News from the Archive

For Golden Girls Fans in Los Angeles

October 18th, 2006

This Wednesday, October 18th, those of you in the Los Angeles-area can join author Jim Colucci at 7:30 pm at the A Different Light bookstore (8853 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood) for a signing of his book, The Q Guide to The Golden Girls. Also to be in attendance: Sirius OutQ host Frank DeCaro, author of the book's introduction, and Glen Hanson, the book's cover artist.

The book chronicles the genesis and key gay-themed episodes of The Golden Girls with interviews with the stars, producers, writers and viewers. In fact, parts of Archive of American Television interviews with Rue McClanahan (which Jim conducted) and Beatrice Arthur were cited in the book.

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Ben Wolf's Archive of American Television Interview Is Now Online

October 17th, 2006

Cameraman Ben Wolf's four-hour Archive of American Television interview has been added to the online collection at Google Video. This is tape 6 of his interview in which he talks about working on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Click here to view the entire 8-part interview.

Ben Wolf worked on many of the first shows produced at CBS Television City including Carson's Cellar (with Johnny Carson), The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and My Favorite Husband.

Interview description:

Ben Wolf was interviewed for nearly four hours in Los Angeles, CA. He recalled his early television experience at KLAC, and then CBS in Los Angeles, working on such programs as The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Carson’s Cellar and Climax! Next, he spoke about his work on The Jack Benny Show and The Red Skelton Show, and explained the day-to-day process of working as a cameraman on the latter program. He also touched upon his work on The Judy Garland Show, CBS Playhouse and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Next, he reminisced about working on Norman Lear-produced programs including All in the Family and Maude. Finally, he talked about working on Three’s Company and Mama’s Family before becoming a freelance cameraman for the remainder of his career.

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Happy 60th ATAS!

October 13th, 2006


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences celebrated its 60th anniversary yesterday with a gala event hosted by Beau Bridges. The event was held at Academy Headquarters in North Hollywood at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre.

The nostalgic evening offered clips from television's past and featured many special guests. In person were such television luminaries as Dick Van Dyke, Florence Henderson, and Art Linkletter. Many of the Television Academy's past presidents were also in attendance.

Also attending was Emmy-Award winner Dennis Franz, who sat down with the Archive of American Television for an Archive interview, just before the celebration. Franz was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours about his long and distiguished career and discussed his work in television, which notably included regular roles on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.

Click here for a history of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

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"Playhouse 90" Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary!

October 5th, 2006

In American television in the 1940s and 50s, one of the staple genres of the day was the "live" dramatic anthology series. Productions within these series featured the writing of such luminaries as Paddy Chayefsky, Rod Serling, and Horton Foote and defined what has been termed the "golden age of television." Among the anthology series were Kraft Television Theater, Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Studio One, The U.S. Steel Hour, and Playhouse 90. As described by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh in The Complete Directory of Prime Time and Cable TV Shows: "of all the fine dramatic-anthology series to grace television in the 1950s, Playhouse 90 was the most ambitious and remains the standard against which all the others are judged." The series premiered on October 4, 1956 with Rod Serling's "Forbidden Area."

Among the most well-known productions that originated on Playhouse 90 were: Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight," William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker," Rod Serling's "The Comedian," JP Miller's "Days of Wine and Roses," Abby Mann's "Judgment at Nuremberg, and David Shaw & Bo Goldman's "The Tunnel" as well as Horton Foote's adaptations of William Faulkner's "Old Man" and "Tomorrow."


Legendary director John Frankenheimer made his name while directing for Playhouse 90. This is part 8 of his interview, in which he talks about his work on this series. Click here to view the entire 13-part interview.

The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the series' most significant talents. In addition to John Frankenheimer, the Archive interviewed Martin Manulis (series creator and original producer), Robert Butler (assistant director), Horton Foote (writer), Albert Heschong (art director), Arthur Hiller (director), Kim Hunter (actress), Ernest Kinoy (writer), Angela Lansbury (actress), Jack Lemmon (actor), Abby Mann (writer), Delbert Mann (director), Bob Markell (set designer/associate producer), E. G. Marshall (actor), JP Miller (writer), Ricardo Montalban (actor), Rita Moreno (actress), Tad Mosel (writer), Hugh O'Brian (actor), Arthur Penn (director), Del Reisman (story editor), Rita Riggs (costumes), Cliff Robertson (actor), Mickey Rooney (actor), William Shatner (actor), David Shaw (writer), Fred Steiner (composer), George Takei (actor), and Ethel Winant (casting director).

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Longtime Jack Benny Radio and TV Writer George Balzer Has Died

October 4th, 2006


George Balzer (pictured above with interviewer Dan Pasternack), who spent twenty-five years writing for Jack Benny, was interviewed by the Archive of American Television for two hours on January 25, 2001. Balzer died on September 28, at the age of 91.

Here are some excerpts from his Archive of American Television Interview:

On moving to Los Angeles:

[When I was] four, my dad came home one night and said to my mother … our family was eight … eight people, my mother and father and six kids. Came home one day and said we’re going to California. She says “Okay. When?” He says “Now.” And within about four days, he sold the house, sold the car, sold whatever else he had and we were on a train going to California. And we arrived in Los Angeles. That was 1920. And after five years in Los Angeles, we moved to the San Fernando Valley and we resided there until 1937 I believe it was. That’s were I went to grammar school, high school and so forth.

On getting started as a writer:

When I graduated from high school, I joined with my father and the other members of the family’s family in the laundry business. There’s a long history behind that but I was with him in the laundry business along with the others and I was only out of school maybe six months or so when I became ill and was forced to take considerable bed rest and that gave me a chance to listen to a lot of radio. And I never had any idea that radio might be my business but I was interested in it so I pulled away from the laundry and started writing at earnest … I still have the first two scripts I ever wrote and they were both written for Jack Benny. Not on assignment but just for my own enjoyment.

On his sense of humor:

One day, I recall, it was in a history class I think it was or a civics class and when the bell rang for the students to change periods, why the teacher looked right straight down at me and said “George Balzar, don’t you leave this room.” Okay, so I didn’t leave the room. And she says “Come up here.” So, I went up to her desk and she says “What’s wrong with me?” I said “I don’t know what’s wrong with you?” She says “I’m standing up here everyday trying to teach these students and you sit back there with a grin on your face.” She says, “What, is my slip showing? Are my stockings hanging down? What’s wrong?” I said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” She says “Well I stand up here everyday behind this desk and you’ve got that grin on your face.” Well I said, “It’s nothing.” So, she says “You may go.” So I left. I didn’t know what that meant but as the years went by, I began to realize what was happening. Everything I saw or heard or anything that was said, I saw the lighter side. And most of it made me laugh … to myself. The other people must have thought I was crazy.

On landing a writing job on radio’s “Burns and Allen”:

I had become acquainted with a few of the radio people that used to spend their time at Hollywood and Vine at CBS and NBC and I got to know a few people and they got to know me. And eventually, a break came up and I got it. I had a piece of luck, real luck when a family moved into their new home, which was at the back of our property. So there’s the Balzars house and back-to-back are the Devines. Andy Devine was a player with Jack for about five years. I got to Andy and I said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you look at these scripts and just tell me what you think?” So he did and said “I think they show promise and you should try it if you think you can do it.” So, that’s about the last, for quite a while, that I heard from Andy although he had read other scripts in between there and was always encouraging. And then for maybe a year or two, I didn’t hear anything from anybody and I just continued trying to write, turning samples of my work into agencies and that kind of approach. Suddenly, at one point, I received a call from Andy, a phone call. He says, “Get in touch with Tom Harrington…” So I did and the agency at that time was putting a new show on the air, “Burns and Allen” and they wanted to have me join their staff.

On meeting writing partner Sam Perrin:

And at the end of “Burns and Allen”, we took Sam. That’s where I met my partner, Sam Perrin. Sam and I, we stayed together, I think it was forty years, if not, we stayed together to the end of his life. Well, I always considered him my partner at any given time.

On the relationship between Jack Benny and his writers:

Jack understood us, we understood him. And I remember one Saturday… we were in the conference room at NBC and we’re working on a script. The purpose of this meeting was to punch it up here and there, wherever Jack wanted it. We’re sitting around the table, Jack says “Fellows, I want a [new] joke right here. Page six, a new joke.” And there’s absolute silence. He says right here “Page six, I want something good. It just calls for something to make it so and so and so and so. A new joke.” There was silence. We didn’t respond at all. And after awhile, I leaned over to him and said “Jack, well get you a new joke.” He says, “Oh, you agree with me, huh?” I said “No, but it’s possible that the four of us could be wrong.” He looked at me for a split second and broke into the biggest roar you had ever heard, laughing. Got up off his chair, slid down the wall and sat there at the corner, laughing. And as he got up, he says “I wouldn’t change that joke now for a million dollars.” And he didn’t. We went on the air and it got a big laugh and Jack just looked up at the booth as if to say, “You son of a gun.” And that was it. That was the kind of relationship we had. And he had great faith and trust in his writers.

On working for Jack Benny:

We’d do a show on the air Sunday evening and when that show was over we really didn’t know what we were going to do the next week. But we didn’t let that bother us. On Monday, we took off. On Tuesday, we began to think about the show and would contact one another by phone. Tuesday night, we would call Jack and say we’ve got an idea that might work. We would decide with Jack’s approval what to work on. And he says, “Yeah, sounds kind of funny go ahead and do it.” Then on Wednesday, we would firm up an idea. So, we divide the show up, the four of us and we’d call Jack and say, “Jack, this is what we’re on.” So then Wednesday and Thursday, we’d write both halves of the show. Each half and we’d have it ready to go to Jack on Friday and then we’d sit down with him and we’d get it all cleaned up and ready to go to for a Saturday morning dress rehearsal and then on Sunday, we’d do the broadcast. And once again, we were right where we were a week before. It lasted for I don’t know, twenty-five years or more. And that’s pretty much my career. Kind of dull, I could have been on a lot of shows, I guess. But I was lucky; I’m not ashamed to say so. It was luck. I got myself attached to people that just couldn’t be nicer. And that’s where I spent my entertainment life.

Geroge Blazer's entire two-hour interview can be viewed at TV Academy headquarters in North Hollywood, CA.

Interview description:

Balzer began by recalling his start in comedy writing, first for Bing Crosby’s “Kraft Music Hall” radio program, and then on the radio show “Burns and Allen,” where he first teamed up with writer Sam Perrin. The duo next worked on “The Jack Benny Program” radio show, and along with writers Milt Josefsberg and John Tackaberry, they transitioned with Benny to his CBS television program. Mr. Balzer discussed the writing process on the Benny show, and talked about some of the more memorable skits and comedy bits. Next, he talked about writing for Lucille Ball’s sitcom "Here’s Lucy." Finally, he discussed his work on "The Red Skelton Show" and "The Don Knotts Show."

What are your favorite skecthes from The Jack Benny Program-- radio or TV?

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