"Larry Smith had a kids' after-school cartoon and puppet romp that aired on WXIX (Channel 19) in the late sixties through early seventies, I believe just dubbed "The Larry Smith Show." It revolved around sketches with the characters shown in these pictures, interspersed with cartoons.
"Hattie The Witch was the green witch puppet and she was the antagonist in most puppet sketches but usually lost, in the end, to either Snarfie or the good witch puppet (whose name escapes me at the moment). I believe Smith himself also appeared occasionally. The white dog was "Snarfie."
"There was no 'peanut gallery' or direct audience participation, but there were many call-in and mail-in contests, usually drawing contests, one of which I entered and had whatever I had drawn displayed on the "wall of fame" the show used for such contests. I got a postcard personally signed by Larry Smith (and Hattie The Witch and Snarfie, if I remember correctly) for entering. It's here somewhere, I just don't know where (that was nearly thirty years ago now, ouch!).
"The other character names I can't remember at the moment, though I swear I remember a 'flying' iguana named Alfedo who was not a puppet at all (and is not in either of the promo pictures you have), but a rubber lizard who hovered over the set on a string. His theme song was the old novelty tune, "Salt Peanuts," with "Alfedo" dubbed over the 'salt peanuts! salt peanuts!' line in the chorus.
"Many pop novelty songs from the forties and fifties were used on the show, I remember "The Box," "My Friend The Witch Doctor," "Loving You Has Made Me Bananas," "Purple People Eater," "R-A-T-T F-I-N-K," there must have been others. I was still fairly young when the show was on the air, so my memories of it aren't as good as someone's would be who was a year or two older when it was on. I hope you'll get some responses from someone who remembers Larry Smith better than I -- he must have really studied Ernie Kovacs, because some of the sketches were truly absurd and inspired, I do remember that much."
- Melinda Nowikowski
by Hal Erickson
Cincinnati had three TV stations in operation as early as 1950, and for a while was a major source of network programming (especially for DuMont and ABC), so you can imagine that the city was pretty active in the field of live local programming - especially children's shows.
The earliest one I can remember (and the only one that I was actually on, as a member of the studio audience) was UNCLE AL, which was on WCPO from 1953 through 1989.
The star was Al Lewis (not the same actor who played "Grandpa Munster"), a cartoonist and accordion player who'd originally been hired as the station's art director and host for a mid-afternoon "ladies'" program.
At the height of his popularity, Uncle Al was seen Monday through Friday, 90 minutes each morning. The Saturday-morning version of his show appeared on the ABC network from October 18 1958 through September 19 1959 (it was replaced by LUNCH WITH SOUPY SALES)
Uncle Al wore a striped jacket and a straw hat, and was seldom seen without his accordion. His base of operations was a "fairyland" style clubhouse, with dancing scarecrows and talking trees.
His cohorts included Captain Windy (aka Al's wife Wanda Lewis), who, by way of a filmclip, was shown "coming in for a landing" on every show (Lewis was an aviation enthusiast, and flew his own private plane).
Also appearing were Janet Green as Cinderella, and Bob Shreve as Roger the Robot. Mike Tangi, the show's producer-director, provided the voices for the various puppet characters, including Humpty Dumpty.
Lewis' catchphrase (used to introduce commercials and cartoons, induce kids to eat their vegetables etc.) was "Alakazaam one! Alakazaam two! Alakazaam three! And poof!" He ended each episode with a prayer, which as I recall went something like "Thank you for the food we eat/thank you for the flowers so sweet/Thank you for the birds that sing/Thank you, God, for everything."
I don't remember the title of his theme song (which sounded a bit like "Irish Washerwoman"), but for a few years his second theme music was "Following the Leader" from Disney's PETER PAN.
WCPO-TV also had a fellow named Bud Chase, aka "Stringbean" or "The Bean."
From 1955 through 1959, THE BEAN'S CLUBHOUSE was a weekday-afternoon staple.
It started out as a wraparound for the silent "Our Gang" comedies, with Chase (or "The Bean") dressed in ragged clothes and wearing dirt smudges on his face (he later dropped the smudges when parents complained). I guess he was a pianist, since he closed each show with a piano rendition of "That Old Gang of Mine". As the show progressed, The Bean began aiming his humor at adults, with "inside jokes" that were way, way over the kids' heads (at least the camera crew enjoyed them!)
