Saturday, October 8, 2011

Television From Another Time

When my father went to Viet Nam in June 1968, my family moved to the town of DuPont, which is right next to Fort Lewis, Washington.

Being a small town, there was not a whole lot going on. On top of that, the winter of 1968-69 was one of the worst winters in years. School was canceled for four days because of the heavy snowfall. Add to that that we were less than three years removed from being English-speaking-TVless when we lived in Germany.

To pass the time, TV became our friend. We started watching syndicated reruns on TV. We found some of them to be rather funny. But what would I think of them many years in the future?

One of the shows we enjoyed was My Favorite Martian. We would laugh at the exploits of Los Angeles newspaper reporter Tim O’Hara (Bill Bixby) and the Martian (Ray Walston) he found. Tim’s landlady was a widow by the name of Mrs. Brown (played by Pamela Britton). In 1969 I thought Mrs. Brown was a ditsy middle-aged woman and I did not think too much about her.

I found the show again in 2000. I had just reclaimed my bachelorhood and, of course, I ordered cable service that included every channel known to man. One night I found an episode of My Favorite Martian. I thought it stank. There was one big surprise, however – Mrs. Brown. The person whom I saw as just as just a ditsy middle-aged woman in 1969 I could now see was an actress playing a ditsy woman. As for the middle-aged part, well, I was now in my mid-40s. Um, I though Mrs. Brown was rather cute, thank you. But the show was terrible. The 1960’s humor of a woman-hungry guy seems disgustingly sexist in 2000.

Another show we used to watch was Car 54, Where Are You? If you have ever seen many early television programs, you know that they make Grade B movies seem like Gone With the Wind. Car 54 certainly fits into that category. The production values, well, what production values?

Joe. E. Brown (Toody) was an old Borsht Belt comedian who couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. His partner was played by Fred Gwynne (Muldoon, later to be Herman Munster). I saw a couple of episodes in 1977, and I still found it funny. I just recently discovered it again. It is still funny. What makes it so funny and so enjoyable? It shows people in everyday life, and they like and respect each other. A commenter on IMDB.COM said that he had a relative who was a police officer who said that Car 54 was more realistic than Adam 12.

Another thing I notice about the show is the black officers in the 53rd Precinct. They belong there. They are not there to make any social statement, they are not there to show how hip and progressive the producers of the show are. They are there because, well, they are there – as well they should be. Godfrey Cambridge got his start on the show. So did Nipsy Russell.

The shortcomings of the show add to the charm of it. Much of the humor is Jewish humor. And it is great. Even the intro to the show is funny, as they show Toody and Muldoon in their patrol car, playing chess, handcuffed together without a key, with Toody trying to write a report not knowing he has sunglasses on, and so on.

Innocent humor from an innocent time.


  1. I was just thinking. When we were kids, the snows were magnificent. I especially remember the storms of 67-68; my dad had to tunnel out of our front door...but we never lost power! Today, if the wind blows more than 5 mph, or a raincloud passes by, the grid goes down.

    I don't know why that observation jumped in my head this morning. Who knows what's clanking around inside there, waiting to get out.

    I love the innocence of the old TV shows Matt. My little brother and his best friend would mount up their bikes and play Adam 12 for hours and hours. As for me, I'd pull down my knee-highs to simulate flippers, and scooch around the hardwood floors on my belly playing Sea Hunt.

    My latest escapism is turning on reruns of The Waltons when the world is spinning too fast and the news gets my blood pressure pegging. It works every time! :)

    This is a wonderful post; thank you!

  2. What a nice walk down memory lane. Although I didn't "get into" My Favorite Martian or Car 54, I did love many of the shows from that era.

    And the 50's as well. I still love watching reruns of I Love Lucy; yes, it's sexist and silly at times but I love it, I love the kinder, gentler shows. 90% of the stuff on today is trash, IMO - sarcastic, demeaning and full of cheap shots. No thanks.

  3. lady red, I forgot about Sea Hunt! Do you remember The Rifleman? I was in love with Johnny Crawford!

  4. Florrie, I loved The Rifleman! I had a huge crush on Johnny too (and on Tommy Kirk. Remember him? He played "Travis" in the movie Old Yeller).

  5. Speaking of Sea Hunt, I graduated from the same high school as did Lloyd Bridges. He was a couple of years ahead of me, though.

    I also loved Leave It to Beaver.

  6. Well growing up in England I wasn't aware of many of these shows although I do remember Sea Hunt and the Bridges boys, Rawhide with a very young and handsome Clint Eastwood, Bonanza and the Cartwright brothers (Little Joe swoon....).

  7. He was a couple of years ahead of me, though.

    Hee, just a couple!

    Leave it to Beaver was Da Bomb!

  8. The dirtiest thing ever said on television was from that show.

    Ward, you were a little hard on The Beaver last night...


  9. I'm sure glad you're not Floranista. She would NEVER think of something like that!

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    tee hee