HALF-CENTURY REVIEW: 1953
by Bill Monson
Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated the 34th U.S. President, breaking a 20-year Democrat hold on the White House. The ceremonies were telecast live over 125 stations but did not equal the ratings of "I Love Lucy" the night before (when Lucy gave birth to her baby).
A third great TV event of this first year after the FCC had renewed licensing stations was the same-day film coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London's Westminster Abbey. The war in Korea finally reached its end with an armistice on July 26. The Defense Department said 5.72-million Americans had been involved, with casualties of 157,530.
Soviet premier Joseph Stalin died on March 5 of what was reported as a cerebral hemorrhage. L.P. Beria, head of Russian internal security, was arrested in June, tried secretly, and executed in December as part of the aftermath.
In the U.S., Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed June 19 as part of a Soviet spy ring which helped the U.S.S.R. gain the atomic bomb. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin continued in the spotlight as he searched relentlessly for Reds in the U.S. government. He even tried to subpoena former President to testify.
General George C. Marshall, Truman's secretary of State, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his Marshall Plan for the economic rehabilitation of Europe.
In television, RCA's compatible color system beat out the CBS color process; but CBS had the top-ranked show in "I Love Lucy," and network star Arthur Godfrey not only had two shows in the Nielsen Top Ten but dominated daytime radio with his daily three-hour variety show. "Lux Radio Theater" was number one in night-time radio, which was rapidly losing ground to TV.
Broadway saw the premieres of "Picnic" by William Inge (which won the Pulitzer Prize), "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller, "Tea and Sympathy" by Robert Anderson, and "The Seven Year Itch" by George Axelrod. Leading musicals were "Wonderful Town," "Can-Can," "Me and Juliet," and "Kismet." "Porgy and Bess" was revived with Leontyne Price in the title role.
Hollywood still struggled to hold off TV. Twentieth Century Fox introduced CinemaScope and saw "The Robe" become a top-money winner. Other notable movies included "From Here to Eternity," "Julius Caesar" (with Marlon Brando), "Shane," Disney's "Peter Pan," "Moulin Rouge" and Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "How to Marry a Millionaire."
Broadway show tunes dominated the pop music hit parade, but Bill Haley and the Comets made the list with the first big rock song "Rock Around the Clock." Eddie Fisher was a teen heart throb with "Oh My Papa," and Dean Martin introduced "That's Amore." Out-of-favor film-maker Charlie Chaplin composed "Terry's Theme" for his movie "Limelight," and "I Believe" was a leading song of faith.
In sports, the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee where they set a new major league attendance record. After the season, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. Fred Saigh, sentenced to prison for income tax evasion, sold the St. Louis Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch, Inc. The Brooklyn Dodgers had the best record in the majors (105-49) but still lost the World Series four games to two to the Yankees, who became the first baseball team in history to win five consecutive titles.
The Indiana Hoosiers beat Kansas for the NCAA basketball championship. The Peoria Diesels were AAU champs. The Minneapolis Lakers beat the New York Knicks for their fourth title in the five years of the new NBA.
Football saw the (temporary) abolition of two- platoon football at the college level as the NCAA put in new rules. Maryland went undefeated to rank #1 in the country but was upset by Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The Detroit Lions beat the Cleveland Browns for the NFL title.
Boxing suffered from four nights of bouts on television; over half of local fight clubs closed in 1953. However, the profession provided several exciting big-time performers. Heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott and Roland LaStarza as he continued his undefeated career.Archie Moore was light-heavyweight champ; and Bobo Olson won a series of elimination bouts to become middleweight champion after Sugar Ray Robinson retired. Kid Gavilan with his "bolo punch" was welterweight king.
The world lost a number of distinguished people in 1953: actress Maude Adams, actor Nigel Bruce, songwriter Peter DeRose, painter Raoul Dufy, historian Douglas Southall Freeman, astronomer Edwin Hubble, boxer Jim Jeffries, pianist William Kapell, screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, the dowager Queen Mary, playwright Eugene O'Neill, composer Serge Prokofiev, film-maker V.I. Pudovkin, Lincoln biographer James Randall, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, boxer Tom Sharkey, theater manager-producer Lee Shubert, GOP leader Robert Taft, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, athlete Jim Thorpe, tennis great William Tilden, U.S. Chief Justice Fred Vinson, Senator Robert Wagner, Bataan hero Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, and country singer Hank Williams. Galesburg poet-historian Carl Sandburg celebrated his 75th birthday and appeared in town to publicize his new autobiography "Always the Young Strangers" about growing up in Galesburg.
And in this year of turmoil, the game of Scrabble, invented in the 1930s by Alfred Butts, became a popular past-time.
No picture with this column, which is my last until January 29. Hope to see or hear from you in London.