Before Sesame Street but during the heyday of Captain Kangaroo, legend has it, Dallas-area kiddies got their kicks while they ate their Kix in front of the TV from one of two locally produced morning shows. It was the early 1960s, and television was still creeping out of its primordial ooze, but live, original programming for children aired in the metroplex on then-independent Channel 11 and on network-affiliated Channel 8. Channel 11's romp for the rugrats was called Slam Bang Theater and set a gritty, almost dark, slapstick mood with its host, Icky Twerp, a goofy character who wore glasses and a furry wig with a hairy, bulbous tumor on top. Twerp was created by the late Bill Canfield, who did silly, lowbrow humor bits in between classic The Three Stooges shorts. Channel 8's version was more highbrow, featuring clean-living, clean-looking, red-and-white-striped-jacket-wearing Jerry Haynes, whose Mr. Peppermint character remained calm in the face of sass from cheeky or mute puppets, encouraged tooth-brushing and nutritious snacks, sang silly songs, and occasionally cut to traditional cartoons.
Forty years after Mr. Peppermint debuted here, Jerry Haynes is still kicking around Dallas, involved in local community theater, and about to turn 74. "I can't believe it myself," Haynes says, laughing and sounding exactly as he did as Mr. Peppermint. He's active in alma mater SMU's over-50 theatrical troupe called the Seasoned Players. He performed in its Love Poems production last August, and will attempt to break a leg in February during Irving's Lyric Stage's debut of a new musical by Fantastiks creators Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones called Roadside. But all of this exposure doesn't hold a candle to the planned birthday bash for Haynes at Club Dada Wednesday at 8 p.m. "I am excited," Haynes says. "It's going to be a great time and good music." Doak Boettiger has booked Sara Hickman, Little Jack Melody, and Speedtrucker for the evening. The bands will follow Haynes, who's bringing his puppets--Muffin, Mr. Wiggly Worm, and G.G.--and his reel of classic outtakes, to the Dada do.
Haynes says people still ask him what kind of animal Muffin is. "He's a bear," he says, "but a lot of kids thought he was a raccoon." G.G. was the show's smart aleck and con man, Haynes says, and he "was mainly a piece of green and purple foam rubber." Mr. Wiggly Worm was Haynes' index finger, hidden under a box, dressed and painted to look like a worm. Haynes says the show was live for the first nine years, then live to tape thereafter. "That's where we got the outtakes," he says. It's tough to shatter childhood illusions, but if you ask Mr. Peppermint a direct question, he's not about to lie.
Mr. Peppermint's birthday party
Club Dada, 2720 Elm
8 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $20 from Star Tickets, 1-888-597-7827, and benefit diabetes research.
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Haynes had reached his own legendary status before his son, Gibby, became a Butthole Surfer. Father and son have a mutual admiration society, with Gibby telling the Dallas Observer in 1996, "My old man ought to run for fucking mayor of Dallas. He would be so hot." Haynes the Elder also let out a naughty word, and he says he'll never live down that interview. "I remember I used the 'f' word once, and Robert Wilonsky wrote it down," he says. "My wife told me later that they can print anything you say." Don't tell the kids that Mr. Peppermint once used the "f" word; but stop by Club Dada and wish him continued health and happy birthdays.