Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Children's TV in 1950's L.A. Sheriff John, Engineer Bill, Skipper Frank, Tom Hatten and Others

It's the 1950's when many Children's shows were live and interactive with the kids appearing and participating not only in the Los Angeles Area, but many major television markets like Chicago and New York City.

There were similar type shows to the one's I will mention in all the major television markets around the country, but this article is a look at the some of my favorites I watched in Los Angles.

Before there was "Sesame Street", or "Mr. Rodgers" found his neighborhood. Millions of young preschool children sat in front of their 13, 15, or 17 inch black and white television sets to watch "Ding Dong School". Hosted by "Miss Francis" who actually was Francis Horwich.

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"Miss Francis" prior to becoming the Nation's first televised preschool teacher earned her Masters Degree in Education at Columbia University and her Doctorate at Northwestern University. Each morning as the show began, starting November 24, 1952 locally in Chicago, "Miss Francis" rang her "Ding Dong" bell to start the 30 minute class and to end it.

In March 1953 "Ding Dong School" was picked up by NBC and went National. Although the originating live broadcast remained at WNBQ-TV in Chicago on Central Time. The East Coast picked up the show as broadcast, but as was the norm the stations in the Pacific Time Zones recorded the program for later showing.

"Miss Francis" always looked directly at the television camera to give her young viewers the feeling she was talking directly to them. Today that's a normal technique, but in 1952 Francis Horwich invented it.

As with live broadcasts at the time "Miss Francis" would just stop her preschool class instruction and do the commercial. In her case the sponsor was "General Mills". Here is a photo of her doing a spot for "KIX" cereal.

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I was six at the time, but when I could I enjoyed watching "Ding Dong School". The show ended it's run December 28, 1956.

To illustrate the power of this program during that time. " Charles Schultz mentioned "Miss Francis" by name in his "Peanuts" comic strip four times: June 8, 1954, August 30, 1955, March 19, 1956 and August 27, 1956.

Francis Rappaport Horwich passed away on July 22, 2001 at the age of 94, but she will always be remembered by her television students.


From 1953 through 1957 CBS ran a children's show that Bill Gates calls "The First Interactive Television Show" and it really was.

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The program was hosted by Jack Barry who would become a major game show host in the 1950's and 1960's. "Winky Dick" was a cartoon character and the interactive gimmick was way beyond its time.

Children, like myself, had to get our parents to order a "Winky Dink Kit". So we could actually be part of what Jack Barry and Winky Dink were doing on the television set with "The Magic Drawing Screen".

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The screen was nothing more than a piece of vinyl plastic that would stick to the television by static electricity. To draw on the screen the kit contained a box of crayons which after use could be cleaned off.

There were three main uses of "The Magic Drawing Screen" during the 15 minute program.

1. Winky Dink arrives at a problem in his story. We were asked to connect the dots to build something such as a cage to trap a lion.

2. There might be a secret coded message and we had to connect the dots to reveal what it was. Secret messages with "Decoder Rings" were popular on another show "Captain Midnight". Where we had to get our parents to buy Ovaltine, I hated it, so we (they) could send in 25 cents to get the ring.

3. The screen was used to complete a character that Jack Barry would talk too. Below he is speaking to the star of the show himself.

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This kit cost 50 cents in 1953. Sounds like small change, but today in 2016 it would be $4.43. Still not a lot, but inflation does count.

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Baby Boomers fondly remember "Andy's Gang" starring actor/comedian Andy Devine sponsored by "Buster Brown Shoes". Actor Jerry Maren, one of the original "Munchkin's", played "Buster Brown" and all the kids could recite his jingle. Which of course was the sponsor's point.

"I'm Buster Brown and I live in a shoe. This is my dog Tige and he lives here too."

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Actually the show started out on radio as "Smilim' Ed's Buster Brown Gang" and moved to television in 1950. The original star was Ed McConnell, but in 1954 he had a massive heart attack and passed away. Andy Devine took over and the title was changed to "Andy's Gang".

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Most of us Baby Boomers remember the show from the time Andy took over. I think this is for two reasons. One at the time we were around eight to nine years of age. Two Andy Devine had been playing "Jingles" the comedy side kick on the very popular "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" starring Guy Madison in the title role since 1951. Devine would continue as "Jingles" until "Wild Bill's" end in 1958 and hosted "Andy's Gang" until it's end on December 31, 1960.

