Anyone who knows TV history knows that Seinfeld pulled one of the biggest con jobs in American broadcasting history with their claim that they were “A show about nothing.” Every single episode had a main plot and secondary plot (A and B plots in TV jargon) – just like every episode of every sit-com on the air at the time.
The REAL “show about nothing?” Well, that was unquestionably The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Never has the word “adventure” been so misused!
Those of us of a certain age can remember when TV didn't broadcast 24 hours a day. After the Blue Angels had gone screaming across the sky as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played in the background, most stations put up what was known as a "test pattern." The stations kept broadcasting these cards until they resumed programming the next morning. They were also displayed when networks or local stations lost their transmission signal from remote locations. These were cards designed to help technicians calibrate broadcasting equipment as well as home TV sets.
When color came to dominate television, the test pattern was replaced by color bars, although even those are no longer needed to tune contemporary broadcasting equipment or flat screen TVs.
The most famous test pattern was one of the first - developed by RCA in 1939. It's known as "the Indian head" test pattern because of its inclusion of a Native American in full headdress.
For a time, NBC (owned by RCA) created an additional test pattern, featuring the network's biggest star:
In November, 1956, NBC became the first network to build a variety show around a black headliner when they debuted The Nat “King” Cole Show.
Nat "King" Cole was already an extremely popular singer, with 17 Top 10 hits. His show was well-received an attracted big name talent like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald as guests. Yet, by December of 1957 the show was gone!
It wasn’t lack of ratings. Nat “King” Cole competed well. The problem was advertising. The New York agencies were afraid to place their sponsors on a show headlined by an African-American. They feared negative reaction to their clients’ products in the South. The show was only able to attract sponsors at the local level, like Reingold Beer in the New York area.
For a short time, Cole and his guests all agreed to work for AFTRA scale, the equivalent of minimum wage for TV performers. But after a year, Cole became disillusioned and quit, telling reporters, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
NBC kept trying, bringing Bill Cosby in to co-star in the hit spy series Ispy beginning in 1965. Three years later they would launch Julia, a sit-com that starred Diahann Carroll.
But it wasn’t until 1970 that the network was finally able to create a variety show starring a black entertainer that could attract national sponsors. That was The Flip Wilson Show.
What could be funnier than men having to discuss bras and panties, right? Ah, the much more innocent 1950’s came to an end at movie theaters with this extremely popular WWII-themed sex comedy.
Operation Petticoat was made at Universal Pictures in 1959, apparently because Navy veteran Tony Curtis really wanted to co-star in a submarine movie with his idol, Cary Grant.
In one of those ironic little twists, Curtis’ other big picture for 1959 was Some Like It Hot, which also involved women’s underwear (this time, him wearing it) and Curtis performing a hilarious impression of Cary Grant as part of that film’s plot.
The film was directed by Blake Edwards, who would go on to much greater fame with the Pink Panther series and so many more movies. Paul King, Joseph Stone, Stanley Shapiro, and Maurice Richlin wrote the script, incorporating many actual incidents from World War II (including the accidental torpedoing of a bus and women military members needing to be evacuated by submarine). Looking at this lightweight bit of fluff today it’s hard to see how their screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, but it was.
The granddaddy (or is that grandmommy) of all Spring Break films is Where the Boys Are! Released in December of 1960, this was an “A” picture for MGM, shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope.
The movie’s advertising billed it as “The HILARIOUS Inside Story of Those Rip-Roaring Spring Vacations!” Let’s look at the plot. We have a date rape (laughing yet?), a girl wandering out into traffic and getting hit by a car (a chuckle maybe?) and the film’s two leads going their separate ways at the end of the picture (side-splitting, right?).
Actually, this baby is pretty damn melodramatic. What few laughs there are belong to Frank Gorshin as a very nearsighted musician committed to “dialectic jazz.”
The film’s title allegedly came from a remark a college girl made when a reporter asked her why she came to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. The plot was based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout.
Mousketeer Roll Call: Darlene Gillespie
The story of Darlene Gillespie is not one that would lend itself to a Disney movie.
