Monday, July 26, 2010

"The Teddy Bears' Picnic"

I belong to a very exclusive club.  In fact, in addition to me, there are only two other members that I know of.  I'm pretty sure there are more, but I don't know who they are.  The first step in learning if you would qualify for the club is:  "Is the song "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" familiar to you?  If not, I'm sorry, but you can't be a member of the club. 

The second criteria for membership relates to age.  There is no actual age qualification, but if you are currently under 50, it is extremely unlikely that you qualify.  Sorry, this is for those of "a certain age" only.

Thirdly, when you were a child, did you listen to children's programs on the radio on Saturday mornings?  Yes, I said radio!  If so, does the phrase "Let's Pretend", bring anything to mind??

OK, anybody still with me?  Do any of you  fill the criteria so far?  Is there anyone else out there who has figured this out?

So here it is, the final requirement to be a member of our exclusive club....Can you say, "It's Saturday and there's "Noo Schooool Todaaaay!"
[cue Theme music, "Teddy Bears Picnic"....]

It was the show Big John and Sparky!  When we were living in Chicago, it aired for a short time when I has about 7.  I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor facing a large console radio, listening intently, hanging on every word. 

Only about 45 minutes long, it was a wonderful program.  They told stories, sang songs, they looked through the Magic Mirror to see what good or not so good things the kids who listened might have done that week (as reported by parents on the sly!) and they would have a "Let's Pretend" segment where we could pretend to be firemen, or mountain climbers, or cowboys and have big adventures.  It was delightful.  I don't remember who (or what, for that matter) Big John and Sparky were exactly, but I loved them.

It wasn't on for very long (absolutely less than a year) and it wasn't a life changing experience.  It was just kind of neat that there was this program just for kids right there on the radio!  TV was just beginning to come into its own and it wouldn't be long before "Ding, Dong, School" (with Miss Francis), or "Howdy Doody" (with Buffalo Bob, Clarabelle, and Princess Summerfallwinterspring!), and then into the piece de resistance, Captain Kangaroo!  (Did you know that Bob Keeshun - Capt. Kangaroo - played Clarabell on Howdy Doody??)

But I listened to the radio on Saturday mornings.

So years went by, we moved to Florida, and I would occasionally mention Big John and Sparky.  I always was greeted with blank looks and "Who??"  No one in Fla had ever heard of it!  Well, that was surprising to me, but I figured maybe it was just a midwest thing.  But if I met someone who had grown up in Chicago, I always ask if they had listened to Big J and S.  NO ONE had ever heard of it.  No one!   I was beginning to think I had dreamed it or something, but my Mom said no, it was a real program.   Whew!

I was into my mid-teens before I finally met someone who remembered listening to Big John and Sparky.  My classmate, who would ultimately become  my Best Friend Forever, used to listen when she lived in New Orleans at about the same age!  But she hadn't ever met anyone else who listened either!  It was one of the things that tied us together!

Fast forward to the year Little Sis graduated from grammar school (1972-ish).  In a move that surprised me, her class took a 3-day graduation trip to Washington, D.C.  (they were only 13, for heaven's sake.... there was no class trip for me till senior year in high school!)  Anyway, I went along as one of the chaperones, I think there were 6 of us, 2 men and 4 women, a couple of whom  were teachers.  It was a fun trip....especially after the kids' lights out.  The chaperones gathered in one of the grown-up's rooms, had snacks, and wine, and we talked and told dirty jokes, laughed  and generally enjoyed ourselves. 

Somewhere in one of those evenings, I brought up the radio show no one ever heard of, Big John and Sparky.  As usual no one had....except for one of the male teacher/chaperones!   Oh how exciting!  Another one!  He had grown up in Chicago, was about my age and he had listened, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of his radio on Saturday morning.   And yep, you guessed it, he didn't know of anyone else either!

So there you have it.  Big John and Sparky's very exclusive and loyal imaginary fan club has just three members.  I've been asking for years and that's all I've found!  Unless one or more of you remembers the show, of course!  I'd be glad to add you, there's plenty of room for more!

However, if there isn't anyone else who ever heard the show and was a fan, it will remain just be me, Flossie, and John T.  No wonder the program didn't last long!!!


  1. I think I qualify! I don't remember lsitening to children's shows on the radio but I do remember "Romper Room" with the Magic Mirror ("Romper, bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, have all my friends had fun at play?") I think Miss Nancy was the host. I always hoped she'd see me in her magic mirror!

    I found this on google:

    I hope it brings back good memories!

    I grew up in the Philly suburbs. We had a local show called Pixanne.

    I think it was the Pixann Show that had Let's Pretend.... "
    Let's pretend that it's story time and I'll tell a tale to you. I'll tell you a story of make believe and all your dream will comes true. And when the party's over and when we reach the end, we'll live happily ever after - Where? - In the land of let's pretend." (this could have been from the Gene London Show though.)

    So, do I qualify???

