As turning points go, 1965 marked a significant cultural point of no return. With teen audiences screaming for the Beatles and the Supremes, pop-rock and soul began to lock up a sizable slice of the record market. At the exact same time, the future was becoming a national obsession, helped along largely by the space race and moon shot. Jet travel, the Houston Astrodome, the New York World's Fair, muscle cars, California, futuristic children's cartoons and ads for products like Tang, the electric razor, frozen concentrated orange juice and instant coffee imagined a more convenient tomorrow. If you were older than age 30 back then, you had to be feeling your age and somewhat nostalgic for an earlier time, much the way bewildered baby boomers feel today whenever new technology is introduced.
In October 1965, Frank Sinatra, who would turn 50 that December, hosted ABC's Hollywood Palace, a hugely popular Saturday night TV variety show that began airing in January 1964 and would last until 1970. The show was geared to adult tastes and typically served up acts that appealed to those who grew up during the Depression, fought in World War II, bought houses on the G.I. Bill, raised families in suburbia, watched TV and were baffled in '65 by their declining influence and the speed with which the future was rushing toward them.
Sinatra, who was already dating a much younger Mia Farrow, was there to slow things down for Hollywood Palace viewers, giving them a sizable, familiar dose of yesterday. The show provided older viewers with a respite from the loud and confusing cultural storm. Yet in retrospect, there was something appealing and re-assuring about pre-1965 entertainment, where polished talent, one-liners and sunny optimism dominated. On the show, Sinatra was joined by the Count Basie Orchestra, both arguably at their swinging peak, and Jack E. Leonard, who preceded Don Rickles in the insult-humor business.
There is an irony here. As boomers today fret about a warming planet, global chaos, political turmoil here at home and a range of everyday threats from texting drivers to the deranged, all that old-time entertainment seems rather comforting. Maybe we shouldn't have been so quick to mock and replace it way back when.
Here's Frank Sinatra hosting the Hollywood Palace 50 years ago just as the potency of an older generation's values were beginning to wane...