Tag Archives: Saturday morning cartoons

We Had Two Things As Kids

My son grew up in a world with 24/7 cartoons and video games. My daughter was able to add the Internet to her childhood toolkit. When I was a kid we only had cartoons on Saturday morning and perhaps an hour or so early on other mornings and an hour or so with Mister Cartoon after school. Video games, home systems that is, wouldn’t come along until High School. As for the Internet, we were years away from even bulletin boards, much less full-blown websites. We basically had two things as kids: books and our imaginations.

Now don’t get me wrong, we had toys. We had G.I. Joe, Mego, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, Aurora model kits, and all sorts of other playthings. The difference is that our toys didn’t do anything unless you used your imagination. We could make Biotron fly and Mazinga battle Godzilla, but only through the art of pretending. For those of you too young to understand what this means, we would hold our little Micronaut up in the air and make flying noises with our mouths as we did loops or went running out in a playground with the toy held out and held high. We would take our figures, one in each hand, and have them do battle with one another by beating the two pieces of plastic against each other. One hand would hold the attacking toy while the other hand-held the toy that about to get hit. After a thunderous blow, the other toy would be lifted up and retaliate. Sometimes both hands would move the two toys at each other simultaneously causing both of them to go flying backwards. All sound effects were created by us, and the outcome of the battle was whatever storyline we wanted to tell. Unless one of the toys broke. Then we improvised. “Oh no, Johnny West hit G.I. Joe so hard that his arms both flew off.”

Model kits also required us to use our imaginations, but they did have instruction sheets. I loved figure kits. One of my friends loved car models. Another friend had tons of dinosaur models. You would get a cardboard box with a gorgeous painting of what the kit should look like on the front. Sometimes the sides had actual pictures of professionally assembled and painted kits. When you opened the box there were plastic trees with little numbered parts on them. Usually they were all molded in a single color, normally the dominant color of the figure. The Wolfman would be in brown. Godzilla would be in dark green. Some kits had additional glow in the dark parts or they had clear or chromed parts, especially for cars.

I kept my Aurora kits on my dresser or on a shelf in my closet. In the closet, the glow in the dark parts would light up when I shut the closet door. My friend with all of the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes kits had a special wooden platform in his basement. His dad had made it for him so he could connect their bases and set them up on display like a prehistoric train set. He used to pretend that at bedtime he could talk to them on a toy walkie-talkie that he had. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and swore that one day, I would fix up something like that for myself.

The other thing we had, as I stated, was books. We had comic books, paperbacks, and magazines. Back then everybody seemed to sell comic books. You could buy them at the drug store, the newsstand, bus stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, department stores, and other places as well. I had lots of comics, but it wasn’t until I picked up Kamandi #9 while on vacation at King’s Island that I became a true collector. The front cover showed these people in a hot air balloon fighting giant bats. It looked so amazing that I had to buy it. I bought it, read it, and decided that I would have to find the next issue when it came out. Since I had never seen this book before, I assumed that I was holding the first issue. When I got home, I was shocked to find issue #8 at my local 7-11 (which was literally open from 7 AM until 11 PM at the time). When I realized that I had actually missed the first seven issues, I was shocked and devastated, but I kept looking for them. Eventually I ordered the missing issues from an ad I found for back issues comics by mail. I still have every issue of Kamandi to this day.

We also had paperback books and magazines to entertain us. I’ve mentioned all the monster magazines that I used to buy, but there were other mags as well. Car Toons and Surf Toons featured cartoons about cars and surfing. Marvel and Warren publishing both had black and white comic magazines and there were numerous humor magazines as well. Mad is still around, but there was also Sick, Cracked, Crazy, and the National Lampoon. The Lampoon was a bit more adult, but I still managed to get almost every issue from around #96 up and a local newsagent even sold me a huge collection of back issues which included the very first issue.

Paperbacks also entertained us as kids, and at a fairly bargain rate. I picked up all of the Planet of the Apes books for between 50 and 95 cents each. I also had a bunch of superhero books, Star Trek fotonovels, and other titles. Two of my prized possessions at the time were a pair of oversized hardcovers dedicated to talking solely about horror movies. I always wanted a copy of the Ray Harryhausen Scrapbook, but it was too expensive at the time. I finally picked up a copy years later at a used bookstore and I replaced my copies of the two horror movie books (as well as a third one I picked up later) off eBay. I don’t know why I had gotten rid of my copies in the first place, but I was glad to have them back.

