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Remembering The Fab '50s

This was first broadcast Nov. 10, 2008

"The '50s, especially for me -- an age of innocence. There was a degree of prosperity and a sense of amazing optimism."

With those words, co-anchor Harry Smith perhaps summed up the feel that emerged from The Early Show's look back to the 1950s, as we began a weeklong series Monday, "Five Days, Five Decades." Smith, who was born in 1951, described himself as a "child of the '50s and '60s."

We'll be looking at a decade a day this week.

"Life was simple," in the '50s, said co-anchor Julie Chen. "Nice and easy."

"You had a society that I guess was very prosperous after World War II," news anchor Russ Mitchell pointed out.

"But it was a transitional period for the country, for the culture, for technology and for the world," remarked weather anchor and features reporter Dave Price.

"It was a decade of glamour, innocence, and purity," noted co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez.

"TV was huge," Smith recalled. "We had a black and white television. I remember that it was really exciting. Television was just such a big doggoned deal."

"That's where everybody gathered," Price says. "It wasn't just a piece of furniture and it wasn't just a piece of technology. It was magic. It was magic plugged into a wall."

"I Love Lucy," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "American Bandstand," "Leave It To Beaver" and scores of other classis shows dotted the landscape and left indelible marks on American culture.

"Families you pictured like the perfect family -- buying the perfect little house, starting out their life and Leave it to Beaver and family values," Chen summed up.

Several child stars of the era -- all grown up now, of course --



, too!

Superstars such as Elvis and Sinatra held sway on the music front. Little Richard, too -- he

on The Early Show Monday.

"When you think Elvis, you think Ed Sullivan," Price says. "You think of screaming fans, crying fans. God, that was good. That was good. That was rock 'n' roll. Those were superstars!"

Elsewhere on the culture front -- Smith says, "Among the kids I grew up, with cars were THE most important thing."

" '57 was a good year," Price feels. "It was a good year for Chevrolet, 'cause the '57 Chevy emerged. It was a good year for literature."

"Even to this day," Chen says. "You know, people are still reading 'Dr. Seuss' to their kids."

"I think I would have liked living in the '50s," Rodriguez observes, "because women

are so elegant. You think of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. I look at pictures of my grandmother, and she's always wearing a dress and heels, dressed to the nines.

"The most handsome actors of all time are from the '50s," Rodriguez continued. "You think of Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, James Dean. They were all rebellious, bad boys, but always gentlemen."

"Elizabeth Taylor plays my namesake, Maggie" in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' ... And she's paired up with Paul Newman. They were just magic together."

And the real world presented stark challenges, as always.

"In 1955," Price says, "the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and, for a lot of people, they were terrified. They were convinced that was where the attack from Communists or the Soviet Union was going to come from."

"I think about this a lot -- that if Rosa Parks didn't sit in the seat she sat in, I couldn't sit in the seat that I sit in, in this job," Mitchell says. "I think many of us (African-Americans) feel that way."

"1959 is the year that changed my parents' lives forever," Rodriguez shared. "(Fidel) Castro's government started seizing businesses and homes. And a lot of families made the painful decision to leave their homeland. My parents were among them."

"We call it the Korean War," Price said, "but it was a conflict, and it was a conflict we were mired in for a very long period of time."

"I really remember civil defense drills in school," Smith said. "We had 'Duck and cover' drills ... and we'd get under our desks, because we knew the Russians were gonna bomb us."

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