Monday, September 03, 2012

This Week in Television History: September 2012 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.

September 4, 1967
Gilligan's Island, The classic TV comedy about seven people stranded on a deserted island, airs its last episode.

The show starred:

Bob Denver
as Gilligan, the bumbling, dimwitted, accident-prone crewman of the S.S. Minnow. None of the show's episodes ever specified Gilligan's full name, nor clearly indicated whether "Gilligan" was the character's first name or his last. On the DVD collection, series creator Sherwood Schwartz states that he preferred the full name of "Willie Gilligan" for the character. On Rescue from Gilligan's Island, the writers artfully dodge the recitation of Gilligan's full name, when the other names are announced.

Alan Hale, Jr.
as Jonas Grumby, the "Skipper". A longtime actor in B-westerns and the lookalike son of Alan Hale, Sr., a legendary movie character actor, Hale so loved his role that, long after the show went off the air, he would still appear in character in his Los Angeles restaurant, Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel. Although the Skipper was a father figure to Gilligan, Hale was only 14 years older than Denver. It is alluded in one episode that Gilligan pushed the Skipper out of the way of a loose depth-charge when they were both serving in the United States Navy.

Jim Backus
as Thurston Howell, III, the condescending millionaire. Backus was already a well-known actor when he took the part. He was perhaps best known as the voice of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. He reused some of the voice inflections and mannerisms of Magoo in the role. He was well known for his ad-libs on the set.

Natalie Schafer
as Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, Thurston's wife. Schafer had it written into her contract that there were to be no close-ups of her, perhaps due to her advanced age. Schafer was 63 when the pilot was shot although, reportedly, no one on the set or in the cast knew her real age, and she refused to divulge that information. Originally, she only accepted the role because the pilot was filmed on location in Hawaii. She looked at the job as nothing more than a free vacation, as she was convinced that a show this silly would "never go".

Tina Louise
as Ginger Grant, the movie star. When regular shooting began, Louise clashed with the producers, because she believed that she was to be the main focus of the show (despite its title). Her character was originally written as a sarcastic and sharp-tongued temptress, but Louise argued that this was too extreme and refused to play it as written. A compromise was reached; Louise agreed to play her as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. The evening gowns and hair style used were designed to re-create the look of Myrna Loy. Louise continued to clash with producers and was the only cast member who refused to return for any of the TV movies that followed the series' cancellation, and the fourth season, which was later canceled to make room for Gunsmoke, saying that the role had destroyed her career as a serious actress. However, she did appear in a reunion of the cast on a late night TV talk show in 1988 and on an episode of Roseanne in 1995. In the first season, Ginger often wore gowns that looked as if they were tailored from S.S. Minnow tarps or similar ersatz cloth (some had the name of the vessel stenciled on them). Later on, she wore regular evening gowns with high heels, though it was never explained why she brought so many changes of clothing on a "three-hour tour".

Russell Johnson
as Roy Hinkley (The Professor). Incongruously, "the Professor" was in fact a high school science teacher, not a university professor. In the first episode, the radio announcer described him as a research scientist and well-known Scoutmaster. Johnson stated that he had some difficulty remembering his more technically-oriented lines.

Dawn Wells
as Mary Ann Summers. Wells was a former Miss Nevada when she auditioned for the role. Her competition included Raquel Welch and Pat Priest. She wrote The Gilligans Island Cookbook and starred as Lovey Howell in the musical stage adaption of the show.

Although the show ran for only three years, it aired in reruns for decades. The characters were resurrected in three TV movies.

September 4, 2002

Kelly Clarkson wins first American Idol. On this day in 2002, Kelly Clarkson, a 20-year-old cocktail waitress from Texas, wins Season One of American Idol in a live television broadcast from Hollywood’s Kodak Theater.

Clarkson came out on top in the amateur singing contest over 23-year-old runner-up Justin Guarini after millions of viewers cast their votes for her by phone. She was awarded a recording contract and went on to sell millions of albums and establish a successful music career. (Clarkson and Guarnini also co-starred in the 2003 box-office bomb From Justin to Kelly, which was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for that year’s worst film but lost to the Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck vehicle Gigli.) Starting with its first season, American Idol became one of the most popular TV programs in U.S. history and spawned a slew of talent-competition shows.

American Idol was based on a British TV show called Pop Idol, which was developed by the English-born entertainment executive Simon Fuller and debuted in the U.K. in 2001. The Idol concept was shopped around in the United States and reportedly rejected by several TV networks before Fox picked it up. The American Idol premiere, which aired on June 11, 2002, was co-hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman (who was dropped from the program after Season One) and starred a trio of judge--the acerbic British music executive Simon Cowell, the singer-choreographer Paul Abdul and the musician-producer Randy Jackson. The show followed the judges as they selected contestants, who were required to be teens or young adults, from open auditions around the United States. Contestants who made the cut were flown to Hollywood, where they were eventually narrowed to 10 finalists, who performed live on television and were critiqued by the judges. Home viewers phoned in their votes for their favorite performers and each week the contestant who received the lowest number of votes was eliminated from the competition.

