Archive for the ‘"Colgate Comedy Hour"’ Category

Happy 90th Birthday, Norman Lear!

Friday, July 27th, 2012

You may know that Norman Lear created All in the Family and The Jeffersons, but did you know that he also produced “Stand By Me” and “The Princess Bride?” Today the prolific writer/producer/director turns 90 and we take a look back at the career of the man who not only brought “Archie” and “Edith” to the small screen, but helped bring “Princess Buttercup” and “Westley” to the big screen, as well.

Born Norman Milton Lear on July 22, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a press agent. (Lear’s uncle worked at MCA and always seemed to have a quarter to spare, even during the lean Depression years.) At the end of his senior year of high school, Lear won the American Legion Oratory Contest, earning him a scholarship to Emerson College. He left Emerson in 1942 to become a gunner in the Air Force during World War II, then fulfilled his childhood dream and worked for George and Dorothy Ross as a press agent in New York. Now married with a baby on the way, he returned to Connecticut, but soon moved to California. Leaving the life of a press agent behind, Lear performed odd jobs to make a living, including starting a business to mail celebrity addresses out by request. He and friend Ed Simmons teamed up to dabble in writing, and Lear promptly fibbed his way to the big time. He pretended to be a reporter interviewing Danny Thomas, got Thomas’ phone number, and pitched him a routine about Yiddish words that had no English counterparts. The not-Jewish Thomas wound up using the sketch at Ciro’s nightclub, giving Lear and Simmons their big break:

Agent David Susskind (who happened to be Lear’s first cousin!) then recruited the pair to write for Jack Haley’s Four Star Revue back in New York. Shortly after, in 1950, Jerry Lewis lured the duo away to write for Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, where a young Bud Yorkin worked as stage manager. Martin and Lewis had recently signed movie contracts in California, so the show and its writers relocated back to the West Coast. This time Lear would stay put in sunny California.

After three years writing for Martin and Lewis, Lear and Simmons moved on to writing for The Martha Raye Show in 1954, where Lear got his first taste of directing. He split with Simmons and became a junior writer on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show from 1957-58, where Bud Yorkin was a producer and Lear’s boss. Lear and Yorkin soon decided to form a company together, Tandem Productions. The pair complemented each other – Yorkin had more experience as a producer/director, and Lear was by then an experienced writer. They made a deal with Paramount to executive produce variety shows and specials, including The Andy Williams Show, and specials for Carol Channing, Bobby Darren, and Danny Kaye (who Lear says cooked excellent Chinese food).

Lear dabbled in films, writing the 1963 movie “Come Blow Your Horn,” and soon read an article about the British sitcom ‘Til Death Do Us Part, which featured a father-son relationship that reminded Lear of his own relationship with his father. From this premise he created All in the Family in 1968 and sold the show to ABC. He shot a pilot with Carroll O’ Connor and Jean Stapleton, but not Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, and the show didn’t make it air. Lear then made a second pilot (also without Reiner and Struthers), which CBS picked up when Bob Wood replaced Jim Aubrey as head of the network. Just as All in the Family was starting, Lear wrote and directed the 1971 film “Cold Turkey” and was offered a three picture deal with United Artists. He turned down the deal in order to focus on All in the Family, which premiered to rather poor ratings:

CBS re-ran the series that summer and the audience grew. Then the Emmys that year did a cold open with “the four principles of All in the Family,” putting the show squarely on the map.

All in the Family showcased Lear’s talent for intertwining social consciousness with humor. In his Archive interview he explains how he can find comedy in anything:

Lear and Yorkin soon created 1972’s Sanford and Son from the British program Steptoe and Son. Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson were tapped to play the leads:

The duo produced Maude in 1972, which famously aired an episode (“Maude’s Dilemma”) in which the title character decides to have an abortion. Lear describes how the episode initially aired without significant controversy, but caused a raucous when broadcast in reruns:

Lear became master of the spin-off, creating Good Times from Maude in 1974, and The Jeffersons from All in the Family in 1975 (Maude was already an All in the Family spin-off). In 1974 he started T. A. T. Productions with Jerry Perenchio (the name comes from the Yiddish expression “Tuchus Affen Tisch,” which in Lear’s words, roughly translates to, “enough with the talk, put your ass on the table.”) Lear continued creating hit shows with 1975’s  One Day at a Time, and the critically acclaimed, but short-lived syndicated show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1976. At one point during the 1970s, Lear created/produced four of the five top shows on television. Those were the days.