About two years into his run, The Bean moved into an "Underground Clubhouse", which he entered via a basement window (many a Cincinnati kid tried to dig a similar clubhouse in his own backyard!) His principal cohort was an overweight studio staffer named Lee Fogel, who played a "Mean Widdle Kid" type named Louie Spoboda, aka Louie the Louse.
When The Bean wasn't making funny, delivering commercials or answering fan mail, he ran Laurel and Hardy shorts, Crusader Rabbit and "Jim and Judy in Teleland" cartoons, and a weird series called "The Chimps", which featured monkeys in Sherlock Holmes-type costumes. THE BEAN'S CLUBHOUSE left the air when Chase relocated to Chicago.
Another WCPO favorite was the nightly "Three Stooges" show, hosted by Bob Shreve (who also played Bozo in the early-morning hours).
A very popular Cincinnati TV host and commercial spokesman, Shreve dressed up in a derby, a checkered jacket, and a trick necktie which popped up and down in a somewhat obscene fashion (I swear I remember him saying on one episode "I just met a beautiful girl today"--whereupon the tie popped up again!).
Like many other "Stooge" shows in the country, this one was set in an old-fashioned movie house, with Shreve yelling "Roll 'em Charlie!" into the projection room.
Once again, he trafficked heavily in inside jokes, but kids loved him anyway. The "Stooge" show began in the spring of 1959, and ran well into the early 1960s.
Shreve also emceed A MILLION LAUGHS, which consisted of a package of Columbia 2-reelers which didn't star the 3 Stooges (the headliners included Andy Clyde, Buster Keaton and Hugh Herbert). For this one, Shreve dressed up as a movie director, yelling "cut--print!" when time came for a commercial. A MILLION LAUGHS was replaced by LAFF HOUSE GANG, which featured the same 2-reelers but was hosted by Lee "Louie the Louse" Fogel, from the old BEAN'S CLUBHOUSE set.
LAFF HOUSE GANG also showed the silent Our Gang comedies, allowing Fogel to narrate. Whenever Farina showed up on screen, Fogel lapsed into a stereotypical black dialect and said "Dere's little Buckwheat! Dere's little Buckwheat!" (There are some things best left forgotten!) I left Cincinnati in 1961, just as LAFF HOUSE GANG was being converted into a quasi-educational program, hosted by a newsman wearing a mortarboard and robe and calling himself "Professor Boom Boom."
In 1960, WCPO acquired the new King Features package of made-for-TV POPEYE cartoons. This resulted in yet another daily Bob Shreve series, with Shreve sitting in a makeshift canoe, trading wisecracks with a stuffed eagle named "Bird-uh." This show was WAY over the kid's heads, with Shreve telling risque jokes, doing Perry Como and Lawrence Welk imitations, and making insulting remarks about the cartoons.
Meanwhile, the original theatrical POPEYES were being shown on rival station WKRC. In the morning, the station featured an hour-long kid's show, POPEYE&BILLY (the actual name of the host escapes me).
In the afternoon, Popeye appeared on THE SKIPPER RYLE SHOW, hosted by WKRC announcer Glenn Ryle, who did his show from a set resembling the control room of an old-fashioned riverboat.
On Sundays, Skipper Ryle emceed a two-hour audience-participation show, with games, stories and cartoons. I remember that Ryle was kind of cranky and on occasion stopped the show to chew out a particularly unruly kid.
I'm getting writer's cramp now, so I'll leave the rest of the history of Cincinnati kidvid to another correspondent. Just one more thing, though: I dimly remember watching a children's show on either WCPO or WKRC featuring an announcer named Colin Male. Years and years later, that same Colin Male popped up on the original syndicated version of DIVORCE COURT ("While the attorneys are conferring with the judge, we have time for a commercial message.")
That's all for now - Hal Erickson, Milwaukee WI
"I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the sixties and early seventies. When I was four or five years old my mother took me and my two brothers downtown to appear on the Uncle Al show. It is one of my earliest memories. I don't remember how they chose kids to be on the show, I think all you had to do was sign up.
"My mother sat off to the side, on bleachers, during filming. I was very shy and anxiously kept tabs on her. At one point I ran off the stage to sit with her in the audience, until she gently pushed me back into the fray. I hardly remember Uncle Al himself, but I was greatly disappointed by Captain Windy's entrance. I expected her to fly in, like she did on TV, but she merely walked in from the wings. I liked her fancy cowgirl costume, though.
