The Archive is very saddened to hear of the death of noted television producer Henry Colman, who passed away on Wednesday, November 7th at the age of 89. Not only was Henry an Archive interviewee, but he was also one of the Archive’s main interviewers — having completed over 33 oral history interviews for the Archive of American Television’s collection. We will miss his warmth and enthusiasm.
Henry began his career in television just as it was beginning — as a production coordinator on a local musical show, Easy Does It. In 1951, he became an assistant to the director on Kraft Television Theatre and then worked on other programs including Robert Montgomery Presents and Colgate Comedy Hour. He then became a television executive, overseeing the pilot of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and working on programs such as Green Acres and Hawaii Five-0. He later worked on the development of The Love Boat, where he became line producer, and went on to produce the series Hotel. Beginning in 1987, he produced a number of TV movies including Body of Evidence, Parent Trap III and The Rape of Dr. Willis.
Below are some selections from his 2001 Archive interview:
On the genesis of The Love Boat:
On his advice to aspiring producers:
On being an interviewer for the Archive of American Television:
On how he’d like to be remembered:
I’d like to be remembered as being generous and kind and with enough talent that I got the job done, and did it well.
The Archive is truly sad to report that legendary comedienne Phyllis Diller has died at the age of 95. She was the first female comedian to headline a Vegas Club, the first woman to sneak into the all-male Friar’s Club (in drag!), and one of the first successful female stand-up comics. She also appeared on more Bob Hope Specials than anyone except Bob Hope. Phyllis Diller was not only a television pioneer, but a pioneering force for women in entertainment, as well.
Born Phyllis Aida Driver On July 17, 1917 in Lima, Ohio, Diller wanted to be a pianist as a young girl. She attended college at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago for three years, but left to finish her studies at Bluffton College back in Ohio. She eloped in 1939 with Sherwood Diller, the brother of a classmate, and moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan and then to Alameda, California, where her husband worked at the Naval Air Station. Diller first got a job writing gossip and shopping columns for a local San Leandro newspaper, then as a fashion writer for Conn’s department store, moved on to writing for KROW radio in Oakland, and then to KSFO San Francisco as head of merchandising and press relations.
Her husband encouraged Diller to move to the talent side of the business, which she did by creating her “Phyllis Dillis, the Homely Friendmaker” persona:
Diller and a few friends put together an act, and she soon became the breadwinner of the family. She began a five-year run performing at the Purple Onion night club, toured the country, and in 1958 made her TV debut on You Bet Your Life with host Groucho Marx. She had just begun to comprehend the importance of theatricality and slowly started crafting her signature look: bleach-blonde hair, colorful costumes, and exposed “chicken-legs”:
Two additional items became part of Diller’s persona – her laugh:
And her ever-present cigarette holder:
One of Diller’s most memorable creations was “Fang”, the mythical husband-figure she often complained about in her act, who wasn’t actually based on her real-life husband:
In 1962 Diller made her first hugely successful appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. She soon secured her first movie role, as nightclub hostess “Texas Guinan” in Splendor in the Grass, and appeared in several regional theater plays including “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” with co-star Blythe Danner. In 1961 Diller became the first female comic to headline in Vegas, at the Flamingo. Of her Vegas act she told us, “I wrote my own material, and no one had ever heard it from a woman’s angle. Now the mother-in-law is his mother… I did a lot of housewife stuff. My first bit was stuffing a turkey. Now you think, well, this isn’t going to interest men, but it did because they’re interested in women. It became funny. If it’s funny, it’ll sell.”
Diller published her first book in 1963 and in 1964 made the first of many appearances on Bob Hope Specials. Diller felt she instantly clicked with Hope:
Throughout the 1960s Diller appeared on numerous talk and game shows, including: The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, I’ve Got a Secret, and Match Game. She traveled to Vietnam to entertain the troops with Bob Hope, and in 1966 starred in The Pruitts of Southampton, later retitled The Phyllis Diller Show – a half-hour sitcom about a wealthy family who suddenly becomes poor (“the opposite of The Beverly Hillbillies” as Diller described it.) She also appeared in a series of films including That Spy, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number (with Bob Hope), and The Mad Monster Party.
