FAREWELL, NORTON NORK

Kid-show pioneer Sandy Becker dies

BY GERSH KUNTZMAN

Baby Boomers were jolted yesterday by the death of Sandy Becker, the gentle host of "Wonderama" and other early kid shows during the 1950s.

The three-time Emmy Award-winner died Tuesday at his home on Long Island, but his death was announced yesterday. He was 73.

Becker's career spanned four decades, during which he created such beloved characters as Norton Nork, Dr. Gesundheidt, The Big Professor, K. Lastima and Hambone.

A few years ago he said his lasting legacy was to teach kid-show hosts not to talk down to their young viewers.

"I never treated them as though they were in swaddling clothes," he said.

"Most kid shows regard young viewers as babies. I wanted to treat them as their parents might if they were on TV."

After graduating from Newtown HS in Queens, Becker landed a job as a radio announcer.

He quickly became a pioneer in the fledgling world of children's television with Bob (Captain Kangaroo) Keeshan, Soupy Sales and Sonny Fox.

"Wonderama" was his first big hit, and despite the show's grueling schedule-- on Sundays, Becker was on live for six straight hours-- he never slowed down.

He later hosted "Sandy's Fun House" and a number of other shows bearing his name.

Becker was creating new puppets and characters for children's shows until his final days, and he befriended new generations of TV hosts.

Craig Marin, who hosted "The DJ Cat Show" on Channel 5 from 1989 to 1992, said: "One of my earliest memories is of Sandy working those puppets."

"Sandy and Soupy Sales, Chuck McCann and Paul Winchell came into your house every day and were your pals, your big brother," Marin said.

"All those guys always had a wink in their eyes that let you think you were in on some big joke, even if you didn't always get the joke because you were a kid."

Becker is survived by his wife and three children: Joyce Sexton, Annelle D'Addio and Curt Becker.


(CAPTION) LASTING LEGACY: Sandy Becker, here in his role as The Big Professor, was proud he never talked down to his young audience.
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