Memorable Nuggets From 1961

Culture | September 29, 2018

Harpo Marx surprising someone on the comedy television show 'Candid Camera', May 1961. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Some of the highlights from 1961 brought us some hilarious television shows like Candid Camera, commercials with catchy phrases, laws that were passed to hopefully improve our economy, and, of course, entertainment like the Beach Boys.

Candid Camera became really popular in 1961 with some of the funniest episodes to tickle your funny bone. With a hidden camera, unsuspecting victims, not knowing they were being filmed would respond to some of Alan Font’s tricks in the most hysterical ways because of the crazy antics he would come up with, for example, a car without a motor. A helpless woman “drives” into a station and needs help with her car but when the man looks under the hood, there is no motor. She wants him to start the car but he tells her he can’t because there is no motor. She plays dumb until the end of the segment where they reveal that the man is on candid camera. The reactions are priceless before and after they find out they are being filmed. 

Pictured here is another episode with the hilariously funny Harpo Marx, who is always ready to create a good laugh anyway, inside of a coke vending machine interacting with people attempting to purchase a coke. Even today, practical jokers do the same thing with their cell phones to catch people off guard for kicks. 

Jolly Green Giant

In 1961, there were giants in the land – green ones, in fact. Did they come from Mars to bring us corn from their planet? No, but they did make a cute a commercial about canned corn. The theme song went something like this “In the valley of the Jolly Green Giant. ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ Green Giant.” In one of the commercials, the narrator says that at Valley Fair, they judged the Niblets corn and won 1st place. The animated judge explains why they won and how that ordinary canned corn has lots of water but the Green Giant canned corn is vacuum-packed with very little water and more corn. “Its special corn and grown to be sweeter than other corn.” Not only did the corn win first prize but also their green beans and the animated judge also explains how the beans are sliced and provide more flavor. “Good things from the Garden – Garden of the Valley. Valley of the Giant – Ho, Ho, Ho! Green Giant!”

JFK signs the Fair Labor Standards Act

In 1961, the Fair Labor Standards Act signed by JFK went into effect. It raised the minimum wage in three stages: beginning January 1, 1961, it was raised to $1.15 an hour; January 1, 1962, it was raised to $1.20 an hour; and on January 1, 1963, it was raised to $1.25 an hour. Certainly doesn’t sound like much – to think that it would make that much of a difference is unthinkable!

The purpose of this increase, according to what the bill stated, was to protect the nation from the evil and danger of wages being too low to buy the bare necessities of life and from the long hours of working that could cause injury to their health. For that amount of money to provide the bare necessities of life, those bare necessities had to be really cheap or either they really meant “bare” necessities. That does go to show you how the cost of living has increased since 1961. Today, in many states in the United States, the current minimum wage is around $10.00 an hour.   

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys was a group formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, California and it was also in 1961 when they gave their first live performance. Pictured above was the album cover for their first single “Surfin.” Some of their other hits include “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Surfin’ Safari.” They actually started out as a garage band and increased in popularity, selling in excess of 100 million records. The band had 36 of their 80 songs chart in the Top 40 which is the most by an American rock band.     

Popular Dances in 1961

Probably the most popular dance was the Twist. Young people all over the nation were “twisting the night away” with the Twist. Chubby Checker even sang about it, which helped to popularize it. Other dances that were favorites were the “Jerk,” the “Pony,” the “Watusi,” the “Monkey,” the “Mashed Potato,” and the “Funky Chicken.” How did they come up those names? They must have gotten hungry with some of those names “mashed potatoes and funky chicken?” Sounds like they were ordering their dinner.    

Meg Ryan

Born in November of 1961, she became quite an actress who has brought us hours of entertainment through her roles on television as well as the movies. She began acting in 1981 and on a soap opera, “As the World Turns” in 1982. Then she went to romantic comedies like “When Harry Met Sally” alongside Billy Crystal, “French Kiss” with Kevin Kline, “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” One of the most popular movies she starred in though was “Sleepless in Seattle” also with Tom Hanks. She married actor Dennis Quaid and had one son with him and she adopted a 14-year-old from China in 2006. In all of her starring roles, she has always been witty and charming.  

West Side Story

This American film was a romantic musical tragedy that came out in 1961. The film was an adaptation of the Broadway musical that came out in 1957. Inspired by William Shakespeare, the setting was in Manhattan with gangs and a love affair that ends tragically. The main characters in this film were played by Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris with it being released in October of 1961. The year 1961 brought us many hours of entertainment and amusement through music, movies, shows and even commercials.

Tags: 1961 | A Brief History Of... | Commercials | Green Giant | Hollywood | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | The 1960s | The Beach Boys

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Terry Claypoole


Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.