She was the daughter of a Canadian song and dance team. In 1943, her parents relocated to the Los Angeles area when Darlene was just two and began grooming her for a career in show business. By 1955, she was already an accomplished singer and dancer. She passed her audition for The Mickey Mouse Club and became one of the core cast members who stayed with the show during its entire first run.
What we at home never knew is that she was involved in an intense backstage rivalry with Annette Funicello. Dueling sets of stage parents put their friends and relatives up to flooding the Disney studio with fan mail for each of the respective girls. While Darlene did get to star in one of the Mousketeer serials (“Corky & White Shadow”) and play a major part in the second “Spin & Marty” serial, as the show progressed (along with Annette’s bustline), it became obvious who was the top Mousketeer.
Gillespie did cut a couple of albums for Disney, just like Funicello, but they didn’t receive the push from Disney’s marketing arm that Annette got.
When The Mouse Club ceased production, Disney kept Annette under contract, but Darlene had to go her own way. Her acting career quickly fizzled. Over the years, she made a few stabs at re-launching a singing career, but nothing really came of those.
Darlene worked for many years as a nurse and, in fact, greatly assisted her fellow Mousketeer Karen Pendleton when Karen had the car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Sadly, her last bit of notoriety came in 1998 when she was arrested in a securities fraud scheme that she cooked up with her husband. Darlene was sentenced to two years in prison, but wound up only doing 3 months. In 2005, she and her husband were back in court on charges of fraud. Those charges were eventually dropped. The husband who landed her in the slammer passed away in 2008.
Darlene is still with us, living in relative anonymity having finally reached a financial settlement with the Disney Company after a years-long battle over royalties she claimed she was owed for her work on that TV show. Sadly, that protracted legal battle led to an estrangement with the rest of the surviving Mousketeers.
A Guide to Howdy Doody Books and Video
For a show that ran for 13 years and was one of the mainstays of Baby Boomer culture throughout the entire 1950’s, there are surprisingly few ways we can relive those memories today.
There have been books and DVDs about The Howdy Doody Show released over the years, but few remain in print as of this writing. Nevertheless, here’s a rundown on what’s been produced.
The Life & Times of Howdy Doody - Part 5
We all know that childhood can’t last forever (unless your name is Bart Simpson). So too, for our favorite childhood television shows. The last network telecast of The Howdy Doody Show took place on September 24, 1960. The following Saturday on NBC, many of us were entertained by Shari Lewis, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse.
But whatever happened to Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob? Keep reading and find out.
Imagine a TV series where Miss Hathaway from Beverly Hillbillies, Alice from The Brady Bunch and Dobie Gillis all hung out together. There was such a series in the 1950’s, originally called The Bob Cummings Show, but better remembered due to the name it adopted for its far longer tenure in syndication, Love That Bob!
Bob Cummings starred as Bob Collins (continuing the long-standing but frankly puzzling sit-com tradition where the lead actor uses their real first name but a fictitious last name).
Cummings played a glamour photographer who was always surrounded by stunningly gorgeous models, many of whom he loved and left. Back then, he was a rakish playboy. Today, we’d call him commitment-phobic. Bob’s character was also interested in aviation.
In real life, photography and flying private planes were two of Cummings’ major interests. We suspect dating beautiful women was also an interest as he was married five times.
Beach Party movies, why limit them to summer? That must have been the thinking among the brain trust at American International Pictures. Apparently, nobody in the room said, “Because most of the drive-ins in America are closed during the winter!”
That’s how we wound up with this unalloyed gem of a movie, a combination of Some Like It Hot and Beach Blanket Bingo – only in parkas – called Ski Party.
The 6th entry in the Beach Party series has everything – except Annette. Or at least Annette is only around for two quick scenes in the beginning. She is there in the beginning of the movie as a college sex ed professor (!) who gets into some inappropriate behavior with one of her students.
Her replacement on this ski trip is Deborah Walley, who clearly lacks two of Ms. Funicello’s major attractions. I mean Annette’s singing voice and big helmet of black hair (really, get your mind out of the gutter).
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