Pat Clark

Scene & Heard: ’60s-set shows feed nostalgia for era

Zoe Boyle, Erin Cummings, Odette Annable, Yvonne Strahovski, Azure Parsons and Joanna Garcia Swisher in “The Astronaut Wives Club.”
Zoe Boyle, Erin Cummings, Odette Annable, Yvonne Strahovski, Azure Parsons and Joanna Garcia Swisher in “The Astronaut Wives Club.” ABC

Maybe it’s post-traumatic “Mad Men” disorder that has me hooked on the 1960s-set “The Astronaut Wives Club.”

The era is close to my heart since it heralded the birth of, well, me. But it’s also a fascinating decade, given the tumult and turmoil and changes the nation went through.

“Astronaut Wives” is a 10-episode summer series on ABC that chronicles the women behind the men of NASA’s Mercury missions and the race to space between the U.S. and the USSR. Based on a book of the same name, the show takes some creative license with the real-life stories of those women and their famous husbands while also reflecting some of what really happened during the missions in front of and behind the scenes.

I’m kind of in love with it. Maybe it’s the Jell-O salad.

If you are of a certain age, the idea of a Jell-O salad has to pluck at your heartstrings. It’s a slice of Americana past and of the era of dressing up for church, pearls and rust-colored appliances.

Really, the new show is far more “Desperate Housewives” than “Mad Men,” with little secrets that threaten to topple the image groomed by NASA of its astronauts and the little women waiting for them at home. Secrets like most of the men were serial cheaters, for example.

It’s pulpy summer fare, fun and frilly rather than “Mad Men”-esque introspective and deep. And while it sheds a light on how NASA orchestrated squeaky-clean versions of the men and women, the show does it – so far – without more than glossed-over judgment.

The best part of the show – aside from the Jell-O salad reference, of course – is how it re-creates photographs and scenes of the real wives and the real Mercury crewmen with the actors, as well as the tense black-and-white TV reports and scenes in the NASA control room.

I’m too young to recall those early 1960 years, but the joys of the Internet prove the show’s creators have done a great job reassembling those moments.

After breezing through the episodes, I took to the Web to delve deeper into the stories behind the women and found a page-by-page copy of the June 1, 1962, Life magazine issue (it cost 20 cents) featuring Rene Carpenter – wife of astronaut Scott Carpenter – on the cover and a story she wrote about her husband’s mission. The story was referenced on the show, and it was a neat treat to go back and see the real photos and read her words.

Also fun was looking at all the ads and other photos and stories in that Life issue online – an amazing new device, the electric can opener, is introduced in an ad, for example, along a new Toast-R-Oven (it bakes, too!), “Six ways to make a 7up Float” and the Kodak movie camera for less than $35.

Tripping down memory lane is a fun ride, which probably is why I’m hooked on yet another 1960s-set show. By the way, how did people remember anything before the Internet?

Just asking.

Speaking of memory lane ...

I was sick last week with a particularly sore throat that sent my voice down several octaves for a raspy six days.

I left work on Tuesday announcing that I was “taking Brenda Vaccaro home.”

The only two co-workers nearby got the joke. But as I left the office, it dawned on me that anyone under age 40 or so probably wouldn’t know who the heck Brenda Vaccaro is, nor her connection to my newly afflicted, raspy voice.

Vaccaro is an actress who famously starred in “Midnight Cowboy,” as well as other films. I knew her best, though, as Michael Douglas’ girlfriend during his days on, natch, TV’s “The Streets of San Francisco.”

But she’s not one of those household names like her “Cowboy” co-stars Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman – both who likely would be recognized by a swath of generations. Even my teenage son knows who Hoffman is, albeit for his “Meet the Fockers” role rather than the great body of award-worthy acting he’s done over the decades.

Indeed, the names of so many actors and actresses no longer will register as the generations click along. It all made me feel ancient. Ancient and raspy. Ancient and raspy and nostalgic.

If it weren’t for the pain, I’d have been OK keeping Brenda Vaccaro around for a while longer.