Pete and the Media in the 1950s


From 1950 until 1953 there was no television in Pete's home.
Pete was very little then, however, being seven years old at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, when Jane and John bought their first television.
Most of Pete's entertainment previously came from the radio (BBC), or books and comics, although being a very poor reader at the time, most of the books and comics (Eagle) were appreciated as pictures, unless Jane was prepared to read to him.
Even when the television did arrive, there were only a limited number of programs, and very few films.
(there was, of course, 'The Appleyards', 'The Grove Family' and 'Dixon of Dock Green' - all early 'soaps'.)
'The Appleyards' was a British television soap opera, made and transmitted fortnightly by BBC Television from October 1952 to April 1957, from the BBC's Lime Grove Studios. It was produced and directed by Naomi Capon. Transmitted live on a Thursday afternoon from 4:30 to 5 pm with a Sunday repeat (which was not usually a recorded repeat of the first show but the same cast repeating a live performance). The programme told the story of the Home Counties family Mr and Mrs Appleyard and their three children. The protagonist was the youngest son Tommy who was usually accompanied by his best friend Ronnie. It was of its time but also a ground breaking family sitcom, popular with both adults and children alike but particularly the latter who saw it as embodiment of their own family. The catchy light music signature tune came from the Chappell Record Library and was called "Looking Around" by Colin Smith (real name Rhys Donald Lloyd Thomas).

'The Grove Family' was a British television series 'soap opera', generally regarded as the first of its kind broadcast in the UK, made and broadcast by the BBC Television Service from 1954 to 1957. The series concerned the life of the family of the title, who were named after the BBC's Lime Grove Studios where the programme was made. The programme was written by Roland and Michael Pertwee, the father and elder brother respectively of actor Jon Pertwee. A movie version produced during 1955 by the Butchers company, written by the Pertwees and featuring the television cast, exists as an example of the series. The movie was titled 'It's a Great Day'. During 1954, The Grove Family was viewed by almost a quarter of British people with a television.

'Dixon of Dock Green' was a BBC television series about daily life at a London police station, with the emphasis on petty crime, successfully controlled through common sense and human understanding. The central character was a mature and sympathetic police constable, George Dixon, played by Jack Warner in all of the 432 episodes.
Dixon was the embodiment of a typical "bobby" who would be familiar with the area and its residents in which he patrolled and often lived there himself. The series contrasted with later programmes such as Z-Cars, which reflected a more aggressive policing culture. It retained a faithful following throughout its run and was voted second most popular programme on British TV in 1961.
Instead there were weekly, or even bi-weekly trips to the cinema.
When Pete was young there were 5 cinemas in Hounslow.
There were two 'Odeons', (one at Hounslow West and one at Hounslow East), and on the Broadway there was the Art Deco 'Dominion', and at the town center ('The Bell') there was the 'Regal' and the 'Granada'.

The 1950s - a Decade of Change

The 50s decade was known for many things: post-war affluence and increased choice of leisure time activities, conformity, the Korean War, middle-class values, the rise of modern jazz, the rise of 'fast food' restaurants, a baby boom, the all-electric home as the ideal, the advent of television and TV dinners, abstract art, and the first credit card (Diners Club, in 1951).

