In the 1960’s, there was no such thing as Nickleodeon. There wasn’t even a Children’s Television Workshop. Bert and Ernie were off into the future. Kids needed entertainment! What would be done?
Well, you select a personable member of the local TV station staff who gets along well with children, you scarf up some cheap Loony Tunes shorts, set up some benches and a painted plywood backdrop, and make a kid’s show.
In my area, there was KOAM’s Fun Club. It was the ultimate. One child in my neighborhood made it on, and we all viewed him with new respect after having gotten the privilege of being driven 30 miles to Pittsburg, Kansas by his parents and appearing on REAL TELEVISION!
The Fun Club was conducted by KOAM newscaster Roger Neer. He was assisted by Slim Andrews, a local talent who had amassed a pretty impressive movie resume’ in westerns. He was the Forty-Niner, appearing in cowboy garb and playing tunes as a one-man-band. His kazoo is what I remember most vividly. Eventually, he took over the show himself after Roger moved on, hopefully to bigger and better things.
The show would feature cartoons, interviews with bashful youngsters, puppets, and song-and-dance.
I’ll bet any of you who remember JFK also recall at least one show like this!
I’m not sure when the Fun Club sailed off into the sunset. Cable networks changed everything, and local shows like this are a rarity. But in the 1960’s, no Saturday afternoon was complete without watching Roger and the Forty-Niner on channel 7.
In 1955, a TV show debuted on CBS. It was a morning show aimed at children. The show’s creator, Bob Keeshan, was a talented individual with a love for kids. He was low-key, patient, and appealing to young ones.
The show would last an incredible 29 years, providing loving memories for many generations of Boomers.
The Captain had familiar guest stars, including Mr. Green Jeans, the New Old Folk Singer, and Mr. Bainter, the Painter. These were all played by veteran character actor Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum.
The Captain himself played the Town Clown who had the most enormous shoes I have ever seen.
Another funky visitor was the Banana Man. Here’s his act in a nutshell, from original Banana Man A. Robins’ brochure:
Dressed in clown attire and pushing his trunk on wheels, Robins enters singing his shrill, absurd melody. He then proceeds to produce from his pockets whole bunches of bananas, pineapples, watermelons, banjos, violin, about everything under the sun – he changes wardrobe and character three times, right before your eyes – he fills three trunks with his hundreds of props, converts the trunks into a train, and as the engineer, drives the whole string of cars offstage.
Now THAT’s entertainment!
Other familiar faces were the puppets: Mr. Moose (whose corny jokes always seemed to trigger a ping-pong ball shower on the hapless Captain), Bunny Rabbit, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, and Miss Worm.
Additionally, Dancing Bear would come out and do his thing every show.
The show also featured a really cool picture that would draw itself while you watched. The pen lines would magically appear while a song played in the background.
And the songs! The first time I watched Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, I recognized opening tune Big Rock Candy Mountain as one I’d heard on Captain Kangaroo in the 60’s. Cool stuff!
There is an urban legend going around that has Lee Marvin giving kudos to Keeshan for being a war hero. While you want to believe it, unfortunately there is nothing to it. Keeshan signed up for the Marines, but didn’t see any action.
Keeshan did have discernment, though. When a remake of the show was launched in 1997, he was invited to appear as the Admiral. He viewed a few episodes and declared that he wanted nothing to do with it.
As I have mentioned in previous columns, TV reception in the 1960’s was a hit-and-miss affair. There weren’t nearly as many TV stations back then, and if you lived in small-town America, your signals might be coming from a hundred or more miles away.
An antenna rotor would be of great assistance in getting a good sharp picture to our brand new color TV’s. But they were prone to freezing up, leaving you stuck watching one channel in perfect definition, with the others reduced to snowy, static-laden annoyances.
A strong storm wind could also cause your antenna to become a tangled mass in your back yard. How could a homeowner get all local channels clearly with no worries?
Beginning in 1966 or so in Miami, Oklahoma, the answer was Cablevision.
