Monday, December 14, 2009

This week in Television History: December 2009 PART III

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.

December 14, 1969
Frosty the Snowman first aired on December 14, 1969 on CBS.

The show, based on the popular song of the same title, was produced for television by Rankin/Bass and featured the voices of comedians Jimmy Durante as narrator and Jackie Vernon as the title character. This special marked the first use of traditional cel animation for Rankin/Bass. Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass wanted to give the show and its characters the look of a Christmas card, so Paul Coker, Jr., a greeting card and MAD Magazine artist, was hired to do the character and background drawings. The actual animation work was done in Japan, by Osamu Tezuka's studio, Mushi Production. Rankin/Bass veteran writer Romeo Muller adapted and expanded the story for television as he had done with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964.

December 14, 1999
Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang, announces his retirement after more than 50 years of drawing the cartoon for syndication.

Schulz was born in 1922 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The son of a barber, Schulz showed an early interest in art and took a correspondence course in cartooning--but scored poorly. After serving in the army in World War II, Schulz returned to St. Paul and took a job lettering comics for a small magazine. In 1947, Schulz began drawing a comic strip called L'il Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The strip featured a hapless young character named Charlie Brown and his gang of friends. In 1950, after several rejections, Schulz sold syndication rights to United Features, which renamed the strip Peanuts. Schulz drew the comic himself, without assistants, until his retirement in 1999. Peanuts ran in 2,600 papers, in 75 countries and 21 languages, and earned Schulz $30 million a year. Schulz died in 2000.

December 15, 1966
Walt Disney dies.

Born on a Missouri farm, Walt Disney sold his first sketches to neighbors when he was just seven, and he attended the Kansas City Art Institute at night while he was in high school. At age 16, during World War I, Disney went overseas with the Red Cross and drove an ambulance that he decorated with cartoon characters.
Back in Kansas City, Disney started working as an advertising cartoonist. He founded a company called Laugh-O-Gram with his older brother, Roy, but the company went bankrupt and the brothers left Kansas City for Hollywood with $40 and some art supplies. The brothers built a camera stand in their uncle's garage and started their company in the back of a Hollywood real estate office.
Walt Disney began making a series of animated short films called Alice in Cartoonland and began developing various animated characters. In 1928, he introduced Mickey Mouse in two silent movies. Mickey debuted on the big screen in Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon ever made. Walt Disney provided Mickey's squeaky voice himself. The company went on to produce a series of sound cartoons, such as the "Silly Symphony" series, which included The Three Little Pigs (1933) and introduced characters like Donald Duck and Goofy. Meanwhile, the company developed increasingly sophisticated animation technology.
When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937, it was the first fully animated movie to date and grossed $8 million, an incredible success during the Depression. During World War II, Disney devoted most of his company's resources to the production of training and propaganda films for the military. In 1965, he designed the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), which he envisioned as an aid toward improving the quality of life in American cities. He also helped establish the California Institute of the Arts in 1961. His 43-year career earned him nearly 1,000 honors and citations from throughout the world, including 48 Academy Awards and seven Emmys. Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California, and UCLA all bestowed him with honorary degrees. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, France's Legion of Honor and Officer d'Academie decorations, Thailand's Order of the Crown, Brazil's Order of the Southern Cross, Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle, and the Showman of the World Award from the National Association of Theatre Owners. In addition to his films, his legend lives on through Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and EPCOT Center, and generations of children have experienced the joy and magic of The Happiest Place on Earth. Walt Disney was 65 years old when he died.

December 16, 1951
Detective series Dragnet appears on television for the first time, as a sneak preview on the anthology show Chesterfield Sound-Off Time.

Dragnet had been a popular radio drama since 1949, created by actor-director Jack Webb (who starred in both the radio and the TV series as Sgt. Joe Friday). The TV show debuted as a regular series in January 1952 and ran until 1959.

December 17, 1969
Tiny Tim marries his sweetheart, "Miss Vickie" (Victoria Budinger), on The Tonight Show.

Born Herbert Khaury in New York in 1925, Tiny Tim became known for his humorous falsetto singing and ukulele strumming, most famously demonstrated in his trademark song, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." He performed in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, and several of his songs were used in You Are What You Eat, a 1968 documentary about the 1960s. He rose to fame on the comedy show Laugh In. Tiny Tim and Miss Vickie had one daughter, Tulip. His popularity faded in the 1970s but enjoyed a brief revival in the 1990s. Tiny Tim died of congestive heart failure in 1996.

December 18, 1946
Director Steven Spielberg is born in Cincinnati.
As a boy, Spielberg moved to New Jersey and then Arizona with his parents, an electrical engineer and a concert pianist. Spielberg was a shy youngster and expressed himself by making home movies. By age 12, he was making scripted movies with actors. He won a contest with a 40-minute home movie at age 13 and made a feature-length amateur film at age 17.
Spielberg studied filmmaking at California State College. In 1969, the Atlanta Film Festival screened his short film Amblin', which landed him a job at Universal Studios.

His first professional TV job came when he was hired to do one of the segments for the 1969 pilot episode of Night Gallery. The segment, "Eyes," starred Joan Crawford , and she and Spielberg were reportedly close friends until her death. The episode is unusual in his body of work, in that the camerawork is more highly stylized than his later, more "mature" films. After this, and an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D., Spielberg got his first feature-length assignment: an episode of The Name of the Game called "L.A. 2017." This futuristic science fiction episode impressed Universal Studios and they signed him to a short contract. He did another segment on Night Gallery and did some work for shows such as Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law and The Psychiatrist before landing the first series episode of Columbo (previous episodes were actually TV films).
He directed his first feature, The Sugarland Express, in 1974. The following year, he helped make movie history with Jaws, a blockbuster that grossed $260 million (the film cost $8.5 million to make).
Spielberg followed Jaws with a succession of megahits, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which grossed $128 million; Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), grossing $242 million; and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which took in nearly $400 million.

Amazing Stories was a television anthology series created by Steven Spielberg. It ran on NBC from 1985 to 1987. Each episode featured an independent story, similar to programs as The Twilight Zone. Unlike that program, however, it did not have a regular host.
Although nominated for 12 Emmy Awards (resulting in five wins), it was not a hit and the network did not renew it after the two-year contract expired.

Spielberg formed an independent company, Amblin Entertainment, in 1984 and began producing such films as Gremlins (1984) and Back to the Future (1985). He took a turn toward more serious subject matter in 1985, directing the critically acclaimed The Color Purple. In 1987, he won the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award, which recognized his body of work, at the Academy Awards. However, he didn't win the Oscar for Best Director until 1993, for Schindler's List, a black-and-white drama about Jews working in a Polish factory during World War II. In 1998, Spielberg won another Best Director Oscar® for Saving Private Ryan, which also won Best Picture. Band of Brothers, an HBO miniseries produced by Spielberg, won an Emmy® Award for Best Miniseries in 2002.
In 1994, Spielberg teamed up with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to form Dreamworks SKG. He has been married twice, first to Amy Irving and then to Kate Capshaw, who starred with Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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