HAZMAT-RETRO HALL OF FAME: CLASSIC KIDS’ TV ON-THE-CHEAP!
TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: The Friendly Giant brought to you by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) 1958-1985
GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: Producer Daniel McArthy, Robert Homme (The Friendly Giant), Rodney Coneybeare (Puppeteer)
RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: You Tube, of course, is great for any kind of retro “disAstral projection” because any kid’s show ever featured for even a minute on the most obscure airwave imaginable is preserved on You Tube, so long as any given show’s creators had two googly eyed sock-puppets to rub together. It is with inestimable veneration that I present today’s Featured Object of Childhood Wonder and Idolatry:The Friendly Giant.
Yeah, yeah, I know — even back then the name had a sort of “Whatever you do, don’t take candy from a friendly giant” vibe, and in this case, the vibe might have some validity. Like Paulus the Woodgnome, The Friendly Giant program was another piece of high-tech brilliance smuggled across the Canadian border via malformed TV transmission towers and warped antennae. With titular Big Guy, Robert Homme (French for “Bob MAN“) in the title role, the series endured (in all of its cardboard and papier-mache splendor) for over thirty years!
The premise? Well, each 13-minute show opened with a camera panning across a miniature “town” that made the model of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood look like an aerial shot of Bel Air, by comparison. During the opening credits, an insistent and somewhat creepy adult voice chanted a bit about the goings-on in “Little Town” and then –POW!– suddenly you saw a massive boot stuck in the frame. This was followed by the drill-sergeant admonition for children to “Look up. Look WAAAYYYYY up!” as the camera traveled slowly, luxuriously up Bob Homme’s leg, across his somewhat paunchy midsection and smack into his taciturn Giant Face.
Next came a clumsy, herky-jerky lowering of the drawbridge at the giant’s “castle”, which was something I could have built in an hour during crafts’ class in kindergarten. As the drawbridge –obviously rife with structural deficiencies– came down to reveal the words “The Friendly Giant” henscratched in magic marker on two discolored cardboard gates, someone on a recorder played a rather spotty version of Early One Morning.
The rest, my friends, is the stuff of legend. Bob Homme’s mammoth hand arranges itty-bitty pieces of furniture (“Just for you!”) around an itty-bitty fireplace in his huge castle, testifying to the fact that this giant was indeed friendly to little people, or had at least employed a “Little People Friendly” interior decorator when he first decided to build his castle out of an old Sears refrigerator box. Hijinks ensued. There was a bipolar rooster named “Rusty” who lived in a bag hung on a peg near the giant’s window. Rusty sounded like Julia Child on a possibly lethal dose of barbiturates. Rusty the Rooster was presumably a giant, as well, because in terms of scale Rusty could’ve easily wiped-out the little town at the foot of the giant’s domain with one flap of his checkerboard-tablecloth wing. No one on the show ever explained why Rusty was kept in a gunny sack. I like to think that the Friendly Giant was only being friendly to Rusty until the time came to chop his head off, pluck him, stuff him, truss him, and give him a slow roast as soon as the series was cancelled. Why else would anyone keep a truculent farm animal in a bag indoors for so long?
The folks at PETA would’ve been all over Rusty’s oppression, had they been eyeing Canada in the ’70s, when I was about two and addicted to the exploits of the giant. Also keeping the giant company was Jerome the Giraffe, a creature who sounded like he had a three-pack-a-day habit (Camels?) and who was clearly suffering from borderline Personality Disorder. Jerome would poke his head into the window, agitating the giant (and Rusty in his bag) at every opportunity. By my calculations, which were calculated through comparison with the approximated scale of Little Town, Jerome the Giraffe would’ve been about 600 or 700 feet tall! This led me to believe that the primary industry among the folks of Little Town involved the removal and/or processing of giraffe-dung. Judging from the ramshackle appearance of Little Town, this was not a particularly lucrative enterprise. They should have moved their Little Town nearer to a coal mine, but that’s only my opinion.
Otherwise, The Friendly Giant featured heaps of inane chat, endlessly fascinating props culled from Rusty’s bag (a doorknob, a pencil, a spool of thread, an old thumbtack, a rancid piece of popcorn), lots of impromptu blowing on flutes and glimpses into a Magic Lantern that constituted the only reason I ever watched the show in the first place. Magical props were the hook, line & sinker for this kid, on this show … on any show, frankly. The giant’s boot and his surly commands did nothing for me. Nothing.
DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “I’ll go in the back way so I can lower the drawbridge and open the gates for you.”
LAMENTABLE LEGACY: It’s a riot of sheer pap, to look at it now, but it remains hilarious to know (as an adult) that I was apparently undeveloped enough to need this sort of stuff as a toddler. I adored this program. In hindsight, I guess it goes without saying that the dangerous grown-ups who crafted the production must’ve all headed straight for the bottle after wrapping every shoot, no doubt storming some smoky out-of-the-way Toronto pub and plotting ways to inject double entendres and pervy inside-jokes into next week’s show (example: “What else do you use your mouth for, Rusty?). Yeah, I envision a lot of drunkenness on that set. I could be wrong. Very wrong. It’s only a theory. And it was only a kids’ show.
EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: Have a look at an entire actual episode of the The Friendly Giant on YouTube. See for yourself what glories preceded the much later advent of mutant vampire robot zombie-children with digital super powers. Have a look. I dare you. (And beware of rooster-poop and giraffe-droppings.)
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