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One of the characters was "Froggy the Gremlin".seen in both the pictures of Ed McConnell and Andy Devine above. "Froggy" caused all the troubles for the hosts and other characters. The only way to call him to appear was for the host to say: "Pluck Your Magic Twanger Froggie" and when we kids heard that, saw the puff of smoke he appeared in, we were ready for mischief. Today that line might have a double entendre meaning to some, but not to the kids who watched and laughed at "Froggy's" antics.


One of the main ingredients for 1950's Children's television was our imaginations. Something I think has been lost in the CGI Games and toys attempting to look real. It is progress, but does not require the imagination of say taking your mother's broom, turning it into a horse, and riding the range fighting outlaws with "Wild Bill Hickok and Jingles".

I bring this up, because two of the most popular programs during the 1950's had puppets. Puppets we kids believed were either real people, or animals and no I'm not senile, yet, making this comment..

"Kukla, Fran and Ollie" first appeared on television in Chicago on October 13, 1947 three days before my first birthday. The show was created by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom. Who was the only one bringing Kukla, Ollie and his other characters to life. Fran was Fran Allison a radio comedian and singer.

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Kukla was the leader of the "Kuklapolitan Players". Ollie was actually the distinguished actor Oliver J. Dragon. Other of Tillstrom's characters included Beluah Witch, retired Opera diva Madame Oglepuss, the troupe's mailman Fletcher Rabbit, Cecil Bill the troupe's "Union Member", open to digs on unionism at the time, stagehand, Colonel Crackie a southern gentleman and of course Ollie's younger cousin Dolores Dragon.

Fran never knew what was coming from the mouths of the "Kuklapolitan Players" as Burr Tillstrom ad-libbed every line and she just went with it. The result being some very funny moments with an occasional double meaning going over us children. "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" is considered the first children's show to pick up an adult audience.Among the more prominent adults who stated they watched the program regularly were Orson Wells, John Steinbeck and the eventual presidential candidate Adiai Stevenson.

When you think of the political climate in the United States just after World War 2 and at the start of the "Cold War". James Thurber described Burr Tillstrom as "helping to save the sanity of the nation and to improve, if not even to invent, the quality of television."

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"Kukla, Fran and Ollie" as I said started locally in Chicago and was then picked up by NBC to run from  1947 through 1954. ABC picked up the dropped NBC program and the show continued through 1957 giving the children's show a total ten year run.


The other puppet show I want to mention was "Time for Beany" created by Bob Clampett. The show started locally in Los Angeles in 1949 and went nationally on the Paramount Television Network using the "Kinescope Process" into 1955. |

Paramount Pictures had wanted to create their own television network and even attempted to take over the DuMont Network. One of the two stations they actually built was KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. 

I have written an article on "Kinescope", which is recording live television programs onto film to be sent to other locations, and early television programing.  The link to my article is:

Back in the 1930's Bob Clampett had worked for "Looney Tunes" and created Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Tweety among other characters. He also work work for Harman-Ising Productions an animation competitor of Warner Brothers started by an ex-Walt Disney animator.

On this program Beany was a young boy who, of course, wore a "Beanie" a popular cap with a propeller on top. He sailed the seas to adventure on the "Leakkin' Lena" the boat owned by his Uncle. His Uncle's name was Captain Horatio K. Huff'en'puff. The Captain's first name came from C.S. Forester's classic series of novels about the fictional British Naval Officer during the Napoleonic Wars Horatio Hornbower. His middle initial "K" stood for "Kermit.

Below Stan Freberg with Beany and his Uncle.

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The other character in the programs title was "Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent". Cecil claimed to be three hundred years old and 35 feet 3 inches tall. Cecil looked basically like a sock with two buttons on it for nostrils and some felt for fins.Which he was.

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The main villain of the show was "Dishonest John" or "D.J.".Here's a still of Bob Clampett with D.J.

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Another villain was "Dudley Nightshade" and comic relief, although a stereo typed Chinese character, was "Hopalong Wong" named for the popular cowboy "Hopalong Cassidy". There was also "Common Dragon" who was named for a popular music conductor of the time "Carmen Dragon".

All the voices of the characters were either provided by Daws Butler, or Stan Freberg. Butler would go into cartoon voices. Three of his best known were "Huckleberry Hound", "Quick Draw McGraw" and "Yogi Bear"

Stan Freberg was a comedian, actor and voice actor. His parody work of politicians was outstanding. During the McCarthy Era he was noted for actually poking fun at Senator Joe McCarthy and getting away with it.

