Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Santa's Workshop on TV

Starting in 1960 and lasting for 12 years, WBNS TV in Columbus ran a program called Luci's Toyshop. This was during the golden age of local programming. Most people had TVs but the networks daily coverage left many holes for local stations to fill. Mornings were for kids.

Luci's Toyshop was sort of a local version of Captain Kangaroo with a human Luci interacting with different puppets. It was also the first show in the country to carry Gumby cartoons.

But in early December, things got interesting (if you were a kid). Luci always had a special visitor, Santa Claus. He always needed help making all of the toys that he would be distributing on Christmas Eve so Luci and company would help him set up a toy-making machine.  Santa would also read the letters kids wrote to him (care of the station).

Officially Santa had a half hour show called Santa's Workshop following Luci. Characters and plots (such as they were) carried over between the two so it was really an hour-long show.

The show was sponsored by Columbus's big downtown department story, Lazarus. Lazarus itself was a kid's wonderland at Christmas with an animated window and other special areas. As toys came out of the toy machine, Luci would tell us what a great toy it was and that it could be found at Lazarus.

Kids didn't care about that. The big attraction that we got to see Santa. To a young child in December, there was no one cooler than Santa.

Even at the age of five, I knew that Santa employed an army of decoys known as "helpers" but it was obvious that this was the real Santa and that he could be found at Lazarus when he wasn't on TV.

A few things that I didn't realize when I was five - the Santa who appeared with Luci was never a Lazarus Santa. In fact, Lazarus had multiple Santas so that the lines were short. The man who played Santa was Tom Gleba, a long-time WBNS employee and the person who had the distinction of being the first person televised in central Ohio.

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