Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Children's Hour: A Radio Show, An Early TV Show and a Sentimental Poem by Henry Wasdworth Longfellow

Spending almost a week with my two grandsons in Massachusetts, I had a chuckle every morning around, oh, six-thirty or so when I'd hear the 'pitter-patter of little feet' that strikes 'fear' into the heart of every young parent when they realize that their day is about to begin before the sun actually comes up!

Grandparents tend to have a different perspective knowing that for them, the early day is a temporary situation. The gentle sound reminded me of my own child rearing days and a poem from childhood called 'The Children's Hour'. Written in 1859 by Hnery Wadsworth Longfellow, it stands the test of time though the poem refers to evening rather than the morning.

I thought I'd remember the poem being read on a TV show of the same name back in the 50s by the show's host, a man named Ed Herlihy (left). I researched it a bit but couldn't find anything to confirm. Apparently, the show was produced by the restaurant chain Horn and Hardart's and it was geared towards children. The show launched the careers of many of today's stars. It became clear to me why I actually had a memory of the show: Horn and Hardart's Automat was a favorite dining establishment of my family ( read, cheap eats!) on our trips into Manhattan. the chain even had a fancy china (right) pattern. Here's some of the history from the Internet:

The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour (later known as The Children's Hour) was a variety show with a cast of children, including some who later became well-known adult performers. Launched in 1927, the program was initially broadcast on WCAU Radio in Philadelphia, hosted by Stan Lee Broza, and was later aired on NBC Radio in New York during the 1940s and 1950s. The original New York host wasPaul Douglas, followed by Ralph Edwards and finallyEd Herlihy. The television premiere was on WCAU TVin Philadelphia in 1948, followed by WNBT(TV) in New York in 1949, telecast on Sunday mornings. The hosts were Broza in Philadelphia and Herlihy in New York. The program was sponsored by Horn & Hardart, which owned automats in New York and Philadelphia. A number of performers became quite successful after their work on the Philadelphia TV series, including Ted Arnold (musical director for Glenn Yarbrough and José Feliciano), Frankie Avalon,Rosemary Clooney, Buddy DeFranco, Eddie Fisher, Kitty Kallen (1940s-1950s vocalist), Ann Sheridan, comedy actor Arnold Stang and Ezra Stone (radio's original Henry Aldrich).

Here's the poem:
The Children's Hour
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

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