On Tuesday, December 25, 1956, WABD channel 5 in NYC aired the very first "Wonderama Christmas Cartoon Party".
Sandy Becker, Herb Sheldon and the second and the last actor to play the Dumont network's first space hero "Captain Video" (Al Hodge) entertained and informed their viewers between reruns of the Paramount/ Famous "Little LuLu", "Casper, The Friendly Ghost", "Superman" and Warner Brothers' "Looney Tunes" cartoons.
There was also a toy giveaway for kids. Whoever called through to the studio and correctly answered a series of questions posed to them by either Sandy, Herb or "Capt. Video" (Al Hodge) won the prizes.
The show lasted nine hours from 9:00am to 6:00pm and was NYC's highest-rated kid's holiday special of that year.
Herb Sheldon and "Uncle Fred" Scott co-hosted 'The Second Annual Wonderama Christmas Cartoon Party' on WABD Channel 5 in NYC on Wednesday, December 25, 1957.
The third and final 'Wonderama Christmas Cartoon Party' was broadcast on WNEW Friday, December 25, 1959. Sonny Fox and Sandy Becker entertained their studio audience and viewers between reruns of the "Little LuLu", "Casper, The Friendly Ghost" and "Looney Tunes" cartoons.
I'll always remember the Christmas parties that WPIX aired Christmas Days from 1959 until Wednesday, December 25, 1963.
The parties were always set against the backdrop of a living room in a private home. The station's kiddie TV hosts/performers engaged the home viewers in games, stories, songs, craftmaking, hobbies, magic tricks, drawing lessons, character comedy and puppet skits between reruns of "Popeye," "Bozo" cartoons, Laurel & Hardy and Three Stooges comedies and old movie serials.
At the end of the show, the hosts would gather around the Christmas tree to open gifts and wish everyone at home a very merry Christmas. The hosts made viewers feel like they were a participant at the party, they always got me involved in all the activities as they were so kind and gentle.
Watching these shows I felt like I was spending the holidays with members of my family. I miss those holiday specials and the talented people who hosted them: "Captain Allen" Swift and Jack McCarthy, "Fireman Todd" Russell, "Officer" / "Police Chief" Joe Bolton, "Bozo" (Bill Britten), Chuck McCann, "The Merry Mailman!" (Ray Heatherton), "The Old Philosopher" Eddie Lawrence and John Zacherley (not John Zacherle).
Long before Shari Lewis claimed to have said, "Don't just watch me having fun on TV... come and have fun with me on TV," these guys asked us all to "Come and have fun with us while you're watching TV on this Christmas day."
Before Jim Backus' Mr. Magoo performed his interpretation of Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol,' NYC based kid's TV wraparound host/performer Sandy Becker used his puppets to tell his own version of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his redemption on Christmas Eve at the hands of the ghost of his ex-partner Jacob Marley and the three spirits of Christmas.
Geeba Geeba played Scrooge with a certain amount of stingy grumpiness, but also with a bit of wit. As when one of the spirits wanted to show him his true self, Geeba's Scrooge said, "What is this?! To tell the truth?"
Sir Clyde Clive (Sandy's version of Leo G. Carroll's Cosmo Topper) played gentle yet put upon Bob Cratchet and Marvin Mouse was seen as Tiny Tim.
The Ghosts were played by Wow Wee, The Indian Chief, Jacquet La Rat and Edie Mouse. I don't know which puppet played the Ghost of Jacob Marley but he was a pretty scary character.
That particular show aired on Saturday night, December 23, 1961. It was my first introduction to 'A Christmas Carol' and Sandy made the story warm, gentle and meaningful. He also gave it his own brand of humor, which did not deter or mock Dickens' messages about caring about your fellow man over the almighty buck.
It's too bad WNEW didn't save that brilliant Becker holiday special. It had a lot of meaning. Sadly, its simple message might be lost on today's kids - and maybe adults as well.
An interview with Fred Scott, Sandy Becker and Soupy Sales from You Tube:
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