Garfield Goose, Bozo and Me


The other day it hit me that this coming year, 2015 it will have been 60 years since WGN-TV launched its wildly popular children’s show, Garfield Goose and Friends. As a  Baby Boomer and Clinical Psychologist it doesn’t take my Ph.D. to realize that Simon and Garfunkel were right to describe childhood in their  1968 song Bookends as “a time of innocence, a time of confidences long ago..” My time of innocence took place near Chicago, Illinois in the suburb of Highland Park.  Back then we were taught to believe in magical things like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus (unless you were Jewish) and instructed to trust and respect authority figures including meter maids, librarians and the President of the United States. It’s only much later in life that you realize there’s more going on behind the scene than meets the eye. For example, what appeared to be lighthearted TV entertainment in the late 1950’s -60’s turned out to also be an apropos metaphor for a postwar tug-of-war between opposing forces of various kinds.  This struggle for supremacy expressed itself in an ongoing battle between television sponsors over their best selling products, ie. Ovaltine versus Bosco, Coke versus Pepsi, etc.  After all, the Cold War was still going on and you never knew who might be a KGB spy, a secret agent with a cool shoe phone, or a brainwashed Korean war veteran programmed to liquidate somebody important at the very mention of some obscure phrase like, “Pop the Tang”.
Fortunately, most of us suburbanized Baby Boomers grew up in a state of perpetual naivete, sitting transfixed and cross-legged in front of a black and white television watching campy Westerns like the Lone Ranger, perky adolescent Mouseketeers with budding breasts, or science fiction movies that regularly outdid William Shatner in overacting, ie. “This is the end of Flash Gordon!! Haha!!”
Still, we tended to believe what we saw with our own eyes no matter how illogical and unlikely the stretch of the imagination. Case in point: the popular TV shows “Garfield Goose and Friends” and “Bozo’s Circus”. If you happened to grow up in Chicagoland circa 1960-1985, you would definitely remember this endearing and wholly impossible TV program starring a megalomaniac duck(Garfield Goose), a narcoleptic bloodhound (Beauregard Burnside III), and a vaguely asexual human host (Frazier Thomas) dressed in full military uniform. Today he might be diagnosed as delusional or be arrested for posing as a military veteran and end up stripped of his shiny medals and gold shoulder pads like Chuck Connors was in the television show “Branded”.
Even as a kid in Highland Park, lazily stretched out after school on my parents black leather Eames chair, eating Twinkies and drinking ice cold milk (Sun Valley Dairy), I suspected there was another level of “reality” that was NOT being talked about on the shows “little theater screen”.  I somehow knew there was more to life than I could glean from my favorite cartoons and TV shows like Garfield Goose, Bozo’s Circus, Mighty Mouse, Beanie and Cecil, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Clutch Cargo, and The Magic Hands.
While Frazier Thomas and friends lulled me into a false sense of security, Bozo’s Circus usually triggered my high anxiety. Certainly I reveled in the agony and the ecstasy of those young people brave enough (or fool enough) to actually GO ON THE AIR live with Bozo. At first I felt jealous of them and then later completely mortified and unreasonably angry towards the kids chosen by the “Magic Arrows” to play the Grand Prize Game (GPG). This was especially true for those hapless players who somehow flubbed the first or second toss of the ping pong ball into the Bozo buckets. I remember shrieking at the TV in the same exact manner my father did when his beloved Green Bay Packers dropped an easy pass or fumbled the pigskin.  “Are you kidding me?! All you had to do was let the ball go STRAIGHT DOWN to get a silver dollar!! Your life is ruined…get out of here you bum!!” I guess I perceived myself as the unofficial armchair quarterback or Vince Lombardi of the Grand Prize Game. My exaggerated frustration and anger no doubt masked my own trepidation and fear imagining myself blow the same easy “drop shot” due to over excitement, clammy hands or performance anxiety. If that happened I knew there was  NO WAY I could ever show my face in public school or Sunset Foods ever again. The psychological stakes felt that high to me and the potential self-loathing and never ending taint of failure on my soul even higher.  Regardless, this only served to reinforce the feeling that the larger story of life beyond Bozo’s Big Top was not being revealed to us. Of course, I hadn’t yet been exposed to the darker side of adulthood as portrayed in films like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” or “Dr. Strangelove”. In time I would find out and Simon and Garfinkel’s sentimental lyrics would slowly begin to sink in right down to the bone.
 I’m not saying I was ever smart enough as a kid to know about the complicated dualities of human nature. I just never suspected that our handsome and heroic leaders like John F Kennedy might have been popping pain pills, shtupping Marilyn Monroe and turning the White House swimming pool into a Roman bath house when he wasn’t busy saving the world.  I was too busy “ducking and covering” like everybody else at West Ridge School in District 112.  Similarly, I never thought that commercial airplanes would someday fly into the World Trade Towers or that grown men would wear their pants around their butts or ankles.  My trousers only do that now when I am using a public toilet or struggling to get them off before going to bed. Hence, I was protected from “over thinking” or excessive speculation of any kind by Highland Park’s sweet suburban embrace. Case example: Never once did I ever consider that the stop-action cartoon “Hardrock, Coco, and Joe” (see link below) shown around X-mas on Garfield Goose might (as some ancient alien theorists believe…) have been a prescient warning from extraterrestrials about the satanic pleasures of hard drugs like crystal meth, cocaine and heroin quietly waiting to enslave our country’s vulnerable youth in the not so distant future. Maybe I should have…Hard rock?  Like I said, I was still naive and virginal in my critical thinking like everyone else.  All I did know was that there had to be more to life and that Clutch Cargo’s creepy lips seemed oddly effeminate as well as completely out of synch with his manly dialogue.
When I look back on it, I still question whether it’s right to keep kids from knowing more  or protect them so thoroughly from harsher realities downwind rather than just pulling back the velvet curtain to reveal the all-too-human Wizard of Oz. Now when I watch that famous and fanciful film starring Judy Garland, everyone on screen seems incredibly wide-eyed and hopelessly naive. I know I wouldn’t let my teenage daughter (if I had one) go skipping down some yellow brick road with a bunch of weird looking slackers. It’s as if the entire cast had ingested those poppy plants or spent the whole evening doing jello shots with the Munchkins.  In the “real world” of reality TV even Matt and Amy Roloff (Little People, Big World) are apparently getting divorced after 26 years of marriage. Realistically they will probably end up hating each others smaller-than-normal guts once the lawyers take their final cut. Real life can be pretty damn rough. Bottomline: Aren’t we all somewhat hurt and traumatized by the disappointments of life? Who didn’t suffer upon learning that the Tooth Fairy was really your parents, mere mortals who eventually tired of the mythological ruse and one day having run out of quarters (or dollar bills) confessed so that they could just write a check and go to bed? Maybe that’s what maturity is all about, honestly facing and accepting reality. I just know that part of me, like Peter Pan, never wanted to do it….”grow up” that is.
Honestly I dont have all the answers. My so called higher education fails me at such times of quietude and sobering reflection. Maybe Simon and Garfunkel were also right to suggest that we just try to cherish the memories captured in those old Instamatic camera photos that are in many ways all that’s tangibly left of our precious childhoods. What I can say for sure is that I miss those glory days eating Twinkies, drinking cold milk out of tall glass dairy bottles, and yelling, “Hot dogs, hamburgers, spaghetti and meatballs!!” in an attempt to wake up a sleeping hound dog exactly where he chose to lie….in a much simpler time and place that I so fondly remember.

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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