Tag Archives: Lorne Michaels

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.

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A DOUBLE BOGEY

16 May

21 years ago today, on Wednesday, May 16, 1990, Jim Henson and Sammy Davis Jr. both died.  It was a memorable but sad day as these two talented men, who brought joy to the world, were suddenly gone. 

Sammy Davis Jr. died in Beverly Hills at age 64. The cause of death was complications from throat cancer. Muppet master Jim Henson was just 53 when he died in New York City from a Group A streptococcal bacteria.

 

Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the most complete performers who ever took the stage. Davis could sing, dance, act, make you laugh, and play musical instruments. He began his career as a young child in a song and dance team alongside his father (Sammy Davis Sr. of course) and Will Mastin. As The Will Mastin Trio they toured the country for decades before Davis Jr. became a break out star.

Photo of Sammy Davis Jr. also sent to members of his International Fan Club.

In addition to numerous guest appearances on TV, Sammy had two series of his own. “The Sammy Davis Jr. Show” ran from January 1966 through April of that same year. I believe I attended one of the last episodes of this series, which was taped at the NBC studio in Brooklyn. I never knew it was a series. I thought it was a TV special. What would I know? I was 5 years old. What I do know, and do remember, is that I sat in the audience of a show starring Sammy Davis Jr. and guest Art Carney, which was taped in that studio. According to IMDb, Carney was a guest on the April 15, 1966 episode of this series.

Autographed 8x10 photo of Sammy Davis Jr. sent to members of The Sammy Davis Jr. International Fan Club in the 1970s.

Sammy’s other well-known foray into series television was the syndicated “Sammy & Company.” This 90-minute talk/variety show featured guest appearances and performances from many of Sammy’s show biz friends. The series, with radio’s William B. Williams as the announcer, was produced for 2 years, 1975-1977.

 

Jim Henson was just 17 years old when he first performed with puppets on local television. The following year, in 1955, he got his own show on Washington, DC’s WRC, “Sam and Friends.” Though the show was only five minutes long it introduced Jim Henson’s muppets to TV audiences… And among those muppets was an early version of Kermit the Frog (though he was not yet a frog).

Kermit mug from Jim Henson's Muppet Meeting Films

Sam and Friends” ran for more than 5 years. During that time Henson’s creations started making TV commercials and appearances on national TV shows. In 1969 he brought his muppets to the new PBS children’s series “Sesame Street” where they are still going strong 21 years after Henson’s death.

Many will forget that Jim Henson created a group of alien muppets that appeared each week during the premiere season of “Saturday Night Live.” One year later “The Muppet Show” began a very successful run in syndication that lasted 5 seasons. Kermit the Frog was even a guest-host on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1979.

Jim Henson and his family of muppets may have touched your life when you were a child, maybe not until you were an adult… but Jim Henson has left his imprint in our lives.

How sad that two profoundly talented men were taken from us on the same day, but the world is a richer place because they were here.

RADIO GENIUS, TV COMEDIAN

26 Mar

88 years ago, on Monday, March 26, 1923, actor/comedian Bob Elliott was born in Boston. Though he is best-known for his work in radio, Elliott (with comedy partner Ray Goulding) starred in several TV specials and series.

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM), December 1974.

In 1946 Ray Goulding was hired to read the news for a morning show Bob Elliott was hosting on WHDH in Boston. That fateful pairing would result in a 15 minute radio show called “Matinee with Bob and Ray” and eventually their partnership as the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Their television careers began on Monday November 26, 1951 when “Bob & Ray” (or “The Bob and Ray Show”) premiered on NBC.  Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman, who was then replaced by Audrey Meadows. The show lasted two years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob & Ray on three separate occasions, which are detailed in my previous post. Each time they were gracious and generous.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

In addition to “The Bob and Ray Show,” the duo briefly hosted a TV game show and made many TV guest appearances. One highlight was the 1979 late night special, “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda” with Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner, which I attended.

Bob Elliott has also spread his comedic genes to future generations. His son is actor/comedian Chris Elliott and his granddaughter is “Saturday Night Live” cast member Abby Elliott.

In fact, for two seasons (1990-1992) Bob Elliott portrayed the father of his real-life son Chris in the FOX sitcom “Get a Life.”

Autographs in the book: “To Paul – Cheers! Bob Elliott” and “To Paul, All the Best, Ray Goulding”

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984. “The Bob and Ray Show” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

While Ray Goulding died of kidney failure in 1990, at the age of 68, Bob Elliott is alive and well and living on Long Island. Today we salute Bob wish him a Happy Birthday.

