Wednesday, 30 April 2014

TV Firsts

Ah, TV trivia! Where would we be without it?

Perhaps the first concerted effort to keep track of TV trivia in the modern age (1948 and later) was on page 39 of Weekly Variety of July 26, 1950. The cockeyed information caught the eye of syndicated columnist John Crosby, who took it easy in his August 1st newspaper piece and simply summarised what he read in Variety. That may have been a first, too.

One of the things mentioned in the Variety column that the writer felt would make a nice surprise in a refrigerator commercial would be “Ed Sullivan frozen in a block of ice.” I couldn’t help but think of the 1961 Paramount cartoon “Cool Cat Blues,” featuring an ersatz Sullivan frozen in a block of ice. Did the great Irv Spector, who wrote the cartoon, see the Variety piece and file it in the back of his head for future use?

Alas, the frozen Sullivan (how would anyone know he wasn’t?) suggestion didn’t make the cut in Crosby’s column. Neither did something Variety recorded that was on television at the time—the TV camera that drank a glass of Schaefer beer between innings of the Brooklyn Dodger games. I’d like to have seen that commercial.

Radio In Review
Variety Salutes Television
VARIETY'S current issue contains its annual salute to television, roughly 14 pages of complaints, criticisms, predictions and assorted laments about TV contributed by the deep thinkers of the R.C.A. building and Hollywood. I hurriedly skip over the large-scale observations, which are too sweeping for my small-scale intellect, and pass along to some of the more minute perceptions.
H. Allen Smith, for example, reports that he has watched 3,212 icebox doors open, only 3,210 of which were subsequently closed. Two were left standing open. Mr. Smith suggests that they get a little suspense into it. When a door swings, there should be some sort of surprise—a copperhead poised for the kill or Groucho Marx leering from behind a beer bottle.
THIS IS such a fine suggestion I'm afraid it will be adopted. Not the copperhead, though. There will be four bottles of beer there, singing that old folk song, "Piel's Light Beer of Broadway Fame" at you. Then a can of Hunt's Tomato Sauce, doing a soft-shoe dance in the deep-freeze unit, will tell you what it does to a flounder. The possibilities are endless.
Some one score years ago, George Bernard Shaw used to complain that about two-thirds of the average movie consisted of opening and bedroom doors. But the movies matured. The actors graduated from the boudoir and began opening and closing taxi doors, shouting "Follow that cab!" Now, we are in the icebox door age, but already there are rumblings of change. The automobile door is getting the play. ("Notice the easy finger-tip action, the vibromatic swing of this fine, all-steel hydro-active door, exclusive with the Blodgett.")
For my money, the best door-opener in the business is Miss Betty Furness, the Westinghouse Girl. When she opens a frigerator, she gets her whole body into it, not just her wrist. She's also the most polished oven-door opener now operating. Another year and she'll be ready for a Cadillac door.
ANOTHER Variety essayist, Hal Kanter, of Hollywood, scripted a little ode to television's unsung pioneers. Milton Berle, Mr. Kanter points out, is the first man—Hey Nonny, Nonny—to kiss his own hand in front of a television camera. Mr. Berle is also credited by Mr. Kanter with launching the "Check your brains and we'll start even" joke on TV, a notable first.
Ed Sullivan, says Mr. Kanter, blazed another trail when he showed the industry "you can entertain an audience at home by photographing audiences in a theatre. Mr. Kanter, a diligent historian, also salutes the first technician to walk in of a camera at the most dramatic moment of the play; the dress designer who designed the TV neckline, thus adding a new dimension to the industry; and the first English film, "Tiffin on the Thames," to be seen on TV. This picture, he pointed out, may be seen tonight on Channel 2, the following night on Channel 6 and twice on Sunday on Channel 11.
Another noted Hollywood scholar, Manny Mannheim, contributed easily the most exhaustive paper yet written on the subject of scratching and shaking on TV; (Mr. Mannheim first won renown with his searching study of cigarette choreography on TV.) Ken Murray, Mr. Manheim points out, is a top-of-the-head scratcher, an action that comes just before the straight line and just after Mr. Murray has flicked his cigar.
WHENEVER Ed Sullivan is momentarily at a loss, (Mr. Mannheim continues) he scratches his right eyebrow. Mr. Sullivan, he notes, is a switch scratcher. Equally adept with either right or left hand. Milton Berle is another eyebrow scratcher, but a delicate one, just a flick of the finger. Mr. Berle is also a back-of-the-neck man. Bob Hope,a television novice, seems to be troubled in the same areas as Mr. Berle--back of the neck and eyebrow, whereas Ed Wynn, the itchiest man on TV, is an all-over man. Close behind Mr. Wynn comes Abe Burrows, who scratches his forehead, top-of-the-head and back-of-the-neck.
As for handshakers, Berle, Mr. Mannheim notes, is the warmest host. He shakes hands both before and after the girl sings a song. Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Murray shake hands only afterward. They're all put in the shade, says Mr. M., by a Chicago m.c. who shakes hands before and after, pummels the guest in the intervals and occasionally kisses them.

1 comment:

  1. Spector was moonlighting as a comic strip writer for the Herald-Tribune about the time Crosby did this column when he was the Trib's Radio-TV critic, so it's possible the Smiling Ed fridge gag did come from this source.