Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Junior Frolics & Associates Part 6 of 8

'The Million Dollar Movie' [M$DM] was an interesting concept. The same movie played at 7:30 pm and then again at 10 pm [during the day on weekends] on WOR-TV, Channel 9, a local channel. And this for an entire week! Some of the times changed over the years, but the M$DM lasted for quite some time: 'King Kong', 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', 'Mighty Joe Young', 'Three Husbands', 'Adventure in Baltimore' etc. Not every movie could be a M$DM. Only ones which could gather your attention over and over and not become stale---and me and Mary Anne could attest to that. We watched some of them weekday evenings at the early showing, and on weekends during the daylight hours. [Movies changed on Mondays.]

You don't see that kind of station or network dedication today. One exception is one of the true marathons of one show I've ever seen on TV. Spike TV showed CSI for an entire week. All the time. Every hour a different episode. From 9 am thru 3 am. From Monday through Friday. It filled in a lot of dead time as background for these essays when nothing very interesting was on any of the other stations. I usually have the TV on for company these days, and I can write these essays while they keep me interested between sentences. [USA does have frequent mini-marathons with Law and Order CI or Law and Order: SVU for a whole day] Other than the M$DM, there weren't any marathons in early TV.

Running times for the 'Million Dollar Movie' depended on the length of the movies, and how much had been cut to disinfect them for our poor minds. But, the movies were generally an hour and a half, some two. There were fewer commercials at the time [yet we still complained.] These days, with so many cable channels, you can see one movie a hundred times over the period of a few months. But it'll be hit or miss and won't be on a regular schedule. And I've seen movies on modern channels interrupted by numerous commercials---often at a poorly appointed time---the break often going up to three minutes. TV film editors continue to be lacking a cylinder or two.

Among the movies I particularly remember from that M$DMovie' series were 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' [1942] with Jimmie Cagney and Joan Leslie ['…born on the fourth of July...'] the story of George M. Cohan, the prolific composer and showman, and “Mighty Joe Young' (1949) with Terry Moore. This latter movie featured a stirring rendition of 'Beautiful Dreamer,' proving that the right music can decidedly tame the wild beast. It tamed Mr. Joseph Young of Africa, and it can always tame me. Mary Anne and I loved those two movies, and when they were on the M$DM, we must have seen each one a dozen times during its week. They were definitely one of the movies we had “seen before.'

I still remember lying on the floor watching Jimmie Cagney faking old age, kicking up his heels, dancing around the stage, singing, marching with his movie family, and being rightly humble with President Roosevelt. The music sold me on the pre-war tin-pan-alley tunes. As for Mr. Joseph Young of Africa, I can still see him playing tug of war with the 'strong' men, of whom Primo Carnera was the only one I recognized as being authentic, though I had heard of the Swedish Angel, Killer Kuwalski, and Man Mountain Dean. Later in the movie, Joe was a sight riding in the back of a moving truck, peaking out, shaking his fist, and then climbing out to scale a burning building to save the orphans. Hot stuff! And that fire scene had an orange tint throughout, reminiscent (I suppose) of the silent movie era---although I didn't know that until later when I had a color TV.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Junior Frolics and Associates Part 5 of 77,845

I'm a bit late with this installment, because I found a new interest and delved into it full blast. Genealogy. I discovered a lot about my family, especially those from the old countries, Ireland and Italy. I'm still heavily into to, notably with a free trial at a genealogy site---and detailed investigations of census data---but I took the time today to catch up on my blogs.

Speaking of horror movies [I was?], who could forget Zacherley? (John Zacherle) He introduced late night horror movies and integrated his 'comedy” with the films. I think he was only shown in New York City when I saw him: Channel 11 (WPIX) at 11:15 pm Monday and Friday. Of course, I usually enjoyed his antics only on Friday. Dad and Mom went to bed after the 11:00 news and weather (fifteen minutes,) so I had free reign on watching the horror movie until I was ordered to bed. Mom never seemed to forget I was still up and watching TV. Dad could sleep through anything.

My research shows that Zacherley was on 'Shock Theater' from September 1958 to April 1959. I spent many hours (again on the floor with my Hershey's Ice Cream or blue cheese and crackers) watching: his ghostly appearance; his laboratory where he experimented on his wife's 'brain' (actually a head of cauliflower–--and we all knew it;) his scraping of a tin cup along jail bars during a prison movie; and the many other hilarious interruptions during his 'B' movie presentations: these all made the silly horror and other mysteries a lot more interesting. I liked them better than the current episodes of gore. Too bad Zacherley aged and is no longer actively with us.

While I never got to see Vampira, I've seen a lot of the more recent horror movie hostess, Elvira. But these days, there are no similar hosts because horror movies have gone gory, and any host humor would mean little other than poor taste to the viewers. Robert Osborne of TCM is too stiff to introduce the old genre films properly on TCM, and other horror hosts are too juvenile and silly, and that's saying a lot when compared to the likes of Zacherley. Some teens and teenyboppers may enjoy the current blood baths, but they're still not family fare.

Did you wake up to J Fred Muggs and Dave Garroway? Or go to sleep after Steve Allen, Jack Paar, or Johnny Carson? In our area, the New York local news we watched was at 11 pm with John McCaffrey and it lasted ten minutes. The weatherman, Tex Antoine, took another five thanks to sponsor Con Ed. He explained the weather with magnetic images of clouds, snow, or sunshine on the metal part [something like a rebus] and drew Uncle Wethbee on the drawing board part. John Cameron Swayze [before his Timex Watch commercials] and Douglas Edwards were also newscasters of the period.

At 11:20 we could enjoy the first ten minutes of the 'Steve Allen Show' [from New York at the time.] This portion was called a Variety Show. At 11:30, the rest of the country tuned in to the show, now named 'The Tonight Show'---which was on until 1 am. I enjoyed Steve Allen, but I was rarely allowed to stay up to watch him during the week. I'm glad he had another show earlier in the evening. In later years, I enjoyed his TV specials 'Meeting of the Minds' and a series of mystery novels. Steve also composed some 1100 songs. Yes, he was a very funny and talented fellow.

At one time, we had a brown, bakelite, AM radio. Mom used it to listen to Joe Ryan and other personalities of the day on Local Wall-1040 all the time---but mostly Joe. He sweet-talked most of the Middletown women, but sadly, his looks never matched his suave, housewife-attracting voice. I liked to listen to the music, but that radio was mom's. Others used it only on rare occasions, like the Middletown-Port Jervis football game on Thanksgiving. Dad only listened to the radio in the car [too often tuned to the Yankee baseball game, as far as I was concerned.] It was his car and his radio.

While we ran through several console and tabletop radios, we had only one TV. While we must have had earlier ones, the TV I remember was a FADA. I don't remember what model of this brand we had [they were probably just number and letter combinations], but the company stopped making its TV sets in 1956. Our set must have been from a few years before that, probably 1952 or 1953. I don't remember our buying a TV in 1954 or 1955. Other TVs always seemed on the greener side of life, and I liked the Sylvania sets with their Halo lights around the screen. I see that in ads today offering Phillip's flat-screen TV sets with 'ambient' light. The light changes with the screen image to expand the viewing sense. No new concept there.

Our FADA served us well for a long time and financed the education of the children of two TV repairmen, Walt and then Jerry. We saw them so often, especially around dinner-time, they became a part of our family. Walt's father had been a doctor, and I guess treating sick TV sets was Walt's way of carrying on the spirit. But it was my father who saved the day when he carried the set to the porch and watched the fire burn out. Even after that, we had it repaired and returned to loving service. We kids once had a three-color plastic sheet that was stuck onto the TV screen using the available static electricity: blue at the top (sky,) green in the middle (grass,) and brown on the bottom (dirt.) That was supposed to simulate color. It didn't.

Sundays was 'Wonderama' time. It starred Sonny Fox and Sandy Becker and sported: western movies, art instruction, quizzes, fairy tales, folk dances, Captain Video, animal guests---pretty much everything across the spectrum. The two hosts alternated, but I liked Fox better. We were particularly appreciative of the special Wonderama Christmas Shows in 1956, 1957, and 1959. They included caroling, dancing, interviews, kids, toys, etc. The Picture for a Sunday Afternoon (Sunday, 1 pm) was always best after I had made a quick trip to Larkin's. Mom gave me money, and I picked out penny candy with Ray Frink, the store manager---who always seemed to be there. I'd choose what I wanted with a consideration of Mom and Dad, though they really didn't have any favorites. They didn't eat much of the candy anyway.

I could choose from Mary Janes, wrapped caramels, malted milk balls, Sugar Daddys, Sugar Babies, Jujy Fruits, Chocolate Babies, little Tootsie Rolls, watermelon slices, triple-flavor coconut cubes, Bit-O-Honey, Candy Buttons, wax-syrup bottles, gum drops, Mexican Hats, spearmint leaves, licorice pipes, licorice shoe strings, licorice wheels, cherry shoe strings, marshmallow ice cream cones, allsorts, jelly nougats, Jordan Almonds, Walnettos---and if I had a nickel for myself, a package of baseball cards and bubble gum. On Sundays, we didn't go in for hard candy or chewing gum.

