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What makes us who we are? When we are caught misbehaving who do we point fingers at? In trying to find the culprits involved in shaping my persona, I have previously examined the children’s show “Andy’s Gang” with it’s rascally thing called “Froggy the Gremlin” who appeared when Andy Devine declared “Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy.” Lot of Freud couch time for that expression.
Today I will examine another TV show called “Winky Dink and You“.
Each week there was some sort of puzzle to figure out by completing the picture on the TV. And each week you would help Winky Dink complete a mission. You could do this if you purchased the magic Winky Dink drawing screen which turned out to be a piece of vinyl plastic that you put on the TV screen. Then you took the magic crayon that came with it and drew on the TV. An example would be Winky Dink needing a bridge to cross a river. You would draw the bridge. This seems to be one of the first examples of interactive games on something like a TV.
More often than not, the kids could not get there parents to fork over the dough for the magic screen. And I too could not convince my parents of the necessity of the screen. Times were supposedly good and idyllic back in the 1950s, but my Dad did not make a lot of money. We were always told that we couldn’t afford this or that. But somehow he managed to take flying lessons. But that’s another part of the puzzle to be looked at later.
In this instance, it may have been that the whole Winky Dink thing was stupid and our parents just did not want to participate in this consumer scam. But we had a way of getting around this. Mom’s lipstick seemed to be a very good substitute for the magic crayon. And why did you need a magic piece of plastic when you could just draw on the TV screen?
A lot of kids, I hear, got whacked for drawing on the brand new TV especially the not so bright ones who used permanent ink instead of something that could be easily wiped off. I too received a bit of scolding. But at least my father agreed that he didn’t see the need to purchase some thingamajig when we could maybe use waxed paper.But that wasn’t great. We tried holding up a piece of glass while one of us used the crayon. But that was way too much labor for the not very interesting puzzle anyway. I vaguely recall that we finally got our 50¢ Winky Dink Kit and also recall become immediately bored with it.
I think there must have been a lot of complaints from parents and that might have been one of the reasons it went off the air. But it was another example for me anyway of ways to not follow the rules and to invent a way around the system. It was much more fun and creative than the actual kit. And my Dad helped. Disobedience, as Martha would say, is a good thing.
There are quite a few lines in the incredibly visually rich movie “Nebraska” that resonated with me. Though the characters speak few words, when they do, you listen. It’s funny how most of us don’t think too much about our parents’ inner lives until we are much older and when it’s almost too late as they “can’t remember” when you ask questions. But David “Davey” Grant gets to have a few exchanges with his father, Woody, that move this story along emotionally. One such exchange is when they are looking out on to Nebraska farm land with the round bales of hay lying across the horizon and the pasture dotted with black Angus cows.
David asks his father:
“Did you ever want to farm like your dad?”
“I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter.”
In the script David asks again if his dad had it to do all over would he have stayed here and farmed. Woody replies that you can’t “do it all over”.
But people try to “do it all over” in many different ways. When I was an actor and director in New York City in the 1980s, I directed plays by a wonderful playwright Jack Heifner. Jack’s play “Vanities” held the record for longest Off Broadway run for quite a few years. It is what made Kathy Bates a star. I directed a one act play of his called “Twister”. It was about a small plain town in Texas that is wiped away by a tornado. It looked a lot like the desolate town of Hawthorn in “Nebraska”. There are only two people left, Betty and Roy. When they find each other after the storm, Roy says he wants to find their stuff like her stuffed animals and a mattress and then bring them to where their house used to be. He wants to rebuild it exactly like it was. Betty doesn’t want any of the “stuff” because it’s just junk. She wants to go away and have a brand new prettier life. She wants to be born again. At the end she leaves and Roy is left alone with the rubble.
Jack returns to this born again theme in several of his plays. There are many times that people want to reinvent themselves and be “born again”. Sometimes it’s as simple as going off to college or moving to another town or state. Sometimes it’s getting a divorce and starting a supposedly new life.
More often than not no one can do a complete do over of themselves unless they are actually making it all up like a grifter or con artist or someone mentally ill like Cate Blanchett’s character in “Blue Jasmine” who announces “People reinvent themselves….I met someone. I’m a new person.” But for most people, you don’t really reinvent yourself, but you can come to terms with who you really are. Carl Jung called this process “individuation”. It’s “getting to know you, getting to know all about you.” It’s accepting the quirks that make you an individual while at the same time seeing what makes you part of the whole of humanity. In the Bible, Paul says that we are “all of one body, with gifts differing.” We each have different gifts but together we make a whole. Good marriages and partnerships work that way.
