Ken Sobol

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Ken Sobol
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Born(1938-03-10)March 10, 1938
Cleveland, Ohio
DiedAugust 5, 2010(2010-08-05) (aged 72)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materOberlin College
  • Journalist
  • Author
  • Writer of television programs
Spouse(s)Julie Macfie Sobol

Ken Sobol (March 10, 1938 – August 5, 2010) was a journalist, author and writer of television programs. He is best known as a pioneer of educational and children’s television, beginning in the 1970s when he began a long relationship with OECA (later TVO). He created and wrote many innovative programs for children, including the Emmy Award-winning Inside/Out and such programs as Readalong, Telefrancais and the animated Pippi Longstocking TV series. Ken Sobol also wrote many books, including several with his wife Julie Macfie Sobol.


Born into a Jewish family in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, Sobol was a rebellious teenager who was drawn to bohemian culture and literature from an early age. After a brief stint at Case Western Reserve he enrolled at Oberlin College in 1956. He spent his junior-year-abroad in London, where his housemates included two Canadians, a fact that would later result in him moving to Canada, where he would spend most of his life.

Ken graduated from Oberlin College in 1959, along with his wife-to-be Julie Macfie. After marrying they moved to New York City and immersed themselves in the Bohemian scene they found there. Ken received an M.A. from Columbia while in New York, but his real passion was writing. In 1959, an over-the-transom piece he wrote on impulse was published in the fledgling alternative newspaper The Village Voice. Ken would become a regular contributor to The Village Voice over the next 15 years,[1] writing on local politics, television and civil rights.

Sobol and his young family moved many times; in the early years always in pursuit of work as a writer: to Los Angeles in 1965, to Montreal in 1968, back to New York in 1969, to Toronto in 1972 and to Montreal in 1977, followed by several stops in in rural Ontario, before finally settling once more in Toronto in the 1990s.

Sobol was married for 49 years to Julie Macfie Sobol. They raised 3 children (and had 6 grandchildren) before he succumbed to Lewy body dementia in 2010, a tragedy he and Julie Macfie Sobol documented in their book Love and Forgetting – A Husband and Wife’s Journey Through Dementia.[2]



Ken Sobol was the first television critic for The Village Voice. Unlike most intellectuals of the day, who derided television, Sobol engaged critically and appreciatively with the emerging medium. Sobol also wrote on politics. In what was arguably a foolhardy but noteworthy self-appointed journalistic mission, he spent several weeks in 1968 visiting and documenting what had changed in Neshoba, Mississippi, since the brutal murders of Civil Rights activists James Chaney, Michael Goodman and Andrew Schewrner there by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964. Sobol was himself threatened by the KKK as he researched and wrote these articles.

In the 1980s and 1990s Sobol and his wife Julie Macfie would write many feature articles together for Canadian Geographic Magazine.[3]


During his 40 year career writing for television Sobol created and wrote dozens of programs. In addition to the ones documented below, he also created long-running TV series with popular characters such as Care Bears, Highlander, Curious George, and G.I. Joe, as well as several documentary series exploring alternative health practices, historic spiritual leaders, and the 20th century, among others.


In 1965 Sobol was invited by his cousin, animation producer Herb Klynn to move to Los Angeles. Sobol would spend 3 years working for Filmation where he began writing for several popular Saturday morning cartoons, including The Batman and Superman Hour, Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Hardy Boys. He also wrote episodes of the original George of the Jungle.


In 1969 he returned to New York, where he was hired to write episodes of an original after-school children’s program called Inside/Out. Each episode featured a different story and theme, all showing kids’ lives, troubles and experiences through their own eyes, As such it represented a radical break from anything that had been seen on TV before. The show, which was co-produced by OECA (the Ontario Educational Communications Authority – now known as TVO), won an Emmy Award for best children’s program and led to an invitation to move to Toronto to create new programs for the innovative Canadian public broadcaster.