We'd all share the sugary bounty while watching the likes of L'il Abner [before the musical,] Gunga Din, Beau Geste, King Kong, and Double Indemnity. We saw 'Scatter Good Baines,' Edward G. Robinson, Randolph Scott, Ray Milland, Fred McMurray, George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, and James Cagney regularly. They were in mysteries, westerns, gangster movies, light comedies, or drama [1930s and 1940s.] 'Top of the World, Ma!' The movies were black and white (not that we could have seen them in color anyway,) and were all pre-1950s. After all, that was the 1950s! Nothing current was shown on television then.

Mom was usually reading a book [often a Perry Mason novel] and Dad was reading the print off the Sunday News, Sunday Mirror, and Journal-American. The aroma of dinner still lingered throughout the house. Peace reigned. I was still delaying my home work, but my un-aching back was stable on the floor while I exercised my eyes on the FADA.

Come to think of it, by reading several newspapers completely, Dad was probably quite well informed about the activities of the day that had reached newsprint. It's just that he didn't talk much about them with us. If he did with Mom, he did it in private. I still read the Sunday News, especially the Justice Story, partially in his honor. For some reason or another, I rarely spoke with either parent about the news of the day. But I do remember walking into the dining room and seeing the Daily News on the table with the blaring headline about the execution of the Rosenbergs. But even then, there was no family discussion. I didn't fully understand anything about them, but I was still in the phase where all government, media, and businesses were the last word about everything.

One of my favorite newspaper inserts was the recent complete NY Daily News from 1963. The features, comics, and ads brought back many memories. I do miss the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Journal American. They had good comics and a different slant on sports, but the Unions put them out of business years ago.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Junior Frolics and Associates Part 4 of 25,418

Winky Dink winked at us and often asked for our interactive help. Interested kids would put a static-sensitive Mylar (or something like it) screen on the picture tube and draw something to help Winky out of his dilemma. Winky supplied the TV background for the youthful art. Did you know that Mae Quaestal did Winky's voice? She also provided the voice for Betty Boop and acted as the old Aunt in 'National Lampoon's Vacation'---though I'm sure it wasn't Mae sitting on the roof of Chevy Chase's station wagon. Miss Francis (Horwich) brightened our mornings with Ding Dong School. She had a friendly, calm, and gentle voice like that of Fred Rogers in the later Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but I liked her better. [Different times, I guess.] Captain Kangaroo came along about the same time with Mr. Green Jeans. Bob Keeshan, of early Clarabell fame, was the guiding 'officer' in that show. I didn't watch it all that much, though. For some reason, I just couldn't get with it. Besides, it was usually on against 'Andy's Gang' on Saturday morning or I was in school or I was swimming at Davidge Park.

'Rootie Kazootie' was 'the boy who is filled with zip and joy' who graced the screen with just that kind of excitement. Who could forget Romper Room and Mr. Do-Bee. Or Paul Tripp's Mr. I. Magination, which aired from 1949-1952. He was one of the few children's show hosts who had an on-camera wife, Mrs. I. Magination. Surprisingly, I can still picture him in his miniature train 'choo-chooing' through a tunnel. 'Kukla, Fran and Ollie' with Fran Allison, announcer Hugh Downs and the puppets of Burr Tillstrom was another human-puppet interaction. 'Good morning Madam Ophelia Oglepuss! I am Mr. Oliver J. Dragon.' Very pleasant to be sure, but Fran was still the important draw of the show, even to us little kids. 'Captain Video and His Video Rangers' starred Al Hodge when I saw it. I know it introduced me to ray guns and was the probable source of my paper space station---I remember building it one evening after it arrived in the mail. A corner table was confiscated to show the little city, though it probably wasn't as vast as I remember it. I don't remember it after that day. The Captain was also shown as a section of the later 'Wonderama' on Sundays, space, westerns and all.

Speaking of Sundays, I still remember the Jon Gnagy 'You Can Draw' art show from New York City. His beard and gentle voice led us through our weekly art exercises, though I couldn't draw anything before, during, or after the show---except in my imagination. Note how many times I say someone had a 'gentle voice?' Well, it was true. People spoke instead of yelling---though of course Lucy and the game shows could get quite boisterous. These days, the decibel level in a sitcom is pretty high, especially when the stars are throwing out their inane one-liners. I think today's canned laughter---or magnified 'live audience' sound---is much louder.

'Captain Midnight' and his friend Ichabod Mudd---“…that's Mudd with two 'ds'...'---was a different source of imaginative energy. Trouble was, I could never get too excited over an earth-bound TV show having airplanes as the important mode of transportation for the hero. Space ships, yes. Airplanes no. At least Batman only used his part-time.

Some of us were members of the 'Mickey Mouse Club,' tuning in every day to see pretty Annette. I could always sing that silly theme song as long as Annette was on the screen. We were happily hooked into watching the cartoons, historical vignettes, mini-westerns, serials, etc. We enjoyed 'The Little Rascals' or 'Our Gang,' depending on the ages of the kids playing the parts and when the films were made. Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Butch, Stimey, Buckwheat, 'Pete' the dog [a pit bull!] and the gang presented penny variety shows in a basement or yard and established the 'he-man woman-haters club.' Their abilities at slapstick and Rube Goldberg type construction was a howl. 'Howdy Doody,' Buffalo Bob, Phineas T Bluster, Clarabell (originally played by Bob Keeshan,) the Peanut Gallery, Chief Thunderthud. Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring. 'Cowabonga, Buffalo Bob!' I looked forward to that show every day, though I never made it to the actual Peanut Gallery.

Jimmie Nelson's 'Studio 99-1/2' ran for several years with Jimmie, a ventriloquist, and his wooden partners Danny O'Day, Farfel, Humphrey Highsby, and Fatattteta. Jimmy and Danny spent many hours in later years making Nestlé Chocolate commercials. They were amusing, but I don't think we ever bought the product.

Naturally, you might wonder how many hours of cartoons I watched as a kid. Well……….plenty! And I turned out alright! Blupblupblupblup! I started with Farmer Gray on local Channel 13's 'Junior Frolics.' He and his zany farmyard animals [mostly the mice] were televised every day. Poor Farmer Gray was subjected to all sorts of horrible indignities above ground and in the sewers. I've heard of other kids having nightmares from those cartoons, but I never did. And, I never became a farmer, either. I don't like sewers.

We saw Walter Lantz creations Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy, and Andy Panda, though they never became particularly popular. I liked Woody to some extent, but he always got too crazy too quickly. Our days were also filled with the brave Crusader Rabbit, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Popeye ['…I'm strong to the finish, 'Cause I eats me spinach…') with Olive Oyl and Bluto, Blimpy, and Swee' Pea. And, of course, so many of the one-time cartoon characters and situations---culminating in the sensational production of 'Molly Moo Cow and Robinson Crusoe.'

Betty Boop was a more adult oriented cartoon, but the few episodes I saw were good. I must have missed the double meanings and innuendos. She had her companion dog, Bimbo, and always wore strapless dresses. “…boop boop de boop…” Is this where the term “bimbo” came from? I understand that Betty originally was a dog, and Bimbo was her boyfriend. Ultimately, Betty morphed into a sexy flapper, and Bimbo remained a dog, but was no longer her lover---horrors!!!. Imagine that. Cute, sexy Betty Boop was a dog at one time. In the 1960s, I occasionally watched 'Rocky and Bullwinkle.' As a cult following has discovered, it was often hilarious and most interesting to watch.

One of my other favorites was the 'Out of the Inkwell' series from the Fleischers [whom I thought wrote boxing articles on the side.] I think I saw it on Wonderama on Sundays. Max would be at his drawing board, and Ko-Ko the clown would jump out of his ink bottle, or become alive after a drawing. The little cartoon character would act on the stage of reality, though Max, himself, rarely appeared with more than his hands and arms. All in all it was a fascinating combination of cartoon and reality that wasn't bettered until 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' appeared in the 1980s.

Terrytoons' Mighty Mouse was the first cartoon to appear on Saturday morning TV, and by 1956 he had the 'Mighty Mouse Playhouse'---where he often saved innocent mice from the likes of Shanghai Pete. The cackling Toons' Heckle and Jeckle were enough to drive any kid up a wall. I watched them---I watched most characters at one time or another---but they weren't among my favorites. Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes brought us Bugs Bunny “…eh…what's up doc?..,” Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck. I still count Bugs as my favorite cartoon character.

I noticed that many cartoon stars, with the notable exceptions of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Daffy Duck, had regular lady friends: Mickey and Minnie, Popeye and Olive Oyl, Donald and Daisy, Porky and Petunia, and so on. The others were apparently confirmed bachelors who were only seen occasionally with a lady. Was singleness germane to the plots of their cartoons? Or were the characters just too zany to keep a relationship going?

