A half century ago, The Saturday Evening Post had grown beyond the heyday of its Norman Rockwell contributions but still had a position of cultural significance. The publication still attracted above-the-title contributors like James Michener, but bold-faced questions about how to treat the coming tidal shifts in views on family, sexuality and America’s place in the global conversation featured prominently on the front page, as if to provide an antidote to a coming predicament.
Obviously, the views of one publication can’t represent the attitudes of the entire country. But when the Saturday Evening Post did turn to the film world it communicated a level of primary importance — as if this was truly a topic worth bringing to widespread attention, sandwiched between talk of post-Eisenhower policy and notable short fiction.
The Post treated the film industry as a singular institution. “The movies” were an amorphous hodgepodge of foreign offerings, genre pictures and big-budget epics, treated as an entity that moved as a unit. One piece in particular that stands out is “Movies are Too Dirty,” a November 1962 opinion column from frequent contributor John Crosby that decried the escalating depictions of sexuality that would, in Crosby’s mind, one day lead to a rampant saturation of films directed at audiences of all ages. One of Crosby’s main offenders was the Yul Brynner film “Solomon and Sheba,” which he saw as an emerging brand of “adult” films that needed to succeed with younger age groups in order to be commercially viable.
Crosby’s solution to keep more graphic depictions from escaping the appropriate demographics? To propose a British-style classification system that would eventually come to pass almost a decade later.
When printed words on a glossy page were the only way to read arguments like this, it carried some weight. We may point out some of the absurdities of certain crowdsourced Parental Advisory sections, but at least there’s an opportunity to generate a discussion, which is what Crosby was arguing for all along. As much as we can point out how designations like “NC-17” and soft “R”s affect an independent filmmaker’s ability to reach a wider audience, the first step to self-sufficiency is realizing we have an increasingly connected method of disseminating that information.
On the non-ratings front, it’s worth noting that even in April 1962, there was a tendency to pine for the past. A Bill Davidson profile of then-up-and-comer Natalie Wood praised her as a Hollywood throwback, explaining that “in this day of drab, earnest method actresses from the stage and from television, Miss Wood stands out like a flamingo among peahens.”
And it wasn’t just the writers and editors that pined for the good old days. Here’s a choice quote from a Q&A with Alfred Hitchcock: “There are a lot of young directors coming up, and after two pictures they’re hailed as geniuses…They all run to complicated fads. I just don’t think the new people get as much basic training as we did in the old days.”
A December 1962 issue tackled the shifting conventions of gender expectations in “Hollywood’s New Breed of Soft Young Men,” a batch of five emerging talents that included Richard Beymer, Troy Donahue, George Hamilton, George Chakiris and Mickey Callan. Their look at this crop of potential leading men addressed their previous film work (“The George Chakiris the public sees is the fiery Bernardo… The George Chakiris they don’t see fits right into Young Actor’s Groove No. 1”), but it also speculated whether those “smooth-faced youths” would be able to reach the heights of their grizzled predecessors.
When featuring a piece written by and about her husband, “Spartacus” star Kirk Douglas, the byline was not Anne Buydens or even Anne Douglas but simply, “Mrs. Kirk Douglas.” There were also hints at changes in perceptions of Hollywood women. One particular August 1962 look at the continued success of Shelley Winters begins with the line, “In an era when the average actress has difficulty ad-libbing a burp after a Hungarian meal — never mind a coherent sentence — Shelley Winters stands out like Donald Duck amid a flock of inarticulate chickens.”(Can you imagine how fast Jezebel would eviscerate someone for a lede like that now?)
As a final curiosity, lest you think the “torture” question is a product of this decade, the early ‘60s had their own version in the form of a British spy named Bond. Geoffrey Bocca’s June 1963 profile of the Bond progenitor, entitled “The Spectacular Cult of Ian Fleming,” features this observation: “The trick consists of having led his readers to believe that Fleming has modeled Bond on himself… In fact, Fleming has created a character who is the opposite of himself. Bond, Fleming writes in every book, is ‘cruel.’ The essence of Fleming’s personality is his gentleness. He abhors violence.” It seems we’ve always had a tendency to treat popular artistic representations as extensions of the psyches and attitudes of those who create it.
What can we learn from these excerpts? For one thing, embracing the future is an ideal way to stay historically relevant. An article puts forth an indicative example of “teenage waste” in pop music — a 12-year-old “small, nasal and preadolescent” kid from Detroit named Little Stevie Wonder. Of course, it’s simple to retroactively dismiss the prevailing ideas of a period when given the benefit of time elapsed. The best way, it seems, to maintain a good face for future generations is to remain aware of the potential revelations of tomorrow. There’s no need to definitively declare what the coming news cycles will bring, but keeping a watchful eye does wonders for hindsight.
Through February 2013, Indiewire is taking a closer look at how the over-60 audience is served by the movies made for them as well as profiling the actors and filmmakers who are their peers. It’s part of a partnership with Heineken, which is sponsoring the “Heineken 60+ Challenge” that reaches out to the creative community to film, photograph or write their observations on the lifestyles and preferences of the 60+ age group. The goal is to help Heineken create innovative products to suit this golden