Hearne: Iconic Former KMBC TV Personality Torey Southwick Races Past Ol’ Gus

torey and Ol GusTalk about an anachronism…

Former KMBC TV kiddie show host Torey Southwick is alive and kicking…still.

At the ripe, young age of 84 – I figured Southwick just about had to be about 10 years older – the Detroit native who hit it big with local Boomers hosting the cartoon show Torey Time in the 1960sis back in Michigan where he reached a huge milestone March 18th:

“I was surprised by all the birthday wishes I received today,” Southwick posted on Facebook. “I started to answer them, but couldn’t keep up. You are way too kind to this old man. I am now officially older than Ol’ Gus. I really appreciate your good wishes and hope you all have happy birthdays, too!!”

In the 1960s nobody was more popular locally than Southwick for kids with an after school hankering for black and white cartoons and a heaping helping of friendly banter between Southwick and his trusty, elderly, mustachioed puppet, Ol’ Gus.

mzi.abqpryme.170x170-75“I watched him every day,” reminisces Joe “Guido Toledo” Welsh. “He was like a friend of the family. My parents both worked, but he was always there for me every afternoon when I got home from school. And he had some incredible guests – Hubert Humphrey showed up once.”

Southwick’s lifelong companion and wife Pat died three years ago after 61 years of marriage.

And speaking of Facebook, for an octogenarian, Southwick is about as tech savvy as they come. An article in a Michigan newspaper in 2000, described him and his wife as spending 8 hours a day on “his and hers computers” and him teaching computer classes to elderly neighbors at the retirement home they’d settled into after seven long years of motor homing it across the country.

And to this day Southwick  looms somewhat large on the worldwide web.

Google him and you get 232,000 hits – nearly double of that Tony dude and thrice Gary Lezak. For the record, everybody’s favorite scribe Craig Glazer is at 744,000 with me at 916,000.

roger-miller-kansas-city-star-smashSo how big was Southwick back in the day?

Big enough that singer/songwriter Roger Miller reportedly wrote and dedicated his song “Kansas City Star” about and to Southwick.

Check the lyrics:

“Got a letter just this mornin’ it was postmarked Omaha
It was typed and neatly written offerin’ me this better job
Better job at higher wages, expenses paid and a car
But I’m on TV here locally and I can’t quit, I’m a star

“Hah-ha I come on TV grinnin,’ wearin’ pistols and a hat
It’s a kiddy show and I’m a hero of the younger set
I’m the number one attraction every supermarket parkin’ lot
I’m the king of Kansas City, no thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot

“Kansas City star, that’s what I are
Yodel-deedle ay-hee, you oughta see my car
I drive a big old Cadillac with wire wheels, got rhinestones on the spokes
I got credit down at the grocery store
And my barber tells me jokes
I’m the number one attraction every supermarket parkin’ lot
I’m the king of Kansas City, no thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot”

Come to think of it, how did KC blow the opportunity to make this our official song?

Efforts to contact Southwick for an interview have been thus far unsuccessful. 

olgusHowever he’s apparently yet alive, far younger than I suspected and if you buy into the Kansas City Star urban legend (how come the newspaper hasn’t adopted it either, come to think of it), one of the Cowtown’s all-time great local celebrities.

To Welsh, there’ll probably never be another guy like him.

“Another guy like Torey? I think that kind of innocent show is all over,” Welsh says. “Everything now is driven by the almighty dollar. If a local television station wanted to play cartoons today, they wouldn’t have anybody like Torey – they’d just play the cartoons. But once upon a time, Torey was a safe haven where you could watch your favorite cartoons and there wasn’t a hidden agenda.”

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19 Responses to Hearne: Iconic Former KMBC TV Personality Torey Southwick Races Past Ol’ Gus

  1. Jim says:

    If you were in a Cub Scout or Boy Scout troop back in the day, chances are you got a chance to see the show in person. Geez, he’s ONLY 84?

  2. Libertarian says:

    He would have been busted for stalking children today, what with that wall of school pictures he panned over at the end of each show!

  3. Stomper says:

    Nice acknowledgement to Torey, HC. In my much younger days, Torey and Ol’ Gus were strong local challengers to my allegiance to Captain Kangaroo ( and Mr. Green Jeans, Mighty Mouse, Grandfather Clock, Tom Terrific, Isotope Feeney, etc., etc. ). Like Jim mentions above, I’m a bit surprised to learn that Torey is still alive and “only” 84.

  4. mike t. says:

    Torey and Ol’ Gus, Whizzo, Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room (and another guy I can’t remember (channel 5 I think, wore a straw hat); heady days for children’s programming back then. then came mr. rogers and sesame street and in no time at all Bunny Rabbit was cooked.

  5. tee dub says:

    Great memories about Torey & Ol’ Gus. Back in the ’90s he was featured in a KCPT documentary about KC kids shows called “Whizzo, Ol’ Gus & Me.” I remember watching him actually lip-sync “Kansas City Star” on his show.

    (By the way, the guy in the straw hat was KCMO’s “Cousin” Ken Motley.)

    • mike t. says:

      ken motley! thanks tee dub. that was bugging me. I can ‘see’ him clear as day, but couldn’t recall his name for the life of me.

  6. CG says:

    How did I get into this age bet? Yep I was a boomer too. Grew up with all these guys and more. I rode in a stagecoach in the American Royal and sat next to Miss Virginia, ROMPER ROOM, it was Grandpa Bennies wagon and it was my first time on the front page of the KC Star, age 5 or 6. I was dressed as a cowboy.

    Yes there was Junior Action, I got on and didn’t have enough Guy’s coupons to win a damn thing, was on Whizzo once didn’t get a gift either…but we sure looked up to those guys and GREORY GRAVES scary movie host. The last 50’s early 60’s… when we all bitched about the Kansas City A’s instead of the Royals and Chiefs…they stunk too. I used to think the Yankee games were repeats, they weren’t we always lost.

    Remember the Paptt’s Beer Bear…”the land of sky blue waters…comes the beer refreshing..”

  7. mark smith says:

    Lets not forget ol “short eyes” Uncle Ed Muscare. Died last year in the joint doing 5 years for being a pedo with an internet connection, failing to register as a sex offender, moving out of state, and posting some of the creepiest videos on youtube under the name Edarem. There was also the short lived Mother Nature show. One of her puppets was made from a toilet brush.

  8. monkeyhawk says:

    The beer bear was the, uhm, spokesbear for Hamm’s beer.

    I worked with Teddy Dibble on the Channel 19 documentary “Tory, Ol’ Gus. & Me.” And I had the good fortune to work with Whizzo when I was in college and working at Channel 13, Topeka.

    • mike t. says:

      I wonder if that music used for the Hamm’s commercials would be considered politically incorrect in today’s world? think it might be.

  9. hot harley says:

    one time at cowtown..whizzo showed up. all the stoners sang his theme
    song. THAT WAS THE BIG TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I was a ticket taker ….

  10. Kerouac says:

    Satire to some, tragedy for others:

    ‘Old Days’:

    ‘Old days, good times I remember
    Fun days, filled with ship of pleasure
    Drive-in movies, comic books & blue jeans
    Howdy Doody, baseball cards and birthdays
    Please take me back, to the world gone away’

    Written in the 1970’s, ‘Chicago’s musical tribute the better days and things the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s is juxtaposed the many today who look back on the 70’s a same nostalgic pining. Perspectives vary as eras… or do they?

    “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, show disrespect their elders and love to chatter in place exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room, they contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

    – quote attributed that So-crates feller (c. 470 BC – 399 BC); so much for ‘progress’.

    To wit, ‘Torey Time’ would not cut it today (not enough that ‘perverse’ entertainment factor); too, Ol’ Gus would have to be Ol’ Pat, nod ‘Saturday Night Live’ androgynous character.

    An Hamm’s beer commercial featuring drum beats? New York City, Bloomberg would prosecute first, then ‘pick up the Pace’ as you salsa over to get hung by a rope.

    Today, pleas for a ‘gay’ bear would present (one disabled from a workplace injury, no doubt, long as it wasn’t falling off the wagon, stepping in a trap or being shot a hunter, world of advertisement become political platform modern day aggrieved, bleeding.)

    Retrospect, why was Hamm’s Bear predominantly black colored in lieu white? Trouble brewing this day & age don’t hue know; transported back then, polar bear aficionados today would have smelled a lawsuit (or would it just have been Beer Bear’s ample hind quarters?)

    ‘Smokey the Bear’ (brown) another, “only you can prevent forest fires.” Smokey’s plea would need to be rewritten in order properly reflect 2014 (“don’t smoke & you’ll never burn down the forest – or burn yourself (unless due abstinence, not recommended in a ‘twerkish’ 21st century.)

    The days Iron Eyes Cody’s falling tears littering your tv screen and sensibility has led to a much cleaner environment obviously, just as the Chiefs stopping use the running Indian logo the 1960’s improved their performance afield, without question.

    We’ve many more choices/shades today – every niche acknowledged, happy denizens abound from polluted sea to border fence climbing shining sea. Cynic or realist, let us kill, molest and change everything once was, just ’cause (double entendre.)

  11. Kerouac says:

    Mission accomplished… such masochistic perseverance yours, read every word. As the fellow observed banging his own head against a wall [“Oww, stop it – it hurts!”], he too could not.

    Kerouac… Lays Potato Chip of blogdom

    • tee dub says:

      Speaking of potato chips, an earlier poster mentioned “Junior Auction.” I was on that show once too as a kid…wasn’t Kitty Clover the sponsor, not Guy’s?

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