The 1960s Arts and Entertainment: Topics in the News

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The 1960s Arts and Entertainment: Topics in the News



The 1960s saw radical changes in the production and content of motion pictures. As the decade began, the studio system (in which major studios controlled the entire production of films) was in its final decline. Fewer films were being made on the Hollywood studio lots; more were being filmed on location. Fewer

projects were being initiated by the studios themselves; instead, stars and directors were choosing their own projects. Glossy, big-budget productions still proved to be popular. For example, such action-adventure films as Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), and Goldfinger (1964), all featuring Sean Connery (1930–) as superspy James Bond, were audience favorites. The Sound of Music (1965), a traditionally structured Hollywood musical that offered wholesome family entertainment, was a blockbuster hit. But by decade's end, big-budget genre films consistently would become box office busts, as evidenced by the failures of such lavishly produced musicals as Star! (1968) and Darling Lili (1970).

The MPAA Ratings

During the 1960s, a decline in the power of the Production Code, which previously had determined the content of American movies, resulted in major changes in what could be seen on movie screens. Increasing amounts of nudity, graphic language, and violence were appearing in major motion pictures. To avoid government censorship, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) inaugurated a voluntary ratings system to help guide viewers with regard to movie content. The original MPAA ratings were G (general audiences); M (mature audiences); R (restricted; no one under seventeen admitted without parent or guardian); and X (admission restricted to those over age eighteen).

The assumption was that only products of the sex film industry would earn X ratings, but this was not the case. Midnight Cowboy (1969), directed by John Schlesinger (1926–), a searing chronicle of the friendship between two down-and-out losers in seedy New York City, became the first X-rated film to win a Best Picture Academy Award. It had earned its X rating not for nudity, but for its graphic portrayal of sex and violence.

Two films in particular captured the imaginations of the young during the decade, and altered the face of moviemaking: The Graduate (1967), directed by Mike Nichols (1931–), about an alienated college graduate struggling to find his place in the world; and Easy Rider (1969), directed by Dennis Hopper (1936–), charting the exploits of two drug-dealing motor-cyclists as they treked across an often hostile America. Both movies featured smallish budgets, young actors (Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Katharine Ross), and soundtracks loaded with contemporary music (Simon and Garfunkel songs on The Graduate, music by The Byrds, Steppenwolf, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and others on Easy Rider). Two other films that resonated among the young were Bonnie and Clyde (1967), directed by Arthur Penn (1922–), which portrayed real-life 1930s criminals Bonnie Parker (1910–1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909–1934) as American folk heroes; and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a landmark science fiction fantasy directed by Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999).

As a result of these successes, Hollywood became more youth-oriented, with a new generation of young filmmakers replacing old-guard moviemakers at the center of Hollywood power. Meanwhile, such nontraditional leading men as Walter Matthau (1920–2000), George C. Scott (1926–1999), and Gene Hackman (1931–), all essentially character actors, became major Hollywood stars.


In the 1960s as in the late 1950s, rock and roll—a new kind of music that was loud and emotional, and rooted in country rockabilly, gospel, rural blues, and urban rhythm and blues—was the most popular music among young people. At the beginning of the decade, however, rock and roll had faded in popularity from its initial surge in the late 1950s and was in a downswing for several reasons. Elvis Presley (1935–1977), the 1950s most acclaimed rock and roller, had entered the United States Army and rising stars Buddy Holly (1936–1959), Ritchie Valens (1941–1959), and J. P Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper" (1930–1959), had died in a plane crash.

The Elvis who emerged from the military in 1960 had mellowed from the hip-shaking, nostril-flaring sexual icon who had seemed so challenging in 1956 and 1957. In the decade's early years, the pop charts were dominated by such cute but sexually safe teenybopper heartthrobs as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee, and Fabian. Top Ten hits included sentimental love songs and variations of 1950s doo-wop and dance music.

Rock and roll may have lost some of its dangerous edge, but this lack of energy was temporary. The music was revived as a major cultural force with what came to be known as the British Invasion. In the mid-1960s, groups of British performers stormed the pop music charts, following the enormous success of The Beatles in 1964. Among them were The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, Peter and Gordon, and The Animals. At the height of the British Invasion, the common assumption was that the musical sounds emanating from across the sea had originated there. This was not so. At various times, individual British rockers freely acknowledged the influence of such 1950s African American rock and roll legends as Chuck Berry (1926–) and Little Richard (1935–).

Evolution and Revolution in Music

Arange of rock-oriented musical styles enjoyed brief popularity during the 1960s. At the beginning of the decade, the favorite musical styles mostly were pop-oriented and were sweetly innocent. In such songs as "Johnny Angel," "Angel Baby," and "My Guy," love was portrayed as sweet, pure, and simple. Such all-female "girl groups" as The Chiffons, The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes, and The Crystals asked musical questions, such as "Will you still love me tomorrow?" and made musical declarations, like "He's so fine!" and "My boyfriend's back, and you're gonna be in trouble." Meanwhile, West Coast groups such as The Beach Boys celebrated sun, surf, and "California Girls."

