Come on in, and pull yourself up a chair…

My 11yo daughter is back home from a week at Aunt Harriet’s, so we decided to sit down together and watch one of her favorite shows, starring an actor arrested for indecent exposure, a famous dramatic actor soon to be in Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse, and a long-term star of NBC’s Law and Order.

That’s right: We sat down to watch Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which is back as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

Those who know me know that I love classic Children’s Television. I’m too young for the early shows, but I did grow up with Sheriff John and Hobo Kelly. After those programs died, I remembered watching attempts to bring live local action back to children’s television, shows such as Dusty’s Treehouse or That’s Cat. One of the last attempts at the genre was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. In fact, “Pee-Wee” himself acknowledges the homage:

” ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ ‘Howdy Doody, ‘Captain Kangaroo’ — I was obsessed with those shows. I can remember sitting on our living room floor watching the last episode of ‘Howdy Doody,’ when they were saying goodbye forever, and just bawling my head off and thinking, what kind of world is this? How could society be so screwed up as to let ‘Howdy Doody’ go off the air?”

Watching it, in hindsight, it is easy to see Reuben’s genius. The show is written on two levels: there are jokes that adults and older kids will get (“It’s time to go, Pee-Wee”), and there are things that appeal to the younger kid. It encourages creativity.

Shows such as this just don’t exist these days. It’s a loss. I do take heart in the fact that Reuben’s plans to resurrect the character–there are two Pee-Wee scripts reportedly finished.

Perhaps these shows still continue to charm because they had such simple goals — goes that predate “educational” television. John Rovack put it best:

Laugh and be happy
and the world will laugh with you
When people see you smiling
they can’t help smiling too
When you look out the window
to a dark and gloomy day
Break out a smile
and in a while
the gloom will go away

So laugh and be happy
with a merry melody
A song will make a hat rack
look like a Christmas tree
Get rid of worry
in a hurry,
chase the blues away
Just laugh and be happy
all the live…. long….. day..


Sob. Paul Winchell is Dead.

Obituary Here.

Who was Paul Winchell, you ask? Another Steve Allen, in my opinion. Kids today know Winchell as the voice of Tigger. But he was much more. A talented ventriloquist, he was the voice of Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smith, and had a regular TV show on KABC, Channel 7 in Los Angeles, as well as a syndicated program while I was growing up. He was also an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart he built in 1963.

Paul, I hope you’re at piece, and that your spirit is reunited again with your collegues such as Shari Lewis and Edgar Bergen.

TTFN, and the mood is in honor of you and Tigger.


Laugh and Be Happy/Children’s Television Hosts

Yesterday, as part of writing up a response to a blog entry for a friend, uncovered a really good web site on Sheriff John, who was a children’s TV host when I was growing up (he was on KTTV Ch. 11, 1952-1970). I’ve posted his song, The Birthday Cake Polka, here before. This morning, I just felt like posting his other song, Laugh and Be Happy

Laugh and be happy and the world will laugh with you
When people see you smiling, they can’t help smiling too
When you look out the window to a dark and gloomy day
Break out a smile and in a while the gloom will go away

So, laugh and be happy, with a merry melody
A song will make a hatrack look like a Christmas Tree
Get rid of worry in a hurry, chase the blues away
So, laugh and be happy, all the livelong day.

[Note: While researching this, I found that Randy Newman had a song with the same title. Some lyrics from that song that I like: Laugh and be happy / Don’t you ever wear a frown / Don’t let the bastards grind you down / Laugh and be happy / It’s a simple thing to do / Believe in your dreams and / Your dreams will come through for you]

So, what memory of children’s television hosts do you have? I’m talking about folks like Sheriff John, Hobo Kelly, Engineer Bill, Billy Barty, Paul Winchell, Soupy Sales, etc. (not this PBS pablum). People born after the era of hosted children’s televisions programs (although some lasted into the 90s, most were gone by the mid-1980s), enjoy the memories of what you missed.


Bozo, Bozo, Always Laughs, Never Frowns…

According to AP News via Yahoo, the International Clown House of Fame has decided to induct Vance “Pinto” Colvig into its Hall of Fame. In doing so, the ICHOF is yanking the Lifetime Award they gave to Larry Harmon, who evidently at one time was believed to be the creator of Bozo (he later clarified that he was the creator of Bozo on television — Harmon is responsible for creating the Bozo franchise for children’s television, and for providing the voice for early syndicated cartoons). Harmon, by the way, is also the fellow who holds the license for the images of Laurel and Hardy. This does not, however, affect the award given by the ICHOF to Bob Bell, who played Bozo for the longest time in Chicago. In reality, Bozo was created by Capitol Records as a way to teach reading to children, who would read Bozo storybooks along with a record.

This story interests me, because Yet Another Interest of MineTM is Children’s Television of the 1950s/1960s. There is an very good book on the subject that tells the story well, and how the days of the children’s program is gone.

Now, I remember the days of Hobo Kelley, Sheriff John, Billy Barty, Paul Winchell (who, by the way, is the inventor of the artificial heart as well), and other hosts in Los Angeles (although I don’t remember Engineer Bill, and I only watched Tom Hatten in his incarnation as a host of Saturday Children’s Movies). I wonder how much our children lose by not being exposed to such hosts, and instead being fed Rugrats and Spongebob Squarepants. I guess they don’t lose much.