|cartoons, all the while being harassed by the annoying "Somerset," a darkly dressed nuisence in a rubber gorilla's mask.|
When challenged by WMAR officials
to come up with a new children's show in the late 1960's, Stu Kerr
introduced what would become his longest running character.
"Professor Kool and his Fun Skool" aired for a decade on Saturday
mornings, featuring variations on the Bozo theme in a far more manic
environment. Decked out in a mortar board, black mop-like
wig, glasses, unruly mustache and academic gown (along with Bozo's
floppy feet), Professor Kool entered each week to the tune of "Tijuana
Taxi," dancing and clowning with his "students" before getting everyone
seated for the school song, sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells":
"We like school
we like school,
cause it's lots of fun.
Singing, laughing, playing games,
blues are on the run.
We like school
we like school,
love to hear the bell.
For our teacher Professor Kool
let's give him a great big yell!"
Highlights of the program included screwy lunch menus which included "mashed monkey meat" or "poison ivy pudding," plus the crazy games Stu would have the kids play to compete for prizes. Most memorable was the relay race requiring youngsters to sit on helium-filled balloons 'til they'd pop. And then there was "Miss Spiderweb."
Former WMAR studio technician John Ziemann, who came to the station shortly after its move to York Road, had the distinction of being the evil Spiderweb for the entire run of the program. Ziemann, now with the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore, became one of Stu's closest friends and inherited all of the costumes and props he used on his various shows. Unlike the mischievious "Somerset" from the Bozo show, "Miss Spiderweb" was portrayed as a true villain, with the results being that Ziemann got more than his share of real lumps over the run of the show.
In the summer of 2000, John recalled, "Once I was in a big laundry basket--the kind with wheels--and Stu decided to assign a kid to guard me so that I wouldn't get out. There was a real heavy kid there that day, and I remember thinking "please, not the fat kid." But Stu picked him, and when I tried to sneak out of the basket, the kid jumped onto lid and sat on it. It got me right on the head, and I had to have stitches to sew up the wound."
Besides the weekly show, Stu Kerr took Professor Kool on the road, performing scores of live shows--more than 100 a year-- throughout the Baltimore area for more than a decade. You obedient webmaster recalls a scorching July 4th weekend in the late '70's when Stu worked in the full Professor Kool costume for an audience of youngsters at the Dundalk Heritage Fair. The sun was blazing that day and there wasn't an inch of shade on the stage, but if Stu was uncomfortable, he never let it show, not for one second.
By 1978, "Professor Kool and his Fun Skool" had ended its long run, and "Caboose" had been born. This was a significant program for two reasons. It represented the teaming of Stu Kerr with a talented young puppeteer from Dundalk named Kevin Clash, who would go on to "Captain Kangaroo," then work with Jim Henson on "Dinosaurs" and "Sesame Street." And it would be Stu Kerr's final project at WMAR-TV. "Caboose" was set in an imaginary railroad station with Stu protraying "The Conductor." He was accompanied by "Bartee," a big dog puppet under the control of Clash. Now in his early 50's, Stu seemed to lack some of the energy that accompanied his earlier efforts, especially Bozo and Professor Kool. However, he was no less entertaining, capturing a whole new generation of fans. The show's opening and close were shot at the B&O Railroad Museum on West Pratt Street, and each week my young son (now 23) would howl with laughter when the train begin to pull away without the Conductor. Although Stu always caught up with it, he had no way of knowing he'd come to the end of the line at Channel 2.
In November 1981, 53-year-old Stu Kerr was unexpectedly fired from WMAR-TV. Follow a 19-year assocation that saw him wear more hats than anyone in local television history--booth announcer, late-night host, children's entertainer, weatherman, even Mr. Fortune on "Dailing for Dollars"--Stu Kerr, beloved by viewers, was out of a job, albeit briefly. He continued his occasional role as the scatterbrained newspaperman Mr. Scoop Toot on "Captain Kangaroo," served as weatherman on Washington's WJLA-TV, hosted fund raising drives for Maryland Public Television, and had one final kid's show in his future. For that, you'll need to switch to Channel 54, WNUV-TV.
|Stu Kerr as "Professor Kool," circa 1967.|