Saturday, April 16, 2011

Diver Dan (TV)

Created by J. Anthony Ferlaine
Frank Freda, Suzanne Turne, Allen Swift
Wikipedia Entry

Children's TV in the 50s and 60s was weird, partly because it was made on the cheap.  Cartoons were considered too expensive,* so quite a lot of shows used puppets or other odd techniques.**  And one that always seemed very odd to my eight-year-old eyes as Diver Dan.

Diver Dan was much like Roger Ramjeta short cartoon marketed to children's shows around the country.  But Diver Dan wasn't a cartoon; it was live action with a combination of puppets and people.

The show was about talking fish.  Diver Dan (Frank Freda) discovered them while exploring and helped out with their adventures.  In addition to Dan, there was Minerva the Mermaid (Suzanne Turner), who the various fish -- Finley Haddock, Doc Sturgeon, Georgie Porgie and many others (most voiced by Allen Swift) -- would turn to for advice against the nefarious schemes of Baron Barracuda and his henchman, Trigger. 

The plots were all very simple, and the Baron was about a threatening as a ladybug.  One interested effect was that the show was shot through an aquarium, so you would see various live fish swimming into the picture as well as the aquarium bubbles.  Dan wore an old-fashioned (even for its time) diving helmet, which obscured his face.***

I noticed one thing right off when I watched the show:  for a title character Diver Dan got very little screen time.  The show concentrated mostly on the fish and the Baron.  And the marionettes didn't look all that impressive.  It was tough to keep them from wobbling, even though the only part of them that moved was their mouths.

Here's an example:

The stories were all about the Baron trying to do something mildly nasty, and being thwarted by the other fish, with the advice of Dan and Minerva. His most notable characteristic was an exchange between him and Trigger:

Trigger:  What should we do, boss?
Baron: Call me Baron, stupid.
Trigger: OK, Baron Stupid.

This was repeated every episode, with some variation.  It was probably a big hit with the target audience.

Like many of these shows, the history is sketchy.  It was certainly shown in the New York area, and in outlets around the country in the early 60s and, as stations went from home-grown kid's shows to network versions, the market dried up.**** Diver Dan was quickly forgotten, except in the memories of its fans.

*Until Jay Ward showed the way.

**Like the exceedingly bizarre Synchro-vox animation used in Clutch Cargo and Space Angel.

***In the early episodes, you could see his face pretty well, but as time went on, it looked more and more like a faceless helmet.  Dan also got less screen time.

****Of course, the episodes were rerun constantly, since kids weren't bothered by it.


Jim Wright said...

No, Chuck... not forgotten. I remember Diver Dan. He was featured on the local, Southern California kid's show "Sheriff John." I loved that show, and have fond memories of that time. So much so I just sent for the Diver Dan DVD from Amazon. I would love to know if Suzanne Turner or Frank Freda are still with us. It would be great to get their autographs to go with my Sheriff John autograph.

Jim Wright

tyree said...

Diver Dan was Amazing!, if you were the right age. And I was, back then.

Joe said...

The other odd thing about the plot was that Miss Minerva would haul ass out of there when Diver Dan showed up. I guess she figured he would freak if he ever met a real mermaid. Not like meeting talking fish.

jude said...

I remember Diver Dan as a young child. I grew up in Bendersville, PA..I always loved this program and no one else seems to remember it! It was among my top 10 favorite TV shows as a kid!

Deborah Kaye Ross-Cole said...

I can't believe I found this...I was beginning to think my mind has been playing tricks on me "cause no on e outside my siblings remembered this. I grew up in Western New York & NYC & it was shown in both places!!!

Anonymous said...

Over the years I'd ask people my age if they remembered Diver Dan and the puppet barracuda and no one did. So glad I found it. I've spent the last few days searching for all my old favs, I want my Maypo, Joe Jitsu (Dick tracy), 3 Stooges doing "Niagara Fals", Spanky's story, Clutch Cargo-with the funny moving mouths-that's another one everybody thought I made up! Reliving my childhood.

Don Snyder said...

I remember the show from California when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, I got the nickname "Diver" from that show and my sibblings still refer to me as that. My brother is referred to as "Matey", as in Ahoy Diver, ahoy Matey. I believe Dan was part of the "Skipper Stu" kids show on the ABC affilliate in Sacramento, as was Popeye. "Skipper" Stu Nahan was also the sports reporter for the station. He later went on to be a regular on the network show "Wide World of Sports". Hey, nobody has mentioned Diver Dan's friend O. U. Squid.

Jaime said...

I loved watching Diver Dan as a kid. I, too, thought I was crazy because none of my friends remember this show. I grew up in Newark, NJ but it was shown in the early evening either on Friday or Saturday night.

Anonymous said...

I am now 58 and grew up on LI. I remember the show from 50+ years ago and was especially smitten by Miss Minerva. Who wouldn't be? I just watched this for the first time since then and knew all the words of the song. Now if I can only remember what I had for lunch today. I also watched a lot of other shows people don't remember like Lance Link, Colonel Bleep and Crusader Rabbit. Not to mention Modern Farmer, which I watched when I got up before 6am on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

"Diver Dan" was still being syndicated in the Washington, D.C. TV market as late as 1972. It used to come on around 3:30 or 4:00 P.M. weekdays, for a half hour.

Anonymous said...

Diver Dan was also shown in the Chicago area. I can remember almost every episode, but I can't remember if Dan ever met Miss Minerva?

Anonymous said...

I watched Dan and Minerva in the St. Louis area as a child. Nobody else remembers it but me! I had a Minerva coloring book too, I would plot and plan colors and practise coloring in the lines so I didn't mess it up! Memories.....

Dave Fifer said...

Don, in Sacramento Diver Dan was on Channel 10, at the time the local CBS affiliate. It was a different show and station from Skipper Stu. Nobody mentioned O U Squid because he was only seen in Sacramento. He was part of the locally produced segment that introduced the nationally syndicated Diver Dan episodes. He was not part of the Diver Dan episodes themselves.

Eloise Ockert said...

What happened to Suzanne Turner?

Steve Polzak said...

Yes I remember Diver Dan,was shown in Chicago.First on Bugs Bunny the Ray Rayner Show.Don't think it showed up before that.Later was on sometimes Garfield Goose.Not bad puppet work,Think young kids today would still enjoy it. Steve Polzak

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that the episodes were in two groups, One was a serial story which started with the Diver meeting the fish and ended with the death of the Baron. The other was independent episodes ( and the Baron was back alive )

Mark Cordova said...

I watched Diver Dan on Blinkey's Fun Club in Denver. It taught me to wonder at and become fascinated with marine life and the possibility that there may be things in the world that had not yet been discovered (i.e., Miss Minerva). It sparked my imagination as a young child!