Monday, February 08, 2010

This week in Television History: February 2010 Part II

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.

February 8, 1953
Walt Disney is featured in a one-hour special broadcast of Ed Sullivan's hit show The Toast of the Town.
The following year, Disney launched his own show, which ultimately broke Ed Sullivan's record as longest-running prime-time network program. Ed Sullivan's show ran from 1948 to 1971, but Walt Disney's show, which ran under several names, including Disneyland, Walt Disney Presents, and The Wonderful World of Disney, was on the air from 1954 to 1990, more than 10 years longer than Ed Sullivan.

February 10, 1960
Jack Paar told the following joke.

"An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move. When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a "W.C." around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a "W.C." around. The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tired to discover the meaning of the letters "W.C.," and the only solution they could find for the letters was letters was a Wayside Chapel. The schoolmaster then wrote to the English lady the following note:

Dear Madam:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the house you occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only. As there are a great number of people and they are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early: although there is plenty of standing room as a rule. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it. While others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces. The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long felt need. My wife is rather delicate, so she can't attend regularly. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. For the children, there is a special time and place so that they will not disturb the elders. Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,

The Schoolmaster."

The "Water Closet" joke involved a Enlish woman writing to a vacation resort in Switzerland and asking about the availability of a "W.C." the initials for "Water Closet" or bathroom, but the gentleman who received the letter was a schoolmaster who had a very lmitid English vocabulary, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tired to discover the meaning of the letters "W.C.," and the only solution they could find for the letters was letters was a Wayside Chapel. The full text of the joke contains multiple double entendres like, “It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only”. This is mild by today's standards, but too much for the network to bear in 1960.

The NBC censors thought the joke was dirty and cut it from the February 10th, 1960 broadcast and replaced that section of the show with news coverage. All of this was done without consulting Paar.

When Paar discovered that his four-minute story had been cut, he retaliated by walking off in the of the February 11th show during the opening monologue saying, "I've been up thirty hours without an ounce of sleep wrestling with my conscience all day. I've made a decision about what I'm going to do. I'm leaving THE TONIGHT SHOW. There must be a better way to make a living than this, a way of entertaining people without being constantly involved in some form of controversy. I love NBC, and they've been wonderful to me. But they let me down."

Paar walked offstage, leaving his announcer Hugh Downs to finish the show for him.

Paar returned to the show on March 7th, looked right into the camera and said, "As I was saying before I was interrupted. When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living. Well I've looked and there isn't. Be it ever so humble, there is no place like Radio City. Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I'm totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business. But I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past."

February 10, 1992
Alex Haley, author of Roots (1976), dies of a heart attack at age 70 in Seattle.

Roots, which portrayed four generations of an African American family based on Haley's own family, became a TV miniseries in 1977. The eight-part series was aired on consecutive nights and became the most watched show in TV history. Some 130 million people-nearly half the country's population at the time--watched the last episode of the show. Haley's books led to an increased interest in the study of black history and heritage.
Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley grew up in Henning, Tennessee, where he listened to family stories told by his maternal grandmother. A mediocre student at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College and at Elizabeth City Teachers College, Haley later spent two decades with the U.S. Coast Guard as a journalist, writing adventure stories to take the edge off his boredom. When he retired, he moved back to New York to pursue a writing career. He interviewed trumpeter Miles Davis and political activist Malcolm X for Playboy in the 1960s and later collaborated with the Black Muslim spokesman to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), an acclaimed work that fueled the black-power movement in America and was cited extensively in institutions of higher learning.
Haley then started his best-known work, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, published in 1976. The blend of fact and fiction, drawn largely from stories recited by Haley's grandmother, chronicles seven generations of Haley's family history, from the enslavement of his ancestors to his own quest to trace his family tree. To write the mostly nonfiction work, Haley pored over records in the National Archives and went by safari to the African village of Juffure to meet with an oral historian (Haley later donated money to that village for a new mosque). In the early 1970s, he and his brothers founded the Kinte Foundation, named for Haley's ancestor Kunta Kinte, to collect and preserve African American genealogy records.
Haley received special citations from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award committees in 1977 for Roots, which sold more than a million copies in one year. It was translated into 26 languages. Later in his life, Haley wrote a biography of Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the break-in at the Watergate Hotel that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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