Philadelphia Inquirer: Arts & Entertainment Sunday, November 24, 1996WEB SITE AND ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED BY THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR AND PUBLISHER
She sang and told stories on Channel 10 from 1960 to 1970, drawing a larger audience than the other two local stations combined. Then she moved on to New York, and her show was nationally syndicated for six more years.
This was the world of Pixanne.
Well, Pixanne is gone, but her creator, Jane Norman, is still around, continuing to entertain. Tomorrow night she plays the Rose Garden at the Bellevue Hotel.
No, she will not fly across the room to land lightly on stage. And she will not be wearing her sprite's costume. Her flying days are over.
Norman is a cabaret singer now; this appearance is aimed at adults, particularly those who grew up with Pixanne.
``People have been asking me for years to do something for them now,'' said Norman, 61. ``Strangers have stopped me on the street, telling me how much they enjoyed Pixanne and asking me to do something special, now that everyone is grown up. So I recorded this album. It's the first recording for adults I've ever done.''
The CD is titled Pixanne Sings for Adults . . . In a Christmas Mood, recorded for her own label, Pix Records.
``What was I to do?'' Norman said. ``I don't write rock music, but I do write very nice Christmas songs.''
There are five Norman originals on the album and seven Christmas standards.
``At the Bellevue, I'll be singing songs from the album, of course,'' Norman said, ``along with several of the grand old standards.''
Growing up in East Oak Lane, Norman seemed destined for a career that somehow involved music.
``My background is classical,'' she said. ``I guess I was really a child prodigy. I started playing piano by ear when I was only three and a half. I would hear the classical music my mother had on the radio. One day my mother heard the piano. I was sitting there playing Mozart. Well, she didn't know quite what to do with me.''
What she did was start her daughter on piano lessons.
``I suppose I was heading for a career as a classical pianist,'' Norman continued. ``Then when I was 13, I discovered boys, and that ended that.''
Norman went on to major in education and minor in music at Temple. After graduating, she landed a job teaching at Shoemaker Elementary School in Cheltenham. During her three years there, Norman augmented traditional teaching techniques with sessions that utilized her original songs and storytelling.
``Then I realized that the songs and storytelling was the part about teaching that I enjoyed most.''
When she was 25, Norman, with only a vague idea for a TV show, made the rounds of local stations. At WCAU, as Channel 10 was then called, she talked to program director Jack Downey, who encouraged her to come up with a concrete presentation. That night, she created Pixanne, and the next day plans were underway for the new show.
``I had been intrigued for a long time about the idea of a female Peter Pan,'' Norman said. ``And that's what I had in Pixanne. I guess I thought I could be a better Mary Martin than Mary Martin.''
Pixanne met with immediate success. In the beginning, it was on six days a week, from 9 to 10 a.m., following Captain Kangaroo. In no time at all, Pixanne's ratings surpassed the Captain's.
Getting the flying part down was easy enough at first. Norman would wear a harness with several highly visible wires to guide her flight. Then things got a bit trickier.
``I just wasn't happy with the wires,'' she said. ``So once it became apparent that the show was going to be around awhile, the producers decided to spend some money. We brought in Peter Foy, who worked with Mary Martin for her Peter Pan role.
``I told him I wanted just one wire. He said that couldn't be done. There was no way to control me up there. With only one wire, I would spin. But I was determined. I was in that sling for eight hours before I was able to control myself in the air. But when I finally got out of the harness, I realized how sore I was. My body was covered with welts and bruises. Peter wasn't very sympathetic.''
One of the most memorable segments Pixanne segments ended up on a Dick Clark bloopers show: Pixanne celebrated Fire Prevention Week by having some German shepherds jump through a ring of fire. A local fire chief was standing by, but a fire extinguisher failed to put out the blaze, and the Magical Forest filled with smoke. Pixanne gamely sang her closing number, coughing all the while.
After almost a decade on WCAU, Pixanne moved to the CBS affiliate in New York. Soon, it was nationally syndicated and seen in 75 cities around the country. Norman stayed with it for six years.
``Then I decided it was time to get out of the kid business,'' she said.
Norman and her husband, Jack Beazley, an independent TV and video producer, came up with an idea caled Maintenance Ms.
``That was when women's lib was very big,'' she said. ``They were 90-second spots that could be put into television programming at various times. On each of them, I would tell women how they could handle some household maintenance project. We did 117 of them, and it was kind of funny because I personally can't do anything at all like that. Actually, I started to feel fraudulent.''
In the late '70s, Norman sold a project to NBC called National Kids Quiz, with Michael Landon as host. It tackled problems faced by young people by presenting what Norman referred to as psycho-dramas. This was a one-shot show.
Otherwise, Norman and her husband, who live in Gladwyne, have been involved over the last several years with numerous other recording projects aimed at the young. But the new album was a very grown-up undertaking.
``In the past, I would just perform and let someone else deal with the business side of things,'' she said. ``But all together, we devoted about two years to this album, and along the way I learned more about the recording business than I ever thought I wanted to.''
Making Pixanne fly was a lot easier.