Ernie Coombs, Canadian TV’s bespectacled Mr. Dressup who delighted generations of preschoolers with his weekday morning program featuring puppets, costumes and make-believe, died Sept. 18 in a Toronto hospital after suffering a stroke the week before. He was 73.
Coombs, a native of Maine, got his start in pre-“Sesame Street” children’s TV with mentor Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the popular American children’s show that recently has ended.
Coombs was the star of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s “Mr. Dressup” from 1967 to 1996, and became a national icon in the process.
Canadian children grew up watching Coombs on his decidedly low-tech 15-minute show as he sang songs, demonstrated crafts, donned costumes stored in his mystical “Tickle Trunk” and guided his puppet companions, Casey and dog Finnegan, through life’s lessons.
Coombs came to Canada in 1963 with Rogers, who was developing his show at the CBC. The next season, he appeared in a program called “Butternut Square,” which evolved into “Mr. Dressup.”
After retiring from the series, Coombs continued to entertain, appearing in a traveling live stage show and making appearances as spokesman for the Canadian Save the Children charity.
In 1994, he was honored with the Academy of Canadian Television’s Earle Grey Award for excellence in Canadian television. In 1996, he was awarded the Order of Canada.
Coombs is survived by his two children and several grandchildren.