He had some flops, as well. 1977’s syndicated Fernwood Tonight (aka Fernwood 2-Night) about a local talk show host, All That Glitters about male/female role reversals, and Hot L Baltimore about two prostitutes in The Hotel Baltimore, (the “E” had fallen off the sign, hence Hot L Baltimore), didn’t last beyond one season.

Lear decided to end All in the Family in 1979 (he was not involved with Archie Bunker’s Place) to dedicate more of his time to causes in which he believed – he formed the advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980. He was a member of the first group of inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984, along with honorees William Paley, Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow, David Sarnoff, and Milton Berle. Lear also became active in movie production, buying Embassy Studios (T. A. T. became Embassy Communications), and soon selling it to Coca Cola. Lear then formed (and currently serves as chairman of) Act III Communications, which produced 1986’s “Stand By Me,” 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” and 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes,” among others.

Lear remained active in television throughout the 1990s, producing Sunday Dinner in 1991, and 704 Hauser in 1994. More recently he’s produced several movies, including 2000’s “Way Past Cool,” and the 2011 short, “The Photographs of Your Junk (Will Be Publicized!).” We can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.

Happy 90th, Norman! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Norman Lear’s full Archive interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Director John Rich Dies at 86

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report that director John Rich passed away yesterday at the age of 86. Rich was one of the most respected and prolific directors in all of television, directing numerous episodes of The Colgate Comedy Hour, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, and All in the Family (including the “Sammy’s Visit” episode), and was instrumental in merging the Screen Directors Guild with the Radio and Television Directors Guild to create the current Directors Guild of America. Here are some selections from Rich’s seven hour interview:

On how he became the main director for The Dick Van Dyke Show:

It came about because of my service to the Guild, oddly enough. I had been doing westerns – I did five years of westerns and that was the hot stuff. But I had been on the Director’s Guild Board of Directors all that time. Sheldon Leonard was on the Board. He walked by me one day, he said, “hey, how would you like to come in out of all the dust?” I said, “and do what?”  He said, “I got a new show with an actor named Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner.”  I said, “Carl Reiner?” That got my attention. Van Dyke I had never heard of. I said, “oh, I don’t know, what do you think?” He said, “I think you can do a nice job. I’d like you to come in and meet Carl Reiner and Van Dyke and see if you get along.” Fine. So I was asked to come to Carl Reiner’s house and it very pleasant, and I loved his work on Sid Ceasar’s show. I told him so. And when I met him, I was introduced to Van Dyke and I said, “I thought you were wonderful in ‘Vintage ‘60.’”  And he said, “no, that was  Dick –” some other actor. My introduction to Dick Van Dyke was to compliment him on a play he was not in.  First faux pas, you know.  Then I was going to do the show and I did it and God, it was wonderful.

On directing the opening sequence of The Dick Van Dyke Show:

On being asked to direct new series All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on the same day:

It was a curious thing, one of those rare days in the life of a freelance director. I had a call from Mary Tyler Moore saying she’s doing a new show, would I read her script. Jim Brooks and Alan Bergman had written it.  The same day Norman Lear sent me All In the Family. I read both of them. I thought, God, and I called Mary– as a matter of fact, I met with Jim Brooks and Alan.  I said, “you know, having worked with Mary on Dick Van Dyke, I thought this would be a very good show, but it kind of had some overtones of reminiscence. It just feels okay, like another comedy that might be good, but this other thing is outrageous.” It was 1970, and the dialogue that was written then, just blew me away. I called Norman, I said, “you aren’t going to make this, are you?” He said, “yeah.” I said, “is anybody going to put it on?” He said, “they say they will.”  Well, I told Mary, I said, “you know, I really got to do that show even if it’s an exercise.” I don’t know if it’s going to get on, but I was committed to the first 6 shows, whatever it was.

