The 1950s Arts and Entertainment: Overview

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The 1950s Arts and Entertainment: Overview

The 1950s was the decade in which television emerged as the dominating force in American entertainment—a standing that remains to this day. The veterans of World War II were marrying, starting families, and migrating from the city to the suburbs. Pulling up a chair, flicking on a TV set, and being entertained by Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, and other first-generation TV stars was more convenient and less costly than hiring a babysitter and trekking off to the motion picture palace. A host of now-legendary television shows debuted, and many top movie personalities who initially resisted the call of television eventually began appearing on the small screen.

As Americans purchased TV sets by the millions, movie ticket sales plummeted. In order to lure back customers, the motion picture industry employed a range of gimmicks, including 3-D and wide-screen processes. While character-and plot-driven stories still made their way to the big screen, historical epics featuring state-of-the-art special effects and enormous casts of actors and extras became the decade's most prominent films.

A new generation of actors also emerged, with many—Marlon Brando (1924–) is perhaps the most famous—embracing "method" acting, an approach that emphasized inner motivation, feeling, and emotion over dramatic performance. Meanwhile, scores of names familiar to moviegoers no longer could be found in big-screen credits. These individuals had been blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a congressional committee investigating alleged communist influence in the entertainment industry.

In the art world, paintings generally were composed of fewer recognizable objects. Realist artworks were out of favor, and the most notable artworks were abstract. The decade's major art-world names were such innovative abstract expressionists/action painters as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Art critics were divided over the merits of this trend, while museum-goers often were perplexed by paintings that bore no relation to the world most people experienced.

With regard to literature, such veteran writers as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway published new works, while a host of younger literary voices emerged. None were more controversial than such nonconformist, Beat Generation writers as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, whose creations were sexually charged and decidedly antiestablishment. One of the decade's major trends was an increase of interest in science fiction literature, which, not surprisingly, was linked to the advent of the Atomic Age in science and technology.

On the popular music front, adults in the mainstream generally favored sounds that were sedate and refined, upbeat and dreamily romantic: songs that originated on Broadway, for example, or the stylings of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole. Yet their adolescent sons and daughters took to the strong beat and rebellious attitude of rock and roll. The adult establishment criticized rock and roll music because it was loud, unsophisticated, and rooted in African American country blues and urban rhythm and blues. Despite their disdain, rock and roll was here to stay. Its popularity revolutionized the music industry.

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The 1950s Arts and Entertainment: Overview

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The 1950s Arts and Entertainment: Overview