To a generation of Detroit children he was known as TV’s Captain Jolly,
but that was just one facet of Toby David’s amazing thirty-year career in
Almost literally “born in a trunk,” Tofy Salem David
entered the world on September 22, 1914. His parents were traveling circus
performers. Salim played clarinet in the big top band, while his wife Ella
trained wild animals. Tofy, which
is Lebanese for “success,” was born on the road in New Bern, North Carolina.
The David family left the circus in the early
1920s, settling in Grand Rapids, MI., where they ran a small grocery store. In
1926 they moved to the Detroit area, where young Toby studied drafting at the
Ford Trade School in Highland Park, eventually finding work at the Chrysler
David amused coworkers with his gift for
mimicry and dialects- enough to convince him to appear in the Chrysler Amateur
Show, an in-plant effort to boost worker morale. Encouraged by the applause, he
tried out for a part in a traveling theatrical group sponsored by the Ford Motor
The director of the Ford troupe recommended
David to Ted Campeau, general manager of CKLW-AM, who in 1935 teamed him with
Joe Gentile on the Happy Joe and the Early Morning Frolic radio program.
Gentile and David were soon the toast of Detroit radio.
David left CKLW in 1940 for WMAL in
Washington D.C., where he hosted and produced his own morning radio program. As
second banana he chose Larry Marino, a former Detroit bus driver with a flair
for comedy. Known as “The Kibitzers,” the duo entertained D.C. audiences
with clever banter and crazy characters.
While at WMAL David organized the first
Treasury Bond shows, entertained servicemen at the first Stage Door Canteen in
Washington and emceed birthday parties for President Roosevelt. It is estimated
that David helped sell more than one million dollars worth of War Bonds.
In 1943 David and Marino moved to New York
City, where they hosted the morning show on WMZ, NBC’s Blue Network flagship
station. The next year NBC sold its Blue Network to the American Broadcasting
Company, ending the partnership of David and Marino.
The network’s demise enabled David to
freelance on a host of national radio programs, including Bulldog Drummond,
The Bob Hope Pepsodent Show, The Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore Show,
Bill Stern’s Sports Reel, Let’s Pretend and Land of the
Lost. David performed on eight different shows a day, often taking seven or
eight different parts on a single program.
The hectic pace led to complete exhaustion and
a near nervous breakdown for David. In 1946 he returned to Detroit, where at WJR
he hosted the afternoon and evening programs and read the comics Sunday mornings
as “Uncle Toby.”
David’s next radio gig was at WWJ, where he
hosted the morning show with Minnie Jo Curtis. In 1947 WWJ-TV flickered into a
handful of Detroit homes, and Toby David was there, supplying voices for the
puppet shows Jolly Man’s Circus and Willy Dooit, as well as Comics
Come To Life, a video version of his WJR Sunday comics radio program.
David took over CKLW’s morning show in 1948
when his old radio partners Binge and Gentile left the station for a shot at
television fame at WJBK.
When CKLW made the transition to television in
1954. David was on the air with Dollarama, a quiz show, and the Uncle
Toby Show, a kid show with cartoons, games and a live peanut gallery.
In 1957 CKLW secured the broadcast rights to
234 Fleischer and Famous Studios Popeye cartoons.
The station auditioned a handful of actors to host the cartoons, and
decided to go with Ralph Binge. When a sudden illness temporarily incapacitated
Binge, CKLW signed Toby David to play Captain Jolly.
Popeye and Pals, sponsored by Vernor’s
Ginger Ale, debuted in February 1958. Dressed in a captain’s hat, striped
t-shirt, horn rimmed glasses and chin strap beard, Captain Jolly greeted the
children of Detroit every weekday at 6 PM with a hearty “Hello, Chip Mates”
in his best broken German accent.
Sharing the dock with Captain Jolly were his
puppet pals Cecil and Stanley, Finny the Fish, Whitey the Mouse and Sylvester
the Seal. Wilhelmina the Whale, who never appeared on camera, always plotted to
get the Captain soaking wet, to which he would reply, “Holey Moley!” David
supplied the voices for all of the characters, while Paul Allen Schultz, who
appeared on the weekend show as “Poopdeck Paul”, operated the puppets.
Popeye and Pals was a ratings winner,
with a 29.9 rating, an estimated one million viewers a week and a line of
sponsors waiting to advertise on the show.
David made countless charity appearances for
churches and hospitals. He could never say no, especially if there were children
involved. At Bons Secours Hospital, which he visited nearly every Sunday, David
made sure that each of the children’s wards had TV sets. While visiting area
hospitals as Captain Jolly, David devised secret signals to use on the show as a
special greeting to a hospitalized child. For many years he put on an annual
benefit show for Leukemia patients. He was also on the board of trustees of St.
Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, TN for his good friend Danny Thomas.
David was also extremely active in civic
affairs. He was president of the Adcraft Club and was appointed by Governor
George Romney to the Michigan State Fair Authority. He also organized a consumer
credit counseling office.
In 1963 David ended his radio career at CKLW-AM
to devote more time to his television work, charities and business ventures.
CKLW-TV cancelled Popeye and Pals in
December 1964, citing “major changes in the station’s 1965 program
structure.” David taped a pilot, The Adventures of Captain Toby, which
John Pival, general manager at WXYZ, had planned to pitch to the bigwigs at ABC.
Unfortunately Pival drowned while on vacation in Florida.
David retired to Arizona in 1971, but didn’t
stay idle for long. He was hired by KPAZ-TV as their public relations man, where
he also hosted Auction Action and Sun City Showcase. In addition,
at KOOL-TV he hosted a bilingual children’s show called Ninos Contentos.
On the radio David hosted Arizona Law, a
five-minute syndicated radio program that was heard throughout the state. He
also wrote a weekly law column and was assistant director of the Arizona Bar
Throughout the 1970s David occupied his time by
dabbling in real estate and working as a public relations consultant and
coordinating clerk for the city of Scottsdale.
1980s David finally decided to slow down and enjoy his retirement, although he
did accept a part time job as tour director for the local chapter of the AARP.
David died on September 14, 1994 while entertaining a group of senior citizens.
He touched the lives of many thru his tireless work for the Armed Services
during World War II and the numerous children’s charities he supported. And as
Captain Jolly he left behind a legion of Detroit fans, his “Chip Mates.”