"Hi! I remember in the early sixties there was a cartoon called Farmer Gray - I can't seem to find anything written about it. In the cartoon, the cats and mice would kill each other on the farm and X's would appear over their eyes. I remember a classical song being played at various times which I just love. Any info?"
- Jerry M. Cromartie
Everything you're looking for is here:
by Bill Newcott
"Farmer Gray" was really recycled old "Farmer AL Falfa" cartoons, produced as silent movies by Paul Terry in the 1920s. I, too, recall the high mortality rate of rodents in those cartoons. As a kid I watched Claude Kirchner on Terrytoon Circus. WOR-TV in New York, I think. He showed old Mighty Mouse and possibly even Farmer Al Falfa (you see how it all comes together?) cartoons. He would carry on conversations with a clown puppet named, remarkably, Clownie. Claude's signature line at the end of the show each night was "And now it's time...for most of you... to go to bed!" I hated that part.
A couple of other obscure New York kids' TV shows from the late fifties and early sixties: On WNEW Channel 5, right after Romper Room, I think, was a guy called Uncle Fred Scott. He sat at a desk and introduced cartoons. Wore a suit and tie. Kind of a cartoon anchor man, I guess. One of the highlights of my eight years at St. Mary's School in Dumont, NJ, was the day Uncle Fred Scott made a personal appearance at our Christmas sale. We were expecting a long black limousine to deliver him. He, of course, drove his own Buick.
Once a girl from my fourth grade class was the birthday girl on Paul Tripp's Birthday House. Tripp had a birthday party every day, and sang songs he seemed to be making up as he went along. One of his favorites was "Hi Mike," which the kids sang to a boom microphone as it was lowered into camera range.
Also on WNEW in late afternoon was a guy named Fred Hall. I believe the show was called Fred Hall's Hall For Fun. He had a gentle Jack Paar-type personality, and he was an artist. He'd have kids send in papers with five or six random lines on them, and he'd transform them into cartoons.
Sandy Becker was a WNEW staple. He talked with a hand puppet named, inexplicably, Eeba Geeba. He created a whole gallery of characters, including Hambone and Norton Nork, a pantomime bit. A primitively animated character, a burglar named Max, would creep across the screen once each afternoon. If you were the first to "Catch Max" and call in, you'd win a prize.
WPIX-11 had Chuck McCann every afternoon showing Laurel and Hardy movies (He was a personal friend of Stan Laurel, and even had him on the show once or twice). For a short while the horror host Zacherle was on, kind of a proto-Elvira, except he was a guy.
Among my earliest TV memories is a gentleman named Captain Alan Swift, who showed Popeye cartoons on WPIX. He was an old bearded fellow, at least he seemed ancient to me.
He really did look like some old sea salt who'd just come ashore after a month or two of shrimping in Long Island Sound. He disappeared one day--went back to sea, I figured--and was replaced by Captain Jack McCarthy, a shiny-cheeked, clean-shaven junior officer type who every kid immediately recognized as one of Channel 11's announcers.
There were others: Officer Joe Bolton, whose law enforcement personna was an apparent attempt to soften the anarchic antics of the Three Stooges films he announced. I recall a very old Moe and Curly (Joe De Rita) making a personal appearance on the show.
Later on The Funny Company, a syndicated cartoon series that employed local market hosts, starred a Borscht Belt comic named Morty Gunty. I will never forget Morty standing before a studio audience of 30 kids saying, "I bought my mother-in-law a new chair. But my wife won't let me plug it in." Gunty, by the way, was one of the old comedians who gathered in the diner in Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose." Honestly, I don't know why in the world I remember this stuff.
As you can see, New York TV for kids in the late 50s and early 60s was a rich collection of guys who quickly became folk heroes. Sadly, memories of them are fading. For years I've been meaning to write a magazine article about who they were and what became of them. I'm afraid it may already be too late.
"I have one memory to add about Uncle Fred Scott, who was, as Bill Newcott describes, a "cartoon anchorman" -- not much personality, very straight, but seemed like a heck of a nice guy.
"Anyway, one evening Uncle Fred was doing a routine Bosco chocolate syrup commercial -- it could also easily have been Cocoa Marsh -- but anyway, Uncle Fred, extolling the deliciousness of the product, raised his tall glass of chocolate milk, took a BIG sip, and proceeded to spit, gag, cough, and pound the desk for about half a minute until he could regain control of himself. He finally managed to croak out, "gooood" and mercifully I think they went to a cartoon.
"I'll never know what on earth happened, but I assume Uncle Fred took a giant hit of very sour chocolate milk and was desperately trying not to toss up the sponsors product on live TV!"
"As cliche as it sounds, I almost fell out of my chair when I read Bill Newcott's comments about "Uncle" Fred Scott.
"Bill mentioned Scott's appearance at a bake sale at St. Mary's Church in Dumont, NJ. Believe it or not, I was there!! I grew up in Bergenfield and I remember my mother taking me to St.Mary's to see Uncle Fred Scott. I don't remember the year - but I had to be 4 or 5 years old - and the fact that I still remember it shows you what an impression it made! I still have the autograph tucked away in am autograph book!
"I also remember meeting Paul Tripp at a movie theater in Paramus, NJ. It was a showing of his Christmas film (the name escapes me). I remember that he came to the front of the theater and said a few words to the crowd before they started the film. As the film was starting, my mother pulled me from my seat and we went into the lobby so I could get another autograph and meet another of my early heroes! Thanks Mom!
"There was another show, a little before my time, hosted by Ed McCurdy - Freddy the Fireman. Anyone remember? I got to know Ed in his later years. He passed away in March 2000 at the age of 81. We miss you Ed!"
"Anyone who grew up in New York in the 50's and 60's had to know Sandy Becker. He shaped a lot of our personalities. Along with Hambone, Norton Nork, and The Big Professor, I remember his lovable puppets, "Giba Giba," and "Marvin Mouse." What I remember most, though, is his Monday evening show that followed the Kennedy assassination. "It's been a hellish weekend," he said. He told us how wrong it is to hate. He looked so forlorn and sad. His expression seemed to reflect how we all felt.
"There was a lesson for everyone who watched him that night. Not just the children. Sandy Becker was one of a kind. He really seemed to care about his audience and about the welfare of the younger generation. We could sure use a Sandy Becker today."
- Marc Levenson
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