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Invasion of the Mind Snatchers

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Invasion of the Mind Snatchers
    Book Description:

    When the first television was demonstrated in 1927, a headline inThe New York Timesread, "Like a Photo Come to Life." It was a momentous occasion. But the power of television wasn't fully harnessed until the 1950s, when the medium was, as Eric Burns says, "At its most preoccupying, its most life-altering." And Burns, a former NBC News correspondent who is an Emmy-winner for his broadcast writing,knows about the impact of television.

    Invasion of the Mind Snatcherschronicles the influence of television that was watched daily by the baby boomer generation. As kids became spellbound byHowdy DoodyandThe Ed Sullivan Show,Burns reveals, they often acted out their favorite programs. Likewise, they purchased the merchandise being promoted by performers, and became fascinated by the personalities they saw on screen, often emulating their behavior. It was the first generation raised by TV and Burns looks at both the promise of broadcasting as espoused by the inventors, and how that promise was both redefined and lost by the corporations who helped to spread the technology.

    Yet Burns also contextualizes the social, cultural, and political events that helped shape the Fifties-from Sputnik and the Rosenberg trial to Senator Joseph McCarthy's Red Scare. In doing so, he charts the effect of television on politics, religion, race, and sex, and how the medium provided a persuasive message to the young, impressionable viewers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0290-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. A Note to Readers
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Introduction: Philo T. Farnsworth’s Discontent
    (pp. 1-12)

    IN 1880, long before the story of this book officially begins, Jesse James and his gang tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota. They failed. They were chased out of town by an enraged citizenry. Back to the drawing board. In the same year, Wyatt Earp spent a few months as deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, and 14-year-old Butch Cassidy, born Robert LeRoy Parker, committed what was probably the first crime of his life, stealing a pair of blue jeans and, out of either naïveté, braggadocio or some perversely twisted sense of honor, leaving behind an IOU...


    • Chapter 1 Damning the “Theenk”
      (pp. 15-31)

      THE “INVENTOR” OF TELEVISION, according to the Radio and Television Manufacturers Association, had also become disenchanted. Asked on one occasion what it was about TV that made him most proud, Vladimir Zworykin replied, “Da svitch.” His interviewer did not understand. “Da svitch,” Zworykin repeated angrily, “so I can turn the damn theenk off!” He, too, worried about the effects of his electronic progeny on his genetic progeny. “I hate what they’ve done to my child….I would never let my own children watch it.”

      Like Farnsworth, Zworykin was upset with both the similarity of the programs and their lack of quality....

    • Chapter 2 The New American Family
      (pp. 32-51)

      AS THE FIFTIES BEGAN, it was not certain that television deserved all the criticism it got—if for no other reason than it was not certain it deserved all the attention. One could still believe, if one tried hard enough, that people would lose interest in the medium as it became more ubiquitous. Or that it would demand more programming than could profitably be produced and therefore would not be a viable business in the long run. Or that it would be used primarily for educational purposes after all, and men and women and boys and girls would watch it...

    • Chapter 3 The Hula Hoop and the Bomb
      (pp. 52-63)

      IT WAS NOT JUST THE TECHNOLOGY that permitted television to dominate the leisure hours of Americans in the fifties; it was the fabric of the years themselves. They were a unique time in history, a fulcrum that tipped from yesterday to tomorrow with unprecedented speed and astonishing range—swinging from Perry Como to the Beatles; from Doris Day to Faye Dunaway; from Norman Rockwell to Jackson Pollock; from William J. Levitt to I. M. Pei; from Graham Greene’s rumination on CatholicismThe Heart of the Matterto Ken Kesey’s nuthouse epicOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; fromSouth Pacific...