Cablevision was a radical new concept. It was known as CATV, which stood for Community Antenna Television. And that’s just what it was. Multiple antennae would be mounted on a tall tower, each aimed to optimally capture distant stations’ signals perfectly. The signal would be greatly amplified and sent out over coax cables on telephone poles. Customers would tap into the signal for perhaps ten bucks a month and be treated to razor-sharp images of programs from as far as 150 miles away.
You might get ten channels, VHF and UHF. But the differences would be limited to local programming. There would be two NBC, three CBS, and two ABC affiliates among the dozen. There would probably be an Educational Channel affiliate, and perhaps an independent or two who might only broadcast for a few hours a day.
Dad, of course, would never hear of paying someone for TV signals he could pull in for free. So I never experienced Cablevision. BTW, I know that was the name of the company offering cable service in my hometown. But in 1973, a much larger Cablevision was founded which serves a goodly portion of the northeast USA. No relation, to my knowledge.
I distinctly remember the night Cablevision came to town. They hired a couple of WWII-era spotlights to trace lines of light across Miami’s skies. I was terrified. I had never seen spotlights before, and I was convinced that we were going to be attacked!
My imagination has proven very rewarding over the years, but I’m afraid it was a bit overactive at the age of six.
In 1969, we moved to a rural area, and I spent the next nine years of my life living in the country. Cable TV was not an option. So we were limited to whatever the antenna would pull in. One farm was nestled in a valley, so I spent a couple of years without watching a single CBS show on my TV. However, some of my city-dwelling friends had cable and I was thus able to occasionally catch a Red Skelton Show.
We moved back to town in 1976, and my father decided enough was enough. We got cable, and it included a station out of Atlanta called WTBS. The first Superstation turned my Cardinal-loving father into an additional fan of the Atlanta Braves, as it did with millions of other viewers who lived far from Georgia.
TV Guide didn’t carry TBS programming listings, so you never knew what would be on. But I watched it a lot for the great reruns of old comedies. I watched a bunch of Braves games with dad, too.
And, in a strange twist of retro-technology, I today watch HDTV programming via an antenna I mounted on my roof, due to Dish Network dragging their heels in getting our local channels in that format.
A distinct minority of viewers today choose not to use cable or satellite TV. Many of them take a break form a service, then return when they realize how much they miss a favorite cable-only channel. But once upon a time, cable was brand new, and largely scorned by frugal fathers who saw no reason to pay for something you could get for free.
To continue where we left off yesterday, we watched a lot of game shows in the 60’s. The game show craze originated on radio, and carried over naturally to television.
Concentration was a show that I always enjoyed. Host Hugh Downs made a big impression on me, so much so that I think of him as the guy from this show, not Good Morning America or 20/20.
The premise of Concentration should be known to any human in the western world, so I won’t go into it. Instead, I’ll dwell on my personal memories. One frequent feature of the show was the awarding of “the envelope,” a mystery prize. Any time a contestant revealed “the envelope,” someone offstage would ring a little bell. It was a blast trying to figure out that rebus, too. I remember more than one occasion when the board was cleared, and the contestants STILL couldn’t figure it out!
The special effects were pretty imaginative circa 1965. One show had the contestants themselves provide the special effects. Of course, I refer to Let’s Make a Deal.
The show debuted in 1963. Host Monty Hall and assistant Carol Merrill would give audience members dressed in outrageous garb opportunities to win prizes, provided they made the right choice. Do you want what’s in the box, or behind door # 2? There might be a stack of money under the box, or a chicken. Door # 2 might contain a brand new Chevy Bel Air. Or, it might be the rusted wreckage of a 1941 Studebaker. Decisions, decisions.
The show was a creation of Chuck Barris, who liked to bring the natural comedy of clueless contestants into play on his productions. This tactic would be brought to full fruition a few years later with the infamous Gong Show.
Bill Cullen was another familiar 1960’s face hosting game shows. I can’t look at Drew Carey without thinking of the immortal Mr. Cullen, who had a pretty acute sense of humor himself. Eye Guess ran from 1966-1969. It was a memory game. Two contestants were shown eight answers. They tried to memorize where they were on a game board. Next, they had to match a question with an answer by calling a number where they thought the correct answer was located. Calling out a wrong number could lead to some unintentionally funny answers.
Bill’s wit and mental acuity also landed him a gig as a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret, which began its run in the 50’s and closed shop in 1967. Its original producer was none other than Allan Sherman, who penned the greatest novelty song ever, Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda. It basically ripped off What’s My Line, but it was okay, because it was on the same network. I vividly remember Bill, Comedian Henry Morgan, and beautiful Betsy Palmer and Bess Myerson The fact that Steve Allen was hosting only added to the fun. I loved that show.
There were so many game shows on 1960’s TV that I’m probably going to have to add to this. But that’s enough for now. Stay tuned.
One of the things I loved about summer vacation in the 60’s (that’s a mighty long list!) was the fact that I could get up in the morning and start watching a slew of great TV shows beginning at 9:00 Central Time.
The shows included great kids’ fare like Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street late in the decade, and the local cartoon shows. But another summer treat was watching all of the game shows that were on in that era.
It’s taxing my brain cells to the limit to even remember the NAMES of these shows, much less the network and time slot. But when I can recall such tidbits, I’ll toss them in.
My very favorite show was the Match Game. It was an afternoon offering. I don’t know why it was so appealing to me, but it was the one that I never missed.
Now I’m not talking about the tasteless 70’s version. The 60’s show didn’t feature the provocative clues like Gene Rayburn would feed Charles Nelson Reilly circa 1974. It was much lower key, and darned entertaining to a seven-year-old. Maybe that’s why CBS spiced it up so much ;-).
Tom Kennedy was a prolific game show host in the 60’s. One show I remember was You Don’t Say. It was along the lines of the more famous Password, where you had to guess a clue from a celebrity without hearing it spoken.
To tell the Truth was a show that featured a very familiar closing signoff: “A Mark Goodson-Bill Todman production.” The prolific pair created a big pile of game shows before their run ended with Bill Todman’s death in 1979. This show would feature a person who had accomplished something that was remarkable, but out of the panelists’ view. Celebrities would ask questions of three subjects, the real person and two impostors (I learned that word at a very early age, thanks to this show). They would then guess who was the real deal. The suspense would be prolonged when the real (fill in blank) would be asked to stand up by host Bud Collyer. There would be gestures by all three of standing up before the actual one would reveal his or herself. I remember the panelists of the 60’s frequently featuring Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Kitty Carlisle, and Orson Bean (one of the funniest men who ever lived).
The aforementioned Password was another MG-BT show. Host Allen Ludden held sway over two celebrities who would try to get their John Q. Public teammates to guess a password (and vice-versa). One of the funniest moments ever to happen in afternoon TV was when comedian Nipsey Russell was being prompted by a (Caucasian) lady to say the word “buck.” She said, very slowly and carefully pronounced, “doe.” Nipsy’s innocent, immortal response was “knob.”
Reach for the Stars was a trivia show, as I recall, and it involved contestants grabbing stars from a board with questions on their reverse sides. “Reach for the stars!” they were exhorted by its host.
Joe Garagiola hosted Sale of the Century. It was a bit out there. Contestants won small amounts of money by answering questions, and were allowed to spend it on items that were ridiculously cheap, a bedroom suite for 30 bucks, for instance. I believe the winning contestant each round was allowed to shop after each victory, if I remember right.
Man, this is getting out of hand. I’m going to draw this segment to a close, and we’ll dig up some more old game shows in the next column.
We all grew up with Tonka toys (and Structos) in the sandbox or the bare dirt part of the yard. But the ultimate for me was the bulldozer.
Tonkas were amazingly durable toys that weren’t cheap to buy, but that was all right. You usually inherited a few from your older brothers or cousins. Mom and Dad might make a special gift of a new one that would quickly assume the same battle-worn appearance of the veteran pieces.
I built hundreds of mini-miles of roads with my Tonkas, and my bulldozer was the star of the fleet. I could quickly demolish massive hills of dry humus beneath our tall elm tree in the front yard. There was just something about those mega-cool rubber treads and the patterns they would leave in the dirt.
