The 1950s Come to Life in Halberstam Series

Article excerpt

The 1920s roared. The '30s were depressed. The '60s were radical. But what defined the '50s?

There may not be one single word to describe the decade, but "all the things that contributed to the revolution in the '60s were seeded in the '50s," says author David Halberstam in "The Fifties," a new miniseries based on his 1993 bestseller of the same name.

This seven-part, eight-hour production (airing on the History Channel Nov. 30-Dec. 5, check local listings) sets Halberstam's book to music and makes the 1950s come alive. Through interviews with journalists and historians, and archival footage, this lively documentary takes a comprehensive look at the events that shaped America. With the end of World War II, Americans looked forward to peace, prosperity, and simpler times. But beneath the surface, according to Halberstam, lurked conflict and fear: Citizens worried about Communists, the cold war, and nuclear attack. "People were very comfortable in the '50s, and they wanted to keep what they had," says journalist Frank Gibney. "The Communists represented someone who wanted to take that away from you." Two distractions from the public obsession with communism were religion and television. The '50s brought such developments as the book "The Power of Positive Thinking" and drive-in churches. TV's powerful ability to communicate also helped divert Americans' attention. "Television was so new that people would watch anything," says the late broadcast journalist John Chancellor. The third installment of "The Fifties," "Let's Play House," is one of the more captivating segments for its look at family life through three books: "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," by Sloan Wilson, "The Feminine Mystique," by Betty Friedan, and "Peyton Place," by Grace Metalious. …