April 11, 2018

Axel and His Dog

It's no secret that, being from Minnesota, I favor the TV Guides that come from the Twin Cities, and that favoritism becomes most evident when I post the TV listings each Monday. I thank you all for your patience in putting up with my parochialism, my interest in things that I may find meaningful but about which you probably couldn't care less, so I thought it might be interesting to fill you in from time to time on those local acts that keep popping up in these listings.

For example, have you ever wondered about Axel and Dog, which in this Monday's listings was on at 5:00 p.m. on Channel 4? Who, you may be asking yourself, or what, is an Axel?

The answer to that is that Axel, played by Clellan Card, was one of the most beloved children's television hosts ever seen in the Twin Cities. His show ran from August of 1954 until his death from pancreatic cancer in April, 1966. Axel was "the bespectacled children's show host with the comical moustache and corny Scandinavian accent," who lived in a tree house with his dog Towser and cat Tallulah, neither of which were seen on air except for a paw that would extend into the frame, and both of which were voiced by Don Stolz, the founder and impresario of the Old Log Theater.*

*Which, rumor has it, is the oldest continuously operating professional theater in the United States, including among its alumns both Nick Nolte and Loni Anderson.

I came along at the tail end of Axel's run; while I was certainly aware of him, I was much more familiar with Casey and Roundhouse, the legendary kids' show hosts at Channel 11, and Clancy and Willie, who had the morning show on Channel 4. And then there was Carmen the Nurse, played by Mary Davies, who came on with Axel after Stolz left to do the Old Log full-time. (By then, the show was called Axel's Treehouse.) It fell to Carmen to announce Clellan Card's death to viewers on April 14, 1966; she would then move into Axel's time slot, which by then was in the morning (you couldn't say that she took Axel's place; nobody could do that). Mary Davies was a fairly attractive woman in a nurse's outfit; I really remembered her.

The points are this: 1) As a kid I remembered Axel in somewhat the same way that I remembered Dorothy Kilgallen, as someone famous who had died, and thus was more famous to me for being dead, and 2) Axel is still a much-loved character in the Twin Cities today, and it says something about the memories that he left with so many children that, as they approach Social Security age, they still have such a fondness for him.

A few years ago Julian West wrote What a Card!, which has to be pretty much the definitive Axel book. I have an autographed copy of that book on my shelf, signed not only by Julian but by Don Stolz and Mary Davies, both of whom have since died. Needless to say, that book isn't going anywhere.

Here is Clellan Card's entry in the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame; here is the Pavik Museum of Broadcasting's entry on Axel and His Dog; here is the entry on Mary Davies, also a Hall of Famer; and below are two videos: a documentary clip on the show, and some Axel highlights that gives you some idea of the inspired goofiness that was Axel and His Dog. And now you know the rest of the story. TV  




3 comments:

  1. Very interesting, to quote Arte Johnson on LAUGH IN. I wondered if Axel was the inspiration for Chuckles the Clown on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, a fictional Twin Cities children's show host (albeit an ill-fated one).

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  2. Good Lord, this is 100 times worse that the local Syracuse (NY) character, Baron Damone and his "Bloody Buddies" on WNYS (ABC) in the 60's. The Baron, however, would break character long enough to promote cottage cheese for a local Syracuse dairy...

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!