    • Chapter 4 Invisible Doughnuts and Coonskin Caps
      (pp. 64-95)

      EVE ARDEN, born Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, California, in 1908, was an actress known for brassy performances in supporting roles in the kinds of movies that needed all the support they could get, such filmed-to-be-forgotten follies asStage Door, Hollywood Romance, That Uncertain Feeling, My Dream Is Yours, and the little-known Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers vehicleWe’re Not Married. Cast as Joan Crawford’s pal inMildred Pierce, a more substantive part than usual for her, Arden earned an Academy Award nomination in 1946. But it did not give her career the boost she was hoping for. She remained a...

    • Chapter 5 “Really Big Shows”
      (pp. 96-112)

      IT WAS NOT A GOLDEN AGE, though—not really. With few exceptions, what made television glitter in the early days was its newness more than the excellence of its programs. If people of my approximate age remember those programs with a special fondness, it is in part because they coincide with the very beginning of our memories, memories that were produced in part by the most formative instrument in our lives at the most formative time in our lives.

      But the quality of some of the programs was undeniable. Among the best were episodes of dramatic anthology series likeStudio...

    • Chapter 6 The Competition
      (pp. 113-132)

      IT WAS NOT JUST BOOKS that found themselves overwhelmed by the appeal of the small screen in the fifties; for a time, the big screen also became a victim.The Greatest Show on Earth, the circus epic directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, and Betty Hutton, might have been playing at the Rialto on a Saturday night early in 1953, but playing at home wereTalent Patrol, yet another forerunner ofAmerican Idol, this one sponsored by the U.S. Army as an aid to recruiting;The Jackie Gleason Show; Saturday Night Fights; andMy Favorite...


    • Chapter 7 The First Senator
      (pp. 135-150)

      MAYBE ED SULLIVAN wasn’t the most unlikely TV personality of the fifties. After all, he had started out as a gossip columnist, writing about celebrities in such an intimate way that he became something of a celebrity himself. He told about “Gloria Swanson’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ grossing a cool $1,000,000 in seven weeks at Radio City Music Hall.” He informed his readers, tersely and ungrammatically, that “Noel Coward battling flu.” He asked people to “consider the charm technique of Dinah Shore.”

      Sullivan did not have a charm technique of his own. Nor did he have any particular talents other than learning...

    • Chapter 8 The Second Senator
      (pp. 151-164)

      THE NATIONAL POLITICAL CONVENTIONS of 1952 were not nearly as popular with TV viewers as the Kefauver hearings had been. The most watched moment of either party’s gathering was Eisenhower’s nomination by the Republicans, not because it was a surprise to anyone, but because people wanted to share in the anointing of so admired a figure. The rating for nomination night, however, according to the Hooper scale, which preceded the Nielsen system, was 36. By way of contrast, the most recent episode ofI Love Lucyhad scored a 62. “In their drearier stretches,” of which there were many, the...

    • Chapter 9 The Third Senator
      (pp. 165-188)

      TELEVISION MADE KEFAUVER A STAR. It made Nixon a viable and eventually victorious vice-presidential candidate. But it would be the unmaking of Joseph McCarthy, the Senator from Wisconsin, whose specialty was a brand of anti-Communism both virulent and irresponsible. McCarthy was as committed to his cause as Kefauver had been to his, but the former’s cause was exaggerated and self-centered. Yes, there were Communists in government in those days. And there were Communists in big business, the military and academia; there were Communists in tailor’s shops and bookstores and at corner delicatessens, Communists bussing tables and slicing meat and bagging...

    • Chapter 10 Advertising for President
      (pp. 189-203)

      DWIGHT EISENHOWER wanted to be elected. He did not want to be sold. He wanted people to vote for him for president in 1952 because of what they already knew about him, and because of what they would learn during the campaign in carefully crafted speeches that he would deliver before large audiences of friendly Republicans at expensive venues. He did not want people to vote for him because of the impression he made in television commercials, which was how people decided what brand of hair oil to use or what detergent to wash their clothes in. He was a...

