One day in the 1970s, my sister and I, both twenty-somethings, were visiting my father’s house. We flicked on the TV. For some reason, the local station departed from its standard routine and played something we’d never seen before: one of the dramas uniquely featured in the 1950s. There were a few of these “anthology series”: Playhouse 90, Studio One, General Electric Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Philco Television Playhouse and several others. They featured individual dramas with a new cast each week; they were not the formulaic series that had become rigorously standard by the 1960s, with every show employing the same cast in new scripts. (I won’t embed it here, but for an example of what these dramas could be like, I’ll recommend Playhouse 90’s The Comedian from 1957 on YouTube.)
I don’t recall which anthology series my sister and I encountered that day, or the name of the play. But I do know that for the next 60 minutes—or was it 90?—we sat spellbound, watching one of the best-written, best-acted dramas we’d ever seen. We were somewhat “literate” regarding drama, because my father was a salesman, and his company always gave him tickets to take customers to plays in Boston—which was Broadway’s “trial run” city for new shows. When Dad’s customers couldn’t make it, the family got to go, so we spent many a night viewing Broadway’s best at the Schubert, Wilbur, and Colonial theaters.
After the TV drama finished, my sister and I discussed it at length. Why was it, we asked, that television no longer featured high-quality entertainment like that? We didn’t quite realize it, but we had just stepped in and out of a personal Twilight Zone moment—a trip into the lost “Golden Age of Television.“
Of course, we had tasted the “Golden Age” in real time (my family succumbed to social pressures and bought its first television set in 1955 or 1956)—but my sister and I were then only ready mostly for the kiddie shows.
For decades, TV’s “Golden Age” was, and still is by many, remembered nostalgically. Though many of my younger readers won’t know them, some of the best-loved staples were I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and Leave It to Beaver. What made that era so memorable? Sure, it was new and innovative at the time, and shows were often live instead of prerecorded (adding an appeal of unpredictability). Initially, audience laughter was almost always genuine instead of “canned.” But I credit a more profound reason for the attraction.
About 10 years ago, I was looking over the 1959 TV lineup. There were only three networks back then, hence just three competing choices. Yet my eyes got a little misty as I realized that if I were transported to 1959, I’d be more conflicted trying to decide “which show to watch” than with the literally hundreds of choices cable TV was offering. (This has recently changed somewhat, due to the increasing arrival of networks like MeTV, which air vintage shows, helping ensure senior citizens stay just as distracted as the younger denizens of “the Matrix.”)
I believe what made that era’s shows so appealing was essentially their morality. 1950s television permitted no cursing or sex scenes; any violence wasn’t graphic. Furthermore, most shows’ plots ended with a positive moral lesson. Honesty, respect for others, “doing the right thing,” self-control, and other virtues were upheld. Superman began every episode reminding children that Superman fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”
On 50s TV, crime couldn’t pay. (Alfred Hitchcock had a uniquely clever way of circumventing this rule on his show; the criminals would often “get away with it,” but in his epilogue, Hitch would dryly remark that they were later caught and paid their debt to society.)
Although Leave It to Beaver became, in recent years, a favorite target for ridicule by jaded comedians, when I attended elementary school my classmates avidly watched it. Almost every story presented a right-or-wrong choice for Beaver (and/or his brother Wally). Temptation usually came from Wally’s friend Eddie Haskell, and sound advice from the brothers’ father, Ward Cleaver. In retrospect, Eddie and Ward seemed to loosely symbolize the counsel of Lucifer and God. I find it interesting that, in real life, actor Ken Osmond (Eddie) went on to become a Los Angeles policeman, and actor Hugh Beaumont (Ward) held a Master’s Degree in Theology and was licensed to preach by the Methodist Church.1 The cast clearly included some righteous dudes.
So why did all this change? It certainly wasn’t because Americans demanded that cursing, sex and gore be added to their TV diet. As a journalist for three decades, and student of “the New World Order” for four, I’ve realized that 1950s television was a carefully set trap. To lure a mouse into the trap, you’ve got to insert some cheese.
In this case, the “cheese” was television’s façade as a positive tool that would teach your children integrity and uplifting life perspectives. And that’s just what it did (even though it occasionally pushed messages a bit to the left of America’s center). I believe the nostalgia Americans generally feel for the 1950s is based largely on the values society held, and that television was in fact reinforcing those values by presenting strong role models.
If you watch The Honeymooners, the show was hilarious, but Ralph would almost invariably learn a life lesson along the way, classically hugging his forgiving wife with the closing words, “Baby, you’re the greatest!”
