If you didn't grow up in the Los Angeles area during the baby boom, you can leave the room for a couple of minutes. Though if your parents fit the description, you might want to stick around.
Sheriff John died this morning in a Boise, Idaho nursing home. He had turned 93 on Tuesday.
John Rovick was still being contacted by fans from Los Angeles. What's remarkable about that is that he stopped appearing on TV as Sheriff John in 1970. He told the local paper in Boise in 2005 that the doctor who saved him from a heart attack was a Sheriff John fan. So was his dentist. "So are three of the people at the clinic where I get my eyes checked," he said. "I was walking in to a store the other day, and a woman gasped and said, 'Sheriff John!' It just doesn't stop.
"It's amazing that it's been so many years ago and people still remember the impact the show had on their lives."
So who, or what, was Sheriff John? It was a cartoon show on Channel 11 in Los Angeles — two shows actually, one from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 and another when children would get home from school. Rovick, the station's regular announcer, would dress like a sheriff and introduce the cartoons. But first, on the midday Lunch Brigade, there was a song to remind everyone to laugh and be happy, a checklist of gold stars for being good boys and girls, and the pledge of allegiance. Sometimes he would read the funny pages out of the newspaper. He would hand out little nuggets of fatherly advice, always with a smile. And he would pitch products — Maggio carrots with the greens on top must have been a regular sponsor, because I and others others who are remembering Sheriff John today recall that phrasing.
And most of all, Sheriff John would wish you a happy birthday. A fairly high percentage of baby boom kids who grew up in Southern California probably received birthday wishes on the Sheriff John Lunch Brigade program. Or dreamed that they would. He would read that day's names, mention "belated birthdays," then spin the cake and sing the Birthday Cake Polka.
When he left the air in 1970, many of Sheriff John's kids had moved on to rock and roll, Vietnam or drugs. "Aloha, adios, adieu, and God be with you 'til we meet again," he said in his sign-off on the air. "Bye for now." Rovick remained as KTTV's station announcer until 1981, which meant that his former kids would still hear his voice, years later. He retired with 31 years at KTTV.
Sheriff John had won an Emmy in the show's first year, 1952. At the Emmys in 1998, actor Michael Richards, at the height of his fame as "Seinfeld's" Kramer, stepped on stage and gave a heartfelt native Angeleno's tribute to the show's legacy, then pointed to an elderly man in the audience and introduced Sheriff John. The place erupted. It was a pretty cool LA moment, but unfortunately a clip of Real Media footage has dropped off the web, far as I can tell.
Here's a six-minute tribute some fans made a few years ago that includes Sheriff John's sign-off.
Sheriff John's rendition of "Laugh and Be Happy:"
Fans do the Birthday Cake Polka: