Ray Paulsen

Ray Paulsen, seen here in 1984, poses with the outfit he wore as the character “Sparx” on “Sparx Time,” a children’s television show that aired in Duluth in the 1960s. (Bob King / News Tribune)

Ray Paulsen, a Northland broadcasting pioneer best known for his portrayal of the clown “Mr. Toot” on a children’s TV show, died Friday in Duluth at age 80.

Paulsen also played the character “Sparx,” a radio operator, first as a sidekick to Jack McKenna’s “Captain Q,” and then on his own show, “Sparx Time.” And, Paulsen played Bozo the Clown before moving on to Mr. Toot.

“You do things as a character that you’d never try as yourself,” Paulsen, who performed in front of a live audience, told the News Tribune in 1984. “I used to do back flips in the air and land on a concrete floor. In my street clothes I would have just killed myself. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline flowing, or what.”

Ray Paulsen forecasts the weather on WDSM-TV in Duluth, circa 1964. (News Tribune file photo)

Aside from all those kids’ TV characters, he was a weathercaster on WDSM-TV in the 1960s, and on KBJR-TV in the 1970s. Clippings from the News Tribune files say that Paulsen’s twice-nightly weathercast on WDSM in 1964 was among the first live, local programs to be broadcast in color in the Northland.

Here are a couple of video clips people have posted to YouTube that show Paulsen at work. First, as Mr. Toot. The first clip also has footage of McKenna as Captain Q:

And here is a clip of Paulsen on a weathercast from 1975:

Paulsen became general manager of Superior’s Mariner Mall when it opened in 1980, and served in that role until 1989. In more recent years, he joined McKenna and Lew Martin to produce the “Radio Superior” show on KUWS-FM.

Share your memories of Ray Paulsen and Mr. Toot by posting a comment.

10 Responses

  1. Jeff Missinne

    Mr. Tolliver was indeed Herb Taylor and was on KDAL-TV Channel 3; the title of his show was “Tolliver’s Travels.” I think he left Channel 3 to join Channel 8, the public (then called educational) TV station when they started. Noticed those plaques for “lows” and “highs” on Ray Paulsen’s weather map. They had a gimmick then called “Weather in Motion.” There was some kind of rotating filter over the camera lens that caused the plaques to appear to spin…though you could often see the lens device rotate too. I’m not sure all the computer-graphic slickness of today’s TV newscasts is really an improvement.

  2. Dave Karges

    Growing up on the Iron Range, Ray Paulsen was my favorite weathercaster. He also introduced me to Laurel & Hardy and Rocky & Bullwinkle. However, there was an even earlier kids’ show on Duluth TV. Does anyone else remember Mr. Tolliver? He wore a bushy gray mustache and wig and sat in a big armchair next to an old Speed Graphic camera he called “Old Betsy,” which somehow showed cartoons. That was the whole show. I think his real name was Herb Taylor — I can’t remember whether he was on KDAL or WDSM, the only channels available to us then. Ray’s “Sparx” character was the radioman on Captain Q’s ship, which was perpetually anchored in the Duluth harbor. There was also a a first mate named Ole who never appeared on camera.

  3. Oulu Arvo

    My condolences to Mr. Paulsen’s family. As I think about it, there are few in Northern WI or Northern MN who weren’t somehow touched by Ray in his life-long commitment to community and friends.

    It really brings back a flood of memories to see his early photos and shows, and to realize how well he matured as very good-natured mentor to all.

    We sure were a lot younger 40-50 years ago. Just past the refinery, as I headed into South End to have breakfast with old friends this morning, I’m sure I saw you tip your wings over the fair grounds on the way up.

    RIP old friend.

    P.S. To young Mr. Krueger, thanks so much for the many memories.

  4. Bob Berglund

    Early in my broadcasting career – in the late 60’s – Ray taught me the “weather ropes” and I frequently filled in for him when he was on vacation. I later moved into his 3rd floor apartment in Superior when he moved to a house. It was a nice apartment but Ray never told me that the landlord practiced his bagpipe every Saturday morning in the back alley! Ray always got a charge out of that little omission. He was a warm and generous mentor and an awfully nice guy.

  5. Dave Schreyer

    Ray Paulsen was man of character and I don’t mean his characters of Mr. Toot, Sparks, or Bozo the Clown. Ray was well loved by the kids who watched him as Mr. Toot and Bozo. I remember both shows well. He loved kids and cared about education. He would he books to us on his shows. He encouraged us to even get our parents to “take us to the church or synagogue of [our] choice” something he said to us every Friday just before he’d sign off the show. Ray was my family’s “weatherman” and we would watch him first then jump to WDIO to catch Jack McKenna’s weather cast. (Sorry Jack). Most importantly Ray was local just like Jack. He knew his audience, his community and his talents. He shared himself with anyone who either heard him on radio at WDSM or on TV (WDSM & KBJR). He was quite the “character” too with a marvelous sense of humor. He ran the Mariner Mall in Superior as its first GM like a pro too leaving broadcasting for that gig. And we cant forget his appearances on KUWS radio’s “Radio Superior” broadcasts. There is no doubt in my mind that Ray was a pro and a gem and he is going to be missed by not only his friends and his family but by those of us he entertained as Mr. Toot and Bozo. Rest in Peace Ray Paulsen.

  6. Tom Holbrook

    To Mr. Paulson’s family, friends and fans,
    I wish to extend with all of my heart my condolences on Ray’s passing.
    I had tried to find him for the last few years and was not aware that he was so close and dealing with cancer. “God Bless” the man for giving his heart away so freely,…to millions of fans.
    I would truly like to talk with the Paulson family and add any information on his career to my ongoing research into the history of Bozo the Clown.

    I recently completed a book which deals with the original years the Capitol Records from 1946-1956, it is called “The Bozo Chronicles” and I am currently working on the years of 1956 to the present and have been compiling interviews, information and phots to pay tribute to the folks who wore the big shoes.

    If family, friends and fans would kindly contact me and share I would be very grateful.
    Thank you,
    Tom Holbrook
    85 Maureen Drive.
    Elgin, Illinois 60123
    (847) 741-1674
    Email; bozo_history@yahoo.com

  7. Ray was truly a great gentleman. We first met when I worked as a radio air time salesman for a local station and he was Manager of Mariner Mall. He had a great assistant, as well, and I think her name was Debbie. He was really good to work with (and they always paid their bills!), while many merchants were not, being stuck in the ‘newspaper only’ mantra — which kept them from growing much beyond their core coupon clippers. Mr. Paulsen did many things in the community and was someone who will be missed.

  8. Doxielady

    My daughter was also on the Mr. Toot show; I was hoping this would had been the footage when she was on the show. This was a wonderful show for little kids!

  9. tammy fagre-swenson

    my brothers & sisters & i were on mr toot in the early 70s-both me and my brother were participants in the broadcast-i was the good manners kid. i am very interested in seeing if i can find & buy a broadcast of that specific show.

  10. Gary B

    I have some old silent home movie footage of Bozo and Mr. Toot. It’s only a couple of minutes long but it’s in color!

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