JIM HAWTHORNE / 1918-2007
‘Checkers & Pogo’ star lived for laughs
Jim Hawthorne was an entertainer through and through, even after playing the original Mr. Checkers in the popular children's television show "Checkers & Pogo," said his son Scott.
Years after the show ended, Hawthorne never stopped making people laugh and smile. "He was just phenomenal," said his son by phone yesterday from Carpinteria, Calif.
Hawthorne died Tuesday night at the Buena Vista Care Center in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 88.
Hawthorne was the first of three men who played the role of Mr. Checkers on the live televised children's show. He also served as co-creator of the show when it launched on KGMB in May 1967.
He was inspirational to kids, said his son. "He set a tone for doing the right thing."
Hawthorne was born in a small gold mining town, Victor, Colo. His mother moved the family to Victor from Denver to escape the plague, Hawthorne's son said.
He made an indelible mark in the radio and television industry.
According to the LA Radio People Web site, Hawthorne created the first late evening talk show on KLAC in the early 1950s, called "This Is Hawthorne," which the LA Times described as the "predecessor of NBC's 'Saturday Night Live.'"
In Steve Allen's book called "Hi-Ho Steverino!: My Adventures in the Wonderful Wacky World of TV," Allen described Hawthorne as the "most innovative TV personality" who invented the standard in television today.
While Hawthorne spent his career making people laugh, his son said his father was serious about his work and was a perfectionist.
Morgan White, who played Pogo on the "Checkers & Pogo" show, said Hawthorne was known as "Weathereyes" because of his distinctive large, round glasses that he wore and the weather report he did on KGMB before the launch of the children's show.
"He was quite an outstanding individual. He was talented and he had a great imagination," White said by phone from Utah.
When Hawthorne left the role of Mr. Checkers after a few months, Dave Donnelly took over for about a year before Jim Demarest stepped in. The show ended in 1982. Donnelly, a Star-Bulletin columnist, died in 2004. Demarest died in June.
Hawthorne's older son, Darr, said his father will be best remembered for being an entertainer. In the last four years, Hawthorne continued to create and produce cable access shows from the care center's activity room where he included doctors, patients and their families. His enthusiasm permeated at the care center, his older son said during a phone interview from Los Angeles.
"He would get everybody involved. He kept going until the very end," his younger son said.
Within the last few years, Hawthorne produced several shows from the care center which became popular among residents in the Santa Barbara area. The show was nominated for a number of cable access awards, said his older son. He had planned to produce a Christmas show this month.
As a father he was supportive. "He instilled in me a real sense of adventure," his older son said.
"He touched a lot of people's lives." said his younger son.
Hawthorne is also survived by five grandchildren. Services are pending.