Poodle skirts and bobby socks? A gimme. "Singin' in the Rain?" A no-brainer. The Cold War? Well, as the kids say, duhhhh.
If the U.S. Postal Service is serious about commemorating the true icons of the 1950s, they would produce a stamp of one Ermal Cleon Fraze of Dayton, Ohio, the inspiration behind the tab-opening aluminum beer can.
According to "The New Shell Book of Firsts," Fraze was on a family picnic in 1959 when he opened his beer by whacking it against a car bumper because he had forgotten to pack an opener. (Future historians will debate whether Fraze also was the model for Homer Simpson.)
Unfortunately, it's too late to get Fraze or any other philatelic oversights from the 1950s into contention for this particular honor. Ballots with 30 candidates for stampdom are already being distributed at post offices (the top 15 vote-getters win; rock 'n' roll is the current front-runner). They have to be postmarked by Feb. 28 -- with a first-class stamp, of course.
The balloting is part of Celebrate the Century, a stamp program commemorating the last half of the 20th century. The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee already has recommended stamps for the years 1900-1949. Stamps for the 1950s and the decades beyond will be chosen by popular vote, a la young vs. old Elvis, but this will be the first time that a stamp's subject will be put up for a vote.
"It's very exciting," says Valoree Vargo, manager of stamp and product marketing for the Postal Service. "We've had a lot of interest. We're really pleased with the response."
The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee selected the 30 nominees on the ballot, stocking it with the most obvious choices to honor the '50s -- like Ike, tail fins and the interstate highway system. Incredibly, they ignored many life-changing and capitalism-affirming developments, including VELCRO, skateboards and the climate-controlled shopping mall (1956, in Minneapolis).
Surely there is room for more. (And, in fact, the ballot solicits other ideas for stamps that could be issued separately.) So here's a dozen of their stamp candidates and a dozen of ours. Let the debate begin.
THEIRS: Polio vaccine created to control spread of the disease.
OURS: Senate select committee censures Joseph McCarthy to control spread of McCarthyism.
THEIRS: "The Cat in the Hat" is published.
OURS: "Lolita" is published. Vladimir Nabokov's story of a 12-year-old girl's love affair is banned by several libraries. Would have resulted in higher approval ratings for Nabokov today.
THEIRS: Post-war prosperity finances migration to suburbs.
OURS: Post-war leisure time allows Bette Nesmith Graham, a Dallas secretary and the mother of future Monkee Michael Nesmith, to bottle tempera water-base paint in her garage and sell it as Mistake Out (later Liquid Paper), a typewriter correction fluid. This makes her $50 million.
THEIRS: Computers first used by businesses to store data on magnetic tape.
OURS: Credit cards are first introduced, giving computers the opportunity to instantaneously calculate the daily impact of a 24.6 percent interest rate and the long-range impact of personal bankruptcy.
THEIRS: Public schools are desegregated.
OURS: Thousands of school children are taught to squeeze under their desks in the event of nuclear attack. This causes thousands of school children to question the sanity of their teachers, which causes them to question authority, which leads directly to the Sixties.
THEIRS: Drive-ins appeal to America's love of movies and cars.
OURS: Research by Gregory Pincus leads to invention of the birth-control pill, which may or may not have anything to do with increasing the popularity of drive-ins among teens.
THEIRS: Heart-lung machine first used in open-heart surgery.
OURS: The first McDonald's franchise opens in Phoenix, Ariz., and is later taken over by hamburger genius Ray Kroc, who perhaps does more to indirectly promote the need for heart-lung machines and open-heart surgery than any other American citizen.
THEIRS: New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers meet five times in the World Series.
OURS: Brooklyn Dodgers flee for Los Angeles, showing sports fans how much their loyalty really matters. (See future stamps of Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, Washington Senators, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Raiders, etc.)
THEIRS: "I Love Lucy" dominates television ratings.
OURS: Charles Van Doren, an English instructor at Columbia University, wins $129,000 on the television game show "Twenty-One," but an investigation proves the show was fixed. Game shows fall from favor, then rebound, leading to a curious episode years later in which Bob Barker, aging host of "The Price is Right," has an affair with a beautiful model from the show and says it was her idea. Naturally, viewing public believes him and the show's ratings stay high.
THEIRS: Transistor radio created.
OURS: In 1955, President Eisenhower holds the first televised press conference. This leads to such historic moments in televised presidential history as Jimmy Carter's explanation of how a rabbit attacked his fishing boat; Richard Nixon's declaration that "I am not a crook"; and Bill Clinton's explanation of why he can't comment on what he didn't do that's causing such a bulge in his approval ratings.
THEIRS: Hula Hoops take country by storm.
OURS: A flying saucer buff from Los Angeles sees Yale students playing catch with a Frisbie Pie Co. tin and invents Frisbees, which gives dogs something to do besides chase sticks and college students something to do besides drink beer.
THEIRS: U.S. launches Explorer I and Vanguard I, first steps toward space travel.
OURS: In another scientific breakthrough, a Danish medical team uses hormone treatments and surgery to turn George Jorgenson into Christine Jorgenson. His approval ratings plummet; hers skyrocket.
Pub Date: 2/18/98