For more than 26 years, children and adults alike tuned in each day to learn from "Mr. Cartoon"
Published: Thursday, April 14, 2005
Updated: Saturday, September 19, 2009 15:09
With that familiar greeting, Jule Huffman introduced himself to area children on television for more than 26 years.
Huffman, along with his creature sidekick Beeper, served as WSAZ's "Mr. Cartoon" from 1969 to 1995. The hour-long weekday afternoon show featured Huffman interviewing children, as well as games and cartoons.
Huffman came to Huntington from Cincinnati in 1953 and was hired by WSAZ as a singer and announcer. He eventually became the station's morning weatherman.
Huffman said he did not originally plan on going into children's television until the station asked him to direct "Popeye and his Pals," a Saturday morning show, for which he voiced the puppets.
"I said, 'You know, I bet I could do this,'" Huffman said. "That's how it started."
Huffman was asked to take over "Mr. Cartoon" when original host George Lewis left the station for a job in Maryland. Lewis had also been the host of WSAZ's children's show "Steamboat Bill" in the 1950s, for which Huffman provided the voice of Merlin the Sea Monster.
Huffman said at first, the children wanted to know what had happened to Lewis.
"When I took over, I got letters from children that said, 'Who are you, you imposter? You're not Mr. Cartoon,'" he said.
Huffman changed the program's format from Lewis' storyline-based approach and eventually convinced the station's management to let him have a studio audience of children.
Huffman said the program really took off when the kids became the focus of the show.
"We made number 20 on WSAZ," he said. "Not only were children watching, but adults were too. Most of the things we were in competition with were from the network."
Huffman's daughter, Nancy Palmer, said the children were the key to the show's success.
"Who doesn't like to watch children?" she said.
George R. An-drick, who served as WSAZ's general manager from 1961 to 1987, said Huffman's influence on children is strong to this day.
"He made a great impression on young people during those ye-ars," he said. "They remember things he taught them."
Huffman said a woman once than-ked him for saving her nephew's life after his clothes caught fire at a bonfire and he re-membered to stop, drop and roll.
"The doctor asked him where he learned it," he said. "He said from Mr. Cartoon."
He said he also tried to instill values in the children.
"My idea was teaching them essential things like politeness and godliness, before all," he said.
Huffman said he wanted to give children a chance to take their minds off their problems.
"That was the beauty of the thing," he said. "They had a trip down there. They had fun and then they had the trip back to talk about it."
Palmer said Huffman's love of children was just as real off the air.
"With him, what you see is what you get," she said.
Nathan Boggess, an Olympia, Wash., resident who graduated from Marshall's College of Fine Arts in 2001, remembers being on Huffman's show when he was three.
"I really loved the show when I was young," Boggess said. "Mr. Cartoon was awesome."
Sarah Kern, a psychology junior from Huntington, said she watched "Mr. Cartoon," but was never on the show.
"I didn't go because I was afraid I would get the Yucket Bucket," she said.
The Yucket Bucket was the penalty Huffman told children they would get after the show if they failed to answer a riddle correctly. Huffman told the children the bucket contained a concoction of horrible ingredients, including "big, black, bloody spiders."
In the end, Huffman said he let the kids know he was only joking and would instead shower the children with confetti or a light sprinkling of water.
In 1990, WSAZ moved the show to Saturday mornings to make room for "Oprah." The show remained there until its cancellation two months before Huffman's retirement from the station in May 1995.
Huffman said he had planned to continue beyond retirement and the station's owners did not know what an asset the show was.
"I remember one general manger said to me, 'What is wrong with them? Nobody else has it,'" he said.
Andrick said locally produced programming disappeared nationally as local stations began competing with cable channels.
"With so much competition from other channels, there isn't a desire for it on the part of an audience," he said. "Because of the way TV has evolved, even the networks have lost a lot of audience themselves."
Andrick said Huffman's show lasted longer than similar shows on other stations and defied the national trend.
"WSAZ was one of the last to give up the ghost on local children's programming," he said.
Huffman, who celebrated his 81st birthday March 31, now lives with his wife, Gladys, at their Pea Ridge home and keeps busy by playing racquetball and golf, gardening and doing work with the Masonic Lodge. He is also an ordained church elder at First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue where he has sung in the choir for more than 30 years.
"I can sing just like I did when I began," Huffman said.
He said he would return to "Mr. Cartoon" if given the chance.
"I'm in good health," Huffman said. "It could work again and would tie up the ratings on Saturday mornings and give children the opportunity to come down here."