Al and Wanda Lewis: Pioneers of children’s television
By Steve Roush
NOTE: This is Part 2 of a series leading up to the Highland County Historical Society inducting the 2023 class of its Hall of Fame. This week, we profile the late Albert “Uncle Al” Lewis and Wanda “Captain Windy” Lewis.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you grew up in this area between the 1950s and the 1980s, you probably knew Albert “Uncle Al” Lewis and his wife, Wanda “Captain Windy” Lewis.
Uncle Al and Captain Windy were must-watch TV for children 35-years, and many can say they were part of their children’s television show. “The Uncle Al Show” ran locally on WCPO-TV from 1950 to 1985, and nationally on ABC from 1958 to 1959. With more than 14,000 episodes over 35 years on the air, it was the longest running live children’s shows on television at the time.
Dressed in a straw hat, a bow tie, a soda jerk’s coat and an ever-present accordion, “Uncle Al” Lewis was certainly a local TV icon. The show combined music, education, drawing and exercise activities for children, including boisterous rounds of "Hokey Pokey." Wanda Lewis joined the cast as "Captain Windy" in 1956, and thousands of local children appeared on the show, including future acting star George Clooney.
Born Albert Lewis Slowik in Cleveland on Sept. 9, 1924, he served in the Army for three years before graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He joined WCPO-TV, which aired "The Uncle Al Show" daily from 1950 to 1985, as an art director in 1949, working with Paul Dixon.
Wanda Lou Kesler Lewis was born Feb. 2, 1926, in Struthers, Ohio. She met Al Lewis at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the 1940s. When they moved to Cincinnati, Wanda appeared as co-host of “Paul Dixon’s Song Shop,” along with Dixon and Dotty Mack, where the trio would pantomime to popular records and Wanda would draw clever pictures on chalkboards.
When Wanda joined “The Uncle Al Show” in 1956 as Captain Windy, she was noted for her original superhero outfit and her dramatic “flying” entrance achieved with a film clip much like on the Superman series.
After the show ended in 1985, the Lewises worked at WCPO until 1989 when retired to their home in Hillsboro and made occasional appearances as Uncle Al and Captain Windy. Both Wanda and Al were selected by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as Silver Circle Honorees in 2003.
Al Lewis died in 2009 at the age of 84. Wanda Lewis passed away in 2020 at the age of 94. Both are interred in the St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in Hillsboro.
In addition to Albert “Uncle Al” Lewis and Wanda Lou “Captain Windy” Lewis, the 2023 Highland County Historical Society Hall of Fame inductees are Admiral John Jennings Ballentine, Ted and Eileen Salter and Maynard Roberts Surber.
The recipients will be honored at an induction ceremony Sunday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro, followed by a reception at Highland House directly across the street from the church. The public is cordially invited.
For more information on the Highland County Historical Society, please call (937) 393-3392 or email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.