In the 1960s it was still o.k. to watch kid's shows just for the fun of it. No "in your face" morality plays, no lesson to be learned. Just plain fun. WGN-TV filled that bill with Bozo's Circus, Ray Rayner & Friends, and The Dick Tracy Show. Frazier Thomas was a little different. Where all the other shows enjoyed a loose and informal format, Thomas was a perfectionist. Every aspect of Garfield Goose & Friends had to meet Thomas' approval.
The Cincinnati Goose
It seems that Thomas was born to perform. At the age of twelve he performed as a magician around his home in Rushville Indiana at the local Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs. While still in his teens, he authored a book on magic and then at 22 entered radio with a show of his own creation. "I Cover The Movies" aired over WLW Cincinnati in 1941. Later that same year, Thomas would launch a second program on the same station called "Inside Radio."
Among the many hats that Thomas wore in the early days were disc jockey on the show BC Battle Of The Bands; and as a co-host for Your Morning Matinee with Ruth Lyons. He entered television in the late forties hosting The Shopper's Special with wife Ann Deeds and was a featured performer on The Fran Allison Program. He conceived the character of "the goose who thinks he's king of the United States" on WKRC-TV's Meet The Little People
Thomas later recalled seeing nuns using a goose puppet at church bazaars during his childhood. He got the name "Garfield" from the area's telephone exchange. This version of the "Garfield Goose" character was completely different from what Chicagoans came to know and love. The Cincinnati goose "lived" inside a cuckoo clock. The premise of the show was that Garfield always wanted to be a cuckoo ever since he was born. Against his mother's warnings, Garfield climbed inside a cuckoo clock and grew so large that he was stuck permanently.
Landing In Chicago
When Thomas arrived at WBKB in 1951, he landed a job as host of his own afternoon talk show called The Frazier Thomas Show. Jean Cordell was the featured vocalist on the program. Station management would also try Frazier in a fifteen minute evening music fest airing weeknights at 10:30 Musical Nite-cap.. But like his later colleague Ray Rayner (who also did an "adult" talk variety show two years later on WBBM-TV), it would be as a children's show host that Frazier would gain his fame.
Chicago would get its first glimpse of Garfield Goose on a WBKB afternoon variety show called Petticoat Party, broadcast from channel 4's new studios at the Garrick Theater on Randolph Street. A viewer favorite in its day, it soon became obvious that Frazier's sketches with the goose were more popular than the variety trappings. Thomas approached artist and puppeteer Bruce Newton with the idea of using the character on a stand-alone children's show. Newton, along with wife Claire, designed and constructed the very first Chicago Garfield Goose, taken from drawings made by Bruce. Newton also took inspiration from another of his marionette creations, King Magic, who wore a small crown. Newton took the crown and placed it on the head of Garfield creating the concept of "a goose who thinks he's king of the United States." Personality Features Inc., an agency that also aired the program "Creative Cookery" with chef Francois Pope offered a time slot to Thomas as part of a package deal they had struck with WBKB.
The Beginning Of An Era
On September 29, 1952, Garfield Goose & Friend premiered on channel 4 at 4:30 in the afternoon directly opposite WNBQ Channel 5 and NBC's Howdy Doody Show. Opponents of the long-running children's series starring Buffalo Bob Smith were glad to see a better alternative. Right from the beginning it was evident that Thomas was not your ordinary kid show host buffoon. Television critic of the time Jack Mabley praised Thomas and the series for the use of the well respected Encyclopedia Britannica films. With Newton operating Garfield from behind a scrim, early regular features of the program were "the magic drawing board" (another Newton creation), which was used to illustrate the stories and songs narrated by Thomas. Slapstick silent films were also the order of the day as on "The Little Theater" where Thomas would often narrate a animated cartoon.
