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Monday, 17 May 2010

Too Many Cowboys

By Nancy Leitz

In 1956 when television was in it's early days, our Chris was about four years old and one day he told me he was very bored and I asked him if he wanted me to turn on the TV for him.

"No, I don't want to see that now,” he said. “Why don't they invent something new?"

I couldn't believe my ears because Roy and I used to sit and watch test patterns until they played The Star Spangled Banner and the screen went black. We were so fascinated by television we would watch the arm wrestling from Petaluma, California or the demolition derby from East Islip, New York.

One of the shows we watched was called Action In The Afternoon. Chris loved this show and watched faithfully. It was a local western show starring Chief Halftown and Sally Starr and as many amateur actors as they could find who could actually get up on a horse without sliding off the other side.

Every day at 4PM, the action would begin with the stage coach getting robbed and the guy guarding the Wells Fargo gold box being wounded and writhing on the ground.

All of this action took place in the back of the CBS studios on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, one of the busiest streets in town. Also, incidentally, on the main flight path into Philadelphia International Airport.

So, often, in the middle of a shoot out on a dusty street in Laredo you would first hear, and then see, a city bus come rumbling past the set. It was also not unusual for an airplane to put down his flaps and landing gear directly over a scene and all the cowboys and Indians would stop killing each other until the plane disappeared.

A legendary story told by insiders at CBS was about the day they were filming a hanging. They had put the desperado on his horse and the noose around the tree branch and the actor's neck. Just as they were about to simulate the event, a motorcycle came roaring into the station.

The frightened horse bolted and ran away leaving the actor actually hanging until two stagehands climbed the tree, loosened the rope and helped the condemned man to safety.

So, this is what Chris was watching most days and I never realized how much these cowboy shows were affecting him until the day I had to tell him of a relative's death. I sat him on the chair beside me and said, "Chris, I have something very sad to tell you. Do you remember Aunt Betty's mother, Mrs. Pharo?"

He nodded that he did remember her. I very quietly explained to him that Mrs. Pharo had died that day. Chris was astonished!

He jumped from the chair, put his hands on his hips and demanded to know, "WHO SHOT HER?"

After that incident, it was back to Howdy Doody for Chris.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Loved this one, Nancy! In this day of multiple visual and sound effects, it's great to remember the beginnings of television. Funny, funny story.

That is so great. Can you imagine a child wanting a "new" invention after the rest of us waited so long for television? And yes, death must have been equated with shootouts. Perhaps for many youngsters it still is. You're a great storyteller.

Ah yes, test patterns, and the sound of the gray fuzzy screen.
Live shows were a real challenge, the actors sure earned their silent applause.
Fun story, well told, a delight to read. Thanks.

Nancy, you never disappoint!! Great story, well told - and funny!

When I see your name Nancy, I know I'm in for a treat.

Chief Halftown, Sally Starr, test patterns,etc...Oh yes, I remember them well!

How freakin' funny!! Thanks!

What a cute story Nancy. And your Chris...what a sweet little guy. Although I'm not familiar with Chief Halftown and Sally Starr...I do remember Howdy Doody.

Another wonderful story Nancy! I am chuckling away here and will for the remainder of the day thinking of all the interruptions to the show. Those were the days!

Cute story! Thanks so much for sharing!

About the same time as your Chris was watching cowboys I was working in the PR department of the CBS TV station in Cleveland. All local programming was, well, local! And live!

One of the funniest incidents I observed was a live 30-sec beer commercial involving 2 of our on-air talent. Andy was in the announcer's booth--which was (unfortunately) situated so whomever was reading the voice-over had his back to the set.

Brady was on-camera. He was supposed to open the beer, slowly pour it into his glass, take a sip, mime "ahhhh" and grin.

Andy is narrating the action, e.g., "You've waited for this moment, and you deserve it! It's time for Carling's Black Label!"

Brady takes the bottle of beer off the tray next to him, opens it and reaches for a glass.

Andy: "Pour the sparkling brew into your glass. Savor this golden moment of thirst-quenching anticipation . . . " and Andy reads on through the script, unaware of . . .

OOPS! Brady opens the beer and tips it to pour but--what's this?!? The damned beer is FROZEN! Brady is momentarily panic-stricken. While shaking the bottle ever more vigorously over the glass his eyes keep sliding to the booth where Andy is droning on . . . and on . . .

