The Summer of ’69

This is all about movies (one of my favorite topics), but first I need to set the scene.

In August 1969, I was immersed in a training session for idealistic young lawyers, part of the highly respected Reggie Program, which trained us to go out into the world to fight for justice for the underprivileged.

The program got its official name, the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program, from a Boston lawyer with that name. In an article he wrote in 1919, Smith shamed the legal profession into providing legal assistance to the poor.

By the middle of the 20th century, every city in the U.S. had some kind of legal aid program. The Reggie fellowships were aimed at adding to the ranks of lawyers devoted to helping the poor, and I was one of them.

Held on the leafy campus of Haverford College just outside Philadelphia, the Reggie program housed us in undergraduate dorms whose rooms, during that summer’s brutal heat wave, were insanely hot.

Many of my fellow Reggies and I resorted to seeking out whatever movies were playing at nearby theaters. It was so hot that we were willing to see anything in an air-conditioned theater.

We were lucky that summer. The summer of ‘69 turned out to offer a wealth of excellent films, along with a few that were just OK. And one was exceedingly, shockingly bad.

Among the outstanding films that summer were two that stood out: “Midnight Cowboy” and “Easy Rider.” Each, in its own way, shook my movie-going world. Maybe you remember them, too.

1969 later saw the appearance of some other notable films, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (my husband resembled Robert Redford in that film so much I liked to call him the Sundance Kid), Woody Allen’s debut “Take the Money and Run,” and the classic “Z,” which I hope to write about in one of my future posts.

But the worst movie I saw that summer—not only that summer but possibly ever–was, to my amazement, praised in a recent newspaper review of its DVD. The reviewer wasn’t around in 1969 but foolishly put himself back in that era as though he had been.

According to the reviewer (I’ll call him Mike), this film, “The Maltese Bippy,” tried “to cash in on” the success of Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, who starred in a popular TV show called “Laugh-In.” Mike called the show “hands-down the swingingest, most happening thing on TV in the late 60s.”

Referring to the movie’s idiotic title, Mike wrote, “Believe it or not, some 46 years ago, if someone said, ‘You bet your bippy,’ people would fall over themselves laughing, amid speculation as to what a ‘bippy’ might be.”

Well, Mike, I was there, and no one I knew “fell over themselves laughing” when they heard that phrase. My friends and I watched “Laugh-In” because it featured some engaging performers and some innovative approaches to humor. Lily Tomlin became famous portraying the telephone operator Ernestine, and Goldie Hawn used the show to make her own leap to stardom.

But “You bet your bippy”? It was a silly phrase repeated ad nauseum by Dick Martin. Because the show was a phenomenon during that era, the producers were presumably trying to capitalize on its popularity when they made this film. But nobody in my circles laughed at Dick Martin’s constant repetition of that phrase.

Mike must have thought he was being funny when he added, “If the young people today truly understood this [stupid reference to a ‘bippy’], they’d appreciate what Baby Boomers had to go through, growing up with an older generation like this.”

Mike, I was in my 20s, not a member of what you called “the older generation.” My friends and I more properly fell into the Baby Boomer generation. Folks older than us didn’t watch “Laugh-In,” or if they did, they didn’t get most of the jokes.

Dick Martin was barely tolerable on the TV show and even worse on the big screen. In my view, he was far from Mike’s description of him as “enormously appealing.” His persona was smarmy, constantly smirking as he spouted one sexual innuendo after another.

What is laughable is Mike’s opinion that “if he were around today, he might have been a film star along the lines of Owen Wilson.” I’ve seen lots of films featuring Owen Wilson, and Dick Martin was nothing like him.

Sorry, Mike! I guess you had to be there.

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3 responses to “The Summer of ’69

  1. Susie— Definitely a memorable summer. Easy Rider was the movie that particularly impressed me. Thanks. —Chip

  2. The summer of ’69 marked our return from 3 years in Germany. We had seen none of “Laugh-In” and were hard pressed to get back into the swing of the US with such TV phrases as “Here come de Judge”, “sock it to me” and
    the one we could never understand, “you bet your bippy”. You can imagine
    our sense of alienation when people burst into laughter simply when hearing these stupid triggers! Your blog brought back many memories of our re-entry
    process into American culture.

    Judy

  3. Ran into your blog searching for history on the Reggie program. I was there with you in the program at Haverford in 1969! I remember several of us going to see [“Easy Rider” and “Midnight Cowboy”] while we were there, and what a powerful impact that had on all of us.

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