On Thursday, October 16, 1952 Garfield Goose appointed Frazier Thomas Admiral Of The King's Navy. The order of King Garfield, Frazier must now wear the uniform. By the early 1960s the series had settled comfortably in a familiar routine. Now airing in color on WGN-TV channel 9, the puppet cast would be usually limited to two- Garfield and Romberg Rabbit (late of Buddy Black's show), with an occasional "guest" turn by Macintosh Mouse, Christmas Goose (Garfield's nephew who always popped up during the holidays, the rest of the year he was away at school); Beauregard Burnside III, chief of the Secret Service (and who could only be aroused from a deep slumber by yelling into his ear "Hot Dogs! Hamburgers! Spaghetti and Meatballs!"), and Mama Goose, who hailed from Goose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada and held a purple belt in karate. Occasionally Ali Gator would show up to scare everyone and Thomas would have phone conversation with the unseen and unheard Mrs. McGillicuddy. Another "character" of sorts was Thomas' Jew's harp which drove Garfield crazy whenever he heard it.
Thomas and Newton would eventually have a falling out when Newton demanded credit and compensation for his part in the creation of "Garfield Goose & Friend" and his daily contributions to this show's success. Thomas, who jealously held to the idea that he, and only he take credit for the genesis of the goose, told Newton there was no budget for such a request. About the same time, Newton had been approached by Sterling "Red" Quinlan to go on staff at WBKB/Channel 4. Newton, feeling it was fruitless to argue with Frazier, took Quinlan's offer and proceeded to develop "The Happy Pirates" with Two-Ton Baker and Art Hern. Thomas, furious at Newton's sudden departure wondered where he would find a replacement.
At the suggestion of Claire Newton, who was an alum of The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Thomas inquired at the art school and was introduced to a student named Roy Brown. Although a competent graphic artist, Brown had no experience as a puppeteer. For roughly a two year period after the departure of Newton, the puppets were manipulated by a woman puppeteer brought in by Personality Features by the name of Lee Weimer. Meanwhile, Brown practiced and practiced. And it clearly paid off, as Brown was able to bring the characters to life.
In February of 1953, the show would find itself on WBBM-TV after CBS purchased WBKB from the newly-merged American Broadcasting-United Paramount Theaters. The first move went practically unnoticed as although the station's management and call letters changed (along with a frequency shift to channel 2 the following July), the studio and facilities remained at 190 N. State. A stipulation in the sale of WBKB to CBS was that all programs currently on the air at the time were obligated to stay on for one year. Many programs moved to WBKB Channel 7 after the year was up, including Garfield Goose & Friend. Personality Features then sold the series to WGN-TV and moved everything to the station's studios at the Tribune Tower. The last WBKB show had Garfield threatening to drive the castle away. Frazier insisted it couldn't be done but before his startled eyes, the castle rolled away out of the picture. The crew had mounted castors on the set the day before the airing. The next day the show aired on channel 9.
Garfield communicated to Thomas by clapping his beak loudly. Thomas would then interpret for the audience. However when Garfield got excited, which was just about every time, Frazier couldn't follow and Romberg Rabbit would whisper what the goose was saying into Thomas' ear who would then tell the audience. If Thomas really wanted put Garfield in his place, he would yell "Roast Goose!" which would send the goose into hiding.
From "the little theatre screen" viewers were treated to a wide variety of cartoons and serials including The Funny Company, years ahead of it's time presenting educational films intertwined with likable cartoon characters; Clutch Cargo and Scott McCloud, two entries using the bizarre Syncro-Vox animation method of superimposing human lips over the cartoon character's mouths; and The Firebird, an animated short that introduced Stravinsky to young viewers.
One of the most fondly remembered serials was Journey To The Beginning Of Time, a 1954 Czech feature that was dubbed into English and edited into serialized chapters. It told the story of four boys, Doc, Ben, Tony, and Little Joe, who after visiting New York's Museum of Natural History, take a row boat trip which the further they go takes them further into the past. On December 28 1953 the first broadcast of what would become a annual tradition on the show aired. Viewers were treated to the UPA production of "Frosty The Snowman" and the Centaur Productions film short of "Suzy Snowflake." In December 18, 1956, a third film short was added- Centaur Productions' "The Three Little Dwarfs" which has been known affectionately as "Hardrock, Coco, & Joe." This trio of holiday screen gems would be a staple of the Christmas season well into the 1980s!
On his Prime Minister uniform, Thomas wore two large round medals with the words Deutschland and Osterreich (Germany and Austria). Adorning his sleeves were badges for Italy, England, France, Scotland, and the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Inside The Castle
When the show premiered it was just Garfield and his friend Frazier. Fans of the 1960s version of the show will recall that it was Romberg Rabbit that usually translated for Gar. How did Frazier communicate with the goose in the days before Rom? By typewriter! Whenever Gar had something to say (which was always), he went down in the castle and tapped out a message on the old Remington. A typewriter tapping/paper being ripped out sound effect was used after which Gar would immediately reappear at the window to hand Frazier his message. Ever wonder what that doorbell was used for? Only on a few rare occasions was the doorbell ever used in the 1960s version. When it was, it usually called up the show's theme song. But in the early days, the show opened with a main title card which dissolved to a book where upon the camera closing in, a hand would open the book to show the story and movie of the day. Then Frazier would appear introducing himself and the show, and ring the bell for Garfield.
In the premiere show, the story of the day was "The Shoemaker & The Elves" which was played for the audience on a 78 rpm record! The film story of the day, presented as part of "Garfield's Little Theater" was the silent Our Gang comedy "Buried Treasure." Thomas narrates the story over the background music. For many years commercials were done live by Thomas. The first live commercial was for Sara Lee All Butter Coffee Cake. Sara Lee would continue to be a sponsor of the show for many years. Other early sponsors were On-Cor Frozen Foods, Post Cereals, Kraml Dairy, Jewel Food Stores (which also was a sponsor on Noontime Comics with Uncle Johnny Coons over at WNBQ-channel 5), A & P Food Stores, Red Goose Shoes, Emenee Toys, Marx Toys, and Ideal Toys.
After a year of just Garfield and Frazier, a new character was introduced. Not a human! Not a puppet! But a monkey! Fans of the show were treated to the antics of a capuchin named Geronimo. The little simian first arrived on Thursday, November 26, 1953. In the storyline that introduces Geronimo, Garfield has called an employment agency for a butler. Being king of the castle, this all makes sense, of course. Besides he can help serve thanksgiving dinner. Frazier knows nothing of this until he gets a call from the employment agency saying the butler is on his way. Neither one knows the butler is Geronimo! The monkey stayed a few years but proved to be too temperamental. Years later Thomas would confess that he felt the monkey was starting to become more popular than the goose!
On Christmas Day of the same year, another character was introduced in what must had been a hilarious storyline for both cast, crew, and viewers alike. After airing the holiday film "The Boy Who Was Bored With Christmas" and two live commercials by Thomas and Garfield for Kraml Dairy and A & P Food Stores, Garfield pops up to the window with a chef's hat on. Frazier figures Gar is making something extra special in the kitchen for the holiday meal. Gar nods and goes down to "type" a note. When he brings it up Thomas reads a loud:
I HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU. I'M HAVING CHRISTMAS GOOSE FOR THE HOLIDAYS!
Naturally Thomas is shocked to the core! One of his own people? Why it's disgraceful! Thomas blurts out "Roast Goose for Christmas dinner!?" Garfield quickly disappears at the mere mention. Thomas hears frantic typing down below after which Garfield appears with a different note:
CHRISTMAS GOOSE (WE CALL HIM CHRIS FOR SHORT) IS MY LITTLE NEPHEW - SISTER GLORIA'S LITTLE GOSLING. HE IS VISITING HIS UNCLE GARFIELD FOR THE HOLIDAYS. HE IS MY GUEST FOR DINNER - NOT THE DINNER!
Some characters were in for the long haul. Our ever faithful canine companion Beauregard Burnside III arrives on the scene Friday January 27, 1956 when he receives his dog license (from Oliver P. Olover, Chief of Dog Division). Romberg Rabbit (recently unemployed as a magician's assistant after the cancellation of Buddy Black's Quiet Riot show) joined the cast on Friday June 29, 1956 where he enters a "I Would Like To Be King Because..." contest. Garfield also had more relatives including Uncle Garfinkel Goose, Gullible Goose, Uncle Corny, Goo Goo Goose, Uncle Gammis Goose (from Scotland), Gloria Goose, Gunga Goose, Gasperella Goose, Captain Goose-eo and His Space Patrol, Galsworthy Goose (a scoutmaster), Glamorous George Goose, and Golightly Goose, Some of them appeared on screen while others were merely mentioned in letters or on the phone.
