Column, Looking Back

Entertainment of yesteryear

My husband, Peter, and I are fans of tennis. Although we don’t have a lot of “needs” when it comes to what we watch on TV, we do like to follow tennis tournaments throughout the year.
The Tennis Channel will soon be leaving our “sports package” and moving to higher level of programming. Of course, that means more money will be leaving our wallets and going to our cable provider.
Making decisions about program levels and packages reminded me that when I was growing up in the 1950s these options didn’t exist.
The way we watched TV was so different back then. Most families only had one set and it was usually a wood grain console that was the equivalent of a piece of furniture.
Channel choices were minimal and families sat watching TV together. You watched a show only when it was on…no recording it to watch later. Changing the channel meant getting off the couch, walking over to the TV and turning the channel dial.
If the TV was too loud or not loud enough you got up once again and adjusted the volume dial.
The type of shows that people were happy watching was very different from what people consider entertainment today. Violence consisted of a “shoot out” in a western. Male and female bodies were totally covered and the language used was suitable for all ages on any given channel.
Shows about families were very popular. Each week you were invited into the lives of what was considered a “typical family” — a mother, a father and at least a couple of kids. Among my favorites were: Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet.
I was living proof that young people are definitely influenced by what they see on TV. I remember when I was around 10 years old, Kathy on Father Knows Best decided to drink a whole bottle of milk because she figured the more she drank, the healthier she would be. When I saw her downing the milk I headed to the kitchen to do the same. My parents were outside working so were not there to tell me it was a bad idea. Fortunately for me our milk bottle was only half full. By the time I got back into the living room, Kathy was finding out that she had made a bad decision. It wasn’t long before I also found out that gulping a large quantity of milk was not a good idea!
Were there “bad boys” on a family show? There were a few but the things they did were very tame compared to today’s definition of “bad.” Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver played that role nicely. His pranks would involve such things as fastening a chain around the rear axle of their friend Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford’s car. This caused the wheels to detach when he tried to move the car. Eddie was the consummate “suck up” when it came to adults. He always told Mrs. Cleaver that she was wearing a lovely dress. As soon as she left the room Eddie was right back to his conniving tricks.
A real life family also had a popular TV show. It was called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The Nelson’s sons, David and Ricky, were on the show which aired from 1952-1966. Viewers got to watch the boys grow up as the show progressed. Ricky became quite the heartthrob as he entered a successful musical career in real life.
Westerns were a big part of TV viewing in the 1950s. I was curious to know how many shows were in this genre over a 10 year period. My “google search” produced about 50 TV westerns. The favorites among my friends were: Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Death Valley Days and Annie Oakley. The girls in our neighborhood were as fond of westerns as the boys. We all had “cap guns” and ran around the streets with our guns drawn just like our heroes. That was about as violent as things got back then.
Adults had their favorites, too. One of the most popular was The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. The show aired from 1948-1971. Watching the show was a relaxing way for adults to get ready for the work week ahead. It was a variety show the featured music, comedy, sports and politics. Sullivan had a rather stern appearance but he was popular because he brought top notch entertainment into our living rooms.
The sports fans of today would not have been happy with the event choices in the 1950s. Baseball and boxing seemed to have the most TV time. Football and golf were just starting to be shown more often. I would never have been deciding about a cable upgrade that offered tennis back then. That sport got little, if any, TV time.
These days there are more channels available than any one person could ever watch. Would I rather go back to my old console TV and limited channel choices? Absolutely not!

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