I love this photo of doleful little me. And over the years, I’ve had a lot of fun reimagining what was happening by changing the image on the TV.
My mom took the photo in 1953 or 54, and the TV screen was blank. What I’d done created a punishable teaching moment that began with, “Mister, no more TV for you for a while.” And she turned the set off with a firm CLICK.
A little context and history might help set the stage.
My parents took our home, car, and appliances—and what they cost—seriously. They also leaned a bit toward perfectionism in all things—their kids included. Things were either right or wrong, polite or rude, compliant or rebellious. And my sister and I were expected to mind our parents, or there would be consequences.
When the photo was taken, I was beginning to feel the “consequences” of my transgression. (A clue to what I’d done is in my wee right hand.)
Now, if you’ve worked in entertainment or broadcasting or have been around as long as I have, you might remember a sometimes shady character named Jack Barry. He was the host of a CBS Network show called Twenty-One, and in the late 50s, he was at the center of the quiz show scandals. You’ll also know of Barry if—like me—you’re a fan of the movie Quiz Show where Christopher McDonald portrayed him.
In the early 50s, Barry hosted a TV show for kids called Winky Dink and You. It was a groundbreaking show, combining merchandising (retail and direct sales), interactivity, learning, and feel-good moments.
The unique part of the show was the use of a “magic drawing screen”—a piece of tinted, specially-treated vinyl that stuck to the TV screen via static electricity. A kit containing the screen and various Winky Dink crayons could be purchased for less than a dollar.
At a climactic scene in the Winky Dink short films—the show segments—Winky would arrive at a scene that contained a connect-the-dots picture that he could only navigate with the help of viewers. Winky Dink would prompt the kids at home to complete the picture, and the finished result would help him continue the story. Examples included drawing a bridge to cross a river, using an axe to chop down a tree, or creating a cage to trap a dangerous lion.
Another use of the interactive screen was to decode messages. An image would be displayed, showing only the vertical lines of the letters of the secret message. Viewers would then quickly trace onto their magic screen, and a second image would display the horizontal lines, completing the text.
Finally, kids drew on the screen to create the outline of a character with whom Jack Barry would have a conversation. It would seem meaningless to viewers without the screen, further encouraging the purchase of the “magic drawing screen” kit. The show was highly successful during the 50s. Here’s an episode.
So what had I done to raise my mother’s ire and land myself in the dreaded No TV Zone?
I’d decided not to use my “magic drawing screen,” to use my own crayons and to color and draw directly on the TV picture tube.
Winky Dink and You was canceled by CBS in 1957. There were a couple of reasons. Despite the continuing popularity of the show, production was halted over concerns about x-rays from TV picture tubes—a special concern for households with early color television sets. CBS was also concerned about parents’ complaints that children who didn’t have the interactive screen were drawing directly on the TV picture tube.
Take a listen to the Winky Dink record. It’s insipid, but it was merchandising—and money-making.
I used to watch Winky Dink. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t draw on the TV screen
You were a good son. I was a good son, with—from time to time—questionable decision-making.
Naughty but creative boy! I hope the consequences weren’t too harsh! Thank you for this memory. I didn‘t know of Winky Dink. I‘m sure I would have loved the drawing „audience participation“ .