1968’s The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show started out as a 90-minute special that blossomed into a season-long variety show (one of the writers of which was a young Lorne Michaels), and in 1970 became the sixth Dolly in Broadway’s “Hello, Dolly.” In the late ’60s and early ’70s she enjoyed a semi-regular role on Love, American Style, and debuted her “Dame Illya Dillya” concert pianist persona in 1971, which kicked-off a series of symphony shows around the country and allowed her to utilize her piano skills. She very publicly underwent a face-lift in 1972, appeared as judge on the premiere episode of The Gong Show in 1976, and in 1983 became the first woman to dress in drag to sneak into the all-male Friar’s Club (for Sid Caesar’s roast):
Diller suffered a heart attack in 1999, and hadn’t done stand-up since being fitted for a pacemaker. However, she played “Gladys Pope” on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful from 1999-2004, and continued to make talk show appearances. She was also active in voiceover work, voicing the Queen in A Bug’s Life, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nuttiest Nutcracker.
Below are some selections from Hemsley’s 2003 Archive interview:
On his screen test for The Jeffersons’ executive producer, Norman Lear:
On “George Jefferson”:
On playing “Deacon Earnest Frye” on Amen:
On following his own path:
On advice to aspiring actors:
You got something steady telling you everyday, “go, go, go.” So rather than fight the voice, you just got to say ,”whew” and just start. That’s my advice to people – you want to do it? Start … Just go for it. Go for it; it’s fun.
The Archive is sad to report that director/producer William Asher passed away on Monday, July 16, 2012 at the age of 90. Asher got his big break at Desilu, first directing episodes of Our Miss Brooks, and then becoming a regular director of I Love Lucy (he directed the famous “Job Switching” episode where Lucy and Ethel work in a candy factory). Asher went on to direct episodes of The Danny Thomas Show, co-created The Patty Duke Show with writer Sidney Sheldon, and created Bewitched for then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery. Asher also directed JFK’s Inaugural Ball and the President’s famous Birthday Special with guest singer Marilyn Monroe.
Here are some selections from Asher’s 2000 Archive interview:
On how directing Our Miss Brooks led to directing I Love Lucy:
I had a contract to do the first ten if Our Miss Brooks sold, and it did. And Lucy and Desi and everybody wanted me to come on and do their show. So everything happened at once. I found myself doing both shows at the same time. That was a challenge, because they overlapped during the week. I’d work the first couple of days rehearsing Our Miss Brooks and then I’d start with Lucy. I don’t remember quite how it worked, but I did those first ten shows and broke in Sheldon Leonard as the director.
On directing the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy:
It was one of the most memorable of the shows, actually. It was where she and Ethel got a job, dipping candy, chocolates. The boys would take care of the house, do all the home work, and the girls would go out and make a living while Ricky and Fred made dinner and cleaned up the apartments. It didn’t work either way. We did scenes with Desi and Fred messing up the house and dinner and everything, while we were cross-cutting with Vivian and Lucy screwing up dipping the chocolate. It was quite a wild scene or scenes, I should say – both sides of it. They came home a wreck and the guys were a wreck, then everything got back together again.
On working with William Frawley on I Love Lucy:
On directing three cameras at Desilu (the first studio to use three):
The cameras came in and they were rehearsed and they were all marked on the floor what the scene was – little tapes – and what number it was in terms of their movement. They would follow the A, B, C, whichever letter, and go from one, two, three, four, five, six – whatever the numbers were and the character. We had no trouble at all with that and it seemed to baffle people. I don’t know why, but people would come and ask, “how do you do this?” It was really very simple.
On Lucille Ball telling Desi Arnaz that she was pregnant with Desi Jr., during the taping of I Love Lucy:
When she was pregnant with Desi, little Desi, we wrote it into the story so that she was actually pregnant. One of our best shows was when she told Desi she was pregnant. She kept trying to tell him and he just didn’t hear it. She went down to the club, she sat there on the chair and he had a song he was going to sing to someone who was pregnant in the audience, and she set it up. I forget exactly how we did that, but he went around the room singing this song, “We’re Having a Baby,” and he came to her and she said “yes,” then he went on and two people later he had his double-take that she had nodded yes. He ran back to the table and he said, “really?” and she said, “yes.” And he sang to her. It was very moving. It really was.
On directing JFK’s Inaugural Ball:
It was a fabulous show. We had a cast of people that you could never, ever achieve. Closed two Broadway shows with actors who came in to do the show. The weather was terrible. Just awful. The show went on about two hours late because people couldn’t get there. I know we picked up a couple of people who were stranded. But when everybody got there, at the armory, the show went on and it was wonderful.
