It Was 1965

Long Blog Alert. You’ve Been Warned.

Today is my birthday. I’m 50. Without fanfare, and without want of fanfare, I’m passing the half-century mark in the English countryside. I’ve finally—after a month—caught up with Lori. For another 11 months, we’ll share our age again.

When Lori’s 50th rolled around a few weeks ago, I realized that she and I are not alone. In fact, all our old high school classmates are enduring the same milestone this year. This got me wondering what was going on back in 1965, the year that we all share as our birth year.

As my birthday present to my fellow ‘65ers, I answer that question for you.


In The News

Lyndon Johnson was our president in 1965. Fresh off winning re-election in the 1964 elections and to kick off the year, he announced his “Great Society” in his State of the Union address in January. The Social Security Act of 1965 would become law in July, bringing with it Medicare and Medicaid. Any excitement over the Great Society social reforms of 1965 was overshadowed by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle.

1965 was a year of escalation in Vietnam. Operation Rolling Thunder began a 3 ½ year bombing campaign against North Vietnam. 3,500 Marines became the first American combat troops on the ground (but obviously not the last). Australia also announced a commitment to increase troop levels. By summer, Johnson would announce that he was sending another 50,000 troops (up to 125,000) to the region. Nearly 2,000 Americans would ultimately die in Vietnam in 1965, but unfortunately that was just the start compared to the casualties to come in the next 5 years. These escalations were despite the war protests and draft card burnings that were occurring across the country (and the world) like wildfires.

Bloody Sunday, Selma, Alabama, 1965
Bloody Sunday, Selma

Sunday, March 7, 1965 became known as “Bloody Sunday” when Alabama State troopers and locals conscripted and armed by virtue of posse comitatus attacked demonstrators outside Selma, Alabama. The violence was captured by photo journalists and remains some of the most representative imagery of the civil rights movement. Two days later, Martin Luther King held a prayer service at the site of the violence, but unrest and violence would continue and spread to Montgomery. The violence lead to Johnson’s Voting Rights Act of 1965, and an uneasy peace seemed to settle in for a few months but it would be shattered by the Watts Riots in Los Angeles in August.

In other national news, the Houston Astrodome was opened. Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang were popular enough to appear on the cover of Time. A tornado outbreak near the Twin Cities in Minnesota killed 13 and injured nearly 700. Lest we think gun violence is a modern plague, a teenage sniper killed 3 and wounded others shooting at cars from a hilltop along highway 101 south of Orcutt, California; he killed himself as police rushed him. The United States occupied the Dominican Republic after President Juan Bosch was deposed. In St Louis, the Gateway Arch was completed. On November 9th, much of the Northeast was hit with power blackouts lasting up to 13 ½ hours.

The space race was well underway in ’65, and things were starting to look positive for the United States. The unmanned Gemini 2 test mission was quickly followed by the successful Gemini 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 missions (back when NASA could manage 5 manned missions in a single year), including the first American space walk when astronaut Ed White stepped out of Gemini 4 on June 3. As the Gemini manned missions continued through the year, dominating news coverage, NASA was also quietly landing (and crashing) Ranger probes on the moon, mapping out landing sites for the upcoming Apollo missions.

Mariner 4 image from Mars, 1965
First Images from Mars, Mariner 4, 1965

Perhaps most amazingly in 1965 space news, NASA’s Mariner 4 flew by Mars, returning our first close-up images of the red planet.

In world news, Canada adopted a new flag, the maple leaf banner they use today (imagine the United States deciding to change the flag in our lifetimes). India and Pakistan went to war, but a ceasefire was negotiated within a few months with assistance (pressure) from both the United States and the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceausescu became the first secretary of the Romanian Communist Party. Fidel Castro decided to allow any Cuban who wanted to leave for the United States to do so; thousands of refugees began arriving in South Florida just weeks later. By November, the United States and Cuba agreed on an airlift program. On the other side of the world, Ferdinand Marcus became the president of the Philippines. And sometime in 1965, Tokyo became the largest city of the world, taking that distinction away from New York City.

Hurricane Betsy floods New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, 1965
New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, Flooded by Hurricane Betsy, 1965

Locally (to where we’re from, anyway), Hurricane Betsy battered the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans on September 9 with winds of up to 145mph; New Orleans’ levies failed and 76 people died. The hurricane is nicknamed “Billion Dollar Betsy” because it was the first hurricane to exceed $1B in damages. In typical reactionary after-the-fact style, the Flood Control Act of 1965 was passed in October to repair and improve the levies, the ones that Katrina would ultimately bust 40 years later.

In Gulfport, it was big news when the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Highway 49 opened and company big wigs from Atlanta came down for the ribbon cutting. Gulfport and Biloxi were both flooded by Hurricane Betsy, but (like with Katrina) national attention focused on New Orleans. Biloxi was a significant national resort destination in 1965, moreso than today: the Broadwater Hotel and golf course was in its heyday, and its marina was opened in 1965. Gambling might not have been legal in 1965, but it was widely available in Biloxi. The Gus Stevens Seafood Restaurant & Buccaneer Lounge was nationally known, well enough to attract the likes of Hollywood megastar Jayne Mansfield (who, in 1967, would die in an automobile accident after performing there).

Downtown Gulfport, 1965
Downtown Gulfport, 1965

25th Avenue (Highway 49), Gulfport, MS 1965
25th Avenue (Highway 49), Gulfport, 1965 (Notice the median parking?)

Biloxi Lighthouse, 1965
The Biloxi Lighthouse, 1965


In Sports

Baseball was still very much the dominant sport in 1965. The World Series saw the LA Dodgers beat the Minnesota Twins in seven games. It was the Dodgers’ second title in three years, and it would be 22 years (1987) before the Twins would return to the World Series.

In football, 1965 saw the start of the last season of the two competing leagues, the American Football League and the National Football League. In 1966 they merged, creating the American Football Conference and National Football Conference within the NFL, the winners of which were to play in the newly created championship called the Super Bowl; until then, each league had their own championship games. The Packers defeated the Browns 23-12 in the NFL Championship Game in 1965, and the Bills defeated the Chargers 23-0 in the AFL Championship Game. There were 8 AFL teams in 1965 (no Dolphins, no Bengals, no Colts, no Ravens, no TN Titans—and the Chiefs played in Dallas), and there were 11 NFL teams (no Falcons, no Panthers, no Saints, no Buccaneers, no Seahawks).

Lagniappe! A little NFL trivia for you: the Arizona Cardinals are (believe it or not) the oldest professional football team. Before they landed in Phoenix, they played in St. Louis (1960-1987) and Chicago (1898-1960).

Pro football was big and growing, but college bowl games were the big deal in American football. They drew tens of thousands of spectators. The 1965 Rose Bowl, for example, was attended by more than 100,000 fans (Michigan beat Oregon State, 34-7). The Sugar Bowl saw the hometown LSU Tigers win 13-10 over Syracuse, and in the Cotton Bowl, Arkansas eked out a win over Nebraska 10-7 to win their first national title.

In other sports, Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in one round in May. Jim Clark won both the Indianapolis 500 and the Formula One Championship. And Sandy Koufax (LA Dodgers, unsurprisingly) pitched a no-hitter against the Cubs in September.


On The Tube

ABC and CBS began broadcasting most of their prime-time line up in color in 1965, while NBC, lagging behind, launched two new shows in black and white (one of which was I Dream of Jeannie, but it went to color the following year to the profound gratitude of many a teenage boy). There was no Fox network in those days (in fact ABC had only been broadcasting a few years).

Some of the hottest shows on air in ’65 were:

  • Bonanza (NBC, Sunday nights)
  • The Lucy Show (CBS, Mondays)
  • The Andy Griffith Show (CBS, Mondays)
  • The Red Skelton Hour (CBS, Tuesdays)
  • The Beverly Hillbillies (CBS, Wednesdays)
  • Bewitched (ABC, Thursdays)
  • Hogan’s Heroes (CBS, Fridays)
  • Gomer Pyle USMC (CBS, Fridays).

For most of us ’65ers, these shows are well known from syndication reruns. And clearly, CBS was the hot network of 1965.

Lots of other iconic TV series were on the air in 1965, including Lassie, The Ed Sullivan Show, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Petticoat Junction, Batman, Green Acres, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Virginian, Gilligan’s Island, The Wild Wild West, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Gunsmoke, Flipper, and Get Smart.

1965 seems like the golden age of television to this ’65er.


On The Big Screen

The number one movie of 1965 was The Sound of Music. Not only was it the most popular, it went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The Sound of Music, 1965
The Sound of Music

’65 was a Bond year with the release of Thunderball. Other notable movie releases included Doctor Zhivago, The Great Race, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Cat Ballou, Help! (the Beatles’ movie), In Harm’s Way, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (I know absolutely nothing about this last one, but its name alone makes me want to find and watch it).


Celebrities Born in 1965

We share our year of birth with a few big name stars, namely: Robert Downey Jr, Sarah Jessica Parker, Melissa McBride, Diane Lane, Viola Davis, Maura Tierney, Ben Stiller, Connie Nielsen, Elizabeth Hurley, Charlie Sheen, Chris Rock, Micheal Bay (the producer), Brooke Shields, and Julia Ormond. Happy 50th to all our fellow ’65 celebs.


Celebrities Who Died in 1965

While we came into the world, a few well-known people departed it, including: Spike Jones (the musician), Edward R Murrow, Winston Churchill, Nat King Cole, Clara Bow, Albert Schweitzer, T. S. Eliot, and Harry Blackstone.


On The Airwaves

1965 was definitely a Rock-n-Roll year, but it was a “between” year with carefree teen love songs beginning to give way to more serious themes that foreshadowed the rest of the 60’s and the early 70’s. The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction can be found in the top 5 alongside Wooly Bully and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Yes, times were about to change.

The Beatles, 1965
The Beatles, 1965

The Beatles were big news, with hit songs and hit albums and hit movies, and they were thronged everywhere they went, including New Orleans where they performed at City Park Stadium.

The Top 20 for 1965:

  1. Wooly Bully, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs
  2. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), The Four Tops
  3. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
  4. You Were On My Mind, We Five
  5. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, The Righteous Brothers
  6. Downtown, Petula Clark
  7. Help!, The Beatles
  8. Can’t You Hear My Heartbeats, Herman’s Heartbeats
  9. Crying In The Chapel, Elvis Presley
  10. My Girl, The Temptations
  11. Help Me, Rhonda, The Beach Boys
  12. King of the Road, Roger Miller
  13. The Birds and the Bees, Jewel Aikens
  14. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Mel Carter
  15. Shotgun, Jr. Walker & The All Stars
  16. I Got You Babe, Sonny & Cher
  17. This Diamond Ring, Gary Lewis and The Playboys
  18. The “In” Crowd, Ramsey Lewis Trio
  19. Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, Herman’s Hermits
  20. Stop! In The Name Of Love, The Supremes


And Finally, The Most Popular Car of 1965…

1965 Chevy Impala
The 1965 Chevy Impala (GM Sold More Than 1 Million Of Them)

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