John Rovick died yesterday in Idaho at the age of 93.
Don’t recognize the name? If you grew up in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago, you know this name: Sheriff John. That was John Rovick’s alter ego – much to the delight of kids in the early days of L.A. television.
Long before the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, TV programming for children in L.A. was handled mostly by local stations. The exception, of course, was "Captain Kangaroo" on CBS, which endured as early morning children's entertainment into the 1980s:
But midday and after-school shows for kids were usually for local stations, and that was certainly true in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s.
But on the air longer than both was Sheriff John on KTTV/Channel 11.
John Rovick's on-air costume was simple: a trooper's wide-brimmed hat, a neatly-knotted black tie, and a khaki uniform (at least, it looked khaki; this was in the black-and-white days of TV).
Hosting a cartoon show for kids was far less dangerous than John Rovick's earlier career; he’d been a radio operator for the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, and survived 50 combat missions.
Rovick pursued a career in broadcasting after the service. As a staff announcer at KTTV in 1952, he developed an idea for a midday cartoon show for children. Rovick's program, featuring words of wisdom plus a lot of cartoons, began as a late afternoon show.
But its enduring time slot was noon, and the enduring name of Rovick's one-man show was "Sheriff John's Lunch Brigade."
Rovick’s idea to be “Sheriff John” was inspired in part by longtime L.A. County Sheriff Gene Biscailuz. But the idea to mix in life lessons with the cartoons was all Rovick’s.
Remember "Clutch Cargo" and "Space Angel"? Those early TV serials were regulars on "Sheriff John's Lunch Brigade."
And the big highlight of every show was the “Birthday Cake Polka,” sung by Rovick to the dozens of children whose names he'd read on air on their birthdays.
Sheriff John’s 18-year run on KTTV ended in 1970. He stayed on as a staff announcer for another decade, then retired to Idaho. That’s where he died Saturday at a nursing home.
But Sheriff John lives on in the happy memories of thousands of kids who grew up in L.A. in the ’50s and ’60s.