Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekend Assignment #242: Local TV Host

I tried to write up a Weekend Assignment topic that was a lighthearted take on $700 billion bailout and the 210 page "Plum Book" of government jobs, asking you to write up why you deserve a government job or a chunk of the bailout cash. But you know what? The topic doesn't really lend itself to lightheartedness. So let's skip that and try something else:

Weekend Assignment #242: Local television used to feature lots of kids' shows and late night movies, often featuring a colorful local host. Share a memory of local tv of yesteryear.

Extra Credit:You've been asked to produce a local tv show. Commercial considerations aside, what kind of show would it be?

Magic Toy ShopNot sure who the guys on the ends are.

I've written before about the 1955-1982 tv series Magic Toy Shop on WHEN-TV in Syracuse. It starred Marylin Hubbard Herr as Merrily, Socrates Sampson(!) as Eddie Flum Num, Tony Riposo as Twinkle (who played the Magic Piano in lieu of talking) and Jean Daugherty (the show's writer-producer) as the Play Lady. Oh and college professor Dr. Lewis B. "Doc" O'Donnell played Mr. Trolley, with a trolley-shaped full mask on his head and the rest of his body not showing. The show was on at 9 AM, right after Captain Kangaroo. I used to watch it in my preschool years, and intermittently thereafter when I didn't have school. To be honest, I found the show kind of tame and boring, especially once I started school. But it had a great, memorable opening, about a smile being the magic key to the magic door to the wonderful Magic Toy Shop.

There were lots of other local shows in Syracuse back then. One weekday afternoon kids' show was hosted by Denny Sullivan, and called either The Popeye Funhouse or Denny Sullivan and His Gang, depending on which source you believe, and possibly what year it was. Sullivan wore a striped suit and straw boater hat, described on one web site as "a carnival barker's outfit." That's probably about right. The show was mostly Popeye cartoons, but I think Betty Boop was also in the mix. It was on WSYR, Channel 3.

Popeye also got weekend exposure on Channel 3, with Salty Sam (Bill Everett) hosting Saturday Popeye Theater. He later hosted Saturday Showboat and Salty Sam's Super Saturday before leaving the station in 1980. Everett's real name was Willard Everett Lape Jr. He died in 2004.

Another weekday afternoon cartoon show was Jet Set, circa 1965. It featured Colonel Skip and his fellow astronaut on the Gemini Five spacecraft, broadcasting cartoons from space. Naturally the show was on Channel Five. The only cartoon I specifically remember being on it was Roger Ramjet, which I hated. It must have had better stuff as well, though, because I watched the show faithfully during its brief run.

The coolest of the Syracuse kids' shows, although it only lasted about four years, was WNYS Channel 9's Baron Daemon and his Bloody Buddies, starring weatherman Mike Price as the Baron, a humorous vampire character. (I've also seen the name spelled DeMoan, but that's incorrect. It was, however, pronounced Day-MOAN.) He even made a novelty record, the Transylvania Twist. I was totally jealous when my friend Joel got to be in the Baron's peanut gallery for his birthday. The show was wiped out in 1967 by a fire at Channel 9's studios at Shoppingtown in DeWitt, which destroyed the sets and costumes. The character had started out hosting late night movies, according to what I read online, but I don't remember that.

I do remember the weekend show Monster Movie Matinee, starring Bill Everett as Epal, his real surname spelled backwards. He was the Igor-like assistant to Dr. E. Nick Witty, played by Alan Milair. All we ever saw of Witty was his dessicated hand with long fingernails, although we heard his voice. I remember being excited one time when Epal conducted viewers on a video tour of the Monster Mansion.

There were also adult shows. Ladies' Day and Phil Markert were two of them. My main memory of the former was a tip about cutting up a whole chicken (.29 a pound) to avoid spending .69 a pound on "whole chicken - cut up." Markert I remember as a piano player and disk jockey. He was fairly amusing.

Do I have a favorite among all those offerings? I suspect it depends on how old I was at the time. But I think that overall I have to go with Baron Daemon. And wonder of wonders, there's even Baron Daemon merchandise available from Cafe Press!

Oh, and on the extra credit: I'd do a late night science fiction movie show, with a good dollop of horror and genre comedy.

