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Kevin Butler writes: "This month former NYC based kids TV host/performer Chuck McCann will be selling his new book The Let's Have Fun Scrapbook: My Life In The Wacky World Of Live Television. To help promote this new manuscript I'm reprinting my article from The NYC Kids Shows Round Up section that looks back at Let's Have Fun's history and to give some extra insight into it's success as one of NYC's most popular and enduring kid's comedy variety programs."
PHOTO AT LEFT: Jonah K. Eightball plays his tuba with a balloon coming out of the horn to herald the opening of WNEW 5's "Chuck McCann Show" circa, 1965.
One of New York City's most beloved children's entertainers, Chuck McCann, hosted his first local 'kidult' TV series, The Puppet Hotel, on WNTA TV Channel 13 in the Newark, N.J./ NYC viewing area beginning Saturday morning, November 28, 1959.
As the program's only live, on-screen character, McCann was seen as a frustrated desk clerk who attempted to complete his assigned tasks while coping with the mischief created by the hotel's guests and staff, portrayed by the Paul Ashey Puppets.
This format would serve as the basis for Let's Have Fun and the Chuck McCann Shows to come a few years later.
R. Stephen Weber writes, "I grew up in Flushing, New York and throughout the late 1950's through the mid 60's I spent a great deal of my time in front of the tube watching Sandy Becker, Chuck McCann, Sonny Fox, Shari Lewis, Soupy Sales, Officer Joe Bolton, Pixanne, et al. These were undoubtedly some of the happiest times of my childhood. Puppetry was and still is my greatest passion and in those days there was certainly no shortage of puppets on the air.
"For me, there was no bigger thrill than to watch Paul Ashley's brilliant hand puppets on Let's Have Fun, or Bil and Cora Baird's marionettes which could be seen on virtually every local channel at any given time. These people and the shows they presented inspired and instilled me with wonderment. It's no surprise that I went on to become a professional puppeteer."
Chuck and the puppets continued to maintain decorum at the Puppet Hotel until WNTA shuttered the inn for good on Saturday, January 16, 1960.
On Monday, September 9, 1963 Chuck McCann hosted his next comedy/variety 'kidult' TV series - The Chuck McCann Show.
Set against the backdrop of a cartoon village, The Chuck McCann Show was seen weekday afternoons, this time on WPIX 11. Chuck McCann and his head puppeteer/ puppetmaker and comedy assistant Paul Ashley would perform character comedy skits, silent visual gags and interviews with guest performers - all this in-between Krazy Kat, Beatle Bailey, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith TV cartoons and Universal/Republic movie serials.
Around Easter week of 1964 or 1965, I got to see Chuck McCann and the Paul Ashley Puppets. My mother, aunts, cousins and I watched Chuck and Paul's puppets perform their funniest skits and lip sync to such songs as 'Hello Dolly' (the Louis Armstrong version), 'She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah,' 'Love Me Do,' 'Do You Want To Know A Secret,' and 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' Chuck came out and did skits as Dr. Zebra, Little Orphan Annie and as Laurel & Hardy.
The was the first time that I saw him play these two beloved movie comics without the puppets - he simply put on a derby hat and became Stan Laurel, then put on a fake mustache, still sporting the derby, and became Oliver Hardy. He did a skit called That Reminds Me Of Thursday or I called it The Thursday Bit With The Fingers (Chuck's Stan just holds his fingers in the OK sign and he explains why it reminds him of Thursday).
Chuck even performed his theme song from Let's Have Fun - 'Put On A Happy Face.'
The show ended with Chuck's Little Orphan Annie introducing Mr. Ashley and another puppeteer (the other gentleman's name escapes me) as they came up from behind the puppet stage and waved to the kids in the audience.
Chuck offered to sign autographs but my mother and aunts, who didn't care for the show and never found these two men funny, told my cousins and I that, "we're going home!"
McCann and Ashley happily hosted The Chuck McCann Show on WPIX until the station's programming director Fred Thrower instructed Chuck to stop doing his Little Orphan Annie and Miss Jinx, the Witch characters on the pretense that these female impersonations would encourage Chuck's viewers to become homosexuals.
