Chester County Historical Society explores the 1960s
● By J. Chambless
The Chester County Historical Society is hosting “The 1960s Pop Culture: Movies, Memorabilia, and Media, the Steve and Michell Friedman Collection” until August. The second phase of the exhibit opens in November.
By Steven Hoffman
As the 1960s dawned, many Americans felt like they were entering a golden age. John F. Kennedy, a charismatic and handsome U.S. senator from Massachusetts, was inspiring Americans with talk about standing on the edge of a “New Frontier” where inequality and injustice would be eliminated in the U.S. Demonstrating his belief that man was capable of great things, Kennedy called for the U.S. to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
This year, the Chester County Historical Society is hosting two exhibits that showcase the important decade. The first exhibit, “The 1960s Pop Culture: Movies, Memorabilia, and Media, the Steve and Michell Friedman Collection” was unveiled to the public in February and runs through August. The second, more comprehensive exhibit, “The Sixties!” will open with a gala event on Nov. 7. But instead of a new golden age, the 1960s was a time of deep turmoil, marked by violence, conflict, and social unrest. Kennedy was the victim of an assassination, and the course of U.S. history was changed forever. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 when he, too, was felled by an assassin's bullet. Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was gunned down in Memphis. Instead of a war on poverty, the U.S. became embroiled in the Vietnam War. The peace-and-love generation had its moments and the U.S. did, in fact, put a man on the moon in 1969, but a decade that started with so much promise ended under a cloud of pessimism. More than fifty years later, the 1960s continue to fascinate the country.
The items currently on exhibit in the 56,000 square feet space were culled from the personal collection of Steve Friedman and Michell Muldoon Friedman, and are on public display for the first time.
Steve Friedman was known as “Mr. Movie” to generations of people who grew up in the Philadelphia area. The Chester County resident was a popular talk show host for 1210 AM and had a radio show, “Just After the Movies Let Out,” that ran from April 14, 1984 to Sept. 20, 2009. His audience was large—it was carried in 38 states across the U.S. and eastern Canada. He was widely known for his enthusiasm and knowledge of movies—in the days before the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) was available to anyone with a Smartphone, Friedman was a walking, talking IMDB.
His love for cinema is on full display in the 1960s exhibit, which includes a wide variety of movie posters and memorabilia that represents more than 170 movies. “It’s amazing to see the passion for the topic,” said David Reinfeld, the vice president of development for the Chester County Historical Society. “It’s been a thrill to have a little piece of this talent and passion. The exhibit includes all kinds of things that he collected.”
Michell Muldoon served as the guest curator for the exhibit that showcases her husband’s collection.
“She took the ideas for the second phase and figured out which posters represented the themes that will be illustrated here,” Reinfeld explained. “She had to figure out who the audience was going to be. If you’re a movie aficionado, there will be a lot to be interested in.”
While the emphasis of the exhibit is on the 1960s, the movie posters actually date from 1954 to 1974, and explore themes like space exploration, war, and Civil Rights. There were approximately 6,900 movies produced during that time period, including classics like “The Godfather,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Graduate,” and “Midnight Cowboy.” In addition to the movie posters, the exhibit also showcases toys, window cards, and games from that era.
Pop culture had a very significant impact on society during the 1960s, and movies not only reflected the issues of the day, they also offered a glimpse into the national psyche. How women and blacks were portrayed changed dramatically during this time.
At the opening of the exhibit, Muldoon talked about the importance of movies, and how they impact our culture.
“Movies are a core part of how we as a society evolve,” Muldoon explained.
“Before movies, people were entertained by live theater,” explained Ellen E. Endslow, the historical society’s director of collections. “When movies kicked in, suddenly the world could see the same image—it was a shrinking of the world.”
Endslow started working on the exhibit in October of 2014, with eight volunteers lending support during the process. As the guest curator, Muldoon made some critical decisions about which items to include from the large personal collection.
“I really admire Michell Muldoon for the work that she did on this exhibit,” Endslow explained. “She distilled it down to what she thought people could grasp to tell the story of the day.”
The story of the day is about change. As Endslow explained, the class of 1969 is very different from the class of 1961, and that’s one reason why there is no end to our society’s fascination with the 1960s.
“The experiences that people had during the 1960s are incredible,” she said. “The 1960s was a tumultuous decade. People at the beginning of the decade had no idea how that decade would end. There was a tremendous change in social awareness.”
While the focus of the exhibit is the 1960s, it incorporates the most modern technology available. The exhibit includes QR codes that will open videos on mobile devices to augment the displays that are presented.
“The 1960s Pop Culture: Movies, Memorabilia, and Media, the Steve and Michell Friedman Collection” is on display until August. The second phase of the Chester County Historical Society's look at the 1960s will be unveiled in November.
“We have things in this exhibit that will appeal to adults and to families,” said Endslow. “We are looking forward to people reacting to this.”
The Chester County Historical Society is located at 225 North High Street in West Chester. The hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. More information is available at www.chestercohistorical.org.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email email@example.com.