February 17, 2020
February 15, 2020
(NBC, December 27, 1947-September 24, 1960)
National Broadcasting Company
Buffalo Bob Smith – Himself, Howdy Doody (1947-54), Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Inspector John J. Fadoozle, Flubadub
Allen Swift – Howdy Doody, Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Inspector John J. Fadoozle, Flubadub (all 1954-60)
Bob Keeshan – Clarabell the Clown (until 1952), various
Lew Anderson – Clarabell the Clown (1955-60)
Bill LeCornec (until 1952) – Chief Thunderthud, Dilly Dally, various
Dayton Allen (until 1952) – Sir Archibald, Clarabell (Keeshan’s stand-in), various
Bobby “Nick” Nicholson – J. Cornelius Cobb (1952, 1955-60), Clarabell the Clown (1953-54)
Rufus Rose – J. Cornelius Cobb (1953-54), Sandra the Witch
Bob Smith got his start working in radio in his hometown of Buffalo, New York at WGR before moving to WBEN; where he managed to help the network beat WGR’s #1 morning program in the ratings. After gaining the attention of NBC, he was brought to New York City to serve as the early morning host on WNBC where he became known as Buffalo Bob (a double reference to his home and the frontier hero Buffalo Bill). While there, Smith performed a voice for a character whose trademark was opening show by saying “Howwwwwdy Doody.”
|The original Howdy Doody.|
NBC’s television division was looking to expand their roster of children’s programs at about the time Smith was contemplating a move to television. Executive E. Roger Muir noticed the popularity of Smith’s show and decided to bring Smith’s voices to life via puppetry. Christened “Howdy Doody”, the initial marionet was designed by Frank Paris featuring a large chin and a crop of wild hair. Smith continued to provide the voice for Howdy, but he wasn’t a ventriloquist. A system was set up where typically after a verbal cue, the director would cut to a shot of Howdy that Smith could see on a screen past the puppet which would signal him to deliver Howdy’s lines. As Smith also voiced several other puppet characters, cue cards used on the set we rendered in different colors to tell Smith which character he was supposed to be providing the dialogue for at a given time. By 1949, the puppets’ dialogue was pre-recorded and played during the live broadcasts.
|Buffalo Bob in front of the Peanut Gallery.|
Howdy Doody debuted on NBC on December 27, 1947 under the name Puppet Playhouse Presents before it was changed within a week. It became the first nationally-televised children’s program, as well as one of the first to air in color (one episode in 1953, and a full week in 1954, mostly as a way to help push the sales of color televisions). Initially, the show was given a circus setting but was quickly changed to the western town of “Doodyville”. A group of kids were on hand in the studio audience called The Peanut Gallery. Each show was opened with Smith asking “Say, kids, what time is it?” to which the kids replied in unison “It’s Howdy Doody Time!” The kids would then proceed to sing the show’s theme song set to the tune of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”. The kids would also sing the jingles of the various sponsors for the commercial breaks under the leadership of Smith or Howdy. Howdy Doody was one of the first television programs with audience participation as a major feature. The Peanut Gallery inspired the executives at United Features Syndicate to name Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, much to his chagrin.
|Clarabell the Clown.|
To help keep the kids on their best behavior and to quiet the anxious ones, the character of Clarabell the Clown was introduced. Clarabell was mute and communicated in mine, by honking a horn on his belt, and squirting seltzer (usually on Smith). Clarabell was portrayed by Bob Keeshan or several stand-ins when Keeshan was needed for another function on the show. In 1952, Keeshan left and became the host of his own successful children’s show, Captain Kangaroo. Clarabell was then played by Bobby “Nick” Nicholson and finally Lew Anderson for the remainder of the show’s run. Other puppet characters included Heidi Doody, a stranger who saved Smith’s life and was adopted as Howdy’s sister; Phineas T. Bluster (Smith), skinflint and mayor of Doodyville; Phineas’ brothers Hector Hamhock and Don Jose and nephew Petey; Princess SummerFallWinterSpring (began as a puppet until she was taken over by Judy Tyler, then returned to puppet form upon Tyler’s death in 1953 voiced by Linda Marsh); Dilly Dally (Smith), Howdy’s boyhood friend; Inspector John J. Fadoozle (Smith), a private eye; Flub-a-Dub (Smith), a mixture of 8 different animals; and shopkeeper J. Cornelius Cobb (Nicholson), who had a strong dislike for clowns. Other human characters included Native Americans Chief Thunderthud (Bill LeCornec) and Chief Featherman, used to emphasize the show’s western theme.
|Princess SummerWinterFallSpring in live and puppet forms.|
Howdy Doody began on Saturday nights as an hour live program and quickly rose in popularity. NBC expanded the show with two additional airings during the week, and soon to a daily half-hour program. Each new market NBC began broadcasting to became enamored with the show, increasing its viewership tremendously. Pregnant women would often write in for an attempt to get a seat in The Peanut Gallery for their children by the time they were four (only 40 kids were allowed by fire department regulations, and no one got in without a ticket). NBC was sure to suitably market the show with lunch boxes, shirts, cereal premiums, and home versions of Howdy. Head writer Edward Kean wrote many of the comics published by Dell from 1950-56, as well as the Sunday-only comic strip from United Features Syndicate (with additional writing by Stan Lee). UPA was even commissioned to produce an animated special, Howdy Doody and his Magic Hat, marking the directorial debut of Gene Deitch, and international versions of the program aired in Mexico and Canada.
