Billy's TV Show

Billy’s TV Show

It is my recollection that sometime around 1948-52 Billy had a children’s television show called “Uncle Billy and His Merry Magpies.” Rumor had it that Billy was given a pipe to hold while in front of the camera so as to keep his hand occupied … he had a tendency to satisfy every itch, even in the most awkward location.

Does anybody else remember anything about a television show, or is this a figment of my imagination? Did we make up the whole television story when we were youngsters?

 Ferdie

Can that possibly be true? A TV show? It sounds like an invention of Fearing’s. We did call everyone Uncle and Aunt, at least in the early days, so that fits. I remember the bald spot on the right side of Billy’s head from scratching. But, Merry Magpies sounds like satire. To this blank slate of a child Billy seemed slightly goofy or “wild and wooly” as someone else described him. Now he seems like a hero with cracks in him, one of the very special people.

Can that possibly be true? A TV show? It sounds like an invention of Fearing’s. We did call everyone Uncle and Aunt, at least in the early days, so that fits. I remember the bald spot on the right side of Billy’s head from scratching. But, Merry Magpies sounds like satire. To this blank slate of a child Billy seemed slightly goofy or “wild and wooly” as someone else described him. Now he seems like a hero with cracks in him, one of the very special people.

 I never heard that. However, I well remember the active hand and the pipe might be a coping mech on your part. Ask Judy R. It’s her hat. barbara

Hi, All: I really like John Kramer’s sense of Uncle Billy as a hero with cracks – but one of the very special people. And Jenny Polcari’s information about his wanting to write his thesis as poetry was really interesting news to me. I recall Uncle Billy as a science teacher – and how he diligently tried to help me make some sense out of algebra (which I flunked the first time) and biology, where all I could see were the sorts of blobs James Thurber describes in his piece, “University Days.” Uncle Billy sparked something in me with astronomy – I still remember him finding Orion in the sky over the baseball field, and the poetry in his voice as he searched the skies for mythic figures. And I remember him taking us out on bird-watching expeditions. I think there was a joke about his always looking for a Yellow Breasted Nuthatch. I don’t even know if there is such a bird, but the name has stuck.

I suppose my dominant memory of Uncle Billy is an intense, craggy but ultimately deeply kind person. All the people at Manumit were the kindest I’d known in my life up to that point. I think this is a main reason we all keep remembering the place His papers on education that have surfaced on the website are valuable to me, since I got involved in teaching reform myself, but they mainly reinforce the sense of kindness and passion I already have of Uncle Billy.

The other dominant memory is of his songs. I know that the songs he led us in have shaped my sense of music – not just the folk songs, but the Handel of “Where E’er You Walk,” which probably got me started on Bach and Henry Purcell and who knows how many others, and a song like Blake’s “Jerusalem,” set I think by Vaughn Williams, which came back in the film, Chariots of Fire, and keeps resurfacing. In some way that I can’t fully define, Billy’s leading us in the songs implanted them in my mind – not only as symbols of social ideals but in a way that has made me feel music as a comfort zone – almost a life-saver at times – and this in spite of my having no musical talent at all; I can barely sing a recognizable note. I’d say that Uncle Billy was my first internal juke box, though the image seems too “pop” for the music he left inside me.

“Merry Magpies” sounds like a merry myth. At least in the years I was at Manumit, 1948-52, I never heard anything about a TV show; I don’t think I even recall a TV on campus. There were movies on weekends, and I remember being scared out of my mind by Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera.

Best regards, Norm

Uncle Billy did have a TV show that premiered on channel 9 in NYC early in 1950.The name of the show was “Uncle Billy’s Treasure Chest “. Bunny Brown and myself were chosen to represent Manumit. I am not really sure where the rest of the cast came from or how they were chosen.To be quite honest, the show was a total disaster and had one of the shortest runs in history.

Regards Ira.