Bobby Peters: Kids Show Host, Musical Madman, Silver-Haired “Daddyo”

bobby mugHe had a look: His hair was prematurely silver, his tan deep, his convertible white.

He had a sound: As a bandleader, singer, and drummer he was hip from his baton to his banter (he called everyone “cat”; everyone called him “Daddyo”).

But more important, he had a role in local broadcasting history as one of the pioneers who built WBAP-TV from the test pattern up.

Star-Telegram entertainment columnist Elston Brooks called Bobby Peters Fort Worth’s “greatest showman.”

“It was pure production,” Brooks wrote, “if Peters put on a funny hat, leered behind false whiskers or did the rubber-leg bit. He called himself a drummer, but he played just about any chair in the band.”

“He liked his Scotch, he wrote the book on hip talk and he thrived on the wee hours of the nightclub and touring band business.”

Robert George Peters was born in Pennsylvania in 1912. At age sixteen he began performing a nightclub and vaudeville act. By 1933 he was a regular on Pittsburgh’s radio station KDKA. Peters formed an orchestra in 1939 and performed at New York’s Village Barn club in Greenwich Village.

bobby hotel texas 39

But that same year Peters came to Cowtown and decided to stay a spell. He began performing at the Supper Club and the Skyliner on Jacksboro Highway and at the Den in the Hotel Texas. “Fort Worth’s downtown dine & dance spot.” It was air-conditioned!

bobby radio 39Also in 1939 Peters and his dance orchestra performed on KFJZ radio and the Texas State Network. Note that radio programming in 1939 was mostly music (WBAP on the Texas Quality Network presented the Light Crust Doughboys) and dramatic serials (soap operas such as Pepper Young’s Family, The Guiding Light, Stella Dallas, Judy and Jane, Mary Marlin).

bobby travel panelPeters had found a home in Fort Worth, but he could not resist the road and continued to tour with his band. In 1941-1942 they appeared in nightclubs and hotels around the country.

In 1942 Peters did not yet have his signature silver hair as he rehearsed for the opening of the Supper Club.

But soon Peters enlisted in the Army and during World War II served in the Special Services of the Army Air Forces. He emceed the What’s Your Name? radio program from Love Field in Dallas. Love Field was an Air Transport Command airfield during the war.

After the war Peters was again a man about town, appearing at the 400 Club on Jacksboro Highway at University Drive.

bobby 5 shows 50 headAfter the war came another medium for Peters to master. On September 28, 1948 WBAP-TV signed on as the only TV station between Los Angeles and St. Louis. Two years later Bobby Peters brought his talent and energy to WBAP’s Broadcast Hill.

In the new medium Peters and other television pioneers were making it up as they went along. And they were making it up on live TV.

In May 1950 Ira Cain, the Star-Telegram’s pioneer television writer, wrote that Peters was performing a feat that even “Mr. TV,” the “inexhaustible Milton Berle,” would not attempt: hosting an hour-long live TV program five days a week. Officially Peters’s On the Record show was a “disc-jockey program.” But, Cain wrote, “Appearing every day in a new costume—so far he’s been everything from a lion-tamer to an Arabian sheik—Bobby Peters falls back on an unending repertoire of gags and antics to keep his ‘Madman’s Matinee’ going.” Cain wrote: “Most of his performances, including the pantomime lyrics for records he plays, are scripted entirely in his mind. His 20-year background of show business is responsible for that faculty, Peters says, explaining that a lot of novelty acts with which he built a national reputation for his bands fit nicely into television.”

Peters on his set and with his audience members. (Photos from NBC 5/KXAS Photograph Collection, University of North Texas Special Collections.)

bobby tv 50In 1950 Peters’s On the Record program was on the air from 3 to 4 p.m. (Note Mary Punkins Parker’s Playtime at 5:15, wrestling matches from North Side Coliseum at 8:40, and Harold Taft’s Weather Tele-Facts at 10:05.)

bobby joynt 50Not content to perform on radio and television and in venues around town, in 1950 Peters opened his own nightclub—the Joynt—on East Belknap Street. Elston Brooks remembered the Joynt as a “cracker box” with “egg carton inserts for an insulated ceiling, crazy signs on the wall, knockwurst out of a jar, singing waiters and, of course, Peters himself.” The Joynt was “a show business haven, where the city’s talent dropped in after their own shows elsewhere and performed for free. He sold it later to [character actor] Norm Alden, and it folded after Alden went to Hollywood.”

bobby sheet musicThis sheet music of “The Prairies Keep Callin’ Me Home” boasts that the song was “featured by Bobby Peters and his orchestra.”

