The unthinkable occurred one otherwise ordinary day in 1961. Washington
cowboy Pick Temple led his pony off into the black and white TV sunset
never to return.
After 12 years and several thousand broadcasts of his immensely popular
children's program, "The Pick Temple Giant Ranch," Lafayette Parker "Pick"
Temple, a native Washingtonian folk-singer-turned-television-personality,
packed up his puppets, cased his guitar and became a pure and gentle childhood
"lt's been over 20 years since l appeared
on TV in Washington and I'm certainly not a legend in my own mind,"
laughs Pick, now retired and living with Jeanette, his wife of 48 years,
in Sun City, Arizona.
Not a legend? A quarter of a million Washingtonians who grew up with Pick
Temple, Ranger Hal, Bozo, Captain Tugg, Pete & His Pals, Claire &
Coco, Cousin Cupcake and other local kiddie shows of the 1950s and early
'60s would disagree. Pick Temple was arguably Washington's original TV
Together with his faithful dog Lady, his pony Piccolo, puppets galore and
an occasional Popeye cartoon, Pick's humor, games and folksongs captured
the fancy of area youngsters who watched faithfully and were eager to enlist
in his Giant Ranger club.
Lucky "rangers" could appear with Pick on the show if their postcard requests
were chosen, and he highlighted as many individual kids as airtime would
allow. (He couldn't accomodate all his fans, however. One young lady waited
eight years for her chance to sit in the studio "hayloft" and was a college
sophomore when her big moment finally arrived.)
"I enjoyed the children",
says Pick, "but I never considered myself
an actor. I was more of a participant, so to speak.
WJLA-TV newsman John Harter and Pick's son Parker Temple, were puppeteers
on the show. Behind the deceptive simplicity of the format, they remember
a larger process at work.
"On the air Pick would frequently quote Shakespeare,"
recalls Harter. Pick's son, an Air Force Major at the Pentagon, explains
"The reason that Dad was so well remembered
is that he never talked down to the kids, never played the buffoon. He
was -- and still is -- the inveterate teacher. The kids would just be having
fun but the parents would appreciate what was going on."
"If it were a nice day,"
adds Harter, "Pick might turn to the camera
and say, 'You kids ought to consider going out to play instead of watching
That kind of naive honesty vanished down the vast TV wasteland trail not
long after Pick's "Ranch" closed.
Pick Temple was never really a cowboy before he donned his chaps for television.
As a young man during the 1930s he had taken an interest in American railroad
songs. Riding the rails in box-cars and sitting at hobo campfires he heard
the work songs and the out-of-work songs of common men caught in the throes
of the Great Depression. He recorded some of these for the music archives
of the Library of Congress in 1948. That same year he first appeared on
"I had been.playing folksongs around town
at banquets, talent shows and such," Temple
recalls. "WTOP called and asked me to perform
on their 'Stars of Tomorrow' amateur show. At that time I didn't know a
single person who owned a TV set and I had never even seen one."
The success of his TV debut convinced Temple to abandon 19 years of civil
service with the Census Bureau for a full-time commitment to "the tube."
It was a happy move as evidenced by Temple's 43-volume diary which chronicles
his long career in the infancy of the new broadcast medium.
"The Pick Temple Giant Ranch," playing live seven days a week, ultimately
proved too expensive for its sponsor, Giant Foods. The show folded and
Temple returned to government as an audio-visual expert, producing motivational
films for the Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) program.
Today at 73, Temple enjoys a laid-back Southwest lifestyle in the wide
open prairies he had not yet seen in his TV-cowboy days. Golf and swimming
keep him fit, and the railroad memorabilia which crowd his home reflect
his continuing lifelong love affair with trains. Of course, he clearly
likes reminiscing with his old "rangers" but he's quick to put his TV accomplishments
in an ever-humble perspective.
"I never really thought our show was that
good," says Pick. "The
children had a great time, we did a lot of things, but we had some real
turkeys, too. Nostalgia is a great magnifying glass. People look back and
say, 'What a terrific show that was,' but I believe it was terrific in
Maybe so, but it sure was fun.