Fran Norris

fran norris
 

Fran Norris (1911-1988) is better known to Ohioans as "Aunt Fran." The one-time housewife and mother created and starred in the pioneering children's TV show, "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates," which aired daily over WBNS-TV in Columbus from 1950 to 1957. It is generally considered to be the first program to successfully fuse the new medium of television with the idea of educating the young. By contrast, "Ding Dong School" did not begin until 1952, and "Romper Room" not until 1954.

Fran Norris (1911-1988) is better known to Ohioans as "Aunt Fran." The one-time housewife and mother created and starred in the pioneering children's TV show, "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates," which aired daily over WBNS-TV in Columbus from 1950 to 1957. It is generally considered to be the first program to successfully fuse the new medium of television with the idea of educating the young. By contrast, "Ding Dong School" did not begin until 1952, and "Romper Room" not until 1954.

This gallery presents samples from the Papers of Fran Norris at the Library of American Broadcasting.

The collection spans the years 1952 to 2000 and contains clippings, business correspondence, fan mail, ad copy, crafts, craft ideas, copies of "fingerplays," lyric sheets, catalogs, scripts, and VHS copy of a 2000 documentary on the "Aunt Fran" show. It was donated to the Library in 2000.

 

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Announcing new children's show

This newspaper clipping announces "Aunt" Fran Norris' new TV show for children, the "TV Baby-sitter."

Norris, who earned a degree in education from Ohio-Wesleyan University in 1933, stumbled upon the idea of making an educational children's program after noticing how quickly her daughter learned the words to commercial jingles played on TV.

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Listing and review of the "TV Babysitter"

A newspaper review of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates," known then as "TV Babysitter," a title that Fran Norris despised, since she felt it did not convey the overall educational purpose of the program.

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TV babysitter craft, "Walnut turtle"

During the "arts and crafts" segment of each day's broadcast, "Aunt Fran" would present a new craft idea.

Each craft was carefully scrutinized by Fran Norris and her staff before being used on the air. Crafts could only be so complicated and had to be able to be made from items that most children could easily find in their home.

"How-to" sheets like this one were often mailed out to young viewers so that they could create along with the show. Often, after children made their crafts, their creations were mailed in to WBNS.

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Live broadcast of "Aunt Fran & Her Playmates"

In this still from a live broadcast, Fran Norris is pictured with two of her "playmates."

Activities on the show included a "get-well" greeting to any sick boys and girls watching at home, "story time," a musical interlude, and a few sales pitches for sponsors like Diamond Milk.

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Outlines program goals

Fran Norris wrote this proposal, outlining the goals and objectives of her educational children's television show, in 1950.

Prior to her approaching WBNS with the idea for her program, Norris had no broadcasting experience.

This summary provides a precise outline of how the 15 minutes of each broadcast should be spent.

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Pre-broadcast notes, 1952

These steno notepads were diligently kept by Fran Norris as she planned out each day's broadcast and formulated the overall goals and purpose of her program.

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Aunt Fran at the "Birthday Bush"

This photo shows Fran Norris lighting a candle on the "Birthday Bush," which was used every day to send good wishes to all the birthday boys and girls in the audience.

Norris believed that children enjoyed and valued their birthdays more than any other holiday, because unlike holidays like Christmas, birthdays belonged to them and them alone.

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Ohio Wesleyan magazine profile

This profile in "Ohio Wesleyan Magazine" focuses not only on Fran Norris' TV show, but also on her home life and her own children.

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"Aunt Fran" and on-air helper

Fran Norris (left) is pictured here with one of her on-air helpers. The rest of the "cast" of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" were area children who had written in and were then chosen to appear on program, usually on their birthdays.

One educator said of the show, "['Aunt Fran'] is a virtual school for children who attend neither preschool or kindergarten."

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"Fingerplay" rhyme, 1952

A "finger play" was a daily activity on the "Aunt Fran" show which helped children develop both rhythm and dexterity.

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"Fingerplay" of "The Robins," 1955

While many of the "finger plays" presented on the show were original, the need for a new play every day demanded that they also be sought out from other sources, as seen here.

Each episode of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" also contained "story time" and one or two musical sing-a-longs.

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The "Aunt Fran" show and marketing, 1956

The cover of a 1956 WBNS-TV publication with Fran Norris and her program front and center.

In the photograph, the children are experiencing "the magic of FLAV-R STRAWS," which were intended to encourage children to drink their milk by making it taste of chocolate or strawberry.

The "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" show aired live, daily on WBNS Columbus, Ohio from 1950 to 1957.

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Norris makes the "Happy Good-bye face"

Each day's installment of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" ended with Fran Norris drawing a "Happy Goodbye Face" on her palm. By twitching her pinkie, she could make the face "wink" to the boys and girls at home.