Memory Lane: ‘Astro Boy’

I was shocked to discover that this goofy cartoon, which aired on American TV in 1963-64, is one of the most popular cartoons ever created. There was an Astro Boy book, of 112 chapters, that sold over 100 million copies worldwide. And although it dropped off American TV after 1964, it continued in Japan and is still being expanded to this day.

Astro Boy was a super-robot with human emotions whose job was, according to the theme song, “fighting monsters high in the sky.” I knew a kid in Sunday school who used to sing that theme song at the slightest provocation.

Yeesh, I was in high school when I watched this! Was I really that hard up for entertainment? It had a catchy theme song, though, you’ve got to give ’em that. And you also have to credit Astro Boy with making Japanese manga cartoons popular all over the world.

But I still can’t explain why I watched it.

‘American Atheism, Vintage 1960’ (2014)

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I was 11 years old in 1960 and wasn’t allowed to stay up on Friday nights to watch The Twilight Zone. So every Saturday, Bobby across the street would tell me what I’d missed. And I have a very vivid memory of him telling me about this episode, Long Live Walter Jameson.

American Atheism, Vintage 1960

I thought it was a cool story at the time; but now, very many years later, now that I’ve finally seen it–good grief: we let this into our homes?

The story, written by Charles Beaumont, is nothing less than full-blown atheism. And yet it went down without so much as a raised eyebrow. Was America’s Christianity already on such shaky ground?

Given everything that happened later on in the Sixties, I think we have to say, Yeah, it was.

We have to be better stewards of our heritage.

 

What’s Wrong with This Memory?

Rawhide" Incident of the Pale Rider (TV Episode 1963) - Photo ...

Growing up as a member of America’s first TV generation, I have many memories of what I saw on that black-and-white screen. And one of my most vivid memories was this:

An episode of a classic Western series, Sugarfoot, circa 1959, in which Albert Salmi plays a hired killer, dressed in black, who softly sings “Streets of Laredo” as he stalks his victims. Now, how would a 10-year-old kid ever dream up something like that? And it creeped me out but good, too.

But now, now (!) I know that it wasn’t Sugarfoot, but Rawhide, it wasn’t 1959 but 1963, and Salmi’s character was not a hired killer but rather an enigma–as in, Is this guy even real? flesh and blood? what the devil is he? He does dress in black, though, and sing “Streets of Laredo.” If you’re interested, the Rawhide episode is called “Incident of the Pale Rider,” and we watched it last night on Youtube. Superb! And it was cool to see what Albert Salmi could do as an actor, when given the chance.

But really–why was my memory so far off the track? Now I have to worry about my other memories. Are they all off-base? I doubt it; but then why should this one have been so badly off-target?

Well, there were an awful lot of TV westerns back then, and I watched most of them, and this one with Albert Salmi, I only saw once. His character impressed itself deeply on my memory, but the details got mixed up.

Good thing I wasn’t a witness in a court case!

Memory Lane: ‘Gadabout Gaddis’

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Remember this guy–Gadabout Gaddis, “the Flying Fisherman”? Well, I guess you’d have to be pretty old to remember him: late-night television, in the 1960s.

This was back when my brother and I got a black-and-white TV set for our room. Kowabunga! Wow! We could lie in bed and watch TV! A major step toward adulthood!

The wonderful thing about Gadabout Gaddis was that he was better than a bedtime story. It’s not that his show was boring. “Calming” would be a better word for it. Heck, we loved to go fishing. So here was a show all about fishing. What’s not to like? And if you were still awake after Gadabout’s half an hour of baiting hooks and reeling in trout, you might be lucky enough to catch I Search for Adventure with Col. John D. Craig, which was every bit as soothing. Somehow the “adventures” he showed–I think they might’ve been various tourists’ amateur films–were not exactly hair-raising. None of that stuff about being chased up the side of the Great Pyramid by murderous tomb-robbers. By then I was lucky if I was was still awake enough to turn the TV off. My brother, Mark, three years younger, had already gadded off to Dreamland.

There’s something to be said for TV that sands away the troubles of the day and packs you off to peaceful sleep.

P.S.–A friend of hours insisted Gadabout had divers underwater to put the fish on the hook for him; he never wound up with an empty creel. But then a fishing show hosted by a guy who didn’t catch anything–I don’t know if that would work. It might, though. Certainly a lot of people could identify with that.

 

Memory Lane: Gumby

This is the introduction to the 1967 Gumby TV show. Created by the late Art Clokey, Gumby was a kid-TV fixture for many years. I have to confess I’ve always been fond of him as an adult. I mean, what could be more innocent than Gumby?

