The Source of My Great Knowledge - a History Lesson

From: nenslo <>
Date: Tue, Jan 20, 2004

Probably you are not wondering what is the source of my great
knowledge, but that is just the unasked question which I intend now to
ask and answer. What, indeed, is the source of my great knowledge,
specifically how is it that I seem to have seen almost every weird old
movie anyone is likely to mention? You see, my friends, I spent the
important formative years of my life in the Silver Age of television,
from the late 1960s until the Video Revolution, officially becoming a
teenager at the turn of the decade, and have intimate knowledge of the
1970s as they really existed.

Before the Video Revolution and the Cable Era there were only three
networks. In any major media market, all other stations were either
Public Broadcasting or Independent. Any programming created by
Independent stations was strictly local, a kiddie show with a host
showing cartoons, evening news, and a couple of hours of public
affairs programming per week. Everything else was either syndicated
comedy show re-runs or movies. All this programming was on film, not
videotape. Distributors sold packages of movies for different time
slots and demographics, and there were so many movies available it was
rare to see the same movie twice in one year. Throughout the 1960s
there was an agreement among the movie studios not to show any movie
on television which was less than ten years old, so the 1930s, OE40s
and OE50s were ever-present on the tube. Since I was fortunate in
being the product of what was then called a "broken home,o/oo and my
mother's night shift in the composing room of a major newspaper took
her out of the house in early afternoon and home after I had gone to
bed, I had near total freedom to remain unsocialized. Any
bespectacled child with no interest in outdoor activities could safely
immerse itself in the wonders of the past, and treasure the vibrant
personalities of Franklin Pangborn and Hugh Herbert, or the piercing
shrieks of Una O'Connor.

An independent station's average weekday might go something like this.
After a morning news program, the kiddie show, and an episode of The
Flintstones, there would be a block of family/pastoral comedies like
Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, Dennis The Menace, Andy
Griffith, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, maybe even Ozzie and
Harriet or Hazel. Then maybe a Perry Mason. At noon and two would
be movies oriented toward the housewife; comedies or dramas featuring
stars like Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward, Barbara Stanwyck or Bette
Davis. Remember that even until the mid OE70s Women's Liberation was
still a debatable topic and the great majority of homes were
maintained by housewives. Afternoon would feature another block of
comedies; Bewitched, I Dream Of Jeannie, The Beverly Hillbillies,
Gilliganís Island, Hoganís Heroes, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C, another
Flintstones. After the evening news and some downtime of one sort or
another like a cheap game show such as Beat The Clock or Supermarket
Sweep, you'd get a general interest movie or two, and then a couple of
movies through the night. Late at night there's no telling what might
show up - dramas, war movies, hot rod gangs, anything.

On Saturdays it would get cranked up a notch. The networks would each
have their own package of cartoons on Saturday morning, so an
independent would start bright and early with Three Stooges and Our
Gang shorts, then go right into something idiotic and, to me,
unwatchable like Dead End Kids, Bowery Boys and Ritz Brothers movies.
After that might be a less obnoxious comedy series movie like
Blondie, Shirley Temple, Ma and Pa Kettle, Abbot and Costello, or
Hope and Crosby. Noon might bring Mystery Theater with something
tolerable like a Sherlock Holmes movie, or something dismal like a
Charlie Chan, Mr. Wong or Mr. Moto - I never could watch a fake
oriental detective. Then might come Combat Theater, with a war movie
of some sort, or Fantasy Theater which could be anything from The Wasp
Woman, a ghost or voodoo movie, or genies or knights gorilla suits or
Godzilla or one of those inscrutable Japanese "Starmano/oo movies. Then,
for one glorious period, the afternoon was made grand by The Avengers,
and made tedious by The Saint. Saturday Night was the high point of
my week, with Creature Features and Sci Fi Flicks, which ran the gamut
from the classics to the dregs. You might see Frankenstein, or Son of
Frankenstein, or Dracula, or Daughter of Dracula, or even Billy The
Kid Meets Dracula, or Tower of London or Werewolf of London or I was a
Teenage Werewolf or House of Wax or Terror in the Wax Museum; then
This Island Earth or The Navy Versus the Night Monsters, Forbidden
Planet or Attack Of The Giant Leeches, Them! or It Conquered The World
or I Was A Teenage Caveman or Mars Needs Women or Planet of Blood or
Planet of the Vampires or Destination Moon or The Green Slime or Queen
of Outer Space or Queen of Blood or The Mole People or Beyond the Time
Barrier, I think you get the idea. Followed by an episode of the
Outer Limits, whose closing credits and whirling galaxies set the
perfect mood for slumber. Hardier souls than I continued watching The
Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock and Boris Karloff's Thriller, and who
knows what else after that.

Sunday mornings are a bit hazy to me, since the Fragmented Nenslo
Household remained steady churchgoers, not so much out of faith but in
order to keep some aspect of social interaction and ethical, moral or
spiritual value. I credit this with the fact that I was never in jail
or any other serious trouble and never drank or took drugs until I was
almost knowledgeable enough to make an educated choice in the matter.
However, I believe that Sunday often began with Davey and Goliath,
followed by such early televangelist healers as Oral Roberts, Rex
Humbard and Katherine Kuhlman. Around noon would begin a series of
harmless movies, Sagebrush Theater with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry,
Jungle Theater with Tarzan or Bomba the Jungle Boy. In the afternoon
would be a show, I forget what it was called, a foreign children's
movie hosted by Fran Allison and the puppets Kukla and Ollie. They
seemed always to be showing the Japanese movie Skinny and Fatty, or
The Red Balloon, which creeped me out WAY more than anything I ever
saw on Creature Features. That living balloon shriveling under the
bad boys' rain of stones still gives me the shudders. Generally,
these movies were much too dreary or obviously the kind of thing
adults think kids OUGHT to see. Sunday Evening might be more
high-toned, with Hollywood's Greatest, an "Ao/oo picture or two from the
Certified Classics department of movie history. Then, who knows what
- probably more movies.

As if that weren't enough, for a few years the Public Broadcasting
station would show something from the Janus Films collection once a
week, educating me about non-hollywood films, such as Beauty and the
Beast, M, The Seven Samurai and so on. When it became possible for me
to drive, my unsupervised status and an unusually liberal supply of
funds from benefits accrued after the demise of a regrettable
stepfather made it a simple matter to attend drive-in movies as often
as twice a week in the summer, or to choose from half a dozen Dollar
Movie revival and second-run houses year round.

Under those circumstances, you can see how even a casual viewer might
see some or all of a dozen movies a week, and a serious loafer could
see twice that many at least. This is my secret, the story of a young
life spent avoiding responsibility and human contact. Taking all
this into account, and in addition my regular viewing of network
programming, especially sitcoms and such variety programs as the Carol
Burnett Show, the Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell,
Laugh In, and even Tom Jones and Andy Williams, one wonders how I ever
found time to read those hundreds and hundreds of science fiction
novels, BUT I DID.

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