Once again, as their parents did 40-plus years ago, this generation of Clasters has sat down with educators, trying to pinpoint what today's children need most. The buzzword they keep hearing is "group entry skills" -- problem-solving, sharing, following directions.
"What we used to call 'getting along with others,' " Sally Bell explains, ever the teacher.
"Parents think there's another childhood their kids are supposed to be having," says Dr. Sheri Parks, an associate professor of American and media studies at the University of Maryland College Park. "The 1950s and '60s are the ideal. It makes for not guilt-free, but less guilty television."
But the final irony is that parents basking in the warm glow of their "Romper Room" memories may have missed that Miss Nancy was a working mom. So was Miss Sally. Where do you think their children were when they were on air? Sometimes in the studio, sometimes at home.
A good example
"I think it was good for us," says John Claster, who can't remember a time his mother didn't work. "It set a very good example for us, to always have a working mom." Certainly, the Claster clan today comes across as a remarkably happy, close-knit family.
Of course, there were unique tensions in the household. Miss Nancy remembers coming home from a long day, only to be greeted by the shouts of daughter Candy, who had stayed home from school sick. That morning, the little girl's drawers had been in disarray, inspiration for the day's "Don't-Bee" segment.
So Miss Nancy, beloved by children throughout the city, came home drained and tired, only to hear Candy shouting: "You're the meanest, rottenest mother in the world! I'm always the Don't-Bee! John and Sally are never the Don't-Bee! Candy is always the Don't-Bee!"
Ultimately, Candy grew up to be Do-Bee, and Don't-Bee was laid to rest. One of the original Do-Bee costumes is now in the Museum of Television Treasures in California.
And Miss Nancy remains a 1950s icon, going about her life in Baltimore, knowing it's only a matter of time before someone else accosts her: "Hey, Miss Nancy! You never saw me in the Magic Mirror."
'ROMPER ROOM' MOMENTS
One live television show, six lively children, an audience of millions. The results ranged from hilarious to heart-warming. Some favorite "Romper Room" memories include:
• The do-it-yourself "Romper Room" toys. There were "posture baskets" -- 79-cent cookie baskets -- and Romper-Stompers, miniature stilts that could be fashioned from orange juice cans and string. The latter were inspired by Nancy Claster's father, who would never allow his own children to walk on stilts.
• Once Miss Nancy was trying to do a commercial for a "growth tonic," when she felt a small elbow in her ribs. The child next to her whispered: "That stuff's no good." When Miss Nancy persisted, the child bellowed: "I tell you, Miss Nancy, my doctor and my mother said that stuff's no good!"
• One child announced her mother's pregnancy on the air -- before her mother had mentioned it to anyone.
• In Flint, Mich., the local "Romper Room" teacher suggested children at home ask their mothers to take them to the local airport to see a plane. More than 5,000 families showed up, causing a substantial traffic jam.
• Through its segments on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, "Romper Room" was credited with saving lives throughout the country. Miss Nancy also got a polio shot on air.
• Perhaps the most famous story involves a little girl, Becky, who happened to be coming out of the tub when Miss Nancy announced she could see Becky through the Magic Mirror. The little girl burst into tears and then crawled under the bed, refusing to come out.
Return to 'Romper Room'
Update of classic may get to educate a new generation
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