Cartoon Corners is truly no more, as its owner and operator, longtime Philadelphia children’s television show host Gene London, passed away at age 88. London, an accomplished fashion designer, a Broadway to Hollywood fashion consultant, and celebrity costume collector (reportedly nearing 70,000 dresses, gowns and accessories in his catalog) recently took part in “Designing Hollywood: Golden Age Costumes from the Gene London Cinema Collection,” at the Allentown Art Museum which closed right before Christmas.
It’s hard to talk about what Gene London – born Eugene Yulish in Cleveland, where his obituary was first found (he passed away in Reading, the place he made his home with his husband for some time) – did and was, because, there’s no one like him left.
“There is no more wholesome entertainers and kids’ shows left,” said Jerry Blavat, The Geator, upon hearing the news of London’s passing. Blavat and London were at the top of the Philadelphia game in the 60s, when Blavat was on radio and television, and London had his Cartoon Corners (ostensibly named The Gene London Show) on WCAU-TV Channel 10 from 1959 to 1977.
Casually dressed in button-up shirts and slacks a la Mr. Rogers, the soft-spoken London would start shows by walking through the door frame of his General Store, flipping the “Open for Business” sign, singing he opening theme song, then commencing to tell while illustrating scenes and characters from the tales, as kids sat around him. The art thing was crucial, as he engaged children into testing their own creativity always.
The show’s format switched around as time went on and changed over the years. Sometimes, his corner was next to a confetti factory and he worked for stingy Mr. Dibley (who paid London 3½ cents per week) and had a crush on her daughter, Debbie Dibley. Then the show changed to having haunted Quigley mansion next door, with a secret tunnel and tales of ghosts and aliens.
It wasn’t a big-budget show, but, London tested our imaginations, even acting out classic novels Greek myths with his tiny cast. There was nothing London did that wasn’t a delight to kids and their parents. He never spoke down to children – he engaged them intelligently, with wonder and smarts. Oddly enough, both I and my wife, Reese, appeared on the show as children. Weird coincidence, right? “Gene was as nice to the kids off-camera as he was on,” said my wife. “It wasn’t an act. He was genuine.”
“Gene was more than a TV host – he welcomed untold number of kids into his Cartoon Corners to show the importance of being true to yourself,” said Robert Drake, producer of WXPN’s Kids Corner. “He showcased how cool it was to be an artist, a creator and to allow yourself to explore your imagination. Gene made even a wallflower child bloom and thrive just by spending a few minutes quietly chatting. Having produced Kids Corner on WXPN-FM for 32 years, I can appreciate firsthand the joy that Gene felt hosting his children’s TV show for nearly 20 years. Being able to give kids an opportunity to shine is quite rewarding, indeed. In his later years, Gene joined us on-air at XPN a few times… most recently in 2015 when I had a wonderful chat – both on-air and off – that cemented my admiration for this amazing spirit. He was truly one of a kind and showcased Philly Love. And we all loved him in return.”
I ran into London at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2015, there to show off parts of his massive “Gene London Presents: Hollywood Glamour” gown collection. I mentioned that my wife and I both appeared on show, how wonderful his programming was, how it affected us, and how happy I was to see him dedicating his life to maintaining the legendary looks of Hollywood and Broadway. He grabbed my arm tight, and was as charming as I remembered him as a kid. He will be missed.