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Fran Norris Papers

Abstract

Title:
Fran Norris Papers
Author/Creator:
Norris, Fran
Collection number:
LAB 2000-59
Size:
5.50 linear feet
Bulk dates:
1954
Inclusive dates:
1950-2000 and undated
Collection Area:
Mass Media and Culture
Repository:
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email: askhornbake@umd.edu
Abstract:

Fran Norris (1911-1988) was Ohio's beloved "Aunt Fran," creator and host of the pioneering children's program "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" which aired from 1950 to 1957 over WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio. The collection documents the daily production of Ms. Norris' children's program "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates."

Important Information for Users of the Collection

Restrictions:

This collection is open for research use.

Preferred citation:

Fran Norris Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/3294
Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials page for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.

Status:

This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

Fran Norris (1911-1988) (maiden name Wilking) ws an American children's television star, producer and pioneer. She was born in Zanesville, OH and graduated from Ohio-Wesleyan University in 1933 with a degree in education.

It was in 1949, after marriage (to M. DeWitt Norris), settling in Plain City, Ohio, and motherhood (son George followed by daughter Marilyn), that one day Norris noticed her 4 year-old daughter singing along to songs she heard on television. With that as her inspiration, Mrs. Norris began to wonder if children could learn other things via TV besides just jingles and the song hits of the day.

After formulating her idea for an educational children's TV program, Norris took her concept to various TV stations in the Ohio area before WBNS-TV in Columbus agreed to take a chance.

Though Norris had no TV experience, no money and the program no sponsor, she and hershow would nevertheless premiere, live, in 1950.

Originally titled "TV Babysitter," Norris would later have the name changed to "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" to better reflect the content and purpose of the program.

Each episode of "Aunt Fran" (originally fifteen minutes in length, running from 11 to 11:15 each morning) consisted of three regular segments: First, there was a "finger play": A short tale, often in verse, acted out with large, yet simple, hand gestures. It was designed to help children develop a sense of rhythm and manual dexterity. This was followed by a story told by Aunt Fran and often acted out with the help the cardboard cutouts "moving" against a painted or drawn backdrop. Off-camera sound effects for the stories were often incorporated and many of them were provided by a young Jonathan Winters, then a station employee. Finally, there was a craft segment where children used simple household items to fashion toys, greeting cards, and other knick-knacks.

Also in the program, there were daily trips to the "Birthday Bush" to honor all the boys and girls in the audience who were having birthdays that day, and to the "wishing well" to wish sick boys and girls who were watching at home to feel better soon. Later, in its run, the series was lengthened to a half-hour and filmed cartoons were added to the mix.

Each episode concluded with Aunt Fran's signature "Happy Goodbye Face," a set of eyes, nose and mouth drawn on her palm, which waved ("winked") good-bye to all the children.

Almost immediately, "Aunt Fran" was a hit with a young and loyal audience. One young fan when asked who were his best friends were, replied, "God, Santa Claus and Aunt Fran." Soon local businesses were storming the station to sponsor the show. Furthermore, like latter day's "Romper Room," each episode of "Aunt Fran" featured a handful of children live on the set. Originally children were "booked" for the show just a few weeks in advance, but, soon, due to overwhelming demand, there became a 12-month waiting list.

For the show, what looked like little more than fun and games, were actually carefully constructed tools to help develop a child's social and cognitive skills. All of Aunt Fran's on-screen activities were formulated to encourage "creative response," an expression of creativity, motivation and action. In the words of one educator, "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" acted as a "virtual school for children who attended neither preschool or kindergarten."

Though not aired nationally, like the Chicago-based "Ding Dong School" with Frances Horwich which would premiere a few years later, "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" is recognized for its pioneering, innovative use of fusing the power of television with early childhood education. "Aunt Fran" was a predecessor not only to Dr. Horwich's on-air work, but also to "Sesame Street" and other later programs.

"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" ran everyday for seven years with Fran Norris not only acting as host but also producer of the show, hunting down or dreaming up each day's finger plays and craft ideas. She also had the job of overseeing audience reservations for the show and making public appearances on behalf of the show.

