Everyone has a memory of the tv shows they watched as a kid, that were for kids only (well kinda). New York had many, produced right in Manhattan and only regionally distributed. Most kids would recognize Bozo the Clown I suppose (was he just in New York City?), but how about Officer Joe Bolton or Sandy Becker or Chuck McAnn? These were all hosts of afternoon shows that catered to us as kids. I remember them starting around 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon, a perfect time as it allowed time for an after school snack before settling in in front of the tv on a favorite pillow.
New York City was a mecca for live television, both adult and children. There were a number of children Shows that were hosted by imaginative talents that combined humor, education and music. Most of them were hosts that were there to introduce short films or cartoons, but others had the show all to themselves to showcase their comedy, song and dance or just plain zaniness.
So here are some of the very best (or at least the ones that made a lasting impression on me as a kid).
-Officer Joe Bolton, WPIX: a nice Irish looking New York cop was the host of a half hour show called The Three Stooges Funhouse, featuring of shorts of Moe, Larry and Curly. A former radio announcer, he hosted the boys from 1958 to 1970 not a bad run at all.
-Chuck McCann, a real powerhouse in Childrens television; a veteran of countless shows, the one I remember introduced shorts of Laurel and Hardy, his favorite comedy team – he did a great impression of Stan Laurel himself. He went on to be in many films, lending his voice to commercials, and cartoons, radio shows and more. Believe it or not, he is still going strong at age 82.
-Sandy Becker, host of the what else? The Sandy Becker show which also had a healthy run from 1955 to 1968. He was the whole deal, creating comedic characters, doing puppetry, interviews with guests, all the while introducing the next movie or cartoon. Some of his creations linger on in my mind; The Big Professor, Norton Nork, and the irrepressible disc jockey Hambone (“Hambone, Hambone, have you heard?….”)
-Paul Winchell, host of the Winchell Mahoney show; an inventor (the first artificial heart), singer, ventriliquest. He created Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff (still one of my favorite names), two near life size dummies who were all too real to us (and to him evidently as he spent some time in a mental health facility). Quite clearly a genius, one with demons, but a genius nevertheless. I have his autobiography as well as an instructional book he wrote on how to be a Ventriloquist. He too would go on to a healthy career in voice overs, in guest appearances on hit shows, and animation (most famously as the voice as Tigger). He is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but to us he was the nice man who came into our homes every afternoon and bring along with him, two of our best friends – real or not.
And then there was:
Surreal would be a good word for this one. It was a series of live action shorts of just seven minutes each. It told the adventures of a diver in an old fashioned bulky diver suit who talked to the puppet fish around him. And get this, the underwater effect was done by shooting the whole thing through an aquarium! Talk about shoe-string budgets! Yet it is still there in the dusty recesses of my mind – maybe it was the attractive real actor who played the Mermaid, who knows?
So there they are (along with Soupy Sales who I talked about in a previous post), the champions of children television from our childhood. I can picture each one, and when I do, I feel comfortable, safe and happy. Like when you have your favorite pillow, a cup of hot chocolate and the haven that is your living room.
It’s a feeling we spend a good part of our adult life trying to find again. Sometimes we do; most times we don’t. But at least we have the memories.
So heres to you Soupy, Chuck, Officer Joe, Sandy, Paul, Jerry, Knucklehead and Dan.
You made a little kid growing up in New York City very happy.