|Buffalo Bob with the revised Howdy Doody.|
This success came with a cost. Paris felt that since he created the puppet, he was due a larger portion of the profits, and often got into heated arguments with Smith and the producers about it. In 1948, he walked off the show with the puppet. While a new one was being fabricated, the show used the storyline it established about Howdy running for President to explain his absence by saying he was out campaigning. Further, it was said that in order for Howdy to beat his rival, Mr. X (revealed to be the Inspector), he had to become more handsome and got plastic surgery. Howdy’s new head was designed by Disney artist Thelma Thomas and built by Velma Dawson. He now had big ears, a goofy smile, a solid head of red wooden hair and 48 freckles (representing the number of American states at the time). Rhoda Mann took over controlling Howdy. Paris attempted to put an injunction on NBC to stop them from using the name “Howdy Doody”, but the courts sided with NBC and Smith. Paris was also unable to use the original puppet in another production. Further, Keeshan, Allen, LeCornec and Mann all left the show in 1952 over a salary dispute.
|Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney stop by Howdy Doody while Gabby Hayes hosts.|
Smith kept himself busy. In 1948, NBC gave him another show, The Bob Smith Show, to try and work his charms on the parents as he had their kids. Smith continued hosting his radio show on WNBC, and in 1952 added a radio version of Howdy Doody that allowed him to be more innovative with the concept. Guitarist Tony Mottola and organist Doc Whipple played on the show with Howdy’s washboard band. In 1954, Smith took on another show from 10-11 AM to compete with Arthur Godfrey and a midday local TV program. It turned out to be a little too much as Smith suffered a heart attack that year and was ordered to remain home for recovery. Smith’s absence from the show was explained that he was vacationing at Pioneer Village while actor Gabby Hayes and disc jockey Ted Brown filled in for him. NBC was willing to give Smith the time to recover, but sponsors were getting anxious; they wanted him to sell their wares. A temporary studio was set up in Smith’s home so that he could make appearances on the program. Allen Swift took over voicing Howdy and Smith’s other puppet roles, and kept on doing them for the remainder of the program even after Smith’s eventual return.
|Buffalo Bob with Howdy and Flubadub.|
By 1956, Howdy Doody was losing favor with the network. While his original audience was outgrowing him and a new audience moved in to take their places, the fact was the show was taking up a good chunk of NBC’s schedule that could be used for more profitable adult programming. The weekday versions were dropped in favor of a Saturday morning version, replacing The Pinky Lee Show. To further cut costs associated with Howdy Doody, the program was no longer broadcast live. Five weeks of shows were filmed at a time to be broadcast later; after which the sets would be struck and the studio space used for other programs.
As the decade was coming to a close, the landscape for children’s television began to change and NBC no longer had a place for Howdy. After 2,343 episodes, the show was cancelled on September 24, 1960. The final episode was an hour-long retrospective of the entire program. The stand-out moment was that Clarabell finally spoke, saying a somber “Goodbye, kids.” “Auld Lang Syne”, the song most would recognize from New Year’s celebrations, played as the credits rolled over the empty, darkened set, followed by the announcement that The Shari Lewis Show would replace it the following week. The main Howdy puppet currently resides in the Detroit Institute of Arts following a custody battle between the museum and the family of Rose, who wanted to sell it at auction.
|Buffalo Bob on the set with the star of Happy Days, Ron Howard.|
The 1970s brought a wave of nostalgia for the 1950s, capped off with the successful film American Graffiti and the show Happy Days. Smith and Howdy returned for an episode of Happy Days entitled “The Howdy Doody Show”. Shortly after, Nicholson-Muir Productions, owned by Nicholson and Muir, secured the rights from NBC to produce a new version of the program. The New Howdy Doody Show was filmed out of Miami and aired in syndication. LeCornec returned to play the fictional producer of the show, Nicholson Muir, and Nicholson and Anderson returned to their roles of J. Cornelius Cobb and Clarabell, respectively. Howdy was redesigned and given a mop of real hair. Unfortunately, it was hard to recapture the magic of the original program; especially as networks were pressed to schedule the show and rarely did so on a consistent basis. They tried to play things towards the returning fans instead of just focusing on the current children, and the audience (now numbering 400, a mix of children and adults) was only used for certain parts to make it easier to film. The show only lasted six months, from August 1976 until January 1977.
|The 40-episode collection DVD.|
In 2001, NBC Home Video licensed Image Entertainment to release four VHS tapes and four discs collecting four episodes each from between 1957 and 1960; with one episode from 1953 also included. In 2008, Mill Creek Entertainment was licensed to release Howdy Doody Show: 40 Episodes 1949-1954 comprised of fan-selected episodes and the finale, as well as a 20 episode collection. The earliest episodes of Howdy Doody have fallen into the pubic domain and have been made available online.
February 08, 2020
LUNCH WITH SOUPY SALES
(ABC, Syndication, October 3, 1959-January, 1962)
ABC Television Network
Soupy Sales – Host
Clyde Adler – Puppeteer, various
Milton Soupman was a comedian, actor and media personality probably best known by his stage name, Soupy Sales. Initially interested in journalism, Soupy became a writer and disc jockey at radio station WHTN (now WVHU) in West Virginia, while also performing comedy in clubs. He then became a morning DJ in Cincinnati. Initially, he adopted the stage name Soupy Hines from his childhood nickname of Soup Bone. After he became established, it was decided that his name seemed too similar to the Heinz soup company so he changed it to Sales after vaudeville comedian Chic Sale.
|Soupy in his signature "costume".|
Soupy’s television career began in 1950 as the host of Soupy’s Soda Shop, TV’s first teenage dance television program, followed by Club Nothing, a talk show that incorporated Soupy’s zany brand of comedy. In 1953, Soupy joined Detroit’s WXYZ-TV, an ABC affiliate, where he began doing The Soupy Sales Show. Soupy opted not to don some kind of silly costume for the show, convinced by a colleague who dressed as a clown that in sacrificing his anonymity off the air he also couldn’t be easily replaced by putting someone else in the suit. Soupy chose to wear a large polka-dot bowtie, a disheveled top hat, and a sweater, which became his signature outfit (the tie would shrink over the years).
|Soupy enjoying his lunch with the audience.|
ABC gained interest in the local program and slated it as the summer replacement for Kukla, Fran and Ollie in 1955. Although hopes were dashed at the network picking up the show on a permanent basis, Soupy found more work at WXYZ in the form of 12 O’Clock Comics (soon renamed Lunch with Soupy Sales since he always ate his lunch with his audience), a daily daytime kids’ show that consistently outperformed the network offerings, and the late-night show Soupy’s On which often featured jazz musicians whose venues would often sell out after an appearance. ABC took another look at Soupy and offered him a Saturday slot for Lunch.
|Pookie drops by the window for a visit.|
Lunch with Soupy Sales debuted on ABC on October 3, 1959. Airing at noon (as the original name implied), Lunch was an unscripted variety show aimed at children. While they had a general idea of where the show would go and what would happen, improvisation was their key to success. The setting of the show was Soupy’s kitchen (as opposed to the living room in other versions of the show) where he would interact with a host of puppet co-stars: White Fang, the country’s biggest and meanest dog (carried over from Soupy’s radio days and represented by a worn arm); Black Tooth, a sweet dog with an incoherent growl (created to be White Fang’s opposite); Pookie, a happy-go-lucky lion that initially was mute, but eventually gained a voice and a hipster personality and often lip synched to novelty records and pre-recorded bits (the puppet was found in a prop box at the studio); and Willie the Worm, a latex accordion worm that lived in an apple, always had a sneezing cold, and read birthday greetings to local kids. All of the puppets were performed by Clyde Adler, who also filled in any other role as needed; especially the “man at the door”, whose arms were the only thing visible on camera when Soupy answered the door.
|Soupy being berated by the "man at the door".|
Soupy’s comedic styling was slapstick in nature, which often meant his shows involved pratfalls or his being hit by some kind of object—most notably a cream pie, especially when he answered the door. In fact, the pie was his signature gag in all of his programs and it was estimated that he had been hit with tens of thousands in his career. Celebrity guests who also happened by rarely left without their own faces being covered in pie (these routines would inspire Fred Rogers to get into television in order to provide more educational content to children). Other recurring bits was his signature dance, the Soupy Shuffle, and “Words of Wisdom”, whereby Soupy would impart smart-sounding nonsense. Soupy also incorporated his love of jazz into the program whenever possible.
|Soupy and friend thoroughly creamed.|
After the first season, production of the show moved to Hollywood. It remained on ABC until March of 1961 when the network cancelled it; however, it continued on as a local show until January of 1962. ABC wasn’t done with Soupy, recognizing his immense popularity in the area. Immediately following the cancellation, they gave him a new Friday night version of The Soupy Sales Show to replace The Steve Allen Show. Eventually, The Soupy Sales Show moved production to New York City where it lasted until 1966. Soupy would go on to have a career appearing and hosting game shows, as well as one final revival of The Soupy Sales Show in 1979. Because of the lack of archival practices of the time, and the fact that the earlier shows were done live, the majority of Lunch With Soupy Sales had either been destroyed or erased.
February 01, 2020
(CBS, October 3, 1955-December 8, 1984)
Keeshan-Miller Enterprises, Robert Keeshan Associates, CBS Television Network
Bob Keeshan – Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Pennywhistle, Mr. Doodle, Wally, Town Clown
Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum – Mr. Green Jeans, the New Old Folk Singer, Percy, Uncle Backwards, Mr. McGregor, Mr. Bainter the Painter
Cosmo Allegretti – Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Dennis the Apprentice, Willy, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, Uncle Ralph, TV Fred
Sam Levine (1955-74) – The Banana Man
Bill McCutcheon (1965-68) – Mr. Homan
Jane Connell (1965-68) – Mrs. Homan
James Wall – Mr. Baxter (1968-78)
Debbie Weems (1973-78) – Debbie, Baby Duck
John Burstein (1978-81) – Slim Goodbody
Bill Cosby (1980-84) – Himself
Kevin Clash (1980-84) – Artie, various
Carolyn Mignini (1981-83) – Kathy, various
Conceived by star Bob Keeshan based on the “warm relationship between grandparents and children”, Captain Kangaroo became the longest-running national network children’s show (and the longest-running overall until it was passed by Sesame Street in 1999, where many people who worked on Kangaroo went to work).
