The Mary Ellen Story...Continued!
One of the pleasures of this building this web site is talking to former colleagues from Channel 13. There are quite a few people that we'd like to reach, and the person at the top of the list has been Mary Ellen. Thanks to our friend Roy Leep, I was able to talk to Mary Ellen in February of 2002. Mary Ellen left WTVT eight years before I arrived there, but I'll never forget her wonderful hosting of 'Popeye's Playhouse' and 'The Mary Ellen Show.' I recently had a phone conversation with Mary Ellen, who is happily retired and enjoying her life with husband 'C.L.'. Mary Ellen is still effervescent, with a spontaneous laugh that warmed the hearts of her viewers. Here's what she said:
"We were living in Tampa when the show ended, but as Tampa grew we kept moving further out of the city. When the show went off, we were living near Carrollwood, and then moved to Quail Hollow, where my husband was involved with the development. Although moving is always a lot of work, I enjoyed having a brand-new house with brand-new things that all work. Clyde became a designer and builder, and helped design and run Pebble Creek golf course. I became a 'golf nut.'
Mary Ellen maintained friendships at Channel 13 with Bob Olson, John Haberlan, Roy Leep, and others. She watched 13 as her main source for local news, sports, and weather, but never returned to do another show.
"Sure, I missed being on TV. But there weren't any shows like mine on at the time. That's still true today."
I asked Mary Ellen to compare her show to any of today's programming for young viewers, and her comment was very interesting.
"Today's shows are made for a very specific age. If you're five, you watch 'Sesame Street'. If you're ten, you watch 'Pokemon.' On my show, we'd have all these different age groups on the program, so it wasn't just for the five year old or seven year old. My program ran from age one to age twelve."
Of course, I had to ask Mary Ellen if there were any incidents with the kids or props that stand out in her memory.
"Reddy Whip aerosol whip cream had just become available and I had never used it, and didn't know how forceful it would come out of the can. So I'm doing a live commercial with the kids all around me, and I'm saying how good it tastesthis little boy next to me says 'What does it taste like?' I said 'you want to find out?' He says 'Yes.' So I squirted it into his mouth...and the Reddy Whip came out like gangbusters! And it filled his whole mouth! His eyes got as big as dollars as this stuff is starting to leak out of his mouth. And I thought, 'I've killed a kid on TV!' There was complete silence. All of sudden, he smacks his lips and I knew he was alive. I said 'How is it?' He said 'Good.' Oh, boy, I'll tell you that was a scary moment."
Another time, 'Poopdeck' lived up to his name.
"I was getting ready to draw a Funny Face for a child and Poopdeck's sitting on top of the drawing pad like he usually did. Suddenly, he turned his back to the camera and pooped right down on the page. I ripped it off and started all over again."
How about another Poopdeck story?
"One time when we were home, this lady came in from the street and asked if there was a baby in trouble. She heard a baby crying in the back of our home. Here it was Poopdeck imitating the new baby next door."
So what happened to Poopdeck after The Mary Ellen Show ended?
"We returned him to his owner at the pet store. Poopdeck was then sold to Sunken Gardens. They had him on display...and one day...somebody stole Poopdeck! He was kidnapped and we've never seen him again!"
Judging from all the wild parrots in different pockets of St. Petersburg, I'd have to say that Poopdeck might have escaped his captors and spawned a whole generation of mischievous, noisy, green birds.
The importance of Mary Ellen to her young viewers was underscored in this bittersweet tale.
"After I was off the air, I was checking out in a store and the cashier said, 'Mary Ellen, I know a little girl who is very sick, and she's always wanted a 'Funny Face.' Would you kindly make me one and I'll give it to her?' I said 'sure,' and I went home and made one and took it back to the store. The next time I saw that cashier I said 'Did she like the Funny Face?' The cashier told me 'She loved itbut now, unfortunately, she's gone.' And you know what, they buried the little girl with her Funny Face, because it meant so much to her."
Mary Ellen and Clyde have lived outside of Florida for twenty five years now. They enjoy their lives and friends and regular visits from Gail, Mark, and Robin. Mary Ellen's performing talents have been showcased in productions for the community theater.
I asked Mary Ellen if she had a final word for the readers of our web site.
"Those were some of the happiest days of my life, because I love working with children. You never know what they're going to say or dothey are just so spontaneous. They are just so natural. It was just wonderful and a great life."
Before we ended our conversation, Mary Ellen told me that she'd seen a local kids' show that had a couple of puppets exchanging banter back and forth. She wondered if they'd like to have somebody come in and draw 'funny faces.' Hmmmm.
On behalf of the kids who watched Mary Ellen every day on Channel 13, I'd like to say 'Thanks for all the great years of television. We miss you and wish you the best of everything.'
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