Tag Archives: Autograph

THE BIRTH OF THE BUNKERS

12 Jan

41 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 12, 1971 TV changed forever when “All in the Family” premiered on CBS.

Oh it was different. It was a sitcom that starred an unlikeable character. Well… he was likeable… but it was hidden underneath all that bigotry. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. We figured out eventually that he even loved Meathead. But Archie Bunker was one of a kind (in TV land). The world was full of real “Archie Bunkers.”

And that’s one way “All in the Family” made its mark. It made “Archie Bunker” a common phrase that meant bigot… more specifically a “lovable” bigot. There’s one in almost every family. It also brought several other words into the American lexicon: Dingbat, Meathead, stifle. It even gave us the first toilet flush in sitcom history.

What many people didn’t realize at first is that “All in the Family” wasn’t saluting bigots, it wasn’t praising them. It was holding them up to ridicule.

Publicity still sent to fans in 1975

I remember a wonderful story the show’s producer Norman Lear wrote about on the “All in the Family” album cover. It was about the first fan letter he received for the show. It was from a single mother who said she watched the first episode with her adult child. She wrote that, after the episode, she turned to her child and said – You always wanted to know what your father was like. Now you know!

All in the Family” was that rare breed of show that combined great writing, great casting, great acting – you name it. When I watch it today I am blown away by the talent of Carroll O’Connor. The way he made Archie Bunker a believable, 3-dimensional character is astounding. The man had skills! Chops.

Let’s not forget Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker. Until I saw her on a talk show several years later I thought the actress spoke in the same strident voice as Edith. Sally Struthers as Gloria and Rob Reiner as Mike/Meathead rounded out the fine cast.

Brilliant TV.

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OH CARSON, MY CARSON

23 Oct

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

86 years ago today, on Friday, October 23, 1925, a woman named Ruth Carson gave birth to a son in Corning, Iowa… but Johnny was on vacation, so Ruth gave birth to Joey Bishop!

I couldn’t resist. That joke has been around for decades.

The house in Corning, Iowa where Johnny Carson was born on October 23, 1925.

But truly, the “King of Late Night,” was born on this date in this house, in 1925. John William Carson was born to Homer and Ruth Carson, and he would go on to leave a gigantic imprint on the world of television.

Although born in Corning Johnny didn’t stay there long. Due to Homer’s job with a utility company the Carson family moved quite a bit. After relocating to several western Iowa towns, the Carsons eventually settled in Norfolk, Nebraska. It was in this classic version of small-town America that Johnny began performing. And it was in this home that Johnny grew up.

The house in Norfolk, Nebraska where Johnny Carson grew up.

After learning magic young Johnny appeared around town as The Great Carsoni and built the foundation for his career.

Johnny Carson clowns around with his mentor and boss, Red Skelton.

Years later, his first big break came as a writer for Red Skelton. When Skelton got hurt during a rehearsal Carson went on in his place. CBS executives took note and soon Carson was host of “The Johnny Carson Show.”

By the late 1950s Johnny was based in New York and hosting a game show. The show was originally called “Do You Trust Your Wife?” but later became “Who Do You Trust?

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

As you all know, Johnny Carson went on to host “The Tonight Show” from 1962 to 1992. In his almost 30 years at the helm Carson turned “The Tonight Show” into an institution. It became a nightly “must-see” for many and Johnny Carson himself became a barometer of public opinion.

Offices for "The Tonight Show" at NBC Burbank, 1979.

Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 and pretty much retired from public life. He died on January 23, 2005 after a long battle with emphysema.

Johnny Carson became one of television’s biggest stars ever, but he never forgot his hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. Carson donated nearly $5-million to various causes in Norfolk and the people there returned his love. So if you stop in at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, be sure to see the Johnny Carson Gallery there.

Entrance to the Johnny Carson Gallery.

Johnny Carson was born 86 years ago on this date in TV history.

 

Photos from Corning, Iowa and Norfolk, Nebraska ©Richard DiGangi

FROM WACO TO WACKO

14 Aug

66 years ago today, on Tuesday, August 14, 1945 actor/writer/producer/comedian Steve Martin was born in Waco, Texas.