In the early 1950s, CBS was on the constant lookout for innovative approaches to children’s television programming. Keeshan, along with long-time friend Jack Miller, submitted the concept of Captain Kangaroo to the network. CBS approved the idea and the show went into development.
|Mr. Green Jeans and Dancing Bear prepare a cake for the Captain.|
Captain Kangaroo debuted on CBS on October 3, 1955. Keeshan played the title character The Captain, who was given the nickname “kangaroo” due to the large pockets on his trademark jacket (originally blue, but later red). Initially, CBS wanted Al Lewis to host, but he wouldn’t be released from his contractual obligations to host The Uncle Al Show. The show didn’t have a strict format; the only constant was that the entirety of the action took place in or around the Captain’s house, known initially as the Treasure House and later the Captain’s Place. However, there were recurring segments and bits, such as “Reading Stories” sessions where the Captain would read a book to his audience, The Magic Drawing Board where he would interact with animated characters, and a running gag of his getting ping pong balls dumped on him. For the show’s introduction, the Captain would enter the House/Place and hang his keys on the hook, which would then cause the theme song to stop playing. However, sometimes the Captain would miss the hook or drop the keys, and the song would continue playing until they were finally hung. The Captain would end each the show encouraging parents to spend some time with their children, first directly to them and later more subtlety via a song listing activities to do outside instead of watching television. The first show of each month was also when the Captain would wish a happy birthday to every kid who celebrated that month.
|The Captain with Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, Mr. Moose and Mr. Bunny.|
The Captain would interact with a variety of characters. On the human side was farmer Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum), the mute Town Clown (also Keeshan) and Sam Levine as The Banana Man. There were animals like the silent Dancing Bear, living appliances like the rhyming Grandfather Clock, and puppets like Mr. Bunny and Mr. Moose (all Cosmo Allegretti, who was the primary puppeteer for the show). Levine had purchased the props and gimmicks from Adolf Proper’s estate and resurrected The Banana Man for the show, whose gimmicks included communication through sounds and instruments, quick costume changes, and pulling an impossible number of props from his coat pockets. He played the role until his death in 1974.
|The Captain and Mr. Green Jeans with Mr. Baxter, Debbie and Dennis the Apprentice.|
As the show went on, more cast and characters came and left. In 1965, Bill McCutcheon and Jane Connell joined as friends Mr. and Mrs. Homan. Stage manager James E. Wall talked his way into the audition to play Mr. Baxter in 1968, turning Captain Kangaroo into one of the first integrated children’s shows on television. Debbie Weems appeared as Debbie and provided the voice for the puppet character, Baby Duck. A decade later, John Burstein joined as Slim Goodbody, who wore a suit displaying the parts of the human body and offered tips on nutrition and exercise (in compliance with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s push for more educational content on television). Puppeteer Kevin Clash would not only control the puppet character Artie, but would appear as himself in many sketches. Carolyn Mignini was the last new cast member added, playing Kathy and a variety of other female roles.
In 1978, local Pittsburg children’s show Picture Pages was integrated into Captain Kangaroo. Created by Julius Oleinick in 1974, the show interacted with its audience via puzzle booklets given away at local supermarkets. The Captain would conduct a series of lessons on basic arithmetic, geometry and drawing on his magic drawing board. In 1980, Bill Cosby was brought on to take over the segment and drew with the aid of his character-topped magic marker named Mortimer Ichabod Marker, or M.I. for short. When Captain Kangaroo ended, the segment was adopted as part of Nickelodeon’s Pinwheel until that was cancelled in 1989.
Celebrities and fellow children’s show stars often made a habit of stopping by to visit the Captain; particularly beginning in 1974 when the show began with people (including non-celebrities) wishing the Captain a “good morning”. Among their number was Dr. Joyce Brothers, Shari Lewis, Dudley Moore, Carol Channing, Lorne Greene, Eli Wallach, Dolly Parton, Walter Cronkite, Marlo Thomas, Carrie Fisher, Danny Aiello, Anita Gillette, Andy Griffith, Doc Severinsen, Mae Questel, Emmett Kelly, Hank Aaron, Marty Brill, Stubby Kaye, Bob Denver, John Ritter, Jean Stapleton, Frank Gifford, Fred Rogers, Big Bird (Caroll Spinney), and William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (in character as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, respectively).
|Mr. Rogers stops by the Treasure House.|
Along with the live-action routines, there were a number of cartoon shorts shown throughout the program. While two were created specifically for Captain Kangaroo, the majority of them were imported from other countries. They included:
Tom Terrific, running from 1957-59 and rerun for years after. Created by Gene Deitch under the CBS-owned Terrytoons studio, the series focused on boy hero who lived in a treehouse and could transform himself into anything via his magic “thinking cap”. Along with his lazy sidekick, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, he battled the evil forces of Crabby Appleton, Mr. Instant the Instant Thing King, Captain Kidney Bean, Sweet Tooth Sam the Candy Bandit and Isotope Feeney the Meany. The show was done in a simple style reminiscent of children’s drawings, and every character was voiced by Lionel Wilson. 26 episodes were produced and were aired in five parts across each episode of a given week. For the Saturday broadcast, the episodes were edited into a two-part adventure with all of the daily cliffhangers and recaps removed.
Alternating with Tom Terrific every other week was The Adventures of Lariat Sam. Created by notable game show announcer Gene Wood, the cartoon was a western comedy centering on sheriff Sam, who protected the tiny town of Bent Saddle with his poetry-reading horse, Tippytoes. Their primary foe was the outlaw Badlands Meeney and his stooge, J. Skulking Bushwack. Sam often defeated them, as the title implied, by using his lasso and manipulating it in various physics-defying ways. Dayton Allen provided all the character voices, and Wood sang the theme song himself. Like Tom Terrific, the series was animated by Terrytoons.
The Most Important Person was a mixed animated and live-action series of 60 shorts produced by Sutherland Learning Associates. They helped translate every day things in the life of children so that they could be better understood and allow them to develop a strong sense of self-awareness and self-importance. A spin-off series, The Kingdom of Could Be You, explored various occupations and gave children an idea of what they could become when they grew up. Both series were made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Child Development, and were later syndicated individually or as part of other children’s programs.
Produced for the BBC between 1971 and 1974, Crystal Tipps and Alistair followed the adventures of a young girl and her dog in a fanciful world. The 5-minute shorts were created by Hilary Hayton and Graham McCallum, who drew the artwork using felt markers and an airbrush. The series was produced and animated by Q3 of London, which was formed by former BBC executive Michael Grafton-Robinson specifically for these shorts and another series, Fingerbobs, instead of expanding the BBC’s Children’s Department of Graphics Unit into a full-blown animation studio. The shorts were silent except for the music accompaniment by Paul Reade. However, when aired on Captain Kangaroo, Allegretti added voice-over narration in his Mr. Moose voice.
The Wombles was a stop-motion British cartoon made from 1973-75 by FilmFair Productions. It was based on a series of children’s novels created by Elisabeth Beresford about fictional pointy-nosed, furry creatures that lived in burrows and helped the environment by collecting and creatively recycling trash. Two seasons of 30 five-minute episodes were produced, with Bernard Cribbins supplying all of the voices and Barry Leith crafting all the sets and models.
Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings was another British animated series from 1974 created by Edward McLachlan and produced by FilmFair. Young Simon had a magic chalkboard on which things he drew came to life in the Land of Chalk Drawings, which Simon could enter by climbing over a fence near his home. The 5-minute episodes dealt with the unintended consequences Simon’s drawings had over the Land of Chalk Drawings. Originally narrated by Cribbins, Keeshan dubbed over it with a new narration when it aired on his show.
Ludwig was another British import about a magical egg-shaped gemstone that lived in a forest and often came to the rescue of the animals who dwelled there. Ludwig possessed facets that could open up to reveal arms, legs, or various gadgets whenever he needed them. A human birdwatcher (Jon Glover) constantly watched Ludwig and served as the viewer’s point of view and narrator. The 25 five-minute episodes were produced by Mirek and Peter Lang, who wrote them with Jane Tann and also animated them. The music was arranged and played by Reade and was comprised of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, for whom the central character was named. The series would begin an end with a small section of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1.
Coming from Australia in 1974 was The Toothbrush Family, which centered on a group of anthropomorphic toiletry items conceived by Marcia Hatfield when her son refused to brush his teeth as a way to get kids to focus on their hygiene. The main characters were father Tom, mother Tess, kids Tina and Toby, and Gramps, along with toothpaste Flash Fluoride, electric toothbrush Hot Rod Harry, hairbrush Bert Brush, Cecily Comb, Nev Nailbrush, Susie Sponge, Shaggy Dog, Callie Conditioner and Sally Shampoo, who all came to life at night in the light of the moon. Hatfield wrote the episodes with Al Guest and Jean Mathieson providing screenplays, which were then produced by Rainbow Animation. Len Carlson and Billie Mae Richards provided all of the character voices. A revival was made in 1998 focusing on some new characters.
The Red and the Blue was another stop-motion series, this time hailing from Italy’s Misseri Studios and created by Francesco Misseri. It centered on two Claymation shapeshifting characters—one red, one blue—on a white plane in which they interacted. They often try to outdo each other by assuming various forms that would one-up the other. For instance, if Blue became a boat, Red would become an island.
Another Rainbow Animation production from Canada, The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo was a reimagining of the Jules Verne book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Guest and Mathieson. The show followed ocean researcher Captain Mark Nemo (Carlson) and his kid assistants, Christine and Robbie (both Richards), as they went on adventures in their nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus. The 5-minute episodes attempted to teach children about oceanography and marine biology.
|The Captain chatting with Grandfather Clock.|
Captain Kangaroo was initially broadcast live daily on weekday mornings. For the first four years, it was performed twice a day for the Eastern and Central time zones, and recorded on kinescope for the Western as Keeshan refused to perform three times a day. Eventually, it would be scheduled for the same time in all time zones. It was also given a 6th Saturday morning broadcast until 1968; replaced briefly in the 1964-65 season by Keeshan’s other short-lived show, Mr. Mayor. While many shows had begun broadcasting in color by the time Captain Kangaroo hit the air, CBS wouldn’t adopt a color format for it until late 1966.
Throughout the show’s run, it was nominated for several Emmy Awards, winning three. It also won two Peabody Awards and a Young Artist Award. Although extremely popular, Captain Kangaroo’s ratings rarely eclipsed its network competition’s. In 1981, CBS moved the show early to 7:00 AM and cut it down to 30 minutes, retitling it Wake Up with the Captain, to make more room for the expanded The CBS Morning News. In 1982, it was moved further back to 6:30 AM when very few people would be awake to see it. It was restored to an hour format in 1982, but remained in poor time slots in various time zones. Many CBS affiliates had also stopped carrying the show and declined a rerun package for Sunday mornings. When CBS decided to cut the show back down to a half hour again in 1984, Keeshan angrily decided to let the show end when his contract with the network expired. However, Keeshan would return to the network the following year to host CBS Storybrea;, which was essentially inspired by his “Reading Stories” segment. A fond farewell to the Captain was given with the primetime special Captain Kangaroo and His Friends that same year.
The original Captain Kangaroo theme song, “Puffin’ Billy” (about a steam locomotive), was used from 1955 until 1974. Written by Edward G. White and recorded by the Melodi Light Orchestra, it was from the Chappell Recorded Music Library, a British stock music production library. Mary Rodgers wrote lyrics for the song in 1957, making it the official Captain Kangaroo theme. In 1974, Robert L. Brush composed the new theme, “Good Morning, Captain”. Originally, it featured elements of “Puffin’ Billy”, resulting in White receiving credit on the song, but copyright issues caused the song to be rerecorded in 1979 with those elements removed. When the show was retitled, a new theme called “Wake Up” was used until title, format and second theme were reinstated. Lynn Ahrens wrote a final theme, “Here Comes Captain Kangaroo”, which would be used from 1982-84 and subsequent reruns.
On September 1, 1986, Captain Kangaroo returned in reruns on PBS with funding from public television stations, School Zone Publishing Company, and the John D. Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. New segments were filmed and inserted into the reruns, which ran until 1993. In 1997, Saban Entertainment produced a short-lived reboot called The All New Captain Kangaroo, with John McDonough as the Captain. Keeshan declined an invitation to appear as “the Admiral.” It ran for only one syndicated season, but produced a spin-off called Mister Moose’s Fun Time which was at the center of a programming block called Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House that ran from 1997-2000. In 2011, professional clown Pat Cashin acquired the Captain Kangaroo trademark and began portraying the Captain. Cashin died in 2016, leaving the rights to his estate. In 2018, actor Mark Wahlberg announced his (as yet unrealized) desire to bring back the Captain as a scientist so that his own children would develop an interest in science, technology and engineering.
|One of the Captain's albums.|
Keeshan’s estate owns the rights to all of Captain Kangaroo’s footage, and they have yet to put the show on DVD or make it available for streaming. There have, however, been a number of VHS collections containing various episodes and related bits from the show’s run. A wide assortment of merchandise was released throughout the show’s 29-year career. These included coloring and activity books, story books, a card game featuring Mr. Green Jeans, frame tray puzzles, a mix and match pet building set, lunch boxes, various handheld games and more. A number of albums recorded by the cast and featuring the music of the show were produced; partly as an attempt to introduce children to various types of music. Captain Kangaroo and friends were featured in three issues of Dell Comics’ Four-Color Comics between 1956 and 1958. Beginning in 1957, Pines Comics published a 6-issue series based on Tom Terrific, who also appeared in a Wonder Book.
Keeshan spent the remainder of his life in the service of children as an author and a speaker. He founded Corporate Family Solutions with Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander to provide day-care programs to businesses. In 1993, he participated in the congressional hearings against video game violence. In 1995, he published his memoirs, titled Good Morning, Captain, through Fairview Press. He also considered a revival of the Captain as an answer to increasingly violent cartoons on TV, but was unable to obtain permission from ICM, who held the rights to the Captain at the time. Ultimately, Keeshan died in 2004 before getting to bring the Captain back one last time.
January 30, 2020
You can find the full story here.
Along with having worked as an executive for all three major networks, Silverman played a large role in the growth of Saturday morning television when he was put in charge of revitalizing CBS’ morning line-ups. He also helped usher along the creation of Scooby-Doo (for which the character of Fred was named after him). After becoming an independent producer in 1981, he created the shows Pandamonium and Meatballs and Spaghetti and produced The Mighty Orbots and Piggsburg Pigs!
January 28, 2020
You can read the full story here.
As a writer, he wrote an episode of The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine. As an actor, he played a police officer and bank president in an episode of Darkwing Duck and Sid the Squid in episodes of Animaniacs, and also provided additional voices to Mother Goose and Grimm.
January 25, 2020
(CBS, September 4, 1954-January 21, 1956)
Richard Webb – Captain Midnight
Sid Melton – Ichabod “Icky” Mudd
Olan Soule – Dr. Aristotle “Tut” Jones
The Skelly Oil Company was looking for a follow-up to its successful radio adventure show, The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen, and turned to that show’s creators, Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, to duplicate that success.
|Ad for the radio show.|
Captain Midnight debuted on October 7, 1938 as a syndicated radio show broadcast to a few Midwest stations. Captain Midnight was a former World War I U.S. Army pilot named Captain Jim “Red” Albright until a general who sent him on a dangerous mission gave him his codename when he returned at the stroke of 12. After the war, he became a private pilot that helped people in trouble. However, when Ovaltine took over sponsorship of the program in 1940, Albright became the head of the Secret Squadron: an air-based paramilitary organization battling sabotage and espionage against the country. When the United States entered World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Secret Squadron joined in the battle against the Axis Powers. Most notably, the female members of the Squadron were treated as equals and were often involved in heavy combat missions. Captain Midnight was portrayed by Ed Prentiss, Bill Bouchey and Paul Barnes over the course of the show.
|Ad for the movie serial.|
With Ovaltine’s sponsorship came a move to the Mutual Radio Network, where Captain Midnight enjoyed a national audience and allowed it to gain a regular audience number in the millions. The show ran until December of 1949, and in that time inspired a newspaper comic strip, a book and comic books published by Dell Comics and Fawcett Comics. In 1942, Columbia Pictures produced a 15-chapter spin-off serial starring Dave O’Brien. While some of the characters from the radio show were used, the serial took some liberties with the source material. Captain Midnight became a masked secret identity for Albright and the Secret Squadron element was removed from the story. The serial was later brought to television in 1953 through early 1954 as Captain Midnight’s Adventure Theatre.
|The Silver Dart takes flight.|
At the same time, Columbia’s television arm, Screen Gems, was working on adapting Captain Midnight for television as an ongoing show. Once again, some liberties were taken with the source material as Captain Midnight (Richard Webb, an actual veteran who got the role despite being older than what they were looking for) became a veteran of the Korean War. Although the Secret Squadron was in place this time, the only other established character was chief mechanic Ichabod “Icky” Mudd (Sid Melton), who served as the show’s comic relief. Joining them was scientist Dr. Aristotle “Tut” Jones (Olan Soule, who played Agent Kelly, SS-11 on the radio show). The Squadron was a private group often asked to deal with enemy agents, rogue scientists, investigate sabotage and, in general, protect the country from the forces of evil. Despite the science fiction elements present in the show such as robot bombs and space stations, Midnight was the only action hero on TV at the time to not venture out into space, sticking to the skies and the Earth’s orbit in his Silver Dart; the experimental Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket which had both a jet engine and a rocket engine.
|Ikky, Captain Midnight and Tut in the middle of a mystery.|
Captain Midnight debuted on CBS on September 4, 1954, still sponsored by Ovaltine as well as Kix Cereal from General Mills. The series’ theme was composed by Don A. Ferris and Irving Friedman. Each episode was produced on a paltry budget of $2,100 so a lot of the special effects by the Dallons brothers (Franz, Oscar and Paul, who all also worked on Space Patrol) were more optical illusions. For instance, the Silver Dart was usually depicted via a model on a string filmed on an angle to make it look larger or stock footage of the actual ship. Wallace Bosco, Wells Root, Malcolm Stuart Boylan, DeVallon Scott, George Bricker, Anthony O. Scott, William Lively, Robert Leslie Bellem, Richard Morgan, Milton Raison, Dane Slade, Roy Erwin, Tom Kilpatrick, Ted Thomas, Peter Dixon, Lee Erwin, Roy Hamilton and John O’Dea served as the show’s writers. Although it began as a Saturday morning show, ABC took notice of its large adult audience and acquired it and ran it in prime time to compete against CBS’ Burns and Allen Show.
Ovaltine included an offer in their products for a membership kit that included a decoder badge that would allow viewers to transcribe a secret message given to them each episode. However, they continually only saw a marginal and temporary increase in their sales as a lot of people would merely steal the wax seal from the Ovaltine jar that they needed to send in. At a public appearance, Webb asked those in attendance what their favorite breakfast drink was, and received the overwhelmingly resounding reply of “Bosco!” Since Ovaltine saw Captain Midnight as just a marketing tool to move their product, they pulled their sponsorship and ended production of the show after just two seasons, despite its popularity.
|Original VHS release.|
When the show entered into syndicated reruns in 1958, a problem arose. The Wander Company, the parent company of Ovaltine, owned the rights to the Captain Midnight name. As a result, Screen Gems was forced to change the name of the series to Jet Jackson, Flying Commando for both the title and in every instance the name was said. Screen Gems to attempted to purchase the rights from The Wander Company using Webb as a mediator, but they wanted to hold onto the series for future use. Depending on the source, the original Captain Midnight is either still on a shelf somewhere, or the prints had long been destroyed. Parade Video released a VHS collection of two episodes, which Rhino Video later re-released as Captain Midnight Flies Again along with a second VHS collection containing two episodes. All four episodes were from the second season.
“Murder by Radiation” (9/4/54) – Captain Midnight has to recover a radioactive element from foreign agents.
“Electronic Killer” (9/11/54) – Enemy agents kidnap Captain Midnight’s friend in order to get the secrets of his new guided missile.
“Deadly Diamonds” (9/18/54) – The Secret Squadron is sent to track down a dangerous group of diamond smugglers with the help of one of Tut’s inventions.
“The Lost Moon” (9/25/54) – Captain Midnight has to discover the secret of a lost moon orbiting Earth before enemy agents get their first and take control of the planet.
“Death Below Zero” (10/2/54) – The investigation of the poisoning of a dog belonging to a member of the Squadron leads Captain Midnight to be locked into a cold storage locker.
“Operation Failure” (10/9/54) – Captain Midnight goes behind the Iron Curtain to rescue a freedom fighter.
“Trapped Behind Bars” (10/16/54) – An investigation into prison riots leads Captain Midnight and Ikky going undercover as prisoners.
“Counterfeit Millions” (10/23/54) – Captain Midnight discovers the method in which counterfeit money is entering the country.
“The Walking Ghost” (10/30/54) – A Squadron agent comes to Captain Midnight for help in exorcising a ghost from a Southern mansion.
“Secret of the Jungle” (11/6/54) – An African vacation becomes a mystery to find a stolen idol.
“Sabotage Under the Sea” (11/13/54) – Captain Midnight engages an enemy submarine to find an experimental missile that disappeared.
“Isle of Mystery” (11/20/54) – Captain Midnight and Ikky are sent to investigate why the small island of Luana withdraws permission for the US to conduct atomic tests in the area.
“The Curse of the Pharaohs” (11/27/54) – Captain Midnight is asked to investigate the disappearance of an archaeologist.
“The Deserters” (12/4/54) – While helping Squadron members evicted from their clubhouse by developers, Captain Midnight stumbles onto a bank robbery.
“The Electrified Man” (12/11/54) – A scientist working on a countermeasure for radioactive dust becomes incredibly dangerous after using too much energy.
“The Young Criminal” (12/18/54) – Captain Midnight sponsors a youth gym to battle juvenile delinquency, and one of the patrons becomes enamored with the lifestyle of a poolroom owner.
“The Deadly Project” (12/25/54) – A scientist working on a heat-resistant metal for the Air Force is targeted by a rival who developed a sonic gun.
“Touchdown Terror” (1/1/55) – Captain Midnight and a quarterback are kidnapped when the player refuses to throw an important game.
“Top Secret Weapons” (1/8/55) – Captain Midnight gives asylum to a young refugee who was hypnotized to spy on the secret weapon being developed at headquarters.
“The Human Bomb” (1/15/55) – A munitions genius is released from prison and plots revenge against those that put him there.
“The Mark of Death” (1/22/55) – Heading to deliver a goodwill message to India leads Captain Midnight and Ikky to have to rescue Bengra Tassi from The Executioner.
“Arctic Avalanche” (1/29/55) – Convinced to take a sick Eskimo to a hospital, Captain Midnight and Ikky end up walking into a trap.
“Mystery of the Forest” (2/5/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky pose as lumberjacks to investigate the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.
“The Invisible Terror” (2/12/55) – Captain Midnight has to find the formula for a retrovirus that can protect the country from a biological attack.
“Saboteurs of the Sky” (2/19/55) – Captain Midnight has to find a kidnapped Squadron member who developed a method of creating hurricanes.
“Peril from the Arctic” (2/26/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky investigate a renegade scientist experimenting with an anti-magnetic force to be used against the country.
“The Secret Room” (10/29/55) – Captain Midnight busts a phony séance racket designed to distract from the theft of an invention.
“Mission to Mexico” (11/5/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky go to Mexico to find a radio station that broadcasted a message referring to fissionable materials that might be used against the US.
“The Frozen Men” (11/12/55) – Captain Midnight braves a nuclear testing ground in order to free a scientist from suspended animation.
“Doctors of Doom” (11/19/55) – Investigating reports of a giant leads Captain Midnight to a sanitarium housing enslaved scientists.
“Sunken Sapphires” (11/26/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky help young siblings retrieve a cache of jewels.
“Master Criminal” (12/3/55) – A top criminal surrenders to the Squadron in order to get access to the new jet engine being developed at headquarters.
“Secret of Superstition Mountain” (12/10/55) – Ghostly apparitions harass Captain Midnight and Ikky when they find hidden treasure in Arizona.
“The Mountain of Fire” (12/17/55) – A volcanic eruption masks the sabotage of an experiment to turn volcanic heat into electricity.
“The Jungle Pit” (12/24/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky help a Japanese boy find his father on an island who doesn’t know World War II ended.
“Flight into the Unknown” (12/31/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky track down a banker who disappeared with a large sum of money.
“The Runaway Suitcase” (1/7/56) – A police officer comes to Captain Midnight to help clear his name for a theft he didn’t commit.
“Million Dollar Diamond” (1/14/56) – A boy comes to Captain Midnight about his abusive father, leading him to discover the man has been replaced by a double to steal a valuable diamond.
“The Human Bullet” (1/21/56) – Captain Midnight volunteers to test a new rocket sled, discovering an attempt to sabotage it and discredit its inventor.