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Where to activate with Sonny Fox? As consistently and forever, “Wonderama,” his admired appearance for WABD (later, WNEW, now WNYW/5) which he hosted from 1959 to 1967. But there’s so abundant more. In December, 1944, his assemblage — Company E, 110th Regiment, 28th Division — was captured by German troops during the Battle of the Bulge and he rode out the war in a bastille camp. A Jewish prisoner.
He returned stateside to a accomplished new world, area TV was alpha and its possibilities seemed limitless. The angular and — as that TV would anon authorize — telegenic Fox hosted a account CBS show, “Let’s Booty a Trip,” afresh the megahit bold appearance “The $64,000 Challenge.” A accidental bloomer concluded that gig (he accidentally gave abroad an answer), which led to the next:
.At “Wonderama,” Fox was a avant-garde who batten to accouchement as equals. The appearance was both a hit and afflatus to the blow of an industry aloof afresh activation to the possibilities of children’s TV, for both acceptable and ill. His “Wonderama” was for the good.
He’s 94 now, active in an assisted active adeptness in Sherman Oaks, California. An edited adaptation of our contempo interview:
First things first, how’s your health?
My anamnesis is porous, but the best aback I go, the bigger it is. What happened aftermost night — balloon about it — but the added aback I go, it’s arresting how abundant I remember.
How continued accept you lived in L. A.? Does your ancestors alive out actuality now, too?
I confused out in 1970 because that’s area the industry had moved. I had four accouchement — one died — and two alive abreast me.
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Since you brought up abysmal memories, let’s go bottomward that accurate lane. You grew up in Brooklyn — Flatbush — and seemed to accept had a blessed childhood, but I anamnesis you already said your appetite was additionally to get through a day afterwards accepting baffled up.
Well, that was a little extreme, but aback I was a kid — 8, 9, 10 — I was a year and a bisected adolescent than anyone abroad about [because he had been placed in a brand ahead] and I was abashed from time to time. I wasn’t able to avert myself physically and it wasn’t until I went into the army aback I was with bodies my age — we were all 18. My mother pushed me ahead. Yeah, I was ablaze but she wore that like a badge on her accessory — ‘look at my son!’ But my sister confused advanced on her merits.
You already wrote that afterwards you were captured, you acquainted a faculty of alarming and curiosity. Which was stronger?
I was activity through the mirror to the added side, and I was analytical as to what was on the added side, and thought, ‘OK, this is a new thing. How does this work?’ I begin out anon abundant not actual well. But afterwards concern came that will, or adeptness not to surrender. You ability accept to abandonment physically, but not mentally or emotionally. That no amount what you are facing, you can say to yourself ‘OK, this is article I can get through.
You came out a altered person. How?
Simply that I had dealt with the bearings and had — at a acute point — taken aback ascendancy of my own life. That gave me a lot of confidence. For example, aback I was accursed from ‘64,000 Challenge,’ it was appealing base and I spent some time in a funk, but not for long. I recovered and became what I was to become [professionally]. It was acceptable I got fired. [‘64,000’] wasn’t article I capital to do anyway.
Explain your assorted and afoot career?
Things aloof happened. There’s annihilation in my activity that I set out to do. I absitively to go to NYU [after the war] because it was the aboriginal university in America that had a advance of radio productions, and [later met] Alan Funt [creator of ‘Candid Camera’] who was additionally aloof starting out and he active me on one of his [radio] shows. Then, I afterwards went to St. Louis to assignment at a new [educational TV] base and got a appearance at 4 p.m. for one hour a day [with] an admirers of of kids in the flat and I’d airing to them and babble with them..That gave me a accomplished new administration of area I could go and would go.
“$64,000 Challenge” was one of those window-closes-door-opens moments, right?
“Wonderama” had been on the air [and] it was this accomplished new apple area [Ch. 5 buyer Metromedia] told me I could accomplish with no limitations. The accomplished affair was an adventure. They capital it to be adorning but told me ‘we didn’t appoint you to drive bodies away’ either. The appearance that had been on afore had been for little kids [but] I was absorbed in the nine-to-twelve-year-old audience. Their minds were accessible to grab the apple and already had the fundamentals down.
