Posted by: distributorcap | October 16, 2009

Railroaded by a Color TV Set

When we would go to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn (the grandmother who only knew how to make boiled lamb chops, absconded with silverware from diners and did not put photos of her 15 grandchildren on the wall – but instead had pictures of John and Caroline Kennedy frolicking in the White House), we would also visit my father’s brother – Uncle Saul (who lived down the hall).

My father used to say Saul was really actually a Collyer Brother – since his apartment was an obstacle course of crap- he never threw anything away. Nothing. It was full of newspapers, luggage, yarmulkes from every bar mitzvah in Brooklyn, his army medals and uniforms, furniture he would find in the street, clothing he would buy at street sales, fedoras (he had a hat fetish I think) and tons of 78 record albums. He didn’t own a record player, but he had plenty of Peggy Lee and Frankie Laine albums. (Too bad eBay wasn’t around in 1963). While this all might sound endearing, this really wasn’t a scene out of Brighton Beach Memoirs – it was more like Woody Allen talking to Uncle Joey Nichols in Annie Hall.

But visiting Uncle Saul had a plus. He had a color television set. Uncle Saul used to boast he was one of the first people in Brooklyn to buy a color television set. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he was.

His apartment was a railroad flat. For you non-New Yorkers, the rooms in a railroad flat are laid out one after another. For his apartment you entered in the kitchen, then you would walk through the kitchen to get to the bedroom and then into the living room – all in a row. The bathroom was literally in the kitchen (you could only imagine what a treat that was during meal time with the paper thin walls.) The prized RCA color TV set was in the living room – on the other side of the Mt. Everest of shit he had collected over 30 years.

Back to the color TV set. Uncle Saul was nothing if not an entrepreneur. Since color TV was still a rarity – he figured he could make a few bucks with it. He would charge my sister and I 50 cents (each) to watch TV (seriously). He also charged for food. My father would give us a few quarters to go watch something in color. My mother would pack a bag of pretzels since she thought charging your nephew for food was a bit eccentric (or rather insane).

And after we paid Uncle Saul, we would a ring side seat on a pile of clothing to watch. And what did we watch – anything Uncle Saul wanted. Payment did not mean control. Since there were practically NO television shows in color in 1963 or 64 – the only thing to watch in color were movies. Except Uncle Saul liked the Black & White movies from the the 1940s. This was money not well spent.

By the time Uncle Saul moved to another apartment, my father had bought a color set. His income from us dried up. But I did watch an awful lot of 1940’s movies.

Here what the Academy picked as the best movie each year during the 1940’s.

1940 – Rebecca
1941 – How Green Was My Valley
1942 – Mrs. Miniver
1943 – Casablanca
1944 – Going My Way
1945 – The Lost Weekend
1946 – The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 – Gentlemen’s Agreement
1948 – Hamlet
1949 – All The King’s Men

So out of those 10 – I have seen 6 (Rebecca, Casablanca, The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, Gentleman’s Agreement, All the King’s Men) – and I would say all 6 are ones not to be missed. But there are plenty of movies from the 1940’s that should be seen as well.

My picks for the best movies of the 1940’s (limited to American movies since I have not seen too many foreign films from that era) are as follows:

25. Foreign Correspondent & Rebecca
24. Key Largo
23. His Girl Friday
22. The Bank Dick
21. Gaslight
20. Here Comes Mr. Jordan
19. The Maltese Falcon
18. Gentleman’s Agreement
17. Suspicion
16. Adam’s Rib
15. Lifeboat
14. Arsenic and Old Lace
13. UnfaithfullyYours
12. Hail the Conquering Hero
11. It’s A Wonderful Life
10. The Palm Beach Story
9. Citizen Kane
8. All the King’s Men
7. The Ox-Bow Incident
6. Double Indemnity
5. Casablanca
4. The Big Sleep
3. The Grapes of Wrath
2. Sullivan’s Travels
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

(as you can tell I am a big Preston Sturges fan).

Honorable Mention
Never Give A Sucker an Even Break
To Be or Not To Be
Laura (because Gene Tierney was friggin gorgeous)
The Postman Always Rings Twice
My Favorite Wife
Out of the Past
The Lady Eve
Brief Encounter
Shadow of a Doubt

Movies I did NOT like

The only reason Citizen Kane is on the list is because it supposed to be on these lists. It is a movie I really do not like – it is pretentious and dull (and overrated). But that is just my humble opinion. A much better Orson Welles movie is The Magnificent Ambersons, but even that doesn’t overwhelm me.

Movies I have not seen but am supposed to
The Philadelphia Story
The Great Dictator
The Red Shoes
The Bicycle Thief
My Darling Clementine



  1. i had an uncle saul, too. however, he didn't live in brooklyn, and he wasn't nuts (well not until later in life when he suddenly decided he was chasidic).i've seen almost all of those movies. shadow of a doubt is my favorite hitchcock movie, and arsenic and old lace is one of my favorite movies of all time. it's hilarious! i can never get through citizen kane. has there ever been a more boring movie? bleh!

