Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Sammy Davis Jr. Show

I was talking with Neil Daniels from the Dean Martin Fan Center about how I felt Sammy Davis, Jr. was the most talented of the Rat Pack and Neil agreed. Sammy had a troubled career, forced to marry a woman he didn't love, unable to be with the one he did love. The racist elements of society that plagued him. Neil brought up the point that Frank & Dean did a lot for race relations by publicly embracing Sammy and that's undoubtedly true.

Sammy had a couple of TV series, one was a primetime variety hour that he couldn't contractually appear on for the first few weeks. No really, he had a contract with ABC that forbade his appearance on another network for so many months; when NBC gave him an hour slot in the first week of January 1966 Sammy had to wait until February 11th before he could appear on The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Guest hosts, including Johnny Carson, Sean Connery, and Judy Garland kept the timeslot lukewarm until Sammy could take the reins of a show in ratings free fall. Richard Burton & Liz Taylor guested on Sammy's premiere episode but cancellation came shortly thereafter.

Here's a a bit with Sammy and Richard Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor:

In this wild segment from The Sammy Davis Jr. Show Sammy coaxes The Supremes and The Andrews Sisters to switch songs. It almost works!

Sammy's other series of note was a 90 minute weekly talk show called Sammy & Company from 1975-1977, a production that split their time between New York, LA and Las Vegas. Another way the show distinguished itself was in featuring African-American artists that the other nighttime talkers ignored - like Marlena Shaw and The Chi-Lites. If you haven't had the pleasure of hearing Miss Marlena Shaw by all means jump over to You Tube (embedding is disabled) and check her out in her prime. More on her later.

Back to Sammy - here's why I believe he holds the crown as the greatest male musical entertainer of my lifetime, one of his best numbers - Who Can I Turn To.

Zombcom: When a Much Loved Sitcom Returned From the Dead

Remaking successful TV shows is all the rage now - from Full House to Deadwood to Arrested Development - it reminds me of a time in the 1970s when a beloved sitcom was resuscitated... barely.

TV blog / Make Room For Granddaddy / ABC 1970 sitcom with Danny Thomas

Make Room For Granddaddy was one of the rare times a long-running television program returned to primetime - Make Room For Daddy aka The Danny Thomas Show ran for 11 years, 1953-1964, first on ABC then on CBS.

The success that Make Room For Daddy had on CBS no doubt helped persuade ABC to greenlight a sitcom starring Thomas' daughter Marlo, an unknown actress. That Girl debuted in 1966 and, even though it never finished in the top 25, it was a comparative hit for a network in dire need of a popular program.

Danny Thomas produced two Make Room For Daddy reunion shows with the original cast, he was the first to do so. In 1969 the second one-hour special Make Room For Granddaddy aired on CBS, picking up the story of the Williams family 5 years later. It earned boffo ratings so CBS again happily offered Danny Thomas a weekly slot for the updated production. Thomas agreed but ultimately decided against it when he saw the lousy timeslot CBS had in mind.

The success of That Girl had to factor into ABC's decision to pick up Make Room For Granddaddy for the fall of 1970. The original cast all returned including Marjorie Lord as wife Kathy and Angela Cartwright as daughter Linda. Rusty Hamer as son Rusty was rarely seen and a new redheaded grandchild living in the Williams household was added for the cute factor. Secondary characters played by Sid Melton and Hans Conried were occasionally seen along with new regular Rosie Greer as Danny Williams' new pianist.

Big time guest stars like Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope turned up most weeks which gave the series a Here's Lucy feel, that sitcom was a top ten hit on CBS.

Despite a primo timeslot, airing between Courtship of Eddie's Father and Room 222Make Room For Granddaddy was a flop and was pulled before the end of the season.

Here's the fall preview, Sid Melton does the voice-over:

And here's the episode with Lucy, hard to see but notice the 'modern' graphics in the theme song, very 1970 ABC.

READ MORE about this show at TVparty!

Vince Neil Throws Himself at the Mercy of the Television

Damn, I used to know Vince Neil when he was a skinny kid in spandex prancing up Santa Monica Boulevard to pick up the posters for his new band Motley Crue. I can't even recognize the bloated middled aged accountant with a plastic hip that he's become.

Stars often tape public service announcements for TV. They do it for different reasons, some altruistic, some of a more skin saving nature. Here incorrigible rocker Vince Neil, urged New Yorkers not to drink and drive. Let me guess - he got picked up for DUI in that state.

I said incorrigible because here's Vince extolling the virtues of sobriety in 2010, proud of his many years sober, free from the insidious grip of liquor and drugs. The week after this interview aired Vince was popped in Vegas for boozin' and usin'. You have to admire his shamelessness. And my callousness given my own past and present proclivities!

It used to be rock stars reveled in their drunken decadence, now they're going out of their way trying to convince us that they're sober when they aren't. I'm not sure that's progress.

Meeting Marion Mack from The General

Buster Keaton & Marion Mack in The General

TV blog / silent star Marion MackI met a movie star!

Well, I've met lots of stars, I used to work in the business... but this was a silent movie star.

In 1973 Buster Keaton's masterpiece The General was re-released to art houses and was booked in my little city, Greensboro, NC, at the Janus Theaters in 1974.

