The list of children’s shows from the 1950s and 1960s is rather lengthy, so I am only going to discuss my favorites.
Captain Kangaroo came on early in the morning before school started. This show was responsible for my tardiness at Jefferson Elementary School more than once.
Bob Keesahn, who played the Captain, was a grandfatherly-type figure who loved children.
The show was centered on life in the “Treasure House” where the Captain (the name “Kangaroo” came from the big pockets in his coat) would tell stories, meet guests, and indulge in silly stunts with regular characters, both humans and puppets.
There was a cadre of cool characters on the show. Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum played the parts of Mr. Green Jeans, the New Old Folk Singer, Percy, Uncle Backwards, Mr. McGregor, and Mr. Bainter the Painter. Cosmo Allegretti appeared as Mr. Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose (both of which he also created), Dennis the Apprentice, Willy, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, and Uncle Ralph; he was the voice of Aniforms puppet TV Fred (a live-action on-screen puppet that appeared behind the blackboard in the Treasure House), and was the artist behind the Magic Drawing Board.
The show featured cartoons such as Tom Terrific in the 1950s and 1960s. There were lots of comic routines. The one that stands out is Mr. Moose telling the Captain a Knock-Knock joke, followed by hundreds of ping-pong balls falling on the Captain. The show conveyed moral messages to the children watching, and in my opinion, this beloved man and his show was the “creme de la creme” of children’s shows. The show ran from 1955-1984.
Romper Room was a show for preschoolers that opened with the hostess leading the Pledge of Allegiance. It was unique in that it was both syndicated and franchised. This meant local affiliates could use the script but employ a local hostess and feature local children. Etiquette was a focus of Romper Room. The hostesses were always addressed as “Miss.” The show also had a mascot, Mr. Do-Bee. Mr. Do-Bee was an oversized bumblebee who came to teach the children proper deportment. He was noted for always starting his sentence with “Do Bee,” as in the imperative “Do be;” for example, “Do Bee good boys and girls for your parents!” There was also a “Mr. Don’t Bee” to show children exactly what they should not do.
Howdy Doody, which ran from 1947-1960 was one of the first tv shows targeted at young children.
It was hosted by Buffalo Bob Smith, who co-starred with red-headed marionette Howdy Doody, Clarabell the Clown, and others who entertained the kids at home as well as those gathered in the studio.
Soupy Sales Show
The Soupy Sales Show, which was on the air for 13 years, started out as Comedian Soupy Sales’ comedy sketch show Lunch with Soupy Sales in Detroit, and grew, becoming something of a sensation in the mid-60s. The show’s title began as 12 O’Clock Comics and after Lunch with Soupy Sales became The Soupy Sales Show.
Mickey Mouse Club
Another afternoon favorite was the Mickey Mouse Club, which only aired from 1954-1959. This show was the brainchild of Walt Disney. It was a kid’s variety show that gave the world Mouseketeers such as Annette Funicello, Bobby Burgess, Darlene Gillespie, Cubby O’Brien, and Karen Pendleton.
The Gumby Show
And last but not least was The Gumby Show, which was on the air from 1957 to 1969, and was a clay animation franchise featuring a green clay humanoid, Gumby. Gumby’s primary sidekick was Pokey, a talking red pony. His nemeses are the G and J Blockheads, a pair of antagonistic red humanoid figures with cube-shaped heads, one with the letter G on the block, the other with the letter J. The name “Gumby” came from the muddy clay found at creator Art Clokey’s grandparents’ farm that his family called “gumbo.” This show became a cultural icon, spawning tributes, parodies, and merchandising.
Local children’s shows
There were several locally produced kid’s shows in the 50s and 60s.
One that brings back fond memories is the Spanky Show, hosted by George “Spanky” McFarland, of Our little Rascals fame. It aired in the late 1950s in the afternoon on KOTV. He had a fake clubhouse, had local children for guests, and showed episodes of Our little Rascals. From time to time he would have various Hollywood stars appear on the show. My mother booked me on the show for my birthday. Since it was my birthday Spanky let me crank the faux movie camera to start the movie.
KJRH aired a children’s show from 1959-1974 called The Big Bill and Oom-A-Gog Show. During the show, a big steel door rolled up and out came Oom-A-Gog, a really cheesy-looking robot with flashing eyes and all sorts of fake instrumentation on him. The show featured children in the audience and cartoons.
The Lee and Lionel show also aired on KOTV and ran for nearly 2 decades. Lee Woodward started out hosting the morning show “Sun Up” and the Saturday “Dance Party.” Doug Dodd, former KOTV News Director, said in an interview: “[Woodward] found the original King Lionel, in a box, in a storage box somewhere in the station, and he had never done that before. He tried and developed the ability to do a little ventriloquism.”
The show opened with the puppet, King Lionel, in his castle with Lee Woodward. There was a model of an amphibious car putting along in the moat.
King Lionel offered talked about the weather and news and hawked sponsor’s merchandise during live commercials. Lee debuted Lionel on an afternoon children’s movie show, and it was an instant success When Woodward started forecasting the weather at 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm, Lionel was there with him.
I really liked that show; King Lionel was one of my favorite puppets of all time. I also thought the tiny amphibious car was really cool.
A show I do not remember, but was brought to my attention by a friend, was Brewster’s Toy Shop. Brewster’s toy store was on South Peoria in Tulsa and was one of the first stores that exclusively sold toys. The show had a live audience full of local children. At the end of the show, the kids would get a toy. My friend tells me he was on the show.
Then there was the Mister Zing and Tuffy Show, which ran on KTUl from the late 1960s through the 1970s, featuring John Chick as ringmaster, Tuffy the Tiger, and, later, Shaggy the Dog. This show had a live audience consisting of local children.