  2. Citize…. zzzzzzzz, I can't say the name without falling asleep!Oh this made me laugh out loud with memories of railroad flats of my own family members, right down to the bathroom/kitchen arrangement. And now I can't get that "Joey 5 cents" bit out of my head either.We did not get a color tv until 1970. Someone bought it for my mother and me after my father died. I will say it did bring some cheer.You should write more about your family, these stories are rich with humor and more about that whole mishpacha.

  3. Hi Cap;Your uncle was a character and even though he charged you half a buck to watch the movies, you and your sister probably behaved in front of the tv as you didn't want to waste the money :)People like that you always remember as they were so different.Great story 🙂

  4. Have never heard of anybody ever getting charged for anything like that from their relatives. Was this at all common?

  5. I've heard the term "railroad flat" before but I figured it had something to do with the unit being near a rail yard or rail track.What a peculiar traffic pattern.Do they still exist?

  6. Interesting apartment setup, I would hate to live with my bathroom in my kitchen!

  7. nonnie – have you seen all the best preston sturges movies? the only one i didnt like was miracle at morgan's creekfran – thanks – unless you have seen a railroad flat you just cant believe it – and as for my family – they were quite the comedy bitich – uncle saul was more than a character – he was bizarre. he was divorced 3x (which was not a regular thing in those days) – and i never remember him having a job – ever. he did care for my grandfather and grandmother until each died – and literally a month after my grandmother died, he had a massive heart fly – from my relatives, anything was possible – have you ever eaten boiled lamb chops?christopher – you have to see one to believe it – they are all over NYC, especially in the brownstones of Brooklyn. they are not the most convenient setups if you have a family. both my grandparents and uncle had railroad flats.sklyer – we used to sit in the kitchen eating the boiled lamp chops and other bizarre dishes my grandmother would make – someone would inevitably have to go to the bathroom and every sound was heard. and odor.

  8. I used to be bored by Citizen Kane, but recently I have recognized how much ground it broke and how skillfully employed were the special effects. It is important not necessarily for the total package as it is for the concept and the individual parts. I find it fascinating from a technical perspective. Sometimes the first person to do something different is lauded, when subsequent efforts indebted to it are far better.Still, Welles was highly overrated, even in his day, and much of the backlash is deserved because Welles' ample ego and ruthless promotion ruffled feathers. I have always liked The Best Years of Our Lives.

  9. I take it you never named your sled Rosebud? Uncle Saul sounds like quite the character with a healthy dose of reverse-OCD. 😉

  10. Down here in Texas we call those houses shotgun shacks. You enter through the living room, then the kitchen, then the bedroom(s) where the bathroom usually is.Paying to watch TV reminds me of Steven Frost, my neighbor as a kid. He used to rent me his noseplugs for a quarter when we'd go swimming.My dad found out about it, called it usury and bought me my own set.Steven was pissed, but he got over it. He was a real putz.

  11. DC, I had a railroad flat on the Lower East Side. The difference was that the living room was between the kitchen and the bedroom.

  12. dcAp,i actually never heard of preston sturges, and the ones you list directed by him are the ones i haven't seen (or don't remember seeing, though the synopsis of the miracle of morgan's creek on teh google is ringing a bell or two). i just googled his name, and i noticed that he was born edmund preston biden! i wonder if he's related to our veep.

  13. D'cap,Great story as usual. Lived in bith a railroad flat in Brooklyn and later rented a shotgun house in service. You got used to it, but neither of mine had the bath in the kitchen. It was done that way, apparently to make it easy to put pliumbing in when they broke up the brownstones.My Uncle "Saul" was named "Wille" and came close. Citizen Kane was never as good as the "Ambersons"Graet post as always. Thanks for the memories!

  14. If you liked Adam's Rib and those other screwball comedy-romances, you would love The Philidelphia Story, too. It's a great show.Regards,Tengrain

  15. I agree with both you and Comrade Kevin about Citizen Kane. It is interesting to watch it (once) in the clinical way.Just this morning I saw the original "Les Miserables" and "Dodsworth." Have you seen them? They're pretty good for the times.I liked all the ones you haven't seen – especially "The Red Shoes" (but I'm pretty movie-promiscuous so it doesn't mean much).And I really loved "High Society," the same plot as "The Philadelphia Story" without the Kate character (yes – Grace Kelly played her another charming way).Thanks for the info!S

  16. I hope that when Uncle Saul went to heaven (or wherever) that someone saved some of his stuff. My uncle wrote to ocean liner companies for info (deck plans, etc) and now, years after he left me his ship memorabilia, it turns out that his hobby (coupled with his inability to throw anything out) might yield me some cash. I'm going to keep some of it, but he had doubles, triples and more for each ship. Hey, you never know. I bet those albums would be worth beau coup bucks now.

  17. Although Raymond Massey did a good job, "Arsenic and Old Lace" would have been a lot better with Boris Karloff as the evil brother Jonathan. The 1948 version of "Hamlet" was really good.

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