Sunday, August 24, 2014

What To Name a Fabulous Fifties Novel?

I've briefly written about Hope Denney's great review of Southern Man elsewhere, and mentioned that she's inspired me to take my Southern Gothic WIP, Walraven Manor, off the back burner and get cracking on it again. But she also said something else quite inspiring...
I ... would like to see some WWII or roaring twenties fiction in the future from this author.
I'll have to think about that, sure enough. But I'm likelier to choose the era just after WWII. The Fifties. Not the Fifties of "Happy Days," saddle oxfords and poodle skirts, or Bill Haley and the Comets or American Bandstand. It would be about The Fabulous Fifties -- the late Fifties and early Sixties, to be exact ... so beautifully evoked in this iconic photograph.

                                                                  Photo: Julius Shulman

In fact, it has been calling to me for some time.  I just couldn't think of a story to go with all the inspiration.  But hey, that's what writing does. You sit down, start writing, (or in my case, plotting first) and the story takes shape

I love the Internet. Thanks to cyberspace, I discovered Mid Century Modernism a few years back, and I've been an aficionado ever since -- of the architecture, the fashion, the music.

What gives the Fabulous Fifties an edge over WWII is that I remember the Fifties, so when I discovered Mid Century Modernism on ebay in 2006 or so, and, later, on Facebook, and when I found Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini on YouTube, I plunged deep, deep into nostalgia, and I have yet to come to the surface.

More evocative images from the era -- these are from advertisements for Motorola hi fi record players.

The man standing at the hi fi console in the photograph above is architect Pierre Koenig. He is standing in one of the houses he designed. I don't know who whe lady is ... I've tried to find out if it is Mrs. Koenig, but I've had no luck thus far.

These images evoke an era when girls were girls, men were men, and glamor trumped grunge. In fact, I don't think there was such a thing as grunge, as an aesthetic, in 1959, when the photo likely was taken, as that was the year the house was built.

Intermittently, from 1945 until 1966, Arts and Architecture magazine sponsored experiments in residential architecture and commissioned American architects to submit designs. Twenty eight house designs were submitted; not all of them were built. The ones that were built were constructed in California, except for one in Arizona. They were examples of modernist design.

Pierre Koenig designed two of the Case Study Houses, one of them, the Stahl House, is the most spectacular and iconic  houses of the entire experiment, while the other, the Bailey House, where Koenig is photographed above, is considered by many to be the definitive Case Study home. The latter is a two-bedroom home, only 1300 square feet, but replete with innovation. It is my favorite of all the CSH's.

Case Study House 21, the Bailey House
Case Study House 22, the Stahl House
More about Koenig, here.
More about the Bailey House, here.

Of course, all of my novels are Southern, not Southern Californian. They are about Southerners and they take place largely in the South. What has California-style mid-century modernism got to do with Dixie? Well, modernism wasn't just in California. When I was growing up,I saw, and was drawn to, blocky little flat-roofed house in nearly every Georgia and Alabama town we lived in.

One of the Googiest signs you'd ever care to see stands right  here in west Florida.  Motels of seafoam green, shell pink and creamy yellow with decorative breeze blocks liberally sprinkled the beaches of the Miracle Strip, aka, the Redneck Riviera, in the Fifties and Sixties...

We never lived in a modernist house, but in the mid-fifties, my Mom bought a brass starburst clock (probably with S&H Green Stamps. She bought lotsa stuff with green stamps). And our dining room had a Sears Harmony House light fixture like this one (these things go for several hundred dollars on ebay):

We had an RCA hifi console very much like this one, only as I remember it, ours had fewer wood pieces across the front -- two at most. (This one looks like a reel-to-reel tape player, but our almost identical hi-fi played vinyl records.)

The vinyl we played on this marvel included the fabulous tune at the end of this blog post (I still have some of our old 45s and LPs)....

So if I decide to write a mid-century novel, there's plenty of inspiration to keep me focused, like more evocative images such as these -- Hoagy Carmichael with is hat set way back on his crown.  And while Fabian Perez's paintings of men in white suits smoking cigarettes aren't precisely mid-century, they do so evoke  the era...

Mr. Lucky, on vinyl, the way it was meant to be heard... from the TV series of the same name that aired on CBS from October 24, 1959, to June 18, 1960. More here.

Now, what should I name a novel inspired by all this fabulous, marvelous nostalgia?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome. Comments are moderated and may take a while to approve at post.