Saturday, January 19, 2008

Junior Frolics and Associates - a Day in the Wasteland Part 8 of 8 Le Finis

Do you ever wonder how the TV moguls handled the television day back in the fifties? Probably not. But, I'm going to tell you anyway. This was a time of broadcast TV only---and often a limited amount of that, since the stations went off the air at late night with the ever-present test pattern to drone in our sleepy ears. As most were, our TV set was a black and white contraption, FADA by name, gold mine by nature to the repairman. I can only remember that one TV throughout my childhood. While color TV was ostensibly available, like the space shuttle it was beyond the means of most viewers. Besides, the number of color presentations was miniscule.

Since the date I've chosen from the TV Guide is Wednesday, December 28th, 1955, I'd have been home on Christmas vacation from grammar school. It had been a snowless Christmas, according to my old photos. So, it may have been cold, but the ground was bare. Anyway, what fun would snow have been then? School couldn't have been called off because we were all on vacation. Kid's logic. Save the snowstorms for school days.

I don't remember what I received for Christmas that year, but I'd have been watching television even if I was doing something else at the same time. I've always liked the combination. At 10 am, I would watch 'Garry Moore'. It was opposite 'Ding Dong School', but I was ten and no longer needed Miss Frances. 'Arthur Godfrey' against 'Ernie Kovacs' at 10:30 was no contest. Ernie was among my favorites, especially with his 'Nairobi Trio' skits. At 11 am, I'd have to turn the thing off because I wasn't interested in 'Home and Women's News,' 'Janet Dean', or the 'Romper Room'---though beginning at 11:15 I could watch 'Life With Elizabeth', 'Beulah', and 'Mr and Mrs North.' These latter three were 15 minute shows [about the length of one of today's commercials], bringing us to noon.

My favorite at-home lunch was Campbell's Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Salty fare for sure, but very tasty. Nothing on television could keep me away from the aromatic kitchen table, although on rare occasions Mom let me take the meal into the living room. But this being Christmas, I probably enjoyed turkey sandwiches and cold stuffing---on fresh hard rolls if possible. I was never a fan of stuffing sandwiches because it seemed somewhat redundant [I didn't really understand the word at that time] and too bready.

Noon was the traditional start to the Soap Opera Day, this time with 'Valiant Lady.' Competition included 'Tennessee Ernie', 'Merry Mailman' [also past my years], The Christophers [a ubiquitous religious show], and the 'Coffee Club.' 'Love of Life', another soap, checked in at 12:15. Then at 12:30, the soap 'Guiding Light' aired. Soaps were rather short at the time, most being just fifteen minutes---barely enough time for a TV kiss these days.

'Jack Paar' arrived at 1 pm with his variety show. There wasn't much shown against him: 'Food for Thought' [not cooking], Nancy's Kitchen, and a couple of old movies. 'Love Story' at 1:30 was an interview show. Then, a game show, and two movies ['The Bunker' and 'Ramrod'.] At 2 pm, we move on to 'Robert Q Lewis', a 'Richard Willis' beauty show and some more movies ['Dr Mac', 'The Stars Don't Shine', and 'Road to Alcatraz.']

'Art Linkletter's House Party' meandered in at 2:30 against 'Jinx's Diary' [Jinx Falkenburg's fashion], 'Maggie McNellis' [today: modern French furniture], another film ['Some Small Nobility'], and the musical 'Florian ZaBach' show, this day with 'Glow Worm', 'Last Round-Up', 'April in Portugal', and 'Danny Boy.' 3 pm announced itself as it did when school would naturally be in session. 'The Big Payoff' quiz show, 'Matinee Theater', another movie ['Trouble Preferred'], and 'The Ted Steele Show', with guests Corkie Robbins and Ceil Loman. Oh, and Dione Lucas had a cooking show. At 3:30 'Bob Crosby' rolled in with 'Sixteen Tons' and 'The First Snowfall', followed by 'Window Shopper', 'Candid Camera [Alan Funt; I always thought this show was old film, but later I realized I was watching original shows], and 'Jewish Talent Unlimited.' The latter featured Able Ellstein presenting Fern Field and Bill Werbell. Short shows for the hour included 'Mr and Mrs Jewish TV' and 'Les Paul and Mary Ford.' Throw in a five minute news show.

