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Romper Room was a children's television series which ran in the United Statesmarker from 1953 to 1994 as well as at various times in Australia, Canadamarker, Japanmarker, Puerto Rico, New Zealandmarker and the United Kingdommarker. The program was targeted at preschoolers (children five years of age or younger).

Television franchises

Romper Room was a rare case of a series being franchised and syndicated, so local affiliates (Los Angeles and New York City were prime examples) could produce their own versions of Romper Room instead of airing the national telecast. Originally filmed in Baltimoremarker, Romper Room eventually moved its broadcast facilities to Chicagomarker, then moved back to Baltimore in 1981. River West Brands is the current owner of the Romper Room trademark and intends to re-launch the brand.

A typical episode

Each program would open with a greeting from the hostess and the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the hostess and her group of children would embark on an hour (or half hour) of games, exercises, songs and moral lessons, which were regularly accompanied by background music. The young cast was rotated every two months and ranged from four to five years old.Romper Room tried to teach its young charges to be polite. For instance, the hostesses were always addressed as "Miss." Many of the hostesses had prior experience in working with small children, as many were former kindergarten teachers.

A recurring character was Mr. Do-Bee, an oversized bumblebee who came to teach the children how to be well-behaved; he was noted for always starting his sentence with "Do Bee," as in the imperative "Do be"; for example, "Do Bee good boys and girls for your parents!" There was also a "Mr. Don't Bee" to show children exactly what they should not do.

Do-Bee balloons were also manufactured. Each balloon featured a painted sketch of Do-Bee on it. When the balloons were inflated and then released, they would fly around the room slowly emitting a buzzing sound. These balloons were made available for purchase to the public.

The show used the then-popular Mattel Jack-in-the-box for its opening and closing titles, with its Pop Goes the Weasel theme song.

At the end of each broadcast, the hostess would look through a "magic mirror" (actually a face-sized open hoop with a handle) and name the children she saw in "televisionland", then recite the rhyme, "Romper, bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, have all my friends had fun at play?" She would then lead into, "I can see Scotty and Kimberly and Julie and Jimmy and Kelly and all of you boys and girls out there!" Kids were encouraged to mail in their names, which would be read on the air.

Romper Room and Friends

In 1981, the name of the program was changed to Romper Room and Friends, and new characters were introduced: a large puppet named Kimble, Granny Cat, and a clown puppet called Up-Up. The new format of the series allowed these new characters to be seen in vignettes on the stations that still ran their own versions of Romper Room.

The new incarnation of the series aired over 100 episodes, which were rerun into the next decade (shows were frequently recycled as the audience to which the show was geared "grew out" of the show within two or three years, not unlike skits reused on Sesame Street).

Hostesses

The first Romper Room hostess was Nancy Claster, who helped produce the series with her husband under the Claster Television banner. Miss Nancy hosted the show, located in Baltimore, MD, from the first episode in 1953 until 1963, when she was replaced with Sally Claster Gelbard, Miss Nancy's daughter. Miss Sally hosted the show, in Baltimore and the surrounding area, until 1981 when it was retitled.

In New York City, the show aired on WNEW-TV (now WNYWmarker) until it moved to WOR-TV (now WWOR-TVmarker). Romper Room was locally produced in New York on and by WOR-TV Channel 9. "Miss Louise" was the hostess followed by "Miss Mary Ann." During these years, Romper Room aired at 10 a.m. in order not to conflict with PBS's Sesame Street. "Miss MaryAnn" hosted until 1982. In 1982 the name was changed to Romper Room and Friends and was hosted by Molly McCloskey who was also the host of the syndicated version. WOR-TV continued to produce the show, moving it to 9 a.m. in the fall of 1981 and then back to 10 a.m. a month later. The show war aired "live" until 1985. Children who were on the show for a week were on a waiting list for three to four years. It would remain in that time slot until the summer of 1985 when it was pushed up to 8:30 am. A few months after WOR-TV was sold and renamed WWOR, Romper Room was reduced to 30 minutes and moved to 6 a.m. in September 1986. A year later, it discontinued production in the New York area. While many local versions ended in the late 1980s and early 1990s, nationally syndicated episodes of Romper Room and Friends with "Miss Molly" stopped airing in 1994.

Another early Romper Room hostess was Claire Coleman, who was the original "Miss Claire" at the Romper Room debut in Philadelphia in 1954. Miss Claire hosted the show at WFILmarker TV from 1954 until 1956. During this time she shared an office with Dick Clark from American Bandstand. Claire Coleman is married to former U.S. Senator Richard Schweiker.

The Miami Florida hostess "Miss Iris" Maxwell from WCKT Channel 7 was formerly Miss Miami Beach 1953. She was also the author of the children's book Terri and Mike in Lollipop Land named after her first two children, Michael and Theresa Martin, who had appeared on the show several times. She later married philanthropist and real estate developer Ben Tobin, with whom she had a daughter, Benita Tobin.

One hostess would later find some measure of success in music. Margaret Jones, who hosted the Little Rockmarker show as "Miss Peggy" between 1963 and 1966, went on to sing and to play tabla and keyboards for a locally popular, psychedelic rock band called Campbell's Lavender Circus (or sometimes simply Lavender Circus). The sextet sold a respectable 2,000 copies statewide of their single, "I Have No Time for Time"/"Mr. N. Bourbaki's Multicoloured Jam."

A version of the program aired out of Johnstown, Pa., with "Miss Patty" as the hostess.

