6 On The Move: How Lionel The Lion Became King Of Tulsa Weather

Thursday, January 17th 2013, 9:05 pm
By: News On 6

As News On 6 makes the move to the new Griffin Communications Media Center in the Brady Arts District, we look back at our history - 63 years of reporting news to the people of Oklahoma.

Josh Brakhage, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- One of the most iconic members of the Channel 6 family was once a forgotten prop, locked away in the KOTV attic.

As we empty that attic, preparing for our move to our new Brady District headquarters we remember the birth of "King Lionel," with a pair of KOTV legends.

It's been decades since Clayton Vaughn and Lee Woodward walked these halls together. In fact, when Lee arrived, there were no halls.

"From one end of this building to the other was the studio. It was the largest television production studio in the United States,' Lee said.

Lee Woodward was a musician.

"I had forgotten that you were a saloon singer. I mean, I can remember Christmas parties where he got waxed and thought he was Frank Sinatra," Clayton said.

Lee majored in vocal music and DJ'd before becoming the first host of KOTV's answer to American Bandstand: Dance Party.

Special Coverage: 6 On The Move

But Lee will forever be remembered for introducing Green Country to the most regal lion that ever did the weather.

Lionel was born by accident. Lee was rummaging through the Channel 6 attic and found a trunk full of props.

Inside were puppets, retired from a bygone kids' show. One caught Lee's eye, the lion in a dress, who was never meant to be king.

The puppet was a female, to begin with. But a wardrobe change gave Lionel a completely new identity.

"So, I started fooling around with it and developed a voice accidentally for him, and they started using me on the afternoon movies, just to banter about. And we'd stand behind a bookcase or something and that's how it got started," Lee said.

"It wasn't very well known, though, that it was really uncomfortable for you to do that, because there wasn't enough room in the head," Clayton said.

"It's the way it's bent," Lee said. "For some reason, my hand got bigger and I couldn't get it in, but now I can get back in there, now that I'm old and skinnier."

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Later, Lee built the castle where King Lionel would preside over his court, and deliver the weather forecasts on the nightly newscasts.

"Our first radar was a black and white. I believe it was and 8 or 9-inch radar out of a B-17 bomber," Lee said.

No one was more charmed by Lee and Lionel than former managing editor Clayton Vaughn.

Lured back to Tulsa from a job in California, Clayton said he'd only return if Lionel made an appearance each night on the news.

Lionel's wit came in handy the day sportscaster Mack Creager rolled off the news set.

"He just kind of moved his chair back, and moved a little further and eventually he fell off the platform and fell into the set," Clayton said. "It was a great crash and all that kind of stuff. And what you said, I'll never forget. You said, 'Nice to see ya drop in, Mack,'" Clayton said.

"Nice of you to drop in!" Lee said.

Oklahoma fell in love with Lionel and kids couldn't keep their hands off him, especially the kids coming in for Lee's "Dance Party"

"That was when Lionel was first lion-napped," Lee said. "Kidnapped. We had some kids from Bartlesville High School down," Lee said.

"They stole Lionel?" Clayton said.

"They stole Lionel. They found out who it was. Of course kids can't keep a secret, so they put Lionel in the jail and took a picture of him in jail up in Bartlesville," Lee said. "I got him back, but I was without Lion, and that's when I investigated where they came from, because this thing I found up in the prop room, and I found the last five available at a little novelty company in New York and bought them for $2.95 a piece."

Those puppets became Lionel's extended family.

Still on his throne, King Lionel now reigns over Lee Woodward's bedroom.

Lee admits he's out of practice and has had to re-learn how to do Lionel's voice, but it's a voice that will live forever in the memories of Oklahoma's Own.

We'll show you the complete transformation inside our new headquarters, Friday at 9 p.m., as our new studio comes to life.

Then join us Friday at 10 p.m., as we turn out the lights here in our original studios after 64 years.