John W. Pinkerton

1955 was the beginning of television for me.  I was thirteen and the first broadcast I saw was the World Series, the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  There they were, the pinstriped wonders led by Casey Stengel: Whitey Ford, Bob Grim, Don Larsen, Bob Turley, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto, Eddie Robinson, Bill Skowron, Marv Throneberry, and Mickey Mantle.  Across the field were the Dodgers led by Walter Alston: Carl Erskine, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Don Zimmer, Carl Furillo,  and Duke Snider.

Some of these heroes made a strong impression on me.  Casey Stengel’s face and posture froze for me forever what a baseball manager should be.  I remember when Casey went on to the newly organized, hapless and hopeless New York Mets whose poster boy for their ineptness was the former Yankee’s “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry who as a Met never met a fly ball of which he couldn’t make an error.  Of course there was Whitey Ford, the most feared of the Yankee pitchers with his white hair (Remember television was only black and white in those days.).  And there he was, the kid from Oklahoma, Mickey Mantle who was the heir to the throne recently occupied  by Dimaggio.  Some of the Dodgers made even more of an impression on me:  Don Newcombe, ugly, mean, nasty hurler.  He was my hero among the pitchers.  Don Newcombe set a Major League record of home runs by a pitcher by slugging his seventh home run in his 20th win of the season in 1955.

Roy Campanella, fat, squat, smart catcher.  Yogi went on to be everyone’s favorite because of his honest personality and witty “Yogiisms”: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”  Roy was paralyzed by a tragic accidents in 1958.  I grieved wondering how this could have happened to such a wonderful man.  Actually Roy lived on in to 1983.  Roy Campanella, who will be awarded his third National League MVP Award, drove in three runs to power Johnny Podres to an 8-3 win over the Yankees in Game 3 of the World Series.

Pee Wee Reese became the template for me for infielders: quick, fast, smart with a great nickname.  However,  the guy I remember most was the great Duke Snider:  God gave Duke great talent and the bluest (whitest) eyes ever.  As  WW (Burt Reynolds) said in WW and the Dixie Dance Kings (1975) of Errol Flynn, “ I’m not gay, but if I were to go gay, it would be for that guy.”  That’s a little how I felt about Duke Snider.  I recently saw an interview with him, and his eyes haven’t changed.  Duke Snider became the first Major Leaguer to have four homers in a World Series when he belted two in Game 5 for the 5-3 win over the Yankees.

Actually the first television I ever saw was when I was about seven.  It was at Grandfather Pinkerton’s house in Los Angeles.  As I recall it was a large, dark console box with a round, tiny (6 to 8 inches across), fuzzy, snowy screen.  I could barely make it out, but it was broadcasting a tiny ballerina doing ballerina stuff.  I was not impressed, but 1955 and the World Series was another story.  As I recall Dad had bought a 21” console model Capehart television, the best.  It was great: wonderful blacks, whites, and shades of gray, and it brought me the Yankees and the Dodgers in the World Series: great stuff. 

Central Louisiana first got a television station (KALB) just in time for the 1954 World Series: New York Giants and Cleveland Indians.  Of course I listened to this series on the radio and had no idea that television was available to us.  I was perfectly happy seeing the games on the radio, but I didn’t know that I could have been seeing it on television.  I never asked Dad why he waited a full year to get a TV: in fact, it was only recently that I discovered that the series was available to us via television in ‘54; perhaps he suspected that it might  be a fad.  We lived in the country.  I rode a bus to school and home.  But, I did have a radio.  That TV made me a Brooklyn Dodgers fan forever.  The Dodgers won the series in seven. Forever only lasted through the ‘57 season.  In ‘58 they were the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Not the same...not the same.  Perhaps if Dad had bought a television in time for the ‘54 series, I might have become a Giants or Indians fan.  Horrors.