In “Nebraska” “Davey” Grant finds out a whole lot about gifts and giving on this road trip with his dad. He has inherited his Dad’s kindness and sense of humor and that’s the payoff. Is it better than a million bucks? Doesn’t matter. It’s a great story.
INT: AT THE BAR IN A WESTERN SALOON – PRESENT DAY – NIGHT
“Howdy Mam, You’re not from around here are you?
“Well, yes I am. I live three miles East of town with my husband and raise Hereford cattle.
She smiles and takes a sip of Pinot Grigio.
Yeh, but you weren’t always from here, were ya?
The woman swivels around in the bar stool, unwraps a gorgeous large scarf, and faces her inquisitor square in the eye:
“Well, Pardner, you got me there. It’s a long story, but let me buy ya a drink and I’ll try and give it to you short and straight.”
This exchange happens about every week. Some stranger at the local watering hole in Little Twig, Montana asks the woman, that is, me, those questions. Not sure whether it’s the hat I’ve got on, or the cat’s eye glasses, or the designer scarf, or what, but I get spotted for an outsider right away. Oh, and, before we go any further most people don’t talk in Old Timey kind of jargon. That’s just how I hear it in my head sometimes.
I could begin my story by telling the tale of how I met a rancher while visiting a movie set in Montana and soon after got the boot from a Hollywood talent agency and ended up moving to the ranch.
Or I could begin my story when I stopped working on my doctoral dissertation on “The Actor’s Studio’s Influence on Film” and flew the coop to try and act and direct plays in New York City.
Or further back yet to watching “Smilin’ Ed’s Gang” that I called “The Buster Brown Show” because it was sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes. “Buster Brown, he lives in a shoe. Here’s his dog Tige, he lives there too.” When Ed died, Andy Devine took over and it became “Andy’s Gang”. “I’ve got a gang. You’ve got a gang. Everybody’s got to have a gang.” Both shows featured Squeaky the Mouse, Midnight the Cat (a very creepy black cat with a real head and fake paws), and most memorably for me, Froggy the Gremlin.
Each week Froggy would be summoned by Andy with a strange command: “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy.” And Froggy would appear in a puff of smoke on top of the grandfather clock and greet the kids with a deep gravelly bass voice, “Hiya kids, hiya, hiya, hiya.”
He would do something horrible to an adult each week. Then he would hop up and down and say, “I promise to be good, I will, I will, I will. For example:
MONSIEUR BON BON (with French accent)
So you take zee noodles and mix them with zee red tomato sauce….
FROGGY (who appears on top of the clock)
And you pour it on your head.
MONSIEUR BON BON
And you pour it on your head.
(and he pours it on his head)
Oh noooooo! Look what you have done.
FROGGY (hopping about)
Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I am, I am. I promise to be good. I will, I will, I will.
The next week, the guest is a scientist.
SCIENTIST (with German accent)
You take de tube of sulfuric acid…
And you pour it in your ear.
And you pour it in your ear.
(And he pours it in his ear and smoke comes out of it)
OOOOH NOOOO! Look what you made me do.
FROGGY (Hopping about)
I promise to be good. I will, I will, I will.
Froggy stirred things up and every week proved that adults were a bunch of boobs. Also, Froggy liked to say to Andy, “You big square!” So Froggy had more than a bit of beatnik in him too. That was some cool gremlin. Be bop a do. No wonder I dreamed of being a real hip cat and blowin’ each current pop stand I was inhabiting.
When I think about this show that encourages defying authority and at the same time preaches the importance of solidarity as in being part of a gang, it’s no wonder some parents viewed this as wicked and subversive. Well, because it was…subversive that is. I especially liked the subversive part at the end of the show when Andy would tell all the kids after they had watched Froggy do his magic, “Remember to go to church this week and Sunday school.” Oh right, that’s the ticket. Sin all week and then make sure you go to church to even the odds.
So with family runaways like Aunt Dorothy in fox furs and Grandpa who stowed away in a ship’s hold to get to America as role models and a mentor like Froggy, how could I not become a little anarchist with a tendency to try to escape the cage called adulthood? Hey, I’m sorry, I am, I am, I am!
Further study on Froggy and Friends: