Ninety percent of American households owned a television set in 1960.
Saturdays were the best day of the week for kids growing up in the 1960’s, cartoons all morning. We had two tv’s in my house, one in the basement playroom and one in my parent’s bedroom. Television was not a social activity for my family, we watched privately as a family. A family television was eventually added to our Den in the late 1960’s, but never in the formal living room. My parents always had a television in their bedroom which was a cozy place to watch when sick or late at night.
On Saturdays we’d get up early, fix ourselves a bowl of Sugar Pops, Alpha Bits, Trix, Cap’n Crunch or Sugar Snaps cereal and head to the basement to enjoy a glorious five hours of uninterrupted cartoons. First up were Heckle and Jeckle, a pair of magpies who would cause problems for themselves and others with their bizarre antics. Heckle spoke in a rough, New York accent and Jeckle had a proper British accent.
The Jetsons was a huge favorite about a futuristic family residing in Orbit City. “Meet George Jetson,” are the first words in its catchy theme song that I can still sing to this day. George and his wife, Jane had two children, Judy and Elroy. Astro was their dog and Rosie, their robotic maid. George’s work week consisted of an hour a day, two days a week. Jetson commuted in an aero car with a transparent bubble top. The original cartoon had several devices that didn’t exist at the time but subsequently have not only been invented but are in common use: a flatscreen television, newspaper in a computer like screen, video chat, a tanning bed, and a home treadmill. The Jetsons satirized Space Age notions of a better tomorrow so when the twenty first century arrived and there weren’t any flying cars or personal jet packs, many viewers complained.
Quick Draw McGraw was a horse caricature that walked on two legs, he had “hands” that were hooves with thumbs that could hold objects such as guns. Quick Draw satirized the westerns that were popular among the American public at the time. Quick Draw was well intentioned but somewhat dim. His catchphrases were “Hold on there!” And “I’ll do the thin’in around here and don’t you forget it!” Quick Draw often accidentally shot himself with his own six-shooter, saying, “Oooh that smarts!” Baba Looey, a Mexican burro, is Quick Draw’s deputy.
Top Cat was a show about the life of a group of cats and their “get rich quick” schemes, living in a New York Alley. Top Cat, whose friends call TC, is a clever hustler who leads his faithful followers on assorted scams, gambling activities, and harebrained stunts, all in pursuit of a fast dollar. Keeping an eye on things is Officer Dribble, a beat cop who has his hands full trying to break up TC’s shenanigans.
Rocky and Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, and Mighty Mouse were also in the queue on Saturday mornings. The morning ended with re-runs of Lassie and The Lone Ranger. We switched off the tv when college sports came on.
We eagerly anticipated the commercials on Saturday mornings that accompanied the cartoons. Fruit Stripe gum, McDonald’s, Trix Cereal, Tang, toys, and games were a few favorites that were advertised. Mattel’s commercials of kids playing with the latest Barbie’s were what I dreamt about all week. My brothers wanted the latest GI Joe action figure. Our Christmas wish lists were greatly influenced by Saturday morning commercials.
One Christmas my older brother was given the iconic Mattel’s “Vac-U-Form” which was the 1960s version of a 3-D printer. The Vac-U-Form was invented by Eddy Goldfarb, based on the industrial process of vacuum forming. A rectangular piece of plastic was clamped in a holder and heated over a metal plate. When the plastic was soft, the holder was swung to the other side, over a mold of the object to be formed. I can remember the smell of the melting plastic to this day. We would always get little burns while making creepy crawlers. We were thrilled to be making our own toys.
The reasons for the end of Saturday morning cartoons are numerous, they have their roots in Parental Advocacy Groups. The groups were concerned about the amount of time kids spent watching cartoons, cartoon depictions of violence, and stereotypes as well as the commercialism that has always been a part of TV cartoons. Kids, it turns out, had a difficult time distinguishing the shows they were watching from the ads that ran during them.
Saturday morning cartoons, like pay phones and video rental stores are one of those cultural touchstones that meant so much to older generations, but are meaningless to children today.