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"Bloodied, in chains, shaggy-haired, a cigarette dangling from his lips, wearing his black leather motorcycle jacket, tight black denim pants, blue and white cowboy boots with a butterfly design on the toes -- he was a perfect-looking young rebel-killer." --William Allen, Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer
The world of 1958 was still very much in the clutches of the “Cold War.” Sputnik, the symbol of Soviet challenge to the United States’ leadership position in the world, which had grabbed the American public’s attention in 1957, eventually fell to earth. Attempting to regain lost ground in what would become known as the “space race,” the United States would succeed in launching a satellite of our own -- “Explorer I” on January 31. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began operations in October and established the U.S. space exploration program, “Project Mercury.” The U.S. archenemy, Nikita Kruschev was named the Time magazine “Man of the Year” as the leader of the Communist Party became the official head of state also, taking on the title of Premier. Anti-Communism was still a major thread in the American tapestry -- the extreme anti-Communist John Birch Society was born in 1958.

The Middle East remained a hot bed of conflict as insurgents in Iraq overthrew the monarchy, while Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic. President Dwight Eisenhower sent troops to Lebanon in July to support the existing government.

The United States’ Latin American relations came into the spotlight in May when Vice President Richard Nixon’s car came under attack by anti-American demonstrators in Venezuela. In Cuba, the U.S. continued to watch as Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries began their attack on Havana.

At home, the civil rights movement faded to the back pages of the newspapers, but in June a bomb was found in a black Alabama church -- it was successfully removed and exploded harmlessly. In September the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Little Rock, Arkansas schools must desegregate. Oklahoma lunch counters experienced sit-ins by NAACP youth.

President Eisenhower was in the middle of his second term and the Republican Party was suffering fallout from an economic depression and the psychological damage done by the Soviet launch of Sputnik. In the Congressional election of 1958, the Democrats increased their majority in the House of Representatives to a commanding 64%. The Democrats control of the Senate also increased to 65 - 35.

Americans were interpreting national and world events more and more through the prism of television. By 1958, 45 million American households had televisions. Television was primarily an entertainment medium and it was dominated by Westerns and 30-minute sitcoms in 1958. “Wagon Train,” “Maverick,” and “Have Gun Will Travel” were among the most popular westerns, while “Father Knows Best,” “The Real McCoys,” and “The Danny Thomas Show” were among the family sit-com favorites. One family sit-com that would eventually generate some pop music debuted in 1958: “The Donna Reed Show.”

Another popular element of television in the mid 1950’s was the quiz show. Shows such as “The 64 Thousand Dollar Question,” “Tic-Tac-Dough,” and “Twenty-One” became very popular. But in 1958, America’s trust in television was shaken by the quiz show scandal. In August and September former contestants on the shows began coming forward with their stories of rigged contests where they were supplied with answers before the shows. These revelations eventually set off a grand jury investigation in New York. When the judge sealed the evidence following those hearings, the federal government stepped in. In 1959, the quiz show scandals would be thoroughly exposed by Congressional hearings during which contestants such as the immensely popular Charles Van Dorn (“Twenty-One”) would finally admit to their complicity (and to perjury during the grand jury hearings).

Since television had replaced the radio as the entertainment focal point of the American family, radio had found a new niche -- music. By 1958 there were 3,156 AM radio stations in the United States, compared to only 537 FM stations. AM radio ruled the airwaves and the Top Forty format ruled radio. FM was reserved for “high brow” music. The AM stations were now filled with popular rock and roll. And that popularity was spilling over into the television medium as American Bandstand became an early “must see tv” for American teenagers. Bandstand got its start in 1952 as a local show in Philadelphia hosted by Bob Horn. Many local television stations grabbed on to the “teen dance party” format for the same reasons as the AM radio stations -- it was popular among an increasingly attractive demographic group (teenagers) and relatively cheap to produce. In 1956, Bob Horn was arrested for DUI and the station called on the clean-cut Dick Clark to replace him. Clark was instrumental in getting the show shopped to the network in New York. In the fall of 1956, Bandstand had its network premier. The show proved so popular that Clark was able to parlay that success into a prime time show of his own, “The Dick Clark Show” which debuted on the ABC Saturday night lineup in February 1958.

Clark did two significant things with bandstand: First, he presented an integrated image. In most cases, television might have presented black entertainers, but it was usually to a white audience. Clark insisted on an integrated dance floor as well. Second, he gave the viewing public a cleaned up and polished form of rock and roll. The lip-synched performances were kept pretty tame (at least by rock and roll standards) and the dancing was far from “dirty dancing.” Viewing segments of Bandstand today would present an image consistent with the presumed innocence of the ‘fifties.

