Atlanta TV Kids' Hosts in the 1960s
If there's something I truly miss about "living in the future" it's all the old 1960s local LIVE television shows. Back then nearly every venue had a "host" of some kind. Even the afternoon movie (a "Dialing for Dollars" feature) had a local personality associated with it. Regrettably this post doesn't feature all of those nearly-forgotten TV mavericks... just the ones I can personally remember at this point.
I grew up hearing the name Bestoink Dooley more than I remember actually seeing him. (Though I do have a clear memory of my dad running over to the TV and pointing him out to the family when he was doing a live remote segment when I was about four --or roughly in about 1966) Bestoink Dooley (who is in reality, an actor --and later Atlanta theater owner-- George Ellis), had been the host of the Friday night "Big Movie Shocker" on WAGA-TV5 in Atlanta for some time by that point. They showed a lot of the original Shock Theater package which included many of the 30's and 40's movies from the Universal Horror Canon. It proved to be so popular that a second programming block was added on Saturday afternoons. For a short time there was even an afternoon half hour show called "Dooley and Co." where Bestoink dropped the horror schitck in favor of comedy and showed 3 Stooges shorts. A taped segment from Detroit (featuring another Horror host "Morgus" as a gonzo weatherman) also helped add to the silliness.
In 1965 Bestoink Dooley starred in his very own mega-low budget horror vehicle The Legend of Blood Mountain (aka Blood Mountain --and known even in the 1980s as Demon Hunter).
The flyer pictured below reveals that the movie was featured (briefly) at Atlanta's own Starlight Drive-In, which at that time was just a two screen ozoner.
According to Mark Durrett's "CONFIDENTIAL" blog:
I remember the hoopla well. It premiered on a Wednesday and closed on Saturday. That was a good booking in those days. By then, I was working at the Emory Theatre. We were awarded the film second run. It opened on that Sunday and closed Tuesday, very possibly utilizing the Starlight's show print. The single week of engagements in a few neighborhood hardtops and drive-ins was the bulk of the metro area exposure.
The film was primarily shot in and around Stone Mountain park just east of Atlanta. I'd heard about this movie for years, and having started my animation career at Stone Mountain's Lasershow (from 1986 to 1988 --If you ever saw the carving "come to life" in laser animation, I did the majority of that sequence) I was more than a little interested in seeing it. I finally did get a chance, just in the past couple of months, and wow! What a stinker-roo! For a short movie it could not possibly be more padded. LONG sequences of Bestoink doing...well, absolutely nothing. Walking here and there. Driving from place to place. In one extended scene Bestoink prepares for bed. He puts on his jammies. He brushes his teeth. Then he gets into bed with a glass of milk and a big plate of chocolate-chip cookies. He flips on the radio to an easy listening station... and then the viewer is treated to unblinking transfixed horror, as Bestoink settles back and proceeds --in very nearly "real-time", to consume the entire plate of cookies and drink the whole glass of milk. Unreal.
I had always heard that this was the first real "Bigfoot" movie ever made. Well, turns out, it doesn't even have that going for it. [SPOILER ALERT] -The monster, when it FINALLY turns up, looks like a shirtless 20-something-year old wearing monster make-up appliances and mostly painted green. Looks like he's also wearing some fuzzy pants and boots (also sprayed green) with a couple of rubber tentacles thrown in on both sides at the belt-line level. Pfft.. Some Bigfoot. When the film boils down to the "monster" chasing a spats-wearing Bestoink back and forth through the woods at O.J. Bronco equivalent speeds while 1950s music tracks (that were probably last heard in H-B's Snooper and Blabber cartoons) play overly loud on the soundtrack, it's REALLY all over...
