“Hey kids! What time is it?” With Clarabell and Princess Winterspring Summerfall as a supporting cast, the “Howdy Doody Show” took the nation by storm with its nonsensical format. Buffalo Bob was an instant celebrity, and parents watched the marionettes alongside their kids. For the next decade, our innocence remained; television was in its infancy, and we were in love with its promise.
Remember Fearless Fosdick and his bullet-riddled body? Lil’ Abner, which began in 1934 and reached its peak in the 50s, was one of the first cartoons to poke fun at our society’s quirks and improprieties. It ended when Al Capp became ill and realized his days at the easel were numbered. Remember “Nancy O,” “Ready for Freddy,” etc.? Fearless Fosdick lived on in advertisements: Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie.
Smoky Stover. Kayo. Major Hoople. Jimmy Hatlo’s “There Ought to be a Law.” Cartoons entertained us. Comic books cost a nickel, then a dime; trading them was a facet of growing up. Our youthful imaginations were stretched to our limits by heroes’ abilities to fly, to become invisible, to be indestructible, to read our minds, to be “us.”
Drive-ins reached their peaks: Movies, restaurants, banks, car washes — even a funeral home would provide drive-up convenience.
Route salesmen brought products to your front door with no fear of danger emanating from within — or without. Milk, brushes, tea, insurance; you name it; somebody handled it.
As Americans stepped up their paces, time became a premium, eased along by TV dinners, power mowers, automatic washing machines and boxed cake mixes. We accomplished more with less effort — people found more time for recreation and relaxation.
Kids gravitated to automobiles, and those automobiles became more powerful — some by courtesy of the factory, some by their owners. The muscle car was on the horizon. It was the start of a long relationship. Coming of age, for an increasing number of teens, included possession of a special, personalized vehicle.
In the days before litigation took control, community pools had diving boards — high boards. If you tried something dangerous, and lost the battle — well, you lost. That was it. No one had yet considered spilling a cup of hot coffee on his or her lap as a way to sue and collect money for their foolishness. Why did we begin shelling out for dumb acts? As the bumper sticker reads, “Stupidity isn’t a crime, but it should be.” Warnings eventually were placed on anything and everything, because some low-thinker tried to cut his shrubbery with a power mower and was rewarded for his ignorance.
Radio taught us to use our imaginations. Who can’t recall dropping deep into the bowels of his house with Jack Benny as he goes to his well-guarded vault to pick up a quarter to pay his violin teacher? Remember his Maxwell? The sound effects technician was one of the most respected, and envied, people on any radio program. That imagination would carry over onto the early television shows, where some personalities made the transition successfully — others didn’t. Seeing them live — as most shows were — was often a shock; they didn’t look like they sounded.
Radio was an important part of our lives; we knew the on-air personalities who brought us local news and entertainment. They lived among us, and the days — and nights — of network broadcasting hadn’t yet arrived. Until 1952, music heard on the radio was live, not recorded. When that ground was broken, all sorts of new opportunities presented themselves. “Your Hit Parade” premiered on the radio — AM — and listed the top 10 songs of the week; studio performers provided their versions. It would transition to TV and linger until the individual recordings and unique talents made the hits impossible to duplicate accurately, as in “Rock and Roll.” To be continued.
Allen Haines, a resident of Cumberland, writes about street rodding for the Times-News. He is a 26-year correspondent for Street Scene Magazine, an auto-related publication from the National Street Rod Association. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.