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Kids’ Programs Worry Everybody but Kids

The Milwaukee Journal – Nov 8, 1942     

Kids’ Programs Worry Everybody but Kids
By Richard Match
In the New York Tunes

“LOOK—up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”

These magic syllables are “Once upon a time--,” 1942 style. They introduce the time hallowed fairy tale as the modern American youngster knows it and wants to know it.

Every day, as supper time draws near, young America, aged 7 to 14, rushes for home,  hearth and radio to absorb his or her daily hour of modern children’s “literature.” Young ears listen avidly as the heroic Captain Midnight and five or six other modern Jack the Giant Killer spend 15 minutes ranging a 1942 Never-Never Land.

The old fantastic two headed giant has been replaced by master spies and super-criminals. The fair damsel in distress is now a stolen airplane design. And a twin motored monoplane takes Jack farther and faster than seven league boots ever did. None of that hard to believe, old-fashioned fairy tale stuff for the modern kid. Fantastic romanticism has been replaced by fantastic “realism.”

The daily adventure serial has been a juvenile best seller in radio since way back—11 or 12 years ago—when the earliest of the genre, “Little Orphan Annie,” first trod the ethereal boards over a local Chicago station. But getting the little ones to ask mother for this or that sponsored product isn’t easy. The standard lure is a “secret” club: The Tom Mix Straight Shooters, the Mandrake Magicians’ Club, Captain Midnight’s Secret Squadron. Secret “high signs” and simple codes are devised, membership cards and “Slide-o-Matic Decoders” are exchanged for box tops.

THEN the announcer solemnly intones a “tease line”:
“Well, there seems to be no hope. Can Mandrake, single handed and unarmed, cope with Captain X and the crew of the submarine?” It hardly seems likely that he can. But come Monday, he can and does==before a large and appreciative audience.
Adventure serials are not generally long lived. Most of the efforts of the years now repose in the thankless oblivion of office files. Gone, perhaps forever, are “Dick Tracy,” “Omar the Mystic,” “Flash Gordon,” “Buck Rogers in the Twenty-fifth Century,” “Og, Son of Fire,” “Terry and the Pirates,” and numerous others.

Jack Armstrong, venerable prototype of the “All-American Boy,” started out about 10 years ago as the athletic hero of a small town high school. After some years Hudson high’s football team was forgotten and Jack began to range the world in an amphibian plane. Now he spends most of his time in Madagascar, India and Polynesia, dodging fanatical Hindu sects and Japanese troops.
You can see that “Jack Armstrong,the all-American Boy,” has a distinctive flavor of its own. All adventure serials have. But strangely, when you’ve heard one you’ve heard ‘em all. They’re twin brothers in different uniforms. Their common formula is physical danger encountered on a hunt—for an enemy base, for a treasure, for a missing “defense plan.” Subtle characterizations are avoided. The hero, man or boy, is a simple, modest fellow, all courage, all virtue. His opponent, very often a “master criminal,” bent on control of the world or the destruction of the United States, is the epitome of evil and low trickery.

IMMEDIATELY after Pearl Harbor the adventure serial went to war in a big way. One epic, “Hop Harrigan,” features the exploits of an army flier currently chasing Nazis in the Caribbean. Today’s typical villain is the agent of an enemy power, who steals the plans of the new airplane and hides out in a jungle villa.

Evidently the modern kid likes it. His modern mother doesn’t. Clubwomen and parent-teacher association call for educational programs, fiercely condemn radio’s late afternoon chatter of tommy guns, and perennially pin medals on “Let’s Pretend,” a dramatization of authentic fairy tales.
But radio stands firm. One can hardly expect radio’s juvenile serials to be keyed anywhere near the child prodigy level when all indication are that children like what they’re getting now. Of course as the modern mothers point out, the children might like educational programs too. But, for better or worse, the adventure serial is a sure thing. 


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