Monday, March 17, 2014

Once Upon…

My first recollections of the television and the programs were ones in black and white pictures. I had three channels to choose from. WJAC broadcasted their schedule from Johnstown and KDKA and WTAE broadcasted from Pittsburgh. The televisions in my youth had a small screen and hand controls. The controls were actual that had to be twisted to change channels, to turn it on or off, and to raise or lower the volume. The only way an adult had a remote control was to whack one of their kids on the back of the head and tell them what needed done; change the channel or turn the volume up or down.
The old televisions needed an antenna to pick up the signal; anything from rabbit ears that sat on top of the set to an aluminum aerial attached to a tall pole. There was no such thing as cable or satellite. My ingenious father thought of a good substitute. He used two of my mom’s metal pant-leg stretchers and carried them to the attic. Attaching the wires to the hangers from the television, he kept repositioning them until the television picked up the best picture. He nailed the hangers in place to the rafters and we had the choice of the airways.
The first television programs that I remember were; Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bob Smith as the host, Miss Frances of Ding Dong School, Felix the Cat and the Professor, Tom Terrific with his mighty wonder dog, Manfred, and a takeoff on the newspaper comics, Blondie.
I watched family centered television programs of Leave It to Beaver, The Life of Riley, Father Knows Best, and I Remember Mama.
The broadcasters also delivered variety shows like The Milton Berle Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. They were broadcast live and mistakes were part of the humor for the viewers, whether the errors were in a comedy skit or in the commercials. There were no do-overs.
Western television shows became an integral part of my Saturday morning fare. My heart beat faster when the outlaws showed themselves or one of the heroes was placed in danger. Annie Oakley or Sky King and Penny sported women as the heroines. The Lone Ranger carried silver bullets rode his horse, Silver and his side kick Tonto, on his painted pony, Scout. Gene Autry carried his guns and wore a neck scarf. The Cisco Kid and Pancho had humor interspaced with the tension. Wild Bill Hickock rode across the screen with his squeaky voiced companion, Jingles, kept me glued to the television set. Hopalong Cassidy wore his black outfit and rode a white horse, Topper. Death Valley Days, hosted by the old miner, had the Twenty Mule Team Borax as its sponsor. Roy Rogers on his horse, Trigger, rode the range with his wife, Dale Evans, and her horse, Buttermilk. They had a sidekick Pat Brady who drove his old jeep, Nellie Belle. I also enjoyed the longest running program Western was Gunsmoke with Mat Dillon, Miss. Kitty, Doc and gimpy gaited Chester.
I watched serial programs where animals were the stars or costars like Circus Boy, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Mr. Ed, and Francis the Talking Mule.
Comedy was another venue for entertainment starved kids. Kukla and Ollie were puppets on a show hosted by Fran Allison. Adventure Time was hosted by Paul Shannon, showing episodes of The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges. Paul Shannon also had the puppets of Rodney and Knish as co-hosts. Another puppet program was Sherri Lewis and Lamb Chop.
The Red Skelton Show was a one man show of comedy where he played Freddie the Freeloader, Junior the Rotten Widdle Boy, and Clem Kadiddlehopper, to name a few. The Honeymooners, a program that reflected the hard times of living in an apartment of Brooklyn, where Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, was “married” to Audrey Meadows, as Alice. Their best friends were Art Carney, as Ed Norton and his “wife,” Joyce Randolph, as Trixie lived in an apartment above. The I Love Lucy Show was a show based on slap-stick comedy where Lucy and her best friend, Ethel Mertz, became involved in incredulously idiotic scenario after another.
Game shows were another genre. I’ve Got a Secret, Queen for a Day, You Bet Your Life, What’s My Line, and Truth or Consequences were just a few programs I watched.
Raymond Burr was Perry Mason, Broderick Crawford played a cop in The Highway Patrol, and Jack Webb and Harry Morgan were the stars of Dragnet, “Only the facts ma’am.”
The myriad of selections seemed endless and yet they were so much less than today’s choices. The television screens were small. It was necessary for me to crowd close to see the picture with any clarity. I claimed a spot directly in front of the set, often before the actual programming started and would be hypnotized by the test pattern, listening to the hum of the  audio, in anticipation of the beginning of broadcast day.

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