Nov 7, 2014: The “Eyes” Have It….
Last week’s blog celebrated the November 3rd anniversary of the television premiere of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1956. As a result of that column, I received an email suggesting that today’s entry build on it and incorporate one of my own personal anecdotes about OZ-on-TV. The friend who “wrote in” has heard me verbally recount this family vignette in the past, and he felt it would be appropriate and timely to have it posted here. In turn, I thought ‘twould be diplomatically correct to honor such a request. I quite honestly don't know how many -- or how few -- people actually or actively browse here, and he alone may well represent a huge percentage of the readership!
Anyway…here’s the story:
I was introduced to all-things-OZ with that first telecast fifty-eight years ago…and we’ll save for a future reminiscence the instantaneous reactions and following ramifications manifested by my then-five-year-old mind and its uber-passion. For now, I’ll just add that (comparatively soon thereafter) I acquired the movie soundtrack album, a WIZARD OF OZ picture book abridgement, and Judy Garland’s 1956 Capitol recording of eleven great standards, accompanied by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. I subsequently began a growing collection of the Oz series books and additional Garland recordings, all the while keeping a sharp look-out for her other M-G-M films, then appearing on the “Early Show,” the “Afternoon Movie,” and the “Late Show” on local Milwaukee TV. All such exposure thrilled me. As noted last week, however, CBS waited three years to schedule a second network airing of THE WIZARD OF OZ -- and the notice and reality thereof were “sprung” on this unsuspecting, junior-league cultist with unforgettable impact.
Television viewing at the Fricke house on Sunday evenings in the 1959-1960 season followed a definite pattern. It was all about CBS, with LASSIE at 6 o’clock, DENNIS THE MENACE at 6:30, and THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW at 7:00. On Sunday, December 6, 1959, I was in the den with my quietly-playing, three-year-old brother, Michael; Dottie and Wally -- mom and dad -- were around the corner, down the hallway (and around another corner!) doing the dinner dishes. At 6:29, the closing “crawl” credits for LASSIE were winding down or, in truth, scrolling up. As they came to an end, there was a voiceover by a CBS network announcer, who proclaimed something to the effect that, “LASSIE will return to CBS two weeks from tonight. Next Sunday in this time period, be sure to watch when we present…” – visual cut to a portrait photo of you-know-who in braids and gingham – “…JUDY GARLAND! in…THE WIZARD OF OZ!”
I was beyond electrified. I leapt up and tore a jet-propelled and howling path down the hallway to the kitchen. You could have heard the happy hysteria for blocks, as I trumpeted, “Next week! THE WIZARD OF OZ! Next Sunday! THE WIZARD OF OZ -- ON TV!” My parents, a couple of rooms away from the television set, weren’t privy to the network announcement, and while they were well and happily aware of what such news would mean to me, they also manifested an underlying, controlled concern, lest I’d perhaps misheard or misinterpreted the broadcaster. They thus tried (unsuccessfully) (VERY unsuccessfully) to calm me: “Johnnyfricke, are you sure? Maybe you didn’t…” etc. I realize now they simply were trying to bridle my emotion, so that I wouldn’t be disappointed if it turned out I was wrong. But I gleefully hooted, “No! I HEARD it! He SAID it: NEXT WEEK!
“THE WIZARD OF OZ!!
And I ran back to the TV room, where any attention to DENNIS THE MENACE now was nonexistent. I was hell-bent on waiting for the next commercial break to see if the announcer would say something else.
Seven or eight minutes later, the first group of commercials in the sitcom were all about the sponsors’ products. So when they were over, and the program began again, I decided to go back to the kitchen. (In case this hasn’t come across in the reportage thus far, I was at that point a LITTLE too wound up to sit still or be alone.)
But as I -- much more quietly this time -- walked down the hall, I could hear my parents talking, and I overheard something I’ve never forgotten. It’s since become a wonderful, quiet, timeless reminder of how blessed I was to have a father and mother Who Cared.
It had been a good ten minutes since my initial outburst, but evidently and ever since, Dottie and Wally had been marveling at it and discussing my ebullience and excitement. Proof positive came in the statement one of them made just before I turned the corner, just before they knew I was headed in their direction.
I can’t remember now if my dad said it to my mom, or if my mom said it to my dad. It doesn’t really matter, as the other instantly agreed. I just recall the phrase:
“Did you see the way his eyes were shining?”
P.S. After class the next day – Monday -- I walked the eight blocks from 65th Street School to the Capitol Court “Shopping Center” (as malls were called, ‘way back when). I just had turned nine, but I already knew that TV GUIDE for the following week would be in the magazine racks at Kohl’s Grocery Store by that afternoon.
Sure enough: here was black-and-white confirmation of the prior evening’s vocal pronouncement. On one of the evening pages for Sunday, December 13, there was a half-page TV GUIDE “Close-Up,” heralding the special-event telecast of OZ. It included a cropped bit of a movie still showing Judy as Dorothy, with Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, during the film’s “The Merry Old Land of Oz” sequence…and I was fulfilled, transported, exhilarated – and pretty darn happy!
So I stood there near the check-out counter and read and re-read and re-re-read the “Close-Up,” until I knew it was time to walk home for dinner. It was dark and windy and cold and raining, but it didn’t matter; OZ was imminent! My only regret at that moment was that I didn’t have fifteen cents to purchase a copy of the magazine.
When I got home, I found out that my dad already had bought one for me.
Article by John Fricke