The history of Lee & Lionel
I mentioned that the Captain (Kangaroo) did not want kids in the studio. He alluded to not wanting them to see all the tricks and destroy the illusion. However, In my case, I was not really doing a show for kids any more than Mazeppa was. I got most of my material from the daily news or what was behind the news. Yes, there was silliness too! But, the point is... with kids in the studio, you can't control them even if they are just there to watch. Besides, I had my own kids behind the cameras. Dick Fletcher (The Sapulpa Bandit), Richard Parker, Fred Wightman, Buddy Allison, Leon Meier and some others. They and the engineers were the audience.
When it was decided to go with a full blown Lee & Lionel show featuring the "Three Stooges," I decided it was also time for a REAL castle. So, out to the shop I went and with 2x4's and 1/2 inch plywood I started to build. For all the lattice work, I used cut up picture frame molding. To cover the round parapets, I used screen molding. I had a six foot long plastic pipe cut in two lengthwise and fitted out front as the "moat!" Of course, I had the large double doors that would open when I pulled a lever. I had a runway for the toy car that ran just behind the open doors. The styrofoam ball being blown from the smoke stack, suspended just above it. The koala bear in the right rear tower was on a lever that raised him up. I controlled that with my foot. I had a railing on the inside of the castle the was just the right height for me to rest my elbow on to support Lionel and when I had Lionel or Granny in the right front parapet, they actually sat a little higher. There were some angles that could give away the illusion, But Ralph and the camera crew never let that happen. Sometimes, a film would break and they would have to come out to the studio and I would be caught "bare handed!" So, I would act as though Lionel or Basil or Granny were down in the dungeon while I was busily getting one of them ready to fill!
The castle's size was from wall to wall...six feet inside by about four feet deep. With the lawn, from front to back it was about six and a half feet. From side to side outside, about eight feet wide. The middle rear parapet was removable to allow us to get it out of the studio, so to the top of the flag pole, it was over eight feet tall. The only place we ever took it was to do the Philharmonic "Pops Concerts" with Maestro Franco Autori. He was a delight and loved Lionel. After the third concert, he came to me and said, "I will come over to the castle after the applause, to congratulate Lionel. And when I do, you must have him bite me!" I thought that was great! So, we did the "Brittain" piece, Franco came over and hugged Lionel, who then bit him on the neck! Maestro made a big play out of it and it was very funny. Like most conductors, he was a great showman. I performed with the "Phil" over thirty times! As an encore during one concert, he asked if I would like to sing something? I said yes and the music was ordered for Vincent Youmans' "Without A Song." I had sung this many times and to save time in rehearsal, Maestro only went through the intro. Bad mistake! I came in early on the bridge and all hell broke loose! If you ever doubt the importance of an orchestra conductor, don't! He actually got all eighty some odd musicians to cut to the chase and saved my bacon. I could tell after the number was over that he wanted to come over and bite ME on the neck! KVOO's Jack Moore recorded that concert and I got a copy of the encore in which you could hardly tell anything had happened. I wonder what happened to all those concerts that KVOO taped. There were some real heavy hitters back then. Priceless stuff. I hope someone has them!
Back to the castle! During the years of this show, I was pleased that many people thought it was a network or syndicated show. We did have a great opening on film, nicely synced with the "Wedding Music" mentioned earlier, and the same with the closing credits. On many occasions we had guests drop by and as you have seen a full shot of the big castle, here is another with Art Linkletter chatting up the King and I.