MANY OF US tread a media conveyor belt, ingesting recorded events that we replay at our request. But the most amazing thing in life is often fleeting, only in the moment. In other words, “You have to be there. “
Like the weather itself, Bob Hale, the original Seattle cartoon television meteorologist, once wove such momentary magic. Maple Leaf-based historian Peter Blecha, even though he was just a kid at the time, was “there” to revel in it. He methodically collects all of Hale’s things to keep his hero’s legacy alive.
According to Blecha, early TV weather reports were retrospective, documenting yesterday’s rain with only a touch of prediction similar to the farmers’ almanac. Hale helped change that. A commercial artist who moved from Bellingham to Seattle in 1938, Hale began making illustrated forecasts for new KING-TV news broadcasts in 1955.
Hale’s magic stems from providing fun weather details while drawing very comical cartoons with personified characters such as Sammy Seagull. Everything was live, in real time. Adults and children could not take their eyes off him.
His personal appearances, his commercials and his wacky products (cans of “Pure Puget Sound Air”) have exploded. Customers ranged from Sunny Jim peanut butter to Seattle Rainiers baseball. His fame matched that of other local television stars, from kid-focused Wunda Wunda to sports presenter Rod Belcher.
A warm smile gave Hale a great personality, while his glasses and bald dome conveyed authority. But his business card was a sharp visual style.
“He loved to draw people and moving creatures; Old soil [the sun] grimacing, clenching fists; angry clouds with threatening eyes, ”says Blecha. “It wasn’t just cute, easy-going fun. He was intentionally adding drama to what might otherwise be a dire situation. He might also be projecting tensions into his own life.
Tensions in his life, Blecha says, included being a locked up gay man struggling with alcohol addiction. His reign as KING ended in 1963, the station eventually replacing him with designer Bob Cram. Short appearances for Hale followed on California television and, in 1968-69, returned to Seattle on KIRO-TV. The cure of alcoholism has become a cause of end of life. He died in 1983 at age 64 in the dark.
Hale’s broadcast tapes don’t survive, and he’s typically given kids thousands of his KING drawings. Without being discouraged, Blecha prepares a biography of Hale rich in cartoons. This will reflect the quaint and current feeling of ER Babcock of Vashon Island, who in a 1969 Seattle Times letter lamented KIRO’s dismissal of Hale:
“In a world and a region where protests, taxes, wars, politicians and you monopolize news programs, it was a real pleasure to have a little humor on something, thank goodness , we mortals don’t yet have control – and it’s time.