By Scott Ross
I was born in Canton, Ohio in 1961. The hosts of the morning and afternoon children’s shows we watched broadcast from Cleveland. First and foremost was the genial Captain Penny.
Ron Penfound was the Captain, whose designation always caused me a bit of confusion, since his costume was that of a railroad engineer. No matter. Among the treats we got from the Captain were Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, AstroBoy (who made me unaccountably uneasy in a way I still can’t quite put my finger on), The Little Rascals (aka, Our Gang) shorts and, my personal favorite, The Three Stooges. The Captain always admonished us that we could laugh at their antics but never, ever to behave the way they did.
I had a copy of this photo, “signed” by a photocopier, on my bedroom wall:
Captain Penny’s closing words were a variation on Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people all of the time… and all of the people some of the time… but you can’t fool Mom!” which came to be known, I discovered later, as “Captain Penny’s Law.”
One of Captain Penny’s frequent guests was Jungle Larry (Lawrence Tetzlaff) who was a big attraction at the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. A sort of low-rent Jack Hanna, he often appeared with his wife, “Safari Jane.”
Right: “Barnaby” (Linn Sheldon), an oddity in that he seemed to be an elf or some such, and lived in an Enchanted Forest. He was the afternoon host, and the Popeye shorts were his métier. He had an invisible parrot called “Long John.” I leave it to Bruno Bettleheim to sort that one out. He also sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” at the top of every show. I remember being shocked one Thanksgiving, years later, when CBS ran the movie of Oklahoma! and there was Gordon MacRae, singing Barnaby’s song!
He looks a bit like Larry Semon, doesn’t he? Or maybe Harry Langdon.
Woodrow (J. Clayton “Clay” Conroy) was a neighbor of Barnaby’s in the Enchanted Forest. I recall very little about his shtick, or what shorts he ran. Possibly Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear cartoons? Someone did, I know.
Franz the Toymaker (Ray Stawiarski.) He showed up after Captain Kangaroo, and also ran cartoons, the names of which escape me now, but which I think might have included TerryToons like Deputy Dawg. His sidekick was Raggedy Ann. When the movie of Mame came out and I fell in love with Jane Connell’s Agnes Gooch, my mother swore Ann was played by Connell. (She wasn’t.)
Franz’s sign-off was, “Be good, and schmile at everybody!” Well, Ohio always did have a lot of Germans in it.
I also owned the McDonald’s keepsake above, which I displayed proudly on my bedroom wall next to the portrait of Captain Penny. Left to right: Franz, Woodrow, Barnaby, the Captain.
I don’t remember Aloysius T. MacGillicuddy (“Mister Mac,” played by Leif Ancker) but I certainly recall Popeye Theatre, which he hosted.
In 1969, when I was eight, we moved from Canton to Mt. Vernon, Ohio. No more Cleveland stations for us; now we were subject to the whims of Columbus. There were fewer choices, but that may have had as much to do with local programming cut-backs as anything else.
Flippo the Clown (Bob Marvin, nee Marvin W. Fishman) ran Looney Tunes in the morning — my first exposure to the pre-1948 titles that didn’t run on the Saturday morning network shows.
Flippo was a genuine curiosity, in that he hosted not only the morning children’s show and the Million Dollar Movie for housewives — which of course included a daily lottery drawing — and the afternoon movie… all while decked out in full clown costume. Since he presumably wore it, and the make-up, in the studio all day, I wonder if he “lived” the role off-camera…?
I liked Flippo. He wasn’t manic, like Clarabell, whom someone once memorably called “that psychotic clown.” In those days, a television clown, safely distanced by glass, cathode tube and physical miles, didn’t unnerve me. (Only when they got too close, in real life, at a circus or carnival, did I tend to squirm.)
This is the Flippo of my memory, hosting the afternoon movie, from either 3 to 5 or 4 to 6. I forget which. We watched him, as we did everything else in my household throughout my childhood and adolescence, in black and white.
Thanks to Flippo I was exposed to a lot of old movies after school, although the only one I remember with any special clarity was the original 1942 Michael Korda Jungle Book starring Sabu. That one fascinated me because it was so very different from the 1967 Disney animated version, with which I had been absolutely besotted when I was 6 or 7, and much more like the Kipling stories. (When I saw the Korda again years later, I wondered how on earth, even at age 9, I could not have noticed how gorgeous Sabu was. I mean, I had a crush on Jonny Quest, for god’s sake!)
I have only the vaguest memory of Flippo’s morning children’s show, possibly because from the ages of eight to ten, while we were in Mt. Vernon, I was in school and saw it only if I was home sick, or on vacation.
Luci’s Toyhouse is a more vivid memory, possibly because I was always drawn to hand-puppets, and Luci (Lucille Gasaway) had a whole plethora of them, including Pierre, Lion, and Stanley Mouse. She also had a dragon — who, let it be said, looked nothing like Burr Tillstrom’s Ollie. I owned a small replica puppet of that dragon for years, purchased at a personal Luci appearance in Mt. Vernon. I wish I had it still. I had a copy of this photo too:
Right: Stanley Mouse from Luci’s Toyshop. It’s likely I remember his name so well because our babysitter’s name was Cindy Stanley. She once told us her little brother had been one of the children in the audience interviewed on the show. When Luci found out his last name and suggested he might be related to Stanley Mouse, her brother matter-of-factly replied, “Yes, and I have a sister named Cindy Stanley too.”
I have no special sense of nostalgia regarding these things. Or, if I do, it’s not for any specific personality or series but for the excited sensations of childhood, when just being alive and curious and engaged in the moment was itself a pleasure… before adolescent doubts and anxieties took so much of the sheer fun out of being young. That, and perhaps a kind of wistfulness for the days when local television stations actually gave half a damn what they fed to kids, and employed such creatures as Captain Penny and Luci to entertain young viewers as a matter of course. I do, however, find it diverting, on occasion, to remember.
Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross