Archive for the ‘Television Performers’ Category

Golden Girl Betty White Turns 90!

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Betty White celebrates her 90th birthday today! The Hot in Cleveland star is hot all over the globe these days, hosting Saturday Night Live, making memorable appearances on Community, and stealing scenes from Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. She’s a consummate comedienne with a quick wit that keeps audiences wanting more.

Born January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, White got her start in television when the medium first emerged onto the American landscape back in 1939, appearing in a closed circuit presentation of “The Merry Widow” in the Los Angeles Packard Building. A natural from the start, she loved the rush of live television, and when regular programming began she was quickly tapped to be Al Jarvis’ right-hand woman on 1949’s Hollywood on Television, a 5.5 hour/day broadcast for KCLA TV that was largely a televised version of Jarvis’ radio program. White and Jarvis ad-libbed for over 30 hours of airtime/week:

In 1951 she starred in the first of what would be three Betty White Shows – this one a short-lived, half hour daytime program. She soon moved on to producing and starring in the 1952 sitcom Life with Elizabeth, and to hosting the second Betty White Show in 1954, a national network show for NBC that aired at noon.

From there, White hosted her first of 20 Rose Parades in 1955. She also spent 10 years hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with Lorne Greene.

In 1955 White began appearing on television game shows, a pastime dear to her heart. A lover of games since childhood, she enjoyed playing What’s My Line?, Make the Connection, and many other Goodson/Todman games. As fate would have it, she made quite the connection when she appeared on Password and met future husband Allen Ludden, who hosted the program:

The third Betty White Show came along in 1957, a short-lived sitcom produced by and starring White, and in the 1960’s White made over 70 appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar – one of her favorite programs. She then got to showcase her love of animals on The Pet Set, a 1971 show in which she interviewed celebrities and their pets. She appeared on The Carol Burnett Show in the mid-1970s (which led to her later role as “Ellen Harper Jackson” on Mama’s Family) and in 1973, got a call from casting director Ethel Winant to play the role of “Sue Ann Nivens,” the “neighborhood nymphomaniac” on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. White won two Emmys for the role and reminisced about the show’s famous series finale in her 1997 Archive interview:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was both a critical and popular darling, and yet another hit comedy was in White’s future. She was up for the role of “Blanche Devereaux” on a new series called Golden Girls, which would make its debut in 1985. White explains how director Jay Sandrich (who directed many episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) was instrumental in her winning the role of “Rose Nylund” instead:

White was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995, and continues to bring laughter to millions as an ensemble player in projects for both the big and small screen. You can currently catch Betty White on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland Wednesday nights at 10pm.

Happy birthday, Betty! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Betty White’s full Archive interview here.

- by Adrienne Faillace

If at First You Don’t Succeed … Recast: “The Dick Van Dyke Show” Celebrates 50 Years

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Back in the summer of 1958, Carl Reiner, already an established writer and supporting actor on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, sought to create a sitcom in which he would star. He followed the adage of “write what you know” and created thirteen scripts of Head of the Family, a largely autobiographical series centered around Rob Petrie, head writer of “The Alan Sturdy Show.” Rob was married to Laura, they had a six-year-old son, Ritchie, and Buddy and Sally were Rob’s cohorts in the writers’ room. Sound familiar?

Reiner’s agent, Harry Kalcheim, shopped the Head of the Family pilot script around, and actor Peter Lawford wanted to front the money to shoot the pilot. Once Reiner sent a script to Lawford’s father-in-law and supplier of the cash, Joseph P. Kennedy, Reiner was given the green light. The pilot was shot in December of 1958 in New York, with Reiner starring as Rob, Barbara Britton as Laura, Gary Morgan as Ritchie, Sylvia Miles as Sally, and Morty Gunty as Buddy. And then … nothing. The pilot failed to sell for the Fall 1959 season, and for the next year, Reiner thought the project was dead. But Kalcheim refused to abandon the show. He presented the pilot episode to another client of his, producer Sheldon Leonard.

Already a successful creator/producer of The Andy Griffith Show, and producer of The Danny Thomas Show, Leonard recognized genius in Head of the Family, but identified one major flaw: Reiner completely miscast himself as Rob Petrie. It’s difficult to see how Reiner could be wrong for a role that he based on himself, but Reiner was a natural sketch performer, not a sitcom actor. Reiner didn’t take the news well, but as he describes in his Archive Interview, Leonard brightened his spirits by telling him that he was a natural producer:

Sheldon Leonard, himself a seasoned writer/performer (he played the robber who famously asked Jack Benny, “Your money or your life?”), convinced Reiner that one makes a much better living as a creator/writer/producer than as an actor. Reiner agreed and so began the hunt for a new Rob Petrie.

Re-enter Harry Kalcheim, candidate for best-agent-ever. A year earlier, at the urging of Kalcheim, Sheldon Leonard attended a musical revue called “The Girls Against the Boys” to check out a performer named Dick Van Dyke. In his Archive Interview, Leonard recalls liking Van Dyke, but not having any material at the time that could showcase his talents. Now, the right project had come along. Leonard convinced Reiner to hop a plane to New York to watch Van Dyke in Broadway’s “Bye Bye Birdie” and Reiner saw what Leonard now saw: Rob Petrie.

With a new lead, Reiner and Leonard distanced themselves from many elements of the failed Head of the Family pilot. The program assembled in the spring of 1960 was shot in California, in multi-camera format rather than single-camera, filmed in front of a live audience, and had an entirely new cast. The original scripts remained, but Reiner re-tooled them for multi-cam shooting and to play to the actors’ individual strengths, like Van Dyke’s talent for physical comedy:

Assembling the new cast was effortless in some ways, torturous in others. Sheldon Leonard knew he wanted Rose Marie as sassy Sally Rogers, who in turn suggested pal Morey Amsterdam for the role of Buddy Sorrell. Reiner took on the part of Rob’s boss, re-named Alan Brady; Richard Deacon portrayed producer Mel Cooley; and little Larry Matthews, who had never professionally acted before, played six-year-old Ritchie. Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guilbert rounded out the cast as neighbors Jerry and Millie Helper. Everyone was set … except Laura Petrie.

After auditioning many actresses for the part and coming up frustratingly empty-handed, Leonard and Reiner paid a visit to Danny Thomas, the largest funder of the newly formed Calvada Productions, which owned the show (Calvada: Ca – Carl Reiner, l – Sheldon Leonard, va – Dick Van Dyke, da – Danny Thomas). Thomas recommended they audition a woman who had tried out for the role of his daughter on Make Room for Daddy. The actress was wonderful, but with her cute nose, Thomas felt that no one would believe she was his daughter! Thomas remembered her as “the girl with three names.” With the help of a casting agent who tracked her down, Mary Tyler Moore auditioned for and won the role of Laura Petrie, as she explains in her Archive Interview:

Throw in advertising agency executives Lee Rich and Grant Tinker of Benton & Bowles, who secured sponsor Procter & Gamble and optioned the series to CBS, and that brings us to Tuesday, October 3, 1961, the premiere of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Reiner suggested the new title, following Sheldon Leonard’s tradition of naming a show after its star. Though no longer the lead in front of the camera, Reiner’s leadership behind the camera resulted in the classic sitcom of the 1960s.

Critics adored The Dick Van Dyke Show, but the program did not enjoy high ratings and was nearly canceled after the first year. Due to Sheldon Leonard’s persistence, four more seasons aired, and the show ended its run on June 1, 1966 with episode “The Last Chapter,” in which Alan Brady is set to star in and produce a television show based on Rob Petrie’s autobiographical novel. Talk about art imitating life!

But art imitating life is what made The Dick Van Dyke Show such a gem. You believed Rob and Laura as a couple. They showed affection, they fought, and she sighed, “Oh, Rob!” sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of happiness. Sally and Buddy teased each other like co-workers really do; all of the characters represented people you felt like you knew or wished you could befriend. Fifty years later, the episodes and characters still remain approachable and real.

So here’s wishing a very Happy 50th Anniversary to The Dick Van Dyke Show. We expect we’ll be watching Rob trip over that ottoman for many years to come.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Actor Cliff Robertson dies at 88

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Legendary actor Cliff Robertson passed away on September 10th, one day after his 88th birthday. The Archive of American Television interviewed him about his television work in 2005. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On his proudest career achievement

I would have to say, survived. I have survived. I’m not sure I’m proud, but I recognize that the dear Lord has helped.  Whether it’s surviving these airplane mishaps that I didn’t get on that crashed or whatever, whatever it is, he’s given me in spite of it… Maybe the fact that, I did confront corruption at the highest level and that’s what my dear friend, Congressman Udall, put me up in the Congressional Record for standing against corporate corruption in Hollywood at a time when it was very costly. I didn’t work for three years.  It’s a little perverse, but I’m  kind of proud of that.  Because I knew when I did it, people said, including my former wife, it’s the end of your career.  And somehow or other we survived. So, I’m just very lucky. I’m lucky to survive the traffic on the way over here.

On how television has changed since he started his career

Since I first started?  It’s fast. It’s five second, two second, one second shots, it’s accelerated, it’s almost bizarre, it’s so fast.  And along with that speed sometimes you sacrifice quality. I mean, it’s arresting, but like a shallow meal, it leaves you. I think if we had the courage to take time, I’m telling you a story and you have to have the courage to take time to let the reader or the viewer get involved so that he or she are not in a hurry, they’re willing to cover the words or the thoughts or kind of digest what you’ve just seen so it stays with them –  like a very memorable meal as opposed to this quick snack.

On his advice to aspiring actors

Lee Strasberg said to me when I went out to do my first film, he said, “Cliff, they’ll promise you everything.  You come in with your own homework.  You come in with having analyzed and thought about your character. You come in prepared emotionally as well as technically and don’t let the hollow promises infatuate you because although they may mean well, most of the time they’ll promise you everything and give you little” I tell my young students, give them a buck and a half for every dollar they pay you and maybe even more, not necessarily out of respect or love for them, but out of respect for your own profession, your own talent, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t come in and just walk through it, even though you know you can do it and pick up the check, just out of respect for your profession and yourself, give them more than they give you.

On his mentors

As an actor?   I think Henry Fonda.  But I had Olivier, I mean, certainly Marlon in his early days, but he was kind of a child. He’d be the first to admit it. He was child playing with this fabulous talent and letting it slip through his fingers. Maybe that was the way he wanted it, but as a mentor, I think they lost them all with Olivier and Richardson, people of that ilk.  I have such high respect. Willy Loman’s wife had that line in that wonderful Arthur Miller play, Death of a Salesman, “attention must be paid, attention must be paid!  And I think our attention span in this business is so short. We’re worried about some little starlet temporarily on all the covers of all the magazines, that’s kind of shallow. Attention must be paid to those talents that are real, that are viable, that are lasting.

On how he would like to be remembered

Spell my name right.

About the interview

Cliff Robertson was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Los Angeles, CA. Robertson talked about his training at the Actors Studio and his early career on the New York stage. He talked about working in anthology series during the “live” television era of the 1950s.  He discussed his role as mentally disabled “Charlie Gordon” in both television ( The U.S. Steel Hour’s “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon”) and film (Charly, which earned him an Oscar for Best Actor).  He spoke in great detail about his work with director John Frankenheimer on the Playhouse 90 show “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Robertson talked about being personally selected by President John F. Kennedy to play him in the feature film PT109.  He described his two appearances on the classic anthology series The Twilight Zone and spoke about series creator Rod Serling. Robertson discussed his blacklisting by the industry following “Hollywoodgate,” in which he accused Columbia Pictures head David Begelman of forging a check.  Robertson spoke about several of his television movie appearances as well as such television series as Rod Brown and the Rocket Rangers and Batman.  The interview was conducted by Stephen J. Abramson on March 1, 2005.

Valerie Harper on “Rhoda”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” & more!

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Wishing a very happy 72nd birthday to actress Valerie Harper! In her Archive interview, Harper describes starting her career as a dancer in New York, moving to Los Angeles, and getting her big break on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She reminisces about Rhoda and Valerie and shares that she was once a member of the Writers Guild of America and co-wrote an episode of a popular 1969-74 sitcom. Watch below to find out which show!

