Sunday, April 26, 2009

Please Stand By . . .







Unless you live in a cave, you are no doubt aware of the rapidly developing outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico, and now the United States.


Although my love for OTR, classic movies, and television is great, my `real job’ as a blogger is in the public health arena.   I write on emerging infectious diseases in general, and pandemics in particular.


As you might imagine, I’m pretty busy right now.


I would invite you to visit my other blog, the AVIAN FLU DIARY, for the latest information on what might turn out to be the next pandemic.   It is really too soon to tell yet, but it is a possibility.


I can’t say how long it will be, but when things calm down a bit, I plan to return to writing entries here.


Until then, get informed, get prepared, and stay safe.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

On Hiatus For A Week



I’ll be away from my computer, and the Internet, for the next week or so, so there won’t be any updates here until the end of the month.


In the meantime, there are literally hundreds of TV and radio shows already archived here, scattered among nearly 70 posts.



Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Seeing Red




Skelton and two of his characters as caricatured by Sam Berman for NBC's 1947 promotional book.



Today, more than 35 years after Red Skelton’s long running TV show left the air, a whole generation has grown up without ever knowing America’s Clown Prince of the 1950’s and 1960’s television.   


Part of that is Red’s fault, of course - since he steadfastly refused to allow reruns of  his shows to air – or allow the sale of VHS tapes of his show – after he left network television.


Skelton, you see, took it very personally when his show nearly 20 years was cancelled . . . even though it was still in the top 20 ratings.


The CBS network had enjoyed a remarkable run of ratings success during the 1960’s airing `lowbrow’ comedies like The Beverly Hillbillies,  Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres and Hee-Haw.  


CBS, once known as `The Tiffany Network’, due to it’s high quality programming was now derisively called  the “Country Broadcasting System” in some quarters.  The audiences numbers were good, but the demographics were older than advertisers wanted. 


So CBS conducted what is now called the `rural purge’ of  some of their best performing shows in an attempt to become more `hip’ and `relevant’.  


Red Skelton, after nearly two decades of television, was a victim of this `revitalization’ of the network.    He moved to NBC for one year, but the new show format and time period just never took off.


After he left television, Skelton never really forgave the network bosses.   He would show up occasionally as a guest on someone else’s show, and would do concerts to packed houses. 


But his TV career was essentially over.


I saw Red perform – in concert – in the 1980’s,  and he put on a helluva show.   But growing up, Tuesday nights were defined by the Red Skelton Show. 


David Rose would start things with Holiday For Strings,  the Alan Copeland Singers (previously called the SKELTONES) and the Tom Hanson Dancers would do a production number to open the show.  


Red would come out, do a monologue, and usually invite the guest star out for a minute.   Then they would do one, sometimes two comedy sketches . . .  and usually a musical guest star would perform a couple of numbers.  


Then it was `Good Night and God Bless. . .


Ok, it was a formula.  But it was an entertaining formula. And the production values (choreography, set designs, and writing) were remarkable given the grueling task of putting on an hour-long show once a week.


We’ve only a few examples of the Red Skelton Show in the public domain.   Most of the shows, if they’ve been preserved at all, are locked in a vault somewhere.


And that’s really too bad.    Skelton was a joy to watch.


Of course, his brand of humor today may be considered passé’.   Too kind and gentle – too unsophisticated for today’s tastes. 


If that’s true, then it’s really too bad again.  But judge for yourself. 


You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.


The following videos are available on  

Red Skelton Half Hour 1

Red Skelton Half Hour 1 Duration: 23:10

Red Skelton Comedy Hour 1

Red Skelton Comedy Hour 1 Duration: 49:42

Red Skelton

Red Skelton Duration: 25:05


Red Skelton

Red Skelton  Duration: 51:14


Red Skelton

Red Skelton Duration: 28:07


Red Skelton

Red Skelton  Duration: 58:32


Red Skelton

Red Skelton  Duration: 25:54


Red Skelton

Red Skelton   Duration: 29:23


Red Skelton

Red Skelton   Duration: 29:10


Red Skelton

Red Skelton   Duration: 26:48


Red Skelton

Red Skelton   Duration: 29:19



His overt patriotism during the Vietnam War, no doubt, caused him to fall out of favor in some circles in Hollywood.  One of Red’s most famous examples of that is his dissection of the Pledge of Allegiance. 





