Joseph was 83 and lived just five houses west of Highlands High School in southeast San Antonio when he died on October 5, 1977. His quarters was on the west side of a little red duplex. The front door faced Pennystone Street. The entry of his neighbors on the other half of the house faced east.
The kind old man had lived in the Alamo City most of his life. Before he passed away, while bedridden in the Baptist Memorial Hospital, a Texas Historical Marker was placed in front of his church just one block away on Camden Street. The plaque commemorated Madison Square Presbyterian Church, where Joe Alston, Sr. was a 50-year member. A beautiful “Gothic Revival edifice of rusticated stone was completed in 1883” the marker stated.
During his funeral on Friday, Oct. 7, his son Joe Jr. and daughter Peggy Jones, along with other family and friends remembered Joe Sr. as being a World War I survivor and a First Officers Training Camp lifetime member as well.
Joe Jr., his wife Regina, sister Peggy, and grandson Michael Joseph Jones went back to the senior Alston’s home after the burial to sort out his belongings. Among the memories found were Mr. Alston’s Alzafar Shrine, Sons of Hermann and military items. Included in the military pieces were articles about Joe Jr. and his service in the U.S. Army during War War II. His father was particularly proud that the younger Joe had fought gallantly during European combat. Most notably, when Joe Jr. was 25 he withstood the fierce Battles of Monte Cassino in Italy.
Although somewhat sad and tearful, Joe Jr. found something among his father’s things that made him laugh. It was a white button with a blue picture of a man smiling. In red ink, surrounding the photo, the button read:
“CAP’N GUS KENS 5 TV 3:30 p.m.-weekdays”
Joseph Deming Alston, Jr. was Captain Gus, one of the most famous men in the world to thousands of children in south Texas for over three decades. To understand how important Joe Jr. was, we have to listen to his own words, “Let’s put on our thinking caps, because it’s think tank time!”
This was a time when there was no Internet. Cartoons like Popeye and Bugs Bunny were not restricted by political correctness or considered violent. San Antonio had only 3 major television channels—4, 5 and 12—that usually required rabbit ear antennas, a little aluminum foil and patience to get good reception in some locations. But it was KENS-TV’s Captain Gus who caused school children to run (or at least walk fast) home from school to make it in time for his 3:30 afternoon show.
Some say the Captain Gus Folgerty generations were lucky because children had someone other than their parents and grandparents to teach good behavior and how to act. The Captain always reminded his “Mateys” to “mind your manners and do what your mama and daddy tell you to do. That’s very important.”
He had favorite sayings that even to this day are repeated by his viewers:
“Let’s do the do and the whole McClue!”
“Now we’re going to haul off and see another carn-toon.”
“That’s just fantastical.”
Captain Gus took the time to greet each matey, usually children from a school class, scouts, Camp Fire Girls, baseball teams, or a birthday party group, who came to visit Channel 5’s set on the bleacher-type seats set up on the dock near his ship, The Amigus.
On Sunday mornings Captain Gus would invite children at home to gather the newspaper cartoons from their parents so he would read them aloud along with them. Reading was important and he would often gather a letter or two from viewers to share with his audiences. On one such occasion, Captain Gus began, “Our fan Billy wrote: ‘Captain Gus, you have the best cartoons south of the border.”
Captain Gus giggled and rather bewildered replied, “But he didn’t say which border. I just hope he meant the Canadian border.”
One of the most favorite features was his Wishing Well. Children could enter their names and contact information on a form located at The Toy Store or Kiddie City, two prominent children’s stores of the day. If Captain Gus picked their name out of his Wishing Well, a special gift was waiting for them at the retailers’ locations.
“My cousin put my name in the wishing well,” said Brenda Lackey-Mulliner. “When I was watching one day, Captain Gus pulled my name out and I won a ‘Barrel of Monkeys.’ Many of my classmates were watching. This was third-grade. It was a big deal at school that he has called my name.”
Other prizes included ‘Mr. Potato Head,” roller skates, bicycles, kites, airplanes and board games.
In 1974, Danny Shumway remembers being “laid up in intensive care diagnosed with diabetes at Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. I was selected to be the ‘sick matey’ for that day. I was a little old at 12 but had been a fan since I was 5. They called me and I was to guess what was on this picture they were about to show. I felt pretty silly since a hippopotamus was pretty simple. I did win a Styrofoam glider.”
Friends, neighbors and KENS staff remember Joe Alston Jr. as friendly, gentle and humorous. On more than one occasion, during a commercial break or while a Popeye cartoon was playing, he would sneak off the ship set for a bit. When the children would ask him where he went his classic reply was, “I got stuck on a piece of gum.” Of course the children who got the joke would roar with laughter.
George Kenneth Grimes, a big fan recalls one of the Captains riddles, “What’s round as a dollar, yellow as gold, born before Moses, and not a month old?”
The answer delighted children, “The moon. We get a new one every month.”
“I was a neighbor of Captain Gus,” Lowell Shoemaker posted in a tribute Facebook page. “Not only was he a good reporter, but also a great Bible student. I also remember the interview KENS had with him about Noah’s Ark.”
“My mother had an opportunity to work with him with a San Antonio or Texas Medical Society Auxiliary’s production of Schotzy, promoting immunizations of children,” recalled Kathyrn Elizabeth Davis. “I miss the cartoons that we used to watch.”
A 1990s article revealed that “Alston also hosted horror shows on Channel 5, donning a cape as part of his costume for ‘Shock Theater.’” Later the Saturday afternoon show was entitled ‘Five Star Shock’ and featured classic horror films such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy and The Man From Planet X. Later it was moved to Friday nights after the news broadcast as “Project Terror.” Adults can still recite Alston’s famous words, “Where the scientific and terrifying emerged.”
His experiences also included parts in movies such as “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “T-Men”, and “West Point of the Air.”
Captain Gus aired for 26 years (1953-1979), meaning his prime audience members now span from 40 to 70 years of age–not including their parents who are still around. With over 6,500 shows broadcasted live, this equates to more than 100,000 visitors to the set (even though in later years it went from five days a week to just Saturday mornings). Occasionally Captain Gus would visit nearby towns such as Kerrville, Seguin, New Braunfels or Floresville. He would broadcast from the old KENS studio downtown, but occasionally the station would air from made up studios at the World’s Fair grounds of Hemisfair ’68, North Star Mall, Wonderland Mall, Las Palmas Shopping Center or the Municipal Auditorium.
One of his most famous appearances was appearing on a float in the Fiesta Battle of Flower Parade. Captain Gus brought his chimpanzee mascot, Duke to wave at the crowds alongside him. Duke was exhibited at Neisner Brothers Department Store in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Alston, born in 1918, left KENS in 1979. He and his wife lived in Pipe Creek (towards Bandera) and he remained on Kerrville radio until his death at age 71 in September 1989.