This article, written by Edward Southerland, first appeared in Texoma Living! Magazine, March 19, 2007.
Bob Allen has been in the radio business since he was a kid in Oklahoma City. He runs the only locally owned and operated radio station in Grayson County, KJIM 1500AM. Well and good, but even Allen’s impressive credentials and long experience in broadcasting pale to his real claim to fame. Bob Allen knew Icky Twerp. That’s right, he knew Icky Twerp personally, and he knew Ajax and Delphinium and Arkadelphia, too. They were apes.
“I worked at radio station KFJZ in Fort Worth. KTVT-TV, Channel 11 was in the same building as KFJZ,” said Allen. “Icky Twerp worked for KTVT-TV and I saw him every day. I learned to do television production by being in that building and watching him do his show. There’s no telling how many times I stood in that studio and watched the Icky Twerp show.”
Icky Twerp was Bill Canfield, who graduated from TCU in 1955 and went to work for Fort Worth department store. When a friend suggested he might get some work in television at KFJZ-TV Channel 11 —the station would become KTVT-TV later on —Canfield gave it a whirl. The television whirl lasted more than 30 years.
He started by creating commercials for the station’s advertisers. It took a special sort of wackiness to come up with a character called Mortimer Moneybags to promote a local bank, and the station executives knew talent when they saw it, so they turned Canfield loose to come up with other characters to host local shows.
In those days, stations carried a lot of original programming, and this was especially true at KFJZ-TV.
In those days, stations carried a lot of original programming, and this was especially true at KFJZ-TV. There were four stations in Dallas and Fort Worth, and KFJZ-TV was the only one without a network affiliation. With a line up of old movies, and kid shows, they were scrambling to fill the broadcast day, and Canfield, with his amazing imagination quickly became the man to call when the station need something to put on the air.
He began as Captain Swabbie, the host of a cartoon show. Then came Ickabod Twerpwhistle and then Icky Twerp. Icky wore a wrinkle black suit, black glasses and a tiny cowboy hat that perched atop a mound of frizzy hair. Late at night, Icky Twerp transmogrified into Gorgon, the spooky host of Nightmare, a station’s weekly offering of horror movies.
If you were a kid living within range of Channel 11 in the late 1950s and early 1960s, you watched “Slam Bang Theater” with Icky Twerp every day. It was not a negotiable option, even if you parent were less than enthused by your taste in shows.
It was Icky, the apes, the Three Stooges, cartoons and the more than occasional flying cream pies – just the kind of stuff kids love. Icky Twerp became so associated with the Stooges that they put him in their 1965 movie, The Outlaws Is Coming.
“The camera guys were the guys who wore the gorilla masks,” recalled Allen “They’d take a couple of shots and then run on the set and do a bit. If fact all of the characters on the show came from the crew. Most of the time is was live, unpredictable and really crazy. It was wonderful to watch.”
Canfield took a job in Denver in the 1970s, and Icky Twerp said farewell, announcing to his loyal fans that he had inherited the Lost Twerp Mine from Uncle Ickabod. With a shovel on his shoulder he waked across the station parking lot and in to the sunset, while “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” played in the background..
Canfield came back to Dallas in time, and back to television as a sales representative, and in 1989 a local Dallas station taped the Slam Bang Theater 30th Anniversary Show before a live audience of former fans, now grown up, in Arlington. Top complete the honors, the governor and the legislature proclaimed it “Icky Twerp Day,” from one end of the Lone Star State to the other. Not bad for a guy who let apes hit him in the face with pies. Bill Canfield died in Fort Worth in 1991.
As for Bob Allen, he had a notable career in radio and advertising from one coast to the other, but he always wanted his own radio station. He got it when he moved to Sherman in 1994, bought KJIM-AM, then a religious music station, and gave it a new life with a lineup of nostalgia music and old radio shows. Yes friends, Fibber Magee and Molly, the Great Gildersleeve, Jack Benny and the Lone Ranger did not die, they just moved to Texoma.
A Follow-up for True Twerpians
This was a follow-up article written by Edward Southerland, was published in Texoma Living! Magazine’s June 2007 issue.
The response from Twerpians, if that’s the word we’re looking for, was substantial, and so, to correct a few errors in the first piece and to expand on the phenomenon that captured a generation of North Texas children 50 years ago, here is a bit more, although not all, of the story.
The meeting came to order at three o’clock in the afternoon at the home of George Nolen in Pottsboro. Present in fact were Nolen, Phil Crow and Clem Candelaria. Present in spirit were Ickamore Twerpwhistle, aka Icky Twerp, Mortimer Moolah, Gorgon, Captain Swabbie, Blitz and Blotz, of department store fame, Constable Cavendish, Louie Lavender and of course, the apes, Ajax, Arkadelphia, Delphinium, Linoleum, and Clyde. The show aired mornings and afternoons.
Nolen: “From 1957 until 1964, I did a character called Captain Swabbie, on Channel 11 in Fort Worth, in a show built around Popeye cartoons. In the early days of television, virtually all of the TV staff came from radio. It was KFJZ radio, and in the beginning, Channel 11 was KFJZ-TV—later to become KTVT Live-ly 11—I was a staff announcer or booth announcer.”
“George started in radio when he was 14 years old.”
Nolen: “In those days a lot of the men were off at war, so they would hire kids. My voice changed one day, and I went to work in radio the next day. That was 1945. I was born in Texarkana and grew up in Denton. I started on a station in Denton, KDNT, 100 watts. We covered both blocks.
