"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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Ernie Coombs

06 Apr 2002

Mr. Dressup

Ernie Coombs

  If you didn't grow up in Canada or don't know what the CBC is, then this article isn't for you. There's a whole Internet out there to browse -- maybe you could check it out while the rest of us have a quiet moment to remember Ernie Coombs, better known as Mr. Dressup.

I spent an afternoon in the CBC Broadcast Museum a couple of years ago. For all they've done in the last 60+ years, the space they use to show off their own history is modestly small. There's a part of the floor devoted entirely to childrens' programming. There's a record of Chez Hélène which I'm told I watched fervently, but have no recollection of today. If you look up, way up, you can see the Friendly Giant's tunic and boots. 

And on a pillar behind some glass, a handwritten copy of the theme piano theme music to Mr. Dressup. Take a second and see if you can hum it out loud.When I hear it its light lilting melody, I can see the animated opening to the show -- a small aeroplane putters by, piloted by Mr. Dressup, trailing the name of the show behind. Can you see Mr. Dressup giving a wave? Or working with a toilet paper roll, some felt, white glue and a sprinkling of sparkles? Can you see the picture of the owl on the wall saying a few words before falling back to sleep? Finnegan's gray-brown fuzziness. Casey's red cheeks and freckles?

I might have been 5 or 6 when I saw him on stage, live. It's only a dim memory now, but I remember being in some kind of auditorium. The floor was covered in young kids, all sitting cross-legged. There was a piano player, Mr. Dressup, Casey and Finnegan, and a woman I didn't recognize. The talked out to the crowd which shouted back its replies. After, Mom asked if I enjoyed it, and I think I did, once I got over wondering, "Is it really him?"

You've probably got your own favourite memory of the show. Or more likely, you can remember where you lived when you watched it, the friends you had then, a house or apartment now long gone. Should you run into Toronto singer Chris Whiteley, ask him to do "The Week That Ernie Died." I heard a demo tape of it played on "The Vinyl Café" in September, and I think he got it about right.

Mr. Coombs died on Sept 18, 2001



Related Sites

CBC Biography
Various Tributes