When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1950s

Intermarriage

1958: South Korea codified the centuries-old ban on marriages between men and women with the same family name and from the same clan. In a country with only 300 or so family names, where Kims, Lees and Parks make up half the population, and where, for example, millions belong to the Kim clan from Gimhae, this affected a large number of couples. Article 809 of the Civil Code stated: “A marriage may not be allowed between blood relatives, if both surname and its origin are common to the parties.”

Source: Legal Reform in Korea, ed. Tom Ginsburg (2004), pp. 20, 32

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

1956: “Wants pawn term,” in Howard Chace’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, there was a “ladle gull” who wore a “putty ladle rat cluck” with a “ladle rat hut”. One morning, the little girl’s mother sent her to her grandmother’s cottage “honor udder site offer florist”. On her way through the forest, “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” met an enormous wolf and told him she was going to visit her “groin-murder”.

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Discordant Note

Caricature of William Somerset Maugham

1955: William Somerset Maugham’s affair with Syrie Wellcome and their subsequent marriage produced one child but little happiness. When they divorced in 1929, Maugham was obliged to agree to a costly settlement to secure Syrie’s silence regarding his homosexuality. As the years passed, Maugham deeply resented the misery of their marriage and the continuing financial burden of the settlement.

Syrie died in London on 25 July 1955. Maugham heard of her death while playing cards at the Villa Mauresque, his home in the south of France. He put down the pack and drummed his fingers triumphantly on the table. “Tra-la-la-la,” he sang. “No more alimony. Tra-la, tra-la.”

Source: Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), p. 208

Toffees Rot Teeth

1954: Scandinavian dentists had for years puzzled over the abysmal dental health of the population. In the 1930s, for instance, 83 per cent of 3-year-olds had tooth decay. What were the causes? A deficiency disease? A poor diet? Excessive carbohydrate intake?

The Vipeholm dental caries study was intended to provide answers. Experimenters at the Vipeholm mental hospital in Sweden first tinkered with the vitamin intake of inmates, and when that produced no significant changes in levels of tooth decay, fed them each up to 24 sticky toffees a day. That produced a marked increase in cavities, demonstrating a clear link between sugar consumption and tooth decay.

Feeding exaggerated quantities of toffees to unwitting human beings resulted in lots of ruined teeth and, belatedly, lots of ethical questions, but it also produced much valuable evidence about the causes of tooth decay.

Source: Prevention of Oral Disease, ed. J.J. Murray (1996), pp. 11–13

“Keep Off The Grass”

1953: Stalin once pooh-poohed the possibility of a revolution in Germany – the citizens would be too obedient to step on the lawns, he said – but a strike by East Berlin construction workers on 16 June escalated, the next day, into a large-scale uprising against the government of the German Democratic Republic.

Source: Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin (1962), p. 76

Naughty Doggy

Albert Schweitzer, photographed in 1955 by Rolf Unterberg

1952: The 1952 Nobel Peace Prize was conferred on Albert Schweitzer for his efforts to promote “the Brotherhood of Nations”. Since 1913, Doctor Schweitzer had run a hospital in the jungle at Lambaréné, in French Equatorial Africa. He sometimes had problems keeping peace in his own back yard, let alone the world outside. Soon after the award, he had to scold a dog for chasing chickens around the hospital. “Stop that!” he roared. “Don’t you know this is a Peace Prize house? Be a Nobel dog, and quick.”

Source: News Chronicle, 8 December 1953

Nuclear Wasteland

1951: Congressman Albert Gore suggested that the United States might deter any southward advance of communist ground forces in Korea by creating a nuclear no man’s land. Gore proposed that American forces “dehumanize” a belt of land across the peninsula by deliberately contaminating it with radioactive waste.

Source: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013), pp. 6, 48–9

Clever Doggies

Konrad Lorenz, photographed in 1973 by the Nobel Foundation

1950: In Man Meets Dog, the animal behaviourist Konrad Lorenz drew attention to the ability of dogs to detect quite subtle variations in human speech. Victor Sarris’s three German shepherds, for example, understood who was who, despite their quirky trio of names: Aris, Harris and Paris.

Source: Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog (1994), p. 143

Clever Housewife

1964: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin for her “determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, notably penicillin and vitamin B12. The Daily Mail’s headline: “Nobel prize for British wife”.

Source: Daily Mail, 30 October 1964

Effing Remarks

1959: Kenneth Tynan’s effing remark on a late-night satire show on BBC television in 1965 had many viewers foaming at the mouth (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse suggested Tynan should have his bottom smacked).

In contrast, similar language during a teatime magazine programme on Ulster Television six years earlier attracted little response. Perhaps the viewers of Roundabout were paying more attention to their tea than to the telly. Live on air, the man who painted the railings alongside the River Lagan in Belfast was asked whether he got bored doing the same job all year round. His reply: “Of course it’s fucking boring.”

Source: Joe Moran, Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV (2013), pp. 6–8

Drastic Diet

Maria Callas, as she appeared in a CBS television talk show in 1958

1957: Magazines and newspapers marvelled when Maria Callas managed to shed 28 kilograms in 11 months; they carried before-and-after photographs of her transformation from a frumpy 92 kilos to a slender 64.

Callas lost weight by strict adherence to a diet of one meal a day, small servings of fresh fruit and raw meat, no pasta, no bread and no alcohol. But when the opera singer later became infested with a tapeworm (probably consumed with the raw meat), gossip columnists gleefully suggested that she had deliberately swallowed it as part of a diet regimen.

