“Here he comes with his friendly grin,
The young un's friend who has a yarn to spin.
It's Sagebrush, Sagebrush Shorty."
From 1955 to 1964 Sagebrush Shorty invited Detroit’s baby
boomers to “sit back, relax and just be a young ‘un at heart.” To his many
friends and fans he was known as “Sage,” but hidden behind the western drawl, fancy
embroidered cowboy shirt and Stetson hat was accomplished magician and
ventriloquist Ted Lloyd.
At the turn of the 20th Century Lloyd Byron
Millarr toured the vaudeville circuit as magician Elmore the Great. While on the
road he met a chorus girl named Roberta Schell. They were soon married, and on
December 27, 1916 Lloyd Robert Millarr was born. The infant traveled the country
with his parents and made his professional debut at age four in a kiddie revue on
the Pantages vaudeville circuit. While in his
teens he traveled the south as a boy evangelist, danced with the Fanchon
and Marco Touring Vaudeville Company and toured the Midwest as a minstrel
performer in a medicine show.
In 1935 Millarr changed his name to Ted Lloyd and joined the announcing staff at KTMR radio in
Los Angeles, CA. where he produced, directed and acted in a well-received series
of radio plays, Famous Trials of History.
Lloyd was drafted into the Army in 1943 and assigned to the
Armed Forces Radio Network in London. He was the first announcer on the air at
the newly formed AFN in Frankfort, Germany. He received an Honorable
Discharge in 1945, but remained with the Armed Forces Network in Paris for
another year, under Civil Service. While in Paris he directed two
films for Les Films Minerva.
Lloyd returned to California in 1947 and joined the announcing
staff at KGIL, where he wrote, produced and starred in Uncle Ted in Tiny Town,
a daily children’s radio program. It was at KGIL where Lloyd created his alter
ego Sagebrush Shorty, a cowboy who spun tales of the old west every weekday night on Western
In 1949 Lloyd moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he hosted the morning show at KABC-AM. He moved across town to WOAI-TV in 1950, where he anchored the six o’clock news. He introduced Sagebrush Shorty to the small screen at KGBS-TV in 1953. When Storer Broadcasting sold its San Antonio station in 1955, Lloyd moved to another Storer station, WJBK-TV in Detroit.
Sagebrush Shorty and his Circle 2 Theater made
its debut on WJBK-TV in April of 1955. By early 1956 Sage and his ventriloqual
pals Broncho Billy Buttons and Skinny Dugan were being viewed in 205,000 homes,
making him the number one daytime show in Detroit.
The weekday show (7:55 to 8:15) featured Sage and Broncho Billy Buttons
introducing Warner Brothers
cartoons, doing live commercials and announcing birthdays.
The Saturday (10:30 AM - 11:00 AM) and Sunday show (11:00 AM – 12:00
PM) offered games, magic, live animals, safety tips and cartoons with a live
Peanut Gallery. There was an 18-month wait for tickets.
A popular feature on the show was the Pyramid of Prizes.
Home viewers mailed in post cards to win an ever growing
mountain of toys and games, courtesy of Muirhead’s Department Store in West
Dearborn, MI. Sage called two lucky viewers on Saturday and two on Sunday.
If they were able to repeat the special slogan printed on the end label of a
loaf of Schafer’s Bread, they won.
In addition to Schafer’s Bread, other sponsors of the show included Hires Root Beer, Play-Doh, U.S. Keds, Schwinn and Twin Pines Dairies.
In 1956 Lloyd made three appearances on national television.
In May he appeared on NBC’s Tonight, where he boasted to host Steve
Allen that he could teach anyone the basics of ventriloquism in 15 minutes. A
return visit to the show a few weeks later proved his theory to be correct. A
Allen dummy was created for the occasion so Steve could demonstrate his newly acquired
voice throwing skills.
In June, Sage and Skinny Dugan made a special appearance on Captain
Kangaroo. The Treasure House was decked out in a Western motif while the
entire hour focused on Detroit's favorite cowboy star. Later that year the
Captain visited Detroit and was a special guest on Sage’s show.
Lloyd was an expert horse wrangler and sharpshooter who, with
his golden palomino Snooper, made
countless personal appearances at local fairs,
rodeos, horse shows, schools and churches. He received many awards for his
diligent efforts on behalf of traffic safety and fire prevention. He was an
honorary Deputy sheriff of Wayne County and also received special citations from
the Automobile Club of Michigan, Detroit Fire Department, Boy Scouts and Girl
Scouts, the NAACP, the Detroit Police Officer’s association as well as the
Medal of Merit from the American Legion.
An unfortunate incident in July of 1960 cost Lloyd his TV job.
WJBK hired Marie Lloyd, Ted’s wife and manager, as hostess and child
wrangler for the show. A chimpanzee appearing in an animal segment bit
Marie on the forearm when she tried to pick him up. The Lloyds sued Storer
Broadcasting, WJBK station manager Willard Michaels and program director Ralph
Hansen for $10,000 in damages. Lloyd and his wife were promptly fired and Bwana Don Hunt and
his chimp Bongo Bailey were hired as his replacement. Lloyd announced to
the local press that he was moving to Los Angeles to work for a new station, but
luck wasn’t with him in the City of Angels. The deal with the station fell
through, so Lloyd earned a living by performing at children’s birthday parties,
driving a cab and teaching ventriloquism.
He returned to Detroit television in June of 1962 with Sagebrush
Shorty’s Fun Ranch on WXYZ-TV. Several new puppets were added to the
mix, including Sir Reginald the Toby Jug, Ringo the Rabbit, Dee Dee the Deer,
Billy Buffalo and Count R. Clockwise. Sgt. Dusty Rhodes of the Detroit Police
Department’s traffic safety bureau appeared every week to award a new Schwinn
bicycle to the Safety Patroller of the Week.
An astute businessman, Lloyd owned a pizza parlor and the Sagebrush Shorty School of Dance, Music and Affiliated Arts in
Sagebrush Shorty rode off into the sunset for the last time in
March of 1964. Lloyd packed up his puppets and western gear and moved back to
Los Angeles. Westerns were a mainstay of television throughout the 50s, but
by the mid 1960s TV cowboys were a dying breed. Lloyd knew that if he wanted to
survive, a major retooling of his persona was necessary.
Lloyd ditched his cowboy duds for the costume of a riverboat
gambler, complete with stovepipe top hat and flashy swallowtail coat. His new
character was named Uncle Dudley, and Skinny Dugan became Dugan the Dude.
For the next thirty years, Uncle Dudley and Dugan performed at
countless corporate events, schools, fraternal lodges, churches and shopping
centers in the Los Angeles area. Lloyd supplemented his income by tending bar
at a handful of area restaurants. Although he never found another steady TV gig,
Lloyd and Dugan appeared in national commercials for Doublemint Gum and RC Cola.
Ted Lloyd died of congestive heart disease on December 23,
Ever since the creation of Sagebrush Shorty in 1948, Sage signed off
every show with Be
kind to each other. “That phrase is one of my favorites," said
Lloyd. "No matter who uses it, it just about covers everything necessary for happiness
in this life. It’s the Golden Rule in a nutshell.”
“Off he goes ‘til the next time when
He'll come back ridin' into town again.
Ol' Sagebrush, Sagebrush Shorty.
So long, Shorty.
There goes ol' Shorty now."