'50s Westport: Exhibits show town in Cold War, film & TV
Updated 9:16 am, Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The Westport Historical Society will present two exhibits of artifacts, films and photographs of Westport during the 1950s when the town was a haven for TV writers while serving as a site for Nike missile silos during the Cold War.
The exhibits, "Next Stop: Westport, The Inspiration for 1950s TV & Film Writers" and "The Cold War in our Backyard, An Archival Film Compilation by Lisa Seidenberg," will run concurrently from Sunday, Jan. 29, through Saturday, April 28, at the society, 25 Avery Place. An opening reception will take place Sunday, Jan. 29.
During the 1950s, Westport, already a haven for artists, also became a mecca for TV writers and novelists, most of whom were young World War II veterans and recent GI Bill college grads, newly married and starting families. As a result, the town and its commuter lifestyle became a national TV and film sensation, being portrayed by writers such as Bob Weiskopf, Sloan Wilson and Rod Serling in "I Love Lucy," "The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit" and "The Twilight Zone," according to a news release from the society. The town was also named "All-American City" among towns its size in 1958 by Look Magazine and the National Municipal League.
At the same time, Westport writer Max Shulman wrote "Rally 'Round the Flag Boys," a book based on the Westport Woman's Club's Civics Committee in January 1955 holding a public hearing on the proposed siting of Nike missile silos in town for Bridgeport's defense, the release states. The forum was later broadcast nationally on Sunday afternoon's "American Week."
Although many TV writers moved to Los Angeles with the change of TV production technology, the inspiration and friendships evidently endured as the final year of "I Love Lucy" episodes in 1957, written in California by former Westport resident and his co-writer Bob Schiller, whose ex-wife was from Connecticut, featured Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Fred and Ethel Mertz moving to Westport.
In addition, Wilson's novel, "The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit," set and later filmed in Westport, starring Gregory Peck, likewise portrays a rail commuter from Westport.
Furthermore, Serling's famous "Willoughby" episode in "The Twilight Zone" also features a Westport man who commutes to work by train. In 1961, Serling -- who had moved with his family from their High Point Road home in Westport three years prior -- was featured in the launch promotion for Westport's Famous Writers School. Lastly, "Rally 'Round the Flag Boys," was later turned into a movie starring Westport actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
For information on the exhibit, contact the society at 203-222-1424 or visit www.westporthistory.org.
The opening reception for the exhibits will take place on Sunday, January 29, from 3 to 5 pm, at the Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place. For more information, contact the historical society at 203-222-1424 or at www.westporthistory.org.