Television and I go way back. I was born during the last years of the Eisenhower Administration, a late Baby Boomer. According to my mother—and why would she lie? —my first words (presumably after “mama”) were “Kennedy,” “Nixon” and “Playtex.” As you can tell, the TV was always on at our house.
The earliest show I actually remember watching is YOU BET YOUR LIFE, the sort of quiz show with Groucho Marx holding court, George Fenneman announcing and an ugly stuffed duck that would come down from the rafters bearing money whenever a contestant accidentally said the day’s “secret word.”
We had a small table top black and white TV with a separate, attached rabbit ears antenna that just fascinated baby me. In fact, when they upgraded to new rabbit ears, my parents gave me the old ones to play with! They stayed in my toy box for years.
Along with Groucho, other early TV favorites included Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, The Three Stooges, local Cincinnati area TV kids show hosts including Uncle Al and Skipper Ryle, and, of course, cartoons, particularly Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear! Rocky and Bullwinkle were also in that mix as was Mister Magoo.
The Flintstones became a special favorite as I also had the Little Golden Book version of it that featured Fred, Jr!
More mainstream shows I vaguely recall from this period, often watched through the bars of my crib, include LASSIE, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, ZORRO, WALT DISNEY PRESENTS, SUGARFOOT, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, THE REAL McCOYS, CANDID CAMERA, RED SKELTON, TO TELL THE TRUTH, JACK BENNY, THE REBEL and DENNIS THE MENACE. Keep in mind, I was pretty much tied to what my parents wanted to watch because I could barely speak, if at all, during my first year and a half or so. Also, it was rare that I was up after 9 PM (although I recall trying regularly to stay awake for CANDID CAMERA at 10!).
My Dad loved westerns so we always watched BONANZA, RAWHIDE, MAVERICK, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, GUNSMOKE, LARAMIE, THE RIFLEMAN and WAGON TRAIN. Not my thing at the time, though. By this point, the heyday of the TV kids western had passed. These were the so-called “adult” westerns that took over in the late fifties. Soon enough though, I found one of my own, reruns of THE ROY ROGERS SHOW on Saturday mornings! By age 2, I had multiple cowboy hats and cap pistols.
Needless to say, I was inundated by commercials—not just Playtex but Doan’s Pills, Geritol, Chef Boyardee, Campbell’s Soups, Raid, Pepsodent and Gleem, dozens of brands of cigarettes and beers and a hundred sugar-laden cereals! My favorite was Sugar Frosted Flakes. They were Grrrrr-eat!
The first prime-time series that I considered to be my favorite show began when I was not quite three years old—THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Sure, it’s a classic among classics now but at the time it almost didn’t survive its first season. My Mother liked it from the beginning, though, and I would lie on the floor and laugh uproariously at the fast-talking people telling jokes I wouldn’t even “get” until the sixth rerun. I also decided that I was going to be a writer when I grew up because Rob Petrie was a writer and I really, really liked Rob Petrie with his pretty wife and his silly friends. Apparently my ever-supportive parents believed me because, just before I turned four, they bought me a typewriter. I had learned the alphabet from Uncle Al (stunning my Mother the first time I sang her “The Alphabet Song”) but I still couldn’t read or write so, sadly, that particular typewriter sat idle. It served its purpose, though. After that, I knew they would support me in anything I wanted to do!
There were only three channels in those days—ABC, NBC and CBS. Locally we had an NET channel, Channel 48, the very first licensed public TV station to go on the air. It didn’t matter to those of us who only had VHF TV’s, however. I wouldn’t discover “educational” TV until we got one with a UHF tuner, also…and that wouldn’t be until 1968.
Oh, by the way, in spite of occasional onscreen announcements to the contrary, as far as I knew, television shows only came in black and white! We never even knew anyone who had a color set! I never had any trouble telling reality from what I saw on TV because, of course, reality was always in color. TV was always in black and white. And had a lot more horses.
Anyway, THE BOOKSTEVE CHANNEL is a personal reminiscence of shows I’ve watched, specials I’ve seen and actors I’ve enjoyed. It’s not meant to be a TV reference site. There are several good ones of those out there, already. There will be some info, some trivia, some pics, some clips. But you’ll never see anything here about FRIENDS or THE SOPRANOS or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Why? Because I’ve never seen a single episode of any of them. I’m sure they’re fine series but they weren’t my type. Thousands of other shows were, though…and you’ll find them here daily on THE BOOKSTEVE CHANNEL! Thanks for tuning in. Tune in again tomorrow for more great memories!