Significant News and Cultural Events this month include:
Ireland welcomed the confirmation of Saint Patrick (387-493) as its patron saint (3). New York City is hindered by a newspaper strike (8) first called by the Typographers Union which ceases publication of the nine daily papers. The strike lasts 114 days and forces the cancellation of the New York Film Critics’ annual awards, the only time in their history. Lawrence of Arabia has its world premiere in London as a special screening for Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family (10). Canada holds its final execution, and formally abolishes the death penalty in 1976 (11). Pop singer Andy Williams introduces the Osmond Brothers on his weekly television variety show (13). And in the world of Sports, the Dallas Texans claim the AFL championship by defeating the Houston Oilers in OT 20-17 (23), while the Green Bay Packers win the NFL title game, beating the New York Giants 16-7 (30). The ultimate football championship would wait until January 1970 and the first Super Bowl.
On the Pop Music Charts: The Four Seasons have the #1 single for the month, Big Girls Don’t Cry, staying on top of the Billboard chart for the first 3 weeks of the month, continuing a run of 5 weeks total. The Tornadoes, the first British band to top the American charts, close out the year at #1 with their only hit in the States, the instrumental Telstar, celebrating the launch of the communications satellite. Other artists and their peak position in the top ten include Elvis Presley, with his #2 smash, Return to Sender, his biggest hit of the year; Chubby Checker scores with another dance tune, Limbo Rock (#2); One-hit-wonder Marcie Blane charts with Bobby’s Girl (#3), the Orlons take Don’t Hang Up to (#4); Dee Dee Sharp drives Ride! to (#5), The Tijuana Brass debut with their #6 instrumental The Lonely Bull. Hitmaker Ray Charles finishes the year with yet another hit, You Are My Sunshine (#7; Little Esther Phillips and Release Me (#8), and Dion with Love Came to Me (#10) round out the top ten.
On the Albums chart, Allan Sherman captures the top spot for two weeks with his parody songs in My Son the Folk Singer, followed to the apex by the comedy album The First Family, which makes a minor comedian, Vaughn Meader, into a star with his impersonation of JFK. The Lp would sell over 5 million copies and be named Album of the Year at the Grammys. Meader’s fame was short-lived, however. The assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963 effectively returned him to relative obscurity.
At the Movies: Mutiny on the Bounty sails to the top as the #1 grossing movie of the month as an exclusive roadshow engagement, playing only in major markets. Two other roadshows, The Longest Day (#2) and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (#3) also dominate the traditionally slow month at the box office. The rest of the top ten include holdovers The Manchurian Candidate (#4), Period of Adjusment (#5), and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (#6), which goes into a fast track second tier playoff after its 400 first runs in November, and does almost as much business. Jerry Lewis has another hit comedy with It’s Only Money (#7), West Side Story scores its 13th consecutive month in the top ten at #8; Art-house crossover Divorce Italian Style breaks into the top ten at #9, and Elvis Presley continues his winning streak with Girls! Girls! Girls! at #10.
Business improved dramatically over the Christmas holiday season, and proved to be the biggest week of the year despite severe cold weather and snow in many markets. Grosses were so outstanding that the venerable trade paper Variety wore out its list of superlatives describing the robust box office as Socko, Boffo, Lush, Mighty, and Whopping et al. Among the films debuting in many markets at year’s end and contributing to the goldmine were the Doris Day musical Jumbo, Walt Disney’s In Search of the Castaways, the film version of Broadway’s hit musical Gypsy, and the historical adventure Taras Bulba.
Exclusive runs included the New York City art entries Sundays and Cybele and Antonioni’s Eclipse; John Huston’s biopic of Freud debuted in both NY and LA. And two films bowing exclusively in LA prepped awards season, with the openings of To Kill a Mockingbird and Days of Wine and Roses, both substantial hits.