by Kevin S. Butler
On March 30, 1961 Sandy Becker began to host another weekday evening program 'The Sandy Becker Show' (later on known as 'Sandy's Hour').
Unlike his previous kiddie TV series', Sandy began to add comedy skits to the format where he played different characterizations spoofing some well known TV genres - 'The Big Professor' parodied electronic educators, 'Dr. Gesundheit made fun of television advice experts, 'The Ranger and Arthur Arrowroot' spoofed TV westerns, while 'Gnat Man & NitBoy' and 'Super Norculese' poking gentle fun at superheroes.
The setting changed from a simple desk with a drawing board, shelves full of toys and other sponsor products along with a bird house that looked like a cuckoo clock for Herman and Coo Coo -into a living room set of a private house.
Sandy's most popular characters were Hambone (his take off on TV djs) and a character known as 'Norton Nork.'
Becker's purpose in using his little boy character was to help his young viewers learn develop cognitive skills in a way that kids could understand. Norton would have difficulty in learn how to do simple tasks like sewing on a button, painting a room, baking a pizza, or learning how to dance 'The Twist.' This was done in a semi-educational form of pantomime with Sandy doing a voice over as Norton's father correcting his error and before long the kid would succeed in performing his tasks.
Norton would even get a chance to become anything that he wanted to be, a traffic copra waiter, a dentist even an astronaut. At the end of the these semi-educational pantomime sketches the voice of Norton's father would say to him, “That's my boy… Norton Nork. You've done it again!”
Often, the skits would have a surreal sight ending like when Norton successfully completed his beat as a traffic cop he heard the voice of Mr. Magoo he looked down and he saw a toy version of Mr. Magoo's car driving crazily in circles.
The show also acquired The Paramount/Famous cartoon library and reran 'Herman & Katnip,' 'Baby Huey,' 'Casper' and other popular films from the 1940's and 1950's. 'The Sandy Becker Show' was also the first NYC based kids TV show to screen 'Deputy Dawg' cartoons and 'King Leonardo' cartoons.
He also presented important messages to his young viewers like - don't accept rides from strangers, important water safety tips, and other informational segments.
Sandy also created a memorable stock company of puppet performers who added to the show's engaging background. Along with 'Jaques La Rat', 'Marvin Mouse,' 'Wow Wee The Indian Chief,' and Google.' The most popular characters were 'Sir Clyde Clive,' 'Stanley Q. Stinker' (who later reappeared as 'Henry Headline') and a grumpy but lovable old man named 'Gebba Gebba.'
(Editor's note: for a time most of these puppets characters appeared in 'The Rickey Tickey Weather Station' segment of Sandy's weekday morning program where the puppet elf 'Jingle Dingle' would give the latest weather reports in song to the young viewers and would become involved in the antics of 'Marvin Mouse,' 'Stanley Q' and the other residents of the weather station)
The character of Hambone became so popular that Sandy had him perform on a kids' rock and roll record for the OKeh Label. He even merchandised a cartooning kit for his young fans. When The FCC commissioner Newton Minow requested that children's tv shows present some informational segments on their programs.
A clip from 'Sandy Becker Presents The Our Gang Comedies', he even mentions that the film coming up next was the forgettable 'Our Gang' shorts that were produced and released by MGM from the latter part of 1938 to 1944:
Sandy had his puppets presenting light news stories that be informative but also entertaining. He also hosted tv specials for his viewers on Tuesday, December 25,1956 he co-hosted the first 'Wonderama Christmas Cartoon Party' with Herb Sheldon and 'Captain Video' (Al Hodge) on WABD TV Ch,5. The program had the three kids' emcees entertain their young viewers in-between the reruns of the 'Little Lulu,' 'Superman' and 'Looney Tunes' cartoons and they call up lucky kids at home who would try to answer questions..in order to win a collection of toys that were under the Christmas tree on the set.
Sandy would also co-host the third and last 'Wonderama Christmas Cartoon Party with Sonny Fox and Uncle Fred Scott on Friday December 25, 1959 on WNEW TV Ch.5. He also co hosted a Thanksgiving Day kids' special with fellow kiddie performer Chuck McCann 'The Sandy Becker/Chuck McCann Thanksgiving Day Kids TV Special airing on WNEW TV Ch.5 in NYC on Thursday, November 25,1965. Sandy and Chuck would perform character comedy and puppet skits between the reruns of old movie cartoons.
Sandy's most memorable kids' TV special was 'A Christmas Carol' based upon the classic Yuletide ghost story created by Sir Charles Dickens. He had his puppets Gebba Gebba, Sir Clyde Clive, Marvin Mouse, Stanley Q.Stinker, Wow Wee, and Edie Mouse show miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Mr. Gebba) that you have to care more about your fellow man and not the almighty buck. This unique holiday puppet story aired on Saturday evening, December 22, 1961 and it maintained Sir Charles important message and added a brilliant amount of wit to the show.
Famous performers made guest appearances on the show. Soupy Sales (who was reviving his popular kids comedy show on Ch.5 in the fall of 1964), Chuck McCann (who along with his head puppeteer and comedy assistant Paul Ashley had hosted 'Uncle Paul's Lunchtime' on WABD TV Ch.5 in the summer of 1956 returned to WNEW TV Ch.5 in the fall of 1965 to star in 'The Chuck McCann Show'), performers from 'Ice Capades' and even a young Linda Blair visited Becker's living room set and even the backdrop of Sandy Street.'
Animals were also featured on the early version of the program. Regulars visitors to the series were Sandy's dogs: Schatzi, Bee Wee, Tanko, Peanuts the Squirrel, Herman and Coo Coo the budgies,
There were also visits from 'Uncle Mike' Grimaldi who had his menagerie of four-legged friends from his children's zoo in Long Island, New York. By the mid 1960's, Sandy format would change again. The backdrop of his living room set would be replaced by the setting of a small village street, the setting would be used to present a serial like concept where Sandy and his young assistant Tim Moriarty, Jr. would try to suppress the antics of the puppets and foil the evil deeds of the town's resident villain Sinister Simon.
Young Mr. Moriarity would also play numerous characters in skits with Becker - Clyde Calamity Clem, Sinister Sidney, Gnat Boy, Hambone, Jr. and the King's Jester.
Sandy also conducted a contest called “Catch Max”, first seen on his program back in the early 1960s where Sandy, decked out in a robber's costume and mask, would appear in a pre-recorded, superimposed during the screening of a cartoon. Viewers would send in post cards with their names, addresses and phone numbers. Sandy picked names out of a barrel then called them at home - if they were able to tell him when Max was on they could win a treasure chest full of toys.
(Editor's note: This writer sent in his own postcard and tried to “Catch Max”… but I didn't have the right time that the 'crook' was on so I lost out on the treasure chest but did get a case of 7Up soda.)
On the mid-1960's version of the show, Sandy had Mr. Moriarty decked out like Max snd he would be hiding behind either Door #1 and Door #2. Children at home would mail in their entries on postcards and they had to guess which door Max was hiding behind in order to catch him.
Sandy also found the time to do voiceovers for cartoon series 'King Leonardo & His Short Subjects,' 'Tennessee Tuxedo & His Tales,' 'Underdog,' 'Go Go Gophers” and The Beagles' for Leonardo/Total TV and 'Captain America' from ARP Films.
He did personal appearances at numerous functions. Sandy's most famous PA's were Freedomland USA in Tthe Bronx and at The Fun Rally (a big stage show that he did with fellow NYC hosts/performers and with Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) and with Paul Tripp (who was mc'ing his last educational kids' program 'Birthday House' on WNBC TV Ch.4). The Fun Rally was held at NYC's Madison Square Garden at W.50th Street and 8th Ave during the spring of 1965 to raise funds for emotionally disabled children).
The mid-1960's version of the show also added new cartoons Roger Ramjet,' 'Batfink' (parodies of tTV superheroes. Roger Ramjet's voice was performed by Gary Owens and Batfink's by the former host/performer and educator of Jules Power's and Danny Wilson's ABC TV kids' news magazine and travelogue 'Discovery' Frank Buxton), 'The New Three Stooges' which featured the voices of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and “Curly Joe” De Rita and 'Mighty Mouse.'
The series remained on Ch.5's weekday afternoon schedule Friday, February 16,1968 when Sandy's show was moved back to a weekday morning time slot. 'The Sandy Becker Show' remained on the air until Metromedia TV closed down Sandy's Street for good following the Friday July 7,1968 broadcast.
Sandy's television appearances became few and far between. He did commercials for Tropicana Orange juice and for Olds Cutlass Supreme cars.
In 1984, he made his last TV appearances, reunited with his fellow Ch.5 kiddie hosts 'Uncle Fred' Scott and Soupy Sales on WNEW TV's Sunday night talk show 'Off The Set.' That program's guest interviewer Stewart Klein (host of 'The Ten O'Clock News' and resident entertainment critic) talked with Sandy, 'Uncle Fred,' and Soupy about their careers as NYC's most popular kids TV performers. The occasion was to promote The Museum Of Broadcasting's tribute to Dumount and Metromedia TV'a 40th anniversary. (The museum was later on known as The Museum of TV & Radio, now known as The Paley Center For Media.)
Becker also appeared on WNEW's two hour long tribute '40 Years Of Fine Tuning' which aired on Monday Night ,September 7, 1984. Three years later he was a guest on Soupy Sales and Alan Colmes' talk shows on WNBC NYC radio. He was hoping to create a new television series with his young protege Craig Marin but the program never came to fruition.
Sandy, along with Chuck McCann, 'Capt.Jack' McCarthy, Sonny Fox, Soupy Sales and Bob Keeshan “(Captain Kangaroo) were also interviewed for an article For New York's 'Newsday'.
Sandy Becker passed away on Tuesday, April 9, 1996 but his contributions to NYC local TV, puppetry, and cartoon and commercial voiceovers will never be forgotten.
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