Our nostalgia for the 1950s is tested with this strange and unnerving promotional film for the tranquilliser “Atarax”, in which a husband plagued by stress brought on by work and noisy children, is helped by his relaxed wife of the title. With her calming influence he learns not to focus on the problems of others or to worry about the rest of the world – “Let the world take care of its own worries. You’ll help yourself most by concentrating on your own affairs”. Named after ataraxia, the Greek word for relaxation, the tranquilliser is advertised through such rhyming lines as:
Today, medical science recognizes,
that some folks aren’t helped by relaxing exercises.
In cases of difficult tension, and nervous apprehension,
doctors are now prescribing an ataraxic medicine.
It makes those who fear they’re about to quit,
feel like they’re ready to begin,
bidding their darkened spirits goodbye,
for the calming peace of a cloudless sky.
Of all the states throughout this nation,
the happiest by far is the state of relaxation.
There’ll be fewer breakdowns and insomniacs,
when more of us have learned to be relaxed.
We’ll be free to relish the joys of life,
no longer tense over daily worries and strife.”
And it is medication, such as the Pfizer-produced Atarax, which is seen as the key to this panacea of relaxation. Although many think of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants as a rather modern way of life, housewives of the 1950s were frequent users of such drugs, the first and most popular being Miltown, named after the New Jersey hamlet in which it was first manufactured in 1955. According to Newsweek, just two years after it was first made available, “Americans had filled 36 million prescriptions for Miltown, more than a billion pills had been manufactured and these so-called ‘peace pills’ accounted for one third of all prescriptions.”