Watch the First “Interactive” TV Show: Winky Dink and You Encouraged Kids to Draw on the Screen (1953)

Near­ly every­one born with­in the past fif­teen years nat­u­ral­ly thinks of screens as both touch­able and respon­sive to touch. But smart­phones, tablets, and the oth­er devices those kids have nev­er known a world with­out will always look like tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vels to their grand­par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion. Grow­ing up in the 1950s as part of one of tele­vi­sion’s most enthu­si­as­tic view­er­ships, they expe­ri­enced the rise of that then-mar­velous medi­um and the var­i­ous con­cepts it tried out before set­tling into con­ven­tion. Some may even remem­ber hap­py Sat­ur­day morn­ings with CBS’ Winky Dink and You, the show that they did­n’t just watch but actu­al­ly “inter­act­ed” with by break­ing out their crayons and draw­ing on the screen.

First aired in 1953, Winky Dink and You came host­ed by Jack Bar­ry, a famous tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ty since the begin­ning of tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing. (He would remain so until his death in the mid-1980s, hav­ing bounced back from the quiz show scan­dals of the lat­er 1950s.) His ani­mat­ed side­kick, the tit­u­lar Winky Dink, was voiced by Mae Ques­tel, best known as the voice of Bet­ty Boop and Olive Oyl. “Winky Dink said he want­ed the chil­dren to mail away for a ‘Mag­ic Win­dow,’ which was actu­al­ly a cheap­ly pro­duced, thin sheet of plas­tic that adhered to the TV screen by sta­t­ic elec­tric­i­ty,” writes Winky Dink-gen­er­a­tion colum­nist Bob Greene. “Along with the plas­tic sheet that arrived in the mail were ‘mag­ic crayons.’ Chil­dren were encour­aged to place the sheet on their TV screen and watch the show each Sat­ur­day, so that Winky Dink could tell them what to do.”

Winky Dink, and Bar­ry, often told them to draw in the miss­ing parts of a pic­ture, or to con­nect dots that would reveal a cod­ed mes­sage. In the episode above, writes Pale­o­fu­ture’s Matt Novak, Bar­ry invites kids to “draw things on Winky Dink’s fam­i­ly mem­bers, like flow­ers on the but­ton hole of Uncle Slim’s jack­et, or an entire­ly new nose on the old guy. Uncle Slim sneezes in reac­tion to get­ting a nose drawn on his face, as you might expect” — by the stan­dards of 1950s chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming, “com­e­dy gold.” Dull though it may sound today, Winky Dink and You dates from an era when tele­vi­sion “was still seen as an edu­ca­tion force for good,” when “Amer­i­cans weren’t quite jad­ed enough to believe TV was a pas­sive tech­nol­o­gy that didn’t actu­al­ly stim­u­late the mind.”

And though the show man­aged to move two mil­lion mag­ic screens, con­cerns about X‑rays ema­nat­ing from pic­ture tubes (as well as the like­li­hood of impa­tient kids draw­ing right on the glass) end­ed its run in 1957. But in a sense, its lega­cy lives on: a much-cir­cu­lat­ed quote attrib­uted to Bill Gates describes Winky Dink and You “the first inter­ac­tive TV show,” and it does indeed seem to have pio­neered a kind of con­tent that has only in recent years reached full tech­no­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty. Any­one who has watched young chil­dren of the 21st cen­tu­ry play on smart­phones and tablets will notice a strik­ing resem­blance to the activ­i­ties led by Winky Dink and Bar­ry. Dif­fer­ent reboots have been attempt­ed in dif­fer­ent eras, but has the time come for a Winky Dink and You app?

(via Pale­o­fu­ture)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Duck and Cov­er: The 1950s Film That Taught Mil­lions of School­child­ren How to Sur­vive a Nuclear Bomb

1950 Super­man Poster Urged Kids to Defend All Amer­i­cans, Regard­less of Their Race, Reli­gion or Nation­al Ori­gin

1950s Bat­man Car­toon Tells Kids: “Don’t Believe Those Crack­pot Lies About Peo­ple Who Wor­ship Dif­fer­ent­ly”

Did Stan­ley Kubrick Invent the iPad in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Before Mad Men: Famil­iar and For­got­ten Ads from 1950s to 1980s Now Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (9)
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  • Martin J Cohen says:

    I remem­ber Winky Dink from when I was a kid.

    Also Howdy Doo­dy, Engi­neer Bill, and Beany and Cecil.


  • Pat Marshall says:

    I remem­ber fond­ly this pro­gram. I remem­ber send­ing for the plas­tic screen. I also remem­ber writ­ing on the tv screen with­out it
    Get­ting into trou­ble
    Thanks for the mem­o­ries. Trip down mem­o­ry lane..I love it

  • Carol Johnson says:

    I remem­ber Win­ki Dink clear­ly. In my 6‑year old brain though, I remem­ber the show’s host, Jack Bar­ry, as being very old! Ha ha. To me he was an old man. I loved draw­ing on the plas­tic and thought it was the height of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy. Very enjoy­able. I was in Min­neso­ta at that time. When I ask peo­ple my age here in Cal­i­for­nia if they remem­ber Winky Dink, no one knows what I’m talk­ing about. Was it a region­al thing? Or was it nation­wide?

  • Brett Fields says:

    I saw it and had a kit in the late 60’s. Would that have been reruns?

    Brett from New York

  • Jane Cheshire-Allen says:

    One of my favorite child­hood mem­o­ries was plac­ing the screen on the TV glass, feel­ing that sat­is­fy­ing thwop when remov­ing the cling­ing screen, and draw­ing on it. Thanks for the details here.

  • I m a artist today started drawing on TV screen says:

    I loved draw­ing it start­ed in 50s. I still am draw­ing today

  • Marcie shaffer says:

    I just googled winky dink to see if I remem­bered it cor­rect­ly or not and I did!! I’m 73 yrs old
    I loved watch­ing the show and using my plas­tic mag­ic screen. My aunt vis­it­ed from out of town one time and saw me draw­ing on the tv screen and yelled at me for writ­ing on the screen! I loved read­ing the com­ments from oth­ers. Such nice mem­o­ries ! Thank you

  • Andrea says:

    I found this site try­ing to fig­ure out what car­toon want­ed chil­dren to send away for a plas­tic and crayons to draw on their TV screen. Now I know it was called Winky Dink.
    But when I asked my par­ents they said absolute­ly not!
    There would be no send­ing away for that prod­uct, and NO draw­ing on the TV screen–ever.
    They thought the whole idea of that car­toon was awful. I remem­ber the paus­es in the car­toon for chil­dren to draw, but being a good lit­tle girl, I did­n’t do any­thing but wait for the pause to be over.

  • Sandra Ha says:

    I was talk­ing to a friend of mine about how there was this show that was the fore­run­ner of ipads today and how as a small child I was mes­mer­ized by it. He did­n’t believe it exist­ed. I said Yes it did! I did not dream that! It was heav­en. You wrote write on the screen and the screen talked to you and knew what you did! That’s when I remem­bered maybe there was a toy screen or some­thing that came with it. So I just had to research it so I could prove it to him! Appar­ent­ly I was­n’t the only one who was delight­ed in this idea and prob­a­bly saw also it was the begin­ning of a new and impor­tant thing. I tru­ly felt I knew this.

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