This was no ordinary mayor. Telegenic, popular, always available. He was comfortable in front of the camera and behind the microphone, which he called a salt shaker. In his hat and morning coat he presided over his city council, never uttering a cross word.
Mayor Art held forth on KRON-TV from 1959 through 1966, mesmerizing children in studio and at home on weekday afternoons with a combination of Popeye cartoons, conversations with his hand puppet, Ring-a-Ding, and a children’s newscast.
Art Finley, who died Aug. 7, 2015, in Vancouver at the age of 88, was more than a children’s TV host. Born Art Finger, he arrived at radio station KXYZ in Houston in 1943 and remained active in broadcasting until 1995.
In the interim, according to the Museum of Radio in British Columbia, he worked at KSFO in San Francisco, CHQM in Vancouver, CKNW in Vancouver, KGO-AM in San Francisco, CJOR in Vancouver, WNIS in Norfolk, VA, XTRA in San Diego and KCBS-AM in San Francisco, where he hosted “Nightbeat.”
Among others, he interviewed Mohammed Ali, Joan Baez, Bill Graham, Germaine Greer, Henry Heimlich, Yousuf Karsh, John Lennon,
Henry Morgentaler, Huey Newton, Pierre Trudeau, and Gore Vidal, according to the University of British Columbia, which maintains 41 cassette tapes and a reel-to-reel recording of his work.
In a KGO biography from the late 1970s, the station said that:
“ ‘Argumentative,’ ‘opinionated’ and ‘impatient’ are words used by some listeners to describe KGO’s evening communicaster, Art Finley. Yet he prefers adjectives like: probing, investigative or inquisitive.”
“I am always myself,” he said. “I talk exactly on the air the same way I do off the air – except for words the FCC says you can’t say. I’m honest. I put people at ease.”
Finley’s versatility stretched beyond radio and television. In its obituary, the San Francisco Chronicle said he contributed a weekly comic from 1965 to 1977 consisting of amusing captions he attached to 19th century woodcut panels from Chronicle archives.
Despite his wide-ranging talents, Finley’s most enduring legacy was doubtless his role as Mayor Art.
Not everyone was enamored. In 1961, the San Mateo Times television critic offered this somewhat grudging compliment:
“Mayor Art’s Almanac is a fine try at giving a dose of news written for and aimed at children. Art is to be congratulated for his way of doing the news, not only the reporting, but at the same time explaining for young uninformed ears. However, for the most part “Mayor Art’s” show is devoted to pretty ridiculous old “Popeye” cartoons. Whether or not “Popeye” is considered wholesome for the moppets depends on how much importance you might place on junior eating his spinach.”
If adults were mixed, the kids who watched were smitten. In response to news reports of Finley’s death, children of the ‘60s – now adults in their 60s – wrote to comment on their memories of the show.
Dan O’Brien, who maintains an online news and opinion site in Southern California’s Inland Empire, wrote that “Mayor Art was my favorite TV Show as a kid. We caught the show from our towns (Hawthorne, Nevada) Newly installed UHF-TV translator. We had all of 3 channels then and two were from San Francisco.”
On the station’s website, KCBS morning anchor Stan Bunger reminisced:
“No matter how old you are, there are phrases or images that instantly take you back to your youth. For me and whole lot of others who grew up in the Bay Area, just say “a glass of milk and a how-do-you-do” out loud and we’re five years old again.
“That’s how Art Finley would end his recitation of the next day’s San Francisco school lunch menu each weekday afternoon as “Mayor Art” on KRON-TV. Think about all the quaintness in that sentence: an afternoon kids’ show on local TV. Someone using the airwaves to deliver the school lunch menu. Heck, school lunches themselves!”
A Chronicle reader said simply, “Oh man – fond memories. Best Mayor we ever had.”