We’ve a huge selection of Red Skelton’s work on radio, something which I’ll address in another blog.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The OTHER Wacky Housewife Of The 1950’s




No doubt about it, when it came to zany housewife antics, Lucille Ball wins hands down.    She practically invented the genre  with her radio show, “My Favorite Husband”, and went on to define the format with I Love Lucy in the early 1950’s.


Even into the 1960’s and 1970’s, Lucy retained her wacky ways, albeit without a husband in tow.  Gale Gordon would take over has her ever-exasperated boss, Mr. Mooney.


But in the early 1950’s, Lucy had competition.    


Joan Davis (I hear a collective `Who?’ from my audience)




Well, for those of you over the age of 50, Joan Davis is a familiar name.  Many younger readers – those exposed to the `classics’ – like Abbott & Costello’s Hold That Ghost (1941) will remember Ms. Davis fondly or from the rerun-a-million-times-on-the-lateshow during the 1960’s The Travelling Saleslady (1950).


One of the best physical comediennes in the business, Joan Davis worked steadily in movies and radio throughout the 1940’s. 


Her first film appearance was in movie short in 1935 called Way Up Thar (1935) with a then-unknown Roy Rogers.   Bigger things were in store for her, although she primarily would appear in `B’ movies.


A partial listing of her movie appearances from the her IMDB page include:


  • Love That Brute (1950) .... Mamie Sage
  • The Traveling Saleswoman (1950) .... Mabel King
  • If You Knew Susie (1948) .... Susie Parker
  • She Wrote the Book (1946) .... Jane Featherstone/Lulu Winters
  • George White's Scandals (1945) .... Joan Mason
    ... aka George White's Scandals of 1945 (USA: poster title)
  • She Gets Her Man (1945) .... Jane 'Pilky' Pilkington
  • Kansas City Kitty (1944) .... Polly Jasper
  • Show Business (1944) .... Joan Mason
  • Beautiful But Broke (1944) .... Dottie Duncan
  • Around the World (1943) .... Joan Davis
  • Two Señoritas from Chicago (1943) .... Daisy Baker
  • He's My Guy (1943) .... Madge Donovan
  • Sweetheart of the Fleet (1942) .... Phoebe Weyms



    During the 1940’s Joan worked in radio, and appeared on the Rudy Vallee Show.  In 1943, when Rudy Vallee enlisted in the Coast Guard, Joan took over hosting duties for the show, and the name was changed to the The Sealtest Village Store.

  • She would leave that show, and star in her own radio show Joanies Tea Room, from 1945 to 1947, and that show would morph into Joan Davis Time, with Lionel Stander, Hans Conried, and  Mary Jane Croft.



    Tall and lanky, like Lucille Ball, but with sharper features – Joan Davis ventured into TV first in 1950, with a failed pilot called Let’s Join Joanie.



    click to play movieclick to play movie
    click to play movieclick to play movie

    (click images to view)


    TV was so new that it didn’t take much in the way of entertainment value to get put on the network’s schedule.  Unfortunately, this show fell short of that mark!


    So while not exactly the height of hilarity, this 33 minute pilot does have some nostalgic qualities.


    Better things would come in 1952, when Joan would begin her 3-year run as Jim Backus’ wacky wife in  I Married Joan.


    I Love Lucy began in 1951, and would ultimately outlast the Joan Davis vehicle in episodes and the memory of the viewing public,  but for a while Joan Davis was in their pitching.



    Jim Backus, whom a whole new generation grew to know as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island, played her harried municipal judge husband, and real-life daughter Beverly Wills played her sister on the show.



    I Married Joan ran for three years, and after that Joan Davis pretty much retired. 


    She died in 1961, at the age of 53, of a heart attack. Tragically, two years later her mother, her daughter, and her grandchildren were killed in a house fire in Palm Springs.


  • The Internet Archive has a nice selection of episodes available to download or watch.



    [movies] 50's TV: 'I Married Joan' with GE Commercials


    [movies] 1950's Television: - Broken Toe - ''I Married Joan''


    [movies] Fifties Television: ''Mabel's Dress'' - I Married Joan (1954)

    [movies] Fifties Television: ''Dreams'' - I Married Joan (1952)
    Fifties Television: An episode called "Dreams" of the unpopular yet popular 1950's sitcom "I Married Joan". Starring Joan Davis & Jim Backus. This episode may be missing a few minutes, but is completely watchable. In this episode, Joan wonders what might of happened if she never got married. The fantasy sequences are fantastic.

