Engineer Bill Has Taken His Last Train

Sob. “Engineer Bill” Stulla has died at age 97.

Folks who read this journal should know by now about Sheriff John. John Rovick was one of the better known children’s television hosts in the 1960s in Los Angeles. Along with folks like “Hobo Kelly” (Sally Baker), “Engineer Bill” Stulla, and others, they entertained and educated millions and millions of children. Well, Engineer Bill has just passed (although I think Rovick and Baker are still alive–we lost another one, Paul Winchell, quite a few years ago).

In memory of the good times he brought, I invite you (if you’re old enough to remember children’s television hosts on local TV stations), to share your favorite memory of children’s television, be it in Los Angeles, or other cities (Wallace and Ladmo, Capt Sacto, or the numerous skippers, captains, clowns, or cowboys out there). Did you watch Dusty’s Treehouse? That’s Cat? C’mon, share your memories and have a cold glass of milk for Engineer Bill.

Green Light.


Fondly Remembered Children’s Shows

As folks have probably figured out by now, I have in interest in children’s television, more particular children’s television in my era: the era of kid show hosts, saturday morning cartoons, and non-educational programs. Thus, I read with interest Tim Goodman’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle where he talks about the “Best Kids Shows Ever”. His list, if you haven’t read the article, is:

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Goodbye, Skipper Stu

Today’s paper brings news of the death of a long-time fixture in Los Angeles newsreporting: Stu Nahan. A long-time fixture at KNBC 4 (and KABC 7 before that, and KTLA 5 after that), Stu Nahan was one of the voices of Southern California sports reporting. Normally, the death of an LA Newscaster would be enough to prompt this obit. But as they say in infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!”

Before he became a sportscaster, Stu had another career. No, I’m not referring to Hockey. Stu was a children’s television host.

His obit notes the following:

In December of [1956] he happened to see the first newscast of a new Sacramento television station. Nahan called the station the next day to complain about the sports segment and ended up getting his first job doing nightly TV sports reports on KCRA, an NBC affiliate.

While in Sacramento he was also the host of a children’s TV program, appearing as “Skipper Stu.” He would show cartoons while piloting his boat, the Channel Tender, accompanied by an octopus puppet, O.U. Squid.

Nahan later moved to Philadelphia to host a children’s show as “Captain Philadelphia” on WKBS. He also did play-by-play for the Flyers hockey team and Eagles pro football team.

Stu returned to Sacramento in 1995 for a KCRA anniversary special that reunited Skipper Stu with Bosun Bill (Bill Rase) and Captain Sacto (Harry Martin), which included a tribute to all three hosts. Captain Philadelphia was lesser known, being on UHF station WGTW.

So not only is Stu’s death a sad note for Los Angeles sports fans, it is a passing of note for the baby boomer children of Sacramento and Philadelphia.


“Goodbye Kids”, said Clarabelle

Regular readers know I’m into old children’s television, because I’m an old child (rimshot). I grew up with Sheriff John, Hobo Kelly, Billy Barty, and Bob McAllister. Thus, it is with a heavy heart that I report the death of Velma Wayne Dawson.

Who? You ask.

Velma Wayne Dawson is the woman that created the Howdy Doody puppet. She died Wednesday at the age of 94 in Palm Desert. Quoting from an article on Ms. Dawson:

Frank Paris had the original puppet show. It was broadcast from NBC’s Radio City headquarters in New York. Frank needed a voice for his character Elmer. That’s how Bob Smith came on the show. Smith already had a NBC talk show for family and kids on the air. As Buffalo Bob Smith did Elmer’s voice.

The show got better and more popular. When NBC asked for dolls and merchandising, Paris wanted a part of the money. It was his show and his puppets. NBC balked at sharing a piece of the show with Paris. (Ultimately Howdy made about $3 billion dollars in merchandising.) Paris had an advisor, a close friend, who insisted he walk from the show. Frank left NBC stranded. He took his puppets with him. His exit made Bob Smith the top gun on the show.

