Fifty years ago today, WLWT-TV broadcast one of the most memorable telecasts in Cincinnati history: the wedding of two rubber chickens.
On a live broadcast of the Paul Dixon Show.
Dixon was the beloved, wacky morning TV variety show host (as if I need to say "wacky" in a story about a chicken wedding). He was the idol of young David Letterman, who watched Dixon host his "dumb show" on Avco Broadcasting's sister station in Indianapolis after graduating from Ball State.
One day a woman attending his show gave him a rubber chicken to use as a prop. He named it Pauline. Then a loyal viewer worried that Pauline was lonely, and sent a second rubber chicken to Dixon. He named him Harry. Viewers started sending in lots of clothing.
So on March 11, 1969, Dixon devoted his entire 90-minute show to "marrying these dumb things." Dixon sidekicks Bonnie Lou and Colleen Sharp were in the wedding party. Also appearing on the show were Bob Braun, soprano Marian Spelman, bandleader Cliff Lash and producer Elsa Sule from Braun's noon show; WLWT-TV news anchor Tom Atkins; features reporter Rosemary Kelly; WLWT-TV afternoon host Vivienne Della Chiesa; and Bob Braun Show and Midwestern Hayride producer Dick Murgatroyd. Busken bakery sent a six-tier wedding cake.
"The Paul Dixon Show is about to perform another first in television history – a chicken wedding," said newsman Atkins, who told Dixon he was doing the show "in exchange for an extra week of vacation."
Dixon officiated in a torn tux and ripped top hat as the mayor of Kneesville. He got the title from his habit of using binoculars to inspect women's knees in his studio audience. He also gave them "knee tickler" trinkets that attached to their skirt hems, and sometimes garters. (I told you he was crazy, right?)
After the Bruce Brownfield Band and Lash played the wedding march, Dixon started the ceremony:
"Pauline and Harry, I want to remind you that this marriage is taking place as a result of the audience and viewers of the Paul Dixon Show, who have forced us into marrying you two dumb chickens...
"I, as mayor of Kneesville, do pronounce you husband and wife ... Now Harry, you may peck your bride!"
As the band played recessional music, Pauline and Harry (mounted on sticks held below a stage by puppeteers) headed toward the door faster than what Dixon wanted. He cried foul.
"Slower, you idiot!" Dixon barked. "We've got plenty of time!"
After the wedding party left the studio, a relieved Dixon turned to the studio audience and said: "We pulled it off, didn't we? And if you think this was easy, you're crazy."
Murgatroyd remembers "all of the effort that went into putting it together. Everyone pitched in at the station," he says.
The celebrating didn't end with the show. Four hundred guests were invited to a 5 p.m. reception at The Lookout House in Covington.
It's been a big deal for 50 years. In the 1990s, WLWT-TV sold VHS copies of the show to benefit the Ruth Lyons' Children's Fund. Channel 5 repeats Dixon's chicken wedding overnight on Christmas Eve.
Replicas of Pauline and Harry are on display at Media Heritage's Cincinnati Museum of Broadcast History at the National VOA Museum of Broadcasting, 8070 Tylersville Road, West Chester Township. It's open 1-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.
"It was a memorable event for sure. I still run into folks who watch it every time it is on and stop me to talk about it," Murgatroyd says.
Born Gregory Schleier, Dixon came to Cincinnati as a disc jockey for WCPO-AM (1230) in the late 1940s. He transitioned to WCPO-TV after it started in 1949, working with Wanda Lewis and Bob Braun. His Paul Dixon TV show also aired on the old DuMont network 1952-55, with Dixon moving to New York in 1954.
After DuMont canceled his show, Dixon returned to Cincinnati to work for WLWT-TV, hosting the Midwestern Hayride for a while and his weekday daytime show. He died of a heart attack on Dec. 28, 1974, at age 56.