If I grouped by audiences the thousands of live shows I worked over the years, my favorites would be the ones filled with children, hands down. Be it a grand production like the Guthrie’s CHRISTMAS CAROL or SESAME STREET LIVE or a bare-stage act like Raffi, or the early days of The Wiggles, the infectious honesty and outright joy of the little ones, their honest laughter, their voluntary sing-alongs, their spontaneous dancing in front of their seats always bright a special happiness to my labor, indeed labor of love.

And Shari Lewis at the Orpheum ranks at the top for an additional type of audience participation.

Shari, her quick-witted sock puppet, Lamb Chop, her slow talking puppet, Charley Horse, and her other ‘friends’, had a popular kids’ show on PBS TV. Shari was at the peak of her career.

Born into a show biz family, her father was proclaimed the official magician of NYC, Sheri was doing magic tricks and studying piano at the age of two. She went to NY’s School for the Arts, studied ballet at ABT, acting with Stanford Miesner, music theory, violin, piano and at the age of 13, her father arraigned for her to study with John Cooper. In her adult years she often conducted symphony orchestras and co-authored, with her husband, Jeremy Tarcher, an episode of the original STAR TREK. And of course, TV, live shows, albums, books, and she even managed to raise a daughter, Mallory.

And once she shared the stage with Poppa Donald.

I knew that Lamp Chop’s Play-Along was a favorite show of my oldest grandchild, Erik, and I managed to score four tickets, down center, when Shari Lewis &Co played the Orpheum…Erik, his friend, Ethan, and their mothers.

Prior to the show, Shari gave me a cue sheet telling me what to take off the prop table and bring to her at her setup on stage.

‘Be sure and wear your hat,’ Lamb Chop told me.

I had just brought my first prop to Shari when I heard a small voice shout out, ‘There’s Poppa Donald.’ I recognized the voice, it was my grandson Eric. And right after another shout, ‘There’s Poppa Donald.’ That I recognized as Ethan’s. Shari looked at me but didn’t say anything and I hurried off stage.

I had no more than stepped past the leg in doing my second cue when the chant began, ‘Poppa Donald. There’s Poppa Donald.’ Only this time it was not confined to Erik and Ethan. Several other small voices had joined in.

I set the prop down and Lamb Chop observed, ‘You must be Poppa Donald.’ I pleaded guilty.

‘Do you have a local TV show?’ Charlie Horse, who had joined Shari and Lamb Chop, asked.

“No,’ I answered, ‘Just a grandson in the audience. ‘I’m sorry,’ I added.

‘Don’t be,’ said Shari. ‘You should be proud.’ I didn’t say anything, but I was proud.

And each time I stepped on stage the shouts grew more and more. Even youngsters in the balcony were joining in.

When the show ended, I heard later, Shari had wanted to call me on stage to take a bow; but I had gone out in the stage alley as quick as possible, to see Erik and Ethan and the moms, before they left. They came out the side door and the boys ran up to me and gave me a thank you hug. They announced that their next stop was going to be the ice cream parlor. Thet invited me to go along. I wished that I could have.

And I was bending over to my two little fans, I was recognized by all the kids that exited that door. ‘Poppa Donald! Poppa Donald!’ And they ran up me smiling and stood and looked at me. A few of the mothers handed me programs and pens and asked me to sign my autograph.

‘Got to go, kids,’ I explained. ‘Got work inside to do.’

Shari was just about to put the two puppets away when I got back.

‘Ask him. Ask him, Shari,’ Charlie Horse said. ‘Oh, I will then,’ he said slowly. ‘Why don’t you join our neighborhood and you could be our own Mr. Greenjeans?’

I laughed and said, ‘But you’d have to hire my grandson Erik too…To shill for me. And I don’t think his folks would let him go.’

‘See,’ Lamb Chop piped in, ‘Told you so. Besides we’re doing fine without a Mr. Greenjeans – even with a cowboy hat.’