Like "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" "Time for Beany" had a strong adult following. According to Stan Freberg in his book "It Only Hurts When I Laugh" Albert Einstein stopped a high level conference he was in to get up and watch the show, because "It was Time for Beany". Other fans of the show as kids were musicians Frank Zappa and Brian Williams. Harpo Marx loved the program as did I.

Clampett also created a puppet series in 1952  poking fun at the television series "The Adventures of Superman" which had started the same year. The cartoon show was "Thunderbolt the Wonder Colt". Where a mild mannered and very small full grown horse turns into a super hero.

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The segment was extremely popular and among other kids at the time I also had my badge as a member of "Thunderbolt's Honor Club".

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The show like Jay Ward's "Crusader Rabbit", see next segment, was made for children, but was subtlety aimed at their parents.

Bob Clampett passed away on May 2, 1984.

I want to now turn to those local Los Angeles shows that entertained me and others.


At Noon time starting on July 18, 1952 five year old Lloyd and other kids ate our lunch in front of the television screen with  "Sheriff John on "The Lunch Brigade". The show, or a version of it would run until July 10, 1970 on Channel ll KTTV.

John Rovick, "Sheriff John", would walk onto the set, which looked like a Sheriff's office, singing the song "Laugh and Be Happy" every weekday Monday through Friday.

Come on now, Laugh and be happy and the world will laugh with you When people see you smiling they can't help smiling too When you look out the window to a dark and gloomy day Break out a smile and in a while the gloom will go away So laugh and be happy with a merry melody A song will make a hat rack look like a Christmas tree Get rid of worry in a hurry, chase the blues away Just laugh and be happy all the live.... long..... day. H then had all the kids watching at home stand up and say the pledge of allegiance to the flag. This was followed by a "Safety Bulletin" which could be on bike safety, crossing the street, or some actual event happening in Los Angeles.

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One of the daily highlights of the show was singing "The Birthday Poka" aka" Put Another Candle on My Birthday Cake". Sheriff John would read as many as 100 names of children having a birthday that day. Remember this was live television and that list of names should give my reader the popularity of the program. Sheriff John would do this with a big birthday cake in his arms.

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Put another candle on my birthday cake We're gonna bake a birthday cake Put another candle on my birthday cake I'm another year old today I'm gonna have a party with my birthday cake Come on and take some birthday cake Put another candle on my birthday cake I'm another year old today We'll have some pie and sandwiches And chocolate ice cream too We'll sing and play the day away And one more thing I'm gonna do I'll blow out the candles on my birthday cake And when I do, a wish I'll make Put another candle on my birthday cake I'm another year old today

The show also had cartoons and this was the place were I saw "Crusader Rabbit". The short cartoon starred "Crusader" and his sidekick "Rags" aka: "Ragland Tiger".

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These black and white cartoons was known to poke fun at local events and cities. In one cartoon set in the old West. On the side of one of the covered wagons was written "Azuza", or bust. At the time the city of Azuza was located 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles and it was basically a two lane road leading to this farm community, but housing tracks were starting to appear. Another comment mentioned the "Hollywood Freeway" which was the first freeway in Los Angeles and seemed, at the time of its building, a flop. Look at L.A. today and Freeways are all over and in some cases multi-leveled, but at the time this was really funny.

Oh, when thinking of "Crusader Rabbit and Rags" think "Rocky the Flying Squirrel" and "Bullwinkle J. Moose" as the were the prototypes. The show was the work of a young Jay Ward.

John Rovick passed away on October 6, 2012.


Played by William "Bill" Stulla was "Engineer Bill" whose show "Cartoon Express" premiered on KHJ Channel 9 in 1954.

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Among other things the program got children to at least drink one glass of milk. In the above picture "Engineer Bill" is playing "Red Light, Green Light" with his television audience. You were required to get a class of milk like his and drink it, but only on the "Green Light". Because "No Engineer would ever run a Red Light", Should a viewer finish their glass of milk before the game concluded. You were called a "Gulper".

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One, or two children appeared on the show each day and there were of course trains. In fact the one at the table "Engineer Bill" sat at would bring his glass of milk on a flat car.

