Actors on the "Checkers & Pogo" show included Dave Donnelly, left, the second Mr. Checkers; Jim Hawthorne, the first Mr. Checkers; Morgan White as Pogo Poge; and Jim Demarest, the third Mr. Checkers. Demarest died Tuesday in Chicago. CLICK FOR LARGE
Third actor to play Mr. Checkers reigned longest
Jim Demarest / Children's TV show host
Jim Demarest, who played Mr. Checkers on the popular local children's show "Checkers & Pogo," died Tuesday at the St. James Hospice in Chicago. He was 80.
Demarest was ill for the past six months and his condition worsened, said his oldest son, Barry Smith.
Born James Hugh Demarest-Smith of Bedford Park, Ill., Demarest played the character of Mr. Checkers from 1968 to 1979, the third and the longest actor in the role on the KGMB program.
Phil Arnone, KGMB program director from 1966 to 1989, said station owner Cec Heftel saw Demarest perform in a musical and offered him an audition.
"He was a nice guy, very talented, great voice," Arnone said.
During the 1960s, Demarest legally changed his last name because there was already an actor named James Smith, Demarest's son said.
The first to play Mr. Checkers was Jim "Weather Eyes" Hawthorne, who created the character with his signature "Go-Go" glasses, said Lawrence Pacheco, who produced a documentary, "Checkers & Pogo Remembered," that aired on KGMB in March 1999.
After three months, the role was taken over by Dave Donnelly, a Star-Bulletin columnist who died in January 2004. He performed for about a year until Demarest stepped in.
Demarest played an authoritative father figure as Mr. Checkers while Morgan White played his carefree, child-like pal, Pogo Poge.
White said he enjoyed working with Demarest, who had a likable, easygoing personality.
"He was the type of guy who would put up a Christmas tree in October and not take it down until March," said White, 83, who lives in Utah.
On their downtime from the show, Demarest and White and their wives would often go to theaters and restaurants together.
After Demarest left the show, White carried on the show solo until it ended in 1982.
When the show debuted in May 1967, it generated considerable excitement, with a daily live audience of children. At the time Heftel purchased KGMB, many stations were doing live television, Arnone said.
Along with his character's signature look of checkered eyeglasses, Demarest wore a black top hat with a checkered band.
Out in the community, Demarest maintained the checkered look.
"Something was checkered on him all the time, no matter whether he was in costume or not," Demarest's son said.
He had checkered ties, socks, glasses, changeable checkered bands for his top hat and a couple of checkered cars, he added.
Demarest also had some roles in "Hawaii Five-0" and was a member of the Honolulu Elks Lodge.
His ashes will be sent to the Elks Lodge and scattered in the ocean, the same place where the ashes of his late wife, Jeri Demarest, were scattered in the early 1980s. "He loved Hawaii and that's where he wanted to be," Smith said.
Demarest is also survived by son James Ryerson Smith and daughter Weslee Smith.