CBC Digital Archives

Ernie Coombs reflects on his career as Mr. Dressup

They come into our living rooms via the radio or TV set, speaking directly to the kids with a friendly, familiar tone. It's a rather intimate set-up, which is why the hosts of popular children's programs often hold a special place in our hearts — even long after we've grown up. From Mary Grannan to Ernie Coombs, the CBC Digital Archives has compiled a collection of radio and TV interviews featuring some of the CBC's most cherished children's program hosts.

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Toys line the shelves on one side of the set, while the familiar treehouse appears on the other. And right there in the background, you can see the famous "tickle trunk," filled with fun costumes for dress-up time. CBC-TV's Tina Srebotnjak is on the set of Mr. Dressup, a popular CBC-TV program that's been entertaining and educating children since the 1960s. In this 1996 interview, she's chatting with the show's beloved host, Ernie Coombs, as he prepares to retire after nearly three decades as Mr. Dressup.
• Ernie Coombs was born Nov. 26, 1927 in Lewiston, Maine. • Coombs first came to Canada in 1963 to work for the CBC on a precursor to PBS's Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood, a show called Misterogers, featuring fellow American Fred Rogers. Rogers soon acquired the rights for his show from CBC and moved its production to the U.S., but Coombs stayed in Canada to work on a CBC-TV kids' show called Butternut Square. Butternut Square aired on CBC from 1964 until 1967.

• After Butternut Square ended in 1967, Coombs began working on Mr. Dressup, which debuted on CBC-TV later that same year. The show remained extremely popular with Canadian children until Coombs retired and CBC-TV stopped producing the show in 1996.

• After retirement, Coombs spent several years touring college and university campuses to speak about his time as Mr. Dressup. He was a hit with the university crowd, as they had all grown up watching his show.

• Coombs suffered a stroke on Sept. 10, 2001, and died eight days later in Toronto at the age of 73. There was a great outpouring of emotion and sadness across the country as Canadians learned of his death.

• At a memorial service for Coombs, Canadian actor Albert Schulz made a moving speech about the power of Mr. Dressup. "I have this fantasy in which the entire world sits down for half an hour every morning and watches Mr. Dressup. After a few days, the pundits are talking about a changed world -- a world that has gained its innocence."

Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Feb. 13, 1996
Guest(s): Ernie Coombs
Host: Tina Srebotnjak
Duration: 9:23

Last updated: November 28, 2012

Page consulted on February 6, 2015

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