Jim Fisk, host of children’s show featuring Freddie Freihofer, dies at 91 (with photo gallery)

During the 1950s and 1960s, kids were always ready to sing a song for Freddie Freihofer.

During the 1950s and 1960s, kids were always ready to sing a song for Freddie Freihofer.

And draw a squiggle for “Uncle Jim” Fisk.

James Donald Fisk, a television pal to thousands of children, died Saturday at the Ellis Center in Schenectady after a short illness. He was 91.

As “Uncle Jim,” he hosted the Freihofer Baking Company’s “Breadtime Stories,” a late afternoon show that entertained boys and girls Monday through Friday on WRGB Television in Niskayuna. Cartoon rabbit Freddie Freihofer was one of the big draws — so were the breads and cookies in-studio kids enjoyed during and after each show. Children celebrating birthdays received cakes.

Glens Falls native Fisk portrayed one of the bakery’s route drivers, guys who drove the red Freihofer trucks or wagons

that delivered chocolate chips, hot cross buns and other sweets to food stores. The kids dressed in plaid jackets, bow ties, dresses and Mary Jane shoes. They also wore smiles and red and white paper caps; lucky ones got the chance to draw a “squiggle” on TV with the jovial host. Fisk would then turn the crooked or wavy line into a funny face, airplane, lion or pleasant figment from imagination.

“He enjoyed it tremendously,” said Christina T. Fisk, Fisk’s daughter-in-law, of the experience. “He really liked the kids. He said over and over again, it was all about the kids. He was just there to highlight how clever all the birthday kids were.”

Fisk believes that for many kids, appearing on the show with “Uncle Jim” remains a strong childhood memory.

“I think that childhood memories are powerful things,” she said. “I think all the people who were on that show during the 1950s and 1960s held those memories in a very special place. Even when they were adults and older adults, they were able to retrieve those very fond memories.”

The show premiered on Nov. 21, 1949. Ralph Kanna was the first host, followed by Bud Mason, Ed Joyce (who later would head CBS News) and Bill Carpenter. Fisk, who had begun work as a WRGB staff artist in 1945, took over “Breadtime Stories” on July 23, 1956 at age 37. He stayed with the show until it ended in 1966.

Former longtime WRGB anchor Ernie Tetrault said Fisk’s talents with crayon and pencil helped the show. None of the other hosts had been artists.

“When Jim took over, he was really able to make the squiggle into something artistic,” Tetrault said. “And he was great with the kids. He had an avuncular attitude with the kids, he became ‘Uncle Jim’ Fisk.”

Tetrault added: “Jim had a genuine feeling for what he was doing. He could make the kids feel very important. He was probably one of my favorite people at the station.”

Fisk left the station shortly after the show ended. He started Jimapco Inc., a map-charting business that remains in business today. “Uncle Jim” never seemed to tire talking about afternoons he worked with kids, squiggles and the wide-eyed cartoon rabbit.

“At the peak of our popularity, our tickets were running about 20 weeks ahead,” Fisk told The Daily Gazette in 2003. “It wasn’t unusual for a family coming in one year to sign up for the next year.”

He listened to adults talk about their experiences as children on the show. “It was all part of being a kid in those days,” he said.

Being a Freihofer kid meant singing the company song. The first set of lyrics were: “Freddie, we’re ready, we’re waiting for you; Freddie, we love everything that you do; We love your breads, your cakes and your pies; We love the way you roll those funny bunny eyes.”

Freihofer officials expressed sadness at Fisk’s passing.

“The years Jim spent working on the show just really made the brand special to a lot of people,” said John Marcoux, Freihofer’s director of marketing. “Everybody has a story about either watching the show or taking part in the show, getting their birthday cakes.”

Jim Keppler, the baking company’s director of retail accounts, watched the show as a kid.

“I just recently had a house party in my new neighborhood and they were all singing the Freddie Freihofer jingle and talking about Jim Fisk,” Keppler said. “We’re certainly saddened by the loss of Jim Fisk. Everybody remembers the Freddie Freihofer show within a certain generational group.”

Chris Hunter, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, worked with Fisk after the rabbit days had ended. “He had done a number of programs at the museum over the years,” Hunter said. “When we did the ‘Exploring the Airwaves’ exhibit back in 2003, we did the math and estimated that over 200,000 local children would have appeared on ‘Breadtime Stories.’ ”

Fisk, who lived 50 years with his family on Lawmar Lane in Burnt Hills, spent the last four years at The Terrace at Glen Eddy in Niskayuna. A memorial service will be held Saturday, Jan. 22, at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, 73 Midline Road, Ballston Lake.

Categories: Schenectady County

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