Monday, June 29, 2009

Winky Dink and Me

My mother, God rest her soul, seldom threw away any of my stuff. As a consequence, I still have two of the three essential components of my Winky Dink kit--the magic window and the magic crayons--well, at least three of the four magic crayons. Somewhere along the line, the black one was lost. I've still got the yellow, green, and red ones in what's left of the original box.

The second component of kit, the magic window, was a sheet of thick green-tinted plastic attached to the television screen through the magic of static electricity, generated by rubbing the plastic sheet with the magic erasing cloth, which was the third essential element of the kit. My erasing cloth has been lost, and the magic window has acquired an oily film during its decades of storage. I'm not sure if this is due to toxic organic compounds leaching from the plastic or some primitive slime mold taking up residence on the screen. In any case, I don't think even vigorous rubbing with a magic erasing cloth--should one be located--could produce the requisite charge. For the carefully staged re-enactment below, I taped the magic screen to the bezel of my computer monitor.

Note that I am simulating drawing a red flower on the lapel of Winky Dink's Uncle Slim, whose image appears on the monitor. I would have drawn it for real, but then there's that issue of the missing erasing cloth. Plus, I don't think a modern LCD screen could withstand the same pressure which could be applied to the sturdy cathode ray tube of a vintage television.

For those who might not know, Winky Dink and You was a children's TV show that ran on CBS Saturday mornings in the mid-50s. The show was hosted by Jack Barry, who went on to a long career as a game-show host. Winky Dink was a little cartoon character with a star for a hat. The big attraction of the show was that pictures, such as Uncle Slim's picture above, would be left onscreen for a period of time so young Winky Dink fans could fill in details with their magic Winky Dink kits. This concept was brilliant on several levels. Since there wasn't a lot of action, production costs were low, and parents had to shell out the dough to buy little urchins like me a Winky Dink kit.

A full episode of the show is available at Here's a link to the video. Fair warning: It's about 28 minutes long. You only need to watch the first few minutes to get a feel for the show, including a live demonstation by an actual child applying the magic screen to a TV.

As I watched the show, I thought I recognized the voice of Winky Dink. Turns out it's the voice of Mae Questel, shown below in a picture from an earlier era.

In the 1930s, Mae was the voice of the cartoon vamp Betty Boop. Later she provided the voice for the cartoon characters Olive Oyl, Little Audrey, and Little Lulu. She appeared in commercials over the years, notably as Aunt Bluebell in Scott Towel ads. I think the main reason I recognized her voice was because I hear it every holiday season when I watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, where Mae plays Aunt Bethany, who wrapped her cat up as a Christmas present and recites the Pledge of Allegiance when asked to say grace at the Christmas Eve Dinner.

Bill Gates allegedly called Winky Dink the first interactive television show. It doesn't seem that we've made a lot of progress in that department, based on what's available on TV today.


Dave King said...

I can reveal for your information that it's a primitive slime mould and that if you are not careful it will take over the kit, you and the entire household in time. Good post. Don't remember the show, though.

Anonymous said...

I remember Betty Boop and Olive Oyl and others but not your drawing kit. Never saw it. But then it would have been the time for my kids to be using it I suspect and I was always away at work.

David C. said...

I doubt the BBC would import this sort of show. Seems that the flow of television content is generally toward the west from England.

Even my wife, who is of the same vintage as me, never saw this show, or at least won't admit to it.

Rambling Woods said...

I don't remember this show, but I wasn't born till 56. My earliest TV memory is of Captain Kangaroo. I did go to watch the little clip and will have to ask hubby if he remembers as he is older (and wiser) than me. lol..Michelle

Rambling Woods said...

Yup..the old man remembers Winky Dink. He also said that you could do similar things with 'Art With Jon Nagy'. He said they didn't have a TV until 56 when he had his tonsils out.

David C. said...

Your last comment reminded me that before I was born, my mother and her two children all got the mumps at the same time, which prompted my dad to go out and buy an electric dishwasher.

Karen said...

Well I remember Winky Dink very well! It was like magic!! My sister and I woudl stay solidly glued to the the B&W Zenith TV (in a black metal cabinet) watching it. I remember begging and pleading for my Motheer to buy us the Winy Dink set. Finally she did and heaven was ours! We felt like we were true insiders. It was wonderful to travel down memory lane Dave, wish you lived closer, I'd buy you a cold one just to say THANKS! Karen (Vancouver, WA)

jimmyzen said...

I wonder if it went into reruns. I remember it but it would have been post 1957. We only received 2 channels on TV, CBS & ABC, channels 3 & 8 respectively on eastern Long Island, NY. My mom and I arrived in the US in 1958 and I was just about 4 years old. For some reason I tied it to Captain Kangaroo (I remember Tom Terrific and his Thinking Cap). I remember wanting the magic coloring kit and episodes where you drew in stuff to help Winky Dink like a line he slid down to escape from a cliff or something. I remember parts of the theme song as well. I don't remember a lot of episodes though. Is it possible the Captain may have aired some Winky Dink episodes?

David A. Cory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David A. Cory said...


I couldn't find anything online about Winky Dink reruns after it was cancelled in 1957. the show was revived with an updated version of Winky Dink from 1969 to 1973. I don't recall, nor can I find any reference to Winky Dink on Captain Kangaroo. There was a short cartoon called "Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings" which appeared on Captain Kangaroo in the 1970s. Maybe that's what you recall.


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