Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Pardon us, the garden-us is where we'll be..."

When I was four years old, my family moved from Westchester County, New York, to a (then) small town in northern Connecticut. I don't have a ton of memories from my time in New York, but the ones I do have are very, very vivid and fond. One of those fond memories involves a local TV show that has since become a classic.

That show? The Magic Garden.

WPIX-TV, which was then an independent station (it then became a WB affiliate, and is a CW affiliate in its current incarnation), produced this lovely show. It started airing in 1972, and starred two young women, Carole Demas and Paula Janis, who had been singing and performing together since their days as schoolchildren in Brooklyn. It was a very simple, gentle show about friendship, creativity, music, and imagination.

Of course, that description sounds very simplistic, but that's pretty much the premise of The Magic Garden. Every day, for half an hour in the afternoons, I would watch The Magic Garden, oftentimes with my Aunt Marlene, a neighbor who used to babysit me quite a bit. My favorite part back then was the Chuckle Patch, a patch of daisies that would shake and giggle whenever they had corny jokes to tell. Carole and Paula would each take a leaf or two from the Chuckle Patch, and the leaves had jokes written on them.

The opening and closing images of The Magic Garden were seared into my brain for years. The show opened with the image of a window in the center of a wall with pink striped wallpaper. As soon as Carole and Paula sang the opening chords of the theme song, the window's French doors would open out into the garden, and slowly, the camera panned through the window, showing Carole and Paula in the Magic Garden, both in their long pigtails, sitting on rope swings, singing the theme while Paula strummed her guitar. The show's closing was very similar, only the camera panned out of the garden, and the window slowly, slowly closed on Carole and Paula as they sang the ending theme.

The Magic Garden was a cult hit in the New York City area, and Carole and Paula had a huge fan base. Kids of my generation who grew up in New York bond instantly whenever we hear or sing the first few words of any, any song that Carole and Paula sang on The Magic Garden:

This is the garden of make-believe,
A magical garden of make-believe,
Where flowers chuckle and birds play tricks
And a magic tree grows lollipop sticks.

When we moved to Connecticut, cable TV did not exist. It was something fancy that my grandparents had, and whenever we went to visit we would ooh and ahh over the number of channels they had. But I digress. The point is that we didn't have cable in our little Connecticut town, and we were so far away from New York we couldn't pick up WPIX, no matter which direction we pointed our TV antenna.

In short, as I grew up, I had all but forgotten everything I knew and treasured about The Magic Garden. Cable eventually came to Granby (that little town where I grew up), and WPIX was a part of the channel lineup, but The Magic Garden was no longer broadcast. (Hell, when my parents learned that they could now watch PIX and WWOR from their Connecticut living room, they practically drooled. My mother, especially, for she always talked about PIX with sort of a longing for days gone by).

Anyhoo, fast forward to the fall of 2002. I was in my living room, in my cozy little one bedroom in New London, watching the WPIX News at Ten. I was putting some corrected papers into my backpack, getting ready for school the next day, when I looked up and saw, for the first time in many, many years, Carole and Paula themselves. They were older now, but I still recognized them. They were speaking in unison, inviting viewers to tune in, on Thanksgiving day, for The Magic Garden reunion special at 1:00 PM.

The image of that window, hidden deep in my memory bank for twenty-something years, came roaring back instantly.

Open up the window,
Listen to the wind blow,
Pardon us, the garden-us
Is where we'll be.

I set my VCR.

But it turns out, I didn't set it properly.

I was crushed, but recovered after half an hour of disappointment.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I went Christmas shopping with my best friend. When we returned to his apartment, his partner was engaged in--raptured, even--in something on TV. He paused the TiVo when we came in.

Can you guess what he was watching?

When I learned that, yes, indeed, he was watching The Magic Garden, I shrieked. We immediately started reminiscing, and my best friend just shook his head and rolled his eyes.

We rewound the TiVo, and, for the next hour, sat silently, enraptured by the images on the TV.

My best friend didn't get it. He still doesn't.

