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Mary Hartline /Super Circus

by Billy Ingram
pictures thanks to Kevin S. Butler

Mary Hartline dollWholesomely sexy Mary Hartline was a breakout star in the days when there were very few TV stations on the air nationwide. A successful model, she entered Chicago's burgeoning broadcast industry in 1946, appearing on the ABC radio program Junior Junction (later known as Teen Town), about a city inhabited solely by teenagers.

The producer of the show was her husband Harold Stokes. They met the year before and were married in 1947 when Stokes was forty-two and Mary twenty-one.

Mary Hartline left Teen Town in 1949 to join Super Circus, a weekly live kid's program also produced by her husband. Super Circus began life as a Chicago radio contest program in the 1940s starring former real-life circus barker turned commercial announcer Claude Kirchner.

 

Super CircusStarting on TV as a Chicago local in 1948, Super Circus was presented live on Sunday afternoons beginning in 1949 (from the Civic Theater in Chicago) over the ABC network. In addition to lovely Mary Hartline, regulars included Cliffy, Scampy, & Nicky the clowns, and Mike Wallace (yes that Mike Wallace) as the show's commercial pitchman.

With an authentic circus feel and Mary's sparkling, low cut outfits, the program became an instant national sensation and Mary was catapulted to fame as one of TV's first bright shining lights, with both kid and adult appeal.

Super Circus - Mary HartlineMary would often open the show with a rousing number fronting the ultra-brassy Super Circus Band. Her rhythmic moves and smooth baton twirling were a real live manifestation of every '50s girl's dream - to be the lead majorette, as pretty as a china doll. Platinum blond, statuesque, and perfectly formed, Mary was wildly popular with the little girls - and their daddies - inspiring an entire line of dolls and other toys.

Mary Hartline was so popular she appeared in a weekday children's TV show of her own, a fifteen minute live afternoon program where one lucky viewer got a call from Mary herself, along with a chance to win prizes like a Mary Hartline Doll from Ideal Toys. The Mary Hartline Show aired from February to June of 1951.

Mary remained on Super Circus until 1955, when the show was revamped and production moved to New York. Jerry Cologna was made host with Sandy Wirth taking the baton. Still a top-rated show, Super Circus ended in 1956 because of sponsorship difficulties.

Mary HartlineMary Hartline married well - and often. She divorced her first husband in 1951. Mary hitched up with her tax lawyer until 1960 when she married Chicago contractor George Carlson. Carlson died soon after their nuptials.

A short time thereafter, she married Woolworth dime store heir Woolworth Donahue. Together they entertained the rich and famous in Palm Beach, where they owned three magnificent homes (and another in Southampton). Donahue died in 1972.

A yachting enthusiast, Mary remained a local fixture of the Palm Beach old money set and has turned up recently signing autographs for her many fans at collector's shows.

mary hartline photo


More about
Claude Kirshner:

"Dad (Claude Kirchner) passed away in March of 1993 from lymphoma. A brief blurb in the NY Post mentioned his illness just before he died. I saved every single letter (over five-hundred) and have them in albums.

"I still can't get over the response and emotions shared concerning those who watched Terrytoon Circus every night.

Claude Kirshner"I guess it was a ritual, but some kids were watching to escape unbelievable abuses and found comfort from the show. If anyone reading this was one of the correspondents, thank you sooooo much! What memories we all have from those good old TV days!

"A couple of shows dad had that some of you might recall: Marx Magic Midway (mid '60's on channel 4, I think). Did you know that he was the voice-over artist for all of those Marx commercials for a long time?

"We had a closet full of Marx toys, but for some reason, my brother & I were not allowed to touch them! I guess they were to give away. The other show was Super Adventure Theater, I think it played old science fiction movies.

"I have tons of stuff of dad's including his original boots & ringmaster costume. He wore it late in life for a show called Remember When... hosted by a reporter named John Johnson. Dad and Mary Hartline both still fit in their costumes from the '40's! I videotaped it, but our son accidentally recorded over it.

"I also have many of the Super Circus shows with all those live commercials. Oh yeah, I also have Clownie!"

- Lynn

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