For many Twin Cities natives, the vintage TV shows "Axel and His Dog," "Bowl-A-Rama" and "The Bedtime Nooz," formed the kind of cultural touchstones that helped make Minnesota special. Behind the scenes, making sure it all came together with quiet and capable aplomb, was Stanley Wolfson.
Wolfson, who enjoyed a remarkable tenure in local broadcasting, theater, education and politics, and touched many lives throughout his career and even in retirement, died on Dec. 3. He was 90.
"He loved entertainment; he was a frustrated entertainer, I suppose," recalled his daughter, Sara Miele, of Minneapolis. "He had an excellent sense of humor and was a real collaborator, but he was reluctant to ever take any credit."
As a G.I. returning from World War II, he wed Ellen Levinstein in 1947, whom he met on a blind date. The two remained married for the next 65 years, and had two children, Miele and David Wolfson of Oakland, Calif.
He also embarked on a career in what was then a fledgling medium -- television. His served a vital, but understated, role as a "floor director" in the WCCO-TV studios, acting as the link between the on-air talent and the control room.
Along the way he worked with the giants of Minnesota broadcasting -- Cedric Adams, Dave Moore, Arlie Haberle and Bud Kraeling.
"Stan was present at the creation of television," said former WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby, who met Wolfson when he and Pat Miles interviewed for their co-anchor posts in 1978. "Back then, equipment was huge -- it took six men and a mule to move a camera. You needed people like Stanley around to make it work."
Wolfson either directed or was deeply involved in many iconic shows, ranging from the afternoon news program, "Around the Town," to "Axel and His Dog," the wildly popular children's show that ran on WCCO from 1954 to 1966. Played by local personality Clellan Card, Axel was a wacky "Scandahoovian" who lived in a treehouse with pals Towser, a dog, and a cat named Tallulah. It was Wolfson who played the invisible character "Stan the Skunk."
"He was a very kind person, so thoughtful," said Don Stolz, producer of the Log Cabin Theater in Excelsior, who met Wolfson on the Axel set. (Stolz played both Towser and Tallulah on the show, although only his fur-sheathed arm was shown on camera.) "When you work with a crew for a show that was on six days a week, you become very close. It was a wonderful place," he said.
Wolfson was also involved in "The Bedtime Nooz" show, a spoof that ran from 1962 to 1971 led by WCCO anchor Moore, that mocked current events and sports, and even lampooned sponsors. He worked on another popular show called "Bowl-A-Rama," which featured broadcasts from bowling alleys across the Twin Cities.
During Vikings games at the old Met Stadium, Wolfson was known as the man with the red mitten. Tethered to giant cameras during the live broadcasts, he would signal the referees via mitten that it was time to break for a commercial. "I remember one time I was in the stands watching a game and somehow everyone knew my father had something to do with the game stopping for commercials," his daughter, Sara, said. "People were getting really upset."
A lifelong Teamster union member, Wolfson was long active in the DFL Party and used his broadcasting expertise to prepare politicos like Hubert Humphrey and Republican Walter Judd for TV commercials and interviews.
After retiring 24 years ago, Wolfson spent a decade volunteering as a classroom helper in his daughter's class at the Park View Montessori school in Minneapolis. In a video tribute a few years ago, Wolfson told kids, "If you like your job you will have a happy life."
He and his wife also traveled the world through Elderhostel and Global Volunteers, including journeys to China, Africa and the Galapagos Islands, his favorite.
"He'd always say his favorite bird was the Blue-Footed Booby," Miele laughed.
In addition to his wife, Ellen, daughter Sara, and son David, Wolfson is survived by a sister, Gail Goldstein of St. Louis Park. A memorial service will be held 4 p.m. Sunday at the Towers Condominiums, 19 S. 1st St., Minneapolis.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752