Friday, August 16, 2019

The World Accordion to Lawrence Welk



The rise of Lawrence Welk and of rock and roll happened at roughly the same time -- maybe in reaction to each other. Welk's band played classic white-bread tunes -- waltzes, foxtrots and polkas -- and were television favorites for an amazing three decades. Reruns of the show still air on PBS stations across the country. We look at Welk's popularity, despite his awkward stage presence, and the musical "family" he featured on his show, including the Lennon Sisters.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Encore Podcast: When Maude Findlay Had an Abortion



In the fall of 1972, the first spinoff from "All in the Family" premiered. It was "Maude," with Beatrice Arthur as Edith Bunker's liberal cousin. And right out of the gate, "Maude" took on controversial topics like psychotherapy, black militancy and modern morality. Then on November 14, in the ninth episode of the series, Maude found out she was pregnant at age 47. She considered her options, including abortion, which at the time was legal in New York state, where the show was set. (The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't legalize abortion nationwide until 1973.) Maude's decision to get an abortion would go largely unnoticed during the episode's original run, but when summer reruns came along the show received a firestorm of criticism, driving the idea of abortion -- and even the mention of the word itself -- off of network television for the next fifteen years.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Encore Podcast: Sid Caesar and His Demons


Sid Caesar is one of the comic giants of 1950s TV, but he was also plagued by anxiety, depression, guilt and an explosive temper. In the early 1980s he came to my hometown of Louisville to perform at a dinner theatre, and I reviewed the show. I didn't know it then, but he was in the midst of a battle to escape his addiction to booze and pills and conquer his deep-seated demons.

Sources:
Where Have I Been? An Autobiography, by Sid Caesar with Bill Davidson
"Sid Caesar's Finest Sketch," David Margolick, The New Yorker, February 14, 2014

Friday, July 12, 2019

What We Watched: Cartoons and Kids' Shows



I'm joined once again by my brother Steve for a trip down memory lane to recall our TV memories from the 1960s and '70s, specifically Saturday morning shows like "Casper the Friendly Ghost" and "The Banana Splits Hour," with side trips involving everything from "Schoolhouse Rock" to "The Eighth Man."

Friday, July 5, 2019

Encore Podcast: Fade to Blacklist, Part 2



In our last episode, we looked at the East Coast blacklist triggered by "Red Channels" -- which listed the "Communistic" activities of supposed radicals -- and the lives that were ruined by it. In this episode we look at the pushback -- the positive results of people standing up to a small number of self-appointed vigilantes, and what happened when networks and sponsors stood strong against threats to shows such as "I've Got a Secret" and "I Love Lucy." We also look at one man who finally had enough and took the blacklist creators and enforcers to court.

Sources:

Fear on Trial, by John Henry Faulk

Desilu: The Story of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, by Coyne Steven Sanders

Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, by Stefan Kanfer

The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume III, by Erik Barnouw

Friday, June 28, 2019

Encore Podcast: Fade to Blacklist, Part 1



In the summer of 1950, a booklet called "Red Channels" shook up the East Coast media structure -- radio and TV networks as well as advertising agencies. "Red Channels" listed the "subversive" activities of over 150 writers, directors and performers, from Orson Welles to Lena Horne. If you were named in the book, you were guilty until proven innocent and you ran the serious risk of being unemployable on radio or TV. The blacklist triggered by "Red Channels" lasted for much of the 1950s, seriously affecting and even ruining the lives of innocent people. In the first of two parts, we look at how the blacklist began and how it was abetted by cowardly TV and radio producers and advertisers.


Sources:

A History of Broadcasting in the United States: 2. The Golden Web, 1933-1953, by Erik Barnouw

The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume III, by Erik Barnouw

"15 Entertainers Who Were Labeled Communist in the Red Channels List," Eliza Berman, time.com, June 22, 2015

"Gypsy, Scott and Wicker in Red Denials," Billboard, September 23, 1950

"Blacklist Still Snarls AM-TV," Variety, September 13, 1950

"Ireene Wicker Hammer Dies, 86; Storyteller to Millions of Children," Nan Robertson, The New York Times, November 18, 1987

Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition, by Griffin Fariello

Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theatre and Film in the McCarthy Era, by Milly S. Barranger

With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830, by LeRoy Ashby

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties, by Eric Burns

Friday, June 21, 2019

Orson Welles's Radio Days



In 1934, Orson Welles came to Broadway in a production of "Romeo and Juliet" and within a year he was putting his mellifluous voice to use by doing a lot of radio work, including as part of the stock company, imitating famous newsmakers, on "The March of Time." While producing and directing shows on Broadway, he was also making a name for himself as the title character on "The Shadow" and, later, scaring America to death with "War of the Worlds." Today we consider Welles's work as a rising star on the radio, leading to an offer from Hollywood.

Sources:

Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz

Orson Welles on the Air: Packaging Welles, orsonwelles.indiana.edu

"This Ageless Soul," Russell Maloney, The New Yorker, October 1, 1938

Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, by David Thomson

The Mercury Theatre on the Air, mercurytheatre.info