Saturday 6 January 2018

He Really is Nothing But a Hound Dog

Bill Harbach was on the “Tonight” show before there was a “Tonight” show.

He was the producer of a late night show on WNBT, the New York NBC station, starring Steve Allen. It suddenly found itself expanded, put on the full network and renamed from “The New Steve Allen Show” to “Tonight.”

The Hollywood Reporter has posted that Harbach has passed away at the age of 98.

Harbach switched from “Tonight” to Allen’s Sunday night show when NBC put it up against Ed Sullivan starting on June 24, 1956. He was also the man behind ABC’s successful “The Hollywood Palace” show in the 1960s. But we’re going to pass along a story about Harbach and one of the more famous moments on Allen’s Sunday nighter—when Elvis Presley sang to a dog.

The New York Post covered the story in advance on June 27, 1956 and the huge controversy in just putting Elvis on TV. There’s no mention of a doggie serenade. Either it hadn’t been dreamed up or Harbach wanted to surprise Post readers.
The ‘New’ Elvis Debuts Sunday

There'll be crystal chandeliers and stately columns in the background when “the new” Elvis Presley makes his debut on Steve Allen's NBC show Sunday night. There'll be white tie and tails on Elvis (the Pelvis) plus a strait jacket.
“He will not gyrate,” said Producer Bill Harbach.
A conference with the NBC censor preceded the master plan by which Harbach and Allen hope to avoid the furore Elvis touched off with his pelvic RPMs the last time out for NBC on the Milton Berle Show.
“Elvis and his manager know they raised a lot of eyebrows before,” said Allen. “They've put themselves completely in our hands.”
The word was passed down from high at NBC after the last Presley nightmare. As Stockton Helffrich, NBC “continuity acceptance” chief, put it in his report: “I think we have to concede a major concern where good taste is concerned . . . in the pelvic gyrations department.”
Harbach said he talked things over with Helfrich.
“He told us, 'Be very careful, but we know you'll handle it right.'”
Harbach and Allen said Presley would do two appearances on the hour-long show. The first will be an eight-minute segment, in which he'll be interviewed by Allen and then sing one of his hit records, probably “Heartbreak Hotel.”
In the second, he'll join Allen, comedienne Imogene Coca and actor Andy Griffith in a sketch satirizing the Western-jamboree style TV show.
“He'll be okay,” said Harbach. “We'll give the guy some Warmth. It'll be, in a way, letting him smile a little at himself. He's going to come out of this show a much warmer person. On the Berle show he was pretty cold and wooden. He seemed like Peck's Bad Boy. The white tie and tails will show he has a sense of humor.”
Allen recalled that on his “Tonight” show he had done imitations of Presley on three different occasions.
“I didn't gyrate,” he said, “but I did that knee-wiggling thing that Presley did. But nobody complained. It must have been something else he did on the Berle show that offended some people.
“Putting him in with Imogene and Andy is going to bring out a new dimension in the kid. He hasn't yet been presented as a total human being.” Come what may, Allen is unafraid.
“After all,” he said, “we had a guy on 'Tonight' take his pants off. We didn't know he was going to do it. It stopped us for a minute, but the world kept on going around.”
If you want to read about Harbach’s career, you can do not better than to read the excellent three-part interview on Kliph Nesteroff’s blog. Part one is HERE, part two is HERE and part three is HERE.

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