The Greatest Day Of The Week

From the time I was a little kid until my teen years Saturday was the greatest day of the week. As a kid there were Saturday morning cartoons to start the day and Chiller theater to close it out. Later on Saturday evenings gave way to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live. There were other fun things sandwiched between the cartoons and late night tv, but the shows were the items that sat the tone for my day.

If I got up early enough on Saturday the stations had old episodes of Lassie, Skippy, and Daktari. If I got up too early there was the farm report or a test pattern. Neither of those interested me, but I loved the old Ivan Tors animal shows and Lassie was okay as well. A little later in the day the Saturday morning cartoons would start. Most of these were just that; cartoons. Live action Saturday morning fare was much less common. The big and possibly only exception to this rule was Sid and Marty Krofft… oh and the Hudson Brothers.

Recently I picked up season one and three of Land of the Lost on eBay for about $3 each. I already had the second season, so this completed the original series from my childhood. There was a reboot of the series in 1991 which my son watched, although he swears he only remembers watching the show on Nickelodeon. I never really warmed up to the reboot, and the theme song was nowhere near as catchy, but I loved the original 1974 version. It was one of the shows I hated to miss. The show I practically refused to miss was Return to the Planet of the Apes. I remember Mom had made a doctor’s appointment for me one week during the time Return to the Planet of the Apes was airing and I was extremely vocal about my disappointment in missing it. To Mom’s credit she didn’t smack my ass and tell me deal with it, she tried to reassure me that I could catch it on a repeat. Sadly it was cancelled and that episode never was repeated. I now have the whole series on DVD, but after 37 years I’ve forgotten what the storyline even was in the episode I missed. One day I just need to sit down and watch the whole series from start to finish. It only ran for 13 episodes, so that should be about 6 hours or less.

There were a plethora of fun shows on Saturday mornings during those years, but Chiller theater became more important to me toward the end of grade school. I was a huge fan and regular reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein and The Monster Times. My fondest wish was to try and see all the classic monster movies. Every once in a while I would get lucky and find one of the Mummy movies or the Wolf Man, but usually it was B grade fare like Monster on Campus, The Monolith Monsters or The Indestructible Man. I still watched them, but I yearned for Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or Godzilla.

As I entered fourth grade, I discovered Monty Python and British comedies. I would stay up until 11 PM waiting for the new Python episode. Python had a completely different sense of humor and I loved it. It also had occasional nudity which was another plus. The first episode I remember watching featured the skit Blackmail, where a game show host played video footage, showed pictures, or read partial lists of information about an illicit tryst in order to blackmail the guilty parties into paying him money.

Saturdays changed forever once our local NBC affiliate finally picked up Saturday Night Live. They didn’t carry it during the first season or two, opting instead for episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. My nephews had been watching it from the first episode and I got to see one episode when we were visiting them (for the record it was the one hosted by Hugh Hefner). I watched SNL up until the early part of the sixth season. I caught a few sporadic episodes over the next five years, but didn’t really start watching again until the 11th season which was probably one of the worst seasons in the show’s history. I gave up on it again until season 14 and then watched it religiously for several years.

These days Saturday mornings don’t even play that many cartoons. Most of the ones they do play are not exclusive to Saturday mornings either. And of course unlike in those days of yore, Saturday morning is not the only place you can find cartoons on tv. There is Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, Boomerang, and many other channels carrying nothing but animated programming. Chiller theater is long gone, but the classic monster movies are almost all available on Blu-ray or DVD. The only thing missing is a DVD of our syndicated horror host, Seymour. The entire series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is available as are the first five seasons of SNL. I still wish the other seasons of SNL were available, and I would also love a region 1 release of The Goodies which I also watched on PBS during that same time period.

The other big change is that now I don’t get up early enough to watch whatever the stations are showing, and I’m at work usually when SNL is on. I set my DVR for it if for no other reason than to catch Weekend Updates or the occasional on air flub (thank you, Jenny Slate).