What were some of your favorite Saturday morning rituals when you were growing up? Some dreamed of a chance to be in the “Peanut Gallery” of Howdy Doody. Some begged their parents for a dog just like Lassie. Many wore cowboy hats to watch The Roy Rogers Show. In the 1950s, television was new and exciting, full of imaginative shows for children. Looking back, these shows had a significant impact on the children of the first TV generation and helped to shape the medium as it increasingly became a part of our culture.
Shout! Factory will bring a sumptuous collection of the best kids’ TV programs from the infancy of the genre to every home through the DVD release of Hiya, Kids!! A ‘50s Saturday Morning. The 4-DVD box set is packed with 21 complete episodes culled from some of America’s iconic television classics, including Kukla, Fran And Ollie, Howdy Doody, Lassie, Annie Oakley, Flash Gordon, Time for Beany, The Paul Winchell Show, The Roy Rogers Show, Captain Z-RO, The Rootie Kazootie Club, Winky Dink And You, Super Circus, Andy’s Gang, The Cisco Kid, Sky King, The Magic Clown, Kids And Company, Junvenile Jury, The Pinky Lee Show, and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Each DVD from Hiya, Kids!! is designed like a Saturday morning programming block from the era, with shows for the very young first on the menu. As the older siblings “wake up,” the programs become more and more “sophisticated.
Episode from Kukla, Fran And Ollie 1948 – 1957
Kukla, Fran And Ollie debuted as a local Chicago show entitled Junior Jamboree and was renamed in 1948 when the installation of a coaxial cable linking the East Coast to the Midwest expanded its broadcast range. Established radio star Fran Allison played herself on the show as the perfect counterbalance to the antics of the puppets, and her uncanny ability to ad-lib allowed the show to run completely unscripted and unrehearsed.
Kukla, Fran And Ollie featured the creations of Burr Tillstrom, considered one of the greats in puppet history. He voiced and performed all of the puppet characters on the show and is credited with creating the puppeteering technique of watching the action on a small monitor while performing the characters, a practice still in use today.
Episode from Howdy Doody 1947 – 1960
Howdy Doody evolved from The Triple B Ranch, a radio program that featured the voice of “Buffalo” Bob Smith as himself and a character named Elmer who opened the show by saying “Howdy Doody.” When Howdy Doody premiered on television it was an hour-long series that aired on Saturdays, but in 1948 it became the first network children’s show to run five days a week, and eventually was broadcast in color in 1955. “Buffalo” Bob Smith created and hosted the show, as well as providing the voice of Howdy Doody.
For the show’s final episode, Clarabelle the Clown—who never uttered a word throughout the program run—finally spoke the series’ very last two words, saying, “Goodbye, kids.”
Episode from Lassie 1954 – 1974
Originally created in 1938 by Eric Knight for a short story published in the Saturday Evening Post, Lassie became an immediate sensation that spawned a full-length novel, a feature film starring an 11-year-old named Elizabeth Taylor, a radio show and, in 1954, the Lassie television series.
The series—which ran for an amazing 20 years and won two of six Emmy Awards for which it was nominated—originally starred 13-year-old film veteran Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller, Lassie’s faithful owner and best friend for 110 episodes.
Episode from Annie Oakley 1954 – 1957
The real Annie Oakley, on whom this character was loosely based, was a sharpshooter with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the late 1800s. As a television series, Annie Oakley hit the entertainment bull’s-eye every week for three years in the mid-1950s.
Having appeared in dozens of both big- and small-screen Westerns, including 14 features with Gene Autry, Gail Davis was a natural to play the title role in the television series. In fact, Autry’s own Flying ‘A’ Productions coproduced Annie Oakley’s syndicated 81-episode run.
Episode from Flash Gordon 1954
Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comic strip, which debuted in 1934, has been translated into radio serials, animated television series, numerous feature films, comic books and novels over the past 50 years. This incarnation—filmed in Germany less than a decade after the end of World War II—was the first, and only, live-action television series up until 2007 and starred chiseled Steve Holland as Flash Gordon, operative of the Galaxy Bureau of Investigation.
Episode from Ding Dong School 1952 – 1959
Dr. Frances R. Horwich, known simply to audiences as Miss Frances, took a leave of absence from her position as chairman of the education department at Chicago’s Roosevelt College to host Ding Dong School, which became monumental in paving the way for preschool television.
Originally filmed in Chicago, and later in New York, Ding Dong School was so popular that after just six weeks it was picked up by NBC and was soon seen by millions of children throughout the United States.
Episode from Time For Beany 1949 – 1954
While viewers may be more familiar with Bob Clampett’s Beany And Cecil in their cartoon incarnations, the public was first introduced to the silly, seasick serpent and his beanie-topped companion when they premiered as puppets, voiced by the talented Daws Butler and Stan Freberg. Though the series began as a local show in Los Angeles in 1949, by the following year Time For Beany had gone national and continued with much success through 1954.
One of the most famous fans of Time For Beany was none other than Albert Einstein.
Episode from The Paul Winchell Show 1956 – 1960
In 1956 self-taught ventriloquist Paul Winchell starred in Circus Time, only one of his many television series. After a year Circus Time was revamped and renamed The Paul Winchell Show, a moniker it retained until the show ended in 1960.
Giving voice to his own Jerry Mahoney puppet, Gargamel on The Smurfs and Tigger of Disney’s Winnie The Pooh animated films, Paul Winchell brought heart to the characters he created. A true renaissance man, Winchell was also an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early model of an artificial heart he built in 1963. He also studied and practiced acupuncture and hypnosis and wrote widely on theology.
Episode from The Roy Rogers Show 1951 – 1957
The “King of Cowboys,” Roy Rogers was no stranger to America by the time he starred in The Roy Rogers Show, having already appeared in over a hundred movies by 1951.
In 1947 Rogers married Dale Evans, who became the “Queen of the West.” Together they were one of America’s most beloved couples. Along with many honors, they have the distinction of being the only married couple to serve as Grand Marshals of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.
You can’t think of The Roy Rogers Show, which ran from 1951 to 1957, without remembering “his golden palomino” Trigger and Bullet “the wonder dog.” Visitors to the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri, can actually see a taxidermist-prepared Trigger, stuffed and mounted, rearing up on his back legs, as one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.
Episode from Captain Z-RO 1951 – 1956
Captain Z-RO came to us from a remote, uncharted region of a planet called Earth. When Captain Z-RO debuted in 1951, it was a 15-minute local show from San Francisco. In 1954, however, the show became syndicated and went national, switching to a 30-minute format and continuing with original episodes until 1956. It stayed on in reruns through 1960.
Captain Z-RO received much praise for its outstanding educational value, including honorable mention at the Twentieth American Exhibition of Educational Radio-Television Programs in 1956.
Roy Steffens, who also created and wrote the show, portrayed the title role of Captain Z-RO.
Episode from The Rootie Kazootie Club 1950 – 1954
Created by Steve Carlin, who at the time was in charge of RCA’s children’s phonograph records, The Rootie Kazootie Club met over the airwaves from 1950 to 1954 with “Big Todd” Russell, Mr. Deetle Doodle and, of course, Rootie Kazootie!
“Big Todd” Russell wasn’t just comfortable with the juvenile members of The Rootie Kazootie Club, nosirootie. He also hosted quiz shows on radio such as Double Or Nothing and Strike It Rich and is perhaps best remembered as the creator and producer of The $64,000 Question.
Rootie Kazootie was extremely popular and led to a series of Rootie Kazootie Golden Books.
Episode from Winky Dink And You 1953 – 1957
Get out your Winky Dink kit, because it’s time for Winky Dink And You—a show you didn’t just watch . . . you actually got to play! Winky Dink And You was the first interactive television show, allowing children the opportunity to be a part of the show by placing a clear “magic window” on the television and drawing on it with crayons.
Jack Barry, who already had a successful run with Juvenile Jury, hosted the show. Barry later went on to emcee the 1970s game show Joker’s Wild, but is perhaps most famous as the host and coproducer of the wildly popular Twenty-One, which created a great scandal by providing answers to contestants, nearly ruining Barry’s career and prompting Congress to develop new laws that prohibited the fixing of quiz shows.
Winky Dink And You ran from 1953 to 1957, and if Winky Dink sounds a bit familiar, it’s because the voice was provided by Mae Questel—best known as the voice of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop.
Episode from Super Circus 1949 – 1955
From 1949 to 1955, the small screen was transformed into the big top during Super Circus featuring Ringmaster (and former radio announcer) Claude Kirchner.
Ringmaster Kirchner, clowns Cliffy, Nicky and Scampy, and the various circus acts thrilled the kids. But it was bandleader Mary Hartline who became the real attraction.
Mary Hartline had a certain appeal, and suddenly fathers were happy to watch television alongside their kids. Hartline wasn’t just popular with the dads, however. Kids adored her, which led to an abundance of merchandise such as Mary Hartline dolls, paper figures, apparel and books—even comic books titled Super Circus Featuring Mary Hartline.
Episode from Andy’s Gang 1955 – 1960
“Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!” Andy’s Gang was an immensly popular variety show for kids starring Andy Devine (“Cookie” in over 400 Roy Rogers Westerns, and “Jingles” in The Adventures Of Wild Bill Hickock). Along with Froggy the Gremlin, Midnight the Cat, Squeaky the Mouse and some other oddball regulars, there were skits, book-readings and weekly serials such as Little Fox (included in this episode) and Rhama Of The Jungle.
The show, the format, even Froggy the Gremlin all derived from Ed McConnell, who had been a children’s radio host since the 1920s, and his 1943 program Smilin’ Ed McConnell And The Buster Brown Shoe Gang. In 1950 Smilin’ Ed brought the show to television under the title Smilin’ Ed’s Gang. When Ed died unexpectedly in 1955, Andy Devine took his place, and the show became Andy’s Gang.
Episode from The Cisco Kid 1950 – 1956
“Here’s adventure! Here’s romance! Here’s O. Henry’s famous Robin Hood of the Old West—The Cisco Kid!” While each episode of The Cisco Kid began with those words, very little about the television Cisco Kid harkened back to O. Henry’s version.
In his 1907 book of short stories, The Heart Of The West, O. Henry introduced the Cisco Kid in “The Caballero’s Way.” The character was not Hispanic, he had no sidekick and, according to O. Henry, the Cisco Kid “ . . . killed for the love of it—because he was quick-tempered—to avoid arrest—for his own amusement—any reason that came to his mind would suffice.”
There were numerous films about the Cisco Kid as early as 1914 and even a radio series, but in the 1945 film The Cisco Kid Returns, Duncan Renaldo was introduced to audiences in the title role. He continued to make Cisco Kid films and was paired with Leo Carrillo as Pancho in his last five features.
In 1950 Renaldo and Carrillo reprised their roles for the Cisco Kid television series, ending each episode with the exclamations: “Oh, Pancho!” “Oh, Cisco!”
Episode from Sky King 1951 – 1959
“Out of the clear blue of the Western sky comes Sky King,” a ’50s television series about an Arizona rancher and pilot who stumbles upon danger in every episode and then saves the day. Kirby Grant, who played as Schuyler “Sky” King, had appeared in dozens of films and was an accomplished aviator, which contributed to the believability of the show. The plane Sky flew was the Songbird and his ranch was called The Flying Crown.
Gloria Winters played Sky’s niece, Penny. Winters was a well-rounded actress who appeared in many films and onstage. In 1964 her book Penny’s Guide To Teen-age Charm And Popularity was published as an etiquette guide for teenage girls.
2 Episodes from The Magic Clown 1949 – 1954
The Magic Clown was definitely sponsored by Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy. The live and at-home audience sang the Bonamo’s theme song, they said the magic word (“Bonamo”), and if they wanted the magic face kit, they could send in 20 cents . . . plus a wrapper from Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy (which everyone in the studio seemed to be chewing). The Magic Clown might even make Turkish Taffy appear as part of his magic tricks.
The two ostensibly Turkish men making taffy on the wrapper of Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy wore fezzes, so everyone on the program donned the headgear as well: from the Magic Clown—portrayed by several actors throughout the program’s run—the audience, and even the puppet, Laffy (rhymes with “taffy”). Ironically, in 1925, the fez was banned in Turkey and to this day is not usually worn.
In 1971 internationally renowned magician James Randi revived the series as The Magic Clown, but while the clowns may have changed, Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy certainly did not.
Episode from Kids And Company 1951 – 1952
Originating in New York, this 1950s American Idol of the moppet world showcased kids with various abilities, but if you didn’t have a great talent it was no matter. If you rescued a kid from quicksand or from the jaws of an alligator, there was a good chance you’d get your few minutes of fame on Kids And Company as well.
Kids And Company was hosted by Johnny Olson, who went on to become the announcer for successful game shows such as Match Game, To Tell The Truth and What’s My Line? and, in 1972, went on to popularize one of the greatest catchphrases in game show history: The Price Is Right’s “Come on down!”
Episode from Juvenile Jury 1947 – 1954
Before Joker’s Wild, and even before Winky Dink And You, Jack Barry hosted Juvenile Jury. Beginning on radio, the jury made their first televised deliberation in 1947 and continued offering their unpredictable verdicts until 1954.
A panel of five children between the ages of three and 12 appeared on the program every week to make pronouncements on dilemmas posed by viewers and audience members. Questions ranged from simple matters of opinion to advice on everyday problems of interest to children, with Barry skillfully managing to keep the participants at ease. Aside from the obvious entertainment value of the cast’s candid responses, Juvenile Jury is also notable as the first commercially sponsored network television series (in this case, by General Foods).
Juvenile Jury was revived twice, in the 1970s (with Jack Barry returning) and again for a short time in 1983 with host Nipsey Russell.
Episode from The Pinky Lee Show 1954 – 1956
Pinky Lee was doing a show with Vivian Blaine called Those Two when producer Lawrence White found himself in need of a new host for a children’s show after The Gabby Hayes Show was dropped. White’s son begged him to hire Pinky Lee, and thus Lee was able to add “children’s show host” to his résumé.
The fast pace of The Pinky Lee Show, which aired from 1954 to 1956, was quite ahead of its time, more comparable with the shows of today. A former burlesque performer, Pinky Lee brought a squeaky clean version of burlesque to his children’s show.
Although the show ran until 1956, an illness caused Lee’s absence from 1955 until the end of the show’s run.
Episode from Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle 1955 – 1956
Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle first swung onto television screens in 1955, but Sheena’s history jumps back to 1937 where the character was introduced in Wags, a British tabloid magazine. The following year Sheena appeared in Jumbo Comics, and that’s when her popularity started to grow. She appeared in each issue and was even spun off into her own comic book, making her the first female to be a title character, three months ahead of DC’s Wonder Woman.
Former model Irish McCalla played Sheena, despite never having done any acting before she was asked to audition for the part while pregnant with her second child.