My Tonkas were long ago sold at yard sales, but maybe someday I’ll start rebuilding my old collection.
Television was definitely the way to reach a kid circa 1966. Pre-adolescents of the 60’s weren’t so much into radio yet, most of us didn’t read newspapers (except for the comics, of course), and our magazines were comic books. While novelty companies certainly took advantage of the latter to turn us onto things like X-Ray Specs, the bottom line was simple: if you want to sell to millions of kids, advertise on TV and have the item available for sale in the kid’s home town.
That’s why Sixfinger was such a hit. It was advertised profusely on TV, and it was available at places like Woolworth’s, TG&Y, Kress, and many other dime stores and discount houses.
Sixfinger appealed to the same crowd that coveted the 007 Attache Case. And it was much more affordable, so parents could be more easily cajoled into getting you one just to shut up the “warting” (as my dear mom called my ceaseless begging).
The premise behind Sixfinger was simple enough: it looked like an extra digit. And I know what else it looked like, but get your mind out of the gutter! 😉 That extraneous appendage was a hidden source of all sorts of derring-do: a cap-powered bomb launcher, a noisy alert signal, a bullet, a message capsule, another bomb that spread little plastic projectiles (that would inevitably get lost), and, in case all else failed, a ball point pen. That way you could write a desperate note desiring rescue. Oh, I almost forgot, it could also click a Morse code message (after all, all seven-year olds were well schooled in Morse code ;-).
It was pretty neat, and promptly banned from school. So a kid could gain a tremendous measure of coolness by sneaking that extra finger past the teacher. Of course, launching your noisy alert during class might not be the discrete action to take under such circumstances.
The fake fingers were full of all sorts of politically incorrect things that would never be allowed to be sold on the shelves today, so they are collector’s items. But mint-condition Sixfingers still turn up on eBay in their original sealed plastic wrappers for two-figure prices. So if you would like to relive a bit of your past for less than the price of a fine dinner, keep your eyes open. They’re out there.
Today’s memory will be viewed through my eyes as an observer, not a participant. I don’t recall ever making an Aurora monster model, but I played in the bedrooms of many of my friends that had shelves with the likes of Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon staring menacingly at us while we played with our Tonkas, green army men, or whatever else was on hand.
These things were creepy looking indeed. The plastic was molded into detail that revealed every fang, bloody gash, or severed limb.
Of course, you needed plenty of red Testor’s enamel to provide the bloody highlights necessary to make your monster seem real.
The monsters stood about a foot tall. They were modeled after classical movie meanies like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman, and Lon Chaney Sr.’s Phantom of the Opera.
These flicks were responsible for nightmares our parents might have had long before we were born, in their original theatrical releases. But in the late 1950’s, TV stations started airing them in late night horrorfests held on Friday and Saturday nights. When I was a teenager in the 70’s, a TV station in Ft. Smith, Arkansas showed Boo! Theater on Saturday nights, replaying the classics (and some Ed Wood offerings that weren’t so classic).
You don’t see them so much any more, but late night horror flicks were a steady source of revenue for TV stations when we were kids.
Anyhow, all those old monster movies created a tremendous interest in the monsters themselves among that solid gold demographic of Baby Boomer kids whose parents happened to be able to spare a few bucks here and there for the indulgence of their offspring. And the Aurora Model Company took notice.
They began marketing the garish models in the early 60’s, and kids started grabbing them up. Soon, bloody monsters were festooning bedrooms all over the US. And kids were painstakingly snapping the various parts loose from the plastic spines which were part of the molding process, carefully painting the pieces with tiny brushes and extremely redolent enamel, and then assembling them with model glue, ten times as smelly as the paint.
Aurora lasted through most of the economically turbulent 70’s, but finally went belly-up in 1978. During the 70’s, they introduced glow-in-the-dark monsters, which gave them a temporary rise in sales. Alas, it wasn’t enough to survive the Recession.
There are a whole bunch of sites out there dedicated to memories of Aurora monster models. Try searching for “aurora models” on Google.
