Friday, May 7, 2021

Spring 1970 Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat

Back before Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, Netflix, and DVDs, you got your dose of kids' tv in two places:

1. On a sugar-rush five hours of cartoons every Saturday morning.

2. Weekdays after school, on local kids' tv shows hosted by an army of clowns, hobos, cowboys, and pirates.

The Quad Cities was on the Mississippi River, so we had Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat.

The tall, commanding Captain Ernie (Ernie Mims) stood on the deck of the Dixie Belle, to announce Bugs Bunny and Hanna Barbara cartoons and Three Stooges shorts.  Then he opened his "Treasure Chest" and passed out prizes to the kids in the studio audience.

When I was in fourth grade, my boyfriend Bill and I were in the audience.  I got a plastic "pirate cape," and he got a cardboard sword.

The cartoons and prizes weren't the only attraction: Captain Ernie was cute, with squarish hands, a hairy chest, and a pleasant suggestion of muscle.

Sometimes he performed skits with his "First Mate," Sidney.

I didn't know what a "first mate" was, but it was obvious that Captain Ernie and Sidney lived together on the Dixie Belle, and neither had girlfriends or wives.  Obviously a gay couple!

I found out that they weren't really a couple in fourth grade: one of the kids in my class at Denkmann was Captain Ernie's nephew.  Turns out Ernie Mims had a wife and kids after all, and Sidney was just an intern, a student at the Palmer College of Chiropractic, up the street from WOC TV.

Still, many of the iconic moments of my childhood took place in front of Cartoon Showboat, or with Captain Ernie: a local celebrity, he appeared at the Celtic Festival, the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival, the Pow Wow, the annual Christmas parade, and various ribbon-cuttings and supermarket openings.

During the 1970s, our first PBS station brought the competition of the kinder, gentler Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and frenetic but non-violent Sesame Street, and in 1974 Cartoon Showboat was cancelled.  By that time, I was in junior high, too old to watch.

Ernie Mims went on to become the weatherman.

The last time I saw him was in the spring of 1979, during my freshman year of college  I was working at the Carousel Snack Bar when Captain Ernie -- or rather, Ernie Nims, not in character   -- came up and ordered an ice cream cone.

I wanted to say "Thanks for a great childhood," but I played it cool.


  1. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. We had better animation, but still had. Most didn't have host segments, just little "eye catches". USA's featured all their characters in a train. I remember some of them playing a trick-taking game, and Captain Caveman plays a giant stone Joker. Some time in the 90s, the train segments left and it was all action cartoons. (Mortal Kombat was surprisingly good. And beefcake-heavy, true to the games.) Cartoon Network's eye catches were bits with classic Hanna-Barbera characters: Shaggy and Scooby in a Pulp Fiction parody (What do they call Pound Puppies in France?), Scrappy complaining about how no one likes him, that sort of thing.

    But since I was born in the 80s, I got to see the end of He-Man as well. He hasn't been given the Netflix treatment yet, but I have an image in my head of what he should look like.

    1. I wonder what audiences they were trying to draw in with a "Pulp Fiction" parody. Kids wouldn't understand it,and adults wouldn't want to watch the program it was advertising

  2. The "Shaggy Pulp Fiction" parody is on youtube. Why is Shaggy driving around with Droopy, and who under age 50 will recognize the Droopy character?

    1. Early (80s/early 90s) satellite networks were wanting for original shows: They showed a ton of old shows and imports. The alternative was to show a ton of B-movies, hence the joke that TBS stood for The Beastmaster Station. Pretty low-effort solution, but it worked.

    2. Isn't that called post modernism? It could be a case of marketing not wanting their intellectual property to completely disappear from the public consciousness, in the same way that Universal Pictures has been cranking out a Universal Monsters film every so many years. Depending on what they're showing at the time, a Cartoon Network original vs. a 1960's Hanna Barbera (relegated mostly to Boomerang today?), some of the audience could get the reference.

    3. Well it was the 90s.

      Cartoon Network ads do eras. Like my favorite, Toon City of the early aughts. Which even had fanservice. (Samurai Jack in the laundromat, stripped to the fundoshi, washing his robes.) But then you have the weirdness, like characters who can fly or canonically have vehicles using the subway.

  3. If I could fly, I would still be using ground transportation a lot: if it was raining or snowing, if I had a lot of stuff to carry, and if I wasn't sure about finding the address from the air.



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