The year is 1953. In the cramped TV studios of WXYZ Marv Welch waits patiently under a bank of hot incandescent lights for director Pete Strand to give the signal from the control room. He raises three fingers…two…one, then signals ET man Lytle Hoover to play the theme song . "Roll music!"
“Taxi your tricycles close to the screen.
Take your dolly by the hand.
For there are many wonderful things to be seen,
On WIXIE’S WONDERLAND!!!”
The red light of camera one flickers on as Wixie jumps into view. For the next 60 minutes the elf-like man in the blue tunic charms the children of Detroit. What Wixie’s young fans didn’t realize was that their beloved pixie pal spent his evening hours entertaining mom and dad at some of Detroit’s hottest supper clubs.
Marvin Welch Jr. was born on October 14, 1925 in Detroit, Michigan. His parents, Marvin Sr. and Amelia, were nightclub entertainers. Times were tough during the Great Depression but the Welchs managed to get by, sometimes performing at neighborhood piano bars for a free meal and a few dollars. When Marv Jr. arrived on the scene his parents couldn’t afford a sitter, so Amelia would hide her son behind the piano while she performed.
Music and drama were his favorite subjects in school, where he usually won the lead role in the school play. At Detroit’s Mackenzie High School he sang in the choir with his girlfriend, future Prize Movie diva Rita Bell. He attended Wayne University, where he studied liberal arts under Leonard Leone, founder of the famed Hilberry and Bonstelle theaters.
During World War II PFC Welch drove a tank for Patton’s Third Armored Division in Germany. While in Czechoslovakia he emceed shows for the USO, trading punch lines with Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Carole Lombard and other Hollywood celebrities.
While working the nightclub circuit Welch met a beautiful blonde singer
named Eleanor McRobbie. The two hit it off both off stage and on, and were soon
Wixie’s Wonderland made its debut in the fall of 1953. The show aired live every day with no real script to speak of, except for maybe a few hastily written ideas jotted down on a piece of paper. Welch sang, joked, introduced Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse cartoons, peddled Bosco, pantomimed to records and basically ad-libbed for an hour every day. Rounding out the Wonderland cast were pert piano player Diane Dale, who sang and told stories, Gramps, the resident animal expert, played by Frank Nastasi, and mute clown Gee-Whiz, the fastest artist there is, played by Ken Muse. Pianist Marion Rivers replaced Diane Dale in 1956.
There’s been some confusion over the years as to what exactly the character of Wixie was supposed to be. Welch recalls, “I wore boots, a lightning bolt on my chest and a beanie with an antenna. I don’t know what the hell I was supposed to be.” Welch gets a bit peeved when Wixie is referred to as a clown. “I wasn’t a damn clown. I was a pixie!”
In 1953 Welch met his second wife Dolores while headlining at Harry and Alma's, at the time the hottest nightclub in Michigan. Dolores, known as "Dee," worked as a hostess in the club. Welch even owned Harry and Alma's for a short time in the 1950s. “We used to stand ‘em in line all night,” Welch recalls. “In the winter my wife used to give cups of coffee spiked with a shot of Brandy to the people standing in line waiting to get in. Some people stood in line just to get the coffee!”
In the 1990s W elch teamed up with his old WXYZ cronies Soupy Sales and
Johnny Ginger for a series of successful nightclub appearances. In 2000
Welch performed every weekend at his daughter’s restaurant, Marvin’s Bistro
& Piano Bar, where his original Wixie costume and other memorabilia was on
display. Sadly, the restaurant closed after a year.
elch teamed up with his old WXYZ cronies Soupy Sales and Johnny Ginger for a series of successful nightclub appearances. In 2000 Welch performed every weekend at his daughter’s restaurant, Marvin’s Bistro & Piano Bar, where his original Wixie costume and other memorabilia was on display. Sadly, the restaurant closed after a year.
Welch passed away on February 22, 2007 after a short illness.
Tom DeWitt’s father, Joe DeWitt, was a technical engineer at WXYZ. As a child Tom and his brother John periodically had the chance to visit the station. Tom has been nice enough to share some of his memories of Marv Welch and Wixie’s Wonderland.
When my father went to get the baskets he discovered that someone had stolen them. When Mr. Welch heard of the theft, he went out and bought two more baskets for my brother and myself, paid for out of his own pocket, more elaborate than the ones the station had paid for. I didn’t learn this until many years later.