My Long-Legged, Celebrity Colleague From Childhood

Happy the ClownOne 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.

Yep, you can find Clutch Cargo on YouTube — and this amusing spoof.

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.)

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8 comments so far

  1. Renee on

    I also remember those entertainers fondly. Watching you as you watched them was fun for me.
    When you were very little’you called Happy the clown, by the name of Happy Kahn,but we knew what you meant. Just like Nonny for Esso.

  2. Bill on

    I used to watch all of these people when I was a kid. I am now 60 yrs old and seeing this and finding broadcast pioneers brings back fond memories.

  3. QC on

    Thanks for the kind comments, Bill.

    You have nine years on me so I’m thinking some of the shows that aired mainly in the ’50s, like Bertie the Bunyip and Pete Boyle, may be familiar to you.

  4. Mark on

    I watched Happy every day. I was even on the Happy the Clown show in September 1965 for my 4th birthday. I remember during the marching segment I was pulling my cousin around in a wagon and I turned a little too fast and dumped him on the floor and someone yelled at me.
    I have full color pictures from the 1965 Thanksgiving parade of Happy and our gal Sal who was in the same parade. They are on my web link.
    Enjoy.
    Mark

  5. QC on

    @Mark:
    Thanks for commenting. Great pictures on your site. Amusing anecdote … I’ll bet you weren’t the only kid who made the turn a little too fast with the wagon.

    Cheers!

  6. Suzanne Kane on

    I also was on Happy the Clown for my 4th birthday. My mom surprised me last night with my “Marching Sticks”!!! I KNEW they had to be SOMEWHERE!
    Too bad I was never on Sally Starr. She was my absolute favorite!

    Sue

  7. Joe C on

    I was on Chief Halftown, Sally Star and Pixanne. I was part of an Indian folklore club at the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club. We would go on the shows and do traditional Indian dances. I would do a solo “Hoop” dance. I was in 4th grade and I can remember getting “ribbed” by my fellow classmates, but at least I had off for the day that I was on the shows. Great memories.

    • QC on

      @Joe C:
      Wow – you almost did the entire Philly kiddie TV circuit! Thanks for the comment.

      You know that with all the comments on this, my most read post, no one yet has addressed the point of the post – Happy’s “You’re pulling my leg” remark. Curious.


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