Better late than never, Fidel Castro finally took the dirt nap and entered into the Seventh Circle of Hell over the Thanksgiving weekend. His passing set off massive celebrations in Miami and helped Carolina fans forget the loss of the football game to N.C. State. Fidel took over Cuba on New Year’s day 1959 just like in The Godfather II. The news was wall-to-wall coverage for days repeating that Fidel was sleeping with the fishes. How many times can you say “Fidel is dead” before it becomes repetitious? It reminded me of the old moon shots when Walter Cronkite would come on TV with hours to fill and nothing to say except that the rocket was on the way to the moon. The defunct National Lampoon magazine had a running joke for years showing a picture of Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco leaning out a window waving to the crowd saying, “I’m still dead.” Same for Fidel now. All the talk about Fidel in 1959 got me wondering what else was going on then.
Into the Way Back Machine with Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman. Let’s cruise down memory lane to review the wonderful world of January 1959. The country of Chad became a French republic. It is unfair that Chad became a country and its singing partner Jeremy never achieved nationhood. But as Chad and Jeremy once sang, “Yesterday’s gone,” so we just move on. Alaska became a state, vindicating Seward’s Folly. Bozo the Clown debuted on TV instilling fear of clowns in generations of children. Bozo’s appearance was the direct precursor of the plague of evil clowns who have been showing up in the woods over the course of 2016. Buddy Holly released his last hit, It Doesn’t Matter. This record came out about a month before the day the music died when Buddy crossed over the Great Divide in a plane crash. Proving that there is a positive side to almost every tragedy, Don McLean later made a boatload of money with his song about Buddy’s demise, “American Pie.” American gangster Meyer Lansky, role model for Hyman Roth in The Godfather II, lammed out of Cuba a week after Castro took over.
French Egotist Charles DeGaulle was inaugurated as president of France, ultimately leading to the U..S Congress renaming French Fries as Freedom Fries in the Congressional lunch room. Clint Eastwood made his TV debut in the excellent western Rawhide as Rowdy Yates. A Hollywood success story, Clint went from punching cows with Gil Favor to debating an empty chair at the 2008 Republican convention. Walt Disney’s classic “women need to be rescued by their very own Prince Charming” movie, Sleeping Beauty was released teaching little girls everywhere to patiently wait for that someday when their prince will come.
Other fun facts about the rest of 1959 included the appearance of gigantic fins on the backs of enormous American cars. Hawaii also became a state leading to a run on records of Don Ho singing “Tiny Bubbles.” The federal minimum wage was $1 an hour, which wasn’t too bad because you could buy sirloin steaks for 89 cents a pound. A loaf of bread cost 20 cents. Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone made its first appearance of 151 episodes, which still appear on cable each week. Other notable TV series premiering in 1959 include Bonanza, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis with the immortal snob Chatsworth Osborne Jr, Dennis the Menace and The Untouchables.
A number of famous folks managed to be born in 1959. Linda Blair, star and possessee of The Exorcist and the Barbie doll along with Jason Alexander, George, of Seinfeld, was born. George is the patron saint of all politicians for making the statement, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” 1959 also saw the birth of Weird Al Yankovic. Campbell’s added Tomato Rice soup to its menu of canned delicacies. Tang, the drink of choice for astronauts, first tickled the taste buds of Americans.
Unfortunately, a number of deaths occurred in 1959. Cecil B. DeMille had a spectacular heart attack. Max Baer, Sr. also checked in through the cardiac hotel. Max Sr. was the father of Max Baer, Jr who starred as Jethro Bodine of the Beverly Hillbillies. Jethro was famous for sitting by the cement pond pondering his multiple career options of being a double naught spy, a fry cook or a brain surgeon. The wheatback penny disappeared from circulation being replaced on the reverse side of Honest Abe with the Lincoln Memorial.
Other than the appearance of tomato rice soup and fins on cars, there were a lot of things that happened in 1959, and not all of them were good.