IN THIS SLIGHTLY blurred photo from 1953-54, I’m sitting in front of the TV/radio/disc-disc combo in my first home near Wedgwood Rock, wearing glasses that I started wearing at 14 months. I clutch my “aby” (my word for a doll), but my attention suddenly turns to the small black-and-white screen in the upper left corner of the console, just off frame.
My mother told me several times that in this photo I was looking at “Wunda Wunda”. It makes sense, because my memory of the Ruth Prins show is vivid, and here I’m clearly thrilled.
As a boy, I stuck to local TV, tastes consistent with my age. I eventually switched from “Wunda Wunda” to “Brakeman Bill”. For my younger brothers, JP Patches was the man, but by the time he debuted in 1958, I considered myself too old for him.
Fast forward more than six decades to last spring. Like many, I had assumed that Prins was long gone. But a friend, Casey McNerthney, told me that Prins was 100 years old. I immediately sought her out as the perfect target for a “Now & Then” column, twice leaving letters to her Magnolia house. This put me in touch with her daughter, Debra, who told me that her mother was unable to be interviewed or photographed.
After Prins died on November 6, I tried again. This time, Debra spent hours reflecting on her mother and unlocked a vast treasure trove of albums, original puppets and costumes, and never-before-seen “Wunda Wunda” show kinescopes since their original airing. (Kinescope transfers are in progress and can be found at PaulDorpat.com.)
She even unearthed a life-size color plywood cutout that led Jean Sherrard (a 10-year-old guest on Prins’ 1967 “Telaventure Tales”) and me to organize a “Now” group photo of fans in the Prins neighborhood. After posing, they all – including Debra – sang the theme “Wunda Wunda” with wistful joy. Without Debra’s generosity and trust, today’s coverage would not have been so rich.
Of course, all of this evokes what our attraction to television has brought about, given today’s online world and our fondness for screens instead of looking people in the eye. Big brother, anyone? I think, however, of the late screenwriting guru Syd Field, who wrote that the purpose of entertainment is to inspire audiences to find their common humanity. I think that applies to Ruth Prins. I never met her, yet I feel like I did. Among the best teachers, she had a profoundly positive impact on thousands of people. And we all had a front row seat.