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Lost for nearly 50 years, this vintage kids' show is a hilarious time capsule into the past.

The Cast

Like most local TV kids' shows of the era, the "cast" was culled from employees already working at the station.  From on-air personalities to stagehands and secretaries, the only requirement was a bit of talent and the strong desire to be a part of the show.

Cast information has been pieced together from various sources, but much is still unknown.  If you have additional information, please send it HERE.


Bill Darlington in the WSUP sound booth, 1964.

"CAPTAIN BILL"

Bill Darlington

From 1950, and for nearly 18 years, "Captain Bill" was played by WSUP's own live studio announcer, Bill Darlington

Legend has it that Darlingon began his broadcast career producing live radio advertisements at a small station in Huntsville, Alabama, and that it was not until an on-air host failed to show up that Darlington first took to the airwaves himself. 

As an on-air talent, Darlington was hugely successful in Huntsville.  He even used that popularity to launch a successful singing career, performing with both "The Zed Nefsky Trio," and "The Dickie Donaldson Orchestra," two of Huntsville's biggest bands of the day.

Darlington and his first wife, Agnes, relocated to the Tampa Bay area in 1948 after landing a job as WSUP's full-time studio announcer for its newly licensed television operation.  But it was in 1950 that station manager Dan Helm first approached Darlington with a need to fill a half hour, 7am, daily time slot.  "See what you can come up with for kids," Helm said.  And the rest is "Captain Bill" history.

Darlington quickly became synonymous with WSUP itself, and as a local celebrity, "Captain Bill" made many personal appearances at state fairs, fundraisers, and department store "Grand Openings."

When the "Funship" ended its run at the end of 1968, Bill Darlington retired from television and disappeared from the public eye.  To this day, his life after "Captain Bill" remains a bit of a mystery.  

IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION ON BILL DARLINGTON, ESPECIALLY HIS LATER YEARS,  PLEASE CLICK HERE.


Ethel Moore the secretary, 1960

"ETHEL MERMAID"

Ethel Moore

From secretary to mermaid, Ethel Moore first joined Captain Bill's Funship in 1960.

Growing up as a young "Captain Bill" fan herself, Moore claimed she knew at just ten-years-old that she would one day join the Funship's crew.  And, after graduating secretarial school (legend has it she could type 107 words per minute!), she secured her first position as a WSUP secretary.

A vivacious red-head with a beautiful singing voice, Moore quickly caught the eye of Darlington who first brought her Mermaid character aboard for an episode entitled "A Whale of a Tail."  "Ethel Mermaid" was so popular, she became a "Funship" regular shortly thereafter.

Moore returned to her secretary desk following each morning's live broadcast, and continued at WSUP long after the "Funship" ended.

She left the Tampa area in 1978 with her second husband, Earl.


Tina DelPino in "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" at Tampa's Holiday Dinner Theater, 1956.
 

"ENGINEER TINA"

Tina DelPino

Tina DelPino, aka "Engineer Tina," was actually the younger sister of station manager Dan Helm.

A stage actress by trade, DelPino had already built a name for herself as a regular on the Florida dinner theater circuit before joining the Funship crew in 1952. 

DelPino was somewhat of an enigma in many ways.  Playing a typically "male" role during this period was quite forward-thinking, and was a decision made by Helm for reasons he never revealed.  Although it has been speculated that DelPino did indeed prefer the company of women, if true, this lifestyle was certainly kept from the rest of the cast and crew by Helm.  However, when watching episodes closely, it would seem that DelPino actually hints at it quite frequently through what appear to be unscripted ad-libs.

Delpino continued doing dinner theater during the entire run of "Captain Bill's Funship," and up until the mid-1970's when it is believed she relocated south to Key West, Florida.

 


Brian O'Shea storing props backstage

"NABONGA"

Brian O'Shea

A WSUP stage hand and maintenance worker for nearly 40 years, Brian O'Shea portrayed the "dark skinned" native "Nabonga" with a racially incorrect hilarity that could have only existed at the time.  In fact, in the late 1970's, O'Shea spoke of "Nabonga" with a bit of earnest embarrassment.  "Sure he was a fun character to play, but you could never get away today with what we did back then.  I was jumping around, speaking gibberish, chucking a spear... it was really pretty bad stuff.  But Nabonga was always one of the audience's favorite characters!"

Following his retirement in 1979, O'Shea announced that he'd be moving to the island of Fiji "to find the real Nabonga."

 


Rory Masterson (left) and Jon "Skippy" Skipperson  (right) during a commercial break.

THE PUPPETS:

"FAR EAST & WEST WIND"

"KLAUS THE CRAB"

Rory Masterson & Jon Skipperson

Two of the hardest working guys both around the studio and on set were the men behind the Funship's puppets.

Playing the part of "The East Wind" and "Klaus The Angry German Crab" was WSUP sound man and former circus entertainer, Rory Masterson.  A native of Chicago, Masterson was masterful  at dialects and voices -- some say he could imitate any celebrity, male or female, if just given a few moments to prepare.  A skilled singer as well, Masterson was one of the first to volunteer to join the Captain's crew when the call went out to studio employees.

The second puppeteer aboard the Funship was WSUP makeup man, Jon "Skippy" Skipperson.  Singing and playing the part of "The West Wind" was something Skipperson said he truly enjoyed, but preferred making the Captain and others look their best on camera.  Following the end of the series, Skipperson left WSUP to launch his own line of makeup products using the name of his prized Shi Tzuh "Plippy."

Some of the vintage lipstick tubes have been found on Ebay.