Back in the day, television stations often showed some type of lunchtime show for kids with cartoons and shenanigans.
It was especially common practice in larger cities, where kids walked home from neighborhood schools for an actual lunch hour.
There were after school kiddie shows, and many were also shown later in the evening while mom was fixing supper.
By the time I was old enough to remember, such kiddie shows on TV were starting to dwindle. Only a few locally owned stations still had the type of shows where cartoons were shown – mainly because a group of individuals had banded together and suggested what children’s television should look like.
Those folks thought pies in the face and silly shenanigans shouldn’t be something kids were subjected to all day long, if indeed they spent a lot of time in front of the TV. Shows needed to be educational.
I’ve talked about this topic before, and those of us who grew up in Southern Illinois, Northwestern Kentucky, and parts of Missouri might recall a local show on WSIL out of Harrisburg or on KPOB in Poplar Bluff.
It was called “Cactus Pete’s Funny Company” and was one of the first shows televised by the new stations in 1953. Cactus was some sort of crusty old miner or ranch hand, and he called the viewers “Buckaroos.” Shows like “Clutch Cargo” and of course “The Funny Company” cartoons were shown during this half-hour. In between, Cactus would read viewer mail, introduce guests, and also tell corny jokes.
On weekends, Cactus might appear at supermarket openings or Saturday matinees at the local theater. He was a huge celebrity around our neck of the woods.
I barely remember watching Cactus on Channel 3. By the time I was old enough to remember much, a guy named “Uncle Briggs” had taken over for Cactus and was played by the guy who did sports or weather on the local newscast.
Uncle Briggs, much like Cactus, showed old cartoons. But he also showed “The Three Stooges, ”“Charlie Chaplin” and “The Little Rascals.”
I remember when they used to show a disclaimer of sorts before each “Stooges” segment; something to the effect that kids shouldn’t be bopping each other over the head or poking each other’s eyeballs like Moe and Curly.
Even as kids, we said “Really?”
I was telling my son about “The Little Rascals” this weekend, and I thought I’d search for it on Youtube. Sure enough, there it was. We watched and laughed our patooties off.
During the summer months on WEHT out of Evansville, Ind., that station would show a lunch time “Little Rascals” show for about 30 minutes. It was long enough for us kids to run inside, cool off a bit and scarf down lunch. Then, we’d head out to the porch or to our bikes and discuss the episodes we’d seen a million times.
When my son and I watched that little bit, starring Chubby, Jackie and Miss Crabtree, I was reminded of some things. Sure, I was reminded how funny it was. But I also remembered what I thought as a kid: Why was it OK to nickname that kid Chubby?
There were more things that came to mind as we watched. And after the Youtube clip ended, another one came up. This particular episode was the one where Brisbane and some of the other fellas swap places with orphans on a train, just so they could take a ride, eat lots of food served on the train, and sleep overnight. Train travel was attractive to kids, I guess.
Orphans being transported by train is something you don’t see or hear about anymore. And I’m even wondering if the word “orphan” is offensive. If it is, forgive me for not knowing.
There was Stymie, the Little Rascal who constantly talked about his mammy hitting his pappy, also talking about how much time his pappy stayed in jail. He spoke about being hungry and poor, but heck, so did the other kids.
However, Stymie said things like “My oh my” and said words like “Sho” instead of “sure.” Back then, I had no idea it was offensive or wrong. I just thought Stymie was another funny kid in the gang. I don’t remember thinking that anything was wrong about the way Stymie was portrayed.
Back then, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the dialogue or scenarios he was given. Later, we imitated “Buckwheat” right along with Eddie Murphy.
I can completely understand why these “Little Rascal” shows aren’t shown these days. I can see how offensive the characters of Stymie, Buckwheat and Farina were. It disturbs me that people didn’t know better and characters such as this added to a terrible societal pattern.
But I also feel that showing such clips from the past is important because I think new generations need to see what happened and what role the entertainment industry played in prejudice and creating a problem that is still being fought today.
I think the old clips need to be used to teach and start discussions. Could it be done in a tasteful way? It would take someone smarter than I to figure that one out.
I also think if it were done well, some of the shorts could be edited and worked with, just so kids could see how funny some of it was. I’m wondering if there were any that were just straight up funny without anything offensive. Maybe not.
I also wish we could look at some of the messages that were brought forth in some of those episodes, whether they were intentional or not.
All of the kids played together and treated one another the same. They were pals, regardless of what they looked like or where they came from. They went to the same schoolhouse to learn, and their teacher treated them all the same. They shared with one another and were loyal to one another. The kids in those early movies looked out for one another. Like I said, maybe it was intentional and maybe it wasn’t.
Regardless of the negatives, I always think there are valuable lessons that can be learned if we look closely enough.