Last month, I talked about my Saturday morning television viewing when I was a child in the 1960s. My siblings and I almost always opted for cartoons, but occasionally we would watch reruns of The Roy Rogers Show, which was how I first discovered Dale Evans.
(From the episode “Desert Fugitives,” via RoyRogersWorld.com.)
And then there were Sunday afternoons. For those of us growing up in the Chicago area in the 1960s and 1970s, this meant Family Classics, hosted by Frazier Thomas, who also delighted us weekday afternoons with his Garfield Goose show. Family Classics aired on WGN, back when it was a local television station, channel 9.
Family Classics was all about movies. Thomas selected one from the WGN library that he considered family friendly, then edited it to remove portions he believed might frighten young children. Mostly I remember watching these movies in the winter, when it was too dark and too cold to do much of anything else in the late afternoon. Our mother would be cooking dinner in the kitchen, and I think what worried us most is that she would call us to the table before the movie was over. But that rarely happened. Our parents trusted Thomas’s choices, considered these good movies, and once started, usually allowed us to watch to the end.
(TV Guide ad)
Yes, I remember watching Sink the Bismarck, and for a while we could all sing its theme song, too. I first saw Boys Town and Heidi on Family Classics, both of which gave me glimpses of childhoods totally different from mine. The show introduced me to science fiction: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Time Machine. (Because of Thomas’s editing, it was many years before I learned what those Morlocks were up to.) At Christmas time, we turned on Family Classics to watch A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and Hans Christian Anderson.
And there was Lassie Come Home. I didn’t like this as much as the Lassie television show, especially the seasons with young Timmy and his kind mother, played by June Lockhart. My mother told me that when I was very young, I cried when the credits rolled at the end. That theme music always sounded so mournful to me, and Lassie looked so sad, sitting there all alone. The animal movie I really looked forward to was Snowfire, about a girl who lives on a ranch and tells everyone she has befriended a wild white stallion that locals believe is dangerous. It was great family drama, complete with a beautiful horse.
Frazier Thomas and his Family Classics introduced me to movies, and I’ve been a fan ever since. (I prefer them uncut and uncensored now.) Cold, dark, winter afternoons remind me of the warmth Family Classics brought into our house. And I’ve spent a lifetime dreaming of having the same kind of cozy library Thomas had for his books.