Did you adulation the absorption and the show?
I admired it. But the joy I had from ‘Wonderama’ came from chatting with the kids. I admired chatting with them, accretion their world. All of that fed into me so directly. It was a joy. It was additionally a active and livelihood, but I never got up in the morning and said, ‘God, do I accept to do that again?’ I never had that feeling. Anniversary anniversary had a altered set of kids and anniversary anniversary you could ascertain a altered allotment of them, or accord them article they hadn’t apparent before. It was a amaranthine claiming to me.
Never any babyish allocution either. You consistently seemed to amusement your adolescent admirers as equals.
I begin them alluring and the abundant affair about ambidextrous with that age accumulation is that you had no abstraction area [a discussion] would go. It took its accomplished accustomed advance — what is it like to be your age? What turns you on? What turns you off? What makes you giggle? Afresh you could booty them on adventures — so the appearance catholic to places like Finland and Israel. I continued their apple while affairs them commercials [laughs].
Was, in fact, the appearance over-commercialized?
Forty commercials [per edition]. That was the limit. Thank God there was a [FCC] aphorism that you couldn’t accept more. It was acutely not my admired allotment of the show.
Meanwhile, you had Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on the appearance as a added or beneath approved at Christmas?
He was wonderful. Didn’t allocution bottomward to them and if you look, aback we’re sitting ancillary by side, alike aback I was allurement him a question, he wouldn’t booty his eyes off the kids.He was consistently relating.
Did you anytime accept accouchement of blush on the show?
No [because] they didn’t anticipate they had admission to it. I bethink activity to Harlem once, and a kid says to me, ‘what are you accomplishing up here?’ We never did beat [because] there was a five-year adjournment in bushing admission back-orders. They watched the appearance the aforementioned as anybody abroad but never affected they could be on it. Yes, I’m sad about that.
When you larboard in 1967 (for an developed allocution show, “The New Yorkers”) was it your choice?
I had done ‘Wonderama’ for eight years, and I was accessible and accessible for a new claiming which didn’t assignment out affably well, but it was the appropriate affair for me to do at that time … But yes, after I anticipate I fabricated a aberration in leaving, but you don’t rue or authority regrets. That doesn’t booty you anywhere.
How would you do ‘Wonderama’ now in this age of too-much-media?
Kids are still kids and don’t affliction what the accoutrement is in their easily or in their bedrooms. They still accept the aforementioned curiosity, the aforementioned disappointments, and still accept to go through the aforementioned evolutions to acceptable an adult. From actuality accouchement to acceptable adolescent adults is still an adventure, still a trial.
And through the years, the ability of “Wonderama” endures. Do you still apprehend from your adolescent fans?
I’ve gotten such absorbing letters, canonizing me, what it still agency to them. [I] have a website and had a hundred congratulations from people everywhere to say blessed altogether this accomplished June. It amazes me, these are bodies in their seventies.
After a abrupt stop at NBC (chief of kids’ TV) you became an absolute ambassador afresh arch of PCI — Population Communications International — which anchored pro-social letters in soap operas.
[PCI deployed] this new able anatomy of storytelling to change amusing attitudes [in assorted countries]. It was alluring and that’s what I did for the bigger allotment of 22 years — go to these countries area TV was aloof advancing into accomplishment to explain how it could accept a benign amusing effect.
My admired son, Chris, died three years ago. Aback he was 14, his apperception became afloat and he had to be institutionalized [but in contempo years] we had cafeteria every week, sometimes talked to anniversary other, sometimes he sat in silence, but I never absent a anniversary until he died.
Otherwise, I accept no regrets, no faculty of annoyed dreams. I’ve lived a abounding activity and what’s arresting — well, at this age — is that my apperception is still cogent. Tomorrow, I’ll be jumping and leaping around.
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