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Farmer AlfalfaIn 1949, we got our first television - a Sears Silvertone, a sticker on the back said the set could be converted for color. We turned it on and there was "Farmer Gray". The first program I remember seeing was Junior Frolics with "Uncle" Fred Sayles on WATV Channel 13 in Newark. The show was mostly "Farmer Gray" cartoons.

Another "Uncle" was Steve Hollis, who introduced the cartoons on Junior Carnival."Texas Jim Robinson" hosted Western Roundup, a daily show of Republic-type B films Over at Channel 4.

Herb SheldonHerb Sheldon did his kid show from the roof of the WNBC studios at Columbus Avenue and 67 Street (until the early 90's , the studios were used by ABC's 'All My Children').

Herb later did a teen dance party on WABD Channel 5. Another show I watched was one that none of my friends remember - Funny Bunny starring Dick Noel on WABD Channel 5.

I think 'Funny Bunny' was on right after one of my very favorites in the 1950's - The Magic Cottage, early evenings on WABD, Channel 5. The hostess was Pat Meikle.

She would tell stories, sing, and teach art by drawing on an easel. Can't recall all of her characters, but one was Wilbur The Pigeon and think she also had a mouse and a rabbit. It was sponsored by Cocoa Marsh and included a studio audience of about a dozen children each day. Her husband, Hal Cooper, who created the show, went on to be a producer of the 'Maude' series.

Big TopBig Top on the CBS network from Camden, New Jersey through WCAU, Channel 10 (Philadelphia). The show aired from 1950-1957, Saturdays at Noon.

Jack Sterling was the Ringmaster, Bob Russell (who died in his 90's in February, 1998) later portrayed the Ringmaster. Ed McMahon had his first national exposure as a clown (pictured). Body builder, Dan Lurie, was the strongman. The closing credits were written on his back and biceps. He now operates and sells bodybuilding equipment in Brooklyn, New York. (You can see a photo of Dan Lurie today and yesterday on his webpage!)

Also in the early fifties was Foodini The Great, a puppet show about a bumbling magician and his assistant, Pinhead. His favorite expression was "Gadzooks". I liked the theme and found out years later that is was from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite". The program was on WJZ Channel 7 in New York. The network logo was an eagle over the letters "ABC".

Phyllis M. LeVietes remembers Claude Kirschner from "Terrytoons" and Scrub Club. I know Claude Kirschner as the Ringmaster on Super Circus.

It began in 1949 from Chicago on ABC. His blonde assistant was Mary Hartline in a majorette costume, often twirling batons. There were 3 clowns: Cliff Sobier as "Cliffy", Nicky Francis as "Nicky" and 2 people playing "Scampy", Bardy Patton and Sandy Dobritch. In 1955, the show moved to New York where Jerry Colonna (big eyes and huge mustache) took over as Ringmaster with Sandy Wirth as his assistant.

In response to Fred Biefari's recollection of Tex Antoine, he first did the weather on New York's Channel 4 News. It was sponsored by Con Edison, the local electric company. His wooden sidekick was "Uncle Weatherbee". The theme music was "Fine And Dandy". Later at Channel 5, he made an off-the-cuff remark that got him fired. Tex died in 1983.

- Jim Douglass



soupy SalesNew York kids television of the 1950s... what surreal memories have been resurrected with the discovery of your web site.

I stumbled into your memory hole while doing a search on Soupy Sales after a conversation with my six year old about the difference between the slick packaged shows she watches versus the thrill of live TV of my era.

I have some disturbing memories of a series that I believe ran on Channel 13 before it was turned into a public television channel. The program was primarily silent cartoons, a Farmer Alfalfa, or Farmer Gray who in nearly every episode was tormented by a plague of sadistic mice accompanied by a layered in soundtrack of somber classical music, I think Beethoven's 7th was one of the pieces.

I will never forget an episode where the poor farmer was taking a bath, a mouse jumped out of nowhere and pulled the plug. The farmer was sucked into the sewers where a host of monsters waited to torment him. Great stuff for a four year old with an overactive imagination to consume... I instantly developed a morbid fear of baths which lingered for years. I would give a lot to find a copy of that cartoon.

In fact, years later, while studying psychology in graduate school, I came across a case study which specifically linked that cartoon to a child's phobia related to running water. Yes, I'm dead serious!

There was another one, straight out of a Freudian case study, with the Farmer walking down the street and hands reaching up out of sewer grates and tearing off his clothes. Finally the hand pulls him down into the sewer where yet again the monsters are waiting. I was petrified of the sewer grate in front of my house as a result and would peek out my bedroom window at night, wondering if "they" were down there waiting for me.

There were so many other shows that helped to shape me (I'm now a science fiction author and history professor). I remember a very bizarre cartoon series set in space where there were still drawings but real human lips moving and talking. God, the effect was strange. There was also a series which I think was called Rocky Jones loaded with really slick streamlined spacecraft that I believe inspired the tail fin craze on cars.

On Saturday afternoons there was a totally whacked out character named Zacherle who hosted a horror movie show. Zacherle's television set was a "laboratory," (pronounced with a Transylvanian accent) where he constructed monsters from dead body parts and conducted mad experiments.

He was far better than Mr. Wizard who always had kids on with neatly combed hair named Johnnie and Mary, the type of kids the nuns always liked and we hated. Zacherle's science lab was the place I wanted to work in.

While in 5th grade I had a year where I seemed to catch darn near every childhood disease possible and spent several months in bed. Fred Hall, with his gentle fatherly warmth, was the high point of what might otherwise have been a dreary winter afternoon.

My Mom and I would sit with sketch pads, and draw along with him. You had a sense that here was someone who truly liked and understood kids. Most of my friends thought Fred was a bit wimpy, but I loved the guy. His quiet manner and reinforcement that it was great to use our imaginations perhaps inspired me to hang on to the childlike ability to create stories and games.

There were so many others, Office Joe and his whistling theme song, the beloved Shari Lewis, and one of my favorites the chimpanzee (J Fred Muggs) on the "Today Show." Perhaps that is where my addiction for watching news programs started.

I clearly remember that I preferred the Today Show to Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo because you always had the feeling that the chimp was on the edge of going insane on live TV. I think CNN Headline News could certainly be improved by a berserk chimp running amok on their set.

And finally their was Claude and Clownie, who closed off their program with that dreaded statement - "and now its time for most of you to go to bed."

That line was quoted to me as gospel and off to bed I went, where I would lay awake, wondering what was lurking in the sewers beneath my house.

- William R. Forstchen


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