More from the soap genre at four with 'Brighter Day' and 'Date With Life'---'Jessie hears the news and makes an angry decision.' Also at 4 pm was the 'Wendy Barrie Show', a Hopalong Cassidy western, more Ted Steele, a western with Buster Crabbe, and another movie: 'Rocketship X-M.' Soap 'Secret Storm' rolled in at 4:15, sided by 'First Love.' A quiz [On Your Account], 'World of Mr Sweeney' with Charles Ruggles, the 'Outdoor Adventure Club', and---drum roll!!---'Junior Frolics' with Uncle Fred Sayles---though I wasn't watching it regularly at the time. Age ten was almost 21, so I was leaving the kid stuff behind me. As you'll remember, 'Junior Frolics' was a cartoon calvacade led by Farmer Gray and his mice 'friends.'

The 5 pm movie was 'Diplomatic Passport' with Marsha Hunt. 'Pinky Lee' amused the younger crowd, and Ted Steele had his teenaged 'Bandstand'---Young Judeans from Kingsbridge, Bronx. Tom Tyler starred in 'Feud of the Trail', and finally we reach Annette and the 'Mickey Mouse Club.'

Mickey's Club had newsreels of water pets, horse hobbies, good shepherds and a dog's life; 'Mr Toad Car', 'Musical Farmer', and a bio of the black bear. It wasn't noted, but I think it fair to assume that Annette and Jimmy had a song or two, probably with the Club. 'Howdy Doody' signed in at 5:30. 'Howdy and Heidi discover that Doodyville has been sold to the Army. It was to be used as a site for the testing of bombs.'

At 6 pm was the news, 'Wild Bill Hickok', with Guy Madison and Andy Devine, 'Rocky Jones', 'Gene Autry', and 'Durango Valley Raiders' with Bob Steele. The Early Show [movie] was 'Heartbeat', a comedy starring Ginger Rogers. We skimmed through sports, weather, 'Looney Toons', 'Cisco Kid', 'Ramar of the Jungle', and a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans western. Hang on, folks, we're getting near prime time.

Starting at 7 pm we enjoyed a New York City special of the top ten local stories from the year, 'Kukla, Fran and Ollie', a detective movie ['Unforgotten Crime'], more news and weather, 'Les Paul and Mary Ford' again, and the ubiquitous 'Film Shorts.' The 'Brave Eagle' of Keith Larsen galloped in at 7:30 along with the 'Eddie Fisher' show ['Something's Gotta Give', 'Naughty Lady of Shady Lane', 'Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing'], a few more movies ['The Black Book' with Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl, and 'Knight Without Armor' with Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat], and 'Disneyland', where the viewers visited 'Tomorrowland' for 'Man in the Moon.' This was a time of only Disneyland [just opened] as a huge theme park. Disneyworld in Florida was still a dream. More news, Liberace, and the first installment of the 'Million Dollar Movie' [M$DM] followed quickly. The M$DM for the week was 'Three Husbands', starring Emlyn Williams, Eve Arden, Howard Da Silva, and Vanessa Brown. It must be noted again, that the same M$DM was shown each evening at 7:30 and 10pm, several times on Saturday and Sunday for the week. The movie was hard to miss. And if you liked it, you were like a pig in-----well, you had plenty of opportunities to watch it.

Prime Time! Prime Time! 8 pm greeted us with 'Godfrey and Friends', 'Director's Playhouse' ['Titanic Incident'], 'Cases of Scotland Yard' [The Candlelight Murder'], and 'Oral Roberts.' At 8:30, the Anderson family joined us in 'Father Knows Best.' Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue led us into that daily adventure. George Murphy [later Senator] hosted 'MGM Parade' [Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald; Robert Benchley; a Susan Hayward dramatic scene; and a few other shorts], and Jack Webb starred in 'Badge 714' with Ben Alexander, asking for 'Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.'

