When Mr. Dressup launched in 1967, it established a new template for imaginative children’s daytime programming.
Ernie Coombs had already worked on series such as Butternut Square and Mister Rogers (a precursor to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, with Fred Rogers himself), but Mr. Dressup was Coombs’s creation and he put heart and soul into the character.
Lovingly simple in tone and execution, Mr. Dressup took viewers into a world of magical stories and non-threatening playtime with puppets Finnegan, a dog, and Casey – an ahead-of-their-time gender-neutral kid – who lived in his backyard treehouse. A dive into the Tickle Trunk, a big red steamer trunk packed with costumes, would inspire new games on screen and in the living rooms of children enthralled by Coombs’s spell.
The show’s bouncy opening refrain is familiar to generations of Canadians – the series lasted for an astounding 29 seasons. It went off the air in 2006, 10 years after the last episode had been made and five years after Coombs’s death.
When CBC closed its Toronto museum in 2017, Mr. Dressup’s easel and treehouse went into storage. Puppets Casey and Finnegan, however, are enjoying retirement in Hornby Island, B.C., with their creator Judith Lawrence. – Andrew Ryan