W. Carter Merbreier, better known to a generation of Philadelphians as "Captain Noah", died Tuesday at his home in Audubon after a brief illness, according to his former TV station. He was 90.
"What we remember about Carter was he loved to make children smile, and he maintained a deep faith in the human spirit," Prazenica said. "Our condolences go out to the Merbreier family, his Channel 6 family, and all fans of Captain Noah."
Merbreier's wife, Patricia, known as "Mrs. Noah," died in June 2011. She was 86.
The two co-hosted the long-running program Captain Noah and His Magical Ark. Captain and Mrs. Noah (as they referred to each other even in their personal lives) invited scores of newsmakers and celebrities onto their program, which ran from 1967 until 1994.
Among those guests were Elvis Presley, Charles Barkley, Jim Henson, Jon Stewart, the Phillie Phanatic, Frank Perdue, and Martina Navratilova.
Though the stars came out to shine on the unsinkable Ark, the program's bread and butter were vintage cartoons and rough-hewn puppets. While the extravagantly side-burned Captain was on the bridge, Mrs. Noah worked below decks as the puppeteer bringing to life a mischievious cast of supporting characters that included Wally the Walrus, Mumwup the Monster, and Maurice the Mouse.
Captain and Mrs. Noah actively engaged their audience in the real world, too, making near-constant promotional appearances at parades, events, and store openings.
The Ark was launched at the Union League as the Captain lunched on oysters with veteran broadcaster Lew Klein, according to the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers. It first got its sealegs as a Sunday-morning religious program for children that the Captain - a Lutheran minister and former Philadelphia police chaplain - created for the Philadelphia Council of Churches.
Money to pay the show's first puppeteer ran out during the show's 13th week. So "Mrs. Noah" was conscripted as the Captain's first mate.
"It's a lot of fun. I love it," she told an Inquirer reporter in 1970. "I'm glad we didn't have the money to keep the other puppeteer!"
Produced at the Channel 6 studios, the show at its peak was syndicated to 22 other stations across the nation. Locally, the Magical Ark's audience in the early 1970s was larger than Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street combined.
Organist Larry Ferrari provided the music, which included "Send Your Pictures to Captain Noah" and their theme song, "I Can Sing a Rainbow."
After more than a quarter of century, Captain and Mrs. Noah parked the Ark and lived quietly in Gladwyne.
The show's set was preserved and is now installed at the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park.