As a teenager I had never seen a Keaton film. My dad talked about enjoying them as a kid which prompted me to buy some 8mm shorts, so I had experienced those, but to see Keaton on the big screen was a surprise and thrill for both of us. (We were back to the theater the next weekend when they screened The Bank Dick.)

For the 1970s screenings a new print of The General had been struck by Raymond Rohauer who owned the original negative. In the early-1960s he brought Buster Keaton with him to some well-received revival screenings.

Keaton passed away in 1966 so for the 1970s revival Rohauer brought along Keaton's love interest in the film, Marion Mack. This screen beauty had been out of the acting side of the business since shortly after Keaton's comedy feature debuted in 1926, pursuing instead a writing career with her husband, B-movie producer Lewis Lewyn, before retiring in the 1960s. It took Rohauer years to finally track her down.

At that sparsely attended Sunday screening in Greensboro Ms. Mack was gracious and as charming as she could be. She seemed to truly relish the praise that came to her for what was a brilliant comedic performance. One of my favorite gags was when they were fleeing the Yankees and she discards a knotted piece of wood as not good enough for the fire, and I was happy to tell her that. She shared some stories from the set, we were fascinated to hear what Keaton was like in real life.

The General is arguably the finest and funniest silent films ever made. If you haven't seen it you should, it's probably the best filmed representation of the Civil War, nearly perfect in every sense.

It may sound odd given its current revered status but this project destroyed Keaton's career when it flopped at the box office and the critics savaged it. As a result, Keaton was never again able to make films the way he wanted, the results were catastrophic for him and his fans.

Here it is, one of the greatest motion pictures of all time:

Dirtiest Comedian of All Time!

It's been 5 years since underground comedy legend Rudy Ray Moore died at age 81; he greatly influenced modern rap and hip-hop artists with his hilariously filthy 'Dolemite' and 'Petey Wheatstraw' routines and movies. He was no Rooty Poot.

Here's a taste from his ice cool indie film Dolemite - 'The Signifying Monkey' - warning, the language in this clip is FILTHY!


Rudy Ray Moore was popular thanks to his 'party records' of the 1960s & 1970s, comedy LPs that were as blue as you could get. They had a word-of-mouth appeal, Redd Foxx, LaWanda Page, Pigmeat Markham and other comics were popular on the same LP and nightclub circuit around that same time.

The covers of Rudy Ray Moore's records are hilarious in and of themselves, with titles like Eat Out More Often (1970), Dolemite for President (1972), and Good-Ole Big Ones.

Moore produced and starred in several low budget motion pictures based on his most popular routines like The Human Tornado, Monkey Hustle, and Disco Godfather.

Here's another of Moore's dirty routines, 'Chestnuts', sampled on Dr. Dre's Deeez Nuuuts - track #6 on The Chronic. Again not safe for work... but why are you here at work to begin with?!?

Here's another classic Rudy Ray Moore routine - Shine on The Great Titanic.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Deadliest Mob Hit in US History?

As part of the research for my 2011 oral history book Beyond Our Wildest Dreams I came across a startling discovery - possibly the most deadly mob hit in history, a crime so horrifying it made the St. Valentine's Day Massacre feel like a church picnic. Why don't we hear more about it?

beverly hills supper club fireMy talk with Wayne Dammert on July 5, 2009 was a real eye opener. He was a longtime employee at the fabled Beverly Hills Supper Club in Newport, Ohio near Cincinnati, he was there for the mother of all modern nightclub fires in 1977.

He and others on the scene that night believe it was murder when the structure, loaded with thousands of patrons, exploded into flame in just a few minutes. If so, one of the nation's worst mass murderers got clean away, 163 people were killed.

Wayne also tells us about the wild days of the '50s and '60s when Newport, Kentucky was an "open town", known as "Sin City", with illegal gambling joints all over the place.

Wayne Dammert, employee of the Beverly Hills Supper Club: The night The Beverly Hills Supper Club burned down there were approximently 2,700 people in there. Gangsters wanted to take over, it was very lucrative, the Shillings were making money faster than they could count it. They were going to build a big convention center, they were going to build a hotel there. They were going to have a lake in the middle of all this with a bridge and white horses with carriages. They had already expanded it like crazy and if you wanted a banquet you had to book three years in advance.

They were getting all these threats and finally, on the busiest night we had, May 28th 1977, these guys torched it.

From Wikipedia: On October 28, 2008, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear appointed a panel to investigate claims that arson may have been the cause of the fire. In March 2009, the panel, in recommending that the investigation not be reopened, characterized the new accusations as "a very tiny shred of evidence of arson and a huge mountain of conjecture, unsupported speculation and personal opinion."

 The Beverly Hills Supper Club site sits relatively undisturbed these last 30 plus years, surely there's an enterprising TV producer with a Cold Case type show that could bring together a forensic team to go over the site and search for evidence. It doesn't appear that the Governor's panel did that.

You can read more about this tragic event in the book Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire by Ronald E. Elliott and based on an original story by survivor Wayne Dammert.

Celebrity Fried Chicken Restaurants of the 60s & 70s

television blog + Minnie Pearl Fried ChickenWhere were you during the great Fried Chicken explosion of the late-1960s? Lickin' fingers? After the incredible success of Kentucky Fried Chicken, America's appetite for southern fried birds became insatiable.

