Click here to listen to the "Cartoon Alley" opening, courtesy of WITI-TV. ©1961-68 WITI-TV
WITI-TV had programmed kids’ shows since the first day it went on the air. Click here for a discussion of those early shows.
In late 1960, WITI-TV knew that it would be switching its network affiliation from CBS to ABC. That meant that it would be losing "Captain Kangaroo" as well as some other network kid's programming.
Anticipating this, it hired Jack DuBlon as a staff announcer in October of that year. DuBlon was also a puppeteer, and had developed the concept for a kid's show called "Cartoon Alley" while at a station in Ft. Worth Texas. Holding both a copyright and a design patent on the production, DuBlon moved to Milwaukee in anticipation of WITI-TV running the show
To "host" the show with DuBlon's puppets, the station turned to Barbara Becker, who also served as its weather gal (replacing Judy Marks, who had come to WITI in 1959 after the CBS-owned WXIX ceased operations, and who moved to WTMJ-TV later that year). Becker grew up in Iowa, and later moved to Whitefish Bay with her parents. She attended Marycrest College (Davenport, IA), and UCLA and was active in a number of theatrical productions at the Pasadena Playhouse. Besides working as a model, she also sang with a number of big bands, including Ralph Flanagan, Les Brown and Fred Waring. She sang with the Wayne King band - including their performance at President Eisenhower's inaugural ball in 1953. Before coming to channel 6, she appeared on NBC-TV's "Club 60", which originated in Chicago.
"Cartoon Alley" made its debut on Saturday, 1 April 1961, at 10:30 a.m. At first it ran from 5:00-5:55 p.m. M-F, beginning on Monday, 3 April 1961. On 8 April, the Saturday slot was shifted to 9:30-10:30 a.m. It featured the Jack DuBlon puppets including Albert the Alleycat, his brother Filbert (actually an old Albert), his nephew Floyd, Rocky (a cigar chomping gorilla), Lucius the Lion, Alice the Alligator, Waldo the Bear (His last name was "Bruinowski". He had a Polish accent, and was the local postmaster.), Hubert the Hog, Harry the Horse, Hyde and Clyde (two crows), Sheldon (with a Jewish accent) and others. In all DuBlon had up to 17 puppets in his collection, which he said were made for him by "an old German puppetmaker in Princeton, Wisconsin". (Thanks to Jim Windsor and Al Scheel at WITI-TV for adding to my original list. Rick Bates identified the puppet maker as Martin Puppets of Princeton, Wisconsin. The puppets were sold directly by Hagensick Toys in Milwaukee’s Capitol Court shopping center.) The films were run by "Mr. Dinkfuzz" (A short, bald, funny looking man.). Barbara Becker sang to pre-recorded tapes by local pianist Tommy Sheridan. The closing song was sung to the tune of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips".
During the week, WITI-TV showed Popeye cartoons during the mornings. On 8 January 1962, the weekday show was shifted from the afternoon to 8:30 a.m., and continued through 30 August 1968. Click here for a look at a series of shows which ran in early 1967.
Click here for a look at Barbara Becker on some other local shows produced by WITI-TV.
At that time the station decided to change the concept. (Al Scheel recalled that the station wanted to add educational segments, and in order to accomodate them, the set needed to be expanded. Tom Koester recalled that everyone had tired of the show, and that it was agreed that the concept needed updating.) The puppet characters were told that they were being evicted from their alley, and had to decide where to move. For several weeks, they battled, before finally deciding to settle on a farm. "Funny Farm" made its debut on 2 September 1968. DuBlon was given a larger role. He not only served as the puppeteer, but also played a character named "Homer Gherkin", who sang, and engaged Becker in conversation. George Busateri was brought in as music director by Tom Koester. (Busateri is now the music director for Festa Italiana.) The closing song was sung to the tune of "Ain’t We Got Fun". A new set was designed by Carol Milman Davis, and built by Paul Johnson. Like "Cartoon Alley" the show ran Monday through Saturday. The Saturday show ran through 30 August 1969.
Over the years, the shows featured such cartoons as Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, The Max Fleischer/Famous Studios Popeye's, Casper and the Harveytoons, Tales of the Wizard of Oz, The New Adventures of Pinocchio, Touche Turtle, Wally Gator, Lippy and Hardy, The King and Odie, The Hunter, Tooter Turtle, The Mighty Hercules and later (after WISN-TV failed to renew them) the AAP package of Warner Brothers cartoons. "Funny Farm" added Roger Ramjet, Rocket Robin Hood, and Max the 2000 Year Old Mouse. (List courtesy of Ron Kurer.)
Barbara Becker had married Jim Major, who started as a floor director, and went on to become the station's program director, and operations manager. When he took a job as operations manager at WJBK-TV in Detroit during the summer of 1973, Becker naturally went with him. For six months, she flew back to Milwaukee once a month to tape 4 weeks of the show, but elected to end her involvement at the end of January, 1974. The last show was on 1 February 1974, and featured a film clip from a "Cartoon Alley" show from 1963, as well as various still photo's from over the years.
Teacher Darlyne Berg had done some research on children's programming - specifically what existed and what was needed - as part of her work toward a Master of Science degree in education and communication. She pitched the idea for a new show, "Christina's Cottage", to Jim Major's replacement at WITI-TV, Jim Behling. Behling liked the concept and script. Berg then did a pilot, and waited for the opportunity to surface. That happened when "Funny Farm's" run came to an end. Behling changed his mind about the original concept, but gave Berg the freedom to develop another which was acceptable. It made its debut on Monday, 4 February 1974.
Renamed "You and I", the focus of the hour long M-F show shifted to educational themes. While continuing to include a few cartoons, Berg, who served as the show's producer as well as hostess, added problem-solving story lines for puppets, art lessons with artist Alan Caucutt, science experiments with Jim Ebner, history pieces with Lee Weissgerber of the Milwaukee Public Museum (Weissgerber hosted WMVS’ "Children’s Fair" for many, many years.), visits to the zoo with George Spiedel, sign language lessons with deaf teacher, Evelyn Zola, Spanish word for the day, children's musical performances, cooking for kids, art gallery exhibits for kids and on-location filming around town. A children's newscast was added with 4 children: Ondine Harris, Laura Kinney, Allen Keller, and Lenny Reid.
Jack DuBlon performed as a mailman called, "Mr. Letterbags". Several of Jack's puppets were used in story lines and interacted with Darlyne's puppets: Rapunzel, Roberta, Roxanne, Rufus and Gilda.
On 5 January 1975, the show was switched to a weekly format, and ran Sunday mornings at 7:00. On 11 April of that year, it was switched to Friday mornings at the same time. Beginning on 11 July, it ran one hour later, at 8:00 a.m. On 3 October it shifted back to its 7:00 a.m. slot, and on Monday 27 October, it was once again scheduled M-F at 7:00 a.m. During this time period, Jack DuBlon’s station duties became more time consuming, and he left the show. (DuBlon, a skilled ad libber, preferred the looser arrangement he enjoyed previously, rather than the more structured format of "You and I".)
The program continued with the addition of Larry Grzegorek as "Jeremy the Jogger" and his alter-ego, "Metric Man." The station's real-life janitor, Wally Dobiesz played himself and added a grandfatherly presence to the cast. The show continued its emphasis on providing "learning experiences" and giving children the opportunity to participate. Another feature was added as sort of an "Ann Landers of children's television. Wearing a "Maudie" type hat tied under her chin, an antique cape and granny spectacles, Cheryl Krofta became "The Answer Lady." Vic Hellman of The Ranch, appeared as his "Farmer Vic" character. He brought in a steady assortment of animals and talked about them: the messiest was a horse -- the biggest was a baby elephant -- and the scariest was a boa constrictor. Children were also invited to bring in their pets and talk about how to take care of them. The most unusual pets were a pig brought in by a young farm boy and a "singing dog" that howled musically with a little coaxing from his owner.
During one summer, the "You and I" Show attracted more viewers for its time period than any other program on Milwaukee television. It ran through 30 December 1977. The show was cancelled some months after WITI-TV became a CBS affiliate. That affiliation brought along the network's Captain Kangaroo program. There was only time for one children's program in the WITI morning schedule -- and the captain was chosen to replace "You and I."
Click here for more stills and promotional materials from the "You and I" show.
(After the "You and I" show, Darlyne worked as a model and advertising account exec. Later she became a free-lance producer for Milwaukee Public Television and worked on "Dialing for Dollars" and "At Twelve" on WISN-TV. Currently, as Darlyne Haertlein, she is community relations supervisor at MPTV and serves as coordinator of the station's Ready To Learn service for children, producing "Little Lessons", "Parenting Tips" and other interstitials related to children and their families. In 2000, Darlyne's on-air work received an Emmy, a World Festivals Award, a Gracie, a CEN Award and two Parenting Choice Awards. She is most grateful for the National Council of Teachers of English "Literacy Award 2000" for her work to promote literacy for children and their families. In 2006, she was honored by the United States Postal Service for her work to improve the quality of life in the community.)
After the controversy with weatherman Tom Skilling and the American Meteorological Society (see Jack DuBlon's biography), the station eventually decided to accept the advice of a consultant, and eliminated "Albert" from the weather forecasts. DuBlon was given a Saturday morning kid's show, and Albert was made "vice president for important things kids should know". "Albert and Friends" made its debut on 24 January 1981. It ran through 8 September 1984.
(Thanks to Darlyne Haertlein for providing much of the information on "You and I".)
Text ©1996-2006 Richard G. Golembiewski. No information on this web site may be reproduced without permission. Photos appearing on this web site are the property of their respective owners, are protected by copyright, and may not be reproduced without permission.