Judy tagged me on Facebook so i would see Cathy Alley’s post of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”
For those of you who did not see it, here is a version taken from one of “The Kate Smith Show” videos:
After we got our first television, about a 15-inch screen that sat in the corner of our living room across from the front door, black and white screen, of course, i was impressed with Kate’s singing.
At first, i didn’t know about Kate’s show. We didn’t have a television. My only awareness of television was provided by Roberta Padgett. The Padgett’s lived to the north of their lot that separated our house from theirs on Castle Heights Avenue. The Padgett’s were one of the first to get a television on our block, around 1950. Roberta would invite me over to their den, which i considered an incredible place to have as our den was about half a dozen years away from reality, to watch “The Howdy Doody Show” in the afternoon.
Because of that, Roberta was the girl with whom i fell in love.
But in 1954, we caught up with the Jones’s…or at least the Padgett’s, when we got our own television.
i would turn Kate on when i got home from school . Her half-hour show came on at 3:30 p.m. on WSM, the only channel we initially had in Lebanon, at least what we could capture on our small but still ugly roof antenna. The shows consisted of what WSM considered the best of the three only networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. Before Kate, there was only the Native American logo and silence (although i think i remember a sound as well, like a hum). As i recall (not necessarily a reliable source), the Native American chief’s image was accompanied by the logo of National Life and Accident Insurance, the station’s owner.
But for me, Kate was only a time killer before what Roberta had shown me: “The Howdy Doody Show” where my favorite parts were the “Tons of Funs” silent movies, Flub A Dub, and Clarabell. Phineas T. Bluster was an object of my disdain. Buffalo Bob was a bit of a wuss in leather shirts with western fringe. Howdy was just too damn cheery. Chief ThunderThud endeared himself to me with his expression of awe, “Kowabunga.”
Of course, i lost my heart to Princess SummerFallWinterSpring, one if not the first of many loves in my life i dreamed about in television. The real life Roberta had competition.
Then at 5:00 p.m., i was riveted to Ruff ‘n Ready, the white whiskered guy in a cowboy outfit because he introduced the daily oater. Roy Rogers and Bob Steele ignited my desire to be a cowboy after my father introduced me to Hopalong Cassidy, who started that dream. Hopalong rode Topper into my life on Castle Film’s 8 mm film “Bar 20 Rides Again.”
i know all this stuff about Hoppy, not because i remember so well but because the three-inch square box with Hoppy holding his gun on the front sits on my bookshelf.
When Daddy would set up the portable movie screen to show home movies to us and whatever relatives might join us, nearly always Aunt Bettye Kate and Uncle Snooks, the children would demand we watch Hoppy and Woody Woodpecker first. He usually relented for one of the two.
i don’t recall Hoppy ever being on Ruff ‘n Ready’s show.
Now to prove my recall is faulty, the next afternoon highlight i remember was “The Mickey Mouse Club.” i am not sure what happened, but Kate, Howdy, or Ruff ‘n Ready must have fallen off the screen. My post school, pre-supper world was focused on that show, not because i enjoyed the cartoons, or much of the rest of the show, but my love was now squandered on two television dreams: the aforementioned Princess SummerFallWinterSpring and Annette. i kept wishing i could go to summer camp and capture Annette’s heart and whisk her away from that wimpy Skip — meanwhile in New York, one of my best friends of all time who i would not meet for another six or seven years, Alan Hicks, was head over heels for Darlene.
But alas, my joy was ended when the news took over. John Cameron Swayze told it like it was without bias, a lost art, on “The Camel News Caravan.” i rejected the idea of listening to the news. Hmm, old habits have returned. But i did like John’s Timex commercials. i particularly remember them tying a Timex wrist watch to an outboard propeller and whirling the boat around the water for a couple of laps. After the boat docked, John took the watch off the prop and declared, “It takes a licking, but it keeps on ticking.”
Then it was supper time. Not much better things in my memory than Mother’s suppers. The fare varied but every supper seemed to include her legendary biscuits and fresh tomatoes.
It seems my every weekday during the school year from 1950 to 1956 was highlighted by afternoon television. This is a faulty memory of course. There were other things going on, but the way i remember it, even though she created only a nuisance of waiting for MY shows, Kate started it all.
i am aware of the current displeasure with Kate and her other racially incorrect songs creating the latest rancor. i also know any comment i might make about that will be taken as offensive by one side or the other, perhaps both, and i wonder why we insist on having two sides , or three sides, or exponentially more sides, even today.
All i know is i did not infer any negatives on those afternoons. Kate was part of it.
God Bless America.