On directing the Emmy-winning “Sammy’s Visit” episode of All in the Family:

On how he’d like to be remembered:

Obituary from The Huffington Post

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times

John Rich’s full Archive Interview

Archive Interviewee Jerry Lewis Discusses the MDA Telethon

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

The 42nd annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association will be broadcast live from Las Vegas on Monday, September 3rd. “I’ll never wave the white flag in the fight against muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting diseases,” Lewis says on the MDA website. “Not only is the Telethon a chance to help put an end to these debilitating diseases, but it’s also a way to inform and educate the public, while having a darn good time.”

Jerry Lewis was interviewed in October 2000 by the Archive of American Television where he talked about his long association with the annual event.

On doing a telethon with Dean Martin in 1949:
We did a telethon for two hours with the mail carriers in 1949. Then we went to Carnegie Hall in 1950. He did the six-hour telethon with me there… We did MDA from ‘50 to ‘52, and then there was a hiatus. I didn’t do another one till after we split up. But he was very helpful and he understood it was something I had to do and he was very supportive.

On going national with the telethon:
In 1950, Dean and I did the first telethon out of WNEW New York. That was the flagship. The flagship meaning they also had stations in New Jersey and Connecticut… Then we were on hiatus from ‘53 to about ‘57. And in that, in the interim Dean and I had split up, and then I was doing the telethon local New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut from ‘57, ‘58, ‘59. Then in 1960 I started to travel to get stations, because we were on three stations, New York and two, whatever that was. By 1960 I was already getting seventy stations, ninety stations. ‘61, ‘62, I’m into a hundred and four stations. ‘66, we went national. I had taken those years to put everybody in place and then finally get them to go with us, when we went national. So we were the first telethon to ever go in color, the first telethon to go coast-to-coast, and by the time we went into 1970 I had 213 stations. We moved the telethon in 1973 to Las Vegas for the first time. And this last year [1999] was my fiftieth year. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing it for 50 years. But the thing that is so magnificent is that the television medium helped me generate a billion seven hundred million dollars in these last 38 years, because twelve years I didn’t raise two hundred thousand dollars.

On the hope for a cure:
And God-willing, again, because of television, we’re going to find a cure. We’re into DNA now, we’re into genetic engineering, which is certain to give us information. And now I’m being told by the clinicians and the researchers and the lab people, you’re going to see the cure in your lifetime. I mean, it’s incredible.

On special moments on the telethon through the years:
Jack Benny came on and destroyed the audience. I had introduced him and he walked on and he looked right in the camera and he thought for a minute, he looked in the camera again. He looked around, and he said, “I don’t guarantee that I’m going to make a pledge.” And we were destroyed! Everybody was hysterical. And he leaned on that for about another minute of just staring. I’ll never forget what that man did with one thought. “Cheapest man in the world,” he’s not going to make a pledge. The Ritz Brothers came on and did the act that they did in vaudeville forty years before, and it was spectacular… I had the hundred and twenty Russian Bolshoi ballet. A hundred and twenty coming right at the center camera, one at a time. One at a time. And about after a hundred and three I was in it. I did my thing. I’ll tell you one thing that I could never ever forget. Mary Passalacqua was a victim of neuromuscular disease, and I went to the hospital to see her in San Francisco, hoping that she would be better. And she was, she was skeleton-like. She was dying so badly. And we funded a thing called plasmapheresis, which flushes the bad blood out and puts new blood in, and she had been given the last rights when I arrived there. When I arrived there she was the epitome of what hero worship is, because she saw me and she, she practically came alive. And then I left, I said good-bye, never though I’d see her again, and then I get a letter from her two months later. Thanks so much for visiting me: it made the difference. I’m doing well. I’m fine. And P.S. my dream is to one day dance with you. I read the letter on television in front of eighty million people. And then I pointed to the curtain and there she came. She walked out and she and I danced dead center of that stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She’s alive and well because of our funding the plasmapheresis syndrome. And that’s probably one of the most unforgettable things, because I was trembling so, trying to dance and be cool. It was so important to her and to everyone else that was a victim. It was a special moment for people in trouble.

On his 1976 reunion with Dean Martin on the telethon:
The other great moment that’s pretty close emotionally was when Frank [Sinatra] decided to bring Dean on and have us embrace, and stop the twenty years of silence, because it was twenty years we hadn’t talked. And Frank worked it out. He worked it out so that everyone in that studio, every member of my staff— nobody knew Dean was coming on. The only one that knew it was Ed McMahon. So I could never have heard about it. It was such a total surprise. And when you look at the footage and you see the look on my face and the look on his face you see two men that love one another. It was an incredible moment. It was great television.

On the instituting of “ You’ll Never Walk Alone” as the telethon’s closing song:
In 1950 I had the occasion to go to Chicago and visit a twelve-year-old little boy who was suffering from spinal atrophy. And they had operated on him and put a shunt in his spine so he could sit up. And when he saw me he said, I got to tell you something. I just love what you do, and, and you know, you should have a theme song. Twelve years old. I said, what do you mean, a theme song? You should have a song for all of us kids. Your kids. I said, a song like what? He said, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” And it was like I was hit between the eyes with a bullet. What? Of course, I know that lyric, I know where he’s coming from. But he was a very bright twelve-year-old little boy. Speaking for all of the kids that were in trouble. I dedicated it to him on Telethon ‘50. I’ve done it for fifty years.

Link to information about the 2007 MDA telethon.

The entire five-part Archive of American Television interview can be viewed by clicking here.

Additionally, Archive interviewee Eddie Foy III also spoke about working with Jerry Lewis on the MDA Telethons (six minutes into part 10).

Interview Description:

Jerry Lewis was interviewed for nearly two-and-a-half hours in San Diego, CA. Mr. Lewis described his rise to stardom and his work on early television, including hosting The Colgate Comedy Hour with his partner, Dean Martin. Mr. Lewis spoke of his many accomplishments in the entertainment industry and his major work in television, including his annual telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The interview was conducted by Sam Denoff.

Books: A Memoir by Archive Interviewee John Rich

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

A recent book, Warm up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir (The University of Michigan Press), recounts Archive interviewee John Rich’s life in the trenches as one of television’s premier directors and producers. Rich boldly recounts his work on many classic series (and episodes) including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, All in the Family and MacGyver as well as his longtime involvement in the Directors Guild of America. It’s a humerous, no-holds-barred look behind the scenes at some of our favorite shows and also gives readers a glimpse into what makes a great director.

From Warm Up the Snake:

During my days as an NBC stage manager, I witnessed plenty of foul-ups that no one could have invented. One day I was assigned to monitor the time and placement of a live commercial insert within a program, produced by an outside advertising agency. The program featured “Dunninger, the Mental Wizard,” a see-all know-all “mentalist” act. As the NBC representative, I had little to do but sit in the control room behind the production team and observe the action with my notepad at the ready. The first two sales pitches went as planned, but as the program neared its end, the director became concerned that the time would run out before the final commercial. He instructed the stage manager to “give Dunninger a speed-up and signal we have one minute to go.”

The stage manager obeyed, but the mentalist’s pace continued as before. The director called, “Give him 30 seconds!” No response. “Speed him up, we’re not going to make it!” Pandemonium reigned as the performer talked right into the NBC systems cue, cutting off transmission. The last commercial was lost: disaster. I made my notes, and joined the angry mob as they boiled out of the control room and confronted a bewildered Dunninger. “W lost the last commercial: the agency men screamed. “Why didn’t you take our cues?”

“What cues?” Dunninger asked.

“The three or four speed-ups, the one-minute, and the thirty-second cues we gave to the stage manager.”

Dunninger was irate. “Why don’t you put the son of a bitch where I can see him? What do you think I am, a mind reader?”

John Rich’s Archive interview is now online.
Click here to access all 14 parts.

Interview description:
John Rich was interviewed for nearly seven hours in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Rich talked about his start in television as a stage manager for NBC, where he worked on The Colgate Comedy HourT. He eventually got his start as a director on The Ezio Pinza Show. He talked numerous shows he directed throughout his career including I Married Joan, The Ray Bolger Show, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, and All In the Family, which he also produced. He also discussed directing pilots for Maude, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller, and Newhart. Mr. Rich also discussed executive producing Benson and MacGyver. The interview was conducted by Henry Colman on August 3, 1999.