Ancient TV, Ancient Me

Boy, do I feel ancient after learning that this month marks the 50th anniversary of The Dick Van Dyke Show and the 60th anniversary of I Love Lucy.

The The Dick Van Dyke Show first aired Oct. 3, 1961 on CBS. Lucy debuted on Oct. 15, 1951, also on CBS.

I was around on both those dates.

I don’t remember watching original broadcasts of  I Love Lucy, but I can clearly recall episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. I wanted to grow up to be just like Rob Petrie — decent, funny, handsome, beautiful and loving wife, great job in New York City.

One of my favorite episodes was when Rob and Laurie brought their new son home from the hospital. Somehow Rob suspects a mix-up at the hospital. Perhaps they have someone else’s baby.

Rob is driving Laura crazy. He has the names of another couple at the hospital whom he thinks were on the other side of the mistaken baby swap. Rob arranges a meeting to see if the other couple has the same doubts about their baby boy.

The couple’s arrival in the final scene is a surprise twist no one sees coming, especially a TV audience in the early Sixties. The other new parents are well-dressed African-Americans, the equivalents of Rob & Laura.

It was a historic moment, the first time black actors had a non-stereotyped role on an American sit-com.

Apparently, Lucy & Desi live in an all-white New York. The Beaver lives in a lily-white suburb. Even more bizarre, on The Andy Griffith Show,  Mayberry, a Southern town, has no black residents. Talk about segregation!

All TV shows in the fifties were broadcast in black & white (with the exception in the late 50’s of Bonanza). But in sit-coms such as Lucy, Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, you only saw white, never a black face.

Hell, I don’t recall seeing a black Mouseketeers on The Micky Mouse Club.

Think we’ve come a long way? Though Latinos are now the nation’s largest minority, you rarely see a Latino character on a sit-com  (outside the Spanish-language stations). The few Asian characters come across as super-smart and emotionless. Today, mainstream TV is still black & white.

I missed a great event in Hollywood celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Besides airing classic episodes of the show, Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) and Alan Brady (series creator Carl Reiner) were on hand to reminisce. I wonder if Alan Brady still wears his toupee?

Here’s more on the event from LA Weekly… Oh, Robbbbb!

I confess. I have a thing for Ethel Mertz. Why did she ever marry grumpy, old Fred?

Vivian Vance, who played Ethel, was 22 years younger than the actor who played Fred, William Frawley.

In real life, Frawley was as cantankerous and cheap as the character he played. He lived alone in a modest bachelor apartment. A fondness for the bottle didn’t improve Frawley’s disagreeable personality.

Before Desi Arnaz agreed to cast William Frawley as Fred Mertz, Arnaz made it clear to him that, if he showed up drunk for work more than once, Frawley would not only be fired from the program but blacklisted throughout the entertainment industry.

William Frawley died in 1966 at age 79. He had a heart attack while walking down Hollywood Blvd. I’ve probably stepped over the very spot Frawley died. Especially if that spot is near the Frolic Room bar next to the Pantages at Hollywood & Vine.

When Vivian Vance heard of Frawley’s death, she reportedly shouted, “Champagne for everybody!”

She and Frawley despised each other. You can see that if you closely watch the interaction between Ethel and Fred on I Love Lucy.

“She’s one of the finest gals to come out of Kansas, but I often wish she’d go back there.”
— William Frawley on Vivian Vance

“I loathed William Frawley and the feeling was mutual. Whenever I received a new script, I raced through it, praying that there wouldn’t be a scene where we had to be in bed together.”
— Vivian Vance on William Frawley

[I don’t believe the above quote attributed to Vivian Vance. In I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy slept in twin beds. Ricky wore pajamas buttoned up to the collar and Lucy apparently slept more covered up than what she wore during the day. One can only imagine what the Mertzes wore to bed, or even if they slept in the same room. Any hint of sex on TV was verboten in the Fifties].

Source: The Internet Movie Database

See also a great book, Meet the Mertzes: The Life Stories of I Love Lucy’s Other Couple by Rob Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg


See Main Titles for Your Favorite Old TV Shows

LA Times Magazine has 50 main title openers for the TV shows I loved as a kid, from Addams Family to Zorro.

The Dick Van Dyke Show main title is here (see #14), so are the titles for Dragnet (#16) and Rawhide (#42), two shows I never missed.

Most of the openers are in black & white, making me feel even more ancient.

Kids, once upon a time TV was only b&w. TV sets were huge boxes and had vacuum tubes. You could only choose from six or seven channels (and that was in LA, even fewer channels outside metro areas).

Broadcasters went off the air at midnight, and there was no cable, no satellites — had to have an antenna on your roof or bunny ears. [On the upside, TV reception was totally free!]

Zenith Remote Control

Click to enlarge

Zenith Space Command
With this clicker you could magically turn on or off your Zenith TV, change channels, and adjust the sound. The clicker made a distinct sound. Dad could change channels by jangling his car keys.  The family dog could also flip channels by vigorously shaking its head — the Zenith TV reacted to the clinking of the metal tags on a dog collar.

I noticed several shows missing from The Times’ choice of 50 main title cards.

How could they overlook Leave It To Beaver, Highway PatrolThe Munsters, Father Knows Best or Our Miss Brooks?

But this limited collection is sure to bring back memories, if you’re my age.

Youngsters will groan at the shoddy graphics and hokey subject material.

A talking horse? A handsome astronaut who lives with a beautiful genie but none of the wishes involve the bedroom? A family where the dad is wise & wonderful and not a hapless moron or buffoon, as in Family Guy and every other dysfunctional family show today?

If only the Times had included audio. We could hear again the theme music our memories attach to these classic shows.

50+ Main Titles

Caje and Littlejohn were my squad favorites.

What a crazy pair! Today, Patty Duke pitches Social Security to aging baby boomers (like me!)

I still remember the distinctive, wheezy voice of Grandpa Amos (Walter Brennan)

Watch The Real McCoys “The Gift” (Aired December 11, 1958)


Seeing those TV-screen shots, I just had to throw this in…

Marc Brown of KABC Los Angeles is the wrong newscaster for this story.  What was the news director thinking? Now when I watch the KABC afternoon news I always flash on this. And Marc Brown is one of my favorite local newscasters, too.