Romper Room

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Harlem Romper Room
Romper Room, Harlem style

Romper Room was an electronic babysitter disguised as a television show for kindergarteners. It was broadcast in the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. It was franchised, rather than syndicated, which allowed local affiliates to customize the show for their own audiences. The show that pre-schoolers watched in Watts or Harlem was far different than the Romper Room that children in Beverly Hills or Westchester viewed.

edit Features

Although the show differed from one locale to another, it was based on common features.

edit Games, Songs, and Lessons

Each hour-long show centered on a hostess who introduced her studio children (and, vicariously, those who watched at home) to games, songs, and (in Beverly Hills) etiquette or (in Watts) the wisdom of the streets. Depending upon where a child lived, he or she might learn to say “please” and “thank you” and to ask to be excused before leaving the dinner table or he or she might learn where to kick a male assailant “where it hurts.”

edit Mr. Do Bee and Mr. Don't Bee

Bee Characters
Mr. Do Bee and his paramour, Mr. Don’t Bee

Recurring characters on the show were Mr. Do Bee and Mr. Don’t Bee, a homosexual couple who taught children what they could get away with and what they should try only at their peril. Again, the content of the bees’ lesson depended on the social context and geographical location of the audience. A suburban child might learn to be a “sidewalk player,” whereas an urban child might be taught to be a “street player.”

edit Magic Mirror

Hostess with Magic Mirror
Miss Sherry tells Chuckie to "stop masturbating, lest you go blind!"

At the end of each broadcast, the hostess looked through a "magic mirror" and named the children she saw at home, in "television land,” chanting, “Romper, bomper, stomper, boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic mirror, tell me today. Have all my friends been good at play?" She would then recite names at random, claiming that she could “see all you naughty boys and girls out there!" and tell boys and girls by name to “stop masturbating,” “put your clothes back on,” and “don’t kick the dog!” She would threaten to send Dr. Death to visit any child who didn't "straighten your little ass up, right now, maggot!" Children delighted in the hostess’ good-natured repartee with them, although some parents thought it “a bit over the top.”

edit Hostesses

A number of hostesses hosted the show, the most memorable of whom, perhaps, was Miss Sherry, who, having taken thalidomide as an expectant mother, believed that her child-to-be might be born deformed. She tried to have an abortion for the show-and-tell segment of one episode, but the show’s producers refused to allow her to do so, and she had a one-armed, legless baby whom she employed as a ventriloquist’s dummy and various props, referring to it as “Miss Sherry’s Little Shit-monster.” The incident became a made-for-TV movie in 1992, A Private Matter, with Sissy Spacek in the title role. In the movie, the child’s name was changed to “Miss Sherry’s Little Feces-monster.”

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