News from the Archive

Leslie Uggams: Breaking Barriers

January 19th, 2017
Leslie Uggams
Whenever one of us is on, "Oh my God, quick turn on the television." With me being on [Sing Along with] Mitch every day, it gave my people a chance to see somebody that looked like them. Because back then there weren’t even commercials that you could see us in.

She was one of the first African-American women to be a regular on a hit music show (the aforementioned Sing Along with Mitch.) She was THE first African-American woman to host her own network variety show. And she was one of the stars of Roots, the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book of the same title. She’s Leslie Uggams: actress, singer, host, and pioneer. 

Leslie started her television career early, appearing on Beulah in 1950 as the lead character’s niece. Two years later, in 1952, Leslie began her winning streak on the talent show TV Teen Club, consistently singing her way into the top spot. But weeks of placing first soon ended with sabotage:

Before I was on, there had been another African-American boy tap dancing who had won the contest. So the sponsors decided that they did not want to give a car to another African-American kid. It was me and a trumpet player and the trumpet player won, but I watched from the stage - they had the [applause] meters where they put the hands up and they had tied the clock when it was my turn so the clock couldn’t move.

(Image of applause meter from J. Fred MacDonald's "AV Highlights Leslie Uggams" from Blacks and White TV.)

In 1961, Leslie became a regular on the popular music program Sing Along with Mitch. She stayed with the show for three years, much to the chagrin of certain sponsors and network executives - controversy Leslie was unaware of at the time: 

I didn’t know until years later that the sponsors and the network were trying to get rid of me, because the show wasn’t being shown in the South. They had blacked it out, no pun intended. Naturally, they wanted it to be a nationwide show, so they would come to him [Mitch] every week with a different scenario, "Well, maybe if you put her in her own thing and then we could do like they did with Lena in the movies." They would cut her out in the South, and then mix it. And Mitch said, "No." Then they would come up with, "Well okay, so do the sing along but do you have to touch her?" Because we did some great numbers together. And he said, "We’re a family." They kept saying this and finally he said, “If there’s no me [Leslie], there’s no show.”

In 1969, Leslie hosted a variety series bearing her name, The Leslie Uggams Show. The program lasted only ten episodes. Why just ten? According to Leslie, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour played a role in her show’s short-lived run:

Then in 1977, Leslie starred in the ABC miniseries Roots, delivering a powerful performance as the only daughter of Kunta Kinte. It was love at first script for Leslie Uggams and Kizzy Reynolds: 

In her Archive interview Leslie also tells us about her many stage performances (she sang at the Apollo when she was little and won a Tony Award in 1968 for her role in “Hallelujah, Baby!”), discusses her run as co-host of the game show Fantasy, and talks of her appearances on the hit show Empire. Prepare yourself for an in-depth conversation with a woman who paved the way for those who came after, gave us some of television’s most memorable moments (the Roots wagon scene AND Kizzy and Missy Anne’s late-in-life reunion!), and has one of the most beautiful voices in the business. She can croon like no other, and history's proven that she's done a whole lot more than just sing with that voice.

Watch Leslie Uggams’ full Archive interview.


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Golden Girl Betty White Turns 95!

January 17th, 2017
Betty White

Betty White celebrates her 95th birthday today! She's been in the business for over 70 years, and we can't get enough of her!

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 in recent years has continued to bring laughter to millions as an ensemble player in projects for both the big and small screen - stealing scenes from Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, starring in TV Land's Hot in Cleveland, and hosting NBC's Saturday Night Live, to name a few.

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

Watch Betty White's full Archive interview here.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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If Hips Could Kill: Elvis' Lower Half is Censored on "The Ed Sullivan Show"

January 6th, 2017

60 years ago today, on January 6, 1957, Elvis Presley's hips were deemed too hot for TV by The Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis had already appeared on the program twice before, in all of his hip-shaking glory, but on his third appearance he was shot only from the waist up. Of course, just by listening to his screaming fans, you can (thankfully) still tell when he gyrates:

John Moffitt was a Production Assistant and later an Assistant Director on The Ed Sullivan Show and recalls Elvis' appearances on the program:

More memorable moments from The Ed Sullivan Show here.

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Remembering Jeffrey Hayden

January 3rd, 2017
Jeffrey Hayden

We’re sad to learn that director Jeffrey Hayden passed away on Saturday, December 24 at the age of 90. He began his career in television in the 1940s as an associate director at ABC and married his wife, actress Eva Marie Saint, in 1951. Hayden directed dozens of television shows from the 1950s through the 1980s, including The Donna Reed Show, The Andy Griffith Show, 77 Sunset Strip, and Peyton Place.

