Wednesday, April 09, 2008
My friend Howard emailed me a few days ago to say that Jean Daugherty had died. If you've never lived in or around Syracuse, that news is unlikely to mean much to you. But I know what it means: the Play Lady is dead.
For 27 years starting in 1955, there was a local children's show in Syracuse, produced and directed by Jean Daugherty. Until the very end of the run it was called The Magic Toy Shop. Until it morphed into The Toy Shop Corporation or somesuch, it always began like this, give or take a word or two:
Announcer: This is the door to the Magic Toy Shop. But to open it, you need a key.
Merilee: Mr. Announcer Man, Mr. Announcer Man! I'm Merilee, and I know the magic key. Listen closely, boys and girls, and I'll tell you what it is. A smile is the magic key, to the magic door, to the wonderful Magic Toy Shop. All you do is put your thimbs at the corners of your mouth, like this, and then you turn them up, into a smile, you see? Now you try it. There! A smile is the magic key, to the magic door, to the wonderful Magic Toy Shop. Keep smiling...keep smiling...!
The hosts were Merilee, who spoke in a somewhat Shirley Templesque voice and wore clothes out of the juniors department of a local department store, and Eddie Flum Num, who wore Little Lord Fauntleroy/French painter clothing, including a floppy beret. Both of them sang, but primarily Merilee as I recall. The other two major characters were Twinkle, a clown who played the Magic Piano; and Mr. Trolley, basically a man standing behind a wall so that only his head, encased in a trolley mask, was showing. When Twinkle was on vacation, the Magic Piano (an upright) played itself, with unseen help from my high school music theory and music composition teacher, Leighton Tiffault, better known as Mr. T. And of course the Play Lady, played by Daugherty, would often stop by. On the photo above she's dressed more or less as Little Bo Peep, but in my memory, she wore a house dress with big pockets. The show had songs, stories, and film clips and cartoons, played by Eddie Flum Num on the Magic Projector. It was all extremely innocuous, and more than a little boring once I got to elementary school age.
And that's pretty much all I remember about the show itself, except that it was on WHEN (originally Channel 8, and then Channel 5 when the ABC station WNYS entered the market as Channel 9) right after Captain Kangaroo. But once, when I attended some sort of carnival in Fayetteville, NY, I saw Eddie, and asked where Merilee was. Merilee, who was sitting right there, laughed, well, merrily. "I guess you didn't recognize me with dark glasses on," she said. No, I hadn't!
Apparently Mr. Trolley was played by college professor Dr. Lewis B. "Doc" O'Donnell, who died last August. But that means he and the Play Lady lived long enough to be part of a Magic Toy Shop reunion show in 2003. I was thousands of miles away at the time, of course, but otherwise I would have stopped by. After all, I have the key!
See also Weekend Assignment #242: Local TV Host