Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe (2023) Movie Script

[whimsical music]
Oh, here you are.
Well, that was pretty good timing.
You're here and we're here.
Casey and Finnegan and I
have just come back
from a walk around the block.
We had a very nice walk, too.
Having been Mr. Dressup for 20 years
has probably made me a better person.
Tell us what the secret is
to 30 years on the air.
I'm a child at heart.
It's all doing things that
I always liked to do when I was a kid.
[silly sped up voices]
What does Mr. Dressup mean to you?
[Paul, over phone] Mr. Dressup has brought
imagination to the nation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
one of the great Canadians, Mr. Dressup.
[crowd cheers]
It didn't matter what race you were,
what color you were,
what religion you were, what language
you spoke. You watched Mr. Dressup.
Ernie Coombs, Mr. Dressup,
he was just so kind and gentle.
[Fred Rogers]
Ernie never forgot the child within him.
And that informs everything that he does
with children.
When you tell people that Fred Rogers
and Ernie Coombs came to Canada together,
most people don't even realize
that they were very close friends.
I'm making a book. You're just in time
to see how I made it.
His warmth radiated through the screen.
You didn't just learn...
"Here, learn this."
There was, "What's over here?"
I've got a good bat costume here
to show you.
That's where the adventures would start.
As soon as he opened that lid,
something was gonna happen.
Something fun, something magical.
This is one of my favorite dress up
That signature moment every episode.
Maybe it was a cape,
and there was nothing on it.
But he'd cut out shapes,
"Is it gonna be a wizard?
Oh, no, he's a dinosaur."
The endless possibility of that.
One of the reasons I became an actor was,
because very early age
this person on television who was
an adult, but not an adult...
[silly sounds]
...taught me that it was okay
to let my freak flag fly.
- Casey, are you in...
- [Casey] Ha-ha-ha!
I didn't know if Casey was a boy
or a girl.
[Casey] Oh, my. What a lovely day.
Can I say gender ambiguous?
Because I was never sure if Casey
was a boy or a girl.
Way ahead of its time. Not a little bit,
way ahead of its time.
[Catherine Tait]
Four thousand episodes, thirty years.
There are not that many shows
that last that long.
The power of a word. The power
of a drawing. The power of dressing up.
[Ernie] What wisdom
have I acquired during 30 years
of making various objects
out of toilet paper rolls?
[audience laughs]
Is doing crafts on TV a source of wisdom?
Apparently not.
And may I remind you for the last time,
keep an open mind, and an open heart.
Don't take life too seriously,
because it doesn't last forever, you know.
And keep your crayons sharp.
Don't get your sticky tape tangled
and always put the caps on your markers.
[crowd cheers and applauds]
- [Casey] Finnegan?
- [birdsong]
Finnegan, where are you?
Oh, there you are.
You want me to tell you a story?
Oh, you want to hear the story, too?
In that case, I think I'd better tell it.
A long time ago,
in the United States, in Maine,
a boy was born
and his name was Ernie Coombs.
What, did I say something wrong?
Ernest Coombs. Oh, okay.
[sighs] I'll start again, then.
A long time ago, in the United States,
in Maine, a boy was born,
and his name was Ernest Coombs.
I got it right this time.
Dad was born right before the Depression
in Lewiston, Maine.
Twin Cities, Lewiston and Auburn.
[Ernie] I was influenced a lot
by my mother
because she was the kind of a person
that found something great
and wonderful in everything.
Having that influence when I grew up
was good because
it gave me an outlook on life that
there is something nice wherever you are.
Way, way, way, way back,
before I was in school,
I had a hat that I thought
was a policeman's hat,
and I actually jumped off my tricycle
and ran in the middle of the street
to stop traffic. And I got heck for it.
There was a screech of brakes, I guess.
My mother came running out of the house,
"Ernest, what are you doing
in the middle of the street?"
So, you know, I had delusions then
of dressing up and being another person.
So when he was a young man, he was drafted
eventually into the military
where he was a weatherman,
served in the Air Force as a weatherman.
Going into the Philippines post-war
after victory must have been,
you know, an incredibly enlightening
period of his life.
[Craig Baird] After the military,
Coombs comes back to the United States,
but it's a tough time financially.
So, he has to start
following in the work, essentially.
["I've Been Everywhere"
by Geoff Mack playing]
I've been everywhere, man
I've been everywhere, man...
[Craig] And he starts
following his brother around
as they move through
the Eastern United States
down and as far as Florida
and eventually making
their way back up North.
[Ernie] I was going to be an artist,
a cartoonist or a commercial artist,
so I went to art school and never thought
that I would get into showbiz at all.
But I went into theater
through painting scenery
and eventually got work
in a touring children's theater
where I acted as well.
I'd been doing a little bit of acting
along at the same time.
Now, there's just one place
I haven't been
Stamp on the gas
and roll her, man
Soon we're gonna be there, man
Soon we're gonna be there
Dad found himself at WQED
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
where he was a jobbing actor,
taking just about anything he could get.
That's where he met Fred Rogers.
[Jordan Morris] Fred Rogers was
a seasoned TV producer when he met Ernie.
Fred had experience
as a floor manager at NBC
and had been working at WQED
in Pittsburgh from its inception.
Fred, in the mid-fifties, started
a program called The Children's Corner,
and it was extremely successful,
not just in Pittsburgh,
it got syndicated in other parts
of the country.
[Chris] Dad became involved in that
as a sort of a member of the cast.
These two people coming together,
in terms of children's shows,
is like Lennon and McCartney.
[Maxwell] Fred really was
the innovator who developed this program,
but he was also deeply disappointed in it,
because it was very successful
on the level of entertainment,
but not so much on the level of education.
And Ernie and Fred were talking about
what kind of television could be made.
[Chris] And it was after that
that my father moved on
to a show called Dimple Depot.
And that's where he worked with my mother,
who was a puppeteer.
Marlene, whom everybody called Lynn,
knocked Ernie's socks off immediately.
I was the ingenue and he was the juvenile.
- I was a juvenile at one time.
- Yes, he was, once.
Handsome prince.
And we spent all of our courting time
sitting in the studio.
I sat on the ladder
watching him paint the sets.
[Ernie] That was a typical date for us.
I'd go over and paint and we'd talk,
and then we'd go out to have a coffee
afterwards. That was a cheap date.
I had a hound dog in those days,
a beautiful old dog named Pip,
and he fell in love with Lynn.
He used to go over to her apartment.
He'd stay there for overnight,
sometimes couple of days.
So, I had to marry her
to get the dog back.
[Cathie LeFort] Fred Rogers was
the best man at my parents' wedding,
so they had a connection
beyond a professional connection.
Maybe something
brought two people together
that had something to give to children.
[Maxwell] There was a creative intensity
and seriousness about Ernie Coombs
that was matched by Fred Rogers.
They were both very creative,
but both very capable of being focused
and intense about their work.
[Chris] He was making money, not a ton,
but he was earning a living
doing what he wanted to do.
And then they just had my sister Cathie.
[Craig] Things seem to be going
pretty well, but his contract runs out.
And now he finds himself married,
he has a daughter,
and he doesn't have any work.
[Jordan] And that's when CBC,
who had been developing
their own children's department,
approached Fred Rogers
and offered him complete creative control
and a chance to create a show with more
resources than he had ever had before.
[Ernie] Fred knew that I was unemployed
when he had this chance
to come up to Toronto
and asked me if I'd come along
because he knew he needed
an extra puppeteer.
So, we all came up to Toronto.
[whimsical music]
This is the CBC Television Network.
[Jordan] When the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation
began broadcasting, almost immediately,
television became
the country's number one pastime.
There was no tablet,
there was no video games,
so it was a very different role.
The public broadcaster at that time
was really the network of choice.
CBC did something
that no other market was doing.
They started developing shows
directly for children.
Oh, and how are you this fine day?
Very well, sir. [giggles]
The concept at that time was one of,
uh, an educational component.
CBC was the epitome
of quality children's television
in the '50s, '60s and beyond.
The children's department
was a remarkable part of the CBC.
It wasn't really high on the radar
of the programmers,
and that allowed something remarkable
to happen.
The children's programmers didn't have to
worry too much about the politics.
They didn't have to worry about revenue.
They could just create good shows
and that's what they did.
We do have a staff of 20 or 25 people
who work patiently from day to day,
developing standards
for children's programs.
We are proud that we have, perhaps,
the only children's television department
in North America.
[Jordan] Fred Rogers was
a particularly savvy choice of Rainsbury's
to bring up and help develop a show with.
He said, "You know, Fred,
I've watched you talk with children.
I'd like you to translate that
into television."
If it hadn't been for Fred Rainsbury,
I probably would
never have been on camera.
Well, it turned out to be
a good day after all.
When you tell people that Fred Rogers
and Ernie Coombs came to Canada together,
most people don't even realize
that Fred Rogers was ever here,
or that CBC gave him a start.
My name is Mister Rogers
I'm glad that you are near
You've made this day a special day
By just your being here...
Mister Rogers was developed in Canada
out of Studio One.
Not only was he on camera
for the first time,
but there was a wonderful set
that was developed with him.
That wonderful trolley
that came by King Friday the 13th
and all of the wonderful characters
that came about.
And it was on that first show
for the CBC,
which at that point
was called Mister Rogers,
where Fred really came into his own
and started the long journey
to becoming the famous Mr. Rogers
we know today.
And watching Fred perfect his on screen
persona had an immediate effect on Ernie.
[Dr. Frogg] I prescribe several smiles
each and every day
and an occasional chuckle to be taken
after each "Please" and "Thank you."
[patient puppet laughs]
[Dr. Frogg] That'll be signed,
Dr. Frank Lee Frogg, with two G's.
- Remember that.
- Two G's.
The CBC had far, far more resources
to support the kind of vision
Rogers was developing than WQED had.
Well, you know, just one example,
the carpentry shop was huge
and could fashion anything
Rogers could think of
for children's television.
And he had a really clear vision.
And the Toronto years
is where it crystallized.
[Craig] In Canada,
Fred Rogers is churning out content.
He puts out over 300 episodes
of Mister Rogers
in the space of only about two years.
But he wants to go back to Pittsburgh,
and that's eventually what he does
when his contract runs out.
I remember some of the people saying,
"What are we going to do
when Mister Rogers leaves?"
And I said,
"Well, why don't you build a program
around Ernie? Ernie Coombs."
Ernie has never forgotten
the child within him.
And that informs everything that he does
with children.
[Sandra Beech] Lynn was the dynamo
behind Mr. Dressup.
And Lynn stepped right in
and said Ernie could do it.
And that's exactly what happened.
That is the beginning of Ernie's career.
That is the beginning
of what became Mr. Dressup.
And it all started with a show
called Butternut Square.
- Well, I have a chef's hat here...
- Oh.
...that I can put on if that helps.
And I also have a spoon.
And now I'll start my cake with a bowl.
Ernie stayed and
became the character Mr. Dressup.
He brought skills with him.
He was an artist.
- He was a mimeist.
- [quacking]
He had a rapport with people
that was exceptional.
[Casey] Yep, we're nearly ready.
There was singing, dancing.
There was puppetry.
There was make-believe.
Here we go. Just swing it right around.
[Chris] And it was actually on this show
that Mr. Dressup was formed.
Look at all this!
Gee, look at all the marvelous costumes!
Just in time!
[Stu Gilchrist]
The cast of Butternut Square
comprised of Sandy Cohen,
Don Himes, of course, was the music man.
[piano playing]
And two of the puppets that
Dad interacted with very, very much
were Casey and Finnegan.
[Casey] Finnegan,
are you sure you saw a squirrel
out there in Butternut Square? You did.
And voiced by Judy Lawrence.
[Judith Lawrence] I was born
in a place called Bairnsdale,
but we were living in a city,
a small city called Ballarat,
which had been one of the biggest
gold finds in Australia.
I used to listen to a children's program
on the radio,
and it was called the Children's Session.
They would talk about how to do something.
And the one time they talked about
how to do puppets
and I made a puppet head.
And I asked my mother, would she sew
the body for this puppet on the machine,
and she said, no, she wouldn't,
but she'd show me how to use the machine.
So, she showed me how to use a machine,
so I made a puppet, I made two puppets.
I used to be invited to go to kids'
birthday parties in the neighborhood.
And that's how I got into puppetry.
- [Casey] Oh, Aunt Abigail?
- Yes?
[Casey] Finnegan says, would you
bend over just a little bit closer
- so he can get a better look at you?
- Well, certainly.
Oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, Finnegan.
You're not Aunt Abigail.
You know, Mr. Dressup,
I had a funny feeling about you.
[Jordan] After only two years
of production,
Butternut Square was slated
for cancellation due to budget cuts
and to make room
for an exciting new talk show
called This Hour Has Seven Days.
[announcer] Ladies and gentlemen,
This Hour Has Seven Days.
We were shocked. I mean, I was shocked.
We were getting great ratings.
Great ratings.
I told Ernie, and I'll never forget
when I told Ernie.
Ernie said, "Well, I'll go
back down to Pittsburgh
and maybe I can be a puppeteer
with Fred Rogers again,
or maybe I'll drive a school bus."
He really wasn't sure
what he was going to do.
[Judith] Some of us,
the people who'd been involved,
proposed that we do a different program
and that we build it around one of
the characters from Butternut Square.
[Stu] So, I phoned the director
of television for the English Network.
I said, "It's a big set?
Is there gonna be big set in the studio?"
He said, "No, there's set at all."
He said, "All there is, is
a 15-foot riser,
three chairs and a table."
I said, "You're canceling Butternut Square
for a 15-foot riser and three chairs?
Give me half the studio."
I said, "Ernie, can you play around
with this half studio?"
And he got the crayons out and a pencil.
He started drawing,
he drew Mr. Dressup's house
and he drew the counter
and I said, "What about an exterior?"
He said,
"Well, we'll put a little patio
out the back
and we'll put the tree
at the back of the patio."
He said, "Stu, we can't
call it 'Butternut Square' anymore
because we have no square."
And I said, "We'll call it 'Mr. Dressup'."
[whimsical music]
Hi, I'm glad you came to see me today.
It's a nice day,
and Casey and I have been playing
and Finnegan's been playing,
- and we've all been having a good time.
- [knocking]
Somebody is at the door.
Let's go see who it is.
- [Casey] Oh, hi, Mr. Dressup.
- Hi.
I was being a turtle.
Yeah, that's a nice thing
that you did with the blanket, Casey.
In the early days, it was heavily scripted
and Ernie didn't respond to scripted.
You know, he'd forget half the lines.
I scrapped the scripting.
We're going down to concepts.
Would you like to help me do the dishes?
Oh, yes!
It was the spontaneity of that
that was the difference between us
and a scripted program.
Hey, Finnegan, get out from there.
I said, "There will be a theme
for each show,
but there will be a series of concepts
that will build a narrative."
Hi. We're building all kinds of things.
[Casey] Now, we need a big one of those
to go along the top here.
The scripts at the beginning
were really only six, seven pages,
and it required and counted on
the talents of Ernie and Judith to adlib.
Maybe Miss Fizz dropped it down
from the spot, oh...
[Casey] That's a great big boot!
That's a great big mystery!
[Casey] It's a mystery boot.
Well, what do you mean?
[Mr. Dressup] Well, I found it
up in my fireplace chimney
when I was cleaning it out,
getting the soot out,
and I can't figure out
who could have dropped a boot
- down my chimney or stuck it up in there.
- Must be Santa Clause.
- Santa! Santa Clause!
- [Casey] Santa Clause!
Great! Where is he? Where is he?
Making the Dressup TV show was old school.
[Judith] We did live to tape,
they called it in those days.
We did two rehearsals
and then we taped.
And we hardly ever stopped tape
because we couldn't afford to.
We didn't have the money
for that sort of thing.
Some of the tools I was using,
look at this great big wrench.
I thought I was going to need this
to tighten up the pipe, you see.
A live show like that,
you have to remember all your lines.
There's no second take.
[Jani Lauzon] It's a real skill
to be able to not only improvise,
but watch what's going on,
get a sense of the length
and know that it's about to wrap up and
then you just wrap it up.
And they... Wow, they had that skill.
It was really, really incredible.
I'm a fireman.
I'm a fireman, too. [chuckles]
We had a very clear understanding
that there would be no sexism,
no racism, none of the...
that sort of thing that...
that sometimes does creep in, you know,
because people don't know.
- [Mr. Dressup] Joey, come on in.
- Hi, Mr. Dressup.
- Hi! Gee, it's nice to see you.
- It's nice to see you.
- Actually, I'm here for a reason.
- Oh, yeah?
- Well, I had to be in the neighborhood...
- Uh-huh. pick up my tap shoes
- from the shoe repair man.
- Oh, yes.
So, do you want me to help you
with your tap shoes?
No, no, no, I want to...
I really need a costume.
I'd like to borrow one, go over
and surprise my granddaughter.
Oh, well, I can help you there.
Oh, that's good. You know...
There's so much meanness in the world,
and some people have...
they've just forgotten human kindness.
And he personified it.
