This is among my very earliest memories: my father carrying me in his arms, rocking me, and singing this to me: You Are My Sunshine. And if I tried to sing it now, wit you well, it would make me cry. I dassn’t even play it on my harmonica.
I had these fantods, see, of undefined scary things assembling outside my bedroom window and whispering evilly among themselves, just waiting for me to fall asleep so they could come in and get me. So Daddy had to come and calm me down, which of course he always did.
I hope he knows how much I miss him.
And now I have to stop, because it’s getting to me.
Ah, the days of innocence! Complete with Indian elephant wandering around Africa.
Remember Jungle Jim, starring Johnny Weissmuller? Tarzan with clothes on. Half an hour of pure TV pleasure, back in the 1950s. Man, I couldn’t get enough of those African adventure shows. Jungle Jim, Ramar of the Jungle, Sheena Queen of the Jungle (starring the irrepressible Irish McCalla: I think she went on to become an artist of some note)–I loved ’em all. And the kids in those shows never had to go to school! So much better than just answering nuisance robo-calls–which hadn’t been invented yet. But you can bet Jungle Jim never got one.
Where was I? Oh, yeah…
No African jungle adventure show would have been complete without the cry of the Australian kookaburra in the background.
Hear that? Sound familiar?
Welcome to the Fifties TV jungle!
If your brain hasn’t been quite deflated by the nooze yet, here’s something that might finish the job. Listen at your own risk.
I remember this goofy song from 1961. My friends across the street had the record. My parents thought they were a bad influence on me. If you listen carefully, you might suspect that the performer, Welsh comedian Tommy Cooper, was a few screws short of an erector set.
Don’t Jump Off of the Roof, Dad was his one and only hit record. ‘Nuff said.
I wonder if there even are places like this anymore, that haven’t yet been torn down, paved over, and replaced by nail salons and trendy restaurants.
I say we need wild places, places of mystery–like Dead Man’s Cave. Places that kick the imagination into gear. But I haven’t been back to Dead Man’s Cave in a very long time; I think it might have vanished into the morning mist, like Brigadoon.
Maybe that’s the only way to keep it safe.
What am I doing, sitting here, going through nooze items, when I have a Newswithviews column to write? I’d better get to it.
Meanwhile, allow me to indulge you with one of my favorite judo throws, “Hiza Garuma.” The name means “knee wheel.”
The beauty of this throw is, I could teach any of you to do it in a matter of minutes. Just block your partner’s knee with the sole of your foot, make like you’re turning the wheel of your car, and down he goes. I learned it from a book when I was 13 or so, and taught it to all my friends that summer. There was a whole lot of hiza garuma goin’ on in my neighborhood.
While I’m working on my column, feel free to teach yourselves hiza garuma. Find a loved one or a business associate who doesn’t mind taking a fall. But don’t try it on strangers you pass on the sidewalk: that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
There must be some of you out there who remember this vintage 1955 TV show, Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion. This theme music has been lodged in my memory ever since I was six years old.
Captain Gallant starred Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe, famous for his roles as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, with a stint as Tarzan, too–his was a name to conjure with, back then. His real-life son, Cullen “Cuffy” Crabbe, co-starred with him in this show. What they were supposed to be doing, stationing a little kid at a Foreign Legion post which was always getting attacked by the Arabs, is difficult to imagine. But if I remember rightly, the same motif was used in Rin Tin Tin, a memory which I’ll get to on another day. I guess it was done to keep children in the audience.
Buster Crabbe! What a big name he was, once upon a time!
I wonder if I can fit him into my Bell Mountain movie.
I was seven years old when this song came out in 1956. I only heard it once, but I never forgot it–because, well! What 7-year-old wouldn’t be fascinated by a train running through the middle of the house? I’m afraid I took the lyrics literally. We went to visit Grammy one night and I was kind of sleepy, coming home. So my father turned on the car radio, and this song was what I heard. Woke me right up!
Bob Hilliard wrote it, Rusty Draper and Vaughn Monroe recorded it independently of each other, and it was a big hit in both the USA and Britain.
Walt Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club debuted on TV in 1955 and was a mega-hit by 1956, airing on weekday afternoons. Remember?
I was only six or seven years old when I started watching this, and now I don’t know how I ever managed to sit through it. Really, all I wanted was the cartoons! Especially Donald Duck, or Goofy. If they played them at all, they played them near the end of the show so you had to watch all the singing and dancing. Those sequences seem just as long to me today as they seemed back then.
I wanted one of those Mouseketeer hats, but never got one–just a set of plastic slip-on Mickey Mouse ears. Why in the world did I watch this show? Beats me! Was it because mine was the first TV generation, and we all watched TV because that’s what you did? And whatever they put on the screen, you watched? Say it ain’t so, Joe.
I’ll never get back the time I spent watching this festival of nothing.
It’s 1957 again, early Sunday afternoon. I’ve already been to Sunday school, we’ve had our Sunday dinner. Usually on Sunday we visit someone else in the family, or someone visits us; but not today. It’s raining, too early in the year for any baseball on TV, and everything has sort of wound down for a little while: a Sabbath rest.
As for me, it’s time to revel in the Sunday color comics. Prince Valiant. Mandrake the Magician. Flash Gordon. Blondie. Freckles and His Friends. Bugs Bunny. Oh, so many of them! An eight-year-old could spend half the afternoon, doing this. And of course my favorite, Mark Trail.
I didn’t care much for the black-and-white Mark Trail stories on the weekdays, I didn’t understand them, but on Sunday it was goodbye to all that, it was color, and it was one cool animal after another. I didn’t care if I was the only kid on the block who knew about wart hogs, four-eyed fish, and bolas spiders. This was stuff worth knowing! Today I call it God’s stuff. Creation. Back then it was just wonderful, I didn’t have a word for it.
It’s been decades since I’ve had a Sunday newspaper, so I have no idea if any of those old comic strips have been continued. If Mark Trail’s still there, betcha anything they took away his pipe.
But at least he’ll never run out of animals; and neither will we. God never skimped on His Creation.
Boy, oh, boy, did I love these when I was a little boy! Marx jungle animals–I still have dozens of them in my toy box. I think I was five years old when Aunt Millie gave me my first little set of them.
I used these as characters in “stories” that went on all summer, or all winter, or whenever. I gave them names and put them in adventures. Some of those pictured above are newer than any of mine, but ten of them are originals from the 1950s.
Sometimes my brother or my friends would join me in playing out these little dramas, and sometimes I played alone. Once I started getting dinosaurs and cavemen, too, the stories got more exciting. Lost treasures, nasty big game hunters that had to be dealt with, lost worlds full of monsters–whatever popped into our heads, often inspired by a movie or TV show, we used. Unusually, I rarely played with little army men. I was committed to the animals.
Do kids still do this kind of play? Or has it all be buried under a mass of video games? I don’t know. Maybe some of you have children or grandchildren who use their toys to act out stories. Careful–they might grow up to be fantasy writers.