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NYC Local TV Kid Shows

by Kevin S. Butler

Capt Allen Swift NYC local kiddie hostJanuary 17, 2024 marked the 100th birthday of entertainer/ scriptwriter/ producer/ cartoonist/ songwriter/ voice over performer and NYC based kids' TV host/performer Allen Swift who was the the first and the best of the three mc's of WPIX TV Ch.11 NYC's Popeye Show.

The son of realty agent Ira Stadlen had a natural gift for mimicry. He did imitations of his dad and his clients and other people in the family. He also was a very talented artist and won a drawing contest in school and performed magic tricks for his family and friends while he was in his teens. Enrolled in NYC's High School of Music and Art, he quit school to accept a bookings as a standup entertainer with some of the hotels in the Catskill mountains of upstate New York.

He performed magic tricks, mentalism, told stories, did satires of radio commercials and drew cartoons for the guests at the hotels.

Stadlen went on to perform on radio dramas and in nightclubs of NYC and even performed at the Mecca of Vaudeville: the Palace theater in NYC's Times Square.

Swift’s performing career was interrupted by his serving in the US Army Air Corps (Air Force) overseas during WWII. Upon his return to the states, Swift continued to perform in nightclubs and on radio. By this time, he had changed his name to Allen Swift (He took the name of radio humorist Fred Allen as his first name and the name of literary satirist Jonathan Swift, the author of the book Gulliver's Travels for his last surname). He made his TV debut on Robert Q. Lewis' comedy/variety series The Show Goes On on CBS and on three The Bob Hope Shows .

Swift's greatest television success occurred in 1953 when he was invited to audition for NBC TV's landmark children's series Howdy Doody by a fellow radio actor Jack Fallen who at the time was the program's associate producer.

Swift won the audition and not only appeared as several comedic characters liker Prof. Meriwether, a pompous art critic; Sandy McTavish; Abra k. Darbra the Magician; and Chief Thunderchicken. He also took over as the show's head writer when the former scriptwriter and songwriter Howdy Doody’s Eddie Kean left the series.

When Buffalo Bob Smith suffered a heart attack in 1954, Swift manipulated and voiced Howdy and also performed with the other members of the series puppet repertory company: Mr.Bluster, Dilly Dally, Captain ScuttleButt, and The Flub A Dub.

Swift also found the time to work on another kids’ puppet show, The Adventures of Blinky, created and written by Lucille Emrick. The format told the stories of a young boy who was trapped in an enchanted land by two evil witches, Harpy & Sharpy, as he was able to foil their infamous plans with the aide of his friends The Weaver, Bullfrog Drummound and The Bookworm (puppeteer Paul Ashley manipulated and voiced The Bookworm while Donald Soames voiced and manipulated The Weaver. Swift performed the character of Bullfrog Drummond ).

Doris Brown was the program's on camera mc and, for a time, Michael Mann appeared as a live action version of the boy hero. The Adventures Of Blinky was seen Saturday mornings on WABC TV 7 in NYC in 1953.

Swift continued to work on Howdy Doody until the spring of 1956 when he was dropped from the show due to a downsizing. He found the time to write a drama, Yankee Doodler, for NBC's anthology series Matinee Theater. During the spring of 1956, WPIX acquired the rights to the Popeye movie cartoons and planned to screen the films on a daily kids’ series. They hired Swift to host the program but there was one problem.

The station execs at channel 11 had no backdrop or any character for Swift to portray so he decided to create his own format. He designed and built the set with the crew at the station, obtained a costume while a make up artist provided a grey wig and beard and showed Swift how to age his face with latex plastic.

The weekday evening edition of The Popeye Show debuted on Monday, September 10, 1956 (a weekend evening version of the show aired on Saturday and Sunday September 8 & 9, 1956 hosted by radio/TV, stage performer and broadcaster Ray Heatherton formerly WOR TV's Merry Mailman portraying Capt. Ray).

Set again the backdrop of a ship and the captain's quarters, Capt. Allen would engage his young viewers, his "Mayteys” in songs, stories, craft making, hobbies, games, magic tricks, drawing lessons and magic tricks.He would present informational segments and interviews between promotions for the sponsors and the running of Popeye cartoons.

Capt. Allen even held a contest where he had viewers send in their drawings of Popeye and friends to the show via thepopeye records w Capt Allen Swift mail where one lucky kid could win a treasure chest of toys, a new TV set, and a pony. 137,000 drawings filled the station's mail room. The winner was a kid from Nyack, New York.

NEXT: PART TWO
More TV Success, Record Albums, Trouble With Management & more
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TVparty / Classic TV
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CAPTAIN ALLEN SWIFT

 

Captain Allen Swift photo


Captain Allen Swift on record

SIDE ONE: Blow the Man Down
SIDE TWO: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean


"Captain Allen" cut a second kids TV recording in 1960 for RCA Camden Children's Records. "Popeye's Favorite Sea Shanties" had Capt. Allen performing songs and engaging his listeners ("his mateys") in informational segments and some poetry (like "I Saw A Ship A Sailing") between tunes performed by Bill Simon and His Crew. The record was nominated for a Grammy award in 1960 but lost to Liberty Record's "Alvin Show" TV soundtrack.

Allen Swift was responsible for the many cartoon voices we grew up with, i.e.: Simon Barsinister ("Underdog"); Tom & Jerry cartoon narrations (directed by Gene Deutch - 1960-61); Mayor Phineas T. Bluster ("Howdy Doody") and, not to be outdone, his sitcom appearance on "Kate & Allie".

Popeye TV hosts Around The USA
Popeye TV Hosts
Around the Country

by
Kevin S. Butler


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