|In 1959, Alaska became the 49th U.S. state, followed by Hawaii as the 50th a few months later.
In January, Fidel Castro's revolutionaries overthrew the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. The U.S. press never thought much of Batista and didn't know what to think of the new guy. Here was an interesting man, a rabid baseball fan. The media found him fascinating.
At the time, my high school history teacher, Joe Bloh (how could I ever forget that name), said, "Don't believe what you read. This guy is no hero; Castro's a hard-line Communist. He'll wreck what's left of Cuba." He certainly was prescient.
The 1959 Kitchen Debate was a series of impromptu, contentious exchanges between then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow. For the exhibition, an entire house was built; exhibitors claimed anyone in America could afford it. The house was filled with labor-saving and recreational devices - including a very modern kitchen - meant to represent the fruits of the capitalist American consumer market. Nixon was considered by most Americans to have won the 'debate'.
In '59, Liz Taylor married Eddie Fisher. The St. Lawrence Seaway officially opened. American Airlines inaugurated the first regularly-scheduled U.S. transcontinental jet passenger service from LA to New York, using Boeing's 707. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 600 for the first time ever.
New products included the BMC Mini automobile (Morris Mini-Minor and Austin Seven), diet drink Metrecal and, in the Fall, U.S. compact cars (Chevy Corvair, Chrysler Valiant, Ford Falcon) and toy doll sensation, Barbie. (Barbie's friend, the suspiciously-androgynous Ken, debuted in 1961.) In '59, the first integrated circuit was demonstrated; in the same year, the Ski-Doo snowmobile debuted.
Choo-choo Charlie debuted as cartoon spokesman for Good & Plenty candy. New words included 'go-karting' and 'valet parking'.
Tailfins continued to grow until they reached their zenith in the 1959 model year when they were often almost as tall as the car itself. There were even huge fins on Cadillac hearses.
Several notable movies debuted in 1959: 'Ben Hur', 'North By Northwest', 'Some Like It Hot', On The Beach' and Peter Sellers' cult-classic 'The Mouse That Roared'. Other movies included the very-fifties' 'Pillow Talk' with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Rock and roller Ricky Nelson made his movie debut with John Wayne in 'Rio Bravo.'
New TV shows included 'Bonanza', 'Dennis The Menace', 'Rawhide', Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone' and 'The Untouchables', which begat a Roaring Twenties mini-revival in 1959 and '60.
There were many top record hits in '59, thanks to a plethora of top music only radio stations: The Coasters' 'Charlie Brown', 'Venus' by Frankie Avalon, The Fleetwoods' 'Come Softly To Me', 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' by The Platters and Bobby Darin's 'Mack The Knife'. Fabian had his first major hit with 'Turn Me Loose'. Rocker Chuck Berry was arrested for violating the Mann Act, after transporting a 14 year-old girl across state lines "for immoral purposes." He later received prison time.
February 2nd became known as 'The Day The Music Died' when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed in the crash of a small private plane, traveling between concerts. They became rock's first martyrs.
Other deaths included George C. Marshall (developer of the Marshall Plan and Nobel peace prize winner), Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, comedian Lou Costello, singer Mario Lanza, actor Errol Flynn, actor George 'Superman' Reeves, movie mogul Cecil B. DeMille and Henry Brttain, inventor of the ice-cream cone.
The LA Dodgers won the World Series, beating the Chicago White Sox 4 to 2.