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View Full Version : "Uncle" Al Lewis dead at 84



minus5
03-02-2009, 08:52 AM
Surprised that this wasn't already posted.

http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090302/NEWS01/903020353

Heck of a career. I know there are a lot of stories out there about him being mean and what not but the guy couldn't have been any nicer and more engaging the times that I talked with him.

Al Lewis - the man known by generations of local children as "Uncle Al" - has died.


From 1950 to 1985, "The Uncle Al Show" aired daily on WCPO. The man known for his straw hat, bow tie and accordion died Saturday at the age of 84.

His show, which aired locally for most of its run, was the longest-running children's show in the nation, according to Bill Fee, WCPO vice president and general manager.

• Photos: Uncle Al remembered
• Share your Uncle Al photos

"Anyone who has lived in Cincinnati for a while realizes that Uncle Al was part of their lives growing up," Fee said. "He and Wanda were a fixture in Cincinnati. We're going to miss him very much."

The Uncle Al show debuted June 12, 1950. Al's wife, Wanda Lewis, joined the show in 1956 as the character Captain Windy, drawing pictures for the children and handling many of the educational aspects of the program.

"Many people remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers because they aired nationally. But they didn't last as long as Uncle Al," Fee said.

Lewis was featured on the cover of "Cincinnati Television," a book written by former WCPO producer Jim Friedman, which was published in late 2007.

"Uncle was Uncle to everybody, even his grandchildren," Friedman said. "I was on the Uncle Al show in 1959. I remember doing the hokeypokey. And then in 1979 I started working at Channel 9 and I actually got the chance to work with him. It was great fun to be able to know him."

Len Goorian, 89, of Owensville, met Lewis 60 years ago when Goorian was a producer at WCPO. He said Lewis originally came to WCPO as an art director. Television was so new at the time, when Lewis wanted to go on TV, they let him.

In the early years, shows were aired live, requiring a special level of talent that Lewis quickly demonstrated.

"He proved to be perfect for it. He was a musician, he was an artist. Anytime you were around him, it was showtime," Goorian said. "You won't see his like around again for ... I don't know when. Cincinnati has lost an icon. No two ways about that."

Jim Timmerman, 51, of Blue Ash worked with Lewis from 1981 to 1985, getting a job straight out of college. Timmerman was part of the crew, helping run cameras, doing props, and whatever else was needed for the show.

"We all had to learn how to juggle because, you know, that's what you did," Timmerman said.

Timmerman grew up in Lima, Ohio, far enough away not to know about Uncle Al.

"When I came into the station, the first day, the lobby was filled with mothers and their kids all waiting to get on the show. It was a phenomenon I had never seen before in my life," he said.

Timmerman said his fondest memory of Uncle Al was going to his 80th birthday party and seeing him play his accordion.

"He never went anywhere without that accordion," Timmerman said.

Lewis was born in Cleveland. After spending three years in the Army in special services entertaining troops, he returned to Cleveland and attended the Cleveland Institute of Art.

While there, he met his future wife, Wanda.

Lewis graduated with a degree in art in 1949. While in college, Lewis worked at WEWS-TV as an announcer and an artist. Being an accomplished musician, he also performed in nightclubs playing the accordion, banjo and piano.

He joined WCPO in 1949 as art director. Shortly thereafter, he was hosting four programs a day, and two of them became children's programs.

In June 1950, "The Uncle Al Show" originated because of Al's enthusiasm for children.

For most of its run, "The Uncle Al Show" aired locally. It ran nationally on ABC in 1959 and 1960.

After the show ended, Uncle Al continued to live in his hometown of Hillsboro, where he remained active in the community.

According to a WCPO statement, Wanda Lewis wants the community to know how happy she and Al were to be a part of children's lives for 35 years. They felt very blessed to use their talents to brings smiles to children's faces for so long.

Services will be held Saturday in Hillsboro. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. To do so, go to www.cincinnati childrens.org/donate or call 513-636-4561.

Staff writer Eric Bradley contributed.

HeatherC1212
03-02-2009, 09:04 AM
I cried when I saw this on the news last night. I grew up watching him on TV and my mom actually did too so it's very sad that a big part of my childhood is now gone. The city of Cincinnati and most of the people here are definitely going to miss him. RIP Uncle Al. :(

LawFive
03-02-2009, 01:52 PM
One of my earliest memories is being on his show. This probably would have been in 1980 or 81, I think I was 3 or 4. It was a big freakin deal for a suburban kid like me to get to go on a big city bus and go downtown to the Channel 9 studios. I remember the TV lights made it very hot, Uncle Al was soaked with sweat during the show. I can also remember looking up at the monitor and seeing ourselves on camera and not quite being able to figure out what I was looking at. I think my mom took me to lunch afterwards at one of the department store lunchcounters...anyone else remember those?

Falls City Beer
03-02-2009, 02:05 PM
Wow. Big time memories there. Al disappears into the great bluescreen in the sky. RIP

Falls City Beer
03-02-2009, 02:06 PM
I think my mom took me to lunch afterwards at one of the department store lunchcounters...anyone else remember those?

Shillito's. Vegetable soup in a cup.

redsmetz
03-02-2009, 04:36 PM
Back in March a year ago, Gail Collins, a NY Times columnist who hails from Cincinnati, did a column titled "The Uncle Al Election" about Obama and Clinton running against each other. She recalled the races that Uncle Al would feature in which the kids would run around in circles until Uncle Al declared "everbody wins!". It was interesting to see Uncle Al (even in an analogy) get some national print all these years later.

UKFlounder
03-02-2009, 05:07 PM
I remember being on his show. Each kid got one "activity" or some special skit - I was on the teeter totter with Uncle Al standing in the middle and the friend that went with me got to hold up one of those small car-shaped forms (cardboard perhaps) and act like he was driving, then stopping to get some gas. I was a bit jealous as I thought his activity was cooler than mine.

The funny thing was that not long before the show, according to my mom, I apparently cut my own hair, and even after she took me to the barber to try to fix it, it still was pretty lame looking. I know we had a group picture from that show at one time, as I remember seeing it, but who knows where it is?

I don't know why I remember that in so much detail - I was probably 5 years old or so when I was there 30 years ago - but that is one memory I have somehow retained.

A tiny piece of my childhood just died.

RIP, Uncle Al

GAC
03-02-2009, 08:22 PM
As a child growing up in central Ohio, and long before the advent of cable TV and when UHF reigned, I remember my brothers and I trying to get the Cincy station (channel 9) on our TV when Uncle Al came on. It's a wonder we didn't ruin our eyesight watching a fuzzy, snowy, channel with grainy images.

Thank God we could get Dayton stations, so we could watch Uncle Orrie and Ferdie Fussbudget. Then on Friday nights it was Chiller theater with Dr Creep.

Those were the days.

westofyou
03-02-2009, 08:41 PM
As a child growing up in central Ohio, and long before the advent of cable TV and when UHF reigned, I remember my brothers and I trying to get the Cincy station (channel 9) on our TV when Uncle Al came on. It's a wonder we didn't ruin our eyesight watching a fuzzy, snowy, channel with grainy images.

Thank God we could get Dayton stations, so we could watch Uncle Orrie and Ferdie Fussbudget. Then on Friday nights it was Chiller theater with Dr Creep.

Those were the days.

So.. which station had Cowboy Bob and Janey? We had an Astronaut in Detroit.. Captain Detroit

chicoruiz
03-02-2009, 08:48 PM
Cowboy Bob and Janey appeared on WTTV in Indianapolis.

George Anderson
03-02-2009, 08:55 PM
Cowboy Bob and Janey appeared on WTTV in Indianapolis.

With Sour Dough the singing biscuit.

BCubb2003
03-02-2009, 09:07 PM
Anybody remember Mr. Cartoon from the Huntington station?

RFS62
03-02-2009, 10:16 PM
Anybody remember Mr. Cartoon from the Huntington station?


Absolutely.

And Merlin the Sea Monster.

Newport Red
03-02-2009, 11:28 PM
My older sister was on the show and I never was. I'm bitter

minus5
03-03-2009, 08:47 AM
Back in March a year ago, Gail Collins, a NY Times columnist who hails from Cincinnati, did a column titled "The Uncle Al Election" about Obama and Clinton running against each other. She recalled the races that Uncle Al would feature in which the kids would run around in circles until Uncle Al declared "everbody wins!". It was interesting to see Uncle Al (even in an analogy) get some national print all these years later.

I did see that. Also, in an interview while promoting Willy Wonka, Johnny Depp said that for part of his character he used Uncle Al as his inspiration. He grew up watching Uncle Al in Tampa (If I recall correctly), where Scripps owned a local TV station and aired Uncle Al.

Roy Tucker
03-03-2009, 10:13 AM
I was a Cleveland kid so I grew up on Captain Penny, Barnaby, and Mr. Jingeling. Later on, Ghoulardi was the thing.

redsmetz
03-03-2009, 04:51 PM
I did see that. Also, in an interview while promoting Willy Wonka, Johnny Depp said that for part of his character he used Uncle Al as his inspiration. He grew up watching Uncle Al in Tampa (If I recall correctly), where Scripps owned a local TV station and aired Uncle Al.

Folks forget how much production both in radio and TV Cincinnati had back in the day. David Letterman talks about being influenced by Paul Dixon (his ham giveaways are from those days) and radio folks Jerry Thomas and James Francis Patrick O'Neal.

Bob Shreve was absolutely insane on his late night shows and both Channel 12 and Channel 5 had their own children's programs. Glenn "Skipper" Ryle on 12 and Mr. Hop (a guy in a rabbit costume) on 5. When Channel 19 came along, they had The Cool Ghoul and Larry Smith and his puppets were on a couple of stations (our family once picked him up hitchhiking from Wright Patt when he was in the Air Force. He had his puppet case with him).

And that's not mentioning Ruth Lyons and the 50/50 Club, Midwestern Hayride or Nick Clooney's variety show.

And again, that's not mentioning all the radio production that emenated from Cincinnati in the 1930's through the 1950's, many nationally broadcast on one network or another.