Friday, February 25, 2011

Happy birthday, Mom!


Yes, it’s that time again—or as a famous musical pea picker once observed, “Another year older and deeper in debt.”  The most famous mother in blogdom* ticks off another birthday, which is why a scheduled post I had in the works for today is going to have to be bumped until next week.

My mother and father recently spent a little vacation here at Rancho Yesteryear hanging out as temporary roommates, and a delightful time was had by all.  We ate well (some of the menu items include the best baby back ribs I’ve eaten in a long time, Buffalo wings and filet mignons), watched a lot of local news and MSNBC (the ‘rents don’t sit down in front of TCM much…and I’m still waging a fruitless battle to get Mom to stop tuning into AMC) and just enjoyed each other’s company; I even saved my Dad $25 by helping him renew his real estate broker’s license online.  I spoke with Mom earlier today to see if she wanted to do anything this evening but she begged off; she and Dad have been laid up with a cold that he’s had for some time now…apparently he caught it from his grandson.  But don’t think that because celebratory plans have been postponed that you escape notice on the blog, Mother dear…happy birthday and I love you!

*This might be a slight exaggeration.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another fabulous Thrilling Days of Yesteryear giveaway!

Mea maxima culpas for being away from the blog for so long but I’m in the homestretch of completing a project for the good people at Radio Spirits…which will open up endless possibilities to invest in a little DVD-age—particularly a new VCI release that’s in the hopper, the 1945 “lost” Columbia serial Brenda Starr, Reporter and a pair of Warner Archive releases that will be difficult to say no to: a five-DVD collection of Tim Holt westerns (I saw a few of Tim’s oaters on Encore Westerns sometime back and they are really first-rate B-pictures) and the long-awaited DVD release of TDOY fave Stars in My Crown (1950; I just wish they hadn’t deemed this a MOD project).  The great thing about RS is that they are generous about sending me a few freebies of the finished products I had a hand in, as witnessed by the last successful giveaway I held on the blog, a nice collection of Great Gildersleeve broadcasts.  (I use the term “successful” because judging by the response on the Bridge on the River Kwai giveaway that went over like a fart at a funeral.)

When Radio Spirits CEO Mark Tepper first asked me to contribute liner notes for these collections it was when he was still running his company Radio Again and the sets I worked on were 2-disc collections containing broadcasts from popular radio programs of the past that nevertheless didn’t have as many shows circulating around due to the ravages of time and neglect.  For example, one of the first collections was a series called Mayor of the Town—a very popular program in its day (1942-49) that was heard on all four radio networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and Mutual) and starred Lionel Barrymore as the mayor of a small town with Agnes Moorehead as his devoted housekeeper and Conrad Binyon as a young boy named Butch, who was his ward.  Surviving broadcasts of this pleasant comedy-drama are few and far between, so RS put out a small collection of four shows to allow OTR fans the opportunity to check out a wonderfully written and acted show that, sadly, has seen most of its transcription legacy turn to dust.

The Mayor of the Town set could be purchased separately but if you bought it in tandem with two other collections (The Jimmy Durante Show and The Halls of Ivy) you’d receive a copy of the liner notes for all three CD sets, and after completing this project I’d go on to contribute to additional releases for such shows as Sealtest Variety Theater, Information Please and The Railroad Hour.  While working on the Great Gildersleeve “Baby” release Mark asked me if I was interested in doing the notes for another Radio Spirits Presents trio and because I’m a fan of the shows chosen—A Date with Judy, Meet Corliss Archer and My Friend Irma—I told him to deal me in.

