Seven Great Children’s Shows from the Forties and Fifties

The Best of Black and White

You’re seven years old, walking uphill to school both ways. You had a long day of listening to chalk scrape across the board, Tommy the school bully threatened you with a knuckle sandwich and now you just want a cold RC Cola from the icebox and to watch your favorite program. It’ll take a while for the television to heat up but that’s alright because you only have three channels to choose from.

Puppet Love

In a time when imagination was a necessity, here are seven shows that got it right and lured kids in by the thousands each and every week in a post WWII world.

7. Winky Dink and You

Original Air Date – 1953 to 1957 on CBS Saturday Mornings

Syndication – 1969 to 1973

The show was hosted by Jack Barry and featured a cartoon character named Winky Dink and his dog Woofer. Winky Dink wore plaid pants, had messy, star-shaped hair, and large eyes.

Bill Gates referred to ‘Winky Dink and You’; created by Harry Prichett Sr. and Ed Wyckoff, as the world’s first “interactive TV show.”

If you could scrounge up two quarters, you could send away for a kit containing a vinyl screen and various Winky Dink crayons. Via static electricity, kids would slap the vinyl onto the screen and work on connect-the-dots images that would help Winky Dink continue the story.

6. Kukla, Fran and Ollie

Original Air Date – 1947 to 1949 (various stations) 1949 to 1957 NBC

Burr Tillstrom was the creator and puppeteer on Kukla, Fran and Ollie. ‘Fran’ was Fran Allison who worked as a radio comedian and singer. For a majority of the show’s run, she was the only human to appear on screen.

Punch and Judy’s puppets were a major influence on the style of the show’s puppets. Unlike Winky Dink, this show was enjoyed by adults almost as much as children. In 1951 the show was cut back from 30 to 15 minutes. NBC received so many angry letters that it needed to rethink its decision.

Kukla, Fran and Ollie eventually had a companion radio show, listened to by Orson Welles and John Steinbeck, who were both big fans.

5. Captain Video and his Video Rangers

Original Air Date – 1949 – 1955 On the DuMont Television Network

Captain Video and His Video Rangers was the first science fiction program to air on U.S. television. It quickly earned a separate 30-minute spinoff series entitled ‘The Secret Files of Captain Video’ which aired on Saturday mornings.

The show had a low budget but took advantage of selling special show related merchandise. Kids could order a flying saucer ring, a “secret seal” ring, cast photos, electronic goggles, a “secret ray gun”, a rocket ship key chain, decoders, membership cards, and a set of 12 plastic spacemen.

Despite its budget, Captain Video aired for six years and reportedly filmed over 1500 episodes.

4. Howdy Doody

Original Air Date – 1947 to 1960 NBC

“It’s Howdy Doody time,
It’s Howdy Doody time,
Bob Smith and Howdy, too,
Say “Howdy do” to you.
Let’s give a rousing cheer
’Cause Howdy Doody’s here.
It’s time to start the show
So kids, let’s go!”

The show was hosted by Buffalo Bob Smith and the world-famous Howdy Doody puppet. The original idea was for the show to be set in a circus atmosphere but that quickly changed to a western motif. The Howdy Doody show was a pioneer in children’s television and set the pattern (and bar) for many shows that followed. Howdy Doody was one of the first shows to feature audience participation while also being one of the first television series produced at NBC in Rockefeller Center.

3. Soupy Sales

Original Air Date – 1953 to 1966 On various networks broadcast from Detroit, Los Angeles and New York

Lunch with Soupy Sales began in 1953 in Detroit, Michigan. The show was improvised and full of gags and sketch comedy. With his puppet friends, Black Tooth, White Fang, and Pookie the Lion, Soupy Sales helped keep jazz music alive in the area. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Miles Davis (appearing six times) all stopped by to play or sing on the show.

In 1960, as his popularity grew, Soupy moved the show to Los Angeles. He wasn’t there for long, but the exposure earned him a job as a Tonight Show guest host in the episodes between hosts Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.

From 1964 to 1966 Soupy Sales worked on a show out of New York City. This was at the height of his fame and brought in guests like Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr. The Supremes and The Temptations. Frank Sinatra made an appearance and took a pie to the face.

Soupy’s trademark ‘pie in the face’ was a long running shtick. He claimed that between he and his visitors, more than 20,000 pies were tossed during his career.

2. Time for Beany

Original Air Date – 1949 to 1955 Paramount Television Network

Winning three primetime Emmy awards during its run, Bob Clampett’s ‘Time for Beany’ took the world by storm.

During the 15 minute episodes, Beany and his puppet pal Cecil went on fantastic adventures with the help of Uncle Huffenpuff and his ship, the Leakin’ Lena. Children and adults alike enjoyed the humor which was often topical and satirical.

Time for Beany had numerous big name fans. Albert Einstein was reportedly a fan of the show, once interrupting a conference because it was ‘Time for Beany’. Frank Zappa and Harpo Marx also counted themselves as fans.

In 1962 Bob Clampett brought Beany and Cecil to ABC where he debuted the cartoon version of the two puppet friends. The season featured 26 episodes in total but was repeated on air for years afterwards.

1. Captain Kangaroo

Original Air Date – 1955 to 1984 CBS

Captain Kangaroo was conceived and hosted by Bob Keeshan who had previously portrayed the original Clarabelle the Clown on NBC’s The Howdy Doody Show.

The show wasn’t heavy on structure and was built around life in the “Treasure House”. Captain Kangaroo spent most of his time telling stories, talking to guests, and performing silly stunts and bits with regular characters like Mr. Green Jeans and Mr. Moose. Keeshan performed as the Captain for the entirety of the shows nearly 30-year run.

Captain Kangaroo also featured cartoon shorts and always ended with the Captain encouraging parents to spend some quality time with their children every day.

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