The Way It Was — Uncle Toby and Captain Jolly, 1954

Toby David was known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices”
Uncle Toby and Captain Jolly
Courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

1954 With so many kids glued to their smartphones or tablets these days, it’s hard to believe there was a time when they could be captivated by an adult reading the Sunday comics to them. But that’s what’s happening here, as Toby David reads the Detroit TimesThe Comic Weekly to a group of children (with special guest Santa Claus) on the CKLW-TV (Channel 9 in Windsor) show Uncle Toby Reads the Comics. 

The program’s title didn’t quite do justice to David’s talents, because he didn’t merely read the comics — he animated them with voices for every character. David was known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices” and later demonstrated his vocal talents as Captain Jolly, host of Popeye and Pals (1957-64), also on CKLW. Clad in a captain’s cap and striped shirt and sporting a beard, Captain Jolly showed cartoons, interspersed with visits to his boat, where he supplied voices to a bevy of puppets. 

The Times published from 1900 to 1960, at which time it was bought by The Detroit News. The scrappy publication trailed The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press in circulation, but the Times’ dogged reporters kept writers at the competing papers on their toes. Originally located on Bagley, the Times moved into a new art deco structure at Cass Avenue and Times Square in 1929. 

David, the son of Lebanese immigrants, appealed to children on TV, but his interest in them was genuine. Gordon Castelnero’s book TV Land Detroit recounts an occasion that crystallizes David’s generosity, as well as the Christmas spirit. In 1961, David was pulled over by a policeman — not because of a traffic violation, but because he recognized David and wondered if he had anything to give to his nephew, who was dying of leukemia and idolized Captain Jolly. David, who died in 1994, did one better, visiting the child in his hospital room. The boy was ecstatic. Castelnero quotes David: “As I played with the boy and gave him one of my pictures and a cap, I noticed they [the boy’s mother and aunt] were crying. The nurses were crying … and soon, Captain Jolly was, too.” 

This story is featured in the December 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.