You can send a birthday greeting to Bob Elliott at: bob@bobandray.com 

…or send him a note at: P.O. Box 53, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024-0053. I’m told Bob usually answers his mail.

Happy Birthday Bob… and thank you.

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.

<THIS DATE IN TV HISTORY

26 Nov

59 years ago on Monday November 26, 1951Bob & Ray” or “The Bob and Ray Show” premiered on NBC featuring the comedy team of Bob & Ray (Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding). Best known for their work on radio Bob & Ray had their own brand of comedy that delighted many and went over the heads of others. Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She would later be replaced by Cloris Leachman, who would then be replaced by Audrey Meadows.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

The photo shown above was taken in December 1974 during Bob & Ray’s radio show on WOR (AM) in New York. The comedy legends were nice enough to agree to be interviewed by 3 junior high school students (I was one of them). If you look closely we are wearing “Wally Ballou for Mayor” buttons given to us that day by Bob & Ray.

The autographs were signed several years later (I believe 1979) in Bob & Ray’s dressing room after their masterful performance in the NBC late night comedy special “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda.”

<THIS DATE IN TV HISTORY

30 Oct

 

Chevy Chase autograph signed in October 1976

34 years ago tonight, on Saturday, October 30, 1976, Chevy Chase appeared in his last episode of “Saturday Night Live” as a cast member. The show, then called “NBC’s Saturday Night,” was produced that night at the NBC studios in Brooklyn for the third week in a row (see previous post for the reason).  It was also the night Buck Henry became the show’s first 3-time host. The autograph above was signed by Chevy sometime during that week.                                        

T-shirt identical to the one I presented to Chevy Chase on October 30, 1976

At that night’s dress rehearsal I presented Chevy with a silk-screened T-shirt that a friend and I created. The photo above shows my identical T-shirt as it looks today 34 years later. One difference though; I actually wore my shirt. I doubt Chevy ever wore his. It may be difficult for young people to understand just how popular Chase was at the time. He was the first break-out star from SNL, leaving after just 1 year on the show to make movies. (This was the 6th episode of season 2 and the series’ 30th new episode). The first film Chase released was “Foul Play” with Goldie Hawn in 1978.

 Also on this date…                                                

Paul Messina and Henry Winkler in the garden of NYC's Gracie Mansion, 1977

65 years ago today, on Tuesday, October 30, 1945, Henry Winkler was born in New York City. Best known for his years playing Fonzie on “Happy Days” Winkler has since appeared in many other shows as both a regular cast member and recurring character. The photos above and below were taken at New York City’s Gracie Mansion in 1977.                                           

Paul Messina and Henry Winkler at NYC's Gracie Mansion, 1977

 When I asked him that day in 1977 about ABC Entertainment President Fred Silverman’s involvement in expanding the role of Fonzie on “Happy Days,” Winkler got quite defensive and sharply replied, “Lemme tell you something. Fred Silverman wanted to make the show “Fonzie’s Happy Days” but Ron Howard wouldn’t stand for it, and I don’t blame him.” Thus I learned that an insightful question, that pushes buttons, can get you a wonderful and sincere response.

©Photos by Paul Messina

< THIS DATE IN TV HISTORY

11 Oct

 

Don Pardo autograph obtained in 1973 or 1974

Don Pardo autograph obtained in 1973 or 1974

 

35 years ago tonight, on Saturday, October 11, 1975, America watched the first episode of a new late night comedy show called “NBC’s Saturday Night.” It replaced reruns of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” at 11:30pm on Saturday nights.

The title of the new program was not producer Lorne Michaels’ first choice. ABC had already used the title he wanted for its new variety show, “Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell,” which premiered in September (see ticket from later episode below).

Ticket to "Saturday Night Live" with Howard Cosell

Ticket to Oct. 18, 1975 episode of "Saturday Night Live" with Howard Cosell

 

One interesting note: Character actor George Coe, who appeared in the first several episodes to bring some maturity to certain roles, was listed onscreen that night as a member of “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” But SNL writer Alan Zweibel later told me that Coe was never a “Not Ready for Prime Time Player.” Was the onscreen credit another flub? Or did they decide they didn’t need Coe after all?

Saturday Night Live” has launched the careers of many comedy stars, but the first breakout star from its cast was Chevy Chase, who left the show in November 1976 and became a movie star for a while.

It’s now in its 36th season… but the first ever episode of “Saturday Night Live” (nee “NBC’s Saturday Night”) premiered on this date in TV history.

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