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 Flew In Airplanes

Air travel became practical for consumers in the U.S. by the 1930s — if you were wealthy enough to afford a ticket. It wasn’t until after the War that average people making long trips looked at air travel as an alternative to trains or cars. For many parents of boomers, their first air flight might have been being sent overseas during the War. However, Armed Forces travel within the U.S. at that time, such as to or from basic training or domestic bases, was mainly restricted to bus or train. Once soldiers, doctors or nurses were deployed in Europe or the South Pacific, they might have taken their first flight.

For many boomers, the building of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration (construction began in 1956) meant travel by car between states became easier, and even considered fun for a family visiting relatives or vacationing. As the commercial prompted, See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet, so they did.

Mister Boomer is not sure when his parents first boarded an airplane; it’s not something either mentioned. For Mister B, though, it was a high school senior class trip that put him on a plane. Now more than 50 years have passed and Mister B has been on too many flights to count, for job-related business trips, as well as vacationing and visiting family in other parts of the country.

Flashing back to that senior class trip, though, Mister B remembers he was extremely frightened and anxious about the flight. He had never flown before, and frankly, it didn’t seem natural that these giant metal tubes with wings could stay in the air. A few days before leaving, Mister B was so apprehensive that he wrote a “farewell” letter to his family and friends, presumably to be found in his dresser drawer after the bad news reached home. He had convinced himself that the plane was going down with him in it.

The day of the boarding, Mister B resigned himself to the c’est sera of the moment; whatever will be will be was his thought. Once seated — at a window — Mister B somehow calmed himself enough to stare straight ahead during the takeoff. Having never seen the view of his city from the sky, and ultimately the top of the clouds, Mister B was able to enjoy the scene out the window — while still expecting the worst outcome. Obviously that did not happen, and Mister B had an acceptable long weekend away, as well as one might expect with high school classmates and chaperones in constant sight.

Mister Boomer conjured up these memories because there have been some high-profile incidents in the air over the past few months. It reminded him of some bare-knuckle flights he has been on over the years, like the one flying through a thunderstorm, strapped tightly in his seat, with lightning bolts striking the wings of the plane; or the flight that was filled with so much turbulence that at one point the plane fell precipitously. After what seemed an eternity, the pilot made an announcement reassuring the passengers that the bumpy ride might continue a while longer, and, oh no worries, the plane just dropped 10,000 feet in that last dip.

By the 1970s and ’80s, most boomers had experienced air travel. The Boomer Generation is likely to have been the first generation to say a large percentage of its members took to the air. Currently there are several research studies that are pointing out that boomers are more comfortable with air travel than the Millennials who followed them. Who knew there would be generational differences on attitudes about air travel?

Still, the perception of air safety does not match the data. Ironically, despite the number of people flying per year is millions more than during the prime boomer years, far fewer fatal crashes occur than during their peak of the 1970s and ’80s. The data amazingly provides some reasoning for Mister Boomer’s trepidation way back when. At the time of his first flight, less than 10 million people flew each year, yet in the early 1970s, approximately 10-15 crashes occurred annually. Contrast that with today’s air travel by more than 25 million people, with less than 10 fatal crashes per year. Improved technology both in the air and on land rises to the top of the list to explain the steady drop in airplane fatal crashes.

When Mister Boomer returned home after his first round-trip flights, he immediately grabbed the envelope that contained his in the event of.. message and destroyed it.

How about you, boomers? When did you first board an airplane?