Well, he gets part of it. We still both rush home to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when they come on TV.

And we're both 32 years old.

But back to 2002, and that wonderful special about The Magic Garden. I googled Carole and Paula when I got home, and learned that they had a website--and tapes for sale. Granted, it was a two-tape set with one episode on each, but I didn't care. I ordered a set for me, and a set for my best friend's partner, who then told me it was the best Christmas gift he received that season.

Then I went on eBay. Quite a few sellers from the New York City area had taped The Magic Garden reunion special and had it for sale on eBay, along with the two episodes of The Magic Garden that aired afterwards.

I bought it. I paid an exorbitant amount for it, but I didn't care.

About a year later, I loaned my precious tapes to a friend of mine who loved The Magic Garden as much as I did. We were planning to get together to watch.

That get-together never happened.

And she still has my tapes.

I went back on eBay six months later. Nothing.

And then...only recently...I happened upon Carole and Paula's website. They had a DVD on sale...WITH TEN EPISODES!!!

I did some comparison shopping and found a set on eBay for $15.

It arrived yesterday.

I've watched four episodes so far.

It feels so good to be a kid again. But the adult in me appreciates the fact that The Magic Garden was so powerful, and struck such a chord, because of its simplicity. It was about as low-tech as you can get for TV shows. You could clearly see the strings that made the Story Box open and close, as well as those that made the Chuckle Patch giggle. But its low-tech made it so endearing. In one of the episodes, the Magic Tree gave Carole and Paula a set of cardboard nesting boxes. They made the boxes into a variety of things, all with the power of their imagination. There was a boat, a train, and an ice cream sundae. There were no special effects that helped them out. There was no fancy music, no quick cuts to a scene outside of the garden. It was just two grown women having fun.

I also appreciate how The Magic Garden was not an overly-scripted show that talked down to kids. Carole and Paula talked very naturally, not as if they were reading from a script (Hi, EVERYBODY! My NAME is DORA!), but rather, as if they just talking casually with an old friend. They were both very mellow, very low-key. There was no gimmick to the show at all. They weren't trying too hard to shove curriculum down a kid's throat, much the way that a lot of kids shows do today.

But I best appreciate that this show allowed kids to use their imaginations, a quality of kids shows that doesn't exist today. The Story Box segment used very simple props that kids could find around their homes, nothing fancy that required them to go to the store and purchase. And if they didn't have the exact props they needed, they could use glue, tape, and a little fabric to make props themselves. There was no merchandise tied in to The Magic Garden, except for three albums of songs that the fans requested--or maybe even demanded--Carole and Paula to record.

I spent the afternoon watching four episodes of the compilation, and smiled fondly at remembrances of my childhood. The Magic Garden will no longer be buried in the depths of my memory bank, thanks to the good people at Koch Entertainment, the company that released the DVD.

I'll be scrounging YouTube for a Clip of the Week featuring Carole and Paula, for those of you who did not have the privilege of growing up with these two lovely women. In the meantime, Kittens,

See ya, see ya!
Hope ya had a real good time, Bah-bum,
Hope ya had a real good morning, do-do,
Hope we get to see ya again!

1 comment:

Jodi said...

Thank you SO much for pointing this post out to me. I have the DVD!!! I love it. I watched all the episodes except for one. I am dreading to watch it because it is the last one...I want more!!!

I got the priveledge to meet both Carole and Paula a few years ago. I was SOOOOOOOOO excited you can't even imagine. They did a concert in the Bergen Mall in Paramus NJ. I have to find my album because I took pictures with them. I also told them that they never said my name after the Hello song and I always wished that they did. Carole says well we can fix that...she stands up in the middle of the mall and says "HELLO JODI!!!!" I was in my glory. I'm 36yrs old...I must have been 32 when I met them. I was like a kid in a candy shop.

I am SOOOOOOOOOOO happy to meet someone who has such fond memories of them. They made my childhood so much brighter. I adore the DVD set. I love Flapper too...he is just so sweet.

Thank you for the beautiful post!!