On being scheduled to have dinner with Peter Lawford and Marilyn Monroe the night Monroe died:
The night that she killed herself Peter Lawford called me. We were going to have dinner with her, and Peter called me and said, “I can’t get her on the phone. I’ve been calling.” I had been down at the beach with her and Peter, and she left with her publicity girl, whose name escapes me. He said, “I can’t get her on the phone, the line’s busy. Why don’t we cancel dinner and I’ll keep trying to get her, and if I can you can come on down to the beach (where he lived).” I said, “fine,” and he called me again, then he called me again about twelve o’clock, and he said, “I’m worried about her. I think we should go over and see what’s happening at the house.” I said, “Peter, I don’t think we should do that. I think she’s probably asleep with pills and she’ll be fine.” He said, “well, I’m worried.” I said, “I tell you what you do. Call Joe Kennedy.” Joe Kennedy and I had become very friendly, and I said, “you call Joe and ask him what to do.” He did and Joe told him, “under no circumstances go there.” There’s just nothing to be gained. It was about three or four o’clock he called me, and he said that Mrs. Murphy, her maid, had called her doctor, who came over and broke into her bedroom, and she was dead. Whether or not Peter and I going there earlier would have saved her life, I don’t know. That haunts me.
On shooting The Patty Duke Show:
United Artists had a deal with me to do a pilot, and they selected Patty… We did the pilot here and she played two characters, and playing two characters took a lot of time. We’d have to stop it and she would change and it was a hard show to do. Under the children’s labor laws of California, there was a limit of only, I don’t know, eight hours or something when she could work. When the show sold we went to New York where there were no rules. The little boy who played her brother – their family didn’t want to go to New York, so we were in New York and we recast the little brother, and he was playing “Oliver” in the show “Oliver.” He was in the show ’til midnight and on our set at eight o’clock in the morning. Nobody complained about it. It was fine.
On creating Bewitched:
Liz and I had done a movie together, Johnny Cool, and we started going together, and we got married, and I was busy doing television and so was she. She made up her mind she didn’t want to work anymore. She insisted upon it. She had an offer of some kind and she turned it down, and she just wasn’t going to work anymore. I said, “this is not right. This isn’t fair. You’re too good. You just don’t belong retired.” We’d had a baby, and she said, “I don’t want to leave the baby, and I don’t want to be away from you. I just don’t want to work.” I suggested, “what if we do something together, how would you feel about that?” She said,”I would do that. If you can find something.” So I wrote something. I was doing a pilot with Paul Lynde, and I wrote something for us to do and submitted it to Columbia, and they liked it, but they said it’s close to something else that we have. My script was about a young girl, like a Gidget character, who was going with a boy on the beach, and there were no last names on the beach. The beach kids all had only first names. They were in love and they got married and on the night of their marriage she tells him that she’s the daughter of J. Paul Getty or the equivalent. He was furious. He said, “that’s something you tell him after you marry him? You tell before!” They had quite a scene about that. He said, “your family’ll be interfering all the time.” They had a house at the beach on stilts, and he worked at a gas station, and when the surf was up, he was out there with her. That was the basic idea… Columbia said, “we have something here that was written for Tammy Grimes and we like it and want you to read it. Well, I read it to Elizabeth and she liked it very much. The problem with it was it was dark, it was very witchy. It was boiling cauldrons and cobwebs and quite witchy. I didn’t like that. I thought she should be the girl-next-door, what she ultimately became. I went back to Columbia and I said, “let me do a rewrite on this,” and they said, “if we like it we’ll do it.” I did the rewrite. Elizabeth typed it, they liked it and we did it. It was all very quick.
On “Samantha’s” nose twitch on Bewitched:
That was something that I saw Elizabeth do. I was looking for something that was inherent in her to motivate the witchcraft, and I didn’t want to do any abracadabra stuff. She had done that, and when I first realized that would make a good motivator for the witchcraft I told her about it, and I tried to show her what it was, and she said, “I’ve never done anything like that.” I said, “you have, and I want to use it.” She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I kept after her and as we got closer and closer to doing the show, I kept pushing on her to try and remember it. The night before we did the show she was at the bar making a drink and she spilled something or did some kind of a mistake, and she did it, and I said, “that’s it, that’s it!” She did it, “that?” I said, “that’s it. That is it.” She said, “I don’t want to do that.” I said, “yes, you do. That’s it.” That’s how it was born.
On directing 1960’s beach party films:
The idea came from American International Pictures. Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson came to me to do a beach concept, and they had a script and it wasn’t right at all. It was like all the others. It just wasn’t very good, or at least I didn’t think so. I felt that the beach pictures should be about young people having a good time, with no heavies, no parents, no last names, no sex. Just fun. When I told them that they said, “well, what would it be about?” I said, “just what I said – it would be about having a good time.” I’d have comedy heavies in it and I’d have a bike group, which would be the Von Zipper and his gang, and treat it all comically. It would just be fun. They accepted it.
