Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, with yet another nostalgia piece. If I seem to write a lot of these, chalk it up to my age (75 next month) and the fact that I’ve already written close to 300 posts for this blog. I’ve got to go with the ideas that come to me.
So, this one goes back to my childhood in the 1950s. We had a television set quite early on. Not everyone did. I should add that we listened to the radio a lot, too. My mother always had Don MacNeil’s Breakfast Club playing on the radio in the morning. We tuned to WVOS (Voice of Sullivan County) for local news. It was in a broadcast on that station that I heard that my grandparents’ farm (sold out of the family and standing empty) had burned down. Not too much later, I listened to DJs out of New York City while I did my homework. Cousin Brucie was part of a lot of teenagers’ lives.
That said, TV shows were what captured my imagination early on and led to my first attempts at writing what today would be called fan-fic. 1950s television was pretty clean-cut. I can’t remember ever being told I couldn’t watch a program, although one time when I was babysitting, the kid’s mother asked me to change the channel from a movie that was on. I wish I could remember what one. It was probably pretty harmless.
I watched a lot of TV with my mother. Her favorites were Perry Mason and The Mel Tormé Show and I blithely co-opted real people as well as characters to play roles in my imaginary worlds. Early on I watched Lassie and Howdy Doody and I suppose I watched The Mickey Mouse Club, although I don’t really remember that. I know I was (with two friends) a member of the Mighty Mouse Fan Club. There were lots of westerns. I remember watching The Lone Ranger, Maverick, Wagon Train, and Annie Oakley, but none of those characters made it into the fan-fic. Neither did the heroes of various series that were part of the Disney franchise—Swamp Fox, Zorro, Davy Crockett, and others I can’t now recall. I did, of course, have a coonskin cap.
The shows that made the biggest impression on me had ensemble casts and featured, albeit in secondary roles, women. Dale Evans got almost equal billing with Roy Rogers. On Sky King there was Sky’s niece, Penny. I did like westerns, but my real favorites were the early space operas. Flash Gordon and Dale Arden turned up on TV when old movies were shown, but there were also a few new shows that featured trips into outer space long before the dawn of Star Trek.
Most people today have never heard of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. It ran from January 1954 to December 1955 for 39 episodes. I have to admit that the episodes available on DVDs and streaming don’t hold up all that well. But at the time they were just the sort of thing to spark a kid’s imagination. I loved everything about that show, from the sound effects of the rocket ship taking off to the fact that there was not only a strong female character in the crew but also a kid in a recurring role. In fact, there were several episodes in which the kid, Bobby, and a girl from another planet were responsible for saving the day.
The Orbit Jet was very spacious inside. So was the space station it docked with on long trips. But getting back to female role models—Vena Ray was Uhura before there was an Uhura. She had a responsible job as navigator aboard the Orbit Jet and did a pretty good job of looking out for herself. This being the ’50s, the costume department put her in a very short skirt, something that remained a hallmark of Science Fiction programming for far too long. Still—career woman. No husband. Not expected to cook or clean for the guys. No wonder I liked her.
Interestingly enough, one of the principal villains in the series was also female, an evil planetary ruler named Cleolanta.
What TV shows do you remember from your preteen years?
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.