Friday, December 10, 2010

Romper Room

I wanna start a series that looks into the past of television, sometimes obscure, sometimes old, sometimes cult, sometimes completely forgotten, I just wanna take little trips in the wayback machine with you all... so if you don't mind, lets get right to it, here is the first one...

Trips In The Wayback Machine # 1:

Romper Room:
The Story Of Magic Mirrors, Giant Bees, and 
Localized Syndication

Alot of hype has been made in recent months over the fact that Sesame Street has become the longest running children's television show in history, there have been retrospective dvds showing the evolution of certain characters as well as the first two seasons being released on dvd as well, documentaries, interviews with the surviving cast on major television shows all over the united states, and thats fine and well and very deserving of such a well made and dedicated program thats never really fallen out of style.

But ask yourself this, before Sesame Street, what was the longest running program aimed only at educating children the world over? If you guessed Mr. Rogers Neighborhood then you are completely wrong, and you should be ashamed of yourself, you've disgraced yourself and your ancestors as well. Though the late great Fred Rogers was on the air for a very long time and dedicated his post world war 2 marine sniper life, to talking to ugly cheaply made puppets and giant purple pandas from the planet purple and a strange Mailman named McFeeley who seemed to never knock before opening your front door and showed no respect for privacy or personal space, all in an attempt to educate the children of the world, sadly, his program is not the one I'm speaking of. I am speaking of a show that I'm sure many people have forgot existed, and will soon get a flood of happy memories at the recall of its name, I am speaking ofcourse of Romper Room. The show about a magical kindergarten classroom with puppets, and giant bees, and a teacher who had a magic mirror that would allow her to see right into our living rooms allowing her to say hello to all of us as if we were right there in the room with her. It really was magical. And as tired and repetitive as it sounds, they just don't make children's programing like this anymore.

Romper Room started out in 1953 as a local children's program in Baltimore Maryland, which was soon set across the country in whats called "localized syndication" meaning each channel was given a choice to either air a live feed of one of the productions from around the country of the show, or produce their own local version, this process was in style for many of the early years of television, specially in children's television, most would recall this was also the way that long time children's program Bozo The Clown operated as well.

The formula was pretty much the same for every single show, a set that looked like a kindergarten, a teacher who would welcome everyone and talk to the children, she would sing with them and dance and play with them as well as teach them about things like eating right, behavior and treating others right, normally the lessons in how to treat others properly with respect were taught with the aid of the show's most remembered character, Mr. Do-Bee, mostly just called "Do-Bee" and in some markets spelled "DooBee", Do-Bee would also dance and play with the children, there was normally a segment that involved the kids "putting on their do-bee wings" and "flying" around like good little bees. Near the end of the show's run, in 1981, to compete with shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, Romper Room added puppets which would appear in skits and many times appear on the show as well, most notedly UpUp who would appear from inside of a tree in the center of the main stage, other puppets were Granny Cat and Kimble, of which UpUp was the most popular, given his large amount of interaction with the children second most after Do-Bee. Though the extra puppets only lasted until the show's end in 1987, they were memorable enough to be asked for, and now reside in The Puppetry Museum in Atlanta Georgia, along with other puppets from various children's shows.

As a children's show should, it encourages kindness, good behavior, how to eat right, and basic skills that we forget that we all had to learn, but the real key to why Romper Room was a success, was simply that every children's show that had a message of any sort was modeled after it, you still see it today in many shows aimed at that demographic. As well as the songs and phrases used on the show. We all believe that the teacher could really use her magic mirror, and see into our living room and say our names, ofcourse it was to every single child with our name, but no one cares, they were talking to each of us, thats all we care about. And ofcourse, they would, once a show, sing the great "Bend And Stretch, Reach For The Sky" song, which to this day I still find myself singing.

Romper Room is one of those things that even though we know we've gone far from it, and some might argue not a good directional distance from it, its part of our culture, so much so that Sissy Spacek even played one of the teachers in a movie about her life and her activism for pro-abortion rights. And also, if you do alittle checking into the tapes, specially of the new york city version, you'll find alot of later to be famous faces, Leonardo DiCaprio being among the semi regulars on the new york city version in his very very early years. Ofcourse we look back at all of this now, and we wonder, how did we all fall for such cheaply made cheesy, preachy, and by today's standards down right silly programing, and more so, why do we still love it so? Well, thats simple, it takes us back to a time when we were young children, sitting on the floor, with our parents, singing the songs and doing the dances, and really believing that the teachers were looking right at is. And also, we weren't aware of just how insanely scary the Do-Bee suit really was, because my god, looking at it now, Do-Bee is one scary suit, we're talking as scary as the superchicken that roamed around Whalom Park in Lunenburg, Massachusetts back in the 1980s kind of scary. And also, aren't regional jokes that you won't get unless you're from where i am funny? Yeah I thought so.

The downside though to all the awesome that used to be Romper Room, word had come down recently that there is a remake in the works, and though my inner child is giddy and happy at the idea, the adult in me knows that it will never be the same, it'll all be poltically correct and watered down, and chances are Do-Bee will be some horrible CGI Bee thats just not the same or some other trash. But still, I have my memories, as to many others.

So if you've not thought about Romper Room in years and wish to have a nice transport back to your childhood, or if you've never seen it and are a fan of stuff that by today's standards seems wacked out and drug trippy, give it a shot, you can't really go wrong with alittle stop in the romper room, and who knows, you might find your name called out from behind a magic mirror.




  1. i like the bit about mr. mcfeeley, the postman who never seemed to knock :) lol ... i must say i did enjoy both romper room and mr. rogers neighborhood as a kid. ah the good old days:).. 8looks into her magic mirror and says* "and i see chris and bez and sherry and marius"... lol:)

    ~Pamela, who hasn't made an account yet:D

  2. LOL.....I loved this show SO much as a kid. Thank you for this Chris.

  3. Yeah Mr. McFeeley always bothered me, he had no respect for personal space and privacy, always walking right in to deliver your mail, its like he's trying to catch you doing something or some such crap.

    And I must say, this was one of my favorite shows to watch as a child too, I still find myself singing "Bend and stretch, reach for the sky" at various times through out the course of my day, as silly as that sounds. I miss when children's programing was this simple, fresh and clean, it taught messages, it taught so many generations to be what we all grew up to be, not like this modern crap. It just doesn't have the same feel.

    Also, fun fact, each of the "Teachers" were allowed to keep their magic mirrors, they have a number on the bottom to indicate who they were, when they were host, and no two magic mirrors are the same. They're one of a kind items. When Sissy Spaysick played that one that had an abortion while she was the host, they had to make her one of her very own because the real woman refused to let them use hers. So its got the same number and design, but a (-A) after it. Weird but cool stuff really.

  4. My mom was Miss Pat in the buffalo/western NY area in the late 50's. How can I go about retrieving or finding her old shows? She is turning 86 to and I would love to bring back this great memory for her.