Sunday, April 1, 2012

Skipper, Larry and Uncle Al

A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT VERSION OF THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED AT BOOKSTEVE'S LIBRARY IN 2006. 

Someday, I think someone will write a definitive history of Bozo the Clown, one of my all-time favorite kids show hosts. Author Tim Hollis comes close with his HI THERE, BOYS AND GIRLS! but only if you read between the lines and leave out the hundreds of other kids show hosts covered in the book.

Bozo may have been omnipresently franchised throughout the country but they’re all here from the famous (Soupy Sales) to the infamous (Ghoulardi) to the obscure (Cincinnati’s own "Mr. Hop," a guy in a giant bunny suit that I totally and completely blocked from my adult mind despite it having been a personal favorite at age two!!). In fact, it seems as though every major US city had a popular local kids show host from the fifties through at least the mid-sixties and Hollis really does chronicle them all.

My first thought was that reading about my own local celebs would be a bit nostalgic but that reading about the kids shows in, say, Rapid City, Iowa would be boring and pointless as I had no frame of reference. Not so. The author’s introduction sets up the climate in which these shows flourished and looks at the bigger picture. Thus when you read each segment, it’s like looking at pieces of the bigger puzzle that you just hadn’t seen before.

My own childhood heroes are well represented although Hollis describes Skipper Ryle as "surly." I guess I can see it but I never thought of him that way. His daily show was playful and imaginative with puppets and cartoons and contests even if the whole "Skipper" idea had already been pushed to the background by the time I got to it i the early sixties. His longer Sunday show was a bit more adult and featured guests, music and AMERICAN BANDSTAND style dance segments (usually set to Tommy Roe, Herman’s Hermits or Ron Dante’s Cuff Links music).

The first prize I ever won was a pizza coupon from Skipper Ryle in 1965 and my art appeared on TV in his art gallery segment in '67! Oddly enough, I missed it because I had to go to school so I wrote in suggesting they run that segment earlier. He wrote back personally and said they would…and they did!

Grown adults will tell you that Cincy’s Uncle Al was "mean" and "no fun." Hey, imagine how you’d feel after carrying a huge accordian around for thirty years in a studio full of screaming kids all day! I never got to be on Uncle Al’s show but I watched it off and on for more than two decades and even as an adult found the man’s image at least to be absolutely charming.

I got to see Skipper Ryle, Uncle Al (with his wife, the lovely Captain Windy, and their four daughters!) and the great Larry Smith and his puppets live at Coney Island in 1971 just before that venerable institution closed to make room for Kings Island. Uncle Al continued for years and Larry’s show faded but with occasional revivals as late as the late 1990’s. For awhile, Larry shopped at the bookstore I managed. A few years back I got to meet Larry AND his puppets during a signing for a book on Cincinnati Television. Uncle Al and Captain Windy were expected but got snowed in. Skipper had long since passed by that point.

Skipper Ryle, using his real name, Glenn, but still referred to by most as "Skipper," later went on to become the host of the afternoon movie, the host of BOWLING FOR DOLLARS, the sidekick on THE NICK CLOONEY SHOW and, eventually, weatherman on Nick’s award-winning news team in the seventies.

Tim Hollis illustrated his book with scores of rare character poses but somehow missed any shots of Skipper Ryle so, other than his cover, I’ve chosen to illustrate my piece with some scenes from local TV mag covers featuring Glenn Ryle, Uncle Al and Larry Smith’s Puppets.

2 comments:

  1. As a Cincy kid, I LOVE this post! I was actually on the Uncle Al show when I was three or four. All I can remember is that they had all of us kids sit on the barnyard-styled stage and sit quietly to await Uncle Al's arrival. So we waited. And waited. Suddenly, we heard a "ta da" from Al's accordion and he seemed to leap out from behind the barnyard fence. Scared the hoo-ha out of Little Groove and I don't remember anything after that!

    I met Larry Smith at a Fantasy Farm appearance when I was 6 or 7. A friend of the family worked at Channel 19 and told me to "say hi" for him. I thought my jaws would lock up when I tried to speak to Larry as he autographed a post card (the very one you have in your post), 'cause Larry Smith was THE celeb in my eyes, but I managed to convey the message and Larry told me to "say hi" back for him. Thought I'd faint, but I didn't.

    I wonder if those folks had any inkling of the affect they had on their young viewers? Or was I just easily star-struck?

    Never met Skipper Ryle, but a cousin did appear on a show. I'll never forget the episodes where Bob Kane visited (and drew a Batman portrait right before our very eyes!) or the life-size SSP Racers.

    Great memories. Thanks, Booksteve!

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  2. Uncle Al is my grandfather and he was a wonderful man.

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