The Frito Bandito

“Aye, yai yai yai, I am the Frito Bandito!”

For many of us, when we hear the familiar verse to Cielito Lindo, those words pop into our heads. From 1967 until 1971, when he was done away with under pressure from a Mexican-American anti-defamation group, the Frito Bandito ruled the airwaves. He also sold a very large bunch of snack food.

I remember constantly hearing that song, and memorizing the lyrics.

His voice was that of the master of making cartoons talk, Mel Blanc. Mel, the man who provided voices for dozens of characters for Warner Bros.and Hanna-Barbera, was a natural for this gig.

Unfortunately, people took offense. The next thing you know, there were protests. And eventually, he was laid to rest.

While this piece could easily digress into social commentary, I won’t let that happen. However, I WILL replay those familiar lyrics in my mind whenever I hear that classic Spanish tune.

The Famous Mr. Ed

One memory that we Boomers have indelibly burned into our collective psyches is a theme song about a talking horse. We also have the sound of a baritone voice saying “Willlburrrr!”

The horse is, of course, the famous Mr. Ed. And it was very few black and white TV’s of the 60’s that didn’t have the beautiful palomino gelding on their screens during the Decade of Change.

Mr. Ed first appeared as a syndicated series in January of 1961. CBS spotted a potential hit, and soon grabbed it up. Originally set to be titled “The Alan Young Show,” the human star balked, in case the wacky premise of a talking horse’s day-to-day life should prove to be a bomb. He needn’t have worried.

Mr. Ed was conceived of by children’s book author Walter R. Brooks. He delighted kids with tales about talking animals on the Bean farm in upstate New York. Despite the eventual popularity of Mr. Ed, it was Freddy the Pig who was the star of the literary series. Such are the foibles of fame…

Mr. Ed also owes his origin to the Francis the Talking Mule series of comedic movies that was released in the 50’s. Francis would only talk to a single human, acting like a normal equine to everyone else, to the eternal consternation of the human. This was, of course, the same premise of Mr. Ed, the TV show.

Mr. Ed was played by a gelding named Bamboo Harvester. He had a number of voice actors. The speaking roles were provided by cowboy movie actor Allan “Rocky” Lane. When he sang on the show (I particularly remember “The Pretty Little Filly with the Pony Tail”), the voice was provided by Sheldon Allman, who also penned the tunes. Allman’s most famous creation was the pleasantly bizarre theme to cartoon showGeorge of the Jungle.

However, the unforgettable opening theme was written and sung by Jay Livingston, who prolifically produced smashes like Que Sera, Sera, Mona Lisa, and Buttons and Bows, among many others.

Guest star Clint Eastwood on Mr. Ed

The show’s plots centered around the amazingly intelligent horse and his communications with Wilbur. Ed didn’t talk to anyone else, other humans were beneath his intellectual level. This caused great consternation for Wilbur, as, for instance, his wife felt like he loved the horse more than he did her. If she would have only known that the horse talked…

The idea was successful, and crack writing and acting made for a TV classic that ran for six years. But it was in syndication afterwards that I soaked up episodes in my daily ritual of watching TV after school.

Mr. Ed enjoyed a long run of syndication which was further enhanced by the eventual appearance of cable station Nickelodeon, which began airing episodes of the show in 1986. Nowadays, the first two seasons are available in their entirety for free at Hulu.

Mr. Ed’s purported grave in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Like many TV franchises, there were controversies raging behind the scenes of Mr. Ed.

For example, the pilot featured a unnamed chestnut gelding, who was unceremoniously dumped in favor of the prettier blonde star. This wasn’t the first time Hollywood spurned beauty over superior acting. BTW, the previous statement was delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.

However, more substantial controversy swirls around the eventual end of Bamboo Harvester, as well as his final resting spot.

Tahlequah, Oklahoma has long claimed the gravesite of the horse, who was said to have passed in 1970, euthanized after failing health. Alan Young decries this story, however, claiming that the real Bamboo Harvester died sometime after this after being overdosed with a tranquilizer by an inept stablehand. Adding fuel to the fire, in 1979, a horse (again in Oklahoma) died which was used for still photos during the show, thus garnering headlines of the passing of Mr. Ed.

Maybe the real one is buried in Giants Stadium?

One thing’s for certain, though, they just don’t make TV shows like that anymore. How fortunate for us Boomers that we grew up in the right era to enjoy sharply written series which came with their own unforgettable theme music.

Quick, can anyone come up with the song for Detroit 1-8-7?

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

Must-see TV has changed from night to night over the years. During the 60’s, it was Sunday, with Sullivan and Bonanza. NBC reigned over Thursday nights for many years with Cosby, Cheers, Seinfeld, and ER. But go back to the early 70’s, and ABC made Wednesday night the night to stay home and watch Room 222 and the Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

You probably remember the them song more than the episodes. Harry Nilsson sang “People let me tell you ’bout my best friend” and we were given a tune that sticks permanently in minds that might begin to forget less tenacious memories.

The show was based on a movie that came out in 1963, starring Glenn Ford and beautiful Shirley Jones. The movie was a hit, and six years later, ABC execs decided to try a TV series.

But this wasn’t your father’s TV show. It was very offbeat, well written, and darned entertaining. Each episode would begin with a conversation between Eddie (Brandon Cruz) and his father Tom (Bill Bixby). Eddie wanted a new mommy, to replace his departed one, and dad was open to the idea as well.

Of course, like all sitcom families of the era, they had a maid. Her name was Mrs. Livingston, She was a wise lady who could occasionally get her feelings hurt, as I recall. I recall one episode where Eddie was explained the facts of life with pollination as an example. He suggested his father pollinate Mrs. Livingston so she could have a baby. I told you this wasn’t your father’s series.

However, it was all very innocent. There was nothing suggestive at all about the series. Familiar characters Uncle Norman and his secretary Tina would be regular visitors, with some saying the show jumped the shark when episodes were devoted to Uncle Norman instead of Tom and Eddie.

The Beverly Hillbillies

There are only a few memories that are common to practically every Boomer kid. Examples: we all got the smallpox vaccination. We all were blown away by man’s first moonwalk. And I’m pretty sure that we have all watched The Beverly Hillbillies.

The show actually spawned a genre that I was not familiar with: fish-out-of-water. In 1962, it was the first television program to take a group of individuals from one world and plant them in another, a trend continued by the likes of Green AcresMork and Mindy, and even The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

But, IMHO, nobody ever did it like Paul Henning and his wonderful creation.

As everybody on the planet knows, one day Jed Clampett was out hunting with his faithful bloodhound Duke, when he shot into the ground and spawned a miniature gusher.

The next thing you know, old Jed’s a millionaire. Banker Milburn Drysdale convinces him that he needs to move into a nice mansion in Beverly Hills, right next to him. And thus began TV history.

What makes a perfect sitcom? An endearing cast, brilliant writing, and love from the critics.

Just kidding about that last one. The critics largely panned the bizarre show when it first appeared among the likes of Ozzie and HarrietLeave It to Beaver, and The Lucy Show. However, the public immediately fell in love with the Clampetts, and CBS had a major hit on their hands, which would go on to be the #1 show of the year twice in its nine-season run, and would be canceled while still a very respectable #18.

The show used lots of hillbilly humor, to be sure. Granny would infuriate Mrs. Drysdale by making soap, the family ate off a big green felt-covered table with six holes and wooden “pot-passers,” and the millionaires insisted on driving their old jalopy (a 1921 Oldsmobile, currently on display at Point Lookout, Missouri.)

But it also took some rather risqué chances for the time. For example, there were the hippies that came to visit, who were intensely interested in the concept of smoking crawdads. And there was the episode where entrepreneur Jethro opened a topless restaurant. The waiters would, of course, go without hats. I remember this episode vividly. Ellie May was walking around carrying a sandwich board advertising the grand opening, and eager males followed her around. Jed explained to them that Ellie wouldn’t be working as a waitress, but that he and Granny would, and they would both be topless!

