Miss Betty on “Romper Room” was a wildly popular TV host watched by legions of Twin Cities kids in the 1960s.
Mary Betty Douglass of Minneapolis, the pretend teacher who would hold up her Magic Mirror while calling out children’s names, died on Nov. 3. She was 87.
Using her lovely voice and smile, Douglass would instruct a half-dozen children in make-believe kindergarten.
A ditty, “Buzz, buzz, Do Bee Dance,” would introduce her segment in which she’d use a hand puppet named “Mr. Doo Bee” to advise “do bee polite” or “do bee a good eater.” She’d also warn “don’t bee” a fussy eater and other no-no’s.
“It was a very simple message, but the children loved it; they loved to be a ‘Do Bee.’ Nobody wanted to be a ‘Don’t Bee,’ ” Douglass said with a laugh in a 2009 documentary by Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park.
In her first five years on “Romper Room,” the 30-minute shows aired from Calhoun Beach Motel on WTCN Channel 11. Later, KMSP 9 broadcast it from the Foshay Tower in Minneapolis.
“Romper Room” was a franchise that local stations paid to carry, said Steve Raymer, Pavek Museum’s managing director. Douglass was one of a few women breaking ground in a male-dominated broadcast industry, said Raymer and Douglass’ daughter, Pamela Hastings of Bloomington.
Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Douglass grew up to model and act off-Broadway. She married in 1954 and had two daughters and a son who died at birth. She divorced after five years of marriage and moved her girls to Scranton, Pa., to live with her parents.
“My mother decided to take up her acting career again,” Hastings said. In 1960, Burt Claster, creator of the Romper Room franchise, hired her to be the teacher on local TV in Scranton.
“In 1962, Channel 11 in Minneapolis picked up the Romper Room franchise and offered my mother the job,” Hastings said.
Douglass and daughters moved to a tiny bungalow near Lake Calhoun, and she soon learned to drive a car. On the set during each show, another catchy little ditty played, “Oh come with us and gallop in Romper Room today,” as pupils galloped around on stick ponies.
“I always advised the children at home that they could use mom’s broom, or ask for a mop handle, because it was important to include them, to make them feel a part of the show,” Douglass said in 2009.
At her many community appearances, Douglass said she was “always amazed” at how many kids and parents came. “It was always a very happy thing to meet them all; I really enjoyed the personal appearances,” she said.
Douglass often visited sick kids, many of whom needed operations, at regional hospitals on Easter and Christmas.
“We would go there with candy and toys for the children, and they were always glad to see us,” she said.
“Betty Douglass stood out for her initiative and willingness to take the show on the road to places like Gillette Children’s Hospital or the local fire station,” Raymer said. “The demise of locally produced children’s television programs in the 1960s put an end to these visits by local children’s show hosts.”
Douglass sold real estate after her 10-year run on “Romper Room” was over. She turned down TV jobs in New York and California because her daughters were in school in Minneapolis.
“It was a fun experience; I loved it, and I was really sad when it ended for me,” she said in 2009. “But everything has to end. You can’t go on doing one thing all your life.”
Other survivors include daughter Madeline Douglass of Minneapolis, two grandsons and a niece.
Services have been held.