By Jeff Pfeiffer, ReMIND Magazine
In 1959, a youngster heading for a summertime day at the beach was at a perfect crossroads for enhancing that day with old-school enjoyments as well as newer fun and technology that presaged the space-age ’60s ahead.
In a 1959 beach parking lot, one might have seen cars introduced that year or within the preceding few years whose names still roll off the tongue like those of well-remembered friends: Chevy’s El Camino, Corvette, Impala and Bel Air convertible; Ford’s Galaxie, Thunderbird, Fairlane, Falcon or even the now-infamous Edsel; the Plymouth Fury; and the Cadillac Coupe de Ville (1959’s bestselling car).
Although bikinis had existed a while, more of them were being seen at the beach by 1959 thanks to Brigitte Bardot’s popular appearance wearing a gingham two-piece in the 1956 film And God Created Woman. In spring 1959, the Sandra Dee movie Gidget introduced another beach style for women — the sporty, boy-shorted “surfer girl” look.
When it came to sunglasses, by 1959, Ray-Ban had a dedicated line of eyewear for women. The “cat-eye” look for frames had started becoming popular, as were different colors, while some movie stars were also popularizing leopard-print glasses.
Gidget had also introduced California’s surfing culture to a wider audience, so if teens lived where surfboards were available (or if their family had an ironing board they might “borrow”), they could try hanging 10. Back on the sand, Wham-O’s recent popularizing of the plastic hula hoop and the plastic throwing disc the company dubbed a “frisbee” made those items hot commodities for beach fun.
Following the launch of the first commercially marketed transistor radio five years earlier, by 1959, these portable devices were must-haves at the beach for listening to music or ballgames while soaking up some rays.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day of ’59, a transistor-owning beachgoer could enjoy the hot AM sounds of a variety of summer hits like “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton; “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin; “Lonely Boy” by Paul Anka; “A Teenager in Love” by Dion & the Belmonts; “The Three Bells” by the Browns; “Sea of Love” by Phil Phillips; and “A Big Hunk o’ Love” by Elvis Presley.
“Sleep Walk,” an instrumental tune by Santo & Johnny released near the end of summer, reached No. 2 on the charts by Labor Day. The timing was fitting; the song’s wistful, nostalgic and melancholic sound was a perfect accompaniment for 1959 teens who knew their season at the beach was coming to a close.