Remember Romper Room?
Hostess Susan Gifford of the TV show 'Romper Room' instructing the children. (Photo by Carl Iwasaki/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
If you are a child of the sixties or seventies, you probably remember watching Romper Room, a children’s series that was in its prime during the groovy era but ran much longer than that. From 1953 all the way through 1994, preschool children got to learn and play along with a group of television children in the Romper Room, a TV series that was unusual in that it was both franchised and syndicated. Let’s see why this series was so unique.
Romper Room was a Franchised Series
As part of a franchise agreement, local television stations could offer their own version of Romper Room to their viewers. From franchise to franchise, the show was essentially the same…same format, same script…but the hostess and the children were local to the viewing area. But the shows were also syndicated and broadcast in markets where there was no franchise. Some areas tailored the boxed script to fit their geographic needs. For example, the script was translated into Spanish and broadcast to the large Hispanic population in San Antonio, Texas.
Local Kids Clamored to be on the Show
The group of young local children, between the ages of four and five years old, appeared on Romper Room for two-month gigs, after which a new group of children was brought it. Being chosen to appear on Romper Room was every sixties and seventies kid’s dream. Parents put their children on the waiting list to appear on the show years in advance. Some parents even registered their children before they were born because the waiting list was so long that by the time some children were selected, they were too old for the show.
Remember Miss Nancy?
Miss Nancy, Nancy Terrell, was the hostess of the nationally-syndicated Romper Room in the 1960s and early 1970s. She stressed good manners and kindness to the group of children on the show. As was required of all of the franchise hostesses, Miss Nancy had experience in working with kindergarten-aged children. Other franchise hostesses were teachers or had college degrees in education and child development.
There was Only One Male Host of Romper Room
The Romper Room franchise in Biloxi, Mississippi, was the only franchise in the history of Romper Room to employ a man as the show’s host. Domenick Gitano, called Mr. Dom on the show, was only the host of Biloxi’s Romper Room for a short time…from March of 1966 to May of 1967. Mr. Dom was much loved by the local children on the show and was just as qualified to work with children as the female hostesses at other franchises. Gitano, however, died under mysterious circumstances about six months after he ended his gig at Romper Room host. In December of 1967, he was found stabbed to death in his apartment with a half of pound of heroin in his bathroom.
Gitano wasn’t the Only Controversial Romper Room Host
The hostess of the Phoenix franchise of Romper Room, Sherri Finkbine, or Miss Sherri as she was known to the children, created quite a stir when she requested an abortion from a local hospital in 1962. She stated that she had been taking thalidomide, which had recently been linked to severe birth defects and she feared that her unborn baby would be deformed as a result. The hospital refused to grant her wish and Finkbine became outspoken on the topic of abortion, parental choice and the risks of thalidomide. She was asked to leave the show. Because she could not get a legal abortion in the United States, Finkbine traveled to Europe to have the procedure done. Afterward, it was determined that the fetus was terribly deformed and had only one limb. Her story became a made-for-TV movie in the 1990s, with Sissy Spacek playing Finkbine.
Romper Room’s character mascot was Do-Bee, a large bumblebee that often encouraged children by saying “Do-Be good today.” Like the show’s hostess, Do-Bee instilled good manners into the children by presenting them with lists of Do’s and Don’ts to help them learn wrong from right.
Remember the Magic Mirror?
The hostess of Romper Room brought out a magic mirror at the end of each show. Although she called it a magic mirror, it was really just the frame of a hand-help vanity mirror, with no glass inside. The hostess and the children would chant, “Romper stomper bomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, Did all my friends have fun at play?” She would then peer through the Magic Mirror, implying that she could see through the television to the children watching at home. To make this even more realistic, the hostess would comment with the names of children who supposedly watched the show. She would say, “I see Suzie and Tommy and Jimmy and Kathy and Ricky all had fun today.” This vexed all of the young children with unusual names. Their parents would send letters to the television studios with the first names of their children, begging for them to be recognized in the Magic Mirror.
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