Hollywood stars like Roy Rogers, Mahalia Jackson, Minnie Pearl, Tex Ritter, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and even Popeye opened chicken restaurants that (mostly) quietly passed away after a few years. I tasted Roy Rogers' (yum!) but the other chains never got big enough to spread very far from their points of origin.

Minnie Pearl's never made it out of the early-1970s, only Popeye's operation continues to flourish on a worldwide scale... but what the heck did Popeye ever have to do with chicken, fried or otherwise?

1970s fast food - Mahalia Jackson Fried Chicken I'm dying to know what Mahalia Jackson's "Glori-fried" chicken (It's Glorie-Fried and that's the gospel truth!") tasted like. Established in 1968 there was still one store left in Nashville until a decade ago.

Johnny Carson and Al Hirt both had failed restaurant ventures named after them but I doubt they were known for their fried chicken.

Roy Rogers Roast Beef1970s fast food - Roy Rogers Roast Beef

Roy Rogers became famous first for fried chicken when it was launched in 1968, it was only later that their roast beef sandwiches ended up dominating the menu. They still serve the bird in dozens of locations alongside highways in the northeast but I can't attest to how it compares with 30 years ago.

I do miss Roy Rogers' restaurants, they were very popular in the 1970s. The secret to the Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich was that it was made WITH ACTUAL ROAST BEEF that they cooked in the store, served on a lightly toasted bun.

television blog - roy rogers
Imagine my surprise in 2004 when I was traveling to New York City for VH1 and found the New Jersey landscape dotted with Roy Rogers restaurants beckoning from the rest stops all along the highways. I couldn't resist trying their roast beef again and it was a faint echo of the terrific sandwich they used to serve, not quite the real thing. Still, much better than Arby's, which is some form of a molded gelatinous meat concoction that doesn't fit my definition of roast beef at all.


1978 Roy Rogers Commercial

My life has been in the pursuit of a fine tasting roast beef sandwich and I will continue my journey - but I doubt if any fast food joints today will satisfy that craving.

Kenny Rogers Roasters

Bob Huggins adds: Kenny Rogers Roasters is another celebrity restaurant that is pretty much gone from the U.S. landscape but is apparently doing well in the Philippines. Go figure. My recollection of the restaurant was that it was trying to compete along the lines of a Boston Market. It came and went pretty quickly in my area.

I ate at the Kenny Rogers in Hollywood before it closed and it was no big deal. After the fuss they made on Seinfeld I was expecting more. It was better than most fast food.

In this same vein you should head over to Groceteria, the online museum of former grocery stores from the early days.

Phil Spector & Cher in the 1970s?

TV Blog : Cher TV Show In 1974 Phil Spector gathered some favorite vocalists from his 1960s hit recording sessions and laid down some amazing tracks. Dion, Darlene Love, Harry Nilsson and Cher were all enveloped in Spector's layered Wall of Sound, I believe this was the last time the volatile producer employed this technique in the classical sixties sense.

Here's Cher singing 'A Woman's Story' from those recording dates, this was shortly after breaking professionally (for a time, anyway) with Sonny Bono in 1974. The elaborate production was idiosyncratic compared to songs by The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac riding the top 40 charts at the time.

Another track Cher recorded during those dates was Ronnie Spector's 'Baby I Love You'; this time Phil simplified the arrangement and slowed the song down considerably for a glistening effect. These tunes were released as a 45 in 1975 but failed to chart.

Spector also produced a duet with Cher and Nilsson that went nowhere as a single.

While these sessions didn't deliver any hits, they represent some of the best work from both Cher and Darlene Love. Love's 'I Love Him Like I Love My Very Life' was released in 1977, hoping to capitalize on the Philadelphia Sound that was popular, but it failed to chart.

Before Designing Women There Was Filthy Rich

TV Blog / Dixie Carter in the classic television show Filthy RichIn the fall of 1981 Dallas was the biggest hit on television, JR had just been shot and the nation was in a thrall, so the networks scrambled to find the next big prime-time soap opera. Most were expensive flops but CBS scored a minor hit, albeit for a very brief period.

Filthy Rich was a comedy twist on the Dallas conceptwith a broadly drawn assembly of tacky Southern hick characters. It too often came across as a re-imagining of The Beverly Hillbillies but delivered some hearty low-brow laughs.

Here's the first half of the pilot:

TV Blog / classic television show Filthy Rich From producer / creator Linda Bloodworth (who 5 years later brought the TV audience Designing WomenFilthy Rich centered around the refined but cash poor Beck and the low-life Westchester families, forced to live together in Toad Hall by the death of their ultra-wealthy patriarch 'Big Daddy'.

CBS originally ordered a one-hour Filthy Rich pilot in 1981 but passed on it as a mid-season replacement.  Here's part two of that pilot in 1981:

The network still had hopes for the series, what with ratings for Dallas reaching meteoric levels, so they ordered a second half-hour pilot in 1982 and again declined to pick the series up for fall.

Slim Pickens in Filthty Rich 1981The show itself was uneven but there were plenty of clever zingers and one liners to make it worthwhile. Let's face it, this wasn't exactly the golden age of the sitcom, so by default Filthy Rich was one of the funniest of the 1980s.

The superb cast included Delta Burke, Dixie Carter (at her cattiest best), Ann Wedgeworth, and Nedra Volz. Motion picture western great Slim Pickens was cast as Big Daddy, seen posthumously in videos left behind detailing his wishes for how the family fortune should be spent. Slim Pickens died not long after this sitcom debuted so from that point on Big Daddy was played by Forest Tucker.

