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Monday, April 19, 2010

The White Baron

“Look out, it’s the White Baron,
Dressed in white from glove to boots.
Zoom in, it’s the White Baron,
He can ride and fight, and fight and shoot,
But he never gets a spot
On his pretty white suit.”

Just exactly who was this lean, clean, but never-mean White Baron, and why are people still talking about him more than 40 years after his departure from the South Florida airwaves?

First, a little background. When WCIX signed on the air in September 1967, the station pretty much started from scratch. Mixed in with endless reruns (anyone for Make Room For Daddy?) came the brainchild of Channel 6 Assistant Operations Manager George DeVries: a children’s show with an on-the-go lead character who made Mr. Clean look like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons.

“I designed him after the Red Baron, and the Tony Curtis character in the film The Great Race,” DeVries told David Rutman in the late 80s. “He dressed all in white, and his teeth sparkled!”

DeVries didn’t have to audition anyone to play the title role. He himself became The White Baron, shooting interviews with kids at various sites around South Florida… sometimes arriving in a snow white 1930s Biplane! The interviews, mixed with cartoons and sketches with typically ridiculous plot lines, somehow resonated with kids, giving the show a healthy three year run before the Baron took his final ride in his flying machine.

“There were some children who got lost in a cave,
Couldn’t find their way out, it was practically grave.
The White Baron was out riding on a milk white horse,
It stumbled and threw him with tremendous force.
Sailing through the air, he slid down the shaft
In that very same cave, oh how he.laughed.
The sparkle of his teeth, oh for over a mile.
They found their way out, just by the light of his smile.”

Today, there are few souvenirs to remind us of this part of Florida’s television history. The White Baron theme song exists on a hard-to-find 45 on the one-off Dazey label, sung and performed by the Funky Five, who I’m told were actually members of Wayne Cochran’s C.C. Riders. (There are those to this day who insist the real White Baron was Cochran himself. A fun theory, but merely apocryphal.)

George DeVries stayed at WCIX for about five years after the end of the White Baron’s run. “People still recognized me. I had good teeth,” he told Rutman. Unfortunately there are no known surviving copies of any White Baron shows. As one who was ordered to throw away our old news film, I can attest that the station was just not interested in preserving its past. Sad but true. Yet questions about the show and its host are among the most-asked about the station and its history. I see it all the time, in the search words that bring people to this site.

To many, The White Baron is a hazy, foggy memory from somewhere in the mirror of their mind. But it IS a memory, of a time when a man in a spotless white suit fought for children, and always won. A time when kids’ imaginations ran wild, and when an upstart independent station with a bad signal dared to try something different.

And he never got a spot on his pretty white suit.

Thanks to David Rutman and the Facebook group “M.T. Graves & Other 1960s Miami Kid Shows”.
* The White Baron theme song by Jerry Mann & Marcie Knight.