Saturday, March 13, 2021

From The Archives: A Vintage Jon Gnagy Kit and Drawing

American Painting legend Bob Ross (1942 - 1995) is continuing to have a surge in popularity with 24 hour streaming channels and YouTube. Long before the genial perm sporting PBS artist, there was Jon Gnagy (1907 - 1981). Gnagy pioneered teaching a television audience how to draw begining in 1946 over the historic WNBT station in Washington D.C. His Jon Gnagy "Learn to Draw" Kits have sold millions for decades, and I was delighted to come across a vintage edition in a church mission thrift store.

The biggest surprise was finding that there were still charcoal drawings inside the kit, one of which is posted at the top of this article.

Also included in this kit were original Jon Gnagy drawing pencils, with additional art supplies. 

There is no way of knowing for sure if this drawing or kit belonged to a child, but Gnagy's impact on generations of future illustrators is well documented. One can wonder if Bob Ross watched Gnagy as a kid. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

From The Archives: What TV Show Didn't Have A Coloring Book?

Toys, pendants, games, and other non print memorabilia from vintage media are becoming more scarce each passing year. I may be wrong, but print items seem to be much easier to come by. One unexpected recent find was a "Petticoat Junction" coloring book from Whitman. No one considers Petticoat Junction a children's classic, and that makes this product interesting. 

An image search would show that there were also coloring books for "The Beverly Hillbillies", "The Munsters", "Get Smart", and that is just the 1960s. There were coloring books for celebrities in the Golden Age of Radio like Eve Arden, and movie stars like Esther Williams.
Vintage coloring books are interesting and over looked time capsules of how media for all ages was promoted to kids.

After finding a Petticoat Junction coloring book, I am wondering what radio or TV program didn't have a coloring book.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Pearl White's Children's Party, or The Serial Queen of Tots?

Pearl White "Queen of the Serials" hosting several children at her home. From Photoplay magazine, February 1920. 

While exploring the January to June 1920 volumes of Photoplay magazine, I found a curious page article called "Pearl White's Party". The full-page article tells a story of an orphan boy named Russell at the historic Ottilie Orphan Asylum in Queens, New York who told the reigning Queen of the Serials that he wanted a party. As a result, Russell and nearly 30 children were invited to Ms. White's home in the Bayside community of Queens for a party with "ice cream cones and gingerbread".

Pearl White with little Russel who became the "ringmaster" of the children's party. From Photoplay magazine, February 1920.

How true this account is speculative since this is a movie fandom magazine, but it is interesting to see Pearl White with so many children. The common thought about the serial genre is that serials were not geared towards a younger audience until the mid to late 1920s. In Pearl White's time as a serial queen, the genre was seen as more adult. So this 1920, suggests that Pearl White may have had a good-sized juvenile audience as well. Or, that she or her producers were starting to recognize juveniles as an increasing serial audience. 

These youngsters would have seen Pearl on the screen in "The Black Secret" (1919) which was supposed to be her last serial. She would return to cliffhangers one more time in 1923's Plunder. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Island of Lost Christmas Specials: The Magic Christmas Window [Partially Lost Radio Series]

A snippet of a 1946 NBC Radio Press article on "The Magic Christmas Window"

The Magic Christmas Window [Partially Lost - Radio Series]

Syndicated series (25 episodes) 1944-1945, NBC Radio Recording Division.  

Cast: Susan Douglas, Julian Noa, Kim Spaulding, Jackson Beck, Henry Boyd, Jeanne Elkins, Ronny Liss, Bob Sherry (announcer)

Writers: Steve Carlin, Jack Barefield, Max Ehrlick, Jean Hytone, Arthur Scott.

Producer: Drexell Hines

The Magic Christmas Window was a syndicated fantasy radio series about two children who approach the window and are transported to a magical land of storybook characters and toys. At the end of the 15-minute episode, the children exit the window, and there is an invite to hear another episode.

Today this series is not as well known as "The Cinnamon Bear" or "Jump Jump of  Holiday House", possibly because it has not been heard in its entirety in decades. Also, the series may not have caught on as much since it does not sound like a fantasy adventure serial like those titles. 

The series was first promoted in the Fall of 1944 as having 12 episodes. In 1945, a review for Variety promoted the series as "strickly for kids" with 25 episodes for syndication. 

