THANKS TO best-selling books and TV documentaries, as well as the personal recollections of millions of baby boomers, the 1960s have been forever cemented in our collective consciousness. But out in West Chester, those epochal times are being celebrated in a way that not only pays homage to unforgettable, society-altering movements and events, but also to an unforgettable local broadcaster.
Through Aug. 29, the Chester County Historical Society is hosting "The 1960s Pop Culture: Movies, Memorabilia and the Media," a fascinating exhibition that looks at the decade through the film and TV memorabilia amassed by the late Steve Friedman, a longtime Chester County resident known to his fans as "Mr. Movie." Friedman, who died in 2009, at age 62, awaiting a kidney transplant, spent some 30 years in various local broadcast capacities but was best known for the late-night Saturday movie program he hosted on WPHT-AM (1210) for a quarter-century.
Assembled by Friedman's widow, Michell, the program primarily uses original movie posters to limn the various social and political issues that defined the 1960s, as well as to illustrate how Hollywood framed such topics as race relations, the drugs-sex-and-rock-'n'-roll counterculture and even medical technology.
The exhibit is arranged by subjects, but not all are serious. The 1960s output of the Walt Disney organization is paid tribute, as is the "secret agent" craze that gave birth to James Bond. (One of the coolest items on display is a Bond doll complete with a tiny martini-making kit.)
The February debut of the installation - which will be followed by a more sobersided examination of Chester County during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s - represented the culmination of several frustrating years for Michell Friedman as she tried repeatedly to find a public home for the items her late husband began collecting while growing up in Harrisburg. (He started by asking theater managers for no-longer-needed posters and lobby cards.)
After his death, she took inventory of his archives and realized that the 500 or so pieces comprised a treasure trove, the value of which transcended the sum of its individual pieces.
"I'm [thinking], 'This is amazing. People have to see this,' " she said. However, she added, she had no plan of action because of her late husband's eternal optimism. "Steve never talked to me about how we were going to deal with this. He always thought he was going to get better."
In 2010, Michell, a visual artist who views many of the items as legitimate works of art, started reaching out to museums here and around the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the film school at the University of Texas, in Austin, and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Rebuffed by all, she was ultimately steered to the Chester County Historical Society.
At first, the organization likewise said thanks, but no thanks. But in 2012, she pitched them again. Because they were then contemplating a '60s program, officials of the repository suggested that there could be a home for her collection.
"This whole era was something the community asked us to do more with, in order to shed light on this vibrant and tumultuous decade," offered Ellen Endslow, the Historical Society's director of collections/curator. "Michell really found relevant movies to the whole social spectrum of the era."
A unique feature of the exhibition is its use of QR codes. Each piece is accompanied by a digital fingerprint that allows visitors to watch a scene from the movie represented on a poster. For instance, the clip from "The Graduate" is the iconic scene in which Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) attempts to seduce Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman).
For Michell and her daughter, Darragh, the exhibit is not just an educational affair but a "fitting tribute" to a husband and father.
"I think Steve was with me when I was doing this," Michell said. "His voice kept coming up when I would be watching a film.
"Steve lived [movies] 24/7. We'd be eating dinner, and five minutes into dinner, [he'd say], 'You know, this steak reminds me of the scene . . . ' "
Chester County Historical Society, 225 N. High St., West Chester, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, $6 (discounts available), 610-692-4800, chestercohistorical.org.
On Twitter: @chuckdarrow