Even with the conniving Sergeant Bilko (1955-59), the earlier episodes usually ended with a heartfelt message—such as Bilko expressing regrets at having cheated someone—whereas by the final season everything was strictly for laughs at the sergeant’s cunning and greed; the ratings dropped and the show was cancelled.
American society was prevailingly Christian then. To get television into those households required presenting it as a purveyor of Christian morals, however repugnant that may have been to studio heads’ true feelings.
The very first hit song ever introduced on TV was 1953’s “I Believe,”2 all about faith in God. I don’t think a video clip of the original telecast exists, but here’s the song, which reached #2 on the charts:
Wink Martindale’s cover of “The Deck of Cards” hit No. 7 on the 1959 Billboard charts:
Church, God, and positive portrayals of ministers were standard in the 1950s. When my wife asked what I wanted for a gift last Christmas, I suggested a DVD collection of 17 Studio One (1948-58) dramas, which included the first-ever filming of Orwell’s 1984. While I can’t say I found all the episodes commendable, the godly references in some struck me. In “The Strike,” an army major in the Korean War gets very theological with the chaplain after learning a patrol he’s sent out must be sacrificed in an inevitable air strike. In another, “The Death and Life of Larry Benson,” a family has joyfully learned that their son was not killed in Korea as first reported. But when they reach the train station, they discover their “son” is actually a mentally troubled GI, a battlefield friend who had taken on their son’s identity. After initial shock and rejection, they accept him into their family, and the father, who had previously given up on God, heads with the others to church as the bells ring.
Last year, Turner Classic Movies played several “lost” TV performances of the highly talented, ill-fated James Dean. One feature I caught was “Harvest,” an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents. Dean played a farmboy; when his grandfather dies, the soundtrack plays the song version of The Lord’s Prayer. At the teleplay’s finish, when the family has gathered for Thanksgiving, overcoming distance, hardships, and distractions to do so, the father (Ed Begley) says the following prayer:
Lord, we thank Thee for this wonderful feast. On this day of Thanksgiving, we have much to be grateful for. We thank Thee for all the good things that have come our way this past year; we thank Thee that we may all be together here today. All our sons, and our son Joe’s wife, and our grandchildren; and Lord we thank Thee that our son Chuck has come home to stay [Chuck kisses his mother]. And Lord, don’t let me ever forget again what Grandpa always used to say: You got to set your hopes on tomorrow. Amen.
I’m certainly not suggesting that all “Golden Age” content was openly Christian; it wasn’t. But with words like these issuing from the neighbor’s TV screen, what Christian family wouldn’t rush out to buy a set of their own? And so they did.
I suspect the South’s Bible Belt was particularly distrustful of television, as it would be of anything that smelled of “Yankee.” It is my personal belief that this is why the series The Gray Ghost premiered in 1957, all about the true-life adventures of the daring Confederate cavalry officer John Mosby. What Southerner would pass up a chance to cheer for Mosby?
OK, so how did television go from model citizen to deadbeat?; from Bible and family values to today’s sex, gore, foul language, political correctness, ridicule of Christianity, and even satanic occultism? The answer: they pulled one of the oldest tricks—“boil the frog.” It’s said that if you want to boil a frog, you can’t just toss him in boiling water. Instead, you put him in lukewarm water, and gradually turn up the heat. That way, the frog never realizes he’s been boiled. This is what television did to Americans. (Hollywood theatrical films also boiled the frog, of course, but television required “kid-glove” handling, as the sets were in the midst of homes.)
No degradation could have been introduced in the mid-1950s, because half of America’s households still didn’t have a TV yet. I believe substantive change did not begin until 1963, when home ownership of televisions reached 91.3 percent,3 or near saturation. At this juncture, the fish was baited, and studio heads could start tweaking content. Television sets were expensive then, so no one was apt to throw theirs away over minute, progressive content alterations.
I personally remember TV’s different feel in the fall of ‘63. Leave It to Beaver and Dobie Gillis were suddenly gone; ABC stopped showing reruns of Father Knows Best. The Outer Limits premiered, introducing a new level of creepiness. My Favorite Martian made aliens (who many of us understand to be demonic) very human-friendly. Sure, it was mild stuff, but that’s how you boil the occult frog, starting with cuteness—as Bewitched did with witchcraft in 1964 and I Dream of Jeannie with magic in 1965.
To digress slightly, a change in America’s entire demeanor began in late 1963. A personal observation: in November 1963 I saw some classmates of mine in Lexington, Massachusetts, boys I’d known for years, nice kids, suddenly acting like cruel demons. How do I recall so clearly that the change occurred in November 1963? Because on October 31 (Halloween) we had trick-or-treated together, and they were fine. But when my mother rushed into the house on November 22, to tell me of President Kennedy’s assassination, I was so distressed by my classmates’ changes that I could barely absorb the news.