The lead writer of the series was producer Steve Carlin (1919-2003) later famous for creating and producing "The Rootie Kazootie Show" and the game show "The $64,000 Question". 1945 was a busy time for Carlin when he was writing the "Happy The Humbug" radio and comic strip series. He was later head of children's albums at RCA in 1950.

"The Island of Lost Christmas Specials" a mythical place where
lost shows, specials, and movies can be found.

Survival Status

Up to 12 episodes exist according to the Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs; episodes 01, 02, and 12 - 20. According to WorldCat, one audio cassette collection may have been released years ago with 4 episodes. At least two LPs exist in the Library of Congress. Four episodes are accounted for in the RadioGOLDINdex: "The Poor Prince", "Twas The Night Before Christmas", "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Brave Tin Soldier". 

From all of these sources episodes, 3 - 10 and 21 - 25 are still missing. Hopefully, the complete whimsical journeys into the Magic Christmas Window will resurface one day. 

For Further Reading:

"Magic Christmas Window". Variety. November 21, 1945. 

Steve Carlin, 84; Produced TV’s '$64,000 Question’ Quiz Show, 84. Los Angeles Times -

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Island of Lost Christmas Specials: A Christmas Carol With the Rufus Rose Marionettes 1948

"The Island of Lost Christmas Specials" where missing treasures like "A Christmas Carol" (1948) may be found one day. 

Dickens "A Christmas Carol" 

Broadcast: December 24, 1948, 8:00pm EST ABC-TV affiliates

Puppeteers: Rufus and Margo Rose. Producer: Leonard Steinman.

The Hook: An early version of Dicken's most famous story with no "human" performers. Pre-dates "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol by 14 years as the first "animated" one sense of the word".

It is well documented that the famous puppeteers Rufus and Margo Rose did a one-hour all puppet telecast of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in 1948. Rufus Rose was at the time the puppeteer behind TV's first kids sensation "Howdy Doody". A review from Variety described this special as a "treat for both adult and child alike". The broadcast was a highlight of the Roses' career. If only it could be seen today. Hopefully, a kinescope will turn up in an archive or a private collector's hands.  

Island of Lost Christmas Specials: "A Bit O' Heaven" (1917)

A 1917 Motion Picture News full page ad for "The Birds Christmas Carol"
before it was retitled "A Bit O' Heaven". 

"A Bit O' Heaven" (1917)

Based on "The Bird's Christmas Carol" by Kate Douglas Wiggins, from the Frieder Film Corporation.

Director: Lule Warrenton. Stars: Mary Louise (Carol Bird), Harold Skinner (Uncle Jack), Ella Gilbert (Mrs. Bird), Donald Watson (Mr. Bird), Madeline Eastin (Elfrida - the Nurse), Carl Miller (Brother Donald), Mary [Mae] Talbot (Mrs. Ruggles), Gertrude Short, Roy Clark, Gertrude Messinger, John Sterling, Marvel Spencer, Irma Sorter (Raggedy Ruggles Children)

The Hook: This was the film adaptation of the works of writer Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and it stars a child actress who only did one film.

This one sounds like a touching Christmas melodrama, even though it was released in the summertime. Young Carol Bird is an invalid girl who wishes to grant Christmas cheer to the poor Ruggles family children who befriend her. Perhaps the new title "A Bit O'Heaven" was thought to be more markedly than "The Bird's Christmas Carol". 

Among the Ruggles children were Gertrude Messinger, who was active in Hollywood throughout her childhood and into the early talkies era. Her brother Buddy Messinger was also a well-known child star. 

The lead role of Carol Bird was played by a "Mary Louise" who is not listed in another known film role. Press articles of the time suggest that she was four years old during production and did appear in other films.

The film was directed by Lule Warrenton, early pioneering female filmmaker who was said to have directed a number of films for children. This film was shot at "Lankershim" California and was distributed by the Frieder Film Corporation. 

Here is one positive review from the Motion Picture News, July 7, 1917

"A Bit O' Heaven"

(Frieder Film Co. — Five Parts) Reviewed By William J. McGrath

A FEAST awaits the picturegoing public, man, woman and child, in this production by the Frieder Film Corporation adapted from Kate Douglas Wiggin's perennially popular Christmas tale, " The Bird's Christmas Carol." Renamed in its film version, but one even more suitable and applicable than the original popular title, its picturization reveals something above the ordinary, a refreshing human story brought to life and bound to become as much of a classic of the screen as the printed story has become in literature.

