Kids growing up in the fifties and sixties in America often saw the Three Stooges on their local TV channels. The two-reel short subjects that had been cranked out by Columbia pictures from the thirties to the early forties were now fodder for cheap programming, and by virtue of the fact that anything so numerous and cheap would be replayed continually meant that many of us who had memorized most of the Stooges shorts also saw our fill of Gene Autrey “Radio Ranch” serials, Flash Gordon and The Little Rascals.
But we knew the world of the Stooges better than our own backyards. The films we saw were scarcely thirty years old at the time, which would make what we’re talking about the equivalent of today watching TV made in the late eighties. Something like the Power Rangers.
Most kids get up earlier than do their parents, and at least in cities, TV programming began at dawn. (Farm TV also began at dawn but was limited to a man stiffly reading the Livestock and Feed market prices, along with a brief weather report. Then the TV channel left the air until evening) As a child in a Chicago suburb, I would carry my bowl of Cheerios to the Silvertone to watch Industry on Parade newsreels, to hear mellifluous announcers narrate the saga of Aluminum, Friend to the Housewife, as ore became pot and pan which is turn helped a harried homemaker make dinner. I would watch whatever was on. This included religious programs and armed forces recruitment films, endless re-runs of World War II footage and any other free programming the stations had to offer at that hour. In the afternoon, after school, the fare was more kid-friendly, Bomba the Jungle Boy, early Tarzan movies, and of course, the Stooges.
Fifties kid-TV offered a puzzling pot-pourri, and stew that gave glimpses of a more ethnic America that one saw on Ed Sullivan or What’s My Line? For me, the Stooges held the greatest mystery of all. Why were these three Jewish men so poor and so mean to each other? I thought Jews had money and were funny, but these guys slept three to a bed, owned one suit of clothes each and were always looking for work for which they had no skill or training. Were they brothers? Who was that woman who threw them out of bed in the morning? Their mother or their land lady?
The TV became the parent in locis, and seemed to say every time he or she was flipped on (after fifteen seconds of warm up, first a dot, then a full screen) “Welcome kid, this is the world you were born into. Good luck. Looks kind of scary sometimes but it’s not that bad. Could be worse. You could be that kid in the iron lung on display at the State Fairgrounds, the one staring up through the little window while other kids walked by, some dropping a dime in the little bucket that hung at the head of the machine.
Besides, the Cuban missile crisis is just a few years in the future and we’ll probably all be incinerated by then. So drink your Kool Aid and yukk it up with our good friend the Station Engineer, who is half-heartedly pretending to be a cowboy or a clown, and who is looking forward to that happy hour drink he always takes as soon as this kiddy show leaves the air.”