American Television and Other Media Dealing with Short Pants

Figure 1.--Here is an episide from the Jon Provost continuation of Lassie series. The Martin's relative visits from England wearing his school uniform's. Timmy's friends take isse with his get up as well as the idea of playing cricket. A fight occurs.

We have listed here some of the major television child star or characters and how short pants were handled. There where also occassions where short pants suits figured in a single episode and were worn by a minor actor making a brief appearnce on the program. Interestingly the circumstances were almost always tht the boy in the short loants suit was a (usually spoiled rich) American boy or a (nicely behaved) European boy. I can recall ony a few episodes right now, but know there are many more examples.


Here are some of the episodes we remember when boys other than the main character were involved.

(The) Beverley Hillbillies (U.S., 1967)

"The Beverly Hillbillies" were an instant success when they first appeared in 1962 and for 2 years were the most popular program in America. This American sitcom had a rather long life. It continued tp be well received throughout the 1960s. The show was preposterous, but it had some great characters. My favorite was Mr. Drysdale. While children rarely appeared on the program, there were a few episodes when they did. I do not know the names of most of these episodes. Most were characters associated with Jethro's schooling. One of the funist was "The Little Monster"--Mr. Drysdale's nephew Milby.

Dennis the Menace

There was one episode of 'Dennis the Menace" in which Dennis appeared in short pants. We believe it was a nightmare Mr. Wilson was having. It was a school scene. He and Dennis wear blackr short pants suits.

Leaver It to Beaver (U.S., late-1950s)

Beaver and Wally lmost always wore long pants as well as virtually all the other boys appeaing on the show. In one episode Beaver wears a short pants suit when Aunt Martha visited. And Wally wers a short pants Scout uniform. The only other boy to wear short pants was a foreign boy, in this case a boy from Ltin merica. Beaver in another episode makes friends with a little Hispanic boy who wears short pants and knee socks. Eddie Haskel, Wally's omnipresent obnoxious friend, comments that it was sissy to wear shorts. (Eddie became a policeman.) Interestingly, dressy short pants and knee socks were not common in Larin america, except for Argentina, a country with a strong European influence.

McHale's Navy (US, 1960s)

"McHales Navy" is a particularly witless sitcom, set around the World War II U.S. Navy in the South Pacific. ABC brodcast 138 half-hour episodes from October 1962 to August 1966. We do not notice it being shown in sindication. Children were rarely involved in the episodes. One McHale's Navy" episode is an example of how obnoxious, spoiled brats were often costumed in short pants at a time when almost all boys on American television wore long pants. The boy wearing short pants and proper knee socks, with a polo shirt. Wearing knee socks with his shorts without being actially mentioned, emphasized being pamered by the adults in his life. I believe the name of this episode was 'Monster of Midway'. The boy is the spoiled son of an admiral who is given to McHale's crew to monitor for a period of time. The vboy is so ensuferable that McHale finally takes him over his lap and spanks him. After McHale straigtens him out, he is last seen wearing a pair of long pants showing a coming of age.

Mama's Family (US, 1987)

