Monday, December 21, 2009

This week in Television History: December 2009 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.

December 23, 1966
How The Grinch Stole Christmas priemered.

The classic Dr. Seuss Christmas story combined with the animation of Chuck Jones. Horror icon Boris Karloff supplies the voice of the Grinch, who plans on spitefully ruining Christmas for the town of Whoville by stealing all the presents. Watched regularly every holiday season and beloved by children and cynical adults alike, this animated gem is just that and more. The story is from the book by Dr. Seuss. Thurl Ravenscroft (of "Tony the Tiger" breakfast commercial fame) provides the memorable bass singing voice for the tune "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch."

December 24, 1948
Perry Como Show debuts.

Perry Como launches his long-running TV variety show. At first, the show was simply a TV broadcast of Como's musical-variety radio program and lasted just 15 minutes. Gradually, though, the program grew into its new medium. The show grew to a half-hour, then a full hour in 1955. The show ran until 1963.
Como was born in 1912 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. As a teenager, he worked as a barber but began touring with bands as a young man. By the 1940s, he was releasing a string of hit recordings, starting with "Long Ago and Far Away" in 1944. Between 1940 and 1955, he was second only to Bing Crosby in the number of hits released-including 42 Top 10 hits by 1958. Among his chart-toppers were "Prisoner of Love," "Surrender," and "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba."

December 24, 1953
Dragnet becomes the first network series with a regular sponsor.

Fatima cigarettes signs on to back the show. Dragnet had already gained popularity on the radio, where it debuted in 1949, and quickly gained a loyal audience on TV as well. The program was one of the first dramatic series in a medium that had been dominated to that point by anthology shows.

December 25, 1995
Actor and singer Dean Martin dies at the age of 78.

Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1917. After working as a prizefighter and a steelworker, Martin started a nightclub act. In 1946, he teamed up with comedian Jerry Lewis, and they became one of the most successful comedy duos of all time. A hit with live audiences and on television, Lewis and Martin made 16 movies together over 10 years, starting with My Friend Irma in 1949. After the duo split up, Martin launched his own TV variety show, which ran from 1965 to 1974. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin teamed up with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop to perform in Las Vegas. The group, known as the Rat Pack, made several movies together in the early 1960s, including Ocean's Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).

December 26, 1974
Jack Benny dies of cancer.

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 Charlie's Aunt (1941) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). But movies were only a sideline for Benny, whose preferred medium was radio.
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. On the show, Benny portrayed himself as a vain egomaniac and a notorious pinchpenny who refused to replace his (very noisy) antique car (1923 Maxwell) and kept his money in a closely guarded vault. His regulars included his real-life 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 several specials. Starting in 1952, The Jack Benny Show aired regularly, at first once every four weeks, then every other week, then finally every week from 1960 to 1965. Benny was as popular on TV as on radio. Despite the stingy skinflint image he cultivated on the air, Benny was known for his generosity and modesty in real life.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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