Monday, June 14, 2010

This week in Television History: June 2010 Part III

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL with Ed Robertson and Frankie Montiforte Broadcast LIVE every other Monday at 9pm ET, 6pm PT (immediately following STU'S SHOW) on Shokus Internet Radio. The program will then be repeated Tuesday thru Sunday at the same time (9pm ET, 6pm PT)on Shokus Radio for the next two weeks, and then will be posted on line at our archives page at We are also on Share-a-Vision Radio ( Friday at 7pm PT and ET, either before or after the DUSTY RECORDS show, depending on where you live.

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.

June 15, 1969
TV country-western variety show Hee Haw debuts.

Hee Haw started on CBS as a summer 1969 replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Although the program ran for only two years, it was a hit with audiences and was in the Top 20 when CBS dropped it, deciding the show's hick country focus wasn't appropriate for the network's image. Hosted by country singers Roy Clark and Buck Owens, the program featured top country musicians and wacky stunts, jokes, and hijinks. The show went into syndication after the network dropped it, becoming highly successful and running until 1992. The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the major difference being that Hee Haw was far less topical, and was centered around country music. The show was equally well-known for its voluptuous, scantily-clad women in stereotypical farmer's daughter outfits.

June 16, 1959
George Reeves Dies.

George Reeves (January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1959) was best known for his role as Superman in the 1950s television program Adventures of Superman. According to the Los Angeles Police Department report, between approximately 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. on June 16, 1959, George Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head in the upstairs bedroom of his Benedict Canyon home. He was 45 years old.
Police arrived within the hour. Present in the house at the time of death were Leonore Lemmon, William Bliss, writer Robert Condon, and Carol Van Ronkel, who lived a few blocks away with her husband, screenwriter Rip Van Ronkel.
According to all the witnesses, Lemmon and Reeves had been dining and drinking earlier in the evening in the company of writer Condon, who was ghostwriting an autobiography of prizefighter Archie Moore. Reeves and Lemmon argued at the restaurant, and the trio returned home. However, Lemmon stated in interviews with Reeves's biographer Jim Beaver that she and Reeves had not accompanied friends dining and drinking, but rather to wrestling matches. Contemporary news items indicate that Reeves's friend Gene LeBell was wrestling that night—yet LeBell's own recollections are that he did not see Reeves after a workout session earlier in the day. In any event Reeves went to bed, but some time near midnight an impromptu party began when Bliss and Carol Van Ronkel arrived. Reeves angrily came downstairs and complained about the noise. After blowing off steam, he stayed with the guests for a while, had a drink, and then retired upstairs again in a bad mood.
The house guests later heard a single gunshot. Bliss ran into Reeves's bedroom and found George Reeves dead, lying across his bed, naked and face up, his feet on the floor. This position has been attributed to his sitting on the edge of the bed when he shot himself, after which his body fell back on the bed and the 9mm Luger pistol fell between his feet.
Statements made to police and the press essentially agree. Neither Lemmon nor the other witnesses made any apology for their delay in calling the police after hearing the gunshot, but the shock of the death, the lateness of the hour, and their state of intoxication were given as reasons for the delay. Police said that all of the witnesses present were extremely inebriated, and that their coherent stories were very difficult to obtain.
In contemporary news articles, Lemmon attributed Reeves's apparent suicide to depression caused by his "failed career" and inability to find more work. The police report states, "[Reeves was]... depressed because he couldn't get the sort of parts he wanted." Newspapers and wire-service reports frequently misquoted LAPD Sergeant V.A. Peterson as saying: "Miss Lemmon blurted, 'He's probably going to go shoot himself.' A noise was heard upstairs. She continued, 'He's opening a drawer to get the gun.' A shot was heard. 'See, I told you so.'"' However, this statement may have been embellished by journalists. Lemmon and her friends were downstairs at the time of the shot with music playing. It would be nearly impossible to hear a drawer opening in the upstairs bedroom. Lemmon later claimed that she'd never said anything so specific but rather had made an offhand remark along the lines of "Oh, he'll probably go shoot himself now."
Witness statements and examination of the crime scene led to the conclusion that the death was self-inflicted. A more extensive official inquiry concluded that the death was indeed suicide. Reeves's will, dated 1956, bequeathed his entire estate to Toni Mannix, much to Lemmon's surprise and devastation. Her statement to the press read, "Toni got a house for charity, and I got a broken heart", referring to the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation.
A popular urban legend states that Reeves died because he believed that he had acquired Superman's powers and killed himself trying to fly. He is interred at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum in Altadena, California.

Jun 18, 1942
Film critic Roger Ebert born in Urbana, Illinois.

While a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the 1960s, Ebert was the editor of the school newspaper, the Daily Illini. He began his professional career in 1966, as a reporter and feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times, where his interest in movies led him to visit the set of Camelot, the 1967 film starring Richard Harris as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Guinevere. In the spring of 1967, after the Sun-Times movie critic Eleanor Keane left the paper, Ebert was given the job. Ebert’s first review as critic was of the French New Wave film Galia (1966).
In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. That same year, he teamed with another critic, Gene Siskel, on a monthly show on local television called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You. By the time the show later moved to PBS and was renamed Sneak Previews, Siskel and Ebert had established their now-famous format: two men sitting in theater seats discussing the newest movies and giving each of them a positive--”thumbs up”--or negative--”thumbs down”--review. In 1982, the show began a nationwide syndicated broadcast as At the Movies; four years later, the title changed to Siskel & Ebert, which it would keep for the next 20 years.
Siskel and Ebert’s colorful criticism--and their good-natured disagreements--turned their show into a long-running hit, and made them well-known personalities in their own right. Their run lasted until early 1999, when Siskel died at the age of 53, from complications of surgery to remove a brain tumor. Ebert co-hosted with a series of guests until mid-2000, when Richard Roeper of the Sun-Times became his permanent co-host. Ebert & Roeper aired through the summer of 2006, when Ebert underwent surgery to remove cancer in his jaw. Ebert kept fans in the loop about his condition and recovery with written updates on his Sun-Times Web site.
In July 2008, the show’s owner, Buena Vista, decided to pull the plug on Ebert & Roeper, which Roeper had been continuing with guest critics. Ebert had remained active behind the scenes, but had not been able to appear on air because of his illness.

June 20, 1948
Toast of the Town premieres.
Although later known simply as The Ed Sullivan Show, the series debuts as Toast of the Town. Among the many performers who made their TV debuts on the show were Bob Hope, Lena Horne, the Beatles, and Walt Disney.

Elvis Presley also made several high-profile performances on the show, in 1956 and 1957. The show ran until 1971.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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