1960 was a very important year in American history, and Midge Maisel’s (Rachel Brosnahan) performance at the USO show was especially prescient, given what important event was to come. At the dance, Sgt. Mitchell Burns (Tom Lipinski) tells Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) that “10% of these boys are going to wind up dead.” Susie counters, “You’re not even at war.” Dwight Eisenhower was president, but John F. Kennedy won the election that November. The new president would see the beginning of the Vietnam War — in 1960, 3,500 American troops were sent the country to fight a war that wouldn’t end until 1975. Indeed, just as Burns predicted, 10% of American troops in Vietnam didn’t come home.
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was signed that year, and though it wasn’t as far-reaching in terms of protection and enforcement as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was a backdrop in Midge’s life. As she tours with Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) and his band, there are several references to race — some of his band members joke that a “white guy” stole their music, a reference to Elvis. And while the show doesn’t address race outright — a missed opportunity, as Jim Crow laws were still very much alive — Sterling K. Brown, who plays Reggie, Shy’s manager, has a white back-up manager for instances when he knows his authority wouldn’t be respected.
Midge’s dad, Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub), also dabbles in beatnik philosophies after he quits his job at Columbia University. Their stunning Upper West Side apartment (which the Weissman family later loses) becomes a haven for beatniks, and there are many discussions about free speech and social activism — and Jack Kerouac.
As for Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), a real-life comic and essentially Midge’s mentor, 1960 kicked off his spree of arrests for challenging obscenity laws. In one episode, Abe visits Lenny’s profanity-laced set, which is raided by the police. The two of them are arrested and spend the night in jail. Bruce would later go on to challenge such laws all over the country, using “bad” words to speak out against the Vietnam War, government policies, and racism. The comedian died of an overdose in 1966.
It’s a year that sets up dramatic social change in America. And while Midge doesn’t know it yet, her life — and the lives of her children, her family, and her country — is going to look different by the end of the decade. Here’s hoping the show takes us down that road.