Friday, June 22, 2007

On the passing of Don Herbert

Lately the baby boomers lost an iconic figure from their past, Don Herbert, television’s Mr. Wizard died on June 12, 2007. His passing reminds me of the other children’s TV personalities that educated and entertained a generation before Sesame Street and Poke Man. Personalities like Mr. Rodgers, Captain Kangaroo and Bozo are gone now and so are many others that filled the airways. You probably don’t recall them but they were a part of your grandparents and parents childhood.

Admiral Doughnuts

Admiral Doughnuts appeared on The Mr. Waffle Show after producers took his name to mean that Admiral of the Kreigsmarine Karl Donitz was an advocate of a healthy starch and sugar breakfast. Despite being the originator of a number of deadly effective U-boat tactics in World War II and the last head of state for the Nazi regime, he was an immediate hit.

He was always surrounded by the kids of the Waffle Strawberry Shortcake Brigade or the Waffle SS as it became known. Although popular he and Waffle had an acrimonious falling out over how much of the shows content should be devoted to commerce raiding and the employment of Jews. Waffle fired the popular war criminal during an emotion filled broadcast in the winter of 1951, remembered as the show of long knives.

The Admiral got his own show on the National Socialist Television System shortly there after which was equally popular. The program began with the singing of catchy Germanic ditties like “The March of The Kriegsmarine”, “Bombs over England”, or “The Horst Wessel Song” performed by the Jugen Kammeraden Chorus a group of boys selected from the audience for their Aryan appearance and dressed in a snappy black uniform complete with boots, kepi and field pack.

The Admiral instructed the kids on the importance of radio discipline, wolf pack tactics and common sense tips on how to frustrate a sonar search. The kids took away a thorough grounding in discipline, Kriegsmarine traditions and practical knowledge of the type 7 U-boat. The show had a brief history however after the Admiral’s arrest, trial and conviction for war crimes. His attempts to revive the show and broadcast from Spandau prison were unsuccessful.

Comrade Kangarooski

Sponsored by the Daily Worker and the Tuboretski Tractor Works, Comrade Kangarooski was famous for his lengthy monologues on the ultimate triumph of socialism, reading accounts of soviet party congresses and defending the Rosenbergs. He encouraged kids to facilitate the work of their collective, report their parents for revisionist thinking and shoot Kulaks.

He generated viewer participation by holding contests. One, in which he invited children to take a picture of themselves in front of experimental American aircraft, drew over thirty thousand responses. Others included: The best drawn map of a defense installation, Denounce your favorite FBI Stool Pigeon and a scavenger hunt for CIA one time cipher pads. His success was also short lived however, at the height of his popularity Stalin recalled him to Moscow and had him shot.

The Bono the Clown

A rather mundane copy of the immensely successful Bozo franchise this performer only hit his stride when he hooked up with Cher and recorded a number of children’s records. His act never really changed over the years despite changing tastes and venues, his last real success was in California politics which ended after he demonstrated his famous comedy/stunt skiing routine to friends and supporters with disastrous results.

Water Buffalo Bob

Although not technically a children’s TV host this Afrikaans speaking bovine had an international following and a huge fan base. He offered homey advice from his wallow on the veldt but his unpredictable behavior cost him fans and sponsorship when he gored and trampled a number of “The Lil’ Buffalos" the producers surrounded him with. Currently he continues entertaining kids and adults although his appearances are infrequent and limited to a single venue as he was shot in 1974 by a big game hunter, stuffed and had his head mounted on a wall.

Mr. Gein Jeans Farm,

Psychotic, cannibal Ed Gein’s show broadcast from Wisconsin. It was most notable for the overalls of human skin Ed habitually wore.

Rumpus Room with Mistress Yvette

The stern, forbidding and frequently abusive Mistress Yvette held court over a collection of terrified, restrained children she acquired from the foster care system. With her hair up in a severe bun and dressed in a lace up leather jumpsuit accented by astoundingly high stiletto heeled boots Miss Yvette was a daunting figure who wielded an impressive whip. Basically she emphasized good grooming, the importance of discipline and a tolerance for pain. Although never highly rated or popular with children she was adored by television executives that she referred to as her “worms”.

Tea Time with Druggy

The format of Druggy’s show never varied, it was always him and sometimes a guest cooking up, shooting up and getting off. Occasionally Druggy would rant about the difficulty of scoring or the quality of the product scored and then nod off. Originality was never his strong point but very often well known musicians, blues singers and beatnik comedians joined him on the show and provided welcome variety.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Wisdom of the Big Top

One day the circus train stopped here and only the clowns got off. They got drunk and trashed the only circus bar in town. I got to know one and during his brief lucid moments he left me these insights about life on the road. I never saw him or my wallet again.

The circus goes on, only the clowns change.

There are many clowns but only one ring master.

The guy with the broom goes it the end of the elephant parade.

No matter how great a clown you are, you don't get to drive the circus train.

I doesn’t matter how many clowns you can get into a car, its how many get out alive.

It takes more than a top hat to run a circus.

If you are riding a unicycle, wearing a tutu and every one is throwing marsh mellows at you, you are probably a bear.

Circus is what you do not who you are, but everyone thinks you’re a clown anyway.

You never out grow your need for peanuts.

Never date a knife throwers daughter.

A good catcher is worth his weight in aerialist.

Circus people do it with jugglers.

Always remove the sword you swallowed before you bow.

You need two hands to juggle, or not.

A smart lion tamer doesn’t drink around the cats.

If you want to be the lead elephant don’t grab another elephant’s tail.

The greatest show on earth leaves town at the end of the week.

If you want to grow a moustache don’t be a fire eater.

A dog act doesn’t belong in the center ring.

It takes more to be a clown than, a fright wig, rubber nose, baggy pants, seltzer bottle, bucket of confetti and a broom to sweep up the spot lights but you need them too.

If you wake up on something soft behind the elephant cage, it probably isn’t a pile of feathers.