Films for Teenagers

Of course, Pete was not yet a teenager in the nineteen fifties, but the new films being created for the evolving teenage market would influence him in later years.
In the period following WWII, when most of the films were idealized with conventional portrayals of men and women, young people wanted new and exciting symbols of rebellion.
Hollywood responded to audience demands - the late 1940s and 1950s saw the rise of the anti-hero - with stars like newcomers James Dean, Paul Newman (who debuted in the costume epic 'The Silver Chalice' -1954), and Marlon Brando, replacing more 'proper' actors such as Tyrone Power, Van Johnson, and Robert Taylor.
There were also sexy anti-heroines included Ava Gardner, Kim Novak, and Marilyn Monroe. The 50s decade also ushered in the age of 'Rock and Roll', and a new younger market of teenagers.
This youth-oriented group was opposed to the older generation's choice of nostalgic films, such as director Anthony Mann's and Universal's popular musical biopic 'The Glenn Miller Story' (1954), starring James Stewart as the big band leader, duplicated in Universal's follow-up musical biography 'The Benny Goodman Story' (1956), with Steve Allen (his film debut in a serious dramatic role) as the talented clarinet player. They preferred 'Rock Around the Clock' (1956), that featured disc jockey Alan Freed and the group Bill Haley and His Comets (singing the title song), and many others (such as the Platters, and Freddy Bell and The Bell Boys) - it was the first film entirely dedicated to rock 'n' roll. 
It was quickly followed by two more similar films featuring Alan Freed (as Himself) - 'Don't Knock the Rock' (1956) and 'Rock, Rock, Rock' (1956).
Both films argued that rock-and-roll was a new, fun, and wholesome type of music. However, the adult generation continued to regard the new youthful generation (and the rise of juvenile delinquency) with skepticism and fear, as illustrated in the film adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's stage play, 'The Bad Seed' (1956).
The thriller demonstrated that evil could reside in a young, cute serial killer (played by Patty McCormack).
The rock and roll music of the 50s was on display, along with big-bosomed star Jayne Mansfield as a talent-less, dumb blonde sexpot in writer/director Frank Tashlin's satirical comedy 'The Girl Can't Help It' (1956).
Marilyn Monroe's foil Tom Ewell starred in the film as the protagonist.
It was the first rock and roll film to be taken seriously, with 17 songs in its short 99 minutes framework.
Great rock and roll performers included Ray Anthony, Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard and his Band (featured in the title song), Gene Vincent and His Bluecaps, Eddie Cochran (with his screen debut) and others.
Hollywood soon realized that the affluent teenage population could be exploited, now more rebellious than happy-go-lucky - as they had been previously portrayed in films (such as the 'Andy Hardy' character played by Mickey Rooney).
The influence of rock 'n' roll surfaced in Richard Brooks' box-office success, 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955).
It was the first major Hollywood film to use Rock and Roll on its soundtrack - the music in the credits was provided by Bill Haley and His Comets - their musical hit 'Rock Around the Clock'.

The film also starred Glenn Ford as a war veteran and clean-cut All-American novice teacher at inner city North Manual HS (New York), where the students, led by a disrespectful, sneering punk (Vic Morrow), test his tolerance, and one of the other persuasive youths was a young Sidney Poitier.
Another film, that came later in the decade, that also exploited the new teenage market's non-conformist attitudes, was Jack Arnold's exploitative juvenile delinquent film, 'High School Confidential' (1958), featuring drugs in a high school dope ring, lots of 50's slang words and hep-talk, Russ Tamblyn as an undercover cop posing as a student, switchblade fights, drag races, Mamie Van Doren as Tamblyn's nymphomaniac aunt, and Jerry Lee Lewis singing the title song in its opening.

The Rise of Television

Hollywood was obviously fearful of television's dawning in the early 1950s, indeed, the studios forbade their movies and stars from appearing on the small screen at all.
Concerned about losing audiences to the screens in their living rooms, Hollywood enticed film-goers with expensive epics, gimmicky 3D releases, stereo sound, enhanced color technology and widescreen formats such as 'CinemaScope', 'VistaVision' and 'Panavision'. 'Bwana Devil' (1952) was the first full-length 3D talkie.
'This is Cinerama' (1952) was the first to use a wrap-around, widescreen format, and 'The Robe' (1953), the first movie released in 'CinemaScope', was recorded in four-track stereo.

Film's Response to Television

Film attendance declined precipitously as free TV viewing made inroads into the entertainment business. 
Because television had become affordable and a permanent fixture in most people's homes, the movies also fought back with gimmicks - color films, bigger screens, and 3-D. As for content, the film companies pushed big scale, profitable box-office epics, such as Cecil B. DeMille's 'Samson and Delilah' (1949), the popular Biblical story starring virile Victor Mature and the beautifully-bewitching Hedy Lamarr, and MGM's expensive romantic adventure 'King Solomon's Mines' (1950), filmed on location in Africa, were designed to lure movie-goers back into the theaters.
By the mid-50s, more than half of Hollywood's productions were made in color to take viewers away from their monochrome TV sets, (it was only in the middle 1960s that color TV was introduced in the UK). 
Coincidentally, two of the biggest films at the start of the decade, director Henry King's 'Twelve O'Clock High' (1949), about the stress experienced by American bombing units in England, and Delmer Daves' 'Broken Arrow' (1950), an 'adult-Western' of the blood-brother relationship between an Indian agent (James Stewart) and Apache chief Cochise (white actor Jeff Chandler), would both become episodic TV series in future years. 
Along with Samuel Fuller's 'Run of the Arrow' (1957), 'Broken Arrow' was notable for having a sympathetic depiction of the Native American culture and concerns - the first film to be shot from the Indians' point-of-view for many years.
The width-to-height aspect ratio of most Hollywood films before the 1950s was 4:3 (or 1.33:1), similar to the 'boxy-size' of a television screen, - however, it should be noted that there were early experiments in wide-screen formats as early as the late 1920s, such as in French director Abel Gance's epic 'Napoleon' (1927), with its 'Polyvision' and 3-screen projection, or in Fox's 70mm. wide-gauge 'Grandeur' system first used in Raoul Walsh's 'The Big Trail' (1930). 
Both systems were aborted attempts, and turned out to be uneconomically viable at the time. 
Paramount's wrap-around, big-screen 'Cinerama' debuted in 1952.
It was a break-through technique that required three cameras, three projectors interlocking, semi-curved (at 146 degrees) screens, and four-track stereo sound.
It made audiences feel that they were at the center of the action.
The first film using the three-strip 'Cinerama' process was 'This is Cinerama' (1952), a travelogue of the world's vacation spots, with a thrilling roller-coaster ride.
Although there were a few successful box-office 'Cinerama' hits in the 1950s, the process was ultimately abandoned because its novelty wore off, and the equipment and construction of special theaters was too cost-prohibitive and cumbersome. 

