Monday, July 18, 2011

This week in Television History: July 2011 Part III

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Saturdays 11pm ET, 8pm PT Sundays 5pm ET, 2pm PM 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.

July 19, 1989

Rebecca Shaeffer (age 21) is murdered at her Los Angeles home by Robert John Bardo, a mentally unstable man who had been stalking her.

Schaeffer’s death helped lead to the passage in California of legislation aimed at preventing stalking.

Schaeffer was born November 6, 1967, in Eugene, Oregon. She worked as a teenage model and had a short stint on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, but was best known for co-starring with Pam Dawber in the television sitcom My Sister Sam. Bardo, born in 1970, had written Schaeffer letters and unsuccessfully tried to gain access to the set of My Sister Sam, before showing up at her apartment on July 19, 1989. The obsessed fan had reportedly obtained the actress’s home address through a detective agency, which located it through records at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. On the day of the murder, Schaeffer reportedly complied with Bardo’s request for an autograph when he appeared at her home and then asked him to leave. He returned a short time later and the actress, who reportedly was waiting for someone to deliver a script, answered the door again. Bardo then shot and killed her.

Arrested the next day in Tucson, Arizona, Bardo was later prosecuted by the Los Angeles County district attorney Marcia Clark, who later became famous as a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial. In 1991, Bardo was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 1994, California passed the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which prevented the Department of Motor Vehicles from releasing private addresses.

The 2002 film Moonlight Mile, loosely inspired by Schaeffer’s story, was written and directed by Brad Silberling, who had been dating the young actress at the time of her death.

July 23, 1984

Miss America 1984 Vanessa Williams (The first black Miss America) resigns ten months into her reign.

She received an anonymous phone call stating that nude photos of her taken by photographer Tom Chiapel prior to her pageant days had surfaced. Williams believed the photographs were private and had been destroyed. Days later, Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, announced that his magazine would publish the photos in their September 1984 issue, and paid Chiapel for the rights to them without Williams' consent. After days of media frenzy and sponsors threatening to pull out of the upcoming 1985 pageant, Williams felt pressured by Miss America Pageant officials to resign. The title subsequently went to first-runner up, African-American Suzette Charles. In early September 1984, Williams filed a $500 million lawsuit against Chiapel and Guccione. According to a Williams family representative, she eventually dropped the suit to avoid further legal battles choosing to move on with her life. Williams is quoted as saying "the best revenge is success." Although she resigned from fulfilling the duties of a current Miss America, she was allowed to keep the bejeweled crown and scholarship money and is officially recognized by the Miss America Organization today as "Miss America 1984" and Suzette Charles as "Miss America 1984b."

July 24, 1956

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis perform their last comedy show together at New York's Copacabana Club. Born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, Martin started a nightclub act after working as a prizefighter and a steelworker in the 1940s. Lewis, the son of performers, debuted in comedy acts with his parents at age five and was working steadily as a comic by 1946, when he met Dean Martin. The pair performed an act in which screwball Lewis constantly interrupted straight man Martin's singing. They made their first appearance in 1946 at a club in Atlantic City and were an instant hit, soon in demand for radio and movie performances. The pair made 16 movies together, starting with My Friend Irma in 1949. By 1956, though, the pair decided to call it quits.

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 quickly became known as the Rat Pack, a suave group of young, fast-living entertainers. The group made several movies together in the early 1960s, including Ocean's Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962), and Robin and the Seven Hoods. Martin died in 1995.

Lewis went on to sign one of the most lucrative film contracts of the day, a $10 million deal for 14 films with Paramount. Lewis' films, including Cinderfella (1960) and The Nutty Professor (1963), failed to attract much praise from American critics but made him a star in France, where he has long been considered a comic genius. After a long absence from film, he gave an acclaimed performance in the 1986 film The King of Comedy, co-starring Robert De Niro.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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