Of the great pantheon of kid show hosts who graced the airwaves and won the hearts and minds of children in the Philadelphia broadcast region, Gene London, the genial host of The Gene London Show is one of the last of the Mohicans. When I heard that he was making a local appearance, I knew I had to see him.
Gene London was scheduled to appear as part of Phila Flea Markets which move all throughout the City of Philadelphia and on this occasion was situated within the massive Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts at Broad and Spruce Streets. Dealers of antiques, art and collectibles packed the place while Mr. London was there to meet fans and to display some of his Hollywood Collection.
I’ve been to book signings and comic book conventions before where a usually bored celebrity is at the event because it is part of the job. They are usually barricaded behind a table stacked high with books awaiting the onslaught of fans while minders corral and urge the pokey lingerers to move along. As I made my way through the hall, I expected Gene London to be similarly situated behind a table as assistants handed him 8×10 glossies and fresh Sharpie markers, but that wasn’t the case. I saw tables set up with his merchandise and mannequins clad in gowns from his collection, but where was Gene? Was he there yet? Maybe there was a certain time for which he was allotted. I looked around and noticed a tall, thin and dapper man talking to a some people.
Unlike the clock-watching personalities I’ve seen at collectors’ shows or sci-fi conventions, Gene moved freely around the floor glad to chat, press the flesh and was very generous with his time. I could see that he was warm, engaging and overflowed with stories. I watched as people approached him looking like they were seeing a near and dear relative they haven’t seen in a long time.
When I approached him to shake his hand, I was struck speechless. I think I got out “a pleasure to meet you” and that was it. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because he was on the local CBS affiliate every day when I was very young, and I grew up watching him. I was star struck. I was speechless, and then I started to gush. I went on an on about my earliest memories of the show. One of the things that Gene did that I loved was that he would cut together promotional clips the TV station got from studios and pad out the sequences in between acting out his own variation of the story. For instance, I remember Gene doing his own version of The Incredible Shrinking Man where he was shrinking in between the clips of that movie. It sounds goofy, and it was only one of the things he did besides art projects, singing songs and telling stories. His miniature epics were performed earnestly, and I was absolutely riveted as a kid! He matched me story for story filling me in with fascinating behind-the-scenes details. He had no budget and was making magic on the spot! Eventually two other fifty-something guys sidled up and joined in. We were all talking, laughing and listening to Gene tell his tales just as he did on his show. It was then that I noticed that the two other guys and I were all average height while London is fairly tall. We were all looking up at him, goofily grinning as if we were children again.