Below are some selections from his 2010 interview:

On working with Walt Disney (and wishing he could have done so more than once):

On "camera directors" vs. "actor directors":

On his proudest career achievements:

Watch Jeffrey Hayden's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

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Producer's Pointers: How to Turn Your Holiday into Family History 101

December 19th, 2016
Great-Grandpa John and Great-Grandma Livia

The holidays are often occasions when families gather together to share a meal, to catch up, and at times, to argue. Instead of the latter, if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by family members, consider taking advantage of having them all together by starting a conversation about your family's history. Ask your relatives about their most vivid childhood memories. Ask them what they know about your family's roots. Ask about birthdays, marriages, and family traditions. Start to gather the pieces of your family's past as you pass the potatoes (or your favorite dish on your family's table), and be grateful that you have loved ones around to share their stories with you. And I highly suggest recording these interviews with your relatives. Imagine watching a video now of your holidays from 1996, when you learned that Great-Grandma Livia (pictured with Great-Grandpa John in 1959) was a matchmaker: at an opportune moment back in 1949, she arranged for a boy with a crush (Uncle Pete) to return a borrowed silver platter to the girl on whom he was crushing (Aunt Jennie), and it resulted in a 66-year marriage. What stories could you have captured twenty years ago that may now be lost to history? Who was around then that isn't around today? Holidays are natural opportunities to get to know your family members, so seize the chance to interview them and preserve their treasured tales. 


If You Merely Have Minutes:

If you have only a few minutes to ask your relatives questions while you're eating dinner, your interviews are likely going to be fairly informal. That's great - these are your interviews - they can be as long or short, as formal or informal as you like. You may already have a sense of what you’d like to ask your family members, but if you’re looking for some resources to help you put together your questions, here are a few:

If You Happily Have Hours:

If your family members are willing, see if you can do long-form, in-depth video interviews with them. If you’re familiar with our Archive of American Television interviews, you know that we follow a life history format, which is a great way to explore someone’s story. We start with questions about the interviewee’s early years and influences: name at birth, when and where s/he was born, parents’ names and occupations, early interests, hobbies, family and school life, etc. If you’re interviewing a family member, there are lots of opportunities to learn interesting tidbits here! I learned that my dad didn’t have a middle name at birth. I always assumed his full name was on his birth certificate, but his middle name came along when he was seven. The things you learn when you actually ask questions.

For Archive interviews, we then move into how the interviewee got started in his/her career. We talk about early jobs, learning a trade, co-workers, and memorable moments. We have a craft section, and at the conclusion of the interview we talk about lessons learned and advice for future generations. It’s a nice model for hitting on different events and emotions in someone’s life.

When I interviewed my own parents, I started by asking the first set of questions about my great-grandparents, the earliest generation that my parents knew personally (and the generation that emigrated to the United States). “What was your grandfather’s name at birth? When and where was he born?” My goal was to get as much information about the generations that came before as possible. (Full disclosure: my interviews with my parents were quite long, 4-7 hours each. But if your scope is not multi-generational, just scale back your questions accordingly.) 

I got rich answers from my parents' interviews that told me stories I had never heard before. My mother’s Grandpa Louis loved Chiclets and sunflower seeds. My father’s Grandpa John fought constantly with his own father, and never spoke to him again after leaving Italy. My Grandpop Moishe was a volunteer air raid warden during World War II. Those people whom you’ve heard of in passing, or whose name you knew only from a label penciled onto the back of a crimped photograph, come alive when you know their likes and dislikes, their grudges, their passions. I love that these people from my past are now part of my present.

Here are some examples of various types of family oral histories:

  • Talk to MeThe Huffington Post’s series in which children interview parents. Here's their How-To Guide for making your own "Talk to Me" video.
  • Family Film School: Our friends at The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences have a series in which families with multiple generations in the business sit down for a chat.
  • StoryCorps: Audio interviews between generations (some between colleagues, friends, peers, too.)


If you're at a relative's house for the holidays, ask to see family photos. Maybe you'll discover albums full of old black and white photographs. Maybe you'll get to see '60's slides in a Kodak Carousel and your grandparents' vacation to Las Vegas will spring to life. Maybe you'll get a peek at 8mm films of your father's 16th birthday. (Those are priceless. And my dad was HANDSOME.) Ask your relatives if they have family members' diaries or letters (correspondence during war years, love letters, letters between pen pals), birth/death/marriage/naturalization records, newspaper clippings, photos, home videos (many of mine contain headless bodies if Grandpop Phil was the videographer), etc. These are the primary source materials of a family historian's dreams - the eyewitness accounts/documents created from the time your ancestors were alive. I was a history major in college, so I'm trained to look for primary sources when conducting research and I LOVE when I actually find them. You will, too.

Here at the Archive, when doing research for an interview, I look to primary sources as much as possible. I watch the actual television show/episode I’m going to talk about in the interview. This gets tricky with some early material (thank you Paley Center for Media), but I like to go to the original source if I can. I read autobiographies and watch other interviews that the interviewee has given during different points in his/her life. I’ll look at secondary materials, too - I read period newspaper and magazine articles, and sometimes the obituaries of the interviewee’s parents (to learn more about the people who shaped the interviewee’s life). I read critiques of shows, television history books, etc., and then I make a packet full of all the materials that I’ve gathered, usually 50-150 pages or so: a chronological guide to the person’s life. It’s my bible for the interview.

We spend weeks researching the life of the interviewee and creating an interview guide of questions. (You don’t need to spend weeks doing research for your family interviews - if you’ve already got questions in mind, by all means, begin!) But you might be inspired to go looking for an official document after a family member tells you a particular story. Or maybe a letter a relative gives you makes you want to research your ancestor's military service. Perhaps you've already done some genealogical research - in that case, read through the materials you uncover, and see if any questions surface that you want to ask your family members. You can spend twenty minutes on research, twenty days, twenty years. Do as much or as little research as you like, but know that there are likley some genealogical gems out there just waiting for you to discover them. If you’re interested in delving into your past to learn the genealogy of your family, come along for the ride. I promise it will be worth it - it just takes a little detective work. So go get your cap and magnifying glass; we've got some work to do.

Conducting Genealogical Research

I am a genealogy junkie. I’m addicted to finding ships' logs, census records, birth and death certificates, local newspaper clippings, military records… if a document exists about a family member, I want to see it. I’m fascinated by looking at Great-Grandpa John's signature on his naturalization card and reading the assigned description of his complexion: ruddy (translation: Italian). I got a sense of peace when I located the death certificate of Grandpop Moishe's twin, Henry, who died at two days old, and then bafflement when a whole new, still-unsolved mystery opened up when I discovered Henry's birth certificate. I was stunned when a census report revealed that Grandmom Minnie had a sibling named Dora who died before my grandmother was born, and no one in my family had ever heard of this older sister. I located the cemetery where Dora was buried and paid my respects. Each document that I uncover is a piece of the paper trail of my DNA, and often serves as a starting point for me to learn more about a person from my past.

If you want to go sleuthing for primary texts from your family's history, here are some places to begin: 

  • Take advantage of the free two-week trial period. Start typing in names of family members and you’ll likely find some associated documents. Try multiple spellings of last names in your search (e.g. Faillace, Faillaci, Fallaci) - with all of these sites listed, remember that data has been transferred to computers by humans who are trying to decipher original cursive records, which were often written by someone who did not speak the language of the person entering the country. There's plenty of room for human error here.
  • Cyndi’s List: A great aggregate of sites for genealogical research, broken down by categories - location, immigration, etc.
  • Ellis Island Foundation: If you have family members who entered the U.S. via Ellis Island, you’ll likely be able to find the ship's log of their journey to America. 
  • FamilySearch: A large records repository, assembled by the Church of Latter Day Saints, includes a repository for African American Genealogy Records.
  • Federal Land Records: Titles, deeds, etc. If you know family members owned land in the U.S., this might be a great place to start to find where that property was. Also consider looking at city maps of neighborhoods - you can learn interesting connections by seeing whom your family members lived next door to or down the street from.
  • Historical societies: There are state, county, and city societies. Each may help give context and specificity to government records.
  • JewishGen: A starting point for those with Jewish ancestry.
  • Local archives: Cities have archives where records are kept. They usually have names like “Office of Vital Records.” Check out the archive in the city where your family has roots and see what documents you can find. You can often find birth/death/marriage records, deeds of sale, etc.
  • Local newspapers: Newspapers have archives, too. Some are digitized and online, some are not. If not, visit your local paper and ask to look through back issues. If your relatives were business owners, you may be able to find ads run for those businesses. You might find obituaries, accounts of awards won, birth announcements, etc. These kinds of clippings help give the people of your past a context that you might not otherwise get from an official government document.
  • National Archives: Where many government records are housed. You can request military records here.

With the documents you discover from your research, you’re now armed with the roots and branches of your family tree. It's time to put some leaves and flowers on them with the information you'll glean from interviews with your relatives. Remember: your family members are primary sources, too - first-hand witnesses to the events in their own lives, and often valuable secondary sources of family lore passed down from their parents and grandparents. Your relatives are perhaps your most treasured resources of all.


If the tips for interviewing and researching outlined above are helpful to you, wonderful. If they seem overwhelming, just set up a camera and start asking your relatives what you’ve always wanted to know about your family's history. Use the video feature on your phone and record short segments. Set up an audio recorder if you don't want to do video. Ask family members to write down their most memorable moments. There are many different ways to conduct family history interviews; the most important thing is to actually do them. Now. Before the people you love aren’t around anymore and this becomes one of those things you regret not doing.

So if you're gathering with relatives for a meal this holiday season, consider positioning a camera, an audio recorder, or a stenographer at the table. Ask your family members about their memories of their grandparents, about their high school crushes, about their first memories of you. Ask them if they have old photos, home movies, letters, or keepsakes that you could look at - maybe you'll get a glimpse of the matchmaker's silver platter. Ask about the pieces of your family’s past, and you’ll start to see a clearer picture of yourself. Odds are there will be some scars and wrinkles in there, but rest assured, it’s a picture worth examining and preserving for future generations.

- Adrienne Faillace

To learn more about the value of oral histories, check out the first Producer's Pointers article in this series: Why I Became an Oral Historian and How You Can Be One, Too. 

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