2010-11-25 / Opinions

Saturday Mornings Long Ago

Nobody had to wake me up come Saturday mornings in the 1950s. I was ready to go. An email from a friend I’ve never met reminded me of how special my boyhood Saturday mornings were. Charlie Smith of Wrightsville and I became friends through Like the Dew, an online journal of Southern Culture & Politics, which publishes my features.

Charlie reads my nostalgia pieces about simpler times and as a result we became “cyberbuddies,” the space-age equivalent to pen pals. Charlie emailed me about the closing of the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri in December 2009. Too few people came to see it and thus the doors closed for good. Another artifact of childhood washed down the river of time.

One bittersweet line on Charlie’s email spoke volumes. “Memories sure are taking a front row seat in my life these days.”

Mine too. And so I set sail into the Saturday mornings of my youth and its great shows. Remember “Fury?” A typical plot involved a guest star that got into trouble and had to be rescued by Fury. Peter Graves who would later star in “Mission Impossible” starred in this show.

And how about “Sky King?” While it often seemed like a cowboy show, Sky King was always capturing bad guys and finding lost hikers from the air. Remember the name of his plane? The Songbird.

Remember the singing cowboy, Gene Autry? He had his show, too, which he produced and starred in. George Hayes played an old codger by the name of Gabby Hayes who was the sidekick to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Hayes was a wellgroomed, articulate fellow but that didn’t prevent him from being cast as a grizzled codger uttering phrases like “consarn it,” “yer durn tootin,” “dadgumit,” “durn persnickety female,” and “young whippersnapper.” He seemed to be at the time, the world’s most disheveled man, unlike that urbane fellow of Dos Equis ads, “the world’s most interesting man.”

I can’t recall if it came on Saturdays but I didn’t like missing an episode of “The Lone Ranger.” The Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore, was a master of disguise often appearing to be an old miner who would infiltrate bad guys to see what they were up to. His faithful companion, Tonto, called him kemo sahbee, ‘faithful friend.” I can’t think of that show without recalling the William Tell Overture, hi-yo Silver away, and how the Lone Ranger would gallop off into the setting sun. Jay Silverheels played Tonto, a character now cast as an indignity to Native Americans.

And now we come back to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, whose museum would enjoy a run of over 42 years. The “King of Cowboys,” Roy Rogers was no stranger to America by the time he starred in The Roy Rogers Show, having already appeared in more than 100 movies by 1951. Dale Evans married Roger and became the “Queen of the West.” Were the plots often corny? Sure. Did they hold a kid’s attention? “You betcha” as Sarah Palin would say.

You can’t think of The Roy Rogers Show, which ran from 1951 to 1957, without remembering his golden palomino, Trigger, and Bullet “the wonder dog.” Visitors to the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Branson, by the way, actually saw a taxidermist-prepared Trigger, stuffed, and mounted, rearing up on his back legs. (Dale rode a horse named “Buttermilk.”)

Saturday mornings were the best of the best when it came to weekends back on Memory Lane. Before duties such as cutting the grass and working in Dad’s shop arrived, I could sit down and enjoy a run of four hours or more of some of the greatest kids’ shows ever produced. Time stood deliciously still.

They were in black and white but they were mighty fine. They didn’t need color and fancy effects. The stories and dramas they wove glued me to the sofa, to the floor, wherever I happened to sit. An old rickety antenna delivered them to a clunky, clicking knob that tuned them in.

Complementing the national shows were the Augusta TV shows, which provided great local fare. John Radeck wore a pith helmet and used a jungle set to host “Bwana John” that featured Tarzan films. Remember him? Later came “Trooper Terry” and Terry Sams, but that was in the 1960s.

The mornings were great all around. Many Saturdays after the shows ended Dad would go up town to get a lean chunk of pork from Bud Hawes or some days we’d make hamburgers. Either way, it capped off a beautiful morning before something called life spirited us away.

It’s sad that our era of TV innocence is lost forever. Kids today stay in front of computers and hand-held electronics. Who are their heroes? We had TV heroes who demonstrated values and morals. They taught us right from wrong. We learned from them and our parents to show respect for each other. And we learned not to mistreat animals.

You can say that The Long Ranger portrayed Native Americans in a stereotypical way but so what. That was a long time ago and nothing like today where every perceived little slight sends the politically crowd into apoplexy. Those shows taught values as well and in real life we have to take the good with the bad.

I suppose members of every generation think their time was the best, that only they were born at the right time. I believe my generation came along at as good a time as any. We had great Saturday morning heroes and those Saturday morning heroes helped raise us right. They taught us that patriotism was a good thing, that lying and cheating were bad, and that doing the right thing was honorable. Always, no matter the consequences.

Roy and Dale, Gene and Gabby, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and Sky King touched our lives and made us better.

The shows, their stars, and our childhoods crossed for a brief but wonderful time back when we were babes in arms. It took place at the intersection of innocence and coming of age, and only now that I am approaching the autumn of my life do I look back on that time as an era when I had not a care in the world.

Someone who put the email together on the closing of the Roy Rogers’s museum wrote, “It was a great ride through childhood.”

Yes it was ... “Happy trails to you.”

Visit my website at www.tom poland.net. Email me with feedback and ideas for new columns. tompol@ earthlink.net

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