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 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.