Funny stuff.

The show also made us aware of the effects of typecasting.

Max Baer, Jr. was perhaps the biggest victim. The son of boxing champion Max Baer, he was quite frustrated to find that there were no non-Jethro acting jobs to be found after the series. But he did okay anyway. He took matters into his own hands and wrote and produced 1974’s Macon County Line, a flick many of us saw at the drive-in. Seeing’s how he was running the show, he also starred. And the movie, made for $110,000, ended up grossing 25 million bucks! Baer produced more hit films, too. Good for him.

Donna Douglas was likewise forever known as Ellie May. She took it in stride, and started a very successful real estate career, and still occasionally appear in public in her familiar guise, complete with blue jeans and a rope belt.

Sadly, Irene Ryan died just a couple of years after the show’s end. She would likely have done fine in later roles, as she really didn’t resemble her heavily made-up character that much.

Only Buddy Ebsen overcame his character. He had a long history of film acting, and, as every trivia fan knows, would have played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz if he could have tolerated the aluminum paint. In researching this piece, I learned that he turned down Louis B. Mayer’s offer of an exclusive contract with MGM, and was then told by Mayer that he would never get a job in Hollywood again.

You see, Hollywood producers used to be as evil as the RIAA and MPAA are nowadays. 😉

Ebsen is perhaps best remembered for his role as Barnaby Jones, an easy-going milk-drinking detective who was supposed to be past his prime. He kept that show popular for seven years.

The Beverly Hillbillies was canceled in 1971 as part of CBS’s infamous rural purge. Many popular shows died that year, “anything with a tree in it,” according to Pat Buttram. But even today, its syndicated reruns are some of the most popular on television.

And, as I stated earlier, I strongly suspect that the number of Boomers who never caught an episode is about the same as that of the honest Washington politicians who ignore lobbyists.

Star Trek Appears

“Space . . . the final frontier . . . ” Those words first were heard on September 8, 1966, with the debut of Star Trek.

The episode, as any trekkie knows, was The Man Trap. The show created a stir among science fiction fans, but it wasn’t the stir that would explode after its cancellation three years later.

Science fiction was pretty amateurish stuff on TV and the movies before Star Trek. Lost in Space was a hit, but there wasn’t a whole lot of credibility in its storyline. In fact, many fans tuned in for the camp, like they did with Batman. Hollywood really hadn’t topped 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still for realism and a good storyline. But when Star Trek came along, concepts were revealed that had a sense of possibility about them.

For example, how did you get around faster than 186,282 miles per second (it’s not just a good idea. It’s the LAW)? Easy, you used your warp drive, that would somehow change the nature of space and enable you to travel faster than light without going backwards in time. Hmm, that just might work!

Another means of transportation was beaming. Your atoms were transformed into energy and sent as a beam to a nearby location, where they were reassembled. The process was limited by distance, as well as the need for exact coordinates for your destination. Again, this sounds like it might be doable with future technologies!

Overwhelmed with tribbles

They even explained why all aliens spoke perfect English: the universal translator! Of course, that didn’t explain why their lips would form the words perfectly.

So Star Trek managed to fire the imaginations of its viewers. But what it DIDN’T do was attract large numbers of viewers. It was maddening to Trek fans that the aformentioned Lost in Space, with its “Crush! Kill! Destroy” spouting robot, consistently beat out TOS (as it’s now known among aficionados), and in fact was canceled due to the high cost of its episodes, rather than poor ratings.

So, after three seasons, the plug was presumably permanently pulled on the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty, Chekhov, and Uhuru.

How wrong that assumption was.

Ad in TV Guide, 1966

Fans immediately began writing letters to NBC demanding their show be returned. The deluge only grew with time, and by 1973, NBC began airing a really bad sequel: Star Trek: The Animated Series. The show featured the voices of most of the original characters, But the animation was horrible, and the writing was suspect. It lasted parts of two seasons.