We occasionally saw the longer Disney animated features: 'The Three Caballeros' [1945,] 'Dumbo' (1941,) and 'Saludos Amigos' (1943) with Joe Carioca. Don't be thrown by the early dates. We saw these in black and white on the 'Wonderful World of Disney' in the 1950s. Disney was first on ABC and then on NBC---at least on New York TV it was. The first love-interest cartoon I remember was Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp.' It didn't take very long for that movie to show up on the 'World of Disney.'

And who can forget 'Gerald McBoing-Boing' (from 1951?) and 'Mister Magoo' (from 1951?) I'd like to. I never enjoyed watching them. They had annoying tendencies, even obvious to me as a kid. Gerald's bouncing around and Mr. Magoo's problem sight got to me very quickly. And their commercials had zero buying-effect on me.

I watched Laurel and Hardy in the 'March of the Wooden Soldiers' every year. Local channel 11, WPIX, showed it at 11 am every Thanksgiving Day. I could almost sing along with Felix Knight [Tom-Tom] ['Go to Sleep', 'Castle in Spain', etc,] having seen it so many times. The 'Bogeymen' didn't really frighten me, but they were quite funny in their antics and obvious costumes. To me, that was the beginning of the Christmas season. Watching a fun movie with the aroma of roasting turkey in the air, thoughts of pumpkin and mince pie [one of each, please], dark, juicy fruitcake [for afternoon tea], no particular worries---ah, indeed those were the days! I may have missed some of the Saturday afternoon showings of Laurel and Hardy on the same channel, but I never missed the Thanksgiving show. And I had no competition. Mom and Mary Anne were in the kitchen, Dad was busy reading the print off the NY Daily News, and Ed and Jack were at the local high school football game.

I looked forward each week to Smilin' Ed McConnell and his Buster Brown Gang [and Froggy]---after Ed's death, it was known as Andy's Gang with Andy Devine, a happy and jovial storyteller who was best remembered by me as a sidekick in western and comic relief in many movies ['Stagecoach,' 'Buck Benny Rides Again,' and often as 'Cookie Bullfincher'.] Buster Brown and '…I got shoes…you got shoes…' made for jaunty commercials. Silly Froggy's smoke-puff appearances ['…plunk your magic twanger, Froggy…'] would have made him a star with the recent “Gremlins.” His unrelenting efforts to sass Ed or pull a tricks on him and his guests were good accompaniment to Nino Marcel's Gunga Ram on the story screen. Sorry Nino, but for years I thought the little Indian boy you played on screen was really played by Sabu. A usual visitor, Pasta Fazooli, was also a butt of Froggy's jokes and was played by Vito Scotti, among my favorite character actors of all time. That show might have been the source of my brother Jack's ersatz Italian. Actually, Fazool---as in Pasta Fazool---is not Italian, though Jack still claims it to be. It's a made-up word based on 'pasta' and the real Italian word “fagioli,” which means “bean,” but it remains as one of Jack's two acknowledged “Italian” words in his vocabulary.

Stu Irwin's 'Trouble With Father' with June Collier and Willy Best was one of the early sitcoms with the bumbling father persona. Willy was the constantly confused yard worker for the family. Stu was always in some sort of difficulty, often to the extent that one would wonder how he could hold a job and pay his mortgage. Some of his reactions are classic, as are those in 'The Real McCoys,' with Richard Crenna and Walter Brennan---another family sitcom with some silly plots. Walter Brennan, as the stubborn Grandpa, limped his way through numerous embarrassing moments. Once I had his persona in mind, all the earlier movies I saw with him seemed odd, since all I could see was Grandpa---although many of his characterizations were similar.

Ozzie and Harriet, with sons David and Ricky, and Don DeFore as neighbor 'Thorny' Thornberry, was always interesting, except no one seemed to know how Ozzie earned a living. Son, Ricky, went on to a popular singing career, and he often sang on the show. 'Zoo Parade's' animals with Marlin Perkins broke Sunday afternoon's movie bombardment with a fascinating look into the animal world. I remember watching it many a Sunday afternoon while my parents and their siblings, the Bill Stevens' [two married siblings] played Canasta, then Samba and Bolivia, and all those related card games. The sessions often lasted all day. We didn't especially mind. Ed and Jack and Billy were off somewhere, and me, Mary Anne, and Virginia ate and played games all day. I also attacked cousin Billy's vast comic collection for a while. It was these times at the Stevens home that we had a pile of great food to eat all day: macaroni and meatballs; salad; pizza frite [fried dough], which I liked best with only a touch of salt; lots of Italian bread and rolls; Nana's home made cake with pineapple filling, When Aunt Rose made meatballs and sausage, she ran through the butcher's weekly supply in no time. And I helped deplete the numbers. The Ed Sullivan Show was the variety show to watch on Sunday nights. And it wasn't just to say Bye Bye to Birdie, either. Ed paraded just about everybody in front of the camera, most notably Popo GIGO, Elvis, the Beatles, Maria Calas, and Richard Tucker, spinning plates on long dowels, and several dog acts.

On Sundays, we read: 'Peanuts,' 'Smitty,' 'Bringing Up Father,' 'Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,' 'L'il Abner' with Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy, along with Fearless Fosdick [the 'Dick Tracy' parody], the Schmoos, and Joe Btzplk. Joe was funny. He was bad luck personified. Wherever he went he brought the bad luck with him, and he was constantly under a dark cloud---literally! A dark cloud over only him rained regularly and kept him miserable. Sunday also brought us 'Moon Mullins'; “Moon” was short for Moonshine---I'm not old enough to remember the moonshine of the story but I do remember when Moon won his cab in a contest. He had a brother, Little Kayo---who slept in a bureau drawer---and landlords, Lord and Lady Plushbottom ['Landlady marries boarder and becomes snootier than ever. Film at eleven.'] I followed 'Dondi' from its inception after the Korean War. Old Ed was the neighborhood grouch until Dondi broke his basement window with a baseball and discovered Ed's past in professional baseball. Great things ensued from there.

More fun cartoons of print or screen included: 'Gasoline Alley', with Walt, Phyllis, Skeezix and Nina, was a good, family sitcom in the Sunday cartoon section. Great things can happen to abandoned kids. The strip is still running with the third generation of the family and a couple of dump bums. 'Alley Oop' '…Alley Oop Oop…' with King Guz and Queen Umpo of Moo, and Oop's prehistoric honey, Ooola, was quite different from the norm in that it regularly jumped from prehistoric Moo to the modern age. Oop was active in both worlds, and his popular song became the source for our ditty about one of our teachers whom we had nicknamed Chabby. '...Chabby Oop Oop...' Jack Mills was our song writer, and he sang the lyrics on our bus to school many times. Hi and Lois have kids who never seem to grow up. Those dreams of the future they always have are never going to occur in real cartoon life. 'The Phantom' '…the Ghost who walks…' or '…the Milk Drinker…' guarded both the jungle and modern society. Mighty Mouse liked to sing 'Here I come to save the day! as if he were Caruso. Little Angel; Little Audrey; Woody Woodpecker; Porky Pig; Daffy Duck; Mandrake the Magician; Rick O'Shay; Smoky Stover '…Scram gravy ain't wavy…'; and Winnie Winkle (with Perry Winkle) were always fun characters to read and follow for a growing kid.

'Our Boarding House' with the foibles of Major Amos B. Hoople, his wife, Martha and their impish boarders appeared regularly. The Major spoke little when really steamed (which was often,) and sat fuming in his chair chomping his cigar and trying to re-read his newspaper: […egad…drats…fap…awp…kaff…hrumph.'] Out Our Way starred the Willet Family interacting within the panel's nostalgic vein. 'Little Iodine' was a true imp, even a brat, as she constantly annoyed everybody, especially her poor, nervous father, Henry Tremblechin. Blondie was a more active strip than it is these days with numerous fights between Dagwood and others, especially Herb and Mr. Beazley---and occasionally Mr Dithers. Blondie had no outside job. 'Dick Tracy', starring Dick, Tess Trueheart, Sam Catchum, Junior. B. O. Plenty, Gravel Gertie, and Sparkle was the front-page comic in New York Sunday News
for years. I read it eagerly, though I always preferred the comics in the Sunday Journal-American, reading that comic section first.

I very much liked Jiggs and Maggie in 'Bringing Up Father,' later renamed 'Jiggs and Maggie.' Jiggs won the Irish Sweepstakes and became wealthy. Maggie became snooty and domineering while Jiggs stayed the same and spent as much time as possible drinking beer and eating corned beef and cabbage---and stew with Dinty Moore and friends at the local bar, Dinty Moore's. [Later to became a brand name for a canned stew.] I guess that's appropriate, since Maggie was always in a stew about Jigg's activities.

Our TV fare also included 'Father Knows Best' with Jim and Margaret Anderson and their children, Princess, Kitten, and Bud. They were a sweet family in a sweet town in the middle of a sweet country. Mr. Peepers peeped at us via Wally Cox. And the 'Spin and Marty' serial was often shown on the 'Mickey Mouse Club' Show.

