Hiya, Kids!! A ’50s Saturday Morning
A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants. This DVD takes you to those wonderful bygone days when marketers first got wet for the impressionable 1.3 bazillion baby boomers under age ten. You can just hear the “ka-ching” in every candy bar and cheap toy shoved at the tiny, flickering screen. They stop just short of saying, “do you know where mommy’s pocketbook is?” but they know they got us by the shorties and they vow to never let go. And they never do, not even in this century.
In this collection of the most beloved of these pioneer efforts, the adult actors work themselves into exhaustion, the kids in the audience hook themselves on sugar before our very eyes, and the advertisers find less-than-subtle ways to bang us over the head with their lame-o products.
Don’t fool yourselves. Nothing really has changed since then. We’re not any smarter than these rubes. We are still being manipulated by marketers. Kids (and adults) are still being sucked in, albeit in more subtle ways.
Still, this collection is as chilling as it is charming, as television invents itself as a boredom-killer and, although the tone is lowered slightly, the formula basically remains to this day if you pay enough attention and look away from the blinding spectacle.
We marvel in a nostalgic haze as we witness these program’s adorable peanut galleries, filled with the darling moppets who will make America what it is today, with its sky-high oil prices, falling dollar and depressed housing market.
Of course, television programming would greatly improve as the medium eventually becomes more sophisticated (Sesame Street, Zoom). For a brief shining moment, we get to see how young, white America was being manipulated because their parents were well-off enough to afford television receivers.
Let’s quickly flip through the channels:
Howdy Doody. The mother (father?) of all kids’ shows. We’re immediately instructed to greet all friends and strangers with the phrase “howdy doody.” Of course, the cease-and-desist of this tradition is what caused the downfall of society and the burning of our cities. In the meantime, host Buffalo Bob forces three kids to play the ukulele, which today would be considered child abuse.
Rootie Kazootie. This total rip-off of Howdy Doody bears witness to the very last time you can send away for a “Lucky Spot” ring (only 15 cents and two Powerhouse candy wrappers – cheap!). We are reminded (almost constantly): “don’t be left out. How would you feel if all your friends had the Lucky Spot ring and you didn’t have one?” Like crap, I guess. And speaking of crap, do they still make Powerhouse candy bars?
Winky Dink. Possibly the first interactive TV show, hosted by the smooth Jack Barry. Winky Dink is a li’l cowboy cartoon character who needs your help crossing bridges and smelling flowers and riding cars. How, you ask? By sending away for a “magic window” that you place over your television screen and draw upon with special crayons (only 50 cents – cheap!). Of course, one is reminded of the Robert Klein joke that nobody ever bothered to send away for the magic window; instead, kids just drew directly onto the screen, to their parents’ horror. Apparently, Winky consistently gets on Jack Barry’s nerves, but that doesn’t stop him from reminding us, “You can’t have as much fun unless you have the Winky Dink kit.” They figure that if you can afford a TV set, you can afford a Winky Dink kit.
Ding Dong School. Here is an exercise in the lost art of one-sided conversation. A matronly teacher-type soothingly lulls us as we suck at the teat of the old boob tube. When she’s not pimping Kix cereal (the most boring cereal ever manufactured), she’s proving her rainy-day-fun worthiness by blowing bubbles, reciting a poem, and suddenly asking us if we know what a dentist is. Before too long, we have to be instructed that Kix is “ready to eat” and that it’s good with milk. Now there’s an idea! She also reminds us that “we’ve done lots of things on this table this morning, haven’t we?”
The Paul Winchell Show. Believe it or not, a man and his dummy can be pretty compelling, especially when he has an overly enthusiastic, adoring audience. Here, the dude with the voice of a thousand cartoon characters ponders Christmas in the year 2000 (he gets it all wrong). Also, reaffirming that TV viewers will believe anything, he tells us that “new blue Cheer” detergent is good for dishes as well as laundry. Uh, okay. We’re also given the urgent news that Camay now contains cold cream, as “many a Camay bride will tell you.” If only I had a dollar for every Camay bride who told me that.
Juvenile Jury. Smooth-as-silk Jack Barry is back as host of this panel show, sponsored by (I’m not kidding) Geritol, Jr., the “blood-building tonic.” Here, your average (white) youngsters help typical taxpaying Americans with their problems. All the while, Barry insists that it’s all ad-lib. In fact, his closing line is “out of the mouths of babes, oftime come gems.” Some of these gems include: “every time I see my father, I see him go to the bathroom.” Oooh, burn! The novelty is that the program is constantly teetering on unpredictable kid chaos. The loose-lipped tykes may blurt out something unintentionally scandalous. In a more serene moment, an unseen housewife wins an Underwood portable typewriter for submitting the question, “Do you think it’s easier to be the mother or the father in the family?” The consensus, of course, is that “a mother’s work is never done.”
The Pinky Lee Show. Possibly the best joint in the collection. The singin’/dancin’/always movin’ Lee is too good for bland 50s America. He is almost literally shot out of a cannon, ready to kill ya till ya die. His LA-based audience, sucking on Pinky pops (lollipops) seem a bit more telegenic and more TV-savvy than other TV studio audiences in smaller markets. He drags adults out to do silly dances (ironically, ten years later, these dances would be all the rage) and one child actually wins a live puppy. You’ll also see a puppet tap dancing (that’s what I said) and Pinky wisely advises us that “we should never lose our youth. Have some fun!” Done and done. Invite this man to your next party!
Kids and Company. This one stars Johnny Olsen, who will later make The Price Is Right‘s “Come on down” one of the most familiar catch phrases on television. This pro-American, über-patriotic show (in the shadow of McCarthyism) showcases singing, tap dancing, baton twirling and monologues like “What Is America to Me?” Heroes of the week include a boy who sucked snake venom from somebody’s foot, a boy mayor of Camden, NJ, and a former polio victim who wins a cross-country trip (by bus!). Olsen also reminds us that he will be a guest on Strike It Rich to try to win furniture for a farm family who lost their house in a fire. Forget the dinette set and bring on the TV set! And this was a slow week.
Lassie. Inexplicably, this series ran for twenty years, with the popular pooch and his (I mean her) assorted owners and moms. We wonder who is perkier: Lassie or Timmy, and we do have to keep reminding ourselves that Lassie is a girl. Even Timmy sometimes forgets. Here, mom and Gramps do a whole lot of sitting at the kitchen table as mom darns socks, just like the can-do women of today. Will Timmy and Lassie find trouble? You bet!
Flash Gordon. Of course, this program painfully illustrates for us a parable of today’s troubled political climate, but whatever. Again, the earth is doomed (borr-rring) and in order to save the planet, Flash and his posse have to travel back to the year 1953 (get it?). Flash’s professor friend rightly observes that in that particular year, “women knew their way around a kitchen more than they did around a laboratory.” What’s interesting here is that the program was filmed in the ruins of West Berlin, only a few years after the end of World War II. Not sure why, but plenty of ruin and carnage to see in the background.
Annie Oakley. Gals with guns. We are reminded that Annie somehow manages to “hit the entertainment bulls’ eye every week with her hard ridin’.” If you say so. Annie may be a sharp shooter, but her acting is a bit dull, with such gems as: “All right, drop your gun,” and “All right, come on.”
Kukla, Fran and Ollie. I’m not sure which one is which, but what we have here are two puppets (not Punch and Judy) vying for the attention of a live woman (I think). One of them says, “I don’t want to be classified. I’m an individualist.” This must be the very subtle subversion that would influence their viewing audience to dance naked at Woodstock. For now, they pimp the new RCA Victor cabinet console, complete with an automatic record changer for the new 45 rpm records (only $199.50 – cheap!).
Time For Beany. More in-your-sock-face puppet adventure, excruciating to all viewers older than age three. At least it’s not trying to sell you anything, and it gets a seal of approval because it was created by puppetmaster extraordinaire Bob Clampett.
