Once I actually got to BE on TV! As a birthday treat some other kids and I got to appear on Miss Carol’s Clubhouse, a local black and white kid’s show at KXII-TV, Sherman, Texas. Like most kid shows, we were seated on risers and were asked questions as the camera zoomed in for the response.
Since it was an afternoon show cartoons were played between the live segments. Recollection of our on-air comments is hazy, but by judging from Miss Carol’s off-camera brusque manner, the noise and bustle of managing a set full of kids were getting to her.
Years later I can finally sympathize! During the off-air breaks, all of the kids on the show were treated to huge bottles of Pepsi Cola that were too big to finish but kept the kids running to the restroom.
Back then most local TV stations had some sort of live kid’s show. Dallas-Ft. Worth was no exception. Each city produced a markedly different style of kid’s show. From Dallas came WFAA-TVs Mr. Peppermint.
This was a happy Capt. Kangaroo type of show where Mr. Peppermint (played by Jerry Haynes) dressed in a red and white striped suit with a matching hat and cane.
His companions in mirth and music were Muffin (a rodent of some sort who spoke like he had permanent nasal congestion) and Mr. Wiggly Worm (a latexed finger who would emerge from his wormhole to check his little mailbox and otherwise interact with Mr. Peppermint).
Worth came KTVT-TVs Slam Bang Theater which starred Icky Twerp (Bill Camfield).
It was the virtual opposite of Mr. Peppermint both in style and content. Icky along with his ape-faced pals Ajax & Delphinum, brought a Vaudvillian style of slapstick comedy to our morning TV sets.
Live-action comedy sketches, cartoons, and the Three Stooges made up most of Slam Bang Theatres’s format.
The Three Stooges
The gold standard of comedy. Period. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the original trio of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard elevated the art of Vaudvillian slapstick to its zenith. After the ailing Curly left the team, brother Shemp Howard and later Joe DeRita took his place. Although still very entertaining, the magic seemed to wane with each successive replacement. Originally intended as theater shorts, The Three Stooges adapted perfectly to the new medium of television. My Stoogian indoctrination occurred as their films were aired as part of DFW’s Slam Bang Theatre with Icky Twerp (see section). Every morning and afternoon, we would pick up some new form of comedic mayhem to get us through the day. The Three Stooges in some form lasted well into the 1960’s through full-length feature films, and cartoons.
The Rat Patrol
The Rat PatrolThe Rat Patrol was a fictional action series based on the real WWII Long Range Desert Group which operated in North Africa against the German Afrika Korps. Armed with little more than Jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns, the Rats would successfully engage armored columns many times their own strength and be back in time for chow. Kids enjoyed the impressive dune jumping performed by the Jeeps as they would swoop down upon their enemy. As we grew into driving-age teens, this type of thrill would be re-created using our beat-up Volkswagens. I’m sure that The Rat Patrol’s TV exploits worked their way into the dirt-clod battles that took place at the sand piles found in the construction sites that patchworked our neighborhood. As it was in North Africa, raise your head above the sand pile at the wrong time and pow…a shot to the head! The show aired from 1966-1968. The cast included: Christopher George; Sergeant Sam Troy. Gary Raymond; Sergeant Jack Moffitt. Justin Tarr; Private Tully Pettigrew. Lawrence P. Casey; Private Mark Hitchcock. Eric Braeden; Hauptmann Hans Dietrich.
Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In
You can bet your bippie that Laugh In was the sign of changing times! The fast pace and just plain silliness of this ground-breaking sketch comedy show appealed to many kids as well as adults. Laugh In had an almost Pythonesque style of comedy and was not afraid to poke fun at the political figures of the day. For me, Laugh In marked the beginning of Mainstream America’s gradual acceptance of at least some of the 1960’s counterculture. Go-go dancers with psychedelic body paint invaded suburban living rooms every week, as their pre-teen children began agitating for faux leather fringe jackets from J.C. Penney. This is also the time that this very group began turning against the Vietnam War in ever larger numbers. Even President Richard Nixon departed from his rigid demeanor and got groovy with his on-air quip “Sock it to ME?”. The show aired from 1968 to 1973. Regular cast: Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Gary Owens, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Arte Johnson, Alan Sues, Jo Anne Worley, Judy Carne, Goldie Hawn. Many celebrities and guest performers also appeared on the show.
The Time Tunnel
An Irwin Allen time travel thriller! Two scientists get trapped in a top-secret time travel experiment and are thrown all over the space-time continuum. Just when our heroes would get the historical situation under control the folks back at the lab would monkey around with the controls and shoot them off into another time and place. Many kids played Time Tunnel by pretending to fly around through the ozone and come crashing down into another time/dimension. Starring James Darren as Dr. Tony Newman, Robert Colbert as Dr. Doug Phillips, Whit Bissell as Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk, John Zaremba as Dr. Raymond Swain, and the lovely Lee Meriwether as Dr. Ann MacGregor. The show aired from 1966 to 1967.
Hogan’s HerosBased on the more serious movie Stalag 17, Hogan’s Heros made being a prisoner of war look like summer camp! Although they were in a Luftstalag deep inside Nazi Germany, Col. Hogan and the gang managed to conduct an elaborate sabotage operation while having a great time to boot. Many kids, myself included, tried to dangerously recreate the show’s cool underground tunnel system only to give up after they had dug down only about a foot or so. Real 1960’s events eventually encroached on the show when I saw Robert Crane do a relief PSA (onset) for real prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. The show aired from 1965 to 1971. Cast: Bob Crane, Col. Robert Hogan; Werner Klempere, Col. Wilhelm Klink; John Banner, Sgt. Hans Schultz; Robert Clary, Cpl. Louis LeBeau; Larry Hovis, Sgt. Andrew Carter; Richard Dawson, Cpl. Peter Newkirk. Ivan Dixon, Sgt. James ‘Kinch’ Kinchloe.
