Don’t Sit Too Close to the TV, Johnny…

Johnny-on-the Spot … by John Foster

How about talking about something other than Afghanistan or COVID-19?

Things were different when I grew up.

Fist of all, the television was all black and white and you actually had to leave your seat to change channels.

We had test patterns on the screen because programming often ended before midnight and didn’t return until the next morning.

If you were lucky, in northern Ohio you had 3 stations in Cleveland that you could zero in on with your “rabbit ears” antenna on the top of the set.

The real “techies” of my generation had antennas on towers attached to their houses and maybe a Channel Master antenna rotor to bring in other “out-of-market” stations, like Columbus or Toledo.

Most of the times we squinted at grainy, grey features and figures on the screen.

But Saturday morning was set aside for kids in the 50’s.

The networks saw an opportunity to target children to sell toys and breakfast cereals early in the 1950’s so they offered programming geared to youngsters.

Captain Kangaroo with Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Rabbit and Grandfather Clock kept us amused early on.

From 1953 to 1957, some of us were entertained with “the first interactive television program” as Microsoft’s Bill Gates once said.

“Winky Dink and You” aired Saturday mornings at 10:30AM on CBS.

“Winky Dink” was a cartoon character, noted for his plaid pants, his star-shaped, toussled hair and big eyes.

His dog sidekick was Woofer”.

He was voiced by Jack Barry, who gained fame as a game show host and was entangled in the quiz show scandal of the mid-50’s.

Barry was connected with shows like “Juvenile Jury”, “Joker’s Wild”, “Twenty-One” and “Tic-Tac Dough” and is infamous for his involvement with the Charles Van Doren scandal.

Although his business partners actually performed the “crime”, Barry was aware of it.

On “Winky Dink”, Barry was teamed with “Mr. Bungle”, played by veteran child show actor Dayton Allen.

Allen gained fame as one of the “men in the street” interviews on the old Steve Allen Show with his line, the dramatically drawn out “Why not, Bubbe?”

Allen also provided the voice for “Phineas T. Bluster” and “Flub-a-Dub” on the old Howdy Doody Show.

He was also the voice for “Deputy Dawg”, “Heckle and Jeckle” and later as “Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp”.

Another veteran voice actress, Mae Questel did the voice for “Winky Dink”.

She was the voice for Betty Boop and Olive Oyl and Aunt Bluebell on an old Scott Towels commercial campaign.

But, you may remember her best as old and senile Aunt Bethany in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.

(“Is Rusty still in the Navy?”)

As I said earlier, “Winky Dink” was television’s first interactive show because you had to put a cellulose acetate film on the screen and use crayons to help get the star out of different fixes and challenges.

Sometimes we had to make a bridge across a river, or hang a rope from a tree branch that Winky Dink could swing to safety on or even build a cage to hold a dangerous animal, like a lion.

Sometimes we had to “connect the dots” to reveal a secret message

You could get the “basic” Winky Dink “Magic Window Kit” for 50 cents and it included the static-cling plastic sheet and “magic crayons”.

More than two million were sold in the first year.

There was also a Deluxe Wink Dink Kit that not only included the “magic screen protector”, but also had extra “magic crayons” and a handy wiping cloth.

The show was a smash until the “Karens’ of the 50’s” raised concerns over x-rays from television picture tubes, especially the early model color TV models.

Also, some parents griped that their kids didn’t wait for their “Magic Window Kit” and drew directly on television screens, sometimes even using permanent markers.

Oops!

I spent a fair amount of time, close to the TV helping Winky Dink and I don’t think I suffered any lasting bad effects from dangerous rays.

I never thought it was strange that I could read in bed at night with the lights from the glow of my body.

I thought that was from the strontium-90 radioactive isotopes from nuclear testing in those days that cows were gobbling up while they grazed in the grass and transferred to me in their milk.

So, “Winky Dink” went away and Jack Barry turned to a career as a television game show host.

In the 1990’s, they tried to bring “Winky Dink” back with a new “Winky Dink” kit with a screen film and crayons but it fizzled.

But we kids in the 50’s had more vivid imaginations .

And, by the way, Rusty is not in the Navy today.

But we “Winky-Dinkers” could draw him a raft if he fell overboard.

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