Deep into prime time came 'The Millionaire', and Marvin Miller as my favorite person, Michael Anthony. He was charged with delivering $1 million checks [tax free!] to friends and neighbors and following up with the details of what happened. I'm still waiting for mine. Against that was the 'Kraft Theatre' ['Eleven O'Clock Flight' with Joanne Woodward,] 'Masquerade Party', 'China Smith' [Dan Duryea with another air drama, 'Plane to Tainan'], 'Confidential File', 'College Basketball' with Iona [my alma mater] against Springfield College. I have no idea who won. I was only ten and couldn't bet anywhere---though I found out a few years later that my barber would have been the connection I needed.

'I've Got a Secret' with Garry Moore arrived at 9:30 along with 'Break the Bank', 'Strange Stories' ['Out of the Dark'], and Broderick Crawford in 'Highway Patrol.' The former two shows didn't tell us in advance what they were about. At 10 pm, another movie studio presented itself in the '20th Century Fox Hour', this time with Cameron Mitchell, Sylvia Sidney, Vera Miles, and Alan Hale Jr [of 'Gilligan's Island' fame in the hazy future.] Ralph Edwards gave us 'This is Your Life.' The surprisee wasn't named in this TV Guide, but it was probably some unknown Hollywood technician or director. Willie Pep fought Andy Arkel in Miami, the M$DM signed in again, and Herb Philbrick [Richard Carlson] acted out another espionage instalment of 'I Led Three Lives.'

At 10:30 you could toss back a cold one and watch the 'Rheingold Theatre', tonight with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. On other channels were news, sports, and a Bill Stern interview. Eleven o'clock rolled in with the news shows, CBS and NBC at ten minutes, and Dumont at fifteen. We could also choose 'Star Showcase' [Slide, Darling, Slide'], 'Damon Runyon Theater' ['The Good-Luck Kid' with Gene Barry and Barbara Hale], a Liberace reprise, and another mystery movie ['Castle in the Desert' with Sidney Toler]. Throw in the 'Late Show' ['Gay Desperado' - Nino Martini and Ida Lupino], and 'Featurama' [a daredevil car race; a salmon's fight for life; and a Paul Killiam comedy], and we arrive at Steve Allen and the Tonight Show. His show started at 11:20 for local variety, and then became national with the 'Tonight Show' at 11:30, this time: 'exhibition by an elephant lifter and a talk with the Dartmouth College Indians; songs by Gloria Mann and Steve Lawrence.

Les Paul and Mary Ford made another appearance, and Boris Karloff starred in 'Juggernaut.' The movie, 'Four in a Jeep' and 'Evening Prayer' brought us to the finale, the 'Late Late Show', 'Riverside Murder' [time approximate] with Alistair Sim. We could 'Count Sheep' with Nancy Berg at 1 am and finish the day with the Rev Michael McLaughlin on 'Sermonette' and Father Patrick Ahern on 'Give Us This Day.'

Okay, fade to the Test Patterns until 6:50. Each one sounded like a smoke alarm that couldn't be turned off. And when you did turn the TV off, the picture disappeared slowly into a tiny point in the center of the screen.

I notice that the Reverend McLaughlin, after giving the Sermonette at 1:05 am, returned with the opening Sermonette at 6:50 am Thursday morning, December 29th. Hang in there Rev!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Junior Frolics and Associates Part 7 of 8

What else did we see? Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' [1948] with Obi Wan Kenobi the younger [Alec Guinness,] and Robert Newton was the epitome of Long John Silver in 'Treasure Island' [1950.] I liked Newton better than Noah Beery as the peg-legged pirate. The 'Thief of Baghdad' [1940] with Sabu and Tim Whelan---I could have watched that movie once a day for years. Sabu with his flying carpet inspired me to write an Arabian short story years later [currently shelved due to political considerations.] The mysterious and strange 'Scarlet Pimpernel' [1935] of Leslie Howard was a Sunday afternoon treat. The 'Adventures of Robin Hood' [1938] in all its black and white glory allowed the straight shooting Errol Flynn to save Olivia de Havilland. Another presentation was 'Captain Blood' [1935,] a rousing sea adventure again showing Errol Flynn as Peter Blood ['…Colonel Darling! ...'] yet again winning the hand of Olivia de Havilland. Those two stars made eight movies together.

