Thanksgiving 1958 Meant Watching Television in a More Relaxed Era

Between 1945 and 1956, Thanksgiving morning was reserved for going with my dad to the annual Burley Bowl Parade in downtown Johnson City.  Our normal viewing spot was in front of the Tennessee Theatre on E. Main. Since it was usually freezing cold, we took thermos bottles of hot chocolate with us and kept in mind the fact  that Mom would have a hot Thanksgiving dinner waiting on us when we returned home.

After that, I began viewing the other Thanksgiving Day parades on our black and white 19 inch RCA television set with a limited option of stations available. Later, after color sets came into existence and became the rage, I was able to watch them in full color on a slightly larger screen. A perusal of old TV Guides recently provided me with a nostalgic tour down memory lane.

At 10:15 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1958, Detroit's 32nd annual J.L. Hudson department store's parade was hosted by everyone's favorite skipper, Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan), in a 45-minute telecast. A long-established feature of the parade was the presence of over 100 large “Italian heads” worn by cavorting clowns, which included 40 new ones that year. The normally scheduled game shows, “Dough Re Mi,” “For Love or Money,” “Treasure Hunt” and “Play Your Hunch,” were preempted that holiday morning.  

At 11 a.m., another parade commenced – the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It was televised in a one-hour broadcast hosted by Bert Parks (best known for hosting the annual Miss America telecast from 1955 to 1979) and Frank Blair (anchor on the NBC News “Today Show” for 22 years). In addition to the giant Popeye, Spaceman and soldier balloons; celebrities (and the floats they were seen on) included Dick Clark (Cinderella), Ginger Rogers (Flower), Benny Goodman (Showboat), Dolores Hart (Mother Goose), Johnny Jellybean (Circus) Charlie Ruggles (King Cole) and Ed Herilihy.

The crowd favorites, without question, were the giant balloons that hovered overhead. They almost didn't make it into the parade in 1958 because they were to be inflated with helium, which was in short supply that year. The dilemma was resolved by inflating them with air and using cranes to propel them. The live broadcast preempted two network game shows: “The Price is Right” (with Johnny Olson's famous utterance, “Come On Down”)  and “Concentration.”

A third parade marched down the streets of Philadelphia that morning –  the 38-year-old Gimbel parade, which was the country's oldest. It was picked up nationally on CBS's “Arthur Godfrey Time” with country singer, Jimmy Dean (country singer and sausage producer) as the grand marshal.

At noon, the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions faced off in a Thanksgiving Day football game. The contest resulted in the  cancellation on that day of “Love of Life,” “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Guiding Light” (all three being soap operas), Walter Cronkite's newscast, “As the World Turns” (another soap) and “The Jimmy Dean Show.” “Art Linkletter's House Party” was picked up in progress at the finale of the game. Detroit won with a score of 24-14.

A college football game between the Aggies of Texas A&M and the Longhorns of Texas at Austin, Texas,  kicked off at 2:45 p.m. A&M ran a single-wing offense while Texas used a split-T attack. Jim Myers coached the Aggies while Darrell Royal provided leadership for the Longhorns. Texas won 27-0. The game affected five additional regular programs, “Haggis Baggis,” “Today Is Ours,” “”From These Roots,” “Queen for a Day” and “County Fair.”

In 1958, the only available networks were ABC, CBS and NBC; the DuMont network. The latter one, which I am sure many of my readers recall, had ceased operations three years prior. Those were the days before cable. Good reception required a quality antenna. An ad from that era urged consumers to purchase a Channel Master “Traveling Wave” antenna. Sending in a coupon and a dime brought a pamphlet on how to spot antenna trouble. 

This was television and we were pleased to have it even if it was often challenging to watch. Happy Thanksgiving.