Posts Tagged ‘1963’

We get our television programming from DirecTV, and our channel lineup doesn’t contain any of the standard movie channels (HBO, Cinemax, etc.), but it does have two channels wholly devoted to food – the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  The Food Network used to show primarily cooking shows, where people demonstrated how to actually make something.  Nowadays, it’s slipped into more of a “lifestyles” channel, which means a little bit of cooking, and a bunch of advertising of local one-off restaurants.  The Cooking Channel seems to be more the place to go if you actually want to learn how to cook.  At least that’s the way it appears to me.

I’m sure some will argue that I have no idea what I’m talking about, which is probably true.  But outside of Alton Brown and Jamie Oliver, there’s not a ton of cooking shows I really enjoy, so I’m basing my opinions on a rather small sample size.  Anyways, arguing over channel content wasn’t the point of my typing.  Both channels, regardless of what they show you, owe a world of thanks to Julia Child.

It was her culinary skills, her humor, and her bravery that gave rise to the popularity of cooking shows in the first place, and made “channels specializing in food” possible.

In case you didn’t know, one of the first cooking demonstration shows ever was Child’s The French Chef.  It was filmed in black and white in a rather modest kitchen.  And from my perspective, the editing floor was remarkably clean, because it doesn’t appear that anything was cut from the show.  It resulted in what was truly a “reality” show, not the trash we pass off as reality today.

The French Chef, which was first broadcast on February 11, 1963, was full of real-life kitchen goof-ups.  Julia would sometimes forget her place in the recipe she was demonstrating.  She would sometimes mix ingredients in the wrong sequence.  Pans and utensils would, on occasion, be so elusive as to be invisible.  The end product would sometimes look a little strange and, on rare occasions, wound up being tossed in the trash.

And that’s what made the show so incredibly popular.  Through all the real-life “drama” in Julia’s kitchen, viewers learned the basic (and the not-so-basic) techniques to cooking food once thought only achievable by a master chef.  Of course, Julia herself was classically trained in the art of French cooking, but she worked hard to make difficult processes accessible to cooks of all levels.  And we learned that even great chefs get it wrong sometimes, which made us more likely to give it a go ourselves.

Julia herself became a celebrity.  Her lilting voice, that touch of comedian in her, and her adaptability to the changing conditions of the kitchen and a show that was filmed live without editing brought forth a charm that was addicting.  She brandished a cleaver and a mallet, and she talked about “courage of your convictions” as she flipped half a potato pancake on to the stove.  I don’t have a clue what she was like when the camera wasn’t rolling, but she was lovable when it was.

There have been hundred of cooks on television since, some of them really good.  I think of Justin Wilson (the cajun cook that I always thought was hilarious).  That guy Yan who did the show Yan Can Cook.  Of course, Emeril Lagasse.  The Galloping Gourmet and Mary Ann Esposito.  The list goes on and on.  Julia stands alone.

Recently, our local Public Television station dug into the archives and, for a few weeks at least, showed some of those original episodes.  My wife and I watched them, fascinated by how much television cooking has changed.  Yes, there are far fewer gaffes now.  The stars of the shows don’t make very many mistakes because those are edited out.  They don’t look off-set and they don’t drop their dishes.  But they’re not The French Chef, either.

A while back, when I talked about the movie Die Hard, I said that movie sequels aren’t usually as good as the original.  All those cooking shows we watch now?…they’re the sequels to Julia’s masterful original.

Bon Appetit!!

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A couple months back, my wife and I visited my folks and dad, in a fit of nostalgia, went and got our old kiddy record player.  It was one of the those with a rough, white plastic coating and a lid and handle so it could fold into a carrying case.  Please tell me you guys had one, too, so you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It played records at 33 and 45 rpms…as kids, sometimes we’d play the 33’s at 45 and laugh at the helium-laced singers we heard (I’m sure you did that, too).

