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“How Do You Have Some Fun In The Dark?”

by larrydachslager on August 17th, 2013

Back in the pre-VCR days, there were times when a kid simply couldn’t get to a movie theatre and there was nothing worthwhile on television.  Asking one’s parents didn’t help because their suggestion was, inevitably, “read a book.”  Granted, I was one of those kids who loved to read.  But sometimes, the desire for visual entertainment was so intense, even a good book couldn’t suffice.   Thankfully, the toy companies came to the rescue.

I was never big on toys as a kid.  I had a few action figures, but I don’t remember ever playing with them.  Yet I coveted and eventually owned every one of the toys I’m about to list.  Such gadgets have been made obsolete by the abundance and variety of entertainments currently available, but throughout the 60s and 70s, they were a popular and welcome respite from boredom.

The Kenner Give A Show Projector –

Giveashow

Not actually a “movie,” this was, essentially, a kids’ version of a Magic Lantern or Carousel Slide Projector. An early incarnation of a power point, perhaps?   The battery-operated projector came with a wide selection of cardboard strips, each of which contained seven color images that told a story featuring a popular cartoon or TV character.   The strip would be slid manually through the projector to magnify and illuminate each image on the wall.  (White doors worked best.)  On some versions, the pictures had explanatory captions, but fancier Give A Show variations came with accompanying phonograph records.   Every kids’ TV character of the day starred in Give A Show strips, which were also sold separately.  Even though the Give A Show box came with slits to house and protect the strips from smudging or creasing, during a certain twenty year period, a messy kid’s room wasn’t complete without random strips (along with a rogue View Master reel or two) strewn about.   Speaking of View Master, they manufactured a projector as well, allowing for public showings, but it was never as popular as its 3-D viewers or the Give A Show.   I’ll be discussing View Master in more detail in a later entry.  But first… a word from our sponsor…

 

The Easy Show Projector –

Easyshow

This toy was also by Kenner, but rather than individual slides, it adorned your wall with actual cartoons and live action movies using cartridges containing 8mm film.  They were short, silent, and black and white, but they moved.  The coolest thing about the Easy Show Projector is that, since it was hand-cranked, the “projectionist” could control the speed of the film or even show it backwards.  This “control” factor was one of the intriguing features pointed out in the commercials.  Later, fancier incarnations contained a motor which eliminated the need for cranking, but I always preferred the old fashioned way.   Perhaps it was the sound of the clicking crank that I found appealing.   The Easy Show Projector was the toy that taught me a true appreciation for how film, especially animation, worked.   Cranking very slowly allowed for watching  the film one frame at a time.  I remember coming to the realization that someone had to make a separate drawing for each frame. This video is a demonstration and includes the movies that I watched many times as a child. Maybe some of you did, too.

 

The Fisher Price Movie Viewer –

Fisher Price Movie Viewer Mickey Mouse Lonesome Ghosts

FisherPriceTheater

Despite its uninspired name, this was a very cool toy.  It was packaged and advertised as though it was geared for very young children, but everyone I knew who had one was at least ten or eleven.  Basically, you inserted the cartridge (which also contained 8mm film) held the viewer up to your eye and cranked away (making that awesome clicking sound and allowing for one-frame-at-a-time viewing).  Unlike the Give A Show or Easy Show toys, the Fisher Price Viewer was very portable and didn’t require a wall or a dark room.  In fact, it required light in order to see the image.  Also, unlike the Easy Show films, the Fisher Price ones were in color.  There was a great variety of cartridges available, everything from Popeye to Sesame Street, but my favorite was always the one the viewer came with – an edited version of the great 1937 Disney cartoon, Lonesome Ghosts, featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy.   Fisher Price Movie Cartridges also worked in the Fisher Price Movie Theater which had its own light and a small screen.  For some reason, I always preferred the viewer.   Not to keep you in suspense, but in a later entry, I’ll let you know what eventually became of my Fisher Price and Easy Show cartridges.  Let’s just say I was “resourceful.”

I’ve saved my favorite toy for last.  It’s the Show n Tell by General Electric –

shown

Like the Give A Show Projector, it showed still color images instead of movies, but even as a little kid, I thought it was ingenious.  It looked like a small TV and had a record player on the top.  (I was just as obsessed with records as I was with movies.)   The Show n Tell accessory packages, of which there was a great variety to choose from,  each came with a record and a plastic strip of film.  The strip was inserted into a slit on the side of the machine.  The record’s music, voices, and sound effects told the story as the filmstrip automatically advanced to the next frame.  If your timing was right, it was as if the machine somehow knew when the narrator on the record wanted it to change pictures.  Of course, the record player could play regular records as well, so it was infinitely practical.   The Show n Tell was my favorite toy.

Since General Electric wasn’t exactly known for manufacturing toys, they weren’t very adept at advertising them. I love how this ad hilariously tries to appeal to parents and make the Show n Tell look more “educational” than it actually was.

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I hope the title of this week’s entry didn’t mislead you.  (That’s a lie.  I was actually kind of hoping it would.)   It’s the opening lyric from the Give A Show commercial.  Though I loved all of these toys, they were never really the crowd pleasers as depicted in the ads.  And even though I never really played with my action figures, they made a very attentive audience.

As I said, since today’s kids can watch any movie or cartoon they want at any time (not to mention video games), these kinds of toys no longer serve a purpose.  That said…after I moved to Chicago, I finally got cable TV.  Like many of us, I’ve since learned that having a choice of hundreds of channels does not necessarily mean there’s something worth watching.  Many’s the time I still wish I had my Easy Show Projector.

One Comment
  1. Larry, this is good stuff! You could write a book with all of this! Thanks for sharing.

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