for 19 years of TV show for children dies at 74
December 20, 2000
Wearing a white
steamship captain's hat with shiny black visor, a
turtleneck and tailored red blazer, George A. Lewis was the natty
nautical personification of "Captain Chesapeake." As the imaginary bay
mariner, the avuncular Mr. Lewis was a fixture on local children's
television in Baltimore for nearly 20 years.
Mr. Lewis, who
retired in 1990, died Monday of bone cancer at his
Timonium home. He was 74. "Captain Chesapeake" first went on the air at
WBFF-TV (Channel 45) in 1971. During the station's cartoon programming
from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., "Captain Chesapeake" would
appear in one- or two-minute inserts. Joining him were his life-size
puppet sidekick, Mondy the Sea Monster - a Chesapeake Bay version of
the Loch Ness Monster - and Bruce the Bird, an imaginary character.
cartoons, the Captain, Mondy and Bruce would engage in
activities that would amuse and impart a lesson to the young viewers.
what he did and was a real performer," said Duncan Smith,
vice president of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, owners of Fox 45. "He
filled a great niche and was able to lock in to kids, and what he
brought to each show was a value-type lesson."
Near the end of
each show, Mr. Lewis looked into the camera and
admonished his youthful audience to "Be somebody important; be
yourself." Then he followed with his trademark sign-off, "So, long crew
"He had a
wonderful imagination, was very creative and created all of
the show's episodes and story lines. He took the name for Mondy from
our daughter, who is named Remonda," said his wife of 47 years, the
former Dorothy Doudiken.
Mr. Lewis also
presided over a club of "crew members" who carried
membership cards. By 1973, he had registered his 50,000th card-carrying
received about 3,000 letters a week. Some correspondents were by no
means under 12.
physician wrote to say that he ignored his patients each
afternoon to tune in the captain. And a real-life Navy captain swore
Mr. Lewis told
of being pulled over by a traffic policeman because the
officer wanted to meet the real "Captain Chesapeake" in the flesh.
"I wasn't doing
anything wrong," Mr. Lewis told The Evening Sun in a
1990 interview. "When he walked to the window, he pulled out his crew
consummate broadcaster, and working with him was a constant
learning experience," said Dwight Weems, who directed the show and is
now creative director at Channels 45 and 54. "He was multifaceted,
talented and had an unmatched ability in knowing how to reach kids."
With his theme
song, "Stumblin'," playing softly in the background, Mr.
Lewis would comfortably settle into a captain's chair on a set that
resembled the main deck of a tugboat. He would open a treasure chest
and read letters from his youthful viewers.
praised his "soft and sincere way with children" and ability to connect
Mr. Lewis was
born in Atlanta, and his family moved to
Baltimore a year later. He graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic
His first public
performance occurred when he was a precocious
5-year-old traveling with his parents on a steamship cruise and decided
to entertain passengers with his own version of "It's Only a Shanty in
Old Shanty Town."
appearance on television came one day when he was walking
along Lexington Street and Baltimorean Garrison Morfit - later known as
popular television quiz show host Garry Moore - interviewed him for his
"Man in the Street" program.
Invited back to
the show, Mr. Lewis wowed listeners with a virtuoso
harmonica performance. Later, he was a regular on WBAL Radio's "Woman
of the Week Show."
briefly in the Army Air Forces during the final days of World
War II and, after he was discharged, enrolled at the Johns Hopkins
One day, on
impulse, he drove past Hopkins and by the time he stopped
his car found himself in Lenoir, N.C., looking for a job as a radio
Green and not
knowing how to operate the radio station's console, Mr.
Lewis remembered, he stood in the studio yelling until he found a
microphone that worked.
In 1950, he
joined WCBM Radio in Baltimore as host of the morning show
and later worked at a station in Atlantic City, N.J. After working at a
television station in Lexington, Ky., he became a news anchor at
WSAZ-TV in Huntington, W.Va., in 1957.
There, his wife
said, he "had to fill in one day when the man who was host of the
children's show became ill."
anchoring and went on to hosting 'Steamboat Bill' full time. He loved
it because he loved children."
Bill," Mr. Lewis created the character that he brought to Baltimore in
1970 and became "Captain Chesapeake."
his career at his retirement, he told The Sun, " I hope I
have done some good when I talked to kids about futures, goals and
self-image. Maybe that was the main thrust of what we did. ... I told
them: Be somebody important; be yourself."
he enjoyed reading and traveling.
He was an active
member and lay reader at St. Stephen's Traditional Episcopal Church in
In addition to
his wife, he is survived by five daughters, Melanie
Gorney and Angela Howell, both of Absecon, N.J., Tara Heintz of Hobe
Sound, Fla., Tracy Sealover of Chase and Remonda Bert of Bel Air; 13
grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
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Excerpted From the DCRTV.com Mailbag:
I remember that in the late 80s FOX45 had started the Captain Chesapeake
Club. For sending a self-addressed stamped envelope, you would get a monthly
newsletter and a membership card. When Captain Chesapeake made his last
trip on television, and became the FOX45 Clubhouse, all of the members of
the Captain Chesapeake Club, became members of the FOX45 Clubhouse, which
was part of the FOX network's FOX KIDS CLUB. I wish I still had the
newsletters so I could post them, but my mom threw them out. ... - P. Kenny Burns (October 13, 2000)
... Dwight Weems and Jimmy Hearns (sp?),
who were engineers at the station and ... also did the voices for the
characters "Bruce The Bird" and "Moany The Sea Monster". ... (October 11, 2000)
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The Sun. Baltimore, Md. [FINAL Edition]
Dec 30, 1990. pg. 1.H
CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS: Fox 45's "Captain Chesapeake," in real life George
threw out his anchor for the last time when he announced he was
retiring after a long, long time at sea. At a goodbye bash at the Inn
at the Colonnade in April, 1990, the Captain's fans waited for hours
autograph. Asked how he'd be spending his leisure time, he laughed, "On
my boat -- I haven't taken it out since 1988!"
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