And who could skip 'King Kong' [1933] and the jungle adventure on Skull Island with Faye Wray, Robert Armstrong, and the ingénue, Mr. Kong. Or 'Frankenstein' [1931] with Colin Clive, Mae Clark, and the unbilled Boris Karloff. This film was scary in black and white, and imbedded in my young mind the scariness of dark, mountaintop, castle laboratories. I've always avoided such places---not that I was ever invited to one. I wonder how scary the movie would have been in color. Frankenstein's monster was really green.

The dark and eerie images of Bela Lugosi's 'Dracula' [1931] stayed with me for a long time---in scary black and white. '…I vant to bite your neck…'---perhaps not a direct quote, but in Lugosi's accent, it would have been a scary phrase. I was very happy to have Zacherley cut the horror a bit with his comedy. Thank you, John. I hope your wife's brain hasn't been served with onion dip.

Dracula and Frankenstein, partnered with the compelling life of Larry Talbot seen in the 'Wolf Man' [1941---year of the wolf bane,] to make the Big Three horror movies of my youth. I watched them numerous times; black and white, nothing graphic (spurring imagination was the key,) no gore, but pure Gothic terror at times for a young boy of the fifties.

When Dad spent the evening donating carpentry service to the Church? Why that was a good time for Happy Felton and the Dodger game, again with me on the floor in front of the TV with my Hershey ice cream or blue cheese and crackers---slowly disappearing into the setting son.

Happy Felton, a rotund fellow who looked rather silly in a Dodger uniform, had a pre-game show just before the Dodger games. Down the right field line, the guest Dodger player would usually throw or fungo hit a ball for the kid contestants to catch against the right field bullpen wall. The player then chose the best of three to win the contest. The kid generally won some memorabilia, baseball equipment, or both.

Happy also had a regular Saturday show, 'Happy Felton's Knothole Gang,' with guest players from the New York teams teaching kids baseball basics. The kids were taught in Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and Yankee Stadium. It ran from 1950 to 1957. I guess it ended, in part, because the Dodgers and Giants moved from New York City to the West Coast leaving two-thirds of his ballparks empty.

Friday was grocery-shopping night for our family. We went with Mom and Dad when I was very young, but I could tell that Dad didn't enjoy the trip. He treated it as a responsibility and not as an enjoyable experience. I wasn't much older when the trip turned to an us and Mom-only expedition. Sometimes I went, but I was more likely to stay at home watching educational western TV or the Dodgers. So, most of the time, Mom went alone---well, not entirely. I guess little Mary Anne went with her.

And when she returned, I'd help unload the car. After which, I'd spend a few minutes looking through the bags to see what Mom had bought---not putting things away, mind you, but checking things out. Cookies, candies, and crackers were usually opened before the rest of the bags were empty. Oreos, Hydrox, Peanut Butter Creams, and chocolate chips were the cookies of choice. We also enjoyed Premium Saltine Crackers with almost anything. I had wheat crackers for my blue cheese.

Our grocery shopping was done at the A & P in downtown Middletown, near the phone company. It's not that we had a lot of choices. Other than the Grand Union on Orchard Street across from the library, there wasn't anyplace else of size to shop. There was the local Markovitz at the other end of town, and several other smaller groceries around, including Shoemaker's down our street at Larkin's corner [where I voted every year for Miss Rheingold.] But their prices were higher [though phenomenally cheap by today's standards], and they had limited selections. We only used the latter when we needed a few things and couldn't go to the A & P. When I was young, the stores were relatively small. No one even imagined a super-store. In the A & P, which was miniscule compared to the current stores, there were narrow aisles, stuffed shelves, the aroma of ground Eight O'clock Coffee pervading the air, a basic selection of fresh produce [in smaller quarters, the aromas are stronger,] and a bin of empty product boxes near the front. The A & P even had its own house brand of beer, though I don't know anyone who dared taste it. Noise and conversation abounded while our groceries were packed in paper bags or the binned boxes as we chose. Big, black cash registers were used and filled the air with even more noise. Ka-chink. Ka-chink.

When I'd be with Mom shopping, I'd push the cart with my attention directed around me to see who else was there. Thus, I often ran over Mom's poor heels in front of me. She'd have something to say about it, but I'd be likely to do it again. Maybe that's part of the reason she didn't mind my staying home and leaving the grocery shopping to her and Mary Anne.

