Culture is the representation of any civilization. And, if you want to know about the culture of any society, what better way to learn than its pop culture.
In this article, we will review pop culture in 1954 to better understand how the people lived back in that era. It was the time when the USA was coming of age – from a rural republic; it established itself as an urban state.
This year saw a surge in progress and development. Transcontinental railroad lines, vast agricultural holdings, huge factories, and steel mills, and flourishing cities dotted the entire land.Let’s have a look at some of the major events that took place in 1954.
“The Fast and the Furious”
Ironically, one major movie franchise of today has its roots seated back in that era. It is believed that this popular film series is loosely based on the original movie “The Fast and The Furious” from 1954. The movie was directed by John Ireland, who also performed as the main lead alongside Dorothy Malone.
The film was a hit but struggled to bring back the money. However, the producer and writer Roger Corman was able to land a three-film deal with Universal Studios for the title.
This animated film is based on George Orwell’s novel. It is a well-known fact that the CIA paid for the making of this film. They wanted to influence the representation of Orwell’s idea as a part of the American cultural offensive, which gained popularity during the Cold War.
It was produced, directed, and co-written by John Halas and Joy Batchelor. Maurice Denham provided the voice for all the animal characters.
The Silver Chalice
The Silver Chalice marked the start of Paul Newman’s acting career. It is an American Historical epic film based on the novel of the same name by Thomas B. Costain. Directed and produced by Victor Saville, this film was his last one of his amazing careers.
Although he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance in this movie, Paul Newman was not happy with it. He went as far as to take out an ad in a newspaper apologizing publically and asking people not to watch the TV broadcast. However, the move backfired, and the broadcast received a higher than usual rating.
Human Test Pattern
The color cameras were relatively new during this period. That’s why studios were unable to get all the colors right, especially the different skin tones. In 1954, the NBC-TV and the Studios of New York affiliate WPIX hired Marjorie Hellen to work as their human test pattern.
Evidently, she sat in front of the cameras for hours while the engineers and crew adjusted the cameras to get the right shades. They worked in varying costumes, light settings, and positions to get the right color tones.
Operation Castle is a series of high energy nuclear tests conducted in 1954. They were performed by the Joint Task Force 7 (JTF-7) at Bikini Atoll beginning in March. The operation was considered a success as it proved that the deployable “dry” fuel designs for thermonuclear weapons are feasible.
The long-range effects were adverse, and the public was naturally outraged. This operation served as grounds that lead towards the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
“Father Knows Best”Was Aired as A Television Series
The popular radio program was picked up by CBS and debuted as a television series under the same title, “Father Knows Best.” The first season was aired in 1954, after which it was canceled. Later it was again picked up, and this time, it ran for five more seasons. It is still a favorite and is available for streaming on Vudu and Amazon Prime.
Created by Ed James, the series stars Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin as the Andersons, a middle-class family. It is still ingrained in American pop culture for its idyllic presentation of family life during that time.
The Number of Women Joining The Workforce Increased
The movement to bring about a momentous change in the status of women started way back in 1950. In 1954, more and more women were standing side by side with men on the task force.
Though this change was surprising to some, others welcomed women in the workforce with open hearts. This greatly helped the economy flourish and grow. Indeed, it was a positive change toward a better society.
Marlboro Man was introduced
Before the introduction of the Marlboro Man in 1954, Marlboro cigarettes were considered feminine. They were marketed to target female audiences giving the aura of sophistication and classiness with the slogan ‘Mild as May.’ Being filtered, the company deemed their cigarettes to be safer.
Men also wanted to switch and enjoy the filtered and safer smoke. But they did not want to be caught smoking a feminine brand. So, with the introduction of Marlboro Male, men jumped to the opportunity, and this improved the sales for the company.
DIY Trend Started
The Do It Yourself, or DIY trend was picked up during this year. The trend grew steadily popular as more and more people became interested in self-improving their homes and other maintenance tasks. This not only helped them kill time but also allowed them to save some money on the repairs by not hiring a professional and learning to do it all by themselves.
Growth and Expansion
1954 was the time when music experienced good growth with “little things mean a lot” by Kitty Kallen reaching the top as the best single. Other biggest songs include “Three Coins in The Fountain” by Four Aces featuring Al Alberts, “Secret Love” by Doris Day, and “Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight” by The Spaniels.
This year also saw a rise in influential music. Popular, influential songs from 1954 include “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes, “Gee by The Crows,” “Shake,” “Rattle and Roll” by Joe Turner and His Blues Kings, and “Earth Angel” by The Penguins
The Term Mondegreen was Coined
Ever heard the term “Mondegreen”? It is a word used for misunderstood lyrics. It was coined by the writer Sylvia Green.
