Archive for the ‘Genre: Variety’ Category

Phyllis Diller Turns 95!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

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’s also appeared on more Bob Hope Specials than anyone except Bob Hope. Phyllis Diller, who turns 95 today, is 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 hasn’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 continues to make talk show appearances. She’s also active in voiceover work, voicing the Queen in A Bug’s Life, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nuttiest Nutcracker.

Stand-up, Broadway, TV, movies, voiceovers… Phyllis Diller is one talented lady. Happy 95th, Phyllis! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Phyllis Diller’s full Archive interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Legendary “Academy Awards” Producer Gil Cates, Dies at 77

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The Archive of American Television is sad to report that director/producer Gilbert Cates passed away suddenly on Monday, October 31st at the age of 77. He started in early television as an associate producer on game shows, and later produced variety shows and television movies. He served two terms as President of the Directors Guild of America, but was best known as the long-time producer of the Academy Awards (The Oscars). The Archive interviewed Gil in 2007. Here are some excerpts from the 2-1/2 hour interview:

On his approach to producing the Academy Awards

I think that everything that you do should somehow be authentic. There should be a connection to the world around. I’ve done 13 Oscar shows now and I’ve tried to connect as much as possible, the Oscar show with the emotional happening in the world.  Now that happens in large measure by the movies, because sometimes you have movies which are studio movies.  Sometimes you have movies which are independent movies.  Happy movies, sad movies.  But on the other hand, things are happening in the world. The first year that I did the show, the Berlin Wall had come down. It seemed that everybody was euphoric and it seemed a perfect time to have a party around the world.  So the first year that we did the show we had Jack Lemmon in Moscow and Charlton Heston in Argentina and then I had someone in Japan.  So we just opened up the world and had this big party. And the films were the films, but there was that. One year, when Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were elected Senators from California, we had a show that was focused around women in film. We had film packages about such things as until World War II, basically, most of the editors that edited all the films you remember were women, that somehow, whether it was thought of like a tailoring job, I don’t know, but they were women.  All the great films. So, we were interested in women cinematographers. Each year seems to indicate an emotional connection to something. My approach is to try to find what that emotional connection is and see if we can graft that onto the movies. Then of course, the biggest choice, I think, that the producer has, is the selection of the host. When I started doing the show, the big hosts were Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.  So, I had to find a host. A couple of folks and I all thought that Billy Crystal would be a great host.  Initially the network wasn’t that enthused about Billy Crystal.  They didn’t know how Billy Crystal would play in the Midwest, all these kind of arcane thoughts that network minds go through. Billy was terrific and he has been terrific each time he’s done the show.  So, from my perspective, the big thing is to try to connect it to something authentically that’s happening and to try to find a good host.

On his long association with The Geffen Playhouse

The Geffen is a playhouse that was originally was the Westwood Playhouse.  I was Dean of the School of Theatre and Television at UCLA for about 8 years.  And during that time UCLA owned another theatre in town, the Jimmy Doolittle Theatre.   And it was just not a good fit because it was too far away, it was not really relevant.  So we convinced the University and a group of people to ultimately we sold that, to buy this theatre.  The theatre was owned by a woman who would not sell it unless whoever bought it guaranteed it would be a theatre forever. No one could really do that, except the University.  So a group of people put together the money to buy the theatre, gave it to the University, which pledged that it would be used as a theatre forever.  And then made an arrangement with an operating company of which I’m President, to run it.  For which, by the way, I don’t get paid.

On his proudest career achievement and his motivation to keep working

My proudest achievement is having had a career to begin with!  At this point it’s weird,  I’ve done so many shows, I don’t remember many of the shows that I’ve done.  And I love every show  I did a play of Robert Anderson’s in London.  With a great theatrical producer named Binky Beaumont, H.M. Tennant, and they produced hundreds of shows with John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.  And I remember being with, Binky’s a weird name, isn’t it?  I don’t even know what his real name was, but he was called Binky. I remember being with him at the opening night party of “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running”. Jose Ferrer directed it and Tom Ewell was in it, Rosemary Murphy.  And at the party, he was about 81,  I remember asking him, “Binky, what are you looking forward to now?”  You know, 81, done it all, produced hundreds of plays. He looked at me and he said, I just want to find a good script.  I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s pretty good, at 81 and you just want to find a good script.”  But I know what he means.  You just want to keep doing it.

On how he would like to be remembered

When Laurence Olivier died, they ran a piece of him on the Barbara Walters Show. Barbara Walters asked Olivier how he would like to be remembered.  And he thought for a moment and he said, “as a worker.”  Barbara Walters said, “As  a worker?  That seems so prosaic.  What does that mean, as a worker?”  Olivier thought and he said, “well, you know, Michelangelo was a worker.  God is a worker.”  And in his context I know what he meant.  In my context, how would I like to be remembered?  I’d just like to be remembered as a fair and thoughtful guy.  Really, honestly.  I mean, at the end of the day, the only one who really remembers you, in terms of memory, unless you’re Albert Einstein, is your family anyway.  And the real thing that counts is that chain of which you’re a part.  All this stuff is transitory.  I remember going through a period of time when I would watch television at night and I would see a little clip of an old movie come on.  It gave me a little kick.  And as you get older, those clips get less and less.  But… that’s it. Just as a fair fellow.

Full Interview description (watch the interview here):
Gilbert Cates was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours on the stage of his theater production of “A Picasso” at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA. Cates talked about getting hired as an NBC guide at Rockefeller Center and performing such tasks as “audience waver,” in which he encouraged applause from the studio audience. He described the excitement of working in “live” television in the 1950s and his association as director and producer on several game shows. He discussed his work as an associate producer on the series Dotto, the game show that infamously ignited the “quiz show scandals.” He described how the show was exposed and talked about the general nature of fixing shows during that era. Cates discussed projects that he produced and directed in the 1960s including the pilot for the music-variety series Hootenany; International Showtime (in which he filmed international circus acts), and Electric Showcase (including a show done at the 1965 World’s Fair). He talked about his transition to producing Broadway shows, including “I Never Sang for My Father,” which he later filmed as a feature film with Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman. He talked about several television movies he directed including Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. He spoke in great detail about his long association as producer of the Academy Awards broadcasts. He described the challenges of mounting the “live” broadcast and recounted several memorable moments from the show through the years. Lastly, he talked about the creation of the Geffen Playhouse where he serves as Producing Director. The interview was conducted by Gary Rutkowski on March 13, 2007.

Obituary from The Directors Guild of America

Obituary from The Wrap

Legendary Costume Designer Ray Aghayan Dies at 83

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

We’ve just learned that noted costume designer Ray Aghayan has passed away at the age of 83. He began his work in television designing costumes for Matinee Theater, while on staff with the NBC wardrobe department. He worked on many live shows of the time (often requiring much artistry to accommodate quick costume changes during live broadcasts). He also won the first-ever awarded Emmy for costume design (along with his longtime professional partner Mackie) for Alice Through the Looking Glass. Among his other work, he designed costumes for The Judy Garland Show, many Academy Awards telecasts, and the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics.  Below are some excerpts from his 1997 Archive of American Television interview.

What do you think makes an excellent costume design?
I think an excellent costume design is that which serves its purpose to the best possible degree.  Gives the actor the character.  Helps the actor grow into that human being.  And to be able to, it helps the audience to be able to look at that and know what the hell it is they’re looking at.  That is the best costume.  When it really serves as that complete thing that you, gives you all the information you need to have.

What makes an excellent costume designer?
Having talent obviously helps.  Beyond that I think, unfortunately you have to also be a good politician.  You have to be able to keep the people below you and the people above you happy.  But basically, anybody will put up with talent.  If you can really do it that’s what it’s all about.

What to you constitutes bad work?
When it’s ugly.

What advice would you give a young person about going into the profession?
I would think that you have to be sure that you’re very good.  I would think that you should be able to draw and draw well.  And have an enormous amount of tenacity, because they’re coming out of the woodwork, there’s so many.  And it’s, there are more costume designers than there are jobs.  So the only way, you have to be very good.

