Tiring of the cold Ohio winters, Mary Ellen's husband took a position with D'Arcy Advertising in Tampa, and the family moved to a new house on Tampa Bay in March of 1957.  Toting a kinescope of 'Fun Farm', Mary Ellen made the rounds of Channel 38, Channel 8, and Channel 13.  At WTVT, she met with operations supervisor Bob Olson.  "We had been thinking of taking on the Popeye cartoon library when Mary Ellen showed up looking for a job," recalled Olson.  " I talked with her for five minutes and knew she was right for the show."  

WTVT became Mary Ellen's home in March, 1957, where she started a new version of 'Fun Farm' on Saturday mornings.

In the picture at left, Mary Ellen operates her marionette character 'Susie,' a holdover from the show in Toledo.


On April 29th, 1957, 'Popeye Playhouse with Mary Ellen' began airing from 5:30 to 6pm weekdays and Saturday mornings from 10 to 10:30.  Dressed in a sailor hat and striped naval shirt, Mary Ellen and her parrot Poopdeck began a long association with WTVT.  "Popeye's Playhouse" was POP-ular from the get go, and Mary Ellen's audience was not just kids...about 40 percent of the viewers were adults.  "I guess they like Popeye as much as the kids," said Mary Ellen.  "I know I do."

The show endured another name change to "Popeye's Navy" in late 1958, and beginning in February 1959 the show came under the new banner  of "GIANT KIDS MATINEE" and ran for two hours each Saturday morning starting at 7:30.  A few months later, Channel 13 added "GIANT KIDS MATINEE" to weekday afternoons.  The block was led by the intrepid spaceman 3-D Danny, who hosted The Three Stooges shorts, followed by Mary Ellen's "Popeye Playhouse."  By 1962, the Popeye shorts were replaced with Hanna-Barbera cartoons and the program became "The Mary Ellen Show."

Occasionally, live guests and visiting celebrities were welcomed to "Popeye Playhouse."  In 1958 and '59, a recurring character named 'Senor Poncho,' taught viewers Spanish words, phrases, and songs.  The gaucho's real name was Vernon Whitney and appeared two of three times a week.  It was a very educational feature and 'Pancho' was quite a personality.

"How's the weather up there?"
Gunsmoke's big Jim Arness pays a visit to Popeye's Playhouse