Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Jon Gnagy’s Learn to Draw was among the most popular educational TV shows. I watched it regularly, and sent away for one of his instructional kits. And you know what? It really helped me learn to draw!
His lessons usually started by showing you the basic geometric shapes–cones, cubes, spheres, etc.–underlying the objects that you wished to draw; and then he’d show you how to build on those. For instance, you’d start with a cone and build it, step by step, into a sheaf of wheat, a teepee, or a church steeple. The kit had a variety of pencils, charcoal sticks, and this really cool “kneaded eraser” that was like a ball of Silly Putty. And it had a book of scenes that you could learn to draw–again, step by step.
Over the years, I got rather good at drawing all kinds of things. It was fun! We still have Patty’s Learn to Draw kit stowed upstairs. Still lifes, landscapes, people and animals–it’s all in there.
This is Charles R. Knight’s 1894 painting of Elotherium, an extinct animal that resembled a wild boar. That’s cool–but what I’m really interested in is the backdrop.
This reproduction, the only one I could find, doesn’t quite capture the dried-out yellowish tones of the banks of this gully. You’ll have to imagine that. The gully is full of water and the animals are crossing it. Farther up toward the horizon, the gully feeds into a more permanent stream. And then a river? Then the sea?
The thing is–I think I’ve been there! Years and years and years ago. You got there if you went all the way down Orchard Street, back when there was still an orchard there, well past all the houses, and then just park your bike where this little bridge went across the gully. You could easily climb down and wade in the water–which of course you wouldn’t do if there were Elotheriums present. They look irritable.
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Knight used real places as the backdrops for his paintings of prehistoric life. I wonder: did he wander into my childhood, or did I wander into one of his paintings?
I can’t imagine what this show would look like if it were done today–You Are There: re-enactments of historical events done up as news stories and hosted by Walter Kronkite. It ran on radio, 1947-1950, and then morphed into a TV show that ran through 1957. My mother never missed it, and I watched it with her. It must’ve been a pretty good show, because my memories of it are quite vivid. We also saw some episodes in school, on film, complete with reel-to-reel projector that didn’t always work.
If they did it today it’d be wall-to-wall America-bashing carried out by the nudnicks who call themselves “news reporters.” I’m not saying nooze media bias didn’t exist in the 1950s; but it was a lot harder to spot and no one was looking for it.
Anyhow, here’s Walter Kronkite–once upon a time called “the most trusted man in America,” that’s how innocent we were–introducing the Gunfight at the OK Corral as a news event.
This was one of the more indelible images from my childhood: Nikita Khrushchev, head honcho of the Soviet Union, banging his shoe on his desk at a United Nations meeting and saying things like “We will bury you” and “Your grandchildren will live under communism!” At that time we all understood that “communism” meant labor camps, the secret police breaking down your door in the middle of the night, “teachers” encouraging your kids to snitch on you–
Hey, wait a minute! Maybe old Nikita could foretell the future, after all.
But at least you knew exactly where he was coming from, and he wasn’t going to scare President Eisenhower–and besides, we all knew that Mrs. Khrushchev, Nina, would never let Nikita start World War III. However rambunctious her husband might get, Nina simply wasn’t going to let really bad things happen.
As I recall it, Nina Khrushchev was very popular with the American people. Surely Nikita got an earful for starting the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Oh, holy cow–am I waxing nostalgic for Nikita Khrushchev? I guess that’s a measure of how bad things are today.
The kingdoms of this world are the alternative to the Kingdom of Heaven: one damned crisis after another. See Matthew 24.
I would like to mention the sitting-room closet, which held a certain fascination for me. Here the explorer would find my mother’s bowling shoes–truly mystifying!–and her tennis racket, although I don’t remember her ever playing tennis until much, much later in life. The carpet-sweeper was also in there. Do we still have carpet-sweepers?
Ah, the smell of ironing! And the black-and-white TV. And kneeling on the couch by the window, watching the snow come down…
I’m in a retrospective mood today–maybe because 2020 is racing by so fast, even with the Great Quarantine to paralyze it.
Behold the mighty Trachodon, the pre-eminent “duckbill dinosaur,” as faithfully rendered into plastic by the Marx Toy Co. I still have a troop of these in my animal and dinosaur box. Nor was there, when I was acquiring those toys, a dinosaur book that didn’t mention Trachodon.
I don’t wanna hear it, that there never was a Trachodon! I don’t care if all they ever had was a few teeth somebody dug up in 1850–Trachodon was in all the books, I had the toys, I’d even seen the straight-up-standing skeleton in the American Museum of Natural History–and now you want to tell me there was no such thing? Away wi’ ye!
We will never be able to see live dinosaurs, so we will never know just how wrong we were about them. Which icons of today’s Settled Science will follow Trachodon into oblivion?
“I knew him, Horatio: he was a dinosaur of infinite jest. How his broad duck bill would gape with laughter!”
I’d like to know what we’ll be laughing at twenty years from now.
I remember my father playing this song on the radio as he painted our upstairs bedrooms, which used to be the attic until he converted it–with his own hands.
Cindy, Oh Cindy–I was seven years old when this was popular and I was watching Daddy paint the walls. This version is by Vince Martin and the Tarriers. There are others.
I can’t hear it without thinking of my father–and missing him. He went to sea when he was little more than a boy, joined the Navy to fight in World War II. I’m sure this song made him recall those days.
If I could impart just one lesson to the relatively young, it would be this: There will come a time in your life when you’re losing more people than you gain; so with your family, with your friends, love ’em while you’ve got ’em. You come into the world as the youngest member of your family; and some of us live to see themselves the oldest member of their family.
Love with all your heart. It’s not like money, you don’t run out of it by spending it. God doesn’t let that happen. Love without stinting. You’ll never be sorry you did.
Of course, you had to have an attention span, and an imagination, to enjoy these. On each page was a short article to read, a line drawing to color with your crayons, and a full-color stamp to paste in.
I don’t know how old I was when my Grammie got me In Days of Old: The Story of the Middle Ages–ten, tops, no older than that–but I remember it as if I’d read it yesterday. The pictures and the text ignited my imagination, and to this day I’m still interested in the Middle Ages. Still learning.
I am so glad I didn’t have to settle for “Zombie Apocalypse” on some kind of electronic gizmo.
Good grief. You mean some of us actually watched this? The Rootie Kazootie Club? Yoish.
Well, it was the early days of television, early 1950s, and we still had a lot to learn about just how low it could go. This is a 15-minute clip, the shortest one I could find; but I think after two or three minutes you’ll get the feel of it.
A lot of these prehistoric kids’ shows had live studio audiences who were expected to sing the theme song, applaud and laugh (on cue, I suspect), and look happy. Some of them don’t look all that happy.
I’m too young to remember it well–the show ran from 1950 to 1954, so I was only five years old when it stopped–but I do remember it a little. I must say there’s something about it that I find kind of creepy. Are they, like, Stepford Kids in the audience? What would you find if you looked under Rootie’s hat?
But I’m giving myself the willies, so I’d better stop.