Friday, January 10, 2020

From Captain Penny to Superhost

The story of Cleveland's children's television programs has been fondly recounted in a new book by Mike and Janice Olszewski, tales from the golden age of television from the 1950s through the 1970s. Every major city across the country had their own children's program and local show host. (For me, it was Baltimore's Captain Chesapeake.) Sadly, very little has been documented about the show hosts of Cleveland, Ohio... until now. Despite their low-budget productions, those programs formed lasting bonds with generations of Northeast Ohio kids. 

Gene Carroll created Cleveland's first kids' show, Uncle Jake's House, in 1947 with a menagerie of animals and child stars -- including Clarence the cat and Phillip the parrot. Captain Penny (played by Ron Penfound) introduced children to the Three Stooges -- annoying parents and TV critics alike. Linn Sheldon wanted to be known as a serious actor but became such a hit as an elf named Barnaby that he could never shake the character. Woodrow the Woodsman lived in a fantasy forest -- but when Clay Conroy lost his Woodrow wig, the story made real newspaper headlines.

I was amused to see Joe E. Ross in a policeman's uniform (ala Car 54, Where Are You?) stopping by the studio to promote his new television program, Mickey Mouse making a guest appearance on another program, and a superb spread of the vintage cartoons being screened on another program. The photos are fantastic.

There are so many stories about local children's program hosts in this book, one chapter devoted to a different host, that I suspect Mike and Janice could have done a second volume. The stories are incredible and it was apparent almost from the beginning that the actors made it up as they went along. Even if you are not well versed in the children's television hosts of Cleveland, Ohio, this book is a delight to read simply because we all had a children's host and can easily relate. 

Mike Olszewski is a veteran Cleveland radio and television personality and the curator and archivist for the Ohio Broadcast Archive and Museum. He also teaches media and communications classes at Cleveland State University, Kent State University, The University of Akron and Notre Dame College. Janice, his wife, has more than three decades' experience in the travel and tourism industry. Her photography has been published in Filmfax, Outre and other national magazines. I can think of no better people to have put together this loving tribute to children's television hosts of Cleveland.

You can grab a copy of the book at

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