Brooklyn native and television legend Irwin “Sonny” Fox has an impressive resume that spans through many different decades and mediums. From radio to television to producing to print and now theater, Fox has made an impact on children since he began his career in 1947.
And at 90 years old, Fox is still making a significant impact in creating children’s memories. His latest project will be held at his alma mater, P.S. 217, 1100 Newkirk Avenue, where he will present “Broadway Comes to Brooklyn,” a performance that will include music and stories from Fox.
“Broadway Comes to Brooklyn” will share Fox’s stories and personal recollections about some of the great composers and lyricists of the 20th century and the familiar Broadway songs or film scores that they created .The show will feature excerpts from “The Songwriters,” the series he produced for CBS Cable. Featured profiles include Alan Jay Lerner, Kander and Ebb, Sheldon Harnick, Yip Harburg, Arthur Schwartz, Charles Strouse, and Burton Lane.
According to Fox, his successful career as a television host happened by accident. “When I wrote my book, I suddenly realized nothing in my professional life happened because I intended it to happen. It was all fate,” he said.
After he graduated high school, Fox got accepted to North Carolina State. Fox also took classes in NYU and decided that radio production was something he wanted to study. “I thought it sounded like it would be fun and easy,” Fox said, who also served during World War II. “I did well against my fellow classmates and got great support from the head of the department. It was one place I began to feel I could do something well.”
Once he graduated from NYU in 1947, Fox received plenty of opportunities. His first gig was “Candid Microphone,” a radio show on ABC Radio. “I was paid $35 a year. It was my first job and I did it for a year and a half,” he said. After getting married and traveling, he decided to move back to New York to pursue a career in news. However, that didn’t work out. Then an opportunity for a St. Louis children’s television show presented itself.
“I had never done television. I didn’t think of myself as a performer. I had no interest in children at the time,” he said. “I did the audition and although the bosses said other people they auditioned were smoother than me, they offered me the job. It turned out to be fun.”
After three years with the St. Louis show, Fox was asked to host game shows, such as “The $64,000 Challenge.” Although he was hesitant to do so, he agreed. Five months later, he was fired. “When you’re in a successful show and get fired, it’s a sobering experience but it turned out to be great,” Fox recalled.
In 1959, channel 5 approached Fox about hosting a kid’s show which would become “Wonderama.” Although he went on to do huge things, Fox remembers his nearly nine-year stint at the kids show as a highlight of his career. “Thinking of all the things I did, it was most memorable,” he said.
A humble Fox attributes the success of “Wonderama” to the children, not himself. “I have no talent performing. I didn’t do puppets or throw pies. The only asset I had was the kids. It was about them and me,” he said. “I built a trust and respect for kids. They were able to relax and hold conversations they never had with parents.”
Decades and jobs later, Fox visited P.S. 217 and was impressed with the facilities — providing the motivation to bring his show to the school. “I met with the principal and arranged a tour. The teachers let me sit in on classes. It’s a school devoted to arts and they’re doing wonderful things,” he said.
The performance takes place on Saturday, October 24 at P.S. 217. A VIP reception will begin at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25 with proceeds going to the school. To buy tickets, visit www.fo217.org. For more information on Sonny Fox, visit www.sonnyfoxtv.com.