The workload was intense and in 1957, in order for her to devote more time to her own children, "Aunt Fran" left the airwaves. Fran Norris died in 1988 at age 76.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Fran Norris Collection spans the years 1952 to 2000, with the bulk of the material from 1954. The collection, which documents the daily production of Ms. Norris' children's program "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates," includes clippings, handwritten program notes, fan mail and business correspondence, ad copy, crafts, craft ideas, photos, stories,"fingerplays," scripts, lyric sheets, schedules, catalogs, a VHS copy of a 2000 documentary on "Aunt Fran" and other materials.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

This collection was donated to the Library of American Broadcasting, University of Maryland Libaries, by Marilyn Lewis, Mrs. Norris' daughter, in September of 2000.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by Cary O'Dell, May 2004. Revised by Melanie Brown, May 2005.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Cary O'Dell, January 2005.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates", circa 1950-1957, undated (3.00 linear feet)

This series contains materials related to Ms. Norris's program, "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates." This series is divided into 13 subseries. Inside each subseries, where possible, items are arranged by date.

Subseries 1.1: Show Summary and Statement, Undated (1 folder)

Undated, typed "Purpose of the Show" statement describing the format of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" and its objectives for education.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Show summary and statement, undatedseries 1.1box 1folder 1

Subseries 1.2: Program Notebooks, 1952-1957 (1.00 linear foot)

Twenty-two steno pads containing Ms. Norris's thoughts, ideas, plans and summaries for the "Aunt Fran" program. In many places, Ms. Norris has paper-clipped a note or clipping to a specific page; these attachments have been left as is.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 2/11/52-7/11/52series 1.2box 1folder 2
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 8/11/52series 1.2box 1folder 3
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 11/1/52series 1.2box 1folder 4
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 1/27/53-6/12/53series 1.2box 1folder 5
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 6/15/53-8/28/53series 1.2box 1folder 6
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 8/31/53-11/20/53series 1.2box 1folder 7
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 10/14/53series 1.2box 1folder 8
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 11/23/53-2/12/54series 1.2box 1folder 9
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 2/15/54-4/54series 1.2box 1folder 10
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 5/3/54-7/23/54series 1.2box 1folder 11
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 7/25/54-10/8/54series 1.2box 2folder 1
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 10/11/54-12/24/54series 1.2box 2folder 2
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 12/27/54-3/11/55series 1.2box 2folder 3
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 3/14/55-5/3/55series 1.2box 2folder 4
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 6/6/55series 1.2box 2folder 5
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 9/5/55-11/23/55series 1.2box 2folder 6
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 11/26/55series 1.2box 2folder 7
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 2/13/56-4/27/56series 1.2box 2folder 8
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 4/30/56-7/20/56series 1.2box 2folder 9
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 7/22/56-10/12/56series 1.2box 2folder 10
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 10/15/56-1/25/57series 1.2box 2folder 11
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notebooks, 1/28/57-5/3/57series 1.2box 2folder 12

Subseries 1.3: Program Notes, 1955 (1 folder)

Unbound, typed and mimeographed pages (39 total pages) from January through June, 1955, outlining each week's episodes. Also includes various summaries and--quite importantly--a two-page, handwritten piece of paper with Ms. Norris's overall philosophy for teaching via television and her goals for her program.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Program notes, 1955series 1.3box 3folder 1

Subseries 1.4: Scripts, 1953-1957 (8 folders)

Typed and mimeographed scripts (25 total) for the following eight episodes of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates": "Thanksgiving Show" (1952); "Paddy's Moon" (February 12, 1953); "UA Simulcast" (October 4, 1953); "Christmas Show" (1954); Untitled (1955); "The Doll Show" (September 21, 1955); "Let's Visit Program" (1956); "DAR Patriotic Show" (May 30, 1957).

