Luckiest Generation: Post-War America and Occupy Wall Street

Larry Allison

The other day I went to a memorial for Larry Allison, editorials editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He died, after a short illness, in October at age 77. He had worked 54 years as a newspaperman.

(The Long Beach Post, with reporting by Don Jergler, covered Allison's career in detail here.)

Allison's memorial skirted the issues that afflict newspapers today, particularly those, like the P-T, that are under the banner of the troubled Media News Group of dailies. (The company recently shed senior managers and directors in a post-bankruptcy reorganization.)

It wasn't that story or Allison's long service to his profession and his readers but another part of his story that I found compelling . . . and a source of discouragement.

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Allison was born in 1934, grew up in Long Beach, went to the local Catholic high school, graduated from the recently opened Long Beach State College, married, and began a full life that he insistently called lucky.

Lucky, indeed, because Allison's life might be read as a model of post-war American exceptionalism and what it delivered to a generation of the singularly lucky.

Allison and his wife and infant son bummed through Europe until their money ran out in the mid-1950s. He found a reporting job there that extended their stay and their travels, which became one of the themes of his life. He returned to California, got a job with a respectable Republican daily in Long Beach, and rose through talent and warmth of personality to the top management of his paper (with some assignments at other Knight-Ridder papers).

Along the way, he and his wife continued to travel frequently in South America and Europe. He owned and drove fast sports cars, kept an ocelot, played the harpsichord, raised a son, made numbers of friends, influenced many of them deeply, and stayed connected to the larger Long Beach community and the smaller one of his Surfside neighborhood in Orange County.

There is much to admire in that life's trajectory: adventure, fun, steady advancement in a lifetime career, the company of friends, community involvement, political engagement, deep knowledge of a place and its people, a questioning intelligence, and considerable wisdom by the end.

I believe that some part of that trajectory was made possible by the times in which Allison lived before the "luck" in American exceptionalism ran out.

Given the times in which they live, the young men and women I know - and I have the privilege of knowing some wonderful young people - are unlikely to be as lucky, at least as Allison's life reflected luck.

In America after 1945, something entirely new was possible for middle- and working-class young men and women with an education and a marketable skill. It was possible then to be both joyfully young and soberly adult, to be restlessly creative as well as comfortably settled, to give yourself to a lifelong job and to have fun while you did. If you were lucky in the way Allison was, these qualities might be balanced though a whole life.

Political balance - and a conscious leveling of economic disparities - marked the times in which Larry Allison and his family first flourished and still had so much fun.

You might object to my characterization of post-war exceptionalism, given the vast changes in American life since the Allisons returned from their European travels.

But you might also wonder, as I do, why few of the brave young people who have joined Occupy Wall Street (in New York and around the country) are likely to live so "lucky" a life as Larry Allison's.

I have an idea, though, that the very different system now dominating American life - a system that deliberately fosters political chaos and engineers permanent economic inequality - has no place for the kind of "luck" that post-war America offered Larry Allison.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page is from the web pages of the Long Beach Post.

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