Forty years ago today, on July 21, 1972, George Carlin was arrested for performing “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Carlin was subsequently charged with violating obscenity laws, but the case was dismissed in December of ‘72, with a ruling that Carlin’s language was indecent, but not obscene.
The following year a similar case entered the court system when a man complained to the Federal Communications Commission after he and his son heard a radio broadcast of Carlin’s “Filfty Words” on WBAI in New York City. Thus began the five-year battle of F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation (Pacifica owned WBAI). The FCC cited Pacifica for violating FCC regulations that prohibited broadcasting obscene material, and the Supreme Court ruled that Carlin’s routine was “indecent but not obscene,” and declared that the FCC could require that indecent broadcasts air during hours when children were not likely to be listening (hence the beginning of “safe harbor” hours between 10pm and 6am). The battle over what constitutes indecent vs. obscene is still being waged today, which Carlin must be getting a kick out of.
Here’s the man himself on how he came up with the now infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”:
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!
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.
TV Land ranked it as the only television episode to garner a 10/10 in historical significance, and it came in at #21 on their list of Top 100 Sitcom Episodes of All Time. TV Guide listed it at #35 of The 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time. “The Puppy Episode” of Ellen, in which lead character “Ellen Morgan,” played by Ellen DeGeneres, comes out as a lesbian, first aired on April 30, 1997 on ABC. It was the first network TV sitcom to have an openly gay lead character.
Prior to Ellen, broadcast television had dabbled in storylines about homosexuality. The 1972 ABC Movie of the Week “That Certain Summer” focused on the relationship between partners “Doug Salter” (Hal Holbrook) and “Gary McClain” (Martin Sheen) and was the first television movie to bring a homosexual relationship to the forefront. Billy Crystal’s “Jodie Dallas” on the 1977 series Soap was openly gay, yet a supporting character. 1981’s Love, Sidney featured Tony Randall playing “Sidney Shorr,” a gay man living with friend Laurie and her daughter, but the series avoided mention of “Sidney’s” personal life and largely only hinted at his sexual orientation. With “The Puppy Episode,” “Ellen Morgan” became the first broadcast, prime-time, sitcom character to openly discuss her homosexuality, and also have it woven into subsequent storylines in the show.
There was quite a build-up in the weeks leading up to the hour-long episode, which coincided with DeGeneres’ real-life revelation about her own sexuality. Oprah Winfrey guest-starred as “Ellen’s” therapist, Laura Dern as “Ellen’s” crush Susan, and Steven Eckholdt as “Ellen’s” college buddy, Richard. Here’s the pivotal scene of the episode:
“The Puppy Episode” aired in Season 4 and took some effort to get on the air. In the summer of 1996, DeGeneres told Disney Executive Dean Valentine that she wanted her character to come out:
According to Disney Exec Michael Eisner, he, too had a conversation with DeGeneres, and shares his take on the episode and remainder of the series:
Valentine explains the production process on “The Puppy Episode”once the decision was made to have “Ellen Morgan” come out:
Ellen lasted for one more season after “The Puppy Episode” aired, ending in 1998. Since Ellen, several network shows have featured gay and lesbian leads and/or continuing romantic storylines with gay characters: Will & Grace, Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Pretty Little Liars, Glee … and cable has seen The L Word and now LOGO network which features LGBT programming.
Though Ellen left the air over a decade ago, DeGeneres began hosting talk-show Ellen: The Ellen Degeneres Show in 2003, which is syndicated nationally and still going strong. Sometimes Oprah appears as a guest on that show, too.
Something a little different today … We’re big Tenacious D fans over here at the Archive and we just discovered that the new video for the title track on the D’s upcoming album “Rize of the Fenix” had been released on – get this – a Russian video site.
Click below to check it out:
Tenacious D got their start on television, with their cult series produced by Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk that aired on HBO from 1997-2000. The show in many ways set the stage for other comedy musical acts that have followed – most notably New Zealand’s “Flight of the Conchords.”
Music video distribution has certainly come a long way in the past thirty years. MTV used to be the go-to place for exclusives and promoting videos. In his 2011 interview, Executive Tom Freston talked to us about the difficulty of even creating a network to celebrate music and music videos:
Now we’ve moved to video teasers on the internet as the promotion of choice. The times they are a changin’.
“Rize of the Fenix” is set to be released on May 15, 2012.
This afternoon show creator/producer Garry Marshall will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame during the 2012 NAB Show in Las Vegas. Marshall created some of TV’s most entertaining programs: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy … and honed his skills as a writer earlier in his career on The Joey Bishop Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show. Marshall was inducted into 13th Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2004.
In the clip below, Marshall and the Happy Days cast recall the controversy over The Fonz’s now-iconic leather jacket:
He’s best known for playing “Robert Barone” on CBS’ Everybody Loves Raymond, but he’s also a prolific voiceover artist (he’s “Gusteau” in Ratatouille!), and co-star of another successful sitcom, ‘Til Death, with Joely Fisher. Brad Garrett sat down with us in 2007 for quite an entertaining interview. (Be prepared for lots of jokes and silly side conversations with those off-camera!)