Angered, Chuck refused to give into the creative interference and kept on doing the characters. To make the show more viewer friendly (at least from Mr. Thrower's point of view), Chuck was forced to drop his comedic characters altogether and host a game show segment instead called the "Kookie Cookie Fortune Cookie Contest," wherein kids in the studio would try to answer questions hidden inside of fortune cookies. The kid who could answer the most questions in the least amount of time would earn points to win toy prizes.
The contest did fairly well until one evening when Chuck opened a fortune cookie and said to one of the contestants, "All right! Now for 25 points try to answer this question - 'Romance will be risky tonight...!'" - a real fortune cookie with a risque message had been substituted for the contest cookie.
The contest was dropped and Chuck returned to playing his comedic characters but there was still plenty of interference from Mr. Thrower. Eventually, Chuck and Paul became fed up with the creative sabotage instigated by the management at Channel 11 and The Chuck McCann Show left the air on Friday, July 30, 1965.
The program moved over to WNEW 5 in NYC where it was seen weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings beginning on Tuesday, September 7 & Saturday, September 11, 1965.
This time the show was set against the backdrop of a junk shop set in an office building. Chuck and Paul did their usual comedy and puppet skits in-between the reruns of Casper, The Friendly Ghost movie cartoons & Space Angel TV cartoons and Republic movie serials.
The WNEW version of the show was also the first NYC based kids TV show to air reruns of The Sinbad, Jr. cartoons produced and released by American International TV Inc. and Hanna-Barbera.
The Chuck McCann Show remained on the air until channel 5 closed Chuck & Paul's junk shop on Saturday, July 16, 1966 and Friday September 9, 1966.
Chuck McCann and Paul Ashley hosted one more kidult TV Show - Chuck McCann's Laurel & Hardy Show was seen weekday afternoons, also on WNEW 5 beginning Monday, September 12, 1966.
Set against the backdrop of "The Laurel & Hardy Fix It Shop," Paul and Chuck portrayed Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as live and puppet characters in their skits. Other features of the program included guest entertainers and the Dialing for Dollars telephone quiz.
Chuck McCann's L&H Show was the first NYC based kidult series to air reruns of the Hanna-Barbera/ Metromedia TV /Larry Harmon L&H cartoons. These featured the voices of Larry Harmon as Stan Laurel and Jim MacGeorge as Oliver Norvell Hardy. The show also reran the 1958 color Crusader Rabbit cartoons.
Chuck McCann's L&H Show remained on the air until Channel 5 shuttered the Fix It Shop for good on Friday, June 9, 1967.
Paul Ashley went on to do industrial films and stage shows for major companies during the 1970's.
Chuck McCann went onto a new career as a comic character actor and mimic, making guest appearances on numerous TV sitcoms, crime dramas, adventures shows as well as doing voice overs for radio/TV cartoons and commercials (most notably - the smartaleck guy in the bathroom mirror who annoyed Bill Fiore in the Right Guard antiperspirant TV ads of the '70s).
Chuck also performed in such films as The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, The Projectionist, The Comeback Trail (which was Buster Crabbe's last movie), Herbie Rides Again, Foul Play, Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, The World of Hans Christian Anderson, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead & Loving It.
In 1975, Chuck McCann returned to kid's TV when he costarred with former Gilligan's Island actor Bob Denver on CBS and the Kroft Brother's sci-fi spoof Far Out Space Nuts.
The series was seen on Saturday mornings from September 6, 1975 to September 5, 1976. Chuck would go on to host two more kid's TV shows. The first, LBS Children's Theater, was seen in national syndication (and on Saturday mornings on WNBC 4 in NYC).
Chuck was ready to work on the series (set against the backdrop of a TV studio) with Paul Ashley again. Sadly, it was not to be. Before production started on LBS Children's Theater, Paul Ashley was forced to drop out when he was diagnosed with Altheimzer's Disease.
Chuck took over the show as the head puppeteer and host, performing comedy bits that would lead into reruns of former prime time animated TV specials and European movie cartoons.
LBS Children's Theater was seen Saturday mornings on WNBC Channel 4 in NYC and in national syndication from Saturday, September 17, 1983 until Saturday, September 1, 1984.
Paul Ashley never lived long enough to see the show become a success with 1980's kids. He died on September 3, 1984.
