What Really Happened to the Class of ’65
by Michael Medved and David Wallechinsky
Publisher: Random House
Summary: Ten years after their graduation from Palisades High School, authors Medved and Wallechinsky find out what has become of their former classmates. Class of ’65 has tremendous human interest and recounts the incredible changes in U.S. society from 1965 – 1975.
Review: Several years ago, my parents had a dogeared, paperback copy of What Really Happened to the Class of ’65. I picked it up, started reading the chapters in no particular order, and got hooked. Upon rereading it this year, I found that it is still terrific.
Tracking Down the Past
The book’s premise is simple. In 1975, Palisades High classmates Michael Medved and David Wallechinsky began to reminisce about the old days. So, they decided to talk to their old classmates about what had happened to them over the last decade.
Of course, the years between 1965-1975 were among the most-tumultuous in U.S. history. The authors felt that – in telling their old classmates’ stories – they could paint a portrait of their generation. This assertion is questionable, as affluent Palisades High was hardly representative of the U.S. Also, more than a little ego creeps into the book as Medved and Wallechinsky declare their class a part of the American beau monde: “In the years that followed, through all the upheavals in sex, politics and life styles, our group was always at the forefront, always riding the crest of the wave” (p. 5).
30 Chapters and 3 Stars: Lisa Menzies, Brock Chester, & Jamie Kelso
The book covers 30 members of the Class of ’65. In the authors’ estimation, each person is a certain “type” found in U.S. high schools. There are many fascinating chapters but – for me – three stand out:
– Lisa Menzies was “The Bad Girl.” She reports that, between ages 16-18, she kept a list of the names of the 425 different men with whom she slept. She also says that she’s taken over 500 tabs of LSD and been in jail 6-7 times.
– Brock Chester was “The Dreamboat” – a star athlete and the best-looking man in the class. Six years after high school, he committed suicide after failing to make it as an actor.
– Jamie Kelso was “The Idealist” – a gifted kid with a desire to change the world. He runs from one cause to the next with complete assurance that he has found the answer to the world’s problems. (Readers will want to “Google” Kelso and find out what he’s been doing since 1976).
Some Strong Writing
For the most part, Class of ’65 is told through transcriptions from the interviews. While this gives the book a prosaic quality, at times, it also includes some memorable passages. For instance, one section that I liked concerned is a classmates recollection of how Medved and she used to meet before school to watch the sunrise:
I can remember leaving my house in the pitch-black darkness and with all the windows open and the sun roof open on my little Volkswagen, smelling the trees in the night and the coolness, and knowing that I was going to meet a friend. Sitting in the hills with Mike, waiting for the sunrise, I felt a very intense tenderness for him and for our friendship. There was such an exquisite sense of nature and the unfolding of dawn with the mists! When we got out and walked, the whole experience seemed to be concentrated on the little droplets of water that formed on Mike’s sweater (pp. 179-180).
One striking aspect of the book is how rough authors Medved and Wallechinsky can be on their ex-classmates. At the beginning of each person’s profile, they include other classmates’ comments about the person. These comments can be savage –
– “He seemed to be a very unhappy person, due to the fact that life is pretty rough in high school when you’re as unattractive as —-” (p. 32).
– “Fat. —- was fat” (p. 200).
– “I always thought —- had a lot of pretensions. He was one of that group that was trying to be so intellectual. He thought he was funny, but it wasn’t my humor. He seemed more like a tragic figure to me. Unhappy” (p. 37).
Not content with one set of insults, the authors then provide readers with their impressions of the interviewee. They –
– slam several classmates for their dependence on their parents.
– comment that one classmate went from a passive, TV-addicted teen, to an adult hare krishna waiting to be told what to think and do,
– remark that one classmate who plans to attend medical school might not make it through the program, given her frequent changes in direction.
Conclusions Will Vary
Before writing my review, I browsed online & read other readers’ impressions of Class of ’65. Indeed, people differ on the book’s meaning. Some see it as an accurate view of life during a turbulent decade. Others see the “Pali High” grads as spoiled and egotistical. I like this book because it offers an abundance of human interest and I think that the people profiled – while imperfect – are likable in that I can relate to their struggles as they move into adulthood.
A Final Word
In the last chapter, on Pali High’s 10-year reunion, the authors comment that their generation’s high expectations have not been met. That leads readers to wonder what happened to the interviewees after 1976. Though there is no updated version of this book, a couple of online stories do report on The Class of ’65’s 20-year and 40-year reunions –
– 20th reunion (1985)
– 40th reunion (2005)
In short, Class of ’65 is an entertaining, thought-provoking book. However, as to what these stories mean, you will have to find those answers for yourself.