In his two-hour Archive interview, Brad Garrett discusses his early comedy influences and breaking into stand-up comedy as a teenager. He talks about his first appearance on television on Norm Crosby’s ComedyShop and his contest-winning turn on Star Search. He describes two short-lived sitcoms on which he appeared before landing the role for which he is most known, that of “Robert Barone” on Everybody Loves Raymond. He speaks in detail about the show’s nine season run — describing his character, commenting on the ensemble cast and series creator Phil Rosenthal, and recalling favorite episodes. Garrett also discusses his next sitcom success, playing twenty-years-married “Eddie Stark” on ‘ Til Death — a series on which he was also a producer. He speaks of playing comic icon Jackie Gleason in the 2002 made-for-television movie Gleason, and touches on then-current projects including voicing “Gusteau” in Pixar’s Ratatouille. Gary Rutkowski conducted the interview in Malibu, CA on April 26, 2007.
He’s a boy from the Bronx who’s had a hand in some of film and television’s most memorable moments. Carl Reiner turns 90 years young today, and he’s spent over 80 of those years entertaining people in one medium or another, from stage plays, to radio, to the small screen and the large.
Born Carl Reiner on March 20, 1922, Reiner caught the acting bug early in life. After performing in school plays throughout his elementary and high school years, Reiner’s older brother encouraged him to take an acting class sponsored by the Public Works Administration during the Depression years. He enjoyed honing the craft and began acting in off-Broadway plays straight out of high school; performed in summer theater in Rochester, NY; toured with a Shakespeare company; and wrote and performed plays as part of the Special Services Unit during World War II.
After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Reiner performed in the famed Borscht Belt circuit, and began his career in television in 1948 with a spot on Maggi McNellis Crystal Room, and appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Revue. Reiner continued to do stage work, when producer Max Liebman caught one of his performances and approached Reiner about joining the cast of a new sketch variety show he was putting together with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Your Show of Shows. Reiner became a cast member in the 1950-51 season, memorably starring in the recurring “Professor” sketch with Caesar, and often displaying his double talk skills, mimicking foreign languages or delivering Shakespeare-esque dialogue. In his 1998 Archive Interview, Reiner discusses working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:
Reiner soon began writing for Your Show of Shows, alongside writers Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, and Mel Brooks, and stayed on to become a part of Sid Caesar’s next show, Caesar’s Hour, where he won his first Emmy:
Reiner and Brooks struck up an immediate friendship, which in turn led to the creation of some fantastic comedy. The pair dreamed up the now infamous “2000 Year Old Man” (which became both a record/radio and TV hit) in Max Liebman’s office in the early 1950s:
After Caesar’s Hour Reiner hosted the game show Celebrity Game, and secured dramatic parts in several Golden Age dramas including Playhouse 90, and Kraft Television Theatre. He tried his hand at writing novels and penned Enter Laughing, and even took a stab at writing a television series. He wrote what he knew, and in 1958 created thirteen episodes of Head of the Family, a show about a family man who commutes into the big city to write for a television show. Reiner starred in the pilot, which failed to get picked up, until Sheldon Leonard saw it, convinced Reiner to step out of the spotlight, re-cast Dick Van Dyke in the lead and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, and renamed the program The Dick Van Dyke Show:
The Dick Van Dyke Show enjoyed five seasons on air (1961-66), with Reiner as creator, producer, writer, and actor on the show — on-screen he stepped out of the lead role and into that of the star’s boss, “Alan Brady”. Reiner’s movie career revved up in the 1960’s, as he starred in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. He soon began directing, too – he directed the film version of Enter Laughing in 1967, and wrote the pilot for and directed several episodes of 1971’s The New Dick Van Dyke Show. He directed Steve Martin in four films, including 1979’s The Jerk and 1984’s All of Me, and also directed 1987’s Summer School.
Reiner won several Emmys for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and added another to his mantle when he revisited his Dick Van Dyke Show character, “Alan Brady”, for a memorable guest appearance on a 1995 episode of Mad About You. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s Reiner continued to stay active in both film and television, with roles on the 1999 series Family Law, 2002’s Life With Bonnie, and as the voice of “Sarmoti” in 2004’s Father of the Pride. He also starred alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon in the 2001 hit film, Ocean’s Eleven, and reprised his role of “Saul Bloom” for 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve and 2007’s Ocean’s Thirteen. He currently has recurring roles on two popular television shows: TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland and FOX’s The Cleveland Show.
A few additional Carl Reiner trivia tidbits: he has appeared on all major versions of The Tonight Show – with hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and even Conan O’Brien; he’s the father of another quite famous actor/writer/producer/director – Rob Reiner; and much like Carol Burnett, when he was starring on a variety show, he used a secret signal to communicate with family members. Son Rob shared what that signal was in his 2004 Archive Interview:
Happy 90th birthday, Carl! Here’s to many, many more!
Watch Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks do their “2000 Year Old Man” sketch:
Reiner was honored by the Television Academy in October of 2011, and several of his colleagues and friends were in attendance to pay tribute to the TV legend. You can watch the webcast of “An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner” here, and check out our full Archive interview with Reiner here.
Based on the BBC’s Steptoe and Son, Sanford and Son is the creation of producers Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear. Comedian Redd Foxx starred as widower and junk dealer, “Fred G. Sanford,” an Archie Bunker-type curmudgeon, Demond Wilson played his grown son, “Lamont,” and the two lived together and ran the family business in South Central L.A. Fred’s wife had passed away decades before, and his trademark move on the program was to feign a heart attack, grab his chest, and call out, “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” The show aired on NBC from January 14, 1972, to March 25, 1977.
The Archive is honored to have interviewed many of the talented individuals involved with Sanford and Son. Co-creator Norman Lear described to us how he cast the show:
Musician and producer Quincy Jones shared how he composed the show’s theme song:
And actor Pat Morita discussed playing Sanford and Son’s “Ah Chew:”
Learn more about Sanford and Son at our show page.