1 9 5 3 – 1 9 6 8 (USA)
One of the most beloved kids show icons on New York City TV, Sandy Becker brought a wacky charm and a genuine love and respect for children to every programme he hosted.
Refusing to talk down to his audience, Becker instead revelled in the two extremes of being a kid: an insatiable eagerness to learn, and an unparalleled gift for spontaneous silliness.
In the early 1950’s, Becker moved from the radio (where he was the voice of Young Dr Malone on CBS) to daily morning television on New York’s WNEW-TV (channel 5), where he hosted the early morning Sandy Becker Show.
In between cartoon shorts, Becker entertained his preschool-aged audience with puppets Geeba Geeba (an elderly man), Marvin Mouse, Henry Headline (who offered kid-friendly items of news) and others, along with Becker’s real family dog, Schatzie.
In 1955, Becker became the first host of the long-running Wonderama, which originally aired for six hours straight on Sunday. Herb Sheldon took over as Wonderama’s host the next season, allowing Becker to focus on his own show.
In the early 1960’s, The Sandy Becker Show moved to the early evenings, and his comic repertoire expanded even further. For his revamped show, Becker adopted a wide range of alter egos, which appeared in short skits throughout the hour-long programme.
Norton Nork was a klutzy sort who tried to follow Becker’s off-camera directions to perform a simple task (making a pizza, baking a cake, etc.), but always failed spectacularly.
Wearing a graduation gown and accompanied by the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, The Big Professor offered ludicrous, unscientific answers to questions sent in by the viewers. Other characters included the bilingual K. Lastima, mad scientist Dr Gesundheit and his puppet assistant Dorshock, and the Lone Ranger spoof Arthur Arrowroot.
One of the more memorable and bizarre characters in Becker’s line-up was the mad disc jockey Hambone (pictured), who danced to the song of the same name while dressed in a pith helmet with a long plume, goggle-like eyeglasses and a gaudy military uniform.
Spouting nonsensical advice like, “Cut the grass so the ants can pass,” Hambone quickly became a fan favourite.
The Sandy Becker Show (alternately known as Sandy Becker’s Fun House) kept viewers constantly entertained with its zippy, off-the-wall humour and pacing. Sketches shared the bill with pre-MTV music videos (including a Gesundheit/Dorshock lip sync of Mr Bass Man) and with contests like “Catch Max,” where viewers had to phone the station if they spotted cartoon burglar Max running across the screen.
The show continued to air in its evening slot until the late 1960’s, making Sandy Becker a fixture in the lives of an entire generation.
When the show was cancelled in 1968, Becker retired from on-camera hosting and did some air work for WNEW radio, filling in for a while in the afternoon timeslot vacated when Ted Brown went to WNBC.
Most of Sandy Becker’s later years were spent as a children’s entertainment consultant and doing cartoon voiceovers. He died of a heart attack, age 74, at his Long Island home on 9 April 1996.
The Big Professor