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Jack Mulqueen, pioneering ‘Kiddie-a-Go-Go’ creator, dead at 83

Jack Mulqueen was a puppeteer, producer and promoter / Sun-Times photo

Jack Mulqueen’s TV show “Kiddie-a-Go-Go” had a kooky quality that seemed to sprout from the psychedelic soil of the 1960s.

With a name that evoked the Sunset Strip’s famed Whisky a Go Go, its set was a sea of bobbing youngsters — some in white go-go boots — who enthusiastically did the frug, the swim, the pony and the jerk. There were even near-toddlers attempting the Batusi, a dance re-popularized 30 years later by Uma Thurman and John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction.”

They had “the sublime balance of abandon and awkwardness that’s only possible between the ages of five and 12,” Jake Austen wrote in the Chicago Reader.

At a time when Wilson Pickett was singing about “Land of 1,000 Dances,” Mr. Mulqueen’s TV show was the Land of 1,000 Jaw Drops.

The sinister Record-Picker from the show "Kiddie-A-Go-Go" / courtesy of "The Golden Age of Chicago Children's Television."

The sinister Record-Picker from the show “Kiddie-A-Go-Go” / courtesy of “The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television.”

“Kiddie-A-Go-Go” featured the “Record Picker,” a masked and robed character who could have stepped from Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Resembling an angry Aztec sun god (usually, a crew member dressed up in a sun headpiece), he gobbled up records the kids didn’t like.

Its hostess, named Pandora, was Mr. Mulqueen’s perky wife, Elaine. Sometimes, she wore a miniskirt. Other times, she dressed as a Harlequin clown.

Glen Campbell and Roger Miller showed up to lip-sync and promote their records, only to be stunned to see a studio filled with little kids, said Steve Jajkowski, archives director for the Museum of Broadcast Communications. The Four Seasons, Lesley Gore and the New Colony Six also performed on the show. Dick Clark dropped in and did a few dance steps.

Mr. Mulqueen, a pioneering TV producer, puppeteer and promoter, died Sunday at Hines VA Hospital of congestive heart failure, according to his niece, Judy Valkenburg, who danced on his show.  The Bartlett resident was 83.

The theme song, by Raymond Jaimes, had a tinkly organ worthy of the Doors:

“Kiddie a-go-go, that’s your thing
Never too young to dance and scream
Doing the Freddie, swim and frug
Where the action is, that’s the groove
You’re growin’ up, you’re growin’ up, you’re growin’ up, you’re growin’ up!”

Despite the hippy-dippy quality of his program, Mr. Mulqueen was clean-cut and proper. He didn’t swear. He attended morning Mass every day, said Ted Okuda, who co-authored “The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television” with Mr. Mulqueen. He venerated Our Lady of Fatima and was working on a movie about the centennial of her appearance.

He also didn’t approve of drugs or drinking. When Van Morrison appeared on “The Swingin’ Majority,” a show for older kids that Mr. Mulqueen produced from 1967 to 1968, he was aghast that callers said the Irish singer was under the influence of more than rock ‘n’ roll. Afterward, he told the host, “We had a moral obligation to not allow anyone in that condition on our program,” according to “The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television.”

Jack and Elaine Mulqueen of Chicagos's "Kiddie-A-Go-Go" / Sun-Times file photo

Jack and Elaine Mulqueen of Chicagos’s “Kiddie-A-Go-Go” / Sun-Times file photo

Jack and Elaine Mulqueen got their start doing puppet shows to promote Borden’s milk and Coca-Cola. Coke executives asked “Bozo’s Circus” to put them on the air, Okuda said. They parlayed Bozo appearances into their own WGN show, “The Mulqueens,” in 1963.

“He was a product of the Big Band era, but he knew [rock)]was something that could be marketed,” Okuda said.

In 1965, Mulqueen debuted “Kiddie-A-Go-Go” on WLS-TV. He moved it to WCIU-Channel 26, where it aired from 1966 to 1970.

He realized “young kids wanted to be older than they were,” said Neal Sabin, vice chair of Weigel Broadcasting. “He had a great idea there.”

Mr. Mulqueen did everything. He found sponsors and crafted props. He and Elaine filmed in a tiny studio at the Board of Trade. “If the garbage had to be taken out, they took out the garbage,” Okuda said.

“It’s charming and a perfect time capsule of the era,” said Rick Klein, of the online Museum of Classic Chicago Television.

http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/#videoclip-2611

The show was un-ironic, something “pure and profound,” said Austen, author of the book “TV-A-Go-Go” and editor of the zine “Roctober.” “Nobody was trying to be cool.”

After being captivated by its old videos, Austen co-created the kids’ dance program “Chic-a-Go-Go,” on cable Channel 19.

After his TV career — and before the rise of eBay — Mr. Mulqueen staged Hollywood collectibles conventions that dealt in memorabilia and appearances by stars like Julie Newmar, TV’s original Catwoman.

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Children’s TV pioneer Jack Mulqueen / Sun-Times photo

He was raised in Woodlawn and attended Chicago Vocational High School, Austen said. Jack Mulqueen joined the Army in 1953. In 1954, he met Elaine, a South Sider, at a dance. They got married the following year. She died in 2012.

He is survived by many nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and grand-nephews, said his niece. A memorial Mass is planned March 19 at St. Peter Damian church in Bartlett.

The Record Picker mask, “the scary thing,” is still at his home, she said.