Each one of these new Radio Spirits Presents collections contains four broadcasts from Radio’s Golden Age and in several cases they contain previously uncirculated broadcasts.  It’s also interesting to note that all three of these programs were popular enough to inspire movie adaptations: M-G-M turned Judy into a movie in 1948 (starring Jane Powell as Judy with Wallace Beery and Elizabeth Taylor) and Columbia brought the book that inspired Meet Corliss Archer, Kiss and Tell to the silver screen in 1945 with Shirley Temple as the teen heroine.  (Temple would reprise the part in a sequel released by United Artists four years later, A Kiss for Corliss.)  My Friend Irma, the third show in this collection, made the biggest splash on the big screen with a 1949 vehicle that we now remember for introducing the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; the film was so successful that Dean & Jer (as well as Irma’s Marie Wilson) did a sequel the following year in My Friend Irma Goes West.  In addition to all this big screen action, all three series made the transition to the boob tube for brief runs in various forms (live and taped) during the Golden Age of Television

So what I’m trying to say in my typically long-winded fashion is that I have two of these combos (a $26.26 value) to give away…and if you’d like a chance to own one, all you need to do is send me an e-mail with “Judy-Corliss-Irma Giveaway” in the subject header (that way I’ll know you’re not some member of the Nigerian royal family who needs my help) and address it to igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com.  I’ll choose two winners next Thursday (the deadline for entry is Wednesday at midnight EST) by random number generation and whisk the prizes out to these lucky people with the compliments of both TDOY and Radio Spirits.  You don’t have to put your snail-mail address in the e-mail unless you’ve been informed that you’re a winner; all you have to do is write something pithy like “Yes, I’d very much like to win one of these” or “It has been my fondest wish to spend the rest of this bitterly cold winter by a blazing fireplace listening to the antics of Judy, Corliss and Irma” or stuff like that there.  There is one tiny stipulation: if you’ve been fortunate to win some swag from me within the past thirty days you might want to sit this one out just as a gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly) gesture to allow someone else to be lucky.  Enter today!

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Friday, February 18, 2011

For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon: The Dark Mirror (1946)


Note: This essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon currently underway from February 14-21 and being hosted by those grande dames of movie blogdom, Marilyn at Ferdy on Films and Farran at Self-Styled SirenThe blogathon seeks to increase awareness of the need for classic film buffs to dig deep into their film buff pockets and contribute whatever amount of fundage they can to The Film Noir Foundation, a right-guy organization founded by noir guru Eddie Mueller that funnels the aforementioned coin into preserving classic noir films.  This year, the money raised by the blogathon will help the FNF restore the 1950 classic The Sound of Fury (aka Try and Get Me!)—an amazing film that not only boasts a superlative performance from Lloyd Bridges but is also OTR legend Frank Lovejoy’s finest hour onscreen.  To donate to the cause, click on this link:

Respected physician Frank Peralta has been found murdered (a victim of a stabbing) in his apartment, and dedicated detective Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) has a perplexing problem: he has two witnesses who can identify a woman named Theresa “Terry” Collins (Olivia de Havilland) as having left the good doctor’s place moments after the murder…but there are three witnesses who can alibi that Ms. Collins spent that evening with them in a park four miles from where the fatal stabbing took place.  It can’t be possible—can a woman be in two places at the same time?

Well, it’s not that difficult to do when the suspect has a twin sister—who answers to “Ruth” (also de Havilland).  The dilemma for Stevenson is that neither sister will clarify as to which of them left Peralta’s digs that evening, and not even an elevator boy (Richard Long) employed in the building where the sister(s) work a newspaper stand nor psychologist Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres) can tell the difference because the twins laugh alike, they walk alike…at times they can even talk alike.  (You could lose your mind.)  The district attorney (Charles Evans), stymied by the sisters’ subterfuge, has no choice but to dismiss the murder charge (though he does give them a rather stern talking-to about thwarting justice) since none of the witnesses can positively finger the culprit.

Stevenson is not happy about this turn of events, and he asks Elliott to help him with an independent investigation that he hopes will shed some light on which twin has the Toni committed the crime.  Fortunately for the purposes of this narrative, Elliott’s expertise in the field of psychology is the study of twins (I guess this makes him a “twin-ologist”) and after conducting a series of tests is pretty certain he knows sibling wielded the knife that evening.  But he’ll have to agree to be the “booby trap” in a particularly crafty scheme concocted by Stevenson that ultimately reveals to the audience the long-held cinematic trope that when it comes to the dichotomy of movie twins—one is always purely good, and one is always purely evil…evil!!!