[Ernie] Judith was very socially conscious
and very much a feminist,
and she was very good at
rooting out anything
that where we might have a stereotype.
Like the typical woman
has to be a housewife
and work in the home and do that.
And Judith would say,
"Well, you know, that ain't so,
and let's get rid of that notion."
When it comes to that, the whole question
around sexual stereotyping,
we've done quite a lot of work on that,
I think, over the years,
and that very much reflects the attitudes
of the people involved in the program.
So, I mean, there was a time when Ernie...
well, if he needed something sewn,
he might send for one
of his women friends to come and do it.
And if... Susan or somebody
needed a plumber,
the plumbing fixed, they might get Ernie
to come and do it.
But we've changed that.
That doesn't happen anymore.
[Paul Soles]
How come it worked so well?
[Ernie] I don't know. I think
it was just a very lucky combination
of certain people getting together,
and we all liked each other
from the start.
And you know, we related very well
to each other.
I think we all had the same ideas
about what a children's show should be.
[Casey] How much money do you get?
I forget how much.
Well, some bottles, it's five cents
and some bottles it's two cents.
- And some bottles are three cents.
- [Casey] Oh.
We'll just have to see.
You have to have a connection for kids
on screen.
And that's what Casey is.
That's the child.
[Casey] Come on Finnegan,
we have to get busy
'cause we got a lot
of cleaning up to do.
You knew he was a puppet and
you knew the dog was a puppet, obviously,
but there was something
that really came to life.
[Casey] Mr. Dressup?
Casey? Where are you?
[Casey] In the bathroom.
The bathroom?
[Casey] Mr. Dressup, I can't get out.
Is the door locked?
Why is the door locked?
[Casey] It was an accident.
Where are you?
[Casey] I didn't want you
to be mad at me. I'm behind the door.
Come on, Casey. All I want from you
right now is a nice big hug. Come on.
[Casey] All right.
And Finnegan is the sidekick.
Everybody has a sidekick or a best friend.
[Casey] How long do you think
an hour is, Finnegan?
Fifteen centimeters? Very funny,
that's not the same thing at all.
Casey and Finnegan, they were
the stars of the show, ultimately.
And he was like the adult.
[Bruce McCulloch] Mr. Dressup had the
ability to sort of consider him a friend.
He was just like a pal to them.
And I think in a way
that a standard authority figure is not.
Even though sometimes,
he would have authoritative things,
he would go, "No, no, no,
you need to eat that chicken noodle soup."
And that's as mean as he would get.
Casey, your soup is your lunch,
now finish it up so I can get
my gardening done, please.
[Casey] I don't want anymore,
thank you. I'm finished.
Casey, you asked me especially
to have chicken noodle soup for lunch,
and I didn't have any.
Remember, I had to run down and borrow
a can of soup from Susan
and heat it up.
And it's all special for you.
- And now, you're not eating it.
- [Casey] Right.
He'd sometimes get pissed at Casey.
He got kind of angry.
Not angry, but just kind of like,
"Well, I'm trying to give you soup
and you won't take the soup."
If you don't eat your soup,
you're going to be hungry
in the middle of the afternoon.
You'll be wanting candy
and all sorts of junk like that.
He demanded the chicken noodle soup
and then he didn't want to eat it?
Absolutely... bullshit, Casey. [laughs]
[Casey] Mr. Dressup,
why are you making such a loud noise?
What loud noise?
[Casey] Yelling, shouting.
Well, I guess I am shouting,
but that's because I was angry at you.
He really listened to what Casey said.
He took it into account.
He even listened to
what Finnegan said to Casey.
I think that's something that children
really need to see.
And I think it's something
they really long for,
to be fully accepted
by the adults in their lives.
[Casey] I got mad at Mr. Dressup.
[Aunt Bird] You did? Why?
[Casey] Because he was too busy,
and I wanted...
I wanted him to help me with my blocks.
The eternal question the children had,
was Casey a boy or a girl?
Well, I know when kids would ask me,
"Is Casey a boy or a girl?"
I usually would say, "Yes."
[Casey] Hello, dear.
I've got your mail, Mrs. Jacoby,
you want to send down your basket?
Oh, just a minute, now.
[Kim Wilson] I mean, here we are
at this time, everybody's talking about,
"Oh, we better have some non-binary
or androgynous..."
like trying to be more reflective
of the audience we serve.
And you think back to the '60s, you think,
"Oh, there was nothing of that going on,"
and here was this character
that was designed
so it would look kind of like a boy,
kind of like a girl.
I mean, really, if you think about it,
Casey was the first non-binary character
on children's television.
Casey, of course, was loveable,
and he, or she,
represented the child, so the child
could see him or herself in Casey.
Judith being the puppeteer she was,
was able to make Casey come
completely alive for the viewing audience.
And not just Casey and Finnegan,
of course, because she was Aunt Bird.
[Aunt Bird]
Everybody has a bad temper sometimes.
And she was Alligator Al.
[Alligator Al] I said, "Jos,
do you think we can fix this ukulele?"
And he said, "No way, Jos." Haha.
[Susan] All completely
different characters.
How are you?
[Casey] I'm awful,
thank you. How are you?
With Judith, she had
an incredible sense of humor. So that was,
you know, that added a lot.
And he did too, really.
But she was really quick...
with her sense of humor. Really fast.
[Casey] You know, I'll give you a shock,
Boo! Ha-ha-ha!
You guys.
[Ernie] Judith was
very, very clever, very witty.
Casey would say such things
while we were rehearsing.
I'd come out and say, "Casey,
could you come out of the treehouse..."
and I'd say,
"Well, what are you doing now?"
And he was supposed to be saying,
I was playing, and he'd say,
"I was reading Nietzsche
and I thought perhaps he might be right.
But Finnegan says, no."
You know, these things.
She was a very intelligent woman
and her wit was always
on a very high plane.
[Alyson Court]
Judith and Ernie vibed so well,
because it was just laid back.
It was together they had
the influence that they had.
Can't mention Ernie without
mentioning Casey and Finnegan.
You know, Ernie Coombs
fought for Judith Lawrence
to be paid as much as he was being paid
'cause she was doing half the work
as she was doing
these two puppet characters.
We didn't talk about these things, ever.
And I never even knew what he earned.
- Look what I caught. I caught a flower.
- [Casey laughs]
Was that a pretend dream?
Yeah, that was.
I wasn't really dreaming, Casey.
But it just worked,
because we didn't plan it,
and we didn't talk about it.
We just did it.
It's a trust they have in each other,
but it's also a trust they have in us
and in our parents, too... "We're just...
we're making this up.
But we have... we have your kids'
best interests at heart."
Now, this is the original tickle trunk
that I thought up out of my own head
and actually made.
And it's got about, I'd say,
at least eight coats of paint,
very, very thickly painted.
And at one point, the top cracked,
so I had to repair it.
The tickle trunk was this magical,
like Pandora's box,
the anticipation
of what's gonna happen.
That's what I liked, was the idea
that you open something, a box,
and inside of it are all these things.
And you can take these things,
like a wig and a hat and a spoon,
a pair of boots,
and you can make another human being.
And I thought that was fascinating.
And I became that person.
My first one person show,
I toured with a tickle trunk.
I always dug when he put on a hat
and he'd become the thing.
How's that look? Okay?
And that was so cool to me.
Like, as a kid before I considered acting
as a hobby, let alone a vocation.
That putting on a hat
and having it open your heart
and your soul to other experiences
and what was it? What would a guy
who wore this hat do?
There now. I'm tugboat Captain Dressup.
It astounds me how many kids
keep their dressing up clothing
in something
which they call a Tickle Trunk.
This fella wears a hat like this
most of the time.
There was always a drawing segment.
He was a fantastic drawer.
He could cartoon just fantastically.
[Mr. Dressup]
And I've seen clowns in circuses
that had great big shoes like that.
The fact that he would use a marker
and draw something
and it was like, it's so good.
Like, how do you do that?
You're just like, mind blown that
he could just draw something so amazing.
Because oak trees
are made of such strong wood,
the limbs can go out a long way,
right out sort of sideways.
Leaves on it there.
[Bruce] For me,
having a tumultuous time in my life,
I think just watching it was very calming
as he just drew the things
you got from the grocery store.
And you know
it's going to be milk and eggs.
And he draws each egg.
And, oh, what is he going to have?
A banana and you can get the answers.
So I think it's just sort of calm
and there is a sense of kindness.
[Graham Greene]
He taught kids to use their imagination.
The imagination of a child
is a spectacular place to be in.
Hi. I'm making something today.
A kind of a magical thing.
See what it is? It's a little black box.
