Archive | February, 2011

THANKS TONY

26 Feb

91 years ago today, on Thursday, February 26, 1920, A. Leonard Rosenberg was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After taking the name Tony Randall he would become a star of stage, screen, and television.

Most sources give Randall’s birth name as Leonard Rosenberg, but according to the 1937 Tulsa Central High School yearbook, he was known as A. Leonard Rosenberg… and according to other sources, which I cannot confirm, the “A” stood for Arthur.

Postcard sent to fans of ABC’s “The Odd Couple” in the 1970s.

It’s “odd” to think of Tony Randall as a Jew from Oklahoma. He was so closely associated with New York and became the quintessential New Yorker. In fact, once when I was about 12, I followed Tony Randall from The Ed Sullivan Theater to The Russian Tea Room. Why? I wanted to see where he was going!

Depending on your age, you might know Randall best from the 1950’s sitcom “Mr. Peepers,” which starred Wally Cox… or you might know him best from his many late night talk show appearances with Johnny Carson, David Letterman, or Conan O’Brien. But it’s safe to say most know Tony Randall best as Felix Unger from ABC’s “The Odd Couple.”

Reverse side of the same postcard with “autographs” from the stars.

Although “The Odd Couple” ran on the network for 5 seasons, it became an absolute smash in syndication, which elevated Randall and co-star Jack Klugman into beloved members of our own families.

Tony Randall died on May 17, 2004 at the age of 84. He was survived by his second wife, Heather Harlan Randall, a daughter, Julia Laurette Randall, now 13-years old, and a son, Jefferson Salvini Randall, now 12.

S.W.A.T.? SWEET!

24 Feb

36 years ago tonight, on Monday, February 24, 1975, the series “S.W.A.T.” premiered on ABC.

One week earlier, on Feb 17, the 2-hour pilot aired, but the first episode of the series was broadcast on this date in TV history.

Postcard sent to fans of “S.W.A.T.” in the 1970s

Like most civilians (and most 14-year olds) I had never heard of a S.W.A.T. team before, but this show made the acronym a common household term. S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. In many big city police departments it’s the unit that’s called in for those heavy-duty assignments when street cops just aren’t enough.

The series “S.W.A.T.” was set in an unnamed California city and featured the five men in the unit. Actor Steve Forrest starred as Lt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson, the Commanding Officer. Second in command was Sgt. David “Deacon” Kay, played by Rod Perry. A young Robert Urich portrayed Officer Jim Street, while James Coleman and Mark Shera played Officers T.J. McCabe and Dominic Luca, respectively.

Reverse side of the same postcard, featuring "autographs" of the actors

S.W.A.T.” was a Spelling-Goldberg production and was technically a spin-off of “The Rookies,” also on ABC. “S.W.A.T.” ran February 1975 until June 1976.

Another fun memory: The “Theme from ‘S.W.A.T.’” performed by Rhythm Heritage became a #1 hit song in 1975.

THIS IS DON PARDO

22 Feb

93 years ago, on Friday, February 22, 1918, Don Pardo, one of television’s greatest and most famous announcers, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts.

His name at birth, however, was Dominick George Pardo – George, because he was born on George Washington’s birthday. 

Don Pardo autograph obtained in 1973 or 1974

Don Pardo autograph obtained in 1973 or 1974

After graduating high school in Providence, Rhode Island Pardo set his sights on acting. While performing with some local theater groups in Providence a producer/director from WJAR radio invited him to join the “20th Century Players” on a weekly one-hour program. This led to a job offer from WJAR as a staff announcer; a job that paid $30/week.

As you no doubt know, Pardo would move on to a job as a staff announcer with NBC in 1944 and spent a record 60 years and 6 months in the job. During those six decades he would become a “household voice.” First on NBC radio, then on television. And for most of us that meant game shows and SNL.

Ticket from “Winning Streak” – an NBC game show hosted by Bill Cullen, with Don Pardo as announcer

The game shows that were lucky enough to have Don Pardo as announcer include the original versions of “The Price Is Right” and “Jeopardy!,” plus a few less successful shows like “Winning Streak and “Jackpot!

Ticket from “Jackpot!” – an NBC game show hosted by Geoff Edwards, with Don Pardo as announcer

In the early 1970s, when Pardo was a fixture on NBC game shows produced in New York, I was a fixture in their audiences. I had a lot of free time – after all, I was 12 years old. But in addition to seeing TV shows, my friend and I liked to tour the building at 30 Rock – but not the official NBC tour or RCA Building tour… we took our own tours.