Well accomplished, after long and tedious effort by the producers, it becomes on the screen a story that is all that Kate Douglas Wiggins designed it to be, a simple, plain little tale of two stratas of life that vigorously twangs the extremes of human emotions — pathos and humor. A juvenile cast, the like of it never gathered together before, interpret the high lights, leaving nothing to be desired ; the strength of the direction back of it all is manifested by the result of the whole and not one iota of detail, so necessary in a picture of its sort, has been overlooked.

Of plot there is hardly any. It merely mirrors the joy, pride, humor and reward that comes from the charity and unselfishness of a crippled little child of wealthy parents. She is Carol Bird, a part surprisingly well taken by Mary Louise, a charming little six-year-old lass who takes her place in the rank of child stars as the result of this picture. The " eight raggedy Ruggleses," a tattered, mischievous, romping brood who thrive in the alley back of Carol's home, are her problem. Cared for by a poor, distracted but withal proud widowed mother, the big event of their lives comes with the invitation to Christmas dinner and presents at the Bird's mansion.

Here is where the artistry of the picture asserts itself, where detail looms up as big as a mountain. The greater portion of the picture shows the preparation for the big event in the lowly, back-alley home of the Ruggleses ; the poor overwhelmed but proud mother making ready an obstreperous animal spirited bunch of boys and girls.

Then there is a score and more details and delineations from life that there is not space enough to enumerate, but all of them are bound to be caught and appreciated by those to whom they are akin.

"A Bit o' Heaven " is something new and refreshing, a new defense of motion pictures and, as a booking proposition, worth fighting for."

The Island of Lost Christmas Specials, where films like this could be found some day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Island of Lost Christmas Specials: "Surprise From Santa" (1948)

Surprise From Santa

Friday, December 24, 1948. 7:00pm EST,  WCBS-TV, New York (CBS Network, obviously)

The Hook: A lavish TV Christmas spectacular, undocumented in many sources, with one of the last TV appearance of a tap-dancing legend, and possibly the first TV Christmas special with original songs.

Survival Status: Most likely was never recorded, but it should have been. Behind the scenes, photos and production materials hopefully exist in private hands or archives. 

Starring: Anne Jeffreys, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Jules Munshin, Kathryn Lee, Whitford Kane (Santa Claus), Toni Halloran & Clifford Tatum (the children), Bil and Cora Baird and the Baird Puppets.

Script: Sam Taylor; Music and Lyrics: Arthur Swartz, Howard Dietz, 

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878 - 1949) is still one of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century. Before he passed away at the age of 71 in 1949 Robinson had made a few appearances on the growing medium of television. Like Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, and other Broadway & Vaudeville performances veterans who died around the mid-20th century, his TV appearances are either lost, or were never recorded to begin with. 

Robinson was one of just several performers on a 90 minute Christmas Spectacular called "Surprise For Santa" that aired Christmas Eve 1948. Reviews of the show by Variety suggest that it was an excellent production that demonstrated the best TV had to offer with professional talent.  Two new songs by the Schwartz-Dietz team were to be introduced, one called "Sleigh Bells". This program was believed to have been the first live TV program with new original songs. Arthur Swartz and Howard Dietz were seasoned award winning song writers and a TV program put on by them was a big deal in this era.

Actress Anne Jeffreys (1923 - 2017) performed songs with a rear screen projection effects, said to be the first for a CBS production. Jules Mushin did the "Cowardly Lion" number from the "Wizard of Oz", an early performance of the film's music on television. The Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes did a dance to the tune of "Jingle Bells" as sung by and LP record of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. 

Chevrolet sponsored the series for $30,000, a huge sum for a television special at that time. Their ads ran every 15 minutes. 


TIME Magazine, Radio & TV: Program Preview, Dec. 27, 1948 -,9171,886494,00.html  

"Arthur Swartz Doing Christmas Eve Video Show Costing $30,000" Variety, December 15, 1948.

Many newspaper listings for CBS affiliates feature this special in the 7:00pm EST time slot.