My Long-Legged, Celebrity Colleague From Childhood
One of the children’s TV shows I watched as a child was Happy the Clown weekday mornings on WFIL-TV channel 6 in Philadelphia (image used with permission of Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia).
Despite his name, I don’t remember Happy the Clown (Howard Jones) being that happy. For me he didn’t have the cachet of the other local children’s hosts I watched — Gene London (WCAU-TV channel 10), Sally Starr (WFIL-TV) and Pixanne (Jane Norman, WCAU-TV).
- London was a very talented, charismatic storyteller and artist.
- Starr introduced me to one of my all-time favorites, the Three Stooges (although the only Stooges short I recall her running is the one in which they are on a train in a sleeper car — Moe: “Wake up and go to sleep!” — and accidentally let loose an old, decrepit lion).
- Pixanne — Norman, that is — lived during her show’s run in the same apartment building in the Germantown section of Philadelphia as my maternal grandparents.
As for Happy the Clown, there’s not much I remember. I’m not certain but I think Happy ran Clutch Cargo cartoons. Clutch, created by Clark Haas, is best known for its very limited animation — Don Markstein’s Toonopedia:
Cambria Productions, which produced Clutch, had some clever ways of getting around the lack of budget for making the characters move. If an explosion rocked the scene, they’d shake the camera. If there was a fire, they’d blow real smoke across the drawing. Best-remembered of all is the technique they used to simulate lip movement — they’d film real lips speaking the lines, then superimpose them on the drawings using a process called Synchro-Vox. This was a patented technique … and is still in use, most notably in Conan O’Brien’s late-night TV show and the opening of Spongebob Squarepants.
What I remember most about Happy the Clown, though, are the discussions he had with groups of children. When Happy thought a kid wasn’t telling the truth he would make the accusation “You’re pulling my leg!“. This would happen almost every morning.
I took Happy’s accusation literally for quite awhile. It seemed to me to be a non sequitur, and I wondered why a kid would want to pull Happy’s leg in the first place. Eventually I got it. (Someday it might be fun to brainstorm in this medium about other clichés kids might take literally.)