Don Kennedy “Officer Don” Dies

In 1966 Officer Don (Don Kennedy of WSB-TV’s Popeye Club) made appearances at Storyland with “Orville the Green Dragon” puppet.

Officer Don and the Popeye Club gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s and was broadcast in various regions, particularly in the southeastern United States. Don Kennedy, as Officer Don, became a beloved figure among young viewers, known for his energetic and engaging hosting style. The show provided entertainment and educational content for children, fostering a sense of community and fun.

Officer Don signed this 8×10 photo for me at Storyland in Marietta, Georgia.

The Popeye club was based in Atlanta (WSB TV[1]) and was hosted by a jovial faux Atlanta Policeman known as “Officer Don”. It aired from 1957 until 1969 and included pie-in-the-face slapstick comedy, games, and cartoons. It was aired with a live audience of kids which I was one of when I was 5 years old ((1963).

On the TV show, the kids got to count down the cartoons (5,4,3,2 …) and play games like Ooey Gooey (a variation on Russian Roulette with the loser sticking his hand into a bag filled with raw eggs, chocolate syrup, and the like). Blindfolded, kids would stick their hands in one of the bags and grab whatever was in it — most of which had a prize like a cupcake, but one had a mix of gross gunk.

The Ooey-Gooey Bag was one of my favorite things,” Kennedy told the AJC in 1998. “We used to fill it with whatever we could find in the prop room or outside White Columns[2], like dirt or chocolate syrup or an egg or two.

Don Kennedy

Before he was Officer Don, Kennedy was a booth announcer and news update reader for Channel 2. He had been drafted unwillingly into fronting what originally was called “The Clubhouse Gang” before it became “The Popeye Club.” Eventually, he became the nation’s highest-rated local children’s host.

Donald J. Kennedy was born on March 2, 1930, and grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He had an early love for radio, working at a local station as a teenager. He pursued communication studies at nearby Geneva College. After working at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the Army during the Korean War, Kennedy landed a job at WSB-TV in 1953 doing voice-over work, news reading, and booth announcing.

Management in 1956 drafted Kennedy to take over as host of a children’s show called “The Clubhouse Gang,” which he didn’t actually want to do, telling them he didn’t like kids. Kennedy also inherited the policeman’s uniform from prior host Gary Stradling, who was known as “Officer Joe.” The show’s name was changed for a short time to “Big Adventure” featuring Jungle Jim movies.

Orvil was part of the reason the show stayed on so long, because he put new life in the show

Don Kennedy

Eventually, it became “The Popeye Club,” showing Popeye cartoons between live bits, and quickly became a top-rated local program for 13 years that aired live for 60 minutes every weekday afternoon from a studio in WSB’s White Columns building. From a rating standpoint, it became one of the most popular local kids’ shows in the nation. Parents reserved their kids’ appearances in the studio a year in advance. Kennedy became a local sensation, booking weekend personal appearances, often at movie theaters and shopping centers, before more than 50,000 kids a year.

Like many shows of that era, he used puppets, one of which became a breakout hit: Orvil the Dragon, who loved playing practical jokes on Officer Don, featuring pies in the face or raw pizza dough on his head. He was created by teen puppeteer Terry Kelley starting in 1963 (Kelley died in 2003).

I once got the Ooey-Gooey Bag, and another time I won a pair of PF Flyers sneakers.

Clark Howard[3]

Kennedy did well enough financially that he partnered with two other men to purchase an FM radio station in 1960, WKLS-FM[4] at 96.1, and played easy-listening music. It would eventually become the legendary 96rock station after he sold it in 1970. He also started Georgia’s first statewide radio news network and for a time owned an independent UHF TV station WATL/Channel 36[5], where he aired a lower-budget version of “The Popeye Club” for a time.

My favorite days were those when I’d worked on the show all night at his studio on Piedmont, and he’d stroll in and say, “Let’s get some breakfast.’ He’d take me to the White House Café[6] on Peachtree, and we’d sit there for hours taking about all manner of things. Such a loss! He was a pioneer, a father figure and a really decent man.

Dave C. Gibson – producer of his radio show for a time

He spent 25 years hosting a syndicated radio show “Big Band Jump” out of his Buckhead studio until 2013 and did voices for early Adult Swim[7] shows like “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” Kennedy is survived by his wife Ann Kennedy and his daughter Rebecca Maple.

He was inducted into the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Silver Circle Award, and Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.

Don Kennedy died Thursday, June 29, 2023, at the age of 93. Kennedy is survived by his wife Ann Kennedy and his daughter Rebecca Maple.  His daughter Rebecca Maple reported that her father had been suffering from dementia following a stroke in 2015. Kennedy used his local celebrity to bring attention to many charities and served on boards of The American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy, Cystic Fibrosis, and the Atlanta Humane Society.

