Growing Up In Front Of The TV (In A Very Small Town)

I was a kid in the 60’s; a teen in the 70’s.   TV was my world.

What I find so vastly different between then and now is all the color we see on the tube.   And I mean that it in more ways than one.   I remember the first time I say down in front of a color TV…..wow.    The first program I remember watching in color was “Bewitched”.    I had no idea that Endora has red hair, that the Stevens’ living room carpet was brown.   I had no idea that Uncle Arthur was gay.  

I suppose the first black person I saw on TV was in a crowd scene on an old black and white version of “The Andy Griffith Show”, circa 1962.   Ever noticed that anyone NOT from Mayberry, even if they were from Mount Pilot or Raleigh, sounded like they were born  and  raised in the Bronx?

What was that all about??  

Then, the second time I saw Black person on TV, was on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”.  Laura had just given birth and she and Rob thought the hospital had mistakenly given them the wrong baby–NOT Richie “Rosebud” Petri.   Something about the baby’s footprints or something.  Rob was convinced the baby actually belonged to the Peters family, an easy mistake since Rob and Laura’s last name was similarly spelled.   So, Rob tracked down the Peters and explained the situation and invited them to his home, you know, the one in New Rochelle on Bonnie Meadow Road.    There’s a knock on the door; Rob answers it and the fun ensues when Greg Morris and his wife step inside.   See, Greg Morris is a black man,   HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  The hospital COULDN’T have switched the babies for the obvious reasons.    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!      

Innocuous by today’s standards, but cutting edge for its day, especially considering the Civil Rights movement at the time.   

What’s strange to realize is that there were probably people  watching who were repulsed–for lack of a better word–that Rob so kindly invited a  young, black couple into his home, his white man’s palace.    Stranger still, was this sentiment was felt all over, not just in the South.     Prejudice has never known geographic boundaries.

After that, came “Julia”, Dianne Carrol’s groundbreaking role about a young African-American mother and nurse, trying to raise her son, played by Marc Copage.   Lloyd Nolan portrayed the old curmudgeonly doctor for whom she worked.    Whenever he’d arrive at the office, he’d throw his cap from across the room and it would always hit the peg in the hat rack.   Her son’s best friend was a little red-headed white kid named Earl J. Waggedorn.

Why I remember this trivial minutia is beyond me.    Lord knows that from 1973 through most of 1988, I tried my best to ruin all of  my brain cells and their capacity to retain anything, but  I’m not the only one.  Other people my age remember these things too.   Could this be because kids in my generation actually watched  a lot of TV because that’s all we had to do back then and we had so few channels from which to choose?

When we watched, we watched thoroughly.  We got into it…completely immersed ourselves in network programming.  We watched everything–the intro,  the show itself, the commercials; the opening credits theme….even the credits.

Here’s proof:   

“Calvada” was the name of the production company which produced “The Dick Van Dyke Show”.  It was a combination of CALifornia and NeVADA, which was popular to do at the time.   Sinatra owned a hotel in Reno (I think) which he called the “CalNeva”.

Wilbur Hatch actually conducted the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra.

“Journey to the Unknown” on ABC.   The intro was a single camera walking through a deserted amusement park. The series was creepy….Rod Serling-esque and produced by the Brits and it always featured B-list American actors.    I suppose if it were on the tube today, we’d see the likes of Dustin Diamond (TV’s “Screech”), Omarosa, Lou Ferrigno, Cheryl Ladd and Melissa Gilbert in spooky scenarios.   

 The facade of the Stevens’ house that we saw each week on “Bewitched”–brought to you by Chevrolet, was situated in  suburban New York (the one on Morning Glory Circle).  It’s still used today, most recently used in  a fairly recent Christmas Fruit of the Loom underwear ad.       Oh yeah, the interior was used in “The Patty Duke Show”  (…”because their cousins…identical cousins and you’ll find…they laugh alike, they talk alike…at times they even walk alike….you can  lose your mind!!!!!”)

Don Fedderson produced “My Three Sons”.

Jay Sommers wrote “Green Acres”.

“Welch’s” brought us “The Flintstone’s” when the animated show–based on Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners”–  was on prime time.  Wrigleys and Kool Cigarettes also got into the sponsor ad action in the late sixties.  They also brought us “The Flintstones, that  modern stone age fam-uh-lee.

