POP HAZMAT-RETRO presents CLASSIC CHILDREN’S TV ON-THE-CHEAP!by JONATHAN KIERAN
TODAY’S HONOREE: The Magic Garden (WPIX-TV 1972-1984)
RESPONSIBLE FOR THE GREATNESS: Carole Demas and Paula Janis
RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: Think Joan Baez and Judy Collins abandoning Woodstock glory, passionate ’60s activism and hemp sandals to take-up Elmer’s Glue, cardboard hats and macaroni artwork as BFF kindergarten teachers! How cool is that? Even better, The Magic Garden’s Carole and Paula never failed to emanate a delightful whiff of that fresh-faced hippy-chick era with their pleasant “Mellow Yellow” outlook, propensity to break into irresistible ditties at the slightest provocation and eagerness to feed peanuts to a talking pink squirrel named Sherlock. Don’t even get me started on their “Chuckle Patch.” I do recall a plethora of colorful mushrooms decorating the set of The Magic Garden, which just might explain the lovably light-hearted and hypnotic atmosphere cultivated by these admirable babes. Who can say?
In my estimation, The Magic Garden was one of the more consistently creative and well-made children’s shows of its time, and a great deal of the credit must go to the buoyant charm and self-assured talent of its stars, Carole Demas and Paula Janis, who sang wonderfully, projected a perpetual sense of delight in their original material and never, ever “talked down” to their audience, which was comprised of millions of happy kids still finishing their morning Cheerios or just home from school with a long awaited snack in-hand. The Magic Garden was produced by one of America’s most important independent television stations at the time (New York City’s WPIX) and the program ran from 1972 until 1984. The adventures of Carole and Paula in their fantastic playground may not have been broadcast across the country, like Sesame Street, but if your state was situated anywhere near New York and you were under age 10 with a TV-set in the house, then you were privy to the show’s gently psychedelic brand of earthy playfulness.
Though Carole and Paula didn’t have a production budget to rival, say, Mister Rogers, the ladies made the best out of what they had on hand, which was usually construction paper, a bit of paint, a couple of funky tree-swings and an acoustic guitar. Their wise, whimsical use of sing-alongs, stories, jokes and various props was never anything less than engaging, so it comes as little surprise to learn that The Magic Garden commanded an audience as large and as loyal as that of Sesame Street, at least within WPIX’s broadcasting range. I always liked The Magic Garden every bit as much as Sesame Street and light years more than Mister Rogers. No offense to the much-beloved Fred, but I saw straight through the gimmickry of agitated trolleys, condescending baby-talk and shrill puppets with gin-blossoms and tipsy monologues. We already had several, slurring Lady Elaine Fairchilde-types living on our block; we didn’t need a kids’ show to remind us that eccentric old rich ladies like to hit the sauce once in awhile. Make no mistake: the gals from The Magic Garden were as fresh and as funny as the plastic daisies in their “Chuckle Patch” and I’ll take Carole’s crisp, confidently retro leather vest over one of Fred’s dusty old cardigans any day of the week.
DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “The stories are here, they’re all in here, from crafty fox to Goldilocks, in story box, in story box …” (Yes, I still remember the songs and NO I didn’t have to YouTube them to jolt the synapses in that regard.)
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Carole Demas and Paula Janis, who started their careers as teachers in Brooklyn before tending The Magic Garden with their Watering Can of Fabulousness, went on to record a number of well-received albums based upon the show’s musical themes and they have continued to celebrate the cheerful nostalgia reserved for them via promotional appearances and concerts. They’re still friends, after all these years, and their program is fondly remembered by its legions of fans. I am happy to be one of them. None of my usual, witty snark shall touch Carole and Paula on this blog. They are sacred. Visit Carole and Paula’s website and learn more about them by clicking HERE.
EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: All of the songs on The Magic Garden were consistently clever and well-performed, but for my money, Carole and Paula had the most wonderful and winsome “closing tune” in the entire history of children’s programming (And yes, that includes YOU, Fred Rogers-up-in-heaven). Enjoy these sweet, smilin’ hippy-chicks as they serve-up their signature parting slice of pure sunshine!
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