For a little boy growing up in the Cleveland, Ohio television market during the early 1960s, there were two must-see TV shows: Captain Penny and Barnaby. Oh sure, there was Romper Room with Miss Barbara, but no self-respecting kid over the age of 3 who had figured out how to change the channel on the TV would watch it — although to this day I can still remember “Bend and stretch, reach for the stars . . . . There goes Jupiter, here comes Mars . . . . ” But I digress.
Both Captain Penny and Barnaby were characters who read viewer mail, showed cartoons, and had their own catch phrases. Captain Penny was a railroad engineer. I’m not sure why he was called Captain — the title was as mysterious as that of the land-bound Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music. He showed the Little Rascals and the Three Stooges, told you about dogs that could be adopted from the kennel in a segment called Pooch Parade, and encouraged you to eat your vegetables. At the end of every show, he told the impressionable rug rats who were watching to always remember: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool Mom.” The Mothers’ Lobby no doubt appreciated Captain Penny’s ringing endorsement — and also appreciated that Captain Penny was a very effective babysitter.
Barnaby was harder to figure out. He lived in the Enchanted Forest, and the show’s theme music was dreamy-sounding flute music. Barnaby apparently was an elf, because he had pointed, Spock-like ears. But he was fully grown and dressed like a character from The Great Gatsby. This nattily attired sprite typically wore a blue double-breasted blazer, a kind of ascot, and a straw boater, as if the elves in the Enchanted Forest had emigrated from Newport, Rhode Island and still preferred their yachting wear. Barnaby’s friend, Woodrow the Woodsman, was a somewhat dim-witted rustic who wore a leather jerkin. Barnaby obviously was a gentle soul. He called you “neighbor” and told you what a special person who were. He also showed lots of Popeye cartoons, so after you would watch Popeye beat the snot out of Bluto and yoke him to a gigantic spinach-planting machine you’d get Barnaby’s sensitive act. The message of the Barnaby show therefore was a bit mixed.
Is there even local TV programming for kids anymore? If, as I suspect, there isn’t, that’s really a shame. UJ, Cath and I loved to watch these shows.