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Professor looks at 1950s daytime television programming

Presentation is part of exhibit that highlights the decade

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published April 4, 2011

 University of Illinois at Chicago professor Marsha Cassidy highlights several television shows, including “The Garry Moore Show,” during a presentation on 1950s daytime television March 26 at the Lorenzo Cultural Center in Clinton Township.

University of Illinois at Chicago professor Marsha Cassidy highlights several television shows, including “The Garry Moore Show,” during a presentation on 1950s daytime television March 26 at the Lorenzo Cultural Center in Clinton Township.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — When Marsha Cassidy sat down with television icon Art Linkletter for an interview in 2001, he told her he loved quizzing kids on the air because “children tell the truth.”

The late Linkletter, of “Kids Say the Darndest Thing” fame, also shared his thoughts about “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” which was first broadcast on television in 1952.

“He told me ‘the world needed laughter; and he intended to spread it around,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy, who teaches media studies in the Department of English and in the Honors College at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shared her research on 1950s daytime television March 26 at the Lorenzo Cultural Center. Her visit was part of the center’s current exhibit “The 1950s: Affluence and Anxiety in the Atomic Age,” which features artifacts, pictures, lectures and more from the time period. The exhibit runs until May 7.

“It’s a very impressive exhibit,” Cassidy said. “I think it hits the high notes of the 1950s.”

For about an hour, the professor shared material from her recent book “What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s.” She also showed black-and-white clips of the era. Various daytime shows from the decade were marketed toward homemakers for two reasons: to boost ratings and to sell products. As for soap operas, Cassidy said, they didn’t come to television until “the end of the decade.”

Some daytime shows were hits; others flopped. Because of cable television, most homes now have televisions with at least 100 channels from which to watch. But in the ‘50s, there were just three networks: CBS, NBC and ABC.

One show that started out strong but lost its steam was “The Kate Smith Hour,” which first aired in 1950. Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” in the 1940s and her other talents garnered a large fan base, but that didn’t transcend onto the small screen. Cassidy said Smith “seemed a misfit on daytime television” primarily because she didn’t fit in with the new American woman of the 1950s who was “young, energetic, sexy, charming, glamorous.”

“She seemed awkward. The media left behind the robust war woman and fostered in more glamorous fantasies,” Cassidy said. “By 1953, ‘The Kate Smith Hour’ was in serious decline. Some blamed producer Ted Collins. He did not want Kate hawking products.”

In the early days of television, homemakers got to know three men who came into their living rooms: Garry Moore, Arthur Godfrey and Linkletter. All three hosted their own shows.

“Garry Moore was known for his animals. Moore said his heart belonged to his housewives. He often addressed the home viewer as ‘my dear,’” Cassidy said.

As for the ukulele-playing Godfrey, “he seemed especially at ease with women,” Cassidy said. The audience chuckled when Cassidy said, “He thought of himself as a stand-in for husbands during the day.”

Linkletter, she said, called the studio “my living room and the camera my window looking into a million living rooms.”

“His impish smile and his teasing relaxed participants,” Cassidy said. The host also was known for his “elbow grip” when greeting contestants. He used that same hold on Cassidy when they met.

“Strike it Rich” and “Matinee Theatre” were other popular shows, and before women bared their souls to Oprah Winfrey, they shared their stories on “Queen for a Day,” which Cassidy said drew 10 million viewers by 1957. The plights of four contestants were shown each day. Through an audience applause meter, the woman with the saddest story was queen for a day and received much-needed items — many times for her family — plus some luxury prizes.

Viewers during that era might remember Arlene Francis, who mixed homemaking, politics, arts and culture on her talk show, “Home.”

“Arlene saw housewives isolated at home, but keenly interested in the world,” Cassidy said.

Executives reportedly tried to dumb down Francis because she was considered too polished, and the show didn’t last.

Dara Brooks of Shelby Township listened to Cassidy’s presentation.

“I’m a frequent visitor,” she said of the center. “The topics, they’re very interesting. I’m trying to get a feel of what people went through.”

Brooks attended a couple of the other ‘50s lectures, including one on toys and another on Hudson’s Department Store.

“Hudson’s, that was really great. They had some of the architecture from the building,” she said. “Being a native Detroiter, that one really struck me.”

The Lorenzo Cultural Center is located on Macomb Community College’s Center Campus on Garfield south of Hall Road. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 1-4 p.m. Sunday. For further information, call (586) 286-2222 or visit www.macombcenter.com.
 

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