On advice to an aspiring director:
Directing is an instinctive thing. It’s knowing the material, understanding it, getting that character out of the actor. There are no tricks to it. You’re in charge of everything. You’re in charge of the cameramen, the photography is in your hands, the casting, the art direction… The whole package is the director. Even though there’s a producer, it’s in the director’s hands. It’s a very taxing job. It’s hard work. It really is. You get there early, you’re the first one there, and you’ll be the last one to leave. It’s a lot of work. Very tough. I don’t know how you’d break someone in. I’ve done it, but I did it just in the way I explained it to you. You’ve got to be prepared to do that and know how to do it. A lot of people have that and a lot of people don’t.
We’re sad to report that legendary actor Ernest Borgnine died today, July 8th, at the age of 95. The prolific Oscar-winning (for Marty) and Emmy-nominated actor (for McHale’s Navy and ER), began his carer in early live television, and is best known on TV for his starring roles in McHale’s Navy and Airwolf; plus, he is known to younger generations for his role as “Mermaid Man” on the animated SpongeBob SquarePants.
Born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut, Borgnine never thought he’d be an actor. It was at the urging of his mother (“Have you ever thought of becoming an actor? You always like to make a darn fool of yourself in front of people. Why don’t you give it a try?”) that he entered the field. We’re so grateful that he did!
After graduating high school, Borgnine joined the Navy in 1935, ended his service in 1941, and went right back in again when World War II broke out. Once he set his sights upon acting, he first attended Yale University, but then moved on to the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, CT to concentrate solely on the dramatic arts. After significant stage work at the Barter Theater in Virginia and time on Broadway in “Harvey”, Borgnine appeared as the evil “Nargola” on the popular 1951 children’s television show, Captain Video and his Video Rangers.
On working in early live television
In 1953 he played “Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson” in From Here to Eternity, but the role with which Borgnine would forever be associated came in 1955. Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s television play of the same name, Borgnine auditioned for, and won the part – and the Best Actor Oscar that year – for playing the title role in Marty.
On winning an Oscar for Marty
A big screen star, Borgnine soon conquered the small screen as well. In 1963 he made his first of many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and was asked to play the lead in a dramatic show called Seven Men Against the Sea, which as Borgnine explains in the following clip, eventually became the 1964 comedy McHale’s Navy.
On the genesis of McHale’s Navy
Borgnine began his run occupying center square on the popular game show Hollywood Squares in 1966, starred in the film The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, and appeared in the short-lived series Future Cop in 1976-77. In ‘77 he played “The Centurion” in Franco Zeffirelli’s TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, and from 1984-86 he was back starring in a TV series again, this time as “Dominic Santini” in the action-adventure show Airwolf.
On starring in Airwolf
After playing “Manny the Doorman” on the mid-’90s show The Single Guy and voicing “Carface” on the animated TV series All Dogs Go To Heaven, in 1999 Borgnine began lending his voice to SpongeBob SquarePants‘ “Mermaid Man”, thrilling girl scouts and adults alike with his maniacal catch phrase, “EVIIIIIIL!”
On voicing “Mermaid Man” on SpongeBob SquarePants
“As an actor, you’re supposed to know what life and, and love is all about. There’s so much to life, so much to bringing forth something in yourself that you have experienced, or have had an experience, or are thinking of an experience, or are willing to experience, something that you can bring to this theater, to this picture. And this is what makes an actor, I feel it’s what you have here (points to heart) and what you have here (points to head) that counts. It’s not just reading things off of a thing that, some writer has written for you. You make the writer’s words your own, besides thinking, “Am I living those words?” That’s what counts.”
About the interview:
In his two-and-a-half hour interview, Ernest Borgnine discusses his youth and the influence of his mother on his future acting ambitions. He reflects on enlisting in the Navy in the mid 1930s and on his service during World War II. He talks about his first appearances on television, including villainous roles on the DuMont children’s science fiction show Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and speaks of the role for which he is most associated – that of “Marty” in the 1955 film of the same name. He details his experience working with writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann (who had collaborated on the original television version)— and recounts stories about his audition for the part and of his Oscar win for Best Actor. He details the popular 1960’s sitcom McHale’s Navy, describes the production schedule, and gives his impressions of the show’s ensemble cast. Borgnine recalls appearing on The Hollywood Squares, The Tonight Show, and (in an Emmy-nominated performance) the television movie “All Quiet on the Western Front.” He chronicles his feature film roles in From Here to Eternity and in the disaster film classic The Poseidon Adventure, and comments on his work with directors Robert Aldrich and Sam Peckinpah,. He briefly speaks of his roles in the television series Airwolf, The Single Guy, and Spongebob Squarepants (he provides the voice of “Mermaid Man”). The remarkably vital 91-year-old Borgnine spoke with humor and enthusiasm and a clear zest for life. Henry Colman and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on October 10, 2008 in Beverly Hills, CA.
