Captain Jack McCarthy
On Monday, September 26, 1960, a new Skipper took the helm of WPIX TV Ch. 11 NYC's "Popeye Show" - and maintained its course for the next 12 years with his warm smile, gentle wit and soft spoken demeanor.
"Captain Jack" McCarthy succeeded Allen Swift and Ray Heatherton (formerly WOR Ch. 9's Merry Mailman) as the third and last host performer of the series following Swift's abrupt departure from the program on Friday, September 23, 1960.
The departure occurred when Swift had an argument with station management regarding the exec's refusal to pre-tape his hosting segments for the show. Unlike Swift and Heatherton, McCarthy was not an entertainer. He depended on his abilities as a storyteller and as a personality to entertain and inform his viewers.
"I started talking to the children who were watching 'The Popeye Show' at home the way that I talked to my own kids." Jack McCarthy recalled in a December, 1983 interview, "We (the kids show hosts/performers at WPIX TV Ch. 11) had our own personalities. I did the show the way I thought that I would want to approach young people."
McCarthy would relate memories about his childhood in New York City to his viewers and interview visiting guest performers who would entertain the kids and demonstrate their varied skills in things like glass blowing, promoting traffic safety and playing the tin whistle.
"We told the story about the history of currency." McCarthy explained, "We had the guard who worked in the bank in the lobby of The New York Daily News building come on the show and talk about how money went from the one dollar bill to the ten thousand dollar bill. We did a whole week on the history of the telephone, starting with the invention of the telephone. We had different people with different skills (on the show) and it was very exciting!"
He would also inoculate good values to his viewers, which they would always use. "We had fireman who spoke about safety in the home. We had cops who taught about safety while walking across the street," he explained. "I can remember one point in time when I talked - that when you're just finished playing you say to yourself, "Wow it's been a great day! and you start to walk home and somebody comes by and says 'Can I take you home?' - unless that person is known to you and your parents, you don't step into that car. And another thing, when you get home, you tell your mother and dad that somebody offered you a ride, but that you refused, because they'd like to know."
Kids listened to "Captain Jack", because he treated his audience with respect and spoke to them about many subjects with genuine authority, interest and a sense of fun.
A former sportscaster, McCarthy began his career in radio as a pageboy for NBC Radio in NYC back in August, 1933. He later took announcing lessons with the"Great Linguist" Dan Russell. He learned to recite scripts, read news copy and gained a great wealth of knowledge of classic music.
He trained with Mr. Russell for three months before he went to work for NBC Radio as "The Network's youngest staff announcer". One night while attending a boxing match at Madison Square Garden, McCarthy was invited to serve as a guest commentator on the fight with legendary sportscaster Clem McCarthy. "No Relation" he said, jokingly.
Jack McCarthy would serve as a sportscaster at many events, including the horse races for NBC and later for ABC Radio. He left NYC and went to Hollywood, California to try and get acting jobs on one of the popular radio dramas that were being broadcast.
When he was unable to make a career for himself as a radio actor in California, McCarthy returned to NYC, where he worked again as a sportscaster and also served as announcer and comic relief on a popular musical/variety/quiz program "The Chamber Music Society Of Lower Basin Street".
That show was hosted by one of the most notable music historians of the day Dr. Gino Hamilton, with musical accompaniment provided by Conductor Paul Lavalle. McCarthy made the transition to television in June, 1948, working briefly for WJZ (WABC) Ch.7.
He then got together with the publishers of The New York Daily News and with fellow radio newsmen John Tillman, Rex Marshall, Kevin Kennedy and "Officer Joe" Bolton to co-found WPIX Ch. 11.
The station went on the air on June 15, 1948, with a gala broadcast featuring many well known performers and personalities. Jack McCarthy MC'd sporting events, read the news, hosted a game show "The Tele-Viz Quiz" and served as the announcer sidekick for a late night jazz music show hosted by radio DJ and singing bandleader Ted Steele.
On March 17, 1949, McCarthy began hosting an event that he would be best remembered for (next to his stint as the sea captain host of "The Popeye Show") in 1949.
"The station executives were about to begin televising the New York Yankees and Giants baseball games." he explained, "They had the cameras in storage. Somebody said, 'Let's see how the cameras operate outdoors?', so it was decided that the would broadcast 1 hour of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. I prepared (for the event). I went to the Irish American Historical Society and gathered material for an hour (Broadcast). We were on the air for about three quarters of an hour and I got a note from my director, Jack Murphy, which said could I hold it for another half hour because the telephone responses were building and building and they (the audience) wanted me to do it for another half hour.
"At the end of an hour, I had just run out of the material that I had complied. So I started ad-libbing and I ad-libbed (my narration of the parade) for four more hours."
McCarthy's hosting of the parade was so successful that he would host the event well into the 1990's. His storytelling and conversational skills would prepare him well for his hosting duties on "The Popeye Show".
Capt. Jack's' version of "The Popeye Show" ran from Monday, September 26, 1960 to Friday, March 15, 1963. He began hosting "The Popeye Cartoons" made for TV by Larry Harmon Pictures Inc., Hallis/Bachelor, Paramount/Famous and Format Films Inc. and the post-1947 "Three Stooges" film Comedies that featured Moe, Larry & Shemp on "The Popeye /Three Stooges Show" on Monday March 18, 1963. This continued until Friday, June 23. 1963.
In 1964 and 1965, McCarthy would also serve as the substitute host/performer of "The Mighty Hercules Show"and "Let's Have Fun!", when the show's first hosts/performers John Zacherle(y) went onto host another horror film TV series "Zacherley's Chiller Theater!", Saturday nights on Ch. 11 during the 1965 TV season.
McCarthy would also co-host a number of kids tv specials during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays with "Officer"/"Police Chief Joe"Bolton, Chuck McCann (Chuck McCann and Paul Ashley left WPIX abruptly during the summer of 1965), "Fireman Todd" Russell, "Bozo The Clown" (Bill Britten) and with The Popeye Show's first host "Captain Allen" Swift.
On these kid's specials, McCarthy and his fellow "kiddie" hosts would spend a few meaningful hours with their fans telling stories, singing songs, performing comedy, puppet skits and magic tricks and creating crafts between reruns of old movie comedies, serials and cartoons.
His character was so popular with NYC's young viewers that when McCarthy announced an appearance at a Coney Island Kiddie Park, the response was overwhelming.
"We would be called upon to do personal appearances." McCarthy once explained, "The first time that I did a personal appearance, I was down at Sheapshead's Bay and I was awe struck! Hundreds of these kids came (to see me). Prior to my making my appearance, I said (on my show) 'Mateys, if you're in or around Sheapshead's Bay on such and such a day, I want you to know that Captain Jack will be down there and I would like to autograph some pictures and say "Hello" to you.'
"I couldn't believe what was happening! We would do personal appearances at supermarkets, at kiddie parks and at church bazars-indoors and outdoors, and it was a very rewarding experience!"
McCarthy' would also host "The Popeye/Dick Tracy Show" weekday afternoons from Monday, September 14, 1964 to Friday, October 16, 1964.
McCarthy's hosting efforts on the shows weren't always appreciated by some parents and oftimes he received some letters that criticized the negative violence that appeared in the cartoons.
"On The Popeye Show, there were letters of appreciation (that were sent to me)," McCarthy recalled in a September 28, 1988 interview with former Westchester County, New York Radio interviewer Bob Mangels,"Occasionally I would get a letter from an irate mother who would say that the business of Popeye punching Bluto didn't sit well with her and her family. She wouldn't allow her child to watch Ch. 11 at that time. But that was a very minuscule percentage. Because most of the time, I would get letters that said 'Thank You for what you are doing for our children and keep up the good work!'."
Just as his contemporaries Bolton and Swift, he would try to interject his own disclaimers to prevent any kind of violent effect: "Captain Jack would tell his viewers not to emulate "Popeye's" strongman stunts. Mostly Joe (Bolton), because (The Three Stooges) dealt with live characters on film. The cartoons were something else." McCarthy explained, "So there's a difference between the two (shows). But the antics, the punching and slapping that occurred within the films - you had to make that sort of statement - that 'This is cartoon, and real people don't do things like that'."
Unfortunately, the negative aspects of the films that "Captain Jack"screened on his shows became the subject of a petition that was being circulated by two censor groups :Forum, Inc. and Peggy Charren's Action For Children's Television.
In the late 1960's, WPIX began to cut back on most of its live kid's TV shows, until Bolton and McCarthy were the last local wraparound hosts who were still working in the Metro NYC area.
McCarthy hosted "The Little Rascals Show" weekday afternoons from Monday, April 3, 1967 to Friday, January 1, 1970.
McCarthy returned as the skipper of "The SS Popeye" for another two years, but by September of 1972, Ch. 11 dropped "The Popeye Show" and "The Little Rascals Show" when a mandate from Forum Inc., The ACT and The FCC ordered all TV stations in the USA to create and produce kid's programming that would be more of an educational and /or informational nature.
McCarthy left "The Popeye Show" and WPIX to pursue other projects. He would continue to host Ch. 11's annual broadcast of NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parades until Tuesday, March 17, 1992. At the end of that broadcast, he announced his retirement as a parade host.
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Hi, Thanks for the great site and the great memories! My sisters and brothers and I grew up on Staten Island through the Fifties and Sixties, so we recognize just about everyone in your listing. Your info on Captain Jack McCarthy is tremendous. Can you tell me if he's still alive and well? It's a pretty callous way to ask, I know, but I can't think of any way around it. See, my brother is opening up a seafood restaurant on Fifth Avenue and I can't think of a better gift than an 8x10 of the captain, personalized, and replete with a "Hut-to-Peen, and Smooth Sailing!" I hope you can help me out. Once again, congratulations on a really great site.
- Capt. Jack McCarthy passed away on Thursday, May 23, 1996.
Greetings: I enjoyed the Captain Jack McCarthy reminiscence very much.
I had the privilege of personally knowing Jack McCarthy for a few years in the mid-1980s and he was very much the man we saw on television - warm and funny and a great, great storyteller. He truly had the Irish gift.
One thing about Jack really impressed me. Jack and I were once talking about the state of modern cartoons in general and he mentioned that they had colorized the old Fleischer black and white Popeyes and had thickened the outlines on the characters and basically ruined the cartoons.
I realized then that Jack actually liked Popeye, that showing the cartoons wasn't just a job for him. I miss the kiddie show hosts. Keep up the great work on TVparty.
- Regards, Chic DiIorio
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