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- Thanksgiving show, 1952series 1.4box 3folder 2
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- Paddy's Moon, 2/12/53series 1.4box 3folder 3
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- UA Simulcast, 10/4/53series 1.4box 3folder 4
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- Chistmast Show, 1954series 1.4box 3folder 5
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- Untitled episode, 1955series 1.4box 3folder 6
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- The Doll Show, 9/21/55series 1.4box 3folder 7
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- Let's Visit Program, 1956series 1.4box 3folder 8
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Scripts -- DAR Patriotic Show, 5/30/57series 1.4box 3folder 9

Subseries 1.5: Sponsorship, 1952-1957; undated (11 folders)

Correspondence, mailing lists, ad copy, scripts and other materials (127 total) related to various advertisers on "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates." Among these advertisers are: Diamond Milk (1953), Cloverbloom "99" Margarine (1954), Mystik Adhesive Products (1954), Pennington Brothers, Inc. (bread company, 1954), Quaker Oats (1954), Gerber Baby Foods (1954), Wonder-Treasure Books (1956), Donaldson (cake decorator, undated), and Continental Baking/Hostess Cupcakes (1957).

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Mailing lists, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 10
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Diamond Milk, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 11
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Cloverbloom "99" Margarine, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 12
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Mystick Adhesive Products, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 13
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Pennington Brothers, Inc., 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 14
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Quaker Oats, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 15
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Gerber Baby Foods, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 16
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Wonder-Treasure Books, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 17
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Donaldson, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 18
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Sponsorship -- Continental Baking/Hostess, 1952-1957; undatedseries 1.5box 3folder 19

Subseries 1.6: Correspondence, 1951-1957; undated (3 folders)

This subseries contains correspondence related to "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates," and is divided into two groups: fan mail and business correspondence.

The fan mail consists of letters and notes (66 total) from both children and adults complimenting "Aunt Fran" on her program. Many of the letters are from parents asking that their child be allowed to come onto the show as one of Fran's "playmates."

The business correspondence consists of a small group (7 items total) of show-related, non-fan mail including letters from the Junior League of Columbus, Wonder Books, Inc., "Jack and Jill" magazine, and communiquÉs related to a proposed book, "Aunt Fran's Big A.B.C. Book."

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Correspondence -- Business, 1953-1955series 1.6box 3folder 20
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Correspondence -- Fan mail, dated, 1951-1957series 1.6box 3folder 22
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Correspondence -- Fan mail, undated, undatedseries 1.6box 3folder 23

Subseries 1.7: "Fingerplays", 1954-1956; undated (7 folders)

Examples--handwritten, typed or torn from magazines or newspapers--of Aunt Fran's trademark "fingerplays." (Some items are stored in oversized storage box #6.) This series has 119 items, and is divided into the following categories: General, New/Unused, and "City Symphony" (1954 and 1956). (NOTE: "City Symphony" was a production which introduced children to orchestras via the use of metaphor: each section of the orchestra (woodwinds, etc.) were described as "neighborhoods.")

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- "Fingerplays" -- General, undatedseries 1.7box 4folder 1
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- "Fingerplays" -- General, undatedseries 1.7box 4folder 2
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- "Fingerplays" -- "New--unused"series 1.7box 4folder 3
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- "Fingerplays" -- "City Symphony", 1954series 1.7box 4folder 4
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- "Fingerplays" -- "City Symphony", 1956series 1.7box 4folder 5

Subseries 1.8: Stories, 1953-1956; undated (1 folder)

Collection of stories (13 total) used or considered for use on "Aunt Fran." Included are copies of: "The Duck That Could Do Anything" by Elizabeth and Russell Brantley (marked, "unused"); "The Happy Corner" by N. Lea Baumann; "Safety Story Lady" (1956); "Why the Chimes Rang" by Raymond MacDonald Alden; "The Tale of the Nutcracker" (based on ballet, undated); "The Most Wonderful Doll in the World" by Phyllis McGinley; and "The House That Jack Built" (marked "used," March 26, 1953), among others.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Stories, 1953-1956; undatedseries 1.8box 4folder 6

Subseries 1.9: Crafts, circa 1950-1957 (2.50 linear feet)

This is a large subseries (298 items) that pertains to the daily craft segments that were part of each episode of "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates." This subseries contains craft ideas and suggestions, including various pictures and directions for crafts cut from magazines or newspapers or sent in by viewers. (Some of these sheets are located in oversize storage box #6.)

This subseries also contains actual examples of many crafts depicted on or inspired by the series, made out of a variety of cotton balls, crayon, construction paper, and occasionally pipe cleaners and Kleenex, etc. Many were sent in my young viewers, though some may be examples (mock-ups) of crafts used on the show itself, and a few were made by Norris's own children. (These items are in oversize storage boxes #6, #7 and #8.)

