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!
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.
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.
This is one of the songs my father used to sing to us when we were little. He had quite a repertoire of songs, just right for those awkward moments when you were sure there was a ghost just outside your bedroom window. If you were really in a bad way, he’d sing “You Are My Sunshine.” Not so bad, you’d get “Sweet Violets.”
But I think he sang “The Jones Boy” because he really liked it. I was five years old when the Mills Brothers first sang it on the air; my brother Mark was two, and my sister Alice hadn’t been born yet. Later on in life I remember my father playing the spoons as he sung this.
Anyway, here it is from 1957 on glorious black-and-white TV: the Mills Brothers, and “The Whole Town’s Talking About the Jones Boy.” It was a big hit for them, but I’ll always remember the way my daddy sang it.
I had to go to Wells Fargo today to do yet more paperwork for Aunt Joan’s very small estate. As I sat there at the banker’s desk, and he ran stuff through his computer, I got to thinking about one of the many TV westerns that I used to watch when I was a kid–including Tales of Wells Fargo, starring Dale Robertson as a Wells Fargo agent who went around having all sorts of adventures and foiling the bad guys. It ran from 1957 through 1962, complete with comic books and bubblegum cards.
I don’t know what I would’ve thought, back then, if I’d found out Wells Fargo is just a bank–a bank!–like any other bank: the last place in the world you’d go to, if you were looking for really colorful adventures. Oh, the crushing disappointment! It’d be like finding out that Tarzan was a greeter at Walmart. Or that Bat Masterson was a sportswriter for a newspaper. (Uh, dude–Bat really was a sportswriter… fap…)
It was all a lot more interesting, the way it was shown on TV.
When I was five or six years old, I used to get up awful early on Saturday morning so I could watch Andy’s Gang on our old black-and-white TV, with this little screen that was like a square porthole. And one of the highlights of the show was a serial, “The Adventures of Gunga Ram.”
Gunga Ram was a boy in India who had lots of cool adventures, mostly because he was helping the local maharajah out of assorted tight spots. These were taken from a movie called Sabaka, made in 1953 and converted into a serial in ’54.
What I wouldn’t have given to be friends with Gunga Ram! Complete with elephants and tigers, and even the odd cobra or two.
Some of this antique TV lit up my imagination, big-time. Jungle Jim! Ramar of the Jungle! Soldiers of Fortune! Fury! Wow, I couldn’t get enough of it! I wanted to know all about these places that served as settings for the stories on TV, and the people and the animals that really lived there, and the history, and the language–!
Oh, I know now that Sabaka only plugged in stock footage of India, the young actor who played Gunga Ram was Italian, most of it was shot around Los Angeles, and African lions don’t live in the jungle, after all–and Indian elephants aren’t normally found in Africa, even if they’ve got rubber attached to their ears to make them look like African elephants. Yes, I know it was all make-believe.
But I enjoyed it!
“Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch”
Remember “Droodles”? Probably not, unless you’re older than me. Humorist Roger Price–remember him?–launched this fad in 1953, which culminated in a “Droodles” game show on TV for a few months in 1954.
I have received a review copy of The Ultimate Droodles Compendium (the absurdly complete collection of all the classic zany creations of Roger Price), copyright 2019/2020 by Tallfellow Press, Los Angeles. So it’s not yet for sale, but it will be soon.
Hey, this stuff is really funny! I got some nice LOLs out of it. “Droodles” are simple little drawings that don’t make sense until you read the caption. For a little while in 1953-54, Droodles were hot. Then it faded.
As a humorist, Roger Price excelled in pure nonsense and unexpected turns of phrase. He certainly had an unusual mind. I mean, really–“Ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch”? How did he ever think of that?
Anyhow, the “Compendium” is a nice, thick book with glossy pages and quite a few laughs along the way. I recommend it. If you can tolerate Oy, Rodney, you can probably put up with Droodles.
I can pronounce it now, but I still don’t understand it.
Now they’ve got 150-some channels instead of just three or four, and yet it doesn’t seem there’s half as much on as there used to be.
Oh, those old TV listings! Endless fascination for a 10-year-old who was packed off to bed at 8 o’clock.
Well, this is a blog for sharing memories, isn’t it? I’d love to hear some of yours.
“Hey! Don’t touch that umbrella!”
When I was a boy, TV was loaded with ancient black-and-white cartoons–those old “Farmer Grey”cartoons, by Paul Terry. You might not be old enough ever to have seen one.
A common feature in many of these cartoons was cats, mice, and sometimes humans jumping off a rooftop and wafting gently to the earth by using an umbrella as a parachute.
This does not work in real life (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/peoplesdaily/article-4420876/Boy-jumped-five-storey-home-holding-umbrella.html). The host of one of those cartoon shows, “Uncle Fred” Sayles (he also MC’d wrestling), used to have to issue frequent reminders to his youthful audience not to try this. But kids did try it, and some of them got hurt. But good. I would have tried it myself, but I didn’t have anyplace handy for jumping off.
Is it necessary to explain why this doesn’t work? Like, is there any 29-year-old Gender Studies major who thinks it might work, if you use a big enough umbrella? Yo, genius, stick to Play-Doh.
Kids try crazy things because they don’t know any better. That’s why we don’t give them credit cards and drivers’ licenses.
And we still can’t stop overgrown kids from trying to eat detergent pods because they saw it on Youtube.