On being executive producer of the landmark dramatic anthology series Playhouse 90 in 1959, when the sponsor censored the word “gas” in “Judgement at Nuremberg”
The producer was Martin Manulis, Herb Brodkin, a couple of others. The network [CBS] did want me to have somebody overall in charge, and so I’d make comments to the producer and I would follow through with it. On the “Judgement at Nuremberg” teleplay, the gas company was a principle sponsor and they said they said they would pull out if we used the word “gas” on the show. Because how you told the story of Judgment at Nuremberg and Holocaust without using the word seems– Herb Brodkin, who was the producer — ridiculous, and I felt the same way. The network tried to get me to do something about it. I said, “there’s nothing that can be done about it.” They said, when they got close to air time, “we can’t give up the gas company. We promised them that we will take out the word.” It was all live. Herb Brodkin believed that we were going to do it, and I said, “Herb, I’ve got to tell you that that’s what they’re going to do and I can’t do anything about it. If it’s going through where we are, I might be able to get to the guys who are supposed to bleep that word out, but they tricked me, II don’t know if I could have done anything and they’re sending an engineer over here with someone and if the word is used we’ll bleep it.” And that’s what happened. And he was furious. I said, “I warned you that that was going to happen.” There was nothing that I could possibly do. It was the worse thing for the gas company. It got the worse publicity it could possibly have when it came out that the word was bleeped out…. We didn’t have people telling us what to do until the advertisers came along.
On the creation of television’s Dr. Kildare
I wanted to do a medical show. I hadn’t been able to do it because at CBS they said, as the other networks did, who wants to go to a hospital? That’s the last place – a person comes home from their job and they’re going to turn on television and see sick people? But in radio, I did plenty of them. I did a series of a medical nature, and I did in Chicago, while I was in radio for the AMA. I didn’t latch onto any property. [Another company had done a failed pilot featuring Dr. Kildare.] The reason it was called Dr. Kildare was after-the-fact they turned me down. They didn’t want to do another one. They didn’t want to do anything medical. I said, “well, I want to do one, and I did. It was a very successful pilot. E. Jack Neuman was a fine writer. I said I want to do a medical show, and we had two or three discussions and one, he said, “I got a good idea, this is the story. I know it has to be set in a hospital. There are two gangsters who had a fight between them, and but one is on one floor and another is another floor of the hospital and they still are enemies.” I said, “Jack, before we do anything, why don’t you take a week off, go to a hospital, go around there. That’s what I want you to do for the next week. I don’t want to see you around here. Don’t come on the lot. Go to a hospital.” So he did. And when he came back, I never heard about those gangsters again. He said, “it’s terrific! I followed an intern and what they go through, and how they operate is just terrific with patients, and themselves and– so I said go ahead, and write it. It was a half hour script. Because that’s what my contract at that time, was, we expected a half hour. I went over to NBC with it and they liked it to much they said, “we’ll make you a deal.” When the word got out that I sold this, then I think somebody in the board in New York said,” is it going to be Dr. Kildare?” Bob [Whiteman] said, “no, it’s not like those old movies at all. It’s the story of an intern.” And they said, “can’t he be called Dr. Kildare?” He pointed out, as did the network, that it was a valuable title to get started with, the people would opt to tune it in. So, that’s how it got its name, is after-the-fact.
Video: On the genesis of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
On the appeal of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
In the sixties, there were a lot of just unrest in the family. It was an escape. It was good against evil. And also, the thing that they liked was it was different nationalities. At I cast two men in the leads who were short and not big husky men because, on business on Dr. Kildare, I was in London for a meeting, and when I was leaving, a lady, who was a comptroller, came to me and said, “why is it in America that you always have leading men who are big tall, sexy– so called– looking fellow, and why are they always American?” I said, “I don’t know. I guess because that’s what people seem to like when they see them.” But the more I thought about it, as time went on, when it came to do the Man From U.N.C.L.E, I’m not going to do it. And that’s what made me like David McCallum and Robert Vaughn. They were slim and they were not big, as they used to say, ballsy men. That’s the expression that was used. So it worked. I think today, some of the kids say that’s something that they really can identify more with, because they’re younger than most of the heroes were in the western shows.
