Africa has always been a place for mystery, adventure and, let’s be honest, not a small amount of racism when it comes to entertainment direct from Hollywood. Add in the significant amount of entertainment that came out of New York in the early days of TV as well as shows being shipped across the Ocean from England and you’ve got a global supply of misinformation contributing to a pile of knowledge shared by Americans that could be as much hogwash as the knowledge shared by viewers of Fox News. But at least the TV shows about Africa were entertaining. Which is more than you can say for Fox News.
Ramar of the Jungle
Television was looking into darkest Africa for the purposes of entertainment almost from its inception. By 1952, one very popular prime time show for kids was “Ramar of the Jungle.” The actual name of the son of missionaries who returned to Africa as an adult doctor was Tom Reynolds, but in the world of Hollywood African language, he was known as Ramar, which translated roughly into Great White Doctor. “Ramar of the Jungle” was about as far out of the real Africa as it was possible to get and still maintain any pretense toward realism, but since it was made for kids, few adults really cared.
Assignment Foreign Legion
At the other end of Africa–literally and figuratively–was “Assignment Foreign Legion.” Movie star Merle Oberon narrated this anthology series in the character of a foreign correspondent reporting from the Africa of the north. Oberon also occasionally took on a role in the narratives about life in the French Foreign Legion. Proving that Africa was not all thick jungles, wild animals, men swinging on trees and incredibly primitive natives, “Assignment Foreign Legions” presented stories that ranged from creeping paranoia over the mystical endowment of a so-called “Sword of Truth” to former inmate looking for his wife who has remarried a Legionnaire.
Cowboy in Africa
By 1967, just about every possible angle on the Western had been tried on TV. Some network executive decided that the only possible way to make a new TV series about cowboys that hadn’t been seen before was to shift the action to Africa. And so “Cowboy in Africa” brought together an American cowboy, a British landowner, the cowboy’s Indian blood-brother and, because it was taking place in Africa, after all, a 10-year old African orphan. In truth, there was a lot more Africa than cowboy in the stories told on this show. Not much in the way of saloons or gunfights since it wasn’t set in the Wild West days. But a lot of animal emergencies involving rhinos, elephants and wild horses.
Although the actress who would become much better known later on as Joanie Cunningham got her start on “Daktari” the real star of the show was Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion. Apparently, Ramar wasn’t the only Africa word for doctor since the title referred to Dr. March Tracy who was a vet working at the Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behaviour in East Africa, on the other side of the continent from where the “Cowboy in Africa” was doing his thing at about the same time.
One of the most exciting TV series set in Africa, at least for young males growing up in the 60s, was “Rat Patrol.” This rousing World War II adventure series was the kind of TV show that wound up immortalized in tin in the form of lunch boxes. Three Yanks and a Brit fighting Nazi bastards in jeeps flying over the desert sands of North Africa. What boy wouldn’t want to watch that kind of stuff on Monday night and then show up in the school cafeteria on Tuesday with a lunch box bearing the image of the exciting jeep chases?
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
A decade before “Rat Patrol” TV offered the older brothers of the boys glued to the TV to watch gun-mounted jeep chases an entirely different reason to want to learn about Africa. Indeed, their fathers probably didn’t mind setting down to watch what was, after all, a rather silly concept of Africa all around. Even for the 1960s of “Rat Patrol” outfit worn by “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” would have been considered a little skimpy. Just imagine the impact such a display of White Goddess pulchritude had on impressionable boys coming into puberty amidst the sexual repression of the 1955-1956 season when “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” aired. Basically what you had here was the female version of Tarzan. Complete with matching accuracy and authenticity of African life.