Once upon a time, your mom made the decision about which grocery store to shop at based on a simple factor: what brand of trading stamps did they offer?
Mom was a Top Value fan, hence my using them for the illustration rather than the much more popular S&H Green Stamp. The IGA in my hometown gave away Top Value, hence the reason mom never, ever shopped at the Safeway right across the street. She also did her dry cleaning, bought her gas, and did other shopping with dealers who gave out Top Value stamps.
I grew up licking those stamps and pasting them in books. I loved it. That was big stuff to a six-year-old. And our modest house would periodically be enhanced by the purchase of a lamp, toaster, or the like gained in exchange for those books full of pasted legal tender. We had a Top Value store in town, no waiting for a package in the mail!
The whole idea behind trading stamps was simple and effective: stores would purchase the stamps in quantity. They had a cash value that the trading stamp company would recognize. You could even trade in your books for cash, but you would make out better getting merchandise. Other businesses, such as bowling alleys and service stations, also got in on it.
The store’s or business’s payoff? Customers like my mom, who would never dream of patronizing any grocery store but Farrier’s IGA.
Every town with a population of, say, 7500 or more had a redemption center for at least one brand of stamps. In fact, my memories of the trading stamp program coincide with the peak of the industry. In the mid 1960’s, S&H alone was printing three times as many stamps as the US Postal Service! An estimated 80% of US households were saving at least one brand of stamp.
The Recession of the 70’s is what ended trading stamps. Redemption centers started closing as the economy floundered. By 1981, there was just a fraction of the original S&H stores left. S&H sold out to another company at that time, and they still survive as a get-paid-while-you-surf-and-shop outfit at http://www.greenpoints.com/. In fact, if you have any old books of stamps laying around, you can give them a holler at 1-800-435-5674 and get $1.20 for each of them!
Ah, the late 60’s and 70’s. A time of experimentation, whether with recreational drugs, or with extreme decorating ideas. Such a bold stab at style (its creators might have tried some of those drugs, too) was the shag carpet.
Shag carpets came in a variety of colors, some of which were as extreme as the two-inch-long polyester monstrosity itself. Bright reds, blues, greens, and jet blacks were not unheard of. But earth tones were also big, to match those avocado green and harvest gold kitchen appliances.
My parents never went for shag carpet. They were in their forties and fifties when it came out, and it was more of a hit with the younger demographic. But I knew plenty of friends whose more youthful parents installed vast yards of the dirt-absorbing carpet.
Shag carpets came in different depths. You could go for a modest half-inch, or go all the way to the three inch thick Austin Powers variety. However, if you bought the deeper shags, you also had to purchase (and regularly use) the device to the left: a carpet rake.
Then, there was the embedded dirt. Had shag carpets maintained the 1970’s popularity for a few more years, who knows what new life forms might have been discovered among those nylon depths where no vacuum cleaner could reach? The combination of organic and inorganic material buried at floor level among the polyester tendrils was sufficient that it was its own enclosed environment within your living room walls.
An episode I recall with particular cringing on my part was when my parents and I were invited over to a couple’s home who also had a child my age. They had vast expanses of bright white shag carpet, much like the illustration to the right. They also served a salad for dinner that required VERY red Russian dressing to taste perfect. As I served myself some salad, I reached for the dressing bottle, which required shaking to mix. It also had a very loose cap.
I run into that couple once in a while, and they regularly assure me that they STILL remember the amazing amount of square footage that one bottle of Russian dressing could cover thirty-five years ago.
But let’s face it, if you’re crazy enough to buy a white carpet, you must also resign yourself to the fact that it’s never again going to look as clean as it does that first day, Russian dressing notwithstanding.
Shags have made a bit of a comeback in our day. It’s not unusual to see a new home with a shorter shag carpet installed. The pile is composed of a much more durable material these days than the 1970’s era polyester. Remember how horrible a worn shag carpet looked?
But we who can recall even the vaguest glimmer of JFK can remember when every newer subdivision home had two features: a shag carpet, and a carpet rake.