Born in Philadelphia, Bob first made his name as a ventriloquist on NBC on the Today Show in the 1950s, while still in his teens. He appeared in 1953 on CBS on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour and was able to get his first regular television job hosting his own program on WTAR in Norfolk, Virginia. The "Bob and Chauncey Show" paired McAllister with a wise-cracking dummy ("Chauncey").
This led to his being hired on at WJZ-TV Channel 13 in Baltimore, Maryland in 1963 on The Bob McAllister Show, a half-hour program of comedy character and puppet sketches, magic acts, pantomime, cartoons and sight gags intended to revive the absurd visual surrealism of Ernie Kovacs' television work.
The Bob McAllister Show was a big success and led to an offer from WNEW-TV Channel 5 in New York to host his own program there, where it premiered on September 9, 1968. The New York version of the show was not as successful as the Baltimore broadcast, and time constraints and budget restrictions led to its cancellation on Friday, September 5, 1969, after which it went into reruns.
McAllister was concurrently brought in as host of the syndicated popular show Wonderama, produced by WNEW-TV, to replace the departing Sonny Fox. McAllister's version of the show premiered Sunday, August 13, 1967, and became Metromedia TV's most popular children's series. It included material similar to that on The Bob McAllister Show with the added attractions of game shows that he selected children in the audience to participate in. These included twisting the tops off cans to see whether snakes or a bouquet of artificial flowers sprung out; the child who opened the sole can with the bouquet won the grand prize. Bob gave each snake-receiver a consolation prize — usually a toy or a board game — for answering a trivia question correctly.
The musical theme of McAllister's Wonderama was an orchestral arrangement of the song "I Ain't Down Yet" from Meredith Willson's Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Audience children typically waved their arms in a diagonal criss-cross fashion over their heads to the beat of the music when it opened and closed each show.
McAllister also hosted reproduced Wonderama shows at various locations, including the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson Township, New Jersey, and the Harvard Club of New York. He also found the time to host a few children's television specials for WNEW-TV during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The weekday afternoon version of Wonderama was not as successful as the original Sunday afternoon/Sunday morning format and was dropped on Friday, August 21, 1970, returning to its Sunday morning schedule where it continued until Sunday morning, December 25, 1977.
Characters McAllister played on Wonderama and The Bob McAllister Show included:
- The Crazy Magician, whose attempts at magic usually ended in disaster.
- Prof. Fingelheimer, a quirky German-accented inventor who sang a nonsensical but catchy song before showing off his latest contraption:
Fingelheimer, Fingelheimer, Fingel-Dingel-Heimer,
Fingelheimer, Fingelheimer, Fingel-Dingel-Heimer.
The more you Fingel, the less you Heimer,
The less you Heimer, the more you Fingel.
Fingelheimer, Fingelheimer, Fingel-Dingel-Heimer.
- A janitor who furnished a can of "instant" whatever and used it to facilitate chores.
- Mike Fury, a superhero who boasted about his supernatural deeds of daring-do and created "explosions" by taking a bite of his "Super Onion" and exhaling forcefully. He also taught children healthy hygienic habits (tooth-brushing, washing, nose-blowing, etc.) by setting a good example for them as "a Goody."
- Zip Code, a Beatnik folk singer
- Salamander Dilly, an artist who stroked a brush across a blank canvas, creating an image through a "blue screen" technique, a superimposed video special effect that gradually "wiped" the image onto the canvas along with the path of the brush. His name was a playful spoof on that of surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.
- Seymore the Snake, a puppet providing humorous commentary about the show's zany goings-on.
In 1973, McAllister hosted a TV special, Herbie Day at Disneyland, which exhibited Herbie the Love Bug of Walt Disney Pictures fame before an excited crowd at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. This special was produced in conjunction with the personified Volkswagen Beetle's latest feature film, Herbie Rides Again.
In 1975, Monty Hall, impressed by McAllister, flew him out to Los Angeles to host a pilot for a new game show called Carnival. By all accounts, the pilot was well-done, but it was never picked up as a series.
He was forced to leave Wonderama following the series' Christmas Day 1977 broadcast. In the fall of 1978 McAllister briefly returned to children's television as the host/performer and interviewer of ABC TV's Kids Are People Too, a show that took its name from the title of McAllister's closing Wonderama theme. However, the show that he was hired to emcee was aimed at teens, not children, and this led to creative disputes with the producers and network executives. In November 1978, Bob McAllister was fired from Kids Are People Too! and he was replaced by Michael Young and later Randy Hamilton as the program's host.
McAllister would spend the remainder of the 1970s and 80s performing at corporate banquets and picnics and, for a time, served as co-owner of a roller skating rink in Westchester County, New York. He tried a return to children's television with an in-school educational program called Tuned In, produced by WNET for PBS in the early 1980s. He played the teacher, Mr. Graff, who involved his pupils in television production.
Bob received recognition in the magic field with numerous awards, including the prestigious "Magician of the Year" award from the Society of American Magicians.
He died on July 21, 1998 of lung cancer at the age of 63.
- "Bob McAllister, 63, TV Host and Magician". New York Times. July 22, 1998. Retrieved 2007-06-21.
Bob McAllister, who talked his way into a television career without moving his lips, became the host of an acclaimed children's show, then made magic his metier, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 63 and best known for his decade as the ebullient, Buster Brown-coiffed host of Wonderama. His family said the cause was a respiratory ailment that he would have learned yesterday had been diagnosed as lung cancer. By the time Mr. McAllister replaced Sonny Fox as host of the three-hour Sunday morning children's extravaganza known as Wonderama, in 1967, the show had been on the air for more than a dozen years. ... Mr. McAllister, who was married and divorced twice, is survived by his mother, Peg McAllister of Virginia Beach, Virginia; three daughters, Susan Abbott of Clearwater, Florida, Robin McAllister of Manhattan and Molly Jo McAllister of Ossining, New York, and three grandchildren.
-  http://www.tvparty.com/lostny2mcallister.html
- Bob McAllister at the Internet Movie Database
- "New York City Kid Show Roundup: The Bob McAllister Show" by Kevin S. Butler
- A clip of Bob McAllister doing a magic routine, the year before his death on YouTube