Anyways, dad got it out and plugged it in.  We sat in anxious anticipation as he clicked the power/volume knob on…and it didn’t work.  We were kind of disappointed.  But of course, with records, you don’t really need electricity.  You can just spin the thing by hand.  We tried that, but we couldn’t really keep a consistent speed, so the records didn’t sound quite right.  This has a happy ending…

After a few minutes of hand-spinning, the motor finally caught on and started working.  Then he played some of the old records we had as kids…the ones that had a book you read at the same time.  There was Owl at Home, with the chapter about going upstairs and downstairs repeatedly, and my favorite story…Tear Water Tea, where Owl has to think of sad things to cry so he can make tea with his tears (“Mashed potatoes left on a plate, because nobody wanted to eat them!!”).

There was an Irish tale about a man who was afraid of a giant until his wife made some cakes with a rock in it…I can’t remember that one very well.  Another record gave us scary stories and riddles.  But Owl at Home was pretty much the main attraction, and it was pretty hilarious to dig those out.

So you’re wondering what any of this has to do with history.  I’m getting to it…

Among the book/record sets we also had a few actual music records…old 45’s and such.  We didn’t listen to them along with Tear Water Tea, but as kids, we played them all the time.  The only two I remember were Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and a record called Sukiyaki by some Japanese guy named Kyu Sakamoto.

Here comes the history lesson…sorta…

Kyu Sakamoto was a pretty popular Japanese singer in the early 1960’s, and apparently he had a famous song called “Ue O Muite Aruk?.”  Well, a music executive heard the song and thought it would be a hit with English-speaking folks, but the title was kind of hard to say.  So he did what any executive with an eye for money would do…he changed the title to something that was easy for English-speakers to say…Sukiyaki.

Now I have absolutely no idea what the song is about, because I know only a handful of Japanese words (like sayonara, judo, karate, and banzai), but I’m pretty sure Ue O Muite Aruk? has nothing to do with Sukiyaki.  But when you don’t understand the lyrics, who cares?  The executive also gave it a smooth-jazz feel (with some great whistling), and released it on the citizens of Great Britain.  Some DJ in America picked it up and started playing it, it became a hit, and Capital Records released it in America.

And at some point, my parents must have purchased it…well, a lot of people did because on June 15, 1963, Kyu Sakamoto’s song that had nothing to do with Sukiyaki became the #1 song in America.

History around the record player…

Recommended Listening:  Sukiyaki…and it has a video, too!

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On April 10, 1963, the USS Thresher was performing some deep-water testing in the Atlantic.  As the lead ship of the Thresher class, she signified the latest iteration of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Now “deep-water” was something of a misnomer since, relatively speaking, submarines at that time didn’t go beyond 1,500 feet below the surface.  It was simply too dangerous.  Any mechanical or structural failure could lead to a death dive, in which sailors could only wait for the implosion that would end their lives in less than a tenth of a second.  So, having completed two years of testing and refurbishing, the USS Thresher began her dive and, at about 8:30 in the morning, levelled off at 1,000 feet.  One hour later, her escort ship heard the distinctive sounds of a submarine implosion and the USS Thresher was gone, with 129 sailors and crew.

What had gone wrong?!?  Investigations on a submarine under more than 8,000 feet of water are difficult, but the best conclusions were that, about 40 minutes after reaching depth, a failure in the piping system had caused a leak.  The leak may have shorted out some electronics which then led to a shutdown of the nuclear powerplant.  With power being lost and water being added, it’s possible the sub commander gave the order to blow the ballast tanks, which meant forcing compressed air through a valve into the water tanks to add buoyancy.  But the compressed air coming through the valve cooled as it expanded, freezing enough of the water to clog the valve and prevent the ballast from blowing, dragging the sub down.  In all likelihood, the USS Thresher began her ascent, only to stall and slide backwards to her end, just 10 minutes after trouble first struck.

In response to the accident, the U.S. Navy began a significant overhaul of its testing and safety procedures.  Flood-control systems were improved, engine room layout and design was reconsidered, and more formal and rigorous documentation had to be kept in shipyards during construction.

Recommended Reading: Blind Man’s Bluff – The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage – Easily one of the most fascinating books I’ve read.  It is cloak-and-dagger Cold-War fiction at its absolute best…and it’s NOT fiction.

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