This series also contains typed and handwritten lists (some from Sept. 1954) of area child craft contest winners.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft ideas, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 7
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft ideas, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 8
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft ideas, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 9
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft ideas, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 10
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft ideas, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 11
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- "Craft pictures (clipped from magazines) ", circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 12
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft ideas, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 13
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Craft contest winners, circa 1950-1957series 1.9box 4folder 14
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Crafts (children's examples of; cartoon cut-outs; "fingerplays"; craft ideas (oversize)series 1.9box 6folder 1
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Crafts (children's examples of) (oversize)series 1.9box 7folder 1
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Crafts -- Crafts (children's examples of) (oversize)series 1.9box 8folder 1

Subseries 1.10: Songs/Music, undated (1 folder)

Four lyric sheets for the following songs from "Aunt Fran": "Something in My Pocket" (includes sheet music), "The Birthday Bush Song," "The Wishing Well Song," "Playmates," "The Little Men," "Rhythm Songs," and "Wiggily, Woggily Snake" (the "Snake" song is printed in TelePrompTer script format).

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Songs/Music, undatedseries 1.10box 5folder 1

Subseries 1.11: Cartoons, 1955; undated (2 folders)

This series contains material (14 items total) related to the animated cartoons used on the program, and includes a group of black, white and gray cardboard cut-outs (labeled "Cartoon Animal Cut-Outs") used to "act" out various scenarios. The cut-outs are: 2 elephants, a puppy, a bunny, several cats, a teddy bear, and a grizzly bear. (Some of these cut-outs are stored in oversize storage box #6.) Also included is an illustration of a genie pasted on cardboard and labeled "Magic Picture," an illustration of a king (cut out) and the illustration of a carriage (cut-out).

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Cartoons, 1955series 1.11box 5folder 2
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Cartoons, 1955series 1.11box 5folder 3

Subseries 1.12: Aunt Fran Book List, circa 1954 (1 folder)

List of children's books which have been read on "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates."

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Book Lists, circa 1954series 1.12box 5folder 4

Subseries 1.13: Photos, circa 1950 (.08 linear feet)

Fifteen undated black and white photos from "Aunt Fran and Her Playmates." Also includes a station personnel photo, circa 1950, featuring Jonathan Winters. (Folder also includes two signed photo release forms for children who appeared on the show.)

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Aunt Fran and Her Playmates" -- Photographs, undatedseries 1.13box 5folder 5

Series 2: Clippings, 1951-1988; undated (1 folder)

Handful of clippings, 12 total, dated and undated, including a 1951 program review from "Variety" from 1951 and a copy of Ms. Norris's obituary from 1988. (Some oversize clippings are in oversize storage box #6.) Arranged by date.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Clippings, 1951-1988; undated series 2box 5folder 6

Series 3: Children's Books Catalogs, 1955-1956 (1 folder)

Miscellaneous publisher's catalogs (8 total) of new childrens' titles. The companies represented here are: Young Scott Books, Doubleday, Cross Publications, Children's Press and Capitol's Young Collector's Kits. In addition, there is a 1953 list of children's books award winners, as decided by the "New York Herald Tribune."

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Children's Book Catalogs, 1955-1956 series 3box 5folder 7

Series 4: McClelland's Bookstore, 1953-1957 (1 folder)

Various order forms and receipts (10 total) from an area bookstore. (Probably a provider of books to be read on the series.)

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
McClelland's Bookstore, 1953-1957 series 4box 5folder 8

Series 5: Documentary, 2000 (1 folder)

Contains a VHS copy of a 2000 documentary produced by Ohio University professor Norma Pecora on Aunt Fran. In addition to the tape, there is a transcript of the broadcast and a press kit.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Documentary and Related Materials, 2000 series 5box 5folder 9

Series 6: Miscellaneous, 1953-1989 (1 folder)

Contains nine items. Included are: a booklet, "Flag of the United States: How to Display It and How to Respect It"; a copy of "Civil Defense for Farmers" by the US Dept. of Agriculture (1956); along with other sundry items.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Miscellaneous, 1953-1989; undated series 6box 5folder 10

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