Chuck McCann and The McCann/Ashley Puppets hosted one more 'kidult' TV comedy series - Chuck McCann's Fun Stuff was seen weekday mornings on KHJ (KCAL) 9 in Los Angeles.
Comic actor and pantomimist Barry Thompson (the brother of actress Leah Thompson of Back To The Future fame) served as Chuck's assistant puppeteer and comedic foil.
Set against the backdrop of a neighborhood videostore, Chuck McCann's Fun Stuff engaged customers (the viewers) in character comedy and puppet skits, contests, interviews with guest personalities and even had home viewers send in their own 'Kidsmericals' (kids would write, produce and act in their own versions of TV commercials). This concept was originally utilized by the show's co-executive producer Sonny Fox on his version of WNEW channel 5 NYC's Wonderama.
Chuck McCann's Funstuff was seen weekday mornings on KHJ (KCAL) from Monday, September 18, 1989 until Channel 9 erased Chuck & Barry's video store on Friday, October 13, 1989.
"I was saddened to read about Bob Keshan's recently death. For some reason, it made me think of Tommy Seven.
"I have, packed away, two souvenirs from the show. I sent away (I should say, my mother helped me send away) for a premium from the Tommy Seven show consisting of three little plastic pots of makeup -- I recall them as blue, white and red -- a plastic copy of Tommy Seven's nose with an elastic band to keep it on your face, and a small photo of Tommy with the ABC logo on it. I can't remember whether it came with a hat. I seem to recall that it did not.
"I also read your section on Chuck McCann's Laurel and Hardy shows.
"I appeared on The Chuck McCann Show one day in 1963. One of my 3rd Grade classmates was the stepson of the WPIX weatherlady, Susan Strong, so the whole class was invited to be the on-camera studio audience.
"Chuck gave us a backstage tour including the storage area for Paul Ashley's puppets. For me, that was the high point of the visit. Then, Chuck passed out small samples of a concentrated liquid punch mix, a competitor of Fizzies and Kool Aid. You mixed the stuff with water to make brightly-colored artificially-flavored fruit punches. It was not, as I recall, from the Goofy Grape varieties.
"Well, someone in the class found the box where the samples were kept, and suddenly all the kids were grabbing fistsful of the stuff. My mother was mixing pitchers of it for weeks. Today, I wouldn't let my kids drink it, if it existed.
"That day, I rode in an elevator at WPIX (which I remember being in the Daily News Building on E.42nd St.) with Captain Jack McCarthy. I also used to see him at the Scarsdale, NY train station into the early 1970's.
"In 1989, I produced a movie called "State Of Grace," starring Sean Penn, Gary Oldman and Ed Harris. At the end of the film, Sean Penn's character goes to confront Ed Harris' character for a deadly showdown.
"This takes place on St. Patrick's day, and Penn has to cross 5th Avenue, right in the middle of the parade, to get back to Hell's Kitchen. At the bar where Harris waits, a TV is tuned to coverage of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
"In post-production, I told the director that the TV coverage would have been broadcast on WPIX, and that Jack McCarthy would have been keeping up a constant flow of commentary and patter.
"We brought Captain Jack into the studio to record the audio to play with the footage on the TV in the bar. The 26-year-old director, Phil Joanou, who was from Los Angeles, and in any case too young to have seen any of the great kids's shows, loved the idea that our version of the broadcast was made authentic by Captain Jack's voice-over.
"Jack seemed to have no idea what his voice-over was for, but we told him that we would not even think of depicting TV coverage of the Parade without the essential element of his voice, and he agreed.
"I never saw him after that, and I have no idea whether he's even still living. (He passed away in 1996 - KSB)
"I was also in the studio audience one day on the Bozo show with Bill Britten. My older brother had been in the audience once on either the Howdy Doody show, or Johnny Jellybean. I have to ask him.
"I have not looked at your entire site yet, but so far I have not seen any mention of Uncle Fred Scott. I think he was on WNEW. There was another "Uncle Fred," not Scott, who I remember thinking of as a fake "Uncle Fred."
"My other favorites were Claude Kirchner and Clowny, Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales, Shari Lewis (my mother attended high school with her, and once went on a double date; she was already performing with hand-puppets) and Sonny Fox.
