Wednesday, 26 July 2017

An Early Morning Visit From Chuck McCann

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed at 1:15 this morning and stopped at an unexpected live broadcast. The stream was from actor Chuck McCann, age 81, sitting in a restaurant and apparently just chatting into a camera/phone for something to do and in case there was anyone out there who wanted to listen.

You know, that’s pretty cool. Well, two things are. The technology, for one thing. Who could have imagined—besides writers on The Jetsons, that is—that someone would be able to do that kind of thing. And the other is having some kind of connection with someone who you watched on TV. I’m not a very star-struck individual, but it was pretty neat watching Chuck tell stories about orange groves in Los Angeles and lunching with Greta Garbo, talking right into my computer.

My age and location is such that my exposure to Mr. McCann first came in a series of TV commercials he made for Right Guard deodorant. Chuck was the self-amused neighbour who shared his apartment medicine cabinet with a weary man who called for his wife when he had enough of Chuck’s hammy antics. Pretty soon after that, Chuck started to turn up with a fair bit of frequency during actual TV programmes playing parts.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Chuck had been around some time before, and a regular or semi-regular on a few shows before landing his own daytime childrens’ that ran locally in New York. When the streamcast ended, I tried to find some clippings about Chuck’s early career. There aren’t a lot. The earliest is from Pinky Herman’s column in the Motion Picture Daily of August 17, 1956:
21-year-old puppeteer Chuck McCann WABDoing a sensational job pinch-hitting for vacationing Sandy Becker on the 8:45-10:00 ayem kiddie series. There’s a bright future facing the young and talented Chuck on TV.
Radio TV Mirror of April 1959 gave a short bio (along with what looks like an ABC stock photo) in response to a reader’s question:
It has come as no great surprise to those who know him that, at twenty-four, Chuck McCann is already such a success on television. For the young performer who has scored such a hit as commercial announcer and puppeteer on ABC-TV's Peter Lind Hayes Show, and as a comic-impressionist on such programs as The Steve Allen Show, was born into a family tradition of show business. His grandfather had been with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and his father was arranger-composer with the Roxy Theater. Little Chuck spent his childhood in the Roxy pit watching the top personalities go through their acts. Through this intensive "research," he learned the art of mimicry. . . . Later, becoming interested specifically in drama, Chuck joined the Pasadena Playhouse — working his way up through electrician, scenic designer, stage manager, and finally performer. Upon returning to the East, he became a successful comic-impressionist in local niteries. With a group of puppets created by Paul Ashley, he has lately become a great favorite on the Hayes show. . . . Just married this past December, the young comic and his wife Susie (a former model) live in a Manhattan apartment.
The wedding, by the way, made Dorothy Gilgallen’s column. Either Chuck had a good publicist or Dorothy liked kids shows.
As for Steve Allen, a cover story in the New York Herald Tribune’s entertainment magazine quoted Allen about his coming Monday night show that would be broadcast from California instead of New York. Allen replied:
As to the boys, I’m pretty sure Louis [Nye] and Don (Knotts) are coming out to the Coast with me, and perhaps one or two of the others, Gabe Dell, Chuck McCann, etc.
McCann stayed in New York. There was a children’s show to do. He and all the other kid hosts on WPIX actually got together on Christmas Day 1960 to host a day-long broadcast for young viewers.

Unfortunately, live kids shows eventually ended for the reason you see to the right. In a different example under the headline “How Downyflake ‘uses’ children to sell”, the September 24, 1962 edition of Broadcasting magazine reported: “To enhance its effectiveness on children's programs, Downyflake has recently started a number of promotions, on the theory that a strong admiration of tv personalities by juveniles can be directly transferred into product identity.... Children submitting the winning names will spend a day with such tv stars as Sonny Fox, Bozo The Clown, Herb Sheldon, Fred Scott, Chuck McCann and Claudie Kirchner.”

Chuck did other things in those early ‘60s years. For example, he and his puppets starred in a 12-minute film for the Plumbing and Heating Division of American Standard about the company’s new Vent-Away toilet gizmo. He was a regular on the Jimmy Dean prime-time variety show. And he cut a record.

But he was known mainly to kids in the metropolitan New York area. And this brings us back to what I was talking about at the beginning. Here’s a nice little story from the Greenpoint Weekly Star, July 3, 1964. I’ve had to add a line of missing text. Sorry for the fuzzy photo.
Youngsters Meet Chuck McCann

A lucky four year old, through her talent for art was permitted to see two famous television personalities in person.
Cathy Dobres of 163 S. 1st street together with brother Bobby, three years old, had the thrill of meeting Chuck McCann and Lassie.
Chuck McCann has his own show on Sundays and weekdays and Lassie is seen on Sunday nights as television's most famous dog star.
Mrs. Dobres received the tickets last month to the Chuck McCann Show that she had written away for previously. These tickets enabled her children to attend one of the shows on Sunday morning.
● ● ●
CATHY gave Chuck McCann a puppet she designed herself. She also gave him a drawing she made of Little Orphan Annie, a com [ic strip character that he im] personates.
Two days before her family was at a Sports and Vacation Show at the New York Colliseum. Lassie was appearing there with her trainer. Rudd Weatherwax.
She had drawn a picture of Lassie and wanted to give it to her. Cathy asked the trainer for permission to see Lassie. Even though he didn't know her family, the permission was granted.
Not being shy or frightened she shook Lassie's paw. Bobby being a little scared wouldn't go near the dog.
BOBBY and Cathy had their pictures taken with Lassie as they did with Chuck McCann.
The lucky children had a wonderful time seeing their favorite television characters and undoubtedly would do it again if they had the opportunity.
It’s nice to read about some young children getting a chance to meet someone they saw on TV. I can’t say I’m as excited about Chuck McCann like some of the people who watched him years ago on WPIX in New York, but it was nice to stumble onto his Facebook feed and hear his stories. He comes across to me as a genuine guy who is complementary of others he’s known through life. And with all the nastiness in the world and on the internet, we could really use a lot more people like that.


  1. Chuck appeared on a cartoon voice panel at the San Diego Comic-Con yesterday (after a bit of trouble with a rather obtuse security guard). Perhaps he was still in that fair city when you caught his "broadcast."

  2. I ended up sitting on Chuck's lap for the closing segment of one of his weekday shows on WPIX back in the early 1960s. Unlike my wariness in getting close to Bozo the Clown in one of my other trips to the Ch. 11 studio, there was no problem with Chuck because just watching on TV, he seemed to be having so much fun doing what he was doing (when McCann moved from WPIX to WNEW in 1965, the show production values went up, but Chuck lost the ability to dress up as some of the comic strip characters owned by WPIX's parent, the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Chuck dressed up as Little Orphan Annie still makes me smile today).

  3. I also remember the Right Guard commercials ("Hi, Guy!") - as I mentioned in a comment on an earlier post, it must have been an insane architect that designed an apartment building that had two adjoining apartments sharing a single medicine cabinet!

  4. So he's still alive then...thanks for the article!

  5. I work for WPIX and have done so for 25+ years. About 3 years ago, Chuck Mc Cann was in NYC to promote his book at a fan convention. He stopped by the station to see what was going on decades after he left our air. The station gave him an impromptu tour along with a camera and reporter. I got to edit the piece for the newscast which included Chuck coming out of the same 10th floor elevators that he did in the 60s, and singing "Put On a Happy Face"...I matched up as best I could the modern Chuck version with the vintage Chuck doing the same thing--and the story came out great!