The motif of mirrors and twins (twins, as Dr. Ayres explains in the film, are “reflections of each other—everything in reverse”) is a recurring one in German scientific, literary and popular culture (they coined a term for it, doppelgänger) and émigré director Robert Siodmak (who helmed The Dark Mirror) even tackled a similar film two years earlier in the Technicolor kitsch classic Cobra Woman (1944).  In fact, as long as Hollywood has been in the movie business the subject of twins has been prime fodder for films—generally for comic effect but on occasion the darker side of identical siblings has been addressed in such vehicles as The Black Room (1935; Boris Karloff), Among the Living (1941; Albert Dekker) and Dead Men Walk (1943; George Zucco).  1946 was sort of the year of the evil female twin—in addition to Livvy’s twofold turn, her former Warner Bros. stablemate Bette Davis doubled her pleasure and doubled her fun in A Stolen Life.  (Davis would make another twin flick—perfect for a “double” feature, you might say—in 1964 with Dead Ringer.)  Other notable films noir featuring the twins concept that followed Mirror include The Guilty (1947) and The Man with My Face (1951).

Dark Mirror also features a favorite Hollywood plot device that was really starting to gain traction in films in that time period (notably Spellbound [1945], and followed by such noirs as High Wall [1947], Secret Beyond the Door... [1947] and The Dark Past [1948—though Past was a remake of an earlier 1939 film, Blind Alley]): that of psychology/psychiatry and how therapy and analysis can cure deviant individuals who are, in the diagnosis of the onscreen analyst, criminals only because they are “sick” in the mind.   Mirror benefits from having Lew Ayres play the authoritative shrink in this one, since the actor had become a household name as the star of several Dr. Kildare films cranked out by M-G-M in the late 30s and early 40s (Mirror was Ayres’ return to the big screen after being blacklisted by the industry for a time because he declared himself a conscientious objector during World War II).  Ayres gives it the old college try but he’s not helped by the fact that the dialogue he’s required to spout (courtesy of writer-producer Nunnally Johnson, who’d make the same mistakes in 1957’s The Three Faces of Eve) is a lot of simplistic Freudian psycho-babble.  (My favorite moment in the film is when he super-seriously intones to cop Mitchell that one of the sisters “is intelligent…but insane.”)

At the risk of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film (and that’s your warning…so stop reading this immediately) it’s twin Terry who croaked the doc, diagnosed by Doc Elliott as a “paranoiac” and chalked up to the fact that she’s held a grudge against her sister dating back to a time when Ruth was going to be adopted by a farm family who didn’t want Terry (it’s explained that while the family couldn’t take in two kids the male head of the clan didn’t much care for Ter) and incidents from the sisters’ past where boys were attracted to the “good” Ruth as opposed to the “evil” Terry.  (I like how this individual suggests that de Havilland’s bad-twin performance was motivated by her longtime dislike of sister Joan Fontaine.)  There’s also a sly insinuation that Terry might be a lesbian because she uses the male form of her real name (Theresa) and because her affection for Ruth is such that she vows never to be separated from her.  To the film’s credit, the narrative sheds a teensy bit of doubt as to which sister is the unstable one—“good” Ruth isn’t quite the picture of mental health, suffering from hallucinations and nightmares and having to medicate herself before bedtime in order to get a good night’s rest.


It’s like she’s in some sort of snake pit or something.  De Havilland is really first-rate in Mirror; I think she’s better in this film than the one for which nabbed her first Best Actress Oscar (To Each His Own) and her portrayal of good and evil twins is definitely more subtle than Davis’ look-alikes turn in the same year’s Stolen Life.  Livvy beautifully accomplishes the feat of making each sister alike and yet individuals (resisting the temptation to completely portray them in black-and-white terms even though the film itself is monochromatic); still the filmmakers can’t resist “dumbing things down” for us on occasion by introducing devices like dressing the good twin in white and bad in black (something not unfamiliar to B-western fans):


…and also branding them with Hester Prynne-like scarlet letters so that we can continue to tell who’s who…


…but I think having Ruth and Terry wear necklaces with their names on them is a bit too much—particularly in this second screen cap, a scene which sort of telegraphs an important plot point to the audience (Elliott is on the phone speaking with someone he thinks is Ruth…but it ain’t). 


Ayres is good but he’s a bit stiff (he would tackle a similar medical role in Johnny Belinda two years later) and Mitchell…well, it’s a bit hard to reconcile the guy who misplaced $8,000 in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as a savvy detective (and the fact that he uses idiotic expressions like “It don’t make any more sense to me than Chinese music” and “He’s about as useful as a papoose” doesn’t help matters either.)  The weakness of Mitchell's casting aside, Mirror manages to be an entertaining little mellerdrammer through the strength of its moody, striking visuals and nifty photographic effects (courtesy of Devereaux Jennings and Paul K. Lerpae), which triumph over an uneven script (that veers off in several directions: comedy, romance and ultimately suspense thriller).  Some of the effects are pretty obvious …


…others are pretty eye-poppingly amazing:


I also like how Siodmak bookends the film with opening and closing shots of the inkblot…



…and how the film opens with a shattered mirror (seen in an impressive camera pan through the murdered man’s apartment which ends up with a shot of a knife sticking out of the corpse) and closes with a shattered mirror (Terry throws an object at a mirror image of Ruth when she realizes how Stevenson has tricked her into revealing she killed the doctor).  The damage done to the apartment (and the victim) is created by the female, and the film concludes with the chauvinistic suggestion that it's up to the male(s) to put things right.  There’s also that interesting framed globe seen in many shots behind Ayres in his apartment…


…that suggests a splitting of embryos.  Mirrors are a constant presence in the film—an opening shot finds Mitchell gazing at his reflection…


…and I like how the mirror separates the twins in this shot, and then a few scenes later Siodmak foreshadows how Ayres will fall in love with the good twin (on the left), isolating her from her over protective sis:


The Dark Mirror was released to VHS in 1985 by NTA/Republic Home Video but as far as DVD action goes, it’s been MIA.  Koch Media has a Region 2 version available that DVD Beaver touts for its superior visual quality—and looking at the screen caps (a couple of which I “liberated” for this essay) it looks far better than the disc I have, a Region 2 Suevia Films version that I purchased from Xploited Cinema in January of 2008.  Because it has yet to surface in a Region 1 release, Mirror was one of the featured rarities shown at this year’s Noir City festival in San Francisco in January and it also reared its ugly twin head at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “Oscar Noir” in July (Mirror received a nomination for Vladimir Pozner’s original story).  So if you have access to a multi-region DVD player and some loose jingle in your pocket The Dark Mirror is a classic noir well worth checking out.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hi, cartooners!

Because I had some irons in the fire on both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings this past week I didn’t get around to seeing the newest Pioneers of Television episode until Sunday afternoon.  The subject of PBS’ critically-acclaimed history of the boob tube was “Local Kids’ TV”—a celebration of programming aimed at the lollypop set featuring grown adults who dressed up in goofy costumes (for often little to no pay; one of the interviewees comments: “I can't think of anything connected that I didn't like...oh...our salaries...that's the only thing...”) and hawked cereal and toys until those busybodies at Action for Children’s Television put a halt to all that good, clean fun.  (The ACT organization, founded by concerned Massachusetts housewife Peggy Charren, lobbied Congress to pass a law that prohibited kiddy show hosts from promoting products on their programs and because that sort of funded the bottom line on these shows for a good many TV stations, the local hosts soon started becoming extinct.)

Because my familiarity with this topic wasn’t as far-reaching as some of the other segments featured on Pioneers of Television, I really enjoyed this hour—and in fact, really wished it could have continued on for a little bit longer.  I was familiar with many of the individuals featured like Stan Freberg (KTLA’s Time for Beany) and Chuck McCann (there’s a choice clip with McCann hitting a snare drum that turns out to be filled with milk—which I’m pretty sure he cribbed from Ernie Kovacs); there were also clips from Ray Rayner and Friends and Garfield Goose, which I was able to see because our local cable company in my hometown of Ravenswood, WV carried Chicago’s WGN.  The program also concentrated on people who started out doing local kid shows but graduated to bigger and better things (while remaining in the same line of work), notably Muppet master Jim Henson, who started out on a Washington, DC program called Sam and Friends until Children’s Television Workshop founder Joan Ganz Cooney convinced him to ply his trade on what eventually became known as Sesame Street.  (I thought it was interesting to learn that Henson was originally reluctant to take the Sesame gig, feeling that entertaining kids was sort of out of his sphere and that his métier was using his creations for commercials for products like Chinese food and coffee.)  The other “pioneer” examined was the incomparable Fred Rogers, whose humble beginnings began on Children’s Corner in Pittsburgh, PARogers explains on camera that his trademark sneakers came about as a result of his wanting to be able to move about the studio without making too much noise.

The one show that I did not have a previous acquaintance was the legendary Wallace and Ladmo of Phoenix, AZ’s KPHO-TV (channel 5), which lent itself to a lengthy discussion and presentation of some hilarious clips from that long running series.  The show began in 1954 as It’s Wallace?—“Wallace” played by the station’s art director, Bill Thompson—as a vehicle to show cartoons with Thompson performing various comedy bits to eat up time between cartoons and commercials.  Thompson talked his pal Ladimir Kwiatkowski (a cameraman at the station) into joining him in front of the camera as his sidekick “Ladmo,” and a few years after that a third man, weatherman Pat McMahon, was thrown into the mix.  The result was a series that lasted thirty-five years on the station; a program that showcased a satirical and slightly subversive sense of humor (Thompson and his pals often ribbed their sponsors) done live (in front of a studio audience) five times a week.

McMahon’s wacky cast of show characters included superhero Captain Super (McMahon observes on Pioneers that “a superhero on The Wallace and Ladmo Show need only to be two things: not super in any way nor a hero”), octogenarian Aunt Maud and spoiled brat Gerald, a character so loathed by the audience that they would boo him when he came on…and Thompson and McMahon both tell a hilarious anecdote about how kids stormed the stage during a live appearance that featured the Gerald character, throwing gherkins at him and then rocking the cab of a truck that McMahon had escaped to in order to evade their adolescent wrath.  My personal favorite in the clips I saw was Boffo the Clown, a cynical performer who despises kids and is pretty much in it only for the money (“I'll be the clown, you be the kids...just sit there and shut your mouths...").  It kind of made me wish I had role models like that growing up…except I might have really turned out more twisted than I already am.  The program’s title became Wallace & Company in 1968 and two years after that it took on its now better-known title and continued as The Wallace and Ladmo Show until it left the airwaves in 1989.

A good deal of discussion was also devoted to children’s shows that were essentially local productions but were part of franchises—Bozo the Clown being the most famous example, of course, and there is mention of Boston’s Frank Avruch (whose program has been released to DVD; I discussed one of the sets here) and Chicago’s Bob Bell (and later Joey D’Auria) as just two of the many amazing performers who brought “the world’s most famous clown” to life.  (The program also talks with another famous Bozo, former Today weatherman Willard Scott, who played the Boz on a Washington, DC station and often found himself in demand doing promotions for the McDonald’s chain in the DC area.  When WRC cancelled their Bozo program, McDonald’s asked Scott to become their new mascot and spokesman…and lo and behold, Ronald McDonald was born.)  The other well-known franchised kid show was TV’s Romper Room, and reminiscences of that program come from the likes of Room hosts Mary Ann King, Marlene Manderfield and Socorro Serrano.

My only exposure to Bozo growing up was WGN’s Bozo’s Circus, which was the highest-rated local children’s program in television history (and also the high water mark of local TV, IMO), but I have to confess that I watched that show long after my kid days had come and gone.  (It was that good.)  WJCL-TV in Savannah had a Bozo, which I sometimes watched when I visited my grandparents (who lived in that city long before my family moved there in 1983—in fact, it was my grandfather who greased the wheels for my father to get a job); I remember tuning in one afternoon (my grandmother had a color TV, which was astoundingly cool because I got to see Get Smart in color for the first time) to hear a local announcer deliver the news that due to technical difficulties the Bozo festivities would be in black-and-white.  (I did not know at the time that JCL had only been on the air since 1970 and that they were still working out the kinks on the whole color broadcasting thing.)

I do, however, remember watching Romper Room as a kid—WCHS in Charleston had a franchise (hosted by “Miss” Marilyn Fletcher)—but I never cared for the program for several reasons, notably because Miss Marilyn didn’t show cartoons and as patient as I was for her to call my name when she looked into her “magic mirror” as the end of each telecast she never did.  (This sort of emboldened me in a way; I figured if she couldn’t see me I could get away with some pretty devilish behavior without experiencing any repercussions.)

No, in my formative years I had two idols who hosted kiddy show programs—the first was Uncle Willie, the titular host of WCHS-TV’s Uncle Willie’s Popcorn Theater.  “Willie” was the alter ego of a musician and entertainer named George “Sleepy” Jeffers, a West Virginia broadcasting legend who headlined his own country music show on the station in the mornings and then did the kid show thing in the afternoon.  Uncle Willie told bad jokes, sang corny songs (some to a young girl named “Little Linda,” who was Jeffers’ real-life daughter) and showed cartoons accompanied by a comical sidekick named Roscoe Squirt.  Roscoe was a member of Sleepy’s country music band (and played a pretty mean steel guitar) along with “Sonny” and “Honey,” who were collectively known as the Davis Twins (the Davises and Sleepy had a regional hit record with Pretending is a Game in 1957) and I got to meet the two of them (Rosc and Wil) at some carnival function at the school my next-door neighbors attended, where they were the main attraction.  (Uncle Willie could make his bowtie move up and down with his Adam’s apple, a pretty impressive deal when you’re a mere sprat.)  This post at Random Thoughts was written by a guy who worked for WCHS-AM and knew Sleepy pretty well since Jeffers worked the late shift—I remember tuning into the station sometimes around 5 in the morning and hearing ol’ Sleepy on the air.  I have been known to this day to use Uncle Willie’s signoff, “Bicycle!”—to the puzzlement of various friends and acquaintances.

But the king of local television children’s programming in my youth was the one and only Mr. Cartoon—a man who has had such an influence on my life (his standard greeting to kids is the title of this post) it’s positively uncanny (his sign-off about having to “skedaddle out of here” has stayed with me to this day), and who ruled weekday afternoons at four for one solid hour of cartoon entertainment on Huntington’s WSAZ-TV for nearly thirty years.  Mr. Cartoon was originally played by a man named George Lewis (who doubled as WSAZ’s “Steamboat Bill”) but when Lewis left the station in 1969 for a job in Maryland Jule Huffman, hired by the station as a singer and announcer in 1953, replaced him (Jules was also WSAZ’s weatherman).  Huffman had been a regular on Steamboat Bill as the voice of Merlin the Sea Monster, and he also hosted a puppet show (that showed Popeye cartoons) at the butt-crack of dawn on Saturday morning called Popeye and His Pals.

Mr. Cartoon couldn’t make his bowtie move up and down like Uncle Willie but then again he rarely wore one—his taste lent itself more to loud sports jackets, topped off with sunglasses and hat.  He’d never really hit you over the head with a good deal of moralizing but he did teach me to always use the four magic words: “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome” and “Excuse me.”  He would also insist that I make sure to “attend the church or synagogue of your choice” on Sundays—something that never did quite sit right with me because I was curious as to what he had against those of the Muslim and Buddhist faith.  Apart from that indiscretion, I would have given my eyeteeth to have gone on the show as a kid but I never got the opportunity—I do remember that when I was at Marshall University in 1981 we asked WSAZ if they would consider letting us be on the show (even though we averaged about eighteen years of age) and they looked at us like we were nuts.  “You’re too old,” they dismissively told us, and even though we tried to persuade them (and I thought our arguments were pretty sound) that we thought so highly of Huffman that we wanted to do his show as a tribute to what a great role model Mr. Cartoon was they waved us off.

Mr. Cartoon showed a variety of cartoons—he’d switch back-and-forth from Bugs Bunny to Popeye to Woody Woodpecker to Rocky and Bullwinkle…at one time the station even had the Banana Splits package, complete with the adventures of Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel, etc.  For a while, Mr. Cartoon would have one of the Splits on the show as his sidekick (Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snork[y]) but in 1974 he got a subordinate that he didn’t have to pay royalties to: a…well, I never did figure out what he was supposed to be but he answered to “Beeper.”  Beeper had a jones for peanut butter sandwiches, and all the kids in the “Kartooners Korner” would hand Mr. Cartoon a paper bag containing a sandwich for ol’ Beep…I used to wonder even back then whether Beeper actually polished them off himself or whether they donated the food to a soup kitchen (my Mom was a fanatic about wasting food, which probably explains why I’m the size I am today).  A mutual friend of my paisan Jeff Lane and I donned the Beeper outfit a couple of times when he worked at the station but he’d never tell us when because he didn’t want us watching.

Though my childhood dreams of being on Mr. Cartoon never reached fruition, the man himself did make an appearance at another school carnival function—this time in Ravenswood, WV.  I had planned to have my picture taken with my idol but a few of my alleged friends, seeing me standing in line for the photos, began to razz me to the point where I became embarrassed and I sheepishly ended up sneaking out of the line…something which I regret to this day.  As for Mr. Cartoon, he suffered the indignity of having his show removed from weekday afternoons in 1988 (the station replaced it with The Oprah Winfrey Show—which for me is just one of the many reasons to hate Oprah) and relegated to a Saturday morning timeslot, where it flourished until 1995.  The program was cancelled two months before Huffman retired from WSAZ—he told the powers that be that he’d be perfectly willing to continue despite his official retirement and those idiots said talk to the hand.  Huffman will celebrate his 87th birthday on March 31st of this year…but I thought I’d give him a shout-out right now in case I forget.

If there’s one fault with this particular Pioneers of Television segment it’s that they donate a little too much time to letting Bill Cosby stand on a soapbox and preach about how terrible TV is for kids; the Cos’ Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids is discussed here…which seems out of place for an hour about local kids’ television (since Albert was an animated network show) and really, the only thing I ever learned from Cosby Kids was that people with speech impediments (Mushmouth, I’m talking to you) were apparently funny.  When ACT got their “act” together they kind of ruined things for fans of these shows (I’ve always held them responsible for the cancellation of Linus the Lionhearted) who really didn’t watch them to be lectured or talked down to…they simply wanted to be entertained.  As Sharon Kelley, a one-time director for Wallace and Ladmo succinctly states during the telecast, “They weren't trying to teach us anything...they weren't trying to give us any morals or present any lessons...they just...it was just for laughs.”  So take a deep breath…one more deep breath…just one more deep breath…and say it with me now: “Bye, cartooners!”


The above is a photo of WSAZ-TV’s news team in the 1970s, with Jule “Mr. Cartoon” Huffman doubling as weatherman and the first “Bob” of this group is anchorman Bob Brunner, who once gave a speech at a luncheon for my high school’s Quill & Scroll Society…and was falling down hilarious.  (I remember one time he “subbed” for Huffman as Monsieur Cartoon, telling the kids that he was Mr. C’s “younger and better-looking brother.”)  The “Bos” is Bos Johnson, a veteran reporter/anchor who tried to teach me broadcast journalism while I was at Marshall but he insisted on instructing me at the ungodly hour of 8am.  I liked and respected Bos a lot, but I don’t think it was reciprocated—he once told me: “I get the feeling you don’t take too many things seriously.”

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