Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"The Magic Door" TV Show, a part of Chicagolands Sunday Morning Programming. (1962–1982)

The Magic Door (aka The Magic Door Television Theatre) was a Jewish educational television series that provided kiruv (outreach) to Jewish children in the Chicago, Illinois, metropolitan area.
Tiny Tov and his Acorn House in Torahville.
Temmie Gilbert was an inspirational theater teacher, arts patron, and civil rights activist who won three Emmys for her TV work, one of them for producing one of Chicago's longest-running children's programs, "The Magic Door."
Temmie Gilbert
The goal of the show was teaching without preaching. The show was focused more on Jewish culture. The idea was to give children good moral values by having themes from jealousy to litterbugs. Ninety-five percent of the audience wasn't Jewish. The funny thing is that countless non-Jewish Chicagoans loved the show without knowing what they were watching.
The half-hour show was produced by the Chicago Board of Rabbis, premiered on January 1, 1962, and ran weekly until the 1980s. It aired at 8:30 AM (floating between 7 AM and 9 AM, depending on the year) on Sunday mornings on WBBM-TV Channel 2.

While it's difficult to pinpoint a single "creator" for "The Magic Door," the combined efforts of Irv Kaplan, Henry Mamet, Mindy Soble, Alan Secher, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and WBBM-TV all contributed to its success and lasting impact.

There were two main theme songs for the Magic Door. The first was based on an Israeli Children's song, "A Room Zoom Zoom."
"Ah room zoom zoom, ah room zoom zoom, gily gily gily gily gily a sa sa. Come through the Magic Door with me, just say these words and wondrous things you'll see."
The second theme song was written by Charles Gerber and was set to a melody from Beethoven's "Pastorale" Symphony No. 6:
"Open, come open the Magic Door with me, with your imagination there's so much we can see. There is a doorway that leads to a place. I'll find my way by the smile on your face."
Set in "Torahville," the main characters of the series included "Tiny Tov" (a character "reduced" to appear as a kind of miniature elf) and his cousin "Tina Tova." Tiny lived in a nicely decorated house made of an acorn; the entrance was called "The Magic Door." 

Before Tiny would enter his dwelling, he would sing "A Room Zoom Zoom." Go ahead, sing it loud and proud!

In addition to Tiny and Tina, there were other puppet characters, including Boobie Beaver, Icky Witch, Rabbi and Mrs. Moreh, Deedee, Max the Mailbox, Rumplemyer Dragon, Bunny Rabbit, Buddy, Worthington Warlock, Scrunch, and human characters also participated. All of the characters were Jewish except Reverend Raymond from nearby Chapeltown.

Tiny Tov would
travel back to biblical times in the series' early days by riding on his Magic Feather. Tiny would say, "Aleph bet, gimel hay, magic feather, move away!" Later on, the program evolved into moral topics. A "Hebrew Word of the Day" would be related to whatever values were taught. Each week, Tiny would educate children on Jewish history, sharing stories from the Torah and discussing Jewish tradition. Every episode would include a brief Hebrew lesson, stepping through the Aleph-Bet (Hebrew alphabet).

The character of Tiny Tov was created by Irv Kaplan, who later moved to Israel and was instrumental in creating Israeli Public and Educational Television. Only one Tina Tova was played by Fran (Uditsky) Moss.

There were three Tiny Tovs in all. From 1970, Tiny Tov was portrayed by Emmy-nominated actor Jerry (Jerome) Loeb until he moved to California in 1973. The second Tiny Tov was played by Charles Gerber, who also created the song lyrics. The third Tiny Tov was played by (Rabbi) Joe Black.
The Magic Door Theme Song

WBBM TV The Magic Door 25th Anniversary Show.

Rabbi Joe Black as Tiny Tov on "The Magic Door." Circa 1979
[runtime 00:08:08]

I received an email on May 11, 2019, from Marty Zitlin, co-producer of The Magic Door show from 1977 to 1981. He included this picture of their 1980-81 Chicago Area Television Emmy Award for The Magic Door Series.
 Copyright © 2017, Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. All rights reserved.


  1. We loved this show! My girst child was born in 1990 and I was heartbroken when it went off the air, that I wouldn't be sharing it with her. Wonderful show.

  2. As a very young lad I lived in Chicago and this was the alternative early morning viewing for me. There were no cartoons to watch. Tiny Tov and Ms DeeDee I think. The magic feather ship. And that crazy little song. I still recite the song to the young people I work with to make them think I may be nuts. I love it. I remember all the great Bible stories presented. I think of this show often and will always have a place in my heart.

    1. Thanks Neal! Still remember the songs! Tina Tova is on facebook too. Larry Silver

  3. I was one of the 95% of the non-Jewish audience. I'd forgotten about this. In fact, I thought I dreamed the acorn house! But as soon as I saw the words to the song I remembered the music and sang it out loud. Thanks for this!

  4. I believe Irv Kaplan was one of the first directors of Hebrew Union Institute in Oconomowoc, WI.

    1. Deborah Lynn "Debbie" Friedman (1951-2011) was an American singer-songwriter of Jewish religious songs and melodies. She was the song leader for a few years when I went to Oconomowoc with Temple Menorah on many weekends. The camp is called: URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

      Oseh Shalom, by Debbie Friedman - עושה שלום

    2. YES.
      IRV KAPLAN was one of the first directors of the Olin Sang Union Institute Camp (I believe Ruby joined later) . Irv is, in fact, living in Israel since 1969 celebrating his 90th birthday TODAY, with his wife Orah and their 4 children (me being one of them).

  5. Is it possible to view the series online today?

  6. Such a large part of my childhood. I loved watching this show as a kid. I think about it even now. I'm not Jewish but it didn't matter this was an incredible show.

  7. Didn't they also use the music Greensleeves on or for this show? I swear I learned it from watching and it remains a favorite to this day

    1. I seem to remember the song Greensleeves was used for a show on TV back then called The Storyteller. Not sure if it was part of The Magic Door, or if it was a separate show.

    2. Jim Henson's "The Storyteller" was a TV Series from 1987 through 1989. The live-action/puppet series was created and produced by Jim Henson (of Muppets fame) and aired on HBO. It featured John Hurt as the titular Storyteller, who recounts various European folk tales to his sarcastic dog. The series ran for two seasons and 13 episodes. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092383/

  8. I remember it well. The Magic Door and Jubilee Showcase.

  9. Old enough to remember its earliest days. Loved it.

  10. Who were the writers of this production?

  11. There just wasn't much on for kids on Sunday morning, other than Jubilee Showcase, as someone else mentioned, and that wasn't kids programming. Finally WGN starting showing the Lone Ranger, and The Cisco Kid on Sundays, giving us a little more variety.


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