Saturday, April 28, 2007

Television and my world

There were three channels. 3, 6, & 10. We went to bed each night at 7:30. That meant television had it's greatest impact in the morning. Like most cities Philadelphia had children's televsions progrms week days between 7am and 9am. I'm not talking about national programs like Mickey Mouse Club or Howdy Doody or programs of their ilk. These were cheaply produced programs primarily designed to bracket either cartoons or filmed material readily available to their libraries.
If you are from New York you watched Officer Joe Bolton and the Our Gang movies. We had our own bizarre programs. Sally Starr, Chief Halftown, Pixanne, Gene London, Uncle Pete's Gang. Bizarre not because of the bulk of their content but because of the odd sketch material that was created to bracket the content. Sally Starr wore cowgirl clothes and Chief Halftown American Indian Garb. Pixanne was of course a pixie. Whatever the fuck a pixie was. Gene London was his own version of a pixie. If pre 1970's Philadelphia was ready for a gay man Gene London gave us all he had. In 2007 he lives in New York and presides over a collection of movie stars and theatrical gowns. Guess where his sensibilities lay.
That said the content was brilliant Warner cartoons and MGM cartoons and the Max Roach Our Gang series. No one could complain about the genius of what we were shown. And being children who could complain about context. Fake cowgirls and Indians and Pixies and a shop keeper with a gay streak a mile wide.
Our Gang movies were my favorites. Rich, multi ethnic movies about wild children. I loved them and their anarchic spirit. How glad was I to read about them later in Ragtime. Alfalfa and Whitey and Froggie and Buckwheat. My dearest friends. Constructing crates of junk and careering down the streets. Lost in fantasies only children could understand. You can imagine my delight later in life when I learned Roach said to them... just do what you like and we'll film it. No plan, no ideas just children being idiots. Like me, like my friends.
And Bugs and Daffy. And all the Warner brothers cartoons. Adult beyond my measuring. Smart and cool and suave and wild. Who wouldn't love cartoons like that.
That was the morning.
In the afternoon there was only one show. The Early Show. A movie program that showed films of the 30's, 40's, & 50's. We lived for monster movies, for horror movies. For "The Thing", for "Frankenstein", for the "Mummy". We'd all sit in my second living room in terror at 4 in the afternoon watching monsters.
How much better to watch an alien possess and devour men on an arctic outpost then to deal with the problems of flowering plants in Wenonah. Or more appropriately the negroes next door. But in Our Gang the black kids and white kids played together and the jews made the movie. Go figure.
As we got older we made movies a richer part of our lives. For now our gal Sal was the best part of the day.


Jim Maddox said...

Our children's shows at that time were some of the most inventive programming of the time. The Max Fleischer cartoons were totally wild. Surreal animals,singing flowers, Hunky and Spunky and of course, the black and white Popeyes. It's funny how we all knew that Gene London was gay. We couldn't put our finger on it, but we knew he was "different". Bertie the Bunyip with Fussy and Gussy and Sir Guy de Guy. I would not go to Sunday school because Bertie was on. Who can forget Wee Willie Webber in the morning and subbing for our gal Sal in the evenings. You also forgot Happy the Clown, man you can't forget Happy the Clown!

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