I was a child T.V. Star! Well maybe “Star” is exaggerating a little but. OK. maybe a lot; but I was on T.V. in 3 television commercials.
I had the angelic face and the blonde hair that showed up great on black & white T.V. Yes, this was in the early days of television. Back when even the big studios in New York City and Hollywood were primitive by today’s standards.
I was not making commercials in New York or Hollywood. My commercials were written, produced, filmed and aired at Channel 8 in New Haven Connecticut.
My mother was an experienced actress. She had been on Broadway and had appeared in the original Car 54 Where Are You? Like most actors she supplemented her income with commercials. She was the spokeswoman for a chain of discount stores named W.T. Grant. She did all their commercials on the radio.
As Christmas time was approaching, the executives at W.T. Grant decided to go all out and make some T.V. commercials advertising their toys. They had a very low budget, and needed them done fast. My mother was asked to do the commercials and they needed some kids to play with the toys while she did the voice-over.
My mother volunteered my sisters and me to be in the commercials. What could be cheaper and faster than using your own kids? When I say fast I mean it. I have heard that some modern commercials, like the kind they air at a Super Bowl can take 6 months to make. At Channel 8 we completed 3 commercials in 1 day, and we didn’t even work overtime.
We were excited to be there. None of us kids had ever seen a real T.V. studio before. The first thing that struck us was how fake it all was up close. We saw one set that looked like a boat on T.V. We were shocked to see that in real life it was made of cardboard and paper.
The other strange thing was how few people there were. To film our commercials there was one cameraman, the director and a sound engineer. That was it.
The cement floor was covered with a cheap rug. Some furniture and a fake Christmas tree were moved onto the set to make it look like a family’s living room. While the cameraman set this up the sound guy kept us kids amused by playing any song we asked for. We really liked The Elephant Walk.
The cameraman was a massive muscular guy with U.S. Navy tattoos. Most people would find him scary looking, but he was nice and great with us kids. All cameramen were big in those days. The cameras themselves were large and heavy. They were on wheels but with no motors. Cameramen had to be strong enough to smoothly slide the cameras around so the film would not look all jerky.
When it cam time to shoot the commercial, my sisters and I just had to play with the toys while my mother spoke. My sisters got dolls, but I got the fun toy. It was a flying saucer with miniature Martians. If you cranked it up it would spin.
But there was one line in the voice-over that my mother just could not get right. She was supposed to say, “these toys are more fun than a barrel of monkeys” . The camera was rolling, we kids were playing with our toys and my mother loudly proclaimed that “these toys are more fun that a barrel of money!”
The director, cameraman and sound engineer all roared with laughter. The cameraman called out, “honey, there ain’t nothing more fun than a barrel of money!”
My Mom tried it 5 more times and she kept saying “barrel of money.” Somehow it got funnier each time and everyone was hysterical. The director suggested changing the script, but my Mom refused. She was a true professional and insisted she get it right. Finally she took a 15 minute break and had some coffee. Then she came back and delivered the “barrel of monkeys” line perfectly.
Our 3 commercials done we kids said goodby to the nice people at Channel 8, piled into the station wagon and Mom drove us home while we kids dozed off.
It had been a wonderful day, one I will remember fondly forever. Looking back now I realize that my mother was right all along. There are not too many days like that. Being with your mother and sisters, and getting to spend the day playing with toys while everyone laughs over and over at something funny.
To a child, a day like that really is more fun than a barrel of money.