Tubby and Lester
In the 1960's, WQXI channel 11 (the ABC affiliate at that time) was generally considered to be the crappiest of the "big three" Atlanta network stations. In the mid-sixties they unashamedly presented a late-nite programming block called the "World's Worst Movie" (Hell, even into the late 70s channel 11 would show a movie in a 90 minute time slot and just leave a reel out --usually the second or third-- to make the fit. Several influential movies I saw that way for the first time, too. Argh... they showed the best bad Horror and Sci-Fi!) The movie was hosted by a guy who was dressed up like a bad movie director (not that unlike "Director Jethro" on the Beverly Hillbillies) with stereotypical bad-director flair; jodhpurs, a megaphone, and a beret. Okay, now get this... This "bad director" host was a fella named Bob Corley. Not only was he the brain trust behind the Bad-movie block, he was ALSO the writer of the (above) Bestoink Dooley low-energy train wreck "Blood Mountain". Given these credentials, I was still surprised to find out that he was ALSO the "creative genius" behind another 1960s channel 11 offering, The Tubby and Lester show (a rather shameless rip-off of 1930s comedy team Laurel and Hardy right down to their costumes). Tubby and Lester was a plodding kids' show that ran in the early morning for 90 minutes daily from 7:30 to 9:oo am.
The Tubby and Lester segments were generally padded bad live set-bound schtick that ultimately served as segues for new Dick Tracy and old Mr. Magoo cartoons. The show, as I'm told, was usually taped in the afternoon and then shown the next morning. There were three rows of bleacher-type seating for the local kids in attendance that day --moms and dads sat in another room with a monitor and a big window that faced the set. As with a lot of kid's shows back then, most of the attendees were either in the boy (or girl) scouts or celebrating birthdays. (My mother-in-law tells me it was pretty easy to get booked on the show in those days...)
Their set was much like a club or playhouse and they would kill time s-l-o-w-l-y since they were filling 450 minutes a week. Most of the time these sketches were accompanied by the routine playing of Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk" from Hatari. According to Mike Durrett, the sketches would usually run so long that the music would finish and fade to silence in the middle of their schtick. Then after a few seconds of dead air the control room would start the music over and the bumbling would go on and on.
One regular segment asked viewers to mail in riddles for Tubby and Lester to read on the air. They did... and when they delivered the punchlines, familiar female laughter would echo through the set. This voice was always referred to as "The riddle ghost". Oftimes when skits or projects would start to go south the mocking riddle ghost laugh could be heard --solely to antagonize those who were "muddling through" on camera. At least those parts had the potential to be funny, and sometimes they genuinely were.
My wife remembers this from her experiences appearing on Tubby and Lester:
"The first time I went I think I was with my Girl Scout troop. The second time was for my birthday. There was a birthday window that they would lift you through while announcing your age. I still remember how they walked me around to the back of the set before I was lifted through.
At times, Lester would go off stage into a "closet" to get prizes. On TV he would just go off camera, and you would hear a great big racket and then he would stumble back out with the prize. When I was on the show I remember watching Lester go off stage into the closet and expected to see him do a prat fall or similar shenanigans. I had a clear view of him as he just walked over and banged a trash can lid and made some other noises, then he turned and staggered back on stage with prizes in hand. That's the first time I realized that sometimes TV lied".
A few years ago at Turner I had the chance to talk to a fella in his fifties named Don that had worked on the Tubby and Lester show. He was a fountain of information on the subject. Unfortunately, not long after I met him, the AOL/Time Warner merger came down and he like so many folks who had been with Turner for years and years at that point was cut loose. Even more unfortunate was the fact that I was in virtual "production hell" at the time and I didn't have the chance to write down anything he had said. As a result I don't remember either of the actors names, but I believe he said that the guy who played Tubby had since passed on, and the fella who played Lester was at that time working in a book store. Rest assured, If I get an update or correction on this info I will post it here.
Officer Don and Orville the Dragon: WSB's "The Popeye Club"
If you lived in Atlanta in the 1960s you knew what "Officer Don and the Popeye Club" meant.
Starting in the late 1956, The Clubhouse Gang as it was originally called began airing in the afternoons on WSB TV. The show was created after a program director for WSB went to New York and witnessed the success a sister station was having with an afternoon program called Officer Joe Bolton that had a "cop" host and showed old Little Rascals shorts. When she returned to Atlanta she attempted to draft unwilling booth announcer and station clown Don Kennedy to be Atlanta's own answer to the kid-programming-equation, Officer Don --the friendly cop on the beat. Don put up a fight, claiming not to like kids, but when threatened with unemployment he gave in. Officer Don was born and the Little Rascals shorts started rolling in the broadcast-area afternoons. If Don didn't like kids it never showed. He came off like a wacky uncle interacting with the kids and playing games like "musical chairs" or "untie the knot". Best remembered of these was the "Ooey-gooey game" which usually ended with Don or a kid blindfolded and sticking their hand into a bag of a mixture of egg-yolks and/or some other goo. (Surely the forerunner of "getting slimed") Don always referred to the small audience of boys-n-girls in attendance "gang" because originally, that's what they were...the Clubhouse Gang. In 1962 Clubhouse was briefly re-named Big Adventure then finally, The Popeye Club. It became the longest-running kid's show in Atlanta TV history (and the highest rated kid's show in the nation) and was an afternoon mainstay on WSB for a whopping 14 years total. At the rate of five a day over 18,000 cartoons were shown. The small studio audience tallies added up too... in all 110,00 kids saw Don and Orville live. "I saw you on the Popeye Club" was a familiar phrase at my and Atlanta area schools. The format that I remember with Orville the Dragon ran from 1962 to 1970. The show itself was shot live at the old "White Columns" building off Peachtree Street in Atlanta, and lucky kids who got to be on the show also got a tour of the studio. The show was originally broadcast in black and white, and the cartoons they showed were mostly Fleischer Popeyes, but by the mid-sixties WSB began broadcasting The 'Club in color and they switched to showing mostly (new) King Features Syndicate (and cheap) color cartoons made specifically for television like Krazy Kat, Snuffy Smith, and Beetle Bailey and of course Popeye. Speaking of color-- The Popeye Club proved so popular it was used as the testing ground by RCA for some of the very first color Television cameras.
Eh... A little history on the condition of this still...
Okay, so I personally was never on the Popeye Club, (though my wife got to do the cartoon countdown when she was a kid) but I still got to meet Don when I was about six when he was set up at a table in a Davis Bros Cafeteria in Atlanta. Sometimes, at the end of the show , Don would say something like "Remember folks, I'll be at the Davis Bros Cafeteria on West Paces Ferry road tonight from 7-9, so c'mon by and say hello!" One Thursday night I got to do just that. My folks met some friends of theirs for dinner and we drove the 10 miles or so to the restaurant. I still remember seeing Don through the window as we were walking up to the cafeteria and starting to hyperventilate... (I'd never met anybody off TV before!) After dinner I walked over with my mom to get his autograph and he boomed "What's your name there big fella?" I said Clay, but in true Charlie Brown fashion my mouth was dry and my voice came out in barely more than a whisper. "Craig?" He asked, starting to write --as I was shaking my head no. "Okay Craig! Here ya go, Craig! Thanks Craig! Nice meetin' ya Craig!" Before I knew what happened we were back at our table and I was staring at the 8 x 10 of Officer Don and Orville that said "Hi, Craig!" on it. And before I could talk my mom into going back and getting another one ol' Don packed up and left. I was in shock for a week or two then I guess I snapped and drew all over it. Some of the details included wolfman hair for Don, an arrow in his neck and a little C-5A (that my dad had worked on at Lochkeed) about to crash into his temple. Then I discovered in my "photoshopping" that the ink Don used to write "Craig" with would actually erase! O' course it took a lot of the photo with it... but hell! I erased everything but the "C" and then finished it out the name correctly. Ahh...the things you learn at six. I shoulda just done that in the first place. But now, since the right name was being said "Hi" to, my eh..."artistic commentary" made little sense --so I erased it all too ...and part of Don's face to boot... which I then tried to draw back in. Hoo-boy. (Kids!) I never held the gaffe against Don though (I stayed a fan to the end). If anything I held it against myself for acting like a six year old.
Don has had a full career outside of the spotlight. He was one of the original owners of WKLS, a longtime Atlanta radio station. He's the "K", and the L and the S represented the other two owners. For years Don has hosted a popular syndicated vintage music radio show called Big Band Jump which is heard on nearly 200 stations across America.
In the mid 1990s I wound up being fortunate enough to actually work with Mr. Kennedy on some Space Ghost Coast to Coast episodes and then later on The Brak Show. (He actually replaced me on Space Ghost doing Tansut's voice --which I was fine with-- and did a much better job with it than I would have, basically just by being Don) He was and is overall an old pro. A consummate professional who always willing to do whatever insane thing the Space Ghost writers could come up with. But whatever it was, he'd always do it his way, and it was always funny and it always worked.
On the Space Ghost related Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Don found more on-camera work playing some live-action characters in movies that the food team would watch on TV. One was "Assisted-living Dracula" which chronicled Dracula's antics in an old-folk home, and the other featured Don as a "Vegetable-Man" who jumped out at people from a late-night grocery store vegetable display.
Don's sidekick, a Dragon puppet named Orville proved to be almost as popular. By the mid-60s Orville got his own gig on the side too, hosting episodes of Buck Rogers and other Space ilk on Saturday mornings. Orville was owned and operated by a young puppeteer named Terry Kelley who was just fifteen when he got the job. Orville's inclusion to The Popeye Club mix was almost by accident. Terry was doing a puppet show in downtown Atlanta and had his mom drive him to the WSB studios so he could plug his show on the air. The reaction to Orville was overwhelming and he started appearing on a regular basis. Three days a week at first, and expanded to five soon after. The Orville puppet itself saw so much use that it had to be replaced five times in eight years because the flex point on the mouths kept wearing out. Arguably, it was the Officer Don-Orville dynamic that solidified the show and gave it staying power. There were lots of kids shows on the air in those days but to my knowledge none of them featured the team of a gullible policeman and a dragon the size of a wiener-dog. (That's the kind of entertainment vehicle you have to just wind up with --or evolve into-- rather than to set out to achieve. You try different things on the air... you keep what works.)
Here's my 1968 drawing of Orville --It's actually on the back of my much-maligned Officer Don 8 x 10. (I think I'd just started using colors for outlines around that time after my observation that "real things" didn't have black outlines around them.)
There's also a few shows I remember that there's just no love or info for...
Even though this one's from the '70's I still gotta mention
Buddy Farnan's Magic Funnies (WTCG Channel 17 Atlanta weekday afternoons at 3:30)
"Woo-hoo! Gotta get my Wacky Packs down at the stoe and run home to watch Buddy Farnan's Magic Funnies!" Odds are, that I probably said that sentence at some point.
Buddy Farnan was a magician who had made quite a name for himself in the Chicagoland area, and he was becoming more nationally famous by the early 1970s.
(That's him in the middle of the above pic. It's not from the "Magic Funnies" show... but depressingly it's the only shot of him I could find.) For about a year in the early 1970s he had a half-hour(?) show in Atlanta where he would show cartoons and do magic tricks. Usually at the beginning and end of a segment he would blink in and out of the scene (via crappy chroma-key and an even crappier synthesizer wowmp sound effect)
He'd also say some "zany" magic words while doing his tricks like "Hokus-pokus, fish bones choke us!" While he always seemed a nice enough guy, he was always green-screened, parts of "the act" would often disappear when the script didn't call for it, leaving kids at home scratching their heads. I think he also had some kind of magic kit out that a friend of mine owned around that time.
What are your memories of Kids' Hosted TV? Feel free to post them here as comments!
Thanks and kudos for this post goes out to Don Kennedy, George Ellis, Terry Kelley, Mike Durrett, Tubby, Lester, Jackie & April Stephens, Cartoon Network & Buddy Farnan.