Superman---before the bulky muscles---starred George Reeves. '…faster than a speeding bullet…and who, disguised as mild mannered reporter, Clark Kent….' We enjoyed the humor of Pinky Lee and Soupy Sales (mostly slapstick,) Sam Levinson, and Myron Cohen (the latter two told humorous stories the whole family could listen to.)

On the Western front we also had 'Annie Oakley' with the real life sharp-shooting rider, Gail Davis, and Jimmy Hawkins as her brother, Tagg. We welcomed the 'Cisco Kid' with Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carillo. “…Oh Cisco! Oh Pancho!…” Television's amenable Cisco was a far cry from the desperado of O. Henry's original short story.

End of Part 4 of 46,125 Stay tuned for further adventures.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Yo! Frankenstein Monster!

As we near Halloween [that's H-a-lloween and not H-o-lloween,] I've directed my attention to watching horror movies, as long as the gore is suggested and not shown. It's appropriate for the season, isn't it? Some TV stations are running them throughout the day and evening every day for about a week before the witching night. The other day I saw 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' for the first time---I don't go to the movie theaters anymore.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 1797-1851
by Richard Rothwell 1840
National Portrait Gallery

This 1994 movie has been billed as having a plot most akin to the author's original concept. But how did the author [Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, daughter of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and anarchist/atheist journalist and philosopher William Godwin] come up with this strange plot, anyway? She said nothing about it when the book was published in 1818. Then, in October of 1831 [London] she wrote an Introduction to a new edition of the book, and told us.

"Introduction [to the 1831 edition of 'Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus']

The Publishers of the Standard Novels, in selecting 'Frankenstein' for one of their series, expressed a wish that I should furnish them with some account of the origin of the story. I am the more willing to comply, because I shall thus give a general answer to the question, so very frequently asked me -- 'How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?' It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print; but as my account will only appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion.

It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to "write stories." Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air -- the indulging in waking dreams -- the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator -- rather doing as others had done, then putting down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye -- my childhood's companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed -- my dearest pleasure when free.

I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then -- but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine of my tales. Life appeared to me too common-place an affair as regarded myself. I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age, than my own sensations.

After this my life became busier, and reality stood in place of fiction. My husband, however, was from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even on my own part I cared for then, though since I have become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could produce any thing worthy of notice, but that he might himself judge how far I possessed the promise of better things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading, or improving my ideas in communication with his far more cultivated mind, was all of literary employment that engaged my attention.

In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. At first we spent our pleasant hours on the lake, or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron, who was writing the third canto of Childe Harold, was the only one among us who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to us, clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him.

But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race, whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise. His gigantic, shadowy form, clothed like the ghost in Hamlet, in complete armour, but with the beaver up, was seen at midnight, by the moon's fitful beams, to advance slowly along the gloomy avenue. The shape was lost beneath the shadow of the castle walls; but soon a gate swung back, a step was heard, the door of the chamber opened, and he advanced to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep. Eternal sorrow sat upon his face as he bent down and kissed the forehead of the boys, who from that hour withered like flowers snapt upon the stalk. I have not seen these stories since then; but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday.

'We will each write a ghost story,' said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to. There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori [their doctor] had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole -- to see what I forget -- something very shocking and wrong of course; but when she was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did not know what to do with her, and was obliged to despatch her to the tomb of the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets also, annoyed the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task.

I busied myself to think of a story, -- a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror -- one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered -- vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.

Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindoos give the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of the void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.

Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin,(I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endured with vital warmth.

Lake Sils, Upper Engadine, Switzerland

Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I place my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.

I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story, -- my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!

Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me.

I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.

On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.

At first I thought but of a few pages -- of a short tale; but Shelley urged me to develop the idea at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world. From this declaration I must except the preface. As far as I can recollect, it was entirely written by him.

And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations..."

Just as an added thought: Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus' was first published [in three volumes] in London, 1818. A fine copy of those volumes sold earlier this year at an auction for just short of $66,000. I have an old, one volume, Modern Library edition in my modest collection. Worth a few bucks, I think---but it does have the above Introduction.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Junior Frolics and Associates Part 3 of 51,742

Wecome to Installment 3 of 78,486

Television was still relatively new and had great popularity in the 1950s---and before Gallup, there was the American Research Bureau's ratings, recorded from diaries kept in selected homes. Results during February 1956 showed: 1. Ed Sullivan, a really big evening variety shew; 2. $64,000 Question, a questionable quiz show; 3. Perry Como, a musical variety presentation; 4. I Love Lucy, a timeless sitcom; 5. Climax!, a murder-mystery drama; 6. Person to Person, an interview show; 7. Groucho Marx, an ersatz quiz show; 8. December Bride, another sitcom; 9. Caesar's Hour, comedy and variety; and 10. Lux Video Theatre, with dramatic presentations.

In this 1956 survey, CBS took six of the top ten spots, with NBC having four. Just a year earlier, CBS had taken eight of the top ten spots, with NBC at one and ABC at one lagging behind. Both years, Perry Como on NBC was in that top ten. Interesting observations, certainly, but not Earth-shaking, n'est pas? These days, I would observe that the top ten shows are probably on cable and not broadcast TV.

Kate Smith with her robust voice had a show every weekday at 4 pm in the early 1950s [as did Nat King Cole and Liberace.] My Nana watched it [and them] religiously. Kate was best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin's 'God Bless America', but she belted out other songs with grace and elan as well. Berlin pretty much gave her the song. No one else dared sing it while she was in her heyday. No other singer has done a better job.

Edgar Bergan's Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd were classics. Wooden wisecracks are always popular, aren't they? To me, those two dunderheads were almost like real people, and Edgar Bergen's id must have suffered from the efforts. 'People are Funny' with Art Linkletter was an enjoyable diversion. I'd rather watch the actions and hear the words of normal people than Hollywood and TV stars any day. This was especially good with the little kids and what came out of their mouths. I could relate to them, having been a little kid myself not so many years before.

'The Naked City,' based on a great movie, began as a half-hour show in 1958. Starring John McIntyre and James Franciscus, it was a controversial New York City crime drama rather like the Law part in today's 'Law and Order,' and with a semi-documentary look. McIntyre became homesick and wanted to return to California, so he was killed off in a fiery crash. That created a firestorm of criticism that led to the show's demise in 1959. It returned in 1960 as the one-hour 'Naked City' with Franciscus, Nancy Malone, and Horace McMahon [who in some studio stills looks like Jack Webb.] As before, the show was a popular and critical success, but it was canceled in 1963 despite the good ratings. Another example of TV executive wisdom. Getting back to the 'Naked City' movie, which had come out in early 1958, it starred Barry Fitzgerald and Howard Duff. I can still watch that over and over and over, and I heartily enjoy it even though I know how it ends. Either I'm senile or that's a great movie!

Perry Como's variety show began as the 'Chesterfield Supper Club' in 1948 and lasted until 1955. It was then changed to 'Kraft Music Hall,' and lived a good life until 1963. Both shows had obvious sponsors. Perry's theme song was the romantic “Dream Along With Me...I'm on my way to the stars…' With 'Chesterfield,' Perry featured the Fontane Sisters and Ray Charles Singers, while his 'Kraft' show offered Kaye Ballard and Don Adams. In both shows, Perry charmed the audience with his friendly nonchalance and golden baritone voice. We watched it all the time, though I was bit young during the 'Chesterfield' run. And if Perry were ever to be compared to the later star, Andy Williams, I'd say Perry 10, Andy 5.

Ralph Edwards dominated and laughed his way through each 'This Is Your Life' episode that ran from 1952 to 1961.
He presented the sugar-coated lives of Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Laurel and Hardy, Jack Benny, Bette Davis, and too many movie production individuals and teams and civic leaders I didn't know and couldn't appreciate The 'lives' would be illustrated by the voices and anecdotes of relatives and friends, present and past, sometimes to the astonishment of the surprisee---and me because I didn't know them either. And we weren't always sure that the guest surprisee was particularly happy about the 'voice' or 'person' from the past---or, for that matter, even having his life discussed in the first place. A party would be held after the show for the guest and the visitors. I'd have given my 'Crackle' puppet to have been a fly on the wall for some of them.

Ray Forrest hosted the 'Children's Theater' from 1949 to 1961, culminating in his five week broadcast from 'Freedomland' in the Bronx, a place we visited during high school. Sadly, 'Freedomland,' which was laid out in the shape of the US, has been closed and gone for quite some time, and I deny responsibility for that. The 'Merry Mailman' of Ray Heatherton ran from 1950 through 1956, providing cartoons and gentle shenanigans for we kids to follow. Ray was okay, but his daughter, Joey, was a knockout! I also remember 'Mr. I. Magination from a bit earlier, and---except for a scene or two---I always get my memories of the two shows mixed up. His kid's show was the only one in memory which exhibited the character's wife---in this case, Mrs. I. Magination.