As the 1960s came to an end, a cultural revolution had engulfed America's youth. This revolution was reflected in music. Many musical sounds were hard-edged and blatantly drug-related. The Doors sang of being unable to get much higher, while The Jefferson Airplane made knowing references to drug use when they observed that certain pills makes you larger, while others make you small—"and the ones that Mother gives you don't do anything at all."

The two British groups with the most durability were The Rolling Stones, fronted by their controversial, charismatic lead singer, Mick Jagger (1943–), and The Beatles, a mop-topped quartet whose members were John Lennon (1940–1980), Paul McCartney (1942–), George Harrison (1943–2001), and Ringo Starr (1940–). From the outset, The Rolling Stones were the bad boys. While they were musically suggesting to their female fans, "Let's Spend the Night Together," The Beatles (otherwise known as the Fab Four) were more innocently harmonizing, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." However The Beatles, personally as well as musically, were to undergo far-reaching changes during the decade, transformations that directly mirrored the evolution of rock and roll. Their sounds progressed from rock and roll-inspired ("She Loves You," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Love Me Do," "Twist and Shout") to artistic, introspective, and hauntingly beautiful ("A Day in the Life," "Yesterday," "Eleanor Rigby"), drug-inspired ("Strawberry Fields," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), and spiritual ("Love You To," "Let It Be"). The Beatles expanded the boundaries of rock by experimenting with instrumentation, for example George mastered the sitar, which he played on several of The Beatles cuts, as well as orchestration and composition.

Rock music in general followed the trend of The Beatles. From the sweet sincerity of the early part of the decade, rock and roll became harder, darker, and louder. Reflecting the spirit of the age, rock musicians sang about their anger at "The Establishment" and their experimentation with drugs and casual sex. By the end of the decade, rock and roll had not only regained but actually increased its reputation as the music of youthful anger and rebellion.

Rock Festivals

In the 1960s, the rock festival became a favored venue for music lovers to gather in an outdoor setting and savor the sounds of their preferred performers. A fabled early festival was the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, which featured a who's who of rock stars, including Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, The Who, The Jefferson Airplane, and The Mamas and the Papas. The event was chronicled in Monterey Pop (1969), the first important rock concert documentary.

By far the most famous rock festival was the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held in August 1969. During a rain-soaked three-day weekend, a spirited crowd, numbering between 400,000 and 500,000, converged on a 600-acre hog farm near Bethel, New York. Despite poor planning and general chaos, the crowd remained mellow. The entertainers included an all-star roster of talent, from Country Joe and The Fish, Joe Cocker, Canned Heat, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. The event was chronicled in Woodstock (1970), an Academy Award-winning documentary.

Unlike Woodstock, however, not all rock festivals were filled with peace and love. The Altamont festival, held in California four months after Woodstock, was an ugly, violent affair during which a festival-goer was murdered.

As the 1950s had closed with the deaths of Holly, Valens, and Richardson, the 1960s also ended with the deaths of three of the decade's rock legends: Janis Joplin (1943–1970), Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970), and Jim Morrison (1943–1971), lead singer of The Doors. However, the difference in the eras is indicated by the manner in which these three expired. Joplin and Hendrix died of drug overdoses. Morrison allegedly was felled by a heart attack, but his well-known habits of drug abuse led to rumors that his death also was drug-related.


When one thinks of the top African American singers and musicians of the 1960s, one word comes to mind: Motown. Actually, Motown—a shortening of "motortown," a slang name for Detroit, the home of the American automobile industry—first was the name of a record label. It was founded in 1959 by Berry Gordy Jr. (1929–), a songwriter, record producer, and song publisher who hailed from Detroit. Barrett Strong's "Money," The Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman," The Miracles' "Shop Around," Mary Wells' "You Beat Me to the Punch," and The Contours' "Do You Love Me" were among the company's first hits. During the 1960s, Motown was phenomenally successful; by mid-decade, it had become the single most profitable black-owned corporation in America. Of the 535 singles issued by Motown during the decade, an astounding 357 were hits. In 1988, Gordy sold Motown to MCA for $61 million.

The Motown sound was distinctive. The songwriting-producing team of Eddie Holland (1939–), Lamont Dozier (1941–), and Brian Holland (1941–), popularly known as Holland/Dozier/Holland, merit much of the credit for its evolution. The best of Motown combined elements of rhythm and blues with gospel; for good reason, it also was known as "soul music." Yet the sounds of Motown also were bouncy and danceable, and they appealed to white as well as black teens. Gordy even concocted a phrase to be used to market his music: "The Sound of Young America."

