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Children’s TV host Jack Metzger dies at 81

In a time before Disney and Nickelodeon, Jack Metzger was the star. He was a host of children’s programs on local TV, when every market in the country produced its own.

He was best known as Mr. Jackson on two shows on Miami’s Channel 10: The Learning Ladder and Arthur and Company. Legions of local kids grew up with him, the puppets and the characters.

Metzger, who wrote for and performed on those shows for 20 years, died Jan.5 at Baptist Hospital in Kendall. He was 81 and had cancer and heart disease.

In addition to his role as Mr. Jackson, Metzger starred as Captain Jack on the children’s show Banjo Billy’s Fun Boat from 1961 to 1969.

Metzger gained numerous accolades during his career, including induction into the South Florida Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Silver Circle in 1994. The award honors individuals who devoted 25 years or more to the television industry, with a significant portion of their careers spent in South Florida.

After leaving TV, he continued acting on the stage and was director of creative services for the Miami-Dade County Fair until retiring in 1997.

Besides his artistic accomplishments, friends say Metzger was known for his “legendary” dry sense of humor.

Loretta Barone, who remained friends with Metzger for 55 years after he was her professor at the University of Miami, said Metzger frequently entertained friends with stories of classic Hollywood stars and film studios. He loved animals and had many pets during his lifetime, including an opossum, a kinkajou, cats. He even had guinea pigs that he named after celebrities: Tyrone Power, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

Metzger was born in Pittsburgh and moved to Miami in 1951. He graduated from the University of Miami’s Radio Television and Film Department and was on the faculty for 14 years, when he also performed on the children’s programs.

On the shows, Metzger performed as a puppeteer, and he had a particular talent for using many different voices, said Dave Herbert, who played “Banjo Billy” on Banjo Billy’s Funboat.

“He was easy to work with, that’s for sure … a very talented guy and a good actor,” said Herbert, who now lives in Melbourne on Florida’s Space Coast. “I felt we were a pretty good team. We worked very well together and complemented each other.”

Metzger is survived by his older sister, Ruth Metzger.

No services are planned. Metzger’s cremated remains are being taken to a family plot in Mount Lebanon, Pa., where his mother is buried.

Because of his love for animals, Metzger’s friends request that any donations be made to the Zoological Society of Florida.