Aug 11, 2015

Andy's Gang: Beefcake and Bonding on 1950s Children's TV

The earliest generation of Boomer kids have fond memories of tv programs that, at least to modern sensibilities, seem outlandish and bizarre.  You Can't Do That On Television in the 1980s can't even begin to compete with the weirdness of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, Pinkie Lane, or Howdy Doody.  

But the weirdest of all was Andy's Gang (1955-60), hosted by long-time Western sidekick Andy Devine (previously a radio and tv series hosted by Ed McConnell, and called Smilin' Ed's Gang)

1. A scary kid with blond page boy curls and one eye perpetually closed announced "I'm Buster Brown...I live in a shoe.  Here's my dog Tige...he lives in there,too."  Whereupon the studio audience went wild with laughter (actually, it was the same clip of a hysterical kid, over and over again).

2. The anarchic Froggy the Gremlin kept popping in to skewer human pretensions and stir things up.  Cue the same clip of a studio audience going into hysterics.

3. A cat named Midnight could talk. But she said only one word: "Nice," and it sounded more like a meow.  Cue the hysterical laughter.

But gay kids in the audience were waiting for the "Story Time" segment about Gunga, an Indian boy (surprisingly buff college student Nino Marcel).  He was supposed to be Indian, but he looked sort of like Jay North on the similarly-Indian themed Maya, or an older version of  Jonny Quest.  I'll bet he had blond hair under that turban.

Although they lived in India, Gunga and his boyfriend, Rama (a surprisingly buff Vito Scotti) got into Bomba the Jungle Boy-style adventures with animal poachers, lost cities, and savage cannibal tribes.

But unlike Bomba, they had no interest in girls.  Rama was the one who usually needed rescuing.

They were amazingly physical in their interactions, always hugging, clinging together, touching arms and shoulders.

Afterwards, Andy would end the program by underscoring the buddy-bonding:  "We're pals, and pals stick together!"  Then, to keep Christian fundamentalists happy, "Remember, Sunday school or church tomorrow!"  (No Hindus in the audience, apparently.)

Nino Marcel also played his Gunga Ram character, but with a different premise, in the feature film Sabaka (1954): he is a young elephant trainer who vows revenge against the evil cult that killed his family. His costar was none other than the famous Boris Karloff.

You can watch the full movie here.

See also: Burr Tillstrom, the gay puppeteer behind Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.