Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stars On The Ascendant




I don't normally highlight a single episode of a TV series, but this one is special, and so it deserves a showcase all of its own.




May 29th, 1962.


I was 8 years and 1 month old. 


John Kennedy was President, the Cuban Missile Crisis was still five months away,  and John Glenn had only very recently been the first man to orbit the earth aboard the Friendship 7 -  a little more than 90 days before.


Variety shows, very popular in the 1950's,  were still a staple of Television back then. 


Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Perry Como,  Andy Williams.  .  .  there was hardly a night of the week where at least one network didn't run a variety show.


CBS, on Tuesday nights, had 3 in a row. Red Skelton at 8:30, followed by Jack Benny at 9:30. 


At 10 pm was the Garry Moore Show.






Today, you mention Garry Moore, and most people remember him as the host of To Tell The Truth, or I've Got A Secret . . . but he was also the host of several very successful variety shows throughout the 1950's and into the 1960's.  



The line up of talent presented every week on network television back then staggers the imagination.  


Everyone in Hollywood, it seemed, could do more than one thing. 


Singers could act, comedians could sing, nearly everybody could dance a little . . . it was actually a requirement to have talent back then. 


Many performers had a background in Vaudeville or Burlesque. The talent pool was both wide and deep. 


Even on-air personalities and hosts, like Garry Moore and Durwood Kirby, managed to be `entertaining', even though they could hardly be called singers or dancers.



Moore began his radio career as an announcer on WBAL radio out of Baltimore, in 1937.   He would eventually parlayed that job into a joint radio show with Jimmy Durante, which ran from 1943 until 1947.  Moore would play the straight man to funny man Durante. 






After that show ended, Moore was offered a show of his own, and in 1949 The Garry Moore Show premiered on CBS radio.  During the late 1940's, Moore also appeared as a panelist on several television shows, and in 1950, was given his own 30 minute early-evening talk/variety show.


During the summers of 1951 and 1952, Moore was also tapped to host the summer replacement show for Arthur Godfrey and his Friends.  On June 19th, 1952, Moore was also engaged to host the panel show, I've Got A Secret - which he would host until 1964.


Moore's variety show was moved to a daytime slot, and expanded to an hour, where it would run until 1958.  


In the fall of 1958,  Moore and his long time friend Durwood Kirby would bring the Garry Moore Show back to Prime Time on Tuesday evenings, where it would stay until 1964.


The Garry Moore Show would bring fame to a number of performers, including Alan King, Jonathon Winters, and Dorothy Loudon.


No bigger star emerged from that show, however, than Carol Burnett.



And that brings us back to May, 1962.


And on this particular night, just one week after the Garry Moore Show won an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Show, and Carol Burnett had won the  Emmy for "Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series"  the guests would be:



Robert Goulet

Barbra Streisand

Marty Allen and Steve Rossi






Robert Goulet was already a star, having been cast as Sir Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe's hit Broadway musical Camelot in 1960.   His appearances on variety shows, like Ed Sullivan and Garry Moore, would bolster his fame even further.




There is little doubt, that at this point in time, Goulet was the `big' guest star of the evening.   And he delivers a couple of great songs.



But it is the almost unknown 19 year-old, named Barbra (billed as Barbara, however) who would steal this particular show.





Aside from a handful of appearances on the Jack Paar Show, she'd had very little national television exposure.  This would be her first big national prime time appearance.


And it would be the first time she ever sang what would become a signature song for her,  "Happy Days Are Here Again".


It was, as they say, a defining `moment'.   Something very special.  A clear sign that big things lay ahead for this incredible performer.  


Her `overnight' success came after several tough years of performing in small New York night clubs, and after 9 months in the small, but star making role of Miss Marmelstein in the Broadway musical "I can get it for you wholesale".


Barbra would be nominated for a Tony award for her performance in that Broadway show, quite an accomplishment for one only 19 years of age, but would lose out to Broadway veteran Phyllis Newman in Subways are for Sleeping



Also in this show you'll see Marty Allen and Steve Rossi doing several classic routines (one is repeated twice due to a video error),  some terrific production numbers, a very impressive set decoration featuring a scaled down Eiffel Tower, and a tribute to the Emmy winning cast and crew at the finale.


If that seems like a lot to fit into an hour show, it is.  The remarkable thing is, they did this sort of thing every week. 




Sit back, and enjoy.




The Garry Moore Show - Garry Moore
Episode from May 29th, 1962.







The other `star' on the ascendant from that show was series regular Carol Burnett.  



She had `star quality' written all over her, and by 1962 the audience, and CBS knew it. 






After four years as a regular on the Garry Moore Show, she would leave later in the year, and begin a series of critically acclaimed television specials, starting with  Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, co-starring her friend Julie Andrews. 


That show would also win an Emmy, for Outstanding Musical


Other specials, and guest shots on shows like The Twilight Zone, and Gomer Pyle would follow.   CBS tried to work her into a sit-com, but she held out for a variety show, fearing she'd be type cast in a dead-end comedy show.


In 1967, Burnett would  begin an 11 year run in what is generally considered to be the best variety television show ever made - The Carol Burnett Show.


In a future blog, I'll provide links to some of her early work.

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