Imagine a children’s TV show on a non-cable channel that’s on at noon, starts with the Pledge of Allegiance, teaches morals and safety, and says Grace before lunch … and wasn’t hosted by the Tea Party.
It did exist many years in our past and I doubt ever received a single complaint.
“Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade” graced the airwaves from 1952 to 1970. If you were ever a baby boomer in the Los Angeles area with access to television then you had to have known Sheriff John. He was the definitive children’s television host providing kind words, good morals and CARTOONS during a rather tumultuous period in American society.
I am sad to say that this childhood hero has finally left us. John Rovick died this morning at 93. He passed in his sleep at a nursing facility in Boise, Idaho.
I remember every weekday I would watch his show. Even after starting Kindergarten I would want to get home for that familiar lunchtime ritual. Sheriff John would enter singing “Come on now, laugh and be happy and the world will laugh with you," as he entered his Sheriff’s Office. Welcoming us and beginning the program with the Pledge of Allegiance.
I think that was some good prep work for me as a preschooler as I had it completely memorized and rehearsed upon entrance to public school. This was followed by a safety bulletin which I would tolerate knowing that cartoons were soon to follow. Perhaps, that’s reason that kids didn’t do a lot of dangerous things that they’d likely do now. Sheriff John warned us about getting into abandoned refrigerators, playing in the street and talking to strangers.
What other host would sit down and eat lunch with us? My biggest culture shock on entering grade school was losing this midday routine. Beginning with saying grace before lunch, just try to get that past the executives today. It was non-denominational and anyone who wasn’t an atheist wasn’t likely to be offended. Once lunch started we got to the cartoons – somehow, to this day, I have some sub-conscious link between baloney sandwiches and Crusader Rabbit.
One of the most memorable parts of the show was the birthday session. If it was your birthday you had to sit and listen intently for your name as it was sure to be read over the television. Every mom knew that they had to send in their child’s name and birthday so he or she could experience their moment in the spotlight. I remember once we sent some kid’s seventeen year old brother’s name in as a joke. We actually got a funny look from Sheriff John when he read the kid’s age.
And, of course, who could forget Little Oscar? Oscar Meyer was a show sponsor in those days and Little Oscar was the company mascot. He was portrayed by a little person dressed in a chef’s outfit. He’d make cameos, usually to announce a personal appearance at some local mall or store. I’m sure they would get memos on that nowadays.
There was more to Rovick than his on screen persona. He was a 50 mission B-25 veteran of the Army Air Force in World War II and also later served aboard a liberty ship. In 1949 he became a staff announcer with KTTV in Los Angeles when they first went on the air. He came up with the idea of donning a sheriff’s outfit and hosting “Cartoon Time” in the late afternoon. It won an Emmy in 1953. “Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade” was subsequently added to the noon line-up and remained on the air until 1970. After it’s cancellation Rovick stayed on as a staff announcer until 1981 which is why I always thought he was haunting me so many years later as I watched Merv Griffin.
It’s pleasing to find out that even in his retirement in Idaho that he was surrounded by so many of the kids that watched him when they were growing up. In an interview in 2005 he mentioned that he still was recognized by people on the street. And so it should be.
In our adult world with all of its headaches we can still treasure the fond memory of this nice, fatherly guy in a law man’s outfit sharing our childhood lunch time and watching cartoons. Safe, content and full of balonry sandwiches. Christopher Robin should be jealous.