By Michael Swanger
Turning back the dial to my childhood during the 1970s, memories of Iowa television icons Duane Ellett and Floppy quickly come into focus.
Like thousands of other Iowa children, rarely a day went by during a period of my youth that I wasn’t tuned in to WHO-TV’s “The Floppy Show.”
Sitting on the floor, in front of the television (but not too close) watching Duane and Floppy and reruns of Looney Tunes cartoons (some in black and white, some in color) for a half hour while eating a Hostess treat (the quintessential ‘70s snack) was my preferred method of unwinding after school before going outside to play baseball or ride my Huffy bicycle (with the tall, yellow and orange flag attached).
Life, as every generation says, was simpler then and the innocence of television shows like “The Floppy Show,” “Sesame Street,” “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” “Happy Days” and “Gilligan’s Island” reflected it.
Floppy, however, stood out from the others because of its local appeal. Occasionally, I would spot a friend or a classmate on the set of “The Floppy Show,” which aired live with a studio audience. Sometimes they got to beep Floppy’s nose, or ask him a familiar riddle like “Why did the man put his car in the oven?” or “Why did the man throw his clock out of the window?”
My favorite memory of Floppy dates back to when I was about eight years old and I was invited to a birthday party, which included being a guest on “The Floppy Show.”
Not only was the idea of seeing Duane and Floppy exciting, it was somewhat nerve-wrecking. After all, this was live television!
To add to my jitters, I was plucked from the studio audience to hold the microphone for the kids who told Floppy their riddles. (As fans might recall, Ellett traditionally recruited “Mikes” or “Michaels” for such duty. To this day, it remains the only time in my life that my mother has tolerated someone calling me “Mike” instead of “Michael.”)
What I remember about that day (other than the obvious thrills of meeting Duane and Floppy, live television and holding the microphone) is the kindness and patience that Duane showed every child on the set, especially the younger ones whose tongues got tied after gazing hypnotically at Floppy during riddle time. He had a gentle demeanor that children trusted and adored.
No doubt, anyone who grew up watching “The Floppy Show,” or other memorable Iowa children’s television shows like “The Magic Window,” “Canyon Kid’s Kartoon Karnival” or “Dr. Max,” can relate to such feelings of nostalgia.
None, though, have endured as well as Duane and Floppy. Twenty-seven years after the duo left the airwaves, crowds of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers flock to the “Duane & Floppy Film Festival” and buy Floppy merchandise.
I’m reminded of that after reading this issue’s entertaining cover story written by Jeff Stein, who not only is a broadcaster and regular contributor to Iowa History Journal, but produces “The Duane & Floppy Collection” of DVDs and official Floppy merchandise (including those popular ringneck T-shirts).
Floppy fans will want to visit IHJ’s booth located on the second floor of the Agriculture Building (above the famous butter cow) at the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 7-17. There, we will sell official Floppy T-shirts, new hats and the fourth and latest Floppy DVD (complete with a Fair theme), available for the first time only at IHJ’s booth!
Thanks for reading.