(ABOVE: Sandy Becker's puppets, which were recently sold at auction:
Dorshock, Stanley Q. Stinker, Wyndee Witch, Googie, Danny Horan,
Eccopps, Zerkon, Marvin Mouse, Edie Mouse and Googie)
A TRIBUTE TO A GREAT TALENT
by Kevin S. Butler with Billy Ingram and your TVparty superfriends
"Anyone who grew up in New York in the 50's and 60's had to know Sandy Becker. He shaped a lot of our personalities. Along with Hambone, Norton Nork, and The Old Professor, I remember his lovable puppets, Geeba Geeba and Marvin Mouse. What I remember most, though, was his Monday evening show that followed the Kennedy assassination. "It's been a hellish weekend," he said, then he told us how wrong it is to hate. He looked so forlorn and sad. His expression seemed to reflect how we all felt.
was a lesson for everyone who watched him that night. Not just the children.
Sandy Becker was one of a kind. He really seemed to care about his audience
and about the welfare of the younger generation. We could sure use a Sandy
Sandy Becker played the lead on the remarkably popular radio soap opera 'Young Doctor Malone' on CBS from the early 50's until its demise on November 25, 1960 - but he was most famous for being a prolific and much-beloved local New York City television personality.
In April of 1955, Sandy Becker became the second host of WABD Channel 5's nighttime 'Looney Tunes Show,' making 2005 the fiftieth anniversary of Sandy's debut as a kiddie show host, a run that touched millions of youngsters and lasted a remarkable thirteen years.
On the 'Looney Tunes Show,' Mr. Becker indulged his young viewers with drawing lessons, craft making, hobbies, informative segments as well as interviews with in-studio guests. He also performed puppet skits and shared visits with "Uncle Mike" Grimaldi, an animal trainer from Long Island.
Here's a clip from Sandy Becker's show on WABD from You Tube:
Shortly after his successful nighttime debut, Sandy Becker was given a daily children's series on WABD. Set against the backdrop of an enchanted cottage, 'Sandy Becker's Fun House' premiered on Monday afternoon June 27, 1955. There were more comedy bits, puppetry and ventriloquist skits, drawing lessons, hobby news, contests, educational segments, interviews with guest personalities and regular visits from "Uncle Mike" and his critters. Becker would also eat lunch along with his viewers.
Just as on his evening program, these light-hearted segments surrounded reruns of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons. 'Sandy Becker's Fun House' became one of NYC's most popular kid's shows; on Friday September 23, 1955 the program was moved to an earlier timeslot and retitled 'The Sandy Becker Morning Show.'
The format was loosened slightly to allow Sandy more room for improvisation.
Along with his now familiar regular segments, contests and toy & food promotions, Sandy now utilized his puppets to present light news stories and even performed with an unpredictable pet squirrel named "Peanuts" (seen here from a 1957 morning broadcast). Sandy's other animal regulars included a dog (Schatzi, replaced by Bee Wee in the late-'60s), two budgies (Herman and Coo Coo) and a raven.
Immensely popular with the NYC audience, Sandy Becker was kept busy by the station. In the fall of 1955, WABD created a six hour Sunday marathon kiddie extravaganza around Becker's many talents.
That show, Wonderama, became a New York City staple for decades to come, with subsequent hosts Herb Sheldon, Bill Britten, Sonny Fox and Bob McAllister. Sandy was now hosting eleven programs, broadcasting six days a week, prompting him to drop 'Wonderama' after just one year.
STORY CONTINUES - AFTER THIS AD FOR VIDEO DOWNLOADS:
Becker was recruited to host Bugs Bunny movie cartoons on 'The Bugs Bunny Theater' seen on Friday evenings from September 14, 1956 until Friday, September 6, 1957.On March 16, 1957, at the NYC Emmy Awards which were held at the Waldorf/Astoria Hotel, 'The Sandy Becker Show' and Sandy Becker himself were nominated for Best Children's TV Show and Most Outstanding TV Personality.
Sadly, Sandy and his TV wraparound show lost out to WCBS 2's 'On The Carousel' with Paul Tripp and WRCA (WNBC) Channel 4's 'Children's Theater' with Ray Forrest. The other 1957 nominees for Best Children's TV Shows: WPIX Channel 11's 'Popeye Show' with Captain Allen Swift and WABC 7's 'Tinker's Workshop' with Tinker The Toymaker (Henry Burbig).
On Tuesday, July 8, 1958, Sandy ended his three-year run on the 'Looney Tunes Show' when WABD moved the show from weekday evenings to a Saturday evening only slot when Herb Sheldon took over.
