|Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot: somewhere on the Niagara Peninsula|
Do you remember Rocketship 7?
The children’s series, which aired weekday mornings from 1962 to 1978 on Buffalo`s WKBW, was your typical, low budget little local morning show effort. You had your cartoons (those weird Davey and Goliath shorts plus Gumby), you had your puppets (bizarre Mr. Beeper), and you had your local weatherman-turned-children’s host.
The soothing presence at the centre of it all was Dave Thomas. The Buffalo native, who went on to a long career on the air as a weatherman in Philadelphia (under the name Brian Roberts), just happens to be the father of David Boreanaz, star of Bones and before that, Angel and Buffy.
The Buffalo stations flooded across the border in the old over-the-air antenna days and if you grew up in the ’60s in Toronto or Hamilton, Ontario, Dave Thomas was as well known to Canadian kids as he was in upstate New York.
I’ve written a story for The Canadian Press about meeting Thomas two years ago at a Fox network press tour party. You can read that full story here.
I’d spoken with Boreanaz six months earlier at the previous press tour, and he knew there were a few Rocketship 7 fans among the critics, so he brought his dad to the next Fox party. The Bones star can forevermore do no wrong with at least two critics. By meeting Dave senior, myself and Andy Ryan of The Globe and Mail were like Bart and Milhouse before Krusty the Clown.
|Boreanaz, Ryan, Thomas and Brioux. Like visiting Santa|
There’s something about meeting a childhood hero that’s an extra kick for most critics. Meeting Adam West, TV’s Batman from the ’60s, or the men behind those first Charlie Brown TV specials, Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, was very, very cool. On one of my very first TCA press tours 25 years ago, I stood in line with other critics, all reduced to seven year olds, as we asked Roy Rogers and Dale Evans for autographs (normally a big press tour no-no).
Meeting the local heroes, however, can be an even more cherished experience. These guys were your hometown heroes, they were like family.
Several years ago when I was at the Toronto Sun I wrote about my memories of local CTV kiddie host Kiddo the Clown. His early-’60s show was one of my first TV memories.
The day the story came out, Kiddo, a.k.a.Trevor Evans, who went on to a long career directing the likes of Wayne & Shuster, called me at The Sun. He came down the next day with a bottle of bubbly, an autographed Kiddo pic and some hilarious stories about Kiddo’s clashes with CTV brass.
The sad thing about Evans and Boreanaz’s shows is that they no longer exist. All of Kiddo is lost. Only three minutes of the original Rocketship 7 remains.
That`s according to Marty Biniasz, who runs Rocketship7.com and has put together this Rocketship tribute clip on YouTube. It’s worth listening to just for the rousing theme song, part of a symphonic suite composed in the ’50s by Norman Dello Joio.
Biniasz kindly provided the photo up top of Thomas and Promo. He also is restoring the original robot costume, no longer on display at that East Aurora, N.Y. toy museum.
Biniasz reports that only three or four minutes of the original Rocketship7 series still exists. Thousands of hours were erased or just junked. Old TV shows had little value once they were broadcast back in the days before DVDs and specialty channels. The snippet that does exist was the tail end of a show.
|Jimmy & Johnny (back), Thomas and Nolan Johannes
on WKBW’s “Dialing for Dollars”
You have to remember, says Biniasz, who is working on a book about the series, that Thomas and the crew didn’t have time to worry about archiving their series. They had to rush to the next studio right after each taping to prepare for the local series that came next: Dialing for Dollars. Among those in the fast change lane was Johnny Banaszak, the accordion player on Dialing for Dollars and the guy inside the Promo the Robot suit on Rocketship 7.
“Johnny unfortunately passed away shortly after I left Buffalo,” recalls Thomas. “One of the nicest guys you’d ever meet and endured so much going in that suit every day under the hot lights.”
SCTV used to goof on Dialing for Dollars, especially the part where Thomas in Buffalo (different versions aired all over America) would call housewives at home and ask them if they knew “the count and the amount.”
Most of the time no one was home. “Or if you got someone, the line went out,” says Thomas. “I loved all of that stuff because it was all live. And you never knew what was going to happen.”