Like fellow bandleaders Tex Beneke and Smith Ballew, Peters also was a recording artist. Here’s “I’m Through Cryin’ Over You” from a 78-rpm disc, a novelty song recorded in 1951 by Bobby Peters and Buster’s Gang on the Texadisc label in Dallas:

bobby record labelPeters may have come from back east, but he cottoned to Cowtown so much that he wrote and recorded a song entitled “Ridin’ the Texas Plains” on the Texadisc label.

bobby tv radio 51By 1951 Peters was on WBAP TV with On the Record at noon and on WBAP radio at 3:45 p.m. with the Bobby Peters Show (“with music and fun”). Note that in 1951 two local TV legends—Bobby Peters and Bill Camfield—were on WBAP between noon and 1 p.m.

bobby with ruby at the ranchHere’s a real curio. This photo, taken about 1952 at the Bob Wills Ranch House western-style nightclub in Dallas, shows Bobby Peters posing with Jack Ruby. Dallas millionaire O. L. Nelms had built the nightclub as a showcase for Wills, but about 1952 Nelms leased the club to Ruby and later sold it to Dewey Groom, whereupon it became the Longhorn Ballroom. The short man is Little Jimmy Dickens. The man between Dickens and Ruby, reader Paul Roark tells me, is Leo Teel, who was a musician and owned a recording studio in Grand Prairie and nightclubs in Dallas.

bobby jamboree 52In 1952 Bobby Peters began yet another experiment in early TV: He began hosting Bobby Peters Jamboree, “a new show for the kids.” Note that programming on Saturday did not begin until 10 a.m. (Yes, in the Washer Bros. ad syndicated newspaper columnist Mark Bertram “Bert” Bacharach, presented by KFJZ radio and the Mutual Network, was the father of composer Burt Freeman Bacharach, who was twenty-four when this ad appeared.)

(By the mid-1950s Fort Worth-Dallas TV would be jammin’ with Bobby Peters Jamboree, Cowtown Jamboree, and Big “D” Jamboree.)

bobby teen night 52Peters, to promote his new kids show, made local appearances. On March 7 he hosted “Teen Nite” at the Bowie Theater with a “Jamboree of Gags.”

bobby boys and girls 56Boys and girls who today are grandparents fondly remember having been members of the studio audience of Bobby Peters Jamboree.

Here is a four-second video clip from Bobby Peters Jamboree:

bobby script 57 'UNT Libraries Special CollectionsThis WBAP TV script from 1957 may have been for a news segment about the pony presentation seen in the video clip above. Note that the pony winner chose $350 ($3,000 today) instead. (Photo from UNT Libraries Special Collections.)

bobby my room 53Despite his day jobs on radio and TV, Peters kept his night job: performing in nightclubs, appearing at My Room on Camp Bowie Boulevard in 1953.

bobby jamboree 57But in 1954 Bobby Peters had been diagnosed with cancer, and his health was failing. He managed to keep his Bobby Peters Jamboree on the air into 1957 and continued to lead a band for dances and to work as program director of WBAP FM radio.

(Note other Saturday morning shows in 1957: Howdy Doody, Gumby, Fury, Sky King, Mark Wilson’s magic show, Captain Gallant and Capt. Kangaroo, Mighty Mouse, Lone Ranger, Boston Blackie.)

bobby canterburyBut for Robert George Peters the stage went dark on February 13, 1961. He died at his home on Canterbury Circle in Meadowbrook at age forty-eight.

bobby elston obits 61Local musicians and other entertainers honored Peters at his funeral.

bobby graveBobby Peters—showman and “Daddyo” to his generation, TV pioneer to later generations—is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

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23 Responses to Bobby Peters: Kids Show Host, Musical Madman, Silver-Haired “Daddyo”

  1. John R Keller says:

    I found this photograph of Bobby Peters on the facebook page for the Sixth Floor Museum of Dealey Plaza. It is full photo of the picture you presented [the one with Jack Ruby], but it contains has wife.

