PRIME ESPERIENZE IN AMERICA
THE LITTLE BLACK BOX
Sunday night was dedicated to TV shows. The piece of furniture on which we had the TV was in the living room, facing the couch.
The screen was a very small square enclosed inside a cabinet with two little doors.
When the show was about to begin, we would open the doors, turn on the screen and the show started with the all the family gathered in the dark.
It was a sort of a ritual. A deep silence fell in the room, while all eyes were staring at the "LITTLE BLACK BOX". This is how we used to refer to the TV. I loved watching those little people moving, singing, talking. I still couldn't understand their words, but I could understand their actions. When I didn't understand, I would ask for explanation. And the answer was always "shhhhhh"!!!
They were concentrating very hard and couldn't miss a second of the show. I had seen only a very few shows in Italy. TV had just been introduced to Italian families and only a few people could afford that luxury. These few privileged people, as I called them, when there were special shows, used to invite friends over to watch the show together. The finest show I had seen was the Italian Song Festival of Sanremo. Seeing singers in person was very exciting! We girls would look with dreamy eyes at singers such as Nilla Pizzi, the Duo Fasano, Carla Boni and others- in their elegant gowns, singing with passionate voices. We dared not even hope to own a dress so beautiful and daring. These were dresses reserved to the great artists of music.
Then Claudio Villa who had stolen our hearts with his "Buon Giorno Tristezza "(Good Morning Sadness) and "Luna Rossa" (Red Moon). Tullio Pane, Gino Latilla; everyone was laughing while watching the Little Black Box. Even in America (we are at the end of the 1950s) not everyone had a television and, like in Italy, those who were so fortunate as to have one, used to invite friends over to watch those beautiful shows together.
On Sunday nights at 8 pm there was the very popular program "The Ed Sullivan Show". It was one of the most beautiful and popular Variety Shows of the time. Ed Sullivan presented Italian-American artists such as Perry (Pierino) Como, Frank (Francesco) Sinatra, Dean Martin (Dino Crocetti). These singers and others used to sing old songs that Italian people really appreciated. Sunday night was reserved for the Variety show. People used to do all their chores earlier so that they could watch the show without being disturbed.
I remember a Sunday night when there was a celebration in church. The rite finished a little before 8. Outside the church nobody stopped to chat with their friends, as they were used to doing. Instead, they all went home in a hurry. An old lady asked for a ride in the car because she didn’t even want to miss one minute of the "Silvan Show" (This is how she pronounced Ed Sullivan). Others would say "de za ‘llivine show". However, they could understand each other very well.
It had been announced that for that evening the guest star would be Perry Como.
My aunt and uncle had invited their friends to their house for the show. The same people who would always come every Sunday: Uncle Emilio and Aunt Marianna, his wife. They were a cool couple. They were respected by the community as Uncle Emilio had been one of the founders of the Settefrattesi d’America Club.
When the show started, we turned off the light and sat in the living room.
When we turned on the TV, Ed Sullivan appeared. Even on that small screen you could see he was a big man. He lifted his hand and saluted the "live audience" and those who were watching from "the comfort of their homes".
We saw comedians, jazz singers, dancers… and finally Perry Como appeared.
The "live audience" exploded into applause and screamed "bravo!!!!" Obviously they were all Italians who had gone there to celebrate "one of us." Perry Como moved on the stage with ease and confidence. He sang with a melodic baritone voice. After every song, he would receive resounding applause. When he sang the last song, he invited the audience to sing along on the chorus. People went crazy. They rose to their feet and sang loudly. At the end of the performance, he received a long "standing ovation". Ed Sullivan continued to show Italian-American artists during all the years of his show.
Delia Socci Skidmore