Cactus Jim was the Midwest iconic cowboy. In the tri-state area of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa, Cactus Jim rode into living rooms at about 4 PM every weekday on his rearing stallion, wearing his cowboy attire. In an area where men wore battered feed caps, Cactus Jim was our token cowboy in a real-honest-to-goodness cowboy hat.
We loved him so much. We had Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hop-a-long Cassidy, but Cactus Jim was ours. He taught us to drink Prairie Farms ™ milk, and eventually to enjoy the fine taste of Korn Top ™ hotdogs and luncheon meats. For 17 years, from 1953 to 1970, Cactus Jim met us everyday in our TV, and showed us cartoons, although he was known to cut some of them short, or even show Popeye backwards (as he got tired of the spinach thing at the end of the cartoon, so he had it at the beginning).
Another fine thing about Cactus Jim was that children could visit him at the WGEM station, in Quincy, Illinois. Those extra special kids could sit beside him, drink a glass of Prairie Farms ™ milk, and talk with him about his cowboy life. I know. I was one of the extra special kids. I was an honored guest.
It is so clear in my memory how the six of us (including my brother Robert and good friend Carole Sue) sat on folding chairs and listened as the station manager give us instructions. I don’t remember a word he said. “Blah, blah, Cactus Jim, blah, blah…” was all I heard. The lights went up, the camera came on, and we were live. Five children sat in wide-eyed silence, because they had heard the instructions about all the millions of people who would be watching us, about how important it was to drink all the milk we were given, and about keeping our mouths shut unless Cactus Jim asked us something.
The sixth child was me, and I chattered away to Cactus Jim, who kept glancing at my mother in the guest booth. I saw that she was wide-eyed and had her hand over her mouth; my father was doubled over in laughter. I kept talking, and Cactus Jim had a worried expression on his face; my mother had moved her hand to cover her eyes and was shaking her head. Dad had found a chair, and was hunched over with his shoulders quaking uncontrollably. Mercifully, a cartoon kicked in, and my mother was escorted over to me. She gave me eye-to-eye instructions about being quiet, and let others do some talking. Yes, I could do that. Yes, m’am, I heard what you said. Okey-dokey, Mom.
|He was a man of his times.|
The milk was delivered to us on a tray with 7 glasses, and a big cartoon of milk. Cactus Jim poured each glass with relish. We drank up, and I was determined to be a good-drinker-of-milk. I drank mine so fast that milk dribbled down the sides of my mouth onto the extra special dress I had worn for my television appearance. Too soon the program was over, and our parents were each given some product from the sponsor, while we were given a toy to commemorate our visit. We were escorted out of the building. I talked all the way home, while Robert fell asleep. My TV debut was over, and life was good, even though I didn’t like the milk, since I was lactose intolerant.
Many thanks to Arlee Bird, Jeff Bessler, Alexia Cavanaugh, Jen Daiker, Candace Grange, Karen Gown, Talli Roland, and Stephen Tremp! Go to the link below: