B E S T / /O F
January, 2013 marks the 100th birthday of former NYC based radio/TV host and kid's wraparound host/performer Herb Sheldon, a gentleman who was able to entertain and inform his listeners and viewers with his gentle, soft spoken demeanor and his sense of fun.
The son of a former comedy bike rider Herbert Sussman was born in NYC in January of 1913, he also wanted a career in show business so young Herb studied drama at The American Academy Of Dramatic Arts. When acting jobs were few and far between his father (who had given up his performing career to become a textiles manufacturer) insisted that his son join him in his new line of work.
Herb became a salesman who sold children's sweaters to local merchants but the lure of performing was too strong to resist. In 1941 he was able to sell the station execs at WINS Radio his idea of a daily talk show for adults. For the next few years Herb hosted numerous radio programs as an interviewer, DJ, and game show MC. He even co-hosted a daily talk/variety show with gossip columnist Maggie McNeilus from the famous nightclub "The Latin Quarter".
Herb Sheldon would leave radio in 1946 to join WNBT TV 4 in NYC where he began hosting the TV programs for which he is best remembered. He MC'd a few kids TV series "Kids Today" weekday mornings, "One Is For Sheldon" weekday afternoons from the rooftop of the first RCA Building at W. 67th Street and Columbus Ave., and "Sheldon At Six" weekday evenings.
He also hosted a saturday morning program "Saturday With Sheldon" on Ch.4. Kids accepted his gentle, intimate folksy manner mainly because he talked to them as intelligent individuals on a one to one basis. He would engage his viewers in games, stories, craftmaking, hobbies, informational segments and puppet skits with two unique characters: "Egbert The Bookworm" and "Ummley The Steamshovel".
Herb also interviewed guest performers and personalities..who visited the sets of the shows, all wrapped around reruns of old movie cartoons. His shows became a ratings hit for WNBT but Herb's tenure with Ch.4 was short lived. He insisted on also doing TV shows for other stations, he MC'd a kids talent show on Sundays for WPIX TV Ch.11 "Child Talent Search" and a daily woman's beauty tips and beauty contest program on WJZ (WABC) TV Ch.7 "The Video Venius". Because he was under contract to only do TV shows for Ch.4. The station execs warned him not to host the other shows for competing stations.
Feeling secure in his position at the station Herb ignored the warnings and he continued to host the shows for Ch.4 and for Channels 11 and 7. Angered, the station execs at WNBT fired Herb in the summer of 1956.
He wasn't out of work for long, WABD TV Ch.5 hired him to succeed Sandy Becker as the second host/performer of "Wonderama" (which had moved from a Sunday afternoon timeslot to the sunday morning schedule), "The Looney Tunes Show" (which switched from weekday evenings to saturday evenings), and "The Bugs Bunny Theater" (during Sheldon's tenure as the program's second MC. The show's title changed to "Bugs Bunny Presents") "The Bugs Bunny Theater" would also move from a Friday night timeslot to a week night schedule. He would also host three kid's TV series of his own at Ch.5" Adventures In Comics" (which was seen Sunday afternoons on WABD TV during the fall of 1956), "Speaking Of Animals" (where Herb would screen old film comedies featuring funny, talking animals) and "Studio Party" (a rock and roll dance and music show for teens).
He also co-hosted the first and second annual "Wonderama Christmas Cartoon Parties" with Sandy Becker, "Capt. Video"(Al Hodge) and with Ch.5's staff announcer, cartoon show MC and former cast member on "Capt. Video & His Video Rangers" Uncle Fred Scott on Christmas day, 1956 and Christmas day 1957.
And he appeared on some telethons. "The Arthritis Foundation Telethon" on WABD TV Ch.5 in NYC on Sunday April 7, 1957 with Sandy Becker and "Capt. Video" (Al Hodge) and "The Celebrity Parade For United Cerebral Palsy Telethon"on WOR TV Ch.9 in NYC on Sunday October 21, 1958 with "Lt Rip Masters" (James Brown), "The Magic Clown" (Doug Anderson), "The Story Princess" (Arlene Dalton), Paul Tripp, Claude Kirchner, Paul Winchell, Ed Herlihy, and with again with Sandy Becker and "Capt. Video". He also appeared on the Sunday October 20,1957 edition of "The UCP Celebrity Parade Telethon" on Ch.9 with "Johnny Jellybean" (Bill Britten), "Tinker Tom The Toymaker" (Gene London), Capt. Ray Heatherton (of Ch.11's "Popeye Show"), "Space Cadet" (Al Markhem), Jack Barry, and again with "The Story Princess", Paul Winchell, Claude Kirchner and Ed Herlihy.
He was also featured on The NBC TV network broadcast of The NYC Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday November 22, 1956 hosted by comedy genius Ernie Kovacs. Herb appeared as an animal trainer and the parade also featured appearances from Paul Winchell, Buster and Cuffy Crabbe.
Unfortunately Herb soon had his problems with the station execs at WABD TV. He wanted to serve as the host of some musical entertainers at local NYC nightspots and and sell some vitamins (made in the form of lollypops called "Pop A Day Pops" created by a local druggist). He also wanted to MC a late night old movie show for adults, "The Rickey Tickey Playhouse" and a daily talk/variety show for adults "Herb Sheldon's Playland". The station execs refused his request to allow him to work on these outside ventures but he ignored their warnings and he went ahead with these projects which resulted in Herb getting fired from WABD TV.
He soon accepted hosting jobs for two TV series at WNTA Ch.13 in Newark, N.J. "Funderama" (a Saturday morning rip off of "Wonderama" created and produced by Ted Cott (the former WABD TV exec who helped to create "Wonderama" back in 1955) and "Hold That Camera" (a late night game show for adults). Both series were not successful and they were cancelled early in 1959.
Herb returned to NYC in the fall of 1959 when WOR TV hired him to replace the second host/performer of Ch.9's "Looney Tunes Show" (starting on Monday morning September 14, 1959) Paul Tripp. The series moved from a weekday evening timeslot to a weekday morning period. Herb hosted the series from an enchanted cottage where he was able to entertain and inform his viewers between the reruns of the cartoons. The show was so successful that the program's title was changed to"The Herb Sheldon Show".He also hosted reruns of"The Silent Our Gang"/"Little Rascals"film comedies on"The Mischief Makers!"..weekday evenings on Ch.9 Starting on Monday September 19,1960. But? The films were poorly edited and featured a forgettable soundtrack and narrations from a little boy that were terrible, to say the least.
Herb tried to offset the inferior quality of the films by coming onto the set of the show in his model T car sporting a straw skimmer, striped or checkered blazer and bow tie. He also entertained and informed his viewers in between the reruns of the films. Despite his efforts. "The Mischief Makers" was not as successful as "The Little Rascals Show" on WABC Ch.7 and was dropped following the Friday June 9, 1961 broadcast. He continued to MC "The Herb Sheldon Show" on Ch.9 until heart troubles forced to leave the program following the Friday May 18, 1962 broadcast,
Herb Sheldon continued to work on other projects. He operated two legitimate theaters on Long Island, New York (where he also produced, staged and performed in plays), he helped to run a restaurant and he continued to work with many charities including The UCP "Celebrity Parade Telethons" on Ch.9 with Jane Pickens Langley, Dennis James, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme' until his death on July 21, 1964.
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