Star Trek: TOS was aimed at adults, in fact I recall commercials describing it as “an adult science fiction series.” But that didn’t stop us kids from tuning in in droves, or NBC from selling Star Trek toys.

It also affected subsequent science fiction on TV and the movies. Fans demanded more realism, and explanations of what was going on. This reached its climax with 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s equally magnanimous novel is the only SF film I have ever seen that refrains from making spaceships go by with a whooshing sound, impossible in space’s vacuum.

But even though the Enterprise whooshed across the screen, you have to admit that video science fiction overall has become better, thanks to Star Trek’s more sophisticated audience.

But we’re still not happy about TOS’s cancellation back in 1969.


Allen Funt in the 60’s

Human nature is a funny thing. Put people into strange circumstances, and the results can be hilarious.

Producer Allen Funt figured this out in 1947, and began a radio show called Candid Microphone, It was a hit, and also proved popular in the form of filmed theater shorts.

In 1948, in the very infancy of the medium, Candid Microphone made it to TV.

If you older Boomers don’t remember Candid Microphone, it’s for good reason. The show jumped all over the place before being merged into The Tonight Show as a recurring segment, followed by yet another move to The Garry Moore Show. Somewhere during all of the hopping around, the segment changed its name from Candid Microphone to Candid Camera.

Finally, in 1960, it appeared as Candid Camera, the TV show. And CBS now had a very solid 9:00 (Central time) anchor on the Must-See TV night of the decade, Sunday.

Durward Kirby and Funt

Bedtime for kids in the Enderland house was 9:00 sharp on Sunday nights. Ergo, I don’t have as many memories of Candid Camera as I wish that I did. But still, I can recall Allen Funt and Durward Kirby introducing short segments and my middle brother (who would sometimes successfully cajole dad into letting us stay up an extra half-hour) and myself collapsing in laughter. In typical kid-memory, what I recall most sharply was the “window blind” effects as a scene would fade in and out.

But thankfully, YouTube is well populated with classic scenes from the era, as well as from later incarnations of the show and the British version. Witness the “drive-in bank,” featuring frequent participant Fannie Flagg.

The show was a monumental hit. Eventually, its peering into human nature would be much imitated by shows featuring hidden video and user-supplied home videos of whoopsy-daisy moments. At press time, the concept has culminated (for better or, in most cases, worse) in the form of the first distinctive TV style of the 21st century: reality TV.

Funt deservedly gets the credit for the genius behind Candid Camera, but what you may not appreciate about him is the massive amounts of work that had to take place behind the scenes.

For example, cameras were huge, bulky things in the 50’s and early 60’s. While they could be hidden behind fake walls and such, they also required extremely bright lights. Thus, many candid scenes were filmed under the guise of “remodeling” work being done in the various locations involved.

Additionally, clueless network censors and sponsors who were paranoid about what constituted acceptable TV programming caused Funt misery. They needn’t have worried. Funt himself made sure each segment was squeaky-clean. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

Funt himself destroyed any material that was off color, or reached too deeply into people’s private lives. A hotel gag designed to fool guests placed a “men’s room” sign on a closet door. The funniest, but ultimately unaired reaction, came from a gentleman who ignored the obvious lack of accommodations and “used” the closet anyway.

The show made for many a Sunday night laugh, then was unceremoniously yanked in 1967 despite barely slipping out of the Nielsen Top Twenty. It reappeared in a polyester-clad syndicated version in the early 70’s, with Funt’s guest hosts including Susan George, Betsy Palmer, and the aforementioned Miss Flagg. More recently, Funt’s son continued to carry the torch in a revamped version of the show until a couple of years ago. Indeed, look for Candid Camera to resurface again and again.

Sky King

As I have repeatedly stated, I feel like 1959 was the best possible year in which to be born. However, I was born too late to enjoy a television show that had a truly rabid following among Boomer kids who were around to watch it from 1951-1959.

The show was Sky King, and it inspired a significant percentage of its viewers to pursue careers in aviation, or at least to obtain the status of private pilots.