One could chalk it up to adolescence and onset of puberty, but there seemed to be a spiritual undercurrent. Certain events had primed that pump. On June 17, 1963, the Freemason-dominated Supreme Court had ruled that reading the Bible in public schools was suddenly “unconstitutional.” (Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom C. Clark, Potter Stewart and Chief Justice Earl Warren were all members of the Craft, ensuring a 5-4 majority of men who apparently held their oath to the Brotherhood above their oath to the Constitution.) Coupled with the Court’s previous decision banning school prayers, God had now been officially expelled from classrooms.
According to Father Malachi Martin, a ceremony enthroning Lucifer took place in the Vatican on June 29, 1963, concurrent with satanic rites in the United States.4 I assume these rites probably included the uppermost ranks of Freemasonry, which, as I have noted elsewhere, has historic ties to Lexington (today it’s home to the headquarters for the entire Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite). I think the town was impacted. The changes in my classmates was not an observation unique to me, because in 1964 or 1965, one of the national TV networks did a special news documentary on juvenile delinquency. Of all the American towns they could have chosen to exemplify juvenile delinquency, they picked Lexington, Mass. The network’s hidden cameras caught kids doing various perverse things like ripping open parking meters to steal the coins. And Lexington kids weren’t poor.
Kennedy’s assassination was itself, I believe, a reflection of the spiritual pivot of 1963, and on its heels came the Beatles and the Vietnam War. The Powers that Be wanted America converted from a Biblical culture to a Talmudic, Kabbalistic one; from a Leave It to Beaver society to a drugged-up, free-sex, no-God Woodstock society. They succeeded; it took only six years (1963-69). And television played its part, incrementally boiling Christian values out of the frog soup.
Today, news broadcasts are purveyors of a Matrixed “reality” which America’s concealed oligarchy want viewers to believe in.
But when TV began, newscasts were minimal. In 1957 in Boston, the only news at 11PM was a five-minute local report. I find it interesting that the Vietnam War escalated just as television ownership reached saturation point. Network news played the lead role in distorting the public’s view of the war, as shown in Accuracy in Media’s documentary Television’s Vietnam. Similarly, World War II began after radio reached a saturation point, and “The War on Terror” after Web-connected home computers hit saturation. Thus, over the past century, America’s three most important wars each coincided with distribution of a new propaganda medium.
Originally, TV entertainment took no sides politically. Then, in 1971, All in the Family introduced “political relevance,” as conservative Archie Bunker would argue with his liberal son-in-law. This show also “boiled the frog”: in initial episodes, when insults were traded, Archie seemed to give as good as he got; but eventually he transformed into a buffoon, with canned laughter cueing the audience to scorn his made-to-look-stupid conservatism:
The politically awake were portrayed as cranks.
Satanist Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, affirmed what I have been saying about television’s gradualism, and even noted that TVs were intended to replace family altars:
The birth of TV was a magical event foreshadowing its Satanic significance. The first commercial broadcast was aired on Walpurgisnacht, April 30th, 1939, at the New York World’s Fair. Since then, TV’s infiltration has been so gradual, so complete, that no one even noticed. People don’t need to go to church any more; they get their morality plays on television. What began modestly as rabbit ears on top of family TV sets are now satellite dishes and antennas pridefully dominating the skyline, replacing crosses on top of churches. The TV set, or Satanic family altar, has grown more elaborate since the early 50s, from the tiny, fuzzy screen to huge “entertainment centers” covering entire walls with several TV monitors. What started as an innocent respite from everyday life has become in itself a replacement for real life for millions, a major religion of the masses. . . . The clergy of the TV religion are those entertainers, newscasters in particular, who nightly spread the Word from their cathode-ray pulpit.5
What the Golden Age’s brief glow did prove, however, was that television, like any artistic platform, be it literature, theater, music, or the graphic arts, can be a force for integrity, faith, and society’s good. How I wish it could experience a renaissance.
1. “Hugh Beaumont,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Beaumont.
2. “I Believe (Frankie Lane Song),” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Believe_(Frankie_Laine_song).
3. “Number of TV Households in America,” http://www.buffalohistory.org/Explore/Exhibits/virtual_exhibits/wheels_of_power/educ_materials/television_handout.pdf.
4. “Fr. Malachi Martin affirmed: Satanism has been practiced in the Vatican,” These Last Days News, August 10, 2015, http://www.tldm.org/news/martin.htm.
5. Anton LaVey, The Devil’s Notebook (1992), online edition, https://archive.org/stream/Everything_938/The-Devil-s-Notebook-Anton-LaVey_djvu.txt.