In 1958 on Channel 11 were Officer Joe Bolton and the 'Three Stooges' Funhouse.' I probably saw dozens of the trio's movies in those years. Curly, Moe, and Larry were classic funnymen, though Laurel and Hardy still stand greater in my memory. Their antics may just have inspired my brother Ed to provide his corny military greeting to me. He'd pat me on the head, the back, and then the chest while saying 'Hi old top, glad to see you back from the front.' Uh, top sergeant, that is, and uh---well, we thought it was funny!

Claude Kirchner's 'Super Circus' was televised from Chicago (and presented by Kellogg's,) and when it moved to New York in 1955 the ringmaster was changed to Jerry Colonna. His open eyes were almost as big as plates to us. He was naturally funny. Kirchner, a much stiffer man, moved to New York at the same time, and from then until 1962 he led the “Terrytoons' Circus,' another venue of wonderful cartoons for kids. I would imagine it was a tough job for an adult to emcee a cartoon show. You had to project enthusiasm and concern for cartoons and the characters on a regular basis. To paraphrase Roy Campanella: 'you have to have a little kid in you.' To paraphrase me: 'you have to have a lot of patience and chutzpah!'

We enjoyed Broderick Crawford in 'Highway Patrol' with his guttural '10-4.' That utterance became a regular sign off in the civilian world as well, whether for fun or in all seriousness. 'Yeah, Dad! '10-4' Dad!' Smack! 'Show your father more respect when you answer him!' Then in the 1970s, the handles and messages of the truckers and the CBers were all the rage. Lucy and Desi in 'I Love Lucy,' is a classic sitcom, especially when Fred and Ethel were at their best. Lucy's and Ethel's chocolate escapade was funny as all get out [we can't use h*e*l*l on this blog.] Just as the Lucy situations were predictable, they were very funny. 'Good clean fun.' as they say. And, we didn't have to understand Desi's Spanish to enjoy the proceedings. As with Old Lady Schumaci [a childhood nemesis and neighbor who spoke only Italian---discussed in another essay,] tone and arm movements are the universal language. Lucy's antics, usually aided and abetted by Ethel and Fred, included grape stomping, dancing, vaudeville skits, and embarrassing Rickie's guest stars.

Eve Arden and Richard Crenna in 'Our Miss Brooks' often exasperated their private school principal, Gale Gordon in the early fifties. Crenna in particular, as Walter Denton, was enough to drive anyone up a wall. Later, he was a bona fide movie star, including a stint in 'Rambo, First Blood.' John Daly's 'What's My Line?' ranged from silly to mundane to deep. 'I've Got A Secret' with Garry Moore and Durwood Kirby always seemed somewhat inane. Of course, you know that Kirby was reincarnated in the 1970s as Spiro Agnew. Richard Carlson thrilled us with his 'communist' adventures in 'I Led Three Lives.' The show was about an FBI double agent among the communist cells in America. Each week was a different story about his infiltration of the cells and (Herb) Philbrick's subsequent report---from a secret room in his basement---to the Feds. Who said the cold war era of the 1950s didn't affect regular television shows?

That TV show encouraged me to read the source book, 'I Led Three Lives' as well as 'You Can Trust the Communists [to do exactly what they say,'] 'The FBI Story,' and 'Masters of Deceit' by J. Edgar Hoover. At that point, I was ready to report for duty with the FBI or CIA at a moment's notice. I did join the boy scouts, and my two brothers were members of the Ground Observers' Corp.

A funny result of all this TV viewing is that later, when I saw their earlier movies, my mind saw these stars in their later TV guises. [Got that?] Thus Broderick Crawford would always be Dan Mathews of Highway Patrol, whether he played a governor, senator, or hitman; Lucy would always be Lucy Riccardo of I Love Lucy; Richard Carlson would always be a double agent; Richard Crenna would always be a wise-cracking Walter Denton; etc. 'Hey, there's Herb Philbrick! What's he doing in this movie?' 'How did that annoying Walter Denton get to be a General?'

Jackie Gleason's 'Honeymooners' was originally a skit on his 'Cavalcade of Stars' [on the Dumont Network, later moving to CBS.] The old Dumont system is said to be reincarnated in Fox. I don't know for sure. I remember the night Gleason broke a leg while running offstage on his variety show. He slid and tripped off stage and out of camera range during a Reggie Van Gleason skit. Of course, the show went on, though Jackie was missing. Most shows were live in those days, so accidents, bloopers, and other flubs were right in front of us. I enjoyed the 'Honeymooners' and probably saw most of the shows, many of which cannot be shown today because they weren't recorded. '…One of these days, Alice. Right in the kisser…' '…Baby, you're the greatest…' Ralph was a city employee and he was proud of it: '…I brive a dus…'

'Don Winslow of the Coast Guard' was an interesting show, though a stiff acting ensemble kept it in the unbelievable category. Winslow and his compatriots were always attired in formal, dress-white uniforms. I believed logically they should have been wearing khaki. White is a formal dress uniform and not a work uniform. [I was in the Navy years ago---but after this.] After all, Winslow and associates were working at the time, and it seemed to me that fighting in khaki would have been much easier---no shoulder boards, at least. Actually, I think the show was made up from a movie series, and the white uniforms probably made in more Navy/Coast Guard-like.

Richard Greene's 'Adventure's of Robin Hood' was a closely watched show. I enjoyed the weekly adventures through the fake TV forests of Sherwood of the twelfth century. '…Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen…' Rufus Cruickshank, at 6' 5” made a marvelous stand-in as “Little John' for the injured Archie Duncan, and the Prince John of Donald Pleasance was admirably evil and creepy. Greene, at least, had an English accent. The voice of Pleasance was---well, pleasant. And it could fit any nationality easily,

Part 70,589.4 coming up. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Junior Frolics and Associates Part 2 of 96,451

Welcome to Part 2 of 12,316

The performances of Gail Davis [later TV's 'Annie Oakley',] Dale Evans [with Roy Rogers,] and Gale Storm [movies before 'My Little Margie') were invigorating, surprising, and pleasant to watch. Gail Davis was a real sharpshooter, but her TV gunshots still missed hitting body parts and sending modern gore flying everwhere. Dale could ride Buttermilk, shoot and sing with the best of them, and she didn't have to get beat up like Tonto. And Gale Storm was just a favorite of mine in whatever was showing. She and Jean Arthur have a special place in my heart.

The old west of TV and the movies never showed ugly women as the heroine, did they?

Movies from the 1950s were generally not shown on television in the 1950s, exceptions being some Disney efforts. We got see such classics as: 'Miracle of the Bells [Fred MacMurray];' 'Our Town [William Holden];' 'Three Husbands [Emlyn Williams];' 'Lost Continent [Caesar Romerl];' 'Fabulous Dorseys [Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey];' and 'Private Affairs of Bel Ami [George Sanders].

And of course, we were inundated with Westerns, as noted above: 'Buffalo Bill Rides Again [Richard Arlen];' 'Frontier Pony Express [Roy Rogers]; 'Border Feud [Lash Larue]; 'Ramrod [Joel McCrae];' 'Texas Trail [Hopalong Cassidy];' 'Sunset in Wyoming [Gene Autry];' 'Man of Action [Tim McCoy];' 'Lucky Boot [Big Boy Williams];' and 'The Longhorn [Wild Bill Elliott.]

The great older mysteries with Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, Brian Donlevy, Carole Landis, June Storey, Dennis O'Keefe, Sidney Toler, Richard Travis, John Abbot, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmie Cagney, Basil Rathbone [or Rasil Bathbone as I always remembered him], and Boston Blackie were regular fare. These performances were usually chilling, dark and eerie to us kids. But we watched them avidly. Since most of these older films were in black and white, our TV set didn't lose anything in the translation. And who imagined 'letterbox' in those days? ---other than another name for the mailbox. The movies were shown to fit the screens. We had to settle for the policies of 'edited for content' and 'edited for length' as well. The stations never noted those policies on the screen, but we thought they existed. I didn't know for sure until cable arrived in my adulthood. Then I saw the deleted scenes, many of which answered my questions about what was going on. Television executives who cut and censor movies should be chastised, drawn and quartered, and otherwise inconvenienced. Using outmoded 'moral rights', they gave good movies non-understandable plots. As a kid, I wasn't stupid, just a victim of edited versions of movies. In many cases---okay in most cases---all right in every case---we didn't know what we missed because we hadn't seen the originals in the movie theaters.

Gene Autry sang 'Back in the Saddle' to us. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans offered 'Happy Trails'---written by Dale. All 1950s shows and movies had the humor of all TV shows of the time, especially at the end of an episode or the film. We had to know that there was a happy ending and everything and all the regulars were a-okay. There was no joking or singing, however, in 'Death Valley Days' with the Old Ranger, Ronald Reagan, and others narrating. It was a solid Western story source, and I enjoyed it. It ran from about 1952 to 1972. The Old Ranger---Stanley Andrews---was by far the best host for the fascinating show. He looked like he was from the old west. 'Who'd a thunk it,' that Ronald Reagan would reach political heights in later years.

