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OFFICER JOE BOLTON
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How did the Lamestream Media miss this? September 8, 2010 marked the 100th birthday of former NYC based musical entertainer, radio & TV broadcaster and one of NYC kids' TV's most beloved and popular hosts / performers - "Officer Joe" Bolton.
Born in The Flushing section of Queens Joseph Reeves Bolton II moved with his parents and his sister to Manhattan.
During the years that he attended services at St. John The Divine Cathedral in Manhattan Bolton was introduced to the media that would make him a performer.
According to an article in The New York Herald Tribune he joined the cathedral's all boys choir where he performed hymns with the members of the group including two young men who would also go on to successful careers in show business: Lanny Ross and Burgess Meredith.
A few years later he formed his own dance band according to a letter that he sent to one of his fans Joe Caruso.
Bolton recalled, "I have been playing (the banjo) for many years and while still in school, (I) had my own dance band."
Bolton's jazz band would perform at local functions until he gave up the band and formed a smaller act with a young
fellow who played the saxophone, trombone and trumpet and Bolton played the guitar and the banjo.
The pair called themselves "The Two Man Band" and they performed their act on many local musical/variety programs on radio. Where, along with singing and playing musical hits of the day, the duo also told jokes and funny stories.
The act had a modest amount of success on NYC radio until one day a chance meeting with one of radio's most prominent broadcasters changed Bolton's life and career.
"I was working at one of the smaller New York station, my announcer was a man by the name of Conrad Van Voerrhis, who was later the "March of Time" Man, Bolton recalled in an interview with John M. Giase for The April 27, 1982 edition of The Asbury Park Press. "We went down for coffee after one of my broadcasts and he said to me 'Did you ever think of announcing, you've got a good line.'"
He accepted the suggestion and Bolton was soon working for Newark, N.J. based radio station WNJ as an announcer in 1931. A year later, he would work for WOR Radio in NYC and then for CBS Radio in Philadelphia, Pa., and for KNX (now known as KCBS) Radio in Los Angeles, Cal.
He worked at these stations as an announcer, newscaster, as the comedic sidekick to a musical entertainer on "The Ray Knight Show" on WOR and Bolton even served as one of the announcers on "The Uncle Don Carney Children's Program".
For a time he also appeared in sports newsreels for Warner Brothers Vitaphone in the Midwood Section of Brooklyn, NYC and for Paramount Pictures In Hollywood, Cal. One of his early sports newsreels still exists an entertaining little novelty titled "Home Run On The Keys" where Bolton introduces "The De Marco Sisters" singing team, the David Menoza Dance Orchestra,The comedy songwriting team of Zez Confrey and Byron Gay and Baseball's "Sultan Of Swat" Babe Ruth.
He took a brief hiatus from radio to serve in the US Army Overseas during WWII. Upon his return to the States Bolton worked briefly as the executive director of The Office Of War Information later he would return to commercial broadcasting for WOR Radio and for WNEW Radio.
At the latter station, he hosted a late night jazz music program and a talk show where he conducted two in-depth interviews with the co-creator of Penicillin, Sir Alexander Flemming. Bolton recalled in an interview with Ms. Patricia Nicely of The Herald News that he kept a hand written transcript of his interview with Sir Alexander, "I asked him to sign it and I keep it in a safe deposit box."
Following his brief stint with WNEW Radio Bolton made his NYC debut on WABD (later known as WNEW and now known as WNYW) TV Channel 5 in NYC in the late 1940s.
He began his TV career as the announcer for a local talent show "The Doorway To Fame" at WABD TV in 1946. He would leave the station two years later when he was offered the chance to help co-found NYC's very first independent TV station with the publishers and editors of The New York Daily News and with fellow radio broadcasters John Tillman, Kevin Kennedy, Rex Marshall and Jack McCarthy.
WPIX TV Channel 11 first went on the air on June 15, 1948 Bolton appeared on that first broadcast with Jack McCarthy and with radio/TV broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, Radio wit Fred Allen and with actor Basil Rathbone.
