Tag Archives: TV history

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!

ON SECOND THOUGHT…

6 May

25 years ago on Tuesday, May 6, 1986, the Fox Broadcasting Corporation announced that comedienne Joan Rivers would host a late night talk show on the new network: “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.”

Flanked by FOX Chairman Barry Diller and FOX President Jamie Kellner, Rivers was introduced as the first “face” of FOX. But she had not yet broken the news to her current employer… and the fallout from that move is legendary.

First, a little background: Before Jay Leno became host of “The Tonight Show” (the first time) he had been Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host on the show. But before Johnny had Jay, Johnny had Joan. Joan Rivers was the first permanent guest host in the history of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Prior to that, dozens of stars had filled in for the “King of Late Night” over the years – some more often than others (Joey Bishop and David Brenner to name two).

When Carson heard the news that Joan Rivers was leaving to compete against him, it seems he took it personally. He apparently felt Rivers should have told him before the announcement was made. When Joan called Johnny afterwards, she claims he refused to take the call. The two never spoke again. So… did they live happily ever after? Not exactly.

Surviving souvenir from “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers”

The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” premiered on FOX, Monday October 9, 1986 at 11:00pm, but as every competitor to Johnny Carson had learned, it wasn’t easy to beat the king. The ratings for “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” were never big and Joan Rivers only hosted the show for seven months. Her last “Late Show” was May 15, 1987.

But much worse than the losing “The Late Show” was the loss of Rivers’ husband. Edgar Rosenberg had been an executive producer of “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.” Three months after Joan was fired by FOX Rosenberg committed suicide. He had been suffering from clinical depression.

Joan went on to have a syndicated daytime talk show, “The Joan Rivers Show”… then hosted numerous red-carpet shows with her daughter Melissa Rivers for E! and the TV Guide Channel.

Currently she hosts “Fashion Police” on E!…  and can be seen selling her line of clothing, jewelry and accessories on QVC.

TV viewers may also have recently watched mother and daughter in season one of their new reality show, “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” on WE tv.

Joan Rivers has also added several notable catchphrases to the American lexicon: “Can we talk?” (which I’m told is a Federal trademark) and her red-carpet question, “Who are you wearing?” which is now said by just about every red-carpet host everywhere.

But on this date, 25 years ago, Joan Rivers was introduced as the FOX network’s first big star. Only she knows if she would do it all again if given the chance.

QUINCY MADISON

27 Apr

89 years ago, on Thursday, April 27, 1922, Jacob “Jack” Klugman was born in Philadelphia. Although best known to TV audiences as Oscar Madison, the sloppy half of “The Odd Couple,” his other well-known series “Quincy, M.E.” actually ran for more seasons (7 to 5) and produced more episodes (148 to 114).

Klugman began to act after serving in World War II. His early TV appearances include multiple episodes of famed series like “Inner Sanctum,” “Studio One,” and “Playhouse 90.” Jack Klugman was a working actor, but when he was cast in the TV version of “The Odd Couple” he became a star. While the show achieved some popularity during its run on ABC (1970-1975), it was in syndication that the show really caught fire.

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

In 1993 I interviewed Klugman and Tony Randall in Central Park while they were filming scenes for “The Odd Couple: Together Again” reunion movie. It was about three years after Klugman had surgery for throat cancer, and it left him with a slight and raspy voice. But I was a bit surprised when Klugman was actually apologetic for his inability to answer in full voice. He seemed to be a genuinely nice man.

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

Of course, “The Odd Couple” was followed by “Quincy, M.E.” on NBC in which Klugman played Dr. R. Quincy, a medical examiner (or coroner) who had no first name. In the 1980s Klugman went back to sitcoms with NBC‘s “You Again?” co-starring John Stamos. It lasted just one season.

Happy 89th Birthday Jack. You’re an American treasure.

…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!

THE TRUE HOME RUN CHAMP

8 Apr

37 years ago tonight, on Monday, April 8, 1974, baseball slugger Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.

It was a TV event.

Atlanta Braves right fielder Henry “Hank” Aaron began the 1974 season just one career home run behind the legendary Babe Ruth. In his first at bat of the season, in Cincinnati against the Reds, Aaron hit #714 tying the “Bambino.” Days later a crowd of more than 53,000 crammed into Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see Aaron and the Braves play the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Still photo taken off my TV at home as Hank Aaron follows through in his historic at-bat, April 8, 1974.

As I watched the game on national TV with my Dad, and his friend Gene Flanagan, the excitement was palpable… And in the 4th inning Aaron went deep off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Aaron’s historic home run went over the left field wall and into the home team’s bullpen where it was caught by Braves’ reliever Tom House.

After the 1974 season Hank Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers so he could finish his major league career, as a designated hitter, in the city where it began. In total Aaron hit 755 career home runs.

In the mid-2000s some media reported that Hank Aaron’s career home run record had been surpassed by a player from a west coast team. When that has been proven, I will be happy to acknowledge it. Until then, in MY book, Hank Aaron remains major league baseball’s all-time home run champ.

In 1982 Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, with 97.8% of the ballots cast. (No player in history has ever received 100%)

In 2001 Hank Aaron was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton… and in 2002, Aaron received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.

BLACK GOLD, TEXAS TEA

2 Apr

33 years ago tonight, on Sunday, April 2, 1978, the prime-time soap opera “Dallas” premiered on CBS. And just like the daytime soaps, this one had love, hate, greed, and sex. Lots of sex.

The real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.