The second, very funny pilot is below. Watch how the premise is reset under the premise of a magazine article being written about the family... the exposition super-highway for sitcom writers.

TV Blog / Dixie Carter in the classic television show Filthy RichWhen CBS aired the two pilots over three nights following episodes of M*A*S*H in the summer of '82 the network realized they had a ready-made hit.

The series was rushed into production for the fall, missing the first weeks of the season due to delays. Critics lambasted the crude insult humor and ratings were lousy thanks to a combination of network interference (making the show sillier, as if that was possible) and being slotted against a new smash hit on NBC, Family Ties.

Filthy Rich was yanked after 6 weeks but returned in January of 1983 only to be cancelled quickly again. The remaining episodes were burned off during the summer of 1983.

Fabulous Vegas Legend Eydie Gorme

Eydie Gorme turns 85 later this summer. She's a petite singer who could belt out a torch song and build to a rousing finish with the best of them, on par with Judy Garland or Ethel Merman. You build chops like that working the nightclubs night after night - she and her husband Steve Lawrence, together and separately, probably played more lounges and casinos than anyone else in history.

Eydie was a popular guest on the talk shows of the 1960s & 1970s but her old style of belting fell out of favor as the decades passed and she retired almost 20 years ago.

'I Want To Be Around' from 1966 Tonight Show appearance:

Eydie with Trio Lo Panchos singing 'Piel Canela,' 'Sabor A Mi' and 'Granada' from The Hollywood Palace.

Most singing duets are mismatched in terms of talent, one is usually the more talented. Steve Lawrence was no Sonny Bono, he and Eydie produced spectacular music together, becoming Las Vegas legends in the bombastic, over the top Liberace era.

More  Las Vegas Legends

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What Corporate Execs 'Knew' About the Internet in 1998

A 1998 survey of Fortune 1000 senior executives found a general lack of knowledge when it came to computers and the Internet. 43% thought Fiona Apple was a computer brand - and that was when the singer was on the pop charts. 53% of the corporate titans thought an Arch Deluxe was a PC part, while 98% of sixth graders surveyed knew that was actually a burger from McDonalds.

Less than a quarter of the executives could explain what a modem did, 93% of sixth graders surveyed could. 68% of the guys in ties thought the Net was owned by a corporation, 23% believed it was Microsoft's property. A decade and a half later the Internet goes on but when was the last time you saw an Arch Deluxe?

The Magnificent Marble Machine

Pinball was all the rage in the mid-1970s, exploding in popularity when new solid-state, electronic machines from Bali and Atari attracted a new generation of enthusiasts beginning in 1976. It was a boon for ailing bowling lanes who were surprised to find their arcade machines by the door raking in more cash than the ball and shoe rentals.

NBC sought to cash in on the phenomenon with The Magnificent Marble Machine, debuting in the summer of 1975 when kids were home from school. TMMM was a typical 1970s game show in most ways, with contestants and stars competing in a silly word game. What set it apart was the big money round played on an enormous pinball machine where a contestant could win up to $50,000 ($250,000 in today's dough). The contraption was a clumsy device, being so large meant the most exciting part of the competition happened at a snail's pace. It was also prone to breaking down a lot, leading to long taping days and a reputation as one of the most disastrous game shows of all time.

After strong initial ratings the audience quickly grew bored and moved on.

Partly to reconfigure the machine, the program was retooled in January of 1976 so that only the stars played the final round but the production was scrapped in the summer of '76.

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

Crazy 1970s Romance Comics Covers

I was a comic collector back in the day. I didn't read the so-called romance comics but they did have some wild covers - check out these gems from the 1970s.

TV Blog / 1970's Comic Book Covers
This poor hippy chick is literally a doormat... but lying in the front lawn comes in handy when you want to know what's going on in the neighborhood.
Cover artist: Nick Cardy.

TV Blog / 1970's Comic Book Covers
This cover would have worked even better as a horror comic, why is the Bride of Chuckie ambushing this nice young couple?
Cover artists: Bob Oskner & Vince Colletta.
TV Blog / 1970's Comic Book Covers
Pity the poor fashionably dressed blonde with the perfect body and the Merle Norman makeup job - she's shy. Really?!? That's a first.
Cover artists: Bob Oskner & Dick Giordano.
TV Blog / 1970's Comic Book Covers
This guy's rounding second base - on a comic book cover! Not surprisingly, it was one of the last in DC's romance line.
Cover artists: John Rosenberger & Vince Colletta (Okay, I'm guessing at these).

The Days of Wine & Porno

In the summer of 1975 a teacher took myself and six other high school aged teens to New York City to see Broadway shows, we stayed for 4 or 5 days and saw the most amazing theater - the productions I remember were Candide, Raisin, The Wiz, A Chorus Line, and Pippin (which had been running for a while, Irene Ryan had passed away a year earlier but Ben Vereen was still going strong in the role of the Leading Player.

We even caught Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue for which we got the very last tickets to the closing performance. The seats were lousy but the show blew us all away... and jazz immortal Lionel Hampton came out of retirement to be her intermission act.

Fortunate we were to see the original cast of 'Chicago including Jerry Orbach, Barney Martin, Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon.

