Television (1950s)





Ta rah rah boom de ay

Ta rah rah boom de ay

And Cowa-Bonga too



From about the time of Kindergarten forward I became hopelessly addicted to television. This is a habit that I cannot shake, and a vice that I do not care to cure. I have absolutely no desire to even consider step one of a recovery program that could get this monkey off my back. But it is not my fault. I was just an innocent victim of modern times and modern technology.

My mother said for years that Howdy Doody was her baby sitter and that without the old original children’s shows she probably would have been driven insane by her little boys. Therefore she had no problem plopping us in front of the electronic marvel while going about her housework or making dinner.

We had one of the original black and white 12-inch sets, with an oval screen which when it turned on required the picture tubes to heat up before any display would come up. There was more dead air than live airtime and a black and white iron cross was displayed to let you know that nothing was actually on yet. Then there would be a high pitched whine, followed by beeps to let you know something was about to happen, which sent everyone scrambling to the front of the set.

Sometimes I would even stare at the inert cross for hours waiting for Buffalo Bob and the gang to make an appearance truly envying the kids who got to be in the peanut gallery. Not that I did not want to be on the show, as it was often open to solicitation, but my mother always had a nonspecifically diffident response to my query about the possibility.

At that time I doubt that too many mothers actually considered going to the trouble to get a child into studio audiences. In the 1950s the whole concept was simply too surreal. It is also very likely that if I had actually gotten there, my mother knew I would have been frozen to my seat in such fear that instead of being a cue prompted screeching brat would have been just a non-interactive mannequin on the marionette matinee. But at home, the show kept us quiet. And that was all that really counted.

This particular venue was a great forum to emphasize the moral values or ethical principles of being an upstanding clean living citizen, and although many of the same principles of morality were taught in Catechism and Church, at least Howdy Doody made it illustrative and entertaining.

  • Floss your teeth twice a day, with dental floss, not kite string: it’s not good for your gums.
  • Don’t interrupt when others are talking, no matter how boring they are.
  • Never hit anyone with your hand, fist, foot, nose or forehead.
  • Never take food from anyone’s plate, especially the cats.
  • Never use a guest towel unless you’ve thoroughly washed your hands first, and don’t use them to dry your dog after his bath.
  • Never wash your hands in the water glass.
  • Always take turns.
  • Always play nice and always share your toys with others.
  • If someone has the toy you want, wait your turn or get another one.
  • Never play with your food, even if it plays back.

These aphorisms play infinitely better to a child than religious rules about worshiping strange gods, the coveting of wives or goods, and the evils of committing adultery.

To illustrate this point, because I did not exactly hear the phrase correctly or because of my juvenile naïveté and limited vocabulary, I once asked my mother why anyone would want to ‘cover’ the lady next door in the first place and why  then would it be a sin. She always deflected any direct answer because I was simply too young to start learning the step one facts about the birds and the bees; much less skipping directly to the step two explanation about lascivious extra-marital affairs.

What our mothers did not count on was the fact that as well as opening the portals of wild imagination in their children, television relegated reading books to a second tier of interest, while also opening the floodgates of tedious begging for the products it began to advertise.

I always wanted to send away for some or other thing advertised on the cereal box and on a rare occasion my mother would actually agree. Most of the time the toys were disappointing and fell short of their marvelous anticipated attributes, such as the plastic baking soda powered submarine which was supposed to repeatedly rise and fall in a pail of water. That was what it was supposed to do.

After several serious begging sessions, followed by several major product disappointments, she finally stopped sending for things and told me that it should all be a lesson to me about false advertising promises. But I still do have a silver plated Howdy Doody teaspoon as a reminder of cereal box ads, which may have been the only item that really ever came as advertised and did what it was actually supposed to do. But then again, it is really difficult to actually screw up a silver spoon.

Rice Krispies and Wonder Bread were the principle advertisers and on the day that the Howdy Doody crew made a live appearance during a local parade in downtown White Plains, Clarabelle the clown threw me a miniature loaf of Wonder Bread. I was determined to keep it forever as a cherished personal token and memento that would be consigned to never being opened or eaten. Having kept it under my bed until it turned moldy green, my mother finally insisted that I throw it away. But when I refused, she waited until I went to school and then personally handed it to the garbage man. I hated her for weeks after that.

Even in the early days of television there was a certain amount of subliminal brainwashing going on. For example, it was never questioned why or how Buffalo Bob came to be on such good terms with the pleasant, peaceful, and jocular Indians, Chief Thunderthud and Princess Winterspring Summerfall. In addition, no one even seemed to know where he or she actually lived as they just wandered off the plains and onto the set. All we knew was that they were really good, friendly Indians.

It was a simplistic vignette of White man and Indian alike, walking side by side, while collegially entertaining America’s children with week after week of fun filled didactic moralistic adventures.

No mention was ever made of the true history of America’s relentless, purposeful; genocidal persecution of the Red man, his forced relocation to the reservations, the destruction of his culture, and the poverty that automatically followed the collapse first of his environment, followed shortly there after by his society.


Howdy Doody


The only good Indian is a dead Indian.

(General Philip Henry Sheridan: 1869)

© Howdy Doody


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