WONDERAMA with Sonny Fox on Metro-Media Channel 5
As a kid, I would watch on channel 5, Metro-media a local children's show called WONDERAMA hosted by Sonny Fox every Sunday morning. Today it is virtually impossible to find any of these programs. I have a half dozen 16mm Kinescopes, made up of Negative Picture, negative audio tracks that need to restored.
Irwin "Sonny" Fox is an television host, executive and broadcasting consultant, who was the fourth full-time host of the children's television program, Wonderama. Born June 17, 1925, in Brooklyn, New York, Fox attended James Madison High School, in the Midwood/Madison section of Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in a traditional Jewish family. Fox is a World War II veteran and, as a POW of the Germans, witnessed the heroism of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.
I was lucky to rescue this 16mm Kinescopes historically important because it was dedicated to the children of Korea. Featuring Korean performers dancing and playing music, this is an uncharacteristically ethnic show for this period. Sonny even tells the Korean story of the Tiger and the Rabbit. This volume also includes the original Stella D'oro Cookie and Cheerios commercials.
A odd Dumont Negtive pic/track of a segment on animation with the legendary animator Lew Gifford and Sony Fox on Wonderama. He's showcases his storyboards for Ballantine Beer's Barry and Piels campaign.
It turned out that the job for which he was suited best came the year the quiz scandals accelerated. Independent television network Metromedia (born from the former DuMont Network) hired Fox to host Wonderama on its New York flagship station, WABD (soon to become WNEW-TV), succeeding the team of Bill Britten and Doris Faye. Hiring Fox ended what some called the "musical-hosts syndrome" that Wonderama had for its first few years. The show had been created as well as originally hosted by actor-comedian Sandy Becker, who became a New York children's program star in his own right. Fox became Wonderama's sole host for eight years, from 1959 until August 1967.
Suave, witty, and congenial, Fox juggled the slapstick and the serious, turning the marathon Wonderama (during Fox's tenure the show ran four hours Sunday mornings) into a weekly academy at which anything could happen and often did; whether Shakespearean dramatizations, guest celebrities, magic demonstrations (customarily by legendary magician James "The Amazing" Randi, art instruction, spelling bees, learning games, or other elements.
Fox was deft at turning a potential haphazard hodgepodge into a seamless whole, and he was consistent in never talking down to his young guests or viewers, treating them with legitimate respect and tolerance. The result was that Wonderama was rarely if ever known to have bored either the children who appeared on the show (the segments showing the weekly 25 or 30 children waving cross-armed, leading in and out of commercial breaks, were as much a signature as Fox himself) or those who watched it.
Every classification of children's and youth programming seemed to find its way onto the home screen, and despite widespread misconceptions many series proved that it was possible to produce entertaining programming while at the same time adding elements that would be beneficial to the young viewers. Most of the shows catered to keeping the kids busy while mom got dinner ready. We were also creating our own television idol’s as young fans like me made heroes of a Mardi Gras of puppets, clowns, spacemen, swashbucklers, comedians, and cowboys creating instant demigods, stars of stupendous magnitude, enduring cult figures, among our now memory flashes to our past.
Just for Fun
For a few years it seemed Fox owned children's weekend television in the New York metropolitan area. In the same year he joined Wonderama, he reached back to the "color war" team competitions he knew as a child in summer camp to create and host Just For Fun, a two-and-a-half hour Saturday morning show involving two teams of kids in blue and gold jumpsuits to compete in contests ranging from the mildly athletic to the wildly bizarre. One mainstay was the Treasure Chest competition where one contestant from each team would be placed in front of a locked chest and 1,000 keys. When the winner found the key to open their chest, a siren would sound, and whatever was happening at the time (be it cartoon, commercial, skit, etc.) was interrupted. The winner would stand with arms outstretched and a towering pile of board games and toys would be placed in his or her arms.
On Your Mark
A year later, Fox hosted ABC's first original Saturday morning show, On Your Mark, a game show in which children ages 9 through 13 answered questions about various professions. Because Sonny Fox was under "exclusive" contract to WNEW-TV, On Your Mark aired on Channel 5 in New York, instead of WABC-TV channel 7 ABC's owned station. On Your Mark lasted one season, but the lively Just For Fun lasted until 1965. Fox left Wonderama in 1967; his successor, Bob McAllister, continued the show both locally (in New York City), and in national syndication through the 1970s. Fox gradually withdrew from television work (he'd also played Mr. Prim in the 1966 film The Christmas That Almost Wasn't), spending time in theater and other entertainment while raising his own four children. He spent one year (1977) running children's programming for NBC (and taking one more stab at hosting, with the short-lived, California-based, Way Out Games in 1976), while spending time concurrently as a lecturer at the State University of New York at Stony Brook campus in the 1970s.
The New Yorkers
Fox also co-hosted a daily talk/variety show for adults titled The New Yorkers on WNEW, with co-hosts Penelope Wilson and Gloria Okon, plus newsman Stewart Klein. Airing weekdays during the 1967 TV season, the series was not a hit and was canceled after one season.
Fox's last venture in children's TV was as the co-executive producer of the short-lived Chuck McCann's Fun Stuff. The series was seen weekday mornings locally on KHJ-TV Ch. 9 in Los Angeles from September 18, 1989 until October 13, 1989.
Fox later joined and became a chairman of the board for Population Communications International, a New York-based nonprofit concern dedicated to influencing media coverage and presentation of family planning issues—including work with U.S. and international soap opera producers, helping them develop "more healthful" family planning story lines, as a newspaper article described it in 2002.