A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Skipper returns

Hey, boys and girls! Guess who's coming back to town?
Skipper Sedley! And he's bringing King Fuddle with him!
For those who didn't grow up around here, Bruce "Skipper" Sedley and his puppet sidekick, King Fuddle, were stars of children's television in the Bay Area during the 1950s and early '60s.
From 1957 to 1960 they hosted the Popeye cartoon show on Channel 4. Then they hosted the Three Stooges program on Channel 2 from 1962 to 1964, with Skipper's name changed to "Sir Sedley."
King Fuddle actually started life as Professor Fuddle, a weather forecaster who was never right, on Sedley's radio show on KROW (now called KABL), "Nick and Noodnick."
Sedley was "Noodnick," replacing the original Noodnick, the late, great Don Sherwood. Other deejays at the station included Phyllis Diller and Rod McKuen.
He left KROW in 1952 to make films with Russ Meyer, who later became famous as "King of the Bs," producer/director of cheesy movies with great titles, including "Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Vixens" and "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"
In 1957 Channel 4 was looking for a show to compete with the Mickey Mouse Club on Channel 7, so it hired Sedley and Professor Fuddle to host Popeye cartoons.
A few months later Sedley visited Children's Fairyland in Oakland, where he saw coin-operated record players playing nursery rhymes. He was told that they were always breaking down, so he suggested a new, state-of-the-art technology called the tape recorder.
Using a repeating looped tape, he invented Fairyland's celebrated Talking Storybooks, activated by a Magic Key that the child inserted into a lock and turned.
"There is no doubt that the Magic Key is the single most enduring icon we have at the park," says Fairyland's executive director, C.J. Hirshfield. "I constantly hear from thirty, forty and fiftysomethings, 'I still have my key!' And I always reply, 'And it still works.'"
Professor Fuddle's name was promptly changed to "King Fuddle of Fairyland," and Sedley began promoting Fairyland on his show. He gave away Magic Keys as prizes, did personal appearances and remote broadcasts from the park, and worked many of Fairyland's characters and sets into the show.
The Talking Storybooks were such a big hit, Sedley started making them for other places, including the San Francisco Zoo, Bronx Zoo, and the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.
Eventually, he realized the technology he had created could be used for wider applications, so he invented the magnetic security card keys that are used in hotels and parking lots. The first card keys were made in his kitchen, using a pasta roller he bought in North Beach.
Nowadays he lives in Hong Kong. But he and King Fuddle will be at Fairyland on August 29 for Puppet Day, where they'll present a ceremonial one millionth Magic Key to some lucky child. (They'll also be there on August 30.)
And, in Sedley's honor, the San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteers Guild will hold its 53rd Annual Puppet Fair at Fairyland that same weekend, featuring free puppet making for children and performances by local puppet companies.
"We are hopeful that many of yesterday's children will bring THEIR children to meet King Fuddle," says Sedley.
If you want to see what he and King Fuddle looked like back in the day, you can watch a video of a complete Skipper Sedley Puppet Show at www.sedleyandfriends.com.

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