‘Lamb Chop,’ Shari said to the sock  puppet on her hand, ‘Don’t be rude.

When Shari left, not only did she say thanks to us but so did Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse even though they were packed away in the travel case. ‘And we all look forward to seeing you again soon,’ she said as she walked out the stage door.

But they never made it back. Shari Lewis passed away a few years after.

And her TV show that had humans interacting with puppets was replaced with yet another cartoon, just as was the shows of Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers.

But she left behind a legacy of musical albums and children’s books and a lot of fond memories to a generation of children.

R.I.P. Miss Shari, from Poppa Donald and all your fans.

And in this time of our darkness remember the words of Lamb Chop

It’s bad to be sad and cool to be happy



EASTER WEEK 1972 – Oh yeah. Cybill Shepard, panties and bra, bring in the body-double. Wrap filming for the week. 

    I was looking ahead to a no-work Saturday and a nice call Sunday afternoon.

Easter Weekend!

The phone rang about five on my, up until then, lazy Holy Saturday. I knew it was for me. It was. The Local’s Business Agent.

‘I know you’re off the movie job today Need you. There’s a show at the Guthrie tonight. Acme Dance. They need another hand for one of the numbers. Easy gig. You’ll just working the one bit and then you can leave.’

‘Acme Dance! I suppose I’ll have to dress up in a Wile E. Coyote costume and drop an anvil from the center cove.’

“Whatever,’ the BA growled. ‘See someone called Sally. She’s the show manager. She’ll tell you what to do. Wear tennis shoes. You got to do some running.

‘Oh, have a Happy Easter tomorrow.’

In those days you never turned a call down from the B.A. unless it was a real emergency. It was too easy for him to lose your phone number for the next job.

I broke the news to my wife, who wasn’t surprised. Then I looked in the paper to see exactly what I would be working. It was modern dance out of New York, The Acme Dance starring Jaimie Cunningham. Never heard of it.

When I got backstage I asked Old Martin, the union man working the deck on the show, to show me Sally. He pointed out a man wearing a plaid flannel shirt, loose jeans, work shoes, and a baseball cap on backwards. Sally, probably short for Salvatore.

I introduced myself and when Sally turned around, I had to think twice. From the front, he was a she. She took the fancy carved briar pipe from her mouth before she talked. She had a raspy voice with a thick New York accent. She looked more like an extra in ON THE WATERFRONT than the manager of a dance company.

We went down in the underworld under the stage. She gave me two flashlights and showed me how to hold them, one in each hand, one hand on top of the other. The top hand grasping the thumb of the bottom hand so both flashlights would move at the same time.

‘One of your lights is going to hit Jaimie’s sunglasses. The other one on his crouch. You’ll be laying on the top acting step. Jamie will be the center of the three dancers on stage. The other two will be picked up by a boy dancer laying on your right, a girl dancer on your left. The flashlights will be the only front light. Miniature follow spots. It’s the first number after intermission. you’ll enter from the audience right vomatorium. You’ll get your cue to go to the step from the dancers entering with you in the blackout.

‘Sounds a lot harder than it really is. I think the old stagehand could have done okay with the flashlights but he just couldn’t run on and off. Too slow.

‘You got a lot of time to practice working the flashlight bit. The other two spotters will be down when it is ready to get into place at the mouth of the vom.’

She re-lit her pipe and left. She was the company manager, stage manager, tech manager, sound person, lighting designer and cue caller. Probably drove the van and got to sleep in the warehouse studio back in New York. In the world of dance, especially modern dance, the participants have to love what they are doing because the work is hard and the pay is small. Bet she smoked a pipe because pipe tobacco, like a can of Prince Albert, cost less than tailor-made cigarettes and was less work than roll-your-own smokes.

