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50 World Changers Turning 50

1974 brought us Nixon’s resignation, super­market barcodes and ‘Happy Days’

spinner image A collage of people and things that changed the world in 1974, including a Miami Dolphins Football player, Meow Mix, Jaws Cover, People Magazine cover, record, Braves baseball player and old yellow car
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Left to right: AP Photo; Everett Collection; Patti McConville/Alamy;; AARP; Alamy; Validas Bucys/Alamy; Photofest; Getty Images; Alamy; Bettmann/Getty Images)

Big flicks

Blazing Saddles: Mel Brooks directed and cowrote both this (three Oscar nominations, highest box office of the year) and Young Frankenstein (two Oscar nominations, fourth-highest box office).

Texas Chain Saw Massacre: This low-budget horror movie, which grossed more than $30 million, introduced audiences to the obvious idea that power tools are dangerous. Night Court tie-in: The narration is voiced by a very young John Larroquette.

The Lords of Flatbush: This 1950s-set film helped launch costars Sly Stallone and Henry Winkler, who would go on to play Fonzie­ — a much cooler name than the one he had in this movie: Butchey Weinstein.

Chinatown: In Robert Towne’s original script, Faye Dunaway’s character isn’t killed. But director Roman Polanski wasn’t a fan of anything close to a happy ending.

Foxy Brown: When Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand was 15 and looking for her rapper name, she asked Pam Grier if she could use her character’s name from this Blaxploitation film. Unlike Grier in the film, she has not found success through lethal vengeance.


On the playlist

“Waterloo” by ABBA: This song became huge after ABBA sang it to win Eurovision, beating Olivia Newton-John, who came in fourth place. The next year’s winner was “Ding-a-Dong,” by Dutch group Teach-In.

Kiss’ debut album: Peter Criss was the only member of the group who hired a makeup artist for the photo shoot of the cover. Everyone else insisted on doing it himself.

“Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie: He wrote the song for an unmade musical about Ziggy Stardust; it was the last single Bowie did in his distinctive glam rock style.

John Denver: He had two songs hit number 1 on the charts that year (“Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Annie’s Song”). He was also named poet laureate of Colorado and acted on an episode of the police show McCloud. It would be another five years until the Muppets saw his hair, realized he was one of them and invited him on their show.

“Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” by Barry White: A fan of The Simpsons, White recorded a version of this song for the 1993 episode “Whacking Day,” in which he appears as a guest who helps save the snakes that are normally killed during this Springfield holiday. Just trust me: It totally makes sense in the show.


spinner image Cast from Little House on the Prairie
Everett Collection

Television debuts

Little House on the Prairie: In addition to burnishing Michael Landon’s career and launching that of Melissa Gilbert, the show in 1981 featured Jason Bateman, who arrived to play an orphan adopted by the Ingalls family.

Chico and the Man: Originally the show was to star Cheech and Chong. When that didn’t work out, the creator found a comedian named Freddie Prinze.

Good Times: In this Maude spin-off, teenager J.J. was played by 26-year-old comedian Jimmie Walker, who was only eight years younger than John Amos, who played his dad on the Norman Lear sitcom.

Happy Days: The sitcom, starring Ron Howard, ran for 11 seasons on ABC. It originally premiered on the anthology series Love, American Style. When creator Garry Marshall’s kid got into aliens after Star Wars, Marshall wrote a visitor from outer space into the show. He cast Robin ​Williams, then spun that story into the hit sitcom Mork & Mindy.

Tony Orlando and Dawn: When divorce ended The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, CBS replaced it with this show. Tony Orlando never divorced Dawn, though, since it was not a person but the name of his group.

The Rockford Files: The show was co­created by Stephen J. Cannell, who also made The A-Team, 21 Jump Street and The Commish, among others.


Products we still love

Super­market barcodes: The first item scanned, a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit, is in the Smithsonian, but as a facsimile — a shame, as it would likely still be fresh.

Meow Mix: Its wildly popular — and somewhat annoying — ad jingle consists solely of the word “meow.” Some say the CIA plays it on repeat to wear down prisoners.

Volkswagen Golf: Though it was called the Rabbit when first sold here, the phrase “multiplying like golfs” never caught on.


spinner image Richard Nixon standing in helicopter doorway, raising both arms in the air in V formation, giving peace signs
Bettmann/Getty Images

History was made

Richard Nixon’s resignation: In the first Gallup poll after Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon on September 8, the new president’s approval ratings plummeted from 71 percent to 50.

Skylab: Three American astronauts returned after 84 days in the U.S. space station. When Skylab fell to Earth five years later, NASA was unsure where the debris would land. People bought bull’s-eye T-shirts and cans of “Skylab repellent.” A hotel in North Carolina painted a target on its roof and threw a poolside disco party.

Jerry Springer: Elected to the Cincinnati City Council at 27, Springer resigned after being caught writing a check to a prostitute — a scandal tailor-made for the Jerry Springer Show.

Ted Bundy: He killed at least 11 women in Washington and Utah that year. Earlier, he had been on Seattle’s Crime Prevention Advisory Commission.

Oscars streaker: Cohost David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor when he was rudely interrupted by Robert Opel. Niven’s ad-lib about Opel’s “shortcomings” got big laughs.

Patty Hearst’s kidnapping: The Symbionese Liberation Army, the far-left terrorist group that abducted William Randolph Hearst’s granddaughter, took its name from the word “symbiosis” to encompass its plan to unify all progressive causes.


Blockbuster books

The Power Broker by Robert Caro: Though the biography of Robert Moses is almost 1,300 pages, Caro had cut it by 350,000 words.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin: Regina King won an Oscar for her role in the 2018 film version of Baldwin’s fifth novel.

Jaws by Peter Benchley Benchley: The struggling journalist got only $1,000 for the first 100 pages, so he wrote the rest in a converted turkey coop. We are all lucky this isn’t a book about being attacked by a wild turkey.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig: Phil Jackson, William Shatner and Tim Allen all said this was the book that most affected them. The bike Pirsig maintained is now in the Smithsonian.

All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward: The authors (and their Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee) kept Deep Throat’s identity hidden for 30 years. Their secret source was FBI associate director W. Mark Felt.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré: In the novel, le Carré popularized the spy term “mole” and invented others, like “honey trap,” which then continued as real terms used in the espionage community, as in “That honey trap has a mole in the strangest place.”

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Culture-shaping launches

High Times: The magazine on all things marijuana was a truly blazing success.

Dungeons & Dragons: Nerd alert! Players include Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Patton Oswalt, Drew Barrymore, Aubrey Plaza and Elon Musk.

Great Adventure: Three years after a Warner Brothers scion built this amusement park in New Jersey, it was bought by Texas’ Six Flags. (The “six flags” are of the nations that once governed Texas.)

People: The magazine was a spin-off of Time magazine’s celebrity-focused People page, which was written in the late 1990s by ... yours truly, Joel Stein!

Tommy John surgery: Following his innovative ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, John pitched until he was the oldest player in the league, tying the record for most seasons in the game. At least one in four major league pitchers now has the surgery.


spinner image Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fighting in boxing ring
Ken Regan /Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images


Rumble in the Jungle is most-watched sporting event: Muhammad Ali debuted his rope-a-dope tactic in Zaire to beat the favored George Foreman by knockout.

Miami Dolphins win second of back-to-back Super Bowls: Larry Csonka carried the ball 33 times, ensuring that we all actually learned to pronounce his name.

Lou Brock breaks sea­son record for stolen bases: He also makes the umbrella hat, the Brockabrella, a hit.

Evel Knievel tries to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho: He does not succeed (though he survives). In 2016, stuntman Eddie Braun makes the jump successfully in a replica of the rocket Knievel used.

Frank Robinson becomes MLB’s first Black manager: In his very first at bat as Cleveland’s player-manager, he hit a home run.



Jimmy Fallon: As a kid, he and his sister, Gloria, would act out Saturday Night Live sketches with friends.

Amy Adams: An Army brat, she was born to American parents in Vicenza, Italy. Her mom was a semiprofessional bodybuilder; her dad was a nightclub singer.

Mahershala Ali: His mom and maternal grandmother were Baptist ministers; he converted to Islam. His father won $2,500 dancing on Soul Train.

Leonardo DiCaprio: When he was 1, his parents separated. They moved next door to each other in Los Angeles to raise him.


spinner image Ed Sullivan, Mama Cass Elliot and Duke Ellington
Left to right: Bettmann/Getty Images; CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images; George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images


Monty Python’s Flying Circus: As the show ended in the U.K., PBS started airing it here, in the land of lumberjacks.

Duke Ellington: His son, Mercer, continued to lead the orchestra until he died in 1996. The group won a Grammy in 1988.

Mama Cass Elliot: Born Ellen Naomi Cohen, the singer from the Mamas & the Papas died, at 32, in musician Harry Nilsson’s apartment.

Ed Sullivan: His weekly variety show, which debuted in 1948, had been canceled three years earlier as part of CBS’s “rural purge.”


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