Ray Aghayan and Judy Garland

How has television influenced the fashion industry?
There were 52 million homes watching The Carol Burnett Show, so you take it from there. Obviously Cher caused everybody to go naked.  There was a while that you could never buy a halter top, for example.  Seriously. And then suddenly she happened – it was an accident – four or five weeks in a row she had a halter on. The halter top became the thing to wear.  It’s just like that.

Are costume designers aware of that when they’re creating?
No.  I don’t think so. I don’t think they sit down and say now I’m going to draw something so that when it’s on camera everybody will see it and therefore they will copy it. I don’t think anybody does that.

What knowledge do costume designers need to bring to the table?
Basically they should bring a great knowledge of history, of costume, which most of them don’t.  And be able to read and understand the character.  And help the actor to realize the character visually, that she has, or the director has, in their mind.

Watch the full interview at

TV Comedy Writing Legend Sam Denoff has Died

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Very sad news, the Archive of American Television has learned that TV Legend Sam Denoff, not only an Archive interviewee, but someone who passionately supported the Archive as an interviewer, passed away on July 8th at the age of 83.

Sam began his prolific career in radio at WNEW in New York and later moved to Los Angeles to work in television, starting with The Steve Allen Show. He worked on The Andy Williams Show before landing a job with partner Bill Persky on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he and Persky co-wrote such classic episodes as “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” and “That’s My Boy!” He and Persky then co-created and co-produced That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, as well as the short-lived series Good Morning World. Other series he created include The Funny Side, Big Eddie, On Our Own, Turnabout, and The Lucie Arnaz Show. Denoff also wrote for such specials as: The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special (1967), The Bill Cosby Special (1968), Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman Mary Tyler Moore (1969) and Hallmark Hall of Fame: “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Orson Welles (1972). He also wrote for The Annual American Comedy Awards and working as a consultant for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Along with being an Archive of American Television interviewee, Sam contributed his time as an Archive interviewer — he conducted historic interviews with TV Legends Sheldon Leonard, Art Linkletter, Jerry Lewis, Hal Kanter, and Charles Cappleman.

Here are some excerpts from his March 9, 2000 Archive interview:

On being hired to write for The Steve Allen Show in 1961

We [Denoff and Bill Persky] were going to be the last two hired on the writing staff — the two of us and another new writer called Buck Henry. Did they love our material? We found out they never read the material. What happened was there was a meeting and names were being thrown out. Our name came up and Bill Dana said, “Sam Denoff, I know Sam, he and I were pages together, he’s really funny. He’s good.” Steve said, “book him.” That was Steve Allen, we’re talking about generous, nurturing people. Steve Allen is one of those giants. He has started off the careers of so many people, performers and writers, Billy and me among them. But his attitude was if somebody said, hey, “I know this guy, he’s a good singer,” Steve said, “put him on the show. What could it hurt, if they’re no good, they’re no good.” So we got the job. It was a three-week contract… They liked what we were doing. I brought my family out, which was good, but it was bad because the show was canceled after fourteen shows. But, one thing leads to another, if you just go ahead and do your work. I think it’s important to say that our ambitions were not to be producers. We wanted to be, get a job as a writer and work as writers. And especially for variety shows, because we knew we had a good sense of satire and doing satirical sketches.

On writing the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show episode “That’s My Boy”

