Thursday, January 26, 2012

Remembering Polycarp: A Cajun TV Show Host for Children

[I originally wrote this article for Wikipedia.  Since the writing is my own, I repost it here on my blog.  I include extra images below and I'll add more information about Polycarp shortly.]

Polycarp (pronounced POE-LEE-CARP) was a fictional character who served as a local children's television show host. His program, "Polycarp and Pals," aired from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s on KATC Channel 3 in Lafayette, Louisiana.[1]

Rough print of
Polycarp promotional photo.
(Source: KATC-TV 3)

Background

Polycarp was portrayed by KATC employee John Plauché (27 July 1932 - June 1978),[2] whom KATC hired in May 1963 and whom it credited for the show's originality. "It is a land created through the wonderful imagination of John Plauche, who as Polycarp Phillipe Pecot Number 2, makes our lives a little happier, the world a brighter place [in which] to live."[3] (Polycarp would often jokingly warn viewers in his Cajun-accented English "Don’t ask for Number One ‘cuz dat’s my daddy and dey don’t like him anyway.")[4]

Polycarp on the studio set.
(Source: KATC-TV 3)


An avuncular Cajun dressed in a plaid shirt, waistcoat, and crumpled straw hat, Polycarp lived on a houseboat, the Narcisse Number 3, "somewhere way back in the Anse La Butte Swamp midway between the Parishes of Fantaisie and Réalité," as a KATC newsletter put it in 1967.[5] (In later programs Polycarp traded his houseboat for a general store.) KATC described Polycarp's imaginary world as "A modern-day 'fairytale' land of happiness and laughter for girls and boys and tall people . . . undoubtedly the happiest place in Acadiana." The station likened his program to "a cruise . . . [through] his small but laughing world of Cajun friends and swamp critters . . . [such as] Maurice Mostique, the giant mosquito with a wingspan of 13 ¾ feet, [who] sings a pesky song while Ole Blue, the 738 ½ pound junk-collecting catfish, thumps against the boat as we float along the bayou."[6]

Polycarp at the mic.
(Source: KATC-TV 3)


In addition to showing classic Warner Bros. cartoons, the program featured original skits and recurring characters. Those characters included T'Toot, a retired Indian fighter; the Crazy Professor, an inventor and graduate emeritus of UPI (University of Pecan Island); Tante Baseline, owner of the Anse La Butte Swamp Gumbo Factory; Joycie, a female filling station attendant "who's the world's champion dual-wheel semi-trailer flat-tire fixer"; The Headless Man, who "sent his head out to be cleaned and it was accidentally sent to the Avery Island Pickle Factory instead" and lived in the locked cabin of Polycarp's boat; Doctor Rollingstone, "the hipster swamp doctor who has a transistor radio stuck in his stethoscope"; and King Simon, "the duly elected boss of the swamp."[7]

Polycarp swamped by fan mail, 1967.
(Source: Acadiana [KATC-TV 3 newsletter])

Popularity

KATC noted that, "Polycarp's much loved pals . . . [are] as familiar to the children of Acadiana as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck" and claimed that Polycarp was "ranked as the top children's TV personality in the state."[8] As evidence of this popularity, Polycarp received over 3,000 letters and postcards from local children over a seven-day period during a fall 1967 Halloween costume giveaway promotion.[9] In October that year, the University of Southwestern Louisiana's Alumni Association, Athletic Association, and its band named Polycarp the first "Mr. Acadiana," an honor it bestowed annually during the school's homecoming football game to the USL alumnus who best "fosters the tradition and the ideals of the school and of the area. . . ." (Plauché had graduated from the university in 1957.)[10] By 1967 Polycarp appeared in Lafayette-area parades driving a restored 1935 International Harvester vegetable truck, dubbed by KATC the "Poly-Car."[11]

In 1976, producer J. D. "Jay" Miller of Crowley, Louisiana, issued a 45 RPM record on his Yule Time record label featuring Polycarp reading “The Night Before Christmas.”[12]  (Listen to the recording here.)

Polycarp 45 RPM record, 1976.
Note that although his name is misspelled,
John Plauché is credited as the recording's writer.
(Source: Author's collection)  

Theme song

Polycarp's eponymous theme song (rendered "Polycarp Phillip Pecot #II" on the 45 RPM record label) was recorded in 1966 by local swamp pop musician Johnnie Allan to the tune of The McCoys' 1965 Number 1 hit song "Hang On Sloopy".[13]  (Listen to the recording here.)