It’s hard to believe in this era of high-security, but in the early 1970s there was no guard stationed by the NBC studio elevators in the RCA Building. Businessmen (and pre-teens) could walk into the elevators and go anywhere they wanted. So we did. Often. For several years.

One time the security guard on the 7th floor, leading to the NBC commissary, yelled at us to “get outta here” or he’d “break our asses.” Another time, we peeked into an empty Studio 6B, or so we thought. There in the back of the audience seating was a group of 5 or 6 NBC Pages. We ran. They ran after us. It was quite the British farce now that I think about it. So what do these stories have to do with Don Pardo? It’s how I got the autograph seen below.

Don Pardo autograph obtained in 1973 or 1974

Don Pardo autograph obtained in 1973 or 1974

My annoying friend and I got into an elevator with Don Pardo sometime around 1973 or 1974. I was thrilled to just see the man in person, say hello, and get an autograph. My annoying friend needed more. He asked Pardo to say, “This is Don Pardo.” It was clear that the man didn’t want to say, “This is Don Pardo,” but my annoying friend wouldn’t stop asking, then TELLING him to say, “This is Don Pardo.”

Say ‘this is Don Pardo.’ C’mon, say it. Say ‘this is Don Pardo.’ ‘This is Don Pardo.’” I wanted to strangle my friend and neighbor right there in front of Don Pardo. Surely to get rid of my annoying friend, Pardo acquiesced and said a quick, “This is Don Pardo” in a half-hearted way. (Let me now publicly apologize for my friend’s behavior on that day, so long ago).

SNL

Now… do we really need to tell you about his association with “Saturday Night Live”? Don Pardo was the show’s first and practically ONLY announcer since its premiere in 1975. He was not a part of the show’s seventh season (1981–1982).

Two quick memories of Pardo on SNL:

First… I remember watching the series premiere on October 11, 1975 and hearing him flub the very first introduction of the cast. Instead of saying “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” Pardo accidently flipped two words and said, “The Not for Ready Prime Time Players.

I was also at the dress rehearsal when Pardo performed “I’m the Slime” on SNL with Frank Zappa. It was awesome to see and hear. You shoulda been there!

Pardo retired from NBC in 2004 but continues to announce for SNL. For several years he flew in each week from his retirement home in Tucson, Arizona just to do the job. I’m told that this season he is recording the show’s introductions at home. After all – the man is turning 93 today!!!

Don Pardo was inducted into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame in 2009 and into The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 2010. Both well-deserved.

Happy Birthday Don Pardo. My ears love you.

BIRTHDAY #100

20 Feb

100 years ago today, on Monday, February 20, 1911 children’s TV host Paul Tripp was born in New York City.

Of course, Tripp was much more than simply a “children’s TV host.” He was also an actor, author, musician, and educator.

A cherished possession I have saved for 45 years; an “autographed” photo of Paul Tripp from “Birthday House.”

It was Paul Tripp’s work with children that got him and his wife, Ruth Enders Tripp, noticed by TV producers. That eventually landed Tripp a job as “Mr. I Magination” on CBS, Sunday nights from 1949 until 1952.

Tripp and his wife Ruth then hosted a CBS morning show for kids called, “On The Carousel” from 1954 to 1959. During that time Paul Tripp also hosted a summer series for CBS on Sunday nights in 1955 called, “It’s Magic.”

But I best remember Paul Tripp as the host of “Birthday House” on WNBC in New York, from 1963 to 1967. It was a kid’s show, broadcast each morning that was really just one big birthday party.

For others Tripp may be best remembered as the author and creator of “Tubby the Tuba,” a children’s song from the 1940s.

Paul Tripp died in his native New York City on August 29, 2002 at the age of 91. Today I honor the 100th anniversary of his birth simply because he gave me joy when I was a child, and I’m certain he made millions of other children happy as well.

Interestingly, while watching a clip of “Birthday House” this week it made me think of my late mother.

Thank you Paul… and Happy Birthday.

KING OF THE MINI-SERIES

20 Feb

64 years ago today, on Thursday, February 20, 1947 actor Peter Strauss, the king of the mini-series, was born in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.                        

Strauss’s earliest TV appearances were in the early 1970s in episodes of shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Medical Center.” It was the groundbreaking mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man” which premiered February 1, 1976 on ABC that catapulted Strauss to stardom. It did the same for another young actor named Nick Nolte.

An autographed photo of Peter Strauss, from the 1970s.

What made “Rich Man, Poor Man” unique was that it aired weekly for just 7 weeks with just 9 episodes. It was the first time any series was scheduled this way and it turned out to be a blockbuster.

That led to a sequel called “Rich Man, Poor Man Book II“ which premiered as a regular weekly series in September 1976. It ran for just one season. Strauss then became the “go-to” guy for starring roles in mini-series, including “Masada,” “Tender Is the Night,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Kane & Abel.” (Really, ANY film with an almost shirtless Ed Asner would be one of my all-time favorites).

Peter Strauss has also starred in many TV movies like “Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy,” “Angel on My Shoulder,” and “The Jericho Mile” which won him an Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special.

A close-up of Peter Strauss's autograph on the above photo.

Strauss may also be known by some who love the outdoors. A ranch he once sold to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is now part of the National Park Service. “Peter Strauss Ranch” is located in Cornell, California.

Peter Strauss will be appearing in the play “Divine Rivalry” at Hartford Stage in Connecticut starting this Thursday, February 24th.

WHAT A TORK!

13 Feb

69 years ago, on Friday, February 13, 1942 future Monkee Peter Thorkelson was born in Washington, DC. You, of course, would get to know him as Peter Tork.

Publicity photo sent to fans of “The Monkees” during the shows run on NBC.

Although it is well-known that “The Monkees” TV series (which premiered in September 1966) was created by casting actors in the roles of musicians, it is less well-known that some of the actors already had previous musical training. Such was the case for Peter Tork who could play piano, guitar, and banjo.

It was Tork’s friend Stephen Stills who first auditioned for “The Monkees” and recommended Tork. But the series was, at first, ruled by its music director Don Kirshner who had the final say on which songs were recorded. In fact, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork weren’t allowed to play on early Monkees hits.

After arguments with Kirshner he left the show and the actors flexed their musical prowess. For two months in the summer of 1967, The Monkees toured the United States and abroad (London).

Post-Concert tour booklet produced by Tiger Beat Magazine.

I was lucky enough to see The Monkees play during that tour at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York City on July 14, 1967. My most vivid memory of that night is of waiting for The Monkees to finally take the stage. My recollection, as a 6-year old, was that they spent an inordinate amount of time tuning the guitars. What I found out years later is that the opening act for The Monkees on that tour was Mr. Jimi Hendrix!

At the age of six I saw one of rock’s greatest guitarists play live… and I didn’t know it for another decade. I once told this story to rock promoter Sid Bernstein who loved the way my young memory locked-in on Hendrix as a guitar tuner.

Photos of Peter Tork on tour, from the Tiger Beat Photo Album.

By the end of 1968 The Monkees were finished; not only as a TV series, but as a rock band… and Peter Tork was the first to leave the group. There have been reunions over the years and semi-reunions as well, some of which Tork took part in, but you never forget your first real Beatles-inspired band.

Happy Birthday Peter.

DY-NO-MITE!

8 Feb

37 years ago tonight, on Friday, February 8, 1974 “Good Times,” a spin-off from “Maude” premiered on CBS.

The show starred Esther Rolle as Florida Evans, the role she had been playing on “Maude.” But while “Maude” was set in the New York City suburbs, “Good Times” took place in a Chicago housing project. The original premise of the series was to follow the trials and tribulations of a loving family that was struggling to make ends meet. But, as so often happens in television, one character stood out and, when fans responded, that character was given a larger presence in the show.

Jimmie Walker photo sent to fans in the 1970s.

The character was 17-year old J.J. (for James Junior), the Evans’ family’s oldest son… and the actor portraying him was 26-year old standup comedian Jimmie Walker. So although the cast was headed by experienced actors Esther Rolle and John Amos, it was Walker who stole the show. And a lot of that had to do with dynamite. I mean, “DY-NO-MITE!

The word “DY-NO-MITE!” became a huge catchphrase across America as Jimmie Walker’s popularity surged, as did the ratings for “Good Times.” In its first full season (1974-1975) “Good Times” received its highest ratings and was ranked as the #7 show in the country, ahead of even “Maude.”

Good Times” also starred Bern Nadette Stanis as daughter Thelma and Ralph Carter as Michael, the family’s youngest child. Interestingly, his character “Michael Evans” was given the same name as one of the show’s creators; actor, writer Mike Evans, best known for playing Lionel Jefferson on “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.”

After 6 seasons (really 5 ½) and many cast changes, audiences had seen enough. The good times ended for “Good Times” in August 1979.

By the way… coincidentally, Jimmie Walker opens tomorrow night (Wednesday, February 9th) at The Comedy Zone in Port Charlotte, Florida. Why not catch the show and wish him a Happy Anniversary for “Good Times.” He’ll be performing through Saturday night. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

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