Long before Dick Clark rocked in the New Year from Times Square , New Years Eve belonged to Guy Lombardo.
For one night the Canadian bandleader and his Royal Canadian Orchestra ruled television.
A childhood viewing ritual that rarely varied, the ringing in of a new decade was particularly exciting.
New Years Eve 1959: All Eyes to the Future
It was a freezing finish to the fifties, that last day in December of 1959, and the exciting “World of Tomorrow” 1960, was less than twenty-four hours away.
1960, the far-off world that had captivated my parents at the New York Worlds Fair in 1939, the very year they had been magically transported to courtesy of General Motor’s Futurama ride was now almost here.
Yesterday’s tomorrow was right around the bend.
Warm up to New Years
By 11:00 on New Years eve, the television set was warmed up in the living room as everyone gathered around the TV to watch Guy Lombardo. Thanks to our new giant 24 inch Philco, the New Year revelers came in crystal clear –no fading, no flickering, no ghosts.
An assortment of colorful lithographed tin noise makers of all shapes, were strewn about the coffee table ,including drum shaped tin clackers festooned with ballroom dancers, clowns with guitar, New Years revelers, and balloons.
I latched on to a bell-shaped, noisemaker with a bright yellow handle featuring many dancers including a Spanish dancer a ballerina, a Black and a White orchestra conductor, (perhaps it was for use in the deep south) and a black man playing the banjo.
I felt like Cinderella, permitted to stay up to the stroke of midnight and watch, along with millions of other TV viewers, as Guy Lombardo rang in the New Year.
The epitome of high-bred good taste, the New Year extravaganza was telecast live from the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel located on fashionable Park Avenue, where New York’s glamorous high society would bid a farewell to 1959 and a noisy welcome to 1960.
For one night only, I too would be a part of “those who know life’s more sophisticated pleasures.”
World of Tomorrow
It seemed only fitting to usher 1960 in with Guy Lombardo on television.
Along with his Royal Canadian Orchestra, it was Guy Lombardo who on opening day of the 1939 N.Y. Worlds Fair played a tune Dawn of Tomorrow composed especially for the Fair by George Gershwin.
My parents enthusiasm for the fair-inspired future was infectious and like any good fairy tale I loved hearing about it again and again.
Like so many, they had been enthralled with the sights and sounds presented at the 1939/40 NY Worlds Fair whose theme The World of Tomorrow celebrated technology and progress.
The sunshine of progress seemed to shine as brightly as all the new glittering automobiles, gleaming appliances and too-good-to-be-true television that loomed in our future.
The future in 1960 seemed a glittering dream. My future; the one my parents dreamed about.
Telecasting Tomorrow Today
It was at the 1939 Worlds Fair that, besides a preview of the year 1960, my parents got a first glimpse of that marvel of technological possibilities, television, or as RCA explained it “radios newest contribution to home entertainment.”
Mom could recall vividly how visitors to the RCA Building, the one shaped just like a radio tube, would crowd together to watch in amazement as NBC broadcast on closed circuit television.
As a thirteen year old she was tickled when she was selected as volunteer to be televised. Escorted outside to the cameras she was encouraged to wave at the amazed folks back inside the pavilion.
For her efforts she was rewarded with a printed card certifying that “I was televised” as cherished souvenir of her experience. The TV looked different-the pictures were viewed indirectly by reflections in a mirror built into the cabinet lid.
To counter the doubters who thought it might all be a trick or magic, the sets transparent cabinets revealed the inside workings of the “picture radio.”
Not only was the television of tomorrow very expensive, the coming war put its development on hold. Mom would have to dream of “The radio Living Room of Tomorrow” for another decade.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Post war promises of television were dangled during the war to whet out appetites of future wonders.
“There’s a great new day coming when you can turn on your Belmont Television and bring a new world of enjoyment in your home,” announced Belmont Radio excitedly to a war-weary readership in this 1945 ad.
Though busy supplying high precision electronics for Uncle Sam, the company had their eyes set on the future which was television.
“It’s a pleasure you can count o for some near tomorrow. And Belmont is planning for that tomorrow.”
Television evoked such wonderment, such possibilities- it would be an instrument of learning and beauty.
Auld Lang Syne
And now in the comfort of our own living room, we could marvel at the sight of, drunken couples-“those epitome of high-bred good taste and elegance” decked out in their After Six tuxedos and silly hats, dancing cheek to cheek to “the sweetest music this side of heaven” direct from the Grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria.
“A new world… a greater world… a better world…. come travel into the future!…the America of 1960!”
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.