In ‘55 the only broadcasters were NBC, CBS, and ABC.  KALB was an NBC affiliate.  As I recall, the big shows on Sunday night were The Steve Allen Show, a forerunner of the variety/talk shows to come later, and Goodyear Television Playhouse which alternated with the Alcoa Hour.  These were one hour live broadcasts of dramas.  Holy crap, that was great stuff.

In ‘55 news only happened on Mondays through Fridays and only for 15 minutes each day.  Some days it was the Camel News Caravan.  Other days it was the Plymouth News Caravan.  All the news you could contain for 15 minutes hosted by John Cameron Swayze who apparently had had a lobotomy.  But this 15 minutes of national news was a must for households coast to coast.  Oh yeah, the other 15 minutes of the half hour was used to broadcast The Dinah Shore Show, Tony Martin Show, or Coke Time with Eddie Fisher.  Apparently we needed music before the news.

Monday night featured Caesar’s Hour.  Sid Caesar hosted and performed in a comedy hour.  Sid was very funny, very innovative.  Sid suddenly disappeared from television.  I saw him later in a few film roles, but I think most of his time was occupied by a struggle to overcome alcoholism and barbiturates.  However, I think Sid is still alive.

Tuesday night presented a rotating show: The Milton Berle Show and The Martha Raye Show.  In addition there were the Chevy Show, Armstrong Circle Theatre and Pontiac Presents Playwrights.  Milton Berle was funny, I guess.  Truthfully, he wasn’t a favorite of mine.

Wednesday night featured Screen Director’s Playhouse and Kraft Television Theater as well as Father Knows Best and This Is Your Life.  The title of Father Knows Best tells the entire story and reflected life as I perceived it in the 50’s.  This Is Your Life was an embarrassment  to me even at thirteen.  It was an attempt to tell someone’s life story by surprising them with people from their pasts that in many cases they barely remembered.

Thursday night featured Dragnet, Ford Theatre, and Lux Video TheatreDragnet was great with Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday and Harry Morgan as officer Bill Gannon.  You may remember Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter on Mash.  Dragnet’s catch phrase was “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Friday night presented The Life of Riley and Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.  I got to see Rocky Marciano fights for the last time, recovering from a knockdown to beat world light heavyweight champion Archie Moore by a knockout in round nine and retiring undefeated with 49 wins, 43 by knockout.  Rocky later tragically died in a private plane crash.  I also got to see Sugar Ray Robinson join the exclusive group of fighters who have been world champion three or more times in one division, winning the world middleweight title for the third time, with a second round knockout of champion Carl Olson.  As I recall, we just called the Cavalcade the Friday Night Fights.  I remained a fight fan until George Foreman retired.

Saturday night featured The Perry Como Show, the rotating half hour of Texaco Star Theater, The Jimmy Durante Show, and The Dennis Day Show.  In addition there was The George Gobel Show and Your Hit Parade.  George Gobel, mild-mannered comic, was my favorite comedian on television.  Undoubtedly, few people  remember him today.  Your Hit Parade featured renditions of the top songs of the week: rock-and-roll killed the format.

Other things were going on in the world in 1955: the US started sending $216 million in aid to Vietnam, Richard J. Daley was elected to his first term as mayor of Chicago, Tappan produced the first home microwave ovens which costs $1300 each, West Germany was admitted into NATO, Kentucky Fried Chicken was founded, Crest introduced fluoride toothpaste, William F. Buckley, Jr.’s The National Review appeared, The Village Voice began publication, the first automobile seat belt legislation was enacted in Illinois,  Ray Kroc started McDonalds, the civil defense’s Operation Alert was initiated, Congress authorized all US currency and coins to say “In God We Trust,” Disneyland opened, President Eisenhower took part in the first televised press conference, Albert Einstein died at age 76, and the unemployment rate was 4.4%.

I have to admit that I wasn’t tuned into these facts in late September and early October of 1955.  I was tuned in to the Yankee-Dodgers World Series on our Capehart television...the way it should have been for me and all other thirteen-year old boys.


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