The Archive of American Television is sad to report that former NBC executive Julian Goodman, died Monday, July 2nd, at the age of 90. In 1998, the Archive interviewed him for nearly three-and-a-half hours at his home in Jupiter, FL. During that interview Goodman discussed his years as president of NBC. In addition, he talked about his start at NBC News, when he was a news writer for David Brinkley in 1945. Mr. Goodman also detailed the network’s coverage of important news events including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
On producing the second of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates
We had always sought to get the presidential candidates to debate. And the Convention of 1960, as soon as the candidates had been selected, Bob Sarnoff and Bob Kintner and Bill McAndrew and I sat in a hotel room in Chicago and composed a telegram to the two candidates, urging them to do this. I guess the other networks were doing the same thing at the same time. I know that the candidates themselves had probably been thinking about it long before we were, probably. So, reluctantly, they agreed upon the debates. And they certainly were historic and they certainly were influential in the outcome of the election. The debates have changed a great deal since then, if indeed they have been debates. But the ones we had then were the real thing. They may have changed the course of history because they were on television. People got a chance to see the candidates and a chance to choose for themselves which man they wanted to lead them. Yet it’s difficult that the mechanics and the cosmetics of the situation have blurred over the years who was the best man for the job. Because the final vote was less than half a million. Television did play a very important part in making the decision, or allowing the American people to make the decision for themselves.
On covering the President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination and Funeral (including the capturing of John-John’s famous salute)
Someone leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ve heard on WNEW Kennedy has been shot.” I got up without excusing myself and went to the headquarters, BOC, Broadcast Operations Center, of NBC. It was on the 5th floor, one floor down. And that’s where everything took place when we had an emergency. It was a room about the size of a current sports utility vehicle. We crowded at least 6 or 8 people into it. We were separated by a glass partition. And William Ryan, a correspondent, very good one, for NBC News, walked in about that time and I said, “Go and get on-camera.” And he said, “What’ll I say?” I had a UP flash in my hand that said,” Flash, Dallas – President Kennedy has been shot.” And he said, “what’ll I say? I can’t go on with that.” I said read it forwards. And then read it backwards. And then read it halfway and then read the other half. And by that time you’ll have more to say. And he read it. He did a really very good job. And a young man in the front part of this Broadcast Operations Center turned around and said to me rather petulantly, “When are we going back to local programming?” And I said, “son, why don’t you go home? We’re not ever going back to local programming.”
While we didn’t have a correspondent on the air from Dallas at that time, we followed the story from that moment on, until the following Monday night, after the Kennedy funeral. Without ever leaving the air. Without commercials. There were many people afterward were asking me, quite a number of times, how long did it take you to decide not to do any commercials? How big was the fight about not doing commercials? There was never even any discussion of it. Kintner just said, we’ll drop the commercials. That’s all there was to it. But, to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t sleep during those days, from that time Friday until the following Monday. I flew to Washington at one point, when Kennedy was in-State at the Rotunda, It was midnight. There was some discussion, somebody said, “there’s nothing going on. Shall we go off the air?” Edwin Newman was at the Capital Rotunda. I said, “No. Stay on the air all night, but don’t have anybody talk. Just show the people passing the casket.” It was a very effective way of doing it.
The coverage was a voluntary instantaneous work of art by everybody involved in it at NBC. From the time it started until the time it finished. In the course other coverage, particularly of the funeral cortege, and in Washington, there was a moment when there occurred a shot that I’ve always regarded as the greatest shot I’ve ever seen on television. It was caused by, directed by, set up by Charles Jones, who was one of our directors in Washington, he was working for the pool, and he set up a camera at a low point, so he could get the upward shot of the people coming out of the church, when Mrs. Kennedy came out. When young John-John came out and saluted, I still think it’s the best single, most impressive, most dramatic television shot in the history of television.
On the infamous 1968 NBC “Heidi” incident where a Jets v. Raiders game was pre-empted
It was November 17th, 1968. I was at my house in Larchmont, New York. The NBC Press Department was at a meeting with the press in Miami. At a cocktail party. I was watching the television and there was a football game on. The football game went off and Heidi came on and I said, “What?” But I thought no more of that. Until the phone began to ring. And until neighbors began to appear at our door. What had happened was, that Heidi, a children’s program sponsored by Hallmark, was scheduled to go on the air at I believe 6 p.m. Somebody who later admitted it to me, but whom I won’t name, had left a memorandum with Broadcast Operations Control. A man name Dick Cline, touched the fatal button and when 6 o’clock came – the memo said ‘Under no circumstances will the football game run past 6 o’clock. Heidi must go on at 6. We have committed to the advertiser.” Well, I didn’t know that it had happened. I don’t know any other people who knew it had happened. But at 6 o’clock, certainly, the game seemed to be under control at that time. But two more touchdowns were scored, the whole outcome of the game was reversed. We had bomb threats the next day. And people still remember it to this day.
