Beloved ‘Pixanne’ actress, musician Jane Norman Beazley dies at 83

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A still featuring Jane Norman's TV character "Pixanne."

Actress and singer Jane Norman Beazley, 83, who for 17 years as “Pixanne” flew onto the stage of an “enchanted” TV forest -- and into the hearts of countless baby boomers -- died Saturday at her home in Bala Cynwyd.

In 1960, fresh from four years teaching kindergarten at the Shoemaker School in Elkins Park, she called on WPVI-TV in Philadelphia with an idea for a children’s show. The manager informed her he was not interested -- Channel 6 already had a popular children’s show featuring Sally Starr. So she crossed the street and knocked on the door of WCAU-TV, where she made the same pitch.

This time the manager sat her down at a piano, where she sang and played songs of her own composition. Impressed, he invited her to come back with a developed idea for a show, and three weeks later she was on the air as “Pixanne”: a petite, elfin character in a green tunic and feathered cap, modeled unabashedly on Peter Pan. At the start and end of each show she would “fly” down or away, attached by a tether to a concealed aerial harness, often with a farewell of “See you in the forest.”  

The show proved quickly popular, and in time she was joined by a cast of puppet characters with names like Oggy Owl and Flippy Butterfly and also Windy the Witch -- played by herself in a cape and loose-fitting clothes after she became visibly pregnant during a brief first marriage.

In later years she would explain the show’s success by saying that she sought to give each young viewer a sense that she was talking or singing directly to him or her, and “that made them feel special.” She was also an accomplished singer with a wide range and clear voice, and wrote many of the songs and story lines for the show.

Pixanne was taped for its first five years in black and white but in 1965 was among the first shows of its kind in the region to go to color. At times the show attained an audience share of 62 percent, according to interviews she gave later, but in 1969 the station discontinued it.

Undaunted -- and by then married eight years to the station’s sales director, Frank Beazley -- she and her husband offered it WNEW-TV in New York City, where it ran for a year and lasted in syndicated reruns until 1976.

Only a few clips of the show survive. A much larger collection of tapes was  destroyed in a warehouse fire.

Its fame was perpetuated for many years, however, by a mishap that occurred when a visiting fireman lit a flaming hoop for a skit and then discovered he could not extinguish it. The incident proved very popular in “blooper” TV shows.

 In 2005 she was inducted into the Philadelphia-based Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.

Jane Norman was born in Philadelphia to Stanley and Jeannette Lazarus Norman, the latter an accomplished pianist, according to Mrs. Beazley’s step-granddaughter Elizabeth Stadler. By age 3 -- well before her feet could reach the pedals -- Jane was playing Bach and Beethoven, and soon composing her own tunes. When she was 8, the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Ormandy played one of her compositions, A Sad Story, as part of a children’s concert.

She graduated from Olney High School and earned a degree in music from Temple University with minors in broadcasting and drama.

After the close of Pixanne she wrote and produced several children’s record albums, coproduced a series of TV spots that showed women how to perform household repairs, and wrote a book in 1993, The Private Life of the American Teenager, based on surveys among teenagers about such topics as peer pressure, sex, parents, and drinking. Later she recorded several CDs of her own singing, and late in life performed cabaret in the Philadelphia area.

“She had a ton of energy. It was always go and go and go,” Stadler recalled. “Until a year ago she could outrun all of us at tennis, including my husband. We couldn’t keep up with her. She had energy and spunk and charisma her whole life.”

Stadler, who grew up in Pittsburgh, said she and her parents and two sisters visited the Beazleys at their Bala Cynwyd home. “My sisters’ and my favorite memories are when we were little kids we would dress up in some of her costumes and outfits” from Pixanne “and dance around the house with her.”

She said that when they traveled in public with their grandmother they were often stopped by people who recognized her from the show and wanted to tell her how much they appreciated it. Mrs. Beazley -- who preferred not to discuss her age -- would sometimes joke that it didn’t seem possible her audience “babies” were now in their 50s “when I’m 25.”   

She chose not to have any funeral or memorial service, saying to friends that she hoped that after she passed away people would just wonder "Whatever happened to Jane Norman?” But on another occasion she joked that “I hope to take my last breath hitting a high C.”

In addition to her step-granddaughter, she is survived by her son, Richard Norman, from her first marriage; stepson Peter Beazley; two other step-granddaughters; and great-grandchildren.