Steve Martin autograph signed on October 23, 1976

He began performing while still in his teens and by the time he was 22 he was writing comedy for network TV shows. Between 1967 and 1973 Steve Martin worked as a writer on half a dozen comedy variety series including “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Summer Brothers Smothers Show,” “Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” “The Ken Berry ‘Wow’ Show,” and “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” He was also a featured performer on several of those shows, as well as on “The Ray Stevens Show” in the summer of 1970.

I still remember the first time I saw Steve Martin on TV. It was on NBC on a Saturday night at 11:30pm, but I wasn’t watching “Saturday Night Live.” In fact, that show hadn’t even been created yet. I was watching the program that “SNL” replaced: reruns of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

It was that first appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” in 1973 that brought Martin some national attention. His first appearance as host of “Saturday Night Live” in 1976 sealed the deal and made him a comedy “rock star.” I was in the audience for that show. In fact, I got his autograph earlier that day, on the back of my admission slip for the PSAT exam.

What's on the other side of Steve Martin's autograph? The date on my admission slip for the PSAT exam, which was administered that morning.

So, while many people were introduced to Steve Martin on October 23, 1976, I was already a fan.

But in addition to lots of laughs, I also remember a very touching moment provided by Steve Martin on the day Gilda Radner died (May 20, 1989). Martin was hosting “Saturday Night Live” that night and I was in the audience. When he introduced a clip of he and Gilda dancing in an old sketch it was quite moving. Martin, and most of the audience, seemed to be holding in some emotions.

Although Martin has never starred in his own series his career is a product of TV. From his roots as a writer… to his TV specials and guest appearances… to his hosting the Academy Awards broadcast… Steve Martin is a TV star.

He has now hosted “Saturday Night Live” a record 15 times (tied with Alec Baldwin) and prior to abandoning standup he starred in four network comedy specials for NBC: “Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy” in 1978, “Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty” and “All Commercials–A Steve Martin Special” both in 1980, and 1981’s “Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever.”

Happy Birthday to Steve Martin, the TV star (and movie star, playwright, musician, novelist, and art collector). Thanks for everything.

SIGNED, EPSTEIN’S MOTHER

7 May

60 years ago, on Monday, May 7, 1951, actor Robert Hegyes was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey… and like another 1970s sitcom actor, Hegyes is half-Hungarian. Freddie Prinze called himself a Hunga-Rican. Perhaps we can call Robert Hegyes a Hungi-Talian.

After graduating from Glassboro State College with a degree in theater Robert Hegyes joined up with several acting troupes in New York City. Just a few years later he was cast as Juan Epstein in “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

Robert Hegyes 8x10 sent in response to a fan letter in the 1970s.

Juan Epstein, of course, was one of the “sweathogs” (remedial high school students) on the sitcom, who were taught by Mr. Kotter, himself a former “sweathog.” During the time “Welcome Back, Kotter” was a hit show, I was attending a real high school in Brooklyn. Believe me, “Welcome Back, Kotter” was the talk of the school the day after every episode.

When I wrote to Robert Hegyes at the time I was surprised to get the letter, shown below, in return. Most often I would receive a form letter. This one actually appears to be typed and looks less than perfect. For that reason I have always believed that this was a personal response, actually signed by Hegyes. That’s what makes it an even more appreciated and cherished part of my collection.

Letter from Robert Hegyes written on “Welcome Back, Kotter” stationery.

Welcome Back, Kotter” premiered in September 1975 on ABC and ran for 4 seasons. Hegyes also directed a few episodes. After “Kotter” he appeared in episodes of shows such as, “Diagnosis Murder,” “The Drew Carey Show,” and “NewsRadio.” In the 1980s he had a recurring role as Detective Manny Esposito in the police drama, “Cagney & Lacey”.

Just last month Robert Hegyes joined most of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” colleagues for a reunion at the TV Land Awards.