    • Chapter 11 The Mystic Knights of the Sea
      (pp. 204-221)

      TWENTY-TWO “Eisenhower Answers America” ads. Twenty-one white men and women asking the questions. One white man replying. And one black man, a single minority in a cast of twenty-three, noting that the Democrats were telling him he never had it so good.

      In his case, though, the Democrats do not seem to be exaggerating. The man looks free from want: young, handsome, his hair cropped short and his mustache neatly trimmed. He wears a sport coat with a plaid shirt underneath. He appears on camera for only a few seconds, less than most of the whites in the “Eisenhower Answers...

    • Chapter 12 “The Technological Equivalent of a Crucifix”
      (pp. 222-239)

      OLIVER BROWN was tired of it. His daughter Linda, eight-years old, was even more tired—and less comprehending. To get to her all-black elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, in 1951, she had to ride a bus five miles and then walk through a railroad yard that Brown, a railroad man himself, believed was dangerous: too many cars being shuttled from one siding to another, too many unsavory characters hanging around, mischief on their minds, cheap alcohol on their breaths.

      So: ten miles of bus-riding and two trips through the perils of the train yard every day, five days a week,...

    • Chapter 13 Sexless Objects
      (pp. 240-258)

      IN SOME WAYS, the entertainment shows on television treated women better than they did blacks. In some ways they treated them worse. The female struggle for equality was not as pervasive or as deeply felt in the fifties as it would be later in the century, and therefore was not as visible. It did not attract the interest of journalists, nor even of women in large numbers.

      Understandably, then, it did not prick the consciences of television producers. The sitcoms showed women outranking the black servants in their households, and other blacks, like Charlie the elevator boy, who performed servile...

    • Chapter 14 The Constant Parade
      (pp. 259-268)

      BECAUSE OF THE racism and sexism in society at the time, it was inevitable that there be racism and sexism on television. Because of certain inherent features of the medium, it was inevitable that violence have a place, as well. The latter, however, as is about to be demonstrated, is a more esoteric point. Those of you who do not care for esoterica will, I hope, keep reading, as this tome will become less esoteric again in but a few paragraphs.

      Among those who have analyzed the nature of TV violence are the previously-cited social critic Neil Postman and one-time...

    • Chapter 15 Serving the Sky Chief
      (pp. 269-290)

      AMONG THOSE MOST TROUBLED by violence on television in the fifties were men of the cloth. They not only preached against it; sometimes they joined forces to try to persuade their local stations not to carry programs of a violent sort. They called the stations to protest and urged their parishioners to do the same. On occasion they conducted petition drives. As guests on public affairs radio programs, they inveighed against brutality on the small screen. Never were they heeded.

      A man who went to weekly services at a small Catholic church in western Pennsylvania, and whose family had just...

    • Chapter 16 The Black Sox of the Airwaves
      (pp. 291-305)

      IN 1919, the Chicago White Sox won 88 games and lost 52, the best record in the American League. As a result, they would play the National League’s best team, the Cincinnati Reds, in the World Series that fall.

      Most people who followed baseball gave the edge to the White Sox. They had better pitchers, including Eddie Cicotte, who won 29 games during the regular season and lost only 7, in the process compiling an almost invisible earned run average of 1.82. And the Sox had better hitters, including the legendary “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, whose 1919 batting average was .351....

    • Epilogue: The Man with a Secret
      (pp. 306-308)

      I’VE GOT A SECRET was a game show, not a quiz show. That is to say, its prizes were pocket change, and it did not require the kind of knowledge necessary forThe $64,000 Question or Twenty-One. It did not, in fact, require knowledge at all, except of one’s own life. A panel of four famous people sat behind a desk and took turns asking questions of a guest who had done something notable or unusual or just plain ridiculous. The panelists tried to find out what that something was; the guest hoped to stump them. Garry Moore, crew-cut and...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 309-322)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-328)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 329-329)
  10. Index
    (pp. 330-342)