayed by Mary Martin (and later by Sandy Duncan). Okay, here's this quintessential boy who refuses to grow up and is generally obstinate, competitive and aggressive in a male way. Why, then, portray him with female actresses? I think I was about five when this was broadcast; way too young for complex psychological issues prompted by gender mixing… The whole thing came to a ridiculous end when, in the early Eighties, the Second City Television show had a skit featuring John Candy playing Divine as Peter Pan!
1966 was a year which featured well-publicized Gemini space launches; astronauts doing spacewalks and docking, that sort of thing. Was this of as much interest to you as it was me? I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid during the Mercury 7 days.
Hal: I loved the whole NASA experience. I watched the space missions on a roll cart TV at my elementary school, Hesby St. School in Encino. I loved the Major Matt Mason toys from Mattel, but only had the basic Matt doll, not much of his extra equipment. Still, a Gumby-like astronaut doll was exceptional to have! I was pretty young in 1966, but the space program was like a real life movie being played out for the world to see.
I loved the chocolate syrup container Clanky (pictured in my book) because it had a astronaut feel to it. I know Clanky was a robot, but that outfit was perfect for a Mercury launch party!