I got to thinking the other day (I do that once in a while) and let my mind wander over the TV shows I watched growing up. Specifically, I was thinking about the shows filmed in the black and white era at a time when my mind was still being melded (melted?). See if you remember a few of these:
Sky King (1951-1962)
“From out of the clear blue of the Western sky comes Sky King.” This was the announcement that started every show as the Songbird (not the Flying Falcon or Screaming Eagle?) roared through the clouds. What I remember about this show was Sky King as the pilot dressed in immaculately, well-pressed cowboy clothes, his annoying niece Penny, and some dumb kid named Clipper who basically just hung out. The plot was pretty much the same each week—Penny would get involved with some unsavory characters (a character flaw?) and just before the villains were fed up with her whining and about to end it one way or the other, Sky would fly in and save her. Today, Penny would just be considered a spoiled screw-up who deserved whatever she got, Sky King would have to get a real job, and Clipper would have failed in a business venture that tried to convince men to wear 6-inch ties.
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954-1959)
The basic premise of the show was the story of a boy (Rusty) and his German shepherd Rin Tin Tin who were rescued by the U.S. Cavalry after Indians wiped out their wagon train. After the rescue, the soldiers dress Rusty in a cute little Army uniform and let him wander around the fort until he is 21. A similar pattern for a lot of kid’s shows can be seen as the carefree, irresponsible, waif roams around until he finds trouble only to have his faithful companion swoop in and save him at the last-minute. I seem to remember that Rusty was no brain trust and Rin Tin Tin was pretty much in charge of all serious thinking.
First teamed up with the kid Jeff and later Timmy, like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie just hung out (on the farm) while waiting for his young master to get into trouble. Then she either rushed in to help or ran home to explain to the rather slow-witted farm folk that they needed to follow her so that they (who had arms) could rescue Jeff or Timmy. You would have thought that after Jeff and Timmy had each fallen into half-a-dozen holes in the ground, their parents would have filled every mine, trench, cave, and chasm in, but for some reason, that never happened. It may involve a personal hangup, but I found Jeff to be an arrogant ass and Timmy simply a dolt.
Corky and White Shadow (1956)
This show wasn’t on long, but I remember it fondly because Darlene, of Mouseketeer fame, had the lead and I liked her even more than show’s darling, Annette. This was mainly, because I thought Darlene was better looking and I knew she could whip Annette’s butt. In fact, whipping butt seemed to be the basic premise of the Corky and White Shadow show. In a plot that was the opposite of every other kid/dog show, Shadow (the dog was pure white—so where did that name come from?) would wander around until he got into trouble and then Corky would rush in at the last-minute, whip butt, and save him.
Go with a kid named Joey and substitute a horse named Fury instead of a dog and you have a whole new premise for a show. Unfortunately, the plot was exactly the same—kid screws up—animal buddy saves him. The only difference in this show was that Joey could ride Fury and get into trouble much faster. With a tagline like “The story of a horse and the boy who loved him,” the show was destined to be second rate.
Dennis the Menace (1959-1963)
I remember watching this show and recall that something never seemed quite right. First, no kid I knew ever wore bib overalls or carried a slingshot in his back pocket. Now I had a few slingshots in my day, but always kept them hidden because if a parent saw one, they immediately confiscated it. Now, to think of it, as often (daily) as Dennis got in trouble, his parents somehow remained totally oblivious to the fact they had a budding serial killer on their hands. And although it was apparent that Dennis’ kid friends (Joey the confused one and Margaret the know-it-all) were losers, it didn’t really explain his obsession with Mr. Wilson (who he called his “best friend”). This relationship always seemed a bit weird to me. Plus, at the end of every show, after having caused another major catastrophe, there would be Dennis beaming, big grin on his face, happy as could be—somehow that is not how my major mess-ups turned out.
My Three Son’s (1960-1972)
Since it ran for so many years, people must have liked it. I know I watched it, but apparently it left almost no impression on me what so ever. I don’t remember anything about this show and think that was because it so little resembled my life (living in a small town in the west whose claim to fame was that it was the home of the world’s first rodeo). I guess I just couldn’t relate to living in a house of all males who did nothing but sit around wearing ties all day long.
Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963)
Of all the characters in the shows I watched in my childhood, I think I most identified with Beaver in Leave It To Beaver. Beaver’s life was always about trying to do the right thing when, suddenly, out of the blue, through no fault of his own, everything went south. He really was a good kid; he just had rotten luck and lousy karma. That’s exactly how I would describe myself as a child. Basically from the age of 8 to 12 my motto was “Not my fault”—as I got older, it changed to “Do you have proof of that?” The discussions he had with his father at the end of every show seemed like someone had just followed me around on a day-to-day basis and written down my own father-son counseling sessions (except they were a little different being that my dad was an ex-Marine). Nearly every episode was a déjà vu, been-there-done-that experience—the Beaver was simply following in my footsteps.
That was fun. I think I’ll do this again.