When kids' clubs ruled the airwaves
It's taken me some 30 years to openly admit my appreciation of those little people in my television set.
You know the ones. They mesmerized us before and after school when we were kids. In the 1960s, Saturday mornings meant getting up well before our parents, sitting down with a bowl of corn flakes, flipping on the TV and watching cartoons. Those were the days.
Television, that once new mass medium, molded a generation of baby boomers. That tube treated us kids like royalty. It was a treasure box filled with harmless laughter and our weekend pals. I truly believed those little people were speaking to me and no one else. It was the age of kid-programming. And whether it was nationally or locally produced, we were captivated.
Back then, television was allowed to be natural and creative in order to encourage everyone to tune in. Television was selling televisions. It was clean. It was pure. It was live. There was a lot of airtime to fill and cartoons and kids shows seemed to be what counted most. At least to a kid it did.
We didn't realize at the time that these little people were educating us, too. We watched because it was new and just plain fun. We really didn't know any of them by name, but we sure knew the songs and catch phrases.
Like Bullwinkle's famous line, "Nothing up my sleeve, presto!" Or Mighty Mouse's theme song, "Here he comes to save the day...mighty mouse is on his way." There was always something that stuck with us.
There was the "Howdy Doody Show." Good old "Buffalo Bob" Smith would always ask us, "Hey kids, what time is it?" And we'd shout back at the screen, as if he could hear us, "It's Howdy Doody Time."
There was "Romper Room." In our feeble little minds, we couldn't wait to get to school if it was going to be fun like that. And there was the song, harmonized every morning after the Pledge of Allegiance. "I always do everything right. I never do anything wrong.
I'm a Romper Room Do Bee; A Do Bee all day long!" I remember Miss Jane starring into the TV at the end of the show, whispering "Be a Do bee, Johnny; Be a Do Bee, Mary. I was glued to the set hoping she'd say my name. It never happened.
There was "Captain Kangaroo." Fatherly Captain resembled Santa, minus the beard. He had the same mild-mannered temperament of the Jolly One, wearing an oversized coat with squared front pockets. He always took us to the Captain's Treasure House. Side kicks, Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit seemed to need the wise old Captain's help every day. And the theme music. It was better suited for a game show. It had no lyrics. Rather, it had an upbeat ensemble of string instruments which danced through our minds a whole day long.
There was the "Mickey Mouse Club." Hi Mousketeers! Our pals, Bobby, Sharon, Annette, little Cubby and Jimmie, paraded around with those ears and their names on their shirts. Of course, there was the marching song, "Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me... M-I-C (see you real soon) K-E-Y (why because we like you) M-O-U-S-E." Each day was special. Monday was Music day. Tuesday was guest star day. Wednesday was anything could happen day. Thursday was circus day. And Friday was talent day.
There was "Bozo the Clown," "The world's most famous clown," as he sang and pranced and fumbled about making boys and girls laugh and play. Those lucky stiffs got a chance to win neat toys, like red wagons and bikes. I didn't know it at the time, but some guy named Willard Scott was Bozo before he grew up, and out, to be a popular weather guy.
There was "Kukla, Fran and Ollie." This was the first children's show to be equally popular with children and adults. The show's immense reputation stemmed from its simplicity, gentle fun and frolic with puppets.
We boomers were fascinated with the simplest things, like marionette. Even on the local kid's shows, we were enthralled by puppets.
Remember Albert the Alley Cat?
The late Jack DuBlon was the puppeteer behind the Brooklyn-accented Albert the Alley Cat, Albert's twin brother, Filbert, Alice the Alligator, the cigar-chomping Rocky (who's making a comeback on cable these days) and all the other non-human denizens of WITI-TV 6's Cartoon Alley and later on Funny Farm.
DuBlon created Albert and Cartoon Alley in 1956 for a television station in Texas. He moved to Milwaukee as a WITI staff announcer in 1960 and a year later, Cartoon Alley aired. It initially ran Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. and Monday through Friday afternoons for an hour during supper time. Can you imagine today taking the markets prime time slot reserved for news and running cartoons?
Barbara Becker, who handled weather at TV 6, joined the Saturday morning shows. By 1965, Albert became a fixture during the 10 p.m. news segments with weatherman Ward Allen. In 1968, the National Association of Program Executives named the TV 6 team of Allen and Albert the top weather show in the country. Imagine that!
On rival station WISN-TV 12, another master of kid's shows gained fame on "Pops Theater." Local comedian Tommy Richards appeared as an old theater usher named "Pops", who worked at the fictional Bee-Jou (Bijou) Theater. With a studio audience full of cub scouts and brownies, Pops told tasteless jokes, talked about his wife Effie, and introduced the showing of old Three Stooges shorts by shouting "Roll 'em, Lester" as the movie was about to begin. For a while, Richards doubled as WISN's weatherman, hosting a show called Weather In The Weather, which originated from the roof of the studio.
"Kids Klub" was another kid favorite in Milwaukee. Hosted by Bob Knutzen, Kid's Klub aired on WTMJ-TV. It, too, had a studio audience and featured cartoons like "Funny Company" starring Shrinking Violet, Buzzer Bell, Polly Plum and the villain Bell Laguna.
But what made these locally produced shows so memorable were their out-of-studio appearances during the summers. Each show took to the road, appearing at carnivals or at State Fair Park. Kids had an opportunity to see these celebrities up close.
Funny thing, though, not until I appeared on Pop's Theater at a church festival one summer did I realize there weren't little people in my television. Ah, the innocence of my youth.
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Kristi Mueller said: Who did the song that was always played for Albert the Alley Cat and what is the name of the song?? Thank you so much! (I want my son's band to play it but I need to find it first!!)
Gail M. McGuire said: Hello. Back one Saturday morning in May,1964, my brother Bobby was the newly 5 year old "Star" in a cowboy outfit, on the show, 'Pop's Theater'. Our cousin was one of a group of boyscouts and was on t.v. with a group of others, but my brother Bobby stole the show. Pop's saw him standing with mom off stage and called him over. Bobby ended up being the highlight of the episode. Pop's LOVED him. A 5 year old little kid. When that show aired, Bobby's face covered the screen with the beginning sequence over it. I've heard this story my entire life from my parents and older brother and sisters. There were no vcr's back then. We..The McGuire Family, were wondering if we could possible get/find a copy of that episode of 'Pop's Theater'??? Bobby is now 46 years old. Our whole family would be THRILLED to see this gem on tape and see Bobby so young and cute. PLEASE, could you write back & let me know? We will pay for it too. Again it was one of the 4 Saturday's in May, 1964. THANK YOU SO MUCH! Sincerely, Gail McGuire Milwaukee, WI THANK YOU!!! Peace........SOON!!! July 3,2005
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