October 22, 2010

Queens For A Lifetime

As a kid I remember coming home from school and seeing my grandmother watching the soaps on television. But in a league of its own, one TV show that Nana never missed, was this program: "Queen For A Day." To the best of my knowledge, Barney Frank was never selected as a contestant.

This whimpering, sniveling exercise in down n' dirty broadcast begging was on the air from 1956 through 1964 and prior to that was on radio starting in the mid-forties. I blame programming like this for preparing the national mind set that accepted the unparalleled welfare spending that started under President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in 1965.

The show opened with host Jack Bailey asking the audience—mostly women—"Would YOU like to be Queen for a day?" After this, the contestants were introduced and interviewed, one at a time, with commercials and fashion commentary interspersed between each contestant.[3]

Using the classic "applause meter", as did many game and hit-parade style shows of the time, Queen for a Day had its own special twist: each contestant had to talk publicly about the recent financial and emotional hard times she had been through.

Bailey began each interview gently, asking the contestant first about her life and family, and maintaining a positive and upbeat response no matter what she told him. For instance, when a woman said she had a crippled child, he would ask if her second child was "Okay." On learning that the second child was not crippled, he might say, "Well, that's good, you have one healthy child."

These women would come out with the most incredible, heart breaking stories of personal hardship. It was choreographed commiseration, a cacophony of catastrophe, a televised pity orgy. And of course the winner was the sob sister who generated the most audience response on the applause meter:

The harsher the circumstances under which the contestant labored, the likelier the studio audience was to ring the applause meter's highest level. The winner, to the musical accompaniment of Pomp and Circumstance, would be draped in a sable-trimmed red velvet robe, given a glittering jeweled crown to wear, placed on a velvet-upholstered throne, and handed a dozen long-stemmed roses to hold as she wept, often uncontrollably, while her list of prizes was announced.

Of course the verification process for these stories is unknown; the important thing was that you, the viewer, were guaranteed a long, satisfying bawl session. Corporate sponsors were used to supply the prizes, but of course these costs were merely passed on to the consumers who purchased their products. This program sounds like the original focus group for the Democrats. But now the taxpayers are forced to provide the prizes and bawl when they see what's left in their pay checks.


Zio Rico said...

That host looks like an aging porn star in 1959.

Wetzy said...

Is that Manny, Moe or Jack?

Nickie Goomba said...

I remember episodes when the widowed mother of six is given a mink stole from Dicker & Dicker of Beverly Hills

Rhod said...

We never watched Q4AD because my Mom and Dad thought it was too sleazy.

Beat The Clock was okay, because contestants almost died in the events. Kind of like a 1950's Extreme Elimination Challenge, with Bud Collier (?) as Vic Romano and Kenny Blankenship.

Go figure.

sig94 said...

Zio - yes, that's Jack "Black Socks" Bailey. His best known film was titled, "That Comes With Fries."

sig94 said...

Goomba - Both my parents worked, so Nana would fire up the old Stromberg-Carlson in the early afternoon to watch her soaps. We were too poor to afford a steam iron so she used her tears to wet the flatiron she used on my Dad's boxer shorts.

sig94 said...

Rhod - It was a sleazy catharsis. Nana was all set to swear at my Mom's cats after watching those women get things she knew she would never win.

sig94 said...

Wetzy - yes.