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• The Coca-Cola Co. introduced its first diet drink, Tab cola.
• The U.S. Postal Service instituted the Zone Improvement Plan, or ZIP code.
• “My Favorite Martian” debuted on CBS, reflecting the nation’s growing obsession with the space race.
• AT&T introduced the touch-tone keypad phone.
• McDonald’s aired its first TV commercial, with hamburgers selling for 15 cents.
• The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” had their U.S. release.
• Harvey Ball designed the “smiley face” to boost morale at a life insurance company.
It’s a rather remarkable confluence of events for one year, and more so by how they resonate today. Even Troll dolls, the toys with the freakishly colorful hair that became a huge fad in 1963, have inspired a new movie by DreamWorks, scheduled for 2016. (Although, given the vagaries of Hollywood, the rest may not be history.)
Authority gets questioned
In November of 1963, theaters were set to screen a new movie with an odd name: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Director Stanley Kubrick had set about making a comedy about nuclear war.
May, the American Studies professor, regards the movie as a seminal product of the time. “Dr. Strangelove” could never have happened without 1963,” he said. Cold War paranoia enabled Kubrick to draw scandalous parallels with sex (Communists infiltrating the nation through our precious bodily fluids) while skewering the military mind-set. (“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”)
The first test screening was scheduled for Nov. 22, but never happened as searing news emerged over the noon hour: President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.
The assassination — terrible in how it unfolded on TV in broad daylight — set in motion a distrustful shift in the nation’s mood. “The shock was that the attack seemed to be coming from within the United States,” May said. When the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, better known as the Warren Commission, issued its report 10 months later concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone, the impact rippled far beyond the actual crime.
“Faith in government authority and institutions like doctors, lawyers and other professions already had begun to decline,” May said. “But when the Warren Report was released, faith in authority just plummeted.” The idea that a skinny ex-Marine who’d once defected to the Soviet Union pulled this off alone strained credibility.
It wasn’t that Americans were embracing all the conspiracy theories bubbling up, May said, but that they just didn’t believe their government.
Not until late January 1964 did Kubrick decide that the public was ready to entertain Strangelove’s dark satire. The decade whose fuse was lit in its third year continued its long, slow burn into history.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185