Tag Archives: vintage 1950s TV

We Need Our National Mythology

You know what? We need our national mythology! In fact, with all these varmints on the left trying to tear it down, we need it more than ever.

Paladin, played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel, was “a knight without armor in a savage land.” So we had a whole passel of westerns on TV–all about moral and physical courage, standing up for what is right, thinking independently, and doing what needed to be done to tame the savage land. Maybe they were no more strictly historical than the King Arthur legends; but they pointed us in a good direction.

And I remember one time, going into the bookstore in the mall, hearing this theme song sung with incredible sweetness by a guy stacking the bottom shelves. I thank you for that memory, whoever you are.

We need our heroes back. It was an act of cultural suicide to get rid of them.


Memory Lane: ‘Wyatt Earp’

This is another one of those fondly-remembered TV westerns from my childhood: The Life and Legend (mostly legend) of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O’Brien.

These shows promoted “values”–moral and physical courage, uprightness, truth-telling–that aren’t cool anymore. Never mind that they sanitized the Old West and took liberties with history. People who didn’t understand that had a special name: children.

These shows were our national mythology. They presented an idealized picture of America–not as it really was, but as it ought to strive to be. So Hugh O’Brien played Wyatt Earp as a kind of plaster saint, which he most certainly was not.

Historians are divided on the merits of doing this. Livy would say “Oh, yeah, go for it!” But Snorri Sturlusson would say that such depictions of historical figures are “not praise, but mockery.”

But at least us kids in the 1950s knew there was such a person as Wyatt Earp, and that he lived in a time which was quite different from ours. Do schools teach that today? Not if they can help it!

If you want strict unvarnished truth in history, you have to turn to the Bible. You won’t find any plaster saints in there. Just ordinary people, some of them quite talented, others not so much, doing the best they could: and sometimes, by the grace of God, accomplishing something extraordinary.

As for me, having lived in both a time during which we had our national mythology, and in a time during which we don’t, I feel bound to say: having it was better.


Memory Lane: ‘Circus Boy’

Wow! Does this brief intro take me back!

This was among our Saturday morning TV treats from 1958 to 1960–Circus Boy, starring Mickey Dolenz (they called him Braddock then), who years later was famous again as one of the Monkees.

A traveling circus in the Old West–what could be cooler than that? Oh! I forgot! We aren’t allowed to like the circus anymore, and there never was such a place as the Old West.

Anyway, given the format, this show could and did go anywhere. Just about anything could happen. And there’s something about it, something subtle, that brings to mind some of Ray Bradbury’s stories.

Huh? Ray who? What’re you talking about?

I thank God every day for my 1950s childhood. But alas, we who had it didn’t know what we had, and we let it slip through our fingers. God help us, stranded in this lamentable 21st century.

May God equip us to conquer it for Jesus Christ our King.


Memory Lane: ‘You Are There’

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.

Cool!


Memory Lane: ‘Rootie Kazootie’

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.


Memory Lane: ‘Syncopated Clock’

Do you remember Leroy Anderson? He was one of the most popular composers in America, in his time; and one of his best-known pieces was Syncopated Clock. It was chosen as the theme music for “The Late Show,” in the 1950s. Of course I never saw The Late Show, it was way past my bedtime. But Syncopated Clock was also the theme for “The Early Show.”

I offer it as a stress buster. Oh, those old movies on black-and-white TV!

Anderson was also famous for his Sleigh Ride, featuring a simulated horse (was it laughing or just neighing? I could never decide), The Phantom Regiment, and other numbers that became embedded in our pop culture. I still love to whistle a few of them.

If you’re old enough to remember these, I’m sure you still enjoy them–when you get a chance to hear them. If you’re young–well, there’s some wonderful great music waiting for you.


Memory Lane: ‘Million Dollar Movie’

“If you missed any part of Attack of the Crab Monsters, or wish to see it again, the next showing will be tomorrow at 7:30 p.m….”

Are you kidding? I’m 11 years old, yer durn tootin’ I wish to see more crab monsters!

That was Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9, WOR-TV, New York, from 1955 through 1966. This was how the local stations held their ground against the major networks. Channel 11 had the Yankees; Channel 5 had Sandy Becker; and Channel 9 had Million Dollar Movie. In fact, Million Dollar Movie worked so well, a lot of local networks around the country imitated it.

Twice a day, for a week, they’d show the same movie. That was the week’s feature film. Next week would be a different one. Since RKO owned both Channel 9 and most of the movies being shown, Million Dollar Movie cost peanuts to produce.

King Kong! Gunga Din! Forbidden Planet! Oh, there musta been hundreds of ’em! Of course I didn’t watch musicals or kissing movies, and most of the detective movies went over my head. But then The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms would come along, or Frankenstein 1970, and I’d be in my element, reveling in sheer cinematic artistry. And my friends and I would play “King Kong” all week, outdoors, with our toy dinosaurs.

We didn’t have cable TV, we didn’t have Youtube, or any of those online streaming video packages (I don’t even know if I’m saying that right); but somehow there seemed to be more movies that you wanted to see, and more theaters in which to see them, than there are now. And none of the films were based on comic books. Who needs comic books when you’ve got Queen of Outer Space with Eric Fleming and Zsa Zsa Gabor? (For some reason I’ll never understand, my mother really took to that one.)

Anyway, you’d turn on the TV, you’d hear that “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind, and you’d know it was time for Million Dollar Movie! It may seem a poor thing, by today’s standards; but it made us kids feel rich.


A Cryptic Message from Beyond

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Among the more mystifying messages broadcast on black-and-white TV during my childhood was this: “Don’t stir without Noilly Prat.”

What in the world could it mean? There was this guy all dressed in black, with a cape, advancing on this lady. What was he going to do to her? What was he? I was too young to have any knowledge of vampires, but I think I would’ve agreed that this was one.

What kind of a name was “Noilly Prat”? Was it a person or a place? Probably it was the name of the man in black. And then there was something about “Vermouth.” We had Vermont Maid Maple Syrup with our pancakes. Could there be a similarity?

I used to shudder when I saw this ad. To this day, I get the willies whenever any man, dressed all in black, with a cape, and you never see his face, suddenly rises up before me and silently drifts toward me. It quite puts me off.


A Blast from the Past

Sorry! But I couldn’t resist this blast from the past (lots of blasts, actually)–former National League first baseman Chuck Connors as The Rifleman, a classic TV Western from way back when. I wonder what would happen if you showed this on a college campus today.

Two questions for trivia buffs:

How many shots does the rifleman get off in just this brief intro?

And what was Chuck Connors’ real name?

(P.S.–His lifetime batting average was only .238, so quitting his day job wasn’t a problem for him.)


Memory Lane: Howdy Doody

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Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody, and Flub-a-Dub

You were sort of supposed to watch this show, back when I was a boy–Howdy Doody, one of the monuments of kid TV in America. So I watched it sometimes, but it never quite caught on with me.

To me, Clarabell the Clown looked big and threatening (“You better laugh, boy, or you and me gonna have a problem!”), Howdy himself was kind of goofy, and Flub-a-Dub–well, what was Flub-a-Dub supposed to be, anyhow?

One day in 1957 (I think), the family of one of the kids in my class became the first family in the neighborhood to have a color TV. They invited the whole class over to see Howdy Doody on color TV. I remember it well: everything was a sort of seasick green. Color TV didn’t work all that well, back then. The people on my grandma’s color TV were purple.

I don’t know why, but the green-tinted characters in a green-tinted atmosphere remain my most vivid memory of Howdy Doody. That, and trying to figure out what Flub-a-Dub was supposed to be.


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