I didn't realize how lucky we were to have seen so many legendary performers at their peak, I even talked to Lily Tomlin on the street dressed as Edith Beasley handing out coffee and doughnuts for the folks lining up to buy tickets for her upcoming Broadway show.

This field trip to the big city 12 hours away had nothing to do with the school. This band teacher, who directed our school musicals, used to have those of us he liked over for beers even though most - hell, all - of us were underage. Granted, by just a few months, he never let someone 16 have alcohol (18 was the drinking age then). I didn't drink and my friends that did didn't get crazy so it was no big deal.

With him chaperoning, we all caravanned to the beach a few times, made a trek to the mountains of Georgia, and he even took us to see an X-rated movie. Our parents were thrilled that a responsible adult was taking a positive interest in their kids.

Today if all of that happened - well, I'd hate to think about it. Which would have been the worst possible outcome, this guy's home and his musical productions were a safe haven for dozens of restless kids over the years. Kids who would have otherwise would have gotten into who knows what mischief.

This guy was an amazing friend to all of us, an older gay man in a relationship - but I don't think most of us put two and two together because they always maintained they were straight. I assumed they were, despite the ornate sculptures in their apartment depicting naked gladiators wrestling around in homoerotic poses. I was very naive, what can I tell you. (We all were, there was virtually no such thing as an openly gay man in the South in the mid-1970s.)

I never heard of anything untoward happening to anyone in that circle of friends that expanded with each school year; eventually I and most of my friends moved away and we lost touch with our teacher friend. He was one person that made a positive contribution to my life at a time when I couldn't have been more confused and frustrated.

Sad thing is, in our sexed up society, one can't help but conjure up perverted thoughts when you think about High School students getting involved in parties at a teacher's home on the weekends. But the way it was then, even going to an X-Rated movie could be a wholesome night out, at least from our perspective.

Then again, I never found pornography particularly fascinating. I'd been exposed to the most disgusting hard core porn you could imagine on a weekly basis since middle school.

Guess I better explain that.

Kamandi Comic by Jack "The King" Kirby Being a young comic book collector in the early-1970s in a not-so-big city meant going anywhere and everywhere to get the latest comics, distribution was very spotty. There was a magazine shop downtown that stocked every periodical, literally everything, including comics. They did so to justify their real cash crop - selling the thousands of hard core mags displayed all over the cramped store.

So you had The Ladies Home Journal and The Reader's Digest sitting beside a stack of magazines with big wet sloppy - you know what's - happening on the covers. Walking up to the counter to pay meant passing depictions of every possible sex act (except gay, naturally). When the guy gave you your change he did so atop a stack of more porno mags. There was also something going on behind a curtain in the back, I'll let you use your imagination. I didn't.

Of course, there was sign out front that said 'No one under 18 allowed' but we managed to talk our way in around the 8th grade. My friend who collected comics and I were talking at school about this amazing store that had all of the comics in one place, awash in a sea of porn, when one of our classmates confessed his dad owned the joint.

It turned out that our classmate worked the register on Saturdays and he let us come by on his shift. Before long the big, gruff guys behind the counter got to know us and realized we really weren't interested in the porn - only the comics that they had probably never sold any of before. They must have thought we were weird.

Like I said, things were different then. Thank God!

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

Cher Live in Monte Carlo in 1980!

You simply won't believe how this concert opens so I won't spoil it. This was Cher's triumphant 'Take Me Home Tour' - with the first top 40 hit since her days with Sonny, she had a concert act that was relevant again.

Cher performs a lot of covers but then she had a way of making any song her own, with rich arrangements that occasionally went against the grain of the original, as you'll hear in the Three Dog Night tune 'Easy to Be Hard'. This being the tail end of the disco era you'll experience lots of brassy syncopated rhythms and dancers in black rayon pants.

And Cher doesn't cover any of her earlier hits at all!


Tallulah Bankhead was not only a legendary stage and film actress she was also one of the hardest partying dames around who was prone to do - or say - anything to anybody.

If there was a fellow entertainer Tallulah despised it was Bette Davis. Bette was hot again in 1950 with All About Eve and Tallulah felt her performance was a ripoff of her acting style... and it was. It was only natural Tallu would take a few shots at Miss Davis from the bully pulpit of her NBC radio extravaganza, 'The Big Show'.

Marlene Dietrich guest starred on Tallulah's show and the two quickly bared their claws. This is a hilariously funny routine... just as clever today. Plus you get to hear Marlene singing her signature tune, 'Falling in Love Again.'

What happened when Martha Raye ('The Big Mouth') and Tallulah Bankhead got together - rat-a-tat-tat humor from The Big Show in 1951. Those were the days! (I guess - I hadn't been born yet.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Long Gone 1970s Fast Food Joints

1970's Fast Food Restaurants
Those long-lost fast food palaces of the seventies...
and where you can still taste their junk food awesomeness again.

I have fond memories of the fast food chains that were around when I was coming of age, I'm still upset about McDonald's fries today being nothing like the limp, greasy goodness of my youth. You were lucky to make it home with any, made so irresistible because they were deep fried in beef fat. That's a tasty treat not likely to return. (Darn all those health nuts that ruined it for the rest of us!)

Are there places you get that retro 1970's fast food taste experience today without programming the Time Tunnel? (A risky proposition considering the Tunnel exploded into a shower of sparks every time someone moved a dial.)

