The quintessential shot of Angel Casey.

Lorraine Johnson "Angel Casey" Meinecke 1919-2007

Star of Stage and Screen, WW2 and Post WW2 Queen of Chicago Radio, Champion of Diversity,
Holder of Multiple Degrees, Mrs. Tristan Meinecke, Mother, Grandmother, Great Grandmother.

Originally published by Mitchell D. Hadley on his wonderful site and blog Adventures in Classic Television -- Written by C.V. Eidson
The Hidden History of Angel Casey

Born in Middleton, Ohio, Angel Casey showed an early interest in stage performance. She danced and sang with her father in amateur minstrel shows, and by the age of 10 had also danced at a performance of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After graduating from the Cincinnati Conservatory, she moved to Chicago and began her work as an actress in advertising, both for print and radio.

Angel Casey on the radio  WIBA and in Life Magizine both circa 1945
Angel on the radio at WIBA (left), in Life Magazine
(August 27, 1945) (right)  
(Estate of Angel Casey)

At one point during the late 40s, she had regular roles on six different radio shows at once, each which broadcast live with no tape delay, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. She was widely respected by radio colleagues, both for her work ethic and for a verbal agility which helped other performers cover up the occasional flub. By 1948, she had also appeared on WGN-TV which went live on April 5th of that year.

By 1952, her work in radio and TV dramas included the programs Road of Life, Woman in White, Hawkins Falls, Author's Playhouse, Easy Money, Shoot the Works, and Attorney Speaks. Among the famous names with whom she worked include Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Orson Wells, Burns and Allen, Spike Jones, Dave Garroway, Kent Taylor, and Gig Young. Her television programs included parts in Author's Playhouse, Stump the Authors, Jury Trials, Penthouse Players, States Attorney Speaks, and her own shows, Laugh Time, Hail the Champ, The Play House, and Sun Times Quiz Down.

Angel Casey on the front of TV Guide.

She co-hosted the final season of Chicago station WBKB's Hail the Champ with Howie Roberts in 1952. After this, WBKB offered Angel her own show, The Play House, over which she had considerable creative control.

The Play House showcased music through songs and recordings. Angel also narrated stories and worked on projects for the "Things to Do or Make" portion of the program. And she served as a foil for a voiceless bookworm puppet named Sir Worthington Wiggle, who would whisper into Angel's ear as she related the conversation to viewers - a concept which Angel had herself created, and successfully pitched it to producers. Puppeteer Bruce Newton later created another character, Squawky Duck.

"I was on the show every day,", recalls Newton. "I don't think Angel ever missed a day either. We all contributed copy for the show, crafts, visuals, scripts, and guest suggestions. We did this from the debut on December 28, 1953 until the show went off the air on August 31, 1956."

Angel Casey and Bruce Newton on a live remote in a Chicago public school, guiding the kids through a mock election.
A live remote in which Angel and puppeteer 
Bruce Newton guided kids through a mock election.
(Estate of Angel Casey)

The Play House was contemporary with other children's shows involving puppetry such as Howdy Doody and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. But it only existed for three years, 1953-1956, during a time when local TV was broadcast live, and if taped, was immediately taped over. All we have today are TV Guide listings, press clippings, photographs from promotional shots and live remotes, and the written accounts of people who worked on or watched the show.

We know from a local news article that The Play House was apparently the first show to give children instructions on how to call emergency services - a young boy called the fire department to his house just to see if it would work. In this, in her insistence on the use of classical rather than "children's music", and in other ways, Angel showed in her creative direction that she saw children as having individual agency and the potential to learn things of real consequence.

The result of this commitment was something even her own sons did not know about until after she passed away.

The promotional shots that ended her career and professional representation.

In 1956, Angel Casey did a series of promotional photos featuring a racially diverse group of children. This would have been a prelude to including children of color on the live broadcast of her show. And it was a move that was congruent with the way Angel and her artist husband, Tristan Meinecke, lived their lives. Tristan, who'd spent his first few years in Chicago playing music in predominantly black jazz clubs, would invite black acquaintances to parties at the couple's home, rent to black tenants over strident objections from the neighborhood, and would respond to anyone who criticized him on the topic by essentially daring them to make an issue of it. Angel, in the summer of 1956, without bluster or fanfare, simply did what she thought was right.

To modern viewers, these are perfectly ordinary images. But this was 1956; Brown v Board of Education, which ended segregation of US public schools, was handed down only two years prior in 1954. Chicago was experiencing the tail end of the Great Migration, in which Black American Southerners moved northward to escape Jim Crow laws and find economic opportunity. This change in the Chicago's population was not something the city's white-dominated media wished to reflect on screen. 