Anyone remember all those in-show commercials?   I remember Pebbles grabbing her stone-honed,  grape juice-filled sippy cup and saying in her best Jurassic baby talk dialect that she was jonesin’ for Welch’s  “Goo-goo, Gape Goo“, which is what she would call grape juice in that high-pitched Jurassic accent of hers.   Barney and Fred were out behind the house puffing away on Kool’s or Salem’s or Pall Mall’s or Winston’s or Marlboro or Chesterfield’s.

Max Factor–the brilliant Hollywood make-up artist and founder of his own make-up line of the same name–did make-up for most of TV’s elite in the 50’s and 60′.s

Archie and Edith Bunker lived at 704 Houser Street; Lucy and Ricky lived at 623 East 68th Street.

“Botany 500” dressed Gene Rayburn on “Match Game” featuring the drunken antics of The First Lady of Goodson/Todman game shows–Miss Charles Nelson Riley and the raspy voiced stylings of Brett Sommers (Mrs.  Jack Klugman).

Color was by “Deluxe”;  lenses were all Panaflex.    “Sky King” was sponsored by Nabisco and when he banked his plane to the left,  the wingspan formed the exact same shape as Nabisco triangle and the logo came spinning out at the viewer. 

Bing Crosby would haul out his family to help him host, “The Hollywood Palace”.   His daughter, Mary Catherine, would grow up to shoot J.R. Ewing. 

Speaking of Bing,  two of the biggest production companies in Tinsel Town were owned by Lucy and Desi and Bing Crosby.  The two constantly duked it out for producing credits back in the day.   Danny Thomas was a producer to be reckoned with, too.

Nope, kids today don’t watch TV as we did.    We didn’t merely watch it…we studied it.   Do you think today’s 8-year old would know that Ishiro Sakahura is one of the Art Directors for “Dora the Explorer”??   

No.

Or that most NBC sitcoms are filmed at Sunset-Gower studios in Hollywood?

No.

And I’m not saying that knowing where something was filmed or who applied make up to the stars is all mandatory and save for a trivia contest and one very specific trivia contest at that.   So yeah, knowing this crap is completely useless…BUT….it can give you a historical sense of the cultural nuances of your youth, that is, if you allow it.   And nothing tells us where we’ve been as Hollywood can.   

While on a business trip in L.A. a few years ago, I was invited to attend a taping of the sit com, NewsRadio at the Sunset Gower studios in Hollywood.  Wow, that was a trip.   I connected with  the history behind it.  And what a history!!!     This studio was the home of such film classics as  Frank Capra’s, It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Funny Girl.   TV shows include NewsRadio, JAG, Married….With Children and I Dream of Jeanie, to name a few.

Kids today will look at the above  paragraph and wince as that large question mark forms over their heads.   They don’t know this stuff, though I knew who the stars were from my parents childhoods.    Today’s kids have more distractions and much shorter attention spans.    Perhaps they even have more stuff to do, but less space in which to do it. And anyone over 45 knows that parents today are far more paranoid than ever before and I suppose, they have reason to be.  Kidnapping used to be about money.  Today, tragically, it’s about pedophilic sex and almost always ends up with investigators closing the case with a body bag.    

Dangers lurk everywhere these days and parents rarely let kids play in a fenced in backyard without proper supervision.

So sad.

And sometimes, what doesn’t get them outside of the home, gets them inside their homes.  Neglect and abuse of all kinds are rampant.

When I was a kid on a Saturday morning in the summer, my friends and I  got on our bikes at 9 am and came back home in time for supper.   Our mothers didn’t know where we were and more often not, didn’t worry.    It was a different time and I think it’s because we were a different people.   More trusting, less worried maybe.   Shit has always happened, but back then, it didn’t seem to matter that much or we never heard about it.     Perhaps we were more mindful to keep family business within the family.

The blissful ignorance of  yesteryear.    That’s not to say I was always 100-percent safe and never got into trouble.  

I  might have been safe, but I definitely got into trouble…frequently and often and when I did,  my grandmother always found out about it somehow and she never punished me–she let Mater and Pater do that, but she tried to  ensure whatever it was I did, would be the first and last time I’d ever do it.   You see, my grandmother was the Queen of Cautionary Tales.   And her belief in all that she told us teetered on text book paranoia, at its most hilarious.. 

She’d tell ud that every where er looked, danger lurked.  There were scads of  Bonnie and Clyde copycats out there,  not to mention other vile, shoot-to kill Highway men were looking for little girls just so they could turn them in to little corpses. 

