Video: Back in the early 1950s, a ventriloquist named Paul Winchell had a TV show that featured his dummy named Jerry Mahoney. The program was a hit and is perhaps most notable today for featuring Carol Burnett’s TV debut. But even if you aren’t interested in ventriloquism, one episode from 20 December 1953 will be amusing to fans of paleofuturism. That holiday season episode imagined what Christmas would look like in the futuristic year 2000.
Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s a look at the war on Christmas in the year 2000. You see, they don’t celebrate Christmas on the Moon in 2000 – at least according to this comedy show from 1953.
There’s an entire generation of kids who are growing up without “the year 2000” acting as shorthand for “futuristic”. The promises of that chronological milestone were so deeply ingrained in the culture that I remember being a kid in the early 1990s and still thinking that “the year 2000” would bring all the amazing wonders of tomorrow that we wanted. Flying cars, jetpacks, meal pills – they were all coming in “the year 2000”.
And when it comes to hitting those tropes, the segment from this 1953 episode doesn’t disappoint. Winchell and the dummy visit the Moon and the schtick is like any other ventriloquist act you can imagine. The dummy makes quips about the “futuristic” dress of people on the Moon.
“Get a load of the outfits on these two,” the dummy says. “This dame could be the cover girl for Popular Mechanics.”
Winchell chuckles and hushes his dummy, “Shh, not so loud,” he says to his own hand.
Much of the comedy is derived from the fact that the people of this distant land don’t know what Christmas is. The Moon-people don’t want to let the two leave and our ventriloquist hero pulls out his “super atomic Z-ray gun”.
If you’re wondering why the video is such low quality, it isn’t just because it’s a low resolution clip on YouTube. The only way to preserve live TV in the early 1950s was to literally just film a TV screen. Any pristine video from this era that survives today comes from pre-taped performances. But the live nature of The Paul Winchell Show meant that preserving it involved primitive techniques in the age before videotape.
The clip from 1953 is a pleasant distraction from the descent into chaos we seem to be experiencing here in the year 2017. And we’ll take what we can get.