From the Managing Editor: On Fairy Tales, George Clooney & ‘Star Trek’

Maybe a 50th birthday isn’t so bad. Turns out, those born in 1961 have seen some big events in a half-century. And, they’re keeping good company, too.

Let’s be honest. No matter what positive spin we put on aging, most of us would turn back the clock faster than we can say “collagen,” if given the option. Sure, we love our Keurigs and laptops, but we’d gladly throw them on the scrap pile, along with our iPods, George Foreman grills and Netflix subscriptions, if only we could return to the younger versions of ourselves who roamed the world, sans Internet, say 30 or 40 years ago.
Right? No. Wrong answer.
I’d much rather grow old with my husband and children than be young in a world without them. And I wouldn’t give up my wiser, older brain, either. So instead of being grumpy about turning 50 this year, I’m thinking of throwing a huge party. All of the high school classes of 1979 are invited, (’specially from Harlem High!) and all the college classes of 1984. While we’re at it, let’s invite some tail-end Baby Boomers you may recognize. Turns out a lot of 50-somethings are running the zoo these days.

Barack Obama
First, we’ll invite the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama, who turns 50 on Aug. 4. Word on the street is that he’s throwing a $35,800 per couple birthday/re-election benefit in Chicago the evening before, so we’ll be sure to pick a different date. (Comparing his accomplishments over the past 50 years, to mine, makes me feel a tad insignificant. My highest elected office was President of the Senate at Girls State in 1978. I comfort myself by noting that he’s aged 10 years in 2, as every president should.)
I think we’ll invite Peter Jackson, film director of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, too. This master of elves and goblins will turn 50 on Halloween and surely could tell some good stories.
Also turning 50 are actors George Clooney, Meg Ryan, Eddie Murphy, Woody Harrelson, Michael J. Fox, Virginia Madsen and Forest Whitaker. How unfair is it that Clooney still looks adorable and Meg Ryan – well, no longer looks like Meg Ryan. Cosmetic technology gone amok?
Rockford native songbird Jodi (Marzorati) Benson (Disney’s Ariel) is 50 in October. The Boylan grad now lives in Georgia. Maybe she’d agree to come up and sing?
We should definitely invite Susan Olsen, who played Cindy Brady on “The Brady Bunch.” How’s it possible that she’s 50? Were we really her size when we watched her skip through her olive green living room?
We 1961 babies were born on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, a fact I never considered until this, the 150th anniversary. Let’s hope it doesn’t overshadow another important anniversary – that of Luke and Laura, who wed in 1981 on “General Hospital.” Genie Francis (Laura) turns 50 this year, too.
Along with “M*A*S*H” and “Star Trek,” “Frasier” is my all-time favorite TV show. So I was tickled to learn that both Daphne and Roz (Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin) will turn 50 this year. I bet those gals really know how to celebrate!
Joe Lando, the actor who played hunky, longhaired beau Byron Sully on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” turns 50, too. (Actress Jane Seymour, who played Dr. Quinn, turned 60 this year. Apparently Dr. Quinn was a bit of a cradle robber, not unlike Demi Moore, who turns 50 in 2012. Demi’s hubby Ashton Kutcher is 33.)
Next up, crossing the golden threshold in 2012, will be Tom Cruise, Ralph Fiennes, Jodie Foster, Garth Brooks, Kristi McNichol, Steve Carrell, Jim Carey and “ER” docs Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) and Mark Green (Anthony Edwards, who also played “Goose,” in “Top Gun.”)
The “St. Elmo’s Fire” kids are marching toward their first colonoscopy, too. Turning 50 in 1962 with Demi Moore will be Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez – who’s unlikely to invite bro Charlie Sheen to any parties. Maybe Ashton Kutcher will show up with his Nikon.
George Clooney
Given the tumultuous decade to which we were born, I’d say we 1961 babies are doing well. Think about it. By the time most of us were 2, we’d lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the construction of the Berlin Wall, a plane crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (No wonder our moms were wrecks). By age 7, we’d absorbed the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. By age 10, we’d seen unarmed college students at Kent State gunned down by the National Guard. By age 12, 2 million of our big brothers had been drafted into a gruesome war that adults couldn’t seem to explain to us. We knew it was horrible, because we saw it for ourselves each night, in living/dying color, on the 6 o’clock news.
We kids also worried about racism, the growing number of divorces among our friends’ parents, and pollution. During treks ’round the ’hood in Loves Park, on my purple Schwinn, I watched dead fish wash up along the banks of the Rock River, and wondered what kind of world would be left for my future children.
It’s not surprising that TV shows idealizing simpler times, like “Happy Days” and “The Waltons,” were smash hits in the 1970s/early’80s. But so were shows like “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H,” which challenged the very core of our collective value system. I wonder. Did this dichotomy of responses to the 1960s upheaval mark the beginning of the Red and Blue state divide that surfaced so venomously decades later?
My favorite TV show of the time, by far, was “Star Trek,” which had only aired from ’67 to ’69, but grabbed me with re-runs when I was older. The costumes and props seemed cheesy even back then, but the idealism was intoxicating.
At 14, I found myself chanting “We Want Trek!” during the first official Star Trek Convention at the Chicago Conrad Hilton in 1975. I still have two cigarette butts “Spock” Leonard Nimoy left behind in an ashtray. (Who knows when he may need some DNA to regenerate his cells?) It was the first convention gathering of the entire cast since the show’s cancellation, and we were EXCITED. I didn’t really understand, back then, why Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic view of the future was so important to so many of us, but I do now. We all wanted to believe we could do better in the future than we were doing in the 1960s and ’70s. We wanted to believe that not only our technology would evolve, but our humanity would, too.
In many ways, a half century later, it has. Medicine and technology, some of it inspired by “Star Trek,” is light-years beyond 1969. The humanity part? In ’69, network censors objected to a white man (Capt. Kirk) kissing a black woman (Lt. Uhura). Today, we have a black president. We’re a work in progress, but I have great faith.
Star Trek
Which reminds me of another 1961 baby, a Brit born July 1. At 20, my friends and I watched our peer of another realm enter what we judged to be a fairy tale, as she married into royalty on July 29, 1981. We thought that Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, had it all, and was the luckiest woman on earth. How wrong could we be?
She touched millions of people before her death by car crash in 1997. Like James Dean or JFK (who would be 94 now), she’ll be eternally young in our memories. But I’m pretty sure she would have preferred to live to celebrate a 50th birthday, and decades of birthdays after that.
It turns out that life itself is the fairy tale, each day of the journey a gift. Including the days we have “big” birthdays.
Peace. Live long and prosper. ❚