Monday, September 07, 2009

This week in Television History: September 2009 PART I

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL with Ed Robertson and Frankie Montiforte Broadcast TONIGHT at 10pm ET, 7pm PT on Shokus Internet Radio. The program will then be repeated Tuesday through Sunday at the same time (10pm ET, 7pm PT) on Shokus Radio for the next two weeks, and then will be posted on line at our archives page at
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.

September 1, 1922
Yvonne De Carlo, Canadian-born American film and television actress, dancer and singer was born. Her most prolific appearances in film came in the 1940s and 1950s and included her best-known film roles, such as Salome Where She Danced and The Ten Commandments, opposite Charlton Heston. In the 1960s, she gained a whole new generation of fans, playing "Lily Munster" on CBS television series The Munsters, opposite Fred Gwynne.

September 3, 1966
Popular TV sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet airs its last episode after more than a decade on television. The sitcom focused on the comic antics of a young family based on the real-life family of show founders and stars Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.

The show premiered as a radio comedy in 1944 and ran for 10 years. Even before the radio show ended, a TV version launched in 1952; the television show ran until 1966. The Nelson's two sons, Ricky and David, played themselves on the TV version.

September 4, 1967
Gilligan's Island, The classic TV comedy about seven people stranded on a deserted island, airs its last episode.
The show starred:

Bob Denver as Gilligan, the bumbling, dimwitted, accident-prone crewman of the S.S. Minnow. None of the show's episodes ever specified Gilligan's full name, nor clearly indicated whether "Gilligan" was the character's first name or his last. On the DVD collection, series creator Sherwood Schwartz states that he preferred the full name of "Willie Gilligan" for the character. On Rescue from Gilligan's Island, the writers artfully dodge the recitation of Gilligan's full name, when the other names are announced.

Alan Hale, Jr. as Jonas Grumby, the "Skipper". A longtime actor in B-westerns and the lookalike son of Alan Hale, Sr., a legendary movie character actor, Hale so loved his role that, long after the show went off the air, he would still appear in character in his Los Angeles restaurant, Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel. Although the Skipper was a father figure to Gilligan, Hale was only 14 years older than Denver. It is alluded in one episode that Gilligan pushed the Skipper out of the way of a loose depth-charge when they were both serving in the United States Navy.

Jim Backus as Thurston Howell, III, the condescending millionaire. Backus was already a well-known actor when he took the part. He was perhaps best known as the voice of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. He reused some of the voice inflections and mannerisms of Magoo in the role. He was well known for his ad-libs on the set.

Natalie Schafer as Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, Thurston's wife. Schafer had it written into her contract that there were to be no close-ups of her, perhaps due to her advanced age. Schafer was 63 when the pilot was shot although, reportedly, no one on the set or in the cast knew her real age, and she refused to divulge that information. Originally, she only accepted the role because the pilot was filmed on location in Hawaii. She looked at the job as nothing more than a free vacation, as she was convinced that a show this silly would "never go".

Tina Louise as Ginger Grant, the movie star. When regular shooting began, Louise clashed with the producers, because she believed that she was to be the main focus of the show (despite its title). Her character was originally written as a sarcastic and sharp-tongued temptress, but Louise argued that this was too extreme and refused to play it as written. A compromise was reached; Louise agreed to play her as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. The evening gowns and hair style used were designed to re-create the look of Myrna Loy. Louise continued to clash with producers and was the only cast member who refused to return for any of the TV movies that followed the series' cancellation, and the fourth season, which was later canceled to make room for Gunsmoke, saying that the role had destroyed her career as a serious actress. However, she did appear in a reunion of the cast on a late night TV talk show in 1988 and on an episode of Roseanne in 1995. In the first season, Ginger often wore gowns that looked as if they were tailored from S.S. Minnow tarps or similar ersatz cloth (some had the name of the vessel stenciled on them). Later on, she wore regular evening gowns with high heels, though it was never explained why she brought so many changes of clothing on a "three-hour tour".

Russell Johnson as Roy Hinkley (The Professor). Incongruously, "the Professor" was in fact a high school science teacher, not a university professor. In the first episode, the radio announcer described him as a research scientist and well-known Scoutmaster. Johnson stated that he had some difficulty remembering his more technically-oriented lines.

Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers. Wells was a former Miss Nevada when she auditioned for the role. Her competition included Raquel Welch and Pat Priest. She wrote The Gilligans Island Cookbook and starred as Lovey Howell in the musical stage adaption of the show.

