Interview: Terry Winkless (Bingo)
By Mike Rutherford
Here is the beginnings of our EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Terry Winkless the man behind BINGO!
I was a college kid in 1968, going to school in southern Illinois. My dad happened to write commercials in Chicago for a big advertising agency. Among their clients was Kellogg's (he wrote the Snap Crackle Pop song back in the 60's and the Good Morning Song). Anyway, Hanna-Barbera did the animation for the Kellogg's commercials. Along the way dad got to know Hanna and Barbera well, and when it came time that they decided to do their first live action show, he said he knew the right guys to be in the suits.
I drove home on a Friday from school, my mom said I was going California on Sunday with my brothers to audition for this wacky new TV show. I got on a plane and never went back to Illinois. My dad was an associate producer on the show, wrote many of the songs, and my brothers and I were Bingo, Fleagle and Drooper.
It was hotter than blazes in the suits. We had indoor ones and outdoor ones. Southern California in the summer can be brutally hot, so they asked NASA to find a way to cool us off. They built these blowers into which you put a frozen CO2 cartridge. It cooled pretty well, but you wore this thing at your kidneys and if you fell on it you went to the hospital. And since the whole show was about falling down these NASA made AC units were dangerous and useless.
The heads were difficult to see out of. I was riding my banana buggy at top speed and ran into a cyclone fence because I couldn't see it. I also flipped it over on myself once (in one of the music numbers you can see Drooper almost lose it). Another time I was treed by a rattlesnake. Judy the Chimp almost took off my arm.
Bingo-Terence Henry Winkless
1. To stop the confusion.... You were telling me about how you and your three brothers went off to CA to audition for the "Banana Splits," after you got the jobs why did you all decide to drop the Winkless from your names on the credits?
It never occurred to me that there was any confusion -- after all, I knew which brother was which. Ah ha, that's it. Brothers. How would it have looked to have had 3 guys with the same last name? It would have looked like that time-honored Hollywood tradition of nepotism. And though we knew about the gig inside the suits in a way no one else did, it was our skills as actors (in my case more athlete) that got us the gig and we wanted to avoid the stigma of nepotism. The names on the show are our real middle names, except in Jeff's case because there was already another SAG actor by that name.
2. Tell me a little about the pre Banana days. What were you guys like as kids? (Interests and such) I'd also be interested in knowing if any of you have a musical background and what it's like to grow up in a family that has a Dad in the business.
This is an extremely broad question and I could spend a life time answering it. Let's say this: pre Banana days, Jeff was a musician and professional actor, I was a gymnast and college actor, and Dan was dancer and college actor. In high school we all performed in miscellaneous productions in miscellaneous functions. Jeff is a pro musician, I was a bad rock and roller and Dan makes no particular claim toward music. But our dad knew four chords and wrote scores of songs with them. Jingles, ballads, honky-tonk. He liked making one minute movies, which is what his commercials were to him.
3. Outside of doing the show, it must have been great for the three of you to go to California together, any young persons first time away from home tends to be a wild event, any crazy behind the scenes stories of the Banana Splits?
In words of one syllable: no. We worked 12 hours a day in 50 pound suits under unbelievably hot lights. We shot on 16mm which was quite slow back then. 25 ASA. Today it's about 400 ASA. Ergo, it required 16 times as many lights back then as it does today. Which is the long was of saying that it was all we could do to get a bite to eat and pass out during shooting. We showed up in California on a Sunday and were working by Wednesday. When the show was finished shooting we went our separate ways. That's true for both years that we shot. Dan and I were in college and went back to that. Jeff continued the hunt for the next great gig. I remember once walking down the Sunset Strip wondering what the big deal was. Really, we were happy to lie in the pool and recover from being in the suits.
4. I've read trivia questions that have read "Who was the first video band?" from what I can gather, it's a toss-up between the Splits and the Monkees. Do you know for sure?
