1 9 5 4 – 1 9 5 6 (USA)
“Yoo hoo! It’s me!” – and so started the opening song to the most frenetic of all 1950s children’s shows.
Pinky Lee (real name Pincus Leff) was a comedian and former vaudeville entertainer who had failed on a few nighttime TV series but now became the daytime sensation of 1954 with his lisping, mugging character in an undersized hat and checkered coat who danced and acted in slapstick sketches.
He elicited big laughs from kids in the studio audience with “Game Time,” where their parents competed in events like stuffing pillowcases using boxing gloves to win prizes. This all occurred as part of a rough storyline involving Pinky in the show’s Happy Town Circus setting.
His announcer was Jack McCoy. The show was sponsored by Tootsie Roll (which was difficult to miss, given the amount of advertising paraphernalia liberally sprinkled around the set and the incessant product placement!).
On 20 September 1955, while Lee was doing a commercial 22 minutes into the live show, he suddenly clutched his throat and cried, “Somebody help me!” before collapsing. It turned out to be a sinus condition that had felled Pinky, not a heart attack, as some early press reports claimed.
He returned shortly after, but The Mickey Mouse Club on ABC arrived and stole his thunder (and his audience), and Pinky’s regular series vanished.
Lee died in 1993 in Mission Viejo, California. He was 85.
Betty Jane Howarth