Beloved Popcorn Playhouse host and CFRN weatherman Eric Neville dies, 76
By Ryan Cormier
May 18, 2015 2:42 PM
Thousands of Edmonton children appeared with Neville on live show
EDMONTON – Eric Neville, known to generations of Edmontonians as Klondike Eric, the host of children’s show Popcorn Playhouse, has died.
Neville’s daughter, Sherry Soong, announced his Friday death on her Facebook page.
“It is with a very heavy heart and much sadness that we have to announce the sudden passing of my wonderful father, Eric Neville,” she wrote. “He was an unstoppable force of positive energy, happiness and humour. He meant the world to us and many, many others. He was one in a billion. We will miss you so much.”
On Monday morning, CTV Edmonton confirmed Neville’s death from a heart attack. He was 76.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Popcorn Playhouse aired every weekday afternoon on the station, then known as CFRN. Though not the original host, Klondike Eric was on the show for 15 years.
Neville’s career at the station spanned 28 years, from children’s host to reporter to weatherman. He left in 1991.
Neville’s daughter remembered her father as an intelligent man of many talents.
“My dad could fix anything, build anything, grow anything and his enthusiasm for technology was immeasurable. He could discuss metaphysics, politics, cars, boats, fishing, gardening, home renovations, music and animals.”
Popcorn Playhouse was filmed with local children in a log-cabin set that included the wall-mounted Muskeg the Moose, who had real antlers, a papier mache head and a mouth that opened with the yank of a string. Kids asked the Neville-voiced Muskeg riddles and received a prize if they stumped him.
“There was that magic about Muskeg and that live television,” Neville said in 1993. “It happened between myself, the moose and the kids. It was live on television, but it was very private and very personal. When you get a 10-year-old kid that comes up and believes that Muskeg is actually a moose that can talk, you don’t want to mess with that.”
The show also featured clowns and cartoons, but the real stars were the three dozen Edmonton kids in awe of appearing on live television each day.
Roughly 140,000 children appeared on the live show. If a child swore or wet his pants, the show went on. Looking back, Neville said it had become too risky to broadcast such a show live.
“They wouldn’t have the guts,” he said. “Popcorn was too unpredictable.”
During a 1990s contract dispute after he left CFRN, Neville found himself in court with a lawyer, judge and court reporter who had all appeared on Popcorn Playhouse as kids.
Eventually, the popularity of the original Star Trek on a competing channel ground down Popcorn Playhouse’s ratings.
“Captain Kirk basically set his phaser on destruct and blew Popcorn Playhouse off the air,” Neville told Avenue Magazine in 2010.
Before he came to Edmonton, Neville worked at TV and radio stations in Red Deer, Lethbridge and Calgary, where he met his wife Barbara.
Edmonton TV icon dies
By Cam Tait
TAIT ON EIGHT
First posted: Monday, May 18, 2015 08:14 PM MDT
Updated: Monday, May 18, 2015 08:21 PM MDT
Learning of Eric Neville’s passing, on social media early Monday afternoon, was a sad moment for anyone who was a young Edmontonian back in the 1960s and ’70s.
Popcorn Playhouse: a television show for — and, more importantly — about kids. It started in the early 1960s and the show’s theme came from the start of Klondike Days in Edmonton.
Mr. Neville became Klondike Eric, dressed in his plaid shirt and bow tie, mirroring the Klondike era fashion. Popcorn Playhouse was a live show set inside a log cabin inside the CFRN-TV studios.
Every show featured 36 kids. They sat in two wooden bleachers, three rows in each bleacher, six kids in each row.
Mr. Neville started the show standing in the middle of both bleachers. This was long before wireless microphones, so he scooped his long mic cord and started asking questions of every guest.
In all, 140,000 kids were interviewed by Klondike Eric. He asked their name and what they wanted to be when they grew up.
We chuckled, no matter how many times we heard: “I want to be a fire truck.”
Such a question made us think about our future, and it gave us fervent hope for our adult years.
If it was your birthday, you lined up in single file to dig in the Gold Mine. When it was your treasured turn, you picked up the small shovel and dumped a pile of sand into the sifter.
Mr. Neville gave the shifter a few shakes and you waited anxiously to see how many nickels wrapped in foil was in your load of sand.
There were lots of coins. Over the many years of Popcorn Playhouse, $150,000 sifted through the Gold Mine to guests who had birthdays.
There was, of course, popcorn, and birthday cakes, and candy.
And Muskeg the Moose. Sitting high on a far wall of the Popcorn Playhouse set was a moose’s head, and Mr. Neville opened its mouth by pulling on a piece of string. He also was Muskeg’s voice, and for many young guests, Muskeg was as alive as they were.
Cartoons were also a part of the program.
But what made Popcorn Playhouse was so special was Mr. Neville, and the way he interacted with kids. Asking them questions made them us feel important.
And getting on Popcorn Playhouse was a big deal for kids.
Perhaps in today’s world the same excitement is felt by a young person who makes their first impressionable post on Twitter or Facebook.
In fact, it was Facebook where I noticed the sad news from Mr. Neville’s daughter about the death of her father.
I would argue, though, Mr. Neville and Popcorn Playhouse embraced so many Edmonton kids much more than any social media platforms would. His personal connection was far-reaching and needs to be celebrated with thoughtful reflection.
It’s especially ironic Mr. Neville’s passing comes days before late-night talk show host David Letterman’s final show after more than three decades.
Television personalities become a part of our lives. No matter how bad our day was at work, or at school, they were always there for us.
Eric Neville’s legacy will live for decades. And for those of us who connected with him — on the show or in our living rooms — we are forever grateful.
Mr. Neville died Friday from a heart attack. He was 76.
Donations can be made to the Alberta Heart and Stroke foundation or Ronald McDonald House locations in his memory.
CFRN legend Eric Neville passes away
Chandra Lye, CTV Edmonton
Published Monday, May 18, 2015 11:01AM MDT
Last Updated Monday, May 18, 2015 4:38PM MDT
Former Edmonton broadcaster Eric Neville, also known as Klondike Eric, has passed away.
According to his family, Neville suffered a sudden heart attack on Friday at his acreage in central Alberta.
Neville had begun work at CFRN in 1963 and was known for his work on Popcorn Playhouse and as the weatherman for the 6 p.m. newscast.
One of his daughters described his as “an unstoppable force of positive energy, happiness and humour” in a Facebook post.
“His beautifully crafted stories, his endless energy and his ability to make everyone around him feel special. He was one in a billion. We will miss you so much,” Sherry Soong wrote.
Former CFRN manager Bruce Hogle described Neville as outgoing, friendly and someone who always had a smile on his face.
“He epitomized everything good about television and good people and having a great time.
“He was held in high regard not just by the parents and the grandparents and things like that but by businesspeople and by educators and by the police. Here was a man who knew children, loved children but also the community as a whole and really gave back all of his life.”
Soong also said that donations can be made in her father’s name to the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Ronald McDonald House.