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.