Reading the Apollo 11 anniversary pieces yesterday, it occurred to me that my particular late-Fifties reverberation of the baby boom is quite intimately bound up in the entire lunar landing program. I mean, we literally grew up with the Apollo launches.
One of my earliest memories is walking past the corner news stand on the Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights and seeing the photos of the scorched space capsule on the front of the Daily News. (I remember at least one relative opining that the deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee proved the whole moon-launch program was ridiculously dangerous and ought to be abandoned.) Life magazine was still a going concern back then, so when I read the Apollo items in the Bergen Record and Time magazine, it was with the knowledge that soon there would be bedsheet-sized color photographs to savor.
I’ve already noted the fixed position Apollo 11 has in my mind. And the living-room television was always set on whatever network broadcast had the latest stuff on the highest-wire act that brought Apollo 13 safely home. I also remember the third-run movie theaters, stuck with showing a dreary Gregory Peck vehicle called Marooned, trying to pump up interest in their newspaper ads: IT ALMOST HAPPENED LAST WEEK IN SPACE! And since back then no pop-culture experience was complete until it had been ridiculed in Mad magazine, I’ll always think of the magazine’s parody, Moroned, before I think of the actual movie.
Pop culture also tracked the rapid loss of interest in the program, when the wonder of space exploration seemed to dwindle into gimmicks. Golf on the moon! Cars on the moon! By the early Seventies, Gahan Wilson could score a point by showing astronauts shooting craps on the moon. Talk about a dying fall.