Puberty Trumps Propaganda?

(Last Updated On June 17, 2022)

One nondescript summer as a latchkey kid, I discovered a kitschy but somewhat charming PBS television program after boredom had set in from too much Atari. Flipping through the sparse VHF and UHF stations available at the time, I had settled on something fresh and coincidentally seasonal: a fictitious show centering on eight kids away at summer camp. Four teenage boys and four girls of mixed races and backgrounds with their personal trials and tribulations (with some deep lessons galore) broadcast for the whole watching world to see. I genuinely found it quite entertaining; the stories were interesting and realistic and stood to teach a thing or two about a variety of topics deemed important at the time. The topic of nutrition (a major theme) and a myriad of interrelated connections such as farming, diabetes, obesity and exercise permeated the program’s underlying message, running in tandem with the superficial entertainment aspects.  The series ran for a total of ten episodes, each thirty minutes long. However, as with most things, there was something more that had really caught my attention and that was one of the program’s young leading ladies, a spunky, athletic, bright and somewhat tomboyish, 13-year-old named Suzanne Freestone (Cindy O’Neal). I was totally in love, or so I thought—give me a break, I was only 12!

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Swifty (1980) (1)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Swifty (1980) (1)

Seemed I might as well get used to setting my digital wristwatch by the local PBS schedule and spending the remainder of my summer break hunkered down on the floor with my favorite giraffe-patterned TV pillow. Some days during the doldrums of that hot and humid summer, there was a clearly delineated indention in the high-pile carpet formed in my likeness where I had vegged out for hours, entranced by endless banal commercials and cartoon reruns, David Carradine’s Kung Fu and my new favorite TV show of all time, High Feather.

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Welcome to Camp (1980) (1)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Welcome to Camp (1980) (1)

While this post is not meant to be an exhaustive descriptor and/or history of the High Feather series legacy (not much can be found online, honestly), it hopefully will prove to facilitate interest in a fleeting “gem” which defines a period in time when tall tube socks and short shorts ruled, a lengthy summer bridged the gap between schoolgrades (none of this track-out stuff and year-round school) and kids did not yet have their faces incessantly buried in laptops and cell phones.  Although few of the cast were professional actors and actresses, one cast member, Emily Wagner (Cathy), went on to stardom on the hit TV series ER, as well as featuring in a variety of films. Here Emily Wagner (left) along with Cindy O’Neal discuss with the program’s lead males the nomination of team captain for an upcoming “Camp Olympics” based on merit and not sexist-instilled attitudes.

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Swifty (1980) (2)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Swifty (1980) (2)

A source of amusement and accessibility, the first-time acting performances were obvious yet easily forgivable.  The “healthy” lifestyle theme was not without a little bit of friendly competition, as pictured in this scene where Suzanne handily beats an overly boastful boy in a camp-sanctioned competitive dash.  Here actress and heartbreaker Cindy O’Neal is a cut above the young Emma Watson in this author’s opinion.

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Swifty (1980) (3)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Swifty (1980) (3)

Said co-creator Terence Taylor, “High Feather was funded by the New York State Education department, as was the first series I worked on, Vegetable Soup, which was all about ‘multiculturalism’, long before it became a buzzword decades later. We cared about our audiences and what we told them about the world and our mission was to raise them well if busy parents were handing them over to us by the millions.”

And whatever became of Cindy O’Neal, my crush?  Well, I am pleased to report she is alive and well, married with three children. How’s that for a happy ending?

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Welcome to Camp (1980) (2)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Welcome to Camp (1980) (2)

More about High Feather here.

9 thoughts on “Puberty Trumps Propaganda?

  1. High Feather and Powerhouse were two shows that I remember watching avidly as a kid! But unlike you, my crush wasn’t Suzanne from this show, but Pepper from Powerhouse. She’s actually running a vegetarian restaurant and website in California now!

    But crushes aside, I would love to see an interview with Suzanne, and any other cast member of these shows to see what they’ve been up to since! I know that in Powerhouse, Lolo is the only actor that did a lot more than that show (Kevin actually was a Romulan on Star Trek-TNG, but I think that might have been his only other credit)

    These shows REALLY do stick with you, eh?


  2. Hi, This is Cindy aka Suzanne. I am always honored and flattered when people talk about High Feather. It holds such a special place in my heart. This was great to read and to see the pictures! Thanks so much! I would be happy to do an interview, depending on where it is (timing and such). 🙂 Cindy

  3. For decades I recalled a PBS show on kids at a camp and was told no such show existed. By accident, a few days ago (Xmas day) I learnt the name of the show was High Feather.

    I run an interview series

    I often do some on pop culture and acting, as well science and philosophy and the arts. As mentioned in your article: there is not much on this show, but I am watching the episodes on YT and have sent out contacts to Terence Taylor and Emily Wagner.

    I saw that that Cindy O’Neal- now Carlson- commented on your site, as she did on another article on the show.

    Might you have a way to contact her? Or at least let me know where she posted from in 2016?

    If I could get Terence, Emily, and Cindy for the show it would be great.

    Any help or info is appreciated.

    • Hi, Cindy. RJ hasn’t been around for quite a while, but I’m sure he would be quite excited to know that the subject of his childhood crush had replied to his article. Thanks for your response!

    • Hi! LOVED the show and greatly admired the “unprofessionalism” of the cast…..just real people…..much better than the junk out today (or even then in some respects)…..

    • wow you were so cute and I loved the show as a kid – I am sitting here now at 54 watching on youtube. lol – I can’t seem to find photos of any of the cast online or what they are doing today. thanks!

  4. I find it an interesting phenomenon how these simple (and often outright dumb) shows from our childhoods stick in our memories like a song you can’t get out of your head. The answer must somehow lie in its emotional impact rather than any conscious appreciation. Like comfort food, it is this kind of soothing thing in the room.
    For me, it was ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’. The plot lines had overly simplified motivations and each episode ended like a parable that made me roll my eyes. Yet, I have fond memories of vegging out in front of the tube. I was dismayed to learn later that the series was motivated by an effort to sell action figures, much less noble than that of ‘High Feather’. I will be subjecting our readers to a short blurb on He-Man later.
    And it isn’t limited to childhood. After I did my post on ‘The Saddle Club’, I got so involved in my research that I got hooked on the first season of the show. I recently made some updates BTW.
    Thank you RJ for your contribution and I hope to see much more in the future. -Ron

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