I had the flashlight bit down before intermission was over. I went into the darkness of the vom and waited. The two dancers, wearing robes and red cowboy boots, came behind me and the gal repeated what I had to do. The houselights and stage preset blacked out. I heard two ‘Go’s’ and I took off running. Saw the glow tape center mark and flopped on the stage, got my flashlights in position. I heard the two dancers lay on the step, one on each side of me.

Music came over the speakers, it was Nancy Sinatra’s big hit, THESE BOOTS ARE WALKING. Back lights came on and there were three dancers. I hit the middle one, Jaime, with my two lights like I had been told, sunglasses and crotch. He was wearing a kid’s cowboy hat, a kid’s two holstered cap guns, and red boots. Oh, and the sunglasses, aviator style. And that’s all. No tights, not even a dance belt. The other two dancers, one male, one female, had the same costumes on – or off, depending how you looked at it.

The three on stage didn’t do much dance movement except stomping their boots on the stage, in rhythm to Nancy’s singing about ‘And one of these days these boots are going to walk all over you!’

I flicked my eyes to my two companions and saw a lot of skin. A lot of skin! I came to the conclusion that I was the only one in this bit that was wearing clothes.

The song ended. The stage went dark. I heard ‘Black Out’. I shut off my flashlights and took off running down the vom. I heard my fellow spot ops run on stage. I darn near tripped over the two dancers’ robes. The audience applauded and applauded. But there was no bow lights. Instead, after a long period of darkness, quick change I thought, music came over the speakers, an instrumental western swing tune and the stage lights popped on.

I knew I was in the dark of the tunnel and out of the audience’s line of vision so I turned around.

All five dancers were on stage. No mini-spots from the front this time, full- up front instruments. The original three dancers had discarded their sunglasses and toy gun sets. The two that had been with me had put on cowboy hats. Five dancers wearing nothing but kids’ hats and red boots! And doing a modern dance version of a western ho-down.

‘Swing your partners do- see- do.’

You can’t make things like that up and you can’t take naked dancers swinging their partners too long. I turned and went down the vom to the underworld.

Old Martin was backstage when I came up. He was smiling and shaking his head. ‘If the gals down at Augie’s On Hennepin undressed that deep, old Augie’d lose his license,’ the old-timer observed with a chuckle.’

‘Yup,’ I agreed.

We wished each other a Happy Easter, and I went home.

Easter was spent in our traditional way and I took a nap before I had to go to work. The Ice Follies were finishing their four weeks at the Met Arena. I was a packer on the Out. I got there when the show started. The road propman and other packer, a college student who worked occasionally for the Union, and myself got the two props standards, two huge box-crates where all the props were loaded on, down on the ice, upstage of the curtains. As the props came off, we broke them down and stored them according to the directions of the road man.

Easy work, but it took a bit of practice before my partner got the hang of walking on the ice. The knees of his jeans and the seat got wet in a hurry. His welcome to working the ice show.

When the end of the show was approaching the wardrobe personnel came down on the backstage ice pushing loaded costume racks. The chorus came off stage. Peggy Fleming went on for her final number.

The quick- change took place on the back ice. Men and women milling around, finding their dresser. No need to removed their skates. There was the ripping sound of separating velcro, that invention that had changed the world of wardrobe people.

Out of the one costume, down to boy’s dance belts and girl’s panties and bras, then into their Grand Finale costumes.

I continued with my prop work, making sure I didn’t get in the way of the skaters. My young partner, on the other hand, stood in one place fascinated by the precision of the change. Well, I guess the correct thing was that he was fascinated by all the panties and bras.

The music changed. The skaters went on ice. Peggy stood in the wing waiting for her entrance. But my young green partner remained where he had been all during the change. I had to holler at him to get back to work.

He had a silly grin on his face as he slip-slided over to me.

‘Is show business always like this? he asked me.

“No,’ I answered. ‘Sometimes it gets down right exciting. They tend to tone it down during the holy days.’

Yup! Four score plus Easters Seasons have passed through my life, but none like the one in 1972.




