"Skipper Frank" Herman, who delighted Southern California baby boomers with his magic, ventriloquism and banter on "Cartoon Carousel" and other 1950s children's programs on pioneering television station KTLA, has died at the age of 83.
Herman, who also had a Channel 5 program called "For Kids Only," died Jan. 4 in La Jolla, his longtime friend and fellow magician David Alexander said Wednesday.
After Skipper Frank went on the airwaves live in 1956, his top-ranked program soared alongside those of other local children's favorites such as "Engineer Bill" Stulla, Tom Hatten, who hosted "Popeye," and Jimmy Weldon and his puppet pal, Webster Webfoot.
"What we did was mostly ad-lib. We all wrote our own shows," Herman said to adoring grown-up boomers when the four swapped stories at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills in 1997.
Herman, who first had a short-lived show called "Magic Party" on Channel 11, chatted and played games with youngsters on TV from 1956 to 1963. It was a different time in television, when the hosts had to charm audiences with no computerization or even color--and it was all broadcast live with no opportunity to correct any mistakes.
Skipper Frank and his wooden sidekick, Julius, also were required to step from the studio into supermarkets and carnivals most weekends to promote their show and hawk sponsors' products. Herman, who continued to perform commercial-free magic shows at various venues, unabashedly urged kids to eat Kellogg's cornflakes when he appeared under the "Cartoon Carousel" banner.
Alexander said the highly popular Herman could have had a national career, but chose to remain in Southern California for the sake of his family.
"Frank was absolutely first-class in his work, a wonderful entertainer who always delivered," Alexander said. "Every appearance was a lesson in quality entertainment."
Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Herman became fascinated with magic at age 12, and within three years was giving magic shows. After service during World War II, he moved to Edmonton, Canada, where he worked for several years in radio.
But he was intrigued with the new medium of television, and relocated to Los Angeles, where he sensed it was developing fast. Herman initially tried the "Magic Party" show and did several late-night automobile commercials, using magic to lure buyers.
He came to KTLA's attention when its program "City at Night" featured him in a performance of the P.T. Barnum play "The Drunkard." Herman performed several roles in the play in several different venues, including the Pasadena Playhouse, over more than two decades.
In 1963, Herman left the kiddie shows to host a nighttime talk show in San Diego. He spent the remainder of his career working in cable television for TelePrompter and the New York advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding.
Throughout his life, Herman continued to perform magic shows for children at schools and elsewhere, although a bout with cancer in the 1970s left him almost totally deaf.
Herman, who is survived by his wife, Gloria, four sons and seven grandchildren, lived in Carlsbad, Calif., during his retirement years.