    [movies] Fifties Television: ''Home of the Week'' - I Married Joan (1954)
    Fifties Television: An episode of the silly 1950's sitcom "I Married Joan" called ''Home of the Week''. This show was only a moderate success, but it's still pretty funny.

    [movies] "I Married Joan" - Talent Scout (Classic TV)


  • Thursday, April 9, 2009

    Borrah Minevitch And His Harmonica Rascals



    Specialty acts were commonplace in the early days of show business, when high visibility meant working steadily in Vaudeville.    After all, you could hone an act over the years, and perform it basically unchanged for decades, and never run out of audiences.


    Of course, television destroyed that.    In one  short TV appearance a specialty act could `burn’ their entire repertoire in front of a national audience.  


    But while it lasted, particularly during the heyday of Vaudeville up to the early days of television, specialty acts were in great demand.


    One of the best was Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals.   


    Minevitch, who was born in Kiev, Russia immigrated to the United States at the age of 8, and studied piano and violin, but he fell in love with the harmonica. 


    In 1925 (at the age of 20) he came up with the idea of a `specialty act’; he hired a dozen or so young boys, taught them the basics of the harmonica, dressed them in formal attire, and formed a `harmonica orchestra’.


    Within a year, the Harmonica Rascals were one of the hottest acts in Vaudeville.


    When sound came to the movies, Minevitch (who was a consummate promoter) worked his ensemble into a dozen shorts and some feature films.   His act featured physical comedy, along with harmonica musical antics.



    An early appearance of the Harmonica Rascals was in One In A Million, circa 1936.   Here you’ll hear them play the title song to the movie, in a medley with Ravel’s Bolero, and the classic Lime House Blues.




    One of his best short films came in 1942, with Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica School.   We’ve a couple of clips from that film.



    Harmonica School  1943

    Borrah Minevitch - Dave Doucette - Carl Ford - Ben Burley - Ernie Morris - Hugh 'Pud' McCaskey - Sammy Ross - Etto Manieri - Pat Marquis - Frank Marquis - Bill McBride

    Song titles:
    1. "Always In My Heart"
    Words and Music by Cole Porter
    2. "Begin the Beguine"
    Words and Music by Cole Porter
    3. "American Patrol"
    Written by F.W. Meacham
    4. "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"
    Written by David T. Shaw
    Arranged by Thomas A. Beckett
    5. "The Red, White and Blue"
    Arranged by Thomas A. Beckett
    All performed by Borrah Minevitch and His Harmonica Rascals




    In the next clip the first vocalist is Bill McBride.



    (Dbl Click To View)




    Minevitch would retire in 1947, and die suddenly of a heart attack in 1955.   He paved the way, of course, for other Harmonica specialty acts that would follow – most notably the Harmonicats.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    A Boone For TV Medical Shows





    Richard Boone as Dr. Konrad Styner




    As child growing up in the 1950’s, I was among the first generation to be born into a world dominated by Television.   My parents got their first TV the year after I was born, in 1955.  


    Prior to that, there really hadn’t been much point. Only one TV broadcaster was on the air in Tampa in 1954 (WSUN-TV), a UHF station, with limited programming and even more limited picture quality.


    Up until 1964, TV manufacturers weren’t required to include a UHF tuner on TVs, and so early receivers needed a special converter.  Even then, UHF was prone to poor propagation and picture quality.


    But in 1955, WTVT-13 came on the air, followed by WFLA-8.    By the time that I was cognizant of my surroundings, TV was commonplace.


    Some of my earliest recollections of TV might seem a bit obscure to those who weren’t around in the late 1950’s.    I remember, for instance, watching the Test Pattern which ran for about 15 minutes, each morning before the broadcast day began.




    Exciting?  You bet!

    Next would come the National Anthem . . . and then the daily FARM REPORT!      


    Well, in 1958, we were easily entertained.


    Sometimes TV signals would `skip’ long distances, and we’d suddenly get Cuban TV, usually with scantily clad night club dancers (something you’d never see on American TV!).  


    The phone lines would light up all over town as people called their friends and told them, “Quick, turn on Channel 2!”


    Sadly, the atmospheric conditions that allowed for such reception usually lasted only a few minutes.


    Two of the earliest TV shows that I remember, and that had a profound affect on my life, were Rescue 8 – starring Jim Davis and Lang Jeffries as a pair of Los Angeles Fire Department Rescue personnel – and MEDIC, starring Richard Boone.


    My brother and I both ended up working as rescue-paramedics, probably due in no small measure to our early exposure to these shows.