She was narrating her experience as a little girl when she misheard the lyric in a Scottish ballad. The original lyric was “…and laid him on the green”. Which she interpreted as “…and Lady Mondegreen”. The word is still going strong.
The Death of Johnny Ace
This death was a popular scandal of the year. It represents the tragic death of rhythm-and-blues singer Johnny Ace. He was joking around with his buddies when he pointed the gun on himself and shot.
The late singer believed the gun to be empty, but in fact, it was not. He ended up accidentally shooting himself to death. Ironically his last words were,
“It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded… see?”
Polio disease was a big issue back then. Hundreds and thousands of young children were forced to lose their mobility because of it. With tremendous efforts, the Polio Vaccine was discovered. After this, mass vaccination programs were initiated to help protect children against this serious illness.
Brown v. Board of Education
This was the year when the court unanimously passed a judgment against the Board of Education. The honorable judges declared racial segregation of children in public schools as unconstitutional. It is one of the biggest cornerstones for the civil rights movement in the US.
Renaming of Armistice Day
November 11th is now known as Veteran’s Day. But it was not called so always. The Allied nations and Germany ended the Great War, which resulted in the death of more than 15 million people by signing an Armistice on November 11th, 1918.
The following year, King George V of England proclaimed the date as Armistice Day and ordered it to be marked with two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. This remained in effect until Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kansas, suggested changing the name to Veterans Day in 1953. He did so to pay tribute and recognize the services of all veterans.
The resolution gained support, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved it in 1954. So, the former Armistice Day is celebrated as Veterans Day to this date.
The hurricane season of 1954 was particularly deadly for the US. The year saw 12 storms in total. Out of these, 11 were hurricanes. It was a record back then. The three hurricanes, namely Carol, Hazel, and Atlantis, were the worst.
In fact, Hurricane Hazel of October 14th, 1954, was considered the worst hurricane of the 20th century. Ninety-one persons died in this season, and around 506$ million were lost in damages.
A Big Bruiser From The Sky
On November 30th, 1954, some people saw “a bright reddish light like a Roman candle trailing smoke,” while others reported seeing “a fireball, like a gigantic welding arc,” accompanied by tremendous explosions and a brown cloud, which in fact, was a meteorite that fell through the living room ceiling of Ann Hodges’ home.
After rebounding from several objects, the black rock hit her on the thigh leaving behind a large bruise. Up till now, Ann Hodges is the only verified survivor to be hit by a meteorite.
The aftermath of this event made her a minor celebrity. Her pictures were published all over the world. Even the Life magazine published an article on this event titled “a big bruiser from the sky.”
Time Magazine’s Man of the Year: John Foster Dulles
Time Magazine’s Man of the Year Award (called so up until 1999, now known as Time Person of the Year Award) was presented to John Foster Dulles. Born on February 25th, 1988, John was an American Diplomat who served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower as United States Secretary of State Firm 1953 to 1959. He was an advocate of aggressiveness towards communism throughout the world. He was also a significant personality in the early Cold War era.
For his services, he was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Dulles Airport is also named after him. The City of Watertown also named the Dulles State Office Building after him.
Miss America: Evelyn Ay (Ephrata, PA)
1954 was the only year when a Miss Pennsylvania went on to be crowned as Miss America. The green-eyed beauty knocked the judge’s eyes out in the preliminary trial. She was born to German immigrants and was still a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania when she was crowned.
This was the last crowning before the pageant was televised. Her win resulted in a town-wide celebration, which Ephrata had never seen before. She was presented with the key to the borough and made honorary mayor.
Her career started from winning Miss Ephrata Fair and Tobacco Queen of Lancaster County in 1950. Then, she went on to win the titles of Miss Pennsylvania AMVET and Miss National AMVET in 1952. And finally, after winning the Miss Pennsylvania title in 1953, she embarked on the road to the national contest, which she later won as well.
Miss USA: Miriam Stevenson (South Carolina)
While Evelyn Ay was made Miss America, one of her semi-finalist competitors, Miriam Stevenson, won the title of Miss USA in 1954. She made history as the first Miss USA to win the title of Miss Universe too. She was the heroine of the ’50s – an inspiration that many girls of that era looked up to.
She began her journey as Miss Greenwood and then Miss South Carolina in 1953. These led her towards the Miss America pageant, where she was the semi-finalist. She continued to participate in pageants and went on to become both Miss USA and Miss Universe. Her win at the event was also memorable as it was a tie. The tie-breaker ultimately went in her favor, which resulted in her being crowned.
However, the beautiful woman was so kind that she presented the car in her prize package to her competitor, Miss Brazil Martha Rocha, as a consolatory prize.
- Highlights of the Major Pop Culture Trends of the 1950s
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1950
- Pop Culture In Review for the Year 1951
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1952
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1953
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1955
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1956
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1957
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1958
- Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1959