Hockey Night in Canada and other TV memories in Chapter 18 of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s

Murray Westgate and his 1950s TV ads for Imperial Oil. Inset photos show Foster Hewitt, Conn Smythe and a shot from a 1950s Pepsodent ad.

Below is Chapter 18 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 kandjomemee@gmail.com

BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s

CHAPTER 18: ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went’

By KEITH BLACK

I couldn’t get home fast enough. It was Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1958 and Game 6 of the World Series between my team, the Milwaukee Braves, and the hated New York Yankees had started at 3 p.m.

I liked the Braves because of four players, Hank Aaron in right, Eddie Mathews on third, and the pitchers, Lew Burdette, and, my favourite, Warren Spahn. I liked Spahn because of his high kick wind-up and, like me, he was left-handed. I think I liked Burdette because I liked his name. If Milwaukee won that day, it would be all over; they would be the champions.

In 1958, Warren Spahn was one of the highest paid players in baseball. He made $65,000 which is about $600,000 today; not bad for a part-time job. As a franchise, the Braves were worth about $2.5 million.  In 2019, one pitcher, Gerrit Cole of the Yankees made $36 million (and that doesn’t include endorsements) and the Braves who were in Atlanta were worth $1.7 billion.

I trust that after each game, Mr. Cole went home and kissed his TV set. That is what television did for baseball; and for football, and for hockey, and for basketball, and for tennis. Sports were big business. Now they are colossal. An experienced neurosurgeon in Canada makes about $500,000 with little, I suspect, opportunity for endorsement income. I won’t comment further; insanity is not one of the subjects of this book. I guess I just did.

Television had a huge impact on many segments of society in the Fifties, some positively and others not so much.

From fear, the Hollywood movie industry was striving to adapt to survive the onslaught. They produced epic “blockbuster” films such as The Ten Commandments, The Robe, Ben-Hur, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Around the World in 80 Days. They introduced wide screen “cinemascope”, toyed with 3D, and filmed some movies in “cinemiracle” with three cameras used simultaneously such as in a 1958 film which I saw, Windjammer; it was neat. And, ultimately, Hollywood did manage to survive.

Meanwhile, the major sports thrived.

And now, back to that game. It went into the 10th inning with Warren Spahn still pitching and the score 2-2. It was a great game; my parents even watched it with me and supper was delayed. But the Yankees hit a solo home run and then scored an extra run in the top of the 10th and Milwaukee could only manage a single run in their half, losing 4-3.

The next day I again raced home to see Game 7 which was another good game that was tied 2-2 going into the eighth inning. But Lew Burdette was tiring and he gave up four runs in the eighth and Milwaukee lost 6-2. And I had to go to school the next day and face my schoolmates, most of whom were Yankees fans. But, like Hollywood, I managed to survive.

But this is Canada eh?  In 1952, CBC started to broadcast hockey games on Saturday nights. Well, kind of. Throughout the decade the telecasts did not start until a large portion of the game had been played with the viewers generally just getting to see the last two periods. It became a bit of a contest; who could guess what the score would be when the game finally appeared on the screen.  The owners of all of the sports franchises were worried that television would diminish the paid attendance.

 

There was no need to worry; TV created more interest in all of the sports and the attendance actually went up. But hockey fans in Toronto and Montreal were made to suffer because no one could convince the president of the NHL, Clarence Campbell, that TV was good for the sport. But, I guess two-thirds of a game is better than none at all and Hockey Night in Canada became the most watched show on Canadian television.

In 1952 apparently the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe, wasn’t too sure about television either; he charged Imperial Oil a fee to advertise on each game, that fee being $100.  And then he woke up; each of the next three years cost the oil company $50,000. By the end of the decade it was about $21,000 per game. But still we could only watch part of it. And there was never an unsold seat at Maple Leaf Gardens; plus they sold standing room tickets.

Hockey Night in Canada became a tradition on Saturday nights; we usually watched with neighbours from down the hall. It was fun. There were only six teams in the league then and we got to see each of them about every fifth week and there were only about 150 players so we got to know, love, hate, admire, respect, despise, idolize, or loathe each and every one.

Of course I was a Toronto fan and had my favourite players and I looked forward to the game each weekend; I expected the Leafs to do well. Except when they were scheduled to play the dreaded Canadiens. I feared them.

The Rocket (Richard), Boom Boom (Geoffrion), Big Jean (Beliveau), Tricky Dickie (Moore) and Doug Harvey all backed up by Jacques Plante who was supposed to be in net but spent most of his time wandering around. It was intense. Intense but fun.

One of the most well-known figures in hockey in that era was a fellow who never played the game.  “Hello Canada and hockey fans in The United States” is what Foster Hewitt said to open his broadcasts. He had been describing the games on radio since the late 1920s and seamlessly moved onto television in 1952.

