Few names are as closely associated with the early days of Cleveland TV as Gene Carroll. His shows "Uncle Jake's House" and "The Giant Tiger Amateur Hour" (later "The Gene Carroll Show") were television staples from the forties past his death into the early 1970s. But Gene Carroll's show business roots extend back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
Born in Chicago on April 13, 1897, Carroll first took to the stage at age five in a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The acting bug never left him and he eventually left high school to work variety shows teaming with fellow Chicagoan Jack Grady. After Grady left the act in 1924 due to illness, Carroll eventually found himself working at radio station WLS with Ford Rush and the man who would become his long time partner, Glenn Rowell. The trio relocated to Cincinnati's powerhouse WLW. Rush left the act in 1929 and WTAM station manager John Royal offered the newly rechristened "Gene and Glenn" three times their weekly salary to relocate to Cleveland's WTAM.
For the next five years Gene Carroll and Glenn Rowell drew a huge audience for WTAM, and were also featured on the NBC Radio Network. They had a popular segment titled "Jake and Lena", breinging out huge crowds to the radio station when it was announced the two main characters would marry. Carroll and Rowell would get up to 40,000 pieces of fan mail a day and broke box office records at Cleveland's Palace Theater.
The two left for New York's WEAF, and later WTIC in Hartford. By 1943 Rowell left the act to work for the war effort and Carroll took a role as "Lena, the maid" on NBC's "Fibber McGee and Molly" program. Carroll returned to Cleveland in 1945 to start a talent school, produce children's records and do a disc jockey shift at WJMO. He was reunited with Glenn Rowell for a Cleveland Music Hall appearance in June 1946 to benefit an overseas food drive that was aired on WHK. That appearance was a huge hit, but the friends parted again to pursue their seperate careers.
WEWS-TV signed on in 1948 and Gene Carroll starred in one of the earliest kid's shows in the nation, "Uncle Jake's House". Special effects were non-existent and it took great imagination for Carroll and his very young assistant Candy Lee Korn to entertain the growing juvenile television audience. One of the show's earliest fans was Don Novello, better known as Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci, who remembered Carroll as Uncle Jake excusing himself to go down to the basement to feed the dogs heard offstage. Today, Candy Lee Korn is a grandmother who is quick to share memories of her long career in radio and TV, and especially Gene Carroll. Another fan was Cleveland legend Bob Hope who maintained a long and close friendship with Carroll over the years, often appearing with him on his various Cleveland TV shows and specials.
Carroll's talent school produced a long line of show business hopefuls and they soon found a showcase on his "Giant Tiger Amateur Hour", later titled "The Gene Carroll Show". It was a Sunday afternoon staple across Northeast Ohio and among the talents to grace the stage were early appearances by the Cowsills, Ben "Orr" Orzechowski (later with The Cars), and future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Chrissie Hynde with her band band Jack Rabbit, and Bobby Womack and the Womack Brothers. One of Carroll's most popular guests was Andrea Carroll, no relation to the host, whose single "Please Don't Talk to the Lifeguard" charted nationally.
Gene Carroll died on March 5, 1972. WEWS kept his name on the marquee airing the show that bore his name with host Jim Runyon and later Don Webster. His legacy lives on.