Monday, January 31, 2011

This week in Television History: February 2011 Part I

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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 1, 1887
Official registration of Hollywood.

Harvey Wilcox officially registers Hollywood with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office. Wilcox and his wife, Daeida, had moved to Southern California four years earlier from Topeka, Kansas, where Harvey had made his fortune in real estate. They bought 160 acres of land in the Cahuenga Valley, located in the foothills to the west of the city of Los Angeles. A once-sleepy settlement founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Poricuncula, Los Angeles was by then expanding rapidly thanks to the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1876 (the Santa Fe Railroad would arrive in 1885).
Wilcox, who had lost the use of his legs as a child due to polio, envisioned the land as the perfect site for a utopian-like community for devout Christians, where they could live a highly moral life free of vices such as alcohol (Wilcox was a prohibitionist). Daeida Wilcox called the new community “Hollywood,” borrowing the name from a Chicago friend who told her that was the name of a summer home she had in the Midwest. Harvey laid out a street map of the settlement, centered on a main street he called Prospect Avenue (it was later renamed Hollywood Boulevard). After filing the map with the L.A. County recorder’s office, Wilcox set about laying out Hollywood’s streets, made of dirt and lined with pepper trees.
As Harvey sold lots, Daeida worked to raise money to build churches, a school and a library. By 1900, nine years after Harvey Wilcox’s death, Hollywood had a population of 500, compared with 100,000 people in Los Angeles at the time. It was connected to L.A. by a single-track streetcar running down Prospect Avenue; it took two hours to make the seven-mile trip, and service was infrequent. In 1910, the community of Hollywood voted to consolidate with Los Angeles due to an inadequate supply of water. Shortly thereafter, the fledgling motion-picture industry began growing exponentially, as moviemakers found their ideal setting in the mild, sunny climate and varied terrain of Southern California. As the years went by, Harvey Wilcox’s dreams of a sober, conservative religious community faded even further into the background, as Hollywood became known throughout the world as the gilded center of an industry built on fantasy, fame and glamour.

February 1, 1951
TV Shows Atomic Blast, Live.
For the first time, television viewers witness the live detonation of an atomic bomb blast, as KTLA in Los Angeles broadcasts the blinding light produced by a nuclear device dropped on Frenchman Flats, Nevada. One of a hundred above-ground nuclear tests conducted between 1951 and 1962 in the Nevada desert, the A-bomb telecast found its way into the history books (and blogs) when cameramen secretly positioned on top of a Las Vegas hotel focused on the blast. The images were relayed to the station’s transmitter on Mount Wilson Observatory about 200 miles away, and early-bird viewers saw their television screens fill with white light at 5:30 in the morning.
Witnessing the blast telecast first-hand was KTLA reporter Stan Chambers. In a YouTube interview, Chambers described how station manager Klaus Landsberg pulled off the unauthorized broadcast. “We couldn’t get near the field, because it was all top secret. Klaus sent a crew to Las Vegas and put them on top of one of the hotels…. They kept the camera open for the flash of light that would come on when the blast went off.”
Los Angeles viewers tuned in for the one-off event. “We had a rating that was very large for 5:30 in the morning,” Chambers recalled. In the pre-videotape era, there were of course no replays as newsmen Gil Martin, anchoring from Las Vegas, and station staffer Robin Lane at Mount Wilson reported the incident. Chambers continued:
We stayed on the air, they waited for the right time, and all of a sudden there was the flash. The people watched it, Gil described it, Lane talked about it, and that was our telecast. That one flash. You just see this blinding white light. It didn’t seem real. We didn’t have videotape. You couldn’t say, “Let’s look at it again.”
1951’s Ranger Easy bomb was designed to test compression against critical mass in the Demon core, so-called because the plutonium mass became unstable and caused the radiation-poisoning death of a Los Alamos scientist. A B-50 bomber plane dropped the test weapon above the Nevada Test Site about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Part of the Department of Energy’s Operation Ranger program, “Easy” delivered a 1-kiloton payload.
In the decade that followed Operation Ranger, A-bomb tests from Buster-Jangle, Tumbler-Snapper, Upshot-Knothole, Plumbbob, Nougat, Sunbeam and other programs became so commonplace that watching mushroom clouds turned into a Las Vegas tourist attraction.
In 1952, KTLA set up the first live, national feed for a Nevada atomic bomb explosion. That one was carried by the major networks.

February 1, 1954
Charles William "Bill" Mumy, Jr. is born.
Actor, musician, pitchman, instrumentalist, voice-over artist and a figure in the science-fiction community. He is known primarily for his roles in movies and television, character-type roles, and who also works in television production.
The red-headed Mumy came to prominence in the 1960s as a child actor, most notably as Will Robinson, the youngest of the three children of Prof. John and Dr. Maureen Robinson (played Guy Williams and June Lockhart respectively) and friend of the nefarious and pompous Dr. Zachary Smith (played by Jonathan Harris), in the cult 1960s CBS sci-fi television series Lost in Space.
He later appeared as a lonely teenager, Sterling North, in the 1969 Disney movie, Rascal, and as Teft in the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and Children. In the 1990s, he had the role of Lennier in the syndicated sci-fi TV series Babylon 5, and he also served as narrator of A&E Network's Emmy Award-winning series, Biography. He is also notable for his musical career, as a solo artist and as half of the duo Barnes & Barnes.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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