By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
In 1957 the station dumped Lucky Duck and Tumbleweed and began airing Popeye Playhouse with War Cap'n Chuck, a kids' show that featured the Popeye cartoon. When it was decided "Skipper" sounded friendlier than "War Cap'n," station executives changed the star's moniker, and eventually changed the show's name to Skipper Chuck's Popeye Playhouse. A Miami broadcasting legend had begun.
At the outset Zink was joined on the program by First Mate Ellen, a University of Miami student; and Glumbo, a sad-faced clown. But finding the perfect second banana for Skipper Chuck was not a simple matter. "Art Carneys don't grow on trees," Zink muses, reeling off a litany of choices that didn't pan out. First Mate Ellen and Glumbo were succeeded by a midget, and when he didn't work out, by a sidekick named Salty. Next was a chimpanzee from the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers circus. "That was great," Zink recalls of the chimp's tenure on the show, "until he bit a kid."
Then came the parrot, Spin Jimmy Hardy. "He sat on my shoulder," says Zink. "Usually he would crap on the back of me, but they wouldn't see that on camera." The parrot, he recalls, used to spend a lot of off-camera time in the show's prop room, and the crew began trying to teach the bird to say dirty words. Although Spin Jimmy never actually blurted out a profanity on the air, he was forced into early retirement. "It really was a very serious thing," Zink says. "I could've killed those guys."
In 1961 the Skipper's longest-running first mate came aboard: Richard Andrews, known to hundreds of thousands of Miamians as "Scrubby." "He was this big, gawky kid from the mail room," says Zink, "and he would come in and watch us film. He started warming up the audience, and we took him on."
Andrews, 52, remembers with fondness both the show and Chuck Zink, and says his colleague was a great professional. "We were not exactly friends outside of work at all, but we could read each other's minds," says Andrews, who now owns an apartment building in Key West. "We had some great times." Aside from playing the character of Scrubby, a childlike crewman to Zink's avuncular skipper, Andrews was the voice of the show's puppets.
Scrubby also was responsible for taking pies in the face nearly every day. "We would have a contest where the kids would tell a riddle, and if I knew the riddle, they got hit in the face with the pie." The "pies," says Andrews, actually were easy-to-clean dry foam on a sponge. "If I didn't get the riddle, they got to hit me with the pie. Maybe once every twenty times I would get the riddle. I got a lot of pie."
In 1958 Dade County's population was 825,000, Soviet Premier Nikita "We will destroy America if war comes" Khruschev was the enemy, three-bedroom homes on Galloway Road were selling for $16,000, and television shows, including children's television shows, were entirely segregated.
Zink says he'd never noticed that the Skipper Chuck show didn't permit black children to appear with whites, until the day in 1958 when he overheard a receptionist taking a ticket order. "`Are you colored?' she asked the caller. When she got off the phone, I said, `Why do you ask that question?'" says Zink. "And she said, `We don't put colored children and white children on the same show together.' I didn't know how to spell the word prejudice. I said to her, `Don't you ever say that again.' She said, `I have to.' I said, `No you don't. It's my show.'"
The program integrated without fanfare, but Zink began receiving threats. "I got horrible phone calls," he recalls. "Police furnished a guard. People don't realize that Miami was the Deep South. I mean the Deep South."
The racial tenor of the time was not lost on the Skipper Chuck show's sponsor, fast-food chain Royal Castle, which was no more amused than the scores of angry callers. "They used to furnish hamburgers for the kids," Zink says. "And the NAACP wrote a letter to the chairman of Royal Castle, asking why black kids and white kids could eat their hamburgers next to each other on the Skipper Chuck show, but couldn't in Royal Castles." In an apparent reaction to the letter, Zink says, the chairman of Royal Castle telephoned the chairman of WTVJ and ordered him to segregate the show or lose the account.
"Mitchell Wolfson summoned me to his office," Zink says solemnly. "He asked me if I knew what I had done, and I said yes. He got up and walked around his desk, put out his hand, and said, `You've got a job for the rest of your life with me.' Royal Castle canceled."
The next day Zink says he received a call from two men who had just bought a foundering fast-food company called Burger King. From that day on, Skipper Chuck hawked hamburgers for the Miami-based company.
Zink turned another awkward moment into a trademark in the early 1970s, when a kid in his audience flashed a peace sign into the camera. "Uncle Don would play music and the kids would sit there and make stupid faces," Zink says, "and one kid - a little bucktooth kid - was following the camera, shooting this peace sign. I said, `Stop the music, stop the music,' and Uncle Don stopped playing. I said, `What're you doing? What does that mean?' He said, `Peace, man, peace.' I said, `What's that?' He said, `I dunno,' and I said, `Well, what are you hogging the camera for?' I said, `Does anyone know what peace is?' I said, ~`Well, peace is when you get along with your brothers and your sisters and your mom and your dad and your teachers. That's what peace is.'