Stalking the Wild Jackson Whites


My friend Sallie writes,


Zoom Zoom Zoom
For everyone who feels inclined, A kiddie show we hope to find…

Does anyone remember Zoom? It was a kiddie show in the 1970s. Kids in bare feet and striped jerseys, improvising the program as they went along. It was invented by an English TV producer named Chris Sarsen, who really pulled the wool over the eyes of the producers at WGBH in Boston, the educational-tv channel. But whatever its initial hokum, it got momentum and a life of its own and lasted through the seventies.

You didn’t need much cultural heft to make it in the Boston TV market in the 1970s, I’ll grant you. That old warhorse Rex Trailer, a kiddie-show host who began his career in Philadelphia right after WW2, had what amounted to a permanent sinecure on the Boston educational channel. He had something called Earth Lab, a version of  the Mr. Wizard science show, and there was a long-running thing called Boomtown, and at least a half-dozen other kiddie programs that Rex put on across the country. None of the Rex Trailer product was particularly good, but in the 70s no one was particularly critical. Boston was a strange tide-pool of media; it liked to think it was on the cutting-edge, because it had MIT and Harvard in abundance; but really it was a backwater, a New England college town with delusions of grandeur.

Somehow I fell in with this Mister Hornblower, about 30 years of age. He lived in a tiny, triangular-shaped studio apartment in Greenwich Village. He was a pederast, and appropriately enough the apartment was on Gay Street. He had feeble little jobs writing or editing TV scripts, which he worked on during those hours of the day when he was not entirely immersed in marijuana, vodka, or picking up 14-year-old boys on the dock at the end of Christopher Street.

I fell in with Hornblower because I was walking a neighbor’s dog out on the dock on one of those very sunny winter days when the sun is low in the sky and gets in your eyes. Would I like to be in his new educational-tv kiddie show? Oh sure, I said. I had no idea that I was the first female. Shortly afterwards Hornblower started riding me to get another female member of the kiddie-show cast.  So I brought in my best friend. She dropped out of high school dropped out of Hornblower, went out to Hollywood and became a big star, at least for a few years.

Somewhere along the line, Hornblower felt obliged to come up with “plot” or “theme” ideas for the kiddie shows. Someone brought him the story of the Jackson Whites in northern New Jersey. Hornblower thought it would be a good idea to go visit these Jackson Whites  and put them in his kiddie show. Wouldn’t everyone want to be in an afternoon kiddie show?

Apparently the Jackson Whites didn’t care for it. Hornblower stayed in a motel in the region, accompanied by two of his favorite teenage male companions. While he slept, someone torched his car. The car was a rental. Hornblower spent years sorting out the liability. He soon gave up the idea of regarding himself a kiddie-show producer.

Author: Penny Pringlebury

Penny Pringlebury is the mother of two grown children, both of them twins.