We didn’t even have sex in America in the early 1950s. : Notes on the Foxy Fifties
I have been meaning for some time to write about the Cafe ‘50s, a restaurant in Sherman Oaks that makes an effort to celebrate, through jukebox music and decor, that era three decades ago known for an ennui so pervasive that even its war was boring.
The reason I haven’t written about it is that the decade wasn’t very interesting and neither is the restaurant.
It could be, I suppose, that I’m simply too old for cheeseburgers and cherry Cokes and for doo-wop music played at a level of decibels that precludes any conversation beyond “Hey, that’s neat!” shouted across a table.
I have never particularly cared for cheeseburgers, I’d rather drink sloe gin than cherry Coke, and God help me if I ever shout Hey, that’s neat! in a crowded public place.
The most interesting part of the 1950s is, alas, not a part of the restaurant--a fact that, while regrettable, is certainly understandable. You can’t have someone going up and down the aisles accusing every third American of being a Communist.
U. S. Sen. Joe McCarthy did that with such effectiveness back then that his behavior even managed for a while to wipe the Famous Grin off the face of Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower, a not inconsiderable consequence of Joe’s final disfavor.
We didn’t even have sex in America in the early 1950s. It was an era of decolletage all right, but we weren’t sure exactly why. Sex wasn’t invented until years later.
To give you some idea how innocent we were in the ‘50s, shortly after the start of the decade, while we were still humming along to “Doggie in the Window,” a national scandal developed over a Christmas song called “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
Clergymen condemned it from the pulpit, and family-oriented newspapers thundered editorially that its subtle evil encouraged adultery.
For those unfamiliar with the term, adultery had nothing to do specifically with age, but was popularly meant to convey carnal relations with someone other than one’s mate. The word’s usage diminished as the practice increased.
It was only toward the end of the 1950s that we began to realize that, as they used to say, sex sells soap, and movies too.
A film called “Baby Doll” captured national attention with slinky Carroll Baker playing a sexy, mentally retarded teen-ager, a combination that once seemed unusual. Today, of course, the description fits all.
Which brings me to why I’m writing about a decade and a restaurant that I find, to say the least, essentially ho-hum-ish.
I was hanging around Greene’s Pharmacy in Woodland Hills one day waiting for George to finish preparing a prescription, when I noticed a shelf full of multicolored boxes.
I didn’t recognize them from a distance so I moved in closer. They were condoms, and they were sitting out there like toothbrushes or acne medicine for all America to see. Ramses, Sheik, Trojans (“For feeling in love”) and amber-tinted Trojans-Plus.
I wasn’t really shocked by the display because I’ve been around the Horn a couple of times and very little shocks me. Also, I am in favor of the drive against teen-age pregnancy, the little dears being emotionally incapable of keeping their underpants on in mixed company.
I am even reasonably familiar with condoms, possibly being one of the few people in Los Angeles journalism to know that they were named after a 17th-Century British colonel.
But seeing them in plain sight made me think about the differences in sexual attitudes between my own period of adolescence and today’s liberated era.
What we used to call rubbers were never kept out in the open, but oddly, there was never a terrific amount of unwed pregnant girls around either.
There were, I suppose, excessive moral restraints placed upon women when it came to, you know, putting out, but since the guys were always in there trying, the whole thing seemed to maintain a reasonable balance.
There are no restraints at all now, even comparing basic practices. Once, for instance, sex was limited to a man and a woman. Now it has expanded to include two men or two women or two men and three women or three women and one man or two ducks, a Presbyterian and a kangaroo.
I was thinking about all this when I stopped off at the Cafe ‘50s for another look and was dying to ask questions about sexual attitudes among the teen-age girls who were hanging around.
But there was a uniformed policeman having coffee in the place, and I was afraid of being arrested for talking dirty to pubescents, so I abandoned the notion.
Certain forms of perversion are accepted and even encouraged among newspaper columnists, but that isn’t one of them.
However, as I left the Cafe ‘50s, I did see one girl standing outside by herself and thought of a way to test her sexual knowledge without bringing filth into the conversation.
“Miss,” I asked as I passed, “do you know what a condom is?”
“Certainly,” she said without hesitation, “my mom lives in one.”
Teen-agers, I guess, never really change.