On his most important achievements at NBC
The coupling of David Brinkley with Chet Huntley was the most important decision that I made. If that’s the only one I have to make. Something we haven’t mentioned: When I was at NBC News, Kintner and McAndrew and I were coming out of the White House after a meeting with Pierre Salinger. We had just lost the NCAA Finals. The NCAA contract, the yearly contract for football, college football on television to ABC. And instead of talking about what Pierre Salinger wanted us to talk about, when we got back to the hotel room at the Mayflower Kintner said, what are we going to do about football? And I gave him a plan. Which eventually we developed and which is working pretty well even today. That plan was to take the American Football League, which was then at ABC, getting $150,000 per game for what they did, and let us offer them a 10-year contract. Give them more money than they were worth to allow them to pay their football players so they could become competitive with the NFL. We got a 5-year contract. We paid them $800,000 per game per week as against ABC’s $150,000. Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets, hired Joe Namath to be the quarterback, with the money we gave him. Some of the owners put the money in their pocket. Others made their teams competitive. As a result, Pete Rozelle created the Super Bowl. The American Football League is now competitive with the NFL. That was probably the most important decision. Aside from picking David Brinkley.
On the public’s perception of news integrity
The public’s acceptance of news integrity since I started, has gone up and down like a chart of the Dow Jones Industrials. Namely though, it has, like the Dow Jones Industrials, ended “up”. I think the public, although it hates some things it hears and sees on television, likes having it there and would be very sorry not to have it. That’s what I tried to fight all the time I was an executive in television. And that is, the eagerness that politicians have to hamstring us, to harass us, to keep us from doing what we would like to do. And that is to be fair. To be equitable. To be even-handed. To be thorough with all the news that we cover. I’ve made in speeches, a reference to the fact that as each new day begins, the pages of a newspaper are totally blank. The screen on television is blank. And all day long, there are people fighting to change and shape and arrange in order, to their benefit, what goes on there. It is the purpose and the challenge of the newsperson responsible to make sure that what goes on is fair and not just what others want us to say.
On how he would like to be remembered
As everybody would like to be remembered. Well and favorably. He did a good job. He did the best he could.
The Archive is sad to report the death of actress Doris Singleton. Singleton passed away on June 26th at the age of 92. The multi-talented performer began her career as a ballet dancer in New York and transitioned to work as a singer and actress in network radio, where she appeared on many of the medium’s now-classic shows. She is probably best known in television for her recurring roles as “Carolyn Appleby,” one of Lucy’s friends onI Love Lucy; and as “Magda” on Hogan’s Heroes. She was married to writer Charlie Isaacs, who passed away in 2002.
The Archive interviewed her in 2005. Here are some selections from the interview:
On working on I Love Lucy
The camera over here was Lucy’s, over there was Desi’s, and there was one in the middle that got the whole thing. You had to be very, very careful in your scenes with them that you did not put a hand in her camera. You had to be sure that you were back far enough. It was quite different. We didn’t have any teleprompters — we had notes all over a sweaty palm, which didn’t do us any good at all. And then there were many funny things that happened. Lucy and Vivian Vance were in a scene, and they were having a hard time because we had changes up to the very last minute. And they were having a hard time with this particular scene and remembering the changes, so they wrote them all out on the coffee table, and that was fine. And then we always had a break between acts. The prop man would come and spray you if you had any jewelry on, anything that glittered was sprayed. And then he sprayed their whole coffee table, and they had all of their notes on the table, so that was obliterated completely. But they did it just fine.
On her recurring character on I Love Lucy, “Carolyn Appleby”
On the legacy of I Love Lucy
Every woman thinks that she sees herself in Lucy, wanting to do something more. This was before women’s liberation and everything, and women were still housewives and they took care of the children and that was it, and they didn’t have big careers and so forth. So she represented what a lot of women would like to have in their lives. And the show was funny. It was clean. It could be seen by anyone of the family, from the little child to the grandmother, and it wasn’t going to offend anyone. Of course, at that time, there was a lot of censorship. I mean, they couldn’t be in the same bed together, ever. And they couldn’t say when she was pregnant. It had to be, “we’re having a baby.” and they did.
