If Salvador Dali had decided to create a kids' TV show, it would have been Andy’s Gang, probably the strangest and scariest show I remember watching as a very young
child. There was something surreal
and creepy about the show, which was sponsored by Buster Brown shoes and started
with a shot of the inside of a shoe with the Buster Brown logo, which featured
a live little boy with long blond hair and hat (presumably Buster himself) and
his dog. The show was not
broadcast live but was one of the first kids’ shows filmed in Hollywood. Using the "magic" of film, the show employed a variety of cheesy special effects, allowing characters and objects to suddenly appear or disappear or change form.
I didn’t see the
original version of the show, which was hosted by Smilin’ Ed McConnell and was
based on his popular radio show.
When McConnell died of a heart attack in 1954, he was replaced as host
by the folksy character actor Andy Devine, and the show was renamed “Andy’s
Gang”. It ran on the New York City
NBC affiliate until 1960, with a brief network run on NBC in 1957-58.
The show seemed to
be taking place in a theater, with Andy and the other characters (mostly
puppets and some live animals) on a stage, and an audience of kids sitting in
the theater seats. However, the
reaction shots of the audience laughing and shrieking had been filmed
separately and were edited into the show (they were always the same shots). The show began with Andy sitting in a
big easy chair reading from a book, Andy's Stories, which were illustrated by
film clips. During the show
there were also filmed segments about an Indian boy named Gunga and his friend
Rama, who were often shown out in the jungle dealing with wild elephants or
other threats to their village.
The main character
on the show was Froggy, a rubbery frog hand puppet that lived in a grandfather
clock and would magically appear when Andy Devine said the words, “Plunk your
magic twanger, Froggy!” There would be a twanging sound and Froggy would suddenly appear, saying “Hiya kids! Hiya! Hiya!” in a weird voice that scared me.
He was a rascal who usually misbehaved while Andy wasn’t looking. Froggy had some kind of magical power
over people, since he could get them to smash cream pies into their own faces
or do other silly or bizarre things. Froggy would engage in increasingly wilder
shenanigans as the studio audience shrieked and howled louder and louder, until
finally Froggy would begin to vibrate and then suddenly disappear in a puff of
characters were Midnight the Cat and Squeaky the Mouse. Midnight, who looked
like a real big black cat but was probably a puppet, would sometimes operate an
organ grinder. If she liked
something, she would say “Nice” in a simpering meow-like voice. Midnight also scared me. There was something creepy and menacing
about her lifelike appearance.
Does anyone else remember watching this show as a child? Were you as creeped out by it as I was?