Below is Chapter 17 of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s.
Every Tuesday over the next few months, Beach Metro News will post up another chapter of the book on our website at https://www.beachmetro.com/ for readers to enjoy.
To see our earlier story on Black, and to read Chapter One, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/07/14/former-residents-book-looks-back-on-growing-up-in-the-beach-in-the-fifties/
Hard copies of the book BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s are now available locally at Book City on Queen Street East and Danforth Avenue and at The Great Escape Book Store on Kingston Road. For more information on the book or to order a copy, please contact Black at email@example.com
BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s
CHAPTER 17: ‘It’s a bird…It’s a plane’
By KEITH BLACK
Bill Potts did not live in the Beach but he lived near it, in East York, and he enjoyed walking. We saw him periodically on Queen Street and on the Boardwalk. I have always been averse to invading the privacy of others, even as a child. I have never requested an autograph from anyone. But, as a kid, I did stare at celebrities and Mr. Potts would always smile and wave. In the Fifties, he was a big star. You may remember him better as Whipper Billy Watson.
Before television, very few people gave any thought whatsoever to wrestling. A few thousand folks regularly attended matches and, believe it or not, wrestling was covered on radio. But television gave it a shot in the arm, so to speak. It became hugely popular.
We kids saw it as a sport and, like hockey and baseball, we soon had our favourites who were invariably the good guys and we came to loathe those other ones. And Whipper Billy Watson, a good guy in and out of the ring, was the king. We loved or hated Killer Kowalski, Yukon Eric, Gorgeous George, Dick the Bruiser, The Sheik, Fritz von Erich, Gene Kiniski and Pat Flanagan, a Beach resident. And then there were the little people who we unashamedly called the midget wrestlers, Sky Low Low and Little Beaver.
But what about the adults in the room? I am sure that most of them recognized that it wasn’t sport; that it was entertainment. But did they actually adjudge it to be good entertainment? Is this what they expected when they paid out substantial amounts of money for their TV sets?
In the 1930s, when it was about to become a reality, there was much discussion about what to expect from television. The April 1935 edition of Short Wave Craft magazine opined that “we will undoubtedly have lectures of every conceivable kind present (sic) to us right in our homes when practical television arrives, possibly a year or two off. Mathematics, geometry and dozens of other subjects…when television is available for the purpose”.
I mentioned earlier how radio had allowed everyone to carry on with their regular daily activities with it being an unobtrusive associate. When they brought television into their homes, by its very nature, it tried to secure a more prominent role in their lives. And most people allowed it to succeed.
One would think that with the limited choices provided by four channels that if they didn’t find any that were appealing they would simply turn off the set and carry on as before. But that is not what happened. They weren’t selecting the best available choice; they were picking the least objectionable option and sitting and watching it; for hours.
I am happy to say that most kids, me included, unlike many adults, did not sit and watch whatever was on but continued with our usual pre-television routines except when a favourite show was coming on. There is no question that some of the entertainment shows were entertaining. But for someone who was my age during the Fifties, it wasn’t that difficult to be entertained.
There was a multitude of what we now call situation comedies on the air and I liked several of them: I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Our Miss Brooks, George Burns and Gracie Allen, I Married Joan, and Leave it to Beaver, to name a few. Some of these were actually quite good.
In 1955, two new shows premiered which would have quite an influence on television generally. They were The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O’Brian, followed just four days later by Gunsmoke with James Arness in the lead role. These were “adult” westerns and by 1957 five of the top 10 rated shows were westerns, oaters, horse operas, or shoot ‘em ups. It was six of 10 in 1958.
The rise of these shows paralleled the demise of the kid-oriented westerns such as Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, and The Cisco Kid (Oh Ceesco, Oh Pancho) just about at the same time that, at age 10, I was losing interest in them. And I never really redeveloped a passion for the genre; I liked Maverick which starred James Garner and I liked Have Gun-Will Travel with Richard Boone but that was about it. Incidentally, my father would often get stopped on the street by boys and girls wanting to know if he was Palladin, the character played by Boone. There was a definite resemblance.
Another westernish show comes to mind, that being Sergeant Preston of the Yukon which aired from 1955 to 1958. I suppose that I enjoyed it because it was about a Canadian Mountie and I liked the Yukon scenery. It was only later that I learned it was filmed in Colorado and the star was born in Minnesota. It was because of the Sergeant and his dog Yukon King that I made the momentous decision to acquire land in Yukon Territory which I proceeded to do.
In 1955, Quaker Oats Company, the sponsor of Sergeant Preston was looking for a new promotion to improve the sales of their Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice cereals. They purchased a 19-acre lot on the Yukon River a few miles upstream from Dawson for $1,000. Each subsequent box of their cereal contained a deed in the name Klondike Big Inch Land Co. stating that the bearer owned one square inch of the property. My brother and I each got one; it was the first time that anyone in our immediate family owned land. About 21 million such deeds were issued.