He was famous; as was his exclamation “he shoots….he scores”. He was also known for his ability to mangle French names and for his occasional misstatements such as “they are playing in stits and farts”. I didn’t tell anyone, but I liked it when we saw playoffs in Montreal and the games were announced by Hewitt’s counterpart in that city, Danny Gallivan who I preferred. His “cannonading drives”, “larcenous saves”, “dipsy-doodles” and “spineramas” and other colourful expressions added pizzazz. Plus he had a better voice.

There was another gentleman who regularly appeared on Hockey Night in Canada who happened to own a gas station. Or, at least I thought that he did. He was Murray Westgate, “your friendly Imperial Esso dealer” and he peddled products for Imperial Oil for 16 years, starting in 1952.

If you looked out of one of our apartment windows, you would have seen an Esso station on the other side of McLean Avenue. It was owned by a diminutive chap named John Lewis.

Mr. Lewis, who was very pleasant, looked the part of a garage owner; he generally sported large patches of grease and oil on his uniform as well as some streaks of grease on his face and neck. I couldn’t understand why that other Esso dealer, Murray Westgate, always looked so clean and immaculate. But I’m happy to say that I finally figured it out; he didn’t really own a gas station and probably never pumped gas in his life. Mr. Westgate died in 2018 at age 100. As he said (with a salute) each Saturday night; “Happy Motoring”.

The CBC never knew exactly when the Saturday night hockey game would end; it could be anytime between 10 and 10:30 p.m.  In 1956 they introduced a show intended to fill whatever time was available; it was called The King Whyte Show.

King Whyte had previously written an “Out of Doors” column for the Toronto Star and had done radio shows about hunting and fishing and outdoor life generally and he brought them to television.  I liked the show. I liked things outdoorsy and Mr. Whyte was a good raconteur. The problem that he had was that he had no idea how long his show would air; it could be 25 minutes long or, as was often the case, it was only five minutes long. He must have found it frustrating and sometimes it showed.

The King Whyte Show never garnered much attention and was treated strictly as filler. I was always disappointed when it was cut short. It ended suddenly in 1962 when King Whyte suffered a heart attack and died.

Since then, I have found out that he lived just a few feet north of the Beach on Glen Davis Crescent and, during the war, because of his background in radio and journalism, the Canadian Army “loaned” him to the British for whom he travelled around Europe writing reports for radio and narrating newsreels.

In April of 1945 King Whyte wrote to his wife saying “tonight I am a different man. I have spent the last two days in Belsen concentration camp, the most horrible festering scab there has ever been on the face of humanity”.

King Whyte was one of the liberators of Belsen. Of course in the 1950s I knew none of this. Earlier in this narrative I mentioned something about the Greatest Generation.

On July 1, 1941, a historic television “first” took place. A local New York City station was broadcasting a baseball game between Brooklyn and Philadelphia to the 4,000 television owners in the city. Part way through the game an image appeared on the screen depicting a watch in front of an outline of the United States.  It lasted 10 seconds and it cost The Bulova Watch Company $9. It was the world’s first television commercial but it certainly would not be the last. Nor was Bulova the last watchmaker to make use of television.

In the Fifties, Timex hired a news anchorman, John Cameron Swayze, to subject their watches to paint mixers, washing machines, outboard motors, jackhammers, water skis, and cliff dives to show that “it takes a licking…and keeps on ticking”.

The purchasers of television sets in the 1950s soon found themselves overwhelmed with advertising. Of course, they had endured ads in newspapers and magazines but they weren’t forced to read them and there were commercials on the radio but they were just background noise. The TV ads were in our faces.

But, when I look back on it, I realize that the quality of some of those ads and the ingenuity displayed in some of those productions exceeded that of many of the programs. And some of them were just as memorable, if not more so.

There were the three impish characters Snap, Crackle and Pop, the Grrrrreat Tony the Tiger, the Jolly (ho, ho, ho) Green Giant, and the Campbell’s (m’m, m’m good) kids. These last were portrayed a little on the obese side, but were magically able to trim themselves down as the years went by.

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went…when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”, “Look Ma, no cavities!”, and “You silly rabbit….Trix are for kids” were all oft-repeated slogans, particularly the Trix ads; a lot of kids were being called silly rabbits.

Some ads were more “adult” in nature and raised a few eyebrows. Clairol’s “does she or doesn’t she?” entered the lexicon.  As did “I have more (enter noun here), than Carter has pills”.  Carter’s Little Liver Pills had been around for almost a century before they gained fame in the 1950s via TV ads. Naturally, the question that was being regularly asked was were the pills very small or were they made for people with little livers? In 1961 it became a moot point; the manufacturers were ordered to remove the word liver from the product as it was deemed to be deceptive.

Do you have tired blood? Perhaps you are suffering from iron deficiency anemia. Then Geritol is for you. It took 14 years but the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. in 1973 finally succeeded in their action against the makers of Geritol who were fined $812,000 for deceptive and misleading advertising.

I was thinking maybe of tagging deceptive advertising as being a Fault of the Fifties, but that would not be totally fair; such advertising has been with us for centuries and continues to this day.  But I really can’t avoid naming the advertising of one particular product a Fault of the Fifties.  “Call for Philip Morris!”  “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.”  “LSMFT. Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.”  “Winston tastes good like a Cigarette should.” And when the Winston folks were criticized for using “like” instead of “as”, they responded with “What do you want? Good grammar or good taste?” And then there was The Marlboro Man.

In the evenings, it seemed that about half of the commercials were selling brands of cigarettes.  When contestants appeared on Two For the Money, Herb Shriner would hand each one a gift from the show’s sponsors; a carton of Old Golds. A tobacco journal noted that “a massive potential market still exists among women and young adults” and one executive stated that “students are tremendously loyal.  If you catch them, they’ll stick with you like glue”.

Not everyone smoked in the Fifties, but it certainly seemed like it. Actually, in 1950 more than 68 per cent of men in Canada smoked as did 38 per cent of women. Virtually all who smoked did so in their homes, in their cars, in theatres, in restaurants and beer parlours, in offices and stores, in elevators, and on the street or on the beach.

Even non-smokers kept a supply of ashtrays in their homes for the use of visitors. Television newsmen smoked on air, as did talk show hosts and guests, game show panelists, and when parliamentary or congressional meetings were aired on television, sometimes it was difficult to see the speakers through the wafting layers of cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke.

We kids all smoked too. Not really; but we thought that we looked cool with our candy cigarettes and licorice cigars.

At Christmas my parents and most other folks gave gifts to the milkman and the mailman and they usually consisted of “flat 50’s”, tin boxes of 50 cigarettes. Smoking and cigarette advertising.  A Fault of the Fifties?  I would say so.

On daytime television, the cigarette ads gave way to household cleaning products, principally laundry detergent. This had also been true on radio and hence the name for the sobbing and weeping and angst filled  melodramas, the soap operas.

My mother was never a big fan of the TV soaps and didn’t watch much television during the day.   However, there were two shows that she liked but they both came on at 1:00 and competed with each other; she faced a daily dilemma. I didn’t; I continued to listen for the opening of The Happy Gang on radio at 1:15 before heading back to school.

I wasn’t about to sit and watch mother’s shows, one of which I detested while the other I merely disliked. The former starred the husband and wife team of Bill and Mildred Miller and the show was Meet the Millers. They did cooking demonstrations, provided household tips and conducted interviews while they constantly nattered at and bickered with one another. It was more like divorce court. It was awful.

The other show starred a 30-something pianist named Wladziu Valentino Liberace who, for some reason, decided to drop his first two names when on stage. He was often accompanied by George, his violinist brother and his mother was frequently in the front row of the audience. Liberace. At one o’clock in the afternoon? He had up to 30 million viewers daily, received 10,000 fan letters each week and made millions. That’s television.

We had baseball and hockey, talent shows and game shows, comedy shows and variety shows, sitcoms and soaps. We even had Liberace. But no mathematics. No geometry. Short Wave Craft Magazine had wielded the hammer but had missed the nail.

But television wasn’t a total “wasteland”. There were a few efforts to inform and educate. Local news broadcasts were among the most-watched shows on TV, and, as time went on, national news shows became more professional, comprehensive and sophisticated.

The CBC produced some interesting shows such as Fighting Words, and Tabloid, while the U.S. gave us You Are There, reenactments of historical events, a show that I liked, and See It Now with Edward R. Murrow, a precursor to shows like 60 minutes.

Walt Disney’s Disneyland which subsequently became Walt Disney Presents consisted of four components: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland.  I must confess that I liked the programs dedicated to Fantasyland but I also enjoyed the Tomorrowland episodes which discussed rocketry, space travel, artificial satellites, orbital mechanics, weightlessness, and space stations. Much of it turned out to be about as accurate as Short Wave Craft’s projections, but it didn’t matter; it opened the door to the emerging sciences and I have been intrigued by them ever since.

But no mathematics. No geometry. I guess that is why, starting in 1951, I was sent to Williamson Road Public School.

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 14, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/10/13/chapter-14-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beaches-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s-looks-back-at-the-night-hurricane-hazel-hit/

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/

To read Chapter 16, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/10/27/marilyn-bell-swims-the-lake-and-other-memorable-moments-in-chapter-16-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 17, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/11/03/chapter-17-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s-looks-back-at-some-classic-tv-shows/


Did you enjoy this article? If so, you may consider becoming a Voluntary Subscriber to the Beach Metro Community News and help us continue providing the community with more local content such as this. For over 40 years, our staff have worked hard to be the eyes and ears in your community, inform you of upcoming events, and let you know what and who’s making a difference. We cover the big stories as well as the little things that often matter the most. CLICK HERE to support Beach Metro News.