    Sadly, I’ve yet to find any episodes of Rescue 8, but recently several episodes of Medic have turned up.


    Medic may not have been TV’s first medical drama, but it was undoubtedly the first one that strove (sometimes to its detriment) for realism.


    Created, and often written and directed by James E. Moser- whose pedigree included writing many episodes of the realistic procedural police drama Dragnet – Medic broke a number of television Taboos along the way.


    Airing on NBC from September of 1954 to November of 1956 (and then in reruns for years to come),  Medic starred Richard Boone (before he became Paladin) in an anthology medical drama promised that asserted that it “made no compromises with truth”.


    Moser, who had written episodes for the hugely popular Doctor Kildare radio show, believed that those early shows hadn’t really delved into the medical aspects of healing.  


    The emphasis, therefore in Medic, became the medicine . . and characters and subplots were minimal.


    Although groundbreaking, Medic was up against the toughest competition on TV.   It aired opposite I Love Lucy in prime time. 


    Over its two year run, it also ran into trouble with censors, sponsors, and the sensibilities of the public.   Many people just weren’t comfortable with an honest portrayal of medicine – one where happy endings were never assured.


    Medic's first show was about a difficult birth in which the mother died and the child lived.  Not content to have an actress pretend to give birth, an actual birth was filmed and televised.


    Medic would tackle such `hot’ subjects as depression, mental retardation, and racism over its two year run.


    In the second season, an episode showed a graphic cesarean birth, including the incision.  Cardinal Spellman of the New York Archdiocese apparently learned about the show before it aired, and his complaints persuaded NBC to delete the operation.


    Another episode in the second season centered on a Black doctor choosing between staying the big city where he trained or moving back to a small southern town.   Southern TV affiliates threatened not to air the episode, and so NBC decided to shelve it.


    James Moser would move onto another medical show, Ben Casey, which pushed the envelop even further.  But by then, it was the 1960’s, and television has grown . . . at least a little.


    Although Richard Boone had worked steadily after WWII, on the radio, and on Broadway, he wasn’t exactly a star.   He’d been signed by Twentieth Century Fox in 1950, and had appeared in movies like  The Halls of MontezumaRommel, The Desert Fox.  


    He even played Pontius Pilate in The Robe, but he was hardly a household name.   He was offered the job playing Dr. Konrad Styner because Moser had remembered him from an episode of The Doctor.


    We’ve an even dozen episodes available at this time on the Internet Archive.



    [movies] "Medic" Dr. Impossible
    "Medic" Dr. Impossible Original Air Date: 28 February 1955 (Season 1, Episode 19)

    [movies] "Medic" General Practitioner
    "Medic" General Practitioner Original Air Date: 13 June 1955 (Season 1, Episode 28)

    [movies] "Medic" Never Comes Sunday "Medic" Never Comes Sunday Original Air Date: 23 May 1955 (Season 1, Episode 27)

    [movies] "Medic" Walk with Lions
    "Medic" Walk with Lions Original Air Date: 12 September 1955 (Season 2, Episode 2) Keywords: Medic: Classic TV

    [movies] "Medic" Flash of Darkness
    "Medic" Flash of Darkness Original Air Date: 14 February 1955 (Season 1, Episode 17)

    [movies]  "Medic" My Brother Joe
    "Medic" My Brother Joe Original Air Date: 25 October 1954 (Season 1, Episode 6) Keywords: Medic: Classic TV

    [movies]  "Medic" The Wild Intruder
    "Medic" The Wild Intruder Original Air Date: 6 December 1954 (Season 1, Episode 11)

    [movies] "Medic" Who Search for Truth
    "Medic" Who Search for Truth Original Air Date: 27 February 1956 (

    [movies] "Medic" Break Through the Bars
    "Medic" Break Through the Bars Original Air Date: 14 March 1955 (Season 1, Episode 20)

    [movies] "Medic" Boy in the Storm
    "Medic" Boy in the Storm Original Air Date: 3 January 1955 (Season 1, Episode 14) ( A Neat Note: Look for a very young Dennis Hopper. This marks his first role on film )

    [movies] "Medic" A Time to Be Alive
    "Medic" A Time to Be Alive Original Air Date: 31 January 1955 (Season 1, Episode 16)

    [movies]"Medic" Till the Song Is Done, till the Dance Is Gone
    "Medic" Till the Song Is Done, till the Dance Is Gone Original Air Date: 9 July 1956 (Season 2, Episode 29)