I’ve learned a few things while sheltering in place with a 5-year-old. One thing I’ve learned is why 63-year-old men don’t generally father babies. It’s because 68-year-old-men can’t keep up with 5-year-olds.
I’ve also learned that television programming for kids has changed drastically since 1957, when I was 5.
For one, it’s all in ultrahigh-definition color, not black-and-white on a 20-inch screen. For another, the characters on Paw Patrol and other such fare use cell phones and ride four-wheelers and use jet-packs and all sorts of things that had barely been dreamed of when I was a child. In fact, that was about the time I was going outside at twilight every night, trying to find Sputnik amongst the Milky Way that was still visible in Porterdale at the time.
But watching Henley watch television has brought back memories of the daytime television shows I did watch on those rare days that I was allowed to stay inside.
Do you remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans? That was a daily favorite of mine during those long idyllic summers in the ’50s. Honesty compels me to admit that I had no way of knowing that Mr. Green Jeans’s overalls were not faded denim blue like those of everyone else I knew. They were gray on my set.
The Captain wore a big coat with huge pockets, and he was always finding interesting things in those pockets and he always had a good moral lesson to pass along. But I liked the cartoons he showed best. There was one about a little kid called Tom Terrific, who lived in a treehouse and wore a funnel upside down on his head. He called it his thinking cap and used it to conjure up all sorts of adventures. He had a lazy companion, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, and an arch enemy, Crabby Appleton, who was, of course, rotten to the core.
Another favorite cartoon was Dudley Do-Right, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who was always trying to save Nell Fenwick from the evil Snidley Whiplash. It seems like Nell spent a lot of time tied up to railroad tracks and buzz saws, but Dudley and his horse, named Horse, always saved her — and Nell always showed great affection for the horse.
I seem to remember that Dudley Do-Right was a part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Rocky, of course, was a flying squirrel and his sidekick was Bullwinkle J. Moose. This show was broadcast during the height of the Cold War, so naturally the nemesis for Rocky and Bullwinkle were two Soviet spies, Boris and Natasha. And y’all thought propaganda for kids was a 21st century invention!
Another feature of the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was a cartoon series about a glasses-wearing dog named Mr. Peabody. He and his boy, Sherman, would travel through time and examine different events in history. I had to wear eye-glasses for a brief time during elementary school and, even then, had a penchant for history so, naturally, I picked up the unfortunate nickname, Peabody. That nickname faded once Star Trek came along. With the large pointed ears I sported, I knew from the first episode that I would be known as Spock for the foreseeable future.
There were a couple of afternoon shows that were must-see TV, as well. One was the Mickey Mouse Club and I still have a thing for Annette Funicello, as does almost every other 60-something male, whether they are willing to admit it or not. There were some pretty good serials on the Mickey Mouse Club, too. Spin and Marty was my favorite but there was also the Hardy Boys and Corky and White Shadow and a Jiminy Cricket morality series.
Miss Boo was a great show, too, but the undisputed king of kid’s television programming was Officer Don and the Popeye Club. Don Kennedy held court every afternoon, just before supper time, and played games like balls-and-can and “ooey-gooey” and showed Popeye cartoons, which the kids in his “peanut gallery” and all of us at home, started by counting down backwards from five. I always dreamed of going to Atlanta and being a part of that peanut gallery. It was a dream, like playing center field for the Yankees, that has gone unfulfilled.
Poor Henley. Stuck at home with his Papa, binge-watching Paw Patrol in color on a 78-inch television. He just doesn’t know what he’s missing.