And the Black Dahlia murderer was still on the loose and  my grandmother felt certain Lee Harvey Oswald had an equally insane brother who was a much better shot, skulking about  in every tall  building, though that particular fear factor never held much water.   The tallest thing in my hometown was the water tower…with  “Class of ’77”  sprayed in ugly  Halloween orange (our school colors and the year my classmates and I graduated, thank you very much)  across the side.

She’d also regale us with stories that every little town had at least one Bates Motel in it, even if there wasn’t a motel for miles.    We couldn’t sleep near an open window, lest the Gypsies (who we hear were also tramps & thieves) would steal us in the night and make us dance for the money they’d throw.   

And according to my granny, there was always someone waiting to commit a second  Lindbergh baby kidnapping,  even in Tiny Town, South Texas decades after the original  event occured.

Obviously, my grandmother stopped reading the newspaper after 1964.       

.

5 comments

  1. I too am old enough to remember that watching TV was a communal experience. With only one set, and few channel choices, the entire family, or gathered friends would sit together to watch and experience. The TV was a modern day fireplace hearth, drawing people in for a shared experience. Nowadays, not only do we have multiple distractions available everywhere we look, we also have multiple devices of sorts that allows us to experience all of it separately and individually. It’s a form of alienation and isolation, even in the middle of what is seemingly a sea of humanity. Strange times for sure.

  2. Hi Laurie,
    I, too, remember the times I watched TV – in Germany at that time [in the late 1950s] and at my aunt’s, as my parents didn’t want a TV [we only got one in 1964, when I was 17 already]. They only rarely allowed me to watch at my aunt’s, btw. But sometimes. And I what still remember is the American shows, such as Davy Crockett and Lassie, but also the British Robin Hood – all in b/w, of course. And later it was shows such as High Chaparral or The Vriginian – my first “cowboy experience”. I really enjoyed those shows and the rare moments when I was allowed to watch TV.
    Best regards from still-small-town KC,
    Pit

  3. The British Robin Hood……….as opposed to……..?? Never mind, I remember that one well too, Robin was played by Richard Greene, (an English actor no less). It opened with an arrow traveling a long, long way, possibly from Germany and finally thumping into a tree.

    “Adult Westerns” were big back then too, lets see how many I remember: Wanted Dead or Alive, The Rebel, Have Gun Will Travel, Wyatt Earp, Sugarfoot, Rawhide, Wagontrain, Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, The Rifleman, in addition to those mentioned above. Anyone remember any more? 10-4 (Highway Patrol starring Brodrick Crawford.)

    Cartoons were Saturday mornings only, now there are a dozen cartoon channels running 24/7 some with names grownups can’t even pronounce.

  4. This may sound strange, but I have never followed a blog, I love yours! I found this blog searching for a show called “Project Terror”. “Project Terror” didn’t air in all Texas cities, only San Antonio, Goliad and maybe Karnes, not sure. You remember more TV trivia than I do, however, I relate very well to leaving the house at 9 am and coming home after it was dark. I remember getting whipped 5 or 6 times in my whole life, with a switch from a wheeping willow tree. By today’s standards, my mom would be in prison, funny though, none of her kids ever were. My mother was the only woman within miles of Dreamland Oaks that worked. She had her own credit cards, she was a hot fiery red head with 5 kids and we had maids, yes I said it, we had maids. I could go on and on, but I will spare you.

    I do remember something very cool though. The Nelson Ratings called my home one summer day and for some reason asked me if I would be interested in taking their TV survey, I was 9 or 10 years old and I agreed. I diligently completed the out the forms that were provided, indicating what show I watched, the time it came on and what channel the show was on. After I mailed the survey back, the Nelson people sent me .50 cents, 2 quarters taped to a thank you card.

    Where is Karnes in regards to San Antonio? I was born/raised in San Antonio and came to Houston in 1974. I hated my mother and dad for uprooting me, Houston is my home now.

    The man who worked at KLOL who died suddenly, I read about him in another comment section and can’t remember his name. He always said something similar to, my name is _______ and I don’t give a damn anymore? He seemed to be very racist and hated the mayor of Houston who at the time was Lee Brown…He died suddenly of a heart attack, I think. I remember because his offensive comments were made one day about Lee Brown. I remember thinking how hateful he is and then a couple of weeks later, I read in the Houston Chronicle that he had died.

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