Happy 60th Birthday Bobby, I wish you all the best. Thanks for making going to high school in Brooklyn in the 70s kinda cool!

…THIS TIME TOGETHER

26 Apr
78 years ago, on Wednesday, April 26, 1933, Carol Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texas. As the child of two alcoholics, Burnett was raised by her grandmother who moved them to Hollywood.
 
When she would tug on her ear at the end of “The Carol Burnett Show” it was her way of saying hello to that beloved grandmother.

Pseudo-autographed 8x10 photo sent to fans of “The Carol Burnett Show"

Carol Burnett herself has won three Emmys. “The Carol Burnett Show” also won three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy, Variety or Music Series.

In 1985 Burnett was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, and in November 2005 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Carol Burnett also received a Peabody Award in 1962.

Recently she has been touring the country with her “Laughter and Reflection” stage show, which is similar to the opening of her old TV show. Burnett simply answers questions from the audience and talks about her life.

While I titled this post “…THIS TIME TOGETHER” I was obviously playing off Carol Burnett’s famous closing song from her show. What I did not know is that Ms. Burnett has an autobiography, also entitled This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection (now out in paperback). Great minds think alike.

Happy 78th Birthday Carol (as I tug on my ear).

OH MY

20 Apr

74 years ago, on Tuesday, April 20, 1937 actor George Takei was born in Los Angeles. Although best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek,” Takei has hundreds of television appearances to his credit, starting with a live episode of “Playhouse 90” in 1959.

In his 2007 autobiography, To the Stars, Takei says he and his family were among more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II. Takei lived in Camp Rohwer in Arkansas and Camp Tule Lake in northern California.

After the war, the Takeis returned to southern California, where George would eventually earn a masters degree in theater from U.C.L.A. in 1964.

Takei’s life would change forever when he was cast as Mr. Sulu in 1965 for the second “Star Trek” pilot.

George Takei autograph signed in NYC, 1973.

The above autograph was signed by George Takei during the 1973 Star Trek Convention at New York’s Commodore Hotel. I was 12 years old. What I remember most about our encounter is how George kept repeating to us all, “It’s pronounced ‘tuh-KAY’ as in O.K.” Throughout the past 38 years I have occasionally heard people refer to him as George “tuh-KIE” – and I don’t know if he ever used this pronunciation. But to the best of my knowledge, from George’s own mouth, “It’s pronounced ‘tuh-KAY’ as in O.K.

While some will only remember him as Sulu, George Takei’s acting career has lasted more than 50 years. Recently  he had a recurring role on NBC‘s “Heroes” from 2007 to 2010, and this year he joined the cast of Nickelodeon‘s new series “Supah Ninjas” as Hologramps, the holographic grandfather.

Takei may be the only TV actor (certainly one of the few) with an asteroid named in his honor. In October 2007 the International Astronomical Union‘s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature approved the official, scientific name of 7307 Takei for the asteroid, which is located between Mars and Jupiter.

According to Takei’s own website, he and his husband Brad Altman made television history when they became the first gay couple to appear on “The Newlywed Game” on GSN cable network in October 2009. They won the game and donated their $10,000 prize to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Happy birthday George… now warp speed to 75!

AND PARTY EVERY DAY

1 Apr

48 years ago, on Monday, April 1, 1963 the children’s show Birthday House premiered locally in New York on WNBC-TV.  It was a kid’s show, broadcast each morning that was really just a big birthday party. Basically, real children, from the audience, celebrated their birthdays on the air in the “birthday house.” But it was hosts Paul Tripp and his wife, Ruth Enders Tripp, who made the show.

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

The Tripps were originally educators. (It was their work with children that first got them noticed by TV producers). So while they played games with the kids in the studio, and us at home, they were actually teaching us. Who knew? I sure didn’t at the time.

Tripp and his wife had previously hosted a CBS morning show for kids called, “On The Carousel” from 1954 to 1959.

Whenever I think of “Birthday House” or see a clip from the show, it makes me think of my wonderful mother… and I like that.

Birthday House” was broadcast until September of 1967.

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