Waxing Nostalgic Over Classic TV

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Day Miss America Got Naked

"You think all Miss Americas are 'Miss America?' I mean, c'mon!"

Vanessa Williams, the beautiful star of ABC's Ugly Betty, made history twice as Miss America 1984. First, she was the first African-American woman to win the crown, and then 10 months later became the first winner to be forced to resign her title amidst scandal.

And what a scandal it was. Naked pictures of her had surfaced; pictures that had been taken two years earlier and sold to Penthouse magazine without her authorization. Miss America naked? America couldn't handle the disconnect. Our sweet little innocent symbol of all that is good and pure - naked? It was surely one of the signs of the Apocalypse!

Interestingly, Hugh Hefner had turned down the chance to publish the photos in Playboy, saying that "because they would be the source of considerable embarrassment to her, we decided not to publish them." Bob Guccione had no such qualms, however, and published the photos in the September 1984 issue of Penthouse, where she appeared on the cover alongside George Burns (the first man, by the way, to ever appear on the magazine's cover).

Although it was a very traumatic episode in the young life of Ms. Williams, Guccione's prediction that the notoriety would actually be beneficial for her career turned out to be true, as she went on to become one of America's favorite singers and carved out a very successful career as a Broadway, film, and television star.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Real McCoys Hit the Road

-"What is it, Luke?"
-"I believe it's a foreigner! Just keep calm."

One of the most popular shows on TV when I was a kid was the story of the McCoy family. When Uncle Ben died and left his desolate California farm to the McCoys, the whole clan piled into their old jalopy and made the long journey west to start a new life. Grandpa McCoy, along with his grandson Luke and new bride Kate, as well as Luke's little sister Hassie and younger brother, Little Luke, sometimes struggled but their strong family bonds always got them through the tough times.

The Real McCoys ran from 1957 to 1962 on ABC and was in the Top 10 every year. When it got a new name (The McCoys) and a new network (CBS), the audience drifted away and the show was cancelled after the 1963 season, replaced in the hearts of Americans by another backwoods family who had moved to California, The Beverly Hillbillies. While the two shows did share some similarities, the McCoys showed us more heart than the Clampetts, who were just plain silly.

Walter Brennan, of course, was already a big time movie star when he took the role of Grandpa, the crotchety but loving patriarch of the family. Richard Crenna, who played Luke, had already made a name for himself as Walter Denton, the clumsy high school student on Our Miss Brooks, and went on to have an outstanding career as a film and television actor before dying in 2003 of heart failure at the age of 76. Kathleen Nolan played the part of Kate and also went on to have a very productive acting career, appearing just this year in an episode of Cold Case. She also made a name for herself as the first woman president of the Screen Actors Guild (1975-1979).

The video above is Part 1 of the very first episode of The Real McCoys, broadcast October 3, 1957. (Check the related videos for Parts 2 and 3.) The first three seasons of the show are now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tom Waits Visits Fernwood

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

When Barth Gimble and Tom Waits get together, you can only imagine what wackiness might ensue.

This very funny video from 1977 is a clip from one of my all-time favorite shows, Fernwood 2Nite, a spinoff from the very popular Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman show. Both shows were created by Norman Lear. Barth Gimble was played by the brilliant Martin Mull, with his very funny announcer, Jerry Hubbard, played by Fred Willard.

Fernwood 2Nite was a talk show set in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio. It looked like your basic community access cable channel, and was known for its parade of unusual guests. On this particular night, Tom Waits' van just happened to break down on the way to a gig in Toledo, so he dropped by the set to sing a song and chat with Barth and sidekick Jerry.

Tom Waits, of course, is not your typical singer, but he's always been one of my favorites. A critic once said that his voice sounds "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months and then taken outside and run over with a car." I think that's pretty accurate.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mork & Mindy & Dave

"Losing your Rolls Royce is a concept. Getting it back is reality!"

Every celebrity caught a break somewhere along the line that catapulted him (or her) into orbit. For Robin Williams, that break came in the form of a naive and charming alien being from the planet Ork. From 1978 to 1982, Americans must-see TV included a weekly visit with Mork & Mindyfrom Boulder, Colorado. In the show, Williams was allowed to use the mad improvisational skills that would later catapult him to stardom. The show caught fire in the U.S. and produced such memorable catchphrases as "Nanoo, Nanoo," the official Orkan greeting, and "Shazbot," a colorful Orkan curse word.

Mork first appeared on the scene during season five of the popular "Happy Days" show, when he threatened to take Richie Cunningham back to his planet with him. Luckily for all concerned, the whole thing turned out to be a dream. But audiences were entranced by the little fellow, and before you could say "Nanoo, Nanoo," he had his own spin-off.

In the video above, you'll discover another superstar-in-waiting (Hint: It's David Letterman) in a very rare acting role, playing the part of someone who pretty closely resembled est cult leader Werner Erhard, who was all the rage at the time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Honeymooners: Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!

"You know what the sink is? That's my Adventureland!"

Although Ralph Kramden would occasionally threaten to send his wife Alice to the moon, we knew that he was just being cranky, and that by the end of the show would be laying a big wet one on her, in that strange 50's kind of way, where you only saw the back of his head.

The Honeymooners was a true television phenomenon, one of the handful of 50s sitcoms that manages to maintain its humor 50 years later. The show ran on CBS from 1955-1956. (These 39 episodes are commonly referred to as the Classic 39). It had its origins on Jackie Gleason's Calvacade of Stars variety show in 1951 and returned to run from 1966-1970 as part of The Jackie Gleason Show, but with a new Alice and a new Trixie.

The relationship between Ralph and Alice was at the heart of the show, with Alice playing the long-suffering wife to Ralph's blustery "I'm the King of My Castle" husband. Alice was no wallflower, though. She wasn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with Ralph if she thought he was being a jerk. Her special weapon was sarcasm, and she employed it with the skill of a master.

They lived a spartan existence in a very drab apartment, and the fact that the show was in black-and-white just added to that perception. Ralph, however, was always coming up with money-making schemes to supplement his bus driver's salary. But we always knew his schemes were doomed to failure, and that Alice would be there for him when he came crashing back to reality.

Jackie Gleason was the star of the show, but it was Art Carney who, as the funniest second banana in the business, gave the show its pazzaz. Their relationship was often rocky, but you knew that they'd be best pals forever.

A few years later, in 1960, The Honeymooners would inspire the animated Flintstones, a popular but pale imitation of the original.