"Staff members herded us into costume and gave us instructions during the commercial breaks.
In one scene we danced around wearing cardboard automobile cutouts, while singing a song about driving, and my brother got to be the traffic cop and carry a stop sign. An assistant frantically stuffed me into a clown outfit during a commercial break. My patent leather Mary Janes fell off and there was some concern I wouldn't make it back on stage before the commercial ended, but she got my shoes back on and pushed me into the circus scene just in time.
"I did somersaults all through the circus scene. We all performed in different skits--my brother was the traffic cop, I was a clown, my other brother got to go to visit the tiny man who lived in a tree stump (my favorite character on the show). And since it was close to my brother's birthday, he got to ride on the birthday carrousel. Watch out, Barney!
"My favorite part came after the final cut, because they gave all of us kids who participated a box full of marshmallow ice cream cones. The only time in my life I have seen those wonderful treats.
"As an aside, a popular urban legend making the rounds during my childhood was that Uncle Al really hated kids, and refused to let his wife have any, and they lived a cold and lonely existence in their stone mansion on Watch Hill. Ha.
"Thanks for bringing back some long lost memories!"
- Jennifer Kleine
"Are you familar with the "Skipper Ryle Show" that was on Channel 12 (at the time a ABC affilate) from the early 60's until the early 70's? It was a kids show that came on every morning that rivaled "Uncle Al". Later in the 60's it came on Saturdays.
"At first he had a puppet that was made out of shiny black leather that was nothing more than a leather glove with a flap covering the top of the fingers. To me, at my young age it resembled fish. I cannot recall its name. It peered from a door only big enough for a hand and mumble in a language only Skipper Ryle could understand and relay to the audience.
"The Skipper Ryle Show was sponsored by "Kenner" toys that was based in Cincinnati. Famous for "Play Dough" many times reps from the company would appear on his show demostrating the many ways "Play Dough" could be transformed into. His show consisted mainly of contests among kids that ranged from drawing to singing.
"Those who attended his show were impressed by his generosity. Although during taping of his show only the winners were shown given prizes, "Skipper" Glen Ryle was known for never letting kids leave without taking something with them. Kenner was very generous in providing toys. It is said that the table full of toys that was shown during the show was always cleaned off by the "Skipper" and given to kids not only on the show but in the audience.
"After the show ended, he went on to stay at Channel 12 as a news anchor and weatherman until his death I believe in the late 80's I almost cried as a adult when I heard the news.
"Although I never attended his show I hardly ever missed it. To me he was truly one of the many talents that Cincinnati has the fortune to have through the years.
- Ray M.
I remember very well the first kids' show I ever saw some time in the mid-fifties. Uncle Al from the Cincinnati area. His "helpers" were two women in short costumes who opened the show with the song "Goody, Goody."
found someone who set you back on your heels.
Uncle Al had a birthday song that I have never forgotten. The words were simple, but the haunting way in which he sang it is still with me.
On another note, even though I have read many things about Mr. Rogers, I have never heard about his 1950's show being in markets other than his home in (Ithink) Philadelphia. but in Central Kentucky, I have very strong memories of Daniel the Cat and King Friday the 13th. He had a birthday every time there was a Friday the 13th. I remember this because I was born on Friday the 13th and wore that like a proud badge all while I was growing up.
Does anyone remember any of this?
- Jerry Buchanan
Hal, I tip my hat to you. Good article on local Cincinnati kids' shows! Hopefully I can add some more details. Here goes.
Having spent most of my early childhood in Verona, Kentucky (about 20 miles south of Cincy off I-71) I have a pretty vivid memory of what I regard as one of the truly best kid shows of its time, Uncle Al - ranking right up there with national powerhouse "Captain Kangaroo" and the quasi-national "Wonderama" (the one with Bob McCallister, that is), both of which I also grew up watching.
I never got to appear on "The Uncle Al Show" myself, but I always longed for one of those bow-tie stickers he gave to the kids who DID get on. I only wanted it because it had the WCPO-TV (Channel 9) station logo on it. (Yeah, I was real heavy into TV as a kid! Can't you tell??)
I was a loyal viewer of Uncle Al.. that is, at least when my mom or dad wasn't watching Paul Dixon (which is another local legend you guys at TV Party can start researching... hint, hint!). I eventually lost touch with the show when my family moved to the Dayton, Ohio area in 1975. From what I remember, the show remained on the air until the early 80's. By that time the show was called "Uncle Al Town".
Like Hal, I don't really remember the opening theme music, either. Early on I think Al played it himself, but in later years it was some kind of symphonic fanfare, but I don't remember either one. If Uncle Al wasn't playing his trademark accordion he more than likely played his banjo while singing one of his little signature ditties like...
"When we sing together, songs are such delight, Har-mo-nee makes the melody right!"
On many occasions when Uncle Al would do music he would tell the kids at home to get two spoons out of the kitchen. Forgive me for showing my ignorance, but at the time I didn't know what he was talking about. When he said to get the spoons I immediately started thinking of applesauce. Don't ask me why! I found out later what they were for while watching the "Skipper Ryle" show on WKRC one morning. They had a commercial on for an instrument that looked like- and probably WAS- two spoons put together using electrical tape or Duct-tape.
One of the many daily things he did with the kids in the first part of the show was have a twist contest, which consisted soley of twisting the upper part of the body... almost to the point of completely coming off. Though remembering how some of the kids danced to win, it wouldn't surprise me if today the same kids are suffering from ruptured discs or something to that effect. The winner would get just a marshmallow cone from off a cardboard tree or something else that wasn't really good for them. Besides, all the rest of the kids eventually got them, too.
After a visit from Humpty Dumpty, the "Merry Mailman", the Ding-a-Lings, or the Weather People, Uncle Al and his friends Captain Windy (Al's wife Wanda, of course), Pal the Dog, Lucky the Clown and the kids would travel to some location or two. I don't remember the names of them. The only one I can remember was one place under the sea, but it would soon be time to leave when a mischievous giant octopus would attack from the ceiling, which I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of the kids screamed bloody murder from seeing it.
I can remember some of the other songs, too, by the way...
THE MERRY MAILMAN SONG: "I am the Merry Mailman... singing so merrily, I'm so very glad to be-eeeeee... Your merry, merry, merry, Merry Mailman!"
(Think maybe the guy who sang THAT went postal, too?? Hmmmmm.)
"ALA-KAZAM ONE, ALA-KAZAM TWO, ALA-KAZAM THREE, and POOF!!!"
To the best of my recollection, the only time he and the kids did the "ala-kazam" thing was when they went to a commercial. And as was the rule for many local shows at the time, the majority of the commercials were done live in the studio. "The Uncle Al Show" was no exception. I remember him doing various spots for:
-Kahn's Wieners (which featured a giant talking frankfurter, but it's not as bad as it sounds)
-Mama's cookies (they used a variation of "Short'nin' Bread" for their jingle)
-Barq's soft drinks (that was when they did more that just root beer. They also made Creme, Orange and Grape Sodas and other flavors. I loved Grape myself and at one time had the purple tongue to prove it!)
-Pat & Joe's (a now-defunct local Ma and Pa business. I think they sold either furniture or appliances or probably both. They did a simple "Mary Had A Little Lamb" variation for their jingle which went:"My good friends are Pat and Joe's; they save your mommy dough.")
Each day As the show got close to the end, Al and his gang would take a trip to the circus and play some games with the kids. Al would always enlist one kid as the barker and get him or her to shout "Step right up! Win a prize!" or something else to that effect. The gang would then sing "Happy Birthday" to the kids who were or would be celebrating a birthday at that time. Those kids got to ride on a small carousel while Al and Windy were singing and then their names would get mentioned on the air.
As Hal mentioned, the show always ended with a prayer. As I remember, The prayer was aneight line song. With organ accompaniment, Uncle Al and the kids would sing only the first three lines and then speak the last five...
me, God, to love you more
you for the songs so sweet,
And then as the kids would said their goodbyes to Uncle Al and Captain Windy and walk through the gate, Disney's "It's A Small World" played in the background and the end credits would roll across your TV screen in Verona.
Watching that part was often a sad moment for me. Almost every time they got to the prayer I wound up bursting into tears. I retrospect I think it was probably because I felt that it would be the last time I would ever see Uncle Al on TV. Or maybe it was because I knew that it was a part of my childhood that I knew at one point would never be the same again. Or maybe it's just because I was an overly emotional kid. Kids are still like that, you know.
I sincerely hope you enjoy these memories of Cincinnati's favorite Uncle. If anyone remembers the whole prayer from the end of the show, please, please PLEEEEE-ASE let me know!!
Shaver, "Uncle Al Show" historian-at-large Union, OH
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