And this little black box
is going to be a camera.
This is going to be a mask.
Now, I know usually when you make masks,
you make masks of animals or clowns
or something like that.
When he did a craft,
you felt like you could make that
'cause he did it with actual
toilet paper tubes and paste and...
- Stuff you have in your house.
- Yeah, and tissue paper.
I like to save these. You know,
you get them from paper towels,
from toilet paper rolls.
And here's a great big one.
I don't know what this came from,
but it's a good one to use.
We had a beer together and I opened
the beers and I had the bottle caps
and I was looking to throw them away
and he took them,
he said, "No, no, save those for crafts,"
and put them in his pocket.
- There you go. Eyeballs for something.
- Yeah.
[Mr. Dressup]
Here goes tape. Here goes the cap.
And he always wanted it
to be simple stuff, he said,
so that nobody was excluded,
so that everybody could make the crafts.
I take scissors...
and I make a cut, a little cut in it.
As a father, we're always
doing arts and crafts together.
We were making lanterns
for Lunar New Year,
and like, I had all the materials out,
laid out.
I was doing the cuts, showing them,
helping them with it.
And that's from the show.
There's my lantern.
And you can draw decorations on it
if you want to, but you don't have to.
Now we've got the lanterns.
I think I'll go out
and see how Casey's coming along.
See you outside.
It just felt like there was no agenda.
It was like,
"Hey, let's hang out together.
Let's draw some pictures, Let's talk."
You know, there is no strict agenda,
but there kind of is, in a sense of like
how to be kind. How to be kind?
Sometimes nice isn't considered
the most important thing,
but it kind of is.
Thousands and thousands of Canadian
children would be watching Mr. Dressup.
At its peak, it was bringing in
500,000 viewers every single day.
I know I have a lot
of clown things in here.
So, in many ways,
it kind of unites the country because
no matter where you are,
whether you're in Vancouver,
you're in Halifax or you're up North,
you're getting Mr. Dressup
talking directly to you, it's like
he's talking one-on-one with you.
What would a clown be without
a big red nose? Beep-Beep. Woo-hoo!
I wonder how his children felt
about sharing their dad with the country.
[gentle guitar music playing]
[Cathie] It was really a kind of
a blessed childhood,
not necessarily because dad
was Mr. Dressup,
but probably more because my parents
were who they were as people.
[Chris] You assume that he comes home
and kicks off his Mr. Dressup shoes
and becomes a different person
when he's at home.
And that just simply didn't happen.
I remember watching Friendly Giant
one time with my son
before it was time for him
to start school,
and Friendly Giant
was coming to an end,
and Chris turned to me and said,
"Daddy, you've got to go to the studio,
you're on next."
[Chris] There was always laughter,
great laughter, 'cause my dad
was a very funny, funny man
and my mum had
a fantastic sense of humor
and the two of them got on
like a house on fire.
[Lynn] The kids tease me a lot
because I laugh at his jokes.
That's why I married you,
because you're such a great audience.
- I'm a good audience, right.
- She still laughs after.
I can hear the same joke
and I still laugh and the kids say,
"Mom, come on,
you've heard that 17 times."
[Cathie] Chris and I each had
our activities. He was involved in sports.
I was crazy about horses
from the time I could walk.
It's kind of funny. For instance,
when Chris, he's on a skiing team,
freestyle skiing team, and I,
as a father, went out to help set up
during the competitions,
and I think it was kind of funny at first
when the other kids realized
that Chris Coombs' dad was Mr. Dressup.
As a young child, there were times
where kids would make fun of me.
"Your dad plays with puppets
for a living," you know,
or "Your dad's a sissy" or whatever.
And I found that difficult
to deal with sometimes.
They handled it pretty well. They just
said, "Well, does your father have a job?"
"Yeah." "Well, my father has a job too."
Some of their peers expected more
from them or something from them
that they really didn't want to give.
But I think now that they're teenagers,
it's all taken for granted, now.
She was the kind of lady,
from everything I could see,
that wanted to be the best that she
could be at any job she was doing,
whether it was as a mother to her
two children or as a supporter for Ernie.
[Cathie] My mom
was a pretty amazing woman.
Whatever she put her mind to,
she was successful at.
My mom was trying to find
a nursery school for my brother.
He would have been about preschool age.
And in her inimitable way,
she couldn't find one, so she started one.
Butternut Learning Center.
The name came from Butternut Square.
They took over a building,
which was an old schoolhouse.
And that was a huge venture.
We want the child, by the end of the time
that he spends in Butternut,
to feel very good about himself.
Any effort that he's made
toward developing in any area
is roundly applauded by the staff.
We want them to have a good concept
of themselves. "I can do it.
If I can't do it now,
I'll be able to do it in a little while,
once I've developed to a certain point."
[Terry McManus] His wife, Lynn, wonderful,
wonderful woman, had started a daycare.
That costs money. It costs money to do,
and it costs money to build it
and the rest of it.
And so, being out on the road
was a way for Ernie to pay those bills.
I think, for Ernie, it was the best time.
Ernie loved being on the road.
["Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf playing]
[Chris] Dad was a very resourceful person.
He built a replica,
a tickle trunk that turned into a horse.
He came up with magic and songs and dance
and everything like this
and started touring the show by himself,
carting all of the stuff in the VW bus,
setting the set, doing the show,
striking the set,
selling merchandise out front,
signing autographs, meeting people,
and then, you know,
coming home exhausted
and a few hundred bucks richer.
[Terry] I mean, the tickets
were only four and five dollar tickets.
He was going off and playing places
and walking away with $100, $150.
And Don Jones changed that.
My father is a concert promoter
in Canada.
Clients in Canada were Alice Cooper
and Deep Purple.
The Mr. Dressup touring show
would go to Nova Scotia,
New Brunswick, P.E.I., Newfoundland
and Southern Ontario, Northern Ontario.
They'd go out to B.C.
and go as far as the island.
[screeching brakes]
Born to be wild
Born to be wild
[Jim Parker]
He felt a responsibility to his audience.
You know, they took the time
to come and see him.
He was gonna take the time
to meet with them.
I saw him, I saw one of his shows
and I met him,
and it was, like, one of
the biggest memories of my life,
is I got to meet Mr. Dressup.
And I told him I loved his drawings.
And we had a little interaction, and
I held on to that for the rest of my life.
Can you imagine a little Andrew
going and actually seeing Mr. Dressup?
[Craig] The children are able to go up
to Mr. Dressup and actually see him,
shake his hand and get a picture with him.
So, it makes it feel like his world,
his house actually exists.
When I go on tour,
and we frequently perform at colleges
and high school auditoriums,
and you get some big strapping kid
come up and say, "Mr. Dressup!"
and gives me a big hug, you know.
That's, uh, that's kind of nice.
Don Jones set up the whole tour
and did all the advance work.
I couldn't say enough good things
about him.
And you know what?
They were close friends.
Very different people. Not the kind of
people that you would necessarily think
would go together because
here you have Ernie, this artist,
kind of slight in stature to some degree.
And then you had Don,
who was a pretty big guy,
and he was the boss. Don was the boss.
And God bless him
for what he did for Ernie.
[Jim] The tour is almost over.
- Two more shows. Two more shows.
- [Jim chuckles]
There is a Lord and a God. Two more shows.
- [Jim] And here's Ernie.
- [Don] Here's Ernie.
[Jim] The end of the tour.
- This is what we've made so far.
- [Jim laughs]
I had some, but Don took it.
His share, he takes the first 100%.
And then after that, I get what's left.
[Jim] You lucky fella.
[Terry] Ernie had this clown routine
that he did,
and he put this clown nose on.
Well, Don filled it with shaving cream.
So, Ernie opens up the tickle trunk.
"Let's see what we have in here."
And we can hear him start to laugh, okay?
He's starting to laugh
because he sees the nose there
with the shaving cream.
The son of a gun,
he had an extra clown nose.
And he put that on and he turned around,
kind of looked at us offstage,
like, you know, "You can't get me."
Who carries extra clown noses?
[children laughing]
He could have been
a vaudevillian comedian. He was...
Actually, he was a comedian
just hamming it up, doing something.
[Jim] That's quite an outfit
you're wearing, sir.
Thank you. It is my "at home."
There's green, and then there's mint
and there's chartreuse.
And then there's only one olive left.
Which is racing green.
And then there's olive green.
- [Jim laughs]
- Ooh. [indistinct]
[Jim] There was a snowstorm.
We had to pull off the highway
and just wait out the storm.
So, we stayed up way into the night.
I was having anxiety attacks at the time,
and it turned out that
he was having them, too.
[voice breaking]
He and I talked all night.
