TV TIME (Part III Sandy Becker/Jon Gnagy)
Children's TV made stars out of a number of people, some of whom I may write about in future posts. There was Captain Kangaroo, of course, and Miss Frances, who ran Ding Dong School. There was Chuck McCann and Soupy Sales and Captain Jack and Officer Joe Bolton and Sonny Fox. But I thought I'd write today about Sandy Becker, a beloved figure in the 50s and 60s with children of all ages. He had at least one show running from the years 1955-1968, and often he had more than one.
On weeknights on Channel 5, he showed Looney Tunes cartoons (my favorite by far over Disney cartoons). On Friday, he added a second show devoted to the misadventures of Bugs Bunny, the greatest of all cartoon creations. At times Sandy hosted a morning show and a noontime show. He was ubiquitous. He even briefly hosted Wonderama, a six-hour show on Sundays! Six hours! Imagine! Eventually, the show time was cut in half, and other hosts took over in the 60s (notably Sonny Fox, but Sandy was always on one show or another, primarily the aptly named Sandy Becker Show, which ran until the mid 1960s.
Sandy also had a side gig doing voices for cartoons, including the wonderful King Leonardo and His Short Subjects series, where Sandy voiced the Mr. Wizard character.
It was on The Sandy Becker Show, however, that Sandy was able to develop some of his comic characters including uber-nerd Norton Nork, Hambone, Dr. Gesundheit, and others. He screened cartoons and modeled craft activities and showed nature clips and set up amusing puppet entertainment, and so much more. He brought on many guests who were informative and fun. Eventually, he hosted reruns of the ever popular Our Gang comedies.
Below are brief videos of Norton Nork and Hambone. Sorry about the image quality, but it's amazing they exist at all. Most of the kinescopes or video tapes were destroyed or taped over.
What was really the key to Sandy's success was his obvious pleasure in being with kids. He didn't talk down to us. He famously tried to explain what happened when President Kennedy was assassinated in a manner that kids could understand. I think you'll get a kick out of Sandy hawking a very popular product back in the day--Bosco Chocolate Milk additive. If Sandy said it was the best, you'd better believe it!
I also wanted to mention Jon Nagy. I have always loved to draw. I even responded to the add for Famous Artists School when I was a kid. They sent me a 12 page Talent Test, asking me to sketch a variety of designs and pictures. I was very excited to submit my work and discover that my heretofore secret talents were now appreciated. Imagine my surprise when the evaluation came in the mail and said that I had burgeoning ability in the area of fashion design--me--a ten-year-old boy! Well, the last thing I was thinking about was fashion. But I kept drawing.
But the most prominent art instructor was the hirsute Jon Gnagy and his show Learn to Draw. My first art book and pencils came from his kit.
Believe it or not, Jon Gnagy first appeared on television in the mid-40s, when television as a medium was in its infancy and virtually no one owned a tv set. But he was omnipresent throughout the 50s and 60s with his art instruction shows, and his Learn to Draw kit sold in the millions. Bob Ross eventually became America's TV artist, but Jon Gnagy was first. So, get out your charcoal pencils. Here is Jon Gnagy with a typical lesson: