J. Clayton Conroy, better known to Detroit and Cleveland baby boomers as TV's Woodrow the Woodsman, was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 3, 1918.  Conroy studied at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts  and also attended the New England Conservatory of Music.   Before becoming a children’s television performer he tried a variety of occupations, from loan officer and concessions operator to comic magician and water show acrobat.  "I jumped off a 22 foot board playing my trombone," Conroy recalled in a 1963  interview, "and didn't let go when I hit the water.  Still checking to see if anyone has seen an old trombone with a pair of lips still attached!" While working at the Miami Beach water show Conroy met  Margaret, his bride to be. During World War II Conroy served in the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard. In 1959 he moved to Cleveland, the hometown of his new wife.

  Woodrow the Woodsman aired on WJBK in Detroit from 1966 to 1970, but the character was created in Cleveland eight years earlier, for WKYC’s  Barnaby the Leprechaun.  The mustachioed  woodsman with the Prince Valiant haircut became so popular that in 1961 he was given his own show, The Barn-Wood Playhouse. Woodrow entertained the children of Cleveland in the Enchanted Forest,  with his puppet pals Tarkington Whom III the Owl, Voracious the peanut butter and jelly sandwich eating Elephant and Frederick Maximillian Gesundheit the Alley-Croc (the world’s only half alligator/half crocodile with a German accent). When WKYC was sold in 1965, Conroy moved the show to WJBK in Detroit. 

  The Detroit version of Woodrow was pretty much a carbon copy of the Cleveland show. Why mess around with such an endearing concept? The puppets were simplistic but charming due largely to the vocal talents of Lawson Deming, who would ultimately become the legendary Detroit vampire movie host Sir Graves Ghastly.  As part of the show, Woodrow and his forest friends would sing the popular songs of the day, like the Irish Rover’s Unicorn song and The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy vs. The Red Baron. Conroy also introduced a new generation to the comedy of Laurel and Hardy by airing scenes from some of Stan and Ollie’s best films. Crusader Rabbit cartoons were also a feature of the show. 

  Woodrow the Woodsman returned to Cleveland television in 1970, where the show aired until 1972.  Conroy spent the next 25 years modeling and doing commercials..

  In 1997, a television executive who was a fan of the old show convinced Conroy that the time was right for a Woodrow revival. The new show ran for another three years on Cleveland’s WJW.

  Conroy was in excellent physical shape due to years of swimming and exercise, but poor blood circulation was becoming a problem. When Conroy entered the hospital shortly before his death, it was the daughter of Linn Sheldon, Barnaby the Leprechaun, who was the nurse on duty. Conroy passed away on July 10, 2003.

   Clay Conroy is gone, but for the young at heart Woodrow the Woodsman still lives, laughing and cavorting with his friends Tarkington the Owl, Voracious the Elephant and Freddy the Alley-Croc, tucked somewhere in the dark recesses of our memory, where the Enchanted Forest is.

Copyright © 2003 Edward Golick Jr. All Rights Reserved.