“That’s My Boy” was our first episode, and certainly it was exciting. It evolved to being a momentous moment in the show’s history. It was the opening show of the third season and the story was that Dick was obsessed with the idea that their son Richie was the baby of another couple whose wife was in the hospital at the same time giving birth. And all the evidence that he could dig up, it was very funny being this precise, almost an Inspector Clouseau character — he says, their name was Peters, ours Petrie, very close names, and you were in room 387, and she was in room 378…. At one point, he was even going to footprint the baby, when Laura caught him. Of course, he had to keep all of his suspicions to himself, which is a great comedy device. He didn’t want to upset his wife. Anyway, he finally calls the Peters family, and says, “my name is Petrie and you guys had a baby the same day as my wife, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and I think we have to deal with this fact that we may have the wrong babies.” He tells Laura and of course, she says, oh that’s ridiculous! He says, no, sweetheart, I’m sure…the doorbell rings and in walks Greg Morris and his wife, the black actor, Greg Morris, who became famous on Mission Impossible. When he walked in that door, the audience exploded and they didn’t stop laughing. I think Sheldon [Leonard] and Carl [Reiner] have said that’s the longest single laugh ever on that series. But the joke was not on the black couple, the joke was on Dick Van Dyke, the schmuck. As Dick Van Dyke used to say, schmuckery is the best thing you can do. Have a guy who thinks he’s something else and he’s being a schmuck. Well, that stunning laugh, and then with Greg Morris and his wife characters just standing there laughing at him, because they came knowing what this guy would react to. It was one of the biggest surprises, which is one of the essences of a good comedy show. There was no hint. And, it was one of the first examples of using a multicultural storyline without being condescending or getting into trouble.

(l-r): Sam Denoff, Dick Van Dyke (in-costume), Bill Persky on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show

On the legacy of The Dick Van Dyke Show

I think The Dick Van Dyke Show deserves the attention that it gets today because it was done so well. And again, that’s not because of us. It’s because of Carl’s [Reiner] vision and because of what, it absolutely deserves all the attention it gets. It’s one of the milestones of great television. Certainly a lot of great, wonderful shows have followed it. But I know a lot of the men and women who have written on those shows when they were trying to break in, like Billy [Persky] and me, and even the younger guys say that was like a landmark. A landmark piece of perfect kind of work. Absolutely.

On reuniting Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the special Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman

Mary’s career, after The Dick Van Dyke Show, had kind of a valley…. We thought it would be fun to do a special reuniting the two of them, which was called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman because people thought they were really married, that’s how believable they were. The special material was written by our friend, Ray Charles, and in it he wrote one number which, which was magical, “Life is Just a Situation Comedy,” and they did a song and dance, little sketches in that. In the other memorable piece we had Dick and Mary as the two little bride and groom statues on the top of a wedding cake, waiting, at, at a wedding, but they talked to each other. And he doesn’t want to be there and she wants to be there, and she says, this is the most romantic thing…. And then, the wedding is over and they’re stuck in the freezer and we see them later taken out for the 25th anniversary of the couple and they’re all full of ice in the freezer. And the culmination of the number was really so sweet. They sang the great number from Fiddler on the Roof, “Do You Love Me.” It was a terrific special. Mary, quite often, has credited that special with rejuvenating her career, which it did, because CBS said, “oh, wait a minute, why don’t we do a series with this girl, because she really is good.” They’d forgotten about her. And then Allan [Burns] and Jim [Brooks] wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was great.

On working with longtime writing partner Bill Persky

Working with a partner, as Billy and I did for 20 years, we brought different sensibilities to the comedy writing. We both had tremendous respect for each other’s ability. He was into much more warmth than I was. A lot of partnerships are that way. But what evolved from our differences was a great dynamic which was that we would work together on every scene, we didn’t take separate stuff. When you work with a partner, you trigger each other. Very often people would say, who wrote that? And we said, the third person. A third writer evolves from the two different writers.

Writing comedy is a lonely job if you’re by yourself. That’s why there are so many partnerships, because you can bounce off each other. The writing process is so difficult that when you can do that and one guy’s personality is this one and one is that one, and you can reap from both of those two different personalities. I don’t want to go into details of what’s that different, because, because it cost everybody too much money in psychiatrist’s office to get through that, but, it worked very well. I mean, the main reason that the partnership broke up was because Billy really wanted to be a director, which he became. A very successful comedy director.

