Unlike a lot of people who spend several hours on Twitter every day—Friday’s slow for some reason I can’t figure out, unless the “bridging of the weekend” is now completely out of control—I rarely get agitated about a stupid or repetitive post. I ignore almost all the political propaganda and cheerleading from both sides (Dana Milbank, American Greatness, Talking Points Memos, The Federalist, for example), the presidential and Senate polls, the newfound appreciation of artists who die, the pleas for prayers (sometimes satirical), the endless queries about “your favorite Beatles/Marvin Gaye/Hank Williams song—I assume someone’s making money on that evergreen that was answered to my satisfaction when I still used an Olivetti portable typewriter—and lately the AI-enhanced self-portraits, as if I give a toss about what a person I don’t know might look like.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I like to look at old photos, though not “colorized” shots from pre-1920, since that’s cheating, from the United States or abroad; a detailed shot of, say, a party in Manchester, Belfast or Dublin from 1964 is fascinating, and the snaps of 100-year old houses in different parts of the country that my friend Steven Giardini puts up are worth more than a cursory examination as well. And once a week “Corrupt Politician” shares his magnificent fishing hauls from Louisiana.
Another common theme, about which I’m of two minds, is how children and especially adults looked so much older than their actual age in the mid- and early-20th century. A lot of that has to do fashion, or lack thereof, such as baseball stadium pictures at Yankee Stadium, Shibe Park or Crosley Field, where the majority of men are wearing hats and none of the few ladies or girls in attendance are wearing pants. (By the way, I believe the accepted fact that JFK killed the millinery business is overstated; he didn’t wear them often, but it’s not like hats were discarded in January, 1960 when that eternal Pepsi Generation Torch was passed. Just look at the famous picture of Lee Harvey Oswald getting rubbed out by Jack Ruby in 1963, and most men are wearing lids. It’s just a guess, but the disappearance of the derby or Stetson would’ve occurred, in the shifting American culture of the 1960s, had Nixon defeated Kennedy. JFK was a symbol of that haberdashery switch, not the single catalyst.)
Recently, a jarring still from the 1970s British cop TV show The Sweeney was on Twitter, showing stars John Thaw (the brilliant late actor who’s unforgettable in Inspector Morse, not only for his deliberate detective work but the glances of disgust he tosses off when someone makes a stupid remark) and Dennis Waterman, both looking middle-aged but in reality 33 and 27, respectively. There were typical catty comments about British men smoking too much, and that’s why they aged, but by that decade I’d guess they were the exceptions, a shot of two actors who looked rough, as opposed to “living in the rough.”
I’ve presented family photos in this “What Year Is It” feature that appears on Mondays, and it’s true that my mom, dad and Uncles Joe and Pete, look older, if not at all dissolute, in Depression-era snapshots. But look at the photo above, from mid-century, of my two oldest brothers hamming it up near a ferry in the Bahamas. They’re 13 and 11 here, and although wearing typical middle-class duds (although I still have a bunch of sweater vests from the 1980s and 90s stored away, a few favorites with holes courtesy of moths in our Tribeca loft) that are “vintage” today, the wise-guy fellows look almost exactly their age. The smug grins on their faces tell me that if some interloper caused them trouble, there’d be a rumble on the pier.
Take a look at these clues to figure out what year it is: Blackboard Jungle opens in the Unites States; Richard Daley becomes Mayor of Chicago (Abe Ribicoff had no comment); Mister Roberts is the second-highest grossing film of the year; Debra Winger is born and Albert Einstein dies; Anthony Eden becomes U.K. Prime Minister; the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup; West Germany joins NATO; CBS debuts The $64,000 Question; Fred Mertz relishes a steak and glass of beer before going to the fights; Ruth Ellis, hanged, is the last woman executed in the U.K.; Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” is released; ubiquitous actor J.K. Simmons is born and Charlie Parker dies; and Ian Fleming’s Moonraker is published.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023