Of months March is the third
That’s when Brookfield students heard
A man named Bob Baron cut loose
With the stories of Dr. Seuss
Credited under the name Dr. Seuss, Geisel wrote and illustrated 44 children’s books, beginning in 1937 with “And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street.,” followed by such classics as “The Cat and the Hat,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Lorax,” “Horton Hears a Who,” and many others.
His work was translated into other media, including animated television specials and Hollywood movie adaptations of some of his best-loved stories. In 1984, The Rev. Jesse Jackson even recited “Green Eggs and Ham” on an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”
Though Geisel passed away in 1991, his writings remain a timeless part of Americana and a rite-of-passage for children to this day. In 1998, the National Education Association began observing Geisel’s birthday, March 2, as “Read Across America Day,” and more recently, schools have observed Dr. Seuss Month throughout March.
Classes at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Brookfield place a special emphasis on reading during the month of March, said kindergarten teacher Pat Kuehn, who added that Geisel’s books are popular choices.
“I read a lot of Dr. Seuss books during the month of March, and we remember him,” she said.
This year, the school hosted actor Bob Baron to read several Seuss books for students.
“We’re a classical education school, and we don’t usually do silly stuff,” Kuehn noted.
Still, she said she thought Baron had something to offer her students.
“He’s colorful and charming,” she said. “He’s done a ton of things in his lifetime.”
Baron is familiar for his appearances with the AFTRA/SAG Senior Radio Players, who perform several times a year at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theatre. In May, Baron will participate in the group’s performance of “World War II: A Twist of the Dial,” presenting recreated clips of many shows of the era.
“It’s part of Chicago’s history,” Baron remarked, adding that at one time, Chicago was considered the “soap opera center” of national radio, with many dramatic series originating live from the city.
It seems appropriate for Baron to be recreating classic radio shows, since that’s where his career began.
During the Second World War, the young Baron entered a contest sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department, writing a script for a radio commercial for Defense Stamps; the slogan was “Buy defense stamps, and help lick the other side.”
“I won a prize, but I didn’t get any money for it,” Baron remembered.
But his script was read on the air by Ned Locke, host of “Uncle Ned’s Squadron,” a popular children’s show that aired on WMAQ radio. Their paths would cross again years later when Baron performed as “Uncle Bob” on WGN-TV’s “Lunchtime Little Theatre,” alongside Locke as “Uncle Ned” and Dardinell Hadley as “Aunt Dody.”
Baron joined the show’s cast for its final year to replace the departing Ted “Uncle Bucky” Ziegler; to explain the change, viewers were told Uncle Bucky had “stubbed his toe.”
Baron said on his first day, WGN-TV president Ward Quaal visited the set to shake his hand and personally welcome him to the show.
“I had never heard of such a thing,” remembered Baron, by then already a veteran of radio and television. “They were very kind to me and helped me along.”
“Lunchtime Little Theatre” was a precursor of WGN’s long-running “Bozo’s Circus,” and after it was canceled in 1960, Baron was among the actors who auditioned to portray “the world’s greatest clown.”
“They asked me to audition for Bozo,” Baron remembered, “but I couldn’t sustain the voice.”
WGN personality Bob Bell eventually landed the role, which he played until the mid-1980s.
“I’m glad he won,” Baron said. “He was a wonderful guy.”
Baron has had an eclectic career since his days at Amundsen High School on Chicago’s North Side, where he participated in theater productions with friend and classmate Bob Fosse.
He rubbed elbows with performers such as Jimmy Durante and Edgar Bergen, and performed in a production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance Of Being Ernest,” the first three-act play to be televised live from Chicago.
Baron worked as a radio disc jockey for a time, and produced, directed and served as the announcer for a performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which was the first stereo radio broadcast in the United States, “maybe the world,” Baron said.
The production was syndicated, eventually airing on over 30 stations across the country. Baron worked on the original radio adaptation of the sitcom “Father Knows Best,” starring Robert Young.
He appeared in the 1944 Paramount film “The Navy Way” and performed in nightclubs and industrial film productions. Baron also has performed the occasional character role on television, on shows ranging from “Route 66” to “Early Edition.”
The recent St. Paul School engagement was an opportunity for Baron to showcase his skills as a voice artist (for a future program on fairy tales, Baron will do another reading, acting out the characters in “Little Red Riding Hood”).
Baron said he has read Seuss’ books to his own children and grandchildren.
“They enjoy it and I enjoy doing the voices,” Baron said. “I think it’s fantastic. He made it so simple and entertaining.”