On co-creating That Girl

While in the last year of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Danny Thomas, knowing it was the last year, would come into our office repeatedly, say, “hey, why don’t you write a show for my kid?” We said,” Marlo? She’s terrific. Is she funny?” He said, “she’s my kid, she’s got to be funny.” We hemmed and hawed because we were doing a pilot for another series at the same time called Good Morning World, about our experiences at the radio station WNEW. Finally, Danny said, “look, you’ve got to see her, she’s in London now working in ‘Barefoot in the Park’. They gave her great reviews and they didn’t even know who I am. I’ll buy you a ticket and hotel.” So, Billy and I fly off to London and we go to see her in the play and she was terrific. We came back and we started to talk about a pilot. She was known in her family as “Miss Independent”. She always had that very air of independence about her. However, and I don’t know whether it’s true, but when she was an out-of-work actress in New York she lived at The Plaza, so I don’t know how independent…. the idea about being a single girl on her own in New York evolved from all of those discussions about this independence. They wanted to call it Miss Independence at one time. We didn’t like that, it sounds like a musical.

So Billy and I wrote the pilot of her leaving her family who lived in Westchester and going down to live in New York. Discussion started about, okay, she’ll be a single girl. But then we said because of our training from Carl Reiner, she’s got to have a boyfriend. Why? Well, because we don’t want her to be single and what guy is she not going to sleep with this week — especially in those days in 1966. She agreed. We wrote the script and hired Ted Bessell. The original pilot was recast. Some of the actors didn’t test well, that nonsense. We didn’t know at the time, we’re credited in books and articles by the feminist movement as being on the forefront of the feminist movement. No, we were trying to do a show for Danny Thomas’ daughter. We had no agenda. Maybe Marlo did at the time. She professes now that she did. I don’t know whether she had the agenda as this woman’s statement. She wanted a show.

On his work for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon

A fun job, as well as an often heartbreaking job is, is working as a consultant on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Jerry is an old friend, I met him when I was at WNEW. He came in to town and William B. said, “this guy wrote that funny promo for you.” So Jerry and I have known each other for a long time and though he claims to be nine years old, I think I’m a little younger than he is, emotionally. We keep having a lot of fun together. Plus, for that cause, it’s worth all the effort, you know, and we do that.

On how he would like to be remembered

As being tall and very good-looking.

See Sam Denoff’s full Archive of American Television interview here.

Noted TV Producer Bob Banner Dies at 89

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

We’ve just learned that legendary TV producer Bob Banner has passed away at 89.

Banner was one of the pioneers in  the new medium of television, beginning his career at WBKB, and later WMAQ in Chicago — part of the historic “Chicago School” — where he worked on Kukla, Fran and Ollie and produced Garroway at Large. He later moved to the The Fred Waring Show in New York and then produced The Dinah Shore Chevy Show among others.  He also executive produced a number of memorable TV movies (including My Sweet Charlie) and many variety series including The Carol Burnett Show, Solid Gold, Star Search and It’s Showtime at the Apollo. The Archive of American Television interviewed him in 1999.

“Bob was a true television legend,” says John Shaffner, Chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “Over a long and elegant career he produced much memorable programming.  He mentored so many of us, educating and encouraging young people to enter the television profession, including myself so many years ago. The television community has lost one its founders, and it is a deep personal loss for many of us. We will remember him with fondness and gratitude.”

Bob Banner interview excerpt on how he would like to be remembered:

Watch his full Archive of American Television interview here.

7 pieces of comic wisdom from Phyllis Diller

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Phyllis Diller was interviewed for the Archive of American Television in 2000 about her long career in comedy, both on TV and the stage. Her trademark cigarette, fright wig, and of course, that iconic laugh were all discussed during her three-hour interview by Fred Wostbrock. We’ve selected some short clips from Phyllis about her tricks of the trade, and advice to young comics (not “comediennes”, she prefers “comic”!) and just how the heck to be funny after all these years.

Phyllis Diller’s advice to aspiring comics:

On her iconic laugh:

On the difference between being a comedic actress and a “COMIC”:

On why she always held a prop cigarette:

On why she picked on “Fang” and how he became a standard bit in her act:

On her iconic “look”- the wig, the theatrics:

On the importance of TV to a comic’s career:

Mitch Miller, TV’s “Sing Along” Host, Has Died— Archive Interview Online

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Mitch Miller, who, through his TV show Sing Along with Mitch and a series of LPs, taught the public the lyrics to popular music in the ’50s and ’60s, has died at the age of 99.  With his trademark mustache and goatee, and expressive conducting, Mitch Miller became an unlikely TV star when a one-shot special on Ford Motor Company’s Startime led to a 1961-66 TV series.  Miller later served as a successful executive in the music industry.

