The Magic Of Television

The Magic Of Television Took 
Hold Of America In The 1950's

Magic took hold of America in the 1950's. Across the country in the fading light of day, millions of families sat hypnotized in front of flickering TV sets, huddling around the glowing black and white tube as if it were an electronic fire keeping away the demons of the night.

Americans watched in awe and suspicion as those first magical images pouring forth from their brand new TV sets. And the world was never the same. Now people could sit on their living room couch and get glimpses of opera, serious drama and newly created TV stars. 

Into American awareness came comedy headliners Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Sid Ceasar. Sing-ers like Kate Smith, Eddie Fisher, Dinah Shore, and Perry Como crooned to millions of captivated TV viewers who, for the first time, saw the person that went with the voice they heard on the radio.

Captain Video with his blazing ray guns led thousands of kid viewers on amazing outer space adventures every afternoon at 4 PM on the Dumont TV network. Howdy Doody, Rootie Kazootie and Kukla, Fran and Ollie were instant TV puppet pals for American babyboomer children hypnotized by the flickering black and white images.

Music lovers adored Liberace, loved Julius LaRosa, swooned over Korla Pandit and turned cowboy singer/movie star Gene Autry into the owner of a multi-million dollar entertainment empire including professional sports, TV stations, a western mu-seum, and other lucrative holdings. 

For the first time in history, we saw news events as they happened. John Cameron Swayze, the cigarette smoking announcer on NBC's nightly 15 minute "Camel News Caravan" was a welcome guest each evening in millions of American homes. Using grainy black and white still pictures and days-old news film, the broadcast brought the world into our homes and changed our lives forever.

Live drama, born of economic necessity and primitive production equipment filled hours of network prime time program-ming with performances from James Dean, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, James Caan, Richard Kiley, JoAnne Woodward, E.G. Marshall, and others who got their start lighting up 19 inch black and white TV screens with their talent. 

Boxing, roller derby, baseball, wrestling, basketball and football became national obsessions. Fans everywhere gathered re-ligiously at TV sets in bars, department stores and restaurants to see their favorites fight for victory.

TV programming's mix of art, entertainment, culture, information, and commerce gave us a look at our world in a way no newspaper, magazine, newsreel, or radio broadcast could match. Seeing events happening live brought the world into our homes where we couldn't escape it.

As one TV critic put it, "the printing press five hundred years ago made learning available to all, now television is making experience universal. Comedian Bob Hope called TV "a piece of furniture that stares back at you."

It took TV a while to become a common item in American homes. In the late 20's, a jittery portrait of a popular cartoon star, Felix the Cat --flickered onto a 2 inch square screen as the first TV program. By the end of 1930, engineers came up with a 25 square inch screen and Americans got their first public look at TV.

Tens of thousands of antennas sprouted like aluminum weeds from rooftops. The first family on the block to get a TV set be-came over-run with neighbors who stopped in to get a glimpse of the TV. 

Each evening, chairs would be arranged in the living room so everyone could see the blurry, black and white images on a TV screen smaller than the cover of Time magazine held sideways. Nobody talked during the program, not even when the com-mercials came on. TV was the most exciting, revolutionary invention America had ever experienced.