No one quite expected that the lyrics of the "Checkers & Pogo" theme song — "Here comes Checkers, here comes Checkers, Checkers … and Pogo Poge!" — would be quite so prescient. Three actors eventually played Mr. Checkers in the KGMB-TV children’s show, but to his Hawaii fans, there could be only one Pogo.
Entertainer Morgan Branch White, better known to Hawaii schoolchildren as TV character "Pogo Poge," died yesterday in Utah, where he had retired. He was 86.
He had retired largely to farm in Sevier, Utah, after he left Hawaii television in 1982, said son Steve White.
From 1967 to 1982, White was an island TV fixture on the after-school program "Checkers & Pogo," considered the longest-running, most successful children’s television show in Hawaii.
White recalled in a KGMB "Checkers & Pogo Remembered" special that station owner Cec Heftel rushed the show onto the air. Heftel drafted White, then a disc jockey at KGMB radio, as one of the leads, telling him to grab a costume from wardrobe. The first items White put on were a pointy hat, a too-tight vest, and a clashing striped shirt and pants. This ad-hoc outfit defined Pogo’s look for the next 15 years.
In the book "Hi There, Boys and Girls! America’s Local Children’s TV Shows," author Tim Hollis described Poge’s costume resembled an Alpine climber complete with a Tyrolean hat.
The "Pogo Poge" character, as played by White, was kind, impish and innocent, a kind of Stan Laurel to Mr. Checkers’ blowhard Oliver Hardy.
Gruff Mr. Checkers was portrayed by actors Jim Hawthorne, former Star-Bulletin columnist Dave Donnelly and Jim Demarest, all of whom have died in the last six years. White, who also wrote and produced several episodes of the children’s TV series, carried on the show as a solo act for the last three years it aired.
White also appeared in the original "Hawaii Five-0" series, portraying the islands’ attorney general six times. After retiring from Hawaii, White continued children’s programming in Utah and played a judge in the 1987 TV movie "At Mother’s Request."
White’s star seemed hitched to radio mogul Heftel, who inherited White when he purchased Denver radio station KIMN in 1957.
Although White joined KIMN radio for $550 a month in 1955, he promptly had every rock ‘n’ roll-crazed teenager in Denver tuned into his "Coca-Cola Hi-Fi Club." He earned his stage name hopping 40 miles in Utah on a pogo stick. He is remembered as "Denver’s favorite disc jockey ever," according to Denver Post columnist Clark Secrest in a 1984 story. White also sat for weeks atop a flagpole at a used-car lot and broadcast from a snake pit in a window at a Denver Zale’s Jewelers, and was bitten.
At Heftel’s urging, White left Denver for Hawaii in 1965. (Heftel’s other Denver draftees included Tim Tindall.)
"I didn’t realize that we were touching people’s lives the way we seem to have," White recalled in the Post. "It’s a humbling experience today; it was an era of memories that seem to grow as the years go by."
Born in Monroe, Utah, White graduated from Utah State University. He was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served on a mission to Sweden.
Steve White said his father "gave extensively to the community by donating his time to the March of Dimes Marathon, Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Boy Scouts of America, who honored him with the prestigious Silver Beaver Award."
His son added: "He had an unique ability to make all he came in contact with feel they were important and of great worth. His kindness, gentleness and deep love touched teens as (the) No. 1 disc jockey in Denver and children as Pogo Poge."
White is survived by his wife, Mildred; children Tonya Riches, Morgan White, Steven White, Kimo White and Keoni White; sister Beth Nordgren; 18 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and a great-great granddaughter.
Services will be held in Elsinore, Utah, on Tuesday in the LDS Chapel. Burial will be in Joseph, Utah.
Star-Advertiser reporter Gregg K. Kakesako contributed to this report.