The Archive of American Television interviewed Mitch Miller on July 24, 2004.

Interview Description:

Mitch Miller talked about his early musical interests in high school, where he played the oboe.  He talked about his first professional jobs in Rochester, New York, and his move to New York City. He mentioned working with George Gershwin and described the orchestration of “Rhapsody in Blue.”  He talked about joining the CBS symphony orchestra in the mid-30s, where he appeared on radio through the 1940s.  He talked about working at Mercury Records and then Columbia Records, and his nurturing of musical talent (such as Johnny Mathis) and his developing of hit songs (including “I Believe”).  He talked about providing the song “Let Me Go Lover” to the CBS drama anthology series Studio One, which became an instant hit record for unknown Joan Weber.  He briefly talked about his own hit record in “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”  He talked about getting his first exposure with sing along songs on television with the special Startime: “Sing Along with Mitch.”  Miller then spoke in great detail about his famed 1960s television series resulting from this special, Sing Along with Mitch.

Archive Interviewee Steve Binder honored!

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Steve Binder has been honored by the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers, and Directors for his 26-year long career in variety television directing.

You can watch the Archive’s two-part “Living Television” interview with acclaimed producer/director Steve Binder here. He discusses his work on many notable productions including: “The T.A.M.I Show”, “Petula”, “Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special”, “Liza”, “Shields & Yarnell”, “Diana Ross in Central Park”, and many other specials including multiple Emmy Awards shows. Conducted March 4, 2004 by Stephen J. Abramson.

In this interview excerpt Producer/Director Steve Binder discusses the controversy which arose from the 1968 production of Petula Clark’s “Petula” special with guest star Harry Belafonte.

Manager Bernie Brillstein Has Died

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Bernie Brillstein, who represented many comedy legends and helped shephard classic television programming, has died at age 77.

Bernie Brillstein full 8-part interview will be online soon and can be viewed in its entirety at Academy Headquarters.

Interview description:
Brillstein talked about his experiences growing up in the various entertainment worlds of New York City, and how he eventually landed a job in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. He discussed his meeting with WMA client Elvis Presley, and fondly remembered his first meeting with eventual client, puppeteer Jim Henson. He explained his reasons for leaving the agency to become a personal manager, and the work that he did on behalf of his various clients. He described his role in creating the long-running syndicated series Hee Haw, and his efforts at getting The Muppet Show on the air. He also spoke about his representation of writer/producer Lorne Michaels, and his involvement in the early years of Saturday Night Live. Brillstein reminisced about clients including John Belushi and Gilda Radner, and later explained his move into the executive suites at Lorimar. Finally, he talked about his partnership with Brad Grey, and the clients and programs that they have represented. The interview was conducted by Dan Pasternack on November 14, 2001.

Legendary Dancer Cyd Charisse Has Died

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Archive interviewee Cyd Charisse, who appeared in such classic MGM musicals as Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon, and hosted her own NBC variety series Meet Cyd Charisse, has died at age 87.

Charisse and husband Tony Martin also appeared on many variety series on television including The Hollywood Palace.

Link to Cyd Charisse’s Reuters obituary.

Link to official Cyd Charisse site with biographical information and lots of photos from her life and career.

Cyd Charisse’s full Archive interview can be viewed at Archive headquarters and will be online soon. Click here to see Part 2 of the four-part interview:

Interview Description:
Charisse talked about her start as a dancer for the Ballet Russe. She described in detail her 14 year tenure under contract at MGM studios, appearing as a dancer in such film classics as Ziegfeld Follies, Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and Silk Stockings. Charisse described the fertile training ground MGM offered for nurturing the talents they had under contract. She talked about her many television appearances including the specials Meet Cyd Charisse, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, and the Bob Hope Specials, as well as her multiple appearances with her husband Tony Martin on the variety series The Hollywood Palace.