Irving Kupcinet (July 31, 1912 – November 10, 2003) was an American newspaper columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, television talk-show host, and radio personality based in Chicago, Illinois. He was popularly known by the nickname "Kup".

His daily "Kup's Column" was launched in 1943 and remained a fixture in the Sun-Times for the next six decades.[1]
Thus it was that in the span of a few weeks, Angel's show was canceled and she lost professional representation. Her son Brad recalls that even several years later, as he grew old enough to be curious, she would occasionally get a letter in the mail which she would crumple up, throw out, and refuse to describe, saying "I couldn't give a whit." When pulled out of the trash and examined, such a letter would prove to be a death threat.

Later news coverage of Angel Casey would refer in general terms to her local stardom, but focused instead on her and her husband's glamorous lifestyle. This served as a kind of re-branding that allowed her to find other, independent work, and also to promote her husband's art, which continued to be a variable but significant source of income. The public still considered her a star, but this status never again translated into a leading role in television or radio. Her later career included a few TV commercials and the occasional movie bit part, bolstered by a mix of print advertising, radio advertising, personal appearances, and teaching classes on topics such as fashion and nutrition at local "finishing schools" for women such as the Patricia Vance Modeling Agency and Charm School.

Angel and Tristan at home in 1952

Angel Casey was a terrific entertainer. She was diligent and innovative in large measure. But she took a calculated risk, she tried to use her platform to make television more inclusive - and she lost.

Angel's local fame, along with her and her husband's financial independence meant she lost only the momentum of her career, not her life - as some of those anonymous letter writers would have preferred.

The existence of The Play House was brief and its impact on later Chicago children's television debatable. Yet I believe its run would not have been so brief, nor would it have been the last major production she headlined, had it not been for the intolerance of her peers and the powers that were. 

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe Angel Casey deserves to be remembered, as an outstanding Chicago actress and seminal television star, but more importantly, as a person who refused to compromise her values. Because of her values, she tried and failed to integrate a popular children's television show in 1956. We believe that is an historic first! She swung for the fences, struck out, and forged on undaunted, her integrity unmarred.

That was Angel Casey, a shining star who fell to earth and stayed with us for a little while. Along with her husband Tristan, she never gave up, never gave in, and never, ever surrendered her values or anything else for that matter, other than, according Angel: her heart for God, her husband and her children.

Thank you for visiting. If you enjoyed Angel's website, tell her story!

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Written by C.V. Eidson -- A version of this story was originally published by Mitchell D. Hadley
on his wonderful site and blog Adventures in Classic Television


WBKB NEWS
American Broadcasting Company
BIOGRAPHY
ABC--Bio--Revised--1959
ANGEL CASEY

CHICAGO: Angel Casey, talented performer, gracious, and charming woman is one of the best known free-lance actresses in Chicago.

At college, she covered nearly two full college courses in four years and also added to her experiences in theater (acting, dancing) and radio, she taught on the Junior Staff of the Conservatory of Music, the Boys' Country Day School, and directed in the Children's Theatre, plus special work with handicapped children.

It's amusing that in Hollywood she did television and radio, made movies in Chicago, did radio in New York, and theater throughout the midwest. In Chicago she played various parts in many soap operas, commercials, and feature movies, then television.

She modeled at Marshall Field's and Company, started the Children's School for Patricia Vance School and Model Agency, lectured before Woman's Clubs, packaged and commentated fashion shows, and finally had several television shows of her own.

Among the famous names with whom she has worked are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Orson Wells, Burns and Allen, Spike Jones, Dave Garroway, Kent Taylor, and Gig Young. Her television programs have included parts in Author's Playhouse, Stump the Authors, Jury Trials, Penthouse Players, States Attorney Speaks, and her own shows, Laugh Time, Hail the Champ, The Play House, and Sun Times Quiz Down.

Among the many awards she's received from wining a beauty contest on, the one she treasures most is having her Play House show named one of the four best Children's Shows by the Chicago area PTA. Recently, one of her TV commercials (voice over cartoon) received five separate awards, including the Cannes' Festival Award.

Since free-lancing, Angel has specialized in children's shows for clubs, parties, shopping centers, hospitals, as well as fashion show commentaries, lectures, television and movie committments.

Angel lives in Chicago with her artist husband and young son

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Succinct biographies, "bio's", were assembeled by station typing-pool typists who sumerized information from multiple sources on the subject of the "bio" so decision makers would have instant information when needed.

Transcribed from original document by C. V. Eidson on 01-24-14 -- Emphasis added by us.