My grandchildren can’t stand that I love to watch old movies. One even calls them “white movies” because, I suppose, it’s too much work to say “black-and-white movies.” Kids today! Get a job!
As it turns out, most of the really good movies I watch on television (on Turner Classic Movies) were made before color was common on the big screen. Casablanca would gain nothing from Technicolor. Its story is told in the countless gray shades of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre and Claude Rains.
I grew up on The Wizard of Oz, but the 1939 classic was completely in black and white the times I saw it on our first television set, a 21-inch RCA Victor that sat on a metal stand and connected to a big antenna attached to the side of the house. I had no idea that what I watched was in the emerald greens and ruby reds and checkered blues of Dorothy’s dress – except for the farm scenes at the beginning and end of the film, which were in fact in sepia tone, not black and white.
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was nothing of the sort at our house, just Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Black and White. Disney, in black and white! What a letdown.
That’s why, when one of the game shows my folks watched – probably I’ve Got a Secret but perhaps What’s My Line? – announced that the end of the show would be broadcast in color, I grew excited. That, despite the sad truth that we still owned a black-and-white set.
No matter, for the host told us that even black-and-white TVs would broadcast the final segment of the show in color. I had never cared for that show, but I was willing to learn to like it if it came through for me.
Of course, it was a gyp. When the show returned from its final commercial, everything and everyone in the studio had been labeled with big signs. One man’s suit was marked “Blue.” A woman’s dress, “Green.” And so on. The people were still gray, as were the signs.
If I hadn’t been a kid, I would have kicked in the television screen, the way Elvis later would shoot them when he was displeased by the programming.
I had no vote in the family as to the programming, though, and certainly as to when I could destroy the tube.
It would have taken a stronger kick than I had, anyway.
That RCA Victor, encased in metal and easily accessible from the back so my father could replace tubes the many times they burned out, had a sheet of flat glass covering the screen in front. I’m not sure of its purpose, but what it did in fact was to collect moths that wandered in the back of the box and flitted their way past the picture tube to the glass. Caught there, they died, leaving a row of cadavers between the two layers of glass.
My father, unschooled as he was, soon learned to repair our TV, but he never found a way to remove the moths. They were the only color we watched on TV every night.
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.