Mr. Dressup is dead

September 18, 2010

Mr.Dressup was an icon of Canadian children’s-culture. It’s hard to imagine that any Canadian kid – born between roughly 1965 to 2000 – would not recognize his picture. Some large majority would recognize the theme music. Another majority would have watched the show dozens and dozens of times.

Ernie Coombs entered the television as a puppeteer in Mr.Roger’s Neighbourhood.  A few years later, the CBC gave him his own show… the first episode of “Mr.Dressup” was aired February 13th, 1967.

Until 1990, Finnegan and Casey lived in Mr.Dressup’s backyard. Finnegan (a dog) was silent. Casey was, officially, neither a boy nor a girl. I loved Finnegan. To be honest, Casey gave me the creeps.  (It never occurred to me until this moment how odd it is that Mr.Dressup had a child living in a backyard tree-house).

Just shy of three decades after it began, Mr.Dressup stopped taping. Since no narrative linked one episode to the next, the CBC let the 10:30am broadcasts drift into re-runs without any mention of retirement.
Somebody was afraid that the idea of retirement might upset the children. This seemed cute, until I gave it some thought.

The illusion continued…
Five years later, on September 10th 2001, Ernie Coombs suffered a major stroke. He died a week later, on September 18th.
After a few days of silence, the show resumed its re-run drift.

Plenty of people said: a big part of a generation’s childhood died, right along with Ernie Coombs.

I imagined that something saved Mr.Dressup from witnessing the disturbing imagery of 9.11.  And I wondered if that same something took Ernie Coombs – that prince of naivety – away from a culture so shaken.

Another five years later, on September 3rd 2006, even the re-runs were extinguished.
A DVD set is forthcoming.


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