Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Five Classic TV Sights That Have Disappeared From America


As I’ve frequently mentioned, one of the reasons I enjoy classic TV shows is the window they provide into life in America in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I am fascinated by how we lived, worked and played back then, taking note of which traditions and behaviors from that time are still commonplace, and which have been discarded in favor of (allegedly) preferable options.


Watch any show, drama or comedy, from the classic TV era and you’ll see abundant examples of how the nation has changed. And we’re just focusing here on the cosmetic changes, not the political, social, cultural and religious divergences that would require a book to explore.


To walk that path would be too dispiriting, so instead let’s take a more light-hearted look at five once common phenomena that, as far as I know, are either highly endangered species or entirely extinct.


Listening Booths in Record Stores

I know, even record stories themselves are hard to find anymore. But from the early days of the 20th century when music became available for purchase on vinyl, many stores offered booths in which patrons could listen to records before deciding whether to buy them. 


By the 1950s, when sitcom teenagers were embracing music their parents didn’t understand, you’d see these booths pop up on shows like The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. They were still around in 1966, as that’s where Dan Briggs once received his mission instructions in the first season of Mission: Impossible. An homage to that moment appears in the 2015 film Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation.


Slide Projectors

When it came to viewing and sharing special images of exciting vacations or family get-togethers, bigger was always better. That’s why TV families had their photos developed as slides that could be projected onto a screen or wall. 


They’d invite friends over to see the show – and sometimes those friends would be delighted and sometimes they’d be bored. But this was the standard practice at least into the 1970s, as I certainly remember seeing photos of my kindergarten and first grade birthday parties via our slide projector. And if you were clever like the boys on The Brady Bunch, you could project an image of a ghost outside the girls’ bedroom window, though that practical joke would later come back to bite them (“Fright Night”). 



Today, people seem content to sacrifice scope for convenience, and share their photos via the small screens on their phones. And they can email the pictures to anyone who wants to see them, instead of having the neighbors over, popping some popcorn and making an evening out of the presentation. 


Service Stations

From the ‘ding’ of the hose as you pull up to the pumps, to the attendant who fills your tank, cleans your windshield and offers to check the tires, to the quarts of oil stacked in pyramid shape in the window, the classic TV gas station is a veritable fount of nostalgia. Let’s not even talk about the under $1 a gallon price for gas back then. They also provided employment for many Comfort TV characters, including Bud Anderson on Father Knows Best



Sadly, self-service stations began to dominate the marketplace as far back as the late 1970s, though at least they continued to offer consumers a choice between full and self-service islands. If you still want to have the experience of having your tank filled by a professional, you’ll have to move to New Jersey or to Oregon, where laws forbid the public from pumping their own gas. But even these facilities bear little resemblance to what used to be called service stations, with the emphasis on service.


Kissing Booths

In the land of classic television, when a school or a club wanted to raise money for a particular cause, they might set up a kissing booth. There a volunteer, usually an attractive girl, would offer up a kiss for a donation. 



You’ll spot these booths on several shows including Happy Days and the Saturday morning live-action series Magic Mongo.


Do I even need to explain why these have disappeared? Even had they survived the gender battles amid the culture wars, COVID would have still finished them off for good.



You could say they just moved to the internet, but that would be erroneous, as the most popular online version is open to editing by anyone with no knowledge or experience required. 


There was a time when a leather bound, gold foil set of volumes from Encyclopedia Britannica was a source of pride, as well as education. 



You’ll spot them in t bedrooms and dens in shows such as Family Affair.  



Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In turned the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia into a running joke for years. And several shows also featured door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen – an occupation usually portrayed as an entry-level position taken by a fast-talking con artist or someone who couldn’t find work anywhere else. That trope somehow survived into the 1990s, when Joey bought the ‘V’ volume of an encyclopedia on an episode of Friends



Do you still miss any of these bygone institutions? I know I do.


  1. How about rotary telephones? How push-button landline phones that only have twelve keys?

    By the way, Mr. Hofstede, you failed to mention in this blog commentary that early episodes of the original "Charlie's Angels" TV series utilized a slide projector for the purposes of filling the Angels in about their cases.

    Also, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon has eased the ban on self-service stations in her state. Oregon counties with less than 40,000 residents can now have such stations.

  2. Many game shows, most prominently the original JEOPARDY! as hosted by Art Fleming, offered encyclopedia sets as a prize to all contestants, win or lose. My family had a set of (I think) Collier's Encyclopedia, which we supplemented with an annual yearbook.

  3. One thing we always saw in American sitcoms were wallphones with super long curly cords to the handpiece! In Australia we have had wallphones but they never had the miles-long cords that we saw on those sitcoms!