BABY BOOMER BABBLE
My favorite childhood critters
Animal actors have been an integral part of the TV generation. Plopped down in front of that box, animals became some of baby boomers best friends. Here were some of my favorite critters.
I really did like Lassie. What a dog! I’ve never seen a collie behave quite that well. Lassie existed as early as 1938, but didn’t come to television until 1954. The TV series continued until 1973. As an interesting side note, all the Lassie’s were male, playing female parts. As far as dogs go, I also liked Petey on the Little Rascals. A pit bull, Petey has been getting a bad rap as of late. The yellow lab on “Old Yeller” jerked many a tear, and who could forget Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepard, Duke, a bloodhound from The Beverly Hillbillies, Benji, a mixed breed, and Toto, from The Wizard of Oz. There have been a lot of celebrity dogs over the years, most of whom stole the show.
Mr. Ed, now there was a horse. Big Browns got nothing on Mr. Ed. A Palomino American Saddlebred, Mr. Ed’s real name was Bamboo Harvester. Mr. Ed ran on TV from 1961-66. Wilbur was the horses owner. Mr. Ed would only speak to Wilbur, which was pretty much the stories plot. The voice of Mr. Ed was played be cowboy star Allan Lane. Mr. Ed’s first words were, “It’s been a long time since I was a pony.” Mae West once made a guest appearance, making a “big” impression on me.
Another famous talking animal was Francis the Talking Mule, starring in six movies from 1950-55. Francis would also only talk to one person, a GI played by Donald O’Connor. The voice of Francis was played by Chill Willis. The mules actual name was Molly.
Who could forget the duck on the Groucho Marx game show, “You Bet Your Life?” The game show appeared on TV from 1950-61. Groucho became known for his fast one-liners, often ad-libbing responses to the contestants. One such famous ad-lib involved a contestant with 12 children. In response to Marx asking the contestant why she had so many children, say replied, “Because I love children.” Marx answered, “And I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth every once-in-a-while.” The duck dressed like Marx, with heavy eyebrows, mustache, glasses, and a cigar. When a contestant said the secret word, the duck wold make an appearance and the contestant would win $100, which was a lot of money in those days. I couldn’t find a name for the duck. I suppose it was another of Groucho’s brothers.
“Green Acres” featured Arnold the Pig. The real life stars on the series were Eddie Arnold, born in Rock Island, and Eva Gabor. It ran on TV from 1965-71. Arnold was actually several different pigs used over the shows run. All the pigs were trained by Frank Inn and purchased in Mooreville, Indiana. Arnold could write his name, play the piano, and predict the weather with his tail. Or so they say. He looked just like any other pork chop to me.
Captain Kangaroo’s right-hand man was Mr. Green Jeans, who was actor Hugh Brannum, born in Sandwich, Illinois. Captain Kangaroo aired on CBS from 1955-84. Mr. Green Jeans got his name by always wearing green jeans. He was also an avid outdoors men, and would often bring various animals to the show. One was a goat, leading me to a lifetime interest in goats. In fact, I know a lot of old goats.
I would have to say my favorite all-time TV critter would have to be Flub-A-Dub, from the Howdy Doody Show, which aired on NBC from 1947-60. Flub-A-Dub was captured by Buffalo Bob on a make-believe hunting trip to South America. He was given to Clarabell as a pet. Flub-A-Dub was a combination of eight different animals-a duck’s bill, a cat’s whiskers, a cocker spaniel’s ears, a giraffe’s neck, a dachshunds body, a seal’s flippers, a raccoon’s tail, and an elephant’s memory. Flub-A-Dub liked meatballs. It is said spaghetti became a popular kids item because of this. I adopted the Flub for my column, The Flub-A-Dub Award, which ran in The Zephyr for ten years. The Flub, and Flubbing, have been an important part of my life since my birth in 1948. I’ve been Flubbing, one way or another, ever since.
(A special thanks to Mark Hebard for the critters idea).