Sunday Afternoon With Frazier
On Sunday afternoons, Frazier Thomas would don a suit and tie and bring to our living rooms the long-running "Family Classics" which aired such fare as "Journey To The Center Of The Earth," "Tobor The Great," and "Mysterious Island," all edited per Frazier's strict family guidelines. The series was the brainchild of Fred Silverman (who later became the president of NBC.) A portrait of Garfield hung proudly over the fireplace. The portrait was painted by none other than Roy "Cooky" Brown. When Thomas passed away in 1985, hosting of the show went to yet another long-time WGN family member, Roy Leonard, though he was probably more familiar to listeners of WGN radio. The show aired sporadically for a couple of years until finally fading away into Chicago history.
From a television production viewpoint, Garfield Goose & Friends was the perfect show. Simple to direct- the action all taking place in front of a small and compact set which was originally built by Bob Simmons. Basically a typical puppet stage- a proscenium with an added "balcony" and the background painted to appear as a castle. The simplicity of the set made it easy when the program was shuffled between stations in the first few years of its existence. In fact the only changes to the set have been its color. When the show aired in black & white, the set was painted in various shades of red. These hues provided the best gray scale for the monochrome cameras of the day. When WGN-TV began to air the program in color in 1964, the red castle was not acceptable. Red is also a problem for color cameras. The set was then changed to various shades of blue.
The original puppets from Garfield Goose & Friends (along with Frazier's prime minister uniform) can be seen on display at The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.
- A skilled writer- he wrote his autobiography as well as nine children's books.
- Created television documentaries about his travels
- Born in Rushville Indiana in 1918
- Built a sprawling miniature train set in his basement
- Personally selected the films aired on Family Classics and supervised their editing
- Sadly there are only a handful of episodes that exist from this long-running series and most of those are from the 1980s version!
- A one-minute commercial on Garfield Goose & Friends cost $500 in 1966!
- The original puppeteer on the show was Lee Ann Prineas. Roy Brown began as a graphic artist.
COME TO ORDER! COME TO ORDER!
Those immortal words barked by the leader of The Funny Company, Jasper National Park opened the 260 episodes produced in 1963 for syndication by Mattel Toys and Ken Snyder Productions. Members of the club included Buzzer Bell (Dick Beals); Merry Twirter (Nancy Wible, who also voiced Jasper National Park); Polly Plum (Robbie Lester); Shrinkin' Violet (also voiced by Dick Beals). Inspired by the Our Gang theatrical shorts of the 1930s, the similarity ends there. What sets The Funny Company apart from those vintage live action comedies was the Weisenheimer, a talking computer the size of a 7-Eleven that generated live action industrial and educational films that somehow would tie-in to the subject of the animated stories. Other characters on the series were Dr. Todd Goodheart (voiced by Hal Smith, known to Andy Griffith Show fans as town drunk Otis Campbell); and Native American characters Super Chief (with a set of lungs that were a hearty nod to the Santa Fe Railroad diesels of the day) and Broken Feather (Tom Thomas). The club mascot was Terry Dactyl (played by series producer Ken Snyder). No cartoon is complete without a bad guy and for The Funny Company, that role was filled by Belly Laguna and Cheese Lasagna (also voiced by Hal Smith). Rounding out the cast was Bud Hiestad as the voice of the Weisenheimer.
THE VIDEO VETERAN continues with Section Three PROGRAMMING with more on the legendary Chicago children's shows like Bozo's Circus and unforgettable hosts like Bill Jackson and Uncle Johnny Coons. You'll find an old friend at CHICAGO CHILDREN'S TELEVISION. How many guest coffin openers do remember from the original Screaming Yellow Theater? Did you know the creepy Creature Features theme was a Henry Mancini movie score? Turn down the lights, pop some corn and read CHICAGO HORROR HOSTS. A tribute to a dying local tradition. Local daytime television in the early days boasted names like Dorsey, Dave, and Lee. Read about them in CHICAGO TALKS. Want to see what else is here? Click on the WEBMAP.