  2. Never heard of this show, but it sounds like it was fun! If it lasted less than a year, it probably never aired in Ark. Things were kind of slow gettin from Chicago to Ark! But yes, I did watch Ding Dong School; Howdy Doody, & Capt. Kangaroo. If children were exposed to those shows today, they would be bored to tears, but we loved them! laurie

  3. Big John and Sparky was my favorite radio show! I can remember listening to it during the early 1950’s, in San Francisco, as did all my friends. By the way I still have contact with most of my childhood friends, and we recall Big John and Sparky, very well.

  4. Big John and Sparky was my favorite radio show! I can remember listening to it during the early 1950’s, in San Francisco, as did all my friends. By the way I still have contact with most of my childhood friends, and we recall Big John and Sparky, very well.

    The show was on KGO Radio, an ABC station, and was one hour long. To be honest, at 8 AM every Saturday morning, I remember the show and it's theme song.

  5. Roy Wright
    wow! now i'v found you guys! and vice-versa..
    i grew up in Springfield, Mass..
    and listened rapt to Let's Pretend EVERY Saturday Morning.. alone..
    it must hav been around the end of the war
    (they interrupted an exciting episode of Terry & the Pirates
    to announce that Pres. Roosevelt was dead!
    do any of you know where the show was produced? or when, exactly?
    thanks for posting this reminiscence..

    i couldn't post this on your blog site, because the [* select profile *] button there was frozen !

    i hope this gets thru from Quebec, where i'm still teaching at 71

    1. Welcome to the Club! (Well, there isn't really a club, but you know what I mean! lol!)

      I loved the Let's Pretend stories. They were so well done. I'm unclear tho, did you listed to the Let's Pretend stories on the Big John and Sparky program or was there another show that was only Let's Pretend??

      I received a book about Let's Pretend from my daughter a few years ago. If I can remember where I put it (I have a LOT of books), I'll get a bit of factual info together and send it on.

      Well, either way, it's nice to share a memory with you!

      Sorry about the posting difficulty, don't know why it wouldn't work. I have comments from lots of other countries, including Canada, with no problem. The workings of the Internet mystify me!

      Just out of curiosity, what do you teach??

  6. If you go out in the woods today your sure of a big suprise, if you go out in the woods today you won;t believe your eyes because today the day the teddy bears have their picnic. L.G.L. Traverse city Mi.

  7. There's a photo of my Arvin Hopalong Cassidy radio in today's New York Times (for $1,850 for goodness sakes!) reminding me that I listened to Big John & Sparkie every Saturday morning. The program was syndicated on the Red Network (that's ABC now) out of Cincinnati. Did you read the 10-cent comic? Big John & Sparkie was pretty well-known at the time. The squeaky elf who wanted to be a boy sounds tame now, but it was hot stuff at the time. John had a sly sense of humor, too.

  8. I would enter a name but I can't figure it all out. Guess I'm to old. We listened to Big John & Sparky in Lafayette, CO. We would be at Grandma's house. Saturday "No School." She had a radio that stood on about 24" legs. We would stick our heads under the radio from different sides and listen. We always sang the Birthday Song. We always used it for our Family Birthdays. We now consider it a Family Song. No one we know has ever heard of it. Much to my delight a few years ago I was in a store and heard a music box playing "Teddy Bear Picnic." I wandered around until I found it. there are 3 bears sitting in tea cups and they go around as the music plays. It was the last one left. I bought it. It sits on my dresser & I play it often. I Love it. Hopefully the chidren in our families will help to keep Big John & Sparky alive.

  9. Listened to Big Jon & Sparky every Saturday - one time my brother and I were convinced that he saw us through his magic spyglass! Also listened to some other Saturday shows, one of which was called Buzz Corey (sp?) and the Space Cadets.

  10. Every now and then I begin to sing" The Teddy Bear's Picnic".
    I, too, was a great fan of Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the late forties. I was listening from Alabama. Thanks for posting this site.

  11. My sister and I listened to “Big Jon and Sparkie” in Utah. We would lie in front of the old radio every Saturday morning, listening as intently as the children watch TV today. Our favorite programs were “Big Jon and Sparkie,” and “Let's Pretend.”

    It was years before I realized that “The Teddy Bear's Picnic” wasn’t written especially for the Big Jon program. I think that it was Big Jon who sang a birthday song to the “Merry Widow Waltz,” but I’m not sure about that.

    What fun it is to reminisce with someone who remembers too. Thank you so much.

    LuEtte Halladay

  12. Guess what. I found Big Jon's birthday song on YouTube.

    It goes:

    Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
    Just for you,
    Happy Birthday and my all your
    dreams come true.
    As you blow out the candles,
    One light stays aglow.
    It’s the sunshine of your smile,
    Where ere you go.


Thanks so much for leaving a comment. It's really nice knowing what you think!! Besides, comments keep me from feeling like I'm here all by myself!! :)

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