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THE BEST OF TIMES
Ron Fimrite
November 15, 1989
THERE HAVE BEEN GOATS AS WELL AS HEROES, AND AS MANY LOSERS AS WINNERS, BUT THE THREE-AND-A-HALF DECADES SINCE ROGER BANNISTER'S EPOCHAL FOUR-MINUTE MILE (LEFT), ON MAY 6, 1954, HAVE BEEN WONDROUSLY RICH IN ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENT. THE FOLLOWING PAGES PROVIDE A YEAR-BY-YEAR CHRONICLE, BEGINNING WITH RON FIMRITE'S FOND AND EVOCATIVE LOOK BACK AT '54.
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November 15, 1989

The Best Of Times

THERE HAVE BEEN GOATS AS WELL AS HEROES, AND AS MANY LOSERS AS WINNERS, BUT THE THREE-AND-A-HALF DECADES SINCE ROGER BANNISTER'S EPOCHAL FOUR-MINUTE MILE (LEFT), ON MAY 6, 1954, HAVE BEEN WONDROUSLY RICH IN ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENT. THE FOLLOWING PAGES PROVIDE A YEAR-BY-YEAR CHRONICLE, BEGINNING WITH RON FIMRITE'S FOND AND EVOCATIVE LOOK BACK AT '54.

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I HEAR AMERICA SINGING. A hipper, harder-swinging Sinatra emerges from the bony body of the former kid crooner, and 27-year-old Tony Bennett is in full throat. But the charts are dominated by such bland pop singers as Kitty Kallen, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Joni James, the Ames Brothers, the Four Aces and Patti Page. Doris Day hits the Top 10 with Secret Love.

In teenage land, an ominous beat is heard. In the spring, a former disc jockey named Bill Haley records with his Comets a manic number entitled Rock Around the Clock. And on July 5, That's All Right is recorded by somebody named Presley.

BIG DROB AND LITTLE MO. He was one of the most unusual and entertaining tennis champions of his time. Jaroslav Drobny was a defector from Czechoslovakia who became a citizen of both Egypt and Great Britain. In 1948, a year before his defection, he had played on the Czech ice hockey team in the Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz. At 32, he was considered somewhat past his prime and certainly over his head in the Wimbledon finals against the 19-year-old Australian sensation, Ken Rosewall.

In a marathon match, however, Drobny defeated Rosewall 13-11, 4-6, 6-2, 9-7. "That's it," Drobny said afterward. "From here on in, it will just be fun. I don't think I'll ever win again." And he never did.

At the age of 19, 1954 Wimbledon champion Maureen Connolly, affectionately called Little Mo, was the undisputed queen of women's tennis. Even before beating Louise Brough 6-2, 7-5 in the finals, she was already a two-time Wimbledon and three-time U.S. Open champion. In 1953, she became the first woman player to win the Grand Slam—U.S., Wimbledon, Australian and French championships. And tennis was not her only sport. She was also an enthusiastic and accomplished equestrienne. In 1954 she was riding her horse, Colonel Merryboy, on a sunny July day near her home in Southern California, when the animal was startled by a passing truck. Little Mo was wedged between the horse and the truck. Her left leg was crushed. She never played competitive tennis again, and she never fully recovered her health. She died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 34, on the eve of Wimbledon.

CARS. They're called Bugs, and you see them everywhere. In fact, Volkswagen becomes the fourth-largest automaker in the world this year. And foreign sports cars are the rage among the upwardly mobile. Hoping to get in on this apparent boom, Ford introduces a sports cars of its own, the Thunderbird, but soon ruins it by making it bigger. Bigness is the obsession of U.S. automakers. "Lower, longer, wider" is the prevailing theme, even though it is obvious, particularly in the burgeoning suburbs, that small cars are becoming the rage.

BROADWAY. Pajama Game, The Teahouse of the August Moon, The Solid Gold Cadillac, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, Fanny, Peter Pan (with Mary Martin), The Boy Friend, The Confidential Clerk (by T.S. Eliot).

FLICKS. At 30, Marlon Brando scores with both The Wild One and On the Waterfront, for which he will win the Academy Award. TIME says that he is the "supreme portrayer of morose juvenility." Other hits of the year: Three Coins in the Fountain, Dial M for Murder, The High and the Mighty, Rear Window, A Star Is Born (with Judy Garland singing her heart out), The Country Girl (Academy Award for Grace Kelly).

BOOKS. The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler; Casino Royale, Ian Fleming; The Return of Jeeves, EG. Wodehouse; Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck; A Fable, William Faulkner; The Blackboard Jungle, Evan Hunter; No Time for Sergeants, Mac Hyman; The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Pierre Boulle; Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis; The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley.

THE ROCK AND A HARD PLACE. In the ring, they were polar opposites, one a master boxer, the other a brawling slugger. Outside of it, they had much in common, for both were gentlemen, quiet and unassuming, even humble—strange birds when compared with the tedious braggarts who people the ring today. Each had beaten Joe Louis in the great champion's declining years, and each had said he was sorry he had to do it. They came from a tradition that deplored gloating over a fallen foe, particularly over one of such distinction.

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