Following Clarkson’s Season One victory, subsequent American Idol winners--Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks and David Cook--have had varying degrees of success in their music careers. In some cases, American Idol runner-ups, such as Clay Aiken (Season Two, second place) and Chris Daughtry (Season Five, fourth place), have sold more records than certain A.I. winners. Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh in Season Three of the show, later won an Academy Award for her supporting performance in Dreamgirls (2006), the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.

September 5, 1972

Munich massacre.

The Games were largely overshadowed by what has come to be known as the Munich massacre. On September 5 a group of eight Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Black September organization broke into the Olympic Village and took nine Israeli athletes, coaches and officials hostage in their apartments. Two of the hostages who resisted were killed in the first moments of the break-in; the subsequent standoff in the Olympic Village lasted for almost 18 hours.

Late in the evening of September 5, the terrorists and their hostages were transferred by helicopter to the military airport of F├╝rstenfeldbruck, ostensibly to board a plane bound for an undetermined Arab country. The German authorities planned to ambush them there, but under-estimated the number of terrorists and were thus undermanned. During a botched rescue attempt, all of the Israeli hostages were killed. Four of them were shot, then incinerated when a Palestinian detonated a grenade inside the helicopter in which the hostages were sitting. The five remaining hostages were then machine-gunned by another terrorist.

All but three of the Palestinians were killed as well. Although arrested and imprisoned pending trial, the three PLO survivors were released by the West German government on October 29, 1972 in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa jet. Two of those three were supposedly hunted down and assassinated later by the Mossad. Jamal Al-Gashey, who is believed to be the sole survivor, and is still living today in hiding in an unspecified African country with his wife and two children. The Olympic events were suspended several hours after the initial attack, but once the incident was concluded Avery Brundage, the International Olympic Committee president, declared that "the Games must go on". A memorial ceremony was then held in the Olympic stadium, and the competitions resumed after a stoppage of 24 hours. The attack prompted heightened security at subsequent Olympics beginning with the 1976 Winter Olympics.

The massacre led the German federal government to re-examine its anti-terrorism policies, which at the time were dominated by a pacifist approach adopted post-World War II. This led to the creation of the elite counter-terrorist unit GSG 9, similar to the British SAS. It also led Israel to launch an aggressive counterterrorism campaign known as Operation Wrath of God, in which those suspected of involvement were systematically tracked down and assassinated. The events of the Munich massacre were chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary, One Day in September. An account of the aftermath is dramatized in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film Munich.

September 6, 1947

Jane Therese Curtin actor, comedian and ignorant slut was born.

First coming to prominence as an original cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1975, she would go on to win back-to-back Emmy Awards for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series on the 1980s sitcom Kate & Allie. Curtin later starred in the hit series 3rd Rock from the Sun. She recreated her SNL character for the film The Coneheads.

September 6, 1997:

Some 2.5 billion TV viewers watch Princess Diana’s funeral

Diana, Princess of Wales, who died at the age of 36 in a car crash in Paris the week before. During her 15-year marriage to Prince Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the British throne, Diana became one of the most famous, most photographed people on the planet. Her life story was fodder for numerous books, television programs and movies and her image appeared on countless magazine covers, including those of People and Vanity Fair. After her death, she remained an iconic figure and a continual source of fascination to the media and entertainment world.

Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, in Norfolk, England. On July 29, 1981, at the age of 20, “Shy Di”--as the voracious British media dubbed her--married Prince Charles at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, in a ceremony that was watched by hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world. On June 21, 1982, Diana gave birth to Prince William. A second son, Prince Harry, was born September 15, 1984. Charles and Diana separated in 1992, amidst allegations of infidelities on both sides, and the couple was officially divorced on August 28, 1996. After her divorce, Diana continued the humanitarian work she’d begun as a member of the royal family, campaigning to raise awareness of the deadly AIDS epidemic and to ban the use of landmines, or explosive devices planted on or in the ground that often cause death or injury to civilians.

In the early morning hours of August 31, 1997, the driver of Diana’s car lost control of the vehicle while trying to elude paparazzi and crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Diana’s companion, Dodi al-Fayed, was also killed in the crash, as was the driver, Henri Paul, who was later determined to be speeding and under the influence of alcohol.

England experienced an unprecedented outpouring of public grief over Diana’s death. On September 6, 1997, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of London to watch the former princess’s coffin being transported to Westminster Abbey, where politicians, celebrities and royalty gathered for her funeral. Elton John performed a re-worked version of his song “Candle in the Wind,” which he and Bernie Taupin had originally written about Marilyn Monroe. Diana’s brother, Lord Spencer, spoke at the funeral and blamed the media for his sister’s death, calling her the “most hunted person of the modern age.” Diana was buried at Althorp, her family’s estate in Northamptonshire, England.

September 7, 1927

Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906March 11, 1971) best known for inventing the first completely electronic television.

In particular, he was the first to make a working electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), and the first to demonstrate an all-electronic television system to the public. Largely self-educated, Farnsworth grew up on farms in Utah and Idaho. As a boy he took an interest in electricity and electrons, and it's said he came up with the idea of electronically scanning images for transmission while he was in high school.