Most stores were open to 9 pm on Friday nights. The rest of the week saw 6 pm closings, and everybody was closed on Sundays. This schedule was pretty standard, and I remember working at Green's Department Store from 1964-66 when we'd be open only on Friday nights. Of course the Christmas season was different. The stores remained open later each night as a matter of course–but still only until nine.

Except for the Yankees, 'Perry Mason,' and an occasional movie we hadn't seen before, Mom and Dad didn't watch television all that much. Dad occasionally watched Wednesday night or Friday night boxing when there was nothing else to engage his interest or Sugar Ray Robinson was on the card. Dad was an adherent of the concept that Sugar Ray was, 'pound for pound' the best boxer around. [Though that concept, literally, doesn't make much sense.] If we were all in the living room, we'd be watching television, and Dad and Mom would be reading---a habit I picked up. I can read anything light while the TV is on. Anything heavy or more intellectual will require silence. So the TV goes off.

I toiled on my homework upstairs in my room or downstairs at the kitchen table while Mom washed the dishes. I liked to have her immediately available to answer a question or deny having the knowledge. Any questions mathematical or physical were normally saved for Dad. I'd open the learning season by choosing new supplies such as a protractor, compass, pencils, pens, rulers---though they'd go missing when the next summer came around.

I used all those supplies, and usually brought some home each night in a book bag. Nobody used knapsacks, and we didn't have lockers. We could leave some books and notes in our desks, which had flip-tops, since for the most part we didn't change desks or classrooms. In high school it wasn't cool to use the book bags anymore. We could use small gym bags or use a rubber strap around the loose books, or just carry the books themselves. We still didn't have any lockers in high school either, but at that point we didn't care. The books used were simply too heavy to cart home unless we needed them for homework. The only desk storage space was underneath the seat. But, really, who would have stolen a Latin or Algebra textbook?

As with any youth, my homework was sometimes sketchy or forgotten. Amid the laughing and yelling on the high school bus, we'd compare our night's work, I'd share my work, or I'd copy from someone else's efforts if I agreed with him. I 'borrowed' from Jack Mills enough to have him comment about it in my yearbook. I was no slouch in criticizing his work either, but still---better a wrong something than nothing at all. There were many other pens and pencils working on the bus ride, so I wasn't alone in 'borrowing' homework. And as necessary, I lent my Latin efforts to others, even Jack. Fair is fair! Besides, nobody but Madeleine could translate Latin with any competence, and she wouldn't participate in our fair and balanced swapping. Usually, most of the rest of us were all off base. My efforts usually had numerous blank spaces for missing words or phrases. Opera publicus, Sister Chabonel!

Surprisingly, we didn't talk much about the previous night's TV fare, unless it was important for some reason: major cold war news, changes to the hierarchy in the USSR, the newest rock and roll songs, new model cars, major league baseball games or trades, or local news of note, or the latest romantic pairings. But mostly we had our own concerns.

I know. I know. I'm off the TV track and on the bus track to school. But, everything just flows, rather like responding to an essay question for which I actually know the answer. So, I let my mind wander wherever it wants to go---stream of consciousness as it were.

Back in the fifties, we could actually tell the difference between cars and the models of each make, as well as their years of manufacture. The models changed quite a bit each year, and kept us memorizing. Seeing them in a sunny situation was sometimes awe-inspiring. Man and machine. These days, you can't tell one model from another or one nameplate from another, and the cars are decidedly not awesome. Cookie-cutter cars, as it were---with the exception of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, which look like each other. And they both look like the Bentley. And I like all three, though I'd still rather have a jaguar. We didn't really track the changes in annual television set models---though I must say again that the Sylvania halo television appealed to my tender years.

I wasn't the type who could study amid loud rock and roll, or loud anything for that matter. In high school and college my study habits were rather quiet. I made my noise in social situations. We maintained a quiet home at 126 Cottage, except when Mom and Dad were yelling at each other.

Not noisy at home? I can still laugh about the time Mom caught me in my room singing 'Mack the Knife,' with Bobby Darin's versions on the radio and the record player all bellowing or blasting at the same time--- well…I wasn't studying, that's for sure. Mom opened the door and scared the hell out of me. Couldn't she have waited until the song was over?