Rin Tin Tin or Lassie: Who was Top Dog in Boomer TV?

You could be sure of one thing in family television programs of the fifties and sixties; there was bound to be either puppets or animals, or both. Two long-running shows that were popular in the early boomer days were The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. Both featured a-boy-and-his-dog stories, and both had long histories before making the transition to TV.

Rin Tin Tin

The story of Rin Tin Tin reads like a novel in itself. In 1918, near the end of World War I, an American soldier in France found a dog and a litter of pups in a bombed-out kennel. He took two of the pups back with him to the U.S., but only one would ultimately survive. He had named that male German shepherd Rin Tin Tin, after the puppet that French children gave to American soldiers as a good luck charm.

As the dog grew, the man, Lee Duncan, taught the dog several tricks. Eventually the dog was seen by movie producers and cast as a replacement in a 1922 silent film as a wolf. Rin Tin Tin’s first starring role came a year later, followed by several other silent films, then by talkies. In 1930 a radio show, The Wonder Dog, was launched and ran through 1955. In 1932 the original Rin Tin Tin died, and was replaced on the radio by his son.

The TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, came about in 1954, and ran for five seasons. The role of Rin Tin Tin was played by the direct fourth generation descendant of the original Rin Tin Tin. As in the later movies, the basic storyline had Rin Tin Tin save the day with heroic actions. In the television incarnation, a boy and his dog were found alive by soldiers after an Indian raid. They brought the boy, Rusty, and dog, Rin Tin Tin, to Fort Apache, Arizona. At the outpost they gave Rusty the honorary rank of corporal so the soldiers could legally raise him inside the military complex. It became Rin Tin Tin’s job to help the soldiers establish order in the Old West, fighting Indians and outlaws. Each episode featured the German shepherd displaying acts of courage, determination and loyalty.

Lassie

Lassie first appeared as a short story by Eric Knight, a British author. Lassie Come Home was published by The Saturday Evening Post in 1938. Set in England during the Depression era, it told the story of a family’s struggle to survive. Forced to sell their dog, the tale follows the struggles of the collie to be reunited with her family. Later, the same story was written into a novel that was made into a 1943 movie starring Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor. More Lassie films followed through 1951. In 1947, a Lassie radio show was broadcast, as Rin Tin Tin had done before him. The show ran for three years.

The TV series, Lassie, began its 19 year run in 1954. For American audiences, the setting was changed to a struggling family on an American farm, and played up the relationship between the boy, Jeff, and his collie, Lassie. Naturally, like Rin Tin Tin, there were several dogs that played the role through the years. Also like Rin Tin Tin, they were all descendants of the original dog, which, in Lassie’s case, was named Pal. The Lassie character was always female, but the dogs portraying Lassie were all male.

The show underwent major changes throughout the years, and the audience played along. The boy character, Jeff, was retired in the fourth season when Timmy took over. Each week Timmy got himself into all sorts of dangerous situations, some with wild animals, that required Lassie to save him. For this reason the show was not without controversy. Some parents complained that it encouraged their children to take unnecessary chances and that ultimately, the character Timmy got little punishment save a mild reprimand for his actions.

As the eleventh season began, Timmy, and the whole idea of the boy and his dog, was dropped. Savvy producers, looking to capitalize on the new ability to broadcast in color, made Lassie a companion to a group of forest rangers. Lassie’s heroic actions were now those of a rescue dog focused on environmental and conservation themes, filmed in living color in spectacular outdoor settings. For a while Lassie was on “her” own, wandering through the wilderness. Occasionally an episode featured nothing but animals, void of any human actors at all.

Timmy was brought back for the final two seasons, though this time he was at a ranch for troubled children. The story had Lassie wandering in one day, when “she” decided to stay. Finally, the show was cancelled in 1971. After two additional years in syndication, the last of the first-run episodes was aired in 1973. A new version of the show appeared in 1989, and ran for two more years. Lassie films were made in 1978, 1994 and 2005. Throughout them all, Timmy never fell into the well.

Like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie was the embodiment of the wholesome family values of the time. Lassie became a symbol and metaphor for the perfect mother of the 50s; nurturing, responsible and caring, always possessing a commitment to family and community while maintaining perfect hair.

As for Mister B, neither show ranked high in the viewing habits of his family. Lassie seemed far too sanitized and formulaic for his refined young boomer taste. Nonetheless, the family sometimes watched the show because Mister B’s sister liked to see the dog. In later years, she got a collie of her own; it’s possible that the show influenced her decision. The family sometimes watched The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin when it went into reruns. Mister B’s brother seemed to enjoy the Western milieu. Overall, Mister B preferred the German shepherd to the collie, but could take or leave either TV show. Mister B did not see any of the movies.

How about you, boomers? In the battle of the heroic canines, which show did you prefer?

Boomer Winter Boots: What’s In A Name?

There are words that become part of the vernacular, yet as time goes on become dated, and eventually, obsolete. Sometimes the words can immediately elicit an often by-gone era by their mere utterance. Mister Boomer’s mother regularly vocalized such expressions that immediately harken back to her younger years. Throughout Mister B’s youth she never got used to saying “refrigerator,” preferring the technically and era-incorrect “ice box” instead. So, too, “record player” and “stereo” were also not part of her vocabulary. Rather, she called the device what her mother did: the “Victrola.”

Even though Mister Boomer is older now than his mother was in his formative years, merely seeing snowflakes fall elicits visions of her speaking the phrase he did not want to hear. “Put on your galoshes!” she would admonish. Galoshes. The very word made weird shapes out of one’s mouth as its sound plopped up from the gut like so much verbal spew. Mister Boomer disliked the term and the footwear. Actually, he more than disliked them, he hated galoshes! But technically, this time she was using a term correctly, as the footwear in question was, by definition, an overshoe.

Made of nearly indestructible rubber and sporting four black metal clasps and buckles, these shin-high winter devices are what stood between boys’ feet and a Midwest winter through our pre-teen years. Girls tended to wear slip on boots without the clasps, but they could also be referred to as galoshes. The terms boots and galoshes could be used interchangeably, even though a boot is generally worn instead of a shoe.

galoshes as seen in advertising art circa 1960 from misterboomer.com
Here is what the dreaded black rubber, metal-clasped galoshes of Mister Boomer's youth looked like in advertising art from 1960; from Mister B's private collection.

After sliding them over our shoes — which could be a task in and of itself, with the unrelenting tightness of the rubber fit — we could tuck the long, tri-fold tongue flap in and grasp each S-shaped clasp to secure the appropriate slot in the accompanying buckle. An amazing method of securing one thing to another, the buckles were metal rectangles that sported multiple vertical slots so the wearer could slide the clasp into the slot that gave the best fit. The clasp itself was hinged. Once it was placed through the buckle slot, it could be flipped inward to secure the fastening. With the prevalence of Velcro® today, we’ll probably never see the likes of such a simple, yet elegant form of buckle and clasp again in our lifetime. In Mister B’s youth, however, he did not appreciate the beauty or the mechanics of the clasp system, or the practicality of the waterproof overshoe.

The term galoshes comes from the French, galoches, which indeed referred to a rubber overshoe slipped over shoes to protect them from getting wet. There is evidence of the term used as far back as the Middle Ages. The discovery of vulcanized rubber in 1890 paved the way for the galoshes of our parents’ years and, ultimately, the durable, pliable rubber galoshes of the boomer era. As a rubber product, warmth was not their strong point. And should snow or water enter the boot from above the top or through an incorrectly tucked tongue, you could guarantee the rubber would hold in the icy water to keep your socks and feet cold and wet as easily as it kept out the moisture under the right circumstances.

These were some of the reasons Mister B hated them. Despite what some children of boomers think of as an exaggerated cliché, we did walk to school, rain or shine. Consequently, we practically lived in our galoshes any time we went outside from the first week of December through the end of March. Once we traversed our route, which inevitably took us off the sidewalk trail, we’d arrive at the school for the next phase of galoshes annoyance. Beside the struggle to get them on and the prevalence of wet, cold feet, perhaps what Mister B hated most was that in his elementary school, the galoshes had to be removed in the vestibule that was the passageway between the church and school. It made logical sense, of course. Hundreds of children traipsing with their wet boots through the linoleum halls was not an acceptable scenario. But that logic escaped Mister B.

A low ledge of made of stone ran along the wall of one side of the large, slate-floored entryway. There, students would sit and the ritual would begin. Unclasping the buckles was the easiest part, though any ice and snow on them was immediately transferred to already cold, tiny fingers. The gripping power of the rubber made trying to get the boot off without pulling the shoe, or shoe and sock with it was nearly impossible. All the while the school’s nuns hovered over the group to hurry the proceedings and nip any dawdling. After the shoe battle had been won, the next step was to place the wet galoshes into the school-required boot bag. Made of fabric and lined with some sort of rubberized waterproof interior, the bag had a cord on the top to pull closed for hanging in a classroom coat room.

When the school day was over, the reverse process was engaged, only to be repeated yet again upon entering through the back door of the house. This time, however, the boots were set on a rag rug to dry overnight, and the boot bag set aside to dry in the ambient warmth as well.

There were other boot alternatives at the time, though none were offered to Mister B and his brother. A few years later they would both get the pea-green lace-up boots popular with outdoorsmen for hunting and fishing. Two or three pairs of socks were all that was needed inside these boots. As the boys aged, protection from deep snow was no longer a primary concern. Most of the time, snow above the ankle could be avoided by sticking with shoveled paths and taking buses and rides, especially once Mister B entered his high school years. On entering his mid-teens, he adapted the next phase of winter footwear that was popular with his peers: the suede, fleece-lined half boot that was meant to be worn all day. It was no matter that they required waterproofing spray and could be hot on the feet over a prolonged period indoors; they spelled the end of galoshes for Mister B. It was not a moment too soon for our intrepid boomer boy. He wears boots reluctantly to this day.

Did you have to wear galoshes in your pre-teen youth, boomers? What was your experience like?