When I was five or six years old, I used to get up awful early on Saturday morning so I could watch Andy’s Gang on our old black-and-white TV, with this little screen that was like a square porthole. And one of the highlights of the show was a serial, “The Adventures of Gunga Ram.”
Gunga Ram was a boy in India who had lots of cool adventures, mostly because he was helping the local maharajah out of assorted tight spots. These were taken from a movie called Sabaka, made in 1953 and converted into a serial in ’54.
What I wouldn’t have given to be friends with Gunga Ram! Complete with elephants and tigers, and even the odd cobra or two.
Some of this antique TV lit up my imagination, big-time. Jungle Jim! Ramar of the Jungle! Soldiers of Fortune! Fury! Wow, I couldn’t get enough of it! I wanted to know all about these places that served as settings for the stories on TV, and the people and the animals that really lived there, and the history, and the language–!
Oh, I know now that Sabaka only plugged in stock footage of India, the young actor who played Gunga Ram was Italian, most of it was shot around Los Angeles, and African lions don’t live in the jungle, after all–and Indian elephants aren’t normally found in Africa, even if they’ve got rubber attached to their ears to make them look like African elephants. Yes, I know it was all make-believe.
But I enjoyed it!
See that beautiful palomino horse, rearing up on his hind legs? It was a popular toy in the 1950s, and I still have mine, and it’s still beautiful. They came in two different poses and several colors. In fact, I still have half a dozen of them. Each one came with a cowboy, a rather fragile saddle (that’s the green thing, and I’m afraid none of my saddles have survived), even more fragile reins and bridles, and a very tiny hat for the cowboy’s head. I still have one of the cowboys, but no hats.
My animal box that my father made for me is full of plastic horses of all different shapes and sizes. Like a lot of kids of that era, I was horse-crazy. On rainy days, indoors, or sunny days in the sandbox, I trotted out my horses and put them through adventures. What with all the westerns on TV at the time, that wasn’t hard to do. And the hours drifted by so pleasantly.
Castles made of my mother’s books, looming fortresses of sand–my horses had their work cut out for them. But those stories I made up for them always came out all right in the end. Soon I left off making up western stories and had my horses interacting with lions, elephants, and dinosaurs.
I wish I could line them up and take a picture for you. If you’re my age, you might spot some dear old friends among the crowd.
Sometimes on a dreary, rainy day, my father let us take the slats out from under our mattresses, set them up across the beds, drape the throw rug over them, and pretend that we were camping.
Having done so, my brother and I would break out the toy animals and dinosaurs and set them on adventures. We never got into army men, but we did have a couple of toy knights, which my mother identified for us as Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad. Under the shelter of our make-believe tent, Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad enjoyed some exciting times exploring lost worlds full of dragons, jungles, the North Pole, and the planet Venus.
Assisted by assorted lions, rhinos, elephants, stegosaurs, and giraffes, our knights overcame aggressive tyrannosaurs, hostile natives, and alien beings. Sometimes we resorted to Grandpa’s old stone building blocks and endowed the knights with castles and forts that had to be defended. A gigantically overgrown Dimetrodon was their biggest challenge, but they were up to it. Occasionally they would recruit bands of cowboys on horseback to help out.
It was amazing how time flew by, when we were doing this. Did I mention that we had lots of little toy cavemen, too? They usually found their way into the story, sometimes as the good guys, sometimes as the bad.
Video games? Fah! Who needs video games?