Enjoy Valerie Harper’s interview in its entirety here:

About this interview:

Valerie Harper was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in North Hollywood, CA. Harper discusses her early years as a dancer in New York City, her time as a member of Second City, and moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting. She talks in detail about her most famous character, Rhoda Morgenstern, whom she portrayed on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the spinoff, Rhoda. She reminisces about working with Mary Tyler Moore, James L. Brooks, Jay Sandrich and many others of the cast and crew of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. Harper also describes why she was only on Valerie for one year, and outlines her current theater projects. Jim McKairnes conducted the interview on February 26, 2009.

6 Things You May Not Know about Lucille Ball

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Tomorrow, August 6, 2011, marks Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday! Sadly, Lucy passed away in 1989, before the Archive of American Television was founded. Fortunately, the Archive has captured many interviews with her friends and colleagues in its collection. Here are a few selections:

Irma Kusely – Lucille Ball’s Hairdresser

“Her hair color? I call it apricot but a lot of people think of it as red.  It’s not red at all.  It’s a golden apricot color. We used regular hair dye when I did her own hair. We then used as a balance, a henna rinse, which she was famous for. She had a safe of it  in my garage …  She loved to gamble and when we did a show in Las Vegas, she met a very wealthy sheik and he heard about her problem about the henna and he said he would send her the henna. And he did.  She moved a box of henna which was in my garage but in the safe. There was a lot of it left when she left this world, but I had to give it to the estate. I don’t know what little Lucie did with it, maybe sold it for a million dollars. Just for a spoonful, can you imagine what I could’ve made with that?”

Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. – Writers

“The TV commercial was scripted. It took us a day and a half to get that name Vitameatavegamin, too.  That was a tough one. The most amazing thing is that she didn’t use any cue cards.  She did that whole thing in one take.  Which she did a lot.  She and Harpo Marx, same thing. They just did it, in front of the audience. They didn’t need any retakes, amazing.”

Watch the famous take below:

Dann Cahn – editor

“In those early seasons of I Love Lucy, we had the terrible Red scare, where they called Lucy a Communist and everybody was walking around in Hollywood afraid that we’d be called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee. They had to apologize to Lucy because she was no more red than her hair was, which wasn’t red. Her grandpa had been a Socialist, and somehow she had signed a card to the Communist Party for the old man to keep him quiet.  That was a big scare for a week and Desi went out and made this wonderful speech [about how the only 'red' thing about Lucy was her hair].”

Dann Cahn – editor

“And then the next big dramatic thing that hit the newspapers was Lucy went to the hospital for a Cesarean birth on a Monday morning and that night they gave birth  to a little boy on the show. It had been decided weeks earlier that whatever Lucy had, and remember there was no testing, that the baby’s birth is going to be the same sex.”

Leonard Nimoy – actor

“I met her once or twice.  She never came on the set but Bill [Shatner] and I were having lunch one day in the commissary and she came by the table graciously and said, “hi guys, you’re doing great work. Keep it up, thanks.” and left.  I think the next time we met her was when we were asked to come to a reception for Charlie Bluhdorn who was head of Gulf and Western, who had just bought the studio from her in 1967.  Some of us were asked to come and say hello to him and welcome him, and Lucy was there.”

Doris Singleton – Actress, “Carolyn Appleby” on I Love Lucy

“We were going to a party at writer Seaman Jacobs’ house and everybody was there. The doorbell rang and it was Lucy.  I was very surprised to see her because nobody said that she was coming.  Lucy comes in and  says, “OK, where’s the game?”  Like, in “Guys and Dolls.”  I said, “What game?” She said, “June told me that it was a backgammon game.”  She was crazy, crazy about backgammon. That’s what Lucy did all the time when she was not on the set.  She’d go to her room and play backgammon with one of her stand-ins or friends — she had a group that were always on the show.”

To see more Archive interviewees discussing the legacy of Lucille Ball, visit her curated TV Legend page here.

To see more about I Love Lucy, click here.

To see how Lucy’s birthday is being celebrated on the East and West Coasts, see the links below:

The Hollywood Museum is celebrates Lucy’s 100th

The Lucy Desi Center in Jamestown, NY presents Lucy Fest in honor of Lucy’s birthday

“….It’s in the Archive, Bob!” – “The Newlywed Game” turns 45

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Forty five years ago, on July 11, 1966, The Newlywed Game premiered on ABC with host Bob Eubanks. Eubanks is most closely associated with the show although there were many other hosts throughout its run. Produced by Chuck Barris (who also wrote the catchy theme song), the show was created by Nick Nicholson and E. Roger Muir, and focused on newly married couples who were asked a series of revealing questions about their spouse to determine how well they knew, or didn’t know, one another.