Alas, the deeds were never legally registered and, to top it off, the Canadian government repossessed the land in 1965 for non-payment of taxes totaling….$37.20.
Every year for decades the Quaker Oats Company and the governments of Canada and Yukon received hundreds of letters from deed-holders inquiring about “their” land. Some people went on an acquisition binge and bought up hundreds of the deeds. One fellow sent four toothpicks and some string and asked that his land be fenced. The recipients of these letters, particularly the folks at Quaker Oats, would just rather forget about the whole thing.
Over the years, when reminiscing with friends about old TV shows and movies, I was occasionally asked who, of all of the hundreds of possibilities, was my favourite cowboy star. Would it be Wild Bill Hickok, or Hopalong Cassidy, or, maybe Wild Bill’s sidekick Jingles? My answer was always the same; it was Lash Larue.
Alfred (Lash) Larue made many totally forgettable movies in the 1940s and appeared in countless episodes of TV westerns in the 1950s. For a short period he had his own show which was really just a re-editing of some clips from his old movies.
Lash used a whip instead of a gun and he was pretty good with it. In fact, he taught Harrison Ford how to use a whip in preparation for the Indiana Jones movies. Why did I like Lash Larue? I haven’t a clue; I just did. Most folks don’t even remember him. I guess I was a little bit different. Don’t forget, I’m the guy that owns a copy of Lieschtensteiner Polka! Oh, I also have a copy of guitarist Duane Eddy playing the Ballad of Palladin in case you’re interested.
Speaking of music, some of the most popular shows of that era also happened to have the most memorable theme songs or music.
Of course, number one on the list would have to be The Lone Ranger’s use of the Overture from Rossini’s opera, William Tell. The detective show, Peter Gunn also had a famous theme that has been recorded many times. Naturally I have it; recorded by….you guessed it….Duane Eddy. Similarly, Dragnet, the police drama starring Jack Webb also had memorable theme music, as did Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while the popular British series, The Adventures of Robin Hood with Richard Greene had a catchy theme song with lyrics remembered by many, including me. Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen. Robin Hood, Robin Hood with his band of men… Don’t despair; I won’t do the whole thing.
The Jackie Gleason Show, a comedy-variety show, had a great orchestral piece, Melancholy Serenade, as its theme that was written by Gleason and performed by his orchestra. I liked The Jackie Gleason Show. Each week there would be several skits featuring Gleason’s characters, Joe the Bartender, the Poor Soul, Rudy the Repairman, Reginald van Gleason III, and, most famously, Ralph Kramden the Brooklyn bus driver.
This last character would be developed into a separate show, The Honeymooners, with Art Carney playing the role of Ed Norton, Kramden’s neighbour; it was another show that I liked. The one problem that I had with the Gleason Show was the opening dance number performed by the June Taylor Dancers. Ho-hum. Get on with it! I remember watching the show the night of Feb. 2, 1954 when Jackie Gleason fell and broke his leg on live television.
During the Fifties there were several comedy-variety shows but none could compete with the king, The Ed Sullivan Show which was originally broadcast as Toast of the Town.
Throughout the decade we would watch every Sunday night at 8 p.m. as probably the least telegenic individual to appear on the tube introduced a large assortment of eclectic acts. Children my age would find it generally worthwhile to suffer through an occasional opera singer (Maria Callas, Mario Lanza, or Rise Stevens), a singer of standard popular music (Nat King Cole, Edith Piaf, or Ella Fitzgerald), a jazz musician (Louis Armstrong), a violin solo by a 13 year old kid with an unusual name (Itzhak Perlman) or a guest who merely chatted with Ed (Eleanor Roosevelt or Gary Cooper), until we got to the good stuff. The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley & His Comets, Connie Francis, Fabian, The Four Preps, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, and a slew of other Rock & Rollers; now that was “good” stuff!
And then there was the puppet, Topo Gigio, the ventriloquist Senor Wences, the comedian Bill Dana, the antics of Carol Burnett, the hilarious Victor Borge and any one of a number of great comedians who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show during the decade.
Often there was a comedy skit performed by the act that appeared more often on the show than any other, the duo of Toronto natives Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, who were on the show an incredible 67 times. Their reenactment of the assassination of Julius Caesar on May 4, 1958, produced one of the most oft-repeated three-word sentences of the Fifties; “Julie, don’t go.”
Not all of the shows in the Fifties aimed at children were westerns. There were a great many other kid’s shows, the most famous being Howdy Doody (1947-1960), Kukla, Fran & Ollie (1947-1957), Romper Room (1953-1994), Andy’s Gang (1955-1960), Captain Kangeroo (1955-1984), and, of course, The Mickey Mouse Club which premiered in 1955.