"Sonny Fox had an intelligent approach to the show that was at once very stimulating, and also a little severe. I used to think it would not be fun to be on the show, subjected to what looked like slightly unpleasant spelling bees and such.
"He also had the most interesting guests in all of kids' programming. I remember watching Robert Kennedy on the show when he was running for the US Senate in 1964.
"When Bob McAllister replaced him, my younger brother was pleased, but I felt that Wonderama turned into a very stupid, very silly show. I stopped watching. Still, I was sad to read of McAllister's death. He certainly meant well, and he did appeal to a younger audience.
"I always missed Sonny Fox. I thought his appearance in the PBS documentary about the quiz show scandals was extraordinary. I had no idea he was he host of one of the crooked quiz shows.
"You mentioned Joe Bolton's appearances in public and on TV with the 3 Stooges (I saw them at The Scarsdale Plaza movie theater with The Three Stooges In Orbit), but I have not seen mention of Chuck McCann's friendship and correspondence with Stan Laurel. His impersonations of Stan and Ollie were wonderful, and they had Stan Laurel's blessing.
"I remember being moved by the obviously genuine warmth and fondness that Chuck expressed for Stan. By talking about him, bringing him to life in his impersonations, and sharing photos and correspondence with the audience, he made me feel closer to the flesh-and-blood Stan Laurel. I think it was the first time I began to realize there was a reality behind the movies I loved to watch, and that must have had a profound influence on my decision to make a career in motion pictures.
"Chuck also had the title role in the cult film, The Projectionist, and his performance was great. The movie still has a following today. But his performance as Alan Arkin's friend in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was a masterpiece of acting. I still get choked-up watching it.
"Chuck got very little of the recognition and exposure he deserved for his superb acting talent."
- Randy Ostrow
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The photo of Chuck McCann dressed up as a tramp was a clownlike pantomime character that he played on the WPIX and WNEW versions of "The Chuck McCann Shows".
The character was known as "Wobbles", who performed sight gags in a manner similar to Stan Laurel.
"I was pleased to find your thorough list of McCann's "kidult" work on NYC TV. He and Paul Ashley were superb entertainers and are largely responsible for the fond memories so many of us have of those wonderful, bygone days of kid TV.
"Most memorable were McCann's menagerie of characters and skits. In addition to his portrayals of comic strip stars like, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy and Dondie, he developed his own creations: Bombo Dump, Jack Dump (a Jack Benny take off), Bunko Squad (a Dick Tracyesq character), The Old Camper (a cross between Walter Cronkite and Euell Gibbons) and several more whose names I can't recall.
"I believe his last show for Metromedia (Channel 5 in NY) was "Bombo's Magic and Cartoon Show". It must have been on the air in 1966 or '67. Chuck hosted the show, in character, as "Bombo Dump", his incarnation of a famous (and famously inept) magician. Chuck's brilliant sketches were wedged into whatever time he was allowed between cartoons and commercials. I can recall making up all sorts of excuses to miss school and stay home just to watch these truly hilarious shows.
"I vividly recall his last show. He announced his cancellation on the air and proceeded to ignore all calls to run cartoons or commercials. He used this last gasp to present a flurry of creative and truly funny stuff before his "keepers" at Metromedia pulled the plug. I believe that was the last time Chuck appeared on daytime TV in NY. Keep up the good work and thanks for the memories."
- Peter A. Allegra, New Jersey
"The Paul Ashley Puppets appeared on the pilot of Cos in 1976 unfortunately, the comedy that the executive producers Blye& Bearde wanted Mr. Ashley and his puppets to perform on the show was political humor meant for adults; a celebrity roast of Dr. Joyce Brothers (where she was insulted by puppet versions of Jackie Gleason's Reggie Van Gleason the III, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. etc.) was not family friendly.
"The pilot was picked up by the heads of ABC TV but the Paul Ashley Puppets were dropped from the show.
"I was lucky enough to interview Paul Ashley in in March, 1979 when he and his wife were still living in New Rochelle, N.Y. and he told me that he felt that he was being taken advantage of and he never worked with Cosby, Blye and Bearde again."
- Kevin S. Butler
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