Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

When ‘Wonderama’ ruled Sunday morning

Back in the 1970s in the Safuto household, there were two rules regarding the TV:

  • Saturday morning was for cartoons.
  • Sunday morning – before the dreaded 9:30 a.m. Mass at OLH – was for “Wonderama.”

The Magnavox set that sat in front of the living room window that looked out onto 80th Street got a workout on the weekends.

My brothers and I would claim it for “the Saturday celebration” until my mother threw us all out of the house. She’d walk in front of the cartoons, turn off the set, and declare: “It’s a nice day,” she would say. “Go out and play.”

Off we’d go to the “side street” for games of stickball in the street or just hang out on top of the mailboxes on the corner, discussing the vagaries of life, school and parents who had the nerve to throw us out of the house on Saturday morning.

It was thought back then that Saturday morning cartoons were a gateway to illiteracy, drug addiction, sugar-flavored cereals, rock music and everything else that fed into parental paranoia in those days before hip-hop, computers, the Internet and music videos. And, we were always told, don’t sit too close to the color TV. No reason was given, but everyone was convinced that the TV gave off radiation that could hurt us.

And the terrible things we learned. Like the obscenities my father shouted when Ken Boswell of the Mets failed to turn the double play, or Art Shamsky struck out again. No wonder my mother wanted us out.

Sunday morning was a sure sign of things to come. Get up, get clean, get dressed and watch Bob McCallister on “Wonderama.” Then get taken to church to be bored senseless with tales of Mom and Dad’s “invisible friend,” god, and his son Jesus. I always used to find it deliciously ironic that the only part of church back then that really seemed to have a foot in the real world was the ending hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” It was quite a sendoff after an hour and 15 minutes of boredom. I sometimes wondered why we didn’t go to the “High Mass,” but apparently my mother found that to be a bit too much. Word was, the priests sang most of that Mass.

The invention of the 6:30 p.m. Saturday Mass, which covered you for Sunday, was welcomed by all who had to attend Catholic Mass. Get it done and out of the way, and then enjoy bagels and “Bob,” and dream of being on “Wonderama.”

To me, it just seemed so neat, and we wrote in requesting tickets for a filming. We had never gotten a response, so we assumed that the request was lost in the mail or just lost in the crush of requests they got for tickets. “Wonderama” with Bob McCallister was a very, very popular show, and we’d make up our list of birthday and Christmas demands based on what we saw on the show.

I suppose it was because of something I found on YouTube – the “snake cans” game – that brought back the memories of “Wonderama” and the time we wrote in for tickets.

Because a miracle happened. About five years after we wrote in for tickets, a letter arrived from WNEW-TV in New York, informing us that we had been picked to receive tickets for a filming of “Wonderama.” By this time, I was in high school, but I think my brothers Patrick and Robert were the ones who went to the filming.

They came back with lots of goodies, and I remember that we watched closely the next few Sundays’ shows to see if they were on because we didn’t have VCRs back then to freeze frame the show or watch it at our leisure. I sort of regretted not going with them to the filming; it seemed to be a lot of fun.

Today, a show like “Wonderama,” with its emphasis on sugary food, candy, toys and more, would drive the anti-everything loonie leftists into convulsions. Back then, it was just some fun and something to watch in the morning. McCallister was an adult who actually thought that if you weren’t grown up yet, you were still a person worthy of respect, and his anthemic “Kids Are People Too” song, sung at the end of every show with him up front and in the lead, made him an adult that kids wanted to be around.

Today, adults want kids to just obey, score high on the FCAT and stay out of the way. Then, he was at least one person who didn’t judge and actually wanted to see you do well, and even if you didn’t do well, you still were a worthy person. Try to find that among the people in education today; most only care about their next promotion or pay grade increase, or their next job at the school district up or down the road.

Today, children’s television is an insipid mass of gooey “lessons” and Disney trash. Imagine a show where kids are asked who the president or mayor is, or advised to “exercise, exercise, come on everybody do your exercise.”

And out front is the adult, doing the exercises with you.

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May 27, 2012 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , ,

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