The series also has the reputation for airing one of the most notorious bloopers ever — a response by a contestant named “Olga” in 1977 to the question “Where specifically, is the weirdest place that you personally have ever gotten the urge to make whoopee?”

In his Archive interview Bob Eubanks debunks the myth of this blooper, and reveals what Olga actually said:

Here is the clip as it aired on television in 1977:

Bob Eubanks’ complete Archive of American Television interview can be viewed here.

55 Years Ago: Dick Clark becomes Permanent Host of “American Bandstand”

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Fifty-five years ago, on July 9, 1956 Dick Clark became the permanent host of American Bandstand and his boyish looks and straight-laced style bridged the gap between teenagers and their parents, helping to bring rock ‘n’ roll to the mainstream. The show broadcast locally from Philadelphia starting in 1952 and by August 5, 1957, with Clark taking the show to the top of the ratings, the show went national (its initial title Bandstand was changed to American Bandstand). Records were rated in one of the segments of the show and as was oft said about these songs could easily apply to the show itself: “It has a good beat and you can dance to it.”

In 1999, the Archive of American Television interviewed Dick Clark who talks about his long tenure on American Bandstand as well as his other television ventures including the $10,000 Pyramid and New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

Interview excerpt – Dick Clark on how American Bandstand came to end end in 1989, after four decades:

Music had changed.  Television had changed. It was much more elaborate. We moved from Philadelphia to L.A. in 1964.  The kids were fashionably dressed for the time: bell bottoms, long hair, and all of that. We went through the 60’s protest era, into the 70’s, the Disco era, the madness of all of that. Into the 80’s and in 1989, I was about to approach 60, and we had taken the show from ABC who wanted it for only a half an hour a week, and I said, “no, we’ll syndicate it.”  Then we took it into cable television, and in its last dying days, it was being done in the daytime at Universal’s amusement park in a parking lot, with no lights, and bare sets. I looked at it one day, and I said, “boy, I always thought of the Bandstand as one my kids. I really don’t want it to be remembered that way. It was my election, I said, just let it go.  We made a big mistake in October of 1989.  We could have kept it on another three months, and then it would have been in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and the 90s. We missed the 90’s by three months.

Click here to see Dick Clark’s full Archive of American Television interview.

Katherine Helmond to appear on “True Blood”

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Archive Interviewee Katherine Helmond is schedule to return to the small screen as “Caroline Bellefleur” on the HBO series True Blood. Ms. Helmond is of course, well-known to our followers as “Jessica Tate” on Soap and “Mona” on Who’s the Boss as well as her numerous roles on Everybody Loves Raymond, Coach, and most recently, Melissa & Joey.
In this video excerpt from her two-hour Archive interview, she talks about why she believes it was important that Soap was written by a woman:

You can view Katherine Helmond’s entire interview online here.

For more about this news story, you can visit the Hollywood Reporter.

Michael J. Fox turns 50!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Wishing very happy 50th birthday to TV legend Michael J. Fox! The Archive of American Television interviewed the actor in 2001. Here’s a clip from the interview where he discusses how he was cast on Family Ties:

Watch his full Archive interview here.

Link to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Recap: The TV Academy Celebrates Women in Comedy

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

(l-r): Margaret Cho, Caroline Rhea, Bonnie Hunt, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carol Leifer, Elayne Boosler & Lily Tomlin (PictureGroup)

Recently, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences hosted “Ladies Who Make Us Laugh”, an event devoted to women in comedy hosted at the Academy’s Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre. Guests included comedians Bonnie Hunt, Margaret Cho, Caroline Rhea, Carole Leifer, Elayne Boosler, Lily Tomlin and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

The Pop Culture Passionistas were on the red carpet for the Archive of American Television to find out more about these extraordinary performers. Here’s a playlist featuring those interviews:

Watch the entire An Evening with the Ladies Who Make Us Laugh panel discussion here: