Missing Chicago Childrens’ Television

I grew up in the 1970’s in front of the television.  I watched the entire network Saturday morning lineups.  That stuff is still around today on Boomerang.  My son watches the Banana Splits and other Hanna-Barbera fare.  I have to admit that most of it is pretty dreadful (though it seemed good at the time!).  While I still have a warm place in my heart for The Adventures of Flash Gordon and the original Superfriends (“with Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog”), I find it’s the local programming that I really miss; those quirky shows produced by the television stations themselves.

Dirty Dragon was a puppet with an attitude on WFLD, Channel 32 in Chicago.  He would answer the mail and smoke it all up from the fire coming out of his nose.  Later on he lived in the basement of Gigglesnort Hotel (as the janitor / heating system) on Channel 7 (WLS).

Sunday morning had a lot of interesting programs.  I still remember the theme song to The Magic Door:

“Open, come open the magic door with me.
It’s your imagination, with all the world to see…”

Sadly, I don’t remember any of the Hebrew letters they showed every week.

I really enjoyed Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine.  Marlo was a human being; he was an engineer at the L. Dullo Computer Company, worked in the sub-sub-sub-basement and dressed a lot like Mork from Ork.  The Machine was a room sized computer that had an oscilloscope for a face.  I believe Plankton’s computer on Sponge Bob is probably a direct descendant.  Marlo would type in a number and the Machine would show a short film about a kid who grew up to be famous or discuss a certain year from movies and songs (who knows, maybe this is where YouTube started).  To this day, whenever I hear “In the Year 2525”, I always remember I heard it first from The Machine… then I change the channel; I hate that song.

One of the first shows I can remember watching was Garfield Goose and Friends on WGN (Channel 9 in Chicago).  My mom said she remembered Garfield Goose when she was young and we watched it together sometimes.  Garfield Goose was a puppet.  He didn’t speak, but just clapped his beak a lot.  Frazier Thomas, the show’s human host, generally understood Garfield like all the characters in Star Wars can talk to R2D2.  After a few minutes of conversation, Frazier Thomas would show off the magic blackboard.  The camera would zoom in and show an episode of The Flintstones.

Every morning, I tuned in to Ray Rayner and Friends; essentially the Today show for kids.  You got updates on the weather and the time.  Ray was the host and he’d talk about all sorts of things.  He’d stop by Cuddly Dudley’s house.  You could write in with a joke for Cuddly Dudley to tell… mine never made it to air as far as I know.  My favorite part was when Ray would attempt to do a project.  He’d show off something that could be made from paper plates or string and some old buttons.  The demo was always perfect; those demos always are.  However, Ray’s was always worse than what I could do following along at home.  I don’t know if he did it deliberately or not, but it made me feel better knowing I had someone to commiserate with when my project dripped a little glue or the scissors hadn’t cut quite straight.

My mom sent away for tickets to Bozo’s Circus when I was born.  Unfortunately, by the time they showed up when I was seven, they were sent to the house we used to live in and so I missed my chance.  However, my mom let me stay home from school to watch the day my next door neighbors were on the show.  We were probably three or four years away from owning a VCR.

Now, the 1970’s are a long time ago, but hardly the Dawn of Television.  I assumed that all that stuff had been videotaped and – like everything else – if I wanted to watch it again, I could probably order it on the Internet and get a season or two on DVD.

Bad assumption.

It turns out very little of that kind of programming survived.  They did videotape the shows and the re-recorded on the tapes to save $100 or so.  Dirty Dragon is no more.  Only two or three clips of Garfield Goose are known to exist (this is from a show that ran something like twenty years).  Marlo and Ray Rayner lasted long enough to be recorded on Betamax.  Clips of their shows are floating around the Internet.  I’m happy to report that Bill Jackson – the human operator of the Gigglesnort Hotel – kept personal copies of the shows and you can order episodes on DVD.


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