On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth's Image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco. The source of the image was a glass slide, backlit by an arc lamp. This was due to the lack of light sensitivity of the tube design, a problem Farnsworth never managed to resolve independently. On September 1, 1928, Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press—2 years after John Logie Baird had demonstrated his mechanical Television system in London. His backers had demanded to know when they would see dollars from the invention. The first image shown to them was a dollar sign. In 1929, the system was further improved by elimination of a motor-generator; the television system now had no mechanical moving parts. That year, Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images using his television system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife, Pem—with her eyes closed because of the blinding light required.

Farnsworth spent the next decade arguing over patent rights in legal battles with David Sarnoff and engineer Vladimir Zworykin of RCA. In 1934 the U.S. Patent Office sided with Farnsworth, and in 1939 he sold his various patents to RCA. Although Farnsworth was awarded more than a hundred patents related to television, he did not become famous as "the inventor of television." Now it is generally agreed that the development of television involved many individuals, but it is also the consensus that Farnsworth deserves the lion's share of the credit.

September 8, 1922

Isaac Sidney "Sid" Caesar was born.

The comic actor and writer known best as the star of the 1950s television series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. Caesar began his television career when he made an appearance on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater. In early 1949, Sid and Max met with Pat Weaver, vice president of television at NBC (and father of Sigourney Weaver), which led to Caesar's appearance in his first series The Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. The Friday show, simultaneously broadcast on NBC and the DuMont network (in order for the show to be carried on the only TV station then operating in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- DuMont's WDTV- the sponsor had to agree to a simulcast) was an immediate success, but its sponsor, Admiral, an appliance company, could not keep up with the demand for its new television sets, so the show was cancelled after 26 weeks on account of its runaway success. According to Sid, an Admiral executive later told him the company had the choice of building a new factory, or continuing their sponsorship of the Revue for another season.

On February 23, 1950, Caesar appeared in the first episode of Your Show of Shows, a Saturday night 90-minute variety program produced by Max Liebman. The show launched Caesar into instant stardom and was a mix of scripted and improvised comedy, movie, and television satires, Caesar's inimitable double-talk monologues, top musical guests, and large production numbers. The impressive guest list included: Jackie Cooper, Robert Preston, Rex Harrison, Eddie Albert, Michael Redgrave, Basil Rathbone, Charlton Heston, Geraldine Page, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Pearl Bailey, Fred Allen, Benny Goodman, Lena Horne and many other big stars of the time. It was also responsible for bringing together one of the best comedy teams in television history: Sid, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, and Imogene Coca. Many prominent writers, denizens of the famed Writer's Room, also got their start creating the show's madcap sketches, including Lucille Kallen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin, and Larry Gelbart. Sid Caesar won his first Emmy in 1952. In 1951 and 1952, he was voted the United States' Best Comedian by Motion Picture Daily's TV poll. The show ended after 160 episodes on June 5, 1954. Just a few months later, Sid Caesar returned with Caesar's Hour, a one-hour sketch/variety show with Morris, Reiner, a young Bea Arthur, and much of the seasoned crew. Nanette Fabray replaced Imogene Coca who left to star in her own short-lived series. Ultimate creative and technical control was now totally in Caesar's hands. The show moved to the larger Century Theater, which allowed longer, more sophisticated productions and the weekly budget doubled to $125,000. The premier on September 27, 1954 featured Gina Lollobrigida.

Contemporary movies, foreign movies, theater, television shows and even opera all became targets of satire by the writing team, whose frenetic and competitive spirit produced some of the best comedy in television history. Often the publicity generated by the sketches boosted the box office of the original productions. Some notable sketches included: From Here to Obscurity (From Here to Eternity), Aggravation Boulevard (Sunset Boulevard), Hat Basterson (Bat Masterson), and No West For the Wicked (Stagecoach). Even silent movies were parodied, which showed off the impressive pantomime skills of the entire ensemble. They also performed some recurring sketches. "The Hickenloopers" were television's first bickering couple, predating The Honeymooners. As "The Professor", Caesar was the daffy expert who bluffed his way through his interviews with earnest roving reporter Carl Reiner. In its various incarnations, "The Professor" could be Gut von Fraidykat (mountain-climbing expert), Ludwig von Spacebrain (space expert), or Ludwig von Henpecked (marriage expert). Later, "The Professor" evolved into Mel Brooks' famous "The Two Thousand Year Old Man". The most prominent recurring sketch on the show was "The Commuters", featuring Caesar, Reiner and Morris involved with everyday working and suburban life situations.

Caesar's Hour was followed by Sid Caesar Invites You, briefly reuniting Caesar and Coca in 1958, and in 1963 with several As Caesar Sees It specials, which evolved into the 1963-'64 Sid Caesar Show, which alternated with Edie Adams in Here's Edie. Caesar also teamed up with Edie Adams in the Broadway show Little Me, a successful Neil Simon play, with choreography by Bob Fosse and music by Cy Coleman in which Sid played eight parts with 32 costume changes. Caesar and Edie Adams played a husband and wife drawn into a mad race to find buried money in the mega-movie-comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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