"Mama's Family" was a spin-off of the "Carol Burnett Show" and featured Vicki Lawrence as family matriarch, "Thelma Harper". In the episode "Child's Play", which first aired on June 26, 1987, Mama and family are asked to take care of Reverend and Mrs. Meechum's grandson, Eugene. Eugene shows up wearing a white (above the knee) short pants suit, short-sleeved light colored shirt with gray vertical stripes, white suspenders, a dark bow tie with small white stripes, and white and black saddle oxford lace up shoes. Eugene apears cherubic, but he's the proverbial "preacher's son" or in this case, grandson. Bratty and mean, he and Thelma take an instant dislike to each other. Eugene pours tabasco sauce in Thelma's soup, draws a picture in crayons on her white tablecloth, and tapes a sign reading "Caution: Wide Load" on her ample derriere. He even hogties Thelma with a rope after she falls asleep reading him a bedtime story! In the last scene when the Reverend and his wife come to collect Eugene, he appears in a short pants sailor suit, a light blue jersey, trimmed at the sleeves in medium blue, medium blue neckerchief, a light blue dickey with two parallel horizontal stripes that are coordinated with his light blue "Dixie Cup" sailor's cap, also trimmed with blue stripes, medium blue above the knee shorts, white knee socks, and the saddle oxfords. Eugene plays no favorites; he's not ready to go home with his grandparents and emphasizes his willfulness by kicking his grandpa on the leg. Well, that does it for Thelma, who takes a hold on Eugene while the Reverend delivers a spanking. Eugene also appears in one scene in short sleeved and short pants pajamas. The young actor who played Eugene was Ryan Bollman, born on August 9, 1972, in St. Louis. He would have been about 14 and a half when the episode was filmed and a very convincing spoiled brat! his is a typical example of American TV's approch to boys' costuming, especially short pants. Boys almost always wore long pants. Boys in shortswere uually portrayed as spoiled brats or foreigners. Stangely, by the 1980s it was very common for boys to wear short pants, even to school.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (U.S., 1965)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a popular NBC spy series done a an increasingly campy flavor as the shooting progressed. It was shot during Cold War and Vietnam War (1964-68), but steered clear of both. It was an effort to pick up on the populrity of the James Bond films. Ian flemming was even consulted. The secret agents, played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, worked for a secret international espionage and law-enforcement agency called U.N.C.L.E. Co-creator Sam Rolfe had the idea of leaving the meaning of U.N.C.L.E. ambiguous so it could be either a U.S. or U.N. agebcy. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer legal department about using "U.N." for commercial purposes resulted in the producers deciding to give U.N.C.L.E. the name United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. There were 105 episodes shot. Althouh shot during the Cold war, the adeversary was ThHRUSH, not the Soviet KGB. And Illya Kuryakin was created to give an idea of a joint American-Soviet effort against TRUSH. by Rolfe as just such an agent, Many popular TV series prove to be popular sindication shows, but 'Man from U.N.C/L/E.' is rarely seen in sindication. Children were rarely featured in the episodes, but a reader tells us about one exception. "Last night METV showed a 'Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode with Jay North--'The Deadly Toy Affair'. Jay of course was famous for palying Dennis the Menace. Ironically when Jay portrayed Dennis the Menace, he never wore short pants even though he was age appropriate and Kechem's cartoons commonly depicted Dennis wearing short pnts. And the show was done in an era when it would have been correct. Strangely, in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' episode, Jay who was 14 years old is attired in a shorts pants school uniform. Unlike the Dennis series, this was not age appropriate or common in Aschools, at least American schools. Jay portrays a boy genius that TRUSH is after. All his scenes take place at a Swiss boarding school which presumably explains the short pants--giving a European flavor that fits in with the spy theme. Surprisingly, Jay does not get mentioned as a co-star even though he was still well known in 1965 when the episode aired. In the school scenes he wears a white shirt, dark shorts, ankle socks, and dark Oxford shoes. In the last scene he is shown with a very British-looking blazer jacket, tie, and peaked cap." At age 14 years of age and a teenager, Jay might not have been too pleased with his outfit, but at the time is child star status was declining and was probably happy for any role. Many times short pants were used as symbol for rich brats. In this case they were used to five a Europen flavor.

Lassie (1957-64)

There were two episodes of 'Lassie' in which boys appeared in short pants. There may have been more, but not many. They were both from Jon Provost's era as 'Timmy Martin'. Unlike Beaver, Timmy, never wore short pants in any of the Lassie episodes. Apparently it was un-American. The plot device was for foreign boys to appear in shorts. This was used once in 'Leave It to Beaver' as well.

(The) Rifleman (U.S.)

'The Rifleman' was one of the first of a series of Westerns that dominated American TV screens in the late-1950s and 1960s. The Rifleman is Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) who is a widower trying to raise his son Mark on the Western Frontier. Kind of likle 'The River of No Return', but without Maralyn. He is homesteading a ranch in North Fork, New Mexico. The local Marshall, however, has his hands fulls with a never-ending supply of desperados. Thev episodes normally focused more on Pa than Mark abd rarely dealt with costuming. One exception is when an English boy shows up in a short pants suit. His torically this is incorrect. English boys has not begun wearing short pants yet. And American boys had not yet begun wearing knee pants yet, at least boys Mark's age and in rural areas. And the younger boys who did wear knee pants alwaus did so with long stockings, at least when wearing shoes.

(The) Waltons (U.S., 1970s)

The Walton boys usually wore overalls, but dresses up in knickers. I remember once a German Jewish boy appeared, he was a World War II refugee from a cultured family. If I recall he wore short pants and kneesocks. This is an example of how when Eurpean boys are pictures in shorts in American television that they are often well mannered. Often American boys wearing shorts are depicted as brats and obnoxious.

Main Characters

HBC has noted several television, movie, and other media in America during the 1950s and 60s that addressed the issue of boys wearing short pants suits. Interestingly, boys did appear on American television wearing short pants during the late 1940s and early 1950s. By te mid 1950s, however, as sea-change occurred. American boys were suddenly only pictured as wearing long pants--with only a few exceptions. The Leave It to Beaver may well be the television episode that most Americans remember that addresses the issue of boys wearing short pants suits. It was not, however, the only series that addressed the topic or the only media. HBC also wonders if the impact was not more important on the parents who saw the show than the boys.


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Created: October 8, 2000
Last updated: 5:37 PM 11/10/2017