Nichols Hills, Oklahoma — You’re in a living room turned studio and part of a conversation that turns on early Oklahoma City television.
Present in the circle are WKY-TV’s first staff photographer Johnny Shannon, one of the first reporters and producers Gene Allen, longtime production hand Jon Spence, and a silent partner named Gizmo Goodkin.
“Me, they’d leave in the box,” jokes Spence, who hosts this group. “Gizmo made it out.”
Back in June, 1949, Channel 4 had just begun broadcasting.
Programmers came to artist Basil Lowery and asked him to build a marionette for a children’s TV show.
Gizmo was his creation.
In the Little Theater at the Oklahoma City Civic Center, once a week on Saturdays, Gizmo and Spavenaw Spoofkin, a.k.a Danny Williams, told made up stories.
Basil drew pictures of those stories in front of a live audience of local kids.
Jon Spence was watching even before his parents bought their first television.
He recalls, “I was 4 or 5 years old and I would go across the street to the Janger’s house because they had the TV set in the area. Not everyone had a TV set at that time.”
Johnny Shannon remembers Gizmo hanging around the Little Theater studio, but the puppet didn’t last long.
Shannon says, “It was either live or on film.”
Other kids shows replaced him.
Program manager Joe Jerkins put him in a box with all of his miniature props including a Grapette Soda shirt, coonskin cap, and roller skates.
Jerkins passed Gizmo on to his son.
The box and marionette were stored in an attic until Spence heard about it and arranged for Goodkin to come home.
“So in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he’s been sitting there for however many years waiting to come back to Oklahoma.”
It took a while to un-tangle his strings and free him from his box, but this lost television pioneer will bask in new limelight now.
Spence presented Gizmo to the Oklahoma Historical Society museum where those memories can be preserved.