Liz Gilman knew from a young age she was interested in television and film.
She would come home from school and watch “Gilligan’s Island,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Brady Bunch.” “Betty Lou and the House with the Magic Window” also was a favorite show of Gilman’s. It was a locally produced children’s television show geared toward kindergartners and preschoolers. Betty Lou and her animal friends lived in the Magic Forest.
Gilman would get out aluminum foil, Scotch tape and whatever else she needed to replicate the crafts that Betty Lou would make on her show. She later went on to intern with Betty Lou Varnum when she attended Iowa State University.
As a 7-year-old, Gilman even bought her own television. She remembers coming to the JC Penney store in downtown Des Moines from her hometown in Menlo to buy a 13-inch black and white TV with money she had saved from walking beans and performing other farm-related chores.
“They had me dealing with the salesman,” says Gilman, 49, who now lives and works downtown. “I’m sure the salesman was freaked out that a 7-year-old came in with her checkbook.”
Young “Lizzy” Gilman, as she went by then, bought the TV for $89.95 plus tax. The TV went into her childhood bedroom. She still has the receipts and the guarantee of purchase today. The television is at her parents’ home.
As a child, Gilman also had a Viewfinder she would crank to watch Disney movies forward and backward. Going to the movie theater was a rarity because the family had to drive into Des Moines. They would, on occasion during the holidays, go to see the Disney movies when they came out in the theater.
Gilman’s television shows expanded to “Dynasty,” “Dallas” and “The Thorn Birds” miniseries as she got into high school.
“I’ve always been interested in pop culture and the entertainment world, whether television or film,” says Gilman, who now works as the executive producer or Produce Iowa, the state’s media production office.
Leo Landis, who works downtown, says he grew up watching “Betty Lou” and “The Floppy Show,” another Des Moines children’s television show that featured a dog puppet.
“I certainly had my Betty Lou birthday card membership, where Betty Lou would send you a postcard,” Landis, now 49, recalls.
Landis also was a fan of “M*A*S*H.”
“When the last episode of ‘M*A*S*H’ aired in 1983, I was a high school senior, and a few of us got together for a little ‘M*A*S*H’ party,” he recalls.
Landis also was big into listening to the radio. He liked to call in to answer trivia questions from KIOA, when it was KIOA 940. In 1976, he called in to answer a question for the U.S. Bicentennial about which state was the first to join the union.
“I can remember trying to call in and trying to call in, and no one was getting it right, and I knew, as a 10-year-old, Delaware was the first,” he remembers.
Landis won an LP record of “America’s Greatest Hits” for answering the question correctly.
Another popular thing for central Iowa kids to do was to have their families drive them into downtown Des Moines outside the former KRNT station during the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon.
“There would be KRNT personalities on the street collecting money,” Landis recalls. “That was kind of a big deal.”
Landis says visiting the station during the MDA telethon or another television station was one of four things most Des Moines or central Iowa kids did during the 1960s and 1970s. The other things were:
- Take a tour of Anderson Erickson Dairy, where you were given a carton of orange drink and an AE pencil as a souvenir.
- Have an appearance on “The Floppy Show.”
- Tour the former Colonial Bread building through a school field trip.
“If you didn’t do all four of those, which I did, you did at least one of them to be a central Iowa school child,” Landis recalls.
Barbies, farm life, sports occupy childhood years
Gilman recalls playing her fair share of Barbies as she was growing up, but she also spent a lot of time outside climbing trees at her grandparents’ home and playing games of Candy Land with them.
Many of Landis’ childhood memories stem from growing up in Clive as it was transitioning from a rural community into suburbia. He rode his bicycle all over the neighborhood.
His first childhood house was located at 2249 86th St. and was located diagonally from the West-Vue Drive-In, where there is a Perkins Restaurant & Bakery today. His family regularly went to the drive-in, but his mother didn’t drive. His father would have to drive the family over, park them, walk back home and return to get them later.
Clive city officials eventually rezoned the property to commercial development, so the Landis family moved. Their home was torn down and the pasture was dug up to make way for fast food restaurants. They stayed in Clive and still came back to the drive-in until it closed in the early 1980s.
Landis, 49, was one of eight children, and his mother babysat for some of the AAA baseball players’ families.
“Our backyard was big enough that we had a baseball field in the backyard,” Landis recalls. “We would have baseball or softball games with kids my mom was babysitting or neighborhood kids.”
Sometimes the AAA players would bring other players to the Landis home, and they would all play with the kids. Baseball has always remained one of Landis’ favorite sports. He grew up playing it and played for three years in high school.
One of Landis’ fondest memories is of Rene Lachemann, who is now a coach for the Colorado Rockies, but played baseball in Des Moines in his younger years. Landis once went to a spring training game in the 1980s where he saw Lachemann and yelled “Des Moines, Iowa. I’m a Landis,” and Lachemann came over to talk to him.
“That was the kind of relationship back in the early ’70s that guys one step away from the Major League would have with local kids,” Landis recalls.
As Landis grew older and entered junior high and high school, he said it was popular to go swimming at Clearwater Beach in an old gravel pit on the west side. Later, kids went to Saylorville Lake to swim before it was a popular recreational area.
Fashion trends mark period in Des Moines residents’ lives
Landis went to Dowling Catholic High School, where there was a dress code, but he still liked to wear Levi 501s and some Guess jeans as he got into college. The girls and young women wore Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein jeans.
Landis says the preppy look came into style as he was in high school. He recalls pastel colors such as pink and green being worn, and LL Bean and Sperry deck shoes or boat shoes and Sperry topsider boots being popular.
Gilman says she wore her hair in one of the most iconic styles that is still well known today: the Farrah Fawcett feathered curls.
“I was never that stylish,” Landis says, but he admits to parting his hair down the middle Leif Garrett-style. Garrett was a child and teen pop star singer, actor and TV personality who grew to popularity in the late 1970s.
Landis says he did his own thing with his hair, while other high school boys tried to match Garrett’s feathered back look.