Monday, August 05, 2013

This Week in Television History: August 2013 PART I

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
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.

August 6, 1908
Will Lee is born. William "Will" Lee (August 6, 1908 – December 7, 1982) was an American actor and comedian, best known for playing Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street, from the show's debut in 1969 until his death in 1982. 
Lee was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York and began his career as a character actor on stage. He was a member of the Group Theater in the 1930s and appeared in Johnny Johnson, Night Music, Boy Meets Girl, The Time of Your Life (as Willie the pinball machine addict) and other Broadway plays. He succeeded John Garfield as the lead in Golden Boy.
Lee was co-founder of the Theater of Action and a member of the Federal Theatre Project. During World War II, he served in Army Special Services in Australia and Manila and was cited twice for directing and staging shows for troops overseas, as well as teaching acting classes. After the war, he appeared Off Broadway in Norman Mailer's Deer Park (as movie mogul Teppis) and on Broadway in The Shrike, Once Upon a Mattress, Carnival!, Incident At Vichy and The World of Sholom Aleichem.
Lee also began appearing in movies, including bit parts in Casbah, A Song Is Born, Little Fugitive, and Saboteur. He was blacklisted as an alleged communist and barred from movies and on TV for 5 years during the Red Scare, according to members of his family. He had been active in the Actor's Workshop and had been an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1950 investigating show business. At the end of that period, in 1956, he landed the role of Grandpa Hughes in As The World Turns; however, the role was recast with Santos Ortega on the show's second episode.
He taught at the American Theatre Wing for 9 years (where one of his students included James Earl Jones), as well as at the New School for Social Research, Boston University, and the Uta Hagen-Herbert Berghof Studio. In addition, he conducted his own acting classes. Outside of Sesame Street, later roles included TV movies and a supporting role as the judge in the 1983 movie Daniel. Lee also worked in commercials, including a spot for Atari, as a grandfather learning to play Pac-Man from his granddaughter and spots for Ocean Spray juice.
In 1969, he pursued the role of Mr. Hooper on the popular children's show Sesame Street. "He gave millions of children the message that the old and the young have a lot to say to each other," said Joan Ganz Cooney, president of the Children's Television Workshop. The New York Times reported that on Sesame Street, Lee's Mr. Hooper ranked ahead of all live cast members in recognition by young audiences, according to a survey. His bowtie and hornrimmed reading glasses became his trademark.
In a November 1970 TIME article, following the show's first season, Lee recalled his feelings about the show:
I was delighted to take the role of Mr. Hooper, the gruff grocer with the warm heart. It's a big part, and it allows a lot of latitude. But the show has something extra, that sense you sometimes get from great theater, the feeling that its influence never stops.

In addition to being a staple of Sesame Street for more than 10 years, Lee played Mr. Hooper in TV specials (Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and A Special Sesame Street Christmas), guest appearances (Evening at Pops: 1971), stage appearances, countless record albums, and parades, including the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was revealed in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street that Mr. Hooper is Jewish, as was Lee himself. Lee taped his final segments as Mr. Hooper in November 1982, but his death would become the focal point of Episode 1839, in which Mr. Hooper's death is explained to Big Bird by the adults.
According to his obituary in The New York Times as he became known on Sesame Street, children would approach him on the street and ask, "How did you get out of the television set?" or whisper, "I love you." "Apart from the joy of knowing that you are helping so many kids, the recognition is heartwarming," Lee was quoted as saying in 1981.
Lee died in December 1982 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City from a heart attack. His death left the producers of Sesame Street with questions about how to acknowledge the death of one of the series' most visible actors. After considering a number of options, CTW decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper die as well instead of getting a new actor for him, and use the episode to teach its young viewers about death as a natural part of life.
Episode 1839, now known to children and fans as "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" aired on November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day), and was quickly selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television.
Lee was never married and never had any children. His sister is Sophia Lee-Lubov, who used to live in Florida.
Lee died of a heart attack at Lenox Hill Hospital on December 7, 1982 at the age of 74. 

