Memory Lane: ‘Kukla, Fran, and Ollie’

This takes us a long way down Memory Lane. These days it’s hard to imagine that a little series built around a clown, a dragon, and a cheery young woman would turn into a major hit. Indeed, in 2009 the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Kukla, Frank, and Ollie.

Kukla the clown and Ollie the dragon, puppets, engaged in gentle banter and funny songs with Fran Allison, the only live human in the show–and people just plain loved it. The show ran from 1947 through 1957. Watching it is one of my earliest childhood memories. But it was even more popular among adults than children.

And would you believe it was all ad-libbed? No foolin’. Fran had experience as a live radio comedian, so she was up to the challenge. I wonder if anybody could successfully do a show like that today.

Well, what could be more benign and harmless? I like benign and harmless–and we could use more of it. Lots more.

Memory Lane: The ‘Peter Gunn’ Theme

I never saw Peter Gunn because it was 1958, I was nine years old, and my folks sent me to bed well before the show came on. But the sounds of television used to filter up the stairs to my bedroom, and there was just no way I was going to sleep through Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme music. If this was not one of the all-time great TV themes, I don’t know what was.

I was usually still awake anyway, reading Uncle Scrooge, Mickey Mouse, and Archie comics by flashlight–and the light went kind of orangey as the battery ran down. Not good for my eyes.

I heard a lot of great theme music in those days. And Mancini was the greatest of them all.

The Ghost of a TV Western

https://westernstv.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/jefferson-drum-western-tv-series.jpg

I was nine years old in 1958, and I have a vivid memory of lying awake in bed, listening intently as my parents, downstairs, watched Jefferson Drum.

This TV Western–and there were dozens of them, in those days–had theme music like none other’s. It was a grim, stately drum solo. I fully expected to find it preserved somewhere on the Internet so I could play it for you. Lying up there in the dark, that theme used to thrill me. Frankly, I don’t see how the show could ever have lived up to that theme music.

But, alas, I can find no trace of the Jefferson Drum theme. It is as if it had never existed–a fate that has overtaken many things and places of my childhood. Village of Bonhamtown, gone without a trace. Oppenheim’s estate, utterly erased. Lived here all my life and I can barely find my way around.

For the record, Jefferson Drum (played by Jeff Richards) was a crusading newspaperman in the Old West, before “journalists” turned into organ grinders’ monkeys for the Democrat Party. The show only lasted one season; but I can still hear that drum solo in my mind. I wonder if anybody else remembers it. Was there really any such thing, or did I dream it?

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.