1 9 5 5 – 1 9 7 7 (USA)
This American Sunday morning children’s variety show was originally hosted by the engaging Sandy Becker, who entertained his young viewers with games, puppetry, and skits, as well as interviews with guest performers. Becker’s co-host, Pat Meikle, would draw pictures and perform home-cooking lessons as well.
The show also featured Al Hodge (“Captain Video”) and Melbourne Christopher, who would perform magic tricks and introduce old movie serials, usually of the sci-fi or educational genre.
The intention behind this variety of entertainment was always to teach lessons and skills that would help children become better people. One of the most effective outlets was Jon Gnagy’s compelling “Learn to Draw” segment. Gnagy, a respected artist, started many a child on the road to artistry.
Becker quit Wonderama in 1956 after one season and was replaced by Herb Sheldon, who ran the show without co-hosts and instead led all the activities himself. The only other ‘performers’ on the show were two puppets; Egbert the Bookworm and Ummley the Steam Shovel.
In 1958, Bill Britten and Doris Faye took over as co-hosts, changing the formula slightly by pre-taping the show before a live audience. Once again, games, songs, stories, and skits made up the majority of the series.
1959 ushered in yet another new host in the form of Sonny Fox, who was wildly popular with the kids and introduced never-before-seen segments like spelling bees and Shakespeare dramatisations. Fox had a special rapport with children that allowed him to entertain and teach them without appearing boring or patronising.
Fox continued until the summer of 1967 when he was replaced by Bob McAllister.
McAllister excelled at the interview segment, bringing on such people as the real Baroness Maria Von Trapp – the woman portrayed by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965).
In addition to the Sunday morning show, McAllister also hosted a weekday afternoon version of Wonderama in 1970. The weekday version lasted two years.
McAllister would host Wonderama until 1977 when executives decided to drop the comedy/variety format of the show and replace it with an hour-long news magazine and travelogue hosted by, and aimed at, teenagers.
This version debuted in 1980 and was hosted by an anchor team that included Laura Condon, Alena Brown, Dwight Williams, Bobby Clark, Pam Potillo, Laura McDonald, Claude Brooks and J.D. Roth. The show was eventually cut from 60 to 30 minutes.
It should be noted that Bob McAllister hosted a network version of Wonderama on ABC from 1978 to 1982. The show, Kids Are People Too, was similar to Wonderama, with the addition of bigger name guests such as Henry Winkler and Shaun Cassidy. McAllister was eventually replaced by Michael Young, who was subsequently replaced by Randy Hamilton.
Wonderama was truly an amazing show, finding its way into the lives of many people despite being seen, for the most part, only on local New York television.
Sandy Becker (1)
Herb Sheldon (2)
Bill Britten (3)
Doris Faye (3)
Sonny Fox (4)
Bob McAllister (5)