Tag Archives: vintage 1950s TV

The Awfulness of ‘Queen for a Day’

My Grandma had what I could only think of as a very strange taste in television. I ought to know: I spent many an afternoon at her house, just the two of us.

She loved those old soap operas with the creepy organ music, most of whose plots seemed to consist of old ladies getting a raw deal; but the show that really gave me the willies was Queen for a Day. As I remember the format, the poor old trout with the most baroque sob story got to be Queen for a Day and received a lot of rather cheap prizes. This pioneering effort in reality TV ran on NBC from 1956-1960, and on ABC till 1964. It has since been equaled many times for sheer horribleness, but never surpassed.

For entertainment and edification value, it ranked somewhere between a deep paper cut and stepping in what your neighbor’s Great Dane left on your lawn when he got loose.

Oops! Wrong video! Somehow I got the 28-minute sample instead of the 2-minute one. Please don’t feel obliged to sit through the whole thing. Two or three minutes is more than enough.


Memory Lane: ‘Lamp Unto My Feet’ TV Show

Lamp Unto My Feet

It’s almost impossible to imagine this on network television nowadays: Lamp Unto My Feet, an hour-long religious anthology show that aired on Sunday mornings from 1948 to 1979. But we are living in a time of cultural disaster.

Now I have to admit I never saw this show. We went to church or Sunday school on Sunday mornings, and didn’t watch TV. And from the descriptions I’ve read, maybe it was just a tad too interfaith, too world-friendly for me. If they brought it back today, it would be recast as a multicultural parody of itself.

But the whole idea, by today’s debauched standards, is radical. I mean, you turn on your TV and there’s a great actor like James Earl Jones playing in a drama intended to edify a Christian or Jewish audience! If you had that today, Organized Atheism would howl its lungs out and some Christ-hating judge would shut you down.

Too bad we can only imagine it.


Memory Lane: ‘The Bible Tells Me So’

Phoebe mentioned this 1955 popular song in a comment, and although I’m sure I hadn’t thought of it since then, I instantly remembered it. Do you?

I didn’t know, at the time, that the song was written by Dale Evans. I must’ve thought she and Roy Rogers only sang Happy Trails to You at the end of their TV show.

So here it is, Roy and Dale and The Bible Tells Me So. Go ahead, tell me that the time we live in now is better than the time we lived in then. Play me some gangsta rap.

Then duck.


Memory Lane: ‘Flash Gordon’

Remember this? The 1954-55 Flash Gordon TV series. I don’t remember it well: mostly I have this image of Flash being menaced by something that looked like a heap of bathroom rugs (and might have been, at that). I used to read the Flash Gordon adventures in the Sunday newspaper, in the color comics section. The TV show couldn’t quite live up to that.

Nevertheless, it had its moments–as in this little clip above, in which the narrator makes reference to “the rings of Jupiter.” Huh? I thought it was Saturn with the rings–didn’t you?

There’s only so much you can learn from pop culture!


Memory Lane: Sheena, Queen of the Jungle

Ah, 1950s kids’ TV! I just couldn’t get enough of that stock footage of African wildlife, no matter how many TV shows it got recycled through–principally Ramar of the Jungle, with Jon Hall, and Jungle Jim, with Johnny Weismuller.

But let us not forget Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which ran 1955-56, starring the statuesque Irish McCalla. I was too young to develop crushes on TV or movie stars, but I knew way cool when I saw it, and Sheena was way cool. What I wouldn’t have given to trade places with her! But then she’d be stuck behind a desk in my rotten second-grade class at Edgar School, while I’d be off in Kenya, easy prey for the first hungry animal to come along. She had a cool horn, too.  I wished I had one like that.


Cartoons Didn’t Get Better

Just so you can better appreciate what Max Fleischer was able to do with cartoons in the 1920s, here’s “Clutch Cargo,” which debuted in 1959. They made the lips to move with a process called “syncro vox”–but nothing else moved. More like suspended animation than animation.


Memory Lane: Castro Convertibles

When I was a little boy, there was this little tiny girl on TV who busily converted a sofa into a bed: the famous Castro Convertible commercials.

The woman in this video was that little girl, Bernadette Castro, whose father invented that famous piece of furniture. I wish the video had the old Castro jingle: “Who was the first to conquer space? Castro Convertibles!” The best I could do was this much newer ad which shows the antique commercial in the inset.

We had a convertible sofa in our house, but never converted it into a bed. I was always tempted to try–I mean, if a little girl could do it, I could do it, too. But I never dared to do it, for fear I wouldn’t be able to put it back together again.

Let me see if I can find that jingle for you.

Ah, here it is–complete with Dan Ingram’s radio sales pitch.


Bonus Video: Clint Eastwood Sings

Before he was a movie star, Clint Eastwood co-starred in Rawhide, a classic TV Western, vintage 1960 and thereabouts. The song he sings here, Beyond the Sun Over the Mountain, was auxiliary theme music for the show–and I always thought it was a mighty fine song. I only just found out it was composed by Russell Garcia, whose music soundtrack for The Time Machine (1960) is some of the most haunting movie music ever written.

You might want to try this one as a lullaby. I’ll bet it’ll work.

P.S.–The two guys assisting Eastwood in the scene were among the best character actors ever–Buddy Ebsen (Beverly Hillbillies) and Paul Brinegar. Now that was television!


Sanity Break: Jimmy Durante

Just to show that the human race is capable of better things than the state of our colleges and our politics might indicate, here’s Jimmy Durante on Steve Allen’s TV show, vintage 1960. Don’t ask me to sum up what the two of them are doing, besides treating us to a wholesome breath of sanity.

For those of you who are too young to have caught Durante’s act (to say nothing of Steve Allen’s: he was pretty sharp, too)–well, here it is, and better late than never.

Inka-Dinka-Doo, by the way, was one of Jimmy’s signature songs, and a great hit in its time. Nuff said.


TV Heroes: ‘Robin Hood’

Wow, this takes me back a good distance down Memory Lane!

The Adventures of Robin Hood ran from 1955-1959, and I tried never to miss an episode. It starred Richard Greene, not well-remembered now, but quite a big star in his day. How big? In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Greene got top billing over Basil Rathbone. That’s big!

How many times have I whistled this theme song since the show went off the air? How many times did my friends and I play Robin Hood?

Of course, kids have been playing Robin Hood for centuries. Before there was TV, my Aunt Joan and her twin sister, Florence, decided to play Robin Hood on a rainy day. In their game, Robin had to rescue Maid Marian, who was locked up in the Sheriff of Nottingham’s jail. They used a bed frame for that. Unfortunately, after Maid Marian poked her head through the metal struts to call for help, she couldn’t pull it back out again. Grandpa had to bring his tools and take the bed apart. I wish I could’ve seen the look on his face when he discovered what his two youngest daughters had gotten up to.

Enjoy the clips, and feel free to play a little Robin Hood yourselves when no one’s looking. Just be careful with the bed.


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