Seattle Now & Then: Local TV’s original cartooning weatherman, Bob Hale, 1956 and 1962

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN 1: Bob Hale creates a weather cartoon in 1956 at the KING-TV studio at 320 Aurora Ave. N. (Courtesy Peter Blecha)
NOW: As engineering tech Bob Konis trains a camera on them, KING-TV meteorologists Rich Marriott and Rebecca Stevenson (holding her own weather cartoon) watch as Peter Blecha stands in for Bob Hale, displaying an original 1962 KING weather cartoon by Hale outside the KING studio in SoDo. Blecha has aggregated more than 200 Hale artifacts. He showcases Hale’s art on Facebook and penned a recently posted Hale essay at HistoryLink.org. (Jean Sherrard)

Published in the Seattle Times online on Aug. 26, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Aug. 29, 2021

Old Sol came alive in Bob Hale’s wild art on early Seattle TV
By Clay Eals

Many of us ride a media treadmill, ingesting recorded events that we re-run at our command. But the most astonishing stuff of life often is ephemeral, solely in the moment. In other words, “You have to be there.”

Like the weather itself, Bob Hale, Seattle’s original cartooning TV weatherman, once wove such momentary magic. Maple Leaf-based historian Peter Blecha, though just a tyke at the time, was “there” to revel in it. He methodically collects all things Hale to keep his hero’s legacy alive.

Early TV weather reporting, Blecha says, was retrospective, documenting yesterday’s rain with only a touch of Farmer’s Almanac-like prediction. Hale helped change that. A commercial artist who left Bellingham for Seattle in 1938, Hale began doing illustrated forecasts for KING-TV’s fledgling news shows in 1955.

THEN 2: One of Peter Blecha’s many Bob Hale finds is this cover for a 1962 cartoon booklet, “Web Feet and Fir Trees.” It incorporates a trademark Hale self-portrait. During the World’s Fair year, he did many of his comic weather segments from the Coliseum (today’s Climate Pledge Arena under renovation), depicted here along with other fair symbols: the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center and the Monorail. (Courtesy Peter Blecha)

Hale’s magic derived from delivering jokey meteorological details while drawing wildly comic cartoons with personified characters such as Sammy Seagull. It was all live, in real time. Adults and kids alike couldn’t take their eyes off him.

His personal appearances, ad work and zany products (cans of “Pure Puget Sound Air”) ballooned. Clients ranged from Sunny Jim peanut butter to Seattle Rainiers baseball. His fame matched that of local TV’s other stars, from child-focused Wunda Wunda to sportscaster Rod Belcher.

A warm smile gave Hale a genial persona, while his eyeglasses and balding dome conveyed authority. But his calling card was a sharp visual style.

“He loved drawing people and critters in motion, Old Sol grimacing, shaking its fists, clouds angry with menacing eyes,” Blecha says. “It wasn’t just cutie-pie, easygoing fun. He was purposely adding drama to what otherwise could be a dry situation. He also was possibly projecting tensions from his own life.”

The tensions, Blecha says, included being a closeted gay man who battled alcohol addiction. His KING reign ended in 1963, the station eventually replacing him with cartoonist Bob Cram. Short stints followed in California TV and, in 1968-69, back in Seattle at KIRO-TV. Alcoholism recovery became a late-life cause. In 1983 at age 64, he died in obscurity.

Hale’s broadcast tapes do not survive, and he typically gave thousands of his KING drawings to kids. Undeterred, Blecha is preparing a cartoon-heavy Hale biography. It will reflect the quaint, in-the-moment sentiment of E.R. Babcock of Vashon Island, who, in a 1969 Seattle Times letter, lamented KIRO’s dismissal of Hale:

“In a world and area where protests, taxes, wars, politicians and you-name-it hog the news programs, it was a real pleasure to have a little humor on something, thank God, we mortals have no control of yet — and that is the weather.”

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Special thanks to Denise Frisino, Harry Faust, Barbara Manning, Libby Sundgren and Peter Blecha for their invaluable help with this installment.

