News from the Archive

"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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Don Hastings' Archive of American Television Interview Is Now Online

October 3rd, 2006

This is part two of Don Hastings's six part interview, where he talks about Captain Video and his Video Rangers. Click here to watch the entire interview.

Don Hastings has played "Dr. Bob Hughes" on As the World Turns since 1960.

Interview Description:

Hastings begins by talking about his early years in theater and radio. He then talks about his television debut on the Du Mont network. He describes in great detail his regular role as the “the Ranger” on the popular Du Mont children’s television series Captain Video and his Video Rangers. He discusses his work in soap operas starting with The Edge of Night, where he played “Jack Lane” from 1956-60. He then chronicles his experiences on the series for which he is most associated, As the World Turns, where he has played the role of “Dr. Bob Hughes” continually since 1960. For ATWT, Hastings talks about the creative team behind the series and working with his long-time co-stars (and their character’s relationships), as well as his current shooting schedule and how he goes about learning his lines. He also compares the eras that the show has seen and talks about some of his favorite storylines.

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Students: Be All That You Can TV!

September 29th, 2006

Although we usually highlight things from television's past, we thought we'd pass on this terrific opportunity for television's future....

Each year, hundreds of students from all across the nation enter the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation's College Television Awards competition. If someone you know is in a degree program at a small community college or a large university, this is an opportunity to make their film, video or digital work known to the television community nationwide.

Entries must have been made for college course credit between Sept. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2006 (15-month eligibility period).

No Entry Fee.
Cash Awards.
Awards are presented at the Annual Awards Gala in March.

The 28th Annual College Television Awards is now accepting submissions from eligible student producers in a variety of categories. For more information, click below:


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The Bob Newhart Book

September 26th, 2006

Bob Newhart has written his first book, "a hilarious combination of stories from his career and observations about life."

Read the book and watch Bob Newhart's Archive of American Television Interview. This is part 3, where he talks about The Bob Newhart Show. Click here to watch the entire three-and-a-half hour interview.

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