Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Bill Cullen

(First posted 11 September 2008; updated 12 July 2013.) The show was a yawnfest, just boring as all get out, but I watched it every weekday afternoon anyway.

Bill Cullen at the helm of Three on a Match

It was Three on a Match, a game show that aired on NBC from 1971 to 1974. Part of what made it boring, given that I was four years old, was that its rules were complicated. I could never figure out what was going on! I started watching this confusing program because it was on against Let’s Make a Deal on ABC, which my mother could not abide, and As the World Turns on CBS, which I could not abide. But I kept watching because its congenial host always made me think of my grandfather, and I rather liked imagining seeing my grandfather on TV every weekday afternoon.

The grandfatherly host was Bill Cullen, the most versatile and prolific game-show host ever, who worked almost non-stop doing them on radio and television for 40 years. If you were breathing at any time between the 1950s and the 1980s you almost certainly saw Bill Cullen on TV. Here’s a complete episode of Three on a Match from February of 1974 that shows how the game was played.

Bill’s first TV game show was Winner Take All in 1952, and his last was The Joker’s Wild in 1986. In between, he did more than twenty others.

I outgrew my grandfather projection issues and for years changed the channel when I saw fuddy-duddy old Bill Cullen. But when I got (and became addicted to) Game Show Network on cable in the 1990s, I saw that not only did Bill Cullen handle every show as if he was born to host it, but he was also funny. This is one of my favorite Bill Cullen moments, from To Tell the Truth.

So lasting was Bill’s game-show legacy that it is said that when the US version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was being developed, producers wanted to tap Cullen to host it – until they learned that he had been dead for eight years.

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: The New Price is Right

Astonishingly, the game show The Price is Right is in its 50th season on CBS. It’s a true survivor from the heyday of daytime television game shows — only it and a reboot of Let’s Make A Deal remain on daytime television today.

I remember watching Price as a kid when I was home sick from school. It debuted right as I started Kindergarten in 1972. It was called The New Price is Right then, because there had been a show called The Price is Right in the 1950s and 1960s, hosted by Bill Cullen. The New Price is Right was loosely based on the older show.

In its early days, Price was only 30 minutes long! Rather than having two Showcase Showdowns to determine who went on to the Showcase bonus game, the top two winners appeared in the Showcase. Also, the original set was very brown. And in the very first week of the show, they brought the first four contestants to Contestant’s Row a little differently.

Here, check it out — the first episode of The New Price is Right, from September 4, 1972.

Incredibly, Price stayed a 30-minute show until November of 1975. Other than expanding to an hour, little has changed on Price in its 50 years on the air. Four people from the studio audience have always been called down to Contestant’s Row to bid on prizes; the most accurate bidders have always been brought on stage to play games for even better prizes.

But all the elements of fun were there from the start, making Price a show that endured. I still laugh and enjoy it as much as I did when the show was brand new, and I was five years old.

I bought an exercise bike recently to help me stay in shape. It’s pretty boring sitting there pedaling, so I set up the bike in our bedroom in front of a TV. There’s a channel on my Roku that plays episodes of The Price is Right with Bob Barker back to back, 24x7x365. It’s what I usually watch. The show is just the right kind of dumb fun to make the time pass quickly.

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History, Vintage Television

U.S. school desegregation, bullying, unrest, and violence, in the 1970s

I was in the second grade in 1974 when my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, chose to desegregate its schools. Not that South Bend was deliberately sending black students to black-only schools and white students to white-only schools. Rather, decades of redlining and economic inequity created black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, and kids went to school in their neighborhoods. Same effect, obviously.

South Bend chose to desegregate its schools to avoid a judge ordering it, as was happening in larger cities. That let South Bend figure out its own desegregation plan. But like every other city that desegregated, South Bend bused black children to white schools.

James Monroe School
My elementary school. Argus A-Four, Kodak Plus-X, 1984.

I watched the first bus pull up in front of my elementary school — until that day, everybody walked to my school. Several black children walked off and into the building. Two of them came to my classroom, Eunice and Dawn Denise.

Sending two black children into a classroom with 20 white children is hardly racial integration. It made Eunice and Dawn Denise a spectacle. They were quiet and gentle, but they were mercilessly teased and put down all year. I have clear memories of feeling uncomfortable with the treatment they received, but I don’t remember whether I participated. I hope I didn’t, but I probably did. I especially hope they didn’t receive worse treatment when I wasn’t around to see.

Parents were edgy the first weeks of school that year. I didn’t know why, exactly. I learned decades later that as other school systems desegregated across the nation, it sometimes came with violence.

In Louisville, armed guards escorted children on school buses. Some parents organized a school boycott. Rumors of school violence flew furiously, some of them untrue. Here’s a complete television newscast from Louisville’s WHAS-TV from September 10, 1975, that tells the story. The station devoted most of the newscast to this story.

You might think that tensions were high in Louisville because Kentucky had been a slave state before the Civil War, and because the Ohio River is where the Midwest becomes the South. But our nation’s racism knows no geographic bounds. In Ohio, a Midwestern non-slave state, the man overseeing Dayton’s school desegregation was murdered in his office. This complete newscast from WLWD (now WDTN) on September 19, 1975, tells the story.

I was just eight when all this happened. I didn’t watch the news. All I knew was that two reserved black girls joined my class and were left to fend for themselves. It’s hard enough to be different in any way in public school. In 1975, in South Bend, in my all-white neighborhood and all-white school the racial divide made Eunice and Dawn Denise seem extra different.