As a kid, though, I rarely watched Damon Runyon Theater, G E Theater, Loretta Young, Studio 57, Voice of Firestone, Studio One, Rheingold Theatre, Matinee Theater, Calvacade Theater, and the like. These shows presented quality adult drama, but I wasn't in the mood.

In the modern Western vein [besides Roy Rogers, Pat Brady and Nellybelle] was 'Sky King' [1951-1954], where the hero was often seen galloping around in his airplane as opposed to the western standard of a unique horse [biggest; fastest; most colorful; white; best trained; etc.] Kirby Grant [Sky King] flew the 'Songbird' [a Cessna] with his niece, Gloria Winters [Penny,] and nephew, Ron Hagerthy [Clipper.] “…Out of the clear blue of the western sky…” But, I could take it or leave it. There wasn't much excitement in a 'cowboy' searching for rustlers and 'badmen' from an airplane. It all seemed rather unfair to a certain extent.

Richard Boone always impressed me as Paladin in 'Have Gun Will Travel' (1957-63.) “…A knight without armor in a savage land…” from the show's “Ballad of Paladin.” Paladin was the old west's Robin Hood and White Knight rolled into one. And he always seemed to know who the bad guys were and ultimately won the day. The solicitous 'Hey Boy' of Kam Tong and, for one year, the 'Hey Girl' of Lisa Lu, started most episodes, as Paladin was given a message or telegram. [Paladin carried a gun, so I wonder why he was permitted existence in San Francisco?] These two Chinese characters occasionally inspired the stories when their lives or actions interested Paladin and precipitated the plot. And, like so many others, I've often wondered: Did Paladin play chess? and Was Paladin's first name really 'Wire?'

We had other good choices to watch on TV: 'The Jack Benny Show' with Jack, Mary Livingston, Don Wilson and the exceptional Eddie Anderson' as 'Rochester' was a favorite. Jack's guests varied, but some were there regularly, like Dennis Day [no relation to Doris; Dennis was brother to Ann Blythe] and Mel Blanc [ol' Bugs Bunny himself], who was especially funny as a train conductor. 'Burns and Allen' was always a treat with George, ditsy Gracie, Harry [an accountant,] the exasperated, but ever optimistic Blanche, and Harry Von Zell as the poor, underappreciated [and rather naive] announcer. George's asides to the audience are classics. Especially when he went up in his home office and brought us up to speed on the machinations of the plot still to play out. Even though I don't smoke cigars [or anything else] like George did, I may start. After all, he saw his 100th birthday.

Next Installment is Part 3 of 101,523

Friday, October 12, 2007

Junior Frolics and Associates Part 1 of 56,927

The 1950s boasted of television in its commercial infancy and my childhood. We both eventually grew up---though we both still have our juvenile points and have had some rocky paths to cover. My memories of live television and the early half-hour taped and live shows were from a child's and adolescent's point of view but remain strongly in my adult mind. And I often reminisce about the 'good old days', especially when I groan through a new 'classic' on broadcast TV---Law & Order excepted.

Who and what do I remember in those early days of black and white TV? For one thing, I remember always laying on my back on the floor, with a pillow under my head so I'd be comfortable watching the tube. I'd often have a pint of Hershey's ice cream or blue cheese and crackers to wile away the evening. With cable non-existent, we watched local stations via the antenna on the roof of the house. [Is the satellite receiver much different in concept?] But, being near New York City, we did have a decent selection: 2 [CBS,] 4 [NBC,] 5 [WABD Dumont,] 7 [ABC,] 9 [WOR,] 11 [PIX], and 13 [WATD from Newark.] The New York Yankees were on 11, the Brooklyn Dodgers were on 9 [the Giants were somewhere I think], and Junior Frolics [cartoons] was on 13. In our family, those were the important channels. The science fiction shows consisted of the likes of Buck Rogers, Captain Video, and Captain Midnight, and later Twilight Zone.

These evening 'repasts' were best enjoyed with the Dodger baseball game, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, 'Perry Mason', [Twilight Zone was usually seen at Jim Dineen's home] or if later in the evening, Steve Allen and Zacherly [John Zacherle.]

But, to the younger days. The Cowboys and Indians were well represented, though not through sports. The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show “…Happy trails to you…” was new and fresh [it used Pat Brady's jeep, Nellybelle] with gunshots that never hit anybody and the stars' singing to boot. Gunsmoke with Jim Arness [Marshal Dillon,] Amanda Blake [Kitty,] and Dennis Weaver [Chester] limping his way across the action, was on for eighteen years. I didn't know at the time that Arness had acted as the 'Thing From Another Planet' a few years earlier. Broken Arrow was a show with a different point of view. Starring Michael Ansera as 'Cochise.' the show was based on the novel 'Broken Arrow' by Elliott Arnold. 'Broken Arrow' of note, is an Indian symbol for peace. Perhaps the connection among these shows was that no matter how many gunshots were heard, the heroes and stars were never hurt much. And when they received a wound, it seemed to disappear rather quickly.

To the rousing tune of the William Tell Overture, The Lone Ranger and Tonto rode into my living room every week on Silver and Scout. “Who is that masked man?” ---a weekly question to end each episode as the Lone Ranger disappeared from the scene. The Lone Ranger always had the right answer, and Tonto was his executive officer, as it were. It's just that Tonto was the one who got beat up all the time. His was often a spy's job, and he had to suffer the consequences. I think the Lone Ranger 'sprung' him from jail about a hundred times a year---without acknowledging that he was often the one who got him in the calaboose in the first place. Take a listen to Bill Cosby and you'll get an idea of how Tonto must have felt. Cosby has the straight skinny. Most of the above half-hour shows [Gunsmoke, at least, was an hour] were broadcast on Saturdays during the daylight hours. Better for kids. Though the sugary cereals advertised weren't better for the kids. I was a Rice Krispies kid. I couldn't stomach the library paste, oatmeal, though I could weather the storm with an occasional bowl of Maypo, Cream of Wheat, Wheateena, and the like.

And the old cowboy movies! Day and Night. They were regular TV fare and enjoyable to look forward to. Mostly from the thirties and forties, they featured Bob Steele, Tim Holt, Lash La Rue, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Bob Livingston, William Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne and Randolph Scott. How dare they call their efforts 'B Movies'? We enjoyed sidekicks like Gabby Hayes [Roy Rogers, John Wayne and Hopalong Cassidy,] Fuzzy Knight, Smiley Burnett (Gene Autry), Indian Chief Thundercloud, Iron Eyes Cody (who was really Italian,) and Jay Silverheels (Tonto.) I can still see Gabby Hayes, ragged beard and all, smiling with his “Aw, Hoppy” during a movie, usually at the required humorous ending.

Well, awe gee, golly. This is long enough. We'll meet Annie Oakley, Sky King and Paladin and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the next installment.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Original Little Nemo

Little Nemo was a fictional character in a weekly comic strip by [Zenas] Winsor McCay---ex sign painter, vaudevillian and freelance cartoonist in Cincinnati, Ohio . It appeared in the New York Herald and the New York American newspapers from 1905-1913. It was first called 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' and then 'In the Land of Wonderful Dreams' when McCay changed newspapers.

McCay also penned another comic strip in 1905 [thru 1911]: 'Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend'---under the name of 'Silas.' Both strips featured bizarre, fantastic dreams, always ending with the dreamer suddenly sitting up in bed. But the Dreams strip was aimed at adults with a different adult hero-ing each strip---the dreams resulting from indigestion [usually from Welsh Rarebit], and some say that Nemo was just a children's version of Dreams. The latter included horror and great violence, transformations, embarrassment and other nightmare situations we all can imagine. It was also said to be quite funny.

McCay is also responsible for the perhaps the first three animated subjects, the first one forgettable but based on Nemo, the second called 'How a Mosquito Operates', and the third 'Gertie the Dinosaur'---all painstakingly drawn by hand. The latter, in 1914, was often called the first successful animation, and it led to the cartoon World we see through today. The first and second were used by McCay in his vaudeville act.

Nemo, the comic strip, was often dark and surreal---and some say threatening and violent. The strip covered the dreams of a little Nemo ('nobody"'in Latin), the boy-hero. Nemo 'woke-up' in the last panel of each strip---usually due to a 'dream event' or pending mishap: giant mushrooms, falling from a bridge, or bed with giant legs. In every dream, Nemo was trying to get to Slumberland to play with the Princess, King Morpheus' daughter.

As might be expected, Nemo received a heavy name-tied-merchandising in 1906: postcards, books, games, and children's clothing. He even won a U S Postage Stamp in 1989 and 1993.

