February 25, 2015 | Malcolm Johnstone

Detail from Custer of the West posterWest Chester, PA — “If you remember the 1960s, you weren’t there” is a popular malaprop recited by aging stoners, mostly trying to avoid explaining what it really was all about. Add the refrain “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” and that further sums up just how the ones who were there might have actually remembered it. Or not.

Either way, the Chester County Historical Society is now doing its part to “be there” by featuring a new exhibit that should be counted as the best exploration of the culture change that happened 50-years ago. The 1960’s Pop Culture: Movies, Memorabilia and The Media from the Steve and Michell Friedman Collection is an interpretive series of movie posters and promotional materials collected by Steve Friedman, known in his day as Mr. Movie. It’s not just of the mainstream Hollywood hits you’ll see but also edgy independent movies that were, for the first time, entering the mass market.

Even if you never saw the racy cartoon Fritz the Cat or the sci-fi Seconds with Rock Hudson (1966), the fact that the boundaries of censorship began to allow expansion of graphic violence and other adult materials would, by itself, push the popular culture in a new direction with its daily promotion in the media and screenings in conventional theaters.

Some of the results feel dated, of course, sort of like when you view Soviet Cold War propaganda art, and yes, a 1960 East German space movie is featured. But there are some extraordinary moments to be encountered. Under the expert design of Michell Muldoon, Guest Curator, the exhibit greets the visitor with a giant poster of the campy Barbarella with Jane Fonda (1968) that dominates a wall as you enter. Each proceeding themed section then seamlessly moves to the various cultural aspects that will define the decade: Westerns, Civil Rights, Sci-Fi, Broadway, Horror, Disney, James Bond — it’s all there.

As the visitor examines items both large and small, surprises occur. Such as the beautifully heroic Frank McCarthy poster art of General Custer at his last stand for the 1967 movie Custer of the West (see image). Or another 1967 B-film: Frankenstein Created Woman where the outrageous tagline, “FROM FLESH AND INNOCENCE…FRANKENSTEIN HAS CREATED THE ULTIMATE IN EVIL AND DESIRE,” overwhelms the title on the poster, obviously trying too hard.

Hollywood being Hollywood, there’s no shortage of who is thought to be considered attractive. Beatle-like boys pose next to scantily-clad girls displaying cleavage like they just invented it. It even has its own category: The Changing Face of Youth, highlighting the exotic Brigitte Bardot. There are a number of films that may have once been considered little more than filler for a theater but ultimately gained cult status, turning a $100k investment into millions with no initial support from major studios (think Night of the Living Dead).

To miss this exhibit would be missing a look into a moment of time that defined who we are today. Yes, it’s a little weird at times but that’s the ’60s, and, in one way or another, we were all there.

The 1960’s Pop Culture: Movies, Memorabilia and The Media runs through August 29, 2015.

Chester County Historical Society
225 North High St, West Chester PA 19380
9:30am-4:30pm, Wednesday-Saturday.

Entry fee. Support CCHS by becoming a member and receive free or discounted entry to museum and events.

Parking close by at the Chestnut Street Garage.

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