At OECA Sobol created Magic Shadows, a syndicated after-dinner program as well as Saturday Night at the Movies, both hosted by the avuncular Elwy Yost and both that were popular for many years across Ontario. Sobol created many other shows at OECA, including – in collaboration with puppeteer Noreen Young – popular children’s shows Readalong and Telefrancais, which are both still used in Ontario schools today. (Some of the characters Sobol created for these series have become popular online memes[4] Sobol and Young later created Under the Umbrella Tree, which was broadcast on CBC TV from 1986 to 1993.

Media Circus

In 1974, Sobol and colleagues Sheldon Greenberg and David Hamblyn launched an extraordinarily innovative experiment in media criticism at OECA. Media Circus[5] was a weekly 90-minute TV show that consisted of live commercial-free analysis of 'what is on TV right now'. The broadcast took place in a TV control room whose 12 monitors were tuned to the 12 channels that were available in Toronto at that time, more than in any other North American TV market. The hosts and guests – which included Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye – would sit in the control room and discuss what was being shown on live TV as they surfed from channel to channel. Media Circus aired at a different day and time each week – Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, Friday night and other days and times – so that every aspect of the TV schedule could be surveyed and critiqued.


Sobol wrote some of the earliest shows produced by Nelvana, successes that helped launch what would become one of the world’s largest animation companies. These shows included A Cosmic Christmas (though he was uncredited), The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rome-0 and Julie-8. Sobol wrote many shows for Nelvana over the years, perhaps most notably he was the chief writer and Story Editor of the popular animated Pippi Longstocking series in the mid-1990s, having been personally approved by author Astrid Lindgren after a meeting with her in Stockholm.


Ken Sobol wrote approximately a dozen books for children and adults.

Books for Children

  • Touch and Learn Book of Shapes (Mcgraw Hill, 1961)
  • The Telephone Book (Mcgraw Hill, 1965) illustrated by Virginia Hubbell
  • Willie’s Wonderful Whale (Mcgraw Hill, 1966)
  • The Brave Little Mouse (Mcgraw Hill, 1966)
  • Woodland Animals (Mcgraw Hill, 1966)
  • The Clock Museum (Mcgraw Hill, 1967) illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
  • A Cosmic Christmas (HarperCollins, 1978)
  • The Devil and Daniel Mouse (HarperCollins, 1979)
  • Mission to the Stars (Xerox, 1980)
  • Little Dirty Face (OECA, 1989)
  • Adventures of a Mouse (Great Plains National Instructional, 1989)
  • Major League Mouse (Great Plains National Instructional, 1989)

Books for Adults

  • Babe Ruth and the American Dream (Random House & Ballantyne 1974)[6]
  • Looking for Lake Erie: Travels Around a Great Lake (Viking, 1995), with Julie Macfie Sobol[7]
  • Lake Erie – A Pictorial History (Boston Mills Press, 2004) with Julie Macfie Sobol[8]
  • Love and Forgetting – A Husband and Wife’s Journey Through Dementia (Second Story Press, 2013) with Julia Macfie Sobol[9]


Ken Sobol was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia, a common but little known form of dementia in 2007. He and his wife began documenting his illness in writing, with the intention of publishing a book. Eventually Ken could no longer write, and his wife Julie took notes. Finally, a few weeks before his death he was moved to the Kensington Gardens Long Term Home in Toronto’s Kensington Market, where he died on August 5, 2010. The following year Julie returned to their shared manuscript and completed it, resulting in the publication of Love and Forgetting – A Husband and Wife’s Journey Through Dementia.


  1. "Jack La Lanne: An Honest, Straightforward Salesman | The Village Voice". Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  2. "Love and forgetting. Dementia and writing: Salutin". 2013-10-25. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  3. politis (2016-10-07). "The rise and fall (and rise?) of postal delivery". Canadian Geographic. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  4. "Je Suis Un Ananas". Know Your Meme. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  5. Media Circus (May 1, 2012). "YouTube - Media Circus Episode 1".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. Angell, Roger (1974-10-13). "Still getting the ink (Published 1974)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  7. "Looking For Lake Erie". Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  8. "Lake Erie". Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  9. "Love and forgetting. Dementia and writing: Salutin". 2013-10-25. Retrieved 2020-10-12.

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