Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Naperville Folks Watched on TV 50 Years Ago

I've been writing about the remarkable number of events that happened in the Naperville area in 1966, including the inception of the Park District, Summer Place Theatre and the new municipal band shell. With the start of the fall television season, I got to wondering what shows folks watched on their console television sets 50 years ago. 

The 50th anniversary of the original “Star Trek” series, which first aired on September 8, 1966, has been getting a lot of media attention, but there were plenty of other shows that debuted during that same season. Many of them you may remember watching, but there are a few that have completely fallen out our collective memory.

“The Monkees” and “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” were both new that year. The spin-off “Girl” only lasted one season. While they certainly stayed popular, “The Monkees” TV show was only on the air until 1968. Two other shows that debuted in 1966 were “That Girl” and “Family Affair,” both of which stayed on the schedule until 1971. 

This was the era of goofy comedies. The creators of “Gilligan’s Island” reused props, sets and music for a new show in 1966 that was called “It’s About Time.” It starred Imogene Coca as a cavewoman named Shag who welcomed a couple of astronauts who accidentally went back in time. A second time-travel show, “The Time Tunnel,” also started that fall, although it wasn't a comedy. Neither one made it past the first season. 

“Mission: Impossible” was also a new 1966 show, long before it was rebooted as a movie. It wound up self-destructing messages until 1973.

Other TV shows you may remember from that season were:
  • The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
  • The Rat Patrol
  • The Green Hornet
  • The Phyllis Diller Show

In addition to goofy comedies, time travel and space fantasy, westerns were still popular. “Pistols ’n’ Petticoats” is a show most people won’t remember. “Rango,” about an inept sheriff, starred Tim Conway. It sounds like it should have been fun, but it was once ranked among the 50 Worst Shows of All Time by TV Guide

1966 was the first season to show nearly all the prime time programs in "living" color. Earlier in the year, “Dark Shadows” began, but since “Shadows” was a daytime soap opera, it was filmed in black and white for another year. 

Since there was no way to record TV shows, folks would have to miss their favorite to go out at night and many of us never saw these shows the first time around. Instead, we became familiar with them through endless reruns. It's kind of fun to think of what Naperville folks were watching during this extraordinary time in our history.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Naperville's First Last Fling

The Barbershoppers float
We’ve been looking at what happened in Naperville 50 years ago in 1966. Yet another great local tradition that started in that year was summer’s Last Fling celebration.

Rick Motta, who owned a barbershop and was involved with the Chamber of Commerce, led the Chamber in organizing a community-wide parade and party, inspired by the movie “Picnic.”

After a parade complete with floats, they held a picnic with a few carnival-type activities in the parking lot at Centennial Beach. 

Motta headed the Chamber’s Last Fling committee for six years and helped the event grow into a four-day-long festival. 

The Chamber of Commerce passed the organization of the Last Fling on to the Jaycees in 1981 and they have been throwing Naperville’s end-of-summer party ever since. 

The Lions Club Float
Rick Motta still runs a barbershop in town and is still a member of the Chamber of Commerce. He was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of the 2015 Labor Day Parade in honor of his earlier service. 

Last Fling 2016 will be held from Friday, September 2 through Monday, September 5. This year’s Labor Day parade starts at 10:00am on September 2. 

The Grand Marshall chosen for 2016 is the Naperville Park District, which is also celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. 

While the Fling has grown into a huge event, there are still many home-town activities to enjoy such as the Diaper Derby and the Spaghetti-eating contest. Check out their website for details and enjoy summer’s Last Fling!
Bev Frier accepts 1967 trophy for the Fabric Inn float from Rick Motta.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1966 and Naperville’s Municipal Band

So much happened in Naperville fifty years ago! One of those happenings was the dedication of a brand new band shell for the Municipal Band.

The band itself is far from new as it was established in 1859 as the Naperville Brass Band. After the end of the Civil War, the group became known as the Naperville Light Guard Band and was chartered under the current name in 1928. 

The band first played downtown, preferably under a street light so they could read their music, then in a series of wooden band stands. A replica of the 1885 band stand is at the Naper Settlement. The original was torn down in the 1920’s to build a wooden band shell.

By 1963, the wooden band shell had to go. Band members started demolishing it during their final concert while playing “Anvil Chorus.”

1966 saw the band’s first season in the new cement band shell. Unfortunately, Elmer Koerner, who had led the band since it’s 1928 charter, suffered a fatal heart attack in November of ’65. A very young band teacher who had been one of Koerner’s students took over as leader:  Ron Keller. 

The new band shell was dedicated in June of 1966 as the Elmer Koerner Band Shell. In the year 2000, that structure was condemned and the current facility with mural-painted door was built in its place. 

Keller still leads the band and tenor sax player Robert Morris, who joined the band in 1966, is still playing in it. Be sure to catch a performance this summer!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Joe!

On or around July 15, 1831, Joseph Naper and a bunch of other folks started a little community on the banks of the DuPage River. I always take a moment to stand outside and imagine what it might have been like.

Was it hot, especially with long dresses and woolen trousers? What if there were thunderstorms like we had the other day? From what we can tell, there was one log house here, but most folks must have slept under their wagons or simply under the stars.

I look at the restored prairies, like the one at the College of DuPage, to get an idea of what it must have looked like when they arrived. What flowers were blooming? How tall were the wild grasses? Were there any fruits ripe enough to enjoy?

Joe's group always intended to build a community. They brought their families, their livestock and the iron works to build proper houses -- not log cabins -- from the very beginning. And this land wasn't exactly wilderness. There were several homesteaders in the general vicinity as well as the native people who regularly moved through the area.

They were probably excited and a little nervous. Happy to be on land after nearly a month of sailing on the Great Lakes. Apprehensive to be so far from the comparative civilization of Chicago. Sentimental, perhaps, over the homes they left behind in Ohio and New York. Worried about being ready for the coming winter.

But they pulled together and made it happen. And Naperville folks have been doing the same every since. I believe Joe was more of a whiskey kind of guy, but we're toasting with a cold beer because the Naperville Ale Fest happens to be this weekend. Happy Anniversary, Joe! Here's to many more!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

50 Years Ago — Summer Place Theatre

In 1966, North Central College started a  community theatre tradition. Enthusiastic drama students appealed to professor Don Shanower for opportunities beyond the school year. Shanower enlisted the help of part-time faculty member Don Jamison and together they launched Summer Place Theatre. 

Jamison’s career was at Western Electric Co. but he also founded amateur drama clubs and appeared in live WMAQ-TV productions. Teacher Shanower worked with student John Belushi at NCC and cast him in "A Thousand Clowns" in 1969, but Belushi was fired from his during rehearsals for chronic absenteeism.

Shanower got permission to use a storefront on Washington and Porter that once housed a Chevy dealer and SPT performed five shows that first season. 

For the next several years, productions were held under tents that were erected on the NCC campus. Torrential rainstorms in 1969 and again in 1973 destroyed the tents, as well as the shows being performed there.

Around the same time, the barn where props were stored was burned to the ground, but SPT still didn’t give up. 
A metal-roofed pavilion was built to replace the tent. Unfortunately, it was soon crushed by the Great Blizzard of 1979, but a second pavilion lasted for a decade. For many years, SPT hoped to raise enough money to erect a permanent home, but shows instead have been held at North Central High School.  

Competition is fierce today for people’s time and it’s hard to find both volunteers to prepare the shows and an audience to watch them, but tough little Summer Place Theatre is already looking forward to the next 50 years. See to learn more about this season’s  shows.