August 7, 1948
Stanley Victor Freberg author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer, and advertising creative director was born. 

His first jobs (at age eighteen) involved supplying voices for Warner Brothers cartoons, usually in support of Mel Blanc and always without credit.  Soon though, Freberg was being heard on radio shows and on early television.  He and V.O. actor Daws Butler worked puppets and supplied the vocals on Bob Clampett's Time for Beany, the first kids' show to attract an adult audience.

In 1950, he launched a long association with Capitol Records, recording silly and satirical material.  The sales and critical reaction stunned the Capitol execs so they let him keep on doing pretty much anything he wanted, even when it meant attacking their own industry.  His recordings all had two outstanding qualities.  One is that they were funny.  The other is that they were produced with high production values, first-rate music (usually supplied by arranger-conductor Billy May) and a fine supporting cast that included Butler, June Foray and Peter Leeds, along with the hundreds of voices that came out of Freberg himself.  Even if you didn't get the satire — and some folks didn't, especially when Freberg records were released overseas — the material was always fun to listen to.
Freberg starred in two network radio shows, both of which also featured his frequent partner, Butler.  The 1954 That's Rich was a fairly standard situation comedy but the 1957 Stan Freberg Show was a glorious (if short-lived) festival of satire and comedy.  It made him, by his definition, "the last network radio comedian in America." A nice way to end an era.
When The Stan Freberg Show ended after 15 weeks, Freberg found a new outlet for his humor in advertising, with award-winning campaigns for Sunsweet Prunes, Jeno's Pizza Rolls, Chun King Chow Mein, Pittsburgh Paints and many other clients.  He didn't exactly invent the funny commercial but he quickly became its master, and rival ad agencies scrambled to emulate his lead.  And of course, he continued to release records, including the album many believe to be the greatest comedy record of all time. Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, The Early Years.

August 10, 1948
Candid Camera, produced and hosted by Alan Funt, debuted on this day in 1948. 

Funt had originally created the concept for radio, debuting Candid Microphone in 1947. When it premiered as a television show, the program kept the name Candid Microphone until its second season. 

Both the radio and TV versions featured unsuspecting people captured in their natural, bemused responses to comic setups. Candid Camera ran on network television from 1948 to 1950, again in 1953, and once again from 1960 to 1967. In 1989, Alan's son Peter became his father's co-host in a series of Candid Camera specials. In 1991, CBS tried to revive the show with Dom DeLuise and Eva LaRue as co-hosts, but the show flopped.

August 11, 1933
Jerry Lamon Falwell, Sr. The evangelical Christian pastor, televangelist, and a conservative commentator was born.

He was the founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lynchburg, Virginia. He founded Lynchburg Christian Academy (now Liberty Christian Academy) in 1967, Liberty University in 1971, and cofounded the Moral Majority in 1979.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Falwell said on Pat Robertson's The 700 Club, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" Falwell further stated that the attacks were "probably deserved," a statement which Christopher Hitchens called treasonous. After heavy criticism, Falwell said that no one but the terrorists were to blame, and apologized saying "if I left that impression with gays or lesbians or anyone else, I apologize."

On May 15, 2007, Falwell was found without pulse and unconscious in his office about 10:45 am after missing a morning appointment and was taken to Lynchburg General Hospital.
"I had breakfast with him, and he was fine at breakfast.... He went to his office, I went to mine and they found him unresponsive" said Ron Godwin, the executive vice president of Falwell's Liberty University. His condition was initially reported as "gravely serious"; CPR was administered unsuccessfully. As of 2:10 pm, during a live press conference, a doctor for the hospital confirmed that Falwell had died of "cardiac arrhythmia, or sudden cardiac death." A statement issued by the hospital reported he was pronounced dead at Lynchburg General Hospital at 12:40 pm, EST. Falwell's family, including his wife Macel and sons Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Jonathan Falwell, were at the hospital at the time of the pronouncement.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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