I have often lamented that today’s children have no idea what they have missed out on. And, this past week, I found myself mourning another part of my childhood that appears to be lost forever.
I remember playing outside — a lot — in all kinds of weather. But, I also remember all of the children’s television programming I watched. No, Ty, I’m not talking about “classic” episodes of “Transformers” or “G.I. Joe,” either (although I did watch quite a bit of those, too).
No, I’m talking about children’s programming, the likes of which haven’t been around for at least 20 years in Iowa. And for those of you who grew up with Bill Riley’s “Hey, Bob” and “Variety Theatre,” I’m afraid I wasn’t around for those shows, but I’ve heard about them.
I grew up when WOI-TV was the king of the children’s television with its half-hour “The House With the Magic Window.” And, every day, I tried to duplicate Betty Lou Varnam’s craft projects, frustrated that I couldn’t get “cellophane tape” — I was stuck with “lousy Scotch tape.”
(ADHD Moment: “The Magic Window” was the longest continuously running American children’s program to run on the same station.)
I also grew up when Dolph Pullium was less-known for his feisty calls of Drake University men’s basketball games and more for his hilarious interactions with Gus the Gorilla and Cy the Eye on his children’s program, “1-2-3,” on KCCI-TV. If it weren’t for that show, I would have never come to know who Len Barry was.
The first 50 seconds of his 1966 song, “1-2-3,” was the theme song to Dolph’s program. I thought it was the best TV program theme song of all time when I was growing up.
But nothing could beat the “fun and frivolity” one got from watching Duane Ellett and “The Floppy Show” on WHO-TV. Not only did you have Floppy the dog, voiced with the self-trained but poorly executed ventriloquism of Ellett, but you also had “Looney Tunes” and “Tom & Jerry” cartoons.
Every show started out the same way: “With a 1, a 2, and a 3 — Where’s Floppy?” And, around the midway point of the show, the “birthday kids” would come up to tell Floppy their riddles and knock-knock jokes. The most-frequent riddle, “Why did the man put the car in the oven?” somehow never got old for Duane or Floppy.
Getting an “autographed” photo of Duane and Floppy was certainly cool. But, the real status symbol at Lincoln Elementary School was walking the halls in a white “Floppy” T-shirt with its distinctive red piping on the sleeves and collar. Back then, the only way to get one was to have been on the show.
By that, I mean the real show that aired on weekday afternoons.
Of course, today you can get the T-shirt online, or at the Iowa State Fair. But that’s just not the same to me anymore.
I got to be on the 12:15 p.m. version of the show a couple of times to promote events that were happening in Boone. Duane came down to greet us in the WHO-TV studio lobby, then rode us up to the studio where we would be doing the show.
On the way up, he chatted with all of us, and told us how much Floppy was looking forward to seeing us and talking with each of us. The studio we were in was huge, but the set was tiny, barely 10 feet square, which created a bit of vertigo for even the bravest among us.
I think Duane knew that, and so he brought out Floppy early to talk with us and tell us a few jokes to lighten us up. It must’ve worked, because everyone back home said we didn’t look nervous at all on the show.
I also got to see a different side of Duane and Floppy a couple years later. I was at a benefit for a classmate who was very sick and needed a surgery. It happened to be one of the nearly 200 “special appearances” the duo made around Central Iowa that year.
There still was plenty of fun — and frivolity, too — but minus the cartoons, and with a far greater amount of time to “work the room,” I soon discovered Duane’s love of kids wasn’t just an act. And, I think there was something more to the Duane and Floppy relationship. I think, over the course of nearly 30 years together, the two had essentially become one.
Like many Central Iowa youngsters, I was devastated when it was announced that Duane had died of a heart attack. So, when it was announced seven years later that the Iowa Historical Museum in Des Moines would have a display of Floppy and all of his friends (Duane’s other puppets, including Matilda the Snake and Stan Dean), I made the trip to Des Moines to relive — if for just a few minutes — a part of my childhood that was lost.
I have to say, he looked a little beat up, even then. And, I can only imagine the past 19 years, stuck behind a glass case have been even less kind to him. So, when they announced a couple weeks ago that his display at the museum would soon be retired to allow the artifacts (let’s face it, that’s what Floppy and his friends are now), it was a bittersweet moment.
I hate to see children miss out on something as wonderful as Floppy, but I want him to be around to show to my grandchildren one day. I certainly understand the passion of Floppy fans all over who were upset that the display came down, but I’m filled with optimism that one day, future generations of Iowa children may learn what a treasure he was to those of us who came before.
So, it is with that in mind …
“So loooooong, Floppy!”
“Good-bye, kids! See you again real soon.”
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You may have noticed a new name on the front page of the Daily News today. Yesterday, we welcomed Dave Hon to our staff.
He is a native of Platte City, Mo., and is a graduate of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, where he served as editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Pirate Clipper.
While in St. Joe, he also interned and later worked part-time as a reporter for the city’s newspaper, The News-Press. Last year, he was the Missouri College Media Association Journalist of the Year.
He also is an Eagle Scout, attaining the highest rank in the Boy Scouts in 2006.
Please give him a warm Newton welcome.
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