Mr. Ed didn’t entertain like Boyle Twins
By Kathleen Corkery Spencer
Forget Nick at Nite. The truth is, Beaver Cleaver was a dweeb and Mr. Ed never said anything interesting. If those programming executives had any sense they’d be showing reruns of the true classics of the original TV generation. Shows with style and wit. Shows with some immortal allure. Shows like “Starlit Stairway.”
This local classic was the TV talent show of my Spokane childhood. The name alone conjured up sparkling images of colossal fame. Well, OK. So maybe there wasn’t a big demand in Hollywood for baton twirling or tap dancing or yet another adenoidal rendering of “The Sounds of Silence.” But you had to start somewhere and for lots of local kids, talented or otherwise, this was it.
The Boyle Fuel Twins introduced the show’s Master of Ceremonies. The twins were perfectly and identically groomed sisters who sang the show sponsor’s jingle. My sister and I, brimming with twin envy, always sang along.
Clutching our kitchen spoon microphones, we warbled out those immortal lyrics, “For every heating problem, be your furnace old or new. Just call the Boyle Fuel Company and they’ll solve them all for you. When you need coal or oil, call Boyle.”
These lyrics were followed by a telephone number repeated twice, twin-style. “Fairfax 8, 1521,” said the first twin, meaningfully. “Fairfax 8, 1521,” the second twin chortled back.
Then, onto the big finish, “When you need coal or oil, call Boyle.”
The word “call” was held a little longer, building to a dramatic finish and setting up the audience for the MC’s introduction. He got right down to business, introducing the first act of the evening, which my sister and I, fledgling critics, would dissect like a pithed frog.
“Oh, she missed a step,” my sister would say about the evening’s ubiquitous tap dancer. “That’ll cost her.”
“He’s off key,” I’d add, when the first (of many) singers would miss the high note.
Like most critics, we were a lot better at pointing out the bad performance of others than producing a good one of our own. My sister, at least, had some talent.
But I was tone deaf with two left feet and a bad case of stage fright. This last malady got its dark beginnings from another local TV classic, “The Captain Cy Show.”
From a makeshift set that vaguely resembled a small boat, the Captain hosted a crew of local kids. There may have been cartoons involved, something that filled in the gap between the beginning and the end. But what stuck in my mind was that visitors to the Captain’s show got prizes. Being a child of depth and character with lofty ambitions, I was hoping to get a Hostess Snowball, essentially edible rubber, out of my visit.
Each kid who came on the show had to say a few words to the Captain. Nothing major. Stuff like your name, your age, whether or not you liked dogs. All a kid had to do was step up to the Captain’s microphone, look into the camera and charm Spokane. Simple.
The day I attended the show, I rehearsed my lines carefully. “Kathleen. Five. Yes.”
Naturally, I didn’t want to go on and on about myself. Just give the Captain a glimpse into my star quality, just win the audience’s hearts: just get the Snowball.
I watched the line of kids in front of me dwindle, the space between me and the Captain closed. The kid in front of me kept tugging nervously at the back of his pants, like his confidence had suddenly got lost in his back pocket. I remained cool. Then it was my turn.
“And what is your name, young lady?” the Captain asked.
I stared into the camera, dumbfounded. He might as well have asked me the theory of quantum physics. I drew a complete blank. He moved the microphone and himself a little closer and asked again. Same answer, the sound of one hand clapping.
He smiled and went on, the consummate showman. I was back in my seat before I knew it, clutching my pride – and my Snowball – like war rations. By the time the next local kid’s TV show, “Wallaby and Jack,” debuted, I was done with my work in front of the cameras. Being an abysmal actor, even playing myself, I naturally became a critic. By the time “Starlit Stairway” rolled around, I was Siskel to my sister’s Ebert.
Which reminds me, those television-programming executives really ought to get their act together. I’d take the Boyle Twins over a talking horse any day.
Sunday, March 26, 2000