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That’s Life! (In 1949, Anyway…)

The other day, alert “06880” reader Amy Leonard discovered an August 8, 1949 Life magazine. The cover promised an inside look into “Fairfield County: Country Home of Smart New Yorkers.”

Amy asked if I’d be interested. She knows me well.

Just a couple of years before Westport roared into a post-war baby boom ‘burb, Life portrayed our town — and the rest of the county — as a place most readers could only aspire to.

The country’s most popular magazine located us “between the sailboat-dotted waters of Long Island Sound and the woodsy border of New York State.” Our “scalloped shore line” offered “hundreds of miles of valuable waterfront property.”

The “electrified New Haven Railroad and high-speed Merritt Parkway” provided swift access to New York City. Our “rolling hills and leisurely life” attracted well-to-do, already successful commuters.

“Their existence is not utopian,” Life warned. Commuters’ days revolved around the 7:43 a.m. train to New York, and the 5:16 p.m. back. Taxes were high, “and servants expensive.”

But, the story continued, “for the New Yorkers who can, or think they can, afford a country home, Fairfield County is probably the best — and the newly fashionable — place to have it.”

They could, for example, pay $140 a year beyond the regular train fare. That got them a seat in the railroad club car: “an exclusive, air-conditioned arrangement for wealthy commuters who prefer not to ride in coaches.”

Enjoying card games, in the elite railroad club car.

Not everyone took the 7:43, of course. “Idea people” — artists and authors whose commuting schedule was not as rigorous as businessmen — had long lived here.

In fact, Life said, “there are probably more professional artists within a 25-mile radius of Westport than in any comparable spot in the U.S.” Just 4 years old, the Westport Artists Club already boasted 148 members.

This shows Westport artist Stevan Dohanos — a famed illustrator for Life’s competitor, the Saturday Evening Post — drawing a classic New England church in Easton.

The Life story ended with a few aspirational photos: a painted split rail fence, station wagon, old window pane and beagle, among them.

Described as “some of the items which commuters consider essential to a happy life in Fairfield County,” they distinguished “the transplanted New Yorker who has fled from the sameness of apartment life, and is now making his country place as similar to the one next door as he can.”

Life ceased weekly publication in 1972. What would a current story on Westport say and show?

Click “Comments,” to add your 2016 view.

The caption reads: “New arrival in Westport is James Donovan, a wealthy young (34) executive who bought his home two years ago. He is one of many such newcomers.” (No mention of his wife or kids, also in the picture.)

According to the caption, “The Westport Country Playhouse gives better than average plays, including tryouts of Broadway-bound shows.” This was an outdoor rehearsal of “The Time of Your Life.”

Life says commuters considered these “essential to a happy life in Fairfield County.”

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