A generation of Los Angeles kids grew up watching cartoons on Channel 9 and drinking their milk when Engineer Bill or his announcer said "green light" — and stopping mid-gulp when they heard "red light." It was early television, and you had to have a gimmick. Bill Stulla died Tuesday at his Westlake Village home. From Dennis McLellan in the L.A. Times:
As the genial host of "Cartoon Express," which ran weekdays at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 9 (then KHJ-TV) in Los Angeles, Stulla was a television fixture from 1954 to 1966. The show earned him two Emmy Awards.
Seated behind a model train layout, Stulla wore a blue-striped engineer's cap and overalls, a red kerchief and his trademark horn-rim glasses.
Between cartoons, he would chat with his in-studio guests -- a boy and a girl from local schools -- read from a get-well list of young viewers who were sick, and talk to his audience about breaking bad habits such as not eating everything on their plates.
He'd give them a week to break each bad habit. And to illustrate how tough that could be, Little Mo, the Bad Habit Buster -- a model train with a determined face painted on the engine -- would be shown chugging up a steep incline and huffing, "I hope I can, I hope I can."
But the highlight of the show for young viewers came when Engineer Bill and his two guests played "Red Light, Green Light." The game, with his audience joining in at home, was simple:
As Stulla and his two guests sat with their milk glasses poised, an off-screen announcer, usually "Freight Train" Wayne Thomas, would cry out, "Green Light" -- the signal to start drinking.
When Thomas abruptly yelled "Red Light,' they had to immediately stop drinking. The goal of the game was to finish the glass of milk without drinking on the red light.
That wasn't as easy as it sounds: Wayne might substitute "Green Eyes" or "Green Grass" for "Green Light" and "Red Car" or "Red Pants" for "Red Light."
Stulla's death leaves Sheriff John Rovick and Tom Hatten, the host of Popeye cartoons, at the top of the pantheon of TV living legends for Southern California boomers. Here's a Real Audio video of Sheriff John being introduced by Michael Richards at the Emmy Awards in 1998, a video interview with Sheriff John singing "Put Another Candle on Your Birthday Cake," and after the jump the lyrics.
Put another candle on my birthday cake, We're gonna bake a birthday cake. Put another candle on my birthday cake, I'm another year old to-day. I'm going to have a party with my birthday cake, C'mon and taste some birthday cake. Put another candle on my birthday cake, I'm another year old to-day. We'll have some pie and sandwiches, and chocolate ice cream too. We'll sing and play the day away, and one more thing I'm gonna do ... I'll blow out the candles on my birthday cake, And when I do, a wish I'll make! Put another candle on my birthday cake, I'm another year old to-day.