They are few and far between but it's possible, depending on where you live, to travel back in time gastronomically speaking.

Biff Burger / 1970's fast food

Biff Burger

Anyone remember Biff Burger? When I was a kid growing up in the seventies there were several around town, they were found all along the East Coast with a few lone outposts not much further west.

In the quality pecking order of burger chains in the 1960s-'70s there was McDonald's at the top, Burger King just below, with Hardees, Burger Chef, and Biff Burger taking up the rear.

The Biff Burger itself was different from the rest, with their own tangy sauce that the meat patty was dipped in after cooking on a special rotating broiler.

In the days of 20 cent hamburgers at McDonald's and Burger King, Biff Burger (which stood for "Best in Fast Food") was a penny less, only 19 cents. I would eat there in high school, if that penny made a difference in my getting a burger for lunch or not. Being less expensive than the other chains led to the impression (in my mind, anyway) that the burgers weren't as good - indeed, they had a slightly gamey taste.

The chain was founded in the 1950s but went under in the mid-1970s with a few profitable independent franchises holding on. Biff Burger disappeared almost completely by the mid-1980s but two stores still survive using the same burger recipes, with the same basic decor. One is in St. Petersburg, Florida - the other Biff Burger was renamed Beef Burger (the owner changed the name in the 1980s in case the franchise was revived and he should get hit with back franchise fees).

1970's fast food places- Biff Burger Beef Burger remains a 50 year institution in Greensboro, NC with the 1970's chairs and tables intact (yellow and attached as one unit, naturally) and 1980's arcade games. They still use the classic "Biff" character, one of the most poorly designed and executed mascots in history. That's what makes him so cool.

The menu is not limited to the original, you'll find probably the widest variety of food in any fast food diner, from zucchini sticks to fried shrimp and a dozen or more flavors of soda. They also have milkshakes made from an old 1970's machine, now that's authentic!

And the food is greasy-liscious, I say that as a compliment. Besides the delicious original Biff Burger itself, they have the best Ribeye steak sandwich I've had in a long while, I'm hooked. The Super Burger is tasty too, a nice combo of today (with fresh vegetables) and yesterday.

UNC-G students flock to chow down on cheap but good quality eats that really soak up the alcohol - although the front door sports a sign on the door that says, "If you're drunk eat somewhere else." Regulars for decades have come for miles around to enjoy the retro taste of Beef Burger.

By all means, if you're in Greensboro on business, stop by Beef Burger at 1040 West Lee Street. Sadly, expansion plans by the university has put the restaurant in danger of being plowed under. You can read the entire history of Biff Burger at this wonderful site.

The St. Petersburg, Florida Biff Burger:

Burger Chef 

Another forgotten burger chain selling down-market burgers that I confess I liked just fine. This 1970 commercial was attempting to tap into the teen market with groovy hippy music, tender but offbeat family images, and a lame catch-phrase, "Incrediburgable!" This chain was known for the vaguely Googie design of the franchises, note the extreme slanted roof and top ornament, you can still recognize that architecture in places that have been repurposed - like Mexican restaurants, Chinese buffets, even a Wienerschnitzel in Antioch, California.

Burger Chef started disappearing in the mid-eighties after the big two - McDonald's and Burger King - pretty much locked up the nationwide fast food hamburger market with regionals like Jack In The Box, Carl's Jr, and Hardees continuing to thrive around the fringes. At one time Burger Chef was second only to McDonald's in the number of locations nationwide. If I recall, they had a great dry but tasty Roast Beef sandwich that Hardees continued to sell well into the late-1980s.

Another death blow to Burger Chef... Wendy's went nationwide in the early-seventies, moving the goalposts with their innovative drive-thru window, salad bar and fresh not frozen meat. That was a real game changer, Burger Chef and Biff Burger seemed dated in comparison... old-fashioned but not in a good way.

Hardees took over the Burger Chef franchise in the mid-eighties and began slowly assimilating them until the last one closed in 1996. Want to taste it again? Schroeder's Drive-In in Danville, Illinois, in business for more than a quarter century, still serves up the original Burger Chef menu items.

Gino's Restaurants

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Here's an amazing thing - take a look at this ad. You could actually get a full lunch for 99 cents in 1975!

A rib eye lunch for $1.29? Talk about inflation... and as I recall, the food was pretty good at the Ponderosa.

BONUS:  Krystal Burger 

Speaking of regional fast food chains, it was more than 10 years ago when the Krystal Burger joints were upgraded, reviving the slumbering fast food chain that began back in 1932. Those mini-burgers (they'd be called sliders today) were pretty tasty, as I remember.

Krystal Burgers were found down South whereas White Castle (the oldest hamburger chain in the United States) was more of a Northern, Midwest and West Coast thing. The Krystal burger was a straight up ripoff of White Castle's product, if you liked one you'd probably enjoy the other. Now the chain is limited to one location in Georgia with about a dozen stores in Tennessee and some in Florida.

Did you see the scenes in the Borat movie shot at Krystals?

Kenny Rogers Roasters

Bob Huggins adds: Kenny Rogers Roasters is another celebrity restaurant that is pretty much gone from the U.S. landscape but is apparently doing well in the Philippines. Go figure. My recollection of the restaurant was that it was trying to compete along the lines of a Boston Market. It came and went pretty quickly in my area.