Captain Z-Ro. Like television itself, this joint considers itself “an experiment in time and space.” We are asked to marvel at the invention of Roger the Robot, with Captain Z-Ro skillfully giving us a demonstration. He warns us, “whatever happens, let me handle it, and don’t antagonize him,” proving that Captain Z-Ro was the original Dr. Phil. Through a tired plot point, Roger escapes to San Francisco, where, of course, he wanders around completely unnoticed.
The Roy Rogers Show. We are told that The Roy Rogers Show stars Roy Rogers. Makes sense. Like his eventual fast-food chain, Roy’s program moves fast, with no-nonsense and plenty of fixin’s. He’s unflappable, which is a very good quality for a cowboy hero. To boot, he’s rootin’ as well as tootin’. We have no idea that the series takes place in the “modern day” until we spot a jeep on the range. Roy’s gal Dale is as loyal as his horse, Trigger, and both of them look like they’ve just been to the beauty parlor. And avoiding death by bullet is as easy as crouching behind a nearby rock. Wait till the end – they sing “Happy Trails,” and you’ll want to sing along, and you’ll have no idea why.
The Magic Clown. If you’re afraid of clowns, then you’ll never sleep again after screening this joint. He’s hawking Turkish Taffy (only twenty cents – cheap!) and it’s available at all your favorite stores that have gone out of business, like McCrory’s and Woolworth’s. This one is pretty much self-explanatory – a clown who performs magic before a booming boomer audience. But more importantly, the Turkish Taffy he is constantly pushing on you “gives you a lot of pep.” That’s why the audience won’t shut up.
Super Circus. Other than Mary Hartline, whose feminine charms and proto-mini-skirt gained a reputation in early television for attracting as many fathers as kids to this program, you’ll immediately be informed about Mars Candy’s Three Musketeers and Snickers bars. In the early fifties, these candies were oddly shaped and strangely wrapped, and all the Cub Scouts in the audience are hopped up on them (is it any wonder that this generation would eventually be hooked on drugs?). We also wonder if the other Super Circus cast members are dwarfs, or if simply everybody was really, really short back then. We’re not told. There is also a heartfelt public-service-announcement plea for girls (not boys) to become nurses. Makes sense: there was certainly an epidemic of sugar rushes.
Cisco Kid. The only selection here to be filmed in color, with majorly stereotyped Hispanics, weak-willed women, poison darts, Alzheimer’s-ridden oldsters, no African Americans, dehydrated horses and lots of gunfighting. Those were the days.
Sky King. Sort of a Western in the air, but the plot and the series explanation is hazy. All we know – and probably all we need to know – is that the Sky King parks his airplane in the driveway, like a car. The series is brought to you by Nabisco, who makes Oreos and other familiar snacks, but seems to no longer manufacture Chiparoons (a pity). Here, all the buttons are pushed for our entertainment attention: a blind boy hero and his lovable seeing-eye dog, his kindly grandma who doesn’t ask nothing from nobody and yet trouble still finds her, a robbery, a shooting and a coyote hunt. All in less than thirty minutes. You do the math.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. This one takes place in Kenya with plenty of awkward film footage of rampaging animals. As you can well imagine, there is absolutely no racial stereotyping among the African natives and their tribal war. Sheena, as white as snow, delivers the immortal line, “Sheena do not need gun. She use spear.” And yet she sounds studio trained. Still, be sure to internalize the line and use it as often as you can. We also get a chimp for comic relief, as if we weren’t comically relieved enough. To say the least, not a lot of character development.
Andy’s Gang. Veteran character actor Andy Devine reads a story book to an adoring crowd, lets a monkey run loose and passes himself off as a “hep cat.” Andy leads the crowd in a jingle for Buster Brown shoes that verges on a religious intensity. In fact, Andy reminds his gang, “Don’t forget church or Sunday school.” We’re also treated to a film about Indians, all played by Caucasians.
Watch them all, feel superior, and then slowly realize that nothing much has really changed.
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 10, 2008.