There used to be a television programme I used to watch as a boy, called Read, Write, and Draw. Vincent Price was the host, and he must have been over eighty at the time. I couldn’t have been more than twelve.
I watched it religiously. Not that it was on at any particular time. I would catch it, when flipping channels in the afternoon, or mid-morning if I stayed home sick from school.
The set of Read, Write, and Draw was dressed to look like a kitchen for some reason, and old Vincent Price would be standing there in an apron, or a smock. The premise of the show was always obscure to me, other than the fact it did involve reading, writing, and drawing. Vincent would read stories aloud, in that familiar, haunting voice of his; he would then ask children to send in more stories for him to read—and after every story he would assign whoever was watching to draw him a picture, using the story he had just read as the inspiration, and to please send it in. Once every episode he would take time to present these drawings, holding them up to the camera and describing what he saw in the scrawls of crayon and magic marker: here is a cat, and here is George Washington and the cherry tree, and here is a firetruck. His hands would shake. He would always read out the children’s names and their ages too, before unveiling a drawing. Tobias, age 6. Bridget, age 10. And his hands would shake.
I would always wonder at this point whether I was the only one watching. I would always wonder if Vincent Price himself hadn’t made these drawings alone, with his shaky hands, shortly before the cameras began to roll.
At the end of every episode he would read out a Florida address where this was all apparently filmed, and where his audience were meant to send in their pictures. And he would read the address very purposefully, taking almost dramatic pauses after every word, then each number of the zip code. The assumption being, I thought, that children everywhere were in front of their TV screens, crayon or magic marker in hand, taking this address down.
I never did. I never took down the address or sent a drawing for Vincent to hold up to the camera. But I watched the show religiously. Meaning that I would watch and listen to the very end, always to the very end, every time I caught Vincent Price standing alone in that kitchen. Feeling guilty if I didn’t bear witness, feeling that I needed to understand, feeling that this was important but not quite understanding why.