Salty Brine

salty brine


I came to Rhode Island in 1978, so I missed the early career of Salty Brine. He was a radio / TV personality with a deep jolly voice, who hosted a children’s show called “Salty’s Shack.” (He portrayed a sea captain, naturally.) By the time I got to Rhode Island, he was best known for reading the school closures on the radio when it snowed. There’s a small region in northwestern Rhode Island, the Foster/Glocester area (pronounced “Fosta Glosta”), very underpopulated, a bit more elevated than the rest of the state, which gets more snow than the rest of the state; they close school when no one else does.

And Salty would boom: “NO SCHOOL FOSTA GLOSTA!”

And children throughout Rhode Island (even those who didn’t live in the Foster / Glocester school districts) would cheer.

Salty Brine, the children’s host, the radio personality, was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1979.

Does that tell you something?

They even named a beach after him: “Salty Brine State Beach,” in Galilee.

We had local celebrities when and where I was growing up. I remember Rusty Nails the clown, who was on Portland television in the 1960s; if you watch “The Simpsons,” you’ll see a version of him as Krusty the Clown (Matt Groening, the creator of the show, grew up in the area at the same time as me).

But I do believe that nowhere are those local celebrities as beloved as Salty Brine is beloved here.

Why?

Rhode Island is small. We treasure our own. And if they’re successful (and known beyond the borders of this small state), we treasure them even more.

And I am told by people of my age from Massachusetts that they used to love Salty Brine, beamed in from Providence, back in the 1960s and 1970s.

So Salty Brine is a legend, in Rhode Island, and even outside its borders.

You see? You don’t need to reach far in life. You just need to be well-known in your little neighborhood. If you manage that, all kinds of things can happen.


Mister Ed

mister ed


There is a current TV series called “Wilfrid,” in which a man (played by Elijah Wood) owns a dog whom he sees as a person. The dog, Wilfrid (played by the Australian Jason Gann) is willful, and angry, and tricky. Wilfrid pretends to be Elijah’s friend, but he’s not. Wilfrid tricks Elijah repeatedly, and plots against him.

It makes me long for Mister Ed.

Mister Ed was the title character of a TV show back in the 1960s. He was a very charming horse who lived in a stable belonging to Wilbur Post (played by Alan Young), who’d bought the house / stable / horse from a previous owner. Wilbur was shocked when Mister Ed spoke to him. But Mister Ed said: “I only speak when I’m with someone I feel like speaking to.”

Mister Ed could dial an old rotary telephone (with a pencil in his mouth). When he read, he wore giant glasses! (Where did he get them, do you suppose? The Secret Talking Horse Optometrist?)

Mister Ed wasn’t stupid. He knew about most things. He did (in one episode) fall in love with another horse he’d seen in the park, but who hasn’t had that experience?

Mister Ed was a very entertaining horse.

Of course, of course.


In memoriam: Cosmo “Gus” Allegretti

cosmo allegretti


You’ve seen me write about dead relatives, and the passing of friends, and even the passing of celebrities.

 

 

Well, a celebrity passed away a few weeks ago, though many of his fans didn’t even know his real name.

 

 

He was a puppeteer / actor / dancer named Cosmo Allegretti, known to his friends as Gus. He was a regular on the “Captain Kangaroo” program that ran from the 1950s into the 1980s. But you seldom saw him – during the first ten or fifteen years, anyway. He was always in disguise.

 

 

Sometimes he was Dancing Bear, who never spoke, but who communicated through clever little softshoe routines:

 

 

 

 

Sometimes he was fussy old Grandfather Clock, who had to be awakened very gently, and who told stories and recited poems:

 

 

grandfather clock

Later in the show’s history, he was Dennis the Apprentice, always dressed in a painter’s whites, big and earnest and clumsy (though at least he didn’t have to hide his face anymore):

 

 

 

dennis

Best of all, he was Mister Moose and Bunny Rabbit. Bob Keeshan, writing about the show, said that “these two were surrogates for children, demonstrating their playful power over adults.” I loved them both: they were sneaky and dishonest without being really bad. The Captain was often frustrated with both of them, but you could tell that he loved them too, and they seemed to love him too.

 

 

Mister Moose was a practical joker. He was always tricking the Captain into saying things like “Let ‘er rip!”, at which point a couple hundred ping-pong balls would fall from the ceiling all over the Captain’s head. And then Mister Moose would go into raptures. (Personal note: whenever I do a puppet voice, it’s Mister Moose’s reedy falsetto. Why not?)

 

 

Bunny Rabbit was silent, like Dancing Bear. He was small and wore glasses. He’d get the Captain’s attention by rapping on the tabletop, and he always ended up stealing all of the Captain’s delicious carrots.

 

 

Here they are together, bamboozling the Captain one more time:

 

 

 

 

So many good memories.

 

 

Rest in peace, Gus.


 

The decline and fall of CNN

CNN


Ted Turner, a true visionary who’s also a true kook, founded the Cable News Network in 1980. People said he was crazy; there wasn’t enough news in the world to justify a 24/7 television news network.

CNN sputtered along through the 1980s. Finally, the first Gulf War in 1991 gave them a breakthrough. People sat hypnotized in front of their TVs and watched the live coverage from Iraq and Kuwait: Wolf Blitzer, Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett, Christiane Amanpour. I remember sitting mesmerized in front of a friend’s television myself (I didn’t have cable in those days).

Then cable became common. Then it became almost universal. Then it became almost necessary.