TV viewers got a spring preview of “Dallas” when it first hit the airwaves at the end of the 1977-78 season. And while it attracted an audience its ratings didn’t crack the Top 30 until the 1979-80 season when it was the 6th highest rated show. The following two seasons it was TV’s number 1 show. All told it was in the Top 2 for five straight seasons and stayed in the Top 30 through the 1988-89 season. It was quite a ride.

The "Ewing Mansion" at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.

Dallas” told the story of the wealthy Ewing family: Texas oil tycoons with huge appetites for money, power, and trouble. The Patriarch was Jock Ewing played by Jim Davis. His wife, Miss Ellie was portrayed by Barbara Bel Geddes. The couple had three adult sons, but the series focused on just two of them: the oldest and the youngest.

Sign posted at the real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.

J.R. Ewing (the oldest son) was evil incarnate. As played by Larry Hagman, J.R. became one of TV’s greatest villains ever. Patrick Duffy, on the other hand, had the role of youngest son Bobby, the nice guy. But he was the nice guy who married the daughter of his father’s former business partner and rival. Bobby’s wife Pamela Barnes Ewing was portrayed by Victoria Principal, while Linda Gray appeared as J.R.’s wife Sue Ellen Ewing.

This writer (on left) with “Pal Joey” at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.

Although old-time movie serials were known for their cliffhangers, “Dallas” has been credited with bringing the cliffhanger to TV. In the last episode of the 1979-80 season J.R. Ewing was shot, leaving viewers to wait until the fall to find out his fate and the identity of the gunman. Because of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild that wait lasted from March until November. But in that time the phrase, “Who shot J.R.?” was on the lips of millions of Americans. So who did shoot J.R.? I’m not telling.

This writer’s friend, “Pal Joey,” relaxing in the garden at the real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.

The photos accompanying this post were taken at the actual Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, just northeast of Dallas. While the series itself was shot at studios in California, exterior scenes were filmed here. By 1985, as visitors continued to flock to the ranch, the owners moved out and Southfork became strictly a tourist attraction. Today it’s open daily for guided tours of the ranch and the “Ewing Mansion.”

Dallas” ran for 13 seasons, until May 1991, and left an indelible mark on the TV landscape.

“Pal Joey” enjoying the view J.R. would have enjoyed, at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.

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.

UP YOUR NOSE WITH A RUBBER HOSE

31 Mar

66 years ago, on Saturday, March 31, 1945, Gabriel Kaplan was born in Brooklyn. Since then he has been a stand-up comedian, a financial investor, and a champion poker player… but most people know him as the creator and star of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

From the letterhead used by “Welcome Back, Kotter” in the 1970s.

The sitcom about a man who becomes a teacher in his old high school premiered in September 1975 on ABC and ran for 4 seasons. It also made stars out of Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta.

Kaplan started doing stand-up in the late 1960s and by the early 70s got the break every comic dreamed of – a spot on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” More TV appearances followed and then Kaplan recorded a comedy album called, Holes and Mellow Rolls. As he explained in his routine, a mellow roll was a kind of ice pop. The album’s title referred to the insults or “ranks” he and his friends used to say to each other in high school. “Up your hole with a mellow roll,” “in your ear with a can of beer,” “up your nose with a rubber hose.”

It was that part of his stand-up act that drew the most attention and allowed Gabe Kaplan (along with Alan Sacks) to create a sitcom based on his high school experiences. The premise had Gabe Kotter (once a remedial student or “sweathog”) return to teach the current “sweathogs” at his old high school. And it became a hit.

Card with pre-printed autograph, sent to fans of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

During the time “Welcome Back, Kotter” was a hit show, I was attending a real high school in Brooklyn. And since Gabe Kaplan was actually from Brooklyn a friend and I decided we should interview his parents for our school newspaper. We looked in the phone book and found a listing for Kaplan in the correct neighborhood. My friend called and did the talking. Gabe Kaplan’s mother agreed to let us come to their home to interview them. She asked us to call back the following week to set a date.

When we called again Mrs. Kaplan said Gabe never heard of our high school and didn’t think it was a real school. So he told her not to do the interview, and that was the end of it.

Months, maybe years, later I saw Gabe Kaplan on a talk show discussing fame. He said that when “Welcome Back, Kotter” became a hit people would call his parents pretending to be from phony high schools just to score an interview. I always wondered if he meant us.

For the record, we were real, our high school was real, and the interview request was real. Our school — Edward R. Murrow High School — was brand new and in just its second year of existence. That may be why Kaplan (out in Hollywood) had never heard of it. And I suppose “Edward R. Murrow” would’ve been a great name to use for a made-up school.

Gabriel Kaplan autograph signed outside the Ed Sullivan Theater on October 18, 1975.

After “Welcome Back, Kotter” Kaplan starred in several films and gave sitcoms one more try with “Lewis & Clark” (1981-82). His next act led him to the financial markets and then professional poker.

Since the late 1970s Gabe Kaplan has been a champion poker player participating in the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker, and winning the Super Bowl of Poker Main Event in 1980. Kaplan has earned more than $1-million playing poker professionally.

He has also been a poker TV commentator, most notably for 6 seasons on “High Stakes Poker” on GSN.

Close-up of Gabriel Kaplan’s autograph.

The cast of “Welcome Back, Kotter” will be honored at this year’s TV Land Awards in April. All the living former cast members: Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (aka Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), Ron Palillo, Robert Hegyes, and even John Travolta are planning to attend. And if anybody’s a no-show? “Up your hole with a mellow roll.”

Oh… and Happy Birthday Gabe.

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.

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