I don't know for sure. My recollection is that we were imitating the the Monkees, who were really just doing a TV version of the Beatles.
5. Do you have any stories or inside information on the creation of the Banana Splits?
They (we) were originally called the Banana Bunch. Copyright issues saw the name change.
6. You were telling me a little bit about having different sets of costumes, I have two questions about these costumes that have been driving me crazy for years. Why does Fleegle's sometimes look green and other times look brown? And, why are their two totally different Snorky costumes? (I mean even a non Banana Splits fan could tell that they look nothing alike)
Fleagle's costume never actually changed color -- I mean, yes, there were indoor and outdoor costumes -- the outdoor costumes being just a bit lighter in weight -- but because of the nature of color timing of film, Fleagle's costume sometimes looked brown. Imagine: you sit at a machine and you're trying to transfer film to tape. The grass looks pink, so you teak it green, but that makes Fleagle's costume look a little brown. So be it. Grass is not pink and that's that. As for Snorky, yes, they came up with a new costume for him. The intention was to help him be more animated.
7. I have also noticed that the Banana Buggies look different at times. Did you have double buggies?
I remember only one set of buggies, but I could be wrong.
8. Speaking of buggies, there is a scene in the "Wait till tomorrow" video where you are all in a real car and Fleegle (Jeff) is driving on a bridge in traffic and from what I can tell he has the head piece from his costume on. If I am correct, this must have been a scary thing to do, any memories of this?
Yes, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge wearing costumes was unforgettable. Scary? Not really. Jeff's a good driver. Never mind that he couldn't see more than 65% of what he was trying to see. We got pulled over by a cop when we got to the North side. We gestured to the cameras and let the powers that be take over. I think he was amused.
9. Since we're talking about stunts, I know your vision was cut with those heads on and yet there is a scene in one of the musical numbers of the four of you walking on a ledge, And you (Terry) must have had a thing for trains. In the ending credits you are chasing a train, you and the train both go through a tunnel and then the train is chasing you. In another one of the musical numbers you are standing on a moving train, did you guys use stunt Bananas or do those stunts yourselves?
We did all our own stunts. But I believe it's Dan who is chasing the train and vice versa. What we did was never actually significantly dangerous -- we played with frame rates and so on to make it look more dramatic.
10. Were the musical numbers choreographed or did you guys just jump around and do what ever you wanted? I noticed in the "I Enjoy Being a boy" video that Drooper started doing a fancy foot step and the Fleegle copied his moves, looked cool.
11. I know that the suits were made by Sid & Marty Krofft (famous for "Pufnstuf" & "Sigmond & the Sea monsters" did you ever meet the Krofft brothers and if so, any stories?
12. Am I mistaken or were did the little girls that played the "Sour Grapes" all go by the name of Charlie when they came to visit the Splits?
13. I have a book on television history that says Don Messick did the voice of Snorky, I thought Snorky only HONKED like a horn, am I wrong, did Snorky ever talk?
14. You were telling me about Judy the chimp almost taking your arm off, I've never seen any of this footage, are there segments that were cut when the show went into syndication and can you tell the Judy story in detail?
(Editor's note: Yes. Judy The Chimp was a regular on the NBC live-action adventure series "Jambo," which aired on Saturday mornings during the 1969-1970 season. Judy The Chimp appeared in the studio for segments of NBC's 1969 Saturday morning fall preview show, which was hosted by the Banana Splits, was filmed on the set of the show, and aired in the series' regular Saturday morning timeslot. That special, along with all 13 Season 2 episodes, never aired in syndication. -Mark)
15. I was too young to ever see any of this but I was told that the Banana Splits did concerts and special appearances, did the real actors fill the suits for these things as well?
16. Tell us about life after Bingo.
17. Do you see any type of a future for the Banana Splits?
Copyright Michael J Rutherford 1999. Do NOT use this interview in any way shape or form or I WILL Sue!