Archive for the ‘"Cosby Show"’ Category

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was A Trekkie

Monday, January 21st, 2013

(Reposted from MediaPost article by Archive Director Karen Herman with permission.)

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, it’s a good time to remember how television can play a critical role in challenging and changing public opinion. As the journalist Howard K. Smith said of the television news coverage of the Civil Rights movement in his Archive of American Television interview, “I think even people who were biased on civil rights saw these pictures every night at the dinner hour — people beating up blacks, siccing dogs onto them — and they said, ‘This has got to stop! Something must be done.’ I think that television really was a decisive fact. That and the powerful will of Lyndon Johnson to be a success in legislation and the wonderful eloquence of Martin Luther King.”

Not only did TV news bring the country (and the world) face to face with the day-to-day reality of the struggle, but entertainment television also played a subtle, yet important, role. One of my favorite stories in our archive is one that Nichelle Nichols,  famous for her role as Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek,” tells of her moving encounter with Dr. King. (See the full 12-minute interview excerpt here):

I was going to leave “Star Trek,” and [creator] Gene Roddenberry says, “You can’t do that. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to achieve? Take the weekend and think about it.” He took the resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer….

As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”

I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”

I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”

I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”

I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not abBlack role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said:  The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.

Come Monday morning, I went to Gene. He’s sitting behind that same dang desk. I told him what happened, and I said, “If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.” He looked at me, and said, “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.” I said, “That’s what he said.” And my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back. I never regretted it, because I understood the universe, that universal mind, had somehow put me there, and we have choices. Are we going to walk down this road or  the other? It was the right road for me.

As many programs have since shown (here’s a link to another of my other favorites  – Phylicia Rashad discussing how “The Cosby Show” broke barriers between Nelson Mandela and one of his guards on Robben Island ), television has the power to come into our homes and show people as they “should be seen every day.” A powerful and unforgettable message from perhaps the world’s most famous “trekkie.”

Whitney Houston Turned Down “The Cosby Show” and Became a Superstar

Monday, February 13th, 2012

The world is mourning the passing of singer Whitney Houston, who died this past Saturday, February 11, 2012. Radio stations are playing medleys of her hit songs, and last night’s Grammy Awards paid tribute to her with a moving performance by Jennifer Hudson. We’re all aware of Whitney’s amazing musical talent, but perhaps you didn’t know that once upon a time, Whitney almost became a member of one of television’s favorite families. According to director Jay Sandrich, Whitney auditioned for and won the role of “Sondra Huxtable” on The Cosby Show, but turned it down in order to pursue her dream of becoming a recording artist:

The Cosby Show went on the air in 1984 and Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album was released on February 21, 1985. The album spent fourteen weeks in Billboard’s number one spot, and went 13 times Platinum, selling over 13 million copies in the U.S. and over 25 million copies worldwide.

Rest in peace, Whitney. Thank you for following your dream and for bringing so many wonderful melodies into our lives.

Interview with Larry Auerbach – Now Online

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Larry Auerbach was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Beverly Hills, CA. Auerbach detailed his 47-year association with the William Morris Agency, where he started part-time in the mailroom. He talked about his move out of the mailroom and his work booking talent in small nightclubs and theaters. He described his booking of musical talent on early television shows, including such talents as Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., and Elvis Presley. Auerbach described fully the circumstances by which he got Presley his first television exposure on the series Stage Show. He discussed representing Alan Freed and how the payola scandals ruined Freeds career. He also talked about the packaging of the unusual Mitch Miller series Sing Along With Mitch that featured on-screen lyrics for sing-alongs and was a big commercial hit. He talked about representing such television figures as Alan Alda, Beatrice Arthur, Agnes Nixon, and Aaron Spelling. Finally, he described in great detail the creation and packaging of the 1980s sitcom hit The Cosby Show. Auerbach then talked about his second career teaching at USC. The interview was conducted by Dan Pasternack on May 21, 2003.

You can view his entire interview online here, or visit to see other interviews.

Legendary William Morris Agent Ruth Engelhardt Has Died– Archive Interview Online

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Ruth Engelhart was associated with the William Morris Agency for over fifty years. She died at the age of 86 on July 23.

Click here to watch Ruth Engelhardt’s entire 8-part interview.

Interview Description:
Ruth Engelhardt was interviewed for three-and-a-half hours in Los Angeles, CA. Engelhardt vividly described her over 55-year association with the William Morris Agency. She recalled how she worked her way up from being a secretary to an executive in Business Affairs by earning her law degree attending night school. She discussed the structure of the Agency, the key figures in its executive suites, and its important television accounts. She talked about the packaging of such television series as The Life of Riley, The Danny Thomas Show, and I Spy. She spoke in great detail about the creation of one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, The Cosby Show. Additionally, Engelhardt talked about such topics as contract negotiations, the era of the Hollywood Blacklist, and the 1975 formation of CAA by ex-WMA agents. The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on October 9, 2003.

7/31/08 UPDATE: Read a wonderful tribute to Ruth Engelhardt’s legacy by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton.