Archive | January, 2011

CRYSTAL MIRTH

30 Jan

29 years ago tonight, on Saturday, January 30, 1982 “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” premiered at 10:00pm on NBC.

Billy Crystal autographed photo sent to fans of “Soap” in the 1970s.

Although crystal is the traditional gift for a 15th wedding anniversary, this Crystal didn’t even make it to 15 weeks. “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was canceled after just five broadcasts.

Like “Late Night with David Letterman,” which would premiere on NBC two nights later, “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was Executive Produced by Jack Rollins, who managed both comedians at the time.

Unlike “Late Night with David Letterman” Crystal’s show would not last three decades.

The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was a traditional variety show with Crystal heading a group of comic performers and welcoming guest stars each week… but for just 5 weeks.

Of course, Billy Crystal has gone on to many great successes in the years since “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was canceled. In addition to one breakout season on “Saturday Night Live” (1984-85), he starred in several classic films, several lousy films, and he became “Mr. Oscar” by hosting the Academy Awards eight times, more than any other host since Bob Hope.

Flier publicizing Billy Crystal’s appearance at N.Y.U. in April 1979 and autographed after the show. His friend Robin Williams was also in attendance.

Back in 1979, when I saw Billy Crystal perform at my college (his alma mater), my ticket cost me just $3.50. Some 25 years later, when I saw him perform some of the same material on Broadway, in “700 Sundays,” my ticket cost me an additional one- hundred dollars. As Crystal’s Buddy Young Jr. might have said, ‘I hope he gets a tumor in his eye.’

Autographed baseball sold in the lobby of the Broadhurst Theatre, where "700 Sundays" was performed.

Billy Crystal, who has been a successful stand-up comedian, impressionist, writer, actor, producer, director, host, philanthropist, and Yankees fan, premiered a short-lived variety show on this date in TV history. It may not have played out as he would have liked, but in a career full of triumphs and awards, it is just a blip.

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GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINZE

29 Jan

NBC publicity photo of Freddie Prinze, circa 1975.

34 years ago today, on Saturday, January 29, 1977 actor, comedian Freddie Prinze died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The young star of NBC’s “Chico and the Man” was just 22 years old.

The death certificate of Freddie Prinze.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way… or this soon. Three and a half years earlier Freddie Prinze was an unknown teenager working the comedy clubs of New York City. Then came an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Producer James Komack was watching that night and asked Prinze to audition for a new sit-com called “Chico and the Man.”

Script for “Chico and the Man” episode that was taped on January 21, 1975. Once Prinze was cast as mechanic Chico Rodriguez he became a star – even before a single episode had been broadcast. Freddie Prinze moved to Los Angeles and, with veteran actor Jack Albertson, made “Chico and the ManNBC’s newest hit. The show premiered on Friday, September 13, 1974.

Freddie’s first L.A. apartment was in this building on N. Laurel Ave. Photo taken in 1989.

Over the next few years, as Freddie Prinze grew in popularity, he recorded a comedy album, starred in a TV movie, headlined in Las Vegas, and guest hosted “The Tonight Show.” But Prinze had a drug problem… and his marriage was on the rocks. In fact, as January 1977 rolled around Prinze was living apart from his wife at the Beverly Comstock Hotel.

Freddie’s last apartment was at the Beverly Comstock Hotel, where he shot himself. Photo taken in June 1979.

On January 20th Prinze performed at the Inaugural Gala for new President Jimmy Carter, but a week later his world came crashing down. While under the influence of narcotics and reportedly despondent, Freddie Prinze shot himself in the head on January 28, 1977 at 3:30am. He was taken to the UCLA Medical Center where he lingered for more than 33 hours.

At 1:00pm on Saturday, January 29, 1977 Freddie Prinze died from his injuries. He was 22 years old.

Freddie is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

Freddie Prinze’s death was ruled a suicide. Several years later his mother, Maria Pruetzel, went to court to argue that Prinze was not responsible for his actions due to the influence of narcotics. She was honest in admitting that part of her reason for doing so was that she needed the money from his life insurance policy. Prinze’s death was ruled accidental and Pruetzel was able to collect the money.

This writer paying his respects to Freddie Prinze in 1989.

From the day of Prinze’s first “Tonight Show” appearance to the day he died just 3 years and 2 months had passed. But, in that short time, the talented, lovable actor and comedian entertained us and, when he left us, millions grieved for him and pledged to remember him always. Freddie Prinze was just 22 years old.

SCHLEMIEL, SCHLEMAZEL…

27 Jan

35 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 27, 1976 “Laverne & Shirleypremiered on ABC.

The “Laverne & Shirley” marquee at Paramount Studios where the series was taped, June 1979.

The show starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as bottle-cappers at a Milwaukee brewery. Like “Happy Days” the show was set in 1950s.

Technically “Laverne & Shirley” was a spin-off of “Happy Days” since the characters of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney once went on a double date with Richie Cunningham and The Fonz. But in truth, that episode of “Happy Days” was just one way the producers tested out the new characters. Traditionally speaking, a spin-off is when a regular or recurring character from a series is given their own series. Prime examples of this would include “The Jeffersons,” “Lou Grant” and “Frasier.”

This writer at the historic Paramount Pictures gate on the lot where “Laverne & Shirley” was taped, June 1979.

The mid-season replacement series shot straight to the top of the ratings, finishing its short first season as the #3 primetime series. The next year it was #2, followed by two seasons as TV’s #1 show. By the 1979-1980 season “Laverne & Shirley” had dropped out of the top 10 for good.

Laverne & Shirley” ran for eight seasons (7 ½ really). In the fall of 1980 the setting moved from Milwaukee to California, and then in 1982 Cindy Williams left the show. It ran for one final season with just Laverne, no Shirley and left the airwaves in May 1983.

TEACHER, HUMORIST, TV HOST

27 Jan

50 years ago tonight, on Saturday, January 27, 1951 “The Sam Levenson Show” premiered on CBS.

Sam Levenson emceeing an event at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, circa 1978.

Levenson was a former New York City high school Spanish teacher who took to performing in the Catskills and became a humorist and TV personality.

This 30-minute program was a mix of light comedy and discussion. Levenson’s monologues were about his life experiences and other topics that his audience could relate to. One part of “The Sam Levenson Show”brought on celebrity guests and their children, who would discuss problems they were having. Levenson presumably tried to help by making suggestions based on his years as a schoolteacher and father… and no doubt there was humor injected into the conversation.

Levenson with a group, including this writer’s parents, at the same event in Brooklyn, NY, circa 1978.

Sam Levenson was not an actor, but rather appeared on television as himself; author, humorist and former New York City schoolteacher. In addition to hosting his own programs he appeared as a guest numerous times on talk shows such as “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show.” He also frequented game shows including “To Tell The Truth” and “I’ve Got a Secret.”

Levenson was also a best-selling author. His books include In One Era & Out the Other (1973), You Don’t Have to Be in Who’s Who to Know What’s What (1979) and his autobiography, Everything But Money, published in 1966.

Sam Levenson died in 1980 at the age of 68… but 50 years ago tonight, he was on top of the world as “The Sam Levenson Show” premiered on CBS.

GOOD NIGHT JOHNNY!

23 Jan

6 years ago today, on Sunday, January 23, 2005 Johnny Carson, the “King of Late Night” died of complications from emphysema. He was 79. But before he died, Johnny Carson put his stamp on “The Tonight Show” and the television industry.

Early publicity photo of Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show”

Carson was born to Homer and Ruth Carson on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa.  After several moves to other towns in Iowa, the Carsons settled in Norfolk, Nebraska, where Johnny grew up idolizing comedian Jack Benny. It’s also where 14-year old Johnny Carson started performing as a magician; The Great Carsoni.

Johnny Carson in the U.S. Navy.

Carson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania during World War II. After the war Carson attended the University of Nebraska and began working on WOW radio in Omaha. By 1950 he had moved to Los Angeles and on to television, eventually getting hired as a writer for Red Skelton.

Red Skelton with one of his writers, Johnny Carson.

One night, during rehearsal for the show, Skelton was injured and they asked Carson to fill in for the star. In one of those “only in Hollywood” stories Johnny Carson shined and started moving up in the world of TV.

Tickets to see "Do You Trust Your Wife?" and “Who Do You Trust?”

After several other programs, Carson seemed to hit it big in 1957 as the host of the ABC game show “Do You Trust Your Wife?” (later called “Who Do You Trust?”) That’s also where he was first partnered with announcer Ed McMahon. But the big time really came 5 years later when Carson replaced the seemingly irreplaceable Jack Paar as host of NBC’s “Tonight.”

A photo personally autographed to this writer by Johnny Carson in the 1970s.

Johnny Carson began his run as host of “The Tonight Show” on October 1, 1962 and didn’t leave until May 22, 1992… almost 30 full years. He turned himself into a superstar and “The Tonight Show” into an institution.

Front gate at the Beverly Hills home Johnny shared with his third wife Joanna. Photo taken in June 1979.

Once Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 he pretty much retired from public life. He died on this date in 2005 after suffering from emphysema.

FROM BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN BURBANK

22 Jan

43 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 22, 1968 “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” premiered on NBC and it was unlike anything on TV at the time. Most noticeably, the pace of the show was fast and frenetic. TV’s early comedy/variety shows had been rooted in vaudeville and had a more stage-bound presentation. With Executive Producer George Schlatter and comedy duo Dan Rowan and Dick Martin at its helm, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” became a classic.

This LP, featuring audio of sketches from the show, was released later in 1968.

This crazy, hip comedy show replaced “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on NBC’s schedule, and although it was a mid-season replacement it garnered big enough ratings to finish the season ranked 21st in the Nielsen ratings. It would become the number 1 show for the following two seasons, before dropping out if the top 10 for good. By May 1973 “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” was off the air. And you can “look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.”

It left America with plenty of catchphrases like; “You bet your bippy,” “sock it to me,” “verrrrrrry interesting,” and “look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.” It also made a star out of Goldie Hawn.

43 years ago “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” shot into America’s consciousness like a rocket and then burned out a little more than 5 years later. Say Goodnight Dick.

A PRINZE FOR TONIGHT

19 Jan

35 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 19, 1976 Freddie Prinze guest hosted “The Tonight Show” for the first time. Just 2 years after first appearing on the show, Prinze was the star of NBC’s “Chico and the Man” and now, at age 21, sitting in for Johnny Carson.

Freddie Prinze with Johnny Carson on an earlier "Tonight Show" appearance, circa 1975.

After the monologue, Bob Hope made one of his patented walk-ons to congratulate Freddie on his first time hosting the show. But Freddie’s first actual guest was his dear friend Tony Orlando, who was plugging his guest spot on “Chico and the Man” which would air January 28th.

Publicity photo of Prinze in "Chico and the Man" that was sent to NBC stations.

The night’s second guest was actor Richard Dreyfuss, followed by singer Anne Murray who performed a song. Freddie’s fourth and final guest was Helen Gurley Brown, the publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Freddie Prinze as Chico, in a photo taken later in 1976.

All in all, it was a successful night, especially when you consider the talented actor and comedian’s youth. Freddie Prinze would guest host “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” twice more. He might have gotten a chance to host additional times, but one year later Freddie Prinze was dead. 

Autograph signed by Freddie Prinze on September 27, 1974, after a taping of "The $25,000 Pyramid"

More on that tragic story next week.

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