Tell them Barnaby says Hello
There are some names that are instantly recognized. Just saying them aloud produces a smile on everyone's lips.
One such name is Barnaby - that magical, fun-loving six-foot elf with the straw hat that entertained us via our television set for 32 years.
Barnaby is really Linn Sheldon, a nightclub actor, comedian and storyteller. He got his name from a stagehand that had recently lost a beloved dog - Barnaby.
From the first moment he walked out on stage with his friendly "Hi Neighbor!" Barnaby was every child's best friend. That was 1956 but even after retiring in 1988 Barnaby remains a legend - a true Treasure of Cleveland.
Linn Sheldon as Barnaby
But before he was Barnaby he was part of about 23 other television shows in his total of 42 years on the air. (He also played Og in Finnians Rainbow).
In February 1948 there were only 500 television sets in all of Ohio. WEWS was the first station on the air.
Linn's job was to go on the air and describe to the viewing audience what was going to be on - a human TV Guide. Of course, everything was live at this time; there was no such thing as videotape.
He once did a lip sync of Jimmy Durante, which turned into a 15-minute sketch twice a week after "the right people" saw him. His first commercial was for Roger's Jewelry. He had an interview show on WEWS called "The Linn Sheldon Show".
One of his TV shows was "The Big Wheels Club" sponsored by local newspaper, The Cleveland Press. Children wrote in and answered the question "What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" Then he would try to show them what that profession would be like.
For example, one child wanted to be an airplane pilot. He got together with United Airlines and they had the child experience flying from the cockpit all the way to Florida.
Cleveland Press editor Louis Seltzer once asked if they ever got a letter from a child who wanted to be a movie star - and of course they did. In fact they got 30,000 letters on that subject. They chose one and Bob Hope flew the young girl, her mother and of course, Linn to his home in California.
Bob Hope has a lampshade in his house that has been signed by all of his famous friends and guests. He asked Linn to sign it as well - after all he was a star from Cleveland.
As Barnaby, he never wrote anything down - every part of his show was spontaneous. Periodically he would do a special, like the time he did his Thanksgiving Show in an Indian Village in Plymouth. But even those shows were not scripted - he did them on the spot.
You can't really talk about Barnaby without mentioning his invisible pet parrot, Longjohn. Barnaby had a special "prop" trunk on the set and each show he would open it up and ad-lib the rest of the show based on the contents.
"One day I opened it up and there was nothing in it, but I still had a show to do." So, with the keenest sense of imagination, Longjohn, an invisible parrot, was born!
Barnaby and Longjohn often marched in parades together. In fact, one year he led a parade of over 7,000 children and their invisible pets!
As Barnaby, Linn was able to see a lot of places and meet a lot of people. He always liked to do appearances at Children's Homes and Schools, but never let himself be filmed doing it. "I wasn't going there as a promotional gimmick. I really wanted to make these children smile."
One day he went to see a boy who had asked to see him. The boy, who was at Metro Hospital, was very badly burnt. After his visit Barnaby went back to tape his show and for the only time in his career, he dedicated an entire show to someone - the young boy with the terrible burns.
The hospital wheeled a television into his room and he was able to watch. "I was happy I could make him suffer just a little less. But the best news was - he recovered!"
To this day, people recognize him daily and tell him how he was a part of their lives. People tell him things like "I didn't have a father - but you helped" or "You were my only friend." He even had a doctor tell him that he used his material in his Child Psychology practice.
His young life in Norwalk, Ohio was far from storybook. When he left Norwalk he lived in the back of cars, and was passed around among nine different families. "No one ever said 'We Love you' or "We miss you' or even 'Come home." But I wasn't sad. It's all I knew."
A minister once asked him how he turned out okay. "If you never had it, you didn't know to miss it" was the only answer he had. It's not the part of his life he wants to focus on though - that part is history.
And anyway, it's different now. Everybody loves him. Everybody misses him and everybody would love to have him back in our homes making us smile.
