There’s no denying it: 2016 has been a rough one. The celebrity death-count is on a seemingly non-stop roll. Prince, Alan Thicke, David Bowie, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Leonard Cohen, Pete Burns, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, Muhammad Ali, Harper Lee, Alan Rickman, and most recently George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds. And don’t even get me started on the election where people might as well have been asked to choose between Stalin and Hitler.
Yes, the world is waiting with bated breath for the clock to chime midnight on New Year’s Eve, hopeful that ushering in a new year will somehow put an end to the insanity.
So as we prepare to say goodbye to the horror that was 2016, I want to take a few moments to celebrate the one thing this year was good for: It marked the 50th anniversary of 1966.
1966 was a great year, especially for TV. And 50 years is a true milestone. So wow, where do I even begin?
In January of ’66, a new genre of television was born when “Batman” BIFF! BANG! POW!ed his way into living rooms, and na na na na na na na na-ed his way into the hearts of millions.
Adam West and Burt Ward, aka Batman and Robin, the campy, colourfully-comical Caped Crusaders, introduced an outrageous, ever-so-edgy type of humour that television hadn’t seen yet. And at a time when many shows were still shown in black and white, Batman was a huge splash of colour on the television landscape. There’s no way Batman would have cut it as a drab, monochromatic series. Such a colourful cast of characters needed to be portrayed in an equally colourful way.
It had gags and goofs, giggles and guffaws, and it was a hit.
Batman ’66 will always be remembered for its star-studded guest-cast, with the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Art Carney, Victor Buono, Liberace, Carolyn Jones, and Vincent Price all eagerly transforming themselves into dastardly, larger-than-life comic book villains.
And we mustn’t neglect to mention “Batman: The Movie” which hit the big screen on July 30, 1966. Season 1 wrapped in May, and holy summer blockbuster, Batman, Bat-fans were treated to a diabolically delicious, shark-infested summertime adventure to tide them over until Season 2’s premiere in the fall.
Also premiering in 1966 was another of my favourite series: The broody gothic-turned-supernatural thriller called “Dark Shadows“.
When Dark Shadows hit the airwaves on June 27, no one could have guessed that an afternoon soap opera would go on to become such a cult classic. 50 years later, the show still boasts a large, loyal following, many of whom make the yearly pilgrimage to the Dark Shadows Festival, an event that’s been held annually since 1983.
While the series already boasted a few ghosts and a supernatural phoenix, it didn’t quite hit its unique stride until episode 210, when unsuspecting thief, Willie Loomis……… opened the box.
The box Willie opened was a coffin. And inside said coffin was vampire Barnabas Collins. Over the next few years, Dark Shadows took day time television where it had never been before. Creator Dan Curtis and his small team of writers pushed every boundary they could find, borrowing ideas from famous horror stories and incorporating time travel, magic and ancient folklore into their scripts. Every half-hour show was jam packed with suspense and intrigue, and children and housewives alike just sucked it right up like a vampire sucks… well, you know.
Then in September, 1966 gave birth to one of the most iconic and beloved television series of all time: “Star Trek“.
Each week, eager viewers tuned in to see the space adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and his first officer, the Vulcan Mr. Spock.
Lasting only three seasons, Star Trek proved to be more popular once in syndication. But its social and cultural impact is still talked about to this day. And consider this: Star Trek premiered on September 8, 1966 — three full years before the first moon landing. It’s hard to fully grasp the significance of a TV series set in space at a time when space travel was still in its infancy. Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961, and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July of 1969.
So when Gene Roddenberry and William Shatner embarked on a five-year voyage to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before? Yeah, it was a big deal and very, very cool.
On April 18, 1966, the Academy Awards aired live in colour for the very first time.
Taking home the Best Picture award? “The Sound of Music.”
Popular televisions shows “The Green Hornet” and “Family Affair” premiered on September 9 and 12, respectively.
On the big screen, 1966 brought us classics like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”…
… as well as “The Ugly Dachshund” (my favourite growing up!), “One Million Years B.C.”, “The Wild Angels”, “The Reptile”, “Billy the Kid vs Dracula”, “Plague of the Zombies” and “Dracula Prince of Darkness“. (I see you rolling your eyes at a few of those selections. I’ll just kindly thank you to remember whose blog you’re reading right now.)
October 27, 1966 was a special day — “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” aired for the first time!