NBC needed a Howdy Doody . The director of NBC, Norm Blackburn, was a caricaturist. He did a few sketches that he sent to Mel Allen, an artist who had worked for Disney. The original sketches for Howdy came from Mel Allen. In the interim, the character of Howdy spoke from a box and, at one point, told the kids he was getting plastic surgery to run for office. Norm Blackburn had come from Hollywood. He remembered seeing a marionette performance of Velma Dawson’s in Toluca Lake. He contacted Dawson. She was the only puppeteer he knew. She had a puppet studio in her Hollywood home near the Wilshire District.

NBC was desperate for the puppet. They rushed Velma. Howdy was made in nine days, a process that Velma wished had taken months. Velma knew Frank Paris in Hollywood. They worked puppets in a picture together. Velma made Howdy for $300, a fact that Frank Paris later turned into a joke. Frank Paris sued NBC for $250,000, a huge sum in those days. After he got his money, he said he made more money off Howdy Doody than Velma Dawson did. Velma acknowledges that was true. She adds, “Good thing I was good. It could have been a lousy puppet.”

I’m sure most of the readers of this journal don’t remember Howdy Doody. I only remember Howdy secondhand. But it was a real milestone in children’s television.

And other piece of history joins the historical peanut gallery.


De·liv·er: (n) What you eat with deonions.

[An observation, whilst the tea steeps and cools…]

Today is Soupy Sales‘ birthday.

Now, my mentioning this to you is probably no surprise, as folks know I’m into children’s television of the 1960s. I do enjoy watching Soupy, I do enjoy his bad puns. I have his DVDs. But my reason for this post isn’t only to discuss Soupy’s birthday. Rather, it is a musing on aging.

Last night, otaku_tetsuko brought over a load from the storage area. This had a lot of my dad’s books in it. Books on movie actors and actresses of the 1930s and 1940s. Books on Al Jolson. “Where are they now?” books. It got me to thinking about how, as we get older, we start viewing with nostalgia what we watched and did in our youths, when we were in pre-teens and teens. That’s why I like children’s television… it is one of the few good memories I have from when I was 5, 6, 7. My father probably liked Jolson and old old movie stars for the same reason: he was doing his growing up during the 1920s and 1930s.

I know I’m probably older than many of the folks reading my journal (I turn 47 on the 21st), so I’m probably reaching that nostalgia point. Many of my journal readers are probably too young. But what do you recall fondly from your youth that you miss today?

P.S. Please remember that January 31st is National Gorilla Suit Day, and this week is National Delurking Week. More on that later.


And this is my boy, Sherman…

I don’t know if I should be scared or eager with anticipation.

Multiple newspapers are carrying the story that DreamWorks Animation plans to bring the time-traveling cartoon adventures of “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” to the big screen as a digitally animated cartoon. The adaptation will be directed by Rob Minkoff, whose credits include “The Lion King” and the “Stuart Little” movies.

What is “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”, you youngsters out there ask. It was part of the classic “Rocky & Bulllwinkle” series produced by Jay Ward. “Mr. Peabody” featured the world’s brainiest dog and his pet boy.

I sure hope they don’t ruin it. However, I do remember the bombs Boris and Natasha (Live Action) and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (Live Action+Digital Composite).


It’s Not The Great Race, But…

[Whilst the tea cools and the email comes up…]

There’s nothing like a good pie fight sequence. And this is nothing like a good pie fight sequence. No, that’s not right.

Many of you know that I like good children’s television from the 1950s and 1960s. One of the best hosts of that time was a fellow out of Detroit called Soupy Sales. This was an incredibly funny show, with humor and slapstick aimed at both adults and children. Stories are often told about the New Years Day incident, when Soupy supposedly told children to tiptoe into their still-sleeping parents’ bedrooms and remove those “funny green pieces of paper” from their pants and pocketbooks. “Put them in an envelope and mail them to me,” Soupy allegedly instructed the children. “And you know what I’m going to send you? A post card from Puerto Rico!”

Soupy was known for a rapid-fire stream of sketches, gags, and puns, almost all resulting in Soupy receiving a pie in the face, which became his trademark. Not much of Soupy is available on video, but there is one collection available.

Why am I mentioning all this? This morning, mark_evanier posted a link to a Soupy Sales YouTube video featuring a pie fight between Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Trini Lopez, and disc jockey William B. Williams. The annoying kid is played by Frank Nastasi, who was Soupy’s sidekick-puppeteer on his New York shows. This originally aired September 10, 1965. The beginning of the video shows Soupy’s punning style.

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