Buck Barry, Kid Show Host in Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1950s-1960s
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty…..” ?
…..what DID Buck Barry used to say, anyhow?
Ask anyone who was a kid in the Grand Rapids area during the 1950s or 1960s and I’m sure they could tell you. Buck Barry hosted the most popular kiddie show in Grand Rapids and was possibly more popular than Captain Kangaroo, Bozo, and other national kid show hosts of the era.
Buck, whose real name was Chester Burry, was born on February 12, 1917. Once he reached his twenties, he had made his way out to 'Californy' where he appeared in a few “B” westerns with cowboy star Gene Autry. An expert horse rider, Buck also did rope tricks and could twirl his six-guns like no other. He was hired as a performer in a traveling Wild West Show until he landed a gig as a kid show host in Grand Rapids on WOOD-TV.
His program was called Buckaroo Rodeo, hosting three days a week. When the alternate host (“Fireman Freddie”) quit, Buck stepped in and hosted every weekday afternoon as well as Saturday mornings.
Buck had his own version of Howdy Doody's Peanut Gallery – stage bleachers full of kids who sat there while Buck showed Popeye cartoons and Three Stooges films (Buck’s kiddie audience was one of the first of the TV shows during the 1950s that featured children of all backgrounds). He was aware that kids liked to emulate the Stooges, with the slaps and eye-pokes, so after each Stooge film, he would make sure to tell the kids not to go around slapping, bonking, poking, or hitting others with hammers, boards, or pipes.
After a while, the title Buckaroo Rodeo was changed to Popeye Theater.
Buck’s trusty horse was named ‘Thunder’ who appeared with Buck in live gigs and promo cards. Unfortunately, Thunder lost his life when a stable fire broke out. Afterward, Buck was the surprise guest on the TV program This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards. At the end of the show, Edwards spoke to the TV audience, mentioning that thanks to Buck’s fans, enough money was raised for the purchase of a new horse which Buck named ‘Thunder II’.
Buck made many live appearances for charity and visited sick or incapacitated children in hospitals. He was loved by so many, proven by the old fans who still have lots of Buck Barry memorabilia: pins, postcards, fan club cards, photos, and much more.
After 25 years on TV, Buck retired and moved to Texas.
He passed away in El Paso in 1997.
Buck Barry, Grand Rapids Kid Show Host: 1950s-1960s
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