Early during its second year, Nemo reached Slumberland, but had to go through months of troubles to reach the Princess. During his efforts, he was constantly awakened by Flip, a 'gentleman' wearing a hat with "Wake Up" on it in big letters. At the sight of Flip's hat, Nemo usually woke up. At first an adversary, Flip later became one of the strip's heroes, along with Dr. Pill, the Imp, the Candy Kid, Santa Claus, the Princess and King Morpheus.

The "Slumberland" of the title had a double meaning: King Morpheus's fairy kingdom and the reality of sleep itself. Nemo's dream-adventures included time in other imaginary lands [as well as Slumberland], the Moon and Mars, and in our own "real" world, made fantastic by his 'slumber-dream-state.'

An operetta based on the strip, was composed by Victor Herbert [of Babes in Toyland fame] with lyrics by Harry B. Smith. A lavish production, the operetta opened in 1908 and ran for 111 performances, closing in 1909. The show introduced a new character to the tale called 'the dancing missionary', who later appeared in several episodes of the comic strip during 1909. It also introduced the word whiffenpoof.

Among the popular songs in the production were: If I Could Teach My Teddy Bear to Dance [Nemo]; Happy Land of Once-Upon-a-Time [Candy Kid]; Is My Face on Straight? [Dr Pill, Flip and the Dancing Missionary]; and Happy Slumberland [Nemo, Candy Kid, Princess, Weather Vane and Betty.]

In the operetta, Little Nemo goes to Slumberland to find the elixir of youth, stolen by Dr. Pill's missionary [from where isn't really known.] Returning home, he goes on several adventures with King Morpheus.

In one scene, three hunters try to out-lie each other with their tall tales about animals [no one ever heard of] they've caught, including: a 'Peninsula' bird that lays square eggs, a creature who lives on canned meat---thus having Armour and is so Swift, it can only be killed by laughing it to death [ala Who Framed Roger Rabbit.]

According to Gerald Bordman [American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle], a backstage problem forced Joseph Cawthorn to adlib on stage, and he made up the story of an animal that lived in water and gobbled its food. And so we met the Whiffenpoof.

In 1909, an a-cappella singing society was formed at Yale, and the in-the-Broadway-know members called the group the 'Whiffenpoof Society.' Not long after, Meade Minnigerod, George Pomeroy, and Todd Galloway wrote the 'Whiffenpoof Song'---[We're Poor Little Lambs...]

This song became famous: as a hit for Rudy Vallee in 1936, and a hit for Bing Crosby with the Fred Waring Glee Club in 1947. Bob Hope and 'der Bingle' also sang the song with a flock of sheep in the movie, 'Road to Bali', in 1953.

Now that I've done the research, I fully expect to meet some of these characters when I fall asleep tonight.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's Shocking! Just Shocking!

Researches from Europe revealed recently that carnivorous sponges have been found in the deep, dark seas near Antarctica, and now there is talk about turning them into a profitable resource. Big surprise there.

Called 'Carnisponges', their use in the modern kitchen will be highly advantageous to the 'homemaker', retailer, and manufacturer. They actually eat dirt, thus cleaning hands and dishes in one fell swoop. We've been telling people to eat dirt---among other things---for years, but this is the first time it will be said in the market place. No retail price or further information is available for these new sponges. The concept is still quite new, and the accountants are still busy pencil pushing because these sponges can only be harvested by the nearby Emperor Penguins, and these critters aren't too anxious to have their snouts or fins finished off by a hungry sponge during a hunt.


The Sydney Morning Herald reports: "HUMANS are just one of the millions of species on Earth, but we use up almost a quarter of the sun's energy captured by plants - the most of any species...An agriculture professor at the University of Melbourne, Snow Barlow, said the paper showed humans were taking up too much of an important natural resource [the Sun.] 'Here we are, just one species on the earth, and we're grabbing a quarter of the renewable resources … we're probably being a bit greedy.' [Should more sun be scheduled for the worms and moles?]

San Franciscans were astounded by these facts, and they have taken it upon themselves to try to alter this disgusting exhibition of human cupidity. They do this knowing that all fads and trends begin in California. And, since there are approximately 15,745,329.2 million species estimated to be on the Earth---80 percent or so unknown [does that include bacteria?]---San Franciscans believe we humans should be stepping aside so these other species can enjoy more sun and less grief.

Accordingly, several ordinances have been passed by the City government: all residents and visitors must remain in the shade at least two-thirds of each day; sunbathing is restricted to one hour per day; people with a sunburn are subject to arrest, large fines and confinement; the words sun, sunny, sunshine, bosun, sunburn, sunbitch, sunbelt, sundry, sungod or -goddess, and the like are considered epithets in San Francisco, and persons heard using them are subject to arrest, large fines and confinement. At the local watering holes, the 'Tequila Sunrise' has been renamed 'Juiced Juice.'

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Children of the Black Dirt

Excerpt from Life in the John:

...Orange County is well known for the black dirt---which actually is black---farming region centered in Pine Island. The black dirt comes from the glacier retreat of 12,000 years ago, which left a lake. It slowly dried up and accumulated a great deal of organic life. The area was drained about 100 years ago. At a maximum depth of about 12 feet, I guess you could say it's reminiscent of loose peat bogs. The black dirt is a phenomenal growing medium. And with the glacial lake origin, it's easy to understand why the region was also known as the “Drowned Lands.”

With all that black dirt, Orange County became and was called the “Onion Capital of the World” for it's huge acreage of yellow, globe onions. With warm weather farmers picking up the pace in California and other environs now, the Pine Island area isn't as important as it once was. But, it's still one of North America's larger onion growing areas. I had always wondered why Orange County onions were so hard to come by until I learned that they were grown in Orange County, shipped to New York City and shipped back to Orange County for retail sale. Rather silly from my point of view, although I can now understand the commercial reasons.

When we were going to school, a number of students were involved with that onion farming around Pine Island, and we became familiar with the area, the successes, and the problems. Since black dirt burns well, the farmers were particularly sensitive about fire. I remember one burning for several weeks. Others have lasted for months. It's rather difficult to quench a fire burning six feet under the surface. [It's also rather difficult to determine how one sets a fire in dirt, six feet down.] And, of course, the weather was a big reason for plentiful or only mediocre results during a growing season.

My friends Richie and Danny and their compatriots exemplified the energetic children of the black dirt. They were always on the go and ready to work or party. And with them and others, we would occasionally go to the annual Onion Harvest Festival, especially to eat the great Polish food. There was a Miss Pine Island or Miss Onion Harvest or something like that, and live music of the polka variety. The festival was always alive. Our area is now home to Jimmy Sturr, the Polka King and many other bands, large and small. Jimmy draws great musicians like honey draws flies, and his wasn't the only big name in the area, though most of the others were local celebrities. Polka and fifties rock and roll! Life was wonderfully varied, that's for sure.

We danced a million polkas in our auditorium/dance hall, but never a tarantelle, despite the number of Italians in our school. I don't remember anybody doing an Irish Jig either. The polka was popular, and we always did several at our dances. Nobody knew how to do the tarantelle, so I guess that may have had something to do about it. [Perhaps those of the Polish persuasion just got to the juke box first.] The Irish jig is more of a show dance, and I had had plenty of it in grammar school---in an Italian parish. There was a dance of sorts done by Paul and Charlie, a pair of daring and energetic upperclassman. The dance had no name, but it consisted mainly of Russian-type dancing and throwing each other around the dance floor. It was clowning around to music. A hilarious break from the normal dance moves, but nothing to write home about...

Monday, June 25, 2007

And Shmoo to You Too

Pacifism as usually practiced today in the Liberal/Democrat philosophy reminds me greatly of Al Capp's Shmoos.

Born August 31, 1948, the Shmoo was almost exterminated because it refused to fight back against any danger whatsoever. And, wow, was it ever friendly! If you looked hungry, it would jump into a frying pan for you---after which it would taste like chicken; baked it would taste like roast beef; raw like oysters. It was no physical threat to anyone, reproducing asexually [the feminists would like that], and only using air for sustenance.

Sound familiar? It should. The Democrat/Liberal version of pacifism is leading us right down the road to the historic Valley of the Shmoon. Cute maybe, responsible no.

We have the freedoms endowed to us by our Creator and guaranteed by our Government as set out in the US Constitution. Our lives are detailed from day to day in accordance with the laws enacted through the judicious use of that Constitution: our guaranteed freedoms include free speech; right to bear arms; freedom against incriminating ourselves; freedom from slavery; right to a speedy trial; trial by jury; etc. And we had to fight hard to be able to guarantee these freedoms with reasonable surety, and we sure as h*e*l*l are going to fight to retain them. While admirable in itself, Pacifism generally leads to defeatism and cultural destruction on a National level. That's an historically proven conclusion.

The "rights" to privacy and abortion [murder] are not enumerated in the Constitution, despite what so many shmoos want us to believe, and we're going to continue to point that out. Privacy is handled nicely through the Bill of Rights, and abortion---being murder---has no business being in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or actuality of our daily lives.

We must have responsibility and the will to defend our liberties. Pacifism doesn't allow for this, and a pacifist nation will only go under the thumb of whatever aggressor gets the best idea first. Sometimes war is required to preserve our rights and lives, for after all everyone is human and subject to the human frailties of greed, power-lust, evil purpose, and extermination. We must defend ourselves against such peoples. And if a war is not legally in progress, we must be aware of potential dangers from foreign and domestic sources, and nip them in the bud before they endanger our lives.

Reasonable people can disagree about the 'how' part of carrying out our responsibilities, but they should not be fighting against them in principle. The latter is what the 'peace-loving' Liberals/Democrats are doing, and they should be thoroughly drummed out of all political power which would enable them to pursue their paths to the Valley of the Shmoon and oblivion.

I don't usually post political essays to this blog, and I promise not to do it too often. But, I particularly liked Al Capp and the Shmoos, so I felt like posting this here as well as my Townhall political blog would be satisfying to me, and maybe to you.

Friday, May 04, 2007


I was there at the beginning of TV as we know it. It was immature, loud, filled with mistakes, annoying, usually funny, and more respectful to people than not. It included quiz show scandals, the early life of rock and roll, the original Disneyland, the birth of Bob Barker, and truly family oriented shows, such as Lucy, Donna Reed, Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, the Lone Ranger, You Are There, Zoo Parade, Kate Smith, Ed Sullivan, Liberace, Nat King Cole, and others. News shows were ten or fifteen minutes long. No weather channel was evident. We [I] had Tex Antoine and Unc Wethbee. And the weather forecasts were just as inaccurate as they are today. And there was nary a curse word among them---we had no cable. H*e*!*!, we could hardly see what was broadcast, let alone make a lot of choices.

And yet we criticized. The Great Wasteland. Inane scripts. Too much on the laugh track. Live is no good. I Dream of Jeannie is too racy. Bewitched is against religion. Green Acres was too stupid. Bishop Sheen was actually on commercial television! Horrors! He treated an angel as an angel and not as an a-religious movie/tv plot device.

Complain as they might, the critics couldn't say TV was really in the toilet. Now they do, and they have valid complaints. For the language and content of much on TV is far lower in general quality than that great Wasteland of yore.

Free speech as guaranteed to us is political speech. A free society needs that. But it doesn't mean that everything we say is or should be protected. You know, the old 'fire' in the theater routine. Now we have the wedding ring in the toilet and other bathroom jokes, fatherless homes, gay plots, and political biased sitcoms and talk shows passing for prime time or later, 21st century, quality humor---for which the actors are paid millions. We also have Rosie---sheesh! That thought by itself is so depressing.

What television needs is to have its face washed in the snow, old fashioned style. It needs to be reminded strongly that the people of the United States don't need the sexual, toilet, and asinine content of most broadcasts. That's not being wimpy. Isn't it reasonable to expect a considerate, or at least responsible television and movie industry?

Maybe I'll just have to dream some more.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


It was just a few months ago that I decided to check my hometown newspaper online to see what was happening. Much to my chagrin I saw a headline “Remembering Spencer McLaughlin.” I’ve known Spencer since high school, and I knew he was a respected politician in my home county in New York.

I didn’t like the import of that listed entry. Upon further checking, I found his obituary and other articles praising and remembering him. I was shocked and saddened. My old friend was gone, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. His bout with pancreatic cancer was surprising, as I hadn't known he was so ill.

We all knew Spencer [or Mike as we knew him then] had great personal and leadership qualities since we first met him in 1959. He was a person who drew admiration from everyone, and I was proud to be among his closer friends for the four years of high school and beyond. It isn’t often that one get’s the opportunity to meet and cherish a good friend, especially one with such natural intelligence and humor. He was among the top few in our class academically every reporting period. Spencer was always there with a kind word, a needed correction, or a great idea for a practical joke.

Indeed, most of our high school antics were done with the cooperation and approval of Spencer---if not at his instigation. He and Dick seemed to be the origin of most of our fun activities. But if Spencer said no, then we didn’t do it, no matter who had the idea. And yes, a few of his ideas were vetoed---but not often. No one else had such quiet and effective power among us, even before his year as school president.

In senior year, he and Carol won handily over Paul and Evelyn to serve as President and Vice President of the Student Council. He spoke and led his school mates extremely well [at least as much as he could in a Catholic school], and I can’t imagine anyone else being in his position. He was Spencer, he was our leader, and he was the school President. It was all very natural.

Even after high school, most of us looked to him for leadership and approval.

During our college years, we often met on a Saturday night at a Middletown pool hall, Vince Dino’s bar, or a Warwick watering hole [the Landmark Inn] to have a few beers, reminisce and play buzz. He made sure that none of us drank to excess, and with his assistance we usually had a great time.

We had one New Year’s Eve party at the Inn one year, in the banquet room with all the doors on the ceiling. It was a rare day of celebration together for all of us after high school. It was my last date with one of my favorite high school loves.

During high school, Spencer had a complexion problem, but neither he nor anyone else ever made anything of it. For the most part, we all ignored it. It was a very minor defect that we didn’t care about. But he had a sense of humor about the reality. One time when we were discussing a costume party, he laughingly thought he might pour a jar of mayonnaise over his head and go as a busted pimple. Rather gross to be sure, but only he could have put over such an absurd suggestion.

His participation in the [pre PC era] senior year slave auction was done with good humor and sincerity. He really was going to go through with it to the end and serve the buyer as well as he could. Without him sharing the auction block with our fellow Science-Fiction aficionado, Rich, I doubt if the latter would have participated with such enthusiasm. And his purchase by the Junior boys was a difficult result to follow through on. They were well-known as being anti-Spencer to the core. For some unknown reason, they used him sparingly and with a grudging respect. So he and Rich served their time rather easily.

I can still picture Spencer looking scholarly during our pipe smoking fad in Senior year; his instigation---during the Senior will reading---to have me carried across the gym to a freshman girl I had been sweet on; his active participation and co-editing of our school newspaper, including our major all-humor effort; his surreptitious tidbit in one issue about my newest girl friend; our scaling the “super tough”, hundred foot high Sugar Loaf Mountain; our forest walks---especially one where I met a young girl in the woods and was too occupied to remember our rendezvous at the car - Spencer’s voice carried well in the deep woods; his effective acting abilities and behind the scenes clowning during our marvelous and inspirational senior-class play, Charley’s Aunt, where Spencer and me and Dick played the leading male parts---and even sang "Once In Love With Amy" together with comic effectiveness. [Notice how he always seemed around when I was courting someone?]

Dick and I cut a penny in half with a hacksaw so that I could hand it to Spencer on stage when he asked my character for a ha’penny. He thought it hilarious and with some difficulty he managed to get through his lines. It served him right. He had whispered a joke in my ear the night before trying to break me up during an onstage conversation.

After the play and our all-night stag celebration party, I believe it was his idea for the group of us to go to a classmate's home and join the family [obviously uninvited] for breakfast. As Spencer wrote later, our trip was more attuned to seeing the vision of the two young sisters coming down to breakfast in nightgowns and robes than it was for the surprise effect on the family or our desire for a big breakfast. We were always amazed that the farmer/father, Jacob, didn’t take a shotgun to us when he came out the front door at 5 am and saw a car full of us “hoodlums” sitting in his driveway---or even after we ate in the kitchen and surreptitiously ogled Joanne and Marie for that matter.

Spencer was always looking out for my love-life with either active help or helpful wisecracks. I spent a lot of time at Round Lake with him during high school, and I remember especially one Summer day at the lake with him, his sister Daphne, and our friend Evelyn. As I remember, I was sweet on Evelyn at the time---the same as our close friend, Rich---and the four of us spent a pleasant day of doing virtually nothing but swimming and sunburning. I remember climbing a nearby tree to take a picture of our group, making sure Evelyn was in center focus.

And after high school when I was perhaps pressing Evelyn a bit more than I should have, it was to Spencer she went with a plea to act as intermediary to get me to back off. He didn’t bandy words, although he was quiet, friendly and nonchalant. A few comments from him were all that was needed to wake me up.

Spencer’s occasional reminder of my English prize in school as being the only senior year award he didn’t win was always a pleasurable experience. Few of us ever topped him in anything. In fact, our group dinner in Chester while planning our 25th year class reunion, was one of the rare times I could make a funny put-down remark about Spencer that he couldn’t answer. That was the one and only time before or after high school that I rendered him speechless.

I can't comment on his lengthy professional life because I lived too far away to keep tabs on it. [He went back to school and became a lawyer without my knowledge or permission.] But if his high school intelligence and demeanor mean anything, he did a fine job. And that's been confirmed by the kudos in the newspapers. [And it seems, his widow Vickie has now become the front-runner in competing for Spencer's spot in the County legislature.]

In my life there never was and never will be another person as prominent in my esteem, friendship and memories of the past. He was...just…well, Spencer, our class President, and a close and valuable friend. May he rest in peace and relish his reward.