And I think that's when
we became like that, you know.
[Mr. Dressup] You know what, folks?
I think Mr. Dressup
is gonna need all your clapping hands
to help him keep time. So, let's hear it.
- [clapping]
- [singing]
[Peter Moss] When you're in a studio,
you feed an audience.
When you're up on stage,
you're fed by an audience.
You go out there and you're up on stage
and there's lots of kids
and they're all singing along
and they're clapping and they're laughing.
It's great. For someone like Ernie,
I'm sure it was terrific.
One time he came to pick me up
from the school,
and that was probably the day that
I really realized, like, how big he was.
Three packed school busses in the front
and just screaming like it was a concert.
I just remember him being like,
you know, "Hi."
[caller] Mr. Dressup, I have to tell you,
I grew up on your show.
My son, when he was four,
I had an opportunity to take him
to see your live show here in Nappanee.
And I have to tell you
how magical you made my childhood
and his childhood.
And I just want to say thank you.
[chuckles] Well, thanks, for saying that.
- It's great.
- It's nice, but...
you know, I had a lot of help, though.
If we hadn't had all of our great writers
and puppeteers and musicians,
it wouldn't have been much of a show.
For more than two years, Mr. Dressup
greeted kids every single morning
in a way that no other show ever had.
It was a unifying, dependable daily voice,
unlike anything that had come before it.
And there was almost no competition.
One of the more fascinating additions
to the morning hours
will be what is perhaps
the most interesting and acclaimed
children's series ever made.
It's called Sesame Street.
[whimsical music]
[Deb Bernstein] It was the first time
where you brought together producers,
writers, educators and researchers
to create a show
with specific developmental goals.
[Sesame Street narrator]
That's a something.
Something starts with "S."
What Sesame Street,
I think, did extremely well,
was taking a lot
of the educational concepts...
counting, reading...
You need a "W" to make such words
as "Wash" and "Woman"
and "Weeping Willow" and, um...
Of course, when Sesame Street came on,
they said,
"Oh, that'll be the end of you."
You know, "Dressup will be canceled."
Somebody, a producer, thank goodness,
I don't remember who it was, said,
"You know, you have to do something
with those puppets.
You're gonna have to make their eyes move
and make their mouths move."
And I said, "No, I'm not going to."
Finnegan's mouth moved. Casey's didn't.
Didn't matter to the kids anyway.
[Susan] We were worried that
maybe this is the way it's gonna go.
And if that's the way it's gonna go
with fast-paced shows,
how are we gonna survive
with our gentle, quiet,
take-our-time... show?
One banana...
[Casey] Do you have a lot of monkeys
coming to this bank, Mr. Banks?
No, this is the first monkey so far,
and the first monkey I've ever seen
that said "oink."
- [Casey] Oh.
- That's why I like working in the bank.
You meet so many different people.
Two bananas.
While other shows have gone
to be disco-fied, video hit shows,
this show has remained as serene and
simple as it always was. How come?
Because we program to preschoolers,
and they have their own little world.
They're not familiar with
the great outside world too much.
They're dealing with their own emotions
and how to grow up
and how to learn to tie your shoelaces,
eh, Casey?
[Casey] I'm still learning to do mine.
It's not easy.
Whereas Sesame Street
had to be more current,
and even Mr. Rogers to an extent, had to
be more reflective of the world outside.
Mr. Dressup was a haven.
At first, I didn't think
that Sesame Street was going to work,
but obviously it did.
So, we didn't go the Sesame Street route.
We let them go their way
and we continued on our way.
Our audience reduced for a while,
again, you know what?
Not very long after,
our audience came back.
And stayed with us.
[announcer] Live
from the Harbor Castle Hotel in Toronto,
the 1978 ACTRA Awards!
The best children's television program...
Mr. Dressup!
[audience cheers]
I've never been so nervous
in all my life. I usually talk to puppets.
[audience laughs]
Actually, Casey and Finnegan
should be here to accept this lovely lady,
but it's past their bedtime.
So, I have to accept it
on behalf of the entire family
that produces Mr. Dressup.
Before I mention the names,
I would like to say that
I'm very happy that ACTRA finally...
Well, I shouldn't say "finally,"
but I'm very happy to say that there is
a children's category now in television.
Thank you.
[Scott Henderson]
By the 1970s, television's a mainstay.
You know, it's starting to turn into
a full blown industry.
["Takin' Care of Business"
by Bachman-Turner Overdrive playing]
You get up every morning
from your alarm clock's warning
Take the 8:15 into the city
There's a whistle up above
and people pushin', people shovin'
And the girls
who try to look pretty...
Having those early shows
like Mr. Dressup that were a staple,
every day you go and see Mr. Dressup,
you know, started to bring
a lot of similar shows.
TVO launched with
Polka Dot Door, Today's Special.
So, there was a lot more live action.
And I'll been taking care of business
every day
Taking care of business every way
I've been taking care of business...
As the importance of Canadian programing
and the relevance
of Canadian programing grew,
so did the restrictions on it.
And that, I think,
was a result of politics.
It was the turn of both the CBC and CTV
television networks today to appear
before the Canadian Radio-television
and Telecommunications Commission.
[Craig] In the 1980s, the landscape
is starting to change for the CBC.
The economy,
there's big changes happening with that.
But one of the biggest changes
is in 1984, when the Liberal government
that had been in power since about 1963
is defeated.
[newscaster] Look at this. Conservatives,
leading are elected in 190 seats.
The Liberals totally wiped out.
[Craig] And that brings in the progressive
Conservative government to Brian Mulroney.
We're gonna recapture
the Canadian dream together
and we're gonna bring about
a brand-new wave of prosperity
that will do honor to all of you.
And they're looking to cut costs.
And because the CBC is heavily funded
by the federal government,
that means the CBC
is going to be suffering some deep cuts.
And they have to start looking at
where they're going to cut.
Now they can look at something
like Hockey Night in Canada,
which is bringing in massive dollars
with advertising.
Or they can look at
the children's department
where there's not really any advertisers.
And they have to start looking at ways
to cut costs there. And unfortunately,
one of the main ways they do that
is they end The Friendly Giant.
The CBC has chopped The Friendly Giant.
The final episode of the popular
children's show was taped last week.
Friendly Giant has been
on the air for 26 years.
I couldn't even understand why the show
was canceled in the first place,
because it was popular
and it was a wonderful show.
[Craig] Mr. Dressup does survive
through that,
but you see changes in the show.
[Susan] In the beginning,
there seemed to be more money
for certain things.
There was a lot more money for filming.
We went on location and filmed things
like "Casey and Finnegan in the car wash."
We went to Marineland.
We did a film shoot about ice fishing.
We did a shoot going to the dentist.
So there was money for that,
which seemed to dwindle out later on.
But when I got there, the costume budget
was $25 for two episodes,
and I think I managed to get up
to $35 an episode by the time I left.
And Ernie and I would make jokes
about this. He'd say,
"You know, it's not like
the show is called Mr. Math."
And I'd say, "No, it is Mr. Dressup,
you'd think there'd be a costume budget."
But it was just such a low budget show.
We kind of absorbed
the need to make money, to an extent,
from the American influence.
It became
much more of a bottom-line thing.
[Judith] I felt as if we were
moving towards creating consumers,
and I didn't like that idea at all.
I mean, that was what I really hated
about television, was that,
you know, so much was commercial
and it's selling stuff to people.
[Susan] There were a couple
of us that knew
that Judith was talking about
leaving the show.
Her decision to leave the show, obviously,
really well thought out
and in some way, a courageous one.
But she left a big, big hole in the show
when she went.
Casey and Finnegan, Aunt Bird,
Alligator Al. That was a huge deal.
There was a question whether the show
would go on without her.
[Susan] It was worrisome because...
"Is it gonna fly?
Is it gonna continue?"
What will happen? I mean,
as much as Mr. Dressup was Mr. Dressup,
and all the things that he was
and brought to the show,
could not imagine how the show could go on
without Casey and Finnegan.
[Ernie] When Casey and Finnegan left,
it was a little bit like
my kids growing up and leaving home.
Judith had her own particular way
of going through rehearsals
and her own particular wit
that I missed a lot.
I had a bit of a tussle with the CBC
about who owned Casey and Finnegan.
And I said, "Well, I made them, you know.
I do own them."
And they tried to tell me that they did.
But anyway, that didn't go anywhere.
I said, "No, no, you can't do that."
I said, "When I'm dead,
up to that point, no, they're mine.
You know, I own them.
I made them. They're my puppets."
[easy guitar music playing]
I remember driving off the ferry
onto Hornby Island and thinking,
"Oh, yes, this is where I want to be."