Then CNN found that it was competing with Fox and other news networks, which were using the formula CNN had itself created: reporting, reporting on the reporting, experts. It is hard to fill up twenty-four hours a day with news, so you come up with other stuff – let’s be charitable and call it “commentary” – and pretend that the “commentary” is news too.

Let’s fast forward to the present day, shall we?

On the morning of the fourth of July, Partner and I happened to be watching CNN, and I suddenly realized that they were running a promo for the return of “Crossfire.”

“Crossfire”! This was a point-counterpoint program with Tucker Carlson maybe ten years ago, which got shamed off the air when Jon Stewart pointed out that they were accomplishing nothing except filling time.

Now they’re bringing it back.

Okay. Back to CNN. They’re doing a piece on the New England Patriots player, Aaron Hernandez, who killed some people. First, the anchor garbles the words “New England Patriots” into something incomprehensible, and stares silently into the camera for a long moment until she recovers control of her voice. Now we go to the story. CNN has a reporter on the scene in Attleboro, Massachusetts; a neighbor is leading her around the crime scene, explaining things to her. How the hell does this guy know anything? Best of all, the neighbor is introduced this way: “This is Jay. He asked that we not use his last name.”

Hi, Jay. We can see your face. If we really meant to do you harm, we probably wouldn’t need to know your last name.

But don’t blame poor Jay in Attleboro. Blame the CNN reporter who said, “Uh, sure, if you don’t want to use your last name, you don’t have to. But of course you can appear on camera.”

Isn’t CNN hiring anyone with any expertise in journalism?

Evidently not.

But journalism is no longer in demand.

You gotta fill up those twenty-four hours a day with something!


Vintage drinking glasses

mad men glasses jpg


The TV series “Mad Men” has absorbed Partner and me for about a year now. We’re all caught up through Season Six. Each season covers a year of the 1960s (more or less), so we’re up to the end of 1968. We’ve seen the assassination of two Kennedys, the murder of Martin Luther King, the Love Generation, et cetera.

The show’s writing is excellent, as is the acting (by people like Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery and Robert Morse).

But, as with a lot of series set in the past, it’s possible to watch this show for the clothes and the sets and the accessories.

Bugles, for example. When I saw a minor character eating Bugles, I remembered when Bugles were new (in the mid-1960s), and I was amused and charmed, and astonished at the writers’ acumen at knowing that the product was introduced (with great fanfare) in the mid-1960s.

Also: in “Mad Men,” everyone drinks all the time. We see the drinking accessories: really darling glasses, clear glass with silver rims.

My parents had glasses just like them, with a big “W” monogram on them, in silver, naturally. I loved those glasses.

They recently showed up on a cutesy website: replicas of the “silver-rimmed Mad Men drinking glasses,” $25 for two (not including shipping).

Aha, I thinks, and went to eBay, and found two cute authentic Dorothy Thorpe roly-poly drinking glasses for $18 (including shipping).

They arrived the other day. They are perfect. They make me happy when I look at them, and they make a nice tinkling sound when I put ice cubes in them.

And they remind me of my childhood.

So, for your drink: will you have brown or clear?


Old men reading the news

old men yelling


CBS is the network of the elderly, especially on Sunday mornings. All of the correspondents on “CBS Sunday Morning” speak slowly and carefully, so we old codgers can understand them as we gradually awaken. The host of the show is the charming (but elderly) Charles Osgood, who’s eighty years old as of this moment.

And the show is followed by CBS’s “Face the Nation,” hosted by Bob Schieffer, who’s a comparatively youthful seventy-six years old.

One Sunday morning last spring, Schieffer opened the show with something like this: “Flooding! Snow in the Northeast! What’s with the weather?”

It’s a perfectly valid question, with a plethora of answers, all of them interesting. But it was his tone – his shrill old-man querulous tone – that made it almost funny. He seemed to be saying: What’s this? And why haven’t we heard about this before?

 

Well, we’ve heard about it approximately a thousand times. I first heard about it in the 1970s in high school, when the first Earth Day was celebrated. I even spent a few pennies then to buy an Earth Day decal, the money for which was supposed to go to some good ecological cause.

But here we are. The atmospheric CO2 level has gone to 400 parts per million, the highest level in three million years. This will have definite consequences on the climate.

And yet Bob Schieffer, who’s possible more than three million years old, wants to know what’s going on!

I’m on the verge of being an old man myself. But even I know more than Bob Schieffer seems to know.

The climate is changing.

Grab your hats and head for the exits, ladies and gentlemen. The future isn’t going to be very nice.

I’m only sorry that the old men on the Sunday-morning television programs aren’t preparing you for this.


Froggy the Gremlin

froggy the gremlin


A long time ago, back in the 1950s, there was a radio/TV show for kids sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes. It had characters like Midnight the Cat, who only ever said “Nice!”, and a mouse who played the piano.

Also it feature Froggy the Gremlin.

Froggy was invoked with the words, “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!” He always appeared with a big BOINGGG, with the words: “Hiya, kids! Hiya! Hiya!”

Froggy was an ugly little frog puppet who made people say and do stupid things against their will.

Regardez:

You will notice that Froggy the Gremlin is completely without remorse. He makes people do stupid things, and then he laughs at them, and then (once in a while) he makes believe that he meant something else, or that it wasn’t his fault.

You are never for a moment without a doubt that it was all Froggy’s doing.

Froggy is evil and relentless. He laughs at misfortune. He promises to be good, and he never makes good on his promise.

I think he may be my spirit animal.

One more:


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