|Uncle Al Lewis was the pied piper of the Tristate region for decades|
Every major Television market had their own kids show it seems back in the day. We even had one in Dayton - something about a guy named Malcolm and Duffy the Dog. It seemed all too New Age to us though. Cincinnati was where it was at - Uncle Al was like the Ed Sullivan of kid's shows - at least if you didn't count Captain Kangaroo (whose show was inspired by Uncle Al) and Mr. Rogers just seemed creepy or drugged or both. Anyway, Uncle Al had some interesting characters on his show (like captain Windy); he was dressed as 1/4 of a barber shop quartet. We always wondered if Dick Van Dyke had borrowed from Al for some of his musicals during the 1960's - we wouldn't be surprised. The Uncle Al show ran from 1950 to 1985 and as far as I know, I was the only kid ever kicked off of the set and banned for life from returning.
Kids were thrown into the mosh pit with little supervision
Cincinnati is an interesting town. For those of us who live nearby we tend to have a love / hate relationship with Cincy (primarily due to the Bengals). For one thing they all eat this really weird chili and all swear it's delicious. Another bizarre aspect of Cincinnati culture is a strange fascination with Jimmy Buffet - all of his die hard fans call themselves "Parrot-heads" - this Buffet fetish has been going on for 30 years if you can believe it. We're thinking the Buffett thing can be explained by the secret desire that everyone in Ohio has to live in Key West - we're just not sure why Cincinnati is more fanatic about it than the rest of Ohio. But we digress... The Uncle Al wasn't the only show in the Cincy showbiz hub - there was the Cool Ghoul. Now we've got to give this guy credit that he came up with the best named sidekick in the history of sidekicks - Batty Hatty from Cincinnati.
We heard this show influenced Rob Zombie
Anyway back to my story. I've been told that as a child I was somewhat hyperactive - I only have hearsay evidence to substantiate those circumstantial charges. People say I started dancing and hooting during the Dueling Banjos portion of Deliverance - if so I'm not prepared to admit it. On the day we traveled to see Uncle Al I had my breakfast of sugar-frosted flakes and Coca Cola and felt quite invigorated. It was important to me that I get noticed and for those who had seen Al's show the method to achieving recognition was clear - far out dance moves (note the 70's lingo). Uncle Al was like the Soul Train for white, suburban preschoolers.
Soul Train dancers took inspiration from the innovative moves displayed on Uncle Al's dance-floor
At this point it's worth mentioning Cincinnati's German heritage. Cincinnati was once known as Porkapolis - because it's where a large German immigrant community had built the nations first mega-pork industry (it later drifted up towards Chicago). So, essentially this means that accordions are really big in Cincy. And while Jimmy Hendrix had his electric guitar - Al Lewis had his accordion and it drove the kids crazy. Remember seeing that Oliver Stone biopic of Jim Morrison with Val Kilmer before he doubled in size - yeah The Doors - anyway it was like the concert scenes in that movie but without the nudity.
When I arrived on the set the tension was palpable. There were a host of kids waiting to get on the show - sort of like the stage full Broadway hopefuls in A Chorus Line except all of us were going to get picked. The key to getting famous though was clear - get close to the star. Location, Location Location - was everything. It was hard to restrain our enthusiasm - the kids didn't get be on the entire show - just certain parts. Before I knew it, the signal had been given and we darted en masse onto the stage. The music was blaring and there was Al, fingers flying across his bright red accordion. Time seemed to push into another dimension at once frozen yet somehow accelerated. I had maneuvered ever closer to the master of the vertical piano as the music reached a fever pitch - I was jumping, diving, inventing the Moonwalk and perhaps even doing the Robot. No four year had ever moved so much, so quickly and with greater purpose. Then the unthinkable - a sharp collision between my head and the bottom of Al's accordion. The red sparkly finish of the off the rack instrument was splattered crimson with my blood, sweat and tears. And that was all too much - I got sick and threw up on Al's shoes. I half expected I might suffer the same fate as Jim Morrison after the infamous Miami Concert (not for the same reasons though). Oh and did I mention, it was live TV.
The kids in Southwest Ohio got more than they expected that afternoon. Al was furious - yelling something to the effect of "get that damn kid out of here now!" (it may have been NR rated) I never realized the true power of being blacklisted by Al until many years later when my Hollywood career failed to materialize. But I don't harbor any grudges now that the years have passed. I learned a valuable lesson that day, two geniuses can never share the same stage...
The Chicken Dance is perfect for busting out an Accordion solo
Copyright 2012 - Raving Reviews - All Rights Reserved