CHICAGO TV LEGENDS: Frazier Thomas

We continue our special series on Chicago TV legends by asking this question: Do you remember a character by the name of Garfield Goose? Or do you remember spending many Sundays in Chicago watching a show called Family Classics? Well, if you have, then you might remember this next legend in which we are about to shine the spotlight once more on now: Frazier Thomas.

He was born William Frazier Thomas in Rushville, Indiana on June 13th, 1918; In his hometown at the age of 12, he began to perform as a magician. When he was a teenager Frazier began writing a book about magic, and he had performed as “Thomas the Magician and Company”, performing “the Mystic Revue, a full evening of magic, mirth, music and mystery” throughout the United States. He had been writing a syndicated newspaper column about magic for children by 1935, first by his stage name as “Thomas the Magician”, then by using his other name, his real one I think, Frazier Thomas; He would do that column until 1940.

Thomas began to work at the radio station WLW by creating and writing his own shows: Inside Radio and I Cover the Movies. He would then become a disc jockey at the station, then began teaming with a woman by the name of Ruth Lyons for a show entitled Collect Calls from Lowenthal. Frazier Thomas would later leave WLW to establish his own radio and television production firm; He later married a WLW-TV commercial artist named Ann Deeds, and then they hosted on of the station’s very first television shows, which was entitled Shopper’s Special. Then Thomas would move on to Cincinnati and its own TV station, WKRC-TV, and he had hosted his very first children’s program there, called Meet the Little People. Both Frazier and Anne Thomas would become among the top local personalities on television by 1950 in Cincinnati, and it was there that Garfield Goose made his first television appearance.

Frazier Thomas had got the idea for Garfield Goose while he was attending bazaars as a young boy; Local Catholic nuns made a sock puppet into the form of a goose which would ask children for charity donations, and then the children would simply “feed” the goose for pennies. Thomas thought he would use the goose puppet on his then-upcoming television show to give prizes to children, while the name of the goose itself was taken from the television station’s phone number; A not-so-uninteresting fact is at the time, telephone exchanges had names instead of numbers, and the name for the station’s telephone exchange was of course Garfield.

1951 was a turning point year for Frazier Thomas: Chicago’s WBKB-TV, which was now known as WBBM-TV, hired him for an afternoon variety program entitled The Frazier Thomas Show; He would also put in some time as the host of Musical Nite-cap, an evening music show. Frazier and Garfield would then go on into their own show, which was entitled Garfield Goose and Friend, debuting on September 29th, 1952, going on the air directly opposite another children’s show at the time, NBC’s Howdy Doody.

Frazier Thomas would also educate his young viewers in addition to entertaining them, but never done so with a heavy hand. His guests have included such people as Dr. Lester Fisher of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and J. Bruce Mitchell of the Museum of Science and Industry, and those kinds of visits were both fun as well as being informative. He also had a feature called Hobby Corner, where children would talk about and display things that they were interested in.

It was not until 1958 that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences began awarding local Emmys; The very first winner of the award for Male Best Children’s Performer was indeed Thomas, and he would go on to win the award again in 1964 for his work with Garfield Goose and Friends as well as Family Classics.

Speaking of the latter, it was in 1961 that Chicago TV station WGN-TV had an extensive library of films in which would be suitable for family viewing, but were rarely aired; A man by the name in which would later become synonymous with network TV as Fred Silverman was a WGN executive at the time, and he came up with a great idea for putting films to good use-He wanted to air them when children and their parents could watch and enjoy along with Frazier Thomas as the show’s host. He agreed to host, providing that he had the editing rights on the films, would be able to choose them himself as well as refusing any titles the believed were unsuitable for the show. Thomas then designed a set that would resemble a cozy home library complete with a painting of Garfield Goose by Roy Brown had been built and he would begin his Family Classics weekly show on Friday evenings. The show became such a success, that it beat many network programs in the Chicago market. That set of what is now Family Classics is now a part of the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ collection in Chicago.

But in the 1970s, the way that the children had been watching TV in the Windy City had changed; Garfield Goose and Friends was moved to mornings on WGN-TV, and Ned Locke, who had been the ringmaster of “Bozo’s Circus” for years had retired in 1976, and Frazier Thomas had been asked to become his replacement. The final episode of Garfield Goose and Friends aired on September 10th, 1976. By January 26th, 1981, Frazier’s friends had been permanently off the air, after the Bozo program made changes; Frazier Thomas would continue to work as both the circus manager as well as the host of Family Classics.

But on April 1st, 1985 (and believe me, this was no April Fool’s joke), fate would catch up to Frazier Thomas; He had been hosting the local Easter Seals telethon when he suffered a stroke at the WGN-TV studios; He passed away two days later, on April 3rd, 1985, at the age of just 66 years old.

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