Personal Essay

TV Pals: Icons of an Ohio Childhood

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:

TV Pals 1 - Penny

Captain Penny’s closing words were: “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.”

TV Pals 2 - Larry

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.”

TV Pals 3 - Larry at CP

Look at that guy on the left. This he wears to an amusement park? What a fun date he must have been!

Photo of self and my older sister, Vicki, meeting Jungle Larry at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. Summer 1969.

TV Pals 4 - Barnaby

At 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 metier. He had an invisible parrot called “Long John.” I leave it to Bruno Bettleheim to sort that one out.

He looks a bit like Larry Semon, doesn’t he? Or maybe Harry Langdon.

TV Pals 5 - Woodrow

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.

TV Pals 6 - Franz

Franz the Toymaker (Ray Stawiarski.) He showed up after Captain Kangaroo, and also ran cartoons, the names of which escape me now. His sidekick was Raggedy Ann. My mother used to swear Ann was played by Jane Connell. (She wasn’t.)

Franz’s sign-off was, “Be good, and schmile at everybody!”

TV Pals 7 - McDonalds

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.

220px-Leif_Ancker_as_Mister_Mac

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.

TV Pals 8 - Flippo

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 real curiosity, in that he also hosted the Million Dollar Movie for housewives — which of course included a daily lottery drawing — and the afternoon movie, both 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. 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, did I tend to squirm.)

TV Pals 9 - Flippo

Flippo in palmier days, before the waistline went.

flippo 91a8f6665f9642805d2d4b31af886e2c

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 absolutely no 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 seldom saw it.

TV Pals  10 - Flippo

I have a much better memory of Luci’s Toyhouse than of Flippo’s children’s show, 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 looked nothing like Burr Tillstrom’s Ollie, let it be said. I had a small replica of that dragon for years. I wish I had it still. I owned a copy of this photo too:

TV Pals 12 - Luci

TV Pals 13 - Stanley

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 must 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 Flippo 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

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