'Ghosts Of Television' That Made Me The Man I Am Today
When I look in the mirror, I really do not see myself, but some who, throughout the course of his life has been shaped, molded by mostly-famous television celebrities. That can be a good thing. And a bad thing at the same time. To explain. The good thing is being molded by famous television celebrities has been a harmless, safe area of my life while the bad thing, if you can label it a bad thing, is that sometimes I have to wonder if I haven’t lost who I really was, or am, in this journey that started for me in 1961, when I viewed my first black and white television.
What did watching my favorite heroes on television do for me personally? Well, watching television gave me dreams. My dreams reached to the highest heavens. And I would dream day and night about the people in my favorite shows and how I would love to trade places with them if only for one day. Truly. Honestly, I didn’t have that much going for me in 1961, so by trading places with one or all of these television icons was a ‘win win’ situation for yours truly.
I am going to present my story, “Ghosts Of Television Who Made Me What I Am Today,” in a different format. Instead of taking each show and and talking in length about each one, I will give you the name of the show and tell you which star I appreciated the most. Why I wanted to trade places with them and what I took away from the show.
First off, THE RIFLEMAN:
This show was ahead of its time by way of black and white television westerns. This was not your garden-variety western by any means. The Rifleman starred Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, a widower raising his son, Mark on the plains near a town called North Fork. McCain’s past was sketchy. Some viewers thought that maybe he had once rode with an outlaw gang before marrying and settling down. All in all, the Rifleman was a fantastic show for someone (like me) who had an over-active imagination.
I appreciated Johnny “Mark” Crawford the most. I wanted to be like “Mark,” protected by a dad who could sling his specially-modified Winchester rifle into action at anytime to ward off any evildoer’s who were after me.
What I took away from The Rifleman was the blending of the two ingredients: Old West good versus bad with good always winning and that rifle that belonged to Lucas McCain. I always dreamed of having a toy rifle like this when I was a boy.
Now we have, CAPTAIN KANGAROO:
If you needed an hour of peace, nothing but peace and tranquility, then Captain Kangaroo was the show for you. I loved Robert “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan on and off of his long-running children’s show. Millions of youngsters grew up watching Captain Kangaroo in his Treasure House with daily adventures with Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose (and his ping pong tricks), Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock and of course, Captain’s loyal sidekick, Mr. Green Jeans played by Lumpy Branum.
I appreciated Bob Keeshan’s teachings on peace and how to live peacefully with neighbors and friends. Keeshan’s natural gentile demeanor made him a natural for the role of Captain Kangaroo. Trivia fact: Bob Keeshan was the first Bozo The Clown.
What I took away from Captain Kangaroo was the fun, of course, but during the Vietnam war, Keeshan signed off each show with, “Parents, teach you children to play with toys of peace,” that stuck with me. Even through today.
Say hello to, THE ADDAMS FAMILY starring John Astin as “Gomez,” Carolyn Jones as “Morticia,” Jackie Coogan as “Fester,” and Ted Cassidy as “Lurch.” This was a delightful ‘horror’ sitcom with a reverse plot. The Addams Family were not that frightening, but humorous. From Gomez’ weekly toy train wrecks in the basement to Lurch’s golden catch phrase, “You rang,” I loved this show. I never missed an episode.
I appreciated Jackie Coogan who played “Uncle Fester,” for Coogan’s versatile acting abilities. And his trick of making a light bulb shine by placing it his mouth, well, you guessed it. I tried that once. When I was alone. It didn’t work.
What I took from the Addams Family was learning to accept people in real-life no matter how they looked, acted or expressed themselves.
I loved, with a passion, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, as millions of other Americans. From the show’s creator, Rod Serling’s opening voice-over, “You’re traveling through time--to another dimension. A dimension of sight and of sound. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone,” to the virtual parade of Hollywood celebrities who appeared on this hit show for CBS, I loved every spine-chilling minute.
I appreciated, of all the show’s characters, screen-legend, Burgess Meredith’s portrayal of a meek, quiet bank teller who loved to read. Even on his lunch break inside the bank’s vault. One day, “the bomb” in that era, went off while Meredith was safely closed off in the vault. When he opened the door, civilization as he knew it was gone. Vanished. No more. He was so happy to find the remains of the public library and his famous line, “Time. I’ve got plenty of time to read,” made this episode stand up. And when he dropped his glasses preventing him from seeing clearly, Meredith’s fine-hewn acting talents let you feel his pain and anguish at being where one wants to be but cannot enjoy themselves.
I took from The Twilight Zone, my love for writing. Rod Serling was an early hero of mine. And still is. Loved his dry-but-sensational style of telling a story. His other project, Night Gallery, was equally entertaining, but not as good as The Twilight Zone.
While we are here with the ‘mysterious’ shows, let me tell you about THE OUTER LIMITS. For the early sixties, this show was very sophisticated for it’s time. Unlike The Twilight Zone with a emcee narrating the opening of the show, you heard a serious, voice of authority who told us, “There is nothing wrong with your set. We have taken over and for the next hour, we will tell you what to do and what to think,” I fell in love with this show at the first episode.
I appreciated the special effects technicians who designed the way our television screens would look blurry, then wavy and then a sensor wave, like those you see on medical heart monitors, would appear making us hold our breath in anticipation to see what creature would appear on this episode to scare out of our wits.
What I took away from The Outer Limits was one episode which made me cry. This creature from the fifth dimension, shaped like a star, with bad eyesight, came to our world and was befriended by a compassionate man. The star creature used a huge magnifying glass in order to see. When it was time for the creature to leave our world and go back to his place in the universe, he was unable to take his magnifying glass with him on his trip. The last scene of this episode let us hear him crying as his arm kept trying to bring the magnifying glass through the time door over and over and failing each time. This was the saddest of all the episodes of The Outer Limits.
Go with me as we take a VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA starring Richard Basehart as “Admiral Nelson,” and David Hedison as “Lieutenant Crane,” and Robert Dowdell as “Chip,” the operations officer. This show created by Irwin Allen, was a high-budget show that easily paid for its keep each week by facing giant squids that attacked the nuclear-powered Seaview and mysterious creatures that literally tore through the futuristic vessel’s hull like aluminum. There was never a dull moment on Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea.
I appreciated Robert Dowdell, “Skip,” for his character’s level-headed and calm demeanor in the face of dangers with many forms and faces.
I took from Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea, was my fascination about the future. And that, friends, was in 1964, with three-years of watching television. And I loved the theme music for the show. There were no words, but then again, none were needed.
I am now reminded of the old adage, “We are what we eat,” but in my case, “I am what I watched on television.”
That in itself should explain a lot about why I think the way I do and write the way I write. But I do not run from giant squids and star creatures who cannot get back home. I can say with a clear conscience, that watching television hasn’t affected me that much even today in 2011.
Most days I spend my time trying to make a light bulb light up in my mouth.