'Mother Goose' of 1950s TV is still a resident of West Seattle

Did you know Mother Goose grew up in West Seattle, White Center, and Beacon Hill, is a West Seattle High School graduate, and resides here still?

Well, it's so! She lives here now as Ginny Tyler, continuing to use her many voices to entertain occasionally.

In October of 1953, Merrie Virginia (Erlandson) Fenton, returned to West Seattle after making a name for herself in Oregon as a much-loved children's radio host, storyteller, and creator of interesting and unusual voices.

On visiting Seattle's KOMO Radio to reacquaint herself with friends, she was excitedly approached by the program manager who had heard of her Portland creative successes as the voices of Ikyfitz, The Beaver, and Gulbert Guhone on her children's show Merrie Circle. She narrated and did all the voices on that show as well as a children's fantasyland show called Dreamland Playhouse.

She was asked to audition as Mother Goose for a children's program planned as a part of KOMO's very first ever telecasting day in December of that year. Since, at the time, Ginny was quite obviously pregnant and near ready to deliver, she stated that wasn't possible as her baby was due Nov. 16.

KOMO management would not be dissuaded and insisted she at least come in for an audition. On agreeing to this, she was sent home with a short script and the song "Little White Duck." She returned a few days later dressed in a housecoat - yes, a housecoat; the only clothing article she could fit into.

"I just pretended to be Mother Goose," Ginny now says of the event. "I couldn't have looked more motherly and less goosey."

Under the name Merrie Virginia, she had entertained some as a songstress, but did not consider herself a singer. So when singing the "Little White Duck" came up, Ginny says she started out fine, but was skilled enough to know she was going off key. "To save the scene," she reminisces, "after the words 'flapped his wings,' I quickly changed my voice to a flat, nasal tone and sang 'quack, 'quack, quack.' Likewise in verse two, as the frog, I bulged my eyes and went 'glug, glug, glug,' then squished my face with a teeny squeak for the little black bug, and moved to a minor key with a Mae West delivery for the snake."

The station personnel came out of the booth laughing and cheering, she remembers, and offered her the job stating you are our television Mother Goose. To this offer she quickly reminded them she would be having a baby just before their scheduled start date.

They said they would hold the position for her and jokingly added, "Go home and have that baby right away." Which she did. Her son was born Oct. 26, giving her just enough time to prepare to star on the Mother Goose show and be a part of KOMO's history-making entrance onto the Puget Sound television scene Dec. 11, 1953.

Ginny's baby was only a month and a half old when KOMO began telecasting. She made that work. Ginny was nursing him and so just took him to the studio with her and adjusted his mealtimes to show time. Quite common now to have this kind of arrangement for mother and baby on the job site but most unusual and progressive in 1953.)

Mother Goose became an instant success. The show was aired Monday through Friday at 5 p.m., and Saturday mornings live in the station auditorium.

"I particularly enjoyed the live shows because I would interview kids from the audience and involve them - sometimes getting hilarious input like the little girl who eagerly waved her hand to be heard but just wanted to announce she had go to the bathroom," she says.

As Mother Goose maintained its popularity, a strange thing took place in her life, Ginny remembers. She became recognized in public. Strangers would ask, "Don't I know you? A good conversation starter," Ginny says, "but awkward when you truly are strangers."

One day the negative side of being recognized came home full force. She was exiting the Ladies Room at The Bon Marche department store when a little girl turned, pointed, and said, "Look Mommy it's Mother Goose. What is she doing here?"

Ginny recalls it was then she realized that she was limited in the public places she could go comfortably and that she always needed to be aware of the impact she would be making on impressionable young minds who might be recognizing not Ginny, but Mother Goose.

Her show was an ongoing success maintaining its ratings even when shifted to different time slots. KOMO-TV sought to have it continue for many years, saying Ginny could be Mother Goose until she was 95. But alas, in 1955, Mother Goose decided to try her wings in Hollywood where, after the usual bumpy start, she became recognized for her voice-over talent and worked regularly using her many animal, bird, and people voices as part of record, television, and movie productions. One of her most well known performances is as Polynesia the Parrot in the movie Dr. Doolittle.

Soon after her arrival on the Hollywood scene, Ginny began voicing for Walt Disney Productions and in 1962 became Head Mouseketeer at Disneyland. But that's another tale.

Renee Rundle is a West Seattle resident and can be reached at wseditor@robinsonnews.com

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