Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, April 17, 2016

TV and Rock 'n' Roll, the Great Retreat from Reality

My grandfather had bought the family’s first TV in 1950. It was such a novelty at that time I would get up at six o’clock in the morning and watch the test pattern. Television did not broadcast around the clock. It went off overnight. At six o’clock it would begin its day. There would be snow on the screen before that hour. Then this pattern of varied lines of different thickness appeared for a few minutes, followed by the playing of the National Anthem with a picture of the flag waving in the wind. Each station, all three of them (The first three major networks were NBC, CBS and Dumont, but by 1948 ABC had replaced Dumont) did this. One channel followed the Anthem with a show called, “Thought for Today”. This featured a Priest or Pastor giving a brief “thought” on some Bible verse. All this was in glorious black and white. (Although the earliest coast-to-coast TV broadcast in color had occurred on New Year’s day in 1954 (Rose Bowl Parade), the cost of sets was pretty prohibitive for several years. Very, very few homes had a color TV before 1963.

In those early days we watched everything. We watched a lot of roller derby and wrestling. My parents took it very seriously, especially my Grandmother. She would get so mad at the referees when a Villain pulled something from his shorts and rubbed it in the Baby Face’s eyes that she was ready to climb in the ring and show ‘em what for! My family’s favorite was Argentina Rocca, but mine was Ricki Starr. (left)
Ricki's shtick was ballet. He wore ballet slippers and would do pirouettes and leaps about ring to warm up. His wrestling moves were performed with the grace (pretty much) of dance moves and he would befuddle his opponents by glittering out of their grip or leaping away from there grasp. I thought he wsa hilarious.

Wrestling must have been easy to broadcast because there was a lot of it on. One of the first big TV celebrities was a wrestler known as Gorgeous George. He was maybe the first to come out in dyed blond curls and fancy robes, the Liverace of the Wrestling Ring. He was also a Heel and everyone was supposed to hate him. (Hmm, think Donald Trump in wrestler's tights.) 's
TV shows bloomed like dandelions between 1950 and 1956. It was on all the time in my home. My grandmother and mother (when she wasn’t working) couldn’t miss their “soaps” during the lunch hour. There were four soap operas popular in my boyhood. Their titles together sounded like a plot summary: They “Search for Tomorrow” through “The Secret Storm” until “The Guiding Light” leads them to “The Brighter Day”.

At night my family camped in the living room around the TV like pioneers around the campfire. If my father was home we had to watch what he wanted, which was mostly Westerns. Starting in 1955 Westerns began to dominate the programming, beginning with the best, “Gunsmoke” Eleven Westerns debuted on TV in 1955. (There were a total of 88 over the decade of the 'Fifties.).
My mother and grandmother preferred the variety shows and sitcoms, “Ed Sullivan Show” (Originally called "Toast of the Town"), “Bob Cummins Show”, “I Love Lucy”, “The Honeymooners”, “Your Hit Parade”, “Burns and Allen”, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett”, “Jimmy Durante Show” “Red Skelton” and “The Jack Benny Show”. They also never missed “Candid Camera”, “What’s My Line?”, “Death Valley Days”, “The Big Story”,“Lawrence Welk” and of course, dum de dum dum, “Dragnet.” My grandmother liked Milton Berle, but my grandfather hated him. Every one lived in suspense week to week to see how contestants would do on “The $64,000 Question”. We didn’t watch “Twenty One”.

My folks didn’t like “Your Show of Shows”, with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coco. My grandmother complained Coco was too silly, but I really think Caesar’s humor went over their heads. It was too intellectual for their tastes. Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Howie Morris, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon all wrote for that show. It did a lot of dialect humor, which may be something they couldn’t do today due to political correctness, the modern version of McCarthyism.
One of my favorite shows was “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, something that would influence my writing. I liked “The Cisco Kid”, “Truth or Consequences” and “Annie Oakley”.
I had moved away from “Howdy Doody” and a lot of the children programming I had watched in Grade School. Sometimes I watched “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.” I watched “The Mickey Mouse Club”, but mainly when it had the “Spin and Marty” serials. Everybody always talks about Annette
Funicello, but the Mouseketeer I had my crush on was Darlene Gillespie (pictured left). I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She and her husband went to prison in 1998 for a check-kiting scheme. (Her mugshot on the right.) She doesn’t do so much for me today.

