Television Came Late in my Early Life by
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 I don’t remember being jealous, but  I went  into  “mooching mode” by  watching other peoples’ televisions.

The first time I watched television was in  1948 when very few people I knew owned a set.  My Uncle Jack and Aunt Jennie invited, what I think, was every small child in the Bronx to watch the “Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey” circus.  Even to a small girl of 5, the television looked miniscule.  Not only could I barely see the screen, but the black and white picture was blurry and unwatchable.   I had seen  live circus and I knew that this box was scarcely a substitute.  I couldn’t understand what the excitement was all about.

My father, a tax assessor, employed by the city of New York, had fallen behind the economic curve after the war, so in any case,  we could not afford a television . Any extra  entertainment funds were funneled into his hi-fi and record collection. But by 1949  it seemed that  all of my friends and family had televisions, but not us.   When we finally got a set in the mid 1950’s,  I felt like we were the last family in my neighborhood to own one.

 I don’t remember being jealous, but  I went  into  “mooching mode” by  watching other peoples’ televisions.  Some of my earliest childhood memories involved these visits to friends’ living rooms.  In the first grade I was invited by a classmate Steven   to watch my favorite  show,  “Howdy Doody”.  I settled in and sat  on the floor (I can never remember ever sitting in a chair when I watched t.v. at someone’s house).   I was  transfixed by the players: Howdy, Mr. Bluster, Princess Summerfallwinterspring, Flub-a-dub  and Clarabell. Television was getting technically better and I was enjoying Howdy, a cute little marionette cowboy with a freckled face.   I suddenly  turned around and I saw that Steven’s little sister had pooped right on the floor.  I had experienced my first ironic moment in life  and I could never watch Howdy Doody anymore without thinking of Steven’s little sister blithely taking a dump right in the living room.

One of the reasons I didn’t really miss  t.v. was because my older  brother  and I were  radio fans.  This brought about a real conflict in my young life and a turning point in my relationship with television. My favorite radio show was a cute little comedy called “Baby Snooks”,  starring  the well known vaudeville comedian, Fanny Brice.  She played a little girl who was always getting into trouble because of misinformation, misunderstandings and general foolishness.  The show was on Tuesdays at 8:00.  Anyone from that era knows that it was  sacred television time, the hour of  the Milton Berle Show.  “Uncle Miltie” as we knew him,  had also been a vaudevillian, and  it has been stated that because of  the success of his t.v. variety show, television sales went through the roof in 1949. He was consequently dubbed, “Mr. Television”. My brother and  I were generously invited by our next door neighbors, the Gordons,  to watch the show. (We  sat on the floor, of course).

I felt very torn between Snooks and Miltie.   Some Tuesdays I would stay at home and laugh along with Snooks, but most Tuesdays the lure of t.v. would be too much for me and  I’d sit closely squeezed next to my brother in  the Gordon’s living room.   1951 was a turning point.  My mother sadly announced that Fanny Brice  had died and there would be no more Baby Snooks.  Radio now receded to the background.  Uncle Miltie and television now had my full attention.

 

Profile photo of Sara Gootblatt Sara Gootblatt


Tags: Early t.v, Howdy Doody, Uncle Miltie, Baby Snooks
Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Radio sounds so wonderful, Sara. We got a TV in 1956, and I was pretty little, so I just missed the golden age of radio. Loved Fanny Brice, great photo!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember so many of these thing, Sara. Tiny tv sets in huge cabinets. Howdy Doody (pardon your pun), and Milton Berle. My parents loved Uncle Miltie but I must confess I didn’t ever understand why he was so funny.

  3. Suzy says:

    Fun story, Sara. I wonder if there is some kind of dividing line in this group – maybe between those born in the ’40s and those born in the ’50s – because, like Marian, I never listened to radio shows and had TV as far back as I can remember, whereas you and Dana and maybe Laurie remember radio shows as a form of entertainment.

    • The age of radio was relatively short and I was able to enjoy the tail end of it. Radio stories created a chance for children to use their imaginations generally more than television and movies. When we heard stories on the radio, we could imagine what the characters and the scene looked like and we could visualize the action. I remember being very disappointed when I saw Superman on television for the first time. Of course, modern t.v. and movies have special effects that often transcend what we could possibly imagine, but just like reading a good book, radio encouraged more mental creativity.

  4. A huge free-standing radio was a fixture in the house I grew up in, although it was eventually gutted and became simply a cabinet. I vaguely remember the sound of the tuner being twisted, some friendly voices and jingles, and then a vivid story drawing us in, our imaginations providing the visuals. I also had a collection of vinyl records I listened to on my little record player while reading along in a book. Thanks, Sara, for bringing back sweet memories of simpler times.

    • You just triggered such a special memory from my childhood, I also had a collection of records (they were 78 rpm). As I listened to the stories, and followed in the colorful book, there was a beep when I had to turn the page. My mother would set up the record player next to my bed when I was sick, because I couldn’t concentrate on reading.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    This is a wonderful recollection, Sara. I am a child of the ’50s, so don’t remember the radio shows at all (Fanny Brice was just the role played by Barbra Streisand for me) and we didn’t even have one of those huge free-standing TVs, but one built into a cabinet in our den. We all gathered around that.

    We did have a large radio/stereo phonograph cabinet that also held records, but that was much later. We really enjoyed that.

    The story of Steven’s little sister literally taking a dump while watching Howdy Doody is too funny! It will be hard to get that image out of my head now.

  6. Ah Sara, my folks were also late getting a TV and every day at 5:30 I went to my friend Nancy’s house to watch Hoody Doody!
    I’m sure I eventually saw all the shows you all watched, but don’t seem to have the recall! But I do remember listening to radio shows – Amos & Andy, Helen Trent, Jack Benny, and Dick Tracy (???) and more I’m sure and found them just as rewarding then as watching TV.
    We were all of us not yet addicted to what Marie Winn aptly called the “plug-in drug”!

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