During the Memorial events for President H.W. Bush, the TV picture always had a banner running across the screen proclaiming him to have been a President and a Patriot. Both titles are embedded in history below his name.

But the themes of the eulogies were memories of the man. His kindness, his warmth, his friendship. The following is a story of these attributes of this man told to me by a friend and union brother, Steve.

At this time, Steve was the head rigger for the Beach Boys. He was responsible to see that the sound and lights were hung safely in the best positions possible in the venues, and for setting up the portable stage for outdoor events.

In the early 80’s, the Beach Boys played the July 4th concerts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. A few days prior to one of those concerts, the band was invited to give a mini-concert for the Bushs and some friends at the Naval Observatory House where the Vice President lived in D.C..

Steve drove the rental truck with a small set up to the front of the house. He went to the front door knowing full well that it would be opened by a butler telling him to go around the back to unload. He was surprised when Vice President Bush, himself opened the door, introduced himself to Steve and the other hands, as if that was needed, and told Steve to bring the equipment through the front door. Closer to the ballroom, he explained.

When the crew went into the ballroom, Bush introduced them to the house electrician Steve had requested. Best the house electrician do the electrical hook-up. The last thing Steve wanted was to have an electrical outage in the V.P.’s residence.

Then Barbara came into the room and once again George made the introductions. Barbara told the men that there was a buffet with a chef standing by down the hall for whenever they wanted a meal or just a snack.

‘Catering, Honey,’ her husband teased. ‘Catering is show business talk for food. And there’s also a full bar and a bartender in that room too, guys.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Bush,’ Steve said, ‘But we have to setup first. The band will be wanting to do sound check in a couple hours.’

When they did go into the catering room for a meal, the first thing the chef asked was how do you want your steak? And the bartender looked a little disappointed when the hands that drank just wanted beer. Sure beat what the rock promoters considered catering.

Steve said it was less like working a gig and more like being invited to a friend’s house. Everybody was so friendly, especially the Vice President. Even the Secret Service men in their customary dark suits, had occasional smiles as they handed out the stickpins with the head painted the color of the day. These ID’s had to be pinned where they could be seen.


Vice President Bush was in the ballroom almost all the time. He watched the crew setting up everything and had a million questions. ‘If I learn how to be a roadie, will you hire me?’ he kidded. ‘You know, this being a Vice President really stinks. Worse job I ever had.’

‘You’re hired,’ Steve said. ‘How’s your golf game? We play a lot to golf on our days off.’

‘My kind of men,’ the Vice President said. And naturally the talk turned to golf.

Steve asked if Mr. Bush had ever played Willie Nelson’s golf course outside Austin. When the Vice President said no, Steve proceeded to tell him about it. ‘Only course where it is all rough. Strict rules: Like no more than 12 to a foursome. No bikinis or see through dresses – unless they’re worn by women. Drinking and smoking is not allowed – unless it is shared.

‘Next time I go to Austin, I will have to play that course,’ George said. ‘I’ll tell Willie that I am a friend of the Beach Boys crew. I miss my Texas. This job wouldn’t be half bad if I could do it down in Texas.’

When the Beach Boys arrived they were greeted by the Vice President and Barbara and where showed the room where they could tune their instruments. And also told about the catering and the bar.

“Now where’s Dennis? George asked. ‘They told me I could always tell who Dennis was because he always wore a Texas hat.’

‘Sick. Something he ate didn’t agree with him,’ was the excuse that was given. Dennis Wilson had a grave alcohol problem and the band didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the Vice President. Dennis died a few years later. He was was drunk and went scuba diving alone.

‘Oh! Oh! Guys, I got something to tell you. I got talking with your crew about golf. They said they got Monday off so I gave my country club a ring. All you have to do is tell them you’re the Beach Boys and crew and you can play a round on me. They said they would work in you in throughout the day. And the nineteenth hole is on me.’

It was evident that as the actual concert approached, Vice President Bush was feeling mellow. He met each guest, about 50 all toll, encouraging each on to ‘have a drink’. When the concert started he sat in the front row tapping his feet to the music and mouthing the words of the songs he knew or thought he knew.

After about six songs he stood up and went up to the band. ‘In honor of my wonderful wife, Barbara,’ he said pointing to her in the chair next to the one he just got out of, ‘Play my favorite of the Beach Boys. BARBARA ANN.’

Almost as if on cue, Mike Love, and Al Jardine quickly joined Carl Wilson at the front mic.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann. Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann.’

By now, Vice President George Bush had got to the mic and grabbed the mic off the stand.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann,’ he sang, drowning out the startled entertainers. His voice left a lot to be desired but not his energy. The only words he knew where the chorus which he kept repeating over and over until one of the singers started a verse. Then George stopped. Only to jump right in with the chorus when the verse ended.

It was probably the longest rendition of the song ever. The audience and the band and the crew were all smiles. The only one in the room that wasn’t smiling was Barbara Bush, who sat still with her hands folded on her lap. At last George stopped singing to his lovely wife; not because he thought he reached the end of the song, but rather because he was out of breath and wanted a drink. As he sat down Barbara slapped his knee and shook her head.

The concert went on and when it ended they played BARBARA ANN as their encore. They signaled to have the Vice President join them and the audience applauded. George Bush got up, went to the mic, and sang his favorite line several times.

‘You know, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘That is the best song you ever wrote. On behalf of myself, Barbara, and all our guests, I want to thank you all for a great time.’

The Boys, the band, and the crew applauded their thanks. Nobody told him that they didn’t write BARBARA ANN. It was a do-wop song by the Regents.

The next Monday the band and crew played golf courtesy of Vice President George Bush.

In April of 83 the Beach Boys were forbidden to play July 4th on the National Mall. The least popular member of the Reagan Cabinet, James Watt, Interior Secretary, declared that rock and roll bands were not welcome anymore on the Mall because of the element they attracted. Drunken rowdies and smokers of illegal substances. He wanted somebody more patriotic like Wayne Newton, who was a big Republican donor.

Vice President George Bush led the outrage against Watt’s decree, declaring, ‘These men are my friends!’ First Lady Nancy Reagan declared herself to be a mega-fan of the Beach Boys. Mike Love argued on behalf of the band by saying they played a lot of patriotic songs…like SURFING U.S.A.. Watt lost.

There was an attempt made to get the Beach Boys back to play the Mall but it was too late. The publicity made the band the hottest item in the country and they were booked at Atlantic City on the 4th to the largest crowd in the history of the event. And the Beach Boys began to be called America’s Band.

As for James Watt, a few weeks later he made what he thought was funny, racist terms about a committee that opposed his Interior agenda. Watt lost his Cabinet position and went to teach in a university out west. Both he and the band give credit for starting the uproar to Vice President Bush declaration that ‘These men are my friends.

And whenever the Boys were in the D.C. area, George Bush made it a point to see they could play a round of golf at his country club.

Like the banners proclaimed ‘President and Patriot’, and as the eulogies said, ‘friend and a wonderful human being’.

R.I.P. George Bush

True and fearless Patriot

Sully the service dog of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in his final months lays in front of Bush's casket at the funeral home in Houston

His Friend






            There comes a time when it is easier to remember what happened years ago than to remember where in the heck you just set down your glasses or your car keys, or you call your grandchildren by the wrong name.

            Joey B. was at that age years before he should have been; but then, his memory failed him even the middle of a story,especially where names were concerned. When he couldn’t think of a name, he would start scratching the top of his head ala Stan Laurel. I found out just recently that Joey B and his memory was responsible for me thinking that Dick Van Dyke was kind of standoffish.

            Van Dyke was playing the lead in a touring company of THE MUSIC MAN. He got to the theater early for the first sound check and went downstairs to the stagehands’ room to introduce himself the hands. I was busy on stage so I wasn’t in the room at the time.

             Dick introduced himself and wanted to learn the names of the hands. As was his custom, Joey B. broke in and started his own conversation with Van Dyke.

            ‘Hey, I remember you. You had that show on TV. The one with that funny guy and that funny woman — always cracking jokes. And you had a wife that was pretty funny too. Can’t think of the name of that show though.’ He began to scratch the top of his head.

            Van Dyke tried to help him out. ‘It was called THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.’

            ‘NO! NO! Joey B. said in his best gruff voice. ‘That ain’t it.’ Now really stumped, he took off his glasses with his right hand and rubbed his eye. ‘I’ll remember it. I’ll remember.’

            At which point, Van Dyke threw up his arms, turned around and went back upstairs. Naturally, the hands that were present burst out laughing. Dick spent a lot of time in his dressing room during the run and seemed to avoid the stagehands. I can’t blame him after hearing the story of his meeting with Joey B. and his memory, and all these years I thought he was stuck up.  


Recently, the Bulletin Board had a lot of stories about people trying to think of the first thing they remembered. Here’s my story.       

How far back?

The Old Hand of Oakdale: “I guess my earliest memory was that of a corpse and a casket. In my mind, I still have a vivid picture of trying to reach up to grab the edge of the casket so I could pull myself into it. What led up to it and what occurred after was told to me by my mother years later.

“I was about 2, the only grandchild at the time — old enough to walk and talk, young enough so I couldn’t understand the concept of death. My favorite uncle, Gilbert, and the youngest in my mother’s family, was just 16 when he died of Sleeping Sickness.

“It was back in the day when wakes were often held in the home of the deceased. Gilbert was laid out in an open casket in his parents’ living room for three days and nights: three days of people paying their respects, bringing food and beverages, sitting around playing cards and talking to old friends and relatives, which on my mother’s side pretty much consisted of everyone in Mendota — both the village and the township and some of Eagan Town. The wake ended each night when the parish priest led the rosary. The visitors left, but most came back the next day.

“Mom and I stayed at her folks’ house during that time. I slept in a bed with my mother. Dad was coming in for the funeral from Lake Michigan, where he was working on the ice pack. On the first night, I managed to sneak out of the bed and go downstairs to where Uncle Gibby was ‘sleeping.’ Luckily, my mother noticed that I wasn’t in the bed and found me before I caused any trouble or somehow managed to achieve my goal.

“In spite of my mother trying to speak quietly and explain why I had to sleep with her and not Uncle Gibby, I did manage to wake everybody up with my loud screams demanding to sleep with Uncle Gibby.

“My earliest memory.”

Published in Bulletin Board  11/4/16

And that’s a wrap for today.

Oh, just found my glasses. They were on top of my head. Should have looked there first.



Alex Johnson Hotel

     Alex Johnson Hotel 

            When we left the Guthrie after rehearsals and a week’s run, the next stop on the Leonard Nimoy’s VINCENT tour was Rapid City, South Dakota. Dennis Babcock, the production manager of the tour, had us booked in the historic Hotel Alex Johnson, a beautiful structure in downtown Rapid City.

Alfred Hitchcock had fallen in love with the hotel while filming NORTH BY NORTHWEST and used various locations in it whenever possible. He and some of the cast stars, including Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, also stayed there during the location filming in South Dakota.

Leonard Nimoy’s  VINCENT was the opener for the theater section of the new city entertainment complex. A rodeo had officially opened the arena section the previous week, and had left a lingering odor throughout the complex. Cowboys were a dime a dozen in Rapid City but a real Hollywood star like Leonard was something special. Both the city officials and the hotel management rolled out the red carpet for us. It was perfect, except…

Erik, Leonard’s personal dresser, did not like the idea of having to watch black and white TV, the only kind they had in the hotel. He demanded to talk to the hotel manager. When Dennis and I got back from the setup at the theater, and Leonard and Mrs. Nimoy returned from a media conference, we all had supper in the hotel dining room. Erik informed us that we all had brand new colored TV’s in our rooms.

He told how he explained to the manager that our eyes were accustomed to color TV and watching black and white TV could cause us to have migraines. He went with the manager to two different stores to get just the perfect color TV’s and saw to it that a tech from one of the stores installed and fined tuned the TV’s. Erik was very proud of what he accomplished with his snow job, and when he brought it up again at the airport, none of the other four of us mentioned that we never turned on the TV’s in our rooms.


Perry Mason

The Old Hand:

I enjoy watching the black and white reruns of PERRY MASON starring Raymond Burr, now as much as I enjoyed them when they weren’t reruns. And they have closed captioning, something I didn’t need back in the day but sure do now. In some of the episodes though, the cc tech is somewhat of a censor, a very prudish censor, using the x key whenever the tech deemed it is necessary.

            A good example was an episode the other night where the murdered victim’s name was Dick and there was a lot of cocktail drinking. Every time the name ‘Dick’ had to appear on the screen, the censor changed it to xxxx. Every time the word ‘cocktail’ had to appear it was changed to xxxxtail. Pussycat was xxxxycat. Once you realize what is happening, you find yourself watching for other censorship changes instead of trying to figure out who the guilty party is. The tech would have a nervous breakdown if he or she was hired to work on today’s TV shows.

            On of the best things about the series is the relationship between Perry and his secretary, Della Street. It didn’t start out that way in the novels. In the first, The Case of the Velvet Claws, the only one I ever read, Mason is a real sexist pig. He treats Della like she was something he scrapes off his shoes before entering a house.

            SPOILER ALERT: Never hire Perry as a legal consultant because you will end up as the prime suspect in the murder that is sure to follow. The same rule applies to inviting J.B. Fletcher over for dinner, or allowing Dr. Sloan to give you medical attention. And, in watching any of these series, it is best if the viewer has been a member of AARP – for a number of years.

Published St. Paul Pioneer Press, Bulletin Board, 5/13/16


Sheen's angel' work

One show I never appreciated at the time, mainly because Mom insisted we watch it, was Life is Worth Living, starring Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and his invisible ‘guardian angel’. Basically it was a half hour sermon in prime time.

Bishop Sheen loved to disguise the sermon with humor, and he was good at it. He had a shtick where he would outline a point he was talking about on a large chalk board. Point made, he would  walk downstage so the chalk board was out of camera. When he would come back to the board, it would be clean. He would always thank his angel for the erasure job, and would kid about how his guardian angel not only protects him, it also cleans up after him.

The show was stuck in a graveyard slot, Tuesday night, opposite the “king of television”, Milton Berle, Uncle Milty, who was so popular his network had signed for a 30 year contract. The Mutual Network thought it would be a cheap, (the Bishop worked for nothing), throwaway against the ratings giant. No way would it have the legs to compete against Berle. Wrong!

It rose steadily in the ratings and took a large audience away from Berle. Berle often laughed off the Bishop’s rise by saying they both had the same sponsor, Sky Chief, (Berle was sponsored by Texaco Sky Chief gasoline), and they both used old jokes. Sheen responded that people were calling him, Uncle Fulty. Berle didn’t laugh though when Texaco dropped him and Buick picked him, at a reduced price.

He never regained his title of king of TV and the network was stuck with a long contract. And, sad to say, Bishop Sheen introduced a genre to America, televangelism. The huge difference though is Sheen worked for free, and today’s televangelists work for as much as they can get their followers to send in.

As I started out by saying, I didn’t really appreciate the show until it was off the air and I was working in show business. Then I looked upon it fondly because  Bishop Sheen was the only person I ever heard refer to a stagehand as an angel.

black and white tv