Eunice came to our 25th high-school reunion. We caught up briefly, exchanging the details of our lives. When I asked her if she’d kept in touch with Dawn Denise, she brightened and said they’d been best friends all their lives. When I said that I remembered the rough treatment the two of them had received, and how badly I felt about it, she thanked me politely and said she’d rather not revisit those memories. I can’t say I blame her.


I’d also like to call your attention to the quality of news-gathering and -reporting that happened in those two 1975 newscasts. If you watch them through, you will be well informed on those critical events. This was typical of local TV news then. TV news is such crap now.

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Faith, Vintage Television

Channel 16, Father Hesburgh, and the Prayer for Peace

Kids today don’t know how good they have it, with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network delivering animation to their living rooms 24x7x365. During my 1970s-80s childhood, we got cartoons on Saturday mornings and for an hour after school, and that was it. My brother and I liked animation so much that we’d rise early on Saturday morning to catch every available hour of cartoons.

We started on Channel 16 because they aired the Japanese anime Battle of the Planets right after sign on. Channel 16, WNDU-TV, was our local NBC station. We had no idea how unusual it was that it was owned by the University of Notre Dame. All we knew was that during sign-on they played a recording of University President Father Theodore Hesburgh reading of the Prayer for Peace of St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

I heard that recording so often that even today I can recite most of this prayer from memory. I haven’t heard that recording in 30 years until someone recently uploaded a 1985 sign-off that included it. Here it is!

I wasn’t raised in the faith. What I saw of Christians as a kid tended to repel me. (Here’s a story about how.) But hearing Father Hesburgh read this gentle prayer on those Saturday mornings gave me hope that perhaps somewhere people lived their faith in these ways. That’d be a faith worth following. When I sought God, I looked for him in people this quiet and humble.

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Photography, Vintage Television

Ozzie and Harriet for Kodak

The post about Ansco film and gear got such a good response that I dusted off this old post about Kodak, as advertised by Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, for you today. Enjoy!

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when a television show had one sponsor, or maybe two; all of an episode’s commercials were for those companies. The show’s open usually incorporated the sponsor, too. When these shows were later syndicated, new “generic” opens had to be prepared that referenced no sponsor, as local stations sold all the commercial time.

One such show I watched in syndication as a boy was The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a 1950s and 1960s family sitcom starring the family of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. A few years ago, someone gave me a big DVD set of episodes as a gift. All of those episodes used the original opens, with the sponsor mentions intact. I learned that for a few years, Kodak was a frequent sponsor.

OzzieEKC
OzzieTitle

Some of those episodes included commercials, and it was very cool to see advertisements for some of the Kodaks I have in my camera collection. Here’s Ozzie pitching the Kodak Brownie Starmatic. You can read about my Starmatic here.

The Nelsons appeared in many of the commercials. Kodak was pushing 35mm color slides hard via the Nelson family. The Signet 50 was a reasonably capable, if awkwardly styled, camera with a built-in light meter. I once owned the Signet 50’s little brother, the Signet 40, and it was a fine performer. Read my review here.

Ozzie and his family didn’t always appear in the Kodak commercials on their show. Here’s a commercial for two more cameras capable of handling slide film, the Retina Reflex and the Pony II. The Retina was at the top of Kodak’s line, and the Pony slotted between the lowly Brownie and the Signet series mentioned above. I’ve owned a Retina Reflex IV (review here) and several Ponies (reviews here, here, and here).

Ozzie and Harriet shilled lesser Kodaks, of course; all the way down to the least-expensive Brownies. They also held forth on the wonders of Kodak films and processing and printing services! But commercials for those things aren’t available on YouTube, so this is all you get.

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Film Photography, Vintage Television

1950s TV commercials for Ansco cameras and films

ansco_box
Pacific Rim Camera photo

Do you remember Ansco cameras and films?

For many decades, Ansco was second only to Kodak in the United States. Headquartered in Binghamton, New York, the company’s history stretched back to 1841. But its peak years were probably the 1950s, when it routinely manufactured two million cameras a year.

Ansco manufactured simple cameras that anyone could operate, and also rebadged as Anscos more fully featured cameras from other makers around the world, including Agfa, Ricoh, and Minolta.

During the 1950s, Ansco advertised its cameras and films on television. Many of its commercials were shot on film, and survive.

Here’s a short spot for Ansco films with a simple jingle. Don’t those harmonies just scream 1950s?

Here’s a spot for three Ansco cameras that took 127 film. Ansco manufactured the two Cadet cameras, but imported the Lancer from a German maker. I had a Lancer in my childhood collection. I never put film into it because its weak latch kept popping open, which would have spoiled the film. I hear that this was a common problem with Lancers.

This spot for Anscochrome color slide film mentions its “big extra margin of sensitivity” that makes up for challenging lighting. It also mentions making prints from slides using the Printon process. You can see a Printon print here, which shows that Anscochrome was a capable film.

If you have boxes full of Anscochrome slides, you’re going to want to project them. So you’ll need an Anscomatic projector!

It cracks me up how formally everybody dressed in these commercials. In the 1950s, did friends really gather casually in each others’ homes wearing suits?

In 1967, Ansco began to favor using the name of its parent, General Aniline and Film, or GAF. It stopped making cameras, instead selling GAF-branded cameras that other companies made. By the late 1970s, the Ansco brand name was sold to a Chinese camera maker.

Readers with keen memories will remember that I originally posted this in 2015. A challenge of a blog that’s about photographically documenting what I’m up to is that a long winter tends to run the well dry. So it has gone this year!

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