Broadcast schedule

In spring 1969, "Polycarp and Pals" aired for one hour each weekday and Saturday beginning at 7 a.m. CST (although on some weekdays it ran for an hour and a half, ending at 8:30 a.m.).[14] There is some evidence that a short-lived spinoff program, "The Polycarp Palace," aired on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. beginning in October 1967.[15]

TV Guide listing for "Polycarp & Pals"
from Wednesday, April 30, 1969.
(Source: Author's collection)


Footnotes

1. Shane K. Bernard, The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003), p. 104.
2. Social Security Death Index, http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/
3. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles," Acadiana, July 1967, p. 3
4. Debrah Royer Richardson, "Performing Louisiana: The History of Cajun Dialect Humor and Its Impact on the Cajun Cultural Identity," Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Theatre, Louisiana State University, August 2007, p. 197.
5. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles," Acadiana, July 1967, p. 3.
6. Richardson, "Performing Louisiana, p. 197.
7. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles," Acadiana, July 1967, p. 3.
8. Ibid.; "Polycarp 'Mr. Acadiana,'" Acadiana, November 1967, p. 1.
9. "Polycarp's Pals Keep Postman Busy,"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 3.
10. "Polycarp 'Mr. Acadiana,'"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 1.
11. "This Is It . . . The Poly-Car,"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 1.
12. Polycarp, “The Night Before Christmas,” Yule Time 45 RPM record 45-1000, 1976.
13. Johnnie Allan, "Polycarp Phillip Pecot #II (Hang On Sloopy)," Jin label (Ville Platte, Louisiana) #198, 1966. See Johnnie Allan Singles.
14. TV Guide, 26 April-2 May 1969 (Louisiana edition).
15. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles,"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 3.


The "Poly-Car," a vehicle in which Polycarp
appeared in parades around the Lafayette area.
(Source: Acadiana [KATC-TV 3 newsletter])


Addendum of 4 February 2012

One day around 1972 when I was about five years old my family and I were boating on Lake Henderson in the Atchafalya Basin.  It was towards the end of the day and we were heading back to the landing.

As we crossed the stump-strewn lake Dad spotted a man in a small motor boat trying without success to start his outboard.

When the man saw us he waved for assistance, so Dad steered over to throw him a line.  As we drew near I recognized the luckless boater.  And I can imagine myself thinking with astonishment, "It's Polycarp!"

Of course, it was really John Plauché, but for me, as for many kids in Acadiana, Polycarp was not a character played by a local actor, but a real person.

To me the man I saw was Polycarp . . . in a boat . . . in the Atchafalaya Basin . . . and everyone knew from TV that Polycarp lived on a boat in the Atchafalaya Basin!

That was the day my family rescued Polycarp Phillip Pecot #II.

Addendum of 15 September 2014

I distinctly remember the pronunciation of the name "Polycarp" as POE-LEE-CAR in the Cajun French manner (with a silent final consonant).  I have been told by a few people, however — including Johnnie Allan, singer of the Polycarp theme song — that the correct pronunciation, as used in the show, was POE-LEE-CARP.  If you remember the pronunciation one way or another, please leave a note below describing how you said "Polycarp."

26 comments:

  1. Thank you for this! I loved that show!

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  2. I thank you from the bottom of my heart,I can't thank you enough.Tonight our TV was down and we talked about old shows we use to watch and I remembered Polycarp, as every one in the room was way younger then us( my Wife and I).
    The talk about a Cajun Man that was on TV and introduced Cartoons and told stories was just to far out there to believe.
    I found your post and was able to play the records and pictures. I really wish someone would post videos of him telling one of his stories.
    again thank you very mush.
    Phillip G. #1

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  3. I didn't live in Lafayette, but we were able to pick up channel 3 all the way in Jackson, Louisiana. I'll never forget Polycarp and all of his cartoons and his crazy guests. I remember him singing along (sort of) with a guy who sang a song called "I'm My Own Grandpa".

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  4. Merci, Shane! I'm so fond of the memories of Polycarp that are etched in my mind.
    Is there any way we can sway KATC to release the shows on dvd? I'll be willing to help in any way. I'm sure, more than likely, if there were any tapes of the show they have been destroyed. Wishful thinking!
    Polycarp would grace the town of Church Point, each year, by riding in the annual Christmas parade. John Plauché was a wonderful human being. He was taken from this earth way too soon.
    Rod & Shane Bernard rescuing Polycarp in the Atchafalaya swamp! WOW!!! What a wonderful memory and story to hand down for the ages!
    Again, thanks, Shane, for sharing with us.

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    1. I emailed KATC a few years ago, and they said that the show was aired like every, and no video was ever recorded.

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    2. Wow, what a shame there's not even one single show left. That show was an important part of Cajun culture for a lot of us (then) youngsters.

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  5. Great story about the rescue. I watched the show from Lake Charles when I was little. When we went across the Sabine river, I watched Cowboy John.

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  6. Thank you so much for the article! Really enjoyed looking back.

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  7. I wish they would air some of the shows. Everyone would watch dat !!!

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  8. I remember meeting John Plauche at the crawfish festival in Breaux Bridge (must have been around 1969, 1970). Of course I was amazed and astonished to see Polycarp right there in front of me!

    I loved Polycarp, even after he moved from his houseboat and started a store. And the cartoons -- at the time we thought they were all old cartoons, now I think of them as classics.

    Ah, memories. Also, I was ecstatic to find out the other day that there's a Polycarpe in my family tree -- Polycarpe Trahan, born 1743 in Grand Pre, Acadia (Nova Scotia).

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  9. A memory that is far more important than most would acknowledge. Please include details of the shows and his commitment to this effort. I would like the old shows to be down loadable it would make my life so much happier!

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  10. As a 55 year old now growing up in Kinder,La., I remember getting up early to catch Polycarp on the old B&W TV. I won a Mr. Potato Head from the show and thought that Polycarp had bought it specifically for me. Great memories!

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  11. Growing up in Morgan City in the 60's allowed me to have the honor of being able to watch two of the best children's shows ever. In the early mornings I could watch Polycarp being aired from Lafayette, and also Storyland starring Buckskin Bill Black airing on WBRZ in Baton Rouge, then after school watching the "Buckskin Bill Black Show".

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    1. I remember Buckskin Bill on the BR channel in the morning. The Monday Morning March with his flute.

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  12. You know, those mornings before school watching him holler at "T-toot steer to the shimp boat to playing out all thoughs stories were to me better then the cartoons he hosted. My brother in law and I worked together quite a while.

    I once asked him if he had seen Polycorp and Pals as a youngster, he said no to my surprise, thought I was making up the name as well as the show but but launched at the name Polycorp. After that even to this day when ever he thought I might be pulling his leg he'd always say come on now Pollycorp.

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    Replies
    1. Im sorry I ment to say to steer 4he srimp boat.

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  13. In my memory the "p" was silent. My brothers and I imitated his speech and retold his jokes many many times.

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  14. I know his name was "Polycarp", pronounced "po-LEE-carp", and I had to have heard him say it that way, because I could not yet read, so I would not have known about the "p" without hearing it. When he said his name was "Polycarp Phillip Pecot No. 2", of course Phillip was pronounce "fi-LEAP", I had no idea what he was saying. It was sort of garbled to me, almost like "Peter Piper picked a peck". Later, I read and learned that he was saying, it made sense!

    Maybe it was just that my family said "po-LEE-carp", when saying the name of the show as just the one word. We did not speak French at home, nor did our family use the French pronunciation of names.

    Not only did I win a fancy Poupart's birthday cake on Polycarp's show (my mother mailed the entry in a bright green envelope), but I was also ON his show, after I won the grand title of "Miss Personality" in the Little Miss Jeanerette contest. That was a thrill, but also took away some of the magic of TV, due to the reality of seeing the set where the show was taped, and learning that we would not be able to watch the cartoons before or after taping our segment!

    I was also on Buckskin bill that same spring, 1972. I was on May 15, 1972, but I believe our broadcast was preempted by breaking news on the shooting of Alabama Governor George Wallace.

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  15. I am glad that people are commenting on here on Polycarp.

    I remember when I was a young boy in the 60's My mom sent in a postcard for a give away. I didn't win but I watched in earnest to see or hear my name on TV and win those huge gifts.

    I remember those old barrels in tne front of his counter with the pop ups that looked like the muppets.

    I wish someone could find some old videos or contact the station to put them on the internet..

    I know a lot of people that love to watch them and possibly donate to that cause. Pure Kajun Kids episodes right there ~!~!

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  16. I am going to try and push this issue on social media so it can spread around !!! What ya'll think ??

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  17. John Donald Plauche, was my uncle (my mother's brother) I was only 2 when he passed, but it is so wonderful to hear all the nice things y'all have said about him. My mom would tell me how much he enjoyed making people laugh. Thank you all for your ok kind words.
    Michael Clesi Ponchatoula La

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    1. I'd love to know, as would many others, if there is film of him hosting the show, or in parades, etc. Also if there are photos, fan letters, etc., that might some day go in a university archives.

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  18. Love the article. Happy Feast Day of Saint Polycarp! Could you pleeease update the music links which currently say video not found on youtube?

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  19. By the way, I recall the pronunciation was most definitely Polycarp, with a final P. I loved watching the show growing up.

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