Consider this a call to arms to all fans of Circle City children’s TV programs past. Hal Fryar, better known as Harlow Hickenlooper to generations of Hoosier Baby Boomers, is turning 90 this month. Hal has been feeling a little under the weather lately, so I’m asking for a favor from all of our readers in the form of a birthday shout out for our old friend Harlow. Lets all send him a birthday card, or any sort of birthday greeting for that matter. Please take a moment to drop a birthday wish to Hal/Harlow as soon as you can — time is of the essence.
Hal’s son, Gary Fryar, has asked me to help spread the word. The family is planning a party for Hal in Bradenton, Florida this coming Memorial Day weekend. Since we can’t all be there in person, they have asked all Harlow Hickenlooper fans to send birthday wishes to the family at: Harold Fryar c/o Marsha McMullin 1023 Kestrel Ct. Bradenton, FL 34208.
If Harlow has touched your life in any way, please let him know by sending a note, sharing a memory, telling a funny story or a simple happy birthday wish for an Indiana TV pioneer and broadcast legend. Facebook fans, go to the Happy 90th Birthday Harlow Hickenlooper fan page to leave a message, sing a happy birthday song or leave a comment. Over the years I have written a few articles on Hal a.k.a. Harlow. I wrote the following article a few years ago and it is as apropos now as it was then, albeit for different reasons today.
Indianapolis is losing a friend. After 60 years of entertaining residents of the Circle City, Hal Fryar and his lovely wife Henrietta, are moving to Florida. The man whose very name elicits broad smiles on the faces of any who utter it and all who hear it, is now choking back tears as he makes plans to depart the state he’s called home for 85 years. Laughter is contagious, but now Hal’s many friends, family and coworkers are finding out that crying is contagious too.
I heard the news from good friend (the late) Bob Glaze, a.k.a. Cowboy Bob, via e-mail a couple of weeks ago. I was personally saddened because Hal has become a friend to me and my family over the past few years. I immediately realized what a shock and loss this would be to the Indianapolis community. I must admit that I was a bit shaken by the news and delayed making the call for a day or so, not knowing how Hal, or myself for that matter, would react. Either way, I knew it would be a sad phone call. I could not have been more wrong.
I should have known, a conversation with Hal, whether in person or on the phone, is sure to be filled with laughter, jokes and frivolity. While Hal is saddened by the thought of leaving the state, he is excited at the prospect of a new beginning and a chance to be closer to family in the Florida area. I knew that I wanted to see Hal at least one more time, so I brought my wife/photographer Rhonda along to the Indiana History Center to see him.
Hal has worked as an actor and guide for the center since it opened three years ago and is spending his last few weeks there in a most appropriate role: as a greeter to all who enter there. While there I watched as Hal greeted a pair of young women visiting from England with the question, “What, No Gold Medals?” which had the girls laughing immediately as he escorted him to the entrance. I’m sure they had no idea that they had just participated in an impromptu skit with an Indianapolis television legend, but they undoubtedly felt they got the “Royal Treatment.”
The people kept coming and Hal kept cracking them up; a young family with two children, an older couple from out of town, a local couple stopping in after walking the canal. All of them entered the exhibit laughing in the way that only Harlow could conjur. I know from personal experience that Hal has a special magic all his own and have seen it in action many times. My kids, one a 22-year-old grad student at IU and the other an 18-year-old high school senior, simply adore Hal Fryar. These are kids from the generation that believes anyone over the age of 30 is old and EVERYBODY is weird. Hal Fryar crosses generational boundaries. He just has that kind of magic.
For those of you out there unfamiliar with Hal, or Harlow, let me refresh your memory. Hal Fryar was born in Indianapolis in 1927 and graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in 1945. Fryar graduated from Indiana University in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in speech. Fryar rose to prominence as the host of The Three Stooges Saturday morning TV Show on WFBM Channel 6 from 1960 to 1972. He was one of a trio of hosts, along with Curley Myers and Captain Star (Jerry Vance a.k.a. Larry Vincent), who sang songs and performed skits for a live studio audience of children. As for the name, Hal explained, “My producers at Channel 6 wanted me to use a name that started with two H’s, like my predecessor Hoosier Hank, first host of the Three Stooges show. There was a Senator Hickenlooper from Iowa back then and I liked that name, but Hal didn’t sound right so a producer suggested I use Harlow.” And the rest is history.
Fryar’s Hickenlooper character was sort of a sad sack for whom nothing ever went right, no matter how hard he tried and he usually ended up with a (shaving) cream pie in his face. His live on-air skits relied largely on slapstick comedy and pantomime, a natural for Hal’s rubber faced expressions, a skill that would serve him well throughout his career and also played superbly alongside the Three Stooges shorts and cartoons. Hal’s Harlow Hickenlooper character was so popular with Hoosier youth that in 1965, Fryar was cast in the Three Stooges movie “The Outlaws Is Coming,” as the outlaw Johnny Ringo. The script featured a group of nine outlaws whom the producers decided to cast the roles via a nationwide contest using local children’s TV kid’s show hosts. The callout was made and the hosts were chosen based on the votes of kids across America. Harlow was one of the lucky nine chosen and to this day, Hal credits those children for his slice of Stooges’ immortality. “Without those kid’s votes, I never would have made it. I owe it all to those viewers” said Fryar.
Fryar’s Indianapolis TV career also included a stint as Grandpa Harlow from 1990-95 on WFYI-20. On October 2, 2008, Fryar was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. He’s enshrined alongside Hoosier notables like Cole Porter, Red Skelton, Hoagy Carmichael, Jane Pauley, Mike Ahern, Chris Schenkel and others. There is no doubt about it, Hal Fryar is a Hoosier television legend.
Hal Fryar is going to miss Indiana as much as Indiana will miss him. “I won’t have the good fortune of bumping into former viewers.” Hal lamented, “It has been the greatest pleasure” serving his home state and slipped briefly into his Harlow character by humbly proclaiming, “Without Hoosiers, I ain’t no where.” Hal still receives weekly inquiries from fans and past guests asking for episodes of the old shows. “Just the other day, someone e-mailed saying that she and her brother had danced on my show once(50 years ago) and did I have a copy of the show that could see?” Hal laughed as he said those shows are long gone. “Video tape didn’t come into the television market until 1963 and it was very expensive back then. We used film for my show and that film was then reused several times afterwards. I remember taping a show during an antique auto tour in the morning and by the time I got back to the studio that night to ask for a copy, they were reusing the tape for another program.”
Luckily some old footage has been made available in DVD format and, as you would expect, Hal donates any and all proceeds to charity. A special edition DVD called “Friends and Fans of Hal Fryar present Harlow Hickenlooper” features rare footage from Harlow’s Channel 6 show and includes rare behind the scenes footage filmed on the Hollywood set of The Three Stooges movie. The DVD can be found on Hal’s website at www.harlowhickenlooper.com.
Harlow’s trademark from his TV days is his “Happy Birthday Song”. If you’ve never heard it before, visit his website and hear it for yourself. What many don’t realize is that Harlow Hickenlooper has personally sung his happy birthday song over the telephone thousands of times over the years to anyone who asks, FOR FREE! Can you imagine that? That’d be like asking Jimmy Walker to call and say “Dy-No-Mite” or Henry Winkler to call and say “Aaaaayyyyy” on your phone or answering machine. It just wouldn’t happen today. The details are on Hal’s website.
In a previous article for this paper, I asked Hal to share any specific memories of Irvington. Hal recalled fondly the time spent here with his friend, former WRTV-6 anchorman Howard Caldwell, as well as working with an advertising agency once located around the corner from the Irving Theatre. “Irvington had so many talented artists living there. It was always such an interesting place to visit. The artists I knew all loved old homes and fixing up historic houses, so Irvington was a natural place for them to live,” said Hal.“I remember coming out there for the Halloween festival in the 1960s. It was unique because it was none of the riding in the convertible type thing; it was more a walk the sidewalk and meet the people event. Some very special memories there.”
Since leaving the Hoosier state, Hal Fryar has bravely fought (and beaten) sepsis, an adverse reaction to a flu shot, and most recently, he has underwent two successful bladder surgeries. Hal Fryar has been a friend to the eastside, a friend to Irvington, and a friend to Indianapolis. Luckily, you still have one last chance to say good-bye, farewell, auf wiedersehen to Hal Fryar and Harlow Hickenlooper in the form of a birthday card or a Facebook birthday greeting. Hal Fryar is a Hoosier hero but Harlow Hickenlooper is a Hoosier legend. And although heroes are remembered, legends live on forever. Don’t miss your chance to remember Hal Fryar one last time for his 90th birthday. Send a birthday card today to Harold Fryar c/o Marsha McMullin 1023 Kestrel Ct. Bradenton, FL 34208 or visit the Happy 90th Birthday Harlow Hickenlooper fan page on facebook.
Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis” and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest book is “Bumps in the Night. Stories from the Weekly View.” Contact Al directly at Huntvault@aol.com or become a friend on Facebook.