The history of the Littlest Hobo and its iconic theme song in Toronto
No matter how many times you have heard it, when it fills the air with its sad yet hopeful joy there is no escaping its saccharine clutch. Plus, it sounds great in any language!
"Maybe Tomorrow" not only conjures up images of a roaming German Shepherd helping people and then moving on pronto but also of a simpler time when a low-budget shot-on-videotape TV series about a magic dog could command huge ratings worldwide in prime time.
Almost 41 years ago, on Oct. 11, 1979, The Littlest Hobo premiered on CTV. It was the third iteration of the saga, following the film The Littlest Hobo (1959) and the black-and-white syndicated TV series The Littlest Hobo (1963-65).
During its six years on-air, The Littlest Hobo mostly stuck to a very simple formula with new characters and locations each week — as the Hobo wanders into a low-stakes drama, helps resolve it, moves on — similar to other small screen shows such as The Fugitive and The Incredible Hulk.
The Littlest Hobo was filmed almost entirely in rural Ontario, with weekly stops in small towns, farms and forests (The serene settings also complimented the series glacial storytelling).
However, several episodes per year found Hobo visiting the mean streets of Toronto and nicely showcase the city's early 1980s gritty look.
The Hobo visited Union Station, the CNE, the Science Centre, Chinatown, Kensington Market, the Beaches, the Zoo, Casa Loma, the R.C Harris Water Treatment Plant and in one very memorable episode even rode the old red Gloucester subway cars at Queen and Wilson TTC stations.
He also attended popular out of town theme parks like Canada’s Wonderland and Cullen Gardens Miniature Village.
Here is a video which collects all of Hobo’s most memorable Toronto cameos.
Sometimes it was Toronto playing itself — the episode “Duddleman and the Diamond Ring” takes place almost entirely in the Beaches and features The El Pueblo Townhouses, The Goof and the Fox Theatre — while others included New York City style yellow taxicabs or Chicago Police cars in an attempt at making the series seem as if it were set in a U.S city.
The most ridiculous example of this can be found in the somewhat timely episode "Day of the Fugitive", in which a ship full of Russian plague carriers arrives at Port.
As the U.S customs agents warn the infected sailors to stay aboard the ship, the CN Tower can be seen in plain view behind them.
Outside of filming, Hobo routinely visited Toronto area schools, malls, and fairs during the series production.
Although cancelled in 1985, The Littlest Hobo is still a perennial favourite on TV in constant reruns where it has amassed a whole new audience who probably wonder what all the fuss is about.
The show is also credited as a launching pad for many then-unknown Canadian actors, including Mike Myers, Megan Follows, Rachel Blanchard, and Michael Ironside, as well as a safe refuge for Canadian TV faces like Al Waxman, Saul Rubinek, Harvey Atkin, Billy Van, Chas Lawther, Denis Simpson, Geroge Buza, and many more.
But the legacy of that theme song eclipses everything else. In 2011, Dulux used it in a popular TV commercial in the United Kingdom which drove the song to the top of the digital music charts.
“Maybe Tomorrow” was written by John Crossen and performed by Terry Bush. Bush had been chosen to create the song based on his popular contemporary country western jingles, which included odes to the Eaton Centre, the Zoo and Canada Dry.
Rumours continue to churn that a modern version of The Littlest Hobo is in development — in fact, it is remarkable that in our remake and reboot cluttered industry this hasn't happened yet — but until then there are plenty of vintage episodes on YouTube to look at.
If only to revisit that devastatingly nostalgic theme song.
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