Bolton's first broadcasting assignments were News reports for "Sinclair Gas",sporting events,announcing
another tv talent show"Four Star Talent Search",announcing and later hosting a tv game show"Batter Up!" and
serving as the co-host of a late night old movie show"Night Owl Theater"with Musical entertainer Cliff Edwards (best remembered as "Ukulele Ike" and as the voice of Walt Disney's"Jiminy Cricket") and Paul Ashley's Owl puppet. He even served as Jack McCarthy's co host/moderator for the early broadcasts of NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parades on Channel 11 in the early 1950s.
From 1950 to 1960, Bolton was The Tastee Bread Weatherman on Channel 11's "Five Star Newscasts." In the winter of 1955 Joe Bolton began hosting the type of kid's series for which he is still best remembered by NYC's young viewers.
During the winter of 1955 WPIX TV 11 acquired the rights to "The Little Rascals" film comedies and they were preparing to screen the films on a daily children's program titled "The Clubhouse Gang".
The show would be set against the backdrop of a makeshift clubhouse with a group of school kids serving as members of the gang. There was only one problem there was no one to mc the series.
While the programming director was trying to find the right candidate to mc the show he was also planning a birthday party for his son and his friends.
WPIX TV's programming director decided to stage the party at the 11 studios where along with the games, gift giving and the serving of the ice cream, cake and soft drinks he would also screen "The Little Rascals" films as a means of testing their popularity with kids.
The films were the hit of the party the programming director asked his son and his friends if they enjoyed watching these film comedies featuring these funny kids known as The Little Rascals?
They all responded, "Yes!"
He then told them that these films will be shown on a new daily kid's show at TV 11 called "The Clubhouse Gang" but the station execs didn't have anyone, who could host the show. He asked the kids at the party who they would choose to mc "The Clubhouse Gang".
11 out of 12 kids voted for "The Tastytee Weatherman" to say that TV 11's programming director was shocked would be an understatement. For he never thought that his son and the other kids at that birthday party would choose a TV meteorologist to host a kids show.
Bolton's weather forecasts on "The Five Star News" was popular with both young and old viewers and he became a regular contributor to "The Kids Corner" section of the pre-national editions of "TV Guide" back in the early 1950s.
Bolton was invited to audition for the hosting job he won the audition and the station decided that the best character for him to play on the new program was that of a tramp clown.
Bolton balked at their suggestion he felt that a tramp clown was neither an appropriate or an original character for children to look up to.
When one of the station execs suggested that he hosted the show as a policeman character he accepted the idea and on Monday evening January 17, 1955 "Officer Joe" opened the doors to "The Clubhouse Gang" for the first time.
Every Monday thru Saturday evening "Officer Joe" would engage his viewers and studio audiences in games, songs, stories, craftmaking, hobbies, contests, informational segments and interviews with guest performers, personalities and with members of the studio audience.
Former "Little Rascal" Jean Darling (who was then a prominent actress and singer in nightclubs, on radio/TV and in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's"Carousel"), future TV game show/talk show producer and my dear friend Burt Dubrow, and comedy performer Billy Crystal attended those early meetings.
Bolton screened the entire series of "Little Rascals" films from the early silent comedies to the best from Hal Roach's sound period to the final series of films produced and released by MGM from the latter part of 1938 to 1944.
Not all of the films were a hit with the kids. The silent "Our Gang" comedies' humor seemed dated and without the benefit of dialogue with music - the viewers and studio audiences didn't appreciate them.
Eventually the silent film films were dropped and the sound shorts were screened instead. ("The Silent Our Gang" film comedies would return to the NYC airways a decade later in a revamped format "The Mischief Makers" on WOR TV Ch.9 with Herb Sheldon serving as the program's host.)
"The Clubhouse Gang" became a hit series and for a time it beat out "Howdy Doody" in the NYC ratings. During the run of "The Clubhouse Gang" Bolton would receive the first of many honors - he was awarded a citation from the NYC Police Athletic League on Wednesday, December 26, 1956 and he would receive the first of many honorary "Police Chief" shields from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs Of Police during the runs of The Clubhouse Gang, The Three Stooges Funhouse, The Dick Tracy Show and The Three Stooges Show.
The series remained on the air until Channel 11 closed down The Clubhouse Gang on Friday, September 13, 1957.
Officer Joe would return a year later when he began hosting the film comedies of another popular comedy team. Since the 1930s "The Three Stooges" were the most popular comedy trio of the movies. Their slapstick comedies were a hit with moviegoers but were unfairly knocked by critics and by some adults for the violent, lowbrow humor.
In 1949 the team's films were first shown on the ABC TV network but they didn't click with the network's viewers and the films were quickly dropped by the ABC TV execs.
It was not until nine years later that Columbia Pictures' newly formed TV division Screen Gems rereleased 78 of the 190 films that the trio appeared in to local stations which aired the films on their daily kid's shows. WPIX TV became the NYC station to screen the films on "The Three Stooges Funhouse" set against the backdrop of the gateway to a mythical amusement park funhouse. "Officer Joe" hosted the series sans a studio audience and would engage his visitors in games, songs, stories, informational segments and interviews with guest performers between the films. The series was so popular that it was nominated for a 1959 NYC Emmy award; sadly it lost out to WRCA TV 4's "Hi Mom" with Shari Lewis).
The show became a hit with NYC kids and Bolton became interested in seeking out the team's manager or agent to discuss the idea of doing a series of personal appearances. He had trouble trying to find out who The Stooges' manager or agent was - it was not until he saw the team doing a guest appearance on "The Steve Allen Show" on NBC in 1958 (although some sources have stated that they appeared on Mr. Allen's show in January, 1959) that Bolton was able to find out, via Mr. Allen's staff.
It turned out that Bolton's old friend former Columbia Pix' exec Harry Romm was the team's manager and producer and their agent of record was the William Morris office.
In February of 1959 Officer Joe and The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine And "Curly Joe" De Rita) began doing personal appearances at movie theaters in New Jersey. The shows consisted of the boys coming onstage to trying to play music on faulty xylophone - with typically disastrous results.
The rest of the stage show had Bolton and the trio answering questions about their careers, explaining how the comedic hairstyles were created, and how the slapstick was performed besides signing photos for the fans. The personal appearance tours were a hit and The Stooges did guest appearances with Officer Joe on his TV program.
Bolton did more personal appearances with the Stooges during the summer of 1959 when the trio's new feature film "Have Rocket Will Travel" premiered in New Jersey movie theaters. Again the stage shows were a hit and Officer Joe began a life long friendship with Moe and Larry. Moe would correspond with Bolton and provide him with information about the team's careers and the pair would visit whenever Bolton traveled to California.
During this time, Bolton also began co-hosting some holiday kid's specials with his fellow kiddie personalities. "The WPIX TV Christmas Party" first aired on Friday, December 25, 1959 set against the backdrop of the living room of a private home. Officer Joe, Bozo The Clown (Bill Britten) and the two MC's of "The Popeye Show" Captain's Allen Swift and Jack McCarthy entertained their party guests at home between reruns of the Stooges films and promoting the sponsors.
Bolton would also co-host "The Thanksgiving Day Jamborees" with Captain Jack and, for time, with Ms. Carol Corbett at TV 11 beginning on Thursday, November 24, 1960. This series of holiday kid's TV specials was also set against the backdrop of the living room but, unlike Channel 11's Christmas Parties, "The Thanksgiving Day Jamborees" featured a studio audience of kids - the show's producers invited the children from St. Barnabas House (a foster home in lower Manhattan) to participate in games, sing-a-longs, craftmaking, stories and informational segments that the show's MC's provided for their young guests. (The WPIX TV Christmas Parties would air until Wednesday December 25, 1963 and "The Thanksgiving Day Jamborees" continued until November of 1970.)
Bolton made a guest appearance in the film compilation "Stop, Look & Laugh" with ventriloquist/entertainer Paul Winchell and the Marquis Chimps shot at Fox's NYC studios and released in 1961. During his work on the movie former NBC kid's MC Jimmy Blaine served as The Three Stooges Funhouse's substitute host.
Officer Joe would also make personal appearances at many venues, appearing with The Three Stooges, with NYC TV colleagues, and on his own. All of these personal appearances were met with great success.
"The Three Stooges Funhouse" was cancelled on Wednesday September 6, 1961.
On Thursday September 7, 1961 former "Rootie Kazootie" star Big Todd Russell became Fireman Todd on "The Three Stooges Firehouse" and Bolton was promoted to the rank of Police Chief when he hosted "The Dick Tracy Show."
UPA Animation Studios made a deal with the New Daily News Syndicate and with the Chicago News Syndicate to create and produce a series of "Dick Tracy" TV cartoons for national syndication. Actor Everett Sloane was the voice of Chester Gould's tough, no nonsense police detective and comic actors Benny Rubin, Mel Blanc, Johnny Coons and Paul Frees provided the voices of Tracy's undercover squad of police detectives and the films' villains.
Police Chief Joe Bolton entertained the visitors to his police station with songs, stories, games, informational segments, read viewer mail and interview guests between reruns of the DC Comics TV cartoons and the old Republic and Universal movie serials.
The Three Stooges made their last guest appearance with Bolton on "The Dick Tracy Show" in the fall of 1962; Dick Tracy's creator Chester Could also appeared on the very first show and drew a sketch of his famous crime fighter which he presented "The Dick Tracy Show" remained on the air weekday evenings until the police station was shuttered on Friday, August 31, 1963.
After that, Bolton briefly replaced horror show host/performer John Zacherley as the second MC of "The Mighty Hercules Show" weekday evenings from Monday November 18, 1963 to Friday January 31, 1964.
On Monday, February 3, 1964 Officer Joe returned to screening The Three Stooges short subjects on "The Three Stooges Show" seen weekday evenings and later on weekday afternoons. Many guest performers would appear on the show, including entertainer Ed Alberian as "Big Bond The Moon Clown", and three youngsters dressed up as Ross Bagdasarian's popular singing critters Alvin, Simon & Theodore, The Chipmunks.
Moe Howard even appeared on the program but without Larry and Curly Joe. Paul Howard (Moe's son) also made many guest appearances on the show.
During the spring of 1964 Officer Joe was invited to appear with the team in their last feature film "The Outlaws is Coming." H While Bolton worked on the movie at The Columbia Ranch Studios in Burbank, CA, former WNTA TV 13 host/performer Steve Woodman served as substitute host. For a time the show was set against the backdrop of a police station but by the winter of 1968 the backdrop returned to a clubhouse setting where Officer Joe would entertain a studio audience of kids.
On Tuesday and Wednesday July 2, & 3, 1969 Moe and Paul Howard made their last guest appearances on "The Three Stooges Show."
Moe and Paul were greeted by the members of the gang with open arms as they eagerly listened to moe's telling of the history of The Three Stooges. They also enjoyed hearing about Paul Howard's accomplishments as an artist and his joy of being a father.
Bolton also received visits from up and coming film historian/critic and celebrity interviewer Leonard Maltin (Bolton and Maltin also lectured on film comedy history at a New Jersey college during the early-1970s).
"The Three Stooges Show" was cancelled on Thursday May 7, 1970 when the ACT and Forum, Inc. forced the removal of the Stooges' films from the NYC airways for supposedly being a bad influences on children.
Bolton went on to host two more kid's shows. "The Felix the Cat Show" weekday afternoons from Monday. May 11, 1970 until Friday, November 19, 1971 featuring The Joe Orilo/Trans Lux Felix The Cat and Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse TV toons.
On Monday afternoon November 11, 1971 Officer Joe began hosting his last NYC based television kid's program, "The Little Rascals Show" weekday afternoons on WPIX TV (sans a studio audience) - that is until ACT and Forum,Inc. forced Officer Joe and Capt. Jack off the air and requested that the station create instead quality educational kid's shows, to their specifications.
Jack McCarthy left WPIX (he returned once a year to host the annual broadcasts of NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade until Tuesday, March 17, 1992). Bolton would work as a booth announcer at Channel 11 until he retired from the station in January of 1976.
Even though he was no longer hosting kid's shows at Channel 11, Bolton did one more series of personal appearances at New Jersey's Seaside Heights amusement pier where he was still a big hit with the kids)
Bolton and his wife moved to Santa Monica, CA where he spent his retirement years taking courses at a local collage, teaching broadcasting techniques, and lecturing on broadcasting history. He would also answer letters, phone calls and receive visits from his fans and many friends where he would play his banjo and guitar. He also was an avid collector of stamps and coins.
Officer Joe Bolton died on August 13, 1986 but he is still fondly remembered by his many fans for his warmth, his wit, and his charm. He remains New York City's most beloved - and funniest - cop on the TV beat.
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