On her advice to aspiring actors
On a photo with her husband, writer Charlie Isaacs
That is my husband, Charlie Isaacs. Best, best writer in television, bar none. And that’s Doris Singleton, his loving wife. Married for 60 years. And loving every minute.
Below are some selections from Miller’s 2003 Archive interview:
On how he became interested in fashion:
What turned me on to fashion? Movies. I loved movies. I lived from Saturday to Saturday, and of course I particularly like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Grable … I knew when I watched Betty Grable movies that that was what I wanted to do. All those costumes … it’s so strange that in movies there was always a fashion show or something or a girl was picked up by some guy who told her she needed clothes to be presentable and would take her to the store. Of course there was always a designer in a dark suit – note dark suit – and there was usually a staircase that the models came down. I just thought, “this is what I want.” I didn’t realize, though, the 18-hour-day of hard work sometimes. But it sounded glamorous and I loved the whole thing of movies. Anything to do with the movies. I just wanted to work at the studio.
It was an hour show, every day at noon, and it was live. There were usually three groups of people in the wardrobe department preparing shows, because one day it would be a modern show, one day it would be a biblical thing, another day might be a comedy. I think that there were probably 3 or 4 people in my group, and I think we did two shows a week, one if we were on a show that aired on Monday, and we would prep the rest of the week. Maybe we’d have a show for Thursday or something that week. We were always prepping the next show. It was quite an amazing show, particularly in that it was live every day.
On working in a flower shop and meeting Aaron Spelling:
He and his then wife Carolyn Jones were shopping in Beverly Hills and they stopped in the flower shop to say hello. At that point Aaron Spelling wasn’t anyone, you know. He was married to Carolyn Jones, who I was thrilled to meet. We decided to go and have a drink; it was late in the afternoon. So we went and had a drink and Carolyn was under contract to Hal Wallis at Paramount. She had just finished a film and she said the studio was sending her on a PR junket. She said the studio told her to get some clothes for personal appearances. She said, “do you want to design them?” I said, “of course.” She said, “okay, well, why don’t you bring me some sketches.” She told me what she needed and so I did sketches for her. And that was the beginning, because I did those clothes for her. I found a dressmaker who was highly recommended who had quite a good star clientele, so I knew that she was capable, and I made the clothes for Carolyn.
On Aaron Spelling:
First of all, he’s very unassuming. He’s always been very, very thin, looks like he’s undernourished. He’s very warm, very friendly; he immediately puts everyone at ease that’s around him. After all of these years he still hasn’t run out of ideas and instantly knows what to do. He has a sixth sense about what’s wrong with the show or what he should do or something. He’s great to work with because he sees what the show is going to look like. When he says, “she’s running down the road; she should be in a white sweater,” he has a reason why she should be in a white sweater. Over the years I would argue with him over certain things, but he usually proved himself right.
I was starting to be sort of known for glamour clothes and beaded gowns and that kind of thing. I had my shop at that time. I had a call from the producer, saying they were doing the show and they had a girl who was like a showgirl and they were all stranded. She must have had a very large trunk with her that day that they went for a cruise, because every season we’d do a couple of new gowns. They’d call me, “we need a couple more gowns,” so I did Tina’s clothes. I didn’t do the rest of the show. I just did Tina Louise’s gowns.
On the bra-lessness on Charlie’s Angels:
All of the Paris collections and everything were showing chiffon blouses with nothing under it. Everyone was just aghast. Everyone was so shocked, but they were showing the same blouses on Rodeo Drive. They weren’t so see-through, but you could tell there was no bra on. Before that we couldn’t even show the imprint of a nipple. I had to put a band-aid over the nipple or something. All of the sudden Farrah was in a crepe de chine blouse or a double white chiffon blouse with no bra under it. Everyone said, “ah, this is going to be shocking. They won’t allow this. You won’t get by with this.” But we did.
Today the Archive remembers actress Kathryn Joosten, who passed away on Friday, June 1st, 2012 from lung cancer. Joosten was 72 and best known for her roles as “Mrs. Landingham” on The West Wing and “Karen McCluskey” on Desperate Housewives. She began her acting career late in life, at age 42, yet still managed to win two Emmy awards (for her role on Desperate Housewives). In addition to her career as a performer, Joosten was active in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, where she served multiple terms as a governor of the Performers Peer Group and served on various committees.
The Archive interviewed Joosten on May 9th of this year. Below are some excerpts from the interview:
On playing “Mrs. Landingham” on The West Wing:
On Desperate Housewives and how her character’s death would mirror her own:
On her advice to aspiring actors:
On how she’d like to be remembered:
Watch Kathryn Joosten’s full Archive interview here.