Boomers Watched Kids and Animals on TV

If you are a boomer, you probably watch your fair share of network TV. In that non-streaming venue, there are nearly as many commercials as there is time for program content. So Mister Boomer, as a student of our culture, takes note when he discovers a pattern among the commercial ad offerings. For example, a couple of years ago, there were several Little Red Riding Hood references in commercials.

Lately, Mister B noticed there were three commercials running concurrently that use the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Though it is a children’s story, two out of the three commercials portray Goldilocks as an adult or teen, still looking for the “just right” in her life. In one of these ads, Goldilocks, while living with the three bears, searches for the perfect home online at Redfin. In another, a teenage Goldilocks breaks into the home of the three bears as per the story, but chooses between three cold-brewed Dunkin’s coffees on the counter instead of porridge. It’s only in the third one where a young Goldilocks, apparently living in the home of the three bears, is eating a sandwich made with Nature’s Own bread. Mama Bear turns to Papa Bear and says, “If you keep feeding her like this, she’ll never leave.”

It has been said in multiple circles that our culture turns to animals and kids in times of change and stress; it’s evidently an instinctual need for some warm fuzzies. While the economy boomed after the War, social change was imminent, disrupting what came before. Perhaps that is one reason there was a preponderance of kids and animals in TV shows, movies and TV commercials throughout the boomer years.

TV broadcasting was expanding and included a great deal of children’s programming as well as family fare. Animals and children were featured in many.

Between 1950 and ’56, there were seven successful movies that featured Francis, the Talking Mule. An Army mule, Francis mainly spoke to the soldier he befriended (but rarely to others). After the war, Francis went to live with his soldier friend in civilian life.

Mister Ed, the talking horse follow-up to Francis, had its TV moment from 1961-66.

Children and animals were teamed in several shows. In Rin Tin Tin (1954-59), an orphaned boy named Rusty, taken in by soldiers at the Fort Apache outpost in Arizona, is accompanied by a German Shepherd. Though the dog does not talk, he is loyal and wise enough to assist whenever there was trouble.

Even more than Rin Tin Tin, Lassie (1954-74), the title dog character that also only barked on occasion, appeared to more than understand and help the humans around him. This time the boy, Timmy (also orphaned), seemed to always get into some trouble and needed Lassie’s help.

Of course, cartoons in movies and on TV were filled with talking animals right from the start. When TV came around, cartoon characters became the spoke-characters for numerous products, most notably sugar-coated cereal.

National TV commercials were filled with kids or animals, or both. For many boomers, one of the most memorable was for Red Rose Tea. A group of trained chimpanzees performed as the Marquis Chimps in England and on U.S. variety TV shows, like The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1960, the animals were given instruments to appear like they were playing in a band and singing the jingle for Red Rose Tea. The commercial and jingle were so popular that in 1968 the jingle was licensed by two Pittsburgh DJs and released as a 45 rpm record.

As for lovable kids, there may not be a more memorable TV commercial boy than Mikey. Little Mikey made his debut on Life cereal commercials in 1972. The premise was the kids did not want to try the health-focused cereal. They get the notion that Mikey can try it for them, because Mikey did not like anything. Of course, Mikey liked it.

The boomer years were filled with animal characters and kids doing amazing as well as mundane things. Maybe it was a way to grab a wider audience or product market share by showing kids themselves on TV. Maybe it was piggybacking on the post-war years of talking animals that originally were aimed at adults before children. And maybe, in some small way, it was a societal balm intended to heal wounds and connect commonalties among our differences.

Do you have a favorite animal or kid commercial, boomers?

Additional reading: Talking Animals Sold Cereal to Boomers

Boomers Listened To Music Recordings By TV Stars

During the boomer years, there are famous examples of people known for their music before going into acting, on both TV and in the movies. Elvis and Ricky Nelson immediately come to mind. Yet there were many TV stars that went the other way; known first for their acting, they released albums and singles. Some of them even had their recordings enter the Top Ten on the charts. Here are just a few of them:

Annette Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013)
As one of the original Mouseketeers on Walt Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-58), to be sure Annette sang on TV. She quickly became a favorite with fans, who played a key role in her recording. The amount of fan mail that Annette received after singing How Will I Know My Love on the show, convinced a reluctant Walt Disney to give her a recording contract. Annette charted several times and released more than a dozen albums and singles during the boomer years. In 1959, Tall Paul reached number seven on the Billboard charts. Her only other brush with the Top Ten came with Pineapple Princess in 1960; the song reached number 11. Of course, after The Mickey Mouse Club ended, Annette went on to star in those famous beach movies with Frankie Avalon in the 1960s.

Paul Petersen (born September 25, 1945)
Like Annette Funicello, Paul Petersen was also an original Mouseketeer. When that show ended, he went on to The Donna Reed Show (1958-66). Paul’s singing career began in 1962. After releasing a couple of singles that same year, Paul performed My Dad on the show and sales of it took off, propelling it to number six on the Billboard charts.

Richard Chamberlain (born March 31, 1934)
Having acted in many roles on TV and movies, most boomers recall Richard Chamberlain in the title role of Dr. Kildare (1961-66). He began releasing music in 1962. His music only cracked the Billboard Top Ten once, with a vocal version of the Dr. Kildare theme song, entitled, Three Stars Will Shine Tonight. It peaked at number 10 in 1962. That same year, his cover version of the Everly Brothers’ All I Have to Do Is Dream made it to number 14.

Lorne Greene (February 12, 1915 – September 11, 1987)
Capitalizing on the popularity of his Ben Cartwright character on the TV western, Bonanza (1959-73), Greene recorded several albums in the folk/country western category. Knowing his singing ability did not measure up to his acting, his recordings were performed as spoken word. In 1964, Ringo was released as a single. It was a story of a western outlaw, narrated in Greene’s distinctive voice and backed by a chorus. The song hit number one on the Billboard charts. A bit of interesting trivia: The B Side of the single was a vocal version of the Bonanza theme that was not used on the TV show.

Patty Duke (December 14, 1946 – March 29, 2016)
Already a child star before The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966), Patty branched into music in 1965, when the song Don’t Just Stand There reached number eight on the charts. Her acting career continued until 2015, and she continued to sing on TV shows well into the 1970s.

William Shatner (born March 22, 1931)
Like Lorne Greene, William Shatner capitalized on his TV popularity as Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek (1966-69). In 1968, he released his first album, which featured a series of cover songs that Shatner delivered in spoken word. In 1968, he gave the world his version of The Beatles’ Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds, in his distinctive cadence. The song didn’t come close to charting in the Top Ten, but Mister Boomer felt it was such a … melodramatic original … that he had to include it here. Some consider it a cult classic of the era. Some consider it the worst cover of a Beatles song ever. In 1978, Shatner dropped his version of Elton John’s Rocket Man at the SciFi Awards. In 2011, Shatner released his version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Leonard Nimoy (March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015)
In 1966, Dot Records approached Leonard Nimoy about doing some recording. He went on to release five albums between 1967 and 1970. His first single was The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins in 1967. Like Shatner, Nimoy’s music never hit the Top Ten.

How about you, boomers? Did you have a favorite TV actor-turned-recording artist?