Memory Lane: Roller Derby

I am aware that roller derby still exists; that indeed it has staged a sort of comeback worldwide, albeit mostly at an amateur level.

Roller Derby and TV grew up together. The first roller derby broadcast was in 1948. It blossomed into a huge hit and a cultural phenomenon. This is hard to explain. The clip will give you some idea of the sublime awfulness of 1950s roller derby. I think the hook was the display of “un-ladylike behavior” at a time when women were expected to be “ladies.” Please don’t ask me to define those terms. I’m just sayin’ I think the contrast was a big selling point for roller derby.

At a friend’s house, his mother and aunt watched roller derby every chance they got, well into the Sixties (even though it had already faded severely and was going quickly out of style). No matter how many times I was exposed to it, the rules of roller derby remained a mystery to me; nor was I ever able to perceive the object of the game. It just looked like a lot of bodies flying around, plus some fisticuffs.

TV survived, but roller derby shrank almost into oblivion–I think because oafish, churlish behavior has become practically an expectation for both men and women. Roller derby can’t compete with an Antifa riot.

For ugliness to have any value, there has to be beauty present, too.

Memory Lane: ‘Zorro’ (1957)

Was this a hit when I was eight years old, or what? Walt Disney’s Zorro–and you can bet there was a whole lot of swordfightin’ goin’ on in our neighborhood!

Now hardly anybody had color TV back then, but we knew from Zorro bubblegum cards that the show was filmed in color. And of course Zorro had a lot of adventures at night, wearing a black mask and cape and riding a black horse–so how much color did you need?

This show generated pulse-pounding excitement among us kids. I don’t think TV shows can generate that kind of excitement anymore. Maybe because there are so many of them. Maybe because Walt Disney’s dead and the company he founded has gone over to the dark side.

Anyhow, Zorro was way cool–and so was his alter ego, Don Diego–and we all wanted to grow up to be like him. And how was that bad?

Memory Lane: Farmer Grey Cartoons

If you grew up in the 1950s, you very likely saw these silent cartoons, created by Paul Terry, on your black-and-white TV. If you’d enjoy that particular stroll down Memory Lane, Youtube has several of them available.

Y’know what? These are really funny! Primitive in technique, but well-advanced in crackpot humor.

Most of the commenters, myself included, would have liked to know more about the cartoons’ music tracks. I don’t think most of the music that’s been plugged into this example is original. Somehow that got lost. But considering that some of these are more than 70 years old, we probably have to take what we can get.

Hey, it’s Labor Day, a holiday, so let’s have a few harmless laughs.

Bonus Video: ‘The Rifleman’

This always cheers me up–genuine 2nd Amendment TV, vintage 1958: The Rifleman, starring Chuck Connors. Liberals really hate this! Like, imagine this guy showing up at some college campus. Run for the Play-Doh!

See if you can count the shots.

Memory Lane: Jon Gnagy

Fast, Fun & Effective Ways, To Paint & Draw! - Art-NY Gallery

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.

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.