Attracted to Anarchy by
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The best of children’s TV for me includes a streak of anarchy. Maybe because I grew up in a household filled with noise, instability, and drama, I found most of the shows featuring “normal” characters unrealistic and treacly. Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, and the sweet characters just didn’t cut it.

While we ate tuna fish and Soupy hawked Jello, all kinds of chaos would happen.

When I was three, we got a television the size of a twin bed, consisting of a tiny screen surrounded by furniture. I would watch cartoons in the afternoon, and the odder they were, the more I liked them. I sat through the Mickey Mouse Club to see the cartoons (sorry, couldn’t stand Spin and Marty). Chuck Jones cartoons are still my favorite–think Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. As adults, my friends and I often speculated what kind of drugs the animators were on. Of course, some cartoons would be considered too politically incorrect for today’s kids, and likely rightfully so. What’s really funny about Mr. Magoo? All those characters with some sort of speech impediment, like Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig, would require disclaimers.

For live character shows, Ding Dong School (remember Miss Frances, anyone?) was tolerable because I learned something. There was another preschool show called Romper Room, with Miss Joan. I thought most of it was silly (do be a do-bee, really!), but watched the episode when my second cousin Russell, who by then was four, made an appearance (the fact that his dad worked for NBC might have had something to do with it).

The one show I wouldn’t miss was “Lunch with Soupy Sales.” While we ate tuna fish and Soupy hawked Jello, all kinds of chaos would happen. Strange people would show up at the door. Special guests would come on to get a shaving cream pie in the face. This must have provided some acceptable emotional release for me. Of course, female characters (except for an infamous off-camera stripper incident) were notably missing, but that was on a par with much TV at the time. And, a lot of the jokes went over my head as a child. While his “Mouse” song and dance number hasn’t worn well, parts of the show still are laugh-out-loud funny today, if the YouTube sampling I watched is any indication.

And, the puppets, White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie, and Hippy, operated by a gifted puppeteer named Frank Nastasi! They were outstanding and started my love for puppetry. This was reinforced by my mother’s cousin, Lee Wallace, who was a wonderful puppeteer and teacher. Name drop, cousin Lee taught Julie Taymor, director of The Lion King and creator of that show’s puppetry.

Not having had kids, I missed out on in-depth watching of Sesame Street, but really love the Muppets and the educational aspect. I like that today’s kids TV is much more inclusive and realistic than what we experienced, in that it shows kids and families with imperfect lives.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Marian, thanx for sharing another side of TV’s effect on kids.

    My recall of what I watched as a kid is not as sharp as yours and the others, but. I’m sure I watched many of the same shows once my folks get a TV. I think we were the last ones on the block to have one and I remember going to a friend’s house to watch Howdy Doody!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Marian, we both wrote about Soupy Sales. How random is that? My brothers loved him as much as you did, and maybe that’s why I didn’t. Of course, I remember Ding Dong School with Miss Frances and tiny TVs housed in huge cabinets. And I share your love of those cartoons, although you are right about many of them not being PC these days. I think my kids had much television better choices, but I’m not thrilled about what my grandkids watch on YouTube, etc.

    • Marian says:

      How random indeed, Laurie. I think I realized all the slapstick on Soupy Sales’ show was fake, where with the Three Stooges I wasn’t so sure and didn’t like them. I’m wondering if I was able to see shows such as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood if I would have felt calmer and wouldn’t have been as attracted to anarchy. We’ll never know. Too bad about the grandkids on YouTube.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Marian, I hadn’t thought about most of those cartoons in a long time, but you’re correct, they are no longer PC and what goof balls the creators were. I remember watching Soupy Sales and all those characters too (the pie in the face was always a good one). Have we lost the ability to poke fun at ourselves? Thanks for the memories.

  4. Suzy says:

    Marian, you had me with your great title. I didn’t become attracted to anarchy until I was much older, but I love the idea of 3-year-old you preferring anarchist cartoons. Now that you mention Romper Room, I have a vague recollection of it, but not in any more detail than the other shows I have also forgotten. And I never even heard of Lunch with Soupy Sales. As I just said to Laurie, my mother would not have allowed watching TV when I came home for lunch, and really there was just time to eat and then walk back to school. I do remember the late-afternoon show he had when I was in high school though, and I tried to watch that whenever I could.

    • Marian says:

      Glad to remind you of Romper Room, Suzy. It was better than Ding Dong School but not much. Thinking back, what must have appealed to me in those anarchist cartoons was that, despite the anarchy, the good characters did survive.

  5. Well, now I’m getting Romper Room and Ding-Dong School mixed up! I remember Soupy Sales had a reputation for sneaking very adult jokes into his content, but I’m not sure if that’s just rumor. I do know a lot of early cartoons like Looney Toons had adult humor hiding between the lines, not necessarily risqué but things kids wouldn’t pick up on and were like winks at their parents. And speaking of which, the music was often very hip, a lot of jazz and ragtime.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    You really touched upon a lot of my most “important” TV shows — certainly the Chuck Jones WB cartoons among them — but particularly glad that you (and Laurie) focused on Soupy Sales. Clearly, even back then, we knew that there was something subversive going on, even if we didn’t catch everything. And we were grateful that Soupy was sharing it with us cool kids — and maybe putting one over on our parents.

    Only one correction. It was always bologna sandwiches when we had lunch with Soupy; never tuna fish.

    • Marian says:

      I stand corrected on the bologna, John. Yes, there definitely was something subversive going on with Soupy. I think what I reacted to was that he really was an adult and didn’t try too hard to pander to kids, even with the lines he had to say. That certainly was more interesting to me.

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