Finally, just before the commercial ends, Brady takes the frozen bottle, turns it upside down in the mug and, beaming, hoists a toast to the camera.

Was it a prank? Did the fridge go on the blink? Who knows?

Hello,Marcia,thanks for letting me know you liked the story..

Annie: You're right! We waited a long time to get TV and even longer to get decent reception with cable. Remember the rabbit ears with aluminum foil wrapped around the edges and twisting and turning them every which way to try to get a nice picture. Once, by brother wanted to see a special show and he paid me 50 cents to stand by the TV and HOLD the rabbit ears so the picture was better..

Liloldme: Yes, live TV was so much fun. Milton Berle's dress used to fall off with regularity.

Thanks,Judy, I can always count on you to read my stories and let me know you like them,

Hi Claire Jean,

Chief Halftown, Sally Starr, Ed McMahon and Dick Clark were all big guns in early TV in Philadelphia. At least two of them on to bigger things than Action In The Afternoon.

Mary: Funny all right. But the kids really were affected by those cowboy shows.
I heard the story of the Sunday School teacher who asked the class "Who was the first man?"
One kid said,"HOSS" The teacher said,"No, Adam was the first man".
The kid says,"I knew it was one of them Cartwright boys."

Hi Joy:

I suppose everybody remembers Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob. They were so great,weren't they? I loved when Bob talked about Princess Summerfallwinterspring and Hoona Honawinkle...


Yes, lots of interruptions in live TV. It was too funny in the middle of the shootout to see a Septa bus come right through the set, full of prople waving at the camera and making faces to get noticed by the cameraman.


I really enjoyed reading about the beer commercial. Brady was a really quick thinker,wasn't he? Remember poor Betty Furness chopping away at the freezer of that old GE refrigerator they had on her show? Every week she had to defrost that thing. Ah, live TV. Actually, I miss it.

What's sad about the story is that today when a child asks "Who shot her?" he's been watching the news.

A truly delicious story. Thank you. An insight in what makes an impact on young minds and the connections they make.

You always have a funny story to tell, Nancy. I loved this one. It takes me back; waaaay back.

When we first got TV the dining room was abandoned for TV trays in front of the set. I would rush to get the meal prepared in time for 'I Love Lucy'.

We didn't get TV for several years after the East and West Coast had it.

Loved it! Thanks Nancy.

I can't remember Howdy Doody but I sure remember our black and white television set with the rabbit ears.

I can recall my parents telling a story about how they came to buy their first television...

My eldest brother is the same age as your Chris and when he was a youngster, he started to spend more and more time in a friend's house. My parents were puzzled as what the attraction was but soon discovered the cause (I bet you can guess!).

You're right! The friend's house had a television set and the only way they could get my brother to stay at home, was to install a television in our house.

And the rest is history!

And think of all the eggheads that are just now trying to sift through the "research" on whether or not TV violence has an effect on kids. Sigh. A student of mine said--not too long ago--"Times might change, but people don't seem to." This story sure proves it. Kids are not too easily impressed with new technology; they get bored pretty quickly with novelty; they are mightily influenced by what they see on television whether they (or we) want to believe it or not.

Your observation is true,Stefani.
I often wonder how kids can tell the difference between real life and TV.

Thanks, Judy for your comment. Chris was really SURE that someone had done poor Mrs. Pharo in. How else does a person die?

If I had a dime for every Mrs. Swansons I have eaten in the living room I would be a very rich woman. The guy who invented TV trays is now laying on the beach in Boca Raton enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Hi, Steph,

You didn't have to be a little kid to pull off the scheme of finding a friend with a TV in the early days. My brother Bob and his wife,Tessie, had the first TV set I ever saw and we spent every minute we could spare sitting in front of it. They had one of those 7 inch screens with a huge magnifying glass in front of it and the test patterns we were watching looked great through that thing.

Nance,your comments are so true.Chris was definitely NOT impressed with Television..Why don't they invent something new?...He was even bored by Action in The Afternoon sometimes, and would turn on Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog instead, a cartoon. Chris disliked cartoons, preferring live action to animation. As far as being influenced by television he wanted to form a posse immediately and find those guys who shot Mrs. Pharo and bring them to justice under a tree on City Line Avenue!

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