|Pete The Pirate
"Ahoy buccaneers, come aboard, me hearty!"
Lary and Nancy Newman came to Baltimore from Terre Haute, IN, during the late 1950's. Hired by WBAL-TV when their studios were located on North Charles Street, Lary and his wife hosted "What's New" from June 1959 to August 1960. When Mrs. Lewman dropped off, Lary became the show's solo host. For the next three months, in his words, "there was no evidence in the rating book that anybody EVEN IN THAT BUILDING was watching it." It was then that station officials asked him to consider doing a kid's show. Since this beat unemployment, Lary agreed, and proceeded to develop five different program proposals. One of the ideas submitted, a pirate show, was accepted by the station. Thus "Pete The Pirate" was born, and the program debuted on WBAL-TV on August 22, 1960. Lary remembers:
"The funniest thing about the beginning, we had a black and white set up in Studio H. Roy Rogers had called his listeners 'buckaroos,' you know. I thought, that's a good idea. We were all upset about the fact that pirates were criminals, I mean that was a thing we had to walk a wide circle around. So I didn't want to say 'buccaneers' because buccaneers really were bandits. So I decided to call them 'lads and lasses' and use the prefix from buccaneer. So when we went on live the first time, I said 'Ahoy there buccalads and buccalasses,' and the cameramen just toppled over. Everybody just folded over in the whole studio. So that was the last time I called them 'buccalasses.'"
Since Lary made his entry each day swinging from a rope, the set for "Pete The Pirate" was the largest in local television, bigger even than the news set at Channel 11. "And when we moved from the old building to the new one it got even bigger," Lary recalled.
In June 2001, I asked Lary Lewman if there was any reason why "Pete The Pirate" didn't have a studio audience like Stu Kerr had at Channel 2 for "Bozo" and "Professor Kool."
"You betcha," he replied with a laugh. "I winced at the idea of having a room full of children and thought if I can work this out so that we don't have an audience, I will have won the game because I felt like this was an enormous element that had to be managed. I mean you had to generate these audiences--you had to bring them in and get them out--and I'm sure Stu overcame that with just pure work and he figured out how to do it, but I was glad I didn't have to do it. Stu did that well--he worked well with live audiences."
Besides designing his own costume and makeup, Lary Lewman came up with storylines for "Pete The Pirate," laboring for hours a day on material that was used up in 30 minutes. Ron Spangler co-produced the show and frequently worked with Lary on stories. Props were alphabetized and carefully stored at the station. Commenting about the creative process, Lary recently said, "Television just eats it up. I tended to write it between midnight and 4 am." And about that "swinging" entrance each day, "Once a day I'd come out and support my own weight on a rope--not a big deal. But when I stopped doing that (vacations, etc.) the muscle tone in my body changed completely. So I put a bar up in the doorway of my kitchen and would chin myself up once a day."
And of course, things didn't always go as planned. Lary remembers:
"We spent a full day rigging paper sails on a model ship. The idea was--I was always worried about violence, there shouldn't be too much violence--instead of having these cannonades with other ships, I would take lodestone which is a natural magnet and rub the cannonballs to make them magnetic, sort of a version of the 'Star Wars' defense. Captain Awfulmean would fire at me and I would fire back, and the magnetic cannonball would keep that one from hitting me. So we were eventually going to show that we'd set his sails on fire--the variation being we dipped the cannonballs in whale oil to ignite the sails so that he couldn't chase us. So rather than sink the ship, we were going to burn the sails. So we had this big model of the Cutty Sark I think--I can't believe we were going to burn it. We had a cloud rear screen that had this model on a rocker. And the idea was we'd ignite these paper sails and take to a shot of the sails burning, showing we'd won the battle with Captain Awfulmean. So what happened was I dipped the thing (in whale oil) and all that and fired--it was tricky firing cause a guy was rolling the audio sound of the cannon and we were trying to sync that with the smoke puff out of the mouth of the cannon--and they take to a shot of the model and catch the technician's hand with a match carefully lighting the sails! It flashed through my mind that we should have giants and Lilliputians in the story, but I thought, aw screw it and I ignored it!"