In the same year as the debut of 'Cinerama' (1952), showmanship and gimmicks like 3-D were used to bring audiences back.
Special polarized, 'stereoscopic' goggles or cardboard glasses worn by viewers made the action jump off the screen - in reality, the glasses were unpopular, clunky and the viewing was blurry, although it was difficult (and expensive) for theater owners to get cinema-goers to give them back.
The 3-D effect was unable to compensate for the inferior level of most of the films.
The first full-length 3-D feature sound film was UA's cheaply-made jungle adventure 'Bwana Devil' (1952)) by writer/director Arch Oboler, and starring Robert Stack - its taglines advertised: "A Lion in Your Lap" and "A Lover In Your Arms."
The film depicted man-eating lion attacks upon the builders of the Uganda Railway. The first feature-length 3-D film, however, was The Power of Love (1922) - made in 1922.

When Cinerama and stereoscopic 3-D died almost as soon as they were initiated, 20th Century Fox's 'CinemaScope' became cheaper and more convenient because it used a simple 'anamorphic' lens to create a widescreen effect.
The aspect ratio (width to height) of CinemaScope was 2.35:1. The special lenses for the new process were based on a French system developed by optical designer Henri Chretian.
The first film released commercially in CinemaScope was 20th Century Fox's and director Henry Koster's Biblical sword-and-sandal epic 'The Robe' (1953).
It debuted in New York at the Roxy Theater in September of 1953.
The dramatic costume epic told the story of a Roman tribune Marcellus (Richard Burton) who was converted to Christianity by Pythagoras (Victor Mature), his slave.
Two other early efforts in CinemaScope were 'Beneath the 12 Mile Reef' (1953) and 'How to Marry a Millionaire' (1953).
The 'CinemaScope' wide-screen system would last for the next fourteen years, however, Hollywood definitely lost the struggle, because wide-screen films were enormously expensive and risky to make and the film companies could not find a perfect antidote to reverse TV's capture of movie audiences.
The number of feature films released fluctuated each year and often declined - reflecting the financial woes of the movie industry.
Eventually, Hollywood gave up the idea of shooting films on 65 or 70 mm film, and reverted back to cheaper alternatives, such as shooting on 35 mm and using special lenses for projection.

Epic Films of the 1950s
Risks were taken with lavish, overstated, spectacular epic films in this decade - more films were over three hours in the 1950s, with studio support for musicals and epics.
Most of the Hollywood spectaculars were Greek, Roman, or Biblical, or otherwise, beginning with 'The Robe' (1953).
Other epics in mid-decade were Michael Curtiz' Biblical spectacle 'The Egyptian' (1954) and 'Desiree' (1954) with Marlon Brando as an inept Napoleon.
Producer/director Howard Hawks' larger-than-life 'Land of the Pharaohs' (1955), co-scripted by William Faulkner and starring Joan Collins as an evil Egyptian princess, was designed to lure television viewers away from their sets with its extravagance and cast of thousands.
The exotic adventure film 'King Solomon's Mines' (1950), based on a novel by H.R. Haggard, starred Stewart Granger as diamond-hunting Allan Quartermain with husband-seeking Deborah Kerr in the African jungle (filmed on location).

Two films based on Jules Verne's novels starred James Mason: Disney's sci-fi adventure '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1954), with Kirk Douglas as a 19th-century whaler and James Mason as Captain Nemo in a submarine named the Nautilus, and 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' (1959) with Mason as a professor leading an expedition into an Icelandic volcano that led them to an underground world where living dinosaurs still existed.
DeMille remade his own 1923 silent film for his final powerful film, re-creating the solemn Biblical epic with special effects such as the miraculous parting of the Red Sea (with 300,000 gallons of water), Charlton Heston as Old Testament prophet Moses, Yul Brynner as the stubborn Pharaoh ("So let it be written, so let it be done"), and a cast of thousands - 'The Ten Commandments' (1956).
At the end of the decade, William Wyler directed the award-winning remake of 'Ben-Hur' (1959) with its celebrated, live-action chariot race, in 65 mm big-screen format that won 11 Oscars out of twelve nominations (more than any other movie in Academy Award history to that time).
At $15 million, it was the most expensive film ever made up to its time, and the most expensive film of the decade.
It told the story of Prince Judah (Charlton Heston) who was cruelly sent into slavery after an accident, and returned to seek revenge on his oppressors.


