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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.