Posts Tagged ‘Fred Steiner’

Every Sunday Evening: ‘Bonanza’

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 12, 2007

I didn’t watch a lot of television when I was a kid. I was – once I got to the age of six – more interested in reading or in creating my own adventures, quite often with Rick, in the playhouse of my imagination.

I did watch some, though. I do recall watching Ruff & Reddy, the first animated series developed by the team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the creators later on of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and countless other cartoon characters. I also recall watching Huckleberry Hound from the time of his first episode in 1958. The show aired weekly at 6:30 p.m. on, I think, KMSP, which would have been the ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities at the time.

Early Saturday morning was television time, too, with much of the fare being classic Warner Bros. cartoons that had originally been shown in movie theaters. Other shows I recall were Annie Oakley, a western; Sky King, a series about a rancher with his own plane, Songbird, and his perky niece, Penny; The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, another western; and a show with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing songs and riding down bad guys on their horses Trigger and Buttermilk.

Then there was Andy’s Gang, a kids’ show featuring Andy Devine, a large man with a raspy voice who’d played Jingles, the sidekick on the Wild Bill Hickok show. Andy introduced cartoons for kids, and between cartoons, dealt with interruptions from a cast that included Midnight the Cat and Tige the Dog. The most frequent interruptions, though, came from Froggy the Gremlin, a rubber character with a foghorn voice who was always up to mischief. When Andy got flustered enough with Froggy, he’d send him away in a cloud of smoke by saying, “Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy!”

One of the toys my sister and I discovered a few years ago when we helped Mom clean out the house where we grew up was a rubber Froggy the Gremlin, battered but still mostly whole. I remember playing with it, but it must have been my sister’s originally, from the time when Ed McConnell hosted the show featuring Froggy. Devine became the host in 1955 after McConnell’s death.

But for most of my childhood, the one time all four of us watched television together was Sunday evening, often with a large bowl of popcorn (actually popped in a frying pan as microwaves were only a dream and Jiffy Pop, per serving, was more expensive than buying a bag of popcorn and a bottle of oil). We’d gather in the living room at 6 on Sundays for the Walt Disney show, which went through numerous name changes over the years. The content was the same, though: nature documentaries, animated features, programming about Disneyland – the site of today’s Disney complex in Florida was still empty acreage at the time – and serialized movies.

(In 1961, which was about the time our Sunday family viewing nights started, Disney moved his show to NBC because of that network’s ability to broadcast in color. That made no difference to us. We watched on the mid-1950s Zenith until 1968, when one of my dad’s friends got a color television and gave us his old black and white set, which was still newer than our Zenith was. I’m not sure when the folks got a color television, but I know it was after I moved out in 1976.)

Anyway, we’d watch the Disney show together, and then there was an hour that NBC filled with various situation comedies, none of which ever seemed to last very long. I recall Hazel, starring the great actress Shirley Booth in what had to be one of the low points of her career. There was Car 54, Where Are You? about two bumbling New York City cops played by Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne, the latter of whom would go on to play Herman Munster in The Munsters. There was also Grindl, a comedy that starred 1950s television genius Imogene Coca. But the comedies between 7 and 8 were for the most part something to get through.

That’s because 8 o’clock meant Bonanza, starting with the map of the Ponderosa bursting into flame and burning away to reveal the four Cartwrights riding their horses into the opening credits. Bonanza was our favorite show, as was the case for many American families in those years. How many? Well, the show was the top-ranked show in television from 1964 through 1967 and was in the Top Ten for many more years during its run from 1959 into 1973.

These days, watching Bonanza on TV Land or other cable channels, the stories are hokey, the scripts stilted and the production values are primitive. But forty years ago, it was good television. And the guitar twang that marked the beginning of the show’s theme song was the signal that heralded another hour of adventure for the Cartwrights and, vicariously, for us.

That’s why I’m starting today’s Baker’s Dozen of random television themes with the theme from Bonanza.

“Bonanza” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, 1959

“Perry Mason” by Fred Steiner, 1957

“Branded” by Dominic Frontiere, 1965

“Winds of War” by Robert Cobert, 1983

“Ancient Voices” (Survivor) by Russ Landau, 2000

“Mission Impossible” by Lalo Schifrin, 1966

“The Contender” by Hans Zimmer, 2005

“Dallas” by Jerrold Immel, 1978

“Mannix” by Lalo Schifrin, 1967

“Streets of San Francisco” by Patrick Williams, 1972

“The Flintstones” by Hoyt Curtin, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera, 1960

“Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, 1981

“The West Wing” by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden, 2000

I think these are all original themes with the exception of “The Winds Of War,” which is a recording by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. I’ve never seen the score to The Winds Of War on LP or CD, and it’s too lovely a piece of music to pass up.