And which one did I like the best? Which one did I watch the most often? None of them. I didn’t really enjoy any of them except I occasionally snuck a peek at The Mickey Mouse Club but only because of….Annette. I liked Annette. It was once suggested that I watched it not just for Annette but because, as part of the show, they ran a serial based on The Hardy Boys. I tried it once but the fellows playing Frank and Joe Hardy did not look, sound, or act the way that I had imagined them so I turned it off and reset my perceptions to their default position.
Now that I have told you that I liked Annette Funicello, I may as well tell you that another female caught my attention. In 1958, when I was 11, I happened to see a movie poster for the film And God Created Woman. It starred Brigitte Bardot. The only other images that I had seen of a woman that had been specifically created by God were somewhat rubenesque renditions of Eve in the Garden of Eden. It seemed evident to me that He seemed to be getting the hang of it.
On July 1, 1959 we were watching our favourite game show, I’ve Got A Secret on which a panel of four people tried to guess a guest’s secret. On that particular night, a lady came on and sat down next to the host, a very personable fellow named Garry Moore. She placed a very small box about two-by-two-by-two inches on the desk in front of her, the secret being the contents of the box. The panelists were unable to determine that the box contained Brigitte Bardot’s bikini. I suspect that my imagination went into overdrive.
I must mention one other kid’s show that was extremely popular from 1952 to 1958, one which I watched regularly, and one which indisputably proves the gullibility of children. “Look! Up in the sky….it’s a bird…. it’s a plane….No it’s”…. George Reeves looking totally silly wearing what he referred to as “this monkey suit”. It was a story about Superman, an extraterrestrial alien with absolutely unlimited powers who found himself on earth and, because he could do anything, decided to help the inhabitants of this planet. He did this by getting a job as a reporter for a newspaper in the city of Metropolis and then he spent his time nabbing bank robbers and other doers of bad deeds in said city. He was the ultimate under-achiever. In short, he was a dud, a flop, a loser. But we lapped it up.
I can remember playing Superman with friends by tying towels or whatever around our necks and, with our “capes” trailing after us we would fling ourselves off of steps or porches. And then? Well, there was no then. It was like playing detective; there was nowhere to go with it. The only positive thing that I can say is that I got tired of The Adventures of Superman after two or three seasons and quit watching. I didn’t need George Reeves to teach me how to underperform; I could do that on my own.
It is interesting how a few individuals, regardless of their significance or lack thereof just happen to register in the minds of some children and those people somehow manage to occupy a tiny place in the brains of those kids forever.
One such fellow who resides in my head was the host of a game show from 1952 to 1956. The show was Two For The Money and the host was Herb Shriner who opened each episode with a funny monologue which displayed a very dry wit. The humour continued with his conversations with the contestants and he often threw in a demonstration of his considerable talent with a harmonica. I liked Herb Shriner. Unfortunately, he and his wife were killed in a car accident in 1970.
Ameen Sied Ganam was another fellow that I liked on TV. He was a regular cast member on a CBC show which I didn’t particularly like called Country Hoedown which started in 1956. My parents would call me when Mr. Ganam was about to be featured so I could watch him play the violin. Now you may recall that I didn’t much enjoy the violin playing of the young Itzhak Perlman when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on Nov. 2, 1958, but I did like the playing of Mr. Ganam who had providentially changed his name much earlier in his career to King Ganam. And King Ganam played a fiddle, not a violin.
I am told that a violin and a fiddle are the same thing and that the only difference is the type of music being played on the instrument. It seemed to me that King Ganam looked and sounded like he was having more fun playing the fiddle than the young Mr. Perlman had playing the violin and it seemed that, yes, fiddle music was different; it had….well….more notes. While I still have good memories of King Ganam, I have become a great fan of Itzhak Perlman. I don’t often listen to fiddle music anymore; too many notes!
To read earlier chapters of BOOM, please see below:
To read Chapter Two, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/07/21/chapter-two-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Three, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/07/28/chapter-three-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Four, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/04/chapter-four-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Five, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/11/chapter-five-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Six, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/18/chapter-six-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Seven, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/25/chapter-seven-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Eight, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/09/01/chapter-eight-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Nine, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/09/08/chapter-nine-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter 10, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/09/15/chapter-10-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter 11, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/09/22/chapter-11-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter 12, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/09/29/chapter-12-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
Tor read Chapter 13, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/10/06/chapter-13-of-boom-tells-how-the-garden-gate-became-the-goof/
To read Chapter 15, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/10/20/rock-and-roll-arrives-in-chapter-15-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/