This is a small island
off Vancouver Island
between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
[man over mic] We're gonna go
way back in time
and remember a guy named Mr. Dressup.
[audience cheering]
Ladies and gentlemen, Casey and Finnegan.
[Judith] I mean, it's astounding.
I couldn't believe it.
Lot of these adults were crying
and I thought,
"What the earth's matter with
these people? What are they crying for?"
[man] Does Finnegan ever say anything?
He only says things to me.
He says he's learned
a lot of good, new, rude words tonight.
[audience laughs]
And I thought it was just good fun,
and I couldn't imagine what...
I said afterwards... I said,
"Why were people crying?"
Well, because they were put in touch
with their childhood
in a way that I guess I didn't appreciate,
or something. I don't know.
- Did you want something? What? Come on.
- [chickens clucking]
Looking back on it, well, now I wonder,
how on earth did I manage
to do it for so long?
Come on, chickens.
And then, how on earth have I managed
to survive so long after I finished?
Those questions are very hard to answer.
[Bob Dermer] When Judith left,
they had some big shoes to be filled,
and how to dole that out to one puppeteer.
They didn't see doing that,
so they invited several of us
to come in and do the show.
Cheryl Wagner, and Nina Keogh,
Karen Valleau and myself.
Here I am!
- Hello.
- Hello.
- Hi.
- Hi.
[Susan] I think Truffles might have
been the first and then Chester the Crow.
Oh, Mr. Dressup.
You knew it was me all the time!
[Susan] And Granny.
[Granny] Okay.
Thank you very much, Mr. Dressup.
- I'll see you later.
- [Mr. Dressup] Okay.
[Susan] And Lorenzo.
Well, it is an old sock,
but it's also my trunk.
[Susan] And Annie.
[Annie] That's it,
I'd like to build a castle when I grow up.
- [puppet] Hello!
- [laughs]
[Jani Lauzon] You know, the realization
that we were actually going to tape.
We were actually going to do this. I was
actually here. It was actually Ernie.
And then trying to figure out
the mechanics
of how we could actually
make all of this work.
While the learning curve was high, I think
we were all just really, really excited.
All of our newer puppeteers
could be very outrageous...
[Granny] Ooh!
...very witty, and just break me up
completely during our rehearsals.
[Granny] Not fair, I was fixing my legs.
See? [laughs]
Oh, Truffles! Hiya, hiya, hiya.
He was really good with me,
because I would be below the set
and I was always next to his legs
when I'm working my puppet.
And so I would always... I'd bite his leg
or something during rehearsals.
- I'll race ya! Okay!
- Oh, all right.
Here I go. Here I go! [laughs]
Follow the puck. Whoops.
She's a speedy little devil, isn't she?
It's not going the way it went last time.
[Susan Sheehan] Nina, she was very good
to work with, very upbeat and fun.
They all were, actually.
Puppeteers are amazing people.
[Jim] Hi, Nina. Nina does Truffles.
When I came in, and then,
Karen and the others,
I think it was maybe
a lot more playful or something, or crazy.
Do you think this is funny? [farts]
Yeah, pretty funny, Chester.
Boy, last time Mr. Dressup did this to me,
I couldn't sit down for a week.
[crew laughs]
I don't know if they really knew what was
gonna hit them when we arrived.
And we were like,
"Pow, we're here!" You know, so...
Hey, everybody, I'm Alex.
You haven't met me yet.
I'm the new addition
to the Mr. Dressup show.
Jim Parker started out as a guest singer.
- Hey, Jim! Hi!
- Hi, Mr. Dressup! [chuckles]
[Susan] Jim Parker became interested
in doing the new puppet Alex.
And we did auditions, and he
really worked very, very hard
because he was not a puppeteer.
Jim's a pretty special guy. He just had
a similar kind of personality to Ernie
and that same kind of love and enthusiasm
for children and play.
And the way that he expressed himself
creatively and just a super nice guy.
Like a super nice guy.
Would it have been nice
to have a black puppeteer? Absolutely.
Not taking anything away from Jim.
[Jim Parker] Today, it would have been
totally different.
Think it was, "Here's Parker,
he can do it.
He's got the relationship
with Ernie already.
So let's, you know, if he can do it,
let's let him do it."
- [guest] Yoo-hoo. We're here.
- [Granny] Oh, hello?
- [guest] Anybody around?
- [Granny] In here.
- Where's Granny?
- [Granny] Over here.
Oh, there you are, Granny.
How are you?
[Granny] I'm fine, thank you.
We brought the costumes, Granny.
You want to see them?
Oh, good. Yes, of course I do.
I don't even think
it was a different show,
but it had certainly
felt a little different, I think.
New set, that community center.
Yeah, the community center.
As a Mtis woman,
I think the idea of community
has always been really,
really super important,
and the community center
offers an environment
where that is the most important thing.
For writers, it was a little easier
to work with that,
because you had different characters
who could have different experiences.
But everybody missed Casey and Finnegan.
But it didn't really affect the ratings.
I mean, it didn't affect
how kids responded to Mr. Dressup.
We have a band
This is how we play
We each make music
in a different way
[Lynn] Here we have
my big sister Caitlin, holding me.
Well, my grandchildren like to
come over and visit
and come down here
and get into the tickle trunk.
They dress up in the costumes
and do little plays.
And even though the costumes don't fit,
they have a lot of fun.
Look, a Christmas elf
ringing the Christmas bells.
Oh, Tannenbaum, oh, Tannenbaum
How lovely are your branches
And your electric lights
and all the other decorations
- Can't take it out. Ooh, it's a secret.
- [Ernie laughs]
Can't take it out.
We have to put it in the box.
[Ernie] All right, we better cut here.
There's an elf in the way. Cut!
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
We wish you were here.
Yes, but since you're there,
have a good Christmas anyway.
And Natalie, too.
And we'll see you as soon as possible.
From Casey and Finnegan.
And me, Mr. Dressup. [laughs]
[Nina] We were having a wrap party,
and we didn't want
to really start the event
'cause we were waiting
for Ernie's wife, Lynn, to come.
He had bought her flowers.
They were her favorite color.
He was like a kid in a candy store
waiting for his wife.
But then, as time went on,
I think we were getting the sense
that Ernie was getting concerned.
My dad had called me,
this is before the time of cell phones,
but he had called me to ask
if I'd heard from my mom.
I just... my last memory of Ernie that day
was just holding those flowers.
I remember my neighbor
coming in and saying,
"Cathie, let me hold the baby."
And as soon as he said that to me,
I knew.
The wife of popular children's entertainer
Ernie Coombs, better known as Mr. Dressup,
has been killed
in a tragic motor vehicle accident.
Marlene Coombs was hit by a car
outside a downtown supermarket.
CFTO's Austin Delaney has more.
[Austin Delaney]
Fifty-five year old Marlene Coombs
was walking on the sidewalk
on Young Street in Temperance
late yesterday afternoon, when
a southbound car clipped another vehicle
and went out of control.
The car mounted the curb
and ended up in the doorway
of a Loblaw's store.
[Chris] Dad...
just took me and he said,
"I've lost my wife.
But you've lost your mother.
And I'm going to look after you."
And I said,
"I'll stay as long as you want."
And he said, "Well, how about forever?"
[chuckles, sniffles]
And he wrote a letter to the universe...
[voice breaking]
about how that made him feel.
And, uh...
You know, it was hard to read.
The way life takes someone
so beautiful as she was
and so important to Ernie is very,
very sad. And I've never forgotten it.
[Susan] How in the world
was Ernie going to continue?
Would he want to? How could he possibly?
And what was he gonna need if he did?
[Denise] I remember
speaking to Cathie, his daughter,
and sort of trying to suss it out.
And she said,
"The two most important things in
my dad's life was his marriage to my mom
and being Mr. Dressup."
And she said, "He's lost one this year,
he can't lose two this year."
Nobody talked about... As soon as
we got on set, nobody talked.
Because he didn't want it.
He just wanted to be able to come on set,
do the job, and he did it.
It was clear that we were gonna go on now
as long as he wanted to go on.
[Fred] When he came on my show,
that's when the...
That's when the challenge happened.
This was, I think,
only maybe two or three weeks
after his wife had been tragically killed.
And we contacted him and said,
"You know, we're fine canceling.
You know, we're so sorry, etc..."
And he said, "No, no."
That the day he and his wife
had talked about his being on the show
and he was really looking forward to it.
So, we proceeded.
[Fred] Are you okay?
Yep! Just working my way through the log.
What a great log you have there.
- It's a long crawl.
- [laughs] Yes, but it's fun. Hi!
- It's good to see you.
