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Steve Gorelick

Jo: I know you know I was and am a big Frances Horwich fan. It was the gentleness I loved, a kind of gentleness that -- especially the "Mad Men" era -- this boy especially needed to see. This was a time (not unlike many other eras) when the dominant role models were military and sports heroes whose message was that toughness always trumps tenderness.

There was something so incredibly safe and secure about Frances, yet --unless my memories are playing tricks -- I don't think there was much baby-talk or condescension either.

There is one thing, though, that I wonder. Tonight, in the aftermath of Ted Kennedy's passing, I have been thinking about the extent to which people of our age lost so much innocence when JFK was killed, how much -- especially privilged white middle class kids like me -- had until Nov. 22, 1963 been fairly protected from catastrophe and violence and sudden death. We were, after all, in the midst of the bloodiest century in human history, when probably 100,000,000 combattants and non-combattants died in war.

What I sometimes wonder is whether a lot of the children's programming in the 50s, which I recall so fondly for its gentleness, adequately grounded and prepared us for all of the turbulence to come. Did Frances Horwich (or Bob Keeshan for that matter) ever even subtly broach the subject of evil or loss in any frank way? Or were they firmly part of the 50s zeitgeist in which our parents -- having lived through such horrors -- were struggling to shield us from issues relating to evil?

I really don't remember.

Was there anything in 50s children television even remotely comparable to the historic 1983 treatment of Mr. Hooper's death on Sesame Street?

The lack of such honesty wouldn't diminish the contributions of early children's TV. Parents in 1953 would probably have vehemently objected to an adult outside the family talking about things with their kids that were then seen a very private -- grief, death, crime, etc.

I am just curious how far these shows went as far as even obliquely referring to aspects of the world that were not comforting, that were not gentle, that were not predictable. I am not suggesting that anything could have prepared an 11 year old for the assasination of a President (or the murder of his alleged assasin on live TV), but I do remember feeling completely stunned in 1963 at the whole concept of evil.

I guess that's what happens when, like me, you essentially grew up in a Southern California suburb that was pretty much the set of The Wonder Years.

Jo Holz

Steve, thanks for your very thoughtful comments. You raise a really interesting question about the extent to which these early children's shows did, should, or could have somehow helped to prepare us for the loss of innocence and turmoil of the 1960's. It seems to me that in the 50's, children lived in a more isolated social space than they do today. Families did not revolve around their children on a day-to-day level. Parents had their own realm, which took priority, and did not cater to their children or obsess over them as today's "helicopter" parents do. The plus side of this for the kids was that they were left to their own devices a lot more and had more independence. I think "Mad Men" depicts this very accurately.

It also meant that children were much more sheltered from the adult world in some ways, though they were less protected from its physical dangers (no seat belts, lots of second-hand smoke, etc.). I think the kids shows of the 50's largely sheltered kids from the harsher realities of life, either through the gentleness of their hosts or the manic distractions of their slapstick antics. In later years, perhaps this was no longer possible or desirable.

Diana Dickert

When you've mentioned about that bit about Miss Frances telling something about the dentist, it makes me think that there should be a lot more programs on TV that can motivate kids to go to the dentist.

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