I ate at the Kenny Rogers in Hollywood before it closed, it was no big deal. After the fuss they made on Seinfeld I was expecting more. It was better than most fast food.

In this same vein you should head over to Groceteria, the online museum of former grocery stores from the early days.

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Foster Brooks the Hilarious Fake Drunk

The great comic Foster Brooks who played a drunk on talk shows and variety programs - especially The Dean Martin Show for obvious reasons. In the 60s & 70s he was most popular on TV - but his was also one of the great Las Vegas acts of all time.

Monday, May 27, 2013

OJ Simpson Wants To Sell You Something

With OJ back on trial (or is it over already?) some of us are old enough to remember when the football great was a respected advertising pitchman, his most famous TV ads were for Hertz Rent-A-Car ("Hertz puts you in the driver's seat"). This is the most memorable spot where OJ is seen running down the airport concourse (to catch that flight to Chicago?) and jumping in line.

He also appeared in print ads for Dingo Boots found in comic books of the late-1970s, the ad is pretty funny all by itself.

O. J. Simpson Dingo Ad

I don't know where this parody came from, I got years ago - it's hilarious but don't read it if you're easily offended!

O. J. Simpson Dingo Ad

David Letterman, 1970's Game Show Host? It Almost Happened...

David Letterman was on track to be one of the great game show hosts of all time if The Riddlers had been picked up in 1977. The proposed NBC daytime series was a lot like Match Game (the #1 daytime TV show in 1977) in that it had a celebrity panel answering questions.

Letterman shines in this loose format, he's hilarious, especially when you consider the many lackluster emcees on television at the time. This was just a couple of years after he left Indiana local television and before his brilliant but short-lived 1980 daytime talk show on NBC. That's where Carson took notice of Letterman and bumped the comic up to late night.

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How the 'N' Word Reappeared in the Media

Watching D'Jango Unchained was a reminder of how the 'N' word went from forbidden to ubiquitous, and it began in the 1970s. It was likely inevitable, being the only truly forbidden word in the English language the inherent shock value was too much to resist from a comedy standpoint.

NBC banned the epithet from the airwaves in the 1950s, when radio was the dominant entertainment medium, although I can't find a single example of "nigger" being used on any radio or TV network program before that point. If a white person said it in a TV drama in the 1950s or '60s there had to be retribution, he would seriously renounce his racist ways or die at the end of the story.

Mark Nemeth of Greensboro, NC writes about a rare instance on TV: In the feature-length version of "Dragnet" (filmed in 1967, but airing in 1969 on the NBC Monday Night at The Movies) A thug calls a black detective the "N" word, which gives Jack Webb's Sgt. Friday an excuse to rip into him.
"If the department doesn't judge the color of his skin, you damn well see that you don't."

It was all too common to hear that word in 1960s and early-'70s westerns, you couldn't have a black person in a horse opera that didn't get called "nigger" at some point. It was, more often than not,  completely gratuitous. You could hear the word in racially-charged sixties' dramas like In the Heat of the Night and They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! but television was another matter, networks wanted their programs to be G-rated fare for the entire family. That is, before the 1970s.

Just weeks after All In The Family debuted in 1971, Sammy Davis Jr. was the first to re-introduce the 'N' word to the mass media when he quipped, "If you were prejudiced, Archie, when I came into your home, you would have called me a coon or a nigger. But you didn't say that, I heard you clear as a bell. You came right out and called me colored."

Surprisingly, Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) never used the "N" word, it was a bridge too far for a white guy, although antiquated colloquialisms like "coon," "colored," and "black beauties" fell out of his mouth in abundance.

The word "nigger" was heard next on NBC, in a first season Sanford & Son episode 'Here Comes the Bride, There Goes the Bride' airing January 28, 1972. The storyline centered around Lamont (Demond Wilson) getting married when Fred (Redd Foxx), looking at the bride's family with contempt mutters "Buncha jive niggas" under his breath to scattered audience applause.

It was a January 4, 1974 broadcast of Sanford & Son ("Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe") that thrust the 'N' word back on to network TV in a big way when  'Big Money' Grip Murdoch confronted Aunt Ester (LaWanda Page) with his theory that he is Lamont's father. When Ester shouted her reply there was a huge audience response...

 Click over for more examples of the "N" word on network TV.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Walker Edmiston on Hal Smith

TV and movie actor Walker Edmiston died in 2007. He was a much beloved figure in the business best known for his many cartoon voices, like Ernie the Keebler Elf and Inferno in Transformers, for instance. Anyone who ever saw the TV-movie Trilogy of Terror (1975) will remember him as the voice of the Zuni fetish doll. Oh yeah, I know you remember that creepy little doll with a knife chasing poor Karen Black around the apartment.

Kevin Butler paid tribute to Walker Edmiston here. I stumbled upon an interview with Edmiston talking about the wonderful Hal Smith (The Andy Griffith Show). In the interview, Edmiston speaks about Smith's LA local kid show The Pancake Man and his role as Hollywood's Santa.

40 Years Ago - Billie Jean King Beat Bobby Riggs

People may forget how huge the September 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King was, the game that became a game-changer.

55 year old former tennis champ Bobby Riggs put up $100,000 of his own money that no woman could beat him at tennis. On May 13, 1973 Riggs vanquished Margaret Court, the top female champion, in a best of three set. Billie Jean King, who had originally declined to participate, stepped up to challenge Riggs.

