I honestly don’t know what kids watch these days. They certainly have access — despite the efforts of Amazon Prime and Netflix with their “kids only” settings that careful parents can use — to a great deal of material that, not so long ago, would have been considered totally unsuitable for children. And from an amazingly young age, they can busy themselves with cellphones and other electronic devices.
I woke up the other morning thinking about what my brothers and I watched when we were kids, and for some reason my thoughts turned to “Captain Kangaroo,” the long-running show in which Bob Keeshan played the title role.
After I started school, I only got to watch it on summer vacation.
It wasn’t my favorite. I liked the cartoon segment with Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred, the wonder dog. But it wasn’t on every day. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the Captain’s dialogs with the puppets Mr. Moose and the bespectacled Mr. Bunny Rabbit. The segments featuring the farmer Mr. Green Jeans were, I thought, boring. But my younger brothers liked it, so it was usually on. Our mother liked it because it was OK for kids to watch. (What mom wouldn’t like a show where the magic words were “please” and “thank you”?) For some reason, the images I just described stuck in my head, so they must have made an impression.
What I liked a lot better was what came on earlier in the morning. We could get “Mr. Bill’s Cartoons” on WLOS-TV in Asheville, which were on early every weekday morning, and we could watch it until we had to leave for school. (WLOS had a pretty wide viewing area, so I found, when we moved to Kingsport in 1975, that many folks around here had grown up watching the same show.)
Mr. Bill showed old cartoons that had been shown in theaters in the 1930s and ’40s). Some of them were pretty good, especially the Warner Brothers cartoons with Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. We also watched some other stuff, but Daffy and Bugs were better. WLOS also sometimes showed old movie “shorts” with The Three Stooges. We liked those a lot.
We also watched Popeye the Sailor. I bugged my mother to buy spinach. She finally did, and I hated it. It was better to pretend turnip greens, which were edible, were spinach. The villain in the Popeye cartoons was Bluto, who showed up, not only as himself, but as “Sinbad the Sailor” and the desert bandit “Abu Hassan.” Popeye whipped him whatever his role.
If you asked me at the time, I would have told you that my favorite cartoons were Disney cartoons. The reason was simple. Disney carefully rationed them. You could see them from time to time on the weekly “Walt Disney Show” (which over time went by many names) and every now and then in the afternoon on “The Mickey Mouse Club.” But they weren’t available very often.
Some of the Disney offerings were very funny. The cartoon in which Donald Duck owned an apple orchard and was trying to save his crop from the chipmunks Chip and Dale was one. Another was the one in which Goofy takes his son on a camping trip. The youngster was afraid of mountain lions, and Goofy tried to reassure him by demonstrating what he would do if a catamount showed up.
I remember what happened. Goofy reached up to a low-lying limb where a real lion was sleeping, grabbed the big cat’s tail and said, “I’d grab him by the tail, then I’d sling him around. Then I’d jump up and down, and give him the old heave-ho.” With that he kicked the lion out of the campsite. The lion came back enraged. You can imagine the rest.
But I realized over time that the Warner Brothers cartoons were better. The antics of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Daffy and Bugs against the mild-mannered but vicious Marvin the Martian, and Foghorn Leghorn, were always good for belly laughs.
Now? Warner continues to make cartoons, but has decided to replace Elmer’s shotgun with a sickle, as though the rabbit would rather be sliced to bits. But guns are anathema to Hollywood. Except when they’re not.
I’m not so naïve that I think everything was better in the good old days. But the cartoons certainly were.