One event in 1958 runs directly contrary to that perceived innocence in American society. In January of 1958, two teenagers from the heartland went on a terrifying and senseless killing spree. In Lincoln, Nebraska, 20 year old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old girl friend, Caril Ann Fugate became cold blooded killers. The first murder actually occurred in December of 1957 when Charlie killed a gas station attendant. On January 21, a conflict with Caril’s parents ended in the killing of her mother, father, and two year old sister. The bodies were dumped in an outhouse and a chicken coop while Charlie and Caril spent the next week hanging out at the house. When neighbors and relatives finally became overly inquisitive (they’d been claiming the house was quarantined due to the flu), the two took off (January 27th) and over the next three days would kill another seven people before being caught in Wyoming. Charles Starkweather would eventually be found guilty of the murder of Robert Jensen, a teenage boy who had unfortunately (with his girlfriend, Carol King) offered a ride to Charlie & Caril when there car was stuck in the mud. Charles Starkweather was executed by the electric chair in January of 1959. Caril Fugate was also found guilty, but due to her age was given a life sentence. Fugate was paroled in 1976. There is still uncertainty today about the degree of Caril Fugate’s involvement in the murders.

Unfortunately, Charles Starkweather put much too real of a face on the image of rebellion that had been spawned by Elvis Presley and James Dean in the mid 1950’s. The unbridled sexual exuberance of rock and roll and the alienation expressed by Dean’s character in “Rebel Without a Cause” exuded from the photos of the Nebraska punk in his tight denim jeans, cowboy boots, sunglasses and dangling cigarette. 1958 was a year of backlash for rock and roll. The Chairman of the Alabama White Citizens Council would declare, "the obscenity and vulgarity of the rock and roll music is obviously a means by which the white man and his children could be driven to the level of the negro.” While this was obviously an extremist viewpoint, the negative images of rock and roll were still shared by many parents of teenagers in 1958. The New York Daily News called the music “a barrage of primitive jungle beat rhythm.” I suppose that was seen as a bad thing.

Many see the seeds of decline for rock and roll planted in 1958. This was the year that Elvis Presley was drafted into the army. Jerry Lee Lewis was riding a wave of immense popularity when during a tour of England, it was publicized that he had married his 14-year-old cousin. His concerts were instantly canceled and he fell into recording obscurity. Little Richard “retired” from rock and roll, declaring it “the devil’s music” and enrolling in divinity school. As the pioneers of rock and roll seemed to be disappearing from the music scene, the major record labels sought more and more to capitalize on the popularity of the music by promoting new singers that could appeal to a wider spectrum of the public. “Teenage Idols” such as Ricky Nelson and Bobby Darin were appearing more regularly on the charts.

Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, Roy Campanella was in an auto accident and became paralyzed. In the “greatest game ever played,” the Colts (Baltimore) defeated the Giants (New York) for the NFL championship. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) brought us the first “gold record” -- Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star.” The Wham-O company brought us the hula hoop. Frank Carney brought us the first Pizza Hut (Wichita, Kansas). RCA brought us the first stereo album. Billboard brought us a new list -- “The Hot 100” (“Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson was the first #1). Buddy Holly married Mara Elena Santiago, Nelson Mandella married Winnie Madikizela. Michael Jackson and Madonna were born. Ronald Coleman and Pope Pius XII died. Carl Perkins left Sun records. Elvis left the U.S. (to be stationed in Germany). Dion joinsed the Belmonts. Alaska joined the union.

We are introduced to BankAmericard (it will eventually become Visa). We hear “ho - ho - ho” from the Jolly Green Giant. We go to the drive-in movie (the number of drive-ins peaks at 4,063) and are scared by “The Blob.” It’s 1958.
In 1958, Nikita Kruschev, who had been in control of the Communist Party for some time, was given the title of Premier in the Soviet Union.
Demonstrators attacked Vice President Nixon's car in Caracas Venezuela in May.
Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford of "The Rifleman" -- With Westerns being so successful, several new ones debuted in 1958, including "The Rifleman."

In 1958, Dick Clark not only hosted American Bandstand, but also had his own prime time show on ABC.
Charles Starkweather went on a killing spree in Nebraska in the winter of 1958.
Caril Ann Fugate was with Starkweather during his rampage and was also found guilty of murder and received a life sentence (later paroled).
The scandal produced by Jerry Lee Lewis's marrriage to a fourteen year old contributed to a negative image of rock and roll in 1958.
The hula hoop became very popular in 1958 -- cost = $1.98.
Perry Como had the first RIAA Gold Record.
The Year