The 'Looney Tunes Show' was replaced by 'Sandy Becker Presents the Our Gang Comedies' weekday evenings on what was now WNEW TV 5 from Monday November 17, 1958 until Friday, March 17, 1961.
Unfortunately, the films that Sandy screened on this show were the Our Gang comedies produced theatrically by MGM during the latter part of 1938 until 1944. These lackluster films presented Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, Porky, Butch (Tommy Bond), Scott "Froggy" McLauglin and Mickey Gubitosi (Robert Blake) in unfunny social themed comedies that blatantly promoted WWII-era propagandized nonsense; all performed to the stupid and cruel specifications of the vastly over praised Louis (BS) Mayer.
Sandy attempted to counter the negative and/or irrelevant effects of these films with his comedy puppet skits, drawing lessons, informational segments, craft making and witty discourse with guest performers but his efforts did little to offset the low quality nature of the films.
Still, Becker's hosting chores on Channel 5 proved so popular he was allowed to drop the Our Gang format in the spring of 1961 to create the weekday evening program that took New York City's kids (and adults) by storm - The Sandy Becker Show which debuted on Monday, March 30, 1961.
Instead of presenting the usual simplistic featurettes local kid shows were famous for, Sandy created a distinctive cast of characters; adopting a comedy / variety format in order to spoof TV genres like westerns (The Ranger and Arthur Arrowroot was Sandy's take on The Lone Ranger), so-called advice experts (Dr. Gesundheit), Latin American kiddie shows (K. Lastima and Miguel) and groovy television rock and roll DJ's (Hambone).
He also performed pantomime skits as Norton Nork, a naive child who used his imagination in a fun and creative way, always learning from his many mistakes; and the Old Professor (who was introduced by playing Pomp and Circumstance) erroneously answering all sorts of "intellectual" questions in a silly manner. This new program was performed on a set that purported to be the living room of Sandy's house.
TVparty-er Brian McCarthy tells us, "At eight years old, I thought Sandy was pretty hip. Now, since I've seen him off camera, it's been confirmed for me. I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy on the street in the late 1980s and it was a trill. He was very warm and knew right off where I was coming from as a fan of the show.
"I've met Robert Deniro, Carl Sagan, Bill Irwin, Mel Brooks... but before I approached Sandy Becker I was shaking like a leaf if you can believe it. It was not necessary because he was a great guy!"
New short films were added to the show's format - Herman And Katnip, Baby Huey, Casper, Deputy Dawg and Space Angel were shown along with the Looney Tunes classics.
Another long-time viewer tells us, "Becker is definitely the lost genius of New York kiddie TV in the early '60s. He never attained cult status like rival Chuck McCann (who parlayed his local fame into a career as a comic actor--most notably as the "Hi Guy" man- in-the -mirror shaving commercial of the '70s).
"Becker's greatest bits, I thought, were his primitive 'rock videos' - bizarre prerecorded set pieces where Sandy would lip sync to a hit song of the day while acting out in costume - my favorite was his "Leader Of The Laundromat," an actual novelty hit (a comic parody of "Leader Of The Pack"). His Norton Nork (a bumbling simpleton who would try unsuccessfully to follow Becker's off-camera instructions) was perhaps second only to the Stooges in stature amongst my 2nd grade classmates.
"Hambone was a character who wore a pith helmet festooned with feathers and binocular-tube eyeglasses while dancing insanely to the Hambone song ("Hambone, Hambone have you heard...") which was some sort of Hand Jive or Name Game type groove."
Former NYC youngster Jay Turner comments, "I have great memories of the old shows I used to watch in New York in the 50's and 60's, but my favotite memory is winning a contest - and first prize was to appear on 'The Sandy Becker Show.'
"If you may remember, the guest kid would magically appear on a futuristic 'TV' set at the beginning of the show. I recall standing back-stage, thinking that I shouldn't be standing in this weird box next to the curtain, then I heard Sandy's voice chant my name and all of a sudden the plastic screen in the box cleared and I was looking through - to Sandy himself. I was inside THAT TV! It really was like magic, especially to a 5 year-old.
"He was a great host and the final touch was Sandy presenting me with a Polaroid Land camera (brand new in those times), which he demonstrated by having our picture taken by a stagehand and developed right on-the-air. (High-tech). It was real cool, let me tell you - I still have the picture!"
Sandy fan R. Matarazzo says, "I have a few memories from the 'Sandy Becker Show' that I'd like to share. One was a character with a heavy Mexican accent named K. Lastima, his segment of the show had its own variation of the 'Catch Max' thing called 'Catch Miguel.'
"Another bit I remember was a singing group which featured three funny-looking characters; in reality they were faces painted onto the chins of three guys who were then filmed upside-down while singing.
"The episode which featured the Old Professor that I'll always remember is one in which he tried to explain how to remove the holes from swiss cheese. I also remember an episode which featured a bald dummy, Dorshock, getting a haircut while he and his barber sang the song, Mr. Bass Man.
"And then there was 'Norton Nork makes a pizza' (a classic), 'Norton learns the twist,' and I've been a big fan of Won Ton soup ever since seeing 'Norton goes to a Chinese Restaurant.'
"I read somewhere that the TV station that owned the video tapes of these shows just recorded over them to save money. What a pity. An important segment of my childhood zapped by a magnetic field."
'The Sandy Becker Show' proved even more successful than the weekday morning series so a Saturday evening edition was scheduled beginning March 27, 1961. (For a short time, the show's title was changed to 'Sandy's Hour.')
"The most depressing time of my childhood," one loyal viewer tells us, "was in the early 60's, realizing Sandy Becker was being pre-empted for the broadcast of JFK's assassination & funeral. My mom cried for JFK. I cried for Sandy Becker!"
'The Sandy Becker Show' remained on Channel 5's weekday evening schedule until the fall of 1965 when it reverted to an afternoon timeslot. The concept was changed to a small town, main street setting - "Sandy's Street" - where Sandy and his new comedy assistant (child actor Tim Moriarty, Jr.) performed comedy skits as Gnat Man And Nitboy (a parody of Batman and Robin), The King and His Jester, Gramps, Clyde Calamity Clem and Sinister Simon & Sinister Sidney. Another feature - whenever Catch Max ran across the screen it was time to call the station to try to win a prize.
Jr. had a very special place in TV history, especially if you grew up
in the New York City area: "Thanks to Kevin Butler for covering a
wonderful man who meant so much to so many. I worked with Sandy for the
three years he had the afternoon show on WNEW; the first year ('65-'66)
was live, the second two ('66-'68, when we went off the air) we taped
the in-between cartoon segments on one weekday evening and one weekend
day. (It breaks my heart that none of the shows survived - at least none
that anyone's posted.)
A different film package with more contemporary cartoons was purchased for this show - Batfink, Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jekyll, Roger Ramjet, Mr. Magoo and The New Three Stooges appeared along with Sandy's puppets Danny Horan, Ecops from Zerkon, the Old Gypsy, Marvin Mouse, Henry Headline, Sir Clyde Clive and Gebba Gebba.
'The Sandy Becker Show' remained on Channel 5's weekday afternoon schedule until Friday February 16, 1968 when the show was downgraded to a weekday morning timeslot. Sandy finally left the NYC airwaves on Friday June 7, 1968.
Viewer Vince Biancomano tells us, "After Sandy Becker left Channel 5, I remember the city of New York dedicating a little street or area of pavement to his name. It was called Sandy Becker Square or Sandy Becker Circle. Does it still exist and where would it be?
"The only time I remember Sandy Becker ever being serious on his show was in the summer of '64, I believe (August, I seem to remember). The program was dedicated to President Kennedy, and he asked kids to think seriously about what's important in life. I miss Sandy Becker a lot. He reminded me of my late uncle, for some reason. Then again, I think they lived in the same area of Long Island during a portion of their lives."
Sandy Becker went on to a successful career doing commercials and Saturday morning cartoon voices - he was heard as Ruffled Feather and Sergeant Okey Homa in the classic animated series 'The Go-Go Gophers' among many others.
SANDY BECKER outtakes:
WARNING: These Sandy Becker clips contain a LOT OF PROFANITY and we don't bleep anything. That's because TVparty is really progressive or something (lazy). (The quality of the films is pretty lousy but that's all there is, there are no known existing copies of any of Sandy Becker's shows!)
Sandy really loved to cut up, ruining numerous takes just for the fun of it. This was tolerated because A) he was funny, and B) kid shows were big business in a large TV market like New York City. Most local shows around the country were broadcast live or taped 'live' - with no retakes. Ever.
In this flub, Sandy does a commercial for Hostess - making those Twinkies look as unappealing as possible. Do you recognize the catchy Hostess jingle that starts this clip? Then you're OLD!
Sandy Becker hosted several different programs like Sandy's Hour, performing comedy skits (and commercials) between the cartoons and Little Rascals episodes. Here, poor Sandy smoothly delivers his Silly Putty commercial until he gets to the end - and it's time for the product to perform.
Eventually, production constraints forced Sandy Becker to stop featuring his colorful characters on the show. Sandy explained it to the audience this way - but I seriously doubt this was ever aired as he lambasted the studio management.
Here Sandy does a parody of local kid show hosts. Everything you're not supposed to do - smoking, lacing your Bosco with booze, and letting loose with profanities!
An interview with Fred Scott, Sandy Becker and Soupy Sales from You Tube:
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