Having lived seventy-five years it is interesting to hear the misinformation about times I have
lived through. This makes me wonder how much of the history taught me was similarly wrong. For instance, if you go to a 1950s themed party or restaurant you will see women wearing Poodle Skirts. These skirts are often referred to as a symbol of the early Rock “n’ Roll era. My wife and I were both teenagers of the beginning Rock “n” Roll era. She lived near Philadelphia and I was in the suburbs and country thirty miles away. Neither of us ever saw anyone wearing a Poodle Skirt. Reason being is that by the early 1950s the Poodle Skirt had peaked and was on its way out. A former actress who became a fashion designer named Juli Lynne Charlot (pictured left) designed the Poodle Skirt in 1948. “Teen” and “Vogue” magazines featured it on the covers in 1950, but by the early fifties it was out of fashion. Poodle Skirts as a symbol of the 1950s is not right. It is more appropriate symbolizing the period 1948-1952 after the Bobby Soxers. It should be associated with Vaughn Monroe and Johnny Ray more than Elvis Presley.

Elvis is another example of a distortion in popular culture. Today commentaries on the 1950s and Rock ‘n’ Roll make it sound as if Presley was the creator of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Elvis Presley didn’t have his first hit record until February 1956 with the song “Heartbreak Hotel” and Rock ‘n’ Roll had a pretty good grip on the music scene by then. Elvis may have become the biggest star of the genre in the late ‘fifties, but people like Bill Haley, Joe Turner and Ike Turner were the true pioneers. There are those who say Presley’s 1954 recording of “It’s All Right, Mama,” was the first Rock ‘n’ Roll song. This is ridiculous. Big Joe Turner had already topped the charts with “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by then. Probably the first recognized record as Rock ‘N’ Roll was “Rocket 88” by Ike Turner released in 1951. (Chess credited
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats on the label. The Delta Cats did not exist and Brenton was the Saxophone player for Ike Turner's band. Brenston did do the singing on the record. They may have done this to get White radio airplay. Jackie Brenston was White. Ike Turner was Black.) Gunter Lee Carr had a dance novelty in 1951 called “We’re Gonna Rock.” “Moondog’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Party” began broadcasting on radio in 1951 as well and “Bob Horn’s Bandstand debuted in 1952. Presley can’t even lay claim as the first “White” star of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Bill Haley’s “Crazy Man, Crazy” had charted in Billboard by 1953.

The other big fallacy perpetuated today about Presley is that his first TV appearance was on the Ed Sullivan Show in September 1956. Sullivan garnered a lot of publicity with that silly ban of not showing Elvis from the waist down and now people associate that with it being Presley’s first TV performance. Presley’s first Television performance was on “Louisiana Hayride”, March 5, 1955. That was a regional TV show, though, not national. Sullivan was not the first national appearance either. 

The first time I ever saw Elvis Presley was on January 27, 1956 on the nationally broadcast “Stage Show”, a TV show produced by Jackie Gleason and starring Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey (picture left). I sat up and took notice. My grandfather took notice as well; he wanted to turn the TV off or maybe throw his shoe through the screen. Presley appeared on national TV shows three more times after that before he ever appeared with Ed Sullivan. He was on The Milton Berle Show twice, once in April and once in June 1956. This gave my grandfather even more to rage about since he also hated Milton Berle. Elvis did his version of “Hound Dog” for the first time on the June Berle show.
Elvis appeared on “The Steve Allen Show” singing “Hound Dog” to a Bassett Hound in July 1956. Allen didn’t think Presley had any talent and played his appearance for laughs.

Sullivan had actually totally banned Presley from his show, but when he saw how popular Elvis was getting he had to relent. He showcased Presley, at least his upper half, in September 1956. He had him on again in October and in January 1957, when he actually “dared” to show Presley had a pelvis.

Stuart’s plan’s for a Rock “n” Roll band may have ended on a sour note, but he and I weren’t through with music by a long shot, as we'll see in the next chapter of my life.

No comments: