Sonny Fox — the longtime Weston resident who, as host of New York Channel 5’s “Wonderama” and “Just for Fun” gave countless tri-state baby boomer boys and girls their first chance to be on television, and gamely rode herd over them for several hours every weekend — has died. He was 95 years old, and lived in California.
The shows ran from 1959 to 1967. Under hot lights, on a small set, kids watched magic demonstrations, did art, competed in spelling bees and games, met (D-list) celebrities, and (for long periods of time) fidgeted.
I know, because I was one of those youngsters. So were many others. Sonny Fox looked out for his neighbors, and his friends’ children.
In fact, in 2012 when Sonny Fox — he was always called by both names — spoke at the Westport Library about his book “But You Made the Front Page! War, Wonderama and a Whole Bunch of Life,” he asked how many people in the audience of 75 or so had ever been on his shows.
A substantial number stood up.
That “war” part of his book is not an exaggeration.
Born Irwin Fox in Brooklyn when Calvin Coolidge was president, and a child of the Depression, he was a sergeant in World War II. Taken prisoner of war (serial number 42022375) in Germany, his life was saved when an American clerk at the camp deliberately and falsely identified him as Protestant, rather than Jewish.
Other Jewish soldiers were sent to a slave camp. Many never returned.
Sonny Fox did many things in life before his kids’ TV gigs, of course. Starting in 1947, he was a radio host.
And after: He emceed “The $64,000 Challenge,” produced movies for TV and specials for PBS, served as vice president for children’s programming at NBC, chaired the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and profiled composers like Alan Jay Lerner, Yip Harburg, Burton Lane and Fred Ebb for CBS.
But in Westport and Weston, Sonny Fox was a guy who took the train into New York to work in television. He was an avid tennis player.
And he made sure that hundreds of children — now in their 50s and 60s — sat somewhat still, played for a while, and made their parents and grandparents proud.
(Hat tip: Lynn Untermeyer Miller)