"I must keep my suit neatly pressed like anyone else," the hero avers, "for I am a very respectable young man."
The novel is not, despite what its title might suggest, a mere cri de coeur against corporate conformity. It's about love, marriage, and the effect of World War II on a troubled veteran and on a troubled marriage. And it's about how husband and wife try to develop their own little suburban tract, with houses that are "modern, very low to preserve the view, with big windows overlooking the sound..."
Perhaps nothing in the book evokes the '50s more, however, than Wilson's slightly cynical yet almost paradisiacal portrait of a small Connecticut town whose residents know each other all too well.
• 'The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit' by Sloan Wilson. Reprint published by Four Walls Eight Windows.
Is it surprising that, after music, the films of the '50s have retained the greatest hold on the present generation? Who doesn't love those anxious, gritty film noirs from the postwar years, or the slightly ludicrous but truly frightening science fiction films that seemed to presage atomic doom?
What could be an easier way to step back into time than by watching one of Douglas Sirk's Technicolor soap operas from the mid-'50s? 'All that Heaven Allows' with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, or 'Written on the Wind' and 'There's Always Tomorrow'?
Ah, if only they would show these films in a classic drive-in theater!
The bad news is, drive-in theaters today show new movies which, good as some may be, are not from the 1950s. The good news, of course, is that drive-ins still exist—and their popularity is increasing.
"The very best here in L.A.," says Adriene Biondo, who follow such things, "is the Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair."
Frank Huttinger runs the family-owned drive-in, which he renamed the Mission Tiki Drive-in in 2005. It had been called simply 'The Mission Drive-in.' He brought in a Polynesian garden with hibiscus and Easter Island moai, designed and built by artist Danny Gallardo, who calls himself Tiki Diablo.
"The best thing is to get a group of people," says Tiki Diablo, who maintains his studio at the drive-in. "You drive in at night, the tiki torches are flickering, the lights are highlighting all of our work. That's the neatest thing, the environment, and being there with your family or the group you're with. It's a theme park at night."
• Mission Tiki (10798 Ramona Ave., Montclair): missiontiki.com
Looking for quieter times? Something slightly pensive? Something natural, yet created by human art? Get out in a garden.
Some of the best examples of mid-century modern design in California are the gardens created by landscape architects Thomas Church, Lawrence Halprin, Garret Eckbo, and Robert Royston.
One of the best such gardens was designed by the lesser known Theodore Osmundson in 1958 and remains an oasis of peace in the middle of bustling downtown Oakland.
The Kaiser Roof Garden sits two levels above Lake Merritt, sheltered by architect Welton Beckett's curvaceous, imposing, and aluminum-clad Kaiser Building, built for the giant aluminum and engineering firm.
The garden is quintessentially 1950s in the way it blends nature—live oaks and spruce, olive trees and Japanese maple, meadows, fuchsia, hydrangeas, and Canterbury bells—with an abstract composition, complete with rolling hillocks, an amoeba-like lagoon, and touches of Asia, including a Japanese bridge.
Don't miss the bio-morphically-shaped water fountain near the elevators.
• Kaiser Roof Garden (300 Lakeside Dr., Oakland): kaisercenterroofgarden.com
Not everything in life can be a walk in a garden. What could be more 1950s than a family night out? Why not spend it watching some kicking and screaming, body-slamming and hair-pulling, with helmeted guys and gals rolling like mad around a high-banked track to high-pitched shouts like "we want carnage!"