I hope this brief video brings back pleasant memories for you. As for me, it’s time to go out and stand in the snow before it’s finished melting.

Commercial… Or Parable?

A long-lived ad campaign debuted back in the 1960s. Most of us remember it as “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” Even if we never had occasion to try the cereal, it’s easy to remember the commercials with the “cuckoo bird” going positively wild for Cocoa Puffs: like, totally out of control.

I find it difficult to believe that this same spirit has not possessed a great swathe of our fallen world’s movers and shakers, trend-setters and decision-makers. All right, they don’t go caroming off the walls in the Senate Office Building, or swing from the chandeliers in judges’ chambers: but they might as well. It doesn’t get wackier than insisting that men and boys can have periods. You should at least get a bowl of Cocoa Puffs for that.

Were these ads trying to warn us about the people who were ruling us?

I guess we should’ve listened.

Memory Lane: ‘The Invaders’

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I never got to see this show when it was on, 1967-68: I think I had judo school that night. But Patty was a fan, and she recently bought us The Invaders on disc. It’s quite cool!

Roy Thinnes starred as architect David Vincent, virtually the only man who has seen the alien invaders and knows they’re trying to take over the earth–an eventuality which would result in the extinction of the human race. In episode after episode, he has to try to thwart the invaders’ plans. Even harder, he tries to get somebody, anybody, to believe him.

Several factors made this a great show. They used a lot of unusual sets, abandoned mines and the like, that got your imagination going because some of the sets were quite creepy in and of themselves. They used top writers, including some of the best science fiction writers of the era, like Theodore Sturgeon and Jerry Sohl. And they always filled the cast with great actors, some of whom already were, or went on to be, major stars. The episode we watched last night had Gene Hackman as the guest star. Gene Hackman! Okay, he hadn’t done The French Connection yet, so they were able to afford him. What a career he had! So seeing this early example of his work was a real treat. And Thinnes himself was no mean shakes as an actor, fully able to excel in a challenging role.

In fact, I don’t believe in invaders from outer space. Nevertheless, science fiction can be fun. Quite simply, The Invaders is a lot of fun.

As long as you don’t take it too seriously–but that’s another story.

Memory Lane: ‘Davey and Goliath’

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Remember this? Davey and Goliath, which ran on TV from 1961-1965 and again from 1971-1973, a Christian children’s show produced by first the United Lutheran Church in America and later by the Lutheran Church in America, it featured a boy and his talking dog, Goliath, and was created by Art Clokey, famous as the creator of Gumby. I’d have watched it if I’d known it was sort of like Gumby–although it was on Sunday mornings and most of the time, I’d be at Sunday school or church, so I didn’t get a chance to see it.

But once upon a time, American TV, plain old network television, used to have any number of Christian shows. This one sought to teach kids how to live as good Christians. That was before The Smartest People In The World realized children had to be protected from Jesus Christ. It’s surprising they never got around to banning Gumby, too.

What was it like, to find wholesome Christian programming on regular TV? We’ve come so far from that, it’s hard to remember.

But we haven’t entirely forgotten, have we? And maybe, someday, we can find our way back to it.

Memory Lane: ‘Mother, Please–!’

If you’re old enough, you’re sure to remember this classic Anacin commercial, circa 1960. The housewife’s trying to cook, the mother ventures to ask, “Don’t you think it needs a little salt?”, and she gets her head bitten off: “Mother, please! I’d rather do it myself!”

The opportunities for parody are legion. Think Mama Bates from Psycho.

There was a whole series of these Family-Member-Goes-Postal commercials: it seems Anacin was better than any platoon of family counselors.

I don’t even like to think about how the same commercials would be made today.

Memory Lane: ‘Whiplash’

In 1960 something new appeared on America TV: Whiplash, a western, if that’s the right word, set in Australia.

It should’ve been a hit. The star, Peter Graves, had been a success with Fury, a great kids’ show about a boy and his black stallion. Graves would go on to have a huge hit with Mission: Impossible, but at the time, Whiplash didn’t seem to do much for his career. Maybe because the British and Australian co-producers spent a fortune to film the series in Australia, but Graves insisted on filming much of it in a studio once they got there.

Much of the show was written by Gene Roddenberry, who went on to become famous for Star Trek.

You’d think the exotic locale, stories of adventure in the Outback during the Great Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s, and episodes featuring many of Australia’s most successful actors of the era, would have propelled the show to the TV hall of fame. But it only ran for two seasons, 1960-61. Critics are kinder to it now than they were then.

It even had a cool theme song. What’s not to like?

Well, I liked it! I was eleven years old, I’d been a Fury fan for years, and this show made me want to go to Australia and see the kangaroos close up.

I have yet to meet anyone else who remembers it, though.