From the Oval Office to Banana Republic, anticipation for Sunday night’s season premiere of “Mad Men” is reaching a crescendo. When Don Draper and his colleagues return to the small screen this weekend, audiences will rejoin them for Thanksgiving 1964. As the advertising execs strike out on their own to form Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, their frame of reference may shift as the world around them is reshaped by major historical events since Season Three concluded in December 1963. Racial segregation was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory over Republican challenger Barry Goldwater. And the British invaded — with mop-tops and electric guitars. Need to Know provides a snapshot of some key cultural touchstones of 1964.
The World’s Fair
The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair filled Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens with an array of “firsts” that would have a lasting impression beyond the fairgrounds. Corporations dominated the exhibitions. The most popular attraction was the General Motors Pavilion, where visitors rode automated chairs through a “Futurama” exhibit featuring forward-thinking scenes from daily life. Ford introduced the first Mustang. General Electric partnered with Disney to create “Progressland,” a circular auditorium featuring anthropomorphic robots demonstrating the history of electricity. Disney showcased his audio-animatronic technique in the “It’s a Small World” attraction sponsored by Pepsi. Both exhibits have been relocated to The Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. The 12-story tall Unisphere sculpture remains in place in the park.
It’s a mod, mod world
While the tailored silhouette of the early 1960s continued to dominate the workplace, the British Invasion introduced more daring mod styles fresh out of the shop windows of London’s Carnaby Street. British fashion plate Mary Quant popularized the term “miniskirt,” though French designer André Courrèges also laid claim to inventing the hyper-short style. Courrèges introduced the go-go boot in his 1964 fall fashion show. These styles would gain traction as the decade continued. American Norman Norell refined the look of the culotte. Along with Courrèges, Norell emphasized trousers as appropriate work attire for women. With her tall, lean frame, model Jean Shrimpton became the poster child for a new fashion ideal, moving away from the more hourglass figures favored in the 1950s and early 60s.
The British invasion
Beatlemania rocked American shores. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” climbed to number one on the singles chart two weeks after the album “Meet the Beatles!” debuted in the U.S. in January. Millions watched from home as the four skinny rock musicians from Liverpool appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964. Their popularity ushered in a wave of British talent, from Petula Clark and Herman’s Hermits to the Kinks and the Rolling Stones.
Walt Disney created an enduring film icon by casting Julie Andrews as practically perfect “Mary Poppins,” while Audrey Hepburn portrayed Eliza Doolittle in the film treatment of “My Fair Lady,” a role in which Andrews had triumphed on Broadway. Although “My Fair Lady” was named best picture at the Academy Awards, Andrews beat Hepburn in the best actress race. Sean Connery starred in the third installment of the James Bond franchise “Goldfinger.” Stanley Kubrick’s satirical look at the nuclear arms race, Dr. Strangelove, was released. The Beatles transferred their talents to the screen in “A Hard Day’s Night,” while “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg,” starring a 20-year-old Catherine Deneuve, won the Palme D’Or at Cannes.
In living color
Color television started to take hold when NBC began broadcasting over half of its schedule in color — ten years after the technology was introduced. In 1964, only two percent of American households had invested in a color television set. ABC introduced “Bewitched” and “The Addams Family” in prime time, while CBS countered with “The Munsters” and “Gilligan’s Island.” NBC also launched long-running favorite “Jeopardy!” Originally hosted by Art Fleming, the game show has been in production continuously since Alex Trebek took over in 1984.