Groucho Marx and the Sylvers lining

Let’s dig into the vault of old television.

From 1950 to 1960, Groucho Marx had a game show on NBC-TV called “You Bet Your Life.” It was a simple show. Groucho would have a couple of people come out. They’d talk for a while, then he’d ask them four questions to get to a $500 prize. If they answered correctly, they’d come on again at the end of the show and spin the “Wheel of Fortune” for a chance at $10,000, which was a ton of money back then.

I was looking at some Marx Brothers clips (I don’t have to explain to you who the Marx Brothers were, do I? If so, go rent the movie “Horsefeathers.” That’s all you need to know.) and saw a link to this episode of “You Bet Your Life.”

Now consider the context. This is a nationally broadcast game show in the 1950s, and Groucho has a black couple on. Today, that’s no big deal. But back then, it had to be scandalous. Black people were rarely seen on television. If you read Jet magazine well into the 1970s, one of the highlights was the last page before the back cover. That gave a listing of all the black people scheduled to be on national television that week. The appearances were so rare, the listings didn’t even take up a half page of a mini-magazine.

The entertainment industry shied away from showing black people because of concerns over offending white viewers in the South. But here’s Groucho with a black couple and a boatload of kids. No mention of race. No uncomfortable jokes. Just a straightforward back and forth with a nice family. Though I did think bringing the kids on was a bit much.

Anyway, the husband and wife leave the show with $2,500. The family is happy, six kids in tow and number seven in mom. And Groucho invites them back for another appearance.

And I’m left to wonder: Whatever happened to that family?

No way!!! Really??!!!

Yep. The couple on “You Bet Your Life” was the Sylvers. And the little kids grew up to be The Sylvers.

Now I’m thinking, no that can’t be possible. I’m jumping from point A to point Z without going through the rest of the alphabet. Until I found this clip:

It’s really them. The couple ended up with 10 kids. Dad left mom to hang out with Ike Turner. Mom and kids moved to crime-ridden Watts. And then the kids formed a megahit disco group that later fell apart because of drug abuse.

All this new knowledge because I saw a clip with Chico Marx that made me laugh. (Yeah, I was looking at the “swordfish” routine from “Horsefeathers” with Groucho and his brother Chico and then stumbled on this history of the Sylvers.)

Did you know dribbling is allowed in football?

OK, this is going to sound bizarre.

I just got a digital antenna, which allows me to watch broadcast television.

(Yeah, I know it’s no big deal. But I haven’t had cable television since 2003, and I never got an antenna for television until this week. So all that stuff people were saying the past decade about the thing they saw the previous night on the tube. … I had no idea what they were talking about.)

Anyway, I’m cruising the channels, and I land on an ad in which former Baltimore Ravens lineman Tony Siragusa is selling adult diapers:

And I’m thinking, why is he doing this?

So I go online, and the Intertubes tell me that it’s for guys who leak as a result of prostate cancer surgery. But I’m wondering if the number of men with that problem is that high? High enough to justify an ad campaign that has to get into the millions of dollars.

Then I saw this:

neufootbawl

And suddenly, everything makes sense.

So the lesson I get out of it?

I should have never gotten a digital antenna. There are some things I was better off not knowing.

Previously, on “The West Wing”

Back when “The West Wing” was on TV, my wife used to get annoyed with me because I had a tendency to deliver the next line of dialogue even though I’d never seen the episode before. I didn’t know why I knew what was going to be said.

Now I do:

Somewhere along the way, every Aaron Sorkin entertainment vessel was downloaded into my brain, and blurting out the next line of “The West Wing” was triggered because I heard the banter or watched the situation before, in “Sports Night,” or “A Few Good Men,” or “The American President.” Or whatever other Sorkin presentation I didn’t know I had already seen.

No great meeting of minds. Just call and response. Which is what television and movies are all about.