Although the show ran for only three years, it aired in reruns for decades. The characters were resurrected in three TV movies.

September 5, 1929
George Robert "Bob" Newhart is born. Stand-up comedian and actor who is best known for playing psychologist Dr. Robert "Bob" Hartley on the popular 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show and as innkeeper Dick Loudon on the popular 1980s sitcom Newhart was born.

Newhart's success in stand-up led to his own NBC variety show in 1961, The Bob Newhart Show. The show lasted only a single season but earned Newhart an Emmy Award nomination and a Peabody Award. The Peabody Board cited him as:
A person whose gentle satire and wry and irreverent wit waft a breath of fresh and bracing air through the stale and stuffy electronic corridors. A merry marauder, who looks less like St. George than a choirboy, Newhart has wounded, if not slain, many of the dragons that stalk our society. In a troubled and apprehensive world, Newhart has proved once again that laughter is the best medicine.

He also appeared in film roles such as Major Major in Catch-22, and Papa Elf in Elf. He provided the voice of Bernard in the Walt Disney animated films The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under.

September 6, 1947
Jane Therese Curtin actor, comedian and ignorant slut was born. First coming to prominence as an original cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1975, she would go on to win back-to-back Emmy Awards for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series on the 1980s sitcom Kate & Allie. Curtin later starred in the hit series 3rd Rock from the Sun. She recreated her SNL character for the film The Coneheads.

September 6, 1969
H.R. Pufnstuf the children's television series produced by Sid and Marty Krofft first aired.
It was the first Krofft live-action, life-size puppet, program.

The show centered on a shipwrecked boy named Jimmy (played by Jack Wild) and his friend, a talking flute named Freddy. Jimmy had been lured to the island with, by a magic boat that promised adventures across the sea. The boat was owned by a wicked witch named Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (played by Billie Hayes) who rode on a broomstick-like vehicle called the Vroom Broom. He washes ashore on Living Island, home of dancing trees and singing frogs. The Mayor of Living Island was a friendly and helpful dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf (voiced by the show's writer Lennie Weinrib with the costume worn by property master Albert F. Bentley).

The H.R. Pufnstuf character was originally created for the HemisFair '68 world's fair in 1968, where the Kroffts produced a show called Kaleidescope for the Coca-Cola pavilion. The character's name was Luther and he became the symbol of the fair.

September 7, 1950
Radio game show Truth or Consequences comes to television. The show required erring quiz show contestants to perform outrageous stunts as the consequence for wrong answers. As we mentioned in an earlier episode (This week in Television History: The Start of Something Big) the radio version of the show ran from 1940 to 1956. The TV version of the series launched on CBS in 1950, but the network dropped the show after only one season. In 1954, NBC revived the game show, running it in prime time until 1958.

Meanwhile, the network also created a daytime version of the show, hosted by Bob Barker, which ran from 1956 to 1965. NBC dropped the show altogether in 1965, but it continued as a syndicated series until 1974, with Barker staying on as host.

September 7, 1927
Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906March 11, 1971) best known for inventing the first completely electronic television.

In particular, he was the first to make a working electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), and the first to demonstrate an all-electronic television system to the public. Largely self-educated, Farnsworth grew up on farms in Utah and Idaho. As a boy he took an interest in electricity and electrons, and it's said he came up with the idea of electronically scanning images for transmission while he was in high school.
On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth's Image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco. The source of the image was a glass slide, backlit by an arc lamp. This was due to the lack of light sensitivity of the tube design, a problem Farnsworth never managed to resolve independently. On September 1, 1928, Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press—2 years after John Logie Baird had demonstrated his mechanical Television system in London. His backers had demanded to know when they would see dollars from the invention. The first image shown to them was a dollar sign. In 1929, the system was further improved by elimination of a motor-generator; the television system now had no mechanical moving parts. That year, Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images using his television system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife, Pem—with her eyes closed because of the blinding light required.
Farnsworth spent the next decade arguing over patent rights in legal battles with David Sarnoff and engineer Vladimir Zworykin of RCA. In 1934 the U.S. Patent Office sided with Farnsworth, and in 1939 he sold his various patents to RCA. Although Farnsworth was awarded more than a hundred patents related to television, he did not become famous as "the inventor of television." Now it is generally agreed that the development of television involved many individuals, but it is also the consensus that Farnsworth deserves the lion's share of the credit.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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