Life Before Gilligan's Island

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Either Walter Cronkite, Ed Sullivan, Gilligan’s Island and dancing "Old Gold" Cigarette packages were part of your childhood, or they weren’t.

There aren’t many of them left, but a still-breathing minority of this nation’s population was born and toilet trained before there was such a thing as television. These folks are easy to recognize — they’re old.

Okay, I’m one of the above. A TV set never served as my surrogate parent, and the only 12-inch screen we had at home was built into the front door of our washing machine.

The “electronically weaned” majority accepts their birthright and regards those of us born BTV (before television) as old and irrelevant. It’s like being part of a victim group, and I don’t like it.

At times, the pressure had become so intense that I began to deny my own heritage and tried “to pass” as one of THEM.

Faking not being “old” was easy. I maintained my youthful appearance through the discreet use of Botox and bourbon. Friends tell me I easily passed for under 70.

I also polished my persona, becoming “TV hip.” My reaction to almost everybody and everything was a quiet snap of the fingers and a confident, “That’s cool.”

But I wasn’t fooling anybody.

There I was, adrift, near despair, at a San Francisco Book Fair, standing in line for a copy of Hillary Clinton’s book. I had hit bottom.

Then, a voice: It was “Captain Marvel” Marvin, one of California’s leading dealers of Collector Comic Books, seated behind a display table covered with treasures from the 1940s and 50s.

Captain Marvel Marvin (CMM): “Shazam! Blumert, you look awful. There’s Botox on your shirt collar, you look well over 70, and it’s clear that you’ve hit bottom.”

Blumert: “That’s cool, and ‘Shazam!’ to you Captain. It’s been a tough time pretending to be one of THEM.”

CMM: Never mind those TV-weaned wimps. This is your heritage,” he shouted, juggling musty comic book originals of “Superman”, “Batman”, and “Wonder Woman.”

Blumert: “I hated comic books. With all respect, Captain, it was the dumb kids who liked them.”

CMM: “Dumb kids, huh? And I suppose it was the REALLY dumb kids who didn’t throw their comic books away and now have collections worth millions?”

Blumert: “I meant no offense, but I was raised during the Golden Age of Radio. ‘Amos n’ Andy,’ ‘Fibber McGee and Molly,’ ‘Jack Armstrong, The All American Boy.’ And my favorites, ‘The Shadow’ and ‘Captain Midnight.'”

CMM: “Your luck is changing, Blumert. I have an original Captain Midnight Decoder Ring. For old times sake, I’ll let you have it for only $2800. It’s a steal at that price.”

I hammered the price on the ring down to $2500, thanked Captain Marvel, and left the Book Fair a new man. I didn’t buy Hillary’s book, and proudly wore my decoder ring although it was designed to fit a 9-year-old’s finger.

Oblivious to the hubbub at the Book Fair, I thought about those “Radio Days” and remembered Woody Allen’s warm movie carrying that title. It was one of his few good films in recent years.

During those golden radio years — parents knew their kids were safe listening to the zany feud between radio legends Fred Allen and Jack Benny. They also knew that radio heroes like Captain Midnight and The Shadow always treated women with dignity and respect.

Pornography was in the closet and obscenity considered tasteless.

I never outgrew radio, but as we kids ranged further from home the movies became the dominant influence. I stumbled through adolescence with Mickey Rooney and the “Andy Hardy” series, aspired to be a great American like Jimmy Stewart and had a teenage crush on the elegant actress Ann Sheridan which has endured a lifetime.

That was Hollywood’s Golden age.

Yeah, we had an occasional war or depression, but I think my generation had it better than the Gilligan Island TV Kids that followed us.

Burt Blumert [send him mail] is publisher of, president of the Center for Libertarian Studies, and proprietor of Camino Coin. See Burt’s Gold Page.

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