A time when black and white TV had just enough color

January 5, 2014 

We were watching the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day on our 48-inch, wall-mounted, Samsung LED TV. In High Def.

The flowers on the floats were unbelievably vivid in red, blue, yellow and every color in the crayon box.

It wasn't always that way.

Here's an interesting fact for you: The first coast-to-coast color TV broadcast was the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1, 1954.

Of course, few people actually saw it in color because the first color televisions didn't go on sale widely in the United States until Feb. 28 of that year. (I looked it up.)

At our house, we didn't see the Rose Parade or any other color TV show until the late '60s. We might never have gotten a color set if Pop hadn't won a color TV in a church raffle. It was the same TV Pop had for the next 30-odd years.

No, Pop said, black and white was just fine for the Kuhls. The big square Zenith in our TV room had a red body holding the tube. So, at least I could truthfully tell my friends we had a color TV. Red.

All of our favorite shows were in black and white anyway, so I guess it didn't really matter. "Gunsmoke." "Perry Mason." "Dragnet." "Sea Hunt." "I Love Lucy."

I knew Lucy was a ditzy redhead, even though I never saw her red mane. After all, my sister was a redhead and sometimes she acted just like Lucy.

Just a couple of weeks ago, CBS aired a colorized version of "I Love Lucy," but I didn't watch it. Why would anyone want to mess with perfection?

The can't-miss show at our house was "The Red Skelton Show." I did ask Pop once why they called Mr. Skelton Red. Sure enough, it was the hair. Who knew?

Every Tuesday night, our whole family would gather 'round the big red Zenith in the TV room. It used to be called the family room, but we renamed the whole room after the new arrival.

Pop sat in the big easy chair to watch. Mom took the wicker rocker. We could cram three or four on the couch, depending on if they were sitting or stacked like a sandwich. One could sit on the radiator (if it wasn't turned on. Youch!). The rest would end up on the floor, either with the big pillow Mom had stuffed with old socks or without, depending on who called "pillow" (the precursor to "shotgun") first.

It wasn't just Red who mesmerized us. It was all of his characters: Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddy the Freeloader, San Fernando Red, Sheriff Deadeye and the Mean Widdle Kid. We could do all their voices. I did a pretty darn good Mean Widdle Kid impersonation. My sister said I was a natural. So I punched her in the arm and called her Freckles.

It was neat to hear Mom and Pop laughing out loud. We memorized all Red's best jokes and told them over and over.

Like the time the Mean Widdle Kid begged his mom and dad to take him to see his pastor right away.

Mean Widdle Kid: "Pastor, didn't you say that before we're born, we're just dust?"

Pastor: "That's right, Johnny."

MWK: "Pastor, didn't you say that when we die, our bodies turn to dust?''

Pastor: "Yes, Johnny, that's what the Bible says."

MWK: "Well, then, you better come over to my house and look under my bed 'cause somebody's either comin' or goin'."

Pop did a pretty convincing Clem Kadiddlehopper and my brother and Freddy the Freeloader seemed to have a lot in common.

But our favorite part was Gertrude and Heathcliffe. These were the two seagulls Red would bring to life by sticking his thumbs in his armpits, flapping his arms like wings and doing funny bird voices to tell stupid human jokes. We had more Heathcliffes in our family than Gertrudes, but we could all flap our wings and do the voices.

Gertrude: "I heard Jack Benny had to get rid of all his baby chickens."

Heathcliffe: "You don't say ... How come?"

Gertrude: "He couldn't get them to stop saying 'Cheap. Cheap.'"

And, Heathecliffe: "Gertrude, why is that stork standing on one leg?"

Gertrude: "Because if he lifted that leg, he'd fall over."

It would be a lot funnier if you could see my wings flapping. In black and white.

I guess Pop was wrong about the color TV fad. But I'm glad black and white TV didn't make my childhood any less colorful.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service