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Gene London (born Eugene Yulish in Cleveland, Ohio on June 9, 1931) was the host of a long-running, Philadelphia local children's show, Cartoon Corners (a.k.a. The Gene London Show). He was tall, slender, had dark hair and a soft-spoken manner. He starred on the children's show in the Philadelphia area on WCAU-TV Channel 10 from 1959 to 1977, in which several cartoons, particularly those of Disney, were shown. Early programs began with Gene London opening the door of his General Store and flipping the sign to read "Open for Business." As the kids passed by Gene, he palmed the tops of their heads and sang the opening theme song. Once inside the General Store, Gene, an accomplished artist and storyteller, told stories and used a large drawing pad to illustrate key scenes and characters from the tales, as children sat around him. With little budget, he and his cast also did clever interpretations of classic novels such as She Who Must Be Obeyed and various Greek myths.
Originally called variously Gene London's Cartoons & Stuff, The Wonderful World of Gene London, and Cartoon Corners, the format for The Gene London Show changed over the years. At first Gene worked for a general store that was located next to a confetti factory. His boss was the stingy Mr. Dibley, a.k.a. "Old Dibble-Puss" (who paid Gene 3½ cents per week). London's character used his imagination to try to escape his humdrum existence. A golden fleece he discovered provided him with a ready source of magic. Gene had a crush on his employer's daughter, Debbie Dibley. Alas, Debbie moved to Hollywood, returning him to his lonely, but imaginative situation. Later the program shifted to the haunted Quigley mansion located next door, accessible via a secret tunnel (the mansion's exterior establishing shot was just a model) with stories and plots centering on ghosts, UFOs and aliens. During this period there were a series of public service exchange programs produced by CBS. In these programs, Gene played a reporter whose beat coverage included stories from children (trying to improve the paper's circulation).
Earlier in life, Gene aspired to be a Disney artist. An imaginative child, Gene recalled, "Alone in my room when all the other kids were playing ball, I'd tell myself the story, acting out all the parts, including Snow White standing by the side of the well singing, 'I'm Wishing'." On his show, Gene often showcased Disney cartoons and movies. Gene's early career included stints as a counselor at Summerdale Day Camp, just outside Philadelphia, where he taught arts and crafts and puppetry; occasional work on NBC-TV's Hi Mom! hosted by ventriloquist Shari Lewis; a cast member on the puppet show Johnny Jupiter; as Re-ject the Robot. He was also a puppeteer on some of Herb Sheldon's kids' TV shows on WABD-TV in New York City.
London would succeed Henry Burbig as the second host/performer and instructor of WABC-TV's Tinker's Workshop in 1957. He would play the character of "Tinker Tom, the Toymaker" as a big brother type, as opposed to portraying him as a grandfatherly inculcator of values.
London hosted the show from 1957 to mid-1958, when he was ousted from the program following a creative dispute with station management. He would go on to appear semi-regularly on holiday-themed special editions of NBC-TV's Today Show with the series' first host/interviewer, Dave Garroway, during the 1959 TV season. (Information about London's efforts with Sheldon, his brief tenure with Tinker's Workshop and his involvement with The Today Show can be found in "The NYC Kids Shows Round Up" section of TVParty.com)
When Cartoon Corners was cancelled, Gene moved to New York City and became involved in the fashion industry as a dress designer. Until 2001, Gene operated a retro clothes shop called 'Gene London: The Fan Club' on Manhattan's West 19th Street. In later years, Gene served as a Hollywood and Broadway fashion consultant and spokesman for the Mikimoto brand of jewelry. As a hobby, Gene had collected costumes worn by movie celebrities (some 60,000 gowns, dresses and fashion accessories).
In July 2002, at the age of 71, Gene exhibited more than 50 pieces of his Hollywood gown collection at "Gene London Presents: Hollywood Glamour" at the Showboat Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. On May 17, 2003, he once again displayed his gowns at the 80th anniversary celebration of the Old Academy Players in Philadelphia (East Falls), PA. The exhibit included a deep red dress with plunging neckline and fur-trimmed sleeves worn by Philadelphia-bred actress Grace Kelly (a.k.a. Princess Grace of Monaco) in the Oscar-winning film The Country Girl (1954).
On October 3, 2009 the Reading Public Museum (Reading, PA) opened "The Magic of Hollywood: the Gene London Costume Collection", featuring more than 100 gowns and costumes.
Cartoon Corners theme song
- Come right on in to the General Store
- We have licorice, gumdrops and sourballs;
- Anything that you're hankering for,
- You'll find in Cartoon Corners General Store.
- There's lots of stories and songs that you know,
- Toys to build and a big pot belly stove;
- Cartoon fun with your favorites so,
- Let's ring up the curtain on this show!
- There's something else I've forgotten, let's see,
- Of course, Gene London, that's me!
He sang this ditty before launching into a story:
- Let's Pretend that it's story time
- And I'll tell a tale to you.
- I'll tell you a story of make believe
- And all your dreams will come true.
- And when the story's over
- And when we reach the end.
- We'll live happily ever after, Where?
- In the land of Let's Pretend.
On Friday, November 20, 2009, Gene London was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's Hall of Fame.