Below are three additional photos and, in chronological order, 64 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

We also present two special videos: (1) a 360-degree Bob Hale residential room mural from 1946 previously unseen until now and (2) an assemblage of images and footage of Bob Cram that was shared at Cram’s 2017 memorial service.

VIDEO: Harry Faust of north Seattle describes the room of his house that is decorated with a 360-degree mural of skiing images drawn by Bob Hale in 1946. (Clay Eals)
This panorama shows the 360-degree mural of skiing images drawn in 1946 by Bob Hale on the bedroom walls of Harry Faust’s north Seattle home. (Clay Eals)
VIDEO: This collection of video and images of Bob Cram was distributed at Cram’s memorial service in 2017. (Courtesy daughter Robin Hall)
Frames from 1959 TV commercial for a weight-loss product. (Courtesy Peter Blecha)
Frames from 1959 TV commercial for Tirend, a caffeine product. (Courtesy Peter Blecha)
May 9, 1951, Seattle Times, page 6.
April 11, 1954, Seattle Times, page 60.
April 29, 1956, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 94.
Dec. 2, 1956, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 63.
Jan. 9, 1957, Seattle Times, page 7.
July 3, 1957, Seattle Times, page 30.
Sept. 13, 1957, Seattle Times, page 22.
Jan. 27, 1958, Seattle Times, page 10.
Aug. 8, 1958, Seattle Times, page 36.
Sept. 17, 1958, Seattle Times, page 14.
April 22, 1959, Seattle Times, page 33.
July 30, 1959, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 23.
March 19, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
July 15, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 54.
Aug. 1, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17, Emmett Watson column.
Aug. 29, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17, Emmett Watson column.
Sept. 9, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 119.
Oct. 14, 1962, Seattle Times, page 87.
Nov. 25, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 28.
Nov. 25, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 34.
Nov. 25, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 30.
Dec. 4, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
Dec. 30, 1962,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 34.
March 24, 1963,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 71.
March 24, 1963, Seattle Times, page 61.
Aug. 27, 1963,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 15, Emmett Watson column.
Sept. 2, 1963, Seattle Times, page 30.
Sept. 3, 1963,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 19, Emmett Watson column.
Sept. 10, 1963, Seattle Times, page 16.
Sept. 29, 1963, Seattle Times, page 27.
Feb. 12, 1964,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6, Mike Mailway column.
Feb. 23, 1964, Tacoma News Tribune, page 8.
June 26, 1964, Seattle Times, page 43.
Sept. 30, 1965,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 8, Emmett Watson column.
Jan. 30, 1966, Seattle Times, page 97.
Feb. 6, 1966, Seattle Times, page 100.
April 24, 1966,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 134.
May 9, 1966, Seattle Times, page 28.
July 14, 1966, Seattle Times, page 28.
Nov. 23, 1966,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 2, Emmett Watson column.
Sept. 1, 1967, Seattle Times, page 20.
March 13, 1968, Seattle Times, page 57.
March 14, 1968,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 5, Emmett Watson column.
March 29, 1968, Seattle Times, page 29.
April 30, 1969, Seattle Times, page 38.
May 1, 1969,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 50.
May 4, 1969,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 63.
May 9, 1969,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 4, Emmett Watson column.
May 18, 1969, Seattle Times, page 146.
June 1, 1969,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 131.
June 5, 1969,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 64.
July 21, 1969,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6, Emmett Watson column.
Nov. 27, 1970,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 65, Emmett Watson column.
Dec. 17, 1970, Seattle Times, page 20.
July 2, 1972, Seattle Times, page 61.
Jan. 17, 1973, Tacoma News Tribune, page 34.
Feb. 1, 1973,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11, Emmett Watson column.
Aug. 18, 1974, Oregonian, page 167.
April 20, 1975,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 2.
July 17, 1975,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11, Emmett Watson column.
Sept. 7, 1975,Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 29.
May 27, 1979, Seattle Times, page 168.
Dec. 6, 1981, Seattle Times, page 44.
June 13, 1982, Seattle Times, page 274.

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