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Itinerary: The Fabulous '50s


People may say, "Life was much simpler then," but there was nothing really simple about the 1950s. It's the decade when Americans liked Ike and named names. When the post-World War II military powerhouse got mired in a soon-to-be "forgotten" war in Korea. Moviegoers saw "Pillow Talk" five years after "The Wild One." Cities sprouted Modernist skyscrapers and Googie-style hotels. This weekend, step back 40 to 50 years.


The Faustian story of how Charles Van Doren--a college professor and member of a prominent literary family--participated in a string of famously rigged matches on the TV game show "Twenty-One" has been retold in books, plays and films. Robert Redford's 1994 film "Quiz Show" concentrated on investigator Richard Goodwin. In his play "Night and Her Stars" (Alliance Repertory Theatre, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. $15. [323] 930-9304), Richard Greenberg focuses on Van Doren (Dana Ashbrook) and why he agreed to the fix. Bob Neches plays the tempter-TV producer and David Keats plays Herbert Stempel, the contestant who cries foul after being dumped for the more photogenic Van Doren. The play runs Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 2, but will be dark Nov. 23-24. Times reviewer F. Kathleen Foley called it "a surprisingly philosophical discourse, as satirical as it is ultimately poignant."


The California Noir double bill at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA, Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd. 7:30 p.m. $7. [323] 857-6010) shows the dark side of the 1950s--the great crime movies that came out of the period.

It starts with "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) Robert Aldrich's take on Mickey Spillane's pulp-fiction detective Mike Hammer. Ralph Meeker plays the brute of a private eye who is thrown into a Cold War allegory that is taut, violent and comic. Quentin Tarantino wasn't the first to send up this crime genre. "The Crimson Kimono" (1959), second on the bill, is Samuel Fuller's look at vice, racism and alienation in a crime thriller about two L.A. cops--one of whom is Japanese American--investigating a stripper's murder.


The San Fernando Valley certainly came into its own in the 1950s. Its countless oddball buildings are just now beginning to be appreciated.

The Los Angeles Conservancy presents How Modern Was My Valley, a two-day self-driving tour that represents the group's first in-depth look at the Valley's postwar architecture. The tour takes four hours Saturday and three hours Sunday, but the $40 tickets include an 88-page booklet with all the locations, so you can catch up on buildings you might miss the first time. See or call the Conservancy at (213) 623-CITY for information.


Furniture in the 1950s also underwent a radical change, as designers with artistic backgrounds brought their talents to mass-produced goods. "Fabulous '50s--International Modern Designs of the 1950s" at the California Heritage Museum (2612 Main St., Santa Monica. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. $3. [310] 392-8537) is the second part of a yearlong tribute to these creations. Open through Jan. 28, this half focuses on European design: Scandinavian Modern, Italian works that seem to follow Art Nouveau and surrealist styles, and the cutting-edge work of British and French designers that never found a market in the United States.

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