Monday, August 10, 2009

This week in Television History: August 2009 Part II

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As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

August 5, 1956
Maureen Denise McCormick was born. Actress, reality show participant, and recording artist. She is best known as a child actor who played Marcia Brady in the television series The Brady Bunch from 1969 to 1974.

August 6, 1911
Lucille Ball was born. She became one of America's most beloved comic actresses, is born near Jamestown, New York. Her father, an electrician, died when Ball was two. By age 15, Ball had decided to attend drama school and become an actress. However, the shy, skinny teenager received little encouragement and was rejected at least four times from Broadway chorus lines before finally becoming a chorus girl in 1926. In 1933, she was hired as the Chesterfield cigarette girl and was featured in all the company's advertisements. Attracting attention with her Chesterfield ads, she finally began playing bit parts in Hollywood movies in 1933. By the late 1930s, the starlet had graduated to comic supporting roles. In 1940, she met Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz while shooting Too Many Girls. The couple married the following year.
Ball continued to land movie roles that didn't fully showcase her talent. Frustrated, she turned to radio and starred as a ditzy wife in My Favorite Husband from 1948 to 1951. CBS decided to launch the popular series on the relatively new medium of TV. Lucy insisted Desi be cast as her husband in the TV version, though the network executives argued that no one would believe the couple were married. Desi and Lucy performed before live audiences and filmed a pilot, convincing network executives that audiences responded well to their act, and CBS cast Desi for the show.

I Love Lucy became one of the most popular TV situation comedies in history, ranking in the top three shows for six years and turning the couple's production company, Desilu, into a multimillion-dollar business. Ball became president of the company in 1960, after she and Desi divorced. She also starred in several other "Lucy" shows, including The Lucy Show, which debuted in 1962 and ran for six seasons, and Here's Lucy, in which she starred with her two children until the show was cancelled in 1974. A later show, Life with Lucy, featuring Lucy as a grandmother, was cancelled after only eight episodes. Ball worked little in the last years of her life. She died of congestive heart failure in 1989, at the age of 78.

August 7, 1948
Stanley Victor Freberg author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer, and advertising creative director was born. His first jobs (at age eighteen) involved supplying voices for Warner Brothers cartoons, usually in support of Mel Blanc and always without credit. Soon though, Freberg was being heard on radio shows and on early television. He and V.O. actor Daws Butler worked puppets and supplied the vocals on Bob Clampett's Time for Beany, the first kids' show to attract an adult audience.
In 1950, he launched a long association with Capitol Records, recording silly and satirical material. The sales and critical reaction stunned the Capitol execs so they let him keep on doing pretty much anything he wanted, even when it meant attacking their own industry. His recordings all had two outstanding qualities. One is that they were funny. The other is that they were produced with high production values, first-rate music (usually supplied by arranger-conductor Billy May) and a fine supporting cast that included Butler, June Foray and Peter Leeds, along with the hundreds of voices that came out of Freberg himself. Even if you didn't get the satire — and some folks didn't, especially when Freberg records were released overseas — the material was always fun to listen to.
Freberg starred in two network radio shows, both of which also featured his frequent partner, Butler. The 1954 That's Rich was a fairly standard situation comedy but the 1957 Stan Freberg Show was a glorious (if short-lived) festival of satire and comedy. It made him, by his definition, "the last network radio comedian in America." A nice way to end an era.
When The Stan Freberg Show ended after 15 weeks, Freberg found a new outlet for his humor in advertising, with award-winning campaigns for Sunsweet Prunes, Jeno's Pizza Rolls, Chun King Chow Mein, Pittsburgh Paints and many other clients. He didn't exactly invent the funny commercial but he quickly became its master, and rival ad agencies scrambled to emulate his lead. And of course, he continued to release records, including the album many believe to be the greatest comedy record of all time. Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, The Early Years.

August 10, 1948
TV classic Candid Camera, produced and hosted by Alan Funt, debuted.

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Funt had originally created the concept for radio, debuting Candid Microphone in 1947. When it premiered as a television show, the program kept the name Candid Microphone until its second season. Both the radio and TV versions featured unsuspecting people captured in their natural, bemused responses to comic setups. Candid Camera ran on network television from 1948 to 1950, again in 1953, and once again from 1960 to 1967. In 1989, Alan's son Peter became his father's co-host in a series of Candid Camera specials. In 1991, CBS tried to revive the show with Dom DeLuise and Eva LaRue as co-hosts, but with no success.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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