a candid conversation with
SANDBURG: I went out to Hollywood, hoping to work for
Disney. I had a good friend who was vice-president out there.
The night I got there, furniture on it's way, all my ties
cut with Chicago and WGN, I found out I didn't have the
job! Canvassing the market I quickly discovered that
everything I had done in the past had no meaning to anyone. So I
was kind of out in left field. I talked to Fred Silverman and told
Fred I can't get a job in this town! He says Well let me work
on it. He was daytime program director at CBS. Next
thing I know I'm getting calls from everybody because Fred's a very
powerful man. He innovated Saturday morning children's
television and he and I were very good friends.
There was a time when he invited me to New York about a year or so before I left Chicago. He wanted to start a circus show and do it in Philadelphia where it was cheaper. He wanted me to produce it. I got there. He put me up at the Plaza. Flew me in first class. And we were working late into the night over it. That night Fred says there's another meeting going on up on the 30th floor at CBS. Well the next morning it made the papers. His boss, Jim Aubrey, was fired. So that meant all plans for any new shows went out the window at that given moment.
So here I am out in California and after Fred gets on the phone, Joe Barbera calls me to ask me to come in. One thing led to the next and in half an hour I find I'm going to produce The Banana Splits second season. It's nice to have experience but it's nicer to have good friends who can help. And that's what Hollywood is all about. I spent some time there in various kinds of jobs and almost 90% of them came from people I knew. I think I got one job through a resume. It was as a staff writer for the syndicated children's show New Zoo Revue. While I was out there I worked for KNBC, KCOP, CBS, RKO, and Warner Bros. I also worked for Paramount.
THE VIDEO VETERAN: What did you do at Paramount?
DS: I did Star Trek in animation. I worked on the development of the series. I was supposed to produce the series and then Gene Roddenberry got back into it and wanted to take over. Well obviously he pulled more weight than I did.
I was in and out of the business and eventually I got a little tired of it. So I went to work, again through a friend, as director of shows and new development for Marineland Of The Pacific, which was the biggest oceanarium in the world then. I didn't know the front end of a dolphin from the back. But I revamped their shows and added some new Park programs. Some of my most fond memories were at Marineland.
After being in Hollywood for nine years, Sandburg packed it up and moved to St. Croix, The Virgin Islands, were he worked as Managing Director for Island Center Theater for the Performing Arts from early 1978 to the end of 1980. There he created Twilite Theater..
DS: [It] was about a two-thousand seat theater. We did it all from ballet to boxing. But there wasn't much for kids. So I started this thing called Twilite Theater and I revived Sandy with a voice.
VV: So what does Sandy sound like?
DS: I can't really describe Sandy's voice...You might say it was a combination between Bob Bell's Bozo and Roy Brown's Cooky. High pitched and loud. I also had a twin sister, Samantha, my secretary who was also an actress. So she dressed up like me, same make-up but with an old fashioned hoop skirt on. We did a bunch of the old bits and I brought in all my old acts from the Bozo days. Circus acts, trampolines, magic, trapeze. I had Marshall down there three times. As Marshall, not as Whizzo. His old act in tuxedo. Sandy was back on for about three years.
Today, Don and his wife Gabriella, enjoy retired life on a modest plot of land in beautiful Oregon, where Don can retreat at anytime to his "workshop" which includes his model train layout. It's hard to say how Bozo's Circus would have been shaped had Don not been at WGN. And what if the powers that were had taken Don up on his idea of totally revamping the show? Would we be watching an anniversary show honoring forty years of Ozob? And how would Captain Kirk react when he met up with Whizzo? Surely these are questions for scholars to ponder. I'm just glad I got to grow up during the best years of Chicago children's television and fortunate enough to meet and converse with the man who had a large part in making those years what they were. Thanks Don.
A candid conversation with Don Sandburg
copyright 2001 Steve Jajkowski. All rights reserved.
A very special thank you to Don Sandburg for opening up his personal photo collection to me. All the pictures appearing in Sandy Speaks! are the property of Don Sandburg and are used with his permission.