  2. Janis Shaffer says:

    Great story Mike. As a TV brat, I have such fond memories of Bobby. Not many know he really didn’t have much tolerance for children but he could spoon it out to them in a way that made them want more. We played many a game of Hangman and his words would always knock me out. It was a sad day in Cowtown when Bobby passed away. Once again, thanks for taking me along in the time machine.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Janis. What a unique childhood you had: the early days of TV (not to mention Italian dining) in Fort Worth. You’d make a great contestant on “I’ve Got a Secret”: “I played Hangman with Bobby Peters”!

  3. Sharon Matzner says:

    My friend Sally and I performed three times on the show. I won the president’s silhouette contest. I won $10 dollars. The president was William McKinley. I bought a new coat with my prize.Sally and I sang “Tonight You Belong to Me” by Patience and Prudence at our first performance.

  4. Jamie West Sanders says:

    My brother (Tommy) and I were always at the station. We lived close and our mother knew Bobby. I will always remember how much fun we had and how nice he was to us.

  5. Stephen Brown says:

    I was on his TV show several times. I hung around the TV station a lot.

  6. JB Floyd says:

    I was a member of the Bobby Peters Band at Abe’s Colony Club in the summer of 1948 and was captivated by this man! He was the best bandleader I ever worked with and I will always remember Bobby as a wonderful person.

  7. Gwen Martin says:

    I was in a tap group in 1957, Mrs Sylvia’s. We were 5 year olds and performed on the show in 1957. We wore yellow feather outfits and danced to “We are Little Chicks”. We were all from Grandview Texas

    • Donna Johnson says:

      I also tap-danced on the show! We played a game and I won an “Indian Sand Painting kit.” It was such fun! Thanks for doing this story!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Donna. What a versatile entertainer he was. We kids would remember him one way. Our parents would remember him another way.

  8. Charles Alexander says:

    My father played in the Bobby peters band when they went to San Diego. Our family moved out there for a while. I think I was three or four years old at the time (1947 or 1948). I remember going to one of their rehearsals where they were practicing some number where the band members all got swords and danced around in a circle…it scared me because I thought they were really fighting.

  9. Paul Roark says:

    The man in the picture with Peters and Jack Ruby is Leo Teel. Leo was a musician and owned a recording studio in Grand Prairie. He also owned several nightclubs in the Dallas area.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Mr. Roark. As soon as I saw a photo of Teel, I could see that it was him. I have corrected the blog post and have added a link to a Teel recording on YouTube.

    • Paul Roark says:

      I bought a lot of his master tapes from his daughter. It’s funny, but the stuff that was released from him is terrible compared to the real gems that seemingly never saw the light of day. When I get some properly transferred and up on Youtube, I will send you a link to the good stuff!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Mr. Roark.

  10. John Keller says:

    My mother loved your article. She has silver hair just like Bobby Peters. All of his siblings were prematurely silver.

    I have two more of his sheet music arrangements and a news release article. If you would like, I can scan them in and send them to you

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Mr. Keller. Bobby Peters and his show are a fond memory of many people my age who grew up in this area. I’d love to see your scans and will credit you if I can add them to the post.

  11. John Keller says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I have searched for several years for information about him.

    Bobby Peters was my mother’s half brother, so he was my uncle, but he had left Pennsylvania before she was born [1931]. Unfortunately he died before I was born.

    If you have any additional information, especially videos of the show, I’d love to read more about him.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Mr. Keller. Many local people my age have fond memories of Bobby Peters. I wish I could have found more video. Channel 5 probably has some because the too-brief clip I posted came from a retrospective that the station broadcast a few years ago. I had kept a videotape of it.

  12. Stephen Brown says:

    Bobby Peters was a neighbor of mine in the early 1950’s. I knew him. I was on his TV show several times.

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