R.I.P. Mary Hartline, star of classic kids' shows 'Super Circus' and 'Princess Mary's Castle'

She was a staple of Chicago television and one of the earliest TV Guide cover stars.

Image: The Everett Collection

In 1949, there was not "children's television" so much as there was "family television." With so few viewing options, and even fewer TV sets in the house, whatever was on became entertainment for Mom, Dad, Bobby and Sally. That would explain how Mary Hartline, host of the seemingly kiddie-friendly series Super Circus, became one of the first genuine icons of the television age.

The blonde beauty sold licensed boots, dolls, clothes and toys. She sucked ginger ale through a straw with a wink for Canada Dry. (As an interesting aside, her Super Circus costar, Mike Wallace of future 60 Minutes fame, pitched Peter Pan Peanut Butter as the ringmaster.)

In August 1963, Hartline burst through the cover of TV Guide. The vital listings magazine was just four months old, having launched that April. Fellow host Claude Kirchner, another Chicago broadcasting legend, smiled right alongside the young star.

A literal circus on the small screen, complete with clowns and amusing acts, Super Circus aired for seven years, until 1956. Originally produced in Chicago, the hit Sunday-afternoon spectacular shifted production locations to New York in 1955.

Hartline on 'Princess Mary's Castle'

Hartline would return to the Windy City. Starting in 1957, she hosted her own children's show, Princess Mary's Castle. That series was remarkably similar to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, had that show taken place entirely inside the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Princess Mary interacted with talking trees and knights' helmets, as well as puppets, of course.

Following the end of Castle, Mary hung up her crown and wand and retired from showbiz.  The Northwestern graduate settled down in her later years in Hillsboro, Illinois, her birthplace. She died there on August 12, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 92.

 
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Pilaf 26 days ago
When I was a little girl in Detroit, I thought Mary Hartline was the ultimate in glamor & beauty. Loved her blonde hair & baton twirled attire!
Pilaf Pilaf 26 days ago
*twirler
GregV 27 days ago
I think you mean August 1953 for TV guide.
Lantern 29 days ago
In a book published in 1972 about the early days of TV, it says about Super Circus and Mary Hartline "...she was the reason many adult males were regular viewers of a kiddie show".
jholton30062 Lantern 27 days ago
I think Ted Okuda made a similar observation in "The Golden Age of Chicago Children's Television." That was first published in 2004, an d he wrote it with Jack Mulqueen. Highly recommended!
MrsPhilHarris 29 days ago
When I grew up it was The Friendly Giant that I watched along with Chez Helene. Both were 15 minute episodes and were gentle, simple shows.
SalIanni MrsPhilHarris 29 days ago
I don't remember Chez Helene, but I loved The Friendly Giant - and Mr Dressup too! He was Canada's Mr Rogers, and that was by design.
MrsPhilHarris SalIanni 28 days ago
Chez Helene was a kid's show that introduced French to the anglophone audience. Had a little mouse puppet called Suzie. Loved it!
dmagoon MrsPhilHarris 27 days ago
"Chez Helene" was a CBC programme, the CBC being Canada's answer to PBS; they likely thought teaching Anglophones French on children's Tv was a great idea (like "?Que Pasa, USA?" on PBS); it al;so didn't hurt that French, at least early 2nd Millennium Norman French, could be Modern English's "father tongue"
dmagoon dmagoon 27 days ago
Maybe it was "?Que Pasa?" (or something like that) and it taught Spanish, not French; it wound up syndicated on WBZ-TV(?) in Boston inthe 1970s(?) and had puppet characters.
MrsPhilHarris dmagoon 25 days ago
Chez Helene had two woman and a puppet mouse. I loved that mouse, but I loved Friendly more. When ever I hear the instrumental from the show( Early One Morning) I am taken back to my childhood.
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