Remembering our local TV kid shows: Brakeman Bill, Romper Room
With Seattle's TV clown J.P. Patches' passing on Sunday, our editorial board remembers the local television we watched as kids. Most of us didn't grow up in Seattle. The one writer who did, Bruce Ramsey, watched Brakeman Bill, not J.P. But we all watched television, and we honor the great local programming local stations still did for children back then.
From John Saul:
I could have been one of the kids in this photo taken from a web page dedicated to Mary Ellen Colchagoff, who hosted “Fun Farm” on WSPD in Toledo, Ohio, in the early 1950s. All I remember about the visit to “Fun Farm” with my older sister is that my mother made me wear shorts, an embarrassing insistence that she repeated a couple of years later on my first day of school. Every other boy at school had on blue jeans, of course.
From Lance Dickie:
TV kid shows in Portland were a big deal. The Mickey Mouse Club was the national powerhouse, but locally we had Mr. Moon, then Mr. Duffy and his Cartoon Circus, cowboy Heck Harper, and the closest J.P. Patches clown persona,Rusty Nails. Later came Ramblin' Rod and Addie Bobkins. By then I was watching American Bandstand and Lloyd Thaxton.
From Sharon Pian Chan:
"Romper Room" was what I watched growing up in Cerritos, Calif. When I was seven, my piano class was invited to play the soundtrack from Disney's "Snow White" in an episode. Our moms were asked to make us costumes like Snow White's seven dwarfs. Everyone else looked just like Sleepy and Grumpy. One even had the same spectacles that Doc wore. I felt like a new dwarf named Mortified as I played the intro to "Heigh-Ho" on the "Romper Room" set.
My mom must not have been clear on what dwarfs wore, because I looked like a Christmas elf. My costume had candy canes on it.
I now know that my classmates' had better costumes because their moms stayed home, so they had lots of time to sew the perfect costume. My mom worked as a nurse for the American Red Cross. With the little time she had off in the evenings, she managed to sew me the elf costume. This Christmas elf would proudly crash another dwarf party any time.
From Bruce Ramsey:
I grew up as a kid in the late 50s and early 60s, which was the J.P. Patches era, but I never was a fan of his. He was on Channel 7, and in north Edmonds, we didn’t get channel 7. We got 4, 5 and 11. I can’t remember a kids’ program on Channel 4. Channel 5 had Stan Boreson, a Ballard Scandinavian who played the accordion and had a basset hound named No Mo who never did anything. Stan sung a little ditty that began, “Zero dockus, moochus krockus, hallaballoza bub…”
My favorite was Brakeman Bill, on Channel 11. His sidekick was a sock puppet called Crazy Donkey. Bill played, as he said later, “straight man to a jackass,” and I loved it. Bill was dressed in a railroad brakeman’s outfit—something like milkman pants. After his dialogs with Crazy Donkey, he’d run the electric train, and the camera would follow the train. When the train went into the tunnel, the cartoon would begin.
Bill did commercials, too. In 1975 it was forbidden for kid show hosts to do commercials, and that ended Brakeman Bill. In my kidhood, 15 years earlier, it was allowed to pitch products to kids. I remember making my mother buy two Brakeman Bill sponsor products: a chocolate drink mix called Bosco and a drink tablet called Fizzies, which was a sort of Kool Aid with bubbles. A Fizzie was about the size of a quarter. You’d put it in a glass of water and it would sink, dissolving. When it was about three-quarters gone it would float to the top and disintegrate. We might fish it out then and eat it. It was our generation’s version of Hot Rocks.
These shows also sold toys. I bought one once: a plastic jet fighter that was mounted on a pistol handle. There was a trigger, and when you pulled it, the little pilot sprang from the cockpit and drifted to the floor under a parachute. On TV it looked very cool; the problem was, you had to repack the parachute, and the lines would get tangled up. I got bored with it pretty quickly. Brakeman Bill, though, I watched for years.
Update 1:40 p.m.
From Kate Riley:
My brush with local children's television was when I was about 4 years old in my hometown of Glendive, Mont. Our neighbor took her daughter, me and my two cousins, Wayne and Cory, down to KXGN-TV to be on a kids television show that featured Bozo the Clown cartoons.
I was not a cooperative guest, my mother remembers, saying I interrupted the hostess' questions about my age and what I liked about Bozo with my questions. I wondered where exactly was Bozo, and where did she keep her clothes at the station. I remember being wholly unsatisfied that I didn't get to meet the man with the orange hair.
Have any childhood television memories of your own? Share them with us in the comments below.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
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