"The Slip of a Lip Can Sink a Ship! (World War II conventional wisdom!) Loose Lips can also torpedo careers; just ask Uncle Johnny Coons (1918-75) when we meet him in Heaven!
WELL, well! Whatta ya know! It's another Show that originated in Chicago (My Home Town!) that made it up to the "Big Leagues!" Although there were many shows in the very earliest days of Television that originated right here in the Windy City, not many did so after, oh say circa 1952.
WHILE the Chicago School of Broadcasting had been very active in bringing the nation at large such a varied and extensive a list of Radio programming; such as: JACK ARMSTRONG-THE ALL-American BOY, LITTLE OPPHAN ANNIE, THE WHISTLER, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, BUCK ROGERS and even FIRST NIGHTER ( "From the little Theatre Off Times Square" .); very few of the pioneering television shows made it on to the Networks.
NOTABLE exceptions are: GARROWAY AT LARGE, STUD'S PLACE and the locally made Soap Opera, HAWKINS FALLS, which was an NBC staple for several years.* Programming originating from here was very rare, indeed after 1952. Such lucky locals to be picked up by the Networks after that were: DON McNEILL"S BREAFAST CLUB, KUKLA, FRAN & OLLIE, SUSAN'S SHOW and (Today's lucky 'Victim') UNCLE JOHNNY COONS SHOW.
RADIO Veteran, Musician and all around Funny Man, Johnny Coons had been doing a local Kids' Lunchtime program for some 5 years or so; before the Network's showed interest. The format was simple with Mr. Coons, balding pate crowned with Black Derby, cherubic face and bespectacled countenance, would come in and be seated at his desk and impart some wisdom to the juvie lunch-munchers; which was punctuated with some of his comedy. He would tell jokes, do some physical comedy or do some instructional foolish interplay with some "regular" visitors, such as 'Joe Giant.'
APPEARING off screen, except for his one arm & hand, Joe could be heard only in some indiscernible mumbling. Uncle Johnny would act as interpreter, repeating whatever it was that 'Joe' said for benefit of the audience. If memory serves us, 'Joe' was used frequently in demonstration of learning proper habits; such as brushing one's teeth. Uncle Johnny would demonstrate on a huge model of a denture, borrowing 'Joe's' Toothbrush as a visual accessory to the proceedings.
OTHER than these live action skits, his show was the exhibitor of the first made for TV Cartoon Series. That would be Jay Ward's CRUSADER RABBIT. The Crusader Cartoons were serialized, having 5 minute 'cliff-hanger' chapters. Additionally we were treated to 'Old Time Movies'; as one and two reel Silent Comedies were a regular part of the proceedings. Uncle J. would offer his humorous commentary while the movies would run.
SO along with the Silent Films (which did have musical sound track & some noisy Sound Effects added, we were treated to the likes of Ben Turpin, 'Snub Pollard', Charlie Chaplin, the Three Tons of Funs (we always called 'em "Tons-a-Funs"), Harry Langdon and Mickey (Himself )McGuire.** ONE year, the Show incorporated the showing of the JUNGLE JIM TV Series, with Johnny Coons donning Pith Helmet, Safari Shirt, Bermuda Shorts and Hiking Boots. He sported a hunting rifle and the scenery was done as a Jungle Backdrop. Episodes of this Johnny Weissmuller TV Series took up a half-hour of the sixty minutes, leaving Johnny Coons with the other 30 minutes with which to do his own shtick.
ULTIMATELY what he is best remembered for is his major boner done at the close of one of his programs. Much like the Baseball Player who commits an error at a crucial point in a World Series Game, Mr. Coons' fulfilled Murphy's Law by proving that "Something bad can and will happen at the worst time."
WHILE signing off of one of his daily telecasts, Uncle Johnny did his usual "Good by, Boys and Girls, be sure to be good and we'll see you here tomorrow!" At this point, obviously thinking that he was Off the Air, he added; "There, that outa hold the little bastards for another day!"
INSTANTLY he was gone, kaput, banished to the Clay Caves! He was through with Chicago Local Kids' TV.
BUT in each Storm Cloud, there is a Silver Lining; as Johnny Coons went to the West Coast where he did a lot of voice work for TV Cartoons. We instantly recognized his voice in such UPA Television Cartoon Shows as MR. MAGOO and THE DICK TRACY SHOW. We see that he also did some film work and appeared in supporting roles on many a TV Series.
NOTE: * HAWKINS FALLS was a fictionalized telling of life in Northwest Suburban Woodstock Illinois. STUD'S PLACE was the Studs Terkel's improvised answer to both Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN and Radio's DUFFY'S TAVERN. As for GARROWAY AT LARGE, we all know that Mr. Dave Garroway left Chicago for NYC, where he was installed as the first host of NBC's THE TODAY SHOW.
NOTE: ** Those MICKEY McGUIRE Silent Movies were sort of a poor man's OUR GANG Series. Producer Larry Darmour cast young Joe Yule, Jr. (Mickey Rooney) as the little tuff Irish Kid in an adaptation of Cartoonist Fontaine Fox's TOONERVILLE FOLKS. At one point, cheapskate Darmour attempted to bypass the payment of Royalties to the Creator by having young Joe Yule's name legally to "Mickey McGuire".
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