If the phrases “story box” and “chuckle patch” bring a smile to your face, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a fan of The Magic Garden.
The long-running children’s show hasn’t aired for 26 years, but has become even more indelible today with the 30- and 40-something crowd.
Magic Garden hosts Carole Demas and Paula Janis were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Affectionately known by everyone simply as Carole and Paula, they were on hand for the ceremony November 16 at Oheka Castle in Huntington. Presenting them with this career achievement was show puppeteer Cary Antebi, who was joined by the famous pink squirrel Sherlock (watch video clip).
Their popularity wasn’t lost on the photojournalists and reporters swarming around them on the red carpet. Despite other honorees that included such an eclectic class as Lou Reed, the Shangri-La’s, photographer Bob Gruen, and rappers Eric B. and Rakim, it was Demas and Janis that seemingly everyone was there to see.
They also spent the most time fielding questions once in the press area. After that, FishbowlNY caught up with the beloved entertainers.
“A lot of the people who have already been inducted are pretty amazing,” Janis says. “So we’re in some fancy company.”
Demas thinks they are the first artists enshrined for exclusively performing to children.
The Long Island connection for the Magic Garden hosts goes back to their roots in Brooklyn.
“We actually taught school together for one year under the Brooklyn Bridge … at P.S. 7, with 50 children and the two of us in one giant kindergarten,” Janis says. “The mayhem that reigned everyday contributed greatly to our ability to produce the Magic Garden.”
Demas says, “Teaching for me was a way of supporting myself and my first husband for awhile, and because I loved children… and believed that I could do while I trying to make my way into my chosen career in the theater.”
(They’ve been best friends since attending Midwood High School where they were in the mixed chorus.)
While it was no simple feat getting the show on the air, Magic Garden had the right ingredients for success—Janis’ educational background and Demas’ acting experience. They both are accomplished singers.
Demas had guest starring roles on various TV shows, but stood out on the stage. She starred in the Off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks. She’s also the answer to the pop culture trivia question—who originated the role of Sandy on Broadway in Grease?
Janis has a folk music background to go with her teaching. She has taught kids from nursery school to 6th grade in New York City and Westchester.
The origins of the Magic Garden started innocently enough.
“[Channel 11] was looking for someone to host a cartoon show,” Demas says.
She fit the criteria that the station sought to meet their broadcasting obligations—teaching experience or experience working with children, and a television background.
“This is not such a fascinating idea—being the host of cartoons,” Demas recalls. “They were interested in meeting the requirements of the Children’s Television Act, which actually wanted people to offer, from their stations, something of quality to children that was educational in nature. So I thought about Paula.”
The classic program, which ran weekdays on WPIX from 1972 to 1984, was created with input from Demas and Janis.
“We gave them lists of all the songs we knew, and all the stories we could do, and they [WPIX] had a writer that came up with various ideas,” Janis remembers.
“We had a lot of sessions together where we all came up with ideas so at this point it’s a little bit difficult to define the exact creator of any one thing,” Demas says.
Regardless of exactly who created the elements that made the Magic Garden work, it became “appointment television” for youngsters.
Once off the air, though, the explosion really took place, thanks to two forms of technology—the Internet and the DVD.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Janis says. “We have 35-36,000 friends on Facebook on fan-based friend pages. …They’re all grown-ups and they’re all … saying ‘we love you and we want our children to see the show.’”
Demas adds, “It’s not movie star time with 1 million people…but 36,000 is really a surprise.”
During the run of the show, 52 thirty-minute episodes were produced. But in 2008, they released their favorite 10 episodes on DVD. For those who grew up with the show, it became a nostalgic must-have.
Recognizing that deep connection with their loyal viewers from years gone by, Demas and Janis occasional tour in the Carole and Paula—The Show For Grown-Up Fans. In reality, though, many of those grown-ups are bringing the next generation in touch with the Magic Garden.
Demas relayed a story of two longtime ardent followers, Robin and Emily, who they met after performing while carrying equipment back to their car.
“They asked if they could help. And we liked them so much, we began to correspond with them,” Demas says. “They are now our webmasters. They do this for love.”
The love affair doesn’t stop there. Demas says they consistently receive emails from people in all occupations.
“They just write to tell us how we’re a part of them and we always will be. …It’s this treasured time that we didn’t really imagine,” Demas admits. “How could we imagine this 38 years ago?”