This decade also witnessed the prodigious rise of colorful, escapist, lavish, classic musicals (mostly from MGM and its production genius Arthur Freed, and from directors Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli) that benefited from wide-screen exposure, including such films as:
Irving Berlin's smash-hit musical 'Annie Get Your Gun' (1950) with Betty Hutton as the legendary sharp-shooting character Annie Oakley, and numerous Irving Berlin songs: "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better".
'An American in Paris' (1951).
The Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical 'Show Boat' (1951), with the story of an inter-racial marriage that causes friction on-board the riverboat, and the singing of "Ol' Man River" by William Warfield
'Singin' In The Rain' (1952), the classic film noted for Gene Kelly's dance in a downpour, and Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh"
'Calamity Jane' (1953), with Doris Day as the tomboyish title character opposite Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok, honored with a Best Song Oscar for "Secret Love"
'Kiss Me Kate' (1953), a play within a play and musical version of 'The Taming of the Shrew', with songs including "Too Darn Hot" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare".
'Brigadoon' (1954), a Lerner and Loewe musical starring Gene Kelly, about a Scottish village that appeared only once every 100 years.
'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' (1954) with its exuberant dancing.
'Guys and Dolls' (1955), the screen adaptation of Frank Loesser's 1950 Broadway hit (based upon Damon Runyon's stories), with Marlon Brando cast in the unlikely lead role as Sky Masterson, and Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit
Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Oklahoma !' (1955) - with Gordon MacRae as Curley, and in love with Shirley Jones as Laurey.
'The King and I' (1956) - the opulent film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 Broadway musical hit, with Best Actor-winning Yul Brynner as the bald King of Siam ("Etcetera"), and Deborah Kerr as the Western teacher Anna
High Society (1956) - a sophisticated musical remake of 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940) that featured Cole Porter songs and Grace Kelly in her final film.
'Carousel' (1956), a delightful Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, with Gordon MacRae as a carnival barker who must come back from Heaven to redeem himself and see his teenage daughter's graduation.
The incomparable 'South Pacific' (1958) - another R & H showcase; this one included the songs "Happy Talk," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," and "Some Enchanted Evening".
'Porgy and Bess' (1959) - directed by Otto Preminger, with George Gershwin music, and African-American stars including Sammy Davis, Jr. as Sportin' Life, and Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the title roles.
Perhaps the most colorful and spectacular of all these musicals was 'Kismet' (1955).
'Kismet' was filmed in 'CinemaScope' and 'Eastman Color', and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
It was the fourth movie version of Kismet - the first was released in 1920 and the second in 1930 by Warner Brothers - and the second released by MGM.
The 1955 film is based on the successful 1953 musical, while the three earlier versions are based on the original 1911 play by Edward Knoblock.
Particularly memorable for the song 'Stranger in Paradise', the music was adapted by Wright and Forrest from original music by Borodin.

Adult Themes at the Movies

With television aimed at family audiences, the movies were freer to explore realistic adult themes and stronger or previously taboo subjects, such as in Hitchcock's 'Strangers on a Train' (1951) with veiled hints at homosexuality, or voyeurism in the remarkable 'Rear Window' (1954) (with James Stewart as a wheel-chair bound photographer).
George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951) demonstrated the tragic struggle of class differences, as social-climbing Montgomery Clift was convicted of the murder of his pregnant, working-class girlfriend (Shelley Winters) while romancing rich socialite Elizabeth Taylor.
'A Summer Place' (1959), with Percy Faith's recognizable theme song, was infamous for its scene of Sandra Dee's mother dragging her to the doctor for a pregnancy test after a beach overnight with lover Troy Donahue.
John dragged Pete to the Dominion to see 'The Caine Mutiny' (1954).
Being a military man, John was, not suprisinglu, addicted to 'war movies'.
'The Caine Mutiny' was effectively adapted Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ,with Humphrey Bogart in a memorable role as a crazed, paranoid naval officer named Queeg.
Pete, it hardly needs saying, didn't have a clue as to what the movie was about, but was rather taken with the way  Bogart was always scrunching a couple of ball-bearings.

to be continued - this post is under construction
more text and images to be added...

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