The hype was overwhelming. Promoting the "Battle of the Sexes," Riggs taunted King in the media, emphasising how inferior women were to men. It made for great TV but he hit a nerve. Just as Archie Bunker appealed to racists despite being a parody, chauvinists rallied behind Bobby Riggs, convinced that a woman could never beat a man at any sport.

Worldwide 90 million people watched as King crushed Riggs on the Houston Astrodome court, to this day the largest audience ever for a US tennis match. Odd that something so trivial as a game of tennis could move the needle on women's rights but it did, shoving male chauvinism from the norm to the fringes.

Not long after the historic match-up Billie Jean King was a guest on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Notice they're making gay jokes as they introduced the (closeted at that time) gay athlete; it went right over everyone's heads back then. At the end of this clip Billie Jean King looks very uncomfortable wearing a dress, but then the networks liked females to be properly attired in prime-time.

Fernwood 2Night & The Life and Times of Tony Roletti

Fernwood 2nite was one of those rare summer replacements that was better than the show it replaced - in this case Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A send-up of local talk shows that were so pervasive on TV in 1977, this series had a spectacular writing staff that included Harry Shearer and two hosts that became a dream improv pairing, Martin Mull and Fred Willard.

While Fernwood 2nite has yet to get a DVD release it's widely available on You Tube. One of the recurring guests that always cracked me up was Bill Kirchenbauer as pathetic lounge singer Tony Rolletti. Kirchenbauer's performances got broader as he explored the character - He, Mull and Willard had a remarkable rapport.

Although the show lasted but one brief summer season (5 nights a week for 13 weeks plus reruns) fans waited for word on whether Fernwood 2Night would return. It didn't seem likely, ratings were lousy, but the people who did watch loved it. The improvisational humor and the hip attitude stood in stark contrast to anything one would normally find on TV at 11:00pm in 1977.

The production did return the next spring, upgraded to America 2nite with a big name guest star each week. Probably the best episode of America 2Night was the wedding of Tony Rolletti, it's actually a two-parter, a spoof of the Tonight show nuptials between Tiny Tim & Miss Vickie. The guest star was Tom Waits who was his ice cold best singing 'The Piano Has Been Drinking' on part one and 'Better Off Without a Wife' in the show below from May 26, 1978:

Audience numbers for America 2Night weren't much better than the year before so this ground-breaking comedy disappeared in the fall of 1978. There have been a number of reunions with Martin Mull and Fred Willard, most notably they played boyfriends for several seasons on Roseanne.

Super Soul Brother Timmie Rogers!

One of the more gratifying aspects of producing a site like TVparty! is re-discovering stars I enjoyed from television who weren't all that well known. 

The great, pioneering black comic Timmie Rogers is an example. Rogers came up through vaudeville and released several best-selling comedy LPs like 'Super Soul Brother' in the sixties.

He was brilliant on the variety shows of the 1960s & 1970s, he had an original delivery that other comedians flat out ripped-off.

Timmie Rogers was a regular on The Melba Moore Clifton Davis Show, a summer replacement for Carol Burnett's weekly series in 1972.

The set for the variety program resembled a colorful ghetto boarding house (think Sesame Street only grittier) with the skits and musical numbers taking place in various exposed units, the lobby, on the steps, and up on the roof.

As was the style of the day, there was lots of Sonny and Cher style squabbling between the couple but what I loved about the short-run series was old-school nightclub comedian Timmie Rogers ("Oh Yeeaaah!") gained a forum for his hilarious bits.

The Melba Moore Clifton Davis Show was a summer hit, a great deal of that success was due to Timmie Rogers' hilarious bits. It was widely reported that CBS was going bring the show back as a mid-season replacement in 1973, but it was not to be.

Here's another of Roger's routines that he did variations on for years - 'Everything's Going Up' from the same show. This is timeless comedy, it works perfectly today.

More on the life of the great Timmie Rogers here.

Watch Redd Foxx & Timmie Rogers from one of the better episodes of Sanford & Son:

Epic Wedding Fails!

There's nothing funnier than people falling on their asses... even more so when it happens at a wedding  (as long as it's not on your big day!).  And who first had the bright idea to include little kids in the ceremony, anyway?

Wardrome malfunction? More like a Wardrobe Complete Disaster! And everyone keeps on shooting pictures...

Your stoned best man dunks the bride and the preacher? That's a fail...

Yes, it's all fun and games until that one person gets too drunk and shows everyone how to have a good time. Watch the bride's reaction, her perfect day unravelling before her beady little eyes. No sweetheart, that's not a stripper pole. You just know that drunken tart wore a blood red dress to try to upstage the bride. Speaking of blood red...

Speaking of bad ideas, what happens when your jealous ex-lover shows up to wreck the wedding? Brawl!

Start this one in at minute 5:00. This union has disaster written all over it. Notice how clean cut and formal all the guys are, right down to military blues... but the minister is a long-haired hippy. Wait until you see the ring bearer, Eddie Munster lives. Who knows what the DJ was smoking... wrong march dummy, it's not Captain Picard's wedding!

Grandma wants to make an announcement... and it's not to present a check so nothing good can come of that! Thanks to her speech 20 people walked out on the wedding minutes before the ceremony got underway. (And granny called the other family a "clan," that's some passive-aggressiveness there.)

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!