May 24, 2013

Chief Halftown

A Facebook posting brought this Indian to my attention:Traynor Ora Halftown was born in 1917 of the Seneca Tribe on the Reservation in upstate New York. He had one of the longest running television shows in history (I personally believe second only to Meet the Press, which began airing in 1947), and personally touched the lives of many thousands of people through his numerous personal appearances. Chief Halftown started out wanting to be a singer, and made a living singing in nightclubs before serving this great country in the Army in WWII. In late 1950, he began his show at then-WFIL-TV, channel 6, airing cartoons, and teaching lessons and crafts from his Seneca customs and folklore. His show ran until late 1999. During summer weekends, the Chief appeared at Dutch Wonderland until 2001. He was also widely known as an excellent bowler. Chief Halftown passed away on July 5, 2003 in Absecon, New Jersey, at the age of 86. He and his wife, Margaret, were married for over 50 years.

I looked him up and found out more about him:

Chief HalftownHe always preferred the word "Indian" to the politically correct "Native American." Traynor Ora Halftown was 100% Seneca Indian. Born on the reservation on Saturday, February 24, 1917 in upstate New York, Chief Halftown always started his television broadcast with "Ees da sa sussaway" which was Seneca for "Let us begin" or "Let's get started." The idea was actually his mom's. He just wanted to say, "roll the cartoon."

Halftown grew up in Buffalo, just a couple dozen miles away from the Seneca reservation where both of his parents were born. Chief got his middle name, Ora, from his dad. That was his father's first name. His dad worked as a professional middleweight boxer and mill worker while his mother, Katie stayed at home as a "housemaid" as she liked to be called. His grandfather toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Halftown started his legendary channel 6 broadcasts a couple days after Labor Day of 1950. Upon "retiring" in 1999, he had spent 50 years (a half-century) on WFIL-TV that later became WPVI. It is the longest running local TV children's show in the history of the world. Not bad for a guy who was hired for a six-week series.

On his broadcasts and public appearances, Chief Halftown always dressed in full Indian costume. This included a full-feathered bonnet, beads, and buckskin. The show started out as an inexpensive cartoon vehicle and within weeks, Halftown was a star. Eventually, the Chief also included lessons dealing with tribal folklore, customs, language, crafts and chants.
Ees Da Sa Sussaway--Let's Get Started

By Erica StefanovichTo many, “ees da sa sussaway” would simply be syllables, but generations of Philadelphia children know differently. They know that these are the magic words of Chief Traynor Ora Halftown, beloved children’s entertainer and Philadelphia legend.

Chief Halftown began broadcasting his self-titled children’s television program in September of 1950. Originally intended to be a simple cartoon show, it grew into the longest running local children’s program in the history of television. For nearly 50 years, Chief Halftown was a part of the lives of Philadelphia children.

Chief Halftown was a full-blooded Seneca Indian born in upstate New York. His parents were both born on an Indian reservation near Buffalo and his grandfather had toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. He moved to Pennsylvania with the hopes of becoming the next great crooner and enjoyed moderate success until after WWII. While those dreams were never to be fulfilled, he did find his way to fame. When his children’s show began broadcasting, he had to rent his own costume from a shop on Chestnut St. Throughout the years, he always appeared on camera in native headdress, beads and buckskin. These signature marks were not just an aesthetic choice but also a teaching tool. His show, which began as a cartoon show, grew into a place to showcase the talent of local children and to teach about Native American traditions and culture.

In 1950 Chief Halftown was battling a prevalent stereotype. On television and in movies, there were very distinct depictions of Native Americans, generally as so-called savages or sidekicks. John Wayne and Jimmie Stewart both starred in films about Native American wars that year. If there were good roles for Native Americans, such as Cochise in Jimmy Stewart’s Broken Arrow, they were generally not portrayed by Native American actors. Fortunately, Chief Halftown refused to play to stereotype. He famously claimed, “I had no idea what it would come to, but I vowed that I would be myself. I wouldn’t talk like a Hollywood Indian…I made it clear that I was an Indian and no one was to tell me how to be an Indian.“
Comment:  So his teaching tool was a Plains headdress that told kids that all Indians were the same? He fought movie stereotypes by dressing exactly like every chief in movie history? That's not exactly impressive.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.


Anonymous said...

I was blessed to be one of the kids in Philadelphia who watched him.

Unknown said...

I would love to see old episodes. My mom was on his show as a little girl. That was in the 50's.