One of the greatest Canadian kids' shows of all time. Produced by the CBC, Mr. Dressup was on the air from 1967 - two years before Sesame Street - to 1996.
The show really belonged to Ernie Coombs, who was the true Mr. Dressup. He designed the show, basing it on another CBC kids' show "Butternut Square" which was cancelled a few months before. Ernie Coombs was a good friend of Mr. Rogers, and while Mr. Rogers took the American market on PBS, Mr. Dressup took the Canadian market on CBC.
There were a host of puppets on the show. The most important was Casey, a kid who was officially neither a boy nor a girl, (the writers wanted kids of both sexes to identify with him/her). Casey was a simple puppet with large, black pupils and short blonde hair. The puppet remained this way through at least 20 years of the show. It was made, operated and voiced by Judith Lawrence who also voiced and operated other popular puppets on the show such as Alligator Al, Aunt Bird, Hester the Witch and Finnegan. (Though as far as I remember, Finnegan was never able to talk.)
The show was straightforward, and also relatively low budget. Mr. Dressup would say hello to all the kids at home, and would usually begin with a craft of some sort. Usually simple creations made with construction paper, popsicle sticks, toilet paper tubes, and other items about the house. Mr Dressup always recommended the kids try it for themselves at home. After completing the craft, Mr. Dressup would walk to the left of the screen, from his large craft table to a picture of an owl on the wall. The owl picture talked to Mr. Dressup, and it had eyes that moved! (Creepy!) The conversation was usually short, as the owl was too tired during the day for more than a minute's discussion.
Mr. Dressup would have conversations with Casey on a big yellow couch. The conversation would usually result in a decision to put on a play, outside. (Outside really just being a different part of the set with a large plastic oak tree for decoration). In order to put on the play, Mr. Dressup would need a costume, and he would invariably find it in the Tickle Trunk. This bright red trunk was truly magical for a kid as whenever Mr. Dressup opened it, the costume he needed was RIGHT THERE at the top of the trunk! (Whoa! Where did the costumes come from?)
The play would be put on, and afterwords Mr. Dressup would remark that they were all out of time. He'd then say goodbye to all the kids at home, and as the camera moved back and faded away, the familiar Mr. Dressup theme would play.
As a kid who watched the show, two moments are permanently etched into my mind: One is Alligator Al singing "Down by the bay / Where the watermelons grow / back to my home / I dare not go...". The other is sketch about the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater. It was just Mr. Dressup in a funny hat, but man was it scary for a four year old!
The show changed during the mid 1980's as Casey was retired and new characters appeared, including Chester Crow and Truffles (a pink girl-animal thing).
The show finally ended when Mr. Dressup retired, some time after his wife's death in an automobile accident.
For his work educating and entertaining children, Ernie Coombs, Mr. Dressup himself, was given the Order of Canada.
Ernie Coombs, best known for his role as Mr. Dressup, died of a stroke on the morning of September 18th, 2001. A generation of kids, and their parents, mourn the loss of this great television icon.