Popeye the Sailor
Simply put, Popeye was the man! Not only was he able to survive life visually impaired, but he was able to dominate the forces of evil given the infusion of a few Vitiamans! While his debut in the comics was in 1929, Popeye first appeared on the big screen in 1933 with the help of Max and Dave Fleischer. The series reached its technical zenith by the 1950’s, and by the 1960’s production was taken over by a new producer, Al Brodax. The simpler, and cheaper animation may not have the same technical appeal, but it created a memorable and unassuming “Patio” style cartoon remembered by many.
Our Gang/Little Rascals
This Hal Roach classic was produced from the 1920s through the 1940s and is another example of how television saved old movie theater shorts. Evolving from the Little Rascals of the 1920s, Our Gang’s cast of characters is the best to know from the 1940s when it featured Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Mickey, Froggy, Buckwheat, and Butch. It was made into a full-length feature movie recently which fortunately preserved the spirit of a more innocent time.
Television’s answer to the Beatles. The “Pre-Fab Four” cruised around in the customized jalopy looking for adventure and hijinks. The rather light plot lines would be interspersed with live music concert footage. As goofy as this show seems today, I can remember when KDSX-AM radio (Sherman-Denison, Texas) was inundated with calls from eager pre-teen Monkees fans to play their latest hit. On a Saturday it wouldn’t be uncommon for the old kitchen wall radio to play “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” and “I’m a Believer” several times each hour! With Davy Jones’ recent passing there has been a renewed interest in the Monkees from fans both old and new.
Felix The Cat
I can hear it still…
Felix the Cat, The wonderful, wonderful cat. You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache, Your heart’ll go piddy-pat, All for Felix, the wonderful cat.
Felix was a pretty laid back kind of cat, that is until his neighbors the Professor and Rock Bottom started scheming. Sometimes the Master Cylinder (who lived on Mars) would get into the action as well. No problem for Felix. He would just reach into his yellow bag of tricks and viola–whatever was needed to take care of the bad guys was there! He also had help from the Eskimo named Vavoom who could harness tremendous power through the use of his loud voice.
Get Smart is proof that not all spy shows of the time were drama. Maxwell Smart, Agent 89, could be successful against the evil forces of C.H.A.O.S. (an analogy for Communism) while being totally inept. With the help of the lovely Agent 99, Smart actually pulled off a bumbling kind of cool, not to be seen again until Austin Powers. Kid interest was always aroused by the cool secret spy gadgets. Smart had access to such things as the Cone of Silence, shoe phones, a multi-door security labyrinth for a headquarters, and of course, a Karman Ghia. In a way, Get Smart allowed Americans to continue with their tradition of poking fun at the government while reaffirming their certainty that America would prevail in the Cold War. How? Because despite his bungling, Smart always managed to get his man! Aired from 1965 to 1970. Cast: Don Adams, Maxwell Smart – Agent 86; Barbara Feldon, Agent 99; Edward Platt, Chief; Robert Karvelas, Larabee.
Lancelot Link Secret Chimp
The evil forces of C.H.U.M.P. (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan) didn’t stand a chance against Agent Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp! Good thing P.E.T.A. wasn’t around then or the world would be under C.H.U.M.P.’s hegemony right now! Lancelot Link and his lovely assistant, Marta Hari, worked for A.P.E. (The Agency to Prevent Evil) under the direction of Darwin their chief. Yep, you guessed it…The link was a simian version of Get Smart and probably the farthest the 1960’s international spy genre was ever stretched. Every Saturday kids would watch how Link would fare against the likes of The Baron, The Dragon Woman, Dr. Strangemind, and Creto. Of course, Link would prevail and then return to the cover of his “day job” of being a musician in the rock band The Evolution Revolution. Aired in 1970. Cast: Dayton Allen, the voice of Lancelot Link; Joan Gerber, the voice of Mata Hairi; the voices of Mel Blanc, Steven Hoffman, and Bernie Kopell (later starred in the Love Boat).
Enhanced computer graphics clip from “The Doomsday Machine” the way we WISHED it had looked like! The one that started it all. James T. Kirk didn’t worry much about political correctness…he had a job to do. Actually, I didn’t get to see much of the original Star Trek during its prime-time network run (remember dads controlled the TV so it was usually Bonanza for us). I picked it up later during syndication like most people. There were two distinct popular culture genres for boys in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The 50’s tended to focus on the past (cowboys and Indians, Davy Crockett, etc.), and the 60’s focused more on the future with science fiction. I’m sure the space program and various technological advances were a major inspiration for that. With five major TV series, numerous movies, and a recent cinematic reboot, Star Trek is one of the most successful franchises in history. There are plenty more Star Trek incarnations to watch…ahead of warp factor two.
The beating of the jungle drums was the signal for kids to get in front of the TV for another Clutch Cargo adventure! Clutch, and his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot, were always traveling to the edges of human understanding to deal with some trivial matter. They always had access to the coolest “Space Age” equipment and vehicles leading me to believe they must have had a DoD size budget! The most memorable feature of this cartoon was the mouths of the characters. Human-like lips were strangely superimposed onto the cartoon to create mouth movements, which ironically, we still see on current late-night comedy sketches.