And come December, CBS premiered what is arguably the most beloved holiday special to date, Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”
In addition to a few classic series premieres, 1966 also saw the end of some exceptionally memorable shows too. On February 6, “Mister Ed” closed out a 6-season run with the cute episode, “Ed Goes to College”. As a really young child, “Mister Ed” was a favourite of mine, not only because I was obsessed with horses at the time, but because my dad’s name is also Ed. ;) (Note: Alan Young who played Mister Ed’s sidekick, Wilbur, died on May 19, 2016 at the age of 96.)
1966 also marked the end of one of the most iconic cartoons of all time, “The Flintstones”. This was Hanna-Barbera’s star attraction for many years. Children and adults alike loved the fantastical prehistoric world that Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty lived in; filled with dinosaurs, stone houses, primitive clam shell razors and turtle hardhats.
The show ran for six seasons and racked up 166 episodes. The final episode, “The Story of Rocky’s Raiders”, aired on April 1st. 50 years later, the modern stone age family from the town of Bedrock are still etched on the stone tablets of our hearts.
Two of the greatest shows of all time made their debuts only a week apart… and sadly, two years later in 1966, each of them met with cancellation.
But a month after the series ended, the Munsters made their way back onto screens, this time in monstrous Technicolor in the film “Munster, Go Home!”
As a Munsters girl through and through, I am, of course, tickled that my favourite family of ghouls were turned into a motion picture. And the film had potential! This premiered RIGHT after the series finished. In fact, when Munsters producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher began the project, they had no idea that the film would turn out to be the final chapter in Herman and Lily’s saga.
Despite the impending cancellation, The Munsters were a hot commodity, one that the producers were eager to cash in on. I’m sure a film seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
As mentioned above, the producers of Batman did the same thing. And even Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis would give it a shot a few years later with “House of Dark Shadows” (1970) and “Night of Dark Shadows” (1971) — two major motion pictures that were produced WHILE the series was still ongoing.
But the thing is, for something to really work, it needs to have all of its moving parts intact. And where “Munster, Go Home!” went wrong was with a recasting of Marilyn.
According to Stephen Cox’s book “1313 Mockingbird Lane”, the recast wasn’t due to Pat Priest’s availability, or lack there of, which was the case when Lee Meriwether donned Julie Newmar’s sexy cat-suit for Batman: The Movie. No, Connelly and Mosher “felt they wanted someone younger and more perky for the movie Marilyn, who would finally end up embraced in romance in this chapter.”
Big mistake. Fans had spent two years getting to know and love Pat Priest’s mature but vulnerable “ugly duckling” Marilyn. The transition from Beverly Owen to Pat Priest in season 1 happened after only 13 episodes. But a new Marilyn after two full seasons? No. It didn’t work because the new girl, Debbie Watson, wasn’t portraying Marilyn Munster as viewers knew her.
Younger and more perky? That’s 180 degrees opposite of who Pat Priest played for 57 episodes. Debbie’s character was anything BUT Marilyn Munster, and in my opinion, she tanked the film. Simple as that.
The movie is worth watching if you’re a die-hard Munsters fan, but just don’t expect too much from it. Still, it provided a memorable moment in 1966 entertainment.
’66 saw the births of a few names you just might recognize: Adam Sandler, Gordon Ramsay, J.J. Abrams, Cindy Crawford, Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, John Cusack, Patrick Dempsey, Stephen Baldwin, and Janet Jackson, just to name a few. Even one of my favourite Canadian actors, Kiefer Sutherland, was born in 1966 (December 21).
There are also a number of notable deaths: Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (February 1); I Love Lucy star William “Fred Mertz” Frawley (March 3); two-time Twilight Zone veteran Ed Wynn (June 19); and dream-come-true maker Walt Disney (December 15).
A lot of wonderful things happened in 1966, from television shows that helped shape our childhoods, to birthdays of people who have taken up permanent residence in our hearts. For 50 years we have been blessed with all of the goodness that 1966 introduced to the world. Why, 1966 was even the year that Canada introduced its earnings-related social insurance program: The Canada Pension Plan (CPP), something that has been an immense benefit to every Canadian for the last 50 years.
The Beatles released their “Revolver” album, the Baltimore Orioles won the World Series, The Monkees hit #1 with “I’m a Believer”, The Lovin’ Spoonful rocked the airwaves with “Summer in the City“, and Chevrolet introduced the world to the Camaro.
Yes, 2016 might have been a depressing blight on humanity, but looking back to 1966 gives me hope — hope that one day we might again have a year that’s so perfect we talk about it 50 years later. It might be unlikely that 1966 will repeat itself at some point in the future, but hey — they elected Donald Trump president of the United States, so “1966: 2.0” doesn’t seem so far-fetched, does it?
Thank you for everything, 1966. We’ll never forget you.
Happy New Year everyone!