Television character actor Don Kennedy[8] (also known as Derrick Slaugenhaupt, born 1921) is often confused with radio personality Don Kennedy above. Their information and credits are intertwined on the Internet Movie Database. The character actor appeared in many television shows in the 1950s and 1960s such as The Rifleman.

  1. WSB-TV, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the oldest and most prominent television stations in the United States. Founded in 1948, it is an ABC-affiliated station and has played a significant role in shaping the broadcasting landscape of Atlanta and the southeastern region. WSB-TV has a strong reputation for its news coverage, with its award-winning investigative journalism and commitment to local reporting. The station also offers a wide range of programming, including popular shows, sports events, and community-oriented content. Over the years, WSB-TV has consistently ranked among the top stations in Atlanta, maintaining a loyal viewership and contributing to the community through initiatives such as fundraising campaigns and public service announcements. With its rich history, journalistic excellence, and commitment to serving the Atlanta community, WSB-TV remains a trusted source of news and entertainment in the region. [Back]
  2. “White Columns” refers to the location where WSB-TV had its studios in Atlanta. The White Columns building served as the headquarters for WSB-TV from the 1950s to the 1990s. It was a notable broadcasting facility for the station during that time. White Columns showcases stunning Greek Revival architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [Back]
  3. Clark Howard is a well-known American consumer expert and radio/television personality. He is widely recognized for his expertise in personal finance, consumer advocacy, and frugal living. Clark Howard is known for providing practical advice and tips on how to save money, avoid scams, and make informed financial decisions. He gained prominence through his syndicated radio show, “The Clark Howard Show,” where he discusses a wide range of topics related to consumer finance. Additionally, he has written several books and frequently appears on television to share his insights. Clark Howard has become a trusted source of information for individuals seeking to navigate the complex world of personal finance. [Back]
  4. WKLS-FM, also known as “96 Rock,” is a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia, with a rich history in the city’s rock music scene. The station first went on the air in 1947 and has since become a prominent fixture in Atlanta’s radio landscape. Over the years, WKLS-FM underwent various format changes and ownership transitions, but it has consistently focused on rock music. It gained significant popularity in the 1970s and 1980s as a leading rock station, featuring classic rock hits and hosting concerts by renowned artists. In 2012, the station’s format shifted to active rock, catering to a broader range of rock subgenres. Throughout its history, WKLS-FM has played a vital role in promoting rock music and providing a platform for both established and emerging rock artists. [Back]
  5. WATL, also known as Channel 36, is a television station in Atlanta, Georgia, with a storied history in the region’s broadcasting industry. The station first signed on the air in 1954 as WQXI-TV, and it went through several ownership and call sign changes over the years. In 1971, the station became WATL, standing for “Atlanta’s TV 36,” and it established itself as a prominent independent station in the Atlanta market. Throughout its history, WATL has aired a variety of programming, including syndicated shows, movies, and sports. In the 1980s, the station gained attention with its lineup of popular sitcoms, such as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne.” WATL has also served as an affiliate for various networks, including the WB and MyNetworkTV. Today, as a CW affiliate, WATL continues to provide a diverse range of programming to Atlanta viewers. [Back]
  6. The White House, a historic Buckhead eatery that’s been around since 1948 starts your morning with a classic, made from scratch, breakfast, and a hot cup of coffee. You can make memories with friends over gyros and burgers, or settle into your favorite corner booth for a much-needed solo meal, sharing smiles and conversations with a kitchen staff that feels a lot more like family. They are committed to homemade Greek-inspired offerings and their love for the community. [Back]
  7. Adult Swim is a late-night programming block on Cartoon Network known for its distinctive blend of animated and live-action series targeting an adult audience. It has also expanded into its own network, known as Adult Swim, which airs a variety of original shows. Adult Swim series are often characterized by their offbeat humor, unconventional storytelling, and diverse animation styles. The programming encompasses a wide range of genres, including comedy, science fiction, and surrealism, with notable series like “Rick and Morty,” “The Venture Bros,” “Robot Chicken,” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” Adult Swim has garnered a dedicated following and is celebrated for its unique and boundary-pushing content, attracting both mainstream and cult audiences. [Back]
  8. Don Kennedy was born on 3 September 1921 in Los Angeles, California, USA. He was an actor, known for You Are There (1953), The Stunt Man (1980), and Zane Grey Theatre (1956). He appeared in TV episodes of The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Maverick, McHale’s Navy, Bonanza, The Virginian, Rawhide, Hazel, The Wild Wild West, The Fugitive, The Invaders, The Monkees, Gomer Pyle: USMC, and Land of the Giants. He died on 3 April 2013 in Del Mar, California, USA. [Back]

Further Reading


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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