Controversy

Two controversial events were connected with Romper Room:

Miss Sherri

In 1962, the hostess of the Phoenixmarker franchise of Romper Room linked her own name with that of the ongoing controversies over abortion. Sherri Finkbine, known to television viewers as "Miss Sherri", sought hospital approval for abortion on the ground that she had been taking thalidomide and believed her child would be born deformed. Being a community-minded woman, Finkbine made a public announcement about the dangers of thalidomide.

The hospital refused to allow an abortion, apparently because of her announcement and its own fear of publicity. Finkbine traveled to Sweden for the abortion. Upon completion, it was confirmed that the fetus had no legs and only one arm.

The incident became a made-for-TV movie in 1992, A Private Matter, with Sissy Spacek as Finkbine.

Action For Children's Television vs. Romper Room

After the children's television group Action for Children's Television was organised in 1968, ACT's first target was Boston's version of Romper Room at WHDH-TV (today's WCVB-TVmarker), which at the time was a children's show that focused on the promotion of its branded line of toys to its viewers. Threatened with referral to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), WHDH scaled back the host's role in pitching the program's products ("host-selling").

Through the 1980s, Hasbro (which would later acquire Claster Television) sold branded Romper Room toys and products, but since ACT's intervention, ads and promotions for the items were not seen in the Romper Room program.

International

The Romper Room format was expanded into other countries, such as Australia, New Zealandmarker, Canadamarker, Japanmarker, and the United Kingdommarker.

Australia

There were two versions of Romper Room produced in Australia, one produced by the Seven Network for national consumption, the other produced by NBN Television in Newcastlemarker, in Adelaidemarker SA, Romper Room had their own vesion on SAS-10 now called SAS-7marker, which ran from 1965 to 1974. ATV-0 which is now known as ATV-10marker had their own version in Melbournemarker Vic.

The hostesses of the national edition were Miss Susan, Miss Patricia, Miss Helena and Miss Megan. This version of Romper Room was axed in 1988 as the children's show Fat Cat and Friends replaced it.

The NBN edition continued after the station became an affiliate of the Nine Network, with a new title, Big Dog and Friends, the title referring to the station's mascot Big Dog, who appeared in the show as the sidekick of the hostess, Miss Kim. This, the last version of Romper Room to survive on Australian television, was eventually cancelled.

Canada

In Canada, the first station to start airing the locally produced version of Romper Room was CKLW-TVmarker in Winsdor, Ontariomarker, which at the time was serving the Detroit, Michiganmarker television market, in 1954, the year the station signed on. Besides Winsdor, CJCH-TVmarker in Halifaxmarker, Nova Scotiamarker also produced a local version during the 1960s. This program (The CJCH version) along with its host "Miss Ann" (Ann Wilson) moved to CHSJ-TVmarker in Saint Johnmarker, New Brunswickmarker during the 1970s. Another version was also produced at CHCH-TVmarker in Hamilton, Ontariomarker.

A nation-wide program that ran during the 1980s on CTV was produced at CKCO-TVmarker in Kitchener, Ontariomarker and was hosted by "Miss Fran" (Fran Pappert), "Miss Jean" (Jeanette Moffat) and "Miss Betty" (Betty Thompson). The Canadian version of the program used the same opening credits and "Pop Goes the Weasel" theme as the US version, the Jack-in-the-box logo, and other elements such as the Do-Bee character and the Magic Mirror (including the psychedelic visual effect that went along with it). When the US franchise changed the title to Romper Room and Friends, the Canadian series followed suit.

Japan

In Japan, there was a localised version called "ロンパールーム" (Ronpaaruumu), which aired from 1963 to 1979. Just before this show debuted, the first Japanese hostess, Midori Namiki, visited New York for training with other hostesses from several countries. ([149189])

Hostesses of the Japanese version were always named Miss Midori, with "Midori" meaning "green".

The Japanese version had a controversial episode, when hostess Midori Utsumi (the second "Miss Midori") asked the kids, "Who can tell me a word that begins with ki?" (き or キ). A boy answered: "I know: Kintama!" -- a slang term for "testicles" that is roughly equivalent to "balls" or "nuts" in English. Hoping to give the boy a gentle little hint, Miss Midori suggested "Maybe you could think of something that sounds a bit more kireina?" -- with careful emphasis on the first syllable of this word, which means "nice" or "pretty". The boy immediately responded "Kireina kintama!" -- i.e., "Nice nuts!". After a commercial break, the boy was replaced with a teddy bear. Midori Utsumi, who has since become a major media personality, often tells this story on some TV programs that she appears in.

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, the show was hosted by Bertita Novoa and later, by Sandra Zaiter.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom had several versions of Romper Room.

Anglia Television produced a version for broadcast in the East Angliamarker region of Englandmarker from 1964-1976, hosted by "Miss Rosalyn" (Rosalyn Thompson).

In Northern Irelandmarker, local ITV affiliate UTV created a local production in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hosted by "Miss Adrienne" (mother of television reporter Andrea Catherwood), and then "Miss Helen". The notorious 1970's Belfastmarker loyalist sectarian murder gang, the Shankill Butchers called the room at the Lawnbrook Social Club where they attacked victims the Romper Room after the show (see Martin Dillon, The Shankill Butchers, Routledge, 1999)

Around the same time, Grampian Television in northern Scotlandmarker produced a version hosted by "Miss Lesley" (Lesley Blair, a continuity announcer).

References

  1. http://www.oztion.com.au/buy/auction.aspx?itemid=5186869
  2. http://austv.hostforweb.com/cgi-bin/cgi2/index.rb?page=Romper%20Room&section=Television%20History%20Reference/TV%20Shows/R&mode=0
  3. http://tvpresenters.thetvroomplus.com/channel-20.html


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