Out on the Prairie with Pick

On Facebook recently — again — some old friends have been reminiscing about the town where we grew up. “You know you grew up in Rockville if you remember … blah blah blah.”

This time, the theme was a childrens TV show featuring a cowboy. This kind of thing was popular all across the country, since in the 1950’s there was an explosion of movies and TV shows about cowboys; it was only natural that versions for kids popped up. Plus, it was good for advertisers like food producers and distributors, since kids could then channel their desires through their moms, who did the grocery shopping.

I don’t know about you, but even now, if while working my thumb on the remote a black & white cowboy movie appears, that’s what my attention gloms onto. I get the irresistable urge to open a can of beans.

In the DC area back then was such a TV show for kids, featuring a cowboy named Pick Temple. Every little boy in the Maryland/DC/Virginia region wanted to be just like him, since clearly cowboys with their own TV shows were pretty successful. Pick Temple wore really cool cowboy clothes, like a white cowboy hat, and a fancy shirt with a string tie. He even had a guitar with his name on it and a dog named Lady. Yeah, the life of a TV cowboy was pretty nice, and they were too busy in the TV studio to get dirty with all that ropin’ and ridin’ and sleepin’ on the ground.

My little brother Dave and I were on the show, but I can’t remember how we got in. We may have sent in cereal boxtops, or my Uncle Luigi may have threatened the producers, or maybe it was just dumb luck because we had shown up. We must have been about 8 and 4 years old.

There were various activities and contests, and of course the Douglass Boys — like the Crane Boys from “Frasier” — were outstanding. Dave took part in one activity that involved popping balloons fixed to a wall. Evidently the kids busted the balloons by ‘shooting’ at them. Brother Dave, however, pointed out the sophisticated hoax, on camera of course, that in reality someone behind the wall must be sticking them with needles, which caused them to pop, instead of the kids shooting at them with toy guns. My brother was always a trouble maker.

I was in an exciting game of ‘Pass the Spinach’. A bunch of us sat on the floor in a circle, and we passed around an empty box of what I believe had been a container of frozen spinach. (The TV show had a sponsor, which if memory serves was a local grocery store, since many prizes were groceries, and at the end we all got to take home a bag of groceries.) Music played, and during the music we passed the box of spinach from person to person. When the music stopped, the person left holding it was out of the game. Then the music started up again and the game continued until there was only one kid left.

Evidently this game was based on a popular cowboy entertainment called “Pass the Scorpion”. This helped the cowboys to pass those long, lonely nights when TV reception was poor. Only in this version, the person left holding the scorpion died. This may explain why there aren’t very many cowboys left today.

At one particularly riveting part, we got down to two players: some beady-eyed kid whose parents were clearly Communists, and yours truly. We played for a while, the tension ratcheting up like James Bond trying to disable a bomb with only moments left. And then, with the box of spinach in motion, the music stopped. The other kid had lofted it towards me, and just as the music stopped — I like to think it was Beethoven — I threw my arms up and the box landed in my lap. The judges decided that since I did not touch the spinach, and that since the other kid had touched it last, I was the winner.

The crowd went wild. OK, it was maybe nine or ten mothers sitting off-stage, but I’m sure there was cheering and applause. Can’t remember if some gorgeous movie star kissed me or not, but there was definitely cheering. I think the prize was a plastic toy scorpion.

So Dave, Mom and I gathered up the loaf of bread, the canned goods and whatnot that was our take-home loot, and headed back to the suburbs, now that our brief moments of fame were over. I would have thought that this extraordinary performance would have attracted the attention of TV and movie producers and directors, and launched my silver screen career of wealth and fame, but for reasons unknown that never happened.

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