Source: Anne Edwards, Callas: Her Life, Her Loves, Her Music (2001), pp. 115, 116, 160, 161

Shabby End To Career

Nina Hamnett, portrayed by Roger Fry in 1917

1956: In the 1920s, Nina Hamnett was a promising artist, but by the 1930s and ’40s she had become a shabby figure who spent too little time in the studio and far too much time in the pubs and clubs of London’s Fitzrovia and Soho. “She was dirty, smelt of stale bar-rooms, and very pathetic.” At the York Minster pub, she made her favourite seat indelibly hers by urinating on it; sometimes she would be sick into her handbag before staggering home at night. On 13 December 1956 she fell from the window of her upstairs flat in Paddington and was impaled on the railings below. She died a few days later.

Source: Denise Hooker, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia (1986), pp. 184, 242, 250, 258

Blake Versus Parks

Rosa Parks, with Martin Luther King in the background, photographed in about 1955

1955: Driver Jim Blake must have thought he was simply enforcing regulations when he ordered four black passengers on his bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up their seats for a white man. Instead, Blake’s action on the afternoon of 1 December provoked the Montgomery bus boycott, a milestone in the American civil rights movement.

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Sensitive Stomach

1952: A severe case of amoebic dysentery earlier in his career meant that Sir Evelyn Baring, the new governor of Kenya, suffered from indifferent health. He was prone to bouts of exhaustion and debilitating intestinal pain and his stomach was “so sensitive that he would pick out the small slivers of orange peel from his marmalade before spreading it on his morning toast”.

Source: Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2005), pp. 34, 381

Bump In The Road

1951: The National Safety Council reckoned that towards the end of the year the total number of deaths from traffic accidents in the United States since the advent of the automobile would reach 1 million. In December, the millionth death was reached and passed, like a bump in the road.

Source: The New York Times, 24 December 1951

Slugs And Shaws

George Bernard Shaw, photographed in 1925

1950: The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw died on 2 November. Three weeks later, in accordance with the terms of his will, his ashes were mingled with those of his wife, who had died in 1943, and scattered in the garden of their village home.

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Laws Scrapped

1959: Repealed in 1959: the Barbed Wire Act 1893 (a law “to prevent the use of Barbed Wire for Fences in Roads, Streets, Lanes, and other Thoroughfares”) and the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (legislation “for vacating seat of member of House of Commons received, &c. as a lunatic into an asylum, &c.”).

Source: The Statutes Revised (1950), vol. XI, pp. 147–8 and vol. XII, pp. 428–9

Eduardus Ursus

1958: “Ecce Eduardus Ursus” (“Here is Edward Bear”) coming down the stairs “tump-tump-tump” (“bump, bump, bump”) behind “Christophorum Robinum” (“Christopher Robin”).

The Latin translator of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic was a Hungarian-born scholar who lived on a farm in southern Brazil. Winnie ille Pu was an unexpected publishing success, spending many weeks on the fiction best-seller list of The New York Times in MCMLXI.

Source: The New York Times, 18 November 1984

No Escape

Lyndon Johnson, photographed in 1964 after assuming the presidency

1957: Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson pleaded and cajoled to get the civil rights bill through the U.S. Senate. The tall Texas senator was very intense, very physical: up-close, fast-talking, his heavy arm draped around a shoulder, his “big meaty hands” grasping his quarry, “his long forefinger through the hole in the senator’s lapel”, buttonholing him “to prevent him from moving away”.

Source: Robert A. Cato, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2003), pp. 587–90, 959–60

Peak Crude Oil

1956: Geologist M. King Hubbert’s prediction that American crude oil production would peak in the next 10 to 15 years was met with scepticism, but in 1970, on cue, output reached a record high of 9.6 million barrels per day, and then went into decline.

Source: David Strahan, The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man (2007), chap. 2

Striped Stream

1955: Leonard Marraffino of New York State applied to patent a device capable of “dispensing two or more paste-like materials of different character, for example, different color, in the form of a striped stream”. A striping dispenser, he called it. That led, a few years later, to the appearance of striped toothpaste.

Source: www.freepatentsonline.com/
2789731.pdf

Nuclear Option

1954: Did the Eisenhower administration really offer to drop atomic bombs on the Vietminh troops besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu? Nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did the Americans contemplate once again using their nuclear arsenal in combat? Howard Simpson thought so. “The relevant documents remain classified,” he wrote in Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, “but enough has seeped out through personal comments and written memoirs to suggest that such a proposal was seriously considered.” Fortunately for the men on the ground, the idea was abandoned; any attack would have wiped out attackers and defenders indiscriminately.

Source: Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (2004), pp. 568–9

Unlucky For Arnold

1951: Numerology loomed large in the life and musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg. He was convinced that certain numbers and combinations of numbers were either benign or malign. “It is not superstition, it is belief,” he explained.

The number 13, in particular, filled Schoenberg with apprehension. He was born on 13 September 1874. In 1950 he reached the age of 76 (numerologically significant because 7 + 6 = 13). Since he was born on the 13th of the month, he feared he would die on the 13th of the month.

As it happened, he was spot on. He died on Friday, 13 July 1951, at a quarter to midnight – another 15 minutes and he would have been out of immediate danger.

Source: Willi Reich, Schoenberg: A Critical Biography (1971), p. 235