Update, December 8, 2008: Since a number of people have apparently been looking up various Magic Toy Shop characters on my blog, here are a few additional tidbits of info I turned up tonight, mostly as obituaries:

  • Leighton "Sox" Tiffault, known at Fayetteville-Manlius High School when I was there as "Mr. T." or just plain "T" (note this was before Rocky) apparently died in June 2002. He taught music theory and composition at F-M, and was director of the super-select choreographed music group Swing Sixteen, which I once auditioned for though I hadn't a prayer of getting in. One of the songs we sang in a less select high school choir was Busy City by T., and I think he also wrote a spoken word piece we did, Geographic Fugue. His most controversial work was a Mass; people couldn't handle the troping concept, or T's satirical song Let's Go to Confession. Earlier in his career he played piano in the house band of the local tv show The Jim DeLine Gang, which predated Denny Sullivan and the Gang. Tiffault performed unseen as the Magic Piano on Magic Toy Shop, whenever the piano-playing Twinkle the Clown went on vacation. Bye, Mr. T., and thanks for everything!
  • Speaking of Denny Sullivan, I've run across an abstract of his obituary, too. He died September 17, 200, age 83. His Popeye-based local show ran from 1962 thru 1971. He was a World War II vet, serving US Army in the Phillipines and Hawaii.

Your turn! Tell us your memories of local tv. If you didn't have kiddie show hosts or late night movies, was there a memorable news or magazine show? Tell us about it! Write it up in your blog along with a link back here, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below. I'll be back in a week with a roundup of your responses. Speaking of which:

For Weekend Assignment #241: Talk of the Town, I asked you to tell me what you've been overhearing (or just plain hearing) as you go about your day. Not many people admitted to listening in on the conversations of others, but here's what you did say:

Julie said in comments...

Wow, I've not been out much lately. A cold will do that. So no eavesdropping tales for me this week. Unless I manage to think of something in the next few days.

Scobberlotcher said...

Absolutely true comments made to me at a recent party after the host introduced me as a writer.

Guest: Oh, what’s your book about?
Me: Janeology is a family tragedy story. A husband is shocked to learn his gentle wife has committed murder and begins looking for clues about impulsive violence in her family tree.
Guest: Ooooooh. Maybe the next one will be more hopeful.
[Goes in search of dip. Doesn't make eye contact the rest of the night.]

[That's just the beginning!-K.]

Florinda said...

My favorite place to overhear things is probably the hair salon. Most of the stylists there are women in their twenties, and they seem to have very active social lives - which they are happy to talk about at length, and at full volume. (I swear that was not intended to be a hair pun!) My own stylist is a fairly quiet one, but her co-workers frequently entertain me while I'm getting my color and cut.

Mike said...

I overhear most things at work. As with most jobs, we are in cubes. Ours are very close together and the walls are low. This allows us to talk to each other when we need to, which at my job is often, but it also allows us to hear many things. Sometimes I think people forget about that.

That's it for now! I hope you'll take the time to participlate this week, because I'm genuinely interested in the half-forgotten legacy of all those old local tv shows. Write about it in your blog or journal, and include a link back here. Then leave a link to your entry in the comments below. Please don't forget your links! I'll be back in a week to highlight the results.

Also, I'm running a little low on ideas here, so it's time to ask for some input. What would you like to see as a Weekend Assignment topic? Email me your suggestions (mavarin at If I use your topic you'll get full credit and my undying thanks.



barrettmanor said...

Oh, wow. This one made me dredge up a few memories:

Florinda said...

Here's mine. I went back to a couple of different locales for this one.

Mike said...

IT's fun to go back to this kind of stuff. Here's mine.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget - Mr. Trolley says "The Rochester Sample Shoe Store is at 625 South Geddes Street...625 South Geddes Street"

Anonymous said...

"Denny Sullivan and the Gang" was a noon time "variety show". It had a band--an accordian and drummer. Denny Sullivan also hosted the Monday Night Movie.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Thanks for the info! I'm trying to decide if I remember that Denny Sullivan variety show at all. I suspect it was before my time.

Anonymous said...

How about all of the crew members of the show who had names such as "Gene the Green Jeep" and "Parkyer Carcass?"