Jock interrupted by Philo
(Talk of the Town photos provided) Above, the Westinghouse television set was a popular source of entertainment at the Duncan house. Below, Susie spends some time in the great outdoors where life was really entertaining.
By Susie Duncan Sexton
Sure, sure, so Joanne Peabody Bates performed cartwheels alllllllll the way home after school. Her mom, Phyllis, would peer outside and then swing wide the screen door, judging that her freckle-faced, double-jointed grade school kid might land somewhere inside the kitchen shortly after her daughter’s sneakered feet sailed wildly past the window above the sink! And alright, I admit that everybody but I, during recess, headed boldly for the playground’s new JUNGLE GYM…a towering maze of iron cubicles situated immediately outside the high school’s band building. Monkeys!
Wait! I once defied classification as a slouch in the athletic arena. Scowling, Eugene Barnett (years later my Colin Firth look-alike prom date) and I charged each other like a bull and matador shuffling through the school-yard dirt and mud and grime. From opposite corners of some type of wrought-iron tri-pod gizmo, we twisted our individual clanging swing chains -- completely wrapped together face to face, our little rear-ends perched on seats fashioned from split fire hoses -- only to whizzingly unwind again. Our stunned classmates gathered around to watch as the two of us checked to see if all of our fingers and thumbs were still attached to our hands. Eat your heart out, Joanne!
Also, because my lanky legs grew lengthier than ANYBODY’S in the entire institution -- including the boys’-- I always unfailingly sprinted farther and faster during impromptu track meets and presently endure mercilessly dilapidated knees both of which substantiate my bragging rights!
Furthermore, post school-day, the speed with which I rushed back to where I lived (and still do hang out) -- by catty-cornering persnickety old ladies’ manicured lawns and jay-walking both Line and Walnut Streets -- might have established records if anyone had bothered to clock me. I always got to my front door long before Mrs. Winnie Morsches arrived at hers. The beautiful new bride and most recent teacher, upon whom all the boys had a crush, bicycled from West Ward to Main toward her brick “honeymoon” house, nestled on the most-traveled thoroughfare in town, directly across from her in-laws.
At long last I approached my comfort zone, HOME, having partially survived HOURS stationed all scrunched within a rickety wooden school desk laden with penknifed initials, feeling exactly like one of the Blues Brothers with whom I would eventually empathize as I watched their film on TV in the eighties? As a grammar school brat, I majored in…the “golden age of television”. I missed not a trick! The boob tube became my motivation in life -- and the cherished status of “couch potato” my destination.
Barging inside and plopping down upon the floor directly in front of the screen, nose to nose with Buffalo Bob, Clark Kent, Pinky Lee, and Annette, I destroyed my eyesight within about a year. Near-sightedness began its hold on me thanks to my close proximity to those pixilated play-mates.
Our first Westinghouse “set”, installed by a freshly graduated Purdue engineer named Gordon Washington who worked at Blue Bell for my dad, occupied its corner spot beside the fireplace—the “old-hat” radio nestled forlornly on the opposite side of the hearth. Technology circa 1953, black and white moving pix, fuzzy hissing beeping audio, test patterns which featured an Indian chief’s face peeking through his head-dress surrounded by several enumerated circles within other circles, space-age-ish antenna and its accompanying wiring—UPTOWN! COOL! I would soon view Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of electronic television who hailed from neighboring Ft. Wayne, win 80 bucks plus a carton of Winston cigarettes as he fooled panelists Henry Morgan, Betsy Palmer and Polly Bergen during his appearance on a 1957 installment of Garry Moore’s I’VE GOT A SECRET.
Thus began the decline of any athletic inclination I ever may have possessed. FAST FORWARD: I eventually learned to ride a “two-wheeler” (sans training wheels) at age 10, to drive at 19, grudgingly attempted the game of “whiff/divot” golf, participated in Girl’s Junior League one dreary year—the highlight of which, at tournament time, I dribbled to the wrong end of the court to shoot a startled basket-ball into the opponent’s hoop. Furthermore, my swimming prowess consisted of the back stroke and wading.
Athleticism is but a dim memory now. I believe I may have been seven the last time I truly wished to excel at anything remotely physical. That seems to be the same magic year Howdy Doody entered our living room. I vividly recall I jumped my little wooden-handled rope, lollipop dangling from my lips, while Clarabell the Clown squirted seltzer water at the show’s cast of assorted marionettes—never removing my eyes from the screen for a split second as one afternoon followed the other. My parents concluded that I might be the culprit for their favorite evening shows’ relentless skipping to my same rhythm…totally unwatchable until the console was smacked and knobs adjusted.
Maintaining pace with the Russian space program somehow began to translate itself into specifically physical education becoming a (I hoped temporary) nationally required daily competitive fixation and “all the rage” about the same time I specialized in obsessive viewing of PLAYHOUSE 90, STUDIO ONE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW, U.S. STEEL HOUR, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, ARMSTRONG CIRCLE THEATER, OMNIBUS, even the Cowboy Soap Operas my brother–in-law Guy became addicted to from his sprawled upon the couch position, such as GUNSMOKE, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, BAT MASTERSON, WILD BILL HICKOK, BONANZA, WYATT EARP, MAVERICK. Saturday Morning Cartoons, Bishop Sheen, Mr. Wizard, AMERICAN BANDSTAND, FATHER KNOWS BEST, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, I LOVE LUCY, DECEMBER BRIDE…YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, ERNIE KOVACS, HIT PARADE, ED SULLIVAN, DINAH SHORE SHOW, George Gobel and his spooky wife Alice, BURNS & ALLEN…FINALLY “The Star Spangled Banner” wrapped up each evening’s viewing at midnight. Test pattern resumed.
Although I adored JFK, his insistence upon youth fitness -- benefiting our nation’s “New Frontier”-- caused the two of us to have irreconcilable differences. Every time I endured consistent, relentless humiliation as the very last person chosen by either of two rugged school-girl captains choosing up sides for volley ball or softball or whatever, I resented my favorite president miserably.
To this day, I much prefer that I “discovered” Robert Redford and Charlton Heston in their LIVE debut thespian performances on the telly as well as personally re-enacted the original PRICE IS RIGHT show impersonating Bill Cullen awarding imaginary guests all of our living room furniture and kitchen appliances, rather than wasting childhood fretting about something satellite-ish named “Sputnik” and space races and arms proliferation and “Red” threats or whether or not I might make the cut at cheer-leader try-outs. After all, not many arthritic people my age actually continue to play tennis or jog or even walk around the block…but there remains the remote possibility that Alex Trebek might find my knowledge of TV trivia astounding and give me a call? A new car would be a grand prize indeed! Remember I have been driving since age 19, so all of these many years later I am certainly up to the challenge!
“There’s nothing on (television) worthwhile, and we’re not going to watch it in this household, and I don’t want it in your intellectual diet.” (~ Philo Taylor Farnsworth’s advice to his son Kent)