From ‘Wheel of Fortune’ to The Pet Rock: The Good Ol Days of 1975

by Jennifer Shea

The year 1975 brought an interesting mix of pop culture and political developments that still reverberate today.

It marked the end of the Vietnam War. It included the premiere of the still-running game show “Wheel of Fortune.” And it saw the opening of Space Mountain at Walt Disney World in Florida, to name just a few.

‘Wheel of Fortune’ Launches on NBC

Today, “Wheel of Fortune” is the longest-running syndicated game show in U.S. television history. But in January 1975, it was the brainchild of television personality and later media mogul Merv Griffin, who also went on to create “Jeopardy!”.

Griffin came up with the idea for the show as a mash-up of hangman and roulette, according to Pat Sajak and Vanna White would not join the show until the early 1980s. In 1975, the hosts were Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford. Moreover, one little known fact about the show: for one week in August 1980, Alex Trebek guest-hosted “Wheel of Fortune.”

Watergate Scandal Nears Conclusion

On Feb. 21, 1975, former Attorney General John Mitchell and former White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman received prison sentences for their roles in the Watergate scandal. They were supposed to serve two and a half to eight years each.

Judge John J. Sirica ruled the former officials had conspired to obstruct justice in the Watergate investigation by paying nearly half a million dollars in “hush money” to the five Watergate burglars who broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in June 1972, the New York Times reported. The men were the highest-ranking former officials convicted in the scandal to date.

All three appealed their case to the Supreme Court, which turned them down in 1977.

Mitchell would ultimately serve 19 months in prison. He was head of the Committee to Reelect the President when police arrested the five burglars, including the security chief of CREEP, for breaking into the DNC’s office in the Watergate complex. He helped plan the break-in and perjured himself during the ensuing cover-up.

Haldeman was Nixon’s chief of staff. And, as recorded by Nixon’s voice-activated taping system, he engineered the cover-up by, among other things, proposing using the CIA to put a stop to the investigation of the break-in.

Ehrlichman had led “the Plumbers,” the White House Special Investigations Unit charged with sniffing out leaks of classified information after the publication of the Pentagon Papers. They broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist before five members of the group went on to burglarize the DNC. 

Haldeman and Ehrlichman each served 18 months in prison. 

Drew Barrymore Is Born

Actress Drew Barrymore, granddaughter of the actor John Barrymore, was born on Feb. 22, 1975. She would begin her initial rise to fame in 1982 with her role in Steven Spielberg’s classic “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

But her childhood was a tumultuous one. She had her first drink at age 9 and tried drugs by age 10, she said in her memoir “Little Girl Lost,” per Showbiz Daily. It would take until the mid-1990s for her to return to major motion pictures with movies like “Scream.”

More recently, the 45-year-old actress has launched a talk show, “The Drew Barrymore Show.” The show films in New York, where Barrymore moved to be with her now ex-husband Will Kopelman. 

“I have always felt I’m playing house [in New York] – I’m pretending, I’m visiting, this is temporary,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “From the Valley Girl accent to the Bohemian way, I am so California – I’m outdoorsy and blue skies.”

Whether she stays in New York or not, this child of 1975 has come a long way over the years.

Vietnam War Ends

In April 1975, Americans and their allies evacuated South Vietnam, and Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Communist forces. The former capital is now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

The American evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind, marked the largest helicopter evacuation in history. Thousands of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers jostled for space on the departing helicopters, per CBS News. The U.S. also evacuated their embassy in Saigon.

The Vietnam War lasted from 1954 or ’55 until 1975. The first Marines landed in Danang in 1965. The war claimed nearly 60,000 American lives. According to Britannica, around 200,000 to 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers also lost their lives in the war. 

Further, in 1982, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall opened on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The wall is black, granite and V-shaped. It bears the names of all the American men and women killed or missing in action in the war. 

‘Saturday Night Live’ Premieres on NBC

In October 1975, George Carlin hosted the first episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Lorne Michaels created and produced the sketch comedy show. Its original cast included Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman.

The show’s original title was “NBC’s Saturday Night,” because, according to, there was already a show on ABC titled “Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell.” NBC later purchased the naming rights. But from the very beginning, the show aired live from Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. 

“Saturday Night Live” has gone on to cement itself in the pop culture firmament with memorable parodies and impersonations, from Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford to Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush to Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush to Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. And while its history is dotted with sad stories of stars who died too young – Radner, Belushi, Chris Farley – it has launched many more successful careers. Moreover, some sketches have even inspired full-length movies.

Pet Rocks Go on Sale

In 1975, Pet Rocks hit the market courtesy of advertising executive Gary Dahl. The stones, plucked from a beach in Mexico, were sold over the three-month holiday buying season in 1975, the L.A. Times reported.

Dahl, a lowly advertising copy writer, worked with a designer to produce a cardboard box for each rock dotted with 14 air holes. It read, “This box contains one genuine pedigreed PET ROCK.” 

Dahl managed to sell more than 1 million Pet Rocks during that brief season. The fad also inspired Pet Rock clothes and a cemetery for Pet Rocks in Detroit. Subsequent gag gifts, like the Sand Breeding Kit, failed to take off. But the profits from Pet Rocks helped Dahl to open his own pub, Carry Nation’s.