There is no questioning the impact of Chicago television's memorable children's programming. Bring it up and no doubt the names Bozo, B.J., Sandy, Garfield Goose, and Mary Hartline will pop into the conversation. But Chicago was the home to many lesser known shows that for various reasons have not stood the test of time. Like sports programming in the early days, children's shows filled a major portion of the broadcast day.
Meadow Gold Ranch premiered on WBKB- channel 4 in 1951. Hosted by western star Bob Atcher. Atcher would chat with puppets worked by Don Williams including one called Sammy the Squirrel.
The show was so titled because Meadow Gold Milk was its sponsor. Atcher later became mayor of Schaumburg.
P.J. and Patte starring beloved weatherman and cartoonist P.J. Hoff and Patte Preble premiered on WBBM-TV- channel 2 in 1955 As Preble narrated a story, P.J. would illustrate the events for the viewers. Not unusual were viewers who drew their own interpretations of the story.
Susan's Show, starring eleven year old Susan Heinkel came to Chicago television and channel 2 as Susie's Show in 1955. Heinkel, a St. Louis Missouri native already had one series under her belt by the time she came to the windy city called Suzy's Playroom. Staff announcer John Coughlin, later weatherman at channel 2 was the voice of Mr. Pegasus, a talking table. Critics of the program argued that the choice of cartoons slowed the show down. Responding to the criticisms, WBBM-TV purchased a package of newly released Popeye theatrical cartoons that became so popular that CBS, the station's owner, decided to put the show on the network. The new network version was re-titled Susan's Show.
Popeye's Firehouse featured the multi-talented Ray Rayner. Rayner, whom WBBM-TV executives hoped would make a dent in the ratings of WNBQ- channel 5's Garroway At Large had anchored the station's early attempts on a program called Rayner Shine. Originally partnered with Mina Kolb, the two blended well hosting and performing in a teenage dance show. On Popeye's Firehouse, Rayner appeared as "Chief Abernathy".
The voices of John Coughlan was heard too!
The U.S.S. Popeye was yet another series to feature the popular Popeye cartoon package. In this series, John Coughlin took on the role of "Bo' sun Bob". This show also aired on channel 2.
Breakfast House had the unique claim of airing a series of five minute productions featuring Burr Tillstrom's Kukla and Ollie characters. Resplendent in white hair and mustache, the WBBM-TV- channel 2 series was hosted by John Coughlin in the role of "Buffalo Nichols." In addition to his on screen duties, he would sometimes double as puppeteer manipulating a bizarre looking character by the name of "Twistoffer."
Lunchtime Little Theatre was one of the first series to be slotted in what would later become the most coveted of all children's series timeslots- noon. Hosted by the talented Ted Ziegler as "Uncle Bucky," Dardanelle Hadley as "Aunt Dody," and for a short time, Jeanne McKenna as "Aunt Jeanne." McKenna would soon be replaced by the jovial Ned Locke (who had previously appeared as "Capt. Hartz" on WNBQ- channel 5's Captain Hartz & His Pets) who wore the hat of "Uncle Ned." Ted Ziegler left over a contract dispute in 1959 as was replaced in the last season of the run by Bob Baron as "Uncle Bob." This WGN-TV series stayed on the air until about 1960.
Funny Paper Theater featured announcer Art Linick reading comics to an studio audience of children. The WGN-TV produced series first aired in January of 1952.
Breakfast With Bugs Bunny, was an early morning weekday show that first starred Dick Coughlan and was produced by Don Sandburg. When Coughlan left, Ray Rayner, recently arrived from WBBM-TV and handling afternoons as "Oliver O. Oliver" on Bozo's Circus and "Sgt. Henry Pettibone" in the "Crime Stopper Cruiser" on The Dick Tracy Show took over making Rayner one of the busiest and highest paid talent at channel 9. It became Ray Rayner & Friends in 1964.
Quiet Riot featured future WLS-TV reporter Buddy Black. The channel 9 series' claim to fame (and a trivia stumper) is the fact that it was on this program that "Romberg Rabbit" (later to be a regular on Garfield Goose & Friends) made his first appearance. If you ever wondered why Frazier Thomas always referred to Rom as a former magician's assistant, now you know why.
Paddleboat also starred Locke as "Skipper Ned" and is widely considered to be the template for WGN-TV's landmark Bozo's Circus.
Roy Brown worked the puppets and was heard off camera as Stokes, the boiler man.
Treetop House could be best described as a Romper Room clone. The pre-schooler WGN-TV series starred Anita Klever.
Treetop House also holds the distinction of being the first Chicago children's show to have a African-American host- Tasha Johnson. The series ran until 1970.
Mary Hartline's Party was a local effort by WENR-TV- channel 7. Hartline starred in the series at the same time as her more popular Super Circus aired across the country over the ABC-TV network. Accompanied by jazz pianist Chet Noble (also seen on WNBQ- channel 5's Stud's Place), Mary would recite fairy tales to a mesmerized studio audience.
Paddy The Pelican premiered in early 1950 on WENR-TV- channel 7, up front in a long line of puppet shows to air here in Chicago. Created by cartoonist Sam Singer, the series briefly enjoyed a run on ABC-TV.
Lois And Looie was another WENR-TV program to premiere in 1950. Host Lois Fisher narrated children's stories while illustrating them on a sketch pad for the viewers.
The Jolly 7 Gang hit the airwaves in 1954 on WBKB-channel 7 hosted by Joe Kelly (who had previously worked with the pint-sized set on radio's Quiz Kids.
Princess Mary's Magic Castle brought Mary Hartline back to the black and white screens of Chicago viewers. The WBKB- channel 7 series surrounded Hartline with yet another stable of puppet characters including "Windy Widget" and magician "Sir Dono."
Cactus Jim premiered in 1949 on NBC's new WNBQ- channel 5. "Cactus Jim" was Clarence Hartzell, a radio actor "from way back." Hartzell left in 1951 and the role was taken over by Bill Bailey, who stayed for the rest of the run.
copyright 2002 Steve Jajkowski all rights reserved