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Hollywood Heroes

TV series of 1960s -’70s left lasting
impressions on young viewers

Growing up in front of the TV was a childhood ritual

 

 

(May 2010)

Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

"The coonskin cap-wearing, musket-bearing Fess Parker stirred the imagination in young boys like me as TV’s “Daniel Boone” from 1964 to 1970. So when I heard the news that Parker died March 18 at his California home at age 85, the memories flooded back in my mind like TV reruns on Nickelodeon.
Many of us Baby Boomers grew up watching “Daniel Boone” and many other Hollywood heroes who came to life every afternoon on TV. Most heroes, like Boone, had sidekicks or vivid adversaries who threatened to do evil. Others, like Opie Taylor of Mayberry (“The Andy Griffith Show”) or Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (“Leave It To Beaver”) of Mayfield, were kids like me who faced the everyday challenges of adolescence. Both were surrounded by memorable, if not quirky, characters who provided the laughs and lessons of ordinary life – all neatly packaged in problem-solution scenarios that could be wrapped up in 30 minutes, including commercials.

Fess Parker

Texas native Fess
Parker played TV’s
Daniel Boone during
the 1960s. Prior to
that, he played Davy
Crockett in a short-
lived Disney series.

Others popular shows of the time included “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Batman,” “Green Acres” and “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.”
Who could forget characters like Gilligan and the rest of the cast of looney castaways on “Gilligan’s Island;” or Jed, Granny and Elly May Clampett, Jethro Bodine on “The Beverly Hillbillies;” all the corny villains of the hokey “Batman” TV series; city slickers Oliver and Lisa Douglas on the farm in “Green Acres;” Gomer Pyle and Sgt. Vince Carter at the Marine Corp base; Opie, Aunt Bee and single-bullet-carrying Barney Fife in Mayberry?
Sadly, those shows are long gone and appear only occasionally on TV networks like Nickelodeon. The actors who played them have either died or grown up.
Each TV series has a sort of legend associated with it when you consider the theme songs that introduced them, the lessons taught through them, the fictional towns where they took place and the hilarious episodes and sayings that have become etched in our memories.
Most Boomers still today can sing the entire lyrics of those familiar theme songs, such as “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The latter song, performed by bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs, became a country No. 1 hit.
How many times did it seem to be the end for the caped crusaders in “Batman,” when – after a convenient commercial break – they always found a way to escape the diabolical clutches of their adversaries and return Gotham City to its peaceful existence. How many pre-teenaged boys watching that show become infatuated with actress Julie Newmar as the sultry “Catwoman”?
Today’s kids have TV’s “Hannah Montana” “Zack and Cody” and “iCarly,” but in my opinion they pale in comparison to the iconic TV characters of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Andy Griffith Show cast

“The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-68)
cast included (from left) actors
Don Knotts (Barney Fife), Opie Taylor
(Ron Howard), Andy Taylor (Andy
Griffith) and Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee).

I bemoan the fact that my 12-year-old son will never be asked the classic question: “Ginger or Mary Ann?” And if so, he won’t have a clue what that means.
I can’t conceive of going through life never having heard the tainted wisdom of a sober Otis Campbell speaking from his jail cell before letting himself out to go home after sleeping one off; or watching Sgt. Carter blow his top at Gomer Pyle, only to end the 30-minute program showing his big, soft heart; or laughing hysterically at the stupidity of one of Jethro’s far-fetched plans, only to be put in place by the broom-spanking Granny; or enjoying the wonderfully beguiling Eddie Haskell as he works his magic on June Cleaver.
There will never be another Gilligan or Skipper or Gomer or Theodore Cleaver or Barney Fife, the lovable goof with a heart of gold.
For many of us, expressions such as “Gol-ley!” and “Shazam!” and “Pyle, you knucklehead!” and “Shame, shame shame!” have been immortalized.
My son will never enjoy the corny yet witty banter between Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, as they figure out the evil plan being waged against them, only to result in Robin’s fist into hand, followed by his predictable expression: “Holy (fill in the blank), Batman!” Who can forget villains with names like the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler and Mr. Freeze? Or the campy guest appearances by famous people who came to the window of a high-rise building as the Caped Crusaders slowly ascended by rope the outside wall on their way to a crime scene.

Batman

Adam West (as Batman) and Burt
Ward (as Robin) starred in 120
episodes of TV’s “Batman” from
1966-1968. The show was known
for its campy dialogue and many
guest appearances by celebrities.

As for “Gilligan’s Island,” each episode took us into the quirky minds of the greedy Thurston Howell III and the lame-brained Professor and the lovable Skipper.
It wasn’t all fun and games, however. I can still see the young Opie Taylor sitting on the porch with his “Pa” as they discuss the show-ending life lesson of that particular “Andy Griffith” episode. Or the poignant, final moments of “Leave it to Beaver,” where all the loose ends have been tied up and Beaver and brother Wally share that awkward yet endearing “gee whizz” moment where a lesson is discovered.
Though long gone, these characters and their sidekicks will never be forgotten for those of us who grew up in their fictional worlds. As I look back now to those days of sitting in front of the TV each afternoon after school it seemed to be a more innocent and simple childhood than growing up in today’s digital age. It was a time before our nation’s young minds were consumed by the Internet, cell phones, TIVO and computer games (with the exception of Pac Man, Pong and Donkey Kong!).
So thank you, Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen and Bob Denver and Eddie Albert and Jim Nabors and Jerry Mathers and Ron Howard and Don Knotts and all the rest for making my childhood memorable.
If only my children had it so good.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.

 

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