Tag Archives: vintage 1950s TV

In Defense of TV… Old TV

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Jon Hall (left) starred as “Ramar of the Jungle”

Some of you, like me, don’t watch television anymore, largely because it’s gone so crappy. You don’t even have a television set. And you reacted strongly to “Beauty Beyond Bones” watching–and blaming herself for watching–the unbelievably cheap and sleazy denouement of a popular “reality” show.

Like you, I don’t watch such bilge. But I was part of the first generation of Americans that grew up with television, and TV was a big part of my childhood. I thank God that the kind of TV we have today wasn’t! And thanks to the Internet, I can no revisit a lot of those great old shows, commercial-free.

I have fond memories of many of those shows. Even more, I learned a lot from them about the art of storytelling, which now I have the honor to perform in the service of the Lord.

Man, when I was eight years old, nothing turned me on like Ramar of the Jungle! Later on in my childhood I moved on to Wagon Train, Rawhide, Route 66, etc. But it was Ramar that set my mind on fire and introduced me to techniques of storytelling which I use today. They had only half an hour, minus time lost to commercials, to tell the story of an adventure, with beginning, middle, and end, create coherent characters and put them through their paces in a way that made sense, and still devote some time to immersing the viewer in the exotic African setting. It was a big job, but week after week, they did it.

OK, even old TV had its share of (shall we put it kindly?) faults. Grandma’s soap operas, for instance. Twilight Zone sneakily pushing atheism. Queen for a Day. I remember when the first kid in our third-grade class got color TV and invited the whole class to his house to watch Howdy Doody one Saturday morning. We were treated to an unearthly mixture of greens and reds in seldom-seen tones: color TV still had a ways to go.

So I grew up with television before it entered its current Gold Age of Sleaze. It helped teach me the kind of work I do today. And when I play an old Columbo episode from 40 years ago, I like it!

Memory Lane: ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’

I only got to see this show if I stayed at my Grammy’s for the weekend; but it’s the kind of show you remember.

For one thing, it had fantastic music: the Paladin theme by Richard Boone and Johnny Western, played above in its entirety, plus background music by Bernard Herrmann, one of the all-time great movie and radio music composers. It had a great star in Richard Boone, compelling stories by a stable of fine writers that included Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and talented guest directors including William Conrad, Ida Lupino, Sam Peckinpah, and Boone himself. In short, it had everything!

I find this theme song haunts me. Although Paladin was a hired gun, he always sought a peaceful solution first. And he did pro bono work for the poor. I guess you could say he was a real trouble-shooter: he faced the trouble, and shot it.

It takes me back to a better time. I was born into and raised in a world of men and women, not freaks. When we imagined heroes, they were human heroes: not a lot of caped and costumed comic book characters poncing around like fashion models on a runway.

Could we go back to being the people we were then? It wasn’t perfect, but it was a towering sight better than what we’re doing now.

I saw it. I lived it. I know.

Memory Lane: At Home with Mommy and the Ironing

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One of my earliest memories came back to me this morning.

I’m not old enough yet to go to school. I’m sitting on the floor of our little sitting room, playing with blocks while my mother does her ironing. Because she’s a Giants fan, she has the ballgame on: we have one of those primitive TV sets with all the knobs, you’ve really got to fiddle with it, to get a good picture. The Giants are playing the Brooklyn Dodgers, and my mother carefully lists for me the many moral defects of the Dodgers–except for Roy Campanella: not a word against him!–and explains how no right-thinking person would ever root for them. And I don’t know why, but I love the smell of ironing, and the texture of the rug, and the grainy black-and-white picture on the screen… and my mother’s company.

The very best day I ever had at school was not as good as this. Nowhere near as good as this.

Memory Lane: Sir Lancelot

My mother was a voracious reader with a love of history and legend, and she passed it on to me. I grew up on stories of King Arthur and his knights, especially her two favorites, Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad. My brother and I had toy knights by those names: they wound up having a lot of adventures with animals, dinosaurs, cowboys, and cars.

In 1956-57 there was a TV show, Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which I made sure to watch. I remember particularly well an episode in which Sir Lancelot discovered an out-of-the-way Roman fort manned by legionaries who didn’t know the Roman Empire ended some hundred years ago. Very cool!

All these years later, thanks to my mother’s stories, I’m still a King Arthur buff, still reading and writing about him and his times. Someday I’ll have to tell you how I figured out how the story of the Sword in the Stone was very likely true, albeit somewhat garbled by the passage of centuries.

Oh, to put on my armor, sling that shield across my shoulder, hop up onto my mighty steed, snatch up my lance, and ride out on adventures! My mother lived long enough to see my Bell Mountain books in print: I hope she knows that she was the one who got me started.

Memory Lane: ‘Modern Farmer’

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You’re going to have to reach deep into your memory banks to find this–Modern Farmer, an early 1950s TV show that aired at 5 a.m. or 5:30 on Saturday mornings. It ran from 1950-1958, then went into syndication for many more years. My old friend George, finding nothing else to do, watched it the morning he had to report to the Army, having been drafted.

This show is so old, so obscure, that I couldn’t find any clips of it on youtube. It was, of course, about farmers and farming, and I have no idea why, when I was eight years old or so, I would get up to watch it. Maybe because Andy’s Gang came on next and I didn’t want to miss Froggy the Gremlin.

It wasn’t an irrelevant show. In those days there were still farms in our neighborhood, before Democrats paved them all over. There were farms nearby that went back all the way to the Revolutionary War and earlier, owned by farmers who fought for America’s independence from Britain. Fresh corn on the cob for supper? All I had to do was get on my bike and pedal for ten minutes, and bring home the corn in my basket.


We can’t get those farms back. The farmers rest in our town’s most ancient cemetery, along with others who put their lives on the line to birth the United States of America. Across the parking lot from our apartment stands a house that was a tavern in the 18th century. A small battle was fought here; the wounded, patriots and redcoats alike, were brought there to be tended to. It was said the ghost of a wounded British officer used to walk up the stairs inside that house until sometime in the 1960s, when the famous psychic investigator Hans Holzer supposedly put to rest that troubled spirit. But the lady who lived there in the 1970s said the ghost still appeared occasionally. He did no harm, she said.

I like to think that Christ’s kingdom will have more farms than nail salons.


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.

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