The 1950’s. Now that was an era. I think today’s America, the new America, was actually born in the ’50s. I was fortunate enough to be born in Burbank, CA on April 4, 1950 and I still remember much of the ’50s.
We lived in North Hollywood, CA and grew up just like the kids in the movie “Sandlot” (1993). It was pick-up baseball games, football, basketball, days at the local public pool and even a couple of years of organized Little League Baseball in ’60 and ’61. Everyone rode bicycles and during the summer we were out of the house well before lunch and didn’t return until dark. Crime seemed to be non-existent in the suburbs. In the winter, we walked or rode our bikes to a nearby local school (no busing back then) and did homework in the afternoon before getting out to catch up with neighborhood friends before it got too dark.
North Hollywood was in the San Fernando Valley just north and over the hill from Hollywood. “The Valley,” as it is known to Angelenos, was nothing but orange groves and farms in the ’40s. William Mulholland had brought Northern California water to Los Angeles in 1913 and pushed back what was formerly desert in a semi-arid climate with unreliable rainfall.
Say what you will about the highs of the roaring ’20s, the lows of the 1930’s Great Depression and the tough war years that were the ’40s; the ’50s were idyllic. The San Fernando Valley suburbs were growing like wild-fire just trying to keep up with the post war housing shortage and economic boom.
Come the ’50s, 3 bedroom ranch style homes sprung up like weeds. New housing was required to support the returning war veterans going to work in Southern CA. Those working in the burgeoning automobile industry in Van Nuys and the commercial and military airplane industry in Burbank along with all the actors, extras and crews from Hollywood, needed homes to live in. Population of the valley in 1950 was 311,016. Over 1.75 million people live in the valley today.
The Lockheed Aircraft Company headquartered at the Burbank airport in 1934 in collaboration with Trans World Airways (TWA) produced the L-039 Constellation that could handle 34 passengers coast-to-coast in 13 hours. Known as the Super Connie, with its distinctive tri-tail design, the airliner served several airlines and flew for many years.
The Skunk Works at Lockheed Burbank produced the fighter aircraft known as, P-80 Shooting Star which went on to become the first American jet fighter to score a kill. It also recorded the first jet-to-jet aerial kill, downing a MiG-15 in Korea. By 1948 it had become known as the F-80.
The Skunk works went on to design and produce the U-2 Dragon Lady. The U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft continues to serve as America’s Sentinel of Peace. The U-2 supports intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements in all-weather and light conditions.
The Lockheed Corporation continued on through 1995 when they merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin.
The Burbank Airport was also home base for two new nationwide all-cargo air carriers, Flying Tiger Lines and Slick Airways. My dad, Chuck Dworshak, born in Ekalaka, MT in 1919, started his long career in the air freight industry with Slick in 1947 after coming to Los Angeles after the war and stuck with the fledgling post-war industry through its growth years working for several different companies until the end of the ’80s. Slick Airways became the first airline to operate the freighter version of the Douglas DC-6 (the passenger version had been introduced by United Airlines five days earlier). Slick Airways finally succumbed to the competition in 1966. Dad passed away in 1992.
This was the birthplace of modern-day air freight. Modeled after the air logistics system that supported U.S. troops in World War II, it continues today with the likes of United Parcel Service, Federal Express and many other lesser all-cargo carriers and forwarders. Flying Tigers was purchased by Federal Express in 1989.
We all know what was going on in Hollywood in the ’50s. Westerns were a mainstay and “The Valley” provided a great background and good weather for shooting many of our favorite TV shows. Many major film studios built their lots in the valley. Universal, Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, DreamWorks and others still have studios there.
Notable TV Westerns shot in “The Valley” include Hopalong Cassidy, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Laramie, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, The Virginian, Wagon Train, The Big Valley, Maverick, The High Chaparral, The Gene Autry Show, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, and many others. The peak year for TV westerns was 1959, with 26 oaters airing during prime-time. In one week in March 1959, eight of the top ten shows were westerns.
We had weather in the Valley. This wasn’t your typical Southern California Beach community. Temperatures ranged from 90°-105º in the summer and into the 30s and 40s in the winter. Houses built on raised foundations with wood floors could make for some very cold mornings. Wall-to-wall carpeting was just becoming the latest trend but it was expensive in those days and few had it installed. It didn’t snow but it could rain like cats and dogs. Sometimes we would even raft in the streets that flowed like rivers over the tops of the curbs.
The middle class had arrived. Good paying jobs and a modest cost-of-living with little inflation meant that most families had a home, a mortgage and a car to put in the garage. Dad was the breadwinner, mom stayed home and raised the kids. TV ownership became widespread through mass marketers like Mad-Man Muntz.
We didn’t have Nintendo Wii’s or ipads but we had plenty to eat, shoes on our feet and clothes on our backs. At Christmas we might even receive something extra, just for fun.
Growing up in the valley was fun, but the adults had their version of utopia as well. With secure jobs in a growing economy, neighbors got together frequently for pool parties, cocktail parties and the like. While the valley was pretty laid back and casual, the men knew how to dress and the women, well, they were chic. Life was good and raising a traditional family was, well, de rigueur.
The teenagers, a la James Dean, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), drove souped up hot rods from the ’30s and ’40s. Street racing was in. As a pre-teen all I ever wanted was a car. (I finally got one in 1967). Everyone smoked, even the teenagers. That’s cigarettes not marijuana.
The Korean War ended in 1953 and the Cold War took its place. It wasn’t until the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 that we all really started worrying about the bomb and the communists. The Vietnam War actually started in 1959 with the U.S. ramping up its involvement in the early ’60’s. The ’60s didn’t go quite as well as the ’50s for most of us; but that’s another story.
They say there’s no going back, but if only we could go, Back to the Future. I’ll never forget the 1950′s.