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As with all these programs the show had cartoons. When I became a Senior at Grant High School, in Van Nuys, California. Our class performed a "Senior Show". In one of the television themed skits I played "Engineer PILL" and had a pitcher, unplanned at least by me, of milk poured over my head. Happily it was a magic pitcher from my magic shows and it wasn't really completely filled with milk.

Read of liner notes on Frank Zappa's group "The Mothers of Invention" first album "Freak Out" and Bill Stulla's "Engineer Bill" is mentioned as inspiration. An indication of how much these Children's shows had impacted ourselves and the culture of the time.


Bill Stulla passed away on August 12, 2008.


"Skipper Frank" Harmon was a magician and ventriloquist. At 15 he was invited to perform his magic show for a birthday party for the mother of Eleanor Roosevelt. During the late 1950's he actually hosted two children's television programs on KTLA Channel 5. The most remembered is "Cartoon Carousel" from 1956 through 1963, but he also hosted "For Kids Only" running concurrently from 1957 through 1963.

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"Cartoon Carousel" had a live audience of children and their parents. As the title indicated there were cartoons, but Frank Herman also entertained us with his ventriloquist dummy Julius and his magic tricks. Like all live shows he also did his own commercials which were for Kellogg cereals and would you believe "Carrot Juice".

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"Skipper Frank" Harmon passesd away January 2, 2000.


Probably best remembered for KTLA's "Popeye and Friends" was Tom Hatten. The program started as "The Pier Point 5 Club" sponsored by Oscar Mayer Foods/ Playing "Little Oscar" and representing the company was once again Jerry Maren in the Los Angeles Area. Other actors played the role in different parts of the country.

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As the viewership for "The Pier 5 Club", which followed "Skipper Frank" Monday through Friday, grew. The station gave Tom Hatten a more elaborate studio with a larger audience area and renamed the show "Popeye and Friends".

Another change was the addition of more of the classic Max Fleischer studio cartoons. They included the first television showings of 1936's "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor" a cartoon running 16 minutes  and 1937's "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves" which runs 17 minutes. Unfortunately, these were filmed in Technicolor, but this were the days of Black and White television.

Tom Hatten was an artist and had the gimmick of picking one of the children in the audience to come up on stage with him. They were than told to make some kind of a "Squiggle" with a marker on the drawing pad at the easel. It might turned out to look like a "Z", an "S" or some other shape. The point was Tom Hatten would turn it into a drawing, or character.

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Another thing that occurred on "Popeye and Friends" was on your Birthday. Hatten have you come up for recognition and receive your choice of one of the sponsor's gifts. I had a ticket for the show on my birthday and I picked out a "Wham-O Tank". Wham-O the inventors of the Hula Hoop and a flying disc toy created their Sherman Tank for young boys to make believe they were fighting either World War 2, or the Korean War. In reality it was nothing more than a cardboard box with a picture of a Sherman Tank on both sides and you got in and crawled around, but at the time it was very popular. A sign of a different age compared with today's toys. That imagination thing kicking in once more.

As of this writing Tom Hatten is still with us and guest appears from time to time at KTLA.


On September 5, 1952 KCOP Channel 13 premiered "The Webster Webfoot Show" starring "Uncle Jimmy" Weldon and his ventriloquist dummy a duck named "Webster Webfoot".

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The show had a large audience and several children were seated on a bleacher to interact with Webster.  Webster always said "He was three, but he was tough".

In 1956 the two left KCOP and Los Angeles for Fresno to appear on KFRE-TV and than Webster and "Uncle Jimmy" left for New York and the NBC flagship station WRCA-TV to replace Shari Lewis and her puppet "Lamb Chop".

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The two returned in 1959 to KCOP and I was able to get tickets for me and two of my neighbors to be on the show. I was a little old at the time for the group on stage at 12. However, I also brought my own homemade version of "Webster" and the two of them interacted after the show ended it live performance that day.

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If you want to know how Webster Webfoot sounded. Just see any Hanna-Barbera cartoon with "Yakky Doodle" the little duck in it.

At the time of this writing "Uncle Jimmy" is still with us and Webster still says he's only three, but he's tough. Shari Lewis passed away on August 2, 1998.

So this was my look at some of my favorite Children's television programming in the Los Angeles area while I was growing up. I hope fellow :Baby Boomers" had some fond memories.

There were other shows attracting young children on television. A group of them going back to 1947 were science fiction with "Captain Video", "Space Patrol" and "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger" among others. Experience those early programs "Boldly Going Before Kirk and Spock" at this link:

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