MILLION-DOLLAR MEMORIES

Garry and I both grew up in New York in the 1950s. That was before cable. It even proceeded UHF. Television was black and white. We had seven channels: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), and 7 (ABC), the network flagship stations. They remain the network flagship stations and of course, New York’s network affiliates.

Also playing was channel 5 (Dumont) which showed lots of old movies and channel 13. Today, 13 is PBS, but then, it was stuff so bad no one else would run it. Johnny Mack Brown westerns. Movies John Wayne wished he could forget having made.

Then, there was channel 9 (WOR RKO-General). It was the premium rerun and old monster movie channel along with channel 11 (WPIX). But channel 9 won my heart because it had Million Dollar Movie.

Ah, the memories. You could say the Million Dollar Movie was an educational channel, if you consider movies educational. Which I do. Old movies, all in black and white because television was all black and white. I was, later in life, surprised to discover how many of these movies are actually in color. Who knew?

My mother did not allow my brother and I to watch television on school nights. Nor were we allowed to watch television during the day, even on weekends. She believed in fresh air, sports, and reading. What it really meant was I had to go to a friend’s house to catch the Saturday morning cartoons and great shows like “My Friend Flicka.”

Eventually, TV won and we all watched whenever and whatever we liked, but that was years in the future. Even early on, there were exceptions to the rules. The main exception was if we were home sick from school, we got to watch television all day. Upstairs in my parent’s bedroom … and out of my mother’s hair.

72-Antique-Marilyn-Matthew-1952

That was when Million Dollar Movie came into its own. They showed one movie a week, but they showed it all day until midnight. For seven days in a row. The theme for Million Dollar Movie was the Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind. The first time I saw Gone With the Wind, I practically leapt from my seat shouting “Hey, that’s the Million Dollar Movie theme.”

I got tonsillitis with boring regularity and it came with a full week at home. Antibiotics and whatever was showing on (you guessed it) Million Dollar Movie. Which is how come I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy several hundred times. My bouts of tonsillitis coincided with their showings of Jimmy Cagney’s finest performance.

I didn’t know he made any other movies until I was an adult. That was when I discovered he had played gangsters. I was surprised. I thought all he did was dance and sing.

Why am I writing about this? Because we are watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. After all these years, I can still sing along with every song, know every dance move, and each piece of dialogue. Remarkably, unlike so many other movies, it has remained black and white.

Does anyone know why the movie is in black and white? It screams for color. Just saying.



Categories: Black & White, Entertainment, film, Movies, Television

Tags: , , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. I don’t remember that particular show, but I remember Saturday morning with My Friend Flicka and Sky King and Gunsmoke on Saturday nights while I got my hair put in pin curls. The times they have a changed. 🙂

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  2. Oh Million Dollar Movie- I would sty up all hours of the night watching movie after movie. All those old goodies- and I LOVED James Cagney! Thanks for the memory Marilyn!

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  3. Channel 13 as New York’s PBS affiliate was immortalized in Billy Joel’s 1983ish song “Pressure.” I also knew WABC 7 because for a few years, they were the “host” of our Millionaire message board. We only had 7 over the air channels in the St. Louis market back in the 80’s (5 VHF, 2 UHF), and then even when we got cable, that only added about 25 more. I miss the days when there were only 30 channels and not 300… it seemed like there was more to watch back then…

    I thought Yankee Doodle Dandy was one of those classic films Ted Turner colorized. I only know of the movie through promos for it TBS used to back in the day, and I swear I remember it being in color…

    I figured I may as well address my own speculation and look it up… yep, it was actually the first film ted colorized back in 1986 according to its Wiki article. Here’s a clip of it in stunning color…

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    • Yes, there was (is?) a terrible colorized version that Turner did back in the 80s (70s?), but the original was black and white. It should have been made in color and we can’t figure out why not. It wasn’t money. It was an “A” production and Warner Brothers wasn’t one of the cheapskate studios. It’s a movie that absolutely wants to be in color.

      I’m not anti-colorization on principle, but they will have to do a lot better with the process before it’s worth discussing.

      You are right. When there were fewer channels, there was more stuff to watch because they were all real channels. A lot of the “channels” now are shopping, music videos, religious propaganda, real estate … and weird sports that someone must watch, but I can’t imagine who. We’ve got probably 100 channels of RADIO stations. I like radio, but I’m not going to watch radio on television. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something wrong with that.

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  4. Here in New Zealand in the 60’s we only had the one channel and it didn’t start up until 6 PM for the news and then it finished at 11PM. I only ever got to watch the news and not a lot else – bath and then bedtime for me. Saturdays I was allowed to stay up and we watched all the movies in black and white – no colour until the 70’s for us.So I watched mostly the old musicals and John Wayne mistakes too.

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    • I think we got our first color sets in the 70s. Before that, they weren’t very good and were really expensive. We had more channels because NY is very large. Like London. Huge. But it was the same stuff 🙂

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  5. My mom was the opposite of your mom (of course we were watching TV in the 70’s, but it was still 5 channels). We watched television constantly, And it was always old movies with us. Then she married a technophile and we got all of the latest and greatest goodies like VHS, Betamax, video disc players (when they were as big as records), so we watched movies galore. And of course, cable television when it finally came out. I’ve seen more old movies than I can shake a stick at because they filled the airways in the early days of cable television, and they were the first to be released on VHS — no copyright, you know. Plus, they’re great too.

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    • By the time the 1960s rolled around, TV restrictions were a memory. By then, everyone watched it, together and seperately. We also had TVs all over the house by then. My mother was afraid it would make us stupid. She wasn’t entirely wrong.

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  6. I grew up in New Jersey and remember all those (like there were so many!) TV stations you mention. I LOVED Million Dollar Movie. Just the sound of their theme song made me smile and get ready for the good stuff. Such a great post, Marilyn.

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  7. Just some time ago I read the book My friend Flicka . It is a beautiful book. Yes, memories are precious. Regards.

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  8. I was the other way round with Jimmy Cagney – I was surprised to learn he’d done stuff other than gangster films!

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  9. oh that was probably the first movie I saw him in when he WASNT a gangster. I managed to watch every movie ever made, because of TV in the early 50s, and imagine my surprise when I saw him in YankeeDoodle Dandy. Its still one of my favorites. That and all the old Busby Berkeley musicals.

    And I only knew WOR as a late night radio station (because we could only pick it up, up here, after dark), and I found Jean Sheperd and his amazingly bizarre and hysterical radio show. I must have been about 13, listening to the orignal Christmas Story, and “the day the Camel bit me” as it faded in and out with static…

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    • Jean Sheperd on the radio was wonderful! Not wanting to sound gushy, but he was some kind of story-telling genius and introduced so many of us to the joys of imagination — and radio. REAL radio.

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      • He was amazing. The sound effects, the strange commercials, I learned more from him about cars, lol…he also hosted his own tv program, it may have been on PBS, in the 60s, and i never missed it. I miss the hell out of people like that, they had–or took–the freedom to expand. Late night talk folks had a bit more leeway, too.

        In a way he was much like Ray Bradbury, injecting himself (albeit much more directly) into his stories, which predisposed me to love Ray Bradbury for the same reasons.

        Gush away, Im doing the same thing. right this minute im under the bed covers with my new fangled portable radio, turned as low as I could get it, way way past my bed time, trying not to laugh out loud…

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    • Judy, those were my formative days in so many ways. Radio was my first love, beginning in the late 40’s. It was on almost all the time. From the morning news and variety shows (Arthur Godfrey, Art Linkletter, etc) through the afternoon soap operas to the evening news, dramas and comedies.
      Jean Shepherd was one of those early favorites. Years later when I met him as a young professional, it was a thrill. He was most gracious. I also met his wife, the actress Lois Nettleton. She was also very nice. When I rattled off the titles of her films and TV work, we became friends.
      “Radio Days” and “A Christmas Story” are watched frequently here because they remind us of those days of innocence, budding imagination and dreams of things to come.
      I’ve always been a huge Cagney fan. I watched one of his earliest films the other night, “Doorway To Hell”. 1930. It actually starred Lew Ayres with Cagney getting 4th billing. Cagney absolutely stole the film!! A few months later he’d make “Public Enemy”. He was originally cast as the sidekick but Jack Warner realized Cagney’s talent and switched roles.
      When I met Cagney in the early 70’s, he spun stories about those early days. He confided in how he did bits of business to overshadow other actors. Cagney smiled noting how Steve McQueen did the same thing in HIS early films, especially “The Magnificent Seven”. Cagney said he stopped doing the “bits” once he was established. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was absolutely Cagney’s favorite film. He wanted to do more musicals but the suits blocked him even when he headed up his own production company.
      Typically, I’ve droned on here.
      Mea Culpa!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I recall in the sixties we had four channels, two French and two English. With a little luck and lots of steel wool and coat hangers on the rabbit ears we could get a few grainy images from nearby US stations. Channel 5 from Plattsburgh, NY and channel 8 from Burlington, VT.

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    • Radio travels farther than TV signals. Especially AM which can take some amazing bounces off the upper atmosphere. WBZ, here in Boston, even before being pumped through the Internet, could be picked up down in Texas and up various placed in Canada and the midwest. I’ve seen Plattsburgh TV but not Burlington, VT. I hope I didn’t miss anything important!

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