1 9 4 9 – 1 9 5 6 (USA)
This long-running TV series began as an ABC radio show in the 1940s before becoming a local weekly telecast in Chicago in 1948. By the end of the year, the ABC Midwest TV network was airing the show on Sunday afternoons, and it became a network show at the start of 1949.
Six-foot-five ringmaster Claude Kirchner (a former carnival barker) blew his whistle often and presided over the ring where various artists appeared for children’s entertainment.
Acts included acrobats, jugglers, trampoline acts, dogs jumping through hoops, monkeys riding on horses, etc.
Featured regulars were baton twirler Mary Hartline; Scampy (a child clown first played by the son of show producer Phil Patton until he outgrew the role); and adult clowns Cliffy and Nicky. Also seen in the 1950s was Jinx the Super Chimp.
With her long blonde hair, shapely legs, and daring (for the era) sequinned drum majorette outfits, Mary Hartline was the main reason why many young boys – and their fathers – tuned in every Sunday at 4.00 pm.
Hartline became one of TV’s first idols, setting off a merchandising craze of dolls, clothing, comic books, colouring books, record albums, and other paraphernalia. Her picture regularly appeared on the covers of television guides and national magazines, and many honorary titles were bestowed upon her, including “Sweetest Star of Television” and “Chicago’s Number One Career Girl”.
Super Circus was extremely accommodating to its advertisers. When Canada Dry came aboard as a sponsor in April 1949, the show included many plugs for it, including a contest where two kids tried to write as many words as possible with chalk on a blackboard on which the sponsor’s name appeared, and displayed placards and such with the name of the sponsor on them.
When Derby Foods joined the show a month later, a barker who appeared on the main show (Mike Wallace) also hawked peanut butter in commercials.
In December 1955, Super Circus relocated to New York City, and offered sketches by comedian and new ringmaster Jerry Colonna, baton twirling from 19-year-old Sandy Wirth (Miss Florida 1955), and comedy routines featuring Jerry Bergen dressed as an old-fashioned cop and clown group, the Baron Twins.
Ostensibly the move was made to provide better camera angles and a greater variety of acts for the circus, but despite the change, it was announced in 1956 that the series would locate to Miami that fall, supposedly to do more outdoor productions, if a sponsor could be found.
No sponsor was forthcoming, so the top-rated Super Circus abruptly left the air despite consistently beating its CBS and NBC competition over seven years.
Claude Kirchner (1)
Jerry Colonna (2)
Bardy Patton (1)
Sandy Dobritsch (2)
The Bruce Chase Orchestra
The Baron Twins
The Ralph Herman Orchestra