“I started the Captain Swabbie character in 1957. I had been doing silly little voices on the radio for years. I can still do Captain Swabbie; at the end of the show, I’d say something like: (In a mix of Gabby Hayes, Parker Finley and Amos McCoy) Lower the mizzen mast, scuttle the portholes, and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Crow: “I went to work for Channel 11 in 1959 and worked for them for 36 years. Channel 11 was an independent, no network affiliation. That meant that everything that went on the air came out of that building.
“Management bought the rights to the Three Stooges, and they went to Bill Camfield, who was already at the station doing a little bit of everything, and asked him to come up with a show to showcase the Stooges. Bill had a degree from TCU in creative writing, and being the creative fellow that he was, he came up with a character called Ickamore Twerpwhistle and a show called Slam Bang Theater. Icky Twerp grew from there.
“Camfield would elicit help from everyone who worked at the studio —camera men, lighting people, secretaries— to be other characters. Clem Candelaria and I were both TCU graduates who were just starting in television. That’s how we were involved.
“One of the things people remember about Slam Bang Theater is the apes. There were five apes, Ajax, Delphinium, Arkadelphia, Linoleum, and Clyde. Camfield had a deal with Harris Costume Shop in Fort Worth. We gave them ads, and they lent us costumes. Bill would go out there and just wander through the warehouse and bring props and costumes, including the rubber ape masks, back to the station.
“One day I would be Delphinium, the next day Clem might be Delphinium. They didn’t talk, so it didn’t matter who was behind the mask. There was a lot of sight comedy. Then other characters came along. Clem and I played brothers, Blitz and Blotz. They owned a department store, and their scheme was to cheat Icky Twerp out of something. Icky would come into the store wanting a new pair of shoes, and we would end up selling his old shoes back to him.”
Candelaria: “As Phil said, we were part of the Icky Twerp entourage. We would play recurring characters on the show. Phil was Constable Cavendish, who was always interrupting Icky when he was doing something, and Lavender Louie was the janitor who tried to clean up the stage when the show was going on. I was Mr. Blotz and Phil was Blitz. Sometimes we would tape 15 different scripts in one night, usually working a week ahead. We may have recorded two or three thousand scripts.”
Crow: “Slam Bang ran five days a week, and for each show we would do an opening, a little sketch leading in to a Three Stooges short. We’d do a feature sketch inside the middle of the program, and we would do a close. We did it for 13 years, from 1959 to 1972. It was the highest-rated children’s program on television in Dallas-Fort Worth.
“Camfield developed other characters unrelated to Slam Bang. Mortimer Moolah did commercials for an advertiser called Texas Consumer Finance. Bill wrote the commercials and acted in them.”
Nolen: “Actually his basic job at Channel 11 was in promotions and advertising, in addition to all the others.”
Crow: “Bill would come to work each morning in a suit and tie, and then he would change into his Icky Twerp costume, which was a too small, blue, pinstriped, double-breasted suit, with the ugliest tie you could imagine, a black wig and a little tiny cowboy hat that sat on the top of his head. He had poor eyesight; he wore real thick glasses, and that was part of the Icky Twerp character.”
Candelaria: “Bill also created Cosmo the Clown for morning cartoons and Hoover the Hound dog. Hoover was a plastic puppet who introduced the afternoon movie. Hoover sat on a table, and Bill would be behind a wall with his hand through a hole in the wall and in the puppet’s head. Hoover talked to an announcer sitting in a chair next to the table.”
Crow: “Ted Lumpkin and Hoover would discuss the movie on Million Dollar Matinee. It was all ad-lib. Ted would ask Hoover about the day’s movie, and Bill would just make up a bunch of junk that might have nothing to do with the movie. They’d do four or five minutes, some really funny stuff.”
Nolen: “Hoover was always having Tom Mix come into the movie, even when Tom Mix had nothing to do with it. It was disassociation comedy at its best.”
Crow: “The station bought a package of old horror movies, and Bill came up with Gorgon to host Nightmare Theater each week. I thought Gorgon was one of the best things that Bill ever did creatively.”
Candelaria: “Nightmare started before Slam Bang, in about 1957 I think, and it was live. He didn’t talk about the movie so much as develop some sort of scheme that would tie in with the movie. I remember we had a movie called The Man They Could Not Hang. We had a gallows and Gorgon talked about how bad the guy was and what was going to happen to him.”
Nolen: “He had an amazing maniacal laugh.”
Crow: “We didn’t have the technology to do things like reverb, so we would tape a lavaliere microphone right next to his Adam’s apple and then run the sound through a machine to get an echo effect. As George said, Bill had this guttural laugh as Gorgon that was frightening, and of course the kids loved that.”
“The kids loved that.” There could not be a better epitaph for Bill Camfield and his characters than that. Camfield left Channel 11 in 1972 to become the program director for a station in Denver, and Icky Twerp bid farewell. He announced to his loyal fans that he had inherited the Lost Twerp Mine from Uncle Ickabod, and with a shovel on his shoulder, he walked across the station parking lot and into the sunset, as “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” played in the background.
Camfield did not find the gold mine and returned to Texas a year later, but except for the occasional personal appearance, he put the characters away and concentrated on a broadcast consulting company he started called Business Communications, Inc. Camfield died in 1991. TCU awards a Bill Camfield Creative Writing Scholarship, and in 2005, he joined the Ernie Kovacs Comedy Hall of Fame. But there is something else.
Crow: “On the last page of every Slam Bang Theater script, written in big letters was F O C. It stood for Fade on Confusion.”