The show starred Kirby Grant as the star character, Sky King. Gloria Winters played his beautiful niece, Penny King, no slouch as a pilot herself.

The show’s premise was simple, as were all of those of the era: Sky King would save lives, track down criminals, or help out the downtrodden of various flavors within a thirty minute slot every Saturday morning.

The show was a success on radio, as were so many of the TV shows from the 50’s. It originally aired on Sunday afternoons, but was rerun on Saturday mornings, and eventually landed there permanently.

My oldest brother was a big fan, and, largely because of this TV show, landed a career in aviation himself. He flew C-130’s during the Vietnam war, and flew jets for Fed Ex until his retirement.

It would be interesting to know how many other professional pilots out there were also Sky King fans.

Skyler King flew two planes during the course of the series, both named “Songbird.” The first was a Cessna T-50 “Bamboo Bomber.” It was a wood-and-fabric classic beauty which was designed for training WWII pilots. The second was a Cessna 310B, a state-of-the-art twin engine plane first produced in 1953. Aerial filming was done from another 310B, both to match the flying characteristics of the primary plane, and also to provide a backup aircraft for ground and low-level flying scenes.

Sky King lived on a ranch in Arizona with a landing strip that rolled right up to his spacious house. Storylines were kept simple. In fact, many have said you could have substituted horses and cowboys for planes and pilots. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with simplicity.

The show was extreme high-tech for the Eisenhower era. Bad guys were foiled with the help of two-way radio and expert piloting. It’s not difficult to see how kids watching on little black and white TV screens would be hooked.

Sky King himself was an old-fashioned straight shooter who would take responsibility for his occasional mistakes by explaining his humanness to Penny. She would understand, of course, and all would be well by the end of the episode.

Sky flew his last flight in March, 1959. I was born a few months later. But even though I never saw an episode, I was indirectly affected by riding on countless airliners flown by fans of the series who decided that they would be pilots when they grew up.

Here’s a brief clip of the show opening.

Sea Hunt

The routine was set in stone. I would get out of school at 3:30. By the time I got home, I was in front of the TV in plenty of time to watch Sea Hunt. And watch it I did, rerun after rerun.

There was something compelling about a show that was largely filmed underwater. Even now, I can’t resist series like Blue Planet. But in 1966, before Jacques Cousteau’s specials were around, we got our underwater fix by watching Mike Nelson getting into and out of various fixes.

The show, syndicated from the start, was filmed from 1958 to 1961. It continued to be syndicated throughout the mid-to-late 60’s.

Lloyd Bridges was an environmentalist who made a plea to protect the world’s oceans at the end of every episode. In fact, he left the show because the producers intended to make plots more about getting bad guys and less about environmental issues.

What I remember is that Nelson was always getting his air lines cut. That’s bad news when you’re down a hundred feet. I also remember that divers (never Nelson, who knew better) were constantly getting the bends from surfacing too quickly.

Another episode I recall showed a torn flipper floating in the water from a diver who was eaten by, of all things, a killer whale! I’m surprised that Bridges would let that situation sneak into a plot.

We used to have a great time imitating Nelson as we “swam” around the schoolyard at recess.

The show also served as a career springboard for guest stars like Leonard Nimoy, Larry Hagman, Jack Nicholson, and of course Bridges sons Beau and Jeff.

Here’s to Lloyd Bridges, who entertained and made a young generation environmentally aware at the same time.

Scott McCloud, Space Angel

Scotts magical ship

Film animation has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. My all time favorite animated scene is when the clocks all strike the hour at once in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. Man, those little wooden people moving around on their little tracks on the clocks, it was some amazing, hand-drawn stuff.

At the other end of the scale is my subject of today’s column: Scott McCloud, Space Angel.

Scott McCloud, and another popular kid’s cartoon called Clutch Cargo, used a technology called Syncro-Vox. It allowed a still image to show moving, REAL human lips. It was kind of strange, but compelling. And it still is when you see it used today.

It also allowed for some mega-cheap animations. After all, if those perfect human lips were moving so naturally, you could REALLY cut back on the number of frames you needed to hand-draw.

I was a little surprised to learn of the low-quality animations, comprised largely of cameras panning over static images, that comprised Scott McCloud, Space Angel. The reason I say that is because it was my absolutely favorite cartoon when I was five or six years old.

We had a local afternoon cartoon show on KOAM TV, channel 7 out of Pittsburg, Kansas. I don’t remember much about it except the fact that it only showed Scott McCloud and Clutch Cargo cartoons. Clutch was fun, but I was passionate about Scott McCloud.

You see, Scott traveled in the most perfect fictional space ship I ever saw. The Star Wars X-Wings? Pshaw! Scott could have easily kicked their butts with his ship, depicted above.

I must have drawn that ship at least 10,000 times doodling in class, right up to my senior year. In fact, if you were to ask me to quickly draw a ship right now, it would likely look pretty much like the Space Angel’s perfect ride.

I guess the powers that be as far as animation is concerned learned long ago that quality, at least on TV, doesn’t really matter. It was the storylines that Space Angel took that hooked young Ron Enderland. Hence, today we have smash hits like The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and others that use animation that pales when compared to that of Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and other Disney classics. But they still rake in huge bucks.

Of course, computer animation makes the whole point moot. We’re now used to seeing immaculately produced Pixar flicks that look lifelike.

But Scott McCloud and Clutch Cargo showed that you could hook youngsters, for life, in my case, with crappy animation, good writing, and slightly strange moving lips.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

1964 comic book ad advertising CBS’s Saturday morning cartoons

We learned early to appreciate the weekends when we were kids. Even before we were old enough to be subjected to the drudgery of going to school five days a week, we lived for Saturday morning cartoons.

I think it’s probably safe to say that every US household with kids and a television set was tuned into cartoons every Saturday morning. You would wake up, turn the set on, and go make yourself a bowl of cereal. Then, for the next four hours, you were planted in front of that screen, accompanied by the likes of Bugs Bunny, Heckle and Jeckle, Superman, Mighty Mouse, Astro Boy, Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog, and many, many more.

And advertisers knew that the way to reach our demographic was to place their commercials on that Saturday morning slot. Thus, we were all subjected to the same commercials over and over that are permanently stuck in our minds even now.

Heckle and Jeckel

Every kid had a routine of what shows to watch. VCR’s and DVR’s were many years in the future. You had to have your favorite show on in front of you at the time of broadcast to see it. That meant channel flipping as each episode ended and you favorite started on another network.

I learned early to appreciate the shows from the 50’s. I noticed that toons like Heckle and Jeckle, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and other oldies were much better drawn than the Hanna-Barbera and Filmation offerings.

However, that didn’t keep me from watching Huckleberry Hound, Secret Squirrel, King Leonardo, and other more recent offerings of the era.

Oh, how politically incorrect those shows were. The villages required to raise kids today would never stand for the violent shenanigans that went on as Wile E. Coyote would attempt to dispatch the innocent Road Runner, or Mighty Mouse would swoop in and punch some bad guy into next week, or Elmer Fudd’s relentless pursuit of Bugs Bunny with (horror of horrors) a GUN!

Huckleberry Hound

One of the earliest attempts to keep Bugs from blowing up Elmer with bombs was made by Peggy Charren, who founded Action for Children’s Television in 1968. Though strongly against censorship, she was quoted as saying “Violent television teaches children that violence is the solution to problems, that violent behavior can be fun and funny, that criminals and police make up a larger percentage of the population than they really do, and that violent behavior is practiced by heroes as well as by villains.”

Whatever. My friends and I were subjected to a steady stream of make-believe conflicts, and I don’t know of a single one of us who went to prison because of emulating Quick-Draw McGraw.

Today, of course, Saturday morning cartoons are a thing of the past. What’s the point, when cable channels broadcast cartoons 24/7? Why would a kid get up early to watch something that he can see any time?

But we who were around in the 50’s and 60’s can remember when the high point of the week began at about 7:00 Saturday morning.