As Christmas shoppers rampage through malls like George Romero zombies, it's hard to imagine that there was ever a time when amusing ourselves was not a big business. But for the country's first hundred years or so, Americans spent most of their spare time trying to avoid being eaten by bears or turning into giant smallpox sores. It was until the 20th Century that the concept of leisure time—and the yearning for stuff to fill it—really caught on.
Playtime, an episode of the Smithsonian Channel's series America in Color, tells the story of that primitive quest for fun in (mostly) breezy style. With a remarkable collection of vintage film footage—much of it assembled from home movies—Playtime covers everything from the turn of the century amusement parks on Coney Island to the 1953 advent of the Rodent Empire headquartered at Disney World; from wing walkers to flagpole sitters, from the lost art of sand yachting to a federally funded, all-black production of Macbeth set in Haiti. Television critic Glenn Garvin explains more.
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