by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

Mr. Wizard is dead! Oh, Lord, I loved him. He was a wise and patient teacher who wanted me, the skinny kid in pig-tails sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, to understand the mysteries of the physical world.

With household objects, Mr. Wizard made things clear. Cause and effect. Inertia. Gravity. You name it. 

"Mr. I. Magination" is no more. "The Magic Cottage" has disappeared and "Captain Kangaroo" is only a memory.

"Pinky Lee"; "Kukla, Fran and Ollie"; Miss Whatever from "Romper Room" –- all gone.

I remember the day, around 1950, when the first television came into our modest apartment on West 86th Street. My mother didn’t want it. My father didn’t care. It was The New Thing and he was always one for the Big Gesture. The small screen, about the size of a paper plate suspended in a field of weird yellow mesh, shone, even when off, in a cabinet of cheap wood as big as a washing machine.

My romance with magic and story and a grownup helping me, directly, had begun. And has continued.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on the modern media. Why would I, after all, critique all the cartoons I watch with my grandchildren, who sit cross-legged on the floor, enthralled, while I’m just grateful when I’ve got feeling in my feet. Times are different; violence and smart-aleck chatter and action heroes rule the morning. Though "Tom and Jerry" wasn’t sweet, this stuff is deadly.

I heard while writing this that Kellogg has announced it will stop advertising to children under age 12 products that fail to meet specific nutrition guidelines for calories, sugar, fat and sodium — which means it will cease using licensed characters or branded toys to promote unhealthy food. Kellogg also intends to reformulate some breakfast cereals to make them more nutritious. Well, I’m glad. But when they advertise the new stuff, I sure wish they’d work to imbue the children of this nation with the love of learning.

The International Herald Tribune obituary for Don Herbert, aka Mr. Wizard, said that "during the 1960s and 1970s, about half the applicants to Rockefeller University in New York, where students work toward doctorates in science and medicine, cited Mr. Wizard when asked how they first became interested in science."

We’ve now got TV’s wide as a trailer and skinny as a pizza with controls that make me want to cry and that every toddler masters before toilet skills. As a nation, we owe it to our children to teach them the important things, to hold them to a standard, and to make learning fun.

And as for this Grammy, ecstatic with the best company in the world, working through the morning aches would be a helluva lot easier if Mr. Wizard was still there, explaining something true to me and the Grands.

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  • ken June 17, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    I assume Elizabeth that you and I are about the same age since I remember my parents’ buying our first TV set a 12 1/2 inch Motorola in 1949. I remember well all of the shows you mention but also Captain Video, Tom Corbett,and of course Howdy Doody and countless others. They were all simple in concept and execution. The “ray guns” used in Captain Video, for example, were simple tools bought in a hardware store.
    In addition, because practically all families had only one television set, it was not unusual for the entire family to watch television together. Therefore, I enjoyed such shows as “I Remember Momma” with my parents. Not only did I get some insight into family dynamics at a young age, but I also was brought closer to my own family.
    In its infancy television actually helped families bond. The shows have become far more sophisticated, but with hundreds of channels and households with multiple sets today the converse is true.

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