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.