Monday, October 26, 2009

This week in Television History: October PART IV

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL with Ed Robertson and Frankie Montiforte Broadcast LIVE every other Monday at 10pm ET, 7pm PT on Shokus Internet Radio. The program will then be repeated Tuesday thru 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.

October 27, 1954
Disneyland, Walt Disney's first television series, premieres on ABC. The one-hour show, introduced by Tinkerbell, presented a rotating selection of cartoons, dramas, movies, and other entertainment. The show ran for 34 years under various names, including Walt Disney Presents and The Wonderful World of Disney. The program was the longest-running prime-time series on network TV.

October 28, 1950
Popular radio personality Jack Benny moves to television with The Jack Benny Program. The TV version of the show ran for the next 15 years.

Jack Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in 1894. His father, a Lithuanian immigrant, ran a saloon in Waukegan, Illinois, near Chicago. Benny began playing violin at age six and continued through high school. He began touring on the vaudeville circuit in 1917. In 1918, he joined the navy and was assigned to entertain the troops with his music but soon discovered a flair for comedy as well. After World War I, Benny returned to vaudeville as a comedian and became a top act in the 1920s. In 1927, he married an actress named Sadye Marks; the couple stayed together until Benny's death in 1974.
Benny's success in vaudeville soon won him attention from Hollywood, where he made his film debut in Hollywood Revue of 1929. Over the years, he won larger roles, notably in Charley's Aunt (1941) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). Movies were only a sideline for Benny, though, who found his natural medium in radio in 1932.
In March 1932, then-newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan, dabbling in radio, asked Benny to do an on-air interview. Benny reluctantly agreed. His comedy, though, was so successful that Benny was offered his own show almost immediately, which debuted just a few months later. At first a mostly musical show with a few minutes of Benny's comedy during interludes, the show evolved to become mostly comedy, incorporating well-developed skits and regular characters. In many of these skits, Benny portrayed himself as a vain egomaniac and notorious pinchpenny who refused to replace his (very noisy) antique car and who kept his money in a closely guarded vault. His regulars included his wife, whose character, Mary Livingstone, deflated Benny's ego at every opportunity; Mel Blanc, who used his famous voice to play Benny's noisy car, his exasperated French violin teacher, and other characters; and Eddie Andersen, one of radio's first African American stars, who played Benny's long-suffering valet, Rochester Van Jones. The program ran until 1955.
In the 1950s, Benny began experimenting with television, making specials in 1950, 1951, and 1952. Starting in 1952, The Jack Benny Program aired regularly, at first once every four weeks, then every other week, then finally every week from 1960 to 1965. Benny was as big a hit on TV as on the radio. Despite the stingy skinflint image he cultivated on the air, Benny was known for his generosity and modesty in real life. He died of cancer in Beverly Hills in 1974.

October 30, 1945
Henry Franklin Winkler is born

Winkler is best known for his role as Fonzie on the 1970s American sitcom Happy Days. "The Fonz", a leather-clad greaser and auto mechanic, started out as a minor character at the show's beginning, but had achieved top billing by the time the show ended. Winkler started acting by appearing in a number of television commercials. In October 1973, he was cast for the role of Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, nicknamed The Fonz or Fonzie, in the TV show Happy Days. The show was first aired in January 1974. During his decade on Happy Days, Winkler also starred in a number of movies, including The Lords of Flatbush (1974), playing a troubled Vietnam veteran in Heroes (1977), The One and Only (1978), and a morgue attendant in Night Shift (1982), which was directed by Happy Days co-star Ron Howard.
In 1979 Winkler appeared in the made-for-TV movie An American Christmas Carol, which was a modern remake of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. An American Christmas Carol was set in Concord, New Hampshire during the Great Depression. Winkler played the role of Benedict Slade, the Ebenezer Scrooge equivalent of that film.
After Happy Days, Winkler put his acting career on the back burner, as he began concentrating on producing and directing. He quickly worked on developing his own production company and, within months, he had opened Winkler-Rich Productions.
He produced several television shows including MacGyver, So Weird and Mr. Sunshine, Sightings, and the game shows Wintuition and The Hollywood Squares (the latter from 2002–2004 only). He also directed several movies including the Billy Crystal movie Memories of Me (1988) and Cop and a Half (1993) with Burt Reynolds.
As the 1990s continued, Winkler began a return to acting. In 1994 he returned to TV with the short-lived right-wing comedy Monty on Fox which sank in mere weeks. Also in 1994, he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in the holiday TV movie One Christmas, her last film. In 1998, Adam Sandler asked Winkler to play a college football coach, a supporting role in The Waterboy (1998). He would later appear in three other Sandler films, Little Nicky (2000) where he plays himself and is covered in bees, Click (2006, as the main character's father), and You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008). He has also played small roles in movies such as Down to You (2000), Holes (2003), and I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007).
Winkler recently had a recurring role as incompetent lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn in the Fox Television comedy Arrested Development. In one episode, his character hopped over a dead shark lying on a pier, a reference to his role in the origin of the phrase "jumping the shark". After that episode, Winkler in interviews stated that he was the only person to have "jumped the shark" twice.
When Winkler moved to CBS for one season to star in 2005–06's Out of Practice, his role as the Bluth family lawyer on Arrested Development was taken over by Happy Days co-star Scott Baio in the fall of 2005, shortly before the acclaimed but Nielsen-challenged show ceased production.
In October 2008, Winkler appeared in a video on with Ron Howard, reprising their roles as Fonzie and Richie Cunningham, encouraging people to vote for Barack Obama. The video entitled Ron Howard’s Call to Action also features Andy Griffith.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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