- Oh, I'm glad to be here.
Say hello to my friends.
Hi. We're going to have
a lot of fun today.
Glad you're visiting too.
So, we worked the whole thing through.
All the pieces were there.
And we got to the last song.
We're sitting on the top level,
just outside of the log
and the song we're doing is
a Tom Chapin song
called "Together Tomorrow."
And I don't know how we had not realized
what this song was really saying
because it was talking about his wife.
But we will be happy together tomorrow
Together tomorrow again
Every day must pass away
Never to come again
Tonight when I'm sleeping
I'll dream of us being
Together tomorrow again
[Fred] That's my dream.
Together tomorrow
Together tomorrow, my friend...
In all of the shows that I had done,
you know, 900-plus,
that was the most poignant moment
that I had ever experienced
on, you know, on television
or on a stage. It was just...
It was powerful, to say the least.
We will be happy when we get together
Together tomorrow again
One hundred and twenty-seven Canadians,
a little later this afternoon
right here on Parliament Hill,
will be sworn in as new Canadians.
[Peter Mansbridge] You know who
one of those is going to be? Mr. Dressup?
[reporter] Mr. Dressup.
When I asked Ernie why he decided
to become a Canadian citizen
after all of these years of
living in Canada and being in America,
he told me about a letter that he received
from a nine-year-old child
whose class project was to
write to and learn about
their favorite Canadian.
And this child had written to Ernie,
and he had had to reply back
that he wasn't a Canadian.
Here to share with us his unique talent
for bringing generations of Canadians
together each and every day, Mr. Dressup.
Oh, Canada!
Oh, Canada!
Hey, Canada!
Hey, Canada!
Oh, Canada!
Oh, Canada!
Hey, Canada!
Hey, Canada!
My name is Mr. Dressup
You can call me Mister D
I'll sing you a song about Canada
from Newfoundland to B.C
Hey, Canada!
[crowd cheers]
[Chris] He is such a massive part
of Canadian culture.
And yeah, he's American,
born in Maine.
But he was able to get Canadian
citizenship eventually,
and it meant a lot to him.
[indistinct chatter]
And it's so wonderful to be able to say...
"fellow citizens."
[Chris] He was constantly humbled
and honored by the accolades,
that he got.
[Fred Rogers] I would like to say,
Ernie, that all of your friends here
in this neighborhood
are very proud of you.
We've worked together a long time and
known each other for many, many years
and just know that we all love you
and that you are in our thoughts
and prayers always.
Congratulations to you.
[Chris] When Dad received
his Earle Grey Award at the Geminis,
and he dedicated it to Mom.
I wish that my wife Lynn
could've been here.
She would love things like this.
You know, she gave me so much support
and criticism over the years
and a lot of information
about the right way
to handle preschoolers,
because that was her field of expertise.
So, this is gonna be dedicated
to Lynn's memory.
That was a lovely moment.
And she would have been very proud.
Thank you. Thank you all.
[Nina] It's interesting when you're
doing a series, I mean, you never know
if or when it's going to be canceled.
I mean, if it's really popular,
you figure it's gonna go on forever,
you know.
And then something will always happen
'cause no show ever goes on forever.
Hi, there you are.
I've been sitting here waiting for you.
And I'm glad you're here.
And I'm really glad that I'm here.
[Chris] We also asked him about
when he was thinking of retirement.
It was a question that a lot of people
started to ask him
simply because he'd been on the air
for so long, and he was kind of like,
"I don't know. I hadn't thought about it
until you mentioned it."
For the last three years,
people have said,
"Do you have any plans for retirement?"
I think finally it got into me and I said,
"Do I have... Yeah,
I guess I better retire.
It looks like the thing to do."
Where do we want to put the sun in?
[Cathie] I think, you know,
he just kind of maybe felt
that he'd come to a point where
they'd done as much as they could do.
And it was time in his life to try...
while he was still feeling healthy
and at a good place in his life,
it was time to move on
and do some things for himself.
[Chris] You know, it wasn't
because of my mom's passing.
You know, it certainly wasn't
any pressure by the CBC
or Canadians turning away from him
or anything like that.
It just was the right time for him.
[Jani] There was something that had
changed in him that he was gonna be okay,
that he'd made that decision,
that that was good for him.
I remember thinking
that he deserved the rest, you know?
That he had done so much
for so many generations, for so long,
that just spending time with grandkids and
that's just really what he wanted to do.
[Nina] When you are doing a series
and you spend months or years every year,
and you get really close to people
and you realize that, "Oh, my gosh,"
you know, like, "This isn't
gonna be happening anymore."
There's this real sense of sadness,
you know, and loss.
I didn't want it to end.
I could've kept going.
That would've been all right for me.
I had never realized
what taping the last show would be,
what it would be like. I still don't know
what it's going to be like.
But it's going to be very, very emotional.
Here it is! February 14th.
Right there.
Last... Last day.
Okay, before we start, I just want to say
I want to make this like a regular show.
I love you all. [voice breaking]
And it won't be easy.
Okay, let's go.
[crew applauds]
[Chris] You know, I was there
when Dad spoke to the crew.
Yeah, 'cause...
what he must have been feeling.
You've made me what I am today.
You know that. And I appreciate it.
Okay, so, this is for the kids. So...
[Chris] Because everything in his life
was leading up to that moment,
and he was just going to
take some time for himself
and reflect and be a grandfather.
Hi. Here I am in the kitchen,
but I'm not cooking anything.
That last show, if you were to watch it,
you would never know
it was the last taped show.
Dad was the ultimate
consummate professional.
But underneath, we knew as a family
that it was a real bittersweet moment,
because it was four years
after my mom had passed away.
And, you know, it was supposed to
have been their time together.
Until the next time,
we'll say bye-bye from...
- Lorenzo...
- Truffles...
- And me!
- Mr. Dressup!
[blows horn]
And then, whoever said,
"And that's a wrap..."
And then the tears.
[Mr. Dressup theme music]
[Chris] Don Himes played out
the regular Mr. Dressup theme
and then added
some lovely extension to it
that he that he played for a minute
or two, which was pretty sweet.
[grand piano finish]
[Jani] The last theme song,
the last note, the last show.
That was the finality of it.
The last note of that song was the end.
[Jim] It was sad. It was a bit of
a celebration, too. But it was sad.
That, you know, I can't believe that last
moment. "And me, Mr. Dressup."
[deep inhale, exhale]
[Ed Robertson]
It's a rare thing
that someone devotes their whole life
to something.
Lives up to all of everyone's
expectations of them.
Goes out completely classy and graceful.
And is untarnished.
You know, it's pretty amazing.
[Patty] I don't think we realized
at the time when it ended
that that is an end of an era.
It was an end of a kind of show
that I don't know if we'll ever see again.
I think people will try.
But there will only ever be
one Mr. Dressup.
[Caitlin] My grandpa's from Maine.
And when they were younger,
they bought a property right on the water,
just like you can smell the ocean.
- I'm with you, Grandpa.
- Okay, that's a wrap.
Everybody's invited to wrap party.
Dad was really a social guy.
He really enjoyed spending time
with friends and family,
so, you know...
I think that really...
really became the focus for him.
Here we are, Labor Day weekend
after much labor by Ken and Gerri,
providing a beautiful feast
of hamburgers and salad.
The old, old, olden car.
[Cathie] He was doing all those things
he had, for whatever reason,
had put off for all these years.
[Ernie] Drive the car. Vroom, vroom,
goes the Auburn. Vroom, vroom!
That's me. Yep.
Maine's finest.
No mad cow disease there.
[Chris] How do you feel?
- Full.
- [Chris] Full?
And so, he was having
an absolute whale of a time
being able to live his life,
on his schedule, and have a great time.
I don't think retirement
slowed dad down at all.
It is water.
Ernie and I came up with this idea, it was
called "The Tales of the Tickle Trunk,"
because so many of those generation,
the younger generation,
were now in university.
I was wondering about the story
behind Casey and Finnegan
'cause when I was a kid,
I used to wonder
why he didn't have a mommy and daddy
and why didn't he go home?
Shall we explain why Casey and Finnegan
are supposed to be little
and live out in the treehouse? [laughs]
So we decided,
"No, we'll just forget about it."
And kids like you
who wanted to know about that
could just try to figure it out yourself.
And they basically just became
Mr. Dressup Love Fests.
[girl] Thank you so much.
I have a confession to make. I started
a rumor about you when I was a kid
that you used to trace your drawings.
And I wanted to apologize
and ask you if that was true.
Sometimes I practiced a lot if they
were gonna be hard.
But, um, I forgive you.
That, to me, was really significant
because it spoke to
how he had touched the young people
at the time,
and what that kind of childhood memory
and nostalgia meant for them.
Cheese! Say "chicken feet."
[Cathie] People were generally
kind of in awe of the fact
that he was there in their pub,
somebody that they looked up to.
So, I think that people were
really respectful of who he was.
Now, do we have Mr. Rogers
on the phone right now?
Okay, well, you all know Fred Rogers
I would imagine
as well as you know Mr. Dressup.
And Fred has joined us on the phone now,
to say hi to Ernie and I guess, to say bye
to Ernie. How are you, Mr. Rogers?
[Fred Rogers, over phone]
I'm just fine, is this Ralph?
- It is.
- That's Ralph.
Hello, Ralph, and hello, Ernie.
- Hello, Fred! This is wonderful!
- [Fred] How are you?
I'm just overwhelmed.
I was going to send you a letter.
[Chris reading]
[audience cheering]
[Jonathan Torrens] There are two
highly rated episodes of Jonovision.
One was the Degrassi reunion
and the other was childhood heroes.
It had Sharon, Lois and Bram.
It had Polkaroo.
And even in that room, Mr. Dressup
was just on a whole other level.
Please welcome Mr. Dressup.
People couldn't contain themselves,
and the noise was deafening.
What have you been up to
since you've retired?
Oh, I've been very busy.
I've been touring,
- I've been doing personal appearances...
- [girl] We love you!
...and making speeches and keeping busy
and restoring my old car
and all kinds of stuff.
Dad had lost a few teeth, wore a bridge.
And I think he thought, "You know what,
I'd like to have a set of teeth."
But he had to undergo surgery
to remove cartilage from his rib
and have it grafted into his jaw
so that his jaw would be strong enough
to take the implant.
Don Jones,
his best friend and manager, said,
"You know, Ernie, you sure?
You sure you need to do that?"
And you know, and Dad said,
"Yeah, you know, it'll be fine."
And so he underwent the surgery.
[Jim] We were talking about doing
another tour and he wanted to come over
and just do some preliminary writing.
He was complaining because
he had had a little operation on his rib.
And yeah, so we hung out and then,
"Okay, see ya."
I got home and there were
a couple of messages from my dad
saying he wasn't feeling well.
So, I went to his house
and he was, you know,
obviously uncomfortable.
I was kind of saying, you know,
"We really should
go to the hospital
and get this checked out."
There was a drug they were
going to give him that would've helped
against pancreatitis, but because
of the heart medication that he was on,
he couldn't take the drug.
So they were doing some testing,
and I sat with him.
And then at some point, it was,
you know, 11:00 or 12:00 at night,
and I said, "I'm gonna go home
and get the kids off to school,
and I'll come back," and I left.
And at some point in the night,
I got a call from the hospital.
He had a stroke. He had a major stroke.
My brother was in the UK
having his second daughter
who was born on September 10th.
[Chris] We're still completely wired
from the birth of my daughter,
and the phone rang
and it was somebody that said,
"Oh, my God, turn on the television."
And that's when we saw the events of 9/11.
I was calling my brother on the phone
and saying, you know,
"You really you really need
to come to Canada. Dad's not well."
And he said, "All flights are grounded.
I can't come over there."
[Chris] I tried to get onto an Air Canada
flight and they said, "No, there's no way.
There's no way. We've got, you know,
days of people trying to get back home."
I've never done this before,
but I... The guy was Canadian.
And I said, "Do you know
who Mr. Dressup is?"
He's like, "Yeah, of course I do."
I said, "Look, between me and you,
but he's my dad. He's had a stroke.
I don't think he's gonna make it,
and I need to get home."
Guy was like, "Hang on a second."
He said, "All right, I got you a seat."
If he's watching... I appreciate you.
That meant the absolute world to me,
because I got home
and I was able to be with him.
I just remember being with him
and just telling him
it was okay to go and be with mom.
You know, we're gonna be okay. It's okay.
You know, I thought about it
and I thought,
"Wow, you know, what a life,
and what a death in the company of family,
in comfort,
dignity, respect and love."
We were all staying at his house.
I just felt like there was, like,
a ton to do, because there was...
It wasn't just us that had lost him.
It was everybody.
Before Barney, before Teletubbies,
there was Mr. Dressup,
a gentle man who delighted
generations of children.
Ernie Coombs died this morning
in a Toronto hospital
after suffering a stroke.
He was a wonderful, special,
gentle person,
and you will not likely see him again...
a person like him again.
[sniffles] Sorry.
Our whole generation was shaped
by seeing Mr. Dressup.
Well, he was your weekday routine.
I mean, he'll be missed,
but he'll be really remembered.
The fact that everyone's talking about it
and everyone remembers him is really nice.
[Craig] In parliament, they even
take a moment to talk about Ernie Coombs
and Mr. Dressup,
Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
He issues a statement
because of the impact that
Ernie Coombs had
on generations of children.
I remember when John Lennon was killed,
I remember when Elvis died.
And I remember when Mr. Dressup died.
I think a lot of adults were
probably more affected by it
than they thought they would be.
It took me back to my kidhood,
and I felt like I had lost a parent.
He had filled my life with so much joy.
Somehow, you thought
that he would never die.
I don't know. He was so much
a part of our lives.
[Jonathan] It had never
occurred to me that he was mortal.
He's forever. He always was
and he just always is.
We had a commemoration.
I went into Dad's closet...
[audience laughs] the bedroom this morning
looking for something to wear
because Dad and I
are about the same size,
and I saw this and I thought,
"Well, hey, I can't think of anything
that would be better suited to the event."
[Casey] Hey, come on, Finnegan.
This looks like a good spot to me.
[Casey] Mr. Dressup's not here anymore.
- No, no, he's not.
- And we're pretty sad about that.
- Yes, we are.
- [Casey] We're very sad about it. Yep.
Huh? Hey, Finnegan says
he knows where Mr. Dressup is.
- Really?
- [Casey] Mm-hmm.
Where is he?
[Casey] He says he's in our hearts.
- Well, Finnegan... Finnegan's right.
- [Casey] That's right.
Mr. Dressup is in our hearts.
People just broke up over that.
And I think that's probably true.
He was... He was in our hearts.
[children chatter]
Just sit down over there, guys.
Close to the front.
I adored all those times that we talked
about how amazing children were.
Kid-me would say thank you.
And adult-me would say thank you too.
Oh, hello. You're here now,
so I'll put my book down.
You still live in my imagination,
and I hope you never go away.
Casey and Finnegan are out in the yard.
I don't know what they're doing,
but they were...
[Casey] Mr. Dressup, we found one,
we found one. We found the worms.
You played such an important part
of my life growing up,
and I didn't even realize it.
[Casey] I'll put them back in the dirt
where I found them
and then they can find their family.
It was the show that was fundamental
in developing me into the human being
that I am today.
You exceeded all of my expectations
of what meeting a childhood hero
can be like.
All right, I'll get my duck costume on,
it's right here in the trunk.
I think of you all the time.
When I'm putting on a costume,
when I'm drawing something.
Or when I talk to my son, Finnegan.
Well, you are a good dog, Finnegan,
so I'll do what I promised.
It's hard to imagine anyone having had
a bigger influence on my life.
And that's the end of the story.
Right now it's time
for us to say goodbye to you.
- [Casey] Oh.
- For now, until we see you next time.
Goodbye from Casey and Finnegan and me...
- [Casey] Mr. Dressup.
- Bye-bye.
[audience applauding]
We stand here tonight
in front of a nation
who loves our grandfather
just as much as we do.
My whole life, I have felt inspired by
the legacy my grandfather has left behind.
He gave the people of Canada
a unique kind of warmth,
kindness and compassion
that is still present to this day.
I feel so honored to be his granddaughter,
so lucky to have known him
and to have him be a part of my life.
And I feel a totally unmatched kind of joy
when I share with someone
that he was my grandfather
and they respond with such love
in their voices.
Ernie Coombs was never acting
when he was Mr. Dressup.
Sure, he may have been reading a script,
but all of his drawings,
his gentle nature, warmth, candor
and his ability
to create an imaginative space
was just him being himself.
So tonight, we accept this award
as his grandchildren,
but I think we accept it on behalf
of all Canadians
because we realize he belongs
just as much to you as he does to us.
Thank you so much, Canada.
[Casey] It's been a long time.
Yes, it has.
But I hope that you're gonna come back
and visit us again soon.
And I hope that you've learned
all sorts of things from us.
How to make things
and how to do things and how to have fun.
But now it's time for us to say goodbye
because I'm gonna take
Finnegan for a walk.
He's coming with me.
[soft whimsical music]