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Aunt Fran and Her Playmates

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The legacy of children's television at WBNS-TV began a decade-or-so before the premiere of Luci's Toyshop, with "Aunt Fran and her Playmates."  Aunt Fran's show was eventually passed-on to Betty Jones' "TV Kindergarten," and that program circuitously evolved into Luci's Toyshop . . .

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Aunt Fran publicity photo

In his book, Hello There, Boys and Girls: America's Local Children's TV Programs, author Tim Hollis offers a well-deserved tribute to Luci's Toyshop.  However, there is a major error in his history of Luci's show.  Hollis blends the history of Luci's Toyshop with that of Aunt Fran and Her Playmates -- indicating that Luci's show was a direct spin-off of Aunt Fran.  That assertion is incorrect.
 
Hollis seems to have overlooked the real connection between Aunt Fran's show and Luci's Toyshop -- another WBNS-TV kid's program called, "TV Kindergarten."  So, here's the accurate chronology:  When Aunt Fran (Fran Norris) retired, her show was turned-over to her assistant, Betty Jones and re-named "All Aboard".  Later, Jones' program was again re-named "TV Kindergarten".  When Jones died suddenly in 1960, WBNS-TV encouraged Lucille Gasaway to develop a daily kid's program -- and that was the beginning of Luci's Toyshop.
 
However, Hollis's history of the Aunt Fran progam is otherwise accurate --
 
According to Hollis, Fran Norris originally hosted a daily 11:00 a.m. kid's show entitled, TV Babysitter.  But, as "Aunt" Fran's popularity grew, the show was renamed, Aunt Fran and Her Playmates, and moved to the 4:30 p.m. time-slot.  The show co-starred big-name comedian and Ohio native, Jonathan Winters.   
 
Fran Norris was imortalized in a 2001 documentary film, Making Television History: Aunt Fran and Her Playmates, by Ohio University professor, Norma Pecora. 
 
For more information on Aunt Fran and Her Playmates, check out the following two links:
 
 

Aunt Fran -- Ohio University PERSPECTIVES

Aunt Fran -- University Maryland Library of Broadcasting

We're interested in more information regarding Aunt Fran and Her Playmates.  If you have photos, publications, or other information about this early WBNS-TV kid's show, please email us at lucistoyshop@lycos.com.

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Aunt Fran and Her Playmates in the WBNS studio

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"Hi There, Boys and Girls" -- by Tim Hollis

The Unofficial Luci's Toyshop Homepage