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Marv Welch / Wixie's Wonderland
by Kevin S. Butler

Mr. Marv Welch - veteran vaudeville, nightclub, radio and TV performer and broadcaster - was best remembered by Detroit, Michigan's youngsters as Wixie The Elf on WXYZ TV 7's Wixie's Wonderland. He passed away on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at the Autumn Nursing Home in Warren.

Mr. Welch was 81 and in failing health. The son of vaudeville entertainers, Marvin Welch Jr. began his career as a boy soprano performing with his parents at local piano bars during the depression. Welch attended Wayne University where he studied liberal arts while performing at Earl Gremel's bar as a singer and comedian to help pay for tuition. He soon added lip syncing to popular recordings to his act and obtained the nickname of "The Michigan Mirthquake."

Following his service in the US military, Marv returned to performing in Detroit's most popular nightspots like The Gay Haven where he co-headlined with The Platters, Jerry Vale and Frank Sinatra.

He made his TV debut in 1952 on a local musical/variety program titled Musically Speaking for station WWJ. The show only lasted one year. His next TV venture became a much more successful project when the station execs at WXYZ 7 hired Welch to host their daily kid's show Wixie's Wonderland.

Debuting in 1953, the broadcast was set against the backdrop of an enchanted fairyland where Wixie (Welch) and the inhabitants of "The Wonderland" - Diane Dale, Gee Whiz the Clown (played by cartoonist and pantomimist Ken Muse), Harry Elton and Gramps (played by the late Frank Nastasi) - engaged young viewers with songs, stories, games, craftmaking, informational segments, comedy skits and interviews with in-studio guest personalities. These live segments were wrapped around reruns of Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker movie cartoons.

Wixie's Wonderland was produced without a script but it was done with charm, whimsy and with the kind of gentle care one would see today on PBS's Sesame Street.

"We were a very popular show," Frank Nastasi recalled in an interview that I did with him back in the 1980's. "We beat out Captain Kangaroo in the ratings. We entertained but we also educated the children. We were gentle and fun but we were not saccharine like Sesame Street.

Nastasi's "Gramps" was also able to do segments on animals and conducted an interview with the Sicilian Marionettes and even got a chance to perform with one of the giant puppets on the show.

Wixie's Wonderland aired from 1953 until 1957. Following the cancellation of the show, Marv Welch returned to performing in clubs; he also cut several party disks in the 1960's & '70's which utilized his very raunchy comedy routines and hosted a local radio program The Voice Of Macomb County on station WBRB in the 1970's, playing music from the golden age of swing-era jazz.

After his radio show left the air, Welch was unable to find work and for a time performed at his daughter's restaurant Marvin's Bistro And Piano Bar where his Wixie memorabilia was displayed. Unfortunately the restaurant was not a success and, despite his best efforts, was forced to close after one year of business.

During his last years, Marv Welch appeared at some nostalgia conventions in the Detroit area with the city's other popular kid's TV MC's Art Cervi (Bozo the Clown), Johnny Ginger and Soupy Sales.

He made only two TV appearances during the latter part of his life. During the 1960's, he did a series of TV commercials for Proctor and Gamble promoting Wizard Of Oz hand puppets and puppet stage that children could obtain by having their parents buy Downey Fabric Softener or Oxydol. (The puppets were packaged with the products. Kids could get the Wizard Of Oz puppet theater by having their parents send in a check and a proof of purchase.)

Welch also appeared on WXYZ TV 7's 50th Anniversary tribute in 1998 and was interviewed for books that recalled his best days at WXYZ TV - From Soupy To Nuts by Tim Kiska and the TV Land Book.

I was lucky enough to correspond with Marv and he was just as generous with his info about his career in kid's TV with me as he was with other writers.

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