Among the roster of Motown artists who became superstars and 1960s music legends were The Miracles, who recorded a series of hits after "Shop Around," with lead singer Smokey Robinson (1940–) becoming a model practitioner of the Motown sound. The Temptations were one of the most beloved of all Motown groups; their recording of "My Girl," a special favorite of the era, combined memorably lilting harmonies. Marvin Gaye (1939–1984) was a gospel music-influenced soloist whose top 1960s single was "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," also recorded by Gladys Knight (1944–) and The Pips, another vintage Motown act. Gaye's visionary 1971 album, What's Going On, combined massive doses of soul, heart, and humanism.

Little Stevie Wonder (1950–) was just twelve years old when he enjoyed a smash hit with "Fingertips (Part 2)." However, Stevie was no

one-shot wonder. He matured artistically, dropped the "Little" from his billing, and recorded such hits as "For Once in My Life," "I Was Made to Love Her," and "My Cherie Amour." The Four Tops were fronted by charismatic lead singer Levi Stubbs (1936–); among their most exuberant recordings were "Baby I Need Your Loving," "I Can't Help Myself," and "Reach Out I'll Be There." The Supremes were the prime Motown chart-busters, with "Where Did Our Love Go" becoming the first of their twelve number-one hits. The Supremes' lead singer, Diana Ross (1944–), went on to enjoy a successful career as a soloist. But it was Martha and The Vandellas, with lead singer Martha Reeves (1941–), who recorded what arguably was the one single that captured the essence of Motown: "Dancing in the Street," an all-time-great 1960s dance song.


Pop Art was the reigning art movement of the 1960s. Pop Artists offered commentary on the triteness of popular culture by incorporating mass-produced, consumer-oriented images into their paintings, sculptures, and prints: logos of commercial products, for example, or everyday objects and likenesses of celebrities. The point was that such images are so ingrained in our culture and our consciousness that they become a form of art. To make their point, artists of the decade reproduced these images as works of art, to be hung on museum or gallery walls.

Aretha and Otis

Not all the top black singers of the 1960s were affiliated with Motown. Aretha Franklin (1942–), whose background was in gospel music, was perhaps the decade's most electrifying female soloist. Her soul-filled recordings of "Baby I Love You," "Chain of Fools," and, in particular, "Respect" are late-1960s favorites. Franklin's appropriately titled "Lady Soul" is an all-time classic soul music album.

Otis Redding (1941–1967), a dynamic soul singer, was another casualty of the era. He was a rising star when he died in a 1967 plane crash. The following year, "Dock of the Bay," another late-1960s masterpiece, became his biggest single. Had he lived, Redding might have become a superstar.

Andy Warhol (1930–1987), the guru of Pop Art, earned international celebrity by duplicating images of Campbell's soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, Brillo soap pad boxes, and stylized likenesses of such pop culture icons as Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962). Eventually, he became an avant-garde filmmaker. His early efforts avoid any responsibility for telling a story. Among the more famous were Sleep (1963), which depicted a man asleep for eight hours, and Empire (1965), a continuous nighttime image of New York's Empire State Building. Warhol eventually incorporated storylines, but his scripts were insubstantial, if not altogether improvised, and his performers were not so much actors as an odd assortment of artists, groupies, and colorful personalities. A number became Warhol "superstars," and many were known by their purposefully tacky pseudonyms: Viva!; Candy Darling; Holly Woodlawn; Ultra Violet; Ondine; Mario Montez; and Ingrid Superstar. Warhol also was an expert self-promoter, and his declaration that, in our media and celebrity-obsessed culture, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes has transcended his own celebrity and lived on well past his death.

Other important pop artists include Jasper Johns (1930–), who painted targets and versions of the American flag; James Rosenquist (1933–), who reproduced images from billboards; Jim Dine (1935–), who fastened such objects as tools, bedsprings, and discarded clothing to his canvases; Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997), who painted colorful, oversized comic strip panels; Robert Rauschenberg (1925–), whose collages combined magazine photographs, newspapers, and paint; Claes Oldenburg (1929–), who produced larger-than-life sculptures of consumer products; and Wayne Thiebaud (1920–), who chose objects of food as subject matter. Some of Thiebaud's titles: "Salads, Sandwiches, and Desserts"; "Candy Apples"; and "Cupcake," mirror the essence of Pop Art.

Two other art movements that came out of the 1960s were Op Art, in which artists employed optical illusions of depth or movement, and Minimalism, in which artists spotlighted pure, flat color and hard-edged geometric designs. During the latter part of the decade, the term Minimalism also described a new movement in music. While the works of some composers were becoming increasingly complex, others were basing their creations on African and Asian music, employing simpler instrumentation that often repeated phrases and rhythms. Philip Glass (1937–) is perhaps the best-known minimalist composer.

Each of these movements caused a stir in the art world. Many people complained that Pop Art, Op Art, and Minimalism required no originality or talent. The arguments about such art drew nearly as much attention as the works themselves, helping make celebrities of Warhol and others.

American Theatre Wing Antoinette Perry Awards (Tony Awards)

1960The Miracle WorkerFiorello! and The Sound of Music
1961BeckettBye Bye Birdie
1962A Man for All SeasonsHow to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
1963Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
1964LutherHello, Dolly!
1965The Subject Was RosesFiddler on the Roof
1966The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de SadeMan of La Mancha
1967The HomecomingCabaret
1968Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are DeadHallelujah, Baby!
1969The Great White Hope1776


The beginning of the 1960s saw a spate of successful musicals coming to Broadway, including The Unsinkable Molly Brown; Bye Bye Birdie; How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Hello, Dolly!; Funny Girl; and Fiddler on the Roof. However, the stage event that defined the latter part of the decade was Hair, a new kind of musical. Hair, which came to Broadway in 1968, celebrated the era's youth culture by depicting such out-of-the-mainstream characters as sexually liberated, drug-using hippies and anti-Vietnam war protesters. Hair also was experimental in that it focused on thematic content and the depiction of a lifestyle, instead of plot and character development. Its score was rock music-inspired, and Hair can fairly be labeled as the original rock musical. It also became well known for a brief but controversial nude scene at the end of Act I.

Paralleling the British Invasion in music, a new generation of playwrights from the United Kingdom, including Harold Pinter (1930–) and Tom Stoppard (1937–), enjoyed success on the American stage. New American writers also emerged. Edward Albee (1928–) was perhaps the most heralded. Albee's biggest success was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), a stark drama spotlighting the bitter conversation between two couples during one turbulent evening. Neil Simon (1927–), perhaps the most commercially successful playwright of all time, inaugurated a long-running series of light comedies during the decade.

Pulitzer Prizes In Fiction

1960Advise and ConsentAllen Drury
1961To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee
1962The Edge of SadnessEdwin O'Connor
1963The RiversWilliam Faulkner
1964no award
1965The Keepers of the HouseShirley Ann Grau
1966The Collected Stories of Katherine Ann PorterKatherine Ann Porter
1967The FixerBernard Malamud
1968The Confessions of Nat TurnerWilliam Styron
1969House Made of DawnN. Scott Momaday

Meanwhile, the hot new books spotlighted black humor and youthful alienation. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922–) published a series of tart, cynical science fiction novels, including Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), and Slaughterhouse Five (1969), which were favorites on college campuses. The hero of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), by Ken Kesey (1935–2001), was Randle J. McMurphy, a spirited mental patient who attempts to subvert an authoritarian bureaucracy. Another classic of the era was Catch-22 (1961), by Joseph Heller (1923–1999). The novel's title rapidly became part of the American language. Heller's main character is Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who wishes to cease fighting and return home. The only trouble is, in order to do so, he must fly additional combat missions. "Catch-22" now refers to anything unreasonable or illogical. For example, you are rejected for a job because you lack experience—yet how are you to gain experience if no one will hire you? The book's anti-war/antimilitary bureaucracy tone also resonated with the young.


The 1960s mostly was a decade of business as usual for the television industry. An array of drama, comedy, adventure, sci-fi, and variety series entertained millions of viewers, with a few—including The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–66), The Andy Griffith Show (1960–68), The Twilight Zone (1959–65), Mission: Impossible (1966–73), and Star Trek (1966–69)—becoming bona fide small screen classics.

Shows featuring a range of characters, from doctors (Dr. Kildare [1961–66], Ben Casey [1961–66]) to rubes (The Beverly Hillbillies [1962–71], Petticoat Junction [1963–70], Green Acres [1965–71]), were popular. However, if one TV series reflected the changes in American culture during the decade, it was Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968–73), a landmark variety show that featured wacky, innovative comedy. Young people in particular adored the show for its goofy humor and sense of mischief. A host of catch phrases introduced on the show came into common usage, including "sock it to me," "here come da judge," and "you bet your sweet bippy."

In the news field, the influence of TV journalists over their print colleagues continued to grow in a trend that had begun during the previous decade. Two singular events foreshadowed the future with regard to the sheer power of television and the medium's impact on news coverage and political campaigning. The first: the televised debates between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) and Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) during the 1960 election, from which emerged the notion that voters will look favorably on a candidate based on how he looks, rather than on what he says. The second: the live coverage of events in the wake of the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which served to unite the nation in time of grief.

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The 1960s Arts and Entertainment: Topics in the News

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The 1960s Arts and Entertainment: Topics in the News