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orn in Middleton, Ohio, Angel Casey showed an early interest in stage performance. She danced and sang with her father in amateur minstrel shows, and by the age of 10 had also danced at a performance of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After graduating from the Cincinnati Conservatory, she moved to Chicago and began her work as an actress in advertising, both for print and radio.
|Angel on the radio at WIBA (left), in Life Magazine|
(August 27, 1945) (right) (Estate of Angel Casey)
By 1952, her work in radio and TV dramas included the programs Road of Life, Woman in White, Hawkins Falls, Author's Playhouse, Easy Money, Shoot the Works, and Attorney Speaks. Among the famous names with whom she has worked are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Orson Wells, Burns and Allen, Spike Jones, Dave Garroway, Kent Taylor, and Gig Young. Her television programs included parts in Author's Playhouse, Stump the Authors, Jury Trials, Penthouse Players, States Attorney Speaks, and her own shows, Laugh Time, Hail the Champ, The Play House, and Sun Times Quiz Down.
The Play House showcased music through songs and recordings. Angel also narrated stories and worked on projects for the "Things to Do or Make" portion of the program. And she served as a foil for a voiceless bookworm puppet named Sir Worthington Wiggle, who would whisper into Angel's ear as she related the conversation to viewers - a concept which Angel had herself created, and successfully pitched it to producers. Puppeteer Bruce Newton later created another character, Squawky Duck.
"I was on the show every day,", recalls Newton. "I don't think Angel ever missed a day either. We all contributed copy for the show, crafts, visuals, scripts, and guest suggestions. We did this from the debut on December 28, 1953 until the show went off the air on August 31, 1956."
|A live remote in which Angel and puppeteer |
Bruce Newton guided kids through a mock election.
(Estate of Angel Casey)
We know from a local news article that The Play House was apparently the first show to give children instructions on how to call emergency services - a young boy called the fire department to his house just to see if it would work. In this, in her insistence on the use of classical rather than "children's music", and in other ways, Angel showed in her creative direction that she saw children as having individual agency and the potential to learn things of real consequence.
The result of this commitment was something even her own sons did not know about until after she passed away.
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In 1956, Angel Casey did a series of promotional photos featuring a racially diverse group of children. This would have been a prelude to including children of color on the live broadcast of her show. And it was a move that was congruent with the way Angel and her artist husband, Tristan Meinecke, lived their lives. Tristan, who'd spent his first few years in Chicago playing music in predominantly black jazz clubs, would invite black acquaintances to parties at the couple's home, rent to black tenants, and respond to anyone who criticized him on the topic by essentially daring them to make an issue of it. This was a man who once threw a prominent local sportscaster down a flight of stairs for insulting his wife, so he had something of a reputation.
Angel, without bluster or fanfare, simply did what she thought was right, in the summer of 1956.
To modern viewers, these are perfectly ordinary images. But this was 1956; Brown v Board of Education, which ended segregation of US public schools, was handed down only two years prior in 1954. Chicago was experiencing the tail end of the Great Migration, in which Black American Southerners moved northward to escape Jim Crow laws and find economic opportunity. This change in the Chicago's population was not something the city's white-dominated media wished to reflect on screen.
Later news coverage of Angel Casey would refer in general terms to her local stardom, but focused instead on her and her husband's glamorous lifestyle. This served as a kind of rebranding that allowed her to find other, independent work, and also to promote her husband's art, which continued to be a variable but significant source of income. The public still considered her a star, but this status never again translated into a leading role in television or radio. Her later career included a few TV commercials and the occasional movie bit part, bolstered by a mix of print advertising, radio advertising, and teaching classes on topics such as fashion and nutrition at local "finishing schools" for women such as the Patricia Vance Modeling Agency and Charm School.
Angel Casey was a terrific entertainer. She was diligent and innovative in large measure. But she took a calculated risk, tried to use her platform to make television more inclusive - and lost. Angel's local fame, along with her and her husband's financial independence meant she lost only the momentum of her career, not her life - as some of those anonymous letter writers would have preferred. The existence of The Play House was brief and its impact on later Chicago children's television debatable. Yet I believe its run would not have been so brief, nor would it have been the last major production she headlined, had it not been for the intolerance of her peers.
With the benefit of hindsight, I believe Angel Casey deserves to be remembered, both as an outstanding Chicago actress and as a person who refused to compromise her values. She tried and failed to integrate a popular children's television show in 1956. She swung for the fences, struck out, and forged on undaunted, her integrity unmarred. And she never looked back.
Mitchell here. Terrific article, Crystal! This is the kind of information I love to include in the blog, and if any of you out there have similar thoughts for future articles you'd like to submit, drop me an email. In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about Angel and her husband Tristan Meinecke, check out angelcasey.com and tmeinecke.com,