There have always been rumors about Linn's wild and out of control drinking - and in most cases the rumors were true. He readily admits his abuse of alcohol and is justifiably proud to say he had his last drink 28 years ago. "And my last cigarette was 13 years ago!"
He credits his success at giving up drinking to good friend, Jim Doney (Adventure Road) and says without his help he's not sure what would have happened.
Linn Sheldon fishing
Linn's memories of the Barnaby days are all good - even if the schedule was grueling. He was on the air seven days a week, with half hour shows on weekdays and an hour on Saturdays and Sundays.
Eventually, he was given a sidekick, someone to help ease the burden of a seven-day schedule. The goal was for this man to ultimately take over the weekend shows. Auditions were held, but no one seemed to have the chemistry Linn was looking for.
Then one day, a salesman came in and auditioned. He had no experience, but just came in and ad-libbed and was chosen for the role. His name was Clay Conroy - but you might remember him as Woodrow the Woodsman.
He often thinks to himself "I couldn't have dreamt of a better life. I know what it is to sign autographs and have people clammer for you. It is such a special feeling."
When people found out where he lived they would often come around and ask for autographs for themselves or their children. He was always happy to oblige.
He remembers one man, however, who was very insistent on taking his child through "Barnaby's House." Linn was most willing to give an autograph or pose for a picture, but he didn't want people in his house. The man was angry and mean. "I guess the fact that I remember this so well shows you how rare it was to have somebody upset. People were always so nice."
He says the nicest thing that ever happened to him involved his one son, Perry. Of course Perry and his friends watched Barnaby on television, but did not quite grasp that his Dad was Barnaby.
One day Linn, as Barnaby, was doing a personal appearance at Halle's. There was a long line of children to see him and he noticed that one of them was Perry.
He was surprised to see that Barnaby really was his Dad and asked if he could stand there with him. So he stood next to Barnaby as he greeted each child. If Barnaby hugged a child or spent too much time with one, Perry would yell "next" and have them move along.
Finally, Perry tugged on his dad's sleeve and said, "They all love you Papa - but there's only one of me - right?" Linn hugged his son, and all these years later remembers that moment lovingly.
"The only thing that compares to that moment is my wife, Laura, telling me how much she cares for me. And I know she does, too."
Laura and Linn Sheldon
He and Laura have been married for ten years but have been together for thirty. They worked together at the station and now he says "I couldn't do anything without her".
Linn has a son and 2 daughters and four grandchildren. You can hear pride and love in his voice as he speaks of each one of them and their accomplishments.
He has a number of physical ailments now; Barrett's Disease, Diabetes and Asthma and has had heart surgery. And yet, all he can say is "I can't believe how wonderful life is!"
Linn is an avid horse lover and quite an accomplished rider, with numerous trophies to prove it. As a young child he always dreamt of being a cowboy. Finally as an adult he rode in parades throughout the country as one.
One year he was asked to ride in the County Fair in Berea. It was rainy and slippery and the performer who rode before him warned him of the dangerous conditions. But he went out anyway.
At the Lynn Sheldon Nature Trail
The horse slipped in the mud and fell on Linn, splitting the bone in his leg. The audience cheered, thinking it was all part of the show. That is, until he was carried off on a stretcher!
Linn Sheldon has written a book called "Barnaby and Me." It's a wonderful collection of stories from the very interesting life of a wonderful storyteller.
He considers it to be Volume I - since there are so many stories yet to tell. (Click on the book cover for more information or to buy the book)
Linn Sheldon, in and out of character is a delightful man and a joy to listen to. He is responsible for so many happy memories for so many of us, and we are very grateful.
On September 20, Linn Sheldon will be 84 years old. Barnaby on the other hand, is ageless.
